THE CONTROVERSY OF ZION
Isa . For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, &c.
The Lord has always been mindful of His Church. He is pledged to her defence against the world, and against the world-spirit which often intrudes within her pale. Chapter 34 contains a description of the effects of the Divine vengeance in the typical case of Edom; chapter 35 describes the flourishing state of the Church consequent upon the execution of the Divine judgments.
I. There is a parallel between God's dealings with individuals and society. Such a parallel may be presumed to exist, inasmuch as any society is made up of individuals; and God cares equally for the single and the corporate life. Taking the mass of men, evil dispositions lead to evil deeds, and these to habits, before they are turned to the service of God. God intervenes in the way of judgment; times of judgment are appointed them, foreshadowing a future day of the Lord's vengeance.
1. Individual judgments. God's controversy with Jacob at Peniel, when Jacob's thigh was put out of joint, was but the climax of the Divine vengeance in respect of his sinful past, and became the turning-point of his life. Not only are bad men changed in this way, but good men are made better (Isa ; Lam 3:3-21; Job 10:16-20; H. E. I. 56-59, 66-70, 116). God strikes, that human nature may be laid bare in its depths, and a thorough work of regeneration accomplished, proceeding from within outward. Afflictions do not always soften; but they do so often enough to form a large part of the method of the Divine vengeance.
2. Social and national judgments. Jacob became Israel, and Israel the Church of God, the representative of God on earth, even as Edom, of which Esau, the godless, was the ancestor, is regarded in Scripture as the representative of the world-power. Edom was emphatically the troubler of Israel. Its judgments—prophetic of greater in the future—were sent by the Defender of Zion—
(1.) To make manifest its sin;
(2.) To show the theocratic character of Israel.
But the Edom, or world-spirit, was in Israel herself; hence the judgments of the Church. The idea of the theocracy was interfered with when Israel wished a king, like the other nations (1Sa ). That could only be entertained by Jehovah if kings held their right to rule direct from Himself. And so He raised up David and David's line (1Sa 16:1-13; Gen 49:8). Hence the institution and perpetuation of the prophetic line—Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, &c.—to assert and maintain the idea of the theocracy.
With a grander display of the Divine power this tale has been re-told under the Christian dispensation. Social and national crises are still brought about, in the wise judgment of God, first, to make manifest the sins of communities and nations; and, second, to direct men to the Church of Christ. In times of the Church's unfaithfulness, apostles, truly apostolic men, reformers, &c., interfere.
II. Antagonism between the Church and the world must end in the defeat and subjugation of the world. Jehovah is the defender of the cause of Zion through the ages. He has espoused the cause of holiness against ungodliness. His people may be dispersed, but the Church does not die out. From the lowest ebb it returns to the flow. The blood of its martyrs becomes seed. Its opponents turn ever feebler. This is seen in their more spasmodic efforts. Its benign influence has extended far; ever larger numbers are being brought under its yoke. The world fights every inch of the ground; but—
III. The great day is surely coming.
1. There must come a complete manifestation of the Church's inherent glory.
(1.) This manifestation will take place by displays of Divine vengeance on the enemies of Zion. This method of the ancient time has not become obsolete.
(2.) The manifestation will not be short-lived, but continue, so that destruction may be succeeded by a realised state of salvation.
(3.) Last of all, there shall be seen the triumph of the Church, when Church and world shall be conterminous, and fulness of blessing be enjoyed. (Chapter 35 still awaits its largest fulfilment.)
1. We have a Gospel of terror to preach to the world—a Gospel of terror, for the Divine vengeance is informed by the greatest heart of love. Is the Church, as some say, becoming less powerful in our time? Let the question at least provoke searchings of heart. God still sends judgments upon unfaithful Churches.
2. Remember, in times of darkness and trial, that the Lord has the deepest interest in His Church. It cannot disappear from the world; but be alive to removing from it causes of weakness.
3. Let us encourage one another in the hope of a time when the Church's glory shall be fully manifested, when the time of recompenses for the long controversy of Zion shall arrive. Let us work in the Church so as to help to bring about the glad time coming.—J. Macrae Simcock.
A CALL TO STUDY
Isa . Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord, and read, &c.
