The Known Isaiah: 1

Isaiah 40‑66  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Incredulity grows apace and with little shame. Take, as recent instances, the Cambridge “Divine Library,” the Oxford “Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament,” and Prof. Cheyne's Bampton lectures on “The Origin and Religion of the Psalter:” works successively sinking lower and lower, as inspiration yields to the fancies of the fashionable criticism of the hour. That their authors, as well as some of their prototypes, deceive themselves, is true; but it is false to say that their premises and conclusions “do not touch either the authority or the inspiration of the scriptures of the Old Testament.” They subject the divine to the human in the written word; just as kindred unbelief works as to Christ's person. As faith knows that He, though He became flesh, is none the less the True God and Eternal Life; so are we assured that every scripture is inspired of God and profitable for all spiritual uses: not only that men spoke from God, moved by the Holy Spirit, but that scripture, very scripture, is God-inspired. This is conclusive. The Holy Spirit has ruled dogmatically (as the Son of God did throughout His life and ministry, His death and resurrection) that scripture is God's word and absolutely authoritative. Criticism is free, yea, bound, to clear away the errors of men that copied, of versions, &c. But it is rebellion against God, under plea of “literature” or “scientific methods,” to question what inspired men wrote from God. “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.” “Not in words taught by human wisdom,” says the apostle (1 Cor. 2), “but in those taught by the Spirit.” Was He at all liable to mistake? or unable to secure the truth in result? God graciously employed men; but it is His word as truly as if His mouth alone had uttered it. This is not theory, but revealed truth.
The Christian stands on the vantage-ground of divine inspiration. This settles all questions. A book might be the genuine work of a given author; it might be authentic. But inspiration insures incomparably snore, even God's will and power and design executed by the instrument of His choice. For what more absurd and misleading than only helping so far as to leave disorder, inconsistency, or error, as His word? Nor is this all. His Son, the Lord Jesus, appeared long after the Old Testament was complete, and just before the New Testament began to be written. He, the Judge of quick and dead, has decided for faith the questions men have been raising as to the Old Testament for the last century and more. They did essay the same speculation, founded on alleged internal evidence, as to the New Testament. This last seems dropt by our English followers of the German school. One of them declares, that the same canon of historical criticism, which authorizes the assumption of tradition in the Old Testament, forbids it in the case of the New Testament, except within the narrowest limits. But “the unique personality of Christ” is of all moment for the Old Testament. He spoke, as He lived and died and rose, for all time, yea, for eternity. His words on the Pentateuch, on the writings of Moses for instance, are wholly inconsistent with the so called critical view of its structure and growth. But men are so enamored of their theory that, rather than abandon it, they are willing to betray His glory. He Who could say “Before Abraham was, I am” knew well the men employed to write the scriptures, and shows Himself in the Gospels at issue with every erroneous opinion current around Him. Had it been His intention to say nothing on the points to be contested (and He knew the end from the beginning), it was easy for Him to have avoided saying, “He (Moses) wrote of Me,” “David himself said in the Holy Spirit,” Daniel the prophet.” But rationalism is even less for Christ than superstition is; and both are enemies of the truth of God. Is the Holy Spirit too, the inspiring Spirit, to be subjected to profane limitations? That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, says He (in Matt. 8:1717That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:17)), citing Isa. 53:44Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4), from a central passage of that which stands at the head of this paper. Did the Spirit of God also accommodate Himself to popular error?
