The Known Isaiah: 3

Isaiah 40‑66  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The second division of the book may now be compared with the assumptions of modern criticism. Its inherent unsoundness and fatal issues only the more appear, as is ever the case where the starting-point is false. We have seen that every one of the subsections of the first refutes the premise. For the historic occasion, however fit, may and does go far beyond it, and is limited to no proximate application. Instead of this, it stops not short of the grand display, not yet arrived, of the divine glory in the kingdom of the rejected Messiah. Pre-exilic, exilic, or post-exilic, whatever their shades of difference, are uniform in converging on this purpose—of God. Isa. 1; 2-4., 5-(6. 7.-9:7)-9-12., are not only inspired witnesses against this πρῶτον ψεῦδος, but divine disproof of it, and most conclusive. For, as the rule, prophecy of scripture is constructed by the Holy Spirit to be of no such private interpretation, or self-solution. By all His prophets since time began God spoke more or less clearly of seasons of refreshing from His presence when He will send Christ, the fore-ordained for Israel, to bring in times of restoring of all things. This is the revealed truth of the N.T., which theology denies openly and everywhere, even in the less advanced disciples of Oxford and Cambridge. For these, like their more daringly skeptical German guides, are not ashamed to avow and defend the paradox that the truly prophetic character of the work gains by denying that Isaiah wrote e.g., of Babylon's fall more than a century and a half before, and by referring such predictions to some unknown prophet, a few years before the exile expired! Look at the prophets of the exilic period, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel: each having a divine lot suited to the instrument, all adapted to the varied circumstances, but none in the least like the challenged chapters of Isaiah. Modern criticism dreams of an imaginary, or at least (and contrary to all analogy) an unnamed prophet at a crisis for which grace provided amply by known prophets, and seeks to rob alike Isaiah of his brightest jewels and believers of their settled certainty. The incredulity of this school tends to shake the credit of scripture from the least thing to the greatest! And this is yet more evident when we glance at chaps. 24-27; for the last four seem the due close of this second series.
On the very threshold before the ark of Jehovah the rationalistic idol is fallen, with its head and hands cut off. Of these oracles or “burdens,” characteristically though not exclusively on the nations (as chaps. 1.-12. centered in Judah or Israel), the first contradicts flatly the neological axiom, that the situation presupposed must be that of Isaiah's age. But the prophecy itself explicitly declares the contrary. And every scripture is inspired of God. There is no real question as to the text on external evidence1, any more than on internal, save for men credulous enough to believe their own capricious canon, imposed by infidelity and opposed to all possible proof. These modern critics are avowedly on the human ground of degrees of probability; faith never is, but on that of absolute subjection to scripture as the voice of God. It is false, as they argue, that it is a question between traditional views and internal evidence. Here they cannot deny that the text, to be believed and interpreted, declares unambiguously against their primary assumption. Yet so pre-occupied and blinded are they by their own tradition about a century old, that they dare to fly in the face of the original text as well attested here as in any other part of the book which they own to be inspired. Alas! it is with the written as with the personal Word, “how can ye believe which receive glory one of another, and the glory that is from the only God ye seek not?” The authority of the ancient prophets, of the N. T. apostles of our Lord, and of the inspiring Holy Ghost, has less weight in their eyes than the conflicting hypotheses of Koppe, Doederlein, Eichhorn, Justi, and. Gesenius, of Hitzig, Knobel, Umbreit, Ewald, Kuenen, Wellhausen, and Riehm. These, with their English followers, when their scheme requires it, join hand and hand for their own thoughts in throwing overboard the word of God in the face of all true and irrefragable testimony. Infidelity is a withering and destructive evil. Let them beware lest it advance to greater impiety.
