George Adam Smith.

The book of Isaiah online

. (page 29 of 34)
Online LibraryGeorge Adam SmithThe book of Isaiah → online text (page 29 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

moved, what can remain but a great impatience to
achieve at once the near salvation ? To this impatience


the loosened hearts give voice in vv. 9-1 1 : Awake,
awake, put on strength, Arm of Jehovah; awake as in the
days of old, ages far past! Not in vain have Israel
been called to look back to the rock whence they were
hewn and the hole of the pit whence they were digged.
Locking back, they see the ancient deliverance manifest:
Art thou not it that hewed Rahab in pieces, that pierced
the Dragon ! Art thou not it that dried up the sea, waters
of the great flood; that did set ike hollows of the sea a way
for the passage of the redeemed. Then there breaks
forth the March of the Return, which we heard already
in the end of ch. xxxv.,* and to His people's impatience
Jehovah responds in vv. 9-16 in strains similar to
those of ch. xl. The last verse of this reply is notable
for the enormous extension which it gives to the pur-
pose of Jehovah in endowing Israel as His prophet,
— an extension to no less than the renewal of the
universe, — in order to plant the heavens and found the
earth; though the reply emphatically concludes with
the restoration of Israel, as if this were the cardinal
moment in the universal regeneration, — and to say to
Zion, My people art thou. The close conjunction, into
which this verse brings words already applied to Israel
as the Servant and words which describe Israel as
Zion, is another of the many proofs we are discovering
of the impossibility of breaking up " Second Isaiah " into
poems, the respective subjects of which are one or
other of these two personifications of the nation. \

But the desire of the prophet speeds on before the
returning exiles to the still prostrate and desolate city.
He sees her as she fell, the day the Lord made her
drunken with the cup of His wrath. With urgent

• Isaiah, i.-xxxix., p. 441. f Cf. p. 315.

xlix.-lii. 12.] DOUBTS IN THE WAY. 395

passion he bids her awake, seeking to rouse her now
by the horrid tale of her ruin, and now by his exulta-
tion in the vengeance the Lord is preparing for His
enemies (li. 17-23). In a second strophe he addresses
her in conscious contrast to his taunt-song against Babel.
Babel was to sit throneless and stripped of her splen-
dour in the dust ; but Zion is to shake off the
dust, rise, sit on her throne and assume her majesty.
For God hath redeemed His people. He could not
tolerate longer the exulting of their tyrants, the blasphemy
of His name (lii. 1-6). All through these two strophes
the strength of the passion, the intolerance of further
captivity, the fierceness of the exultation of vengeance,
are very remarkable.

But from the ruin of his city, which has so stirred
and made turbulent his passion, the prophet lifts his hot
eyes to the dear hills that encircle her ; and peace takes
the music from vengeance. Often has Jerusalem seen
rising across that high margin the spears and banners
of her destroyers. But now the lofty skyline is the
lighting place of hope. Fit threshold for so Divine an
arrival, it lifts against heaven, dilated and beautiful,
the herald of the Lord's peace, the publisher of

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him
that bringeih good tidings, that publisheth peace, that
bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation !
Hark thy watchmen J they lift up the voice, together they
break into singing; yea, eye to eye do they see when
Jehovah reiurneth to Zion.

The last verse is a picture of the thronging of the
city of the prophets by the prophets again — so close,
that they shall look each other in the face. For this is
the sense of the Hebrew to see eye in eye, and not that


meaning of reconciliation and agreement which the
phrase has come to have in colloquial English. The
Exile had scattered the prophets and driven them into
hiding. They had been only voices to one another,
like Jeremiah and Ezekiel with the desert between the
two of them, or like our own prophet, anonymous
and unseen. But upon the old gathering-ground, the
narrow but the free and open platform of Jerusalem's
public life, they should see each other face to face, they
should again be named and known. Break out, sing
together, ye wastes of Jerusalem : for Jehovah has com-
forted His people, has redeemed Jerusalem. Bared has
Jehovah His holy arm to the eyes of all the nations, and
see shall all ends of the earth the salvation of our God.