These chapters are “the most important and most familiar case in which modern critics have agreed to see the work of a plurality of authors in one book” (says the Cambridge Regius Prof. of Hebrew, D.L. 25): “one of the best examples of the methods and results of biblical criticism” (26). “Let us then forget...that this writing—or rather, whether it is the work of one writer or of several, this group of writings—is attached to the book of Isaiah. Let us simply interrogate the document itself, and collect the evidence which it offers concerning its author, and the time and place and circumstances of its writing. Direct statement there is none. Very rarely does the author let his own personality appear at all. But of indirect evidence, indicating the circumstances under which he wrote, there is no lack.” This would be reasonable enough if a merely human book were in debate; it is an absurd begging of the question in an avowed prophecy. But we proceed now to weigh that which appears to him “entirely convincing.” “Jerusalem is in ruins; the temple, in which past generations worshipped, is a heap of ashes; the cities of Judah are deserted, the land is desolate [citing Isa. 64:10, 1110Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. (Isaiah 64:10‑11)]. Israel is in exile, suffering the punishment of its sins. Jehovah has surrendered His people to their enemies. They are being tried in the furnace of affliction. Jerusalem has drunk to the dregs the cup of Jehovah's fury. She lies prostrate in the dust. The chains of captivity tar are on the neck of the daughter of Zion. Zion is bereaved of her children, a barren exile, wandering to and fro. Her children are scattered from their home. Jehovah's wife is divorced from Him for her children's transgressions, and they are sold into slavery for their iniquities. Babylon is the scene of Israel's captivity. Babylon is the tyrant who holds Zion's children in thrall. Babylon has been Jehovah's instrument for executing His judgments, and she has performed her task with cruel delight. The exile has already lasted long. It seems to have become permanent. Jehovah sleeps. Zion fancies herself forgotten and forsaken. The weary decades of captivity are lengthening out into an eternity of punishment. But where faith and hope are strained to the point of breaking, deliverance is at hand. Jerusalem's time of servitude is accomplished, satisfaction, has been made for her ingenuity. The decree is gone forth for freedom, redemption, restoration. The deliverer is on his way. Cyrus has been raised up from the east. He is already in full career of conquest. Babylon is doomed. Her gods are to be humbled. Jehovah is about to lead forth His people in a second exodus which will eclipse the glories of the first, and to conduct them through the wilderness to their ancient home. Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and the temple restored. “What I want you to observe is this—and pray do not take the statement on my authority, but verify it for yourselves—that the prophecy does not profess to predict the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile, and the mission of Cyrus. These things are described or assumed as existing facts. Jerusalem is destroyed, Israel is in exile. Cyrus is already triumphantly advancing from point to point. What is foretold is the speedy deliverance of the exiles from their captivity. All these data point unmistakably to the last ten years of the Babylonian exile as the time at which the prophecy was delivered. Moreover, there are indications, less definite perhaps, but tolerably convincing, which point to Babylonia as the place in which the prophet was living. He speaks in the presence of a dominant heathenism. Idolatry in all its grossness and stupid folly surrounds him. He has watched the infatuated idolaters manufacturing their gods, and carrying them in solemn procession, and setting them up in their temples. With unrivaled eloquence, inspired by mingled feelings of pity and indignation, he contrasts the power and wisdom of Jehovah, the living God., the God of Israel, with the impotence and ignorance of these lifeless idols. The whole drift of his description makes it plain that it is idolatry in its own heathen home of which he is speaking, not the idolatry of apostate Israelites in Judah. Moreover the prophet is in closest touch and sympathy with the exiles. He is fully acquainted with their circumstances, their character, their sins, their hopes, their fears, their faithlessness, their despondency; and when we note how he unites himself with them in confession, in thanksgiving, in earnest pleading, we can scarcely doubt that he was himself one of them” (26-29).
Such is the rationalistic argument of Prof. Kirkpatrick, pleaded with greater detail by Dr. Driver in his “Introduction,” 223-231. Rationalism “can scarcely doubt” its own dream. The truth of God it has lost, its reality, force, and blessing. Are not these University teachers aware that they have slipped into a similar position as an unquestionable skeptic like Mr. F.W. Newman, and on identical grounds? The difference is that he gives up the pretense of divine inspiration and rejects the claim of scripture to be God’s word. They are clergymen specially because officially bound to vindicate what, in fact, they undermine.
But (apart from moral feeling and the denunciation they deprecate), what is the worth of the argument itself borrowed as it is from German neology, as this was in part from older English Deism? The earlier chapters do show that the prophet vividly realizes, not only the exile in Babylon, but the deliverance of a Jewish remnant, not only the downfall of that city and its idols under Cyrus but his decree to build Jerusalem and to lay the foundation of the temple. Men assume that a prophet was given to see nothing beyond bearing on contemporary interests! But this is beyond controversy set aside by a vision (ch. 6.) which none of them denies to be Isaiah's—his most solemn call in the year that King Uzziah died. Happily too we have an inspired comment on its bearing which no Christian can question. “These things said Isaiah, because (or when) he saw his glory; and he spake of him.” When the prophet saw the King, Jehovah of hosts, he saw the glory of the Son of God, of the Word in due time to be made flesh and to tabernacle here below, full of grace and truth. The prophet as the effect of the light owns himself to be of unclean lips and surroundings, but, touched from off the altar, is cleansed, and goes with the message of judicial blindness to the people that saw not His glory when present in divine love before their eyes. Nevertheless a remnant is pledged, even when His people should be given up to utter insensibility and, as the consequence, desolation and removal from the land. Thus early was foreshown exile from Palestine, and reiterated consumption for those who should return, though not without the assurance of a holy seed. For promise cannot be broken any more than the scripture. But this early prediction in point of fact embraces not the Babylonian exile only, but troubles not yet exhausted, with a righteous remnant secured through all to inherit the promised blessing at the end.
The fact is that the maxim of the skeptics is unequivocally false. No prophecy of scripture is of its own (i.e., private or special) interpretation (2 Peter 1:2020Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)). It becomes part and parcel of God's revealed mind, Who made it not to be of isolated solution but to bear on His kingdom in Christ, on which as a whole prophecy converges. And hence the confirmation of the vision on the Holy Mount, which was an anticipative sample of that kingdom. As the will of man did not bring in How applicable is our Lord's reply, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God!
This is remarkably attested in 1 Peter 1:10-1210Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:10‑12) too. For we learn that the Old Testament prophets sought out and searched out concerning the salvation now given in Christ, searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ that was in them pointed to. So truly was it God Who wrought in His own certainty above all the ignorance of the instruments He was using. Nay more, it was revealed to them, that not to themselves, but to souls who centuries after believed, they ministered the things now announced in the gospel. Can any sentence be more subversive of the fundamental axiom common to all shades of unbelieving criticism? Yet the context (13) goes still farther, and proves that only at the revelation of Jesus Christ will be fully achieved that deliverance from the ruin of sin which God announced from of old. So far did prophecy stretch beyond the horizon of the prophet's day and rise above contemporary interests.
So, in the closing chapters of Isaiah, is it not superficial in the extreme to say that “they deal throughout with a common theme, viz., Israel's restoration from exile in Babylon”? On their face it is undeniable that from chapter 49. the far deeper question is broached of the Messiah laboring in vain and spending His strength for naught and vanity, the true Israel in whom Jehovah is glorified, Though man despised and the nation abhorred Him, He should be a light to the Gentiles and salvation unto the end of the earth, before the day on which kings will be Zion's nursing fathers and queens her nursing mothers, and Jehovah shall judge the oppressors of Israel and deliver themselves as the Mighty One of Jacob. Still more plainly is the stricken Messiah set before us in ch. 1., Creator yet a man, the obedient man. Most clearly and in the richest detail is He presented by the prophet in chapters 52., 53., as the propitiation for sins, on Whom Jehovah laid the iniquity of us all; not only so, but exalted, and lifted up, and very high, when the pleasure of Jehovah prospers in His hand. For then Jehovah is to divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, This points to a time of judgment and glory not yet fulfilled, but just as sure as that grace which we now know in Him to our everlasting peace and joy, unless we be mere and guilty unbelievers.
But it also refutes simply and absolutely for the Christian the self-confident argument of the “higher criticism.” For the vision of the Messiah is no less openly set forth by the prophet, than the preceding view of the Babylonish exile and the deliverer raised up from the north and the east. They do not deny this prediction of the Messiah, His sufferings and the glories that should follow them. If they did, what must be thought of them in direct contradiction of the gospel, the apostles, and the Lord Himself? They might equally argue that the prophecy does not profess to predict the mission of Christ, His humiliation, His atoning work, and His exaltation. “These things are described or assumed as existing facts,” no less than the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile, and the mission of Cyrus. The Spirit of prophecy in living power habitually carried him who wrote, and notably Isaiah, into the time, place, and circumstances of the prediction.
This the skeptical school, most of whom deny all real prediction no less than miracle, pervert into evidence of the prophet's residence among the exiles in Babylon a few years before the return Some few like our English professors do not go so far as the rest in blank and audacious infidelity. Dr. Driver and Mr. Kirkpatrick, admitting prediction in a small degree only, will not hear that Isaiah wrote the later chapters, any more than chs. 13, 14., and others in the earlier part of the book. They adopt therefore the hypothesis of an unknown and unnamed prophet, more wonderful even than Isaiah! when Cyrus was conspicuous and the exile drawing to an end. But the truth is that their reasoning would make the prophet to have lived in our Lord's day! to have sustained the contempt of the Jewish people and especially their religious chiefs, to have sorrowed and sympathized with the godly that believe! nay to have seen His triumph in a way not yet fulfilled, and wholly distinct from the honor and glory with which He now sits crowned on High!
It may be added that the latter section of this continuous prophecy presents, no longer Israel the privileged and responsible servant of Jehovah, guilty of idolatry and exiled in Babylon, the great source and patron of idols, but delivered for Jehovah's name-sake; nor the Righteous Servant suffering, especially in atonement, and making intercession, seeing of the travail of His soul and exalted. The final chapters show the Messiah proclaiming not only in His grace the acceptable year of Jehovah but the day of vengeance of our God, the executor of divine judgment on the quick. Yet even in that day He works marvels in the heart and conscience. of Israel, when they too are by grace acknowledged fully as Jehovah's servants, while their proud unbelieving brethren perish forever. For God is not mocked, and no flesh shall glory in His presence.. Hence, as in this part we hear of the new heavens. and a new earth, of the glorious state of Jerusalem,.—Israel, and their land, we see also that Jehovah will plead by fire with all flesh and pour indignation on His enemies, in a time assuredly not yet come. The axiom of neo-criticism is therefore demonstrably false; and the more the chapters are duly examined, the more evidently is the hypothesis cloud and not light.