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Title: The Expositor's Bible: The Book of Isaiah, Volume 2 (of 2)

Author: George Adam Smith

Editor: Sir W. Robertson Nicoll

Release date: September 8, 2013 [eBook #43672]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Douglas L. Alley, III, Colin Bell and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
(This file was produced from images generously made
available by The Internet Archive)


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Editor of "The Expositor," etc.







[Pg ii]


Edited by the Rev. W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, M.A., LL.D.

Crown 8vo, cloth, price 7s. 6d. each vol.

First Series, 1887-88.

By A. Maclaren, D.D.

St. Mark.
By Very Rev. the Dean of Armagh.

By Prof. Marcus Dods, D.D.

Samuel, I.
By Prof. W. G. Blaikie, D.D.

Samuel, II.
By the same Author.

By Principal T. C. Edwards, D.D.

Second Series, 1888-89.

By Prof. G. G. Findlay, B.A.

The Pastoral Epistles.
By Rev. A. Plummer, D.D.

Isaiah i.-xxxix.
By G. A. Smith, M.A. Vol. I.

The Book of Revelation.
By Prof. W. Milligan, D.D.

1 Corinthians.
By Prof. Marcus Dods, D.D.

The Epistles of St. John.
By Rt. Rev. W. Alexander, D.D.

Third Series, 1889-90.

Judges and Ruth.
By Rev. R. A. Watson, M.A.

By Rev. C. J. Ball, M.A.

Isaiah xl.-lxvi.
By G. A. Smith, M.A. Vol. II.

St. Matthew.
By Rev. J. Monro Gibson, D.D.

By Very Rev. the Dean of Armagh.

St. Luke.
By Rev. H. Burton, B.A.

Fourth Series, 1890-91.

By Rev. Samuel Cox, D.D.

St. James and St. Jude.
By Rev. A. Plummer, D.D.

By Rev. R. F. Horton, M.A.

By Rev. S. H. Kellogg, D.D.

St. John.
By Prof. Marcus Dods, D.D. Vol. I.

The Acts of the Apostles.
By Rev. Prof. G. T. Stokes, D.D.

London: HODDER & STOUGHTON, 27, Paternoster Row.

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Minister of Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen





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Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

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Table of Dates viii
Introduction ix
chap   page
  701-587 b.c.  
  From 597 till about 550 b.c.  
  Isaiah xl. 1-11.  
  Isaiah xl. 12-31.  
  Isaiah xli.  
  Isaiah xlii. 13-17.  
  Isaiah xliii.-xlviii.  
X. CYRUS 162
  Isaiah xli. 2, 25; xliv. 28-xlv. 13; xlvi. 11; xlviii. 14, 15.  
  Isaiah xlvi.  
  Isaiah xlvii.  
  Isaiah xlviii.  
  Isaiah xl.-lxvi.  
  Isaiah xli. 8-20, xlii.-xliii.  
  Isaiah xli. 8-20; xlii. 1-7, 18 ff.; xliii. 5-10; xlix. 1-9; l. 4-11; lii. 13-liii.  
  Isaiah xlii. 1-7.  
  Isaiah xlix. 1-9; l, 4-11.  
  Isaiah lii. 13-liii.  
BOOK IV.[Pg vii]
  Isaiah xlix.-lii. 12.  
  Isaiah liv.-lvi. 8.  
  Isaiah lvi. 9-lix.  
  Isaiah lx.-lxiii. 7.  
  Isaiah lxiii. 7-lxvi.  
Index of Chapters 469
Index of Subjects 471

[Pg viii]


721. Fall of Samaria. Captivity of Northern Israel.
701. Deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib.
696?-641. Reign of Manasseh. Supposed time of Isaiah's death.
630. Josiah's Reformation begun.
629 or 628. Jeremiah called to be a prophet.
621. The Book of Deuteronomy discovered.
607. Fall of Nineveh and Assyria. Babylon supreme.
599-598. Siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar. First Captivity of the Jews.
594. Ezekiel begins to prophesy in Chaldea.
587. Destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar. Second Captivity of the Jews. Flight of many Jews with Jeremiah to Egypt.
585. Battle of the Eclipse. Triple League: Babylon, Media, Lydia.
561. Nebuchadrezzar dies. Evil-Merodach succeeds.
559. Neriglissar succeeds Evil-Merodach.
554. Nabunahid or Nabonidos usurps the throne of Babylon. Harder times for the Jews.
549. Fall of Median monarchy before Cyrus.
545. Cyrus attacks Babylonia from the north, and is repulsed. Invades Lydia, and takes Sardis and King Crœsus.
538. Cyrus captures Babylon.
  Permission to the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Zerubbabel, Joshua.

529. Cyrus dies. Cambyses sole king.
522. Cambyses dies.
521. Babylon revolts. Retaken by Darius
486. Xerxes succeeds Darius.
466. Artaxerxes Longimanus.
458. Second great return of Jews. Ezra.
401. Revolt and defeat of Cyrus. The Anabasis.