Thus the prophet, after finishing his long argument
and dispelling the doubts that still lingered at its close,
returns to the first high notes and the first dear subject
with which he opened in ch. xl. In face of so open a
way, so unclouded a prospect, nothing remains but to
repeat, and this time with greater strength than before,
the call to leave Babylon :

Draw off, draw off, come forth from there, touch not tne

Come forth from her midst; be ye clean that do bear the

vessels of Jehovah.
Nay, neither with haste shall ye forth, nor it, flight shall

ye go,

For Jehovah goeth before thee, and Israel V Cv<» is thv



Isaiah liv.-lvi. 8.

ONE of the difficult problems of our prophecy
is the relation and grouping of chs. liv.-lix-
It is among them that the unity of " Second Isaiah,"
which up to this point we have seen no reason to doubt,
gives way. Ch. Ivi. 9-lvii. is evidently pre-exilic, and
so is ch. lix. But in chs. liv., lv., and lvi. 1-8 we have
three addresses, evidently dating from the Eve of the
Return. We shall, therefore, treat them together.

I. The Bride the City (ch. liv.).

We have already seen why there is no reason for
the theory that ch. liv. may have followed immediately
on ch. lii. 12.* And from Calvin to Ewald and
Dillmann, critics have all felt a close connection
between ch. lii. 13-liii. and ch. liv. "After having
spoken of the death of Christ," says Calvin, "the
prophet passes on with good reason to the Church :
that we may feel more deeply in ourselves what is the
value and efficacy of His death." Similar in substance,
if not in language, is the opinion of the latest critics,
who understand that in ch. liv. the prophet intends to

* C/pp. 336 fc


picture that full redemption which the Servant's work,
culminating in ch. liii., could alone effect. Two key-
words of ch. liii. had been a seed and many. It is the
seed and the many whom ch. liv. reveals. Again, there
may be, in ver. 17 of ch. liv., a reference to the earlier
picture of the Servant in ch. 1., especially ver. 8. But
this last is uncertain ; and, as a point on the other side,
there are the two different meanings, as well as the two
different agents, of righteousness in ch. liii. II, My
Servant shall make many righteous, and in ch. liv. 17,
their righteousness which is of Me, saith Jehovah. In
the former, righteousness is the inward justification;
in the latter, it is the external historical vindication.

In ch. liv. the people of God are represented under
the double figure, with which the Book of Revelation
has made us familiar, of Bride and City. To imagine
a Nation or a Land as the spouse of her God is a habit
natural to the religious instinct at all times ; the land
deriving her fruitfulness, the nation her standing and
prestige, from her connection with the Deity. But in
ancient times this figure of wedlock was more natural
than it is among us, in so far as the human man and
wife did not then occupy that relation of equality, to
which it has been the progress of civilisation to ap-
proximate ; but the husband was the lord of his wife, —
as much her Baal as the god was the Baal of the people,
— her law-giver, in part her owner, and with full
authority over the origin and subsistence of the bond
between them. Marriage thus conceived was a figure
for religion almost universal among the Semites. But
as in the case of so many other religious ideas common
to the Hebrews and their heathen kin, this one, when
adopted by the prophets of Jehovah, underwent a
thorough moral reformation. Indeed, if one were asked

liv.-lvi. 8.] ON THE EVE OF RETURN. 399

to point out a supreme instance of the operation of that
unique conscience of the religion of Jehovah, which was
spoken of before,* one would have little difficulty in
selecting its treatment of the idea of religious marriage.
By the neighbours of Israel, the marriage of a god to
his people was conceived with a grossness of feeling
and illustrated by a foulness of ritual, which thoroughly
demoralised the people, affording, as they did, to licen-
tiousness the example and sanction of religion. So de-
based had the idea become, and so full of temptation to
the Hebrews were the forms in which it was illustrated
among their neighbours, that the religion of Israel might
justly have been praised for achieving a great moral
victory in excluding the figure altogether from its
system. But the prophets of Jehovah dared the
heavier task of retaining the idea of religious mar-
riage, and won the diviner triumph of purifying and
elevating it. It was, indeed, a new creation. Every
physical suggestion was banished, and the relation was
conceived as purely moral. Yet it was never refined
to a mere form or abstraction. The prophets fearlessly
expressed it in the warmest and most familiar terms of
the love of man and woman. With a stern and abso-
lute interpretation before them in the Divine law, of the
relations of a husband to his wife, they borrowed from
that only so far as to do justice to the Almighty's
initiative and authority in His relation with mortals ;
and they laid far more emphasis on the instinctive and
spontaneous affections, by which Jehovah and Israel
had been drawn together. Thus, among a people
naturally averse to think or to speak of God as loving t

• See pp. 247 ff.

f "Das eigentliche Wort 'Liebe' kommt ira A. T. von Gott fast gar
nicht vor, — und wo es, bei einera spaten Schriftsteller, vorkommt, ist


men, this close relation to Him of marriage was ex-
pressed with a warmth, a tenderness and a delicacy,
that exceeded even the two other fond forms in which
the Divine grace was conveyed, — of a father's and of a
mother's love.