On the supposition that a Divine revelation is given to man, its most convenient method will be that of a permanent written record, thus available for the use of successive generations. Disparagement of a book revelation proceeds from misconception of its nature and ends. Out of its existence flows the universal right to its perusal, unless it is restricted in terms. Not only the right, but the duty. By personal study every one should know it (Joh ). Our Lord appealed to the conscience of the people, combined with their knowledge of the Word of God.
The duty is here urged in reference to the prediction of the downfall of Idumea. It was to become a desolation. Those into whose hands the prophecy falls are to search and read in the Book of the Lord, and compare the event. Nothing shall fail. Everything said shall find its mate, its corresponding fact; for God's Spirit is the Author of the prediction. Idumea to-day is its confirmation.
We use the text in order to urge the study of Scripture as a Christian duty—
I. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS DIVINE.
2Ti ; 2Ti 1:13. It is the Book of the Lord. The Bible is a collection of the records of Divine revelations made at various times, but bearing on its great design. The inducement to read a book often depends on the author. We believe him to be endowed with literary skill, or an authority on the subject of the book. And if God is, in some way, through the various writers, the Author of the Book, the authorship is an important reason for reading it (H. E. I. 522, 523). Consider who and what He is, and the solemn relations in which He stands to us (H. E. I. 561). Its subjects will be worthy of Him and important to us. It will be authoritative. From the uncertainties of human thought we find in the Lord's Book a safe resting-place.
II. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS INTERESTING.
In its form, apart from its subject-matter. Some form it must have. It might have been in the form of didactic statement only, without illustrative facts or poetic beauties. It would not have been read with interest. Or it might have been in the catechetical form. However useful this method in fastening definite notions in carefully chosen words, it would have failed to be a book to which men and women would return with delight as they return to the Bible after the period of youth has passed away. It is made interesting by the varied forms in which truth is communicated. It is poetic, historical, biographical. Its teaching is usually so connected with events and persons as to present points of interest always fresh. The man finds a solution of the profoundest problems of time and eternity. The child finds in its narratives of persons and events a charm that never fails. To its interesting form is owing, in a large degree, its hold on those who read it from day to day (H. E. I. 607-609, 3860).
III. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS INSTRUCTIVE.
It contains a large amount of information, not only with regard to the Jewish nation, but also other nations of the ancient world. But this is not its main design. It is subordinate to the revelation of man as a sinner and of God as a Saviour. God's character, man's relation to Him, human duty, the future state, are all instructively treated; but they all find their place in relation to God's great plan for man's recovery, through the mediation of Christ, from misery and sin. And is not this the most important of all instruction? What would all history be, all science, all philosophy, if no voice from Heaven was heard respecting the most vital of all questions? Do you desire instruction respecting salvation? Search and read in the Book of the Lord.
IV. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS DIRECTIVE.
Is not the course of human life like that of a vessel exposed to winds that may drive her leagues out of her proper course? Does not man need careful guidance? Conscience is the captain, but conscience untaught and unguided will manage the ship uncertainly and erroneously (H. E. I. 1299-1307). The Book of the Lord is the directory for the conscience. No position demanding moral action can ever occur in which adherence to its direction will not issue safely. How pure its principles! How righteous its commands! How wise its directions! They touch our life at every point.
V. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS CONSOLATORY.
Sorrows are incident to human life. There are present troubles. Some are heart-breaking. We need help and comfort. The world does not contain it. Here is the balm that can heal every wound.
And there is the future. The prospect of death and eternity. Without the Book of the Lord men are uncertain and hopeless. It sheds clear light on both. How many, in the prospect, are delivered from fear and filled with hope! What comfort it affords under the bereaving stroke!
For all these reasons "seek ye out the Book of the Lord." Bring every question to it. Read it daily, thoughtfully, for yourself, for others. In your youth. In your active manhood. In your old age.—J. Rawlinson.
THE BOOK THAT WILL ENDURE TESTING
Isa . Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord, and read, &c.