[Pg ix]


This volume upon Isaiah xl.-lxvi. carries on the exposition of the Book of Isaiah from the point reached by the author's previous volume in the same series. But as it accepts these twenty-seven chapters, upon their own testimony, as a separate prophecy from a century and a half later than Isaiah himself, in a style and on subjects not altogether the same as his, and as it accordingly pursues a somewhat different method of exposition from the previous volume, a few words of introduction are again necessary.

The greater part of Isaiah i.-xxxix. was addressed to a nation upon their own soil,—with their temple, their king, their statesmen, their tribunals and their markets,—responsible for the discharge of justice and social reform, for the conduct of foreign policies and the defence of the fatherland. But chs. xl.-lxvi. came to a people wholly in exile, and partly in servitude, with no civic life and few social responsibilities: a people in the passive state, with occasion for the exercise of almost no qualities save those of penitence and patience, of memory and hope. This difference between the two parts of the Book is summed up in their respective uses of the word Righteousness. In Isaiah i.-xxxix., or at least in such of these chapters as refer to Isaiah's own day, righteousness is man's moral and religious duty, in its contents of piety, purity, justice[Pg x] and social service. In Isaiah xl.-lxvi. righteousness (except in a very few cases) is something which the people expect from God—their historical vindication by His restoral and reinstatement of them as His people.

It is, therefore, evident that what rendered Isaiah's own prophecies of so much charm and of so much meaning to the modern conscience—their treatment of those political and social questions which we have always with us—cannot form the chief interest of chapters xl.-lxvi. But the empty place is taken by a series of historical and religious questions of supreme importance. Into the vacuum created in Israel's life by the Exile, there comes rushing the meaning of the nation's whole history—all the conscience of their past, all the destiny with which their future is charged. It is not with the fortunes and duties of a single generation that this great prophecy has to do: it is with a people in their entire significance and promise. The standpoint of the prophet may be the Exile, but his vision ranges from Abraham to Christ. Besides the business of the hour,—the deliverance of Israel from Babylon,—the prophet addresses himself to these questions: What is Israel? What is Israel's God? How is Jehovah different from other gods? How is Israel different from other peoples? He recalls the making of the nation, God's treatment of them from the beginning, all that they and Jehovah have been to each other and to the world, and especially the meaning of this latest judgement of Exile. But the instruction and the impetus of that marvellous past he uses in order to interpret and proclaim the still more glorious future,—the ideal, which God has set before His people, and in the realisation of which their history shall culminate. It is here that the[Pg xi] Spirit of God lifts the prophet to the highest station in prophecy—to the richest consciousness of spiritual religion—to the clearest vision of Christ.

Accordingly, to expound Isaiah xl.-lxvi. is really to write the religious history of Israel. A prophet whose vision includes both Abraham and Christ, whose subject is the whole meaning and promise of Israel, cannot be adequately interpreted within the limits of his own text or of his own time. Excursions are necessary both to the history that is behind him, and to the history that is still in front of him. This is the reason of the appearance in this volume of chapters whose titles seem at first beyond its scope—such as From Isaiah to the Fall of Jerusalem: What Israel took into Exile: One God, One People: The Servant of the Lord in the New Testament. Moreover, much of this historical matter has an interest that is only historical. If in Isaiah's own prophecies it is his generation's likeness to ourselves, which appeals to our conscience, in chs. xl.-lxvi. of the Book called by his name it is Israel's unique meaning and office for God in the world, which we have to study. We are called to follow an experience and a discipline unshared by any other generation of men; and to interest ourselves in matters that then happened once for all, such as the victory of the One God over the idols, or His choice of a single people through whom to reveal Himself to the world. We are called to watch work, which that representative and priestly people did for humanity, rather than, as in Isaiah's own prophecies, work which has to be repeated by each new generation in its turn, and to-day also by ourselves. This is the reason why in an exposition of Isaiah xl.-lxvi., like the present volume, there should be a good deal more of historical recital, and a good[Pg xii] deal less of practical application, than in the exposition of Isaiah i.-xxxix.

At the same time we must not suppose that there is not very much in Isaiah xl.-lxvi. with which to stir our own consciences and instruct our own lives. For, to mention no more, there is that sense of sin with which Israel entered exile, and which has made the literature of Israel's Exile the confessional of the world; there is that great unexhausted programme of the Service of God and Man, which our prophet lays down as Israel's duty and example to humanity; and there is that prophecy of the virtue and glory of vicarious suffering for sin, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Cross.

I have found it necessary to devote more space to critical questions than in the previous volume. Chs. xl.-lxvi. approach more nearly to a unity than chs. i.-xxxix.: with very few exceptions they lie in chronological order. But they are not nearly so clearly divided and grouped: their connection cannot be so briefly or so lucidly explained. The form of the prophecy is dramatic, but the scenes and the speakers are not definitely marked off. In spite of the chronological advance, which we shall be able to trace, there are no clear stages—not even, as we shall see, at those points at which most expositors divide the prophecy, the end of ch. xlix. and of ch. lviii. The prophet pursues simultaneously several lines of thought; and though the close of some of these and the rise of others may be marked to a verse, his frequent passages from one to another are often almost imperceptible. He everywhere requires a more continuous translation, a closer and more elaborate exegesis, than were necessary for Isaiah i.-xxxix.

