The Known Isaiah: Isaiah 58:1 - 63:5

Isaiah 58:1‑63:5  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 12
The last section of this great prophetic discourse here opens, running down to the end, but itself consisting of subdivisions winch it is well to heed. There is first a trenchant moral appeal to the house of Jacob in their combining sins and transgressions with punctilious regard to legal ordinances, especially fasting and sabbath keeping, and yet total antagonism to their spirit (ch. 58.) There is at the close of that chapter, with Isaiah's wonted grandeur in recalling to true righteousness and the honor and blessing that would follow, the most forcible setting out of their entire corruption in chap. 59. with all the amplitude of his early style. It was their own evil that separated the Jews and their God, their sins which hid His face from them that He heard not. Thereon ensues confession of their sins, but no power to rise from their wretchedness, till Jehovah intervenes (identifying with Christ, the Redeemer, in Zion) with deliverance for the godly remnant, who according to His covenant receive His Spirit and His words for themselves and their offspring evermore.
Zion accordingly is called to arise and shine, for her light is come and the glory of Jehovah risen upon her; and this the more strikingly that darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the peoples (60). So unfounded is the dream of Christendom that Israel's conversion is to be due to Gentile zeal or faith. On the contrary the apostacy shall first come, and the man of sin be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus slays or consumes with the breath of His mouth and brings to naught by the appearing of His advent. Both Old. and N. T. are distinct that His personal judgment of the quick inaugurates the wondrous change for the earth, when not only shall all Israel be saved (after the destruction of the lawless one and his adherents, with other foes) but nations shall come to Zion's light and kings to the brightness of her rising. The picture of the future restoration, righteous and glorious here below, and this manifestly of Jerusalem and His people (though with marked difference from the heavenly city in Rev. 21; 22) is drawn, allowing for the new connection, exactly in Isaiah's manner, serene and sublime, and wholly different from the exilic or the post-exilic prophets. To interpret it of the church is not only unintelligent, but lowers our heavenly glory with Christ; it wrongs Israel and defrauds the Gentiles as a whole, to say nothing of the lower creation which God never forgets if man does.
Chaps. 61.-63. 6 bring in Christ, not in His humiliation and atoning death, but in the incomparable grace of His first advent, and its blessed consequences not yet fulfilled to the Jews as such, and His indisputable power in judgment at the second when the day of vengeance is come. How instructive His own closing of the book in the synagogue of Nazareth, when He read only the first clause of ch. 61:2! When He returns, He begins with the day of vengeance before He gives effect to the year of His redeemed. See ch. 62:4. The Reformers were no more enlightened than the Fathers who confounded ch. 63. with 53. and the blood of the peoples with His blood.
But what we have had in this brief summary is wholly destructive of the unbelieving school. For, as we saw in the first previous or second section the Jew guilty not of idolatry only as in the past but of the rejection of the Messiah, so now the prophet treats of that pretentious but hollow Pharisaism which has ever since characterized them, and of the sure judgment which the rejected Messiah will inflict at His coming in power and glory. Dr. D. does not venture to apply the end of ch. 59. or the beginning of ch. 63. to the first advent. Even if he could with the smallest show of justice, how would this fall in with the assumption of an unknown prophet toward the close of the captivity? He knows quite well that the moral impediments which disqualify Israel for the enjoyment of the promised blessings have never yet been removed. He knows that the unreality of their fasts and other observances continues to this day, and that the true fast, so pleasant to Jehovah, of unselfish goodness and mercy is as far off as ever, when alone He can shower His blessings on His people, and they shall build the old wastes and raise up the foundations from generation to generation, nay, delight in Jehovah Who will cause them to ride on the high places of the earth.
Not only does the apostle Paul cite the close of ch. 59. modified by Psa. 53:6 (7) to prove the future coming of the Lord to save Israel (in Rom. 11), but he quotes also the earlier verses in Rom. 3 to demonstrate their utter moral ruin as a present fact. And this he meets with the grace of God in the gospel now to every believer; as he holds out the coming of the Redeemer by-and-by, when Israel shall be restored and have the kingdom according to prophecy.
Hence these self-styled higher critics betake themselves to “the felicity of the ideal Zion of the future,” when, after a judgment to be enacted in the Jews, not in their foes only, the dark cloud of night that shrouds the rest of the world is lifted from the holy city, and light clothes Zion forever. Then they talk, or at least Dr. D. does, of “Jehovah's ideal servant” once more introduced in ch. 61., which is followed as before by the promise of Jerusalem's restoration, of the new and signal marks of Jehovah's favor resting on the restored nation, and of its own appreciation of all. Of course ch. 63:1-6 is similarly treated, as “an ideal humiliation of nations, marshaled upon the territory of Israel's inveterate foe” (Lit. of the O.T. 222).
It would be more candid to let us know whether Dr. D. believes, any more than his German forerunners, in the reality of these predictions. If he does, the critical hypothesis is ipso facto overthrown and abandoned; if he does not, its infidel and anti-Christian character is apparent. In any case, it is absurd to argue that the prophet is merely addressing “the exiles in Babylonia,” any more than “the men of Jerusalem, contemporaries of Ahaz and Hezekiah or even of Manasseh” (p. 224). All this reasoning is the pettifoggery of rationalism with not even the semblance of truth. It is impossible for any man to face any one of these sections, still less the second and the third, and to say that the prophet speaks always, in the first instance, to his own contemporaries (though they were responsible to believe as we are). Let him show, if he can, that the prophet never abandons his own historical position but speaks from it, when he predicts the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that should follow them. If by “ideal” he honestly confesses both, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.