In this new creation of the marriage bond between
God and His church, three prophets had a large share,
— Hosea, Ezekiel and the author of " Second Isaiah."
To Hosea and Ezekiel it fell to speak chiefly of un-
pleasant aspects of the question, — the unfaithfulness of
the wife and her divorce ; but even then, the moral
strength and purity of the Hebrew religion, its Divine
vehemence and glow, w T ere only the more evident for
the unpromising character of the materials with which
it dealt. To our prophet, on the contrary, it fell to
speak of the winning back of the wife, and he has
done so with wonderful delicacy and tenderness. Our
prophet, it is true, has not one, but two, deep feelings
about the love of God : it passes through him as the
love of a mother, as well as the love of a husband.
But while he lets us see the former only twice or thrice,
the latter may be felt as the almost continual under-
current of his prophecy, and often breaks to hearing,
now in a sudden, single ripple of a phrase, and now in a
long tide of marriage music. His lips open for Jehovah
on the language of wooing, — speak ye to the heart of
Jerusalem; and though his masculine figure for Israel
as the Servant keeps his affection hidden for a time,
this emerges again when the subject of Service is
exhausted, till Israel, where she is not Jehovah's

cs Bczeichnung seiner besondren Bundes-liebe zu Israel, deren
natiirliche Kehrseite der Hass gegen die feindlichen VOlker ist."—
Schultz, A. T. Theologie, 4th ed., p. 548.

liv.-lvi. 8.] ON THE EVE OF RETURN. 401

Servant, is Jehovah's Bride. In the series of passages
on Zion, from ch. xlix. to ch. lii., the City is the Mother
of His children, the Wife who though put away has
never been divorced. In ch. Ixii. she is called Hephzi-
Bah, My-delight-is-in-her, and Beulah, or Married,— for
Jehovah delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
For as a youth marrieth a maiden, thy sons shall marry
thee ; and with the joy of a bridegroom over a bride, thy
God shall joy over thee* But it is in the chapter now
before us that the relation is expressed with greatest
tenderness and wealth of affection. Be not afraid, for
thou shall not be shamed ; and be not confounded, for
thou shalt not be put to the blush : for the shame of thy
youth thou shalt forget, and the reproach of thy widowhood
thou shalt not remember again. For thy Maker is thy
Husband, Jehovah of Hosts is His name; and thy
Redeemer the Holy of Israel, God of the whole earth is
He called. For as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit
thou art called of Jehovah, even a wife of youth, when she
is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I
forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.
In an egre of anger * / hid My face a moment from thee,
but with grace everlasting will I have mercy upon thee,
saith thy Redeemer Jehovah.

In this eighth verse we pass from the figure of the
Bride to that of the City, which emerges clear through
flood and storm in ver. 11. Afflicted, Storm-beaten,
Uncomforted, Lo, I am setting in dark metal (antimony,
used by women for painting round the eyes, so as to

* The reserve of this — the limitation of the relation to one of
feeling — is remarkable in contrast to the more physical use of the
same figure in other religions.

t Egre, or sudden rush of the tide, or spate, or freshet. The
original is assonant: B e shesseph qesseph,

VOL. IL 86


set forth their brilliance more) thy stones, — that they
may shine from this setting like women's eyes, — and I
will found thee in sapphires: as heaven's own founda-
tion vault is blue, so shall the ground-stones be of the
New Jerusalem. And I will set rubies for thy pinnacles,
and thy gates shall be sparkling stones* and all thy borders
stones of delight, — stones of joy, jewels. The rest of the
chapter paints the righteousness of Zion as her external
security and splendour.