We may be sure that God would not give a revelation without affixing His seal to it; otherwise, it would be useless, there being no evidence of its Divine origin. Supposing a revelation given, what would constitute a satisfactory proof of its divinity? Evidently it must be some sign not capable of being counterfeited, some unmistakable indication that GOD has spoken to us. This might be given by some exertion of Divine power or some manifestation of Divine knowledge. As such, miracles and prophecy would furnish indubitable proof that a revelation was from God, and those which attest the Bible are its proper seals. Along with the internal evidence and the argument drawn from the success of the Gospel, they are so many buttresses supporting the edifice of revealed truth; but each is a distinct and sufficient support by itself. The Scriptures themselves appeal to the evidence of fulfilled prophecy in support of their reception as the Word of God, and one of the most pointed of these appeals is that before us. In this chapter Isaiah predicts the desolations that were to come upon the chief city of Edom. Placing himself forward in time amid the scenes he predicts, he challenges any one to compare the predictions in the Book of the Lord with the actual condition of the city; he is confident that "the Book" will bear that test, and will come out of it triumphantly.
I. Read the prophecy before us in the light of its fulfilment. The apologetic value of prophecy has often been discredited. Attempts have been made to explain it on natural grounds, as a sagacious forecast, a shrewd prognostication. But what natural sagacity could have foreseen that Edom, so powerful and prosperous in Isaiah's time, would become a desolate waste? It has been well remarked that prophecy possesses as a proof of Divine revelation some advantages that are peculiar. Its fulfilment may fall under our own observation, or may be conveyed to us by living witnesses. The evidence from miracles can never be stronger than it was at first; but that of prophecy is increasing, and will go on increasing until the whole scheme of perdition is fulfilled. It is the accomplishment, and not the mere publication of a prophecy, which supplies a proof of the Divine origin of the Bible; and this evidence is constantly accumulating. The prophets themselves did not understand some of their oracles (1Pe ). They were like documents written in colourless ink, to which some chemical preparation must be applied to make their characters legible. Their meaning could be seen only in their fulfilment. But all the prophetic writings are not thus obscure: many are clear and definite; more like the details of a historical narrative than the visions of prophecy. Nothing can be plainer than the description here given of the state to which Edom would be reduced. The wards of this lock are too intricate to be opened by any key which we choose to apply to it; but the fitting key has been found. "The whole," says Alexander, "is a magnificent prophetic picture, the fidelity of which, so far as it relates to ancient Edom, is notoriously attested by its desolation for a course of ages." The chief city in the region of Mount Seir was Selah or Petra, the Rock City. It was long unknown till it was discovered by Robinson, and since then it has been visited by successive travellers. It lay embedded among the hills. So nestled was it in its rocks "that it could only be approached by two narrow defiles. Dwellings cut out of the solid stone line the face of the cliffs, and the central space indicates that a large city once stood upon it." Malachi speaks of its utter desolation (Mal 1:2-3), but afterwards it recovered for a time. Its condition for centuries as described by unbiased witnesses is a standing evidence of the truth of the prophetic Word.
II. We may test "the Book" in other fields. As a tourist verifies his guide-book and finds it trustworthy at every step, so in many regions do we find the prophetic Word made sure (2Pe ). Babylon, Tyre, and the fortunes of the Jewish people, all bear witness to the truth of the prophecies. But especially in the career of our Lord and Saviour do we meet with remarkable fulfilments of Scripture. What could be more minute than some of the prophecies concerning Him? His miracles, His submission to unmerited suffering, His riding upon an ass, His being pierced, His being sold for thirty pieces of silver which should be applied for the purchase of the Potter's Field, the lots cast on His vesture, and the vinegar given Him to drink, were all the subject of definite prediction.
III. The Bible will bear testing in its declarations concerning human nature. No book so unveils us to ourselves. We feel its truth in what it says about our noble origin, our lamentable fall, our sinfulness, and the strife within us between the flesh and the spirit. Because it tells us all that ever we did, we feel that it must be Divine.
IV. From all this two sound and important conclusions follow:—
1. We may put equal confidence in its declarations concerning God. Nothing but Divine knowledge and insight can so disclose the future and the hidden; and if we have found the Bible reliable when it tells us of earthly things, may we not believe it when it tells us of heavenly things?
