The Known Isaiah: 9

Isaiah 49‑52  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 12
Here the ground taken by neo-criticism is untenable self-evidently save to unbelievers. For the section of the prophecy which chap. 49 opens is beyond just question occupied with Messiah's rejection and its results. This is the second and still graver indictment alleged against the Jews; fruit of the same unbelief, though under deeper mercy despised, which had left Jehovah for idols, the charge against them in the previous section. Hence Babylon and Cyrus disappear now, as Assyria has no place in either. Nor can any statement be less accurate than Dr. Driver's (Lit. O.T 217) that “these chapters [40.-66] form a continuous prophecy, dealing throughout with a common theme, viz., Israel's restoration from exile in Babylon.” In a measure it may be accepted as applicable to the first of the three parts, though even here it falls lamentably short of its full scope. For in the very preface (chap. 40.), we have, if we accept the interpretation of the N. T. as authoritative, John Baptist's ministry, and the coming of Jehovah in the person of the Messiah, His appearing in glory and in triumph over idols, as tender and faithful as He is matchless in power and wisdom. We have also a result in sovereign grace far beyond anything realized by the returned remnant. If these men dare to say that the prophecy is false and is never to be fulfilled let them stand out as open infidels. They may not all be so; yet they are all doing the enemy's work.
The truth is that “the servant” is the key-note of the continuous prophecy. It runs through all the three divisions, each of which has its special aim and proper character. Hence in 41:8 we have “Israel my servant,” responsible to bear witness of the one Living God against idolatry, but utterly failing and therefore captives in Babylon (the ancient champion of image worship), till Jehovah raise up a deliverer from the north-east, named expressly before the section closes, His shepherd to perform all His pleasure as to Jerusalem and the temple, as well as to execute judgment on Babylon and its dark superstition. Even here, however, and in an early part (chap. 42:1-4), care was taken to point out an incomparably greater “Servant” than Israel, Cyrus, or any other, Who should come in meekness, but not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for His law. How different from His blind “servant” in the same chapter, abandoned to heathen spoliation for their more guilty heathenism, whatever over-abounding mercy may do another day not yet arrived!
With chap. 49 the heavier and more heinous charge is pressed. The prophet sets before us throughout the section the aggravated guilt of the returned remnant in rejecting their own, the true, Messiah. It is a striking instance of a principle common to the N. T. as well as the O., the replacement of the faithless “servant” by the faithful One, of Israel the empty vine by Messiah the True Vine, the fleshly son of God called out of Egypt by His Only-begotten in due time. Indeed it is the question for faith and unbelief between the first man and the Second, which underlies all revelation, and determines the lot of every soul before whom it comes, for not time only but eternity. Messiah takes up Israel's place, as Jehovah's servant in whom He will be glorified, but in view of His rejection says (ver. 4) “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and vanity: yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work [or wages] with my God.” The next verse is the answer and demonstrates the substitution of Messiah for Israel, not distinct only but for the present opposed to Him. “And now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, that Israel may be gathered to him (yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God shall be my strength); and he said, It is a small thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will even give thee for light to Gentiles, to be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (vers. 5, 6). The text is here rendered in a form substantially as learned Jews prefer. What can be plainer, even if we had not the apostle's application in Acts 13, than that here we have the blessed result of the gospel for Gentiles, on the refusal of the Messiah by His own people? No doubt despising man joined the nation in its apostate abhorrence, and the cross followed; which infinite grace made the ground of salvation indiscriminate to Jew or Gentile that believed: a state of things wholly distinct from what was before the first advent and what will follow the second, when Jehovah will prove that He never forgot Zion, but at length will contend with her enemies, and save her children then repentant and looking to Him Whom they pierced. Thus verses 7, 8, quite confirm the grace now going out far and wide (cf. 2 Cor. 6:22(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (2 Corinthians 6:2)), while the ch. passes on to the millennial rescue and exaltation of Israel on earth. All is due to the Servant, and is God's gracious use of His rejection. Meanwhile the Jew has lost Him as King in Zion; and the believer (whosoever he may be) has Him as Savior, Lord, Priest, and Head in heavenly glory.