[Pg xiii]

In order to effect some general arrangement and division of Isa. xl.-lxvi. it is necessary to keep in view that the immediate problem which the prophet had before him was twofold. It was political, and it was spiritual. There was, first of all, the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, according to the ancient promises of Jehovah: to this were attached such questions as Jehovah's omnipotence, faithfulness and grace; the meaning of Cyrus; the condition of the Babylonian Empire. But after their political deliverance from Babylon was assured, there remained the really larger problem of Israel's spiritual readiness for the freedom and the destiny to which God was to lead them through the opened gates of their prison-house: to this were attached such questions as the original calling and mission of Israel; the mixed and paradoxical character of the people; their need of a Servant from the Lord, since they themselves had failed to be His Servant; the coming of this Servant, his methods and results.

This twofold division of the prophet's problem will not, it is true, strike his prophecy into separate and distinct groups of chapters. He who attempts such a division simply does not understand "Second Isaiah." But it will make clear to us the different currents of the sacred argument, which flow sometimes through and through one another, and sometimes singly and in succession; and it will give us a plan for grouping the twenty-seven chapters very nearly, if not quite, in the order in which they lie.

On these principles, the following exposition is divided into Four Books. The First is called The Exile: it contains an argument for placing the date of the prophecy about 550 b.c., and brings the history of Israel down to that date from the time of Isaiah; it[Pg xiv] states the political and spiritual sides of the double problem to which the prophecy is God's answer; it describes what Israel took with them into exile, and what they learned and suffered there, till, after half a century, the herald voices of our prophecy broke upon their waiting ears. The Second Book, The Lord's Deliverance, discusses the political redemption from Babylon, with the questions attached to it about God's nature and character, about Cyrus and Babylon, or all of chs. xl.-xlviii., except the passages about the Servant, which are easily detached from the rest, and refer rather to the spiritual side of Israel's great problem. The Third Book, The Servant of the Lord, expounds all the passages on that subject, both in chs. xl.-xlviii. and in chs. xlix.-liii., with the development of the subject in the New Testament, and its application to our life to-day. The Servant and his work are the solution of all the spiritual difficulties in the way of the people's Return and Restoration. To these latter and their practical details the rest of the prophecy is devoted; that is, all chs. xlix.-lxvi., except the passages on the Servant, and these chapters are treated in the Fourth Book of this volume, The Restoration.

As much as possible of the merely critical discussion has been put in Chapter I., or in the opening paragraphs of the other chapters, or in foot-notes. A new translation from the original (except where a few verses have been taken from the Revised English Version) has been provided for nearly the whole prophecy. Where the rhythm of the original is at all discernible, the translation has been made in it. But it must be kept in mind that this reproduction of the original rhythm is only approximate, and that in it no attempt has been made to elegance; its chief aim being to make[Pg xv] clear the order and the emphases of the original. The translation is almost quite literal.

Having felt the want of a clear account of the prophet's use of his great key-word Righteousness, I have inserted for students, at the end of Book II., a chapter on this term. Summaries of our prophet's use of such cardinal terms as Mishpat, R'ishonoth, The Isles, etc., will be found in notes. For want of space I have had to exclude some sections on the Style of Isaiah, xl.-lxvi., on the Influence of Monotheism on the Imagination, and on What Isaiah xl.-lxvi. owes to Jeremiah. This debt, as we shall be able to trace, is so great that "Second Jeremiah" would be a title no less proper for the prophecy than "Second Isaiah."

I had also wished to append a chapter on Commentaries on the Book of Isaiah. No Scripture has been so nobly served by its commentaries. To begin with there was Calvin, and there is Calvin,—still as valuable as ever for his strong spiritual power, his sanity, his moderation, his sensitiveness to the changes and shades of the prophet's meaning. After him Vitringa, Gesenius, Hitzig, Ewald, Delitzsch, all the great names of the past in Old Testament criticism, are connected with Isaiah. In recent years (besides Nägelsbach in Lange's Bibelwerk) we have had Cheyne's two volumes, too well known both here and in Germany to need more than mention; Bredenkamp's clear and concise exposition, the characteristic of which is an attempt—not, however, successful—to distinguish authentic prophecies of Isaiah in the disputed chapters; Orelli's handy volume (in Strack and Zöckler's compendious Commentary, and translated into English by Professor Banks in Messrs. Clarks' Foreign Theological Library), from the conservative side, but accepting, as[Pg xvi] Delitzsch does in his last edition, the dual authorship; and this year Dillmann's great work, replacing Knobel's in the "Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch" series. I regret that I did not receive Dillmann's work till more than half of this volume was written. English students will have all they can possibly need if they can add Dillmann to Delitzsch and Cheyne, though Calvin and Ewald must never be forgotten. Professor Driver's Isaiah: His Life and Times is a complete handbook to the prophet. On the theology, besides the relevant portions of Schultz's Alt-Testamentliche Theologie (4th ed., 1889), and Duhm's Theologie der Propheten, the student will find invaluable Professor Robertson Smith's Prophets of Israel for Isaiah i.-xxxix., and Professor A. B. Davidson's papers in the Expositor for 1884 on the theology of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. There are also Krüger's able and lucid Essai sur la Théologie d'Isaïe xl.-lxvi. (Paris, 1882), and Guthe's Das Zukunftsbild Jesaias, and Barth's and Giesebrecht's respective Beiträge zur Jesaiakritik, the latter published this year.

