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Isaiah xlix.-lii. 12.

Chapters xlix.-liii. are, as we have seen, a series of more or less closely joined passages, in which the prophet, having already made the political redemption of Israel certain through Cyrus, and having dismissed Cyrus from his thoughts, addresses himself to various difficulties in the way of restoration, chiefly moral and spiritual, and rising from Israel's own feelings and character; exhorts the people in face of them by Jehovah's faithfulness and power; but finds the chief solution of them in the Servant and his prophetic and expiatory work. We have already studied such of these passages as present the Servant to us, and we now take up those others, which meet the doubts and difficulties in the way of restoration by means of general considerations drawn from God's character and power. Let it be noticed that, with one exception (ch. l. 11),240240   See p. 334. these passages are meant for earnest and pious minds in Israel,—for those Israelites, whose desires are towards Zion, but chill and heavy with doubts.

The form and the terms of these passages are in harmony with their purpose. They are a series of382 short, high-pitched exhortations, apostrophes and lyrics. One, ch. lii. 9-12, calls upon the arm of Jehovah, but all the rest address Zion,—that is, the ideal people in the person of their mother, with whom they ever so fondly identified themselves; or Zion's children; or them that follow righteousness, or ye that know righteousness; or my people, my nation; or again Zion herself. This personification of the people under the name of their city, and under the aspect of a woman, whose children are the individual members of the people, will be before us till the end of our prophecy. It is, of course, a personification of Israel, which is complementary to Israel's other personification under the name of the Servant. The Servant is Israel active, comforting, serving his own members and the nations; Zion, the Mother-City, is Israel passive, to be comforted, to be served by her own sons and by the kings of the peoples.

We may divide the passages into two groups. First, the songs of return, which rise out of the picture of the Servant and his redemption of the people in ch. xlix. 9b, with the long promise and exhortation to Zion and her children, that lasts till the second picture of the Servant in ch. lii. 4; and second, the short pieces which lie between the second picture of the Servant and the third, or from the beginning of ch. li. to ch. lii. 12.


In ch. xlix. 9b God's promise of the return of the redeemed proceeds naturally from that of their ransom by the Servant. It is hailed by a song in ver. 13, and the rest of the section is the answer to three doubts, which, like sobs, interrupt the music. But the prophecy,383 stooping, as it were, to kiss the trembling lips through which these doubts break, immediately resumes its high flight of comfort and promise. Two of these doubts are: ver. 14, But Zion hath said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me; and ver. 24, Shall the prey be taken from the mighty or the captives of the terrible be delivered? The third is implied in ch. l. 1.

The promise of return is as follows: On roads shall they feed, and on all bare heights shall be their pasture. They shall not hunger nor thirst, nor shall the mirage nor the sun smite them: for He that yearneth over them shall lead them, even by springs of water shall He guide them. And I will set all My mountains for a way, and My high ways shall be exalted. Lo, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the North and from the West, and these from the land of Sinim.241241   The question whether this is the land of China is still an open one. The possibility of intercourse between China and Babylon is more than proved. But that there were Jews in China by this time (though they seem to have found their way there by the beginning of the Christian era) is extremely unlikely. Moreover, the possibility of such a name as Sinim for the inhabitants of China at that date has not been proved. No other claimants for the name, however, have made good their case. But we need not enter further into the question. The whole matter is fully discussed in Canon Cheyne's excursus, and by him and Terrien de Lacouperie in the Babylonian and Oriental Record for 1886-87. See especially the number for September 1887. Sing forth, O heavens; and be glad, O earth; let the mountains break forth into singing: for Jehovah hath comforted His people, and over His afflicted He yearneth.

Now, do not let us imagine that this is the promise of a merely material miracle. It is the greater glory of a purely spiritual one, as the prophet indicates in describing its cause in the words, because He that yearneth over them shall lead them. The desert is not to abate its384 immemorial rigours; in itself the way shall still be as hard as when the discredited and heart-broken exiles were driven down it from home to servitude. But their hearts are now changed, and that shall change the road. The new faith, which has made the difference, is a very simple one, that God is Power and that God is Love. Notice the possessive pronouns used by God, and mark what they put into His possession: two kinds of things,—powerful things, I will make all My mountains a way; and sorrowful things, Jehovah hath comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted.242242   His humbled, His poor in the exilic sense of the word. See Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 432 ff. If we will steadfastly believe that everything in the world which is in pain, and everything which has power, is God's, and shall be used by Him, the one for the sake of the other, this shall surely change the way to our feet, and all the world around to our eyes.

