Thoughts on Isaiah 1-5

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The great subject of the introduction to this prophecy is the way in which Jehovah presents Himself alter declaring their state of ruin. There is a day of Jehovah on all the earth, and if there were not a remnant, all the people would be as Sodom and like Gomorrah. The hand of Jehovah will be against all that the world exalts. Everything or one that is lifted up shall be brought low: Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day. (Chap. 2: 17.) God will purify the earthly people by His judgments. The rest will be the object of a terrible judgment. (Chap. 2:18-21.)
I desire to consider the character of the prophecy as given to the Jews. It takes in a circle much greater and concerns the nations as well as Israel.
There is an important principle to remark, namely, that every prophecy supposes ruin of the state of things in which the prophecy is presented. When all goes according to the mind of God, there is no need of warning. It is manifest here in a striking way. Prophecy reveals all the hopes that belong to the faithful when the dispensation breaks down. It announces the failures, and the judgments on what man essays to do because of the evil.
The mass of the Jews is not saved, but there is a remnant saved in the midst of them. The church is but a remnant. We begin as a remnant, and where the Jews end. This supposes that the state of the world is bad and that the world has not gone on well. God sends threatenings and warnings to the mass when all goes ill; and He makes promises to the faithful remnant to sustain and encourage it. When Israel failed, or the priesthood, in Eli, God raises up a prophet, Samuel. It was when all failed under the kings even of the house of David, that God raised up Isaiah. Ahaz had introduced idolatry into the house of God, and the testimony of Isaiah was sent to announce not a remnant only but the Messiah.
The state of what God established in presence of the glory of God shows that the people cannot stand before this glory. (Chap. 6: 5.)
God sends prophet after prophet, and chastisement after chastisement, during seven centuries, and He only struck fully when the Son was cast out of the vineyard and slain. Meanwhile the promise of the Messiah sustained the hope of the faithful. They felt the state of things whilst waiting for redemption. Anna spoke of the infant Jesus to all those that looked for redemption. The principle of such immense importance in prophecy is, that because of the unfaithfulness of the mass God rejects that which He has Himself established; and He announces that He is going to replace what is ruined by something which is infinitely better. God in His goodness gives the light beforehand to brighten up the hearts of the faithful. The goodness of God treats them as friends and fills them with confidence. If one recognizes the prophecy, one must recognize that God has judged and condemned that which exists. If God had not set aside man, there were no need of a new Adam. If the ark of the covenant had not been in the hands of the Philistines there would have been no need of Samuel the prophet, any more than of Isaiah if the house of David were not fallen. Wherefore prophecy is called a charge or “burden.”
It will facilitate the understanding of the book if one point out the divisions of the book.
Chapters 1 to 4 are the introduction, and blessing at the end. Chapter 1 speaks of the Jews, chapter 2 of the Gentiles.
Chapter 5 is a prophetic discourse which compares the state of the vineyard with that which God had done for Israel at the beginning; interrupted by
Chapter 6 which compares it with the glory of Christ. It is thus God judges His people. The prophet is installed in his work.
Chapters 7 to 9: 7 are a prophecy of Immanuel and of the remnant, of Immanuel's land and of the Assyrian when Immanuel is there.
Chapters 9: 8 to 12 are a prophecy about Israel.
Chapters 13 to 27 look at the nations and the circumstances of Israel in the last days (chap. 18.) among the nations.
Chapters 28 to 35 are details about Israel, each prophecy closing with a blessing.
Chapters 36 to 39 are a history of Hezekiah and the Assyrian as typical of the dead and risen Son of David, and the Assyrian of the last days, closing with a prediction of the Babylonish captivity.
Chapters 40 to 46 are the restoration of Israel, witness against the idolatry of the nations but idolatrous, and rejected because of rejecting the Messiah. Israel is found at last among the rebellious when Jesus shall come back, the remnant being kept on the earth for the glory of Jehovah.
Chapter 1.