2. We may be sure that its prophecies concerning the future of Christ's kingdom and the destiny of the human race will in like manner be fulfilled to the letter (Psa ; Psa 72:17; Rom 8:19; Rom 8:23). So many of the prophecies of God's Word have already been accomplished, that we should feel confident that those not yet fulfilled are surely marching on to their fulfilment. The prospects of success in the mission-field are brighter in our day than ever they were. The Church is taking an interest in the enterprise quite unknown to former generations, and openings have been made into lands before closed alike against commerce and Christianity. But even if our hopes of success were less cheering, we would not despair. With so many Bible predictions behind us in the past now become history, we cannot but be encouraged to look for the fulfilment of those glowing promises concerning the future coming of the Redeemer's kingdom which stand on the inspired page. Let us never lose sight of those grand predictions; let us cherish a hopeful and expectant spirit, and in the confidence of success descend to the spiritual harvest of the world (H. E. I. 1166-1168).—William Guthrie, M.A.
THE CERTAINTY OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS
Isa . Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord, &c.
The text occurs midway between a series of predicted judgments pronounced on Edom as the representative of the wicked world, and another series of blessings foretold concerning the Church of God, but it is evidently retrospective.
While a minute verification of these predictions of vengeance might form a solid, convincing argument for the validity of trust in the Bible as the rule of faith and practice, there is another and more general way of regarding the text. Search into a certain book is enjoined because it is the Book of JEHOVAH.
Human faith finds its ultimate basis in God Himself. The certainty of the Divine judgments may therefore be inferred from—
I. THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE BEING.
If the Bible be not merely a revelation from God, but a revelation of God, too much attention cannot be paid to those aspects of the Divine nature afforded by it which man may apprehend although he cannot comprehend them. "Canst thou by searching find out God?" &c. No; but enough may be learned of God to make us sure that it is madness to disobey Him or trifle with His commands.
1. The long-hidden Name of God. Proper names were made very expressive among the Jews. The name JEHOVAH was sacred above all others; they treated it with a superstitious reverence, not daring to pronounce it, &c. Doubtless they referred with awe to the time and circumstances of its communication to Moses (Exo ). And so may we in thinking of the Divine judgments. JEHOVAH, it is said, "remembered His covenant," and was about to redeem the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt "with a stretched-out arm, and with great judgments" (Exo 6:1-8). JEHOVAH: what does the Name mean? Being—unconditioned, absolute, immutable, eternal Being. If, then, God changes not, but is JEHOVAH, to sin against Him is inevitably to call down judgment; for JEHOVAH'S will must be done on earth as it is in heaven.
2. Some of the attributes by the use of which we try to compass the Divine nature.
(1.) God is just. But sin, in all its forms, is a crying injustice, and affronts God so that the Divine majesty must assert itself in punishment.
(2.) God is good. But sin, as selfishness, is radically opposed to goodness in God, who has might, as well as right, on His side, and, therefore, pursues selfishness to its last resort.
(3.) God is holy. Separateness from all sin distinguishes Him in the midst of His relations to man. How, then, can sinners go unpunished? (H. E. I. 2281, 2282, 4478-4479, 4603-4610).
II. THE CHARACTER OF DIVINE LAW.
Law is a transcript of the Divine nature; the Divine character or handwriting making Him known to us; the far-reaching Hand of the Eternal. God reveals Himself in its sanctions, reward, and punishment. To obey is to reap reward; to disobey is to be laid hold of instantly by the outraged majesty of law. There is no human way of escape. Visible judgment may be deferred, but the Divine law is cognisant of all transgression. In the matter of the first sin, the formerly existing potentiality of punishment became an actually. The character of the Divine law may be seen—
1. In the physical world. The designer of a ship or bridge diverges from mathematical truth only to produce disaster.
2. In Providence.
3. In the Word of God.
APPLICATION.—If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? The Divine judgments cannot be evaded. "God is love;" but what love! God is "a consuming fire;" not sentimentally weak; not given to winking at transgression.
4. God's grace magnifies His name and law. He condemned Christ as the Sin-Bearer to death. Thank God! the sinner may be pardoned, but the impenitent are surely handed over to punishment.—J. Macrae Simcock.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 34". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany