Possibly, this vision was the commencement of Isaiah's work as a prophet, and it may be that in this sixth chapter he goes back in thought to his first call. Henceforth, he denounces sin with unflinching boldness. It is a message of judgment to his own people that the Lord entrusts to him in his first commission. ''The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amos, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.'' Thus commences the first chapter, and he proceeds to lay bare the natural corruption and depravity of the human heart in its rebellion and revolt against God. ''The whole head is sick,'' the center of all power of thought; ''the whole heart is faint,'' the center of all the power of will and affection; ''no soundness from sole of foot to crown of head,'' corruption showing in the outward life. He dwells on the sin of hypocrisy-- on drawing near to God with the lips while the heart is far from Him-- and the life full of cruelty to others, and then he makes his earnest appeal for repentance: ''Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow'' (Isa 1:16,17).
Isaiah shows God's people how their sins have hidden His face from them, and how they have rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit (59:2-15; 63:10). He tells them that their very righteousnesses are as filthy rags (64:6,7). He proclaims the plumb-line of God's righteousness, and that His hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies (28:17). With scathing words, he rebukes the vain and careless women for their haughtiness of mien and the excesses of their attire (3:16; 32:9). He speaks in clear terms about the sin of spiritualism (8:19,20), and the blessing on those who keep the Sabbath from polluting it; not doing their own way, nor finding their own pleasure, nor speaking their own words on the Lord's holy day (56:2; 58:13,14). In how many of these things God's warning is just as applicable to this twentieth century, as it was when Isaiah first uttered it.
Then the poor man's action is described. He cannot afford to pay a goldsmith to make him an idol of gold, so he chooses a good sound tree-- anything from the stately cedar to the common ash-- and sets a carpenter to work to carve him an image of wood. The carpenter takes his rule, he marks out the form with red ochre, and works it with a sharp tool, and carves it according to the beauty of the human form, and then it is set up in the home to be worshipped. The chips that are left over are gathered to make a fire to cook food by, or for warmth-- so commonplace is the origin of this god!
The sin of idolatry is charged home to God's own people. ''A people that provoketh Me to anger continually to My face; that sacrificeth in gardens... which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed Me upon the hills'' (65:3-7). ''Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks. Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion'' (57:5,6). Idolatry was Israel's besetting sin before the Captivity-- a sin from which they have been completely delivered, as a nation, ever since that time.
In denouncing the whole system of idolatry, Jehovah draws the contrast with Himself, and this brings us to the second part of the effect of the vision upon Isaiah. It produced in him...
The scientific accuracy of chapter 40 is marvellous. Verse 12: ''Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?'' The figure is that God held the water in the hollow of His hand, and saw to it that the exact quantity was there, and then placed it in its earthly bed. Science tells us the same thing. We have the exact quantity we require to produce the right amount of rain to make the earth fruitful. ''And meted out heaven with the span?'' The extent of the atmosphere was fixed by the Creator, and is exactly proportioned for us to breathe without difficulty. ''And comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure?'' The soil on the earth's surface has been measured and spread out to prepare the world for the abode of man. ''And weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?'' The height of the mountains on every coast is in direct proportion to the depth of the sea which beats upon the shore. ''It is He who sitteth upon the circle of the earth.'' That word khug, translated ''circle,'' does not mean a circle drawn upon a plane surface. It means an arch or sphere. It occurs in two other places, where it refers to the vault of heaven, and here it teaches us the true form of the earth. ''That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain.'' The word dok, here translated ''curtain,'' does not mean curtain at all; it means ''thinness''; and no better word could be used to describe the ether which modern science assures us is the element in which all the heavenly bodies move. It is matter in its most attenuated form, it has never been seen or weighed, yet scientists are assured of its existence. ''God stretched out the heaven as thinness.'' [Abridged from Roger's Reasons, by Rev. John Urquhart]
The forty-first chapter contains a solemn challenge from God, to the false gods to declare future events, as a proof of their right to be worshipped. This Divine challenge is renewed again and again (see 42:9; 44:7,8; 43:9,10; 48:3-5).
The forty-sixth chapter contains the striking contrast between the idols of Babylon that have to be borne upon men's shoulders, and the Almighty God carrying His children, not only as lambs, but to their old age and hoar hairs, in His fatherly arms.
There is an intimation of the revelation of the Trinity in the question, ''Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?''
