Thoughts on Isaiah 19-25

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Chapters 19, 20.
There is a change to be noticed, in that from this point the Spirit of God does not so much give us the deliverance of Israel as the desolation of the nations in question. Here in chapter 20 it is the burden of Egypt, its judgment and its blessing, when not Israel only but Assyria, their then conqueror, shall be blessed. If ruin befell that land meanwhile, if anarchy followed, if cruel lords after this oppressed, grace will succeed and bless in the end. But how complete the change when the land of Judah shall be a terror to Egypt, &c. (chap. 20: 17), a thing never yet fulfilled! On the contrary Egypt dominated the Jews under the Ptolemies, as of old under the Pharaohs. When Israel becomes at length the inheritance of Jehovah, both Egypt and Assyria shall oppress no more, but come into special relationship and blessing from God. Chapter 20 is but the sequel, marking by a sign in the prophet's person the vanity of hoping in Egypt or Ethiopia against Assyria.
Chapters 21, 22.
These two chapters introduce us to God's mind by showing the contrast between Babylon “the desert of the sea” and Jerusalem “the vision of peace.” The idea of the Holy Spirit speaking of Babylon is that it becomes a “wilderness,” the “sea” in prophetic language signifying the mass of peoples.
It is in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit sees the glory and the peace of Christ, Salem as is well known meaning peace. The confusion is evident historically, if one essays to consider the prophecy as a whole already accomplished, however visibly Babylon's fall is given. It is plainly here a question of God's ways in times to come. All the events are brought together here without any reference to the chronological order of the past, but in the relation that they will have among each other to the last days. For Jerusalem falls after Babylon, the inverse of history. We find here instruction for ourselves now.
In chapter 21 we see God preparing a rod of vengeance for Babylon, as of chastening in the following chapter for Jerusalem, where the power of evil was displaying itself after another way.
How instructive for the soul which like a sentinel pays attention to that which God is going to do in His government of the earth Men are of no value and know nothing at all: all their wisdom and their prudence only contribute to bring about the result that God has prepared for the manifestation of His glory in the person of Jesus, in the midst of the Jewish people. Prophecy makes us understand that all is judged in the world, and that all the world's course is but “the desert of the sea.”
In Babylon had the Jews been captive; and there is found the pride and glory of the world. It has been thought that Babylon will be literally re-built by the unbelief, which will vaunt itself against God to show that what has been said of Babylon is not true. But if so, this will draw the final judgment on it.
Verses 11, 12. Dumah, or Edom, has a perpetual hatred against God's people. His people may be in an extremely poor state, and the world say with insolence against them, Where is your God? Here is the answer of the Spirit of God to this insolence. (Ver. 12.) “What of the night?” The Edomites spoke against Jerusalem, not because it was corrupt, but just because it was the city of the great King.
For us the night will soon be past, the morning will come. It is still the night as to the world. For the people of God the morning comes; it is their hope and their consolation. But for the world it is a question of the night. So long as Jesus was in the world He was the light of the world, but the night is there since Jesus is there no longer.
The insolence of enemies serves to exercise and strengthen faith; it recalls to the child of God what his privileges are and his position. If the people of God are unfaithful, God chastises them, and may call them Lo-ammi (not My people); but in presence of the world one remembers that they are notwithstanding the people of God. Jacob had often been unfaithful and chastised in every way; he says to Pharaoh, Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been; yet he blessed the king. Jacob as God's servant and chosen, though wretched and feeble, was in a position superior to that of the king of Egypt. The feeblest child of God is superior to the world in all its glory and strength. The church is unfaithful and has lost the manifestation of the favor of God. This should be subject of humiliation. But if the world is insolent, we can answer to it, “The morning cometh, and also the night; if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.”
These are the counsels of God, and the character of God who acts in His government according to the conduct of His people. He has manifested His character in showing an admirable patience till there was no remedy. As to this world where God manifests His ways, the church is responsible and treated according to its responsibility. As to heavenly glory the church cannot fail any more than the grace of God which calls to it.
The burden of Arabia follows in verses 13-17; all the glory of Kedar shall fail.
In chapter 22 comes the burden of the valley of vision. What is this that happened to Jerusalem? What is it that they expect? “What aileth thee now that thou art wholly gone up to the house tops?” (Ver. 1.) To-day also is the world on the house-tops, looking out; and the church so called no less than the world, for each feel, that all is crumbling.
