Notes on Isaiah 34-35

Isaiah 34‑35  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Spirit of God has here brought together the earthly extremes of unsparing judgment, and of unmingled mercy; these things in two races naturally akin, but so much the more manifesting this divergence and the divine dealing with each from beginning to end. These nations, so judged and so blessed, sprang from the same stock, from the same father, from the same mother, and branched out into twin brothers, Esau on the one hand and Jacob on the other. The land of Idumea is the center of the one picture, as of the other is Zion. The proud elder must serve the younger. There was from their birth, and before it we may say in antecedent revelation, much to strike the mind in these sons of Isaac and Rebecca, much that would cleave to their posterity till His coming who will not only judge righteously the past but impress the future with the signs and substance of His own glorious presence.
Yet the early history seemed little to answer either to prophecy or to its fulfillment. “Duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Kenaz,” and their successors flourished in the land of Edom, while the sons of Israel were strangers in a land that was not theirs and ere long proving it a furnace of affliction in bitter bondage. But so it ever is— “that was not first which is spiritual but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.” If God's people hope for that they see not, they must “with patience wait for it.” He who is sovereign allows that the flesh should show its character to the utmost, save where special mercy interferes to arrest and restrain because of other wise and gracious purposes. But His mercy it is, shown of His own good pleasure, which roused to madness the unbending arrogance of Edom who never looked to God with a broken spirit even in his deepest need. On the other hand, it was no small moral test for the sons of Israel, that, spite of the divine promises to them, Esau's descendants should be long settled in peaceful enjoyment as lords of their soil, while Jacob and his seed were sojourners on sufferance, soon to be slaves and slaves for a long while in the land of Ham. Half the space that separated the promise from their triumphant exodus saw them a mere family group; and if they afterward shot up rapidly into a people, it was in circumstances of increasing oppression and degradations. This was no small trial of faith whether they looked on this side of the picture or on that. Esau had been long established in power and peace and plenty, while Israel lay among the pots of Egypt and the accursed race of Canaan ruled in their land. And the Bible contains, in the same books, the promise and the trial which early appearances made for faith, and presents all calmly as the word of One who sees the end from the beginning, which therefore needs no apologies, puts forward no explanations, but claims the confidence of His children who know Him whom they have believed and are persuaded that He is able to keep against that day that which they have entrusted to Him. The Bible does not in a demonstrative way force the truth of God upon His people; on the contrary great simplicity of faith is demanded that we receive it unhesitatingly, trusting God, spite of appearances for the present and delays for the future.
Had you looked more closely and spiritually into Jacob's life, you might have expected long discipline, even as he, their father, was seen lying on his pillow of stone, but the Lord holding out the vision of glory before him. This might have prepared for the thought of trial first, then of gracious blessing. So, later, there was first the crushing of all natural hopes, and then the name of victory conferred. (Gen. 32) Thus what we have in Jacob's early history prepares one for the vicissitudes of his sons. He was a poor, trembling man with plenty of faults, shrinking from the presence of his brother, in whom might appear much that was attractive naturally. But God saw under it all that the flesh is a false and proud thing, enmity with God, who allowed that the flesh should show out in him, the despiser of his birthright, its real character. Present things were his life; hence profane unbelief and slight of the things of God. All this and more came out prominently in Esau, as they were to be verified in his race. If Gentiles, at any rate they had a blood relation with the people of God But their very connection with them, though a sort of transition between Israel and the nations around, was the occasion of envious enmity and ruin. They were to prove that it was not only an Egypt and a Pharaoh who were raised up for God to manifest His judgment upon, but that God would do just the same to the sons of Esau, and that Esau's flesh would betray the bitterest defiance of God and His people.
