Section 6: Isaiah 49 - 57

Isaiah 49

A new division of Isaiah opens here. It is no longer Babylon and idolatry, and a destruction viewed as the overthrow of image worship in the earth. Here it is the far deeper question of Christ Himself and His rejection by the Jews. We find that this portion runs from Isa. 49:1 to the end of Isa. 57, where, as the former ending was “There is no peace, saith Jehovah, unto the wicked,” so the latter ends with “There is no peace saith my God, unto the wicked”. “Jehovah” is in contrast with idols, and “my God” is connected with the still deeper iniquity of the people in refusing “the true God and eternal life,” even the Lord Jesus, their anointed King. They were wicked in both respects: wicked in going after false gods of the Gentiles wicked yet more in rejecting their divine Messiah.

The chapter opens with a call to the isles to listen. “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples from afar. Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.” There was a great providential preparation. “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.” There was thus protection also. “And he said unto me, Thou [art] my servant Israel, in whom I will glorify myself” (vv. 1-3). Such was the purpose of God about Israel; but, Israel failing, Christ becomes the true Israel. It is the transition from the people to the Messiah in Whom alone it could be.

“And I said (says Christ), I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for naught.” Christ substitutes Himself for Israel. They had been the servant nominally and responsibly; Christ becomes the true and righteous servant of God, when the other proved false. Nevertheless, even in Christ all comes to nothing at first through Jewish unbelief, through man’s evil and enmity. “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain; nevertheless my judgement [is] with Jehovah, and my work with my God” (v. 4). The failure, apparently, of the purposes of God in the first instance from man’s wickedness only leads to a better establishment of them, and to a more glorious form and display in result. “And now, saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb [to be] his servant, that I should bring Jacob again to him (though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God shall be my strength).” This is the comfort of Christ, that although the work was not done, and Israel would not be gathered (how often would He have gathered them!) yet would He be glorious. “And he saith, It is a small thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the nations, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (vv. 5, 6).

The original thought was to gather Israel, but Israel would not be gathered. Then, says God, That is too small a thing; I will save the nations also. But Christ is first given as a light to the Gentiles. It is rather going out than gathering in: at any rate, such is the turn given to the passage now, under the gospel. While Israel is not yet gathered, Christ becomes a light to the Gentiles. But God’s purpose never fails, and so we find, “Thus saith Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to him whom the soul despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth” (it is clear that Christ is now viewed as a rejected person, the cross being the great expression of that rejection), “to a servant of rulers, kings shall see and arise, princes and they shall worship, because of Jehovah that is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee. Thus saith Jehovah, In an acceptable time have I answered thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee and give thee for a covenant of the people (that is, of Israel), to establish the land (or, earth), to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, Go forth, to them that [are] in darkness, Show yourselves” (vv. 7-9). It is evident that this supposes all to be in ruin, but that the Lord Jesus is the destined repairer of the breaches.

“They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures [shall be] on all bare heights. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them will lead them, and by the springs of water will he guide them. And r will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from afar; and behold, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim” (vv. 9-12). It is the return of Israel that is here predicted from all parts of the earth, but a return after they have been dispersed thither; so that not only from the north and south, but even from the land of Sinim — that is, from China — they finally emerge and gather in Palestine. It may not be known to all who read this volume, that the learned Ewald tries to prove, in opposition to the “higher critics” generally, that Egypt was the land, not Babylon, where these closing chapters of Isaiah (or, as they would say, the pseudo-Isaiah) were written. He bases his dream on the slender ground that there are so many allusions of interest to Egypt and Ethiopia; so much acquaintance with their habits and ways, etc. To this end he binds the name of Sinim to the people of Pelusium. Gesenius, however, was too sensible to overlook that a remote race in the south or east extremity of the world was meant; and even Knobel and Hitzig point to China, the Rabbinical name of which is Tsin.

No wonder that we find not merely a call to the isles, but to heaven and earth to rejoice. “Shout, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains. For Jehovah hath comforted his people and will have mercy on his afflicted ones” (v. 13). It is the last days, and Jehovah reviewing His goodness and calling upon all the universe to be joyful.

“But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me.” But Jehovah pleads with Zion’s reproach, and says, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea. they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. ‘Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of [my] hands: thy walls [are] continually before me. Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth from thee” (vv.14-17). The enemies of Israel disappear, and Israel comes forward, long forgotten apparently, but now to be established for ever. So their God calls upon them to see a wondrous sight: “Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, [and] come to thee. [As] I live saith Jehovah, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them [on thee], as a bride [doeth]. For [in] thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, thou shalt even now be too straitened by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away. The children of thy bereavement shall yet say in thine ears, The place [is] too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell” (vv. 18-20).

It is the harvest of joy for the chosen but guilty people, after the long sowing in tears. And now there seems no room to stow away the children. “And thou shalt say in thy heart, Who hath begotten me these (seeing I had lost my children, and was desolate, a captive, and driven to and fro)? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone, these, where [were] they?” (v. 21). It is the joining together of the dispersed of all Israel, those who had been forgotten. At the present time the Jews are the only ones clearly known to be of Israel; but those so long hidden are the ten tribes. The Jews will have the certainty that they are Israel and yet not known to them. They had been in the dark for ages. But now Jehovah signifies His will to the nations of the earth. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and set up my ensign to the peoples; and they shall bring thy sons in [their] bosom, and thy daughters shall be carried upon [their] shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with [their] faces to the earth, and lick the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I [am] Jehovah, and they that wait for me shall not be ashamed” (vv. 22, 23). Such will be the moral state of Israel in that day. They shall wait for Jehovah and shall not be ashamed.

But, further, they will have no reason to fear their enemies. The last verse shows that the same God, Who deals in such incomparable mercy to Israel, will beat down all those who had plundered them. “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captives be delivered? For thus saith Jehovah, Even the captive of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: and I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I Jehovah [am] thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (vv. 24-26). The condign vengeance of God upon the enemies of Israel is come. Such is the future that Jehovah guarantees to Israel after the rejection of the Messiah. It is impossible therefore, if so applied, to exhaust this chapter in the return from the Babylonish captivity; it beyond doubt speaks of the far more complete ingathering at the end of this age. So opens the new subject of Christ’s rejection by His people, and of their gathering in after He has been made a light to the end of the earth. But when Zion might have thought herself entirely forgotten, Jehovah turns His hand upon these little ones, and puts down the nations of the earth; when either their kings and queens become the servants of Israel, or He makes an example of them in divine judgement.

Isaiah 50

Our last chapter set forth the vast change which turns on the substitution of Christ, the true servant of God, for Israel His servant publicly and responsibly but in truth the slave of His enemy. The new sin of the people ensued thereon, not idolatry, but rejection of the Messiah by the Jews, only consistent in their unbelief and opposition to God. They would none of Him or His law. They had followed heathen gods, they now refuse His anointed Servant. But this leads in the wisdom of God to the immediate blessing of the Gentiles in the day of grace; as it also becomes in result the basis of the ultimate restoration of Israel and the joy of all the earth in the day of glory. The chapter accordingly sketches the whole sweep of God’s ways from the rejection of Christ to the triumphs of the last days.

In Isa. 50 we are in presence of little more than a single point in that great circle of events; but is it not the centre and pivot of all? The humiliation of Jesus, the Servant of Jehovah, but withal Jehovah Himself, their own Messiah, despised not of strangers merely but of His own people! Deliverance and glory were sure in the end. But so was the sad alienation of Israel meanwhile; so moreover was their sale of themselves. How was this? “Thus saith Jehovah, Where [is] the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors [is it] to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away” (v. 1). It was no churl who found his wretched pleasure in putting away the wife who displeased him; it was no selfish parent who relieved his own necessities at the expense of his children. And the proof of their rebellion appears in verses 2, 3. “Wherefore did I come, and there was no man? I called, and there was none to answer? Is my hand at all shortened, that I cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stink, because [there is] no water, and die for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.” His coming, His call was unheeded, though He had already, since the days of Pharaoh, proved what He was in behalf of His people.

Did the Jews question this? Did they say to Jehovah, as by-and-by the Gentiles will to the King coming in glory, “When saw we thee . . .” (Matt. 25:37-39)? Here is His answer by anticipation: “The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of the instructed, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed” (v. 4). Nor this only. “The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not away back” (v. 5). Jehovah had deigned to become a man on earth, and here to walk in obedience, owning God; and this Christianity alone fully explains; for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were most truly and equally Jehovah. And He, Who came thus to do the will of God as man here below, was, as we know, the Son, Who, Himself God and Jehovah, could look up and say, “The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear,” etc.

It is not the same truth here as in Ex. 21, where the Hebrew servant might have gone out free, but says, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free; and he is brought to the door-post before the judges and has his ear bored through in sign of perpetual service. So did Christ the true Servant and Lord of all; He too has pledged Himself to serve eternally. Again, it is not the same as Ps. 40:6, where “mine ears hast thou digged” is cited from the LXX (so in Heb. 10:5), as “a body hast thou prepared me.” The “boring” of the ear found its answer in the Lord’s willing subjection to death, in which He identified Himself with the need and interests of Master, wife, and children. The “digging” of the ear was not after He became a servant, but rather in order to it. Thus was He formed as it were to be a servant, a body fitted in which, though He were a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. For indeed He did become a man and a servant in this world. Isaiah looks at a time intermediate — neither incarnation, nor death, but His path in life, wherein the opened ear marks lowly intelligent attention to His Father’s will; as the closed ear in fallen man’s case is significant of disobedience or indifference to the communications of God.

But obedience (especially public service) in such a world as this could only be, to such a One as He, continual, and to us hardly conceivable, suffering. Hence the issue at once follows, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (v. 6). How solemn the thought; and what a picture of God in the presence of man! His humiliation (which should have made Him infinitely more precious, as being the incomparable proof of His love) gave the desired occasion to man under Satan’s leading to insult Him to the uttermost, Who reviled not again.

But still He goes on — yea, to death, the death of the cross “But the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. [He is] near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together: who [is] mine adversary? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who [is] he [that] shall condemn me? Behold, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up” (vv. 7-9).

Thus Jehovah challenges His foes and sees their ruin sealed in their momentary triumph over Him Whom, if man slew, God raised again from the dead. Notice here what has been often pointed out, that the apostle Paul cites this passage in Rom. 8:33, and applies to the Christian what the Spirit here predicates of Christ. It would be childish to deny its application to the Lord because of this; but it is hardly less childish to overlook the precious intimation that the same Spirit applies to us now what He uttered then in God’s vindication of Christ rejected. Such is the Christian’s blessed and present privilege — association with Christ risen after God undertakes to glorify Him Whom the Jews (and Gentiles) cast out. But this plain truth distinguishes those who now believe from Israel in their best estate. Christianity is quite another thing from Israel, though it may inherit promises; for we, being Christ’s, are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:29). But the Christian is also much more, and has a relation to Christ in heavenly glory, which is far beyond Abraham or Israel Even now believers are His body, one with their Head in heaven

The closing verses make this distinction yet plainer and prove its importance. “Who [is] among you that feareth Jehovah, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh [in] darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay upon his God” (v. 10). For thus we have distinguished most definitely the Christian from the future Jewish remnant. The mystery was yet hid in God. Christ humbled and delivered was revealed; our place, not then revealed, is now seen in Him risen and glorified. They on the contrary, walking in darkness and wanting light, will be called to trust in Jehovah and stay on their God, when there is nothing else to lean on. But these, who have no light yet, walking in darkness yet confidingly in hope, shall find a glorious deliverance when He appears. We are children of light now, children of day before it dawns upon the earth; we follow Him in spirit where He is, yea, are brought to God and free of the holiest while here. They must pass through an unequalled tribulation because of Jewish apostasy, but shall be blessed at the end.

As for the apostate mass of the Jews, their portion plainly follows. “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass [yourselves] about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks [that] ye have kindled. This shall ye have of my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow” (v. 11). It is always vain for a sinful man to trust his own devices or the remedies of men to better his condition before God, or to enjoy enduring comfort. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement. But in the day that is at hand the folly and the madness of unbelief will be made apparent. Judgement will demonstrate what it is to confide in self, not in Him to Whom God directs those who hear His word. “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him,” the Son.

But among the Jews, as in Christendom, men will turn from Christ to every idol and abomination Satan puts before them. Then also the day will come, in contrast with the day of salvation now, when He will break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Rev. 2:26, 27 is express, that this judicial dealing will only be when the church is glorified, not in the day of grace. “Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:10-12). This is very different from the gospel now, but it is equally of God in its due season, and will surely go forth when the dealings of divine judgement on man begin. And the wicked among the Jews must suffer more than the Gentiles, and professing Christians more severely than the Jews, as is most righteous.

Expiation is not foreshown here as in Isa. 53, but the divine power that belonged to Him Who came into the humiliation and need of His people, only to prove the depth of His love and of their evil heart of unbelief. In these circumstances of unfathomable trial Christ’s entire and lowly submission was proved, and Jehovah’s vindication of Him Who, being God, became the Servant of His will and for His glory, with its results for friends and foes.

Isaiah 51

In Isa. 50 we have seen the divine Messiah in the depths of humiliation, but the Lord Jehovah helping and justifying Him. In Isa. 53 (which really begins at Isa. 52:13) we shall see Him “wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities,” when Jehovah “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Cp. Ps. 22. and Ps. 69) Between these everlasting foundations of blessing for Israel (or for any), the Holy Spirit gives us awakening appeals of the utmost force, interest, and beauty. It is a complete whole, consisting of seven distinct parts (Isa. 51:1-3; 4-6; 7, 8; then, 9-16; 17-23; Isa. 52:1-10; lastly, 11, 12), which trace the gradations of the godly Jewish remnant from their deep distress, fearing Jehovah and obeying the voice of His Servant, though in darkness as yet and having no light, but gradually advancing till they stand in the full glory that was promised them.

The first remark to be made is one of no small importance as affecting the interpretation or rather application of this prophetic strain. It is not under the head of Babylon, but of a rejected Messiah. And in fact the attempt to apply to their state after the return from Babylon either the calls of righteousness to them, or the answers of the Spirit in them, and the final word as of a priest to Jehovah abandoning their old seats of impurity, is not worth a refutation — hardly a notice. Isa. 48 closed the old part of the subject. Isa. 49 opened the new complaint and ground of judgement God lays against His people — not the idolatry judged by the captivity in Babylon, but the refusal of Christ, the ground of their dispersion and distresses under Rome, the fourth Gentile empire. Therefore was Israel divorced from Jehovah; but a remnant, poor in spirit, by grace obey the voice of His humbled Servant. Their moral restoration and final triumph are here brought before us in as orderly a way as is compatible with the sublimest of prophets.

The first appeal to hear is to them as following after righteousness and seeking Jehovah. Such will be few indeed at first. They may feel themselves alone, the mass of Israel being apostate like the Gentiles. But they are exhorted to look to Abraham and Sarah. “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek Jehovah: look unto the rock [whence] ye were hewn and to the hole of the pit [whence] ye were digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah [that] bare you: for when he was alone I called him, and blessed him, and made him many” (vv 1, 2). Then faith must count on no less but more manifest blessing, after all their sorrow now at its worst. “For Jehovah will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Jehovah: joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody” (v. 3).

The next goes farther and calls them Jehovah’s people and His nation. “Listen unto me, O my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall go forth from me, and I will make my judgement to rest for a light of the peoples. My righteousness [is] near, my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the peoples: the isles shall wait for me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (vv. 4-6). “Listen,” etc. (the word being a different one from the more general term in verses 1, 7, and implies attention). It is a total mistake in Bishop Lowth to think the address in this case is made not to the Jews but to the Gentiles, “as in all reason it ought to be”! It was the more required as a comfort for the Jews, because they have been so long called Lo-ammi. (Compare Hosea 1 - 2) “The peoples” are distinguished, for whose light His judgement should be established, as His arms should judge them, while His righteousness and salvation made good for ever should be the portion of Israel.

The third calls them to hear, as knowing righteousness and having Jehovah’s law in their hearts. Why should such fear the reproach and revilings of men whom the moth and the worm, little and feeble as they are, should devour? “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart [is] my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye dismayed at their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation unto all generations” (vv. 7, 8).