A similar principle applies to the rationalistic treatment of chap. 21:1-10. It follows a chapter unquestionably Isaiah's, as it precedes a burden of kindred character (22.) which nobody as far as I know disputes to be his. But if his, and most distinctly predicting new and special features of Babylon's fall, it uproots their foundation as to prophecy, and duly in its place follows up the trumpet blast of chaps. 13., and 14. On other grounds many of these freethinkers attribute chaps. 15., 16., to some earlier prophet! adopted and reinforced by Isaiah. Does such speculation deserve other answer than that men, without the fear of God, may think and say anything? If they trembled at the word of Jehovah, we should be spared such empty words. Again, chaps. 24-27., are attributed to a prophet distinct from him whom they style the Deutero-Isaiah, as well as from the original source of chaps. 15., 16. There is no check on these vagaries when these adventurous mariners abandon alike the captain and the chart, compass, and anchor of God's word in any just sense of these terms. Enough has been said to vindicate the prophet generally. We may now interrogate the internal evidence so recklessly misdirected by the rationalists. To the believer (and an unbeliever is out of court as an interpreter of scripture) chaps. 13., 14., are reverently accepted as Isaiah's according to the opening words; against which on the legitimate canons of textual criticism no valid objection has ever been laid by Jew or Christian, by heterodox or infidel. Not only so, if intelligent, he sees divine wisdom in the order which departed from mere chronology for the higher and graver reason of setting in the van the last and victorious enemy of Judah which was, though far later than the other adversaries, to attain an altogether new relation of imperial power as Daniel would show in his season. The comparatively distant outlook of the oracle gave way to that design. The disputer of this age seats himself on a vain bench of judgment, and, yielding to human thoughts, necessarily misses the mind of God; he lacks the obedience of faith and does without the guidance of His Spirit in subjection to His word. “The burden concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see” is undoubtedly future throughout and has no trace of allusion to the circumstances of the prophet's age, place it even as the rationalists would. The Jews are not represented as in exile; which is only prophetically involved in the prediction (14:1-3) of Jehovah's choosing not Judah only, still less a remnant, but Israel, and setting them in their own land: their hope still unaccomplished but sure, when they shall rule over their oppressors; not “servants” or bondmen “this day,” as the remnant owned solemnly in Neh. 9:3636Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: (Nehemiah 9:36), as before in Ezra 9:99For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem. (Ezra 9:9) (R. V. “are,” not “were” as in A. V.) long after the return from Babylon. The moral ground, as we learn from elsewhere, did exist. It began in the wilderness, as Amos long before told Ephraim in predicting their exile beyond Damascus; and this was no less true of Judah. But that of revolted Ephraim was precipitated by the unrepented sin of Jeroboam, with yet more flagrant results, till the Assyrian swept them away; as the fidelity of several kings of David's house was a stay for Judah, till the idolatry, rebellion, and perjury of king, priests, and people provoked Jehovah's wrath, and “there was no remedy,” and those that escaped the sword were carried to Babylon. The burden contemplates the scene as a whole, not in the least events in progress or such as a spiritual mind might discern. It is in the strictest and fullest way predictive. There is no spirit unworthy of Isaiah, though that of the Christian was not and could not be till Christ came and the Spirit of adoption was given. The style is as noble and the imagery as bold and beautiful as in any other effusion of the very chiefest of the prophets.
It was not “alien to the genius of prophecy” even in Lev. 26, besides other horrors for the land and their cities, to warn of scattering the chosen people among the nations and the land enjoying her sabbaths, to say nothing now of Deut. 28, on which holy and genuine book of Moses the skepticism of professing Christians has laid its profane hand. In this burden God gave Isaiah not only to prophesy of Chaldean Babylon, the first of the great world-powers, as the object of hatred, overthrow, and slaughter to the ruthless Mede, the executor of divine judgment, but to see in inspired perspective the last holder of the world-powers that should successively follow Babylon, with which Israel's deliverance synchronizes. And on the face of the strain, how is it that these men, so wise and prudent, fail to see that between the fall of imperial Babylon, and the ruin of the future chief of the last empire, comes a most momentous prediction, long after the one and still longer before the other, of the perishing of that great city's very ruins?
Yet what was more improbable humanly, even if any were so credulous as to accept the figment of an unknown seer living toward the close of the exile? “It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged” (Isa. 13:20-2220It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. 21But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. 22And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged. (Isaiah 13:20‑22)).
The book of Daniel (6.) proves how little Cyrus thought of destroying fallen Babylon. Even Darius Hystaspes, after its revolt and recapture, broke down only its outer walls. Xerxes, to punish the Babylonians for their resentment at his plunder of the temple of Belus, was satisfied with destroying that great building. Alexander the Great even encouraged them to rebuild what Xerxes had leveled; and his project to make Babylon the metropolis of his universal empire only fell through by his premature death. Afterward it declined under his successors, not only through their wars but the building of Seleucia, as before by the Persians Ctesiphon, not far off, expressly to drain away its still vast population; and hence Strabo in the days of Tiberius spoke of it as to a great degree deserted. So Pausanias toward the close of the first century (Arcad.) said of this Babylon, once the greatest city of all that the sun beheld, that nothing now remains but her walls. The turning its site into a park for hunting wild beasts had contributed to its rapid devastation; and the fresh bed of the Euphrates, when it was stopped and caused an enormous marsh, yet more. Still the apostle Peter directed his first epistle, if not his second, from Babylon, to the Christian Jews of Asia Minor. And Theodoret in the fifth century of our era speaks of some Jews living there; which is fully confirmed by the issue of the Babylonian Talmud thence at the end of that century or beginning of the next. Yet it is folly to deny the total ruin of the once “golden city” because of a village here and there on the skirts of that awful desolation so graphically portrayed by the prophet. It was not so with the other imperial cities; it will be so with Rome, for the Holy Spirit has so written. Only He could have given Isaiah or John to predict either.