In conclusion, I have to express my thanks for the very great assistance which I have derived in the composition of both volumes from my friend the Rev. Charles Anderson Scott, B.A., who has sought out facts, read nearly all the proofs and helped to prepare the Index.

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The problem of the date of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. is this: In a book called by the name of the prophet Isaiah, who flourished between 740 and 700 b.c., the last twenty-seven chapters deal with the captivity suffered by the Jews in Babylonia from 598 to 538, and more particularly with the advent, about 550, of Cyrus, whom they name. Are we to take for granted that Isaiah himself prophetically wrote these chapters, or must we assign them to a nameless author or authors of the period of which they treat?

Till the end of last century it was the almost universally accepted tradition, and even still is an opinion retained by many, that Isaiah was carried forward by the Spirit, out of his own age to the standpoint of one hundred and fifty years later; that he was inspired to utter the warning and comfort required by a generation so very different from his own, and was even enabled to hail by name their redeemer, Cyrus. This theory, involving as it does a phenomenon without parallel in the history of Holy Scripture, is based on these two grounds: first, that the chapters in question form a considerable part—nearly nine-twentieths—of the "Book of Isaiah;" and second, that portions of them are quoted in the New Testament by the prophet's name. The[Pg 4] theory is also supported by arguments drawn from resemblances of style and vocabulary between these twenty-seven chapters and the undisputed oracles of Isaiah; but, as the opponents of the Isaian authorship also appeal to vocabulary and style, it will be better to leave this kind of evidence aside for the present, and to discuss the problem upon other and less ambiguous grounds.

The first argument, then, for the Isaian authorship of chapters xl.-lxvi. is that they form part of a book called by Isaiah's name. But, to be worth anything, this argument must rest on the following facts: that everything in a book called by a prophet's name is necessarily by that prophet, and that the compilers of the book intended to hand it down as altogether from his pen. Now there is no evidence for either of these conclusions. On the contrary, there is considerable testimony in the opposite direction. The Book of Isaiah is not one continuous prophecy. It consists of a number of separate orations, with a few intervening pieces of narrative. Some of these orations claim to be Isaiah's own: they possess such titles as The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz.[1] But such titles describe only the individual prophecies they head, and other portions of the book, upon other subjects and in very different styles, do not possess titles at all. It seems to me, that those, who maintain the Isaian authorship of the whole book, have the responsibility cast upon them of[Pg 5] explaining why some chapters in it should be distinctly said to be by Isaiah, while others should not be so entitled. Surely this difference affords us sufficient ground for understanding, that the whole book is not necessarily by Isaiah, nor intentionally handed down by its compilers as the work of that prophet.[2]

Now, when we come to chs. xl.-lxvi., we find that, occurring in a book which we have just seen no reason for supposing to be in every part of it by Isaiah, these chapters nowhere claim to be his. They are separated from that portion of the book, in which his undisputed oracles are placed, by a historical narrative of considerable length. And there is not anywhere upon them nor in them a title nor other statement that they are by the prophet, nor any allusion which could give the faintest support to the opinion, that they offer themselves to posterity as dating from his time. It is safe to say, that, if they had come to us by themselves, no one would have dreamt for an instant of ascribing them to Isaiah; for the alleged resemblances, which their language and style bear to his language and style, are far more than overborne by the undoubted differences, and have never been employed, even by the defenders of the Isaian authorship, except in additional and confessedly slight support of their main argument, viz. that the chapters must be Isaiah's because they are included in a book called by his name.

Let us understand, therefore, at this very outset, that[Pg 6] in discussing the question of the authorship of "Second Isaiah," we are not discussing a question, upon which the text itself makes any statement, or into which the credibility of the text enters. No claim is made by the Book of Isaiah itself for the Isaian authorship of chs. xl.-lxvi.

