THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF ISRAEL AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24
IN the chapters which we have been studying we have found some difficulty with one of our prophet’s keynotes-"right" or "righteousness." In the chapters to come we shall find this difficulty increase, unless we take some trouble now to define how much the word denotes in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24. There is no part of Scripture, in which the term "righteousness" suffers so many developments of meaning. To leave these vague, as readers usually do, or to fasten upon one and all the technical meaning of righteousness in Christian theology, is not only to obscure the historical reference and moral force of single passages, -it is to miss one of the main arguments of the prophecy. We have read enough to see that "righteousness" was the great question of the Exile. But what was brought into question was not only the righteousness of the people, but the righteousness of their God. In Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 righteousness is more often claimed as a Divine attribute, than enforced as a human duty or ideal.
Ssedheq, the Hebrew root for righteousness, had, like the Latin "rectus," in its earliest and now almost forgotten uses, a physical meaning. This may have been either "straightness," or more probably "soundness,"-the state in which a thing is "all right." "Paths of righteousness," in Psalms 23:1-6 and Isaiah 40:4, are not necessarily straight paths, but rather sure, genuine, safe paths. Like all physical metaphors, like our own words "straight" and "right," the applicability of the term to moral conduct was exceedingly elastic. It has been attempted to gather most of its meaning under the definition of "conformity to norm"; and so many are the instances in which the word has a forensic force, as of "vindication" or "justification," that some have claimed this for its original, or, at least, its governing sense. But it is improbable that either of these definitions conveys the simplest or most general sense of the word. Even if "conformity" or "justification" were ever the prevailing sense of ssedheq, there are a number of instances in which its meaning far overflows the limits of such definitions. Every one can see how a word, which may generally be used to express an abstract idea, like "conformity," or a formal relation towards a law or person, like "justification," might come to be applied to the actual virtues, which realise that idea or lift a character into that relation. Thus righteousness might mean justice, or truth, or almsgiving, or religious obedience, -to each of which, in fact, the Hebrew word was at various times specially applied. Or righteousness might mean virtue in general, virtue apart from all consideration of law or duty whatsoever. In the prophet Amos, for instance, "righteousness" is applied to a goodness so natural and spontaneous that no one could think of it for a moment as conformity to norm or fulfilment of law.
In short, it is impossible to give a definition of the Hebrew word, which our version renders as "righteousness," less wide than our English word "right." "Righteousness" is "right" in all its senses, -natural, legal, personal, religious. It is to be all right, to be right-hearted, to be consistent, to be thorough; but also to be in the right, to be justified, to be vindicated; and, in particular, it may mean to be humane (as with Amos), to be just (as with Isaiah), to be correct or true to fact (as sometimes with our own prophet), to fulfil the ordinances of religion, and especially the command about almsgiving (as with the later Jews).
Let us now keep in mind that righteousness could express a relation, or a general quality of character, or some particular virtue. For we shall find traces of all these meanings in our prophet’s application of the term to Israel and to God.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF ISRAEL
One of the simplest forms of the use of "righteousness" in the Old Testament is when it is employed in the case of ordinary quarrels between two persons; in which for one of them "to be righteous" means "to be right" or "in the right." [Genesis 38:26; Cf. 2 Samuel 15:4] Now to the Hebrew all life and religion was based upon covenants between two, -between man and man and between man and God. Righteousness meant fidelity to the terms of those covenants. The positive contents of the word in any single instance of its use would, therefore, depend on the faithfulness and delicacy of conscience by which those terms were interpreted. In early Israel this conscience was not so keen as it afterwards came to be, and accordingly Israel’s sense of their righteousness towards God was, to begin with, a comparatively shallow one. When a Psalmist asseverates his righteousness and pleads it as the ground for God rewarding him, it is plain that he is able with sincerity to make a claim, so repellent to a Christian’s feeling, just because he has not anything like a Christian’s conscience of what God demands from man. As Calvin says on Psalms 18:20 "David here represents God as the President of an athletic contest, who had chosen him as one of His champions, and David knows that so long as he keeps to the rules of the contest, so long will God defend him." It is evident that in such an assertion righteousness cannot mean perfect innocence, but simply the good conscience of a man, who, with simple ideas of what is demanded from him, feels that on the whole "he has" (slightly to paraphrase Calvin) "played fair."
Two things, almost simultaneously, shook Israel out of this primitive and naive self-righteousness. History went against them, and the prophets quickened their conscience. The effect of the former of these two causes will be clear to us, if we recollect the judicial element in the Hebrew righteousness, -that it often meant not so much to be right, as to be vindicated or declared right. History, to Israel, was God’s supreme tribunal. It was the faith of the people, expressed over and over again in the Old Testament, that the godly man is vindicated or justified by his prosperity: "the way of the ungodly shall perish." And Israel felt themselves to be in the right, just as. David, in Psalms 18:1-50, felt himself, because God had accredited them with success and victory. But when the decision of history went against the nation, when they were threatened with expulsion from their land and with extinction as a people, that just meant that the Supreme Judge of men was giving His sentence against them. Israel had broken the terms of the Covenant. They had lost their right; they were no longer "righteous." The keener conscience, developed by prophecy, swiftly explained this sentence of history. This declaration, that the people were unrighteous, was due, the prophet said, to the people’s sins. Isaiah not only exclaimed, "Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire"; he added, in equal indictment, "How is the faithful city become a harlot! it was full of justice, righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers: thy princes are rebellious, they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come before them." To Isaiah and the earlier prophets Israel was unrighteous because it was so immoral. With their strong social conscience, righteousness meant to these prophets the practice of civic virtues, -truth-telling, honesty between citizens, tenderness to the poor, inflexible justice in high places.
Here then we have two possible meanings for Israel’s righteousness in the prophetic writings, allied and necessary to one another, yet logically distinct, -the one a becoming righteous through the exercise of virtue, the other a being shown to be righteous by the voice of history. In the one case righteousness is the practical result of the working of the Spirit of God; in the other it is vindication, or justification, by the Providence of God. Isaiah and the earlier prophets, while the sentence of history was still not executed and might through the mercy of God be revoked, incline to employ righteousness predominantly in the former sense. But it will be understood how, after the Exile, it was the latter, which became the prevailing determination of the word. By that great disaster God finally uttered the clear sentence, of which previous history had been but the foreboding. Israel in exile was fully declared to be in the wrong-to be unrighteous. As a church, she lay under the ban; as a nation, she was discredited before the nations of the world. And her one longing, hope, and effort during the weary years of Captivity was to have her right vindicated again, was to be restored to right relations to God and to the world, under the Covenant.
This is the predominant meaning of the term, as applied to Israel, in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24. Israel’s unrighteousness is her state of discredit and disgrace under the hands of God; her righteousness, which she hopes for, is her restoral to her station and destiny as the elect people. To our Christian habit of thinking, it is very natural to read the frequent and splendid phrases in which "righteousness" is attributed or promised to the people of God in this evangelical prophecy, as if righteousness were that inward assurance and justification from an evil conscience, which, as we are taught by the New Testament, is provided for us through the death of Christ, and inwardly sealed to us by the Holy Ghost, irrespective of the course of our outward fortune. But if we read that meaning into "righteousness" in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24, we shall simply not understand some of the grandest passages of the prophecy. We must clearly keep in view, that while the prophet ceaselessly emphasises the pardon of God "spoken home to the heart" of the people as the first step towards their restoral, he does not apply the term righteousness to this inward justification, but to the outward vindication and accrediting of Israel by God before the whole world, in their redemption from Captivity, and their reinstatement as His people. This is very clear from the way in which "righteousness" is coupled with "salvation" by the prophet, as [Isaiah 62:1] "I will not rest till her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth." Or again from the way in which righteousness and glory are put in parallel: [Isaiah 62:2] "And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory." Or again in the way that "righteousness" and "renown" are identified: [Isaiah 61:11] "The Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and renown to spring forth before all the nations." In each of these promises the idea of an external and manifest splendour is evident; not the inward peace of justification felt only by the conscience to which it has been granted, but the outward historical victory appreciable by the gross sense of the heathen. Of course the outward implies the inward, -this historical triumph is the crown of a religious process, the result of forgiveness and a long purification, -but while in the New Testament it is these which would be most readily called a people’s righteousness, it is the former (what the New Testament would rather call "the crown of life"), which has appropriated the name in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24. The same is manifest from another text: [Isaiah 48:18] "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments; then had thy peace been as the River, and thy righteousness like the waves of the sea." Here "righteousness is not only not applied to inward morality, but set over against this as its external reward,"-the health and splendour which a good conscience produces. It is in the same external sense that the prophet talks of the "robe of righteousness" with its bridal splendour, and compares it to the appearance of "Spring." [Isaiah 61:10-11]
For this kind of righteousness, this vindication by God before the world, Israel waited throughout the Exile. God addresses them as "they that pursue righteousness, that seek Jehovah." [Isaiah 51:1] And it is a closely allied meaning, though perhaps with a more inward application, when the people are represented as praying God to give them "ordinances of righteousness," [Isaiah 58:2] -that is, to prescribe such a ritual as will expiate their guilt and bring them into a right relation with Him. They sought in vain. The great lesson of the Exile was that not by works and performances, but through simply waiting upon the Lord, their righteousness should shine forth. Even this outward kind of justification was to be by faith.