The personality of God, the Holy Spirit, is clearly brought out in the Book of Isaiah (see 11:2; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1; 63:10,11,14). As we have already seen, John identifies the Jehovah, God of Hosts, of this vision with Christ Jesus the Lord. The Divinity of the Messiah is elsewhere manifest in the book. This brings us to the third effect of the vision upon Isaiah, and at the same time to the great central theme of the whole book.
Peace, the effect of righteousness, the result of salvation, in like manner runs as a silver thread throughout the chapters from the Prince of Peace in 9:6,7, to the proclamation of peace in 57:19, and peace as a river in 48:18 and 66:12.
The universal spread of Messiah's Kingdom was fore-shadowed in the vision in the words of the seraphim, ''The whole earth is full of His glory'' [Isa 6:3]. The truth finds expression throughout the book. In 2:2, all nations shall flow to the mountain of the house of the Lord, which is to be established in the top of the mountains; in 11:9, ''The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea''; and in the last chapter, we have the declaring of His glory among the Gentiles.
All these predictions have met and been fulfilled only in one event, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, of whom the angel said to Mary, ''That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God'' [Luke 1:26-35]. ''Unto us a child is born'' were the words of Isaiah. ''To you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour,'' was the word of the angel to the shepherds. ''His name shall be called the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace,'' prophesied Isaiah. And the multitude of the heavenly host took up the refrain, ''Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men'' [Luke 2:8-14]. ''The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined,'' ran the prophecy [Isa 9:2]. ''Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,'' said the aged Simeon; ''a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel'' [Luke 2:30-32].
Once more abruptly comes the prophecy: ''There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots'' (11:1). ''The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.'' This description of the Messiah in the eleventh chapter corresponds perfectly with the description in the sixty-first, which our Lord applied to Himself in His first sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth. ''The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me'' [Isa 61:1,2; Luke 4:17-21]. In both descriptions, the result of that anointing is the same, making Him the Friend of the poor and the meek and the oppressed. Our Lord stopped in His reading at the proclamation of mercy and applied it to Himself. He did not go on to read of judgment; for at His first coming He came not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). Both these passages in Isaiah speak as certainly of judgment as of blessing; for Christ is coming again to judge the world, and He said, His Father ''hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.'' ''Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation'' (John 5:27-29).
Chapter 28 gives us the precious Corner-Stone. Chapter 32 tells of a King reigning in righteousness; of a Man being as a hiding-place, as the shadow of a great Rock in a weary land-- the Rock of Ages of chapter 26:4 (margin).
In chapter 49, we begin to see the suffering Messiah. The One whom man despiseth, whom the nation abhorreth, yet who shall be worshipped of kings, and given for a covenant to the people. The sufferings deepen in the next chapter. He who is given ''the tongue of him that is taught'' is not rebellious. He gives His back to the smiters, He hides not His face from shame and spitting. In chapter 52, we see again the Servant of the Lord, His visage marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. We see Him sprinkling many nations.
|v.1. Who hath believed our report?||John 12:37. Yet they believed not on Him.|
|...To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?||Luke 10:21. Thou hast revealed them unto babes.|
|v.2. He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant.||John 15:1. I am the true vine.|
|...And as a root out of a dry ground.||Isa 11:1. A rod out of the stem of Jesse, a Branch shall grow out of his roots.|
|...He hath no form nor comeliness.||Isa 52:14. His visage was so marred more than any man.|
|...And when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.||1Cor 2:14. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.|
|v.3. He is despised.||Mat 27:29. They mocked Him.|
|...And rejected of men.||John 18:40. Not this Man, but Barabbas.|
|...A Man of Sorrows.||Mark 14:34. My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death.|
|...And acquainted with grief.||John 11:35. Jesus wept.|
|...And we hid as it were our faces from Him.||John 5:40. Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.|
|...He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.||1Cor 1:23. Unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.|
|v.4. Surely He hath borne our griefs.||Heb 4:15. Touched with the feeling of our infirmities.|
|...And carried our sorrows.||John 11:38. Jesus again groaning in Himself, cometh to the grave.|
|...Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.||Luke 23:35. Let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ, the Chosen of God.|
|v.5. He was wounded for our transgressions.||1Pet 3:18. Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust.|
|...He was bruised for our iniquities.||John 19:1. Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.|
|...The chastisement of our peace was upon Him.||Col 1:20. Having made peace through the blood of His Cross.|
|...And with His stripes we are healed.||Heb 10:10. Sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.|
|v.6. All we like sheep, have gone astray.||Rom 3:23. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.|
|...We have turned every one to his own way.||Php 2:21. All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.|
|...And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.||2Cor 5:21. He hath made Him to be sin for us.|
|v.7. He was oppressed.||Luke 22:44. Being in an agony He prayed more earnestly.|
|...And He was afflicted.||John 19:5. Wearing the crown of thorns.|
|...Yet He opened not His mouth.||1Pet 2:23. When He suffered, He threatened not.|
|...He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter.||Mat 27:31. And led Him away to crucify Him.|
|...And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.||Mat 27:14. He answered him to never a word.|
|v.8. He was taken from prison and from judgment.||John 18:24. Now Annas had sent Him bound unto Caiaphas.|
|...And His manner of life who shall declare?|
|John 18:20,21. I spake openly to the world...|
...ask them that heard Me... behold they know what I said.
[It was a custom before the death of a condemned person for a proclamation to be made that others might bear witness to his innocency. That no such proclamation was made for our Lord was part of the injustice of His trial. See Lowth on Isaiah, p. 363.]
|...For He was cut off out of the land of the living.||Acts 2:23. By wicked hands crucified and slain.|
|...For the transgression of My people was He smitten.||John 11:51,52. That Jesus should die for that nation.|
|v.9. His grave was appointed with the wicked,|
but it was [ie., His grave was] with the rich in His death. [literal translation]
|Mat 27:57-60. A rich man named Joseph...|
...begged the body of Jesus, and laid it in his own new tomb.
[The intention was to give Him the burial of a criminal along with the two thieves. But Joseph of Arimathea, hitherto a secret disciple, came to Pilate and craved the body of Jesus, and with reverent hands it was laid by the rich man in his own new tomb. That is the Gospel record. It was written, seven hundred years before, on the prophetic page.]
|...Because He had done no violence.||1Pet 2:22. Who did no sin.|
|...Neither was any deceit in His mouth.||1Pet 2:22. Neither was guile found in His mouth.|
|v.10. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He hath put Him to grief.||Rom 8:32. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.|
|...When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.||John 3:16. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.|
|...He shall see His seed.||John 3:16. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.|
|...He shall prolong His days.||John 3:16. But have everlasting life.|
|...The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.||John 17:4. I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.|
|v.11. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.||Heb 12:2. Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross.|
|...By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many.||John 17:3. This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ.|
|...For He shall bear their iniquities.||1Pet 2:24. His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.|
|v.12. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great.||Php 2:9. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him.|
|...And He shall divide the spoil with the strong.||Col 2:15. Having spoiled principalities and powers.|
Heb 1:2. Appointed heir of all things.
|...Because He hath poured out His soul unto death.||John 10:15. I lay down My life for the sheep.|
|...And He was numbered with the transgressors.||Mark 15:27. And with Him they crucify two thieves.|
|...And He bare the sin of many.||Heb 9:28. Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.|
|...And He made intercession for the transgressors.||Luke 23:34. Father, forgive them.|
Heb 7:25. Ever liveth to make intercession for us.
The next chapter breaks forth afresh into a description of the glorious future. Then follows the Gospel invitation in chapter 55-- ''Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters'' -- in which we can see our Saviour standing on the last great day of the feast, and saying, ''If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink'' [John 7:37].
The fall of the city is to take place at the time of a feast (21:5; Dan 5). It is declared that fear shall take possession (13:8). How exactly this was fulfilled, Daniel assures us. The consternation which seized the king on the night of Babylon's assault is read in the graphic language of Dan 5:6: ''His knees smote one against another.'' ''On that night was Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans, slain.'' The gates of Babylon were to be open for Cyrus's entrance (45:1). History relates that on the night of the capture this actually occurred. Marching into the heart of the city by the river channel, which he had drained, Cyrus found the gate within the city, leading from the streets to the river, providentially left open in the general disorder occasioned by the great feast. Otherwise, the army would have been shut up in the bed of the river, as in a trap, and destroyed. Finally, there is the sudden cry of the capture and overthrow: ''Babylon is fallen, is fallen!'' and her chief gods, Bel, Nebo, and Merodach, are for ever discredited (21:9; 46:1,2). The absolute accuracy of the prediction is fully attested by the history of Babylon's fall. It came about as here foretold.