Verse 4. The prophetic Spirit does not hide the evil, but in place of rejoicing over it like Edom, it is afflicted, and weeps bitterly, as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. This is ever the effect of intelligence in the ways of God. There is no need of prophecy but when things go to wreck. It awakens the affections of the heart. The spirit which is in us answers to the Spirit of prophecy, which is the expression of God's affection for His people. One loves with God; and there is always a great sweetness in this fellowship of thoughts with God, where the subject of them is painful.
Verse 5. God demolishes the wall, He rejects His house, His altar. It is the judgment of God which leaves Jerusalem a prey to the Gentiles. If there is evil, God cannot manifest His favor. He can restore His people, but He cannot glorify them in the world if they are unfaithful.
Verses 8-11. All that the wisdom of man can suggest to him is to fortify the wall God broke down. They take wise measures, they make a ditch for the water of the old pool.” It is very prudent to hinder the water flowing outside the city to refresh their enemies. But with all this wisdom they forgot to look to the Maker and fashioner of it long ago. “And in that day did the Lord Jehovah of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by Jehovah of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts.” (Vers. 12-14.) Such is the result. The prophetic Spirit seeing this cannot but weep for the ruin of the daughter of His people. It is a spirit of humiliation. The history of the same acts is presented to us in the Chronicles as a proof of blessing, and it was such on Hezekiah; but the worm was at the heart, and the people did not return to Him who struck them, but all went from bad to worse. In comparing this with the history, there is not a passage which bears more on the heart than the judgment God here pronounces on the efforts of man to reestablish what God would break down.
From verse 15 to the end I do not doubt that one should see in Shebna Antichrist set aside for the Messiah typified by Eliakim (that is, the God of resurrection). All the glory great or small attaches to Jesus on the throne of David; and all the power of Antichrist shall be cut off. Till Jehovah speaks, Antichrist looks strong and sure, and he counts on the future; but from the moment God speaks, he falls. (Ver. 25.)
We have also the judgment of the city. But we see the fall of Babylon necessary in order that Jerusalem should appear on the scene, though its state be one of perplexity and distress, desiring and undertaking to restore things, but God blowing on all. And all falls with Antichrist; when God sets up the throne in Jesus and gives His blessing to all the earth.
We see in these chapters how God destroys the insolence of man and judges the unfaithfulness of His people. The world's insolence as to God's children ought not to shake their confidence, but on the contrary to strengthen it. For God takes knowledge of everything; and their cause is that of God, who will be glorified in them to the end.
Chapter 23.
In chapter 23, we see the burden of Tire. The immediate aim was the capture of this great seat of ancient commerce by Nebuchadnezzar; but the Spirit of prophecy does not stop with Jehovah's purpose then against its merchant princes) when the honorable of the earth were brought into contempt and the pride of all glory stained, and the ships of Tarshish smitten in their strength. Whatever the re-appearance of Tire after the overthrow of the Chaldean, the prophecy looks onward to a brighter day when her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to Jehovah.
Chapter 24.
Since chapter 13 we have in general judgments on the nations, and have seen the Jews given up for the Gentiles, the beasts of the earth, to winter upon them. Here we see judgment on Israel: from verse 13 it extends to all the earth and the isles of the sea. At that time the resurrection will be, and after the judgment blessing. How many Christians walk as if the coming of the Lord was a fable, without a thought that the present age is an evil one! It is sad that through lack of spirituality so it should be with saints. If their affections were only set on heavenly things, things here below would no longer act on them.
The counsels of God are manifested in the ways of God. One may begin to retire from the world by the precepts of the gospel; but prophecy confirms these precepts by the light it casts on the world: then these precepts separate us, showing their practical value.
It is a question at first of the men of Judea. But all nations of the earth will be occupied with Jerusalem and gathered there where the judgment of God is to fall. From the land the transition is to the prophetic earth, and then to all the world. (Vers. 3, 4, &c.)
It is a frightful character in the joy of the world that it cannot subsist before God. His presence puts an end to all that the world loves and desires. How terrible the thought if realized by faith! Bring in the manifestation of God, and the world's joy, gaiety, pleasure is all destroyed. (Vers. 7-12.) The Christian ought to abide in complete separation from all that. It is important that the testimony borne against, not the world only, but worldly Christians, should be distinct and positive. With a worldly person, not bearing Christ's name, one thinks at least of speaking to him of grace. But to a Christian who, knowing his privileges, walks with the world, it is hard to speak of grace, because he abuses it. Love does not consist in walking with such, but in warning them. That which gives intelligence is the unction from the Holy One. It is not possible to walk in the light and in worldliness. One must show oneself more decided with the Christian who is worldly than with the worldly man: “If any man that is called a brother be.... with such an one, no not to eat.” (1 Cor. 5) There is love. If we believe that God is going to judge Sodom, how could we be at ease in Sodom with Lot? This is of all importance to-day.