1. Only it is so impossible to believe it when one looks at real fact; and however far and swiftly faith and hope may carry us for a time, we always come to ground again and face to face with fact. The prophet's imagination speeding along that green and lifted highway of the Lord lights suddenly upon the end of it,—the still dismantled and desolate city. Fifty years Zion's altar fires have been cold and her walls in ruin. Fifty years she has been bereaved of her children and left alone. The prophet hears the winds blow mournfully through her fact's chill answer to faith. But Zion said, Forsaken me hath Jehovah, and my Lord hath forgotten me! Now let us remember, that our prophet has Zion before him in the figure of a mother, and we shall feel the force of God's reply. It is to a mother's heart God appeals.385 Doth a woman forget her sucking child so as not to yearn over the son of her womb? yea, such may forget, but I will not forget thee, desolate mother that thou art!243243   On the "Motherhood of God" cf. Isaiah i.-xxxix., p. 245 ff. Thy life is not what thou art in outward show and feeling, but what thou art in My love and in My sight. Lo, upon both palms have I graven thee; thy walls are before Me continually. The custom, which to some extent prevails in all nations, of puncturing or tattooing upon the skin a dear name one wishes to keep in mind, is followed in the East chiefly for religious purposes, and men engrave the name of God or some holy text upon the hand or arm for a memorial or as a mark of consecration. It is this fashion which God attributes to Himself. Having measured His love by the love of a mother, He gives this second human pledge for His memory and devotion. But again He exceeds the human habit; for it is not only the name of Zion which is engraved on His hands, but her picture. And it is not her picture, as she lies in her present ruin and solitariness, but her restored and perfect state: thy walls are continually before Me. For this is faith's answer to all the ruin and haggard contradiction of outward fact. Reality is not what we see: reality is what God sees. What a thing is in His sight and to His purpose, that it really is, and that it shall ultimately appear to men's eyes. To make us believe this is the greatest service the Divine can do for the human. It was the service Christ was always doing, and nothing showed His divinity more. He took us men and He called us, unworthy as we were, His brethren, the sons of God. He took such an one as Simon, shifting and unstable, a quicksand of a man, and He said, On this rock I386 will build My Church. A man's reality is not what he is in his own feelings, or what he is to the world's eyes; but what he is to God's love, to God's yearning, and in God's plan. If he believe that, so in the end shall he feel it, so in the end shall he show it to the eyes of the world.

Upon those great thoughts, that God's are all strong things and all weak things, and that the real and the certain in life is His will, the prophecy breaks into a vision of multitudes in motion. There is a great stirring and hastening, crowds gather up through the verses, the land is lifted and thronged. Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all of them gather together, they come unto thee. As I live, saith Jehovah, thou shalt surely clothe thyself with them all as with an ornament, and gird thyself with them, like a bride. For as for thy waste places and thy desolate ones and thy devastated land—yea, thou wilt now be too strait for the inhabitants, and far off shall be they that devoured thee. Again shall they speak in thine ears,—the children of thy bereavement (that is, those children who have been born away from Zion during her solitude), Too strait for me is the place, make me room that I may dwell. And thou shalt say in thine heart, Who hath borne me these,—not begotten, as our English version renders, because the question with Zion was not who was the father of the children, but who, in her own barrenness, could possibly be the mother,—Who hath borne me these, seeing I was first bereft of my children, and since then have been barren, an exile and a castaway! And these, who hath brought them up! Lo, I was left by myself. These,—whence are they! Our English version, which has blundered in the preceding verses, requires no correction in the following; and the first great Doubt in the Way being now answered, for they that387 wait on the Lord shall not be ashamed, we pass to the second, in ver. 24.

2. Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of the tyrant244244   For צדיק, the righteous or just, which is in the text, the Syr., Vulg., Ewald, and others read עריץ, as in the following verse, terrible or terribly strong. Dillmann, however (5th ed., 1890, p. 438), retains צדיק takes the terms mighty and just as used of God, and reads the question, not as a question of despair uttered by the people, but as a triumphant challenge of the prophet or of God Himself. He would then make the next verse run thus: Nay, for the captives of the mighty may be taken, and the prey of the delivered, but with him who strives with thee I will strive. be delivered? Even though God be full of love and thought for Zion, will these tyrants give up her children? Yea, thus saith Jehovah, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be delivered; and with him that quarreleth with thee will I quarrel, and thy children will I save. And I will make thine oppressors to eat their own flesh, and as with new wine with their blood shall they be drunken, that all flesh may know that I am Jehovah thy Saviour, and thy Redeemer the Mighty One of Jacob.

3. But now a third Doubt in the Way seems to have risen. Unlike the two others, it is not directly stated, but we may gather its substance from the reply which Jehovah makes to it (l. 1). Thus saith Jehovah, What is this bill of divorce of your mother whom I have sent away, or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? The form, in which this challenge is put, assumes that the Israelites themselves had been thinking of Jehovah's dismissal of Israel as an irrevocable divorce and a bankrupt sale into slavery.245245   The English version, Where is the bill, is incorrect. The phrase is the same as in lxvi. ver. 1, What is this house that ye build for Me? what is this place for My rest? It implies a house already built; and so in the text above What is this bill of divorce implies one already thought of by the minds of the persons addressed by the question.

"What now is this letter of divorce,—this that you are saying I have given your mother? You say that388 I have sold you as a bankrupt father sells his children,—to which then of my creditors is it that I have sold you?"

The most characteristic effect of sin is that it is always reminding men of law. Whether the moral habit of it be upon them or they are entangled in its material consequences, sin breeds in men the conscience of inexorable, irrevocable law. Its effect is not only practical, but intellectual. Sin not only robs a man of the freedom of his own will, but it takes from him the power to think of freedom in others, and it does not stop till it paralyses his belief in the freedom of God. He, who knows himself as the creature of unchangeable habits or as the victim of pitiless laws, cannot help imputing his own experience to what is beyond him, till all life seems strictly lawbound, the idea of a free agent anywhere an impossibility, and God but a part of the necessity which rules the universe.

Two kinds of generations of men have most tended to be necessitarian in their philosophy,—the generations which have given themselves over to do evil, and the generations whose political experience or whose science has impressed them with the inevitable physical results of sin. If belief in a Divine Redeemer, able to deliver man's nature from the guilt and the curse of sin, is growing weak among us to-day, this is largely due to the fact that our moral and our physical sciences have been proving to us what creatures of law we are, and disclosing, especially in the study of disease and insanity, how inevitably suffering follows sin. God389 Himself has been so much revealed to us as law, that as a generation we find it hard to believe that He ever acts in any fashion that resembles the reversal of a law, or ever works any swift, sudden deed of salvation.

Now the generation of the Exile was a generation, to whom God had revealed Himself as law. They were a generation of convicts. They had owned the justice of the sentence which had banished and enslaved them; they had experienced how inexorably God's processes of judgement sweep down the ages; for fifty years they had been feeling the inevitable consequences of sin. The conscience of Law, which this experience was bound to create in them, grew ever more strong, till at last it absorbed even the hope of redemption, and the God, who enforced the Law, Himself seemed to be forced by it. To express this sense of law these earnest Israelites—for though in error they were in earnest—went to the only kind of law, with which they were familiar, and borrowed from it two of its forms, which were not only suggested to them by the relations in which the nation and the nation's sons respectively stood to Jehovah, as wife and as children, but admirably illustrated the ideas they wished to express. There was, first, the form of divorce, so expressive of the ideas of absoluteness, deliberateness and finality;—of absoluteness, for throughout the East power of divorce rests entirely with the husband; of deliberateness, for in order to prevent hasty divorce the Hebrew law insisted that the husband must make a bill or writing of divorce instead of only speaking dismissal; and of finality, for such a writing, in contrast to the spoken dismissal, set the divorce beyond recall. The other form, which the doubters borrowed from their law, was one, which, while it also illustrated the irrevocableness of the act,390 emphasized the helplessness of the agent,—the act of the father, who put his children away, not as the husband put his wife in his anger, but in his necessity, selling them to pay his debts and because he was bankrupt.

On such doubts God turns with their own language. "I have indeed put your mother away, but where is the bill that makes her divorce final, beyond recall? You indeed were sold, but was it because I was bankrupt? To which, then, of My creditors (note the scorn of the plural) was it that I sold you? Nay, by means of your iniquities did you sell yourselves, and by means of your transgressions were you put away. But I stand here ready as ever to save, I alone. If there is any difficulty about your restoration it lies in this, that I am alone, with no response or assistance from men. Why when I came was there no man? when I called was there none to answer? Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? or is there in it no power to deliver?" And so we come back to the truth, which this prophecy so often presents to us, that behind all things there is a personal initiative and urgency of infinite power, which moves freely of its own compassion and force, which is hindered by no laws from its own ends, and needs no man's co-operation to effect its purposes. The rest of the Lord's answer to His people's fear, that He is bound by an inexorable law, is simply an appeal to His wealth of force. This omnipotence of God is our prophet's constant solution for the problems which arise, and he expresses it here in his favourite figures of physical changes and convulsions of nature. Lo, with My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and sackcloth I set for their covering. The argument seems to be: if391 God can work those sudden revolutions in the physical world, those apparent interruptions of law in that sphere, surely you can believe Him capable of creating sudden revolutions also in the sphere of history, and reversing those laws and processes, which you feel to be unalterable. It is an argument from the physical to the moral world, in our prophet's own analogical style, and like those we found in ch. xl.

II. li.-lii. 12.

Passing over the passage on the Servant, ch. l. 4-11, we reach a second series of exhortations in face of Doubts in the Way of the Return. The first of this new series is li. 1-3.

Their doubts having been answered with regard to God's mindfulness of them and His power to save them, the loyal Israelites fall back to doubt themselves. They see with dismay how few are ready to achieve the freedom that God has assured, and upon how small and insignificant a group of individuals the future of the nation depends. But their disappointment is not made by them an excuse to desert the purpose of Jehovah: their fewness makes them the more faithful, and the defection of their countrymen drives them the closer to their God. Therefore, God speaks to them kindly, and answers their last sad doubt. Hearken unto Me, ye that follow righteousness, that seek Jehovah. Righteousness here might be taken in its inward sense of conformity to law, personal rightness of character; and so taken it would well fall in with the rest of the passage. Those addressed would then be such in Israel, as in face of hopeless prospects applied themselves to virtue and religion. But righteousness here is more probably used in the outward sense, which we have found prevalent392 in "Second Isaiah," of vindication and victory; the "coming right" of God's people and God's cause in the world, their justification and triumph in history.246246   Cf. p. 221. Dillmann's view that righteousness means here personal character is contradicted by the whole context, which makes it plain that it is something external, the realisation of which those addressed are doubting. What troubles them is not that they are personally unrighteous, but that they are so few and insignificant. And what God promises them in answer is something external, the establishment of Zion. Cf. also the external meaning of righteousness in vv. 5, 6. They who are addressed will then be they who, in spite of their fewness, believe in this triumph, follow it, make it their goal and their aim, and seek Jehovah, knowing that He can bring it to pass. And because, in spite of their doubts, they are still earnest, and though faint are yet pursuing, God speaks to comfort them about their fewness. Their present state may be very small and unpromising, but let them look back upon the much more unpromising character of their origin: look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. To-day you may be a mere handful, ridiculous in the light of the destiny you are called to achieve, but remember you were once but one man: look unto Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bare you: for as one I called him and blessed him, that I might make of him many.

When we are weary and hopeless it is best to sit down and remember. Is the future dark: let us look back and see the gathering and impetus of the past! We can follow the luminous track, the unmistakable increase and progress, but the most inspiring sight of all is what God makes of the individual heart; how a man's heart is always His beginning, the fountain of the future, the origin of nations. Lift up your hearts, ye393 few and feeble; your father was but one when I called him, and I made him many!

Having thus assured His loyal remnant of the restoration of Zion, in spite of their fewness, Jehovah in the next few verses (4-8) extends the prospect of His glory to the world: Revelation shall go forth from Me, and I will make My Law to light on the nations. Revelation and Law between them summarise His will. As He identified them both with the Servant's work (ch. xl. 11), so here He tells the loyal in Israel, who were in one aspect His Servant, that they shall surely come to pass; and in the next little oracle, vv. 7, 8, He exhorts them to do that in which the Servant has been set forth as an example: fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be dismayed at their revilings. For like a garment the moth shall eat them up, and like wool shall the worm devour them. It is a response in almost the same words to the Servant's profession of confidence in God in ch. l. 7-9. By some it is used as an argument to show that the Servant and the godly remnant are to our prophet still virtually one and the same; but we have already seen (ch. l. 10) the godfearing addressed as distinct from the Servant, and can only understand here that they are once more exhorted to take him as their example. But if the likeness of the passage on the Servant to this passage on the suffering Remnant does not prove that Remnant and Servant are the same, it is certainly an indication that both passages, so far from being pieced together out of different poems, are most probably due to the same author and were produced originally in the same current of thought.

When all Doubts in the Way have now been removed, what can remain but a great impatience to achieve at once the near salvation? To this impatience394 the loosened hearts give voice in vv. 9-11: 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. Looking 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 the 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.,247247   Isaiah. i.-xxxix., p. 441. 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 purpose 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.248248   Cf. p. 315.

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 urgent395 passion he bids her awake, seeking to rouse her now by the horrid tale of her ruin, and now by his exultation 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 splendour 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 salvation.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation! Hark thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together they break into singing; yea, eye to eye do they see when Jehovah returneth 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 that396 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 comforted 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 the unclean;
Come forth from her midst; be ye clean that do bear the vessels of Jehovah.
Nay, neither with haste shall ye forth, nor in flight shall ye go,
For Jehovah goeth before thee, and Israel's God is thy rearward.

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