The other meaning of righteousness, however, -the sense of social and civic morality, which was its usual sense with the earlier prophets, -is not altogether excluded from the use of the word in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 Here are some commands and reproaches which seem to imply it. "Keep judgment, and do righteousness,"-where, from what follows, righteousness evidently means observing the Sabbath and doing no evil. [Isaiah 56:1] "And justice is fallen away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off, for truth is fallen in the street, and steadfastness cannot enter." [Isaiah 59:14] These must be terms for human virtues, for shortly afterwards it is said: "Jehovah was displeased because there was no justice." Again, "They seek Me as a nation that did righteousness"; [Isaiah 58:2] "Hearken unto Me, ye that know righteousness, a people-My law is in their hearts"; [Isaiah 51:7] "Thou meetest him that worketh righteousness"; [Isaiah 64:5] "No one sues in righteousness, and none goeth to law in truth." [Isaiah 59:4] In all these passages "righteousness" means something that man can know and do, his conscience and his duty, and is rightly to be distinguished from those others, in which "righteousness" is equivalent to the salvation, the glory, the peace, which only God’s power can bring. If the passages that employ "righteousness" in the sense of moral or religious observance really date from the Exile, then the interesting fact is assured to us that the Jews enjoyed some degree of social independence and responsibility during their Captivity. But it is a very striking fact that these passages all belong to chapters, the exilic origin of which is questioned even by critics, who assign the rest of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 to the Exile. Yet, even if these passages have all to be assigned to the Exile, how few they are in number! How they contrast with the frequency, with which, in the earlier part of this book, -in the orations addressed by Isaiah to his own times, when Israel was still an independent state, -"righteousness" is reiterated as the daily, practical duty of men, as justice, truthfulness, and charity between man and man! The extreme rarity of such inculcations in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 warns us that we must not expect to find here the same practical and political interest which formed so much of the charm and the force of Isaiah 1:1-31 - Isaiah 39:1-8. The nation has now no politics, almost no social morals. Israel are not citizens working out their own salvation in the market, the camp, and the senate; but captives waiting a deliverance in God’s time, which no act of theirs can hasten. It is not in the street that the interest of Second Isaiah lies: it is on the horizon. Hence the vague feeling of a distant splendour, which as the reader passes from Isaiah 39:1-8 to Isaiah 40:1-31, replaces in his mind the stir of living in a busy crowd, the close and throbbing sense of the civic conscience, the voice of statesmen, the clash of the weapons of war. There is no opportunity for individuals to reveal themselves. It is a nation waiting, indistinguishable in shadow, whose outlines only we see. It is no longer the thrilling practical cry, which sends men into the arenas of social life with every sinew in them strung: "Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." It is rather the cry of one who still waits for his working day to dawn: "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills; from whence cometh my help?" Righteousness is not the near and daily duty, it is the far-off peace and splendour of skies, that have scarce begun to redden to the day.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
But there was another Person, whose righteousness was in question during the Exile, and who Himself argues for it throughout our prophecy. Perhaps the most peculiar feature of the theology of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 is its argument for "the righteousness of Jehovah."
Some critics maintain that righteousness, when applied to Jehovah, bears always a technical reference to His covenant with Israel. This is scarcely correct. Jehovah’s dealings with Israel were no doubt the chief of His dealings, and it is these, which He mainly quotes to illustrate His righteousness; but we have already studied passages, which prove to us that Jehovah's righteousness was an absolute quality of His Godhead, shown to others besides Israel, and in loyalty to obligations different from the terms of His covenant with Israel. In Isaiah 41:1-29 Jehovah calls upon the heathen to match their righteousness with His; righteousness was therefore a quality that might have been attributed to them as well as to Himself. Again, in Isaiah 45:19 "I, Jehovah, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right,"-righteousness evidently bears a general sense, and not one of exclusive application to God’s dealing with Israel. It is the same in the passage about Cyrus: [Isaiah 45:13] "I have raised him up in righteousness, I will make straight all his ways." Though Cyrus was called in connection with God’s purpose towards Israel, it is not that purpose which makes his calling righteous, but the fact that God means to carry him through, or, as the parallel verse says, "to make straight all his ways." These instances are sufficient to prove that the righteousness, which God attributes to His words, to His actions, and to Himself, is a general quality not confined to His dealings with Israel under the covenant, -though, of course, most clearly illustrated by these.
If now we enquire, what this absolute quality of Jehovah’s Deity really means, we may conveniently begin with His application of it to His Word. In Isaiah 41:1-29 He summons the other religions to exhibit predictions that are true to fact. "Who hath declared it on-ahead that we may know, or from aforetime that we may say, He is ssaddiq." Here ssaddiq simply means "right, correct," true to fact. It is much the same meaning in Isaiah 43:9, where the verb is used of heathen predicters, "that they may be shown to be right," or "correct" (English version, "justified"). But when, in Isaiah 46:1-13, the word is applied by Jehovah to His own speech, it has a meaning of far richer contents, than mere correctness, and proves to us that after all the Hebrew ssedheq was almost as versatile as the English "right." The following passage shows us that the righteousness of Jehovah’s speech is its clearness, straightforwardness, and practical effectiveness: "Not in secret have I spoken, in a place of the land of darkness,"-this has been supposed to refer to the remote or subterranean localities in which heathen oracles mysteriously entrenched themselves, -"I have not said to the seed of Jacob, In Chaos seek Me. I am Jehovah, a Speaker of righteousness, a Publisher of straight things. Be gathered and come, draw near together, O remnants of the nations. They know not that carry the log of their image, and pray to a god who does not save. Publish and bring near, yea, let them take counsel together. Who caused this to be heard of old? long since hath published it? Is it not I, Jehovah, and there is none else God beside Me; a God righteous and a Saviour, there is none except Me. Turn unto Me and be saved, all ends of Earth, for I am God, and there is none else. By Myself have I sworn, gone forth from My mouth hath righteousness: a word and it shall not turn; for to Me shall bow every knee, shall swear every tongue. Truly in Jehovah, shall they say of Me, are righteousnesses and strength. To Him shall it come, and shamed shall be all that are incensed against Him. In Jehovah shall be righteous and renowned all the seed of Israel." [Isaiah 45:19-25]
In this very suggestive passage "righteousness" means far more than simple correctness of prediction. Indeed, it is difficult to distinguish how much it means, so quickly do its varying echoes throng upon our ear, from the new associations in which it is spoken. A word such as "righteousness" is like the sensitive tones of the human voice. Spoken in a desert, the voice is itself and nothing more; but utter it where the landscape is crowded with novel obstacles, and the original note is almost lost amid the echoes it startles. So with the "righteousness of Jehovah"; among the new associations in which the prophet affirms it, it starts novel repetitions of itself. Against the ambiguity of the oracles, it is echoed back as "clearness, straightforwardness, good faith"; [Isaiah 40:19] against their opportunism and want of foresight, it is described as equivalent to the capacity for arranging things beforehand and predicting what must come to pass, therefore as "purposefulness"; while against their futility, it is plainly "effectiveness and power to prevail." [Isaiah 40:23] It is the quality in God, which divides His Godhead with His power, something intellectual as well as moral, the possession of a reasonable purpose as well as fidelity towards it.
This intellectual sense of righteousness, as reasonableness or purposefulness, is clearly illustrated by the way in which the prophet appeals, in order to enforce it, to Jehovah’s creation of the world. "Thus saith Jehovah, Creator of the heavens-He is the God-Former of the Earth and her Maker, He founded her; not Chaos did He create her, to be dwelt in did He form her." [Isaiah 45:18] The word "Chaos" here is the same as is used in opposition to "righteousness" in the following verse. The sentence plainly illustrates the truth, that whatever God does, He does not so as to issue in confusion, but with a reasonable purpose and for a practical end. We have here the repetition of that deep, strong note, which Isaiah himself so often sounded to the comfort of men in perplexity or despair, that God is at least reasonable, not working for nothing, nor beginning only to leave off, nor creating in order to destroy. The same God, says our prophet, who formed the earth in order to see it inhabited, must surely be believed to be consistent enough to carry to the end also His spiritual work among men. Our prophet’s idea of God’s righteousness, therefore, includes the idea of reasonableness; implies rational as well as moral consistency, practical sense as well as good faith; the conscience of a reasonable plan, and, perhaps also, the power to carry it through.
To know that this great and varied meaning belongs to "righteousness" gives us new insight into those passages, which find in it all the motive and efficiency of the Divine action: "It pleased Jehovah for His righteousness"; [Isaiah 42:21] "His righteousness, it upheld Him; and He put on righteousness as a breastplate." [Isaiah 59:16-17]
With such a righteousness did Jehovah deal with Israel. To her despair that He has forgotten her. He recounts the historical events by which He has made her His own, and affirms that He will carry them on; and you feel the expression both of fidelity and of the consciousness of ability to fulfil, in the words, "I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness." "Right hand"-there is more than the touch of fidelity in this; there is the grasp of power. Again, to the Israel who was conscious of being His Servant, God says, "I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness"; and, taken with the context, the word plainly means good faith and intention to sustain and carry to success.
It was easy to transfer the name "righteousness" from the character of God’s action to its results, but always, of course, in the vindication of His purpose and word. Therefore, just as the salvation of Israel, which was the chief result of the Divine purpose, is called Israel’s righteousness, so it is also called "Jehovah’s righteousness." Thus, in Isaiah 46:13 "I bring near My righteousness"; and in Isaiah 51:5 "My righteousness is near, My salvation is gone forth"; Isaiah 40:6 "My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished." It seems to be in the same sense, of finished and visible results, that the skies are called upon "to pour down righteousness," and "the earth to open that they may be fruitful in salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together" (Isaiah 45:8; cf. Isaiah 61:10 "My Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness to spring forth").
One passage is of great interest, because in it "righteousness" is used to play upon itself, in its two meanings of human duty and Divine effect- Isaiah 56:1, "Observe judgment"-probably religious ordinances-"and do righteousness; for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed."
To complete our study of "righteousness" it is necessary to touch still upon one point. In Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 both the masculine and feminine forms of the Hebrew word for righteousness are used, and it has been averred that they are used with a difference. This opinion is entirely dispelled by a collation of the passages. I give the particulars in a note, from which it will be seen that both forms are indifferently employed for each of the many shades of meaning which "righteousness" bears in our prophecies.
That the masculine and feminine forms sometimes occur, with the same or with different meanings, in the same verse, or in the next verse to one another, proves that the selection of them respectively cannot be due to any difference in the authorship of our prophecy. So that we are reduced to say that nothing accounts for their use, except, it might be, the exigencies of the metre. But who is able to prove this?
; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22
FOUR POINTS OF A TRUE RELIGION
Isaiah 43:1-28 - Isaiah 48:1-22
WE have now surveyed the governing truths of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22 : the One God, omnipotent and righteous; the One People, His servants and witnesses to the world; the nothingness of all other gods and idols before Him; the vanity and ignorance of their diviners, compared with His power, who, because He has a purpose working through all history, and is both faithful to it and almighty to bring it to pass, can inspire His prophets to declare beforehand the facts that shall be. He has brought His people into captivity for a set time, the end of which is now near. Cyrus the Persian, already upon the horizon, and threatening Babylon, is to be their deliverer. But whomever He raises up on Israel’s behalf, God is always Himself their foremost champion. Not only is His word upon them, but His heart is among them. He bears the brunt of their battle, and their deliverance, political and spiritual, is His own travail and agony. Whomever else He summons on the stage, He remains the true hero of the drama.
Now, chapters 43-48 are simply the elaboration and more urgent offer of all these truths, under the sense of the rapid approach of Cyrus upon Babylon. They declare again God’s unity, omnipotence, and righteousness, they confirm His forgiveness of His people, they repeat the laughter at the idols, they give us nearer views of Cyrus, they answer the doubts that many orthodox Israelites felt about this Gentile Messiah; chapters 46 and 47 describe Babylon as if on the eve of her fall, and chapter 48, after Jehovah more urgently than ever presses upon reluctant Israel to show the results of her discipline in Babylon, closes with a call to leave the accursed city, as if the way were at last open. This call has been taken as the mark of a definite division of our prophecy. But too much must not be put upon it. It is indeed the first call to depart from Babylon; but it is not the last. And although chapter 49, and the chapters following, speak more of Zion’s Restoration and less of the Captivity, yet chapter 49 is closely connected with chapter 48, and we do not finally leave Babylon behind till Isaiah 52:12. Nevertheless, in the meantime chapter 48 will form a convenient point on which to keep our eyes.
Cyrus, when we last saw him, was upon the banks of the Halys, 546 B.C., startling Croesus and the Lydian Empire into extraordinary efforts, both of a religious and political kind, to avert his attack. He had just come from an unsuccessful attempt upon the northern frontier of Babylon, and at first it appeared as if he were to find no better fortune on the western border of Lydia. In spite of his superior numbers, the Lydian army kept the ground on which he met them in battle. But Croesus, thinking that the war was over for the season, fell back soon afterwards on Sardis, and Cyrus, following him up by forced marches, surprised him under the walls of the city, routed the famous Lydian cavalry by the novel terror of his camels, and after a siege of fourteen days sent a few soldiers to scale a side of the citadel too steep to be guarded by the defenders; and so Sardis, its king and its empire, lay at his feet. This Lydian campaign of Cyrus, which is related by Herodotus, is worth noting here for the light it throws on the character of the man, whom according to our prophecy, God chose to be His chief instrument in that generation. If his turning back from Babylonia, eight years before he was granted an easy entrance to her capital, shows how patiently Cyrus could wait upon fortune, his quick march upon Sardis is the brilliant evidence that when fortune showed the way, she found this Persian an obedient and punctual follower. The Lydian campaign forms as good an illustration as we shall find of these texts of our prophet: "He pursueth them, he passeth in safety; by a way he (almost) treads not with his feet. He cometh upon satraps as on mortar, and as the potter treadeth upon clay. [Isaiah 12:3] I have holden his right hand to bring down before him nations, and the loins of kings will I loosen," (poor ungirt Croesus, for instance, relaxing so foolishly after his victory!) "to open before him doors, and gates shall not be shut" (so was Sardis unready for him), "I go before thee, and will level the ridges; doors of brass I will shiver, and bolts of iron cut in sunder. And I will give to thee treasures of darkness, hidden riches of secret places." [Isaiah 45:1-3] Some have found in this an allusion to the immense hoards of Croesus, which fell to Cyrus with Sardis.