II. A Last Call to the Busy (ch. lv).

The second address upon the Eve of Return is
ch. lv. Its pure gospel and clear music render detailed
exposition, except on a single point, superfluous. One
can but stand and listen to those great calls to repent-
ance and obedience, which issue from it. What can
be added to them or said about them ? Let one take
heed rather to let them speak to one's own heart ! A
little exploration, however, will be of advantage among
the circumstances from which they shoot.

The commercial character of the opening figures of
ch. lv. arrests the attention. We saw that Babylon
was the centre of the world's trade, and that it was in
Babylon that the Jews first formed those mercantile
habits, which have become, next to religion, or in
place of religion, their national character. Born to be
priests, the Jews drew down their splendid powers of
attention, pertinacity and imagination from God upon
the world, till they equally appear to have been born
traders. They laboured and prospered exceedingly,
gathering property and settling in comfort They

* So literally ; LXX. crystals, carDuncles or diamonds.

liv.-lvi. 8.] ON THE EVE OF RETURN. 403

drank of the streams of Babylon, no longer made bitter
by their tears, and ceased to think upon Zion.

But, of all men, exiles can least forget that there is
that which money can never buy. Money and his
work can do much for the banished man, — feed him,
clothe him, even make for him a kind of second home,
and in time, by the payment of taxes, a kind of second
citizenship ; but they can never bring him to the true
climate of his heart, nor win for him his real life. And
of all exiles the Jew, however free and prosperous in
his banishment he might be, was least able to find his
life among the good things — the water, the wine and
the milk — of a strange country. For home to Israel
meant not only home, but duty, righteousness and
God.* God had created the heart of this people to
hunger for His word, and in His word they could
alone find the fatness of their soul. Success and comfort
shall never satisfy the soul which God has created for
obedience. The simplicity of the obedience that is here
asked from Israel, the emphasis that is laid upon mere
obedience as ringing in full satisfaction, is impressive :
hearken diligently, and eat that which is good; incline
your ear and come unto Me, hear and your soul shall
live. It suggests the number of plausible reasons,
which may be offered for every worldly and material
life, and to which there is no answer save the call of
God's own voice to obedience and surrender. To
obedience God then promises influence. In place of
being a mere trafficker with the nations, or, at best,
their purveyor and money-lender, the Jew, if he
obeys God, shall be the priest and prophet of the
peoples. This is illustrated in vv. 46-6, the only hard

• Cf. Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 440 ff.


passage in the chapter. God will make His people like
David ; whether the historical David or the ideal David
described by Jeremiah and Ezekiel is uncertain.* God
will conclude an everlasting covenant with them, equiva-
lent to the sure favours showered on him. As God set
him for a witness (that is, a prophet) to the peoples, a
prince and a leader to the peoples, so (in phrases that recall
some used by David of himself in the eighteenth Psalm)
shall they as prophets and kings influence strange
nations — calling a nation thou knowest not, and nations
that have not known thee shall run unto thee. The effect of
the unconscious influence, which obedience to God, and
surrender to Him as His instrument, are sure to work,
could not be more grandly -stated. But we ought not
to let another point escape our attention, for it has
its contribution to make to the main question of the

* The structure of this difficult passage is this. Ver. 3 states the
equation : the everlasting covenant with the people Israel = the sure,
unfailing favours bestowed upon the individual David. Vv. 4 and 5
unfold the contents of the equation. Each side of it is introduced by
a Lo. Lo, on the one side, what I have done to David ; Lo, on the other,
what I will do to you. As David was a witness of peoples, a prince and
commander of peoples, so shalt thou call to them and make them obey
thee. This is clear enough. But who is David ? The phrase the
favours of David suggests 2 Chron. vi. 42, remember the mercies of
David thy servant ; and those in ver. 5 recall Psalm xviii. 43 f. : Thou
hast made me the head of nations ; A people I know not shall serve me ;
As soon as they hear of me they shall obey me ; Strangers shall submit
themselves to me. Yet both Jeremiah and Ezekiel call the coming
Messiah David. Jer. xxx. 9 : They shall serve Jehovah their God and
David their King. Ezek. xxxiv. 23 : And I will set up a shepherd over
them, and he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I
Jehovah will be their God, and My servant David prince among the,m.
After these writers, our prophet could hardly help using the name
David in its Messianic sense, even though he also quoted (in ver. 5)
a few phrases recalling the historical David. But the question does
not matter much. The real point is the transference of the favours
bestowed upon an individual to the whole people.