The great northern enemy of chapter 33 seems to be historically last; but morally, the account of Edom's judgment is kept for last, perhaps as being so near to Israel by nature. After that great enemy the Assyrian is destroyed, still, here is Edom's doom decided. When God was dealing with Israel in blessing or chastisement, you have Edom disputing the right of God to bless His people, and taking delight in their shame and sorrow. God resents such spite. And was it not in his race, that despised the birthright? This, no doubt, accomplished the purpose of God; but then He admirably makes His end to agree with His word and means. Though a question of His own sovereignty, yet this goes hand in hand with His righteous ways. Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected, yet God brought out at the critical time, that there was also the seal of righteousness. Certainly, Esau deserved to be cast off by God, though Jacob justly traces everything to His mercy and grace. Thus the transgression of selling his birthright confirms what God had already given out as a question of His own disposal. Esau shewed that he did not value his birthright, present existence being dearer to him than any blessing of God. Jacob was utterly wrong in following his mother's deceitful plan to hinder Isaac's wish and secure the promise. He ought to have waited in peace and confidence, expecting God to make good His own word. But weak as he was, and wrong more than once, yet one thing you do find in Jacob, not in Esau—a heart for God, a faith that valued the promises of God; he might be apt to drop into his own ways, and to form plans for himself, for he was indeed “that worm Jacob,” as Scripture calls him; but still at bottom there was a heart that slave to God and His word. So, when the struggle came, when God wrestled with His servant, there was nature that needed to be withered up, lest he should suppose that because of any vigor of his own he prevailed. Still on blessing from God he was set, and would not desist till he had the assurance of it. If flesh was there to be judged, surely divine faith was very manifest. Hence Jacob becomes brighter towards the close, when the flesh was practically set aside.
So with Israel. Though there will be the judgment of their unfaithfulness yet the day will come when the nations too will be judged, not borne with; and how will it then fare with Edom? When Israel was in the wilderness, Esau stopped their way. The power of God could have smitten him down (as He had determined long before), but the time was not yet come. So Israel struck not a blow upon their guilty brother, but rather turned back like a rebuked child. Ah! it was the token in its patience that a still more tremendous judgment was in store for Edom; for there is nothing so ominous as when God takes patiently the iniquity of men. If there be remonstrance, it shows there is, as it were, a hope; but if all is borne silently, it is the solemn sign of judgment that will fall as surely as it lingers. Blessed as it is for those who walk in grace, there is nothing that is so evident a token of perdition to the world as the saints passing through it without lifting a finger in their own defense or on God's behalf. Alas! we know that the Church has failed in this, as Israel after their sort. But their path through the wilderness was a type of the journey of faith, in grace; the earthly people and things being the shadow of the heavenly.
Possibly there may have been a preliminary judgment, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's onslaught on the Jews. I should judge from the Psalms (see especially Psa. 137, “Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom,”) that there is a connection between that and Edom: that is, this may have had a partial accomplishment in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. For though on his coming up against Jerusalem, the Edomites helped him to destroy the Jews more effectually, they themselves were not spared by the conquerors. In Psa. 83 we find Edom connected with the Assyrian, the great enemy of the ten tribes. As we have seen with Babylon, the conqueror of the two. “Keep not thou silence, O God. . . They have taken crafty counsel against thy people. . . Let us cut them off.” All confirms what has been already remarked. In the confederacy against Israel, figure “the tabernacles of Edom.” It is the first power mentioned, of course, not as the mightiest, but as setting on the others to Israel's ruin. Being neighbors, they would have a better knowledge of the people and their land, and so be the more dangerous, besides the moral bearing of the case. There are also the Philistines, Tire, and the various peoples that lived near the sea coast, as well as round about Idumea and the contiguous regions. Then we find the great power of Assur mentioned as having joined them. So the Spirit of God classes Edom with Israel's final adversaries, as He had done already by Moses and Joshua with their earliest. There is an evident connection between their rise and the gradual course of their history through Scripture. Now at the close we find distinct prophecies applying to Edom. “They are confederated against thee.” (Ver. 5.) All their confederacies God will break up, before the judgment falls upon Esau. They will have joined themselves unto Assur, but that great power, like the lesser ones, will be directed against God's people in vain, great and small alike hostile, joining to aim a more effectual blow upon Israel, but to the destruction of themselves.