It is pleasant to note one observation of value, which Dr. Driver states; as we too have for many years insisted in these pages, as to which many students of the prophetic word are at fault. “The prophecy (14:24-27) has no connection with what precedes. It is directed against Assyria, not Babylon” (p. 202). He does not see, though it is most important, that it is expressly placed here subsequently to mark that, when the complete fulfillment takes place, and the day of Jehovah arrives not in part but fully at the end of the age, the last Assyrian will fall after the destruction of him who finally represents “the beast” or system of power which began with Babylon. Historically it had been the inverse, for Assyria fell long before Babylon. But by and by the beast will be destroyed from above; then will Jehovah tread the Assyrian under foot on his mountains, which was not literally so of old. Compare Mic. 5 But though distinct they are connected (for there is no fresh “burden” here), but only connected so as to bring out their true order in the tremendous scenes of the latter day. The Assyrian is neither Antichrist nor the beast, but the chief of the north-eastern hordes of that day, of whom the prophets have much to say.
But we have not done with the connection. It is not to close as that of the Assyrian to fall after Babylon. “In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden,” which the Revisers rightly connect with Philistia or Palestina, rather than with the Assyrian, as did the A. V., or those who arranged the paragraphs. Whatever may have been the historical earnest in the past (and commentators, as usual, differ widely, some understanding Jewish rulers, others successive kings of Assyria and the slain Sargon followed by Sennacherib), the true aim is to place the complete destruction of the old internal enemy of Israel by Christ in line with the final judgment of Babylon and Assyria, so as to bring out Jehovah's founding Zion in that glorious day, where the afflicted of His people take refuge—Zion, the divine contrast with Babylon, Philistia, or any other Gentile boast. Compare Psa. 87, with Psa. 2; 14:7., 20., 48., 65., 76., 78., 84., 132., 146., 147., 149.
The pride of Moab is finally put down in chaps. 15. 16., whereas the throne of David is set up. See Amos 9. So in chap. 17. Damascus is to be a ruinous heap, when Ephraim too that looked for her help ceases to have power, and the mighty rush of nations interfering to their destruction is rebuked in the latter day. Then in 18. we see a land, outside the limits of the distant peoples on the Nile and the Euphrates, playing the part of protector to the Jew, a maritime power seeking to restore the chosen people in this land; but when all seems to promise good fruit, the project comes to nothing through the old jealousy and hatred of Israel; and then Jehovah of hosts undertakes and accomplishes the work Himself. For up to this point of these varied “burdens,” or that which is connected with them, all end in deliverance for Israel. Can anything be more absurd than the rationalistic idea of Ethiopia here? Cush was Asiatic as well as African, and its rivers the seat of powers so well-known and formidable to Israel. The power favorable to Israel but failing is beyond either, and left intentionally with no express explanation. The people scattered, and in that time, when all appears lost once more, brought to Jehovah and the place of His name, the mount Zion, are the ancient people. But one must not expect intelligence of His purpose in the word from those whose principle dishonors it.
The group of “burdens” (chaps. 19-23) with the immensely enlarging revelation (chaps. 24-27.) which closes them in mercy to Israel through judgment executed on earth, the heavenly places, and the dark powers of evil, has its own characteristic differences, though all without doubt from the prophet Isaiah. They are occupied with the troubles of the nations beginning with Egypt and Ethiopia; but they include in a singular way Babylon and Jerusalem itself, which evidently are styled in an enigmatic manner and in reference one to the other (chaps. 21., 22). The solution seems to be that, though the fall of Babylon by the Medo-Persian armies is rehearsed with striking force, it implies that Jerusalem “the valley of vision” will be laid waste by the warriors of Elam and Kir when Babylon could be described as “the desert of the sea “: a fulfillment still to come for Jerusalem,2 though Babylon has long been so. Compare Zech. 14:22For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (Zechariah 14:2). The Assyrian is the great leader, whether historically or prophetically. The wisdom of nature failed Egypt and her allies; the independence of Durnah will not avail; nor shall Arab and Kedar escape the overflowing scourge. As Babylon fell and sunk into a desert with scarce a parallel, so Jerusalem suffers for its shameless forgetfulness of God and of their unique relation to Him; and so does the crowning Tire with its merchant princes, for Jehovah of hosts would stain the pride of all glory.
Then follows a desolation which, beginning with the land and people of God, extends to the world at large. Yet from the uttermost part of the earth songs are heard; for not only are the wicked and treacherous smitten, and the earth itself, but Jehovah will punish the hosts of the height on high, and the kings of earth on the earth: as our Lord said, “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken,” and not the earth only and its rulers. And Jehovah reigns in mount Zion. The prophet accordingly breaks forth into thanksgiving (25.), and furnishes the song for that day in Judah (26.), with a final hymn (27.) when Jehovah punishes in that day leviathan the fleeing serpent, and leviathan the crooked serpent, and the monster that is in the sea: the old enemy viewed emblematically as acting by political powers against God's glory in Israel.
As to not only chap. 21. but these last four chapters rationalism vents its trite and baseless objections. If Isaiah's, as there is no solid reason to doubt, its occupation is gone. The N.T. proves (in 1 Cor. 15), that the last continuous prophecy is future. For in that day the covering over all peoples will be destroyed, the first resurrection will be realized, the indignation of God against Israel over-past, Satan's bad eminence extinguished, and the outcasts once more and forever worshipping in the holy mountain at Jerusalem. If we believe the word of God, the neological hypothesis perishes in its own corruption. W. K.