We see the summary of the burden of the prophecy in verses 1-9.
There was much piety according to the world. They continued in a round of religious forms to render worship to God without perceiving the lack of life, faithfulness, and purity by which they were characterized. (Vers. 10-18.) Having a show of godliness they had denied its power. They made long prayers at the corners of the streets; but their conscience was not right with God. There was a moral blindness before the judicial blindness. As we learn from the next chapter, the land was full of silver and gold, with horses and chariots, full of outward blessings but also with idols. The multitude of sacrifices did not make their ways true in relation to God. Hence (vers. 14, 15) the very things God had instituted or enjoined became in their hands such as He hated, because the conscience in His people was not according to His mind.
The word therefore is (vers. 16, 17), “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well.” There is the weighty matter. Have a good conscience before God: if not, you become blind of yourselves before you are blinded of God. God distinguishes between actions. One cannot learn to do good before ceasing from evil. One cannot have the light in the conscience, without leaving first that which wounds the conscience.
Jehovah imputes not iniquity. (Ver. 18.) Moral government follows. (Vers. 19, 20.)
The saddest thing for the heart of God is, not that the world is wicked, but that the city which bears His name, on which His eyes rest continually, should be so evil. “How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: everyone loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither cloth the came of the widow come unto them.” ( Vers. 21-23.) His judgment begins with His house. We see in Ezek. 9 that, when the remnant are marked, He causes all the city to be smitten, beginning at His sanctuary. He points out afterward the iniquities in detail. We have here a great present principle: if Christendom has deserved the judgment of God, His judgment begins with His house to purify it. In this sense we are with difficulty saved. It was over Jerusalem that Jesus wept.
“Therefore saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: and I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Vers. 24-26.) He will avenge Himself of His enemies who corrupted Zion; He will satisfy Himself in dealing with His adversaries. And when He shall have executed His judgment, He will restore Jerusalem as of old. But if judgment must fall on Israel, the consequence will be that out of Zion shall go forth the law. Jerusalem will be then more truly than ever the throne of Jehovah. “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall he together, and they that forsake Jehovah shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.” (Vers. 27 -31.)
Thus the first chapter of the prophecy applies to the state of the Jews, announcing the judgment, and gives the hope across the judgment that God will purge His people therein. This will be the means of gathering the nations.
Chapter 2.
In the last days the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. Some might think the law's going out of Zion might be by the gospel. But the gospel is not by the execution of judgment on the nations as here. God will deal with the nations by public judgment and righteousness on earth. (Vers. 1-4.) It is not the church, but the Lord who is spoken of; and this has evidently never yet been. They have dreamed these things for Christianity; but it is the judgment of God that is to bring all this about. (Compare Matt. 24:6, 76And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. (Matthew 24:6‑7).)
The intelligent Spirit of prophecy always speaks as in verses 5, 6. “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of Jehovah. Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.” The rejection of the people had not yet happened. Judgment begins at the house of God, but does not stop there. God will judge His people; and will He not judge the idolatrous world?
The nations boasted of their power and of their riches. They will be the first to be judged; but above all the so-called Christian countries, where profession is found highest, must be found at last the objects of the indignant wrath of God. When He exercises judgment on man's idols and pride, He resumes the course of His earthly government on the earth.
Chapter 3.
Divine judgment notices every detail of iniquity, oppression, and even vanity. All must be brought low.
Chapter 4.
God pushes the judgment and the ruin to the uttermost; but Christ the Branch of beauty and glory shall appear at that time for the remnant. All the wicked shall have been cut off. (Vers. 2-4.) The Branch of Jehovah shall be beauty and glory. The glory will be displayed over all the extent of the holy city. (Ver. 5.) Verse 6 describes an active protection on God's part. Those who remain after the purifying are saints, and the glory of God shall be manifested over the city that He has chosen to place His name there.
