The Known Isaiah: 2

Isaiah 40‑66  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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Leaving general remarks, let us come a little closer. There is no analogy whatever between historical books, like those of Samuel, Kings, &c., and the later prophets, as they are called. Nor does more than one account of the same event prove compilation, or lack of harmony; it is due to difference of divine design. See this conspicuously in the Acts of the Apostles, where we have the call of Paul three several times: once as the historical fact (ch. 9.), another time in the apostle's speech to the Jews (ch. 22.), and lastly when before king Agrippa and the Roman governor (ch. 26). It is all well among men to talk of discrepance making for the good faith of a compiler; but such a thought is wholly out of place and irreverent when applied to scripture. For “every scripture is inspired of God,” and one is, therefore, equally true as another, but each adapted to a special purpose of God. Contradictions are apparent only to ignorance. What. ever may be the various methods of historiography in the East or in the West, ancient or modern, we are never right if we forget that, in the Bible, we have to do with God Who cannot lie, whatever be the errata from copyists or the like, here or there; to correct or eliminate, which is the legitimate province of true criticism.
That the prophets, from whom we have words of the Lord to any considerable extent, delivered discourses from time to time, and afterward collected them into the books which bear their names, is not to be doubted; and assuredly it applies no less to Hosea and Isaiah, than to Joel and Ezekiel. When the simple order of chronology suffices, this is of course adhered to; but a deeper order is found in O.T. scriptures, as well as notably in the Gospel of Luke. Inspiration decided this: wherever it was called for, it exists; and to fail in heeding it must be a positive and fatal hindrance to just interpretation. Everywhere in the Bible divine design will be found to rule: divine we say, for it may not have been apprehended fully or at all by the writers.
Again, that an amanuensis sometimes worked instead of the inspired writer, is true in both Testaments. That when a scribe wrote, as Baruch after Jehoiakim burnt the first roll, adding many like words according to the prophet's dictation, is as simple as it is certain. But what has this to do, extraordinary as it was, with other cases having not the least analogy? “Twenty years,” a century, a millennium, can make no difference to the inspiring power of God, Who works by means, or without them, according to His sovereign pleasure and wisdom.
Thus in the New Testament we see that the apostle John wholly omits the agony in the garden, though one of the favored three so close at hand; while Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give it more or less fully, not one of whom was in any measure a witness. Similarly John alone of the evangelists heard the great prophecy on Mount Olivet, whilst he alone gives not a word of it. And why? In no case because of a first-hand knowledge or a more thorough investigation, but because of the governing purpose of God in each Gospel, which excluded in John whatever was requisite in the synoptics, both in a varying form exactly suited to each, and in all with a wisdom of which God alone was capable. Such is inspiration: the greatest contrast possible with the rationalistic effort to conceive the origin and arrangement of the books of scripture, an effort characterized by the deadly bane of attributing to man what flows truly from God. Hence they lose His mind in the interpretation, because man, not God, is in all their thoughts.
But coming to Isaiah, we may learn much from the early chapters, indeed from the very first. The prophet's eye was given to see the things that were not actually, as though they were, a far-reaching vision into evil issues which no one else could discern, and above all into the bright day, with sure anticipation of divine blessing and glory. No doubt every discourse was given in circumstances which called for it; for God was addressing man there and then. But to limit a prophecy to its local or temporal occasion is unbelieving and unmitigated error; for God ever has in view, and in prophecy has revealed, His own glory inseparable from Christ. It is therefore, in order to meet both, a marked feature in prophecy to give the name of the prophet, and, in all but very short prophecies, to let us know not a little of his local surroundings and the time when he lived and uttered the words of Jehovah. This is distinct in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and in very many even of the minor prophets. Its importance is obvious; and the hand of the enemy ought to be as evident in those modern critics whose labor is directed, by every ingenious device, to raise difficulties and infuse doubts where the written word is plain and sure.
In chap. 1., after the prophet names himself and his object and times, he sets forth before heaven and earth the ungrateful folly and rebellious sin of Israel, and the uselessness of such chastening and humiliation as had been their portion hitherto. What availed their sacrifices, their temple service, their new moons and sabbaths, which their moral corruption and hard-heartedness made only an offense to Jehovah? As yet, however, they are urged and encouraged to repent, assured of His grace if they hearken, but, if not, of consumption by the sword. Then follows a touching plaint over their ruin; for the prophet was given to know that the people would refuse Jehovah's call. The appeal closes with the LORD of hosts executing judgment and purification, when He will restore their judges as at first, and their counselors as in the beginning, and Jerusalem will be in truth a city of righteousness, a faithful state. Zion, it is emphatically declared, shall be redeemed with judgment.