Similarly the Spirit now answers, as it were, in the remnant. First, they call for the power of Jehovah to assert itself against their mighty foes, as of old against proud Egypt. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Jehovah; awake, as in the ancient days, the generations of old. [Art] thou not he that cut Rahab in pieces, [and] wounded the monster? [Art] thou not he who dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?” (vv. 9, 10). They predict their deliverance in verse 11, and Jehovah’s reply to their trembling hearts in terms as full of pathos as of grandeur in verses 12-16. “And the ransomed of Jehovah shall return and come to Zion with singing; and everlasting joy [shall be] upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and sighing shall flee away. I, I, [am] he that comforteth you: who [art] thou, that thou art afraid of weak man [that] shall die, and of the son of man [that] shall be made [as] grass; and thou hast forgotten Jehovah thy Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and thou fearest continually all the day because of the fury of the oppressor, when he maketh ready to destroy? And where [is] the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile shall speedily be loosed, and he shall not die [and go down] into the pit, neither shall his bread fail. And I [am] Jehovah thy God, which stirreth up the sea, that the waves thereof roar: Jehovah of hosts [is] his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and have covered thee with the shadow of my hand, to plant the heavens, and to lay the foundations of the earth, and to say unto Zion, Thou [art] my people” (vv. 11-16).

Next, the Spirit of God summons Jerusalem to arise and stand up, with a most vivid description of her reeling under Jehovah’s judgement without one of her sons to guide or help, and of His taking the cup from her hand, not here to drink it Himself, but to put it into the hands of their oppressors. “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of Jehovah the cup of his fury; thou hast drunk — hast drained out the bowl of the cup of staggering. [There is] none to guide her among all the sons [whom] she hath brought forth; neither [is there any] that taketh her by the hand of all the sons [that] she hath brought up. These two [things] are befallen thee; who will bemoan thee? desolation and destruction, and famine and sword; how shall I comfort thee? Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the top of all the streets, as an antelope (or, oryx) in a net; they are full of the fury of Jehovah, the rebuke of thy God. Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted and drunken, but not with wine: thus saith thy Lord Jehovah, and thy God [that] pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thy hand the cup of staggering, the bowl of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: and I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee. who have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy back as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over” (vv. 17-23). It is no wonder that interpreters should be much divided who apply these appeals and answers of increasing earnestness, either to the past history of the Jews or to the time of the first advent. Neither at all corresponds to the language of the Holy Spirit, Who really looks forward to the gradual progress of Jehovah’s dealings with the future remnant and His working in their souls as they rise from their degradation or apprehend their calling.

Isaiah 52:1-12

Thirdly, Zion is now called on. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit thee down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus saith Jehovah, Ye were sold for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there: and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what have I here, saith Jehovah, that my people is taken away for naught? their rulers make them howl, saith Jehovah, and my name continually all the day [is] blasphemed. Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore [they shall know] in that day that I [and He that saith, Beholds [it is] I” (vv. 1-6). The days of Egypt and of Assyria should never return: no more the oppressor should be known. Jehovah’s people shall know His name, Himself as revealed in it, as unchangeable in His mercy to them as in His own being.

Beautiful then in their eyes, as in His, are the feet of him that brings good tidings and publishes peace. Before (Isa. 40:9) the cities of Judah were told, “Behold your God.” Now Zion hears, “Thy God reigneth!” The watchmen lift up their voice, singing, not warning; the very wastes of Jerusalem, so long forsaken, sing together in their irrepressible joy. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when Jehovah bringeth again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for Jehovah hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Jehovah hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (vv. 7-10).

Lastly, the strain closes with the peremptory call to act consistently with the holiness of Jehovah and of His sanctuary. “Depart, depart, go out from thence, touch no unclean [thing]; go out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of Jehovah” (v. 11). Babylon is pointedly dropped: a larger sphere is meant. It should not be, as of old, in haste or in anxiety, however they were guided and delivered then. The greatest triumphs of their fathers fade in the glorious intervention of Jehovah which the children now know. “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for Jehovah will go before you, and the God of Israel [will be] your rearward” (v. 12). It is in truth and in its fullest display the day of Jehovah, when Israel for ever leave the unclean Gentiles, henceforth to be a richer blessing to them than their evils had been a snare and ruin to Israel.

Now that Zion is thus summoned to awake out of ruin and suffering and degradation through her sins, and is by grace bidden to rise and stand forth in the righteousness and beauty Jehovah puts on her, the end of the chapter introduces once more and more fully than ever Him through Whom so blessed a change could come to pass. But it also, to make it adequate, demands that His vicissitudes should be set out distinctly; and this was the more needful, because it seemed unaccountable that One, so infinitely worthy and glorious, should have passed through them, when one thought either of Jehovah on the one hand, or of the Jewish people on the other. This demand gives rise, therefore, to the opening out of the great hidden necessity for Messiah’s atoning sufferings, if the divine nature were to be vindicated respecting sin and Israel (or any others) were to be purged and blessed. As we of the church behold Christ glorified on high in answer to His cross, so will Israel see Him set on the summit of earth’s universal glory for the same reason.

Isaiah 52:13-15

The section, of which this passage is the preface, assumes the truth already before us in chap. 1, pursues it farther and more profoundly, and thus completes the foundation of all that follows. It embraces all the nest chapter which forms part of it and is of the profoundest interest and importance.

The elder Jewish interpreters did not contest the application to the Messiah. Thus Jonathan Ben Uzziel expressly speaks to this effect in the Chaldee paraphrase (given in the Antwerp, Paris, and London Polyglotts). So the Talmud Babyl. (in Tr. Sanhedrim, cap. helek, fol. 98) applies to the Messiah, Isa. 53:4. Again, the book of Zohar confirms this in the comment on Exodus (fol. 95 col. 3), and the Mechilta (according to the Jalkut Shimoni, part 2. fol. 90, col. 1) is no less distinct, as even Aben Ezra, Abarbanel, and other distinguished men among their later authors confess. I am indebted to another (who has supplied some of these references) for the striking fact that even now, in the prayers of the synagogue used universally, there is the clearest witness to the same truth. For instance, at the Passover they pray in these terms: “Hasten and cause the shadows to flee away. Let him be exalted and extolled and be high, who is now despised. Let him deal prudently and reprove and sprinkle many nations.” Again, in the prayers for the day of Atonement, there is as plain an allusion to the righteous Anointed bearing the yoke of iniquities and transgression, wounded because of it, and men (or Israel at least) healed by His wound. The translator (D. Levi) tries to turn part of the prayer aside to Josiah, as do some of the Rabbis; but the prayer expressly alludes to the Messiah in one of these references to Isaiah 53 just cited, even according to the same person.

The more modern writers, who dread the ancient application of the prophecy to the Messiah by their fathers, have invented a double means of escape, either by applying it to some distinguished man like Josiah or Jeremiah, or to the Jewish people elsewhere styled “My servant” in the prophecy. But in vain. This section is so punctually and exclusively applicable to our Lord that these efforts only prove the will of unbelief and its failure. In the beginning of chap. 49. we have already seen Christ, the Servant substituted for Israel who had been altogether wanting. We have seen in chap. 1. that the godly Jews are exhorted to obey the voice of this Servant of Jehovah, humbled though He has been among men, but vindicated of God, and indeed He Himself is God.

The three closing verses of 52 open the new and full view of Messiah suffering and exalted in connection with Israel; for this last qualification needs to be borne in mind, lest man should look for that which it is no part of the Spirit’s work here to reveal. The union of Jew and Gentile in one body, as well as Christ Head over all things to it, His church, is, as the apostle tells us, a mystery, that is, a secret not revealed in Old Testament times (Eph. 1:22, 23; Eph. 3:1-11). Many points true of the church and the Christian are revealed in this prophecy as in others; but nowhere is heavenly union mentioned until after Christ’s rejection and ascension, and is not fully made known till the apostle Paul was entrusted with the administration of it.

The exalted Messiah of Israel is then before us, who erst was covered with shame and bent to such humiliation as was never before nor since the portion for any son of man. Hence many were dumb through astonishment, or rather perhaps abhorrence — “shocked” at Him: they had looked for Messiah far otherwise. His lowly mien and surroundings of life and labours first disappointed; His meek acceptance of insult and suffering next drew out all their malice and aversion.

