Thoughts on Isaiah 36-39

Isaiah 36‑66  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Chapters 36-39.
These chapters are the history of the Assyrian invading and overthrown, of the sickness of Hezekiah and of the embassy from Babylon with the captivity foreshewn. There is the outward deliverance (chaps. 36, 37.), and the inward (chap. 38.), resurrection power being applied to the sickness of the Son of David, type of a greater who actually died and rose to bring in the sure mercies of David.
Verse 16 above all explains why God wished Hezekiah to pass through this trial. It was needful that flesh should be judged as naught, and that the power which opposes the people of God should be destroyed solely by God's power. So will it yet be made good spiritually in the Jew, the principle of death for the destruction of the flesh, that the nation, deprived of all confidence in self, may be delivered by the power and grace of God. Yet was it but a type now: Hezekiah was a saint, but not the Messiah; nor had he learned the lesson of death and resurrection adequately; but lifted up with pride after his recovery and the destruction of the Assyrian, he displayed the rich stores of his house and dominion to the ambassadors of Merodach-baladan, and hears from the prophet the solemn word of Jehovah that all should be swept away to Babylon, not only all that had been laid up for generations by the royal house, but of his issue to be eunuchs in the palace of the conqueror. (Chap. 39.) The historical portion is of the utmost weight for the elucidation of this prophecy, which it divides into two very distinct sections, both of which it illustrates, the earlier being external, as the latter is more internal and consequently viewing Israel not merely as a people among hostile nations, but as witnesses to Jehovah the one true God and awaiting the Messiah, the elect Servant, which they should have been but failing in both respects. Finally, when bowing to the Messiah in detestation of their idolatry, they become and are owned as His servants when His glory appears, and all ends in the blessing of the faithful and the judgment of the rebellious. Christ will defend Israel by His power when the Assyrian shall come into their land: “This man shall be the peace.” (Mic. 5) “And they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.” Till then it is vain to expect it.
Chapter 40.
After this historical parenthesis we have henceforth in our prophecy a more intimate and detailed revelation of the relationships of God as to His people and of His ways toward them.
It is a question of the counsels of God as to Israel in grace, but in this point of view Israel is a witness of God, the only true God, and His servant, Christ, comes, but Israel will not acknowledge Him. For this reason the remnant alone is recognized and the people condemned by the judgment which is coming, and the remnant glorified with Christ.
He speaks of comfort, notwithstanding the many iniquities of which Israel has been guilty, and He manifests His positive will to be glorified by His people upon the earth. The church glorifies God before principalities and powers in heavenly places. (Eph. 3) The church is the means of making known the wisdom of God in heaven; Israel is the means of making it known in this world to powers upon the earth. Until the church the ways of God had always been in connection with the earth; God's king had been seen on the earth; His wisdom on the earth, with regard to His earthly people. But in looking at the church, the principalities and powers see a wisdom which is entirely new, the glory of Christ in a people whom God strengthens by His Spirit, to whom everything is promised for heaven at least, and who do not consider their own life, in order to be manifested in the glory of Christ. This is why we see in Ephesians that the wisdom of God is different in every way. When this purpose of God is accomplished in the church, He takes up again His ways with the Jews, and He says as a summary of all that is to follow, “Comfort ye my people.”
In the preceding chapters He reasons with His people, in order to prove to them their sin. Here it is the proclamation of a new way, and of His positive will to comfort His people. But in order to do this, He must enter with more detail into the miseries of His people. He makes an appeal to their conscience, then an explanation of the thought of His heart. He enters into these special purposes with His people and shows that He has not always been able to do so. He desires that the conscience of the people should acknowledge the justice of His ways, and enters into the delicacy of their new relations with God. God makes manifest His way of dealing, and all the manner of His people's acting, in order that everything may be acknowledged, and that the people may understand that in God all is love. It is continually a question in this latter part of the book of Isaiah, not only of the ways of God with His people in regard to the nations, but chiefly of the coming and the rejection of Jesus-a sin which was the crowning point of all the sins of Israel.
God had an object, whether it was in calling Israel or in calling the church. If God wished to glorify Israel on the earth, He presents His people according to the intention of God regarding them. He might have said, This is my will, and have left to man the task of doing it: that is, law. He could produce and accomplish in man what He desired, and show the resources there are in God for doing it: that is, grace.
God did this with Israel. Israel was a people in relation with the eternal God, in order that the eternal and only true God might be manifested to the world in all His ways. This will happen also at the close.
There are two things true with regard to the power of Satan. He got possession of the earth as being the theater of the government of God, and he got possession of man and his affections. Therefore does the Holy Spirit say, that the friendship of the world is enmity against God. He therefore who would be a friend of the world is an enemy of God; as also the mind of the flesh is enmity against God.
The church has been formed and maintained here below to manifest to the world the victory of the Lord Jesus over Satan and His glory as the Second man seated on the throne of God the Father, infinitely greater than that of the first man Adam in Eden. Israel and the church should have been witnesses of God, one for the earth, the other for heaven, and this in putting aside the power of Satan.
Before the flood there was no government; since then a new principle of evil manifested itself, man entering into direct relation with Satan by idolatry. Man does not confine himself only to being wicked and rebellious against God; he replaces God by Satan. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons.” Then it is that God calls Abram in order that His name should be known on the earth, and His called one be witness to His glory. It is grace that acted; for Abram had been an idolater, like others. He is chosen, called, and made heir of the promises: grace acted thus. Later on the Israelites, Abram's posterity, were placed as God's witnesses in Canaan under the law-law which could not annul the promise. God manifests in Israel the principle of His government. Israel having not only failed but apostatized, God had to chase them thence. How could He tolerate a people which compromised His glory, having ceased to be a witness against idolatry, Satan's direct power in the world? The greatest part of the world is still under this direct power of Satan besides his influence on the heart, for the moral influence of Satan is quite another thing. In idolatry the demon is adored to have his protection or escape his malice; they attribute to him all that God does. Israel, having become idolatrous, totally failed in his responsibility; the ten tribes first, afterward Judah who has been yet worse. Then God carries them successively away from the land. With Nebuchadnezzar begin the times of the Gentiles. (Dan. 2:31-34, 37-4331Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. (Daniel 2:31‑34)
37Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. 39And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 40And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. (Daniel 2:37‑43)
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There is a particular circumstance to remark. We see in Isa. 41-48 Cyrus, conqueror of Babylon, marked out as about to close the captivity by executing judgment on idolatry. The temple is rebuilt, and Israel enters on a new trial. For Jehovah comes Himself in the person of Jesus to present Himself to His people as king; and thus there is a new responsibility for Israel, or at least the Jew. Cyrus was but a type of a greater; and the return from Babylon only a partial deliverance. Much more was coming. Hence with chapter 49 God enters into a now controversy with His people, on the ground, not of idolatry, but of the rejected Messiah. It is not only that Israel announces to the nations that God had called the seed of Abraham to be His servant, witnesses of Jehovah against idols, and that then they utterly failed and came under judgment, but that after this they were actually to refuse their own Messiah, the divine King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who takes the place of His people Israel, and Himself becomes “Servant” of God, a title which serves to open the latter half of the prophecy. In chapter 42 at the beginning He is just characterized in humiliation till the end come; but the people are immediately turned to in their failure, though with wonderful expression of sovereign goodness to Israel spite of all. So it is in the second controversy, from: chapter 49 to chapter 62, where as before God's love to Israel is fully set out before the proof of their sin and ruin. Then when Messiah's humiliation and atoning death but exaltation have been fully set out in chapter 53., the result is added for Jerusalem at the close in chapter 54, and suited exhortations follow in the three chapters which conclude the section: free grace even to the nations (chap. 55.); the indispensable character formed and requisite even for Israel (chap. 56.); and, whether Israel or not, no peace to the wicked. (Chap. 57.)
Then, in view of divine intervention and glory with its consequences morally and in every other way, which forms the closing part (chaps. 58-66.), the Holy Spirit opens with the most extreme denunciation of form and hypocrisy in Israel, obedience being due to Jehovah. Only He could meet all, and will by coming as Redeemer to Zion (chap. 59.); for whatever the glory in judgment which will invest Jerusalem (chap. 60.), He must first suit Himself to their need in grace (chap. 61.) in order to secure peace and blessing (chap. 62.), though none the less in unsparing judgment. (Chap. 63.) Lastly the Spirit in the prophet speaking for the remnant reasons on this, chapter 63: 7 to the end of chapter 64, and Jehovah answers in chapters 65, 66, which concludes the book.
In this chapter Jehovah intervenes and announces that He is come to comfort His people. Verse 2 is the expression of His heart which will have it that Jerusalem has received double for all her sins at His hand. Verse 3 opens the preparatory warning, but it is of Jehovah's manifestation. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.” (Vers. 4, 5.) The Eternal presents Himself to His people and the remnant is manifested by this means. “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of Jehovah bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” (Vera, 6, 8.) The answer is a sentence on all Israel. The passage is cited by the apostle of the circumcision to prove that all is rejected save the remnant. It is also a sentence pronounced on all that which is “flesh.” For all flesh is grass. The power of the Spirit discovers to our souls that in the flesh no good dwells: it will not submit to God's law, nor does it love Jesus, nor is it led by the Holy Spirit. And man who is not of Christ is “flesh.”
There must be submission to the righteousness of God in order to walk in the Spirit. Otherwise it is just the flesh and worth nothing, whatever the appearance. But at that time Israel according to the flesh was but vanity. Also, because they were flesh, the resurrection was needed to secure the mercies of David, even to Israel here below namely, the godly remnant who will own the risen Christ. Man torments himself vainly by seeking in himself wisdom, strength, righteousness. All is vanity and vexation of spirit. God's word alone abides. The consequence is that the promises to Israel stand forever-that He will comfort His people even according to His earthly promises.
The rest of the chapter points out God's glory in creation for His people, the sole and true God in contrast with an idol. If on the one side all flesh is withered, on the other after the ages of sorrow Israel must know that God is always the same and wearies not. The state of the people have in no way been unknown to Him during this long interval. Those who wait on Jehovah renew their strength: He faints not, but He gives power to the faint. This is a hard lesson to learn; but it is necessary to believe that the flesh is nothing-its wisdom, good plans, &c., nothing but vanity. What God does and says abides; man perishes. How important to let God act, knowing that we are nothing!
Thus the people of God are to be comforted. “Prepare ye the way of Jehovah... all flesh is as grass, but the word of God endureth forever.” He takes the, people of God for a witness against idols, the people which He made for His glory. He takes Cyrus as a type of the deliverance of the people captive in Babylon, also being a witness to the Gentiles, and Jehovah, who is to be glorified in Israel. What has just been said is from chapters 40-48.
[Chapter 41. is full of the righteous man from the earth, not merely as the destined conqueror, but as the avenger to call on Jehovah's name and execute judgment on idolatry. But a greater than Cyrus is beheld at the beginning of chapter 42, who, meek and lowly, shall not fail nor be discouraged till He has set judgment in the earth: and the isles of the Gentiles shall wait for His law. At the end of the chapter Israel are the deaf and blind, perfect in privilege as Jehovah's earthly people, but alas! blind self-will and disobedience had darkened their eyes. But grace will intervene and save them from the ends of the earth (chap. 43.) though they be the blind people that have eyes and the deaf that have ears. The dealings with Babylon, which pre-figure the judgments at the end of the age, show that Israel are His witnesses, and that He, notwithstanding their iniquities, will blot out all for His own sake. In chapter 44 He promises the full positive blessings of grace, while exposing the folly of idols and pointing out the coming conqueror by name; and this is followed up in chapter 45 with plain predictions of Babylon's fall, and Israel's salvation. Chapter 46 declares how the idols of Babylon must come to nothing through the “ravenous bird from the east,” the man to execute Jehovah's counsel from a far country; as we see from chapter 47 that the virgin daughter of Babylon must sit in the dust. Then chapter 48 closes the section by an appeal to Israel, though to those sprung of Judah, because these would alone represent the people in those days. We know from the Lord's word in Matt. 12 that the unclean spirit will return with worse than itself for the closing scenes of “this wicked generation."]
Chapter 49 begins the second charge, the rejection of Christ, not idolatry, and it goes on to the end of chapter 57. (Compare the end of chap. 48.) Israel having rejected the Messiah, it is said that it is to be of little value. He is put as a light to the Gentiles, and Zion is to be re-established.
Chapter 50. Manifestation to all flesh: indication of the rejection of Jerusalem (the Jews) because they have despised the Lord in His humiliation. The remnant hearken-to the voice of the servant and will be in darkness.
Chapter 51. to the end of verse 12 of chapter 52; three addresses on God's part to the people; verse 4, His people; verse 7, in whom is the law; verse 9, the people being awakened; verse 17, Jehovah.
Chapter 52: 13 begins with the revelation of this Servant.
Chapter 43. The Jews (the remnant) who recognize the rejection of Christ, and God who bears witness to Him.
Chapter 54. Jerusalem, barren, is acknowledged, and Jehovah becomes her husband.
Chapter 55. It is not only Jerusalem, but such as are athirst, grace being the great principle.
Chapter 56. continues the same part; the end is in chapter 57.
In chapter 58. he begins, as the third part unto the end, to reason concerning righteousness, Israel, &c. Redemption comes in at the end of chapter 59., and the promise that the Spirit shall remain with Israel.
Chapter 60. The terrestrial glory of Jerusalem; the same thing is said of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Chapter 61. Christ comes in blessing, and is rejected. Chapter 62. But the blessing of the earth is sure for His people.
Chapter 63 is the day of vengeance.
Chapters 63 to 64. All this excites in the prophet the spirit of intercession.
Chapter 65 is the reply to the intercession of the prophet. God distinguishes between the nation and the remnant; He condemns the nation and saves the remnant, who own Christ the Servant, and become Jehovah's servants thenceforward.
Chapter 66. He condemns the outward form of religion, and comes to deliver the remnant and to bless Jerusalem.
In Isaiah the Holy Spirit does not speak of Antichrist, but of the judgments of Christ against the Assyrian, &c. The Assyrian will come rather pushed forward by Gog; but he comes the first-Gog will come after (with the power of the Assyrian, it is true). Antichrist, in his character of beast, head of the Roman empire, will make war with the nations.