One can see in these four chapters the importance God attaches to the land. He takes cognizance of the iniquity of His earthly people, cleansing them by His judgment. He washes away the filth of the nations also.
This does not concern the church which will come again with Jesus in glory. Such is the position in which Christendom is found. Meanwhile, since the rejection of Jesus until He come again, God has visited the world by His Spirit to gather God's joint-heirs with Christ for heaven.
The nature of prophecy, which enters into the mind of God on the ruin and rejection of His people, is of all importance. It is what distinguishes the faithful who have the intelligence of Christ-faithful in the fallen state of things. Their conduct at the same time is directed and governed by the revelation they possess of another order of things to come.
Chapter 5.
There are two great principles presented in chapters 5 and 6: in the former the judgment God pronounces on the vineyard in reference to the fruits He must look for from it; in the latter the introduction of the glory of the Messiah, and what this glory demands from the people. Prophecy supposes a fallen condition, and would be superfluous if the state God established had no need of a special testimony. God bears witness against the state of things and gives promise in Jesus.
God considers whether the vineyard bears the fruit that a vineyard so cared for ought to bear. It is a general principle that applies to the Jews, to the church, and to each individual. If the church has received more than the Jews, God is entitled to expect that it produce more. When one takes the glory of Christ, one sees what ought to correspond to that glory. The two principles constantly turn up. God has formed the state of things, whether among the Jews or in the church, with reference to Christ.
Here is what God says of Israel: “Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come of Driers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain upon it. For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and be looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” (Vers. 1-7.) The “well-beloved” is the Lord Jesus. God asks that people-even the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah-should judge between Him and His vineyard. He has done much for a nation that had a certain responsibility on the earth. He will accomplish all His counsels, but first of all He proves Israel to see if they will make good themselves the design of God.
But man always fails for what God expects from him, and He would have it seen what man is. God does all that man could ask, and this only manifests the ill will of man. Sacrifices, temple, service-God had arranged all. The people fail in all; and God destroys what He had Himself made. He breaks the fence. All that the father had the elder brother possessed. But God destroys what He had made, and He will accomplish all His counsels. (Lam. 2:1-91How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! 2The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof. 3He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. 4He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire. 5The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. 6And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. 7The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast. 8The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together. 9Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the Lord. (Lamentations 2:1‑9).) The Lord has cast off His altar, He has abhorred His sanctuary. His people having been unfaithful to His blessings, the means He had placed for the blessing of His people He has taken all away. When the people are far from God, they attach themselves to ordinances: it is the mark that all is going to ruin. From the moment that God is of little importance to the conscience ordinances become the objects of superstition and take the place of God. Here it is “the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord!” When God is just about to destroy them, it is then men attach the more importance to them. God confided to man true privileges: but man fails: God takes all away, and the result is a judgment.
From verse 8 God enumerates the various sins which were in the midst of Israel. “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth! Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope: that say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it! Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink; which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!” (Vers. 8-11, 18-23.)
The Israelites despise the warning of judgment; the wicked take advantage of the delay; just as the like was to happen in the last days of the Christian testimony. (2 Peter 3) But God does not hurry His counsel. He is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He knows well that He must judge at the end. Man attaches himself to his own wisdom, and as long as God does not chastise, man hardens his heart. God has done all for His vineyard, but this producing nothing but wild grapes, He judges His vineyard on the earth.
The church is also on the earth ender responsibility here below. It has more light and more knowledge than Israel. This changes nothing as to the counsels of God, who commits His glory to the faithfulness of the church here below. If we do not represent aright this glory, judgment is impending on the church here below.
Instead of enfeebling the sense of our faults, the more that we feel the blessings, the dearer will be the glory of Christ to us; and the more also that we are alive to His glory, the more do we understand that the church here below must be judged as an economy here below. if anyone can say that the church has duly guarded the glory of Christ in the world, he must have lost the idea of what the glory of Christ demands, just as an unconverted person has no notion of what is due to the righteousness and holiness of God.