Notes on Isaiah 30-31

Isaiah 30‑31  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 7
There is a topic on which the Spirit of God enlarges much here, which has been scantily noticed hitherto. Inasmuch as it comes before us in the chapter now read, I will say a few words on it—the moral condition of Israel, as proved and brought home to them by the revelation of God. For what we have all throughout these chapters is not merely deliverance, nor this in His grace only, during a time of ruin, but also the righteous Lord proving that he loves righteousness. There was a cause for the proof that the condition of Israel was morally unbearable to God. Blindness was there, religious and, finally, judicial blindness. This is traced by the Spirit in a variety of ways. We will look briefly at what we have before us here.
The first feature of their evil which draws out the indignation of God, is that His people should go down into Egypt; that a people blessed of God, with promises of still better blessings than ever they tasted, with which they are yet to be blessed by God's own grace in the last days—the best possible blessings for a people upon earth—that such a people should go down into Egypt for help, was not only debasing to themselves, but also peculiarly dishonoring to God. Hence the Holy Ghost now, having shown us their deliverance, goes back and indicates from what they were delivered. God brings out one character of evil after another, and shows that the necessary issue of it was destruction. Yet He brings them out of all their distresses, and at length blesses them fully as His own people. It is peculiarly comforting to read of the ways of God, how He is not only a deliverer from dangers, from outward enemies, from Satan, but also from every form of sin. He does not in any wise gloss over moral evil, but chapter after chapter brings it out, though, as the effect of its judgment, Israel seemed ready to be swallowed up. But as the dark side thus appears, so on the other God is seen interfering in grace, plucking their feet out of the net, setting the dispersed in their own land, and securing the triumph of His own grace as well as righteousness. For this cause, He says (ver. 1), “Woe to the rebellious children, that take counsel but not of me.” It is a solemn thing to read such words as these, and still more so to think how applicable they may be to ourselves. Even as children of God, the proneness of our hearts is to act according to our own judgments, for the flesh in the Christian is not a whit better than in any other man. Whenever there is a listening to ourselves, we may be sure there is the same character of evil at work that the Spirit of the Lord was rebuking in Israel.
What to Israel was going down into Egypt, is to us the taking counsel of natural wisdom in any difficulty; that is to say, it was fleshly wisdom which Israel sought, and of which Egypt is the symbol in the ancient world. There was no country in the early history of men so distinguished for the wisdom of nature as Egypt. In latter days Greece and Rome sprang up, but that was long after the time to which this vision applied as an historical fact. They were at first little more than a number of barbarous hordes. There was no wisdom found anywhere to the same extent as in Egypt. The great Assyrian who invaded Israel was characterized, not so much by wisdom as by vast resources, and appliances in the way of strength. Egypt depended mainly on good counsel, as if there were no wise God, on the counsel of man sharpened by long experience, for it was one of the oldest powers that attained eminence. Accordingly, as they had been versed in the statecraft of the ancient world, they had an immense reputation for their knowledge of means of dealing with national difficulties, peace, plenty, &c.
Israel, when threatened by the Assyrian, sought the help of Egypt: I am speaking now of the literal fact when this prophecy first applied. Though it did bear on the days of Isaiah, yet the character of the prophecy shows that it cannot be limited to that time: only a very small part was accomplished then. But between the two terms of Israel's past and future unfaithfulness, seeking to the wisdom of the world in their troubles, there is a serious lesson for us in the pressure of any trial that concerns the testimony of God; there is an immense tendency to meet a worldly trial in a worldly way. That you cannot meet the world's efforts against you by spiritual means is what one is apt to think; so there is the danger of recourse to earthly means for the purpose of escape. What is this but the same thing that we find here? And yet who that feels for the children of God and for the truth, but knows the danger of this? I am sure if we do not feel the danger, it is because we are ourselves under the world's influence. The feeling of the danger the dread of our own spirits, the fear lest we should meet flesh by flesh, is what God uses to make us look to Himself. God will never put His seal on self-dependence; on the contrary, the great lesson, the whole life of Christ teaches is the very reverse. He lived by the Father; so “he that eateth Him shall live by Him.” That is to say, it is in dependence upon another even Christ, that the joy and strength and wisdom of the Christian are found. This we gather before the difficulty comes. Then “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.”