With Lydia, the rest of Asia Minor, including the cities of the Greeks, who held the coast of the Aegean, was bound to come into the Persian’s hands. But the process of subjection turned out to be a tong one. The Greeks got no help from Greece. Sparta sent to Cyrus an embassy with a threat, but the Persian laughed at it and it came to nothing. Indeed, Sparta’s message was only a temptation to this irresistible warrior to carry his fortunate arms into Europe. His own presence, however, was required in the East, and his lieutenants found the thorough subjection of Asia Minor a task requiring several years. It cannot have well been concluded before 540, and while it was in progress we understand why Cyrus did not again attack Babylonia. Meantime, he was occupied with lesser tribes to the north of Media.
Cyrus’ second campaign against Babylonia opened in 539. This time he avoided the northern wall from which he had been repulsed in 546. Attacking Babylonia from the east, he crossed the Tigris, beat the Babylonian king into Borsippa, laid siege to that fortress and marched on Babylon, which was held by the king’s son, Belshazzar, Bil-sarussur. All the world knows the supreme generalship by which Cyrus is said to have captured Babylon without assaulting the walls, from whose impregnable height their defenders showered ridicule upon him; how he made himself master of Nebuchadrezzar’s great bason at Sepharvaim, and turned the Euphrates into it; and how, before the Babylonians had time to notice the dwindling of the waters in their midst, his soldiers waded down the river bed, and by the river gates surprised the careless citizens upon a night of festival. But recent research makes it more probable that her inhabitants themselves surrendered Babylon to Cyrus.
Now it was during the course of the events just sketched, but before their culmination in the fall of Babylon, that chapters 43-48 were composed. That, at least, is what they themselves suggest. In three passages, which deal with Cyrus or with Babylon, some of the verbs are in the past, some in the future. Those in the past tense describe the calling and full career of Cyrus or the beginning of preparations against Babylon. Those in the. future tense promise Babylon’s fall or Cyrus’ completion of the liberation of the Jews. Thus, in Isaiah 43:14 it is written: "For your sakes I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring down as fugitives all of them, and the Chaldeans in the ships of their rejoicing." Surely these words announce that BabyIon’s fate was already on the way to her, but not yet arrived. Again, in the verses which deal with Cyrus himself, Isaiah 45:1-6, which we have partly quoted, the Persian is already "grasped by his right hand by God, and called"; but his career is not over, for God promises to do various things for him. The third passage is Isaiah 45:13 of the same chapter, where Jehovah says, "I have stirred him up in righteousness, and" changing to the future tense, "all his ways will I level; he shall build My city, and My captivity shall he send away." What could be more precise than the tenor of all these passages? If people would only take our prophet at his word; if with all their belief in the inspiration of the text of Scripture, they would only pay attention to its grammar, which surely, on their own theory, is also thoroughly sacred, then there would be today no question about the date of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22. As plainly as grammar can enable it to do, this prophecy speaks of Cyrus’ campaign against Babylon as already begun, but of its completion as still future. Chapter 48, it is true, assumes events as still farther developed, but we will come to it afterwards.
During Cyrus’ preparations, then, for invading Babylonia, and in prospect of her certain fall, chapters 43-48 repeat with greater detail and impetuosity the truths, which we have already gathered from chapters 40-42.
1. And first of these comes naturally the omnipotence, righteousness, and personal urgency of Jehovah Himself. Everything is again assured by His power and purpose; everything starts from His initiative. To illustrate this we could quote from almost every verse in the chapters under consideration. "I, I Jehovah, and there is none beside Me a Saviour. I am God"-El. "Also from today on I am He. I will work, and who shall let it? I am Jehovah. I, I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions. I First, and I Last; and beside Me there is no God"-Elohim. "Is there a God," Eloah, "beside Me? yea, there is no Rock; I know not any. I Jehovah, Maker of all things. I am Jehovah, and there is none else; beside Me there is no God. I am Jehovah, and there is none else. Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of evil, I am Jehovah, Maker of all these. I am Jehovah, and there is none else, God," Elohini, "beside Me, God-Righteous,’" El Ssaddiq, "and a Saviour: there is none except: Me. Face Me, and be saved all ends of the earth; for I am God," El, "and there is none else. Only in Jehovah-of Me shall they say-are righteousnesses and strength. I am God," El, "and there is none else; God," Elohim, "and there is none like Me. I am He; I am First, yea, I am Last. I, I have spoken. I have declared it."
It is of advantage to gather together so many passages-and they might have been increased-from chapters 43-48. They let us see at a glance what a part the first personal pronoun plays in the Divine revelation. Beneath every religious truth is the unity of God. Behind every great movement is the personal initiative, and urgency of God. And revelation is, in its essence, not the mere publication of truths about God, but the personal presence and communication to men of God Himself. Three words are used for Deity-El, Eloah, Elohim-exhausting the Divine terminology. But besides these, there is a formula which puts the point even more sharply: "I am He." It was the habit of the Hebrew nation, and indeed of all Semitic peoples, who shared their reverent unwillingness to name the Deity, to speak of Him simply by the third personal pronoun. The Book of Job is full of instances of the habit, and it also appears in many proper names, as Eli-hu, "My God-is-He," Abi-hu, "My-Father-is-He." Renan adduces the practice as evidence that the Semites were "naturally monotheistic,"-as evidence for what was never the case! But if there was no original Semitic monotheism for this practice to prove, we may yet take the practice as evidence for the personality of the Hebrew God. The God of the prophets is not the it, which Mr. Matthew Arnold so strangely thought he had identified in their writings, and which, in philosophic language, that unsophisticated Orientals would never have understood, he so cumbrously named "a tendency not ourselves that makes for righteousness." Not anything like this is the God, who here urges His self-consciousness upon men. He says, "I am He,"-the unseen Power, who was too awful and too dark to be named, but about whom, when in their terror and ignorance His worshippers sought to describe Him, they assumed that He was a Person, and called Him, as they would have called one of themselves, by a personal pronoun. By the mouth of His prophet this vague and awful He declares Himself as I, I, I, - no mere tendency, but a living Heart and urgent Will, personal character and force of initiative, from which all tendencies move and take their direction and strength. "I am He."
History is strewn with the errors of those who have sought from God something else than Himself. All the degradation, even of the highest religions, has sprung from this, that their votaries forgot that religion was a communion with God Himself, a life in the power of His character and will, and employed it as the mere communication either of material benefits or of intellectual ideas. It has been the mistake of millions to see in revelation nothing but the telling of fortunes, the recovery of lost things, decision in quarrels, direction in war, or the bestowal of some personal favour. Such are like the person, of whom St. Luke tells us, who saw nothing in Christ but the recoverer of a bad debt: "Master, speak unto my brother that he divide the inheritance with me"; and their superstition is as far from true faith as the prodigal’s old heart, when he said, "Give me the portion of goods that falleth unto me," was from the other heart, when, in his poverty and woe, he cast himself utterly upon his Father: "I will arise and go to my Father." But no less a mistake do those make, who seek from God not Himself, but only intellectual information. The first Reformers did well, who brought the common soul to the personal grace of God; but many of their successors, in a controversy, whose dust obscured the sun and allowed them to see but the length of their own weapons, used Scripture chiefly as a store of proofs for separate doctrines of the faith, and forgot that God Himself was there at all. And though in these days we seek from the Bible many desirable things, such as history, philosophy, morals, formulas of assurance of salvation, the forgiveness of sins, maxims for conduct, yet all these will avail us little, until we have found behind them the living Character, the Will, the Grace, the Urgency, the Almighty Power, by trust in whom and communion with whom alone they are added unto us.