The latter portion shows the consequence of the vintage for a little remnant. If one passes across the world, one sees how God is forgotten. Before executing judgment God separates from the perverse generation which is about to be judged those who are going to be saved.
If a Christian passes through the world, there is nothing to find there which speaks of Christ; and he is called to confess Christ where no one thinks of Him. Do you believe that, when the judgment shall have fallen, what will remain will be only as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done? The Holy Spirit reveals to us beforehand what the reality will manifest, the glory of Christ, the ruin of the world, the blessing of the remnant. It is evident that the judgment of God will effect a total separation between the righteous and the wicked. If the Holy Spirit acts with power, that is realized beforehand in us. The effect of judgment is to give a glory and a joy without mixture.
From the moment that judgment is executed, God appears as the Jehovah-God of Israel. (Ver. 15.) Verses 16-18 show the state of the Jewish people. Man may vaunt himself long against God, but he will not escape judgment when the Eternal is manifested. “The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.” (Vers. 19, 20.) Such is the end of all that surrounds us.
But there is more: “And it shall come to pass in that day that Jehovah shall punish the hosts of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.” The high ones are spiritual wickedness on high, or in the heavenlies, the source of the evil; the kings of the earth are the chief instruments here below. “And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.” (Vers. 22, 23.) The glory of Jehovah replaces all the false glitter of the world.
Chapter 25.
This is the song of Israel which corresponds with the subject. We have need of long patience. The counsels were of old; they are faithfulness and truth; they are not yet accomplished, but they will be manifested in all their precision and solidity according to God. 2 Peter 3 shows us the world clinging to visible things: the sun rose to-day, as it did yesterday and will to-morrow, and with more prosperity still in hope. Let us eat and drink, say they; the things that are have ever been, and nothing is so permanent: the earth, the world goes on forever. So men speak and act. The child of God, on the contrary, rests on the firmness of God's word. By His word the world was made; by His word it has been judged and will be destroyed. If we judge by the events before us, as incredulity does, we shall attach ourselves till the last moment to the things about to pass away. If I conclude from experience, I try to make the best of things around me, instead of adhering to the word of God. It is a principle of all-importance. Faith separates from evil, because it is evil; but it is quite a different thing to separate from a thing because God is going to judge it. One sees Christians who do not recognize evil until they are injured by it. But one ought to recognize evil beforehand by the word of God, in order not to be in the midst of evil when it shall be judged. It is not the man entangled by evil who can put his brethren on their guard.
In verses 2-8 we have the things that God does in that day. Not only will He put down wickedness and pride, but He will make unto all people a feast of fat things, that is, a full blessing; and He will destroy in the mountain of Israel the covering that covers over all people-an expression very applicable to the day when a chastening God will send men strong delusion that they should believe a lie. Moreover He will swallow up death in victory, wiping away every tear and taking away the rebuke of His people from off all the earth. This is applied in 1 Cor. 15:5454So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54) to the first resurrection of which the apostle treats throughout. All is presented together in a general way. We may so, for the Eternal has spoken, and it is our blessedness to believe God when there is only the word of God for our faith. The world will think only of what it likes; man believes Satan and despises God, who demands faith, in His word; and we believe God in the midst of all the illusions, and the wiles of the devil by which we are surrounded in this world. We must believe God though encompassed with the effects of sin. Adam believed Satan though encompassed with the effects of the goodness of God. Faith gains the victory over the world, and acts in face of that which is not, as if it already existed.
Comparing verse 8 of our chapter with 1 Cor. 15:5454So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:54) we see something different in tone from the resurrection of the wicked, who are to be by rising again plunged in the lake of fire, the second death. We clearly see here Israel restored at the time of the first resurrection. All the brightness of the sun will be as nothing in comparison with the glory of Jehovah, when the covering of darkness shall be removed from the nations. For God will have delivered the Gentiles to blindness. (Rom. 1; 2 Thess. 2)
In the two chapters that follow are given the blessing of Judah, and the destruction of Satan, or leviathan.