A second fact in Scripture, which seems at first sight to make strongly for the unity of the Book of Isaiah, is that in the New Testament, portions of the disputed chapters are quoted by Isaiah's name, just as are portions of his admitted prophecies. These citations are nine in number.[3] None is by our Lord Himself. They occur in the Gospels, Acts and Paul. Now if any of these quotations were given in answer to the question, Did Isaiah write chs. xl.-lxvi. of the book called by his name? or if the use of his name along with them were involved in the arguments which they are borrowed to illustrate (as, for instance, is the case with David's name in the quotation made by our Lord from Psalm cx.), then those who deny the unity of the Book of Isaiah would be face to face with a very serious problem indeed. But in none of the nine cases is the authorship of the Book of Isaiah in question. In none of the nine cases is there anything in the argument, for the purpose of which the quotation has been made, that depends on the quoted words being by Isaiah. For the purposes, for which the Evangelists and Paul borrow the texts, these might as well be unnamed, or attributed to any other canonical writer. Nothing in them requires us to suppose that Isaiah's name is mentioned with them for any other end than that of reference, viz., to point out[Pg 7] that they lie in the part of prophecy usually known by his name. But, if there is nothing in these citations to prove that Isaiah's name is being used for any other purpose than that of reference, then it is plain—and this is all that we ask assent to at the present time—that they do not offer the authority of Scripture as a bar to our examining the evidence of the chapters in question.

It is hardly necessary to add that neither is there any other question of doctrine in our way. There is none about the nature of prophecy, for, to take an example, ch. liii., as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, is surely as great a marvel if you date it from the Exile as if you date it from the age of Isaiah. And, in particular, let us understand that no question need be started about the ability of God's Spirit to inspire a prophet to mention Cyrus by name one hundred and fifty years before Cyrus appeared. The question is not, Could a prophet have been so inspired?—to which question, were it put, our answer might only be, God is great!—but the question is, Was our prophet so inspired? does he himself offer evidence of the fact? Or, on the contrary, in naming Cyrus does he give himself out as a contemporary of Cyrus, who already saw the great Persian above the horizon? To this question only the writings under discussion can give us an answer. Let us see what they have to say.

Apart from the question of the date, no chapters in the Bible are interpreted with such complete unanimity as Isa. xl.-xlviii. They plainly set forth certain things as having already taken place—the Exile and Captivity, the ruin of Jerusalem, and the devastation of the Holy Land. Israel is addressed as having exhausted the time of her penalty, and is proclaimed to be ready for deliverance. Some of the people are comforted as[Pg 8] being in despair because redemption does not draw near; others are exhorted to leave the city of their bondage, as if they were growing too familiar with its idolatrous life. Cyrus is named as their deliverer, and is pointed out as already called upon his career, and as blessed with success by Jehovah. It is also promised that he will immediately add Babylon to his conquests, and so set God's people free.

Now all this is not predicted, as if from the standpoint of a previous century. It is nowhere said—as we should expect it to be said, if the prophecy had been uttered by Isaiah—that Assyria, the dominant world-power of Isaiah's day, was to disappear and Babylon to take her place; that then the Babylonians should lead the Jews into an exile which they had escaped at the hands of Assyria; and that after nearly seventy years of suffering God would raise up Cyrus as a deliverer. There is none of this prediction, which we might fairly have expected had the prophecy been Isaiah's; because, however far Isaiah carries us into the future, he never fails to start from the circumstances of his own day. Still more significant, however—there is not even the kind of prediction that we find in Jeremiah's prophecies of the Exile, with which indeed it is most instructive to compare Isa. xl.-lxvi. Jeremiah also spoke of exile and deliverance, but it was always with the grammar of the future. He fairly and openly predicted both; and, let us especially remember, he did so with a meagreness of description, a reserve and reticence about details, which are simply unintelligible if Isa. xl.-lxvi. was written before his day, and by so well-known a prophet as Isaiah. No: in the statements, which our chapters make concerning the Exile and the condition of Israel[Pg 9] under it, there is no prediction, not the slightest trace of that grammar of the future in which Jeremiah's prophecies are constantly uttered. But there is a direct appeal to the conscience of a people already long under the discipline of God; their circumstance of exile is taken for granted; there is a most vivid and delicate appreciation of their present fears and doubts, and to these the deliverer Cyrus is not only named, but introduced as an actual and notorious personage already upon the midway of his irresistible career.

These facts are more broadly based than just at first sight appears. You cannot turn their flank by the argument that Hebrew prophets were in the habit of employing in their predictions what is called "the prophetic perfect"—that is, that in the ardour of their conviction that certain things would take place they talked of these, as the flexibility of the Hebrew tenses allowed them to do, in the past or perfect as if the things had actually taken place. No such argument is possible in the case of the introduction of Cyrus. For it is not only that the prophecy, with what might be the mere ardour of vision, represents the Persian as already above the horizon and upon the flowing tide of victory; but that, in the course of a sober argument for the unique divinity of the God of Israel, which takes place throughout chs. xli.-xlviii., Cyrus, alive and irresistible, already accredited by success, and with Babylonia at his feet, is pointed out as the unmistakable proof that former prophecies of a deliverance for Israel are at last coming to pass. Cyrus, in short, is not presented as a prediction, but as the proof that a prediction is being fulfilled. Unless he had already appeared in flesh and blood, and was on the point of striking at Babylon, with all the prestige of unbroken[Pg 10] victory, a great part of Isa. xli.-xlviii. would be utterly unintelligible.