Now the deity, who claims in these chapters to be the One, Sovereign God, was the deity of a little tribe. "I am Jehovah, I Jehovah am God, I Jehovah am He." We cannot too much impress ourselves with the historical wonder of this. In a world, which contained Babylon and Egypt with their large empires, Lydia with all her wealth, and the Medes with all their force; which was already feeling the possibilities of the great Greek life, and had the Persians, the masters of the future, upon its threshold, -it was the god of none of these, but of the obscurest tribe of their bondsmen, who claimed the Divine Sovereignty for Himself; it was the pride of none of these, but the faith of the most despised and, at its heart, most mournful religion of the time, which offered an explanation of history, claimed the future, and was assured that the biggest forces of the world were working for its ends. "Thus saith Jehovah, King of Israel, and his Redeemer Jehovah of Hosts, I First, and I Last; and beside Me there is no God. Is there a God beside Me? yea, there is no Rock; I know not any."
By itself this were a cheap claim, and might have been made by any idol among them, were it not for the additional proofs by which it is supported. We may summarise these additional proofs as threefold: Laughter, Gospel, and Control of History, -three marvels in the experience of exiles. People, mournfullest and most despised, their mouths were to be filled with the laughter of truth’s scorn upon the idols of their conquerors. Men, most tormented by conscience and filled with the sense of sin, they were to hear the gospel of forgiveness. Nation, against whom all fact seemed to be working, their God told them, alone of all nations of the world, that He controlled for their sake the facts of today and the issues of tomorrow.
2. A burst of laughter comes very weirdly out of the Exile. But we have already seen the intellectual right to scorn which these crushed captives had. They were monotheists and their enemies were image worshippers. Monotheism, even in its rudest forms, raises men intellectually, -it is difficult to say by how many degrees. Indeed, degrees do not measure the mental difference between an idolater and him who serves with his mind, as well as with all his heart and it not for the additional proofs by which it is a difference that is absolute. Israel in captivity was conscious of this, and therefore, although the souls of those sad men were filled beyond any in the world with the heaviness of sorrow and the humility of guilt, their proud faces carried a scorn they had every right to wear, as the servants of the One God. See how this scorn breaks forth in the following passage. Its text is corrupt, and its rhythm, at this distance from the voices that utter it, is hardly perceptible; but thoroughly evident is its tone of intellectual superiority, and the scorn of it gushes forth in impetuous, unequal verse, the force of which the smoothness and dignity of our Authorised Version has unfortunately disguised.
Formers of an idol are all of them waste,
And their darlings are utterly worthless!
And their confessors - they! they see not and know not
Enough to feel shame.
Who has fashioned a god, or an image has cast?
‘Tis to be utterly worthless.
Lo! all that depend on’t are shamed,
And the gravers are less than men:
Let all of them gather and stand.
They quake and are shamed in the lump.
Iron-graver-he takes a chisel,
And works with hot coals,
And with hammers he moulds;
And has done it with the arm of his strength. -
Anon hungers, and strength goes;
Drinks no water, and wearies!
Wood-graver-he draws a line,
Marks it with pencil,
Makes it with planes,
And with compasses marks it.
So has made it the build of a man,
To a grace that is human-
To inhabit a house, cutting it cedars.
Or one takes an ilex or oak,
And picks for himself from the trees of the wood
One has planted a pine, and the rain makes it big,
And ‘tis there for a man to burn.
And one has taken of it, and been warmed;
Yea, kindles and bakes bread, -
Yea, works out a god, and has worshipped it!
Has made it an idol, and bows down before it!
Part of it burns he with fire,
Upon part eats flesh,
Roasts roast and is full;
Yea, warms him and saith,
"Aha, I am warm, have seen fire!"
And the rest of it-to a god he has made-to his image!
He bows to it, worships it, prays to it,
And says, "Save me, for my god art thou!"
They know not and deem not!
For He hath bedaubed, past seeing, their eyes
Past thinking, their hearts.
And none takes to heart,
Neither has knowledge nor sense to say,
"‘Part of it burned I in fire-
Yea, have baked bread on its coals,
Do roast flesh that I eat, -
And the rest o’t, to a
Disgust should I make it?
The trunk of a tree should I worship?’"
Herder of ashes, a duped heart has sent him astray,
That he cannot deliver his soul. neither say,
"Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
Is not the prevailing note in these verses surprise at the mental condition of an idol-worshipper? "They see not and know not enough to feel shame. None takes it to heart, neither has knowledge nor sense to say, Part of it I have burned in fire and the rest, should I make it a god?" This intellectual confidence, breaking out into scorn, is the second great token of truth, which distinguishes the religion of this poor slave of a people.
3. The third token is its moral character. The intellectual truth of a religion would go for little, had the religion nothing to say to man’s moral sense-did it not concern itself with his sins, had it no redemption for his guilt. Now, the chapters before us are full of judgment and mercy. If they have scorn for the idols, they have doom for sin, and grace for the sinner. They are no mere political manifesto for the occasion, declaring how Israel shall be liberated from Babylon. They are a gospel for sinners in all time. By this they farther accredit themselves as a universal religion.
God is omnipotent, yet He can do nothing for Israel till Israel put away their sins. Those sins, and not the people’s captivity, are the Deity’s chief concern. Sin has been at the bottom of their whole adversity. This is brought out with all the versatility of conscience itself. Israel and their God have been at variance; their sin has been, what conscience feels the most, a sin against love. "Yet not upon Me hast thou called, O Jacob; how hast thou been wearied with Me, O Israel I have not made thee to slave with offerings, nor weaned thee with incense but thou hast made Me to slave with thy sins, thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities". [Isaiah 43:22-24] So God sets their sins, where men most see the blackness of their guilt, in the face of His love. And now He challenges conscience. "Put Me in remembrance; let us come to judgment together; indict, that thou mayest be justified" (Isaiah 43:26). But it had been age long and original sin. "Thy father, the first had sinned; yea, thy representative men"-literally "interpreters, mediators-had transgressed against Me. Therefore did I profane consecrated princes, and gave Jacob to the ban, and Israel to reviling" (Isaiah 43:27-28). The Exile itself was but an episode in a tragedy, which began far back with Israel’s history. And so chapter 48 repeats: "I knew that thou dost deal very treacherously, and Transgressor-from-the-womb do they call thee" (Isaiah 48:8). And then there comes the sad note of what might have been. "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as the river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18). As broad Euphrates thou shouldst have lavishly rolled, and flashed to the sun like a summer sea. But now, hear what is left. "There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22).
Ah, it is no dusty stretch of ancient history, no; long-extinct volcano upon the far waste of Asian politics, to which we are led by the writings of the Exile. But they treat of man’s perennial trouble; and conscience, that never dies, speaks through their old-fashioned letters and figures with words we feel like swords. And therefore, still, whether they be psalms or prophecies, they stand like some ancient minster in the modern world, -where, on each new soiled day, till time ends, the heavy heart of man may be helped to read itself, and lift up its guilt for mercy.
They are the confessional of the world, but they are also its gospel, and the altar where forgiveness is sealed. "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins; turn unto Me, for I have redeemed, thee. Israel shall be saved by Jehovah with an everlasting salvation; ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end." [Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:21-22; Isaiah 45:17] Now, when we remember who the God is, who thus speaks, -not merely One who flings the word of pardon from the sublime height of His holiness, but, as we saw, speaks it from the midst of all His own passion and struggle under His people’s sins, -then with what assurance does His word come home to the heart. What honour and obligation to righteousness does the pardon of such a God put upon our hearts. One understands why Ambrose sent Augustine, after his conversion, first to these prophecies.
4. The fourth token, which these chapters offer for the religion of Jehovah, is the claim they make for it to interpret and to control history. There are two verbs, which are frequently repeated throughout the chapters, and which are given together in Isaiah 43:12 : "I have published and I have saved." These are the two acts by which Jehovah proves His solitary divinity over against the idols.