The future condition of Babylon was also foretold. ''It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their flocks to lie down there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and ostriches shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wolves shall cry in their castles, and jackals in the pleasant palaces'' (13:19-22). This exactly describes the unutterable desolation of Babylon. Not one human dwelling rests on the site of the ancient city. The Bedaween [ie., Bedouin], though he pastures his flocks in the immediate neighborhood, regards the ruins themselves with superstitious awe. The tents of the Arabs are freely pitched in the Chaldean plains, but not one of them is pitched amid the ruins of Babylon. Other ancient cities seldom become complete solitudes; their sites are marked by some village or group of huts or fold for flocks, but Babylon has ever been an exception.
Maundeville, in the fourteenth century, wrote: ''It is alle deserte, and full of dragons and grete serpentes.'' It remains the same today. Owls start from the scanty thickets, lions make their dens in the buried dwelling-places, and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows. The surface is covered with shapeless heaps, and the foot sinks in loose dust and rubbish, exactly fulfilling the prediction: ''Babylon shall become heaps'' (Jer 51:37). ''Come and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon'' (Isa 47:1). The riches of the city seemed to bid defiance to the constant ravages of man, in fulfillment of the words, ''All that spoil her shall be satisfied'' (Jer 50:10). ''Her cities are a desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness, a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby'' (Jer 51:43). In the time of its glory, the country round the great city had been drained and irrigated at enormous cost, till it was unsurpassed for fertility. Now, through centuries of neglect, it has sunk back to its original state, ''a stinking morass and a barren steppe''; a vast waste wilderness, with nothing but an occasional black Bedaween [ie., Bedouin] tent or a wandering camel here and there to mark the existence of man.
[Editor's note: Although the destruction of the city of Babylon is now in the historic past, many of these prophetic passages also speak of the future destruction of the world system which dominates during the 'Times of the Gentiles.' This world system is symbolically called 'Babylon' (literally, 'Babel,' meaning 'confusion'), because it is in opposition to God's truth and order. ''The divine order is given in Isaiah 11: Israel in her own land, the center of the divine government of the world and channel of the divine blessing; and the Gentiles blessed in association with Israel. Anything else is pure 'Babel'.'' [ScofRB]. Such a system cannot endure. It will collapse under the future judgment of God. The fall of 'Babylon,' in all its aspects as a political, economic and religious system, is further described prophetically in the book of the Revelation. For more on this topic, see the Book Notes on Revelation (chapters 14 - 19).]
These two parts are, as it were, clasped together by the second portion, which is history, and mainly written in prose. Two chapters are connected with the first part of the book, and relate the story of the Assyrian invasion and its results; and two chapters are connected with the third part of the book, and tell of Hezekiah's sickness and recovery, and the incident of the Babylonian ambassadors.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon Him;
And with His stripes we are healed.
When we consider the long period during which Isaiah himself tells us he used the prophetic gift-- from the days of Uzziah to Hezekiah, probably sixty years-- and the very varied matter of which he wrote, there is more than sufficient reason to account for any difference of style. ''The second Isaiah employs words only known otherwise to the first Isaiah, of which the meaning was lost by Jeremiah's time. The second Isaiah shows himself otherwise possessed of a scientific and technical vocabulary, which the first Isaiah only shares with him.'' [Lines of Defence of the Biblical Revelation, p. 139, Prof. Margoliouth.]
Professor Burks, in studying the words used in 1 and 2 Isaiah, and nowhere in the later prophets, finds the instances so numerous that he limits his examples to those beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet-- the letter aleph-- of which he cites forty.
That the prophet should predict the fall of Babylon when it had not yet risen to its supremacy as a great world-power, and when Assyria was still the dreaded foe of the Jewish nation; that he should predict the deliverance from captivity before the people were carried captive; that he should foretell that deliverance should come from Medo-Persia when these two nations were still separate and insignificant; that he should call the deliverer by name-- Cyrus-- more than a hundred years before his birth, -- these matters are stumbling blocks to those who see in prophecy only the human intuition of a good man who has understanding of the times. But to the devout believer, it is a confirmation of his faith in an almighty God who claims to inspire His prophets with the Holy Spirit.