This argument is so conclusive for the date of Second Isaiah, that it may be well to state it a little more in detail, even at the risk of anticipating some of the exposition of the text.

Among the Jews at the close of the Exile there appear to have been two classes. One class was hopeless of deliverance, and to their hearts is addressed such a prophecy as ch. xl.: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people. But there was another class, of opposite temperament, who had only too strong opinions on the subject of deliverance. In bondage to the letter of Scripture and to the great precedents of their history, these Jews appear to have insisted that the Deliverer to come must be a Jew, and a descendant of David. And the bent of much of the prophet's urgency in ch. xlv. is to persuade those pedants, that the Gentile Cyrus, who had appeared to be not only the biggest man of his age, but the very likely means of Israel's redemption, was of Jehovah's own creation and calling. Does not such an argument necessarily imply that Cyrus was already present, an object of doubt and debate to earnest minds in Israel? Or are we to suppose that all this doubt and debate were foreseen, rehearsed and answered one hundred and fifty years before the time by so famous a prophet as Isaiah, and that, in spite of his prediction and answer, the doubt and debate nevertheless took place in the minds of the very Israelites, who were most earnest students of ancient prophecy? The thing has only to be stated to be felt to be impossible.

But besides the pedants in Israel, there is apparent through these prophecies another body of men, against[Pg 11] whom also Jehovah claims the actual Cyrus for His own. They are the priests and worshippers of the heathen idols. It is well known that the advent of Cyrus cast the Gentile religions of the time and their counsellors into confusion. The wisest priests were perplexed; the oracles of Greece and Asia Minor either were dumb when consulted about the Persian, or gave more than usually ambiguous answers. Over against this perplexity and despair of the heathen religions, our prophet confidently claims Cyrus for Jehovah's own. In a debate in ch. xli., in which he seeks to establish Jehovah's righteousness—that is, Jehovah's faithfulness to His word, and power to carry out His predictions—the prophet speaks of ancient prophecies which have come from Jehovah, and points to Cyrus as their fulfilment. It does not matter to us in the meantime what those prophecies were. They may have been certain of Jeremiah's predictions; we may be sure that they cannot have contained anything so definite as Cyrus' name, or such a proof of Divine foresight must certainly have formed part of the prophet's plea. It is enough that they could be quoted; our business is rather with the evidence which the prophet offers of their fulfilment. That evidence is Cyrus. Would it have been possible to refer the heathen to Cyrus as proof that those ancient prophecies were being fulfilled, unless Cyrus had been visible to the heathen,—unless the heathen had been beginning already to feel this Persian "from the sunrise" in all his weight of war? It is no esoteric doctrine which the prophet is unfolding to initiated Israelites about Cyrus. He is making an appeal to men of the world to face facts. Could he possibly have made such an appeal unless the facts had been there, unless Cyrus had been within the ken of[Pg 12] "the natural man"? Unless Cyrus and his conquests were already historically present, the argument in xli.-xlviii. is unintelligible.

If this evidence for the exilic date of Isa. xl.-xlviii.—for all these chapters hang together—required any additional support, it would find it in the fact that the prophet does not wholly treat of what is past and over, but makes some predictions as well. Cyrus is on the way of triumph, but Babylon has still to fall by his hand. Babylon has still to fall, before the exiles can go free. Now, if our prophet were predicting from the standpoint of one hundred and forty years before, why did he make this sharp distinction between two events which appeared so closely together? If he had both the advent of Cyrus and the fall of Babylon in his long perspective, why did he not use "the prophetic perfect" for both? That he speaks of the first as past and of the second as still to come, would most surely, if there had been no tradition the other way, have been accepted by all as sufficient evidence, that the advent of Cyrus was behind him and the fall of Babylon still in front of him, when he wrote these chapters.

Thus the earlier part, at least, of Isa. xl.-lxvi.—that is, chs. xl.-xlviii.—compels us to date it between 555, Cyrus' advent, and 538, Babylon's fall. But some think that we may still further narrow the limits. In ch. xli. 25, Cyrus, whose own kingdom lay east of Babylonia, is described as invading Babylonia from the north. This, it has been thought, must refer to his union with the Medes in 549, and his threatened descent upon Mesopotamia from their quarter of the prophet's horizon.[4] If it be so, the possible years[Pg 13] of our prophecy are reduced to eleven, 549-538. But even if we take the wider and more certain limit, 555 to 538, we may well say that there are very few chapters in the whole of the Old Testament whose date can be fixed so precisely as the date of chs. xl.-xlviii.