The "publishing," of course, is the same prediction, of which chapter 41 spoke. It is "publishing" in former times things happening now; it is "publishing" now things that are still to happen. "And who, like Me, calls out and publishes it, and sets it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and that shall come, let them publish. Tremble not, nor fear: did I not long ago cause thee to hear? and I published, and ye are My witnesses. Is there a God beside Me? nay, there is no Rock; I know none". [Isaiah 44:7-8]
The two go together, the doing of wonderful and saving acts for His people and the publishing of them before they come to pass. Israel’s past is full of such acts. Chapter 43, instances the delivery from Egypt (Isaiah 43:16-17), but immediately proceeds (Isaiah 43:18-19): "Remember ye not the former things"-here our old friend ri’shonoth occurs again, but this time means simply "previous events"-"neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; even now it springs forth. Shall ye not know it? Yea, I will set in the wilderness a way, in the desert rivers." And of this new event of the Return, and of others which will follow from it, like the building of Jerusalem, the chapters insist over and over again, that they are the work of Jehovah, who is therefore a Saviour God. But what better proof can be given, that these saving facts are indeed His own and part of His counsel, than that He foretold them by His messengers and prophets to Israel, -of which previous "publication" His people are the witnesses. "Who among the peoples can publish thus, and let us hear predictions?-again ri’shonoth, "things ahead-let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified, and let them hear and say, Truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah," to Israel. [Isaiah 43:9-10] "I have published, and I have saved, and I have shewed, and there was no strange god among you; therefore"-because Jehovah was notoriously the only God who had to do with them during all this prediction and fulfilment of prediction" ye are witnesses for Me, saith Jehovah, that I am God" (id. Isaiah 43:12). The meaning of all this is plain. Jehovah is God alone, because He is directly effective in history for the salvation of His people, and because He has published beforehand what He will do. The great instance of this, which the prophecy adduces, is the present movement towards the liberation of the people, of which movement Cyrus is the most conspicuous factor. Of this Isaiah 45:19 ff. says: "Not in a place of the land of in Secret have I spoken, darkness. I have not said to the seed of Jacob, In vanity seek ye Me. I Jehovah am a speaker of righteousness, a publisher of things that are straight. Be gathered and come in; draw together, ye survivors of the nations: they have no knowledge that carry about the log of their image, and are suppliants to a god that cannot save. Publish, and bring it here; nay, let them advise together; who made this to be heard,"-that is, "who published this, -of ancient time?" Who published this of old? I Jehovah, and there is none God beside Me: a God righteous,"-that is, consistent, true to His published word, -"and a Saviour, there is none beside Me." "Here we have joined together the same ideas as in Isaiah 43:12." There "I have declared and saved" is equivalent to "a God righteous and a Saviour" here. "Only in Jehovah are righteousnesses," that is, fidelity to His anciently published purposes; "and strength," that is, capacity to carry these purposes out in history. God is righteous because, according to another verse in the same prophecy, [Isaiah 44:26] "He confirmeth the word of His servant, and the advice of His messengers He fulfilleth."
Now the question has been asked, To what predictions does the prophecy allude as being fulfilled in those days when Cyrus was so evidently advancing to the overthrow of Babylon? Before answering this question it is well to note, that, for the most part, the prophet speaks in general terms. He gives no hint to justify that unfounded belief, to which so many think it necessary to cling, that Cyrus was actually named by a prophet of Jehovah years before he appeared. Had such a prediction existed, we can have no doubt that our prophet would now have appealed to it. No: he evidently refers only to those numerous and notorious predictions by Isaiah, and by Jeremiah, of the return of Israel from exile after a certain and fixed period. Those were now coming to pass.
But from this new day Jehovah also predicts for the days to come, and He does this very particularly, Isaiah 44:26, "Who is saying of Jerusalem, She shall be inhabited; and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built; and of her waste places, I will raise them up. Who saith to the deep, Be dry, and thy rivers I will dry up. Who saith of Koresh, My Shepherd, and all My pleasure he shall fulfil: even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built, and the Temple shall be founded."
Thus, backward and forward, yesterday, today and for ever, Jehovah’s hand is upon history. He controls it: it is the fulfilment of His ancient purpose. By predictions made long ago and fulfilled today, by the readiness to predict today what will happen tomorrow, He is surely God and God alone. Singular fact, that in that day of great empires, confident in their resources, and with the future so near their grasp, it should be the God of a little people, cut off from their history, servile and seemingly spent, who should take the big things of earth-Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba-and speak of them as counters to be given in exchange for His people; who should speak of such a people as the chief heirs of the future, the indispensable ministers of mankind. The claim has two Divine features. It is unique, and history has vindicated it. It is unique: no other religion, in that or in any other time, has so rationally explained past history or laid out the ages to come upon the lines of a purpose so definite, so rational, so beneficent-a purpose so worthy of the One God and Creator of all. And it has been vindicated: Israel returned to their own land, resumed the development of their calling, and, after the centuries came and went, fulfilled the promise that they should be the religious teachers of mankind. The long delay of this fulfilment surely but testifies the more to the Divine foresight of the promise; to the patience, which nature, as well as history, reveals to be, as much as omnipotence, a mark of Deity.
These, then, are the four points, upon which the religion of Israel offers itself. First, it is the force of the character and grace of a personal God; second, it speaks with a high intellectual confidence, whereof its scorn is here the chief mark; third, it is intensely moral, making man’s sin its chief concern; and fourth, it claims the control of history, and history has justified the claim.
ete_me Isaiah 44:28-28
Isaiah 41:2;, Isaiah 44:28-28;, Isaiah 46:11;, Isaiah 48:14
CYRUS, the Persian, is the only man outside the covenant and people of Israel, who is yet entitled the Lord’s Shepherd, and the Lord’s Messiah or Christ. He is, besides, the only great personality of whom both the Bible and Greek literature treat at length and with sympathy. Did we know nothing more of him than this, the heathen who received the most sacred titles of Revelation, the one man in history who was the cynosure of both Greece and Judah, could not fail to be of the greatest interest to us. But apart from the way in which he impressed the Greek imagination and was interpreted by the Hebrew conscience, we have an amount of historical evidence about Cyrus, which, if it dissipates the beautiful legends told of his origin and his end, confirms most of what is written of his character by Herodotus and Xenophon, and all of what is described as his career by the prophet whom we are studying. Whether of his own virtue, or as being the leader of a new race of men at the fortunate moment of their call, Cyrus lifted himself, from the lowest of royal stations, to a conquest and an empire achieved by only two or three others in the history of the world. Originally but the prince of Anshan, or Anzan, -a territory of uncertain size at the head of the Persian Gulf, -he brought under his sway, by policy or war, the large and vigorous nations of the Medes and Persians; he overthrew the Lydian kingdom, and subjugated Asia Minor; he so impressed the beginnings of Greek life, that, with all their own great men, the Greeks never ceased to regard this Persian as the ideal king; he captured Babylon, the throne of the ancient East, and thus effected the transfer of empire from the Semitic to the Aryan stock. He also satisfied the peoples, whom he had beaten, with his rule, and organised his realms with a thoroughness unequalled over so vast an extent till the rise of the Roman Empire.
We have scarcely any contemporary or nearly contemporary evidence about his personality. But his achievements testify to extraordinary genius, and his character was the admiration of all antiquity. To Greek literature Cyrus was the Prince pre-eminent, -set forth as the model for education in childhood, self-restraint in youth, just and powerful government in manhood. Most of what we read of him in Xenophon’s "Cyropaedia" is, of course, romance; but the very fact, that, like our own King Arthur, Cyrus was used as a mirror to flash great ideals down the ages, proves that there was with him native brilliance and width of surface as well as fortunate eminence of position. He owed much to the virtue of his race. Rotten as the later Persians have become, the nation in those days impressed its enemies with its truthfulness, purity, and vigour. But the man who not only led such a nation, and was their darling, but combined under his sceptre, in equal discipline and contentment, so many other and diverse peoples, so many powerful and ambitious rulers, cannot have been merely the best specimen of his own nation’s virtue, but must have added to this, at least much of the original qualities-humanity, breadth of mind, sweetness, patience, and genius for managing men-which his sympathetic biographer imputes to him in so heroic a degree. It is evident that the "Cyropaedia" is ignorant of many facts about Cyrus, and must have taken conscious liberties with many more, but nobody-who, on the one hand, is aware of what Cyrus effected upon the world, and who, on the other, can appreciate that it was possible for a foreigner (who, nevertheless, had travelled through most of the scenes of Cyrus’ career) to form this rich conception of him more than a century after his death-can doubt that the Persian’s character (due allowance being made for hero-worship) must have been in the main as Xenophon describes it.