Where we often fail is through acting from impulse. If we think to plan, instead of praying in real subjection to God, we need to fear for ourselves. Is it not an outrage upon the God that has opened His ear to us? And yet who does not know that this is the very thing to which perhaps, more than any other, we are prone?
In this way I take it, that the moral lesson of this chapter is to be seen; it is taking counsel but not of the Lord. Hence (ver. 1-7) God caused the land of Egypt to become the means of deeply aggravating their evil. If we examine the New Testament for our guidance in these difficulties we shall find just the same truth. If the apostle is speaking merely about the ordinary tribulations, we have the very same lesson in other words. Thus he tells us we are to let our moderation be known unto all men, the Lord being at hand: that instead of caring or being anxious about anything (not that we are to be careless, but not to be careful in the sense of anxiety), our requests should be made known unto God with thanksgiving.
Our strength, it is said here, is to sit still; we have a right to expect our God to appear for us, He has entitled us to expect it. We may be perfectly sure, it matters not what the circumstances are, even supposing there has been something to judge in ourselves, if I tell it out to God, will not He listen? He cannot deny Himself. He must deny him that bears the name of Christ. Where He now puts to shame, it is an erring child of God; but so far from His putting such to shame being a proof that he does not love them, it is precisely the proof that He does. But at the same time, let men venture to go beyond what God sees good for the discipline of His child, He soon takes up the rod; and there can be nothing more terrible than when the adversary exceeds the chastening that is just, gratifying his own hatred to them. For God will rise up in His indignation, and deal with them according to His own majesty; even the grace of the Gospel does not set aside that. For instance, see the Second Epistle to Timothy. If persons bearing the name of Christ are carried away by their fleshly zeal, and fight against the truth of God or those charged with the proclamation of that truth, God may use them for dealing with faults in His people. God knows how to bring down His people where their looks are high because of anything in themselves, or that grace has conferred upon them. But when the limit of right rebuke is exceeded, woe be to those that fight against them, covering their own vindictiveness or envy under God's name. It is evident that the very grace of the gospel makes it to be so much the more conspicuous; for it sounds so much the more tremendous that God should thus deal in the midst of all that speaks so loudly of His love.
The Gospels also bring out, in the words of our Lord Himself, the wickedness of fighting against what God is doing even by poor weak disciples. This is the great lesson for us; we are not to consult our own heart or have recourse to the strength of man. When we flee to the various resources of the flesh, we slip out of our proper Christian path. Whereas the strength of God has indeed shone in that foundation pattern in which all the blessing of grace to sinners is contained; and it always takes this form for a Christian, and that is, death and resurrection. There will, apparently, be a great pressure of trial; there will be an apparent sinking down under it; but as surely as there is the semblance of death, there will be the reality of resurrection by and by. Let no one be disheartened. The cross is the right channel of the blessing for the children of God. When we were brought to God, it was just after the same sort. We knew what it was to have the horrors of the conviction of sin, for God was going to bring us for the first time into a place of special blessing. It has always been so. You find it in the case of Abraham, and in proportion to the greatness of blessing is the force of sorrow that precedes it. Isaac was given when Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah as good as dead. There was death, as it were, and he had to wait for a son. Even after the birth and growth of the child of promise, he had to surrender him, to offer up his only son to God. Directly that the singleness and truth of his heart was proved, and that the sacrifice was in principle offered up, the angel of the Lord arrests his hand. How much sweeter now, when Isaac was, as it were, the child of resurrection. And so it is with all our blessings, it matters not what they may be. There must be the breaking down of our feelings, the crucifixion of self in a practical way, if we are to know what God is in blessing: our blessings must be cast in the mold of death and resurrection.
The way by which come all our blessings, is in Him who is dead and risen. To be blessed practically, we must morally go through the same process. There must be the frustration of all natural hopes, the blasting of all the objects we desire. When God visits us in His faithfulness with trial, the first thing man seeks is to escape. Israel goes down into Egypt, instead of sitting still in the confidence that God is the highest wisdom and only power. They go down to the land of human wisdom and ability. Were there no God, were they not His people, it would have been intelligible; but as it is, what folly! Yet is it the folly of our own hearts. Are we not conscious of it? Beware lest it be, because we are so accustomed to act thus, that we do not realize the humbling truth. We need to consider it more deeply to profit by this lesson. Their strength is to sit still instead of hurrying down into Egypt. “Forever and ever” (ver. 8) it was to be noted in a book that they were “children that will not hear the law of the Lord.” (Ver. 9.) That was even the worst of all; rebellion could be forgiven, lying children could be made ashamed of their lies. “Prophesy not unto us right things” (ver. 10), that is, things according to God. We are not to suppose that they actually said these words. We often read in the Gospels, that Jesus answered in many cases where not a single question was put to Him. Why does the Spirit of God say Jesus answered, when He was not asked? Because He knew the thoughts of their hearts. He answered not what they said, for they said nothing; but what He knew they would say if they dared; what He knew was at work within. So here, they do not say it in so many words, but it is what God saw and knew to be the truth of what they were feeling and doing. They did not like the truth which brought before them their rebellion and lies; they endeavored to get out of the way and reach of the truth. This is precisely what showed it. “Why not use the best resources of men, now that God did not work miracles for them?” This was, in truth, what God had called out Israel for—to be the manifestation of a people whose strength was in the Lord; to be the witness of how blessed it is thus nationally to trust the living God, in all their public dealings, in their domestic life. All was to be regulated by the law of the Lord (which is the technical term for the Old Testament). They were to be the practical exemplification of the blessedness of such a people and land. To go down into Egypt was to give up God for man; if they had asked counsel, they well knew God would never send them down to Egypt, out of which He had brought them. But they do not seek counsel, they act before they ask; they may have then prayed about it. But what is it to pray for God to bless what we are doing in self-will? Let us ask Him what He would have us to do before we act. It may be that God would have us do nothing, or possibly give us counsel through one of His children. For God does not intend us to be so many independent lines. He works by one another; He purposes to make us feel that we are members one of another; but whatever may be the value of any one's counsel, each must be responsible to God. The danger is of putting another in the place of God. Men do not value a man more for this, because when we are self-willed and our counselor firm for good, the speedy consequence will be that he who stood in the place of God one day, may be almost in the place of the devil the next. This is the flesh—apt to deify the creature one day, and to demonize it the next.
What we have to seek, then, is to look up to God; and this is just what is here the first word, “the sitting still.” But, then, there was more. In the chapter before the point was the word of God, which the flesh treated as a sealed book; but God must be waited on as well as His word. God never intended Scripture to be taken apart from Himself; over and above the Bible is God Himself. Not that God can ever be against His word, but He is the only power of entering into the application of it. For the Bible is not only for me to look down into: I must look up to God. I am not intended to read it merely as a book of true stories or good sermons, but as the voice of the living God to my soul. When one reads it thus, in subjection to Him, the relation and attitude of the soul is totally changed; you are delivered from the danger of bending the word of God to your own mind and will. Whereas, when the word leads you out in prayer to God, then it is neither the word without prayer, nor prayer without the word, both of which are exceedingly dangerous, one always leading to fanaticism, as the other to rationalism. Hence, says the apostle, “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace.” We need to look up to God that we may gather profit from His word, and to look back to Him from His word that we may with simplicity and faithfulness carry it out. Here Israel had failed as we see in chapter 29. So now in chapter 30, they flee down to the nearest neighbor that could help by human prudence, slighting God's wisdom and the grace which entitled them to cast themselves on Him for it. “Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potter's vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.” (Ver. 12-14.) Such was Egypt. The flesh is habitually fraudulent and perverse. But God judges it in His own. It is ever restless and pretends to something. It may look imposing, but it is ready to crumble from top to bottom, and is doomed of God. “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses: therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift [Egypt's resources of common sense]; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.” (Ver. 15, 16.) God would make them a signal example, and show that the resources they trusted were only so many nets in which they were to be snared. Had they sought to flue? They should flee in terror. Had they sought help in swift escape? Swift should be the vengeance of their foes. God constantly makes the earthly object to be the rod for the fool's back.