If what has been unfolded in the preceding paragraphs is recognised as the statement of the chapters themselves, it will be felt that further evidence of an exilic date is scarcely needed. And those, who are acquainted with the controversy upon the evidence furnished by the style and language of the prophecies, will admit how far short in decisiveness it falls of the arguments offered above. But we may fairly ask whether there is anything opposed to the conclusion we have reached, either, first, in the local colour of the prophecies; or, second, in their language; or, third, in their thought—anything which shows that they are more likely to have been Isaiah's than of exilic origin.

1. It has often been urged against the exilic date of these prophecies, that they wear so very little local colour, and one of the greatest of critics, Ewald, has felt himself, therefore, permitted to place their home, not in Babylonia, but in Egypt, while he maintains the exilic date. But, as we shall see in surveying the condition of the exiles, it was natural for the best among them, their psalmists and prophets, to have no eyes for the colours of Babylon. They lived inwardly; they were much more the inhabitants of their own broken hearts than of that gorgeous foreign land; when their thoughts rose out of themselves it was to seek immediately the far-away Zion. How little local colour is there in the writings of Ezekiel! Isa. xl.-lxvi. has even more to show; for indeed the absence of[Pg 14] local colour from our prophecy has been greatly exaggerated. We shall find as we follow the exposition, break after break of Babylonian light and shadow falling across our path,—the temples, the idol-manufactories, the processions of images, the diviners and astrologers, the gods and altars especially cultivated by the characteristic mercantile spirit of the place; the shipping of that mart of nations, the crowds of her merchants; the glitter of many waters, and even that intolerable glare, which so frequently curses the skies of Mesopotamia (xlix. 10). The prophet speaks of the hills of his native land with just the same longing, that Ezekiel and a probable psalmist of the Exile[5] betray,—the homesickness of a highland-born man whose prison is on a flat, monotonous plain. The beasts he mentions have for the most part been recognised as familiar in Babylonia; and while the same cannot be said of the trees and plants he names, it has been observed that the passages, into which he brings them, are passages where his thoughts are fixed on the restoration to Palestine.[6] Besides these, there are many delicate symptoms of the presence, before the prophet, of a people in a foreign land, engaged in commerce, but without political responsibilities, each of which, taken by itself, may be insufficient to convince, but the reiterated expression of which has even betrayed commentators, who lived too early for the theory of a second Isaiah, into the involuntary admission of an exilic authorship. It will perhaps startle some to hear John Calvin quoted on behalf of the exilic date of these prophecies. But let us read and consider this statement of his: "Some[Pg 15] regard must be had to the time when this prophecy was uttered; for since the rank of the kingdom had been obliterated, and the name of the royal family had become mean and contemptible, during the captivity in Babylon, it might seem as if through the ruin of that family the truth of God had fallen into decay; and therefore he bids them contemplate by faith the throne of David, which had been cast down."[7]

2. What we have seen to be true of the local colour of our prophecy, holds good also of its style and language. There is nothing in either of these to commit us to an Isaian authorship, or to make an exilic date improbable; on the contrary, the language and style, while containing no stronger nor more frequent resemblances to the language and style of Isaiah than may be accounted for by the natural influence of so great a prophet upon his successors, are signalised by differences from his undisputed oracles, too constant, too subtle, and sometimes too sharp, to make it at all probable that the whole book came from the same man. On this point it is enough to refer our readers to the recent exhaustive and very able reviews of the evidence by Canon Cheyne in the second volume of his Commentary, and by Canon Driver in the last chapter of Isaiah: His Life and Times, and to quote the following words of so great an authority as Professor A. B. Davidson. After remarking on the difference in vocabulary of the two parts of the Book of Isaiah, he adds that it is not so much words in themselves as the peculiar uses and combinations of them, and especially "the peculiar articulation of sentences and the movement of the whole discourse, by which an impression[Pg 16] is produced so unlike the impression produced by the earlier parts of the book."[8]

3. It is the same with the thought and doctrine of our prophecy. In this there is nothing to make the Isaian authorship probable, or an exilic date impossible. But, on the contrary, whether we regard the needs of the people or the analogies of the development of their religion, we find that, while everything suits the Exile, nearly everything is foreign both to the subjects and to the methods of Isaiah. We shall observe the items of this as we go along, but one of them may be mentioned here (it will afterwards require a chapter to itself), our prophet's use of the terms righteous and righteousness. No one, who has carefully studied the meaning which these terms bear in the authentic oracles of Isaiah, and the use to which they are put in the prophecies under discussion, can fail to find in the difference a striking corroboration of our argument—that the latter were composed by a different mind than Isaiah's, speaking to a different generation.[9]

To sum up this whole argument. We have seen that there is no evidence in the Book of Isaiah to prove that it was all by himself, but much testimony which points to a plurality of authors; that chs. xl.-lxvi. nowhere assert themselves to be by Isaiah; and that there is no other well-grounded claim of Scripture or of doctrine on behalf of his authorship. We have then shown that chs. xl.-xlviii. do not only present the Exile as if nearly finished and Cyrus as if already come, while the fall of Babylon is still future; but that it is[Pg 17] essential to one of their main arguments that Cyrus should be standing before Israel and the world, as a successful warrior, on his way to attack Babylon. That led us to date these chapters between 555 and 538. Turning then to other evidence,—the local colour they show, their language and style, and their theology,—we have found nothing which conflicts with that date, but, on the contrary, a very great deal, which much more agrees with it than with the date, or with the authorship, of Isaiah.