God, we may see, always goes back to the beginning when He judges. In the time of the Babylonish captivity, why did He judge Israel? He looks at what they did in the wilderness. It was because of Moloch and Chiun. (Amos 5:2626But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. (Amos 5:26).) They had learned to worship their images in the wilderness, and therefore should be carried captive beyond Damascus. God, when the time of judgment comes, traces up to the root of evil. So our wisdom as Christians, when we fail, is to go back to our first departure. We never get right by merely judging this or that outbreak, but we should always find out the cause. We do not else gather Deeded strength, nor is any sin rightly judged by merely judging the manifested effects, but we must probe into the hidden sources of the mischief. It is not enough to judge our acts; judging self is a very different process. We need to discern the springs within ourselves. If we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. It does not mean pronouncing judgment upon any particular fault, but judging their real cause, and not occasions merely.
Such is the Christian way of judging; it is not occupation with the surface, but with that which is underneath, the hardly seen roots of the acts.
But I must return to my subject. With unerring wisdom God goes back to what Esau did from the beginning of his history. He had waited long and patiently, nearly a thousand years, and now shows His perfect knowledge of the course and end; but when the end does come, God invariably traces all up to the beginning.
I need not dwell on all the dark account. The full stroke of judgment comes upon them at the day of the Lord. Here, though the scene is laid in Idumea, it is a question of all the heathen. This is referred to here. “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein: the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling, fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. The sword of the Lord is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.” (Ver. 1-9.) The day of the calamity of His people! if there is anything He repeats over and over again, it is the day of their calamity. He means to remember us in blessing, and there is nothing that more rouses His judgment as when there is anything sorrowful and that strikes their hearts—that men should take advantage of that to behave themselves proudly against them. There was never a truer picture of the spirit of man than at this very time. It is just the feeling of Christendom towards those who are seeking to walk in the way that is pleasing to God. If there is anything that fills them with shame, it is used to wrong them, or to speak evil against them. This is the present feeling; so that we may see how true these principles of God are and how solemn it is for us to realize the duty that becomes us at the present time.
There will be such slaughter that it might seem as if the very mountains themselves had melted into blood. There will be one destruction upon the mountains of Israel, but another special carnage in Edom. It is important to bear in mind that this is a future judgment, because if any one were to apply it rigorously and in all its extent to the times of Nebuchadnezzar, confusion must result, perverting either Scripture or the facts. The contrary indeed was seen then. The nations had it all their own way. There was no such thing as God having a great sacrifice of all nations, though treacherous Edom suffered. The real fulfillment will be at the end of the age, though even then will be merely a tremendous convulsion of nature. The total dissolution of heaven and earth will be at the end of the millennium. The Spirit of God puts the scenes together here.
In most singular conjunction with this terrible picture of the vast solitude for man, created as it were only for ravenous beasts, and birds of prey, and reptiles, God turns and shows that the day that beholds this desolation for Edom inaugurated Israel's blessing. Nor is it only Israel rejoices, but God will form a large and enlarging scene for His own glory, where erst was misery and barrenness. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” (Ver. 1, 2.) Not merely fertility, but there will be every joy, fruitfulness, beauty. And assuredly man's deeper wants are not forgotten. “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Ver. 3-10.)
God will then and thus show that, whatever Satan had brought of sin and woe into this world, goodness and mercy were His own delight. Such is the time that is coming for the earth, though an awful storm ushers it in. While all evil came through sin, and there is not an atom of the lower creation that does not bear some trace of Adam's fall, there will surely come the day of Christ, the last Adam. It seems to me, however, that in the world to come judgment will leave its effectual mark. On the land of Edom the destruction will be unsparing, and the land will be left as a scar upon the face of the earth. I do not say that Edom will be the only one, for Rome also will be proved to be the vile corruptress, as in Paganism, so in Christendom and in anti-christendom. But when the proud lie of the eternal city is punished forever, then the poor and despised Jew comes forward, as it is said here: “Strengthen ye the weak hands,” &c. (Ver. 3, 4.) Vengeance then is their salvation. Take all its fullness of meaning. It will be accomplished to the letter. God will prove that not a word of His mercy to Israel and their land can fall to the ground. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shalt not bass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Ver. 5-10.)
Thus fitly does Isaiah close the first main division of his magnificent prophecy.