What is the answer of the Lord when He comes to this? Nothing can be stronger than His condemnation. But if He deals sternly with His faulty people here, is it not always for blessing in the end? If He exposes His children, pulls thorn down from the seat of pride, brings them into trouble from those they prefer to Himself in some extremity, it is the Lord acting in His great grace. To return to Him even with broken bones is blessed. How magnificent is the burst of the prophet! “And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, [not to cut off Israel, but] that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: and thine ears shall ear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Ver. 18-21.) He had let all this trouble fall upon His people; He had Himself waited and been exalted; and why? That He might be gracious. The enemy might prove his malice, and they their weak and guilty preference of flesh to Himself, and He allowed it all to take place that He might have nothing to do but to take them out of the pit into which they had fallen, and bless them as they had never been blessed before, at length without hindrance to the outflow of all His love. He waits for them, and though He seem to tarry, it is to bless them with a still better blessing. Ver. 19-22. They should be morally restored, too, and take vengeance on what had seduced their hearts in previous times. “Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold; thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.” (Ver. 22.)
Outward happiness follows, and inward blessing and glory from above.
“Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous; in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures. The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and the fan. And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of water in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.” (Ver. 23-26.)
Such is the deliverance which God will work for Israel; but what about the Assyrian? Israel are blessed, but not the Assyrian judged; Israel had been wrong, but the Assyrian had been merciless. God had dealt with Israel; now He must deal with their foes; as we are told in Isa. 10 “When the Lord has accomplished His whole work in mount Zion,” then will He bring down the Assyrian. (Ver. 27, 28.) They will not know that it is God who is guiding them to the Holy Land, but think they are going to have the land and the people an easy prey; God, on the contrary, is going to meet them there, and avenge His people. Ver. 29. This is even more than there had been when Egypt was judged; Israel were then eating but with bitter herbs. Not so in the day that is coming; it is not that part of the passover that this is compared to, but the song of their holy festival. Ver. 30. It is not a mere providential judgment—God from a distance acting and merely raising up one people to destroy another. It is the intervention of God in a manifest manner. There is to be a display of divine judgment. Ver. 30-82. It is the staff of God's correction, which shall deal to the bitter end with the Assyrian. For Israel, such joy and gladness shall follow as never had been tasted heretofore. So manifestly is God espousing their cause, that it will be with the loftiest music of praise and every sign of confidence in God. Has this ever, since Isaiah, been accomplished in Palestine? Was it heard there even at the time of Sennacherib? Israel was already in captivity, and Judah was soon swept away by the king of Babylon. Here we have triumph, peace, glory, and blessing. The mighty power of God had destroyed their enemies forever. There must, then, be a fuller accomplishment than the prophecy has yet received.
Ver. 33. It is not to be merely a devastation. Tophet is ordained; this shows clearly when and how it will be. Tophet is the figure of the judgment on God's part that is coming. It should be “for the king also,” not “yea, for the king.” That little word has done much mischief in confounding two important personages. I do not deny that the word translated yea, may apparently be rightly so in certain cases; but the natural meaning of it is either and or also, and that is just what is meant here. The point here is, that Tophet is ordained not for “the Assyrian” only, but also for “the king.” The king and the Assyrian are so totally different and opposed that it was needful to reveal the same doom for both. The mistranslation was because our translators did not know this difference but fancied the king and the Assyrian one and the same. “The king” is that false Messiah who will be found with the Jews in the last days. Received in his own name, he will be accepted as the true anointed, but he is the devil's messiah. And the consequence is that hell-fire or Tophet is prepared for him. The point is that God will prepare the same fire for both of them; not only for the Assyrian, but for the leader of Israel's wickedness, “the king.” For him the fire of Tophet is prepared, as well as for his enemy, the Assyrian. God in this marvelous manner will cast him direct into hell, not waiting for the day of judgment, even before the devil himself. Lest we might think that he is the only one, it is said, “for the king also;” that other person who will reign over the Jews, will also be singled out of God to be dealt with in the same way. Figurative expressions are used, but the figures of a terrible reality.
The chapter that follows (31), is a brief moral comment, and compressed rehearsal of chapter 30. How touchingly the prophet warns of the danger of Egypt as defection from Jehovah. “Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words, [which Israel vainly would escape], but will arise against the house of the evildoers, [Israelitish or not] and against the help of them that work iniquity.” The Lord's protection over the righteous would be proved in the day when He judged the helpers and the holpen. From Zion, not heaven only, He will deal. “For thus hath the Lord spoken unto me, like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the bill thereof. As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it. Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted. For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin. Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited. And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.”