In Isaiah 2, God Himself, through His prophet, appeals to the fulfillment of the earlier predictions as the ground for believing that the later predictions will be fulfilled (Isa 48:3-5). The appeal would have no meaning if there were no earlier predictions to refer to. Among the predictions of Isaiah 1 were the invasion and destruction of Samaria by Sennacherib, his threatened invasion and the final deliverance of Jerusalem, and the prolongation of Hezekiah's life.
And now God appeals to His people Israel to be His witnesses to the fulfillment of His predictions in chapters 40 - 66 (see 63:9,10). He challenges the idols, the gods of the nations to prove their right to be worshipped by foretelling future events (41:23; 42:7-9).
The mention of Cyrus by name is expressly declared to be a miracle, wrought in order that the whole world, from east to west, might know that Jehovah is the only God (45:4-6).
This is exactly the effect it had upon the great world-conqueror himself, and upon the people of Israel.
Josephus tells us that it was the reading of the prophecy of Isaiah concerning himself that led Cyrus to issue the decree: ''Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and He hath charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah'' (2Chr 36:23). If the prophecy had only been written a few years before in Babylon, when his name was well known, and by a contemporary, is it credible that it would have so impressed the great conqueror as to lead him to take this step?
We have already touched upon the effect of Isaiah's prophecy upon the Jews. They went down to Babylon with what seemed to be an ineradicable tendency to idolatry. They returned from it [as], what they have remained to the present day, the most monotheistic of nations. No nation can pass through such a change as that except under some overpowering conviction. Such a conviction would be produced as they gradually watched the prophecies of Isaiah fulfilled to the letter, and realized that God had foreseen these events and had ''declared this from ancient time'' (45:21), and the heart of the nation would be turned for ever from idols unto the Holy One of Israel.
In the face of the universal testimony of history, the burden of proof rests with those who deny [that Isaiah wrote] the second part. ''The rules of ordinary criticism require us to accept Isaiah as the author until it is shown that he cannot have been so'' (Sir Edward Strachey).
Professor Margoliouth, quoting Aristotle, tells us that a work of art should be so constructed that the removal of any part should cause the whole to fall to pieces, and says that if this rule be applied to Isaiah, we shall be disposed to find the unity of the works ascribed to that prophet brilliantly vindicated. It has been found impossible by those who would divide Isaiah to keep consistently to an early date for the whole of Isaiah 1 and to a late, or Babylonian, date for the whole of Isaiah 2.The fall of Babylon is predicted in Isaiah 13 and 14, to these and other portions of Isaiah 1 a late date has therefore been assigned [by these critics].
The form of idolatry of which the Jewish nation is accused in chapter 57, as also that described in the earlier part of the book, is peculiar to Israel in her own land before the Captivity. The surroundings of that chapter are likewise the surroundings of Palestine; the high mountains, the rocky torrent-beds, and the smooth stones of the stream are foreign to the great alluvial plain of Babylon, and an earlier date is therefore assigned [by the critics] to this and other passages in Isaiah 2. This reduces both parts of this magnificent prophecy to a mere literary patchwork.
It is held by some that the Book of Isaiah is a collection of various writers put together for the sake of convenience. But in the parallel case of the Minor Prophets, the name is carefully prefixed to each, even to those who only wrote one short chapter. The unity of thought and style is a strong argument against such a plurality of authorship, and the brilliance and power of the prophet make it most unlikely that he should be unknown, even by name. It was the custom of the Hebrew prophets to give their name at the commencement of their writings, and Isaiah is no exception to this (see Isa 1:1). That this verse is not the preface to the first chapter only, or to any small portion of the book, is evident from the enumeration of the four kings during whose reigns he prophesied. It is evidently intended as a seal to the whole volume.
In the lines of thought which we have traced in studying Isaiah, it will have been noticed that those lines were unbroken and that the references have been taken from each part of the book. Isaiah's vision in the Temple, when he received his call to the prophetic office [6:1-8], formed a fit introduction to the whole prophecy. We have seen how the influence of that vision may be traced throughout in the impression he received of the holiness and majesty of God, imprinting the name of the Holy One of Israel on all his prophecies, as if to anticipate the difficulty now before us. The influence of the vision may be traced again in the catholicity [ie., the universality, or, the ''all pervading'' nature] of the Divine purpose toward the whole world.