It will be observed, however, that the question has been limited to the earlier chapters of the twenty-seven under discussion, viz., to xl.-xlviii. Does the same conclusion hold good of xlix. to lxvi.? This can be properly discovered only as we closely follow their exposition; it is enough in the meantime to have got firm footing on the Exile. We can feel our way bit by bit from this standpoint onwards. Let us now merely anticipate the main features of the rest of the prophecy.

A new section has been marked by many as beginning with ch. xlix. This is because ch. xlviii. concludes with a refrain: There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked, which occurs again at the end of ch. lvii., and because with ch. xlviii. Babylon and Cyrus drop out of sight. But the circumstances are still those of exile, and, as Professor Davidson remarks, ch. xlix. is parallel in thought to ch. xlii., and also takes for granted the restoration of Israel in ch. xlviii., proceeding naturally from that to the statement of Israel's world-mission. Apart from the alternation of passages dealing with the Servant of the Lord, and passages whose subject is Zion—an alternation which begins pretty early in the prophecy, and has suggested to some its composition out[Pg 18] of two different writings[10]—the first real break in the sequence occurs at ch. lii. 13, where the prophecy of the sin-bearing Servant is introduced. By most critics this is held to be an insertion, for ch. liv. 1 follows naturally upon ch. lii. 12, though it is undeniable that there is also some association between chs. lii. 13-liii., and ch. liv.[11] In chs. liv.-lv. we are evidently still in exile. It is in commenting on a verse of these chapters that Calvin makes the admission of exilic origin which has been quoted above.

A number of short prophecies now follow, till the end of ch. lix. is reached. These, as we shall see, make it extremely difficult to believe in the original unity of "Second Isaiah." Some of them, it is true, lie in evident circumstance of exile; but others are undoubtedly of earlier date, reflecting the scenery of Palestine, and the habits of the people in their political independence, with Jehovah's judgement-cloud still unburst, but lowering. Such is ch. lvi. 9-lvii., which regards the Exile as still to come, quotes the natural features of Palestine, and charges the Jews with unbelieving diplomacy—a charge not possible against them when they were in captivity. But others of these short prophecies are, in the opinion of some critics, post-exilic. Cheyne assigns ch. lvi. to after the Return, when the temple was standing, and the duty of holding fasts and sabbaths could be enforced, as it was enforced by Nehemiah. I shall give, when we reach the passage, my reasons for doubting his conclusion. The chapter seems to me as likely to have been written upon the eve of the Return as after the Return had taken place.

[Pg 19]

Ch. lvii., the eighteenth of our twenty-seven chapters, closes with the same refrain as ch. xlviii., the ninth of the series: There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked. Ch. lviii. has, therefore, been regarded as beginning the third great division of the prophecy. But here again, while there is certainly an advance in the treatment of the subject, and the prophet talks less of the redemption of the Jews and more of the glory of the restoration of Zion, the point of transition is very difficult to mark. Some critics[12] regard ch. lviii. as post-exilic; but when we come to it we shall find a number of reasons for supposing it to belong, just as much as Ezekiel, to the Exile. Ch. lix. is perhaps the most difficult portion of all, because it makes the Jews responsible for civic justice in a way they could hardly be conceived to be in exile, and yet speaks, in the language of other portions of "Second Isaiah," of a deliverance that cannot well be other than the deliverance from exile. We shall find in this chapter likely marks of the fusion of two distinct addresses, making the conclusion probable that it is Israel's earlier conscience which we catch here, following her into the days of exile, and reciting her former guilt just before pardon is assured. Chs. lx., lxi., and lxii. are certainly exilic. The inimitable prophecy, ch. lxiii. 1-6, complete within itself, and unique in its beauty, is either a promise given just before the deliverance from a long captivity of Israel under heathen nations (ver. 4), or an exultant song of triumph immediately after such a deliverance has taken place. Ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv. implies a ruined temple (ver. 10), but bears no traces of the writer being in exile. It has been assigned to the[Pg 20] period of the first attempts to rebuild Jerusalem after the Return. Ch. lxv. has been assigned to the same date, and its local colour interpreted as that of Palestine. But we shall find the colour to be just as probably that of Babylon, and again I do not see any certain proofs of a post-exilic date. Ch. lxvi., however, betrays more evidence of being written after the Return. It divides into two parts. In verses 1 to 4 the temple is still unbuilt, but the building would seem to be already begun. In verses 5 to 24, the arrival of the Jews in Palestine, the resumption of the life of the sacred community, and the disappointments of the returned at the first meagre results, seem to be implied. And the music of the book dies out in tones of warning, that sin still hinders the Lord's work