How different from the gospel dealing individually now by grace, and hence of faith! Zion's day of blessing opens with judgment, however great and real the action of divine mercy and truth and righteousness. It is the day of Messiah's power when His people shall be willing and He rules in the midst of His enemies. What blindness to overlook, even in this preface, that, as God foreknew, so He here reveals the end from the beginning! Yet it was an actual appeal to Judah in that day, though being divine for every succeeding day of Israel's sin and ruin. To reduce its character, to say only that it “was providentially designed to meet the needs of that time,” is to make it of private interpretation. While thoroughly addressed to the people's conscience and doubtless blessed to such as had ears to hear, the Spirit of prophecy stretches over all times to the day of Christ's glory in Israel, by judgment as well as mercy, restored according to God.
The prophetic strain in chaps. 2.-4. is no less instructive in another form. For here the prophet opens as he closes with unmistakable pictures of Messiah's reign in power over the earth. It is the more striking if he was led to cite Mic. 4:1-31But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. 2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Micah 4:1‑3) as the introduction; and seemingly the “And” of our ver. 2 suits a quotation only, whereas in the contemporary prophecy it is required. But in any case the day of earth's blessedness is in full sight for “all nations” flowing to the religious center, the mountain of Jehovah's house; as chap. iv. shows the Branch of Jehovah, Christ beautiful and glorious, the remnant holy, Jerusalem purged from its blood by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, and over all the glory as a canopy, like the cloud over the tabernacle in the wilderness. More definite charges of evil both in religion and in state come in chap. 3. But. the same principle applies as in ch. 1. Blessing would follow repentance; only the prophet lets us know that, in any full measure., it awaits the day of Jehovah, and as a fact its opening divine judgments. When they are in the earth, even the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. But where is the maxim of neo-criticism in presence of the prophecy, even at the threshold?
Chap. 5. opens a new prophetic deliverance. It is evidently incomplete if taken alone; for under “a song of my beloved touching his vineyard” the faithlessness of the house of Israel is solemnly set out, notwithstanding all Jehovah's gracious care. It was so flagrant, that He could appeal to the proudest of themselves to judge in their own conscience. Judgment must ensue. Accordingly, after six successive woes from 8-24, Jehovah's hand is declared to be stretched forth unto them, so that the hills tremble and their carcasses are as refuse in the midst of the streets; and that solemn refrain of ominous chastisement begins, (ver. 25) “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” And a still heavier blow is announced (to the end of the chapter) from distant nations rushing swiftly and roaring against them, with nothing but darkness—distress—for the land, and the light darkened with its clouds. It is no less evident that chap. 6., already noticed, briefly interrupts the strain; and also chaps. 7.-9:7: so that only in chap. 9:8 do we find the resumption of the dirge begun in chap. 5., when four times is repeated the knell of coming judgment (vs 12, 17, 21, and ch. 10:4).
But a change comes for their haughtiest foe from ver. 5, when circumstances look darkest, and the answer to their cry of distress at length is heard in ver. 25 (see ch. 10:12): “For yet a little while, and the indignation shall be accomplished, and mine anger in their destruction.” The Assyrian of the past is but a type of their mighty antagonist at the close, when Israel once more shall enter relations with Jehovah, and livingly and forever. The time hastens, but is in no sense come yet; for it is immediately followed by the Messiah's manifest reign of righteousness and peace, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea. Thus chaps. 11., 12. are the true and bright termination of what commences so sadly in chap. 5.
But what of the intercalated three chapters and more? No mere man would have thought of it: no arrangement more at issue with literary taste or scientific skill. Chronology wholly gives way to the higher need of a design worthy of God, and hardly conceivable save in the “second cares” of the great, prophet, when not first giving out each portion, but combining them finally as his collective book according to a wisdom above his own. For chap. 6. shows Jehovah's glory rejected in Christ: a far more serious sin and of deeper consequence than their national failures and the national chastisements down to the end. In the midst of that external history came Jehovah, as in chap. 6., and incarnate, as in chap. 7. But they and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor the voices of the prophets which were read every sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning Him. The interposed portion pursues the episode of the intervening Immanuel with the assurance of total ruin for all adversaries, however girt and whatever their counsel. Meanwhile He was to be for a sanctuary to a believing remnant, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel; and for this application we have the unerring word of the Holy Spirit in the N. T. What a key to the religious history of the Jews whose awful apostacy is sketched to the end of chap. 8. In contrast with that darkness the great light would shine in Galilee of the nations, as in fact it did. Then suddenly, as so often in the prophets, we are transported from the grace of the first advent to the glory and judgment that will characterize the second; and the kingdom of the divine Messiah follows in connection with Israel, just as we see in chaps. 11.-12.
Here then we have a two-fold witness in this remarkable but divinely complete prophecy of Isaiah. Is it true that it was “so near to the events which it foretells?” Or is this a dream of pseudo-criticism?