Yet it is very remarkable that our Scripture states not one moral or religious virtue as the qualification of this Gentile to the title of "Jehovah’s Messiah." We search here in vain for any gleam of appreciation of that character, which drew the admiring eyes of Greece. In the whole range of our prophecy there is not a single adjective, expressing a moral virtue, applied to Cyrus. The "righteousness," which so many passages associate with his name, is attributed, not to him, but to God’s calling of him, and does not imply justice or any similar quality, but is, as we shall afterwards see when we examine the remarkable use of this word in Second Isaiah, a mixture of good faith and thoroughness, -all-rightness. The one passage of our prophet, in which it has been supposed by some that Jehovah makes a religious claim to Cyrus, as if the Persian were a monotheist-"he calleth on My name"-is, as we have seen, too uncertain, both in text and rendering, to have anything built upon it. Indeed, no Hebrew could have justly praised this Persian’s faith, who called himself the "servant of Merodach," and in his public proclamations to Babylonia ascribed to the Babylonian gods his power to enter their city. Cyrus was very probably the pious ruler described by Xenophon, but he was no monotheist. And our prophet denies all religious sympathy between him and Jehovah, in words too strong to be misunderstood: "I woo thee, though thou hast not known Me I gird thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:4-5] On what, then, is the Divine election of Cyrus grounded by our prophet, if not upon his character and his faith? Simply and barely upon God’s sovereignty and will. That is the impressive lesson of the passage: "I am Jehovah, Maker of everything; that stretch forth the heavens alone, and spread the earth by Myself that say of Koresh, My shepherd, and all My pleasure he shall accomplish." [Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 44:28] Cyrus is Jehovah’s because all things are Jehovah’s; of whatsoever character or faith they be, they are His and for His uses. "I am Jehovah, and there is none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of evil; I, Jehovah, Maker of all these." God’s sovereignty could not be more broadly stated. All things, irrespective of their character, are from Him and for His ends. But what end is dearer to the Almighty, what has He more plainly declared, than that His people shall be settled again in their own land? For this He will use the fittest force. The return of Israel to Palestine is a political event, requiring political power; and the greatest political power of the day is Cyrus. Therefore, by His prophet, the Almighty declares Cyrus to be His people’s deliverer, His own anointed. "Thus saith Jehovah to His Messiah, to Koresh:…That thou mayest know that I am Jehovah, Caller of thee by thy name, God of Israel, for the sake of My servant Jacob and Israel My chosen. And I have called thee by thy name. I have wooed thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:3-4]
Now to this designation of Cyrus, as the Messiah, great objections rose from Israel. We can understand them. People who have fallen from a glorious past, cling passionately to its precedents. All the ancient promises of a deliverer for Israel represented him as springing from the house of David. The deliverance, too, was to have come by miracle, or by the impression of the people’s own holiness upon their oppressors. The Lord was to have made bare His arm and Israel to go forth in the pride of His favour, as in the days of Egypt and the Red Sea. But this deliverer, who was announced, was alien to the commonwealth of Israel; and not by some miracle was the people’s exodus promised, but as the effect of his imperial word-a minor incident in his policy! The precedents and the pride of Israel called out against such a scheme of salvation, and the murmurs of the people rose against the word of God.
Sternly replies the Almighty: "Woe to him that striveth with his Moulder, a potsherd among the potsherds of the ground! Saith clay to its moulder, What doest thou? or thy work" of thee, "No hands hath he? Woe to him that saith to a father, What begettest thou? or to a woman, With what travailest thou? Thus saith Jehovah, Holy of Israel and his Moulder: The things that are coming ask of Me; concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me! I have made Earth, and created man upon her: I, My hands, have stretched Heaven, and all its hosts have I ordered." In that universal providence, this Cyrus is but an incident. "I have stirred him up in righteousness, and all his ways shall I make level. He"-emphatic-"shall build My City, and My Captivity he shall send off-not for price and not for reward, saith Jehovah of Hosts." [Isaiah 45:9-13]
To this bare fiat, the passages referring to Cyrus in chapter 46 and chapter 48, add scarcely anything. "I am God, and there is none like Me Who say, My counsel shall stand, and all My pleasure will I perform. Who call from the sunrise a Bird-of-prey, from a land far-off the Man of My counsel. Yea, I have spoken, yea, I will bring it to pass. I have formed, yea, will do it." [Isaiah 46:9-11] "Bird-of-prey" here has been thought to have reference to the eagle, which was the standard of Cyrus. But it refers to Cyrus himself. What God sees in this man to fulfil His purpose is swift, resistless force. Not his character, but his swoop is useful for the Almighty’s end. Again: "Be gathered, all of you, and hearken; who among them hath published these things? Jehovah hath loved him: he will do His pleasure on Babel, and his arm" shall be on "the Chaldeans. I, I have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and will cause his way to prosper," or, "I will pioneer his way". [Isaiah 48:14-15] This verb "to cause to prosper" is one often used by our prophet, but nowhere more appropriately to its original meaning than here, where it is used of "a way." The word signifies "to cut through"; then "to ford a river"-there is no word for bridge in Hebrew; then "to go on well, prosper."
In all these passages, then, there is no word about character. Cyrus is neither chosen for his character nor said to be endowed with one. But that he is there, and that he does so much, is due simply to this, that God has chosen him. And what he is endowed with is force, push, swiftness, irresistibleness. He is, in short, not a character, but a tool; and God makes no apology for using him but this, that he has the qualities of a tool.
Now we cannot help being struck with the contrast of all this, the Hebrew view of Cyrus, with the well-known Greek views of him. To the Greeks he is first and foremost a character. Xenophon, and Herodotus almost as much as Xenophon, are less concerned with what Cyrus did than with what he was. He is the King, the ideal ruler. It is his simplicity, his purity, his health, his wisdom, his generosity, his moral influence upon men, that attract the Greeks, and they conceive that he cannot be too brightly painted in his virtues, if so he may serve for an example to following generations. But bring Cyrus out of the light of the eyes of this hero-worshipping people, that light that has so gilded his native virtues, into the shadow of the austere Hebrew faith, and the brilliance is quenched. He still moves forcibly, but his character is neutral. Scripture emphasises only his strength, his serviceableness, his success. "Whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loosen the loins of kings; to open doors before him, and gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and make the rugged places plain. I will shiver doors of brass, and bars of iron will I sunder". That Cyrus is doing a work in God’s hand and for God’s end, and therefore forcibly, and sure of success-that is all the interest Scripture takes in Cyrus.
Observe the difference. It is characteristic of the two nations. The Greek views Cyrus as an example; therefore cannot too abundantly multiply his morality. The Hebrew views him as a tool; but with a tool you are not anxious about its moral character, you only desire to be convinced of its force and its fitness. The Greek mind is careful to unfold the noble humanity of the man, -a humanity universally and eternally noble. By the side of that imperishable picture of him, how meagre to Greek eyes would have seemed the temporary occasion, for which the Hebrew claimed Cyrus had been raised up-to lead the petty Jewish tribe back to their own obscure corner of the earth. Herodotus and Xenophon, had you told them that this was the chief commission of Cyrus from God, to restore the Jews to Palestine, would have laughed. "Identify him, forsooth, with those provincial interests!" they would have said. "He was meant, we lift him up, for mankind!"
What judgment are we to pass on these two characteristic pictures of Cyrus? What lessons are we to draw from their contrast?