“So shall He sprinkle many nations.” The Septuagint translates, “So shall many nations regard him with admiration” that is, it would seem, in contrast with Jewish vexation and hatred; but this supposes a different verb in their Hebrew copies, though differing only very slightly in form. Some of the ablest Jewish critics take it as meaning that the Messiah will drop the word in that manner and so teach if not refresh many Gentiles. Certainly what is said of kings implies a reverent and subject silence before Him. Thus ver. 15 may be considered to stand in antithesis to ver. 14: the one presenting the bitter unbelieving disappointment of the chosen; the other the beneficent dealing with the Gentiles, so that their kings are mute with awe in His presence. This accordingly cannot, save generally, apply at this time, but joins on the effects of His advent in glory in contrast with the days of His flesh (ver. 14), and in unison with the opening words of ver. 13. The apostle only uses the principle of the last words (ver. 15) for his own going out with the gospel where no other had preceded, and no sound of Christ might have yet reached (Rom. 15:21); but he in no way treats this as the fulfilment of that oracle.

“Behold,” says God now through His prophet, “my servant will deal prudently [or rather, prosper], he shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. As many were astonished at thee (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men), so shall he sprinkle22 many nations; kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (vv. 13-15). What can be less congruous with this prophecy than the facts of Josiah, Jeremiah, or the Jewish people? Neither the king nor the prophet had any such destiny as could be fairly brought into this remarkable contrast of, first, deep shame, then wide and lofty glory before subject nations and kings. And though it is true, as we have often noticed in this prophet, that “my servant” sometimes applies to Israel, there are always definite contextual marks which render the decision by no means difficult or doubtful. This is made evident and certain from chapter 53, where there is the most obvious distinction between the Individual in question and the people who esteemed Him not. For He bore their griefs and carried their sorrows, yea, was wounded for their transgressions, and brought healing to them by His stripes when bruised for their iniquities. To identify this suffering One with the people from whom and for whom He thus suffered, and to whom He afterwards brings such signal blessing, is the grossest confusion on the face of the matter. But let us turn to the wondrous words of our God from these unbelieving and biased vagaries of men.

The humiliation of the Messiah ran so counter to every preconceived thought and wish of the Jew that one can readily understand the advantage which Satan found in urging on the people, leaders and all, to their fatal unbelief and rejection of Him. But there was a deeper ground of aversion in the heart than disappointment in their national ambition, and this charge of dislike to His Person takes in man universally, and not Israel only: “For he was despised and left alone of men.” They shrank from One Who sounded and laid bare man’s iniquities and enmity to God, Himself the perfection of obeying God and loving man. Hence, notwithstanding the attractiveness of moral beauty and lowly grace, with power that proved itself superior to all the sickness and misery of man, there arose the hatred that grew more intense and deadly as He brought in God to deal with their conscience. To interpret what is predicted of Him as being the state of “that wicked generation” is beyond measure absurd.

It is not here the remnant of the Jews distinguished from the mass by hearkening to the voice of Jehovah’s Servant, as in Isa. 50:10, but many nations and kings in astonishment at His exaltation Who was once so humbled. The inspired word puts every thing and every one in the just place.

Isaiah 53

Here we have the confession and wondering complaint over the unbelief of men, yea, over their own unbelief; for Israel, now broken down in sense of sin, acknowledge that it was not merely those without who heeded little the report of the Messiah, but that they too themselves had been hard and rebellious against Him. “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of Jehovah been revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender sapling, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, [there is] no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and shunned of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom they hide [their] faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he [it is] hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (vv. 1-6).

The close of the last chapter (vv. 13-15) gave us Jehovah’s contemplation of His Anointed, once put to shame, and now on the summit of glory before every eye. His deity introduced His humiliation in Isa. 50, here His humiliation leads to His glory: expiation was the divine aim in that humiliation. Then in Isa. 53 His people trace, in view of Him, their past and most guilty blindness, as they think of His wondrous humiliation, their misjudgement of His life and death, and their present perception of its cause in their sins and misery from which He had come to save them. When they had of old beheld His path of shame and sufferings from first to last, they understood neither the grace which brought Him down so low nor the glories that should follow. They now justly feel and own (vers. 1-3) the power of unbelief in the chosen people: a far more humbling fact in them than among the nations sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Israel had ample testimony; yet what scepticism! The very humiliation of the Messiah which should have endeared Him only drew out aversion. They misread Himself utterly, as if He were under ban like another Gehazi or Uzziah. But now (vers. 4-6) being taught of God, they avow before Him and men that underneath all that humiliation, and, as they wrongly thought, personal obnoxiousness or liability to God’s judgement a deeper work was being done: first, the fullest identification with their burden on His own heart, as He went up and down the land, Immanuel’s land, entering into the weight of all that He healed (v. 4); and finally atonement before Him (v. 5). They had regarded Him, on the contrary, as an object of God’s displeasure, and justly cast out and trampled on. But it was a total misconception of all His marvellous grace, a negligent oversight of their own deep necessities, both in the life that now is, and yet more for that which is to come. Hence Matt. 8:17 justly applies the first part of verse 4 to the Lord, as He relieved the afflictions of the Jews, and healed their diseases in His ministry, never bringing in bare power merely, but bearing all in spirit before God, while He cured them; as 1 Peter 2:24, 25 applies verse 5 to His work for our sins on the cross. This recognition of the truth opens the mouth in lowly confession of sin; as the heart will then feel its past evil ways, and each judges himself before God.

In vers. 7-9 Jehovah expresses His delight in the moral beauty which shone in the suffering One, affirming on His part the explanation of the enigma of the cross, though up to His death of shame man was allowed his way in disposing of Jesus. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and was as a sheep dumb before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth. He was taken from detention and from judgement: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And they made his grave with the wicked, but [he was] with the rich in his death,23 because he had done no violence, neither [was there] guile in his mouth” (vv. 7-9). The plague stroke was upon Him for the transgression of the people of Jehovah. It was not the outward fact simply of a rejected Messiah to which He was pleased to submit, the awful proof of man’s and Israel’s moral state; but there is this divine key, and the far more wondrous meeting of a more hidden and a deeper need, even expiation. Yet even in His ignominious death God wrought so that by His resurrection from among the dead He should have honour unexpectedly.

Israel then reiterate the blessed truth with their Amen, pursuing the glorious consequences as far as it is theirs to see them. “Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shalt make his soul (or, when his soul shall have been made) an offering for sin, he shall see a seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand” (v. 10). Here the atoning work, in the suffering of the Lord for sin, is dwelt on with its issue as far as was suitable then to speak. It is blessedly true that the death and blood-shedding of the Saviour must be for propitiation; but it is as false a thought as any that the enemy of souls ever insinuated that this propitiation or atonement is or could be, according to God and His word, without His sufferings specifically, yea, that suffering which was the deepest expression of God’s judgement of our iniquities, when He Who knew no sin was made sin for us and forsaken of God. His blood and death when viewed as expiatory, and not as the evidence simply of man’s wickedness, are the blood and death of Him Who really bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and endured the to us unfathomable judgement of God, when not the Jews only but God hid His face from Him. Can a Christian slight this divine abandonment of Him Who suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God? He may, but only as he may be guilty of grievous, not to say fatal, error.24 God’s part in atonement is and must be the deepest.

“1. He bare sin as a heavy burden: so the word of bearing in general, ἀνήνεγκεν, and those two words, particularly used by the prophet to which these allude are the bearing of some great mass or load, and that sin is. For it hath the wrath of an offended God hanging on it, indissolubly tied to it; of which who can bear the least? . . . Yea, to consider in the present subject where use may best read what it is, it was a heavy load to Christ, where the psalmist, speaking in the person of Christ, complains heavily, ‘Innumerable evils have compassed me about. Mine iniquities’ (not His, as done by Him, but yet His by His undertaking to pay for them), they ‘have taken hold of me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head: therefore my heart faileth me.’ And sure that which pressed Him so sore, who upholds heaven and earth, no other in heaven or earth could have sustained or surmounted, but would have sunk or perished under it. Was it, think you, the pain of that common outside of His death though very painful, that drew such a word from Him, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me? Or was it the fear of it beforehand, that pressed a sweat of blood from Him? No, it was this burden of sin, the first of which was committed in the garden of Eden, that then began to be laid upon Him, and fastened upon His shoulders in the garden of Gethsemane, ten thousand times heavier than the cross which He was caused to bear that might be for a while turned over to another, but this could not. This was the cup He trembled more at, than that gall and vinegar after to be offered Him by His crucifiers or any other part of His external sufferings. It was the bitter cup of wrath due to sin that is rather put into His hand and caused Him to drink the very same thing that is here called the bearing our sins in his body.’ . . . Jesus Christ is both the great high priest and the great sacrifice in one. And this seems to be here implied in these words, ‘Himself bare our sins in his own body’; which the legal priest did not: so ‘He made his soul an offering for sin.’ He offered up Himself, His whole self. In the history of the Gospel it is said, His soul was heavy and chiefly suffered; but the bearing in His body and offering it, that is oftenest mentioned as the visible part of the sacrifice, and in His way of offering!, not excluding the other. Thus we are exhorted to give our bodies in opposition to the bodies of beasts, and they are therefore called a living sacrifice, which they are not without the soul. Thus His bearing in His body imports the bearing in His soul too.” — The Works of R. Leighton, Jerment’s edition, 1805, i. 370-376 It may be added that this was a point of objection by Cardinal Bellarmine to Calvin who maintained the same doctrine as is carped at now-a-days, and not merely by rationalist speculators, such as Mr. F. D. Maurice and his friends. It seems rather a peculiar mind which could cite 1 Peter 3:18 in a paragraph designed to prove that reconciliation or atonement is never in connection with Christ’s sufferings specifically. It is false that the statement they oppose separates His sufferings from His blood and death; on the contrary while distinguishing the other points, the object was to insist on the inseparableness of His sufferings with His blood and death for atonement. The admission that they are not separated in the Spirit’s mind for atonement is the true thesis, which is yielded. But it is wrong to say, “the two are never separated.” It is merely inattention to scripture (which distinguishes them), and it claims no answer.]

The chapter closes with Jehovah’s confirmation, repeating the glorious results of both grace and government, and in each case connecting them with the work of salvation. “From (or, of) the travail of his soul shall he see, he shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant instruct the many in righteousness; and he shall bear their iniquities” (v. 11). Such seems the simple, true, and exact sense of the verse which has been lost sight of often by translators, and still more by preachers, as well as (through a very different influence) by Jews. There is no need of importing an evangelical sense, which really misleads as if by the knowledge of Himself,” meant the knowledge respecting or concerning the Messiah.25 The broad facts in the Lord’s history are before us: His ministry, when through His knowledge He instructed the mass in righteousness; His death when He bore their iniquities on the tree. The order is quite clear and sound; and there is no need for taking the copulative in a causal sense, or in any other than its own strict meaning.

It was thus the Lord taught on the mount as well as in other places and times during His sojourn on earth. Then came another and mightier work which could be shared by none. Others might suffer in love or in righteousness; He not merely in both, but He alone for the sins of others at God’s hand, as we were expressly told in the verse before. But the Spirit never tires of the wondrous fact, and loves to present it on all sides, from God to man, and from man to God. Dan. 12:3 proves irrefutably that the Hebrew will bear the sense of “instruct in righteousness” as well as of “justify”: which of the two senses depends on the contextual necessity. There indeed it must mean the former; for, first, teachers cannot “justify” in the forensic sense (which is the true doctrinal force of the word, when thus employed as to the soul of a believer); and, secondly, as it is there a question of the many (the apostate mass of the Jews, which is the technical value of the words in Daniel), it must mean “instruct in,” rather than “bring to, righteousness,” for they do not bring them. Hence I doubt not it means similarly in Isaiah, though it may be here not so clear that “the many” has the same force. Still the burden of proof would lie on such as contend for a difference in the usage of the two prophets. To most minds their coincidence lends a mutual confirmation.

But sinful souls need far more than instruction, were it ever so perfect, as the Lord’s surely must be. Hence it is added, “And he shall bear their iniquities.” He suffers for them according to the scriptures, and His suffering for sin is efficacious. The change to “for” was due to the supposition that justification was meant in the previous clause, for which His bearing iniquities was the ground. Abstractly this is true, as all believers admit, according to abundant scripture; but the question here is, whether the text does not convey another truth, apt to be overlooked, in its plain unforced meaning with emphasis on “He.”

Jehovah closes His answer with the assured triumph that awaits Messiah, based as it is, for Him alone of conquerors, on His sacrificial death so long misread, and His gracious use of it on behalf of the transgressors with whom malice had confounded Him. “Therefore will I assign him [a portion] with the great (or, many), and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out (or, bared) his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).

The notion of the later Jews, (represented by Dr. Philippson for instance), that it is Jacob as a whole is a mere subterfuge, or that Israel’s sufferings conduce to the happiness of the nations. “They are become the martyrs of the acknowledgment of the ONE, and by their exaltation the nations will be directed with the strength of conviction to the sole and only God. This view of the prophet is truly sublime.... The doubts, therefore, which the Jewish commentators (Redak and Abarbanel) have raised here, that this procedure would be opposed to the justice of God, which must allow every one to bear the punishment of what he has himself committed, can only be applied to individuals, while the prophet had in view the whole development of mankind.” Now the fact is admitted, even by the Rabbis who brought in the idea, that the ancient Jews referred the suffering but righteous Servant of the passage to the Messiah, and this is the admission not of some but of the elders with one mouth. However, not any such confessions are cited as authorities in the least, but scripture only. Here all is light. The “we” of this section, as elsewhere is unquestionably Jewish, not Gentile; as unquestionably distinct from the One Whose position and relation to God they confess had been so fatally misconceived. To understand the “we” of the Gentiles is an impossibility; to take both “we” and “he” as Israel, or the prophetic body, is too absurd and self-contradictory. “He” is a real individual Who suffers from and for Israel, instead of being the same.

Then also, to notice another plea, the interchange of tenses is no more difficult here than elsewhere. It is habitual with the prophets, and with Isaiah no less than others. That Israel was viewed as the servant is true; and Israel failed as such. Then comes Messiah the Servant, Who glorifies God, yet suffers and dies, but, as here we learn, it was for Israel, though not for Israel only; and then Israel, sifted and repentant and believing in Him, are viewed in consequence as servants for His glory by-and by. Such is the scope of these later chapters of Isaiah.

But the idea of Israel being here meant by the suffering One is as false morally as exegetically. For it supposes that the Gentiles will yet acknowledge that Israel had to bear this hard fate solely for their redemption out of their sinful state (vv. 4-6); so that Israel through the patience which they exhibit notwithstanding all their sufferings, since they never departed from the only God, shall be placed on a yet higher eminence (vv. 7-9). Assuredly the Gentiles will yet confess their sins, not only their sins against God, but their cruel persecution and jealousy and envy of Israel. Assuredly they will yet trust with the real faith that is to be, but alas! is not yet, Israel’s. But a more flagrant mistake was never made than that Israel can take the ground of unswerving righteousness like the suffering Messiah here. Take alone the very first chapter of Isaiah: we see there Israel suffering; but is it for righteousness? Is it not for their own appalling sins? And if it be said that such they were of old but that all is changed when we arrive at a later day such as in Isaiah 53, I answer let them see their divinely-painted portrait in its neighbourhood, in Isa. 57-59, and let them say where is the conscience which can so trifle with the word of God and the facts of their own hearts and ways.

No; reading Isa. 53 we find ourselves in the midst of sacrificial imagery, of atonement for sin, of intercession for sinners; and these sins are pre-eminently Israel’s, as will be the blessedness. We heartily admit this last, and rejoice and give God thanks for the grace He will yet extend to His ancient people. But they by grace will justly prove its genuineness by the confession of their own sins, above all against their own Messiah, not in self-righteousness pretending to have been a suffering Messiah themselves for the Gentiles. There is indeed vicarious suffering here, a holy substitute atoning for the guilty before God; but it is Messiah for Israel expressly, though not exclusively. For His death embraces every creature to be delivered from evil; and from first to last, not even the most distant hint of Israel suffering for the Gentiles. Jews suffered from them far, far too much; but they will never suffer for them. Jesus, the only spotless Lamb of God, Immanuel, died for that nation, for Israel, though — thanks be to God — for us also (John 11:51, 52). Worthily therefore is He now exalted, and we are in living union with Him Who sits on the throne of God. This however is not the point here, but His exaltation over the earth and the nations when Israel come to own their sins in the recognition of their suffering but then glorified Messiah. Thus it falls in with the general bearing of Old Testament prophecy, though it contains also the most luminous testimony to His humiliation and atoning work.

The language of the last verse presents no real difficulty save to those who read the first clause in connection with the gospel; whereas it looks on to the day of the world-kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ, when He will come forth before every eye as the Lord of lords and King of kings, sharing with others the fruits of His victory. What gave occasion to the mistake is that the ground laid in the later clauses is His humiliation, atoning death, and intercession. This beyond doubt is the basis and the boast of Christianity. Only it is an inexcusable error to confine it to us who are now called from Gentiles as well as from Jews. The day hastens when the fullness shall have come in; and so Israel shall be saved. Then will this vision (Isa. 52:13 — Isa. 53:12) be fulfilled, and not as a whole till then.

Isaiah 54

How beautifully seasonable is the voice of the Spirit calling on Jerusalem to sing after His own clear and full prediction of Messiah rejected of Israel and bruised of Jehovah in atonement! Indeed the last section of the prophecy gave us a most striking and instructive rehearsal or dialogue between God and His people about Messiah, His sufferings, and the glories that should follow. Fitly therefore follows the invitation to her who had sorrowed so long and so justly now to rejoice because of her new blessing in His grace.

“Exult, thou barren, [that] didst not bear; break forth into singing, and shout aloud, thou [that] didst not travail with child: for more [are] the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah” (v. 1). Never ought it to have been a question who is meant. The reference undoubtedly is to the heavenly and not to the earthly Jerusalem. As usual however, the commentators have confused what is plain, and agreed in scarce anything but departure from the true sense and aim. The occasion of stumbling they have in general found, partly by their habit of excluding the Jews from the prophets and so judaising the Christians (limiting themselves to the past and present without taking in the Suture), partly from a misunderstanding of Gal. 4:27 through mixing it up with the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar. But who does not see that the citation of the prophet connects itself rather with Jerusalem which is above, in contrast with Jerusalem which then was? When the prophecy is fulfilled in the millennial day, God will count those who now believe to be Jerusalem’s children, as well as the race to come in that day. Doubly thus it will be verified that more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife. For what fruit of the most flourishing times, say under David or Solomon, could compare with the gathering-in of the Christian saints since the Jews lost their place as the recognised witness and wife of Jehovah; or, again, with the vast progeny which Jehovah will give her after her long desolation, when His reign shall be displayed over the earth? (Consult Isa. 49:13-23; Isa. 60:8, 20-22).

It is important to see, on the one hand, that though it is according to scripture to regard Christians mystically as the children of desolate Jerusalem far outnumbering those of her married estate of old, the church, on the other hand, is not yet presented by God’s word as being in the relationship of the wife, either desolate or married. The marriage is future and on high. The bride, the Lamb’s wife, will not have made herself ready till she has been caught up to heaven glorified, and the harlot Babylon, the anti church, has been judged of Jehovah God. The real position of the church meanwhile is that of one espoused; her responsibility is to keep herself as a chaste virgin for Christ. The marriage will be in heaven, just before the Lord and His glorified saints appear for the destruction of the Antichrist and all his allies. (Compare Rev. 19)

On the other hand, it is undeniable that the Jews, or Zion if you will, had the place of nearness to Jehovah which is represented under the figure of the marriage-tie, that she had been faithless and played the whore with many lovers (even the idols of the Gentiles), and that in consequence she was divorced, becoming a widow and desolate under the righteous dealing of God. Adultery was her sin, rather than fornication. No one in the least familiar with the prophets can have failed to notice this and more said of Israel. Then it was she became barren and did not bear. Praise is still silent for God in Zion; but the vow shall yet be performed to Him (Ps. 65:1); and the barren one shall sing and be no more barren but bear, astonished to find during those days of literal barrenness such an abundant offspring in the saints glorified on high, whom grace has been the while actively bringing in.

Nor is this all. “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited” (vv. 2, 3). The land, the earth, must be filled with a suited seed; for Jehovah shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Jehovah and His name one. Yea, Jehovah deigns to be the husband of Zion, not now a mere testimony and display of responsibility of man under law, but in the efficacy of grace when glorying is no more in the flesh but in Jehovah. “Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker [is] thy husband: Jehovah of hosts [is] His name, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. For Jehovah hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when rejected, saith thy God” (vv. 4 6).

Thus, and thus only, our chapter flows in its own proper channel: the exclusion of Israel by-and-by and the appropriation of it to the church as its intended scope produce nothing but violence and confusion by that interpretation. It is not true that God has forsaken the church even for a small moment, nor that in a little wrath He hides His face for an instant from the Christian: such and so great is the efficacy of redemption. Of the Jew as such it is precisely the present fact: as surely will He yet gather in His mercy His ancient people for ever. “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer. For this [is as] the waters of Noah unto me; since I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will no more be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee” (vv. 7-10).

No doubt the application to the Maccabean epoch falls incomparably short of the terms of blessing, and such views cast no small slight on the character of the word of God. But this is the fault, not of scripture, but of its misreaders. A people are in question who, having once stood in full favour and near relationship to Jehovah, forfeited it for a season, and finally are restored more than ever and for ever. There is but one such people: impossible that God should fail to have mercy on Israel. Guilty Christendom is doomed to destruction, and has no promise of restoration. Strong is the Lord God Who is to judge the Babylon that is now, worse and guiltier far than her of old (Rev. 17 - 18).

“O afflicted, tossed with tempest, not comforted! behold I will set thy stones in antimony, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of pleasant stones. And all thy children [shall be] taught of Jehovah; and great [shall be] the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established; thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear, and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they shall surely gather together, [but] not by me: whosoever gathereth together against thee shall fall because of thee. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is prepared against thee shall prosper; and every tongue [that] riseth against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn. This [is] the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness [is] of me, saith Jehovah” (vv. 11-17). Thus the prophecy is not only of everlasting mercy reinstating the ancient people, but along with it are images of beauty and glory with which Jehovah will adorn them. Truth will be theirs, for they all shall be taught of Jehovah; peace too, great peace, will be enjoyed; and, established in righteousness, they shall be far from oppression and fear, though not from hostile intention (as we know from Ezek. 38 - 39 at the beginning of the millennium, and from Rev. 20:7-9 at its end). But Israel will have hoped in Jehovah, and not in vain: for with Jehovah is mercy, and with Him plenteous redemption.

See on the two sides the frightful perversion to which all are exposed who allegorize the prophecies, as is the popular fashion of so-called high church and low church and no church; for it is hard to say who is most guilty in this path, ruinous to all faith and practice characteristic of Christianity. “To take an example” (said the late Matthew Arnold) “which will come home to all Protestants, Dr. Newman, in one of those charming Essays which he has of late rescued for us, quotes from the 54th chapter of Isaiah the passage beginning, I will lay thy stones with fair colours and thy foundations with sapphires, as a prophecy and authorisation of the sumptuosities of the Church of Rome. This is evidently to use the passage in the way of application. Protestants will say that it is a wrong use of it; but to Dr. Newman their similar use of passages about the beast, and the scarlet woman, and Antichrist, will seem equally wrong. But as to the historical substratum, the primary sense of the passage which Dr. Newman quotes, what dissension can there be? Who can deny that in the first instance, however we may apply them afterwards, and whether this after-application be right or wrong, the prophet’s words apply to the restored Zion?”

Now, without profitless wrangling on primary or secondary application, it is certain to faith that the Romanists have corrupted God’s word to justify the lusts, vanities, and pomps claimed as her due by the great harlot of Rome, through the same insubjection to scripture which leads others at the opposite pole to make the best of both worlds; whose judgement is alike just. For they are verily inexcusable. The Christian, the church, is called to set the mind on things above, not on things on the earth, where we are called to walk by faith, not by sight, and to suffer both for righteousness’ sake and for Christ’s, in view of the heavenly glory into which He is gone before, while we await His coming to enjoy it with Him. For Israel it is altogether different. When brought into known relationship with Him, it is in earthly honour and glory; and nothing in nature will be too precious for the adornment of Zion. Beyond doubt they too will be born anew; but the days of the kingdom displayed in power (no longer in patience during the prevalence of evil) account for the radical and evident difference. Then will be the days of restored Zion, as much denied by the rationalist as by the superstitious who both look to man and present things. And thus is God’s word made of none effect through man’s traditions.

Without faith it is impossible to please God; and there is no real faith where God’s great object of faith, the Lord Jesus does not arrest, command, and satisfy the heart. We speak now of those to whom He has been announced by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, rather than of the saints who waited for redemption before His first advent. We must not be deceived by or about such as find an entrancing interest, literary or even moral, in the scriptures, without faith in Christ or the gospel. For this may be in the vilest of mankind where intellectual and aesthetic force is strong. Take another instance, to which we are referred in the same page of Mr. Arnold. “Admirably true are these words of Goethe, so constant a reader of the Bible that his free-thinking friends reproach him for wasting his time over it: ‘I am convinced that the Bible becomes even more beautiful the more one understands it; that is, the more one gets insight to see that every word which we take generally and make special application of to our own wants, has had, in connection with certain circumstances, with certain relations of time and place, a particular, directly individual, reference of its own.’“ Sadly true in its measure, say we; for God dealing with the soul, and hence with the life, by the truth in Christ, and meeting the sin-convicted with the fullness of His grace, was distasteful yea, despised and hated. He, who was never weary of talking about “the good of evil” (a sentiment worthy of Mephistopheles) had God in none of his thoughts, and was as far as possible from the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 55

Our chapter does not, after these remarks, call for many words. Its connection with what goes before is plain and makes its own bearing evident. The call is to Israel, but in such largeness of language as to warrant an aspect to the Gentiles. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye weigh money for [that which is] not bread? and your labour for [that which] satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye [that which is] good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him [for] a witness to the peoples, a prince and commander to the peoples” (vv. 1-4). Here plainly some outstanding One is referred to, as to Whom no believer need hesitate. It is the Lord Jesus in royal relation to Israel (v. 3), and withal a witness and commander to the peoples of the earth (v. 4).

The thoughtful mind — at least if taught of God — will not overlook the divine application of verse 3 to the resurrection of our Lord, contra-distinguished from the use of Psalm 2:7, in Acts 13:33, 34. It had been indeed implied in Isa. 53:10, as in Ps. 16:10, 11; Ps. 21:4. His resurrection is both the security for the accomplishment of what was promised to Israel, and the occasion for the outflow of the grace which calls and shall yet call Gentiles into a share of God’s blessing, and of the knowledge of Himself. Before death and resurrection, though He could never deny His deeper glory or His grace to the faith that saw either, He was not sent save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Crucified and risen, Christ is the attractive object for all indiscriminately. And the spirit of this wide grace breathes fragrantly through this chapter. “Behold, thou shalt call a nation thou knowest not, and a nation [that] knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God and the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall accomplish that for which I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap [their] hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, and instead of the nettle shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign [that] shall not be cut off” (vv. 5-13).

Certainly the language rises into bright figures, expressive of a joy and blessing incomparably beyond human experience since sin came into the world, and with all the firmness given by Christ’s coming to blot out sins by His blood, to establish everlasting righteousness, and to display the mercy and the glory of God here below. But can anything be more unreasonable, to say nothing of the ingratitude of unbelief, than to misuse such modes of expression to get rid of the truth and reduce the living word to inanity? Apply the grace of the chapter as much as can be done truly to the need and comfort of souls now by the gospel; there still remains the clear intimation of “the times of refreshing” reserved for Him Who died and rose, when He comes from heaven to reign over the earth. Doubtless Christ is exalted to the highest in heaven; He sits on the Father’s throne; but He is coming to sit on His own throne, and will make His enemies His footstool. This He is not doing, but sitting on high till that moment be arrived. Now He is converting souls, as well as baptising believers into one body by the Spirit. Then He will break the nations with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. How monstrous to pervert such words to the work of the gospel! It is that execution of divine judgement which inaugurates the Lord’s taking His own throne. He is now seated on His Father’s throne. When He reigns over the earth, we shall reign with Him, instead of suffering with Him, as we are called to do now.

Even to apply, yet more to restrict, such glowing language and such glorious hopes for Israel, the peoples, and the earth, to the restoration from the Babylonish exile, must always have been an extreme assumption, and it evidently tends to bring on scripture the charge of exaggeration. Yet more than ever in our day men claiming to be critics would reduce it to a promise that the homeward journey of the exiles should be pleasant and comfortable! Truly faith is not the portion of all, least of all, one might sorrowfully say, of critics. It is also flagrant ignorance of the Book they essay to interpret, and of its structure; for we have done with Babylon since Isa. 48 and Isa. 49 has begun the new theme of the rejected but glorified Messiah and the everlasting consequences. This fact alone dissipates all such delusions.

Isaiah 56

The next two chapters carry on the same line of truth we have seen since the rejection and atoning death of Christ came distinctly into view, and pursue the consequences of that infinite fact. As far as a natural division goes, one might be disposed to close the first subject treated in them with Isa. 56:8, and then to take from verse 9 to the end of Isa. 57 as completing not the second only but the entire section, which began with Isa. 49. According to this we should have here, first, the ways of Jehovah founded on the Messiah’s death for sin in respect of the godly, even outside Israel; and, secondly, His ways, when He was displeased with the ungodly, not merely outside but in the midst of Israel. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.

Some have drawn from the Lord’s citation of a clause of this section, that He intimates its then approaching accomplishment in the Christian church. Now it is not denied that as we have broad moral principles of grace on God’s part in Isaiah 55, so too in its flowing out to the Gentiles in Isaiah 56, which are now realised in the gospel and the church, even more fully than anything here developed. But we ought not to overlook the fact that neither in Matthew nor in Luke is the Lord represented as quoting the reference to all the nations: an omission the more notable inasmuch as in both these Gospels, above all others though in each for a special reason, we have more respecting the change of dispensation then at hand, and the call of grace going out to the Gentiles than anywhere else. One cannot but gather thence, that, though in fact, as the full citation in Mark shows, the Lord did quote the words of our prophet without abridgement, yet this marked exclusion of “all nations” in the two Gospels which most insist on the change from Israel to the Gentiles, is meant to intimate that no such application was then in His mind, but simply the gross perversion of Jehovah’s house of prayer into a den of robbers before His eyes, even as Jeremiah reproached the Jews of his day. There is nothing therefore, if this be correct, to turn aside the fulfilment of this blessed fruit of the cross from the future, however large the terms may be, and this not without purpose on God’s part.

The chapter then opens not with a call to sinners, as such, to repent and believe the gospel; but to the people of God to keep judgement and do justice, though the reason assigned is in no way the law given by Moses, but “My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.” When the apostle unfolds the glad tidings, he says that God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel; that it is manifested apart from law. Clearly this goes farther. Salvation is come, as we find in Eph. 2:8. “For by grace are ye saved through faith”; though, in view of our resurrection and glory, we as truly say that it is nearer than when we believed. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith (Gal. 5:5). The righteousness is established, and we are justified in virtue of this already; but we await through the Spirit the hope, the glorious issue, proper to that righteousness, when even in the body we shall be conformed to the image of God’s Son: “whom He justified, them He also glorified.” But this is the language of the New Testament apostle, not of our Old Testament prophet, who is occupied with the earthly people and their hopes, but in God-given terms of such comprehensiveness as to justify the largest ways of grace.

“Thus saith Jehovah, Keep ye judgement and do righteousness: for my salvation [is] near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed [is] weak man [that] doeth this, and the son of man [that] holdeth fast by it; that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil” (vv. 1, 2). The following verse (3) is even more express: the most distant, “the son of the stranger,” and the most desperate, “the eunuch,” were not beyond the reach of God’s merciful and mighty blessing. And this is repeated in the most forcible language as to both classes in the subsequent verses, concluding with the expression of Jehovah’s mind to be known and read of all men, that His “house should be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” “Neither let the son of the stranger that hath joined himself to Jehovah speak, saying Jehovah hath entirely separated me from his people; nor let the eunuch say, Behold, I [am] a dry tree. For thus saith Jehovah, Unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose [the things] that please me, and hold fast by my covenant, unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger that join themselves to Jehovah, to minister unto him and to love the name of Jehovah, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast by my covenant — even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices [shall be] accepted upon my altar: for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. The Lord Jehovah who gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather [others] to him, with those of his that are gathered” (vv. 3-8).

The second part (from Isa. 56:9 to Isa. 57:21) stands out in startling contrast at first sight; but it flows, without doubt, from the same principle as the first. The grace which goes forth ever so actively to the most miserable is of all things the most intolerant of evil; and its dealing is ever most delicate and jealous with those that are near enough to be so much the more responsible to reflect Jehovah brightly. “All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen [are] blind, they are all without knowledge; they [are] all dumb dogs, they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, the dogs [are] greedy, they can never have enough; and these [are] shepherds [that] cannot understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter. Come ye, [say they,] I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to-morrow shall be as this day, [a day] great beyond measure” (vv. 9-12).

The Gentile oppressors are first invited to lay waste (v. 9). Those who ought to have watched and tended the beautiful flock of Jehovah not only slept, but they awoke to their own greed of gain and love of present ease, as indifferent about God as about His people (vv. 10-12). It is a vivid picture of that living to self and the things that are seen, which at a later date characterised the Sadducees who denied not only the resurrection but angel or spirit. The origin of their name is of small moment, their materialism was ruinous. If, as is said they derived their title from pretension to righteousness, or even claimed to be a sacerdotal aristocracy from the eminent priest who in early days superseded Abiathar, either origin matters little. High-sounding representations among the Jews, as elsewhere, are commonly put forward to cover ungodliness and sensualism. And this frightfully evil state is here declared to have been conspicuous among the watchmen and shepherds of the chosen people. Such corruption laid the people and their leaders open, as we shall see in the chapter that follows, to yet worse, beneath which depth is none lower, idolatry leading the way.

Isaiah 57

On the other hand the Shepherd of Israel neither slumbered nor slept, and if the righteous perished without a soul’s laying it to heart, it was but His hand after all taking the righteous away from the evil to come.

The growing apostasy of Judah made it no longer a desirable thing to live long on the earth, though normally it was a special promise for those obedient to the law. Now says the prophet, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth [it] to heart; and merciful (or, godly) men [are] taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from before the evil. He entereth into peace: they rest in their beds, [each] that hath walked [in] his uprightness” (vv. 1, 2).

Next, the prophet under various figures of uncleanness arraigns the idolatrous Jews. “But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? Against whom make ye a wide mouth, [and] draw out the tongue? [Are] ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, inflaming yourselves among the oaks (or, with idols) under every green tree; slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks? Among the smooth [stones] of the valley [is] thy portion; they, they [are] thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink-offering, thou hast offered an oblation. Shall I be appeased for these things? Upon a high and lofty mountain hast thou set thy bed: thither also wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. And behind the doors and the posts hast thou set up thy memorial: for thou hast uncovered [thyself] apart from me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee [a covenant] with them; thou lovedst their bed, thou sawest their nakedness. And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thine ambassadors far off, and didst debase [thyself] unto Sheol” (vv. 3-9).

The sketch is most energetic, and the general scope is plain. The only allusion which strikes one as calling for particular notice is found in verse 9, “And thou wentest to the king with ointment.” This will be the climax of Israel’s heartless desertion of Jehovah, and rejection of the Messiah. They received not Him Who came in His Father’s name; they will receive another who is to come in his own name. The spirit of this has been often verified, doubtless; but it awaits its full final signature in the Antichrist of the last days. He is “the king,” as abruptly (but so much the more strikingly) brought in here as he is in Dan. 11:36-40. Unbelief as blindly acquiesces in the false and evil, as it ignores the truth and hates righteousness and grace. “The king” is not “the woman,” “the great whore,” but with those that work the destruction of Babylon, though only the more audaciously opposed to God and the Lamb. The Jew will play a solemn part during this last struggle in the end of the age. “The king” will be in Judah and Jerusalem, the land and city destined for the Messiah; the centre of the Babylonish system is the great city of the west, Rome: but God will destroy the one, and the Lamb vanquish the other. The Beast and the false prophet, or “the king,” perish together.

As the Jews are thus shown persevering in wickedness and going from bad to worse, only destruction awaits them he alone should inherit the land who put his trust in Jehovah; for a remnant there ever is. “Thou wast wearied with the length of thy way; thou saidst not, There is no hope. Thou didst find a quickening of thy strength; therefore thou wast not faint. And of whom hast thou been afraid and in fear, that thou hast lied and not remembered me, nor laid [it] to thy heart? Have not I held my peace even of long time, and thou fearest me not? I will declare thy righteousness; and as for thy works, they shall not profit thee. When thou criest, let them whom thou hast gathered deliver thee; but the wind shall take them, a breath shall carry [them] all away: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain” (vv. 10-13).

Thus in the midst of this harrowing description of coming wickedness and woe Jehovah contrasts, with the hopeless destruction of the apostate, him that trusts in Himself as destined to possess the land (so long the prey of one usurping stranger after another) and to inherit His holy mountain (even to this day the boasted spoil of the Gentile infidel). “And it shall be said, Cast up, cast up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name [is] Holy, I dwell in the high and holy [place], with him also [that is] of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls [which] I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways and will heal him; and I will lead him, and will restore comforts to him and to those of his that mourn. I create the fruit of the lips: peace, peace, to [him that is] afar off and to [him that is] near, saith Jehovah, and I will heal him. But the wicked [are] like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, and whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (vv. 14-21).

“Except those days should be shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:22). Yea, Jehovah will heal, lead, and comfort. He creates thankful praise. Peace is His word, peace to him that is far off and to him that is near; but as for the wicked, like the troubled sea that casts up mire and dirt, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Let the Jew take heed. Certainly the wicked of that people shall not escape. Of all nations, none then so favoured, and therefore were they beyond all responsible; and as they failed to the uttermost, who so guilty? Christendom, favoured much more than the Jew, then, is of all conditions of mankind far the most guilty. Before its eyes Jesus Christ is openly set forth crucified. Yet has it fallen from grace, and gone under law, and turned back again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto they desire once more to be in bondage. Nay, the spirit of the apostasy sets in rapidly, and antichrists multiply far and wide. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” But the Lord is at hand. Behold, the Judge standeth before the doors.

Let it be observed that it was “saith Jehovah” as against idols. Now that the deeper evil of rejecting God in Christ is discussed, the word is “saith my God.” Fancied Elohist or Jehovistic authors have nothing to do with it here or anywhere else. It depends on the nature of what is conveyed by the same writer. This principle of underlying purpose superficial and unbelieving readers failed to see, and betook themselves to the hypothesis of distinct authorship, partly out of their own lack of intelligence, and partly to unsettle and lower the scriptures. Familiar as we are with the rationalistic craze which denies to Isaiah the deep, lofty, and tender closing volume of his prophecy (Isa. 40-66), it would be hard to find a respectable name bold enough to demand an author for Isa. 57 different from him who wrote Isa. 48. In truth the hypothesis is everywhere a baseless dream, mischievous to a high degree, and shutting out the divine light afforded by an intelligent discrimination of those instructive names.

22 This phrase has tormented the critics. The fathers in general apply it to the spiritual work of Christianity; the ancient Jews for the most part to the judicial effect of Messiah’s kingdom in dispersing or casting away the Gentiles. Some of the old versions took the word as expressive of amazement. Gesenius (in his Thes) comes pretty much to the same thing considering the word to mean the effect in starting from their seats those who suddenly see some great personage when it was least expected. But “sprinkling” Is the literal meaning however we may apply it. Some think it simpler to take it that He, Jehovah, will sprinkle many nations on Him the Messiah. But it is hard to see the superior propriety of such a sense to the common view that the very humiliation for the gracious work of redemption then achieved answers the surprise of many of old at the cleansing of many nations by-and-by.

23 The phrase used here is most expressive and points to the intensive and exceptional death of the Holy Sufferer as concentrating many — countless — deaths in that one. Henderson takes the phrase to mean “after his death.”

24 It is notorious that Jesuit preachers are wont to draw moving pictures, as of the physical torments of the lost, so of the external sufferings of our blessed Lord (i.e. the human rather than the divine side) Nor does one deny the substantial truth of what they reason is obvious. Unspiritual themselves, they appeal to that which strikes the senses and can excite the feelings or the fears of their least spiritual auditors. But men of a different stamp have always recognized that the word of God reveals a far deeper truth, not of what was before the eye or by the hand of man, merely, but of what passed unseen between God and Christ in that awful hour. So, to take an instance from one of the better sort, Archbishop Leighton rightly distinguishes this: “In that outside of His sufferings there was an analogy with the end and main work which was ordered by the Lord with regard unto that, being a death declared accursed by the law, as the Apostle Paul observes, and so declaring Him that was God blessed for ever to have been made a curse, that is accounted as accursed for us, that we might be blessed in Him, ‘in whom,’ according to the promise, all the nations of the earth are blessed. But that wherein lay the strength and main stress of His sufferings was this invisible weight that none could see that gazed on Him; but He felt more than all the rest. In this are three things: 1. The weight of sin. 2. she transferring of it upon Christ. 3.His bearing of it.

25 Even Dr. Henderson, who is often free enough from popular prejudice gives this straining of the phrase.