liv.-lvi. 8.] ON THE EVE OF RETURN. 405

Servant. As explained in the note to a sentence above,
it is uncertain whether David is the historical king of that
name, or the Messiah still to come. In either case, he
is an individual, whose functions and qualities are trans-
ferred to the people, and that is the point demanding
attention. If our prophecy can thus so easily speak of
God's purpose of service to the Gentiles passing from
the individual to the nation, why should it not also be
able to speak of the opposite process, the transference
of the service from the nation to the single Servant ?
When the nation were unworthy and unredeemed, could
not the prophet as easily think of the relegation of their
office to an individual, as he now promises to their
obedience that that office shall be restored to them ?

The next verses urgently repeat calls to repentance.
And then comes a passage which is grandly meant to
make us feel the contrast of its scenery with the toil,
the money-getting and the money-spending from which
the chapter started. From all that sordid, barren,
human strife in the markets of Babylon, we are led out
to look at the boundless heavens, and are told that as they
are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our
ways, and God's reckonings than our reckonings ; we are
led out to see the gentle fall of rain and snow that so easily
maketh the earth to bring forth and bud, and give seed to the
sower and bread to the eater, and are told that it is a
symbol of God's word, which we were called from our
vain labours to obey; we are led out to the mountains
and to the hills breaking before you into singing, and
to the free, wild natural trees * tossing their unlopped

* English version, trees of the field, but the field is the country
beyor.d the bounds of cultivation ; and as beasts of the field means
wild beasts, so this means wild trees, — unforced, unaided by man's


branches ; we are led to see even the desert change, for
instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead
of the nettle shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to
Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall
not be cut off. Thus does the prophet, in his own
fashion, lead the starved worldly heart, that has sought
in vain its fulness from its toil, through scenes of
Nature, to that free omnipotent Grace, of which Nature's
processes are the splendid sacraments.

III. Proselytes and Eunuchs (ch. Ivi. 1-8).

The opening verse of this small prophecy, My salva-
tion is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed,
attaches it very closely to the preceding prophecy. If
ch. lv. expounds the grace and faithfulness of God
in the Return of His people, and asks from them only
faith as the price of such benefits, ch. Ivi. 1-8 adds the
demand that those who are to return shall keep the law,
and extends their blessings to foreigners and others,
who though technically disqualified from the privileges
of the born and legitimate Israelite, had attached them-
selves to Jehovah and His Law.

Such a prophecy was very necessary. The disper-
sion of Israel had already begun to accomplish its
missionary purpose ; pious souls in many lands had
felt the spiritual power of this disfigured people, and
had chosen for Jehovah's sake to follow its uncertain
fortunes. It was indispensable that these Gentile con-
verts should be comforted against the withdrawal of
Israel from Babylon, for they said, Jehovah will surely
separate me from His people, as well as against the time
when it might become necessary to purge the restored
community from heathen constituents.* Again, all the

Nch. xiii.

liv.-lvi. 8.] ON THE EVE OF RETURN. 407

male Jews could hardly have escaped the disqualifica-
tion, which the cruel custom of the East inflicted on
some, at least, of every body of captives. It is almost
certain that Daniel and his companions were eunuchs,
and if they, then perhaps many more. But the Book of
Deuteronomy had declared mutilation of this kind to be
a bar against entrance to the assembly of the Lord. It
is not one of the least interesting of the spiritual results
of the Exile, that its necessities compelled the abrogation
of the letter of such a law. With a freedom that fore-
shadows Christ's own expansion of the ancient strict-
ness, and in words that would not be out of place in the
Sermon on the Mount, this prophecy ensures to pious
men, whom cruelty had deprived of the two things
dearest to the heart of an Israelite, — a present place,
and a perpetuation through his posterity, in the com-
munity of God, — that in the new temple a monument*
and a name should be given, better and more enduring
than sons or daughters. This prophecy is further note-
worthy as the first instance of the strong emphasis
which " Second Isaiah " lays upon the keeping of the
Sabbath, and as first calling the temple the House of
Prayer. Both of these characteristics are due, of
course, to the Exile, the necessities of which prevented

Online LibraryGeorge Adam SmithThe book of Isaiah → online text (page 29 of 34)