They do not contradict, but in many particulars they corroborate one another. Cyrus would not have been the efficient weapon in the Almighty’s hand, which our prophet panegyrises, but for that thoughtfulness in preparation and swift readiness to seize the occasion, which Xenophon extols. And nothing is more striking to one familiar with our Scriptures, when reading the "Cyropaedia," than the frequency with which the writer insists on the success that followed the Persian. If to the Hebrew Cyrus was the called of God, upheld in righteousness, to the Greek he was equally conspicuous as the favourite of fortune. "I have always," Xenophon makes the dying king say, "seemed to feel my strength increase with the advance of time, so that I have not found myself weaker in my old age than in my youth, nor do I know that I have attempted or desired anything in which I have not been successful." And this was said piously, for Xenophon’s Cyrus was a devout servant of the gods.
The two views, then, are not hostile, nor are we compelled to choose between them. Still, they make a very suggestive contrast, if we put these two questions about them: Which is the more true to historical fact? Which is the more inspiring example?
Which is the more true to historical fact? There is no difficulty in answering this: undoubtedly, the Hebrew. It has been of far more importance to the world that Cyrus freed the Jews than that he inspired the "Cyropaedia." That single enactment of his, perhaps only one of a hundred consequences of his capture of Babylon, has had infinitely greater results than his character, or than its magnificent exaggeration by Greek hero-worship. No one who has read the "Cyropaedia"-out of his school-days-would desire to place it in any contrast, in which its peculiar charm would be shadowed, or its own modest and strictly-limited claims would not receive justice. The charm, the truth of the "Cyropaedia," are eternal; but the significance they borrow from Cyrus-though they are as much due, perhaps, to Xenophon’s own pure soul as to Cyrus-is not to be compared for one instant to the significance of that single deed of his, into which the Bible absorbs the meaning of his whole career, -the liberation of the Jews. The "Cyropaedia" has been the instruction and delight of many, -of as many in modern times, perhaps, as in ancient. But the liberation of the Jews meant the assurance of the world’s religious education. Cyrus sent this people back to their land solely as a spiritual people. He did not allow them to set up again the house of David, but by his decree the Temple was rebuilt. Israel entered upon their purely religious career, set in order their vast stores of spiritual experience, wrote their histories of grace and providence, developed their worship, handed down their law, and kept themselves holy unto the Lord. Till, in the fulness of the times, from this petty and exclusive tribe, and by the fire, which they kept burning on the altar that Cyrus had empowered them to raise, there was kindled the glory of a universal religion. To change the figure, Christianity sprang from Judaism as the flower from the seed; but it was the hand of Cyrus, which planted the seed in the only soil in which it could have fructified. Of such a universal destiny for the Faith, Cyrus was not conscious, but the Jews themselves were. Our prophet represents him, indeed, as acting for "Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel’s My chosen," but the chapter does not close without proclamation to "the ends of the earth to look unto Jehovah and be saved," and the promise of a time "when every knee shall bow and every tongue swear unto the God of Israel."
Now put all these results, which the Jews, regardless of the character of Cyrus, saw flowing from his policy, as the servant of God on their behalf, side by side with the influence which the Greeks borrowed from Cyrus, and say whether Greek or Jew had the more true and historical conscience of this great power, -whether Greek or Jew had his hand on the pulse of the world’s mare artery. Surely we see that the main artery of human life runs down the Bible, that here we have a sense of the control of history, which is higher than even the highest hero-worship. Some may say, "True, but what a very unequal contest, into which to thrust the poor ‘Cyropaedia’!" Precisely; it is from the inequality of the contrast, that we learn the uniqueness of Israel’s inspiration. Let us do all justice to the Greek and his appreciation of Cyrus. In that, he seems the perfection of humanity; but with the Jew we rise to the Divine, touching the right hand of the providence of God.
There is a moral lesson for ourselves in these two views about Cyrus. The Greeks regard him as a hero, the Jews as an instrument. The Greeks are interested in him that he is so attractive a figure, so effective an example to rouse men and restrain them. But the Jews stand in wonder of his subjection to the will of God; their Scriptures extol, not his virtues, but his predestination to certain Divine ends.
Now let us say no word against hero-worship. We have need of all the heroes, which the Greek, and every other, literature can raise up for us. We need the communion of the saints. To make us humble in our pride, to make us hopeful in our despair, we need our big brothers, the heroes of humanity. We need them in history, we need them in fiction; we cannot do without them for shame, for courage, for fellowship, for truth. But let us remember that still more indispensable-for strength, as well as for peace, of mind-is the other temper. Neither self nor the world is conquered by admiration of men, but by the fear and obligation of God. I speak now of applying this temper to ourselves. We shall live fruitful and consistent lives only in so far as we hear God saying to us, "I gird thee," and give ourselves into His guidance. Admire heroes if thou wilt, but only admire them and thou remainest a slave. Learn their secret, to commit themselves to God and to obey Him, and thou shalt become a hero too.
God’s anointing of Cyrus, the heathen, has yet another lesson to teach us, which religious people especially need to learn.
This passage about Cyrus lifts us to a very absolute and awful faith. "I am Jehovah, and none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of mischief; I Jehovah, Maker of all these things." The objection at once rises, "Is it possible to believe this? Are we to lay upon providence everything that happens? Surely we Westerns, with our native scepticism and strong conscience, cannot be expected to hold a faith so Oriental and fatalistic as that."
But notice to whom the passage is addressed. To religious people, who professedly accept God’s sovereignty, but wish to make an exception in the one case against which they have a prejudice-that a Gentile should be the deliverer of the holy people. Such narrow and imperfect believers are reminded that they must not substitute for faith in God their own ideas of how God ought to work; that they must not limit His operations to their own conception of His past revelations; that God does not always work even by His own precedents; and that many other forces than "conventional and religious ones-yea," even forces as destitute of moral or religious character as Cyrus himself seemed to be-are also in God’s hands, and may be used by Him as means of grace. There is frequent charge made in our day against what are called the more advanced schools of theology, of scepticism and irreverence. But this passage reminds us that the most sceptical and irreverent are those old-fashioned believers, who, clinging to precedent and their own stereotyped notions of things, deny that God’s hands are in a movement, because it is novel and not orthodox. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Moulder; shall the clay say to its moulder, What makest thou?" God did not cease "moulding" when He gave us the canon and our creeds, when He founded the Church and the Sacraments. His hand is still among the clay, and upon time, that great "potter’s wheel," which still moves obedient to His impulse. All the large forward movements, the big things of to-day-commerce, science, criticism however neutral, like Cyrus, their character may be, are, like Cyrus, grasped and anointed by God. Therefore let us show reverence and courage before the great things of to-day. Do not let us scoff at their novelty or grow fearful because they show no orthodox, or even no religious character. God reigns, and He will use them, for what has been the dearest purpose of His heart, the emancipation of true religion, the confirmation of the faithful, the victory of righteousness. When Cyrus rose and the prophet named him as Israel’s deliverer, and the severely orthodox in Israel objected, did God attempt to soothe them by pointing out how admirable a character he was, and how near in religion to the Jews themselves? God did no such thing, but spoke only of the military and political fitness of this great engine, by which He was to batter Babylon. That Cyrus was a quick marcher, a far shooter, an inspirer of fear, a follower up of victory, one who swooped like a "bird-of-prey," one whose weight of war burst through every obstruction, -this is what the astonished pedants are told about the Gentile, to whose Gentileness they had objected. No soft words to calm their bristling orthodoxy, but heavy facts, -an appeal to their common-sense, if they had any, that this was the most practical means for the practical end God had in view. For again we learn ‘the old lesson the prophets are ever so anxious to teach us, "God is wise." He is concerned, not to be orthodox or true to His own precedent, but to be practical, and effective for salvation.
And so, too, in our own day, though we may not see any religious character whatsoever about certain successful movements-say in science, for instance-which are sure to affect the future of the Church and of Faith, do not let us despair, neither deny that they, too, are in the counsels of God. Let us only be sure that they are permitted for some end-some practical end; and watch, with meekness but with vigilance, to see what that end shall be. Perhaps the endowment of the Church with new weapons of truth; perhaps her emancipation from associations which, however ancient, are unhealthy; perhaps her opportunity to go forth upon new heights of vision, new fields of conquest.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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