How does the self-styled higher criticism fare before this divine light? It is really, what the cross of Christ outwardly seemed, emptiness and vanity: an unspeakably sad sight, a mob of Jewish foes inciting Gentiles against Christ and God's inspired scripture, with traitor disciples playing into their hands! May they tremble at Jehovah's word, lest that come upon them that is spoken of in the prophets, lest they perish as despisers in their inexcusable unbelief. For no canon more pervades the school than the denial of true prophecy independent of local and actual indications, and especially of any unveiling of the distant future. Hence the foregone conclusion of incredulity. The question is begged. They neither prove nor disprove. They assume as their primary principle that “to base a promise upon a condition of things not yet existent, and without any point of contact with the circumstances of situation of those to whom it is addressed, is alien to the genius of prophecy” (Lit. O.T 201). From the first prediction in the Bible to the last the very reverse is nearer the truth, allowing for the subordinate cases to which it may apply. From the great body of scriptural prophecy on the contrary is excluded private i.e. isolated solution; because it converges as the rule on the yet future kingdom when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah and His glory as the waters cover the sea. How transparently weak to deny the prophecies of Babylon or any other to Isaiah, because of a century or more, when their Great Unknown (itself the utmost folly for a prophet and opposed to all inspired facts) beyond controversy predicts the postponement of Israel's hope through the rejection of Messiah many centuries after, the consequent grace to Gentiles, and the yet unaccomplished Zion in the latter day when kings shall be nursing fathers and queens nursing mothers! This rationalism is the more irrational, because, in what they acknowledge as incontestable, the leap into that future vision of glory on earth and for Israel especially, is even more detailed in chaps. 2., 4., 9., 11., 12.; so that the argument, if it is to be so called, is as illogical and capricious, as it is unbelieving.
But turning to chap. 50., we have the new controversy of God carried on still more fully and profoundly. The Messiah is set forth evidently: the hidden glory of Jehovah on one side, and on the other the humiliation in grace of the dependent and obedient Servant, so competent and ready in love to others yet rejected and abased to the uttermost, and after all the shame and suffering helped of God and justified: a justification, which the apostle in Rom: 8. was inspired to claim for the Christian in virtue of His sacrificial death. And this wondrous but true portrait, not of some ideal personage, but of our Lord Jesus Christ, so amply and closely verified in the N. T., is presumed to be drawn by the unknown prophet of the rationalists “towards the close of the Babylonian captivity”! Not one solid reason has ever been given for the hypothesis; but if we conceive it for the moment as certified fact, what would there be but the equally sure refutation of rationalism? What bearing on contemporary interests was there just before the return, more than in Hezekiah's days when the captivity in Babylon had been announced? How these skeptics labor for the fire and weary themselves in vain, when they strive to rob Isaiah, not only here, but of such chaps. as 24.-27., and 34., 35. Assign them to whom they please, the mouth of Jehovah has uttered them, and there shall be a fulfillment in the due time: blessed they that believe, wretched beyond utterance those that render null as to themselves the counsel of God. What point of contact with the circumstances of those addressed can be adduced at one time rather than the other for such predictions? To suppose an unknown prophet of the highest rank equal to Isaiah, or superior, is itself a very unreasonable and uncalled for fancy; especially when incorporated with his writings, the greatest known. Even the shortest strain is carefully attributed to each writer; and on a human point of view, no one less needs, less admits of, a supplement than the stately son of Amoz; on divine ground, the effort savors of impiety, wholly subjective as it is. That the latter seven and twenty chapters are on the whole the grandest and most important of the book is beyond dispute. Nothing but the malignant revolutionary violence of modern infidelity accounts for the scheme; which after all leaves God's book in possession of true prediction of Christ many centuries before He came to fulfill the most momentous part, as He will surely come again to fulfill all that remains.
Chaps. 51.-52:12 apply the truth to the people of God or at least to the godly remnant of the future, regarded in their strict prophetic bearing. There is first a triple call: “Hearken to me, ye that follow righteousness” (vers. 1-3), “Listen (or attend) to me, my people” (vers. 4-6), and “Hearken to me, ye that know righteousness” (vers. 7-8); which indicate progress spiritually. Then follow three calls: first, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Jehovah” (vers. 9-16), a call for divine intervention; next, “Rouse thyself, rouse thyself standing, O Jerusalem” (vers. 17-23), an address to the city of God's choice; then a final “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion” (52:1).
Then comes the joyful message, which certainly has not the smallest relation to the plain of Shinar, but to the high lands of Palestine, as the tidings coalesce not only with chap. 40., but with 24.-27. 32.,33.,35., indeed with 11., 12., and chapters earlier still. It would appear that at this epoch of the future, Jews will be once more captives among the Gentiles, who then go out, priests and people, far more gloriously than the trembling remnant who left Babylon of old by the decree of Cyrus, or even the nation of old leaving Egypt in haste. We know from 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) that, just before their divine deliverance, half of Jerusalem shall go forth into captivity. But Jehovah too shall go forth and fight against those nations as when He fought in the day of battle. Alas! one cannot expect faith as to the future from those who disbelieve His word about the past. This one scripture it seemed well to cite as decisive proof of Jewish captives, just before the close of man's and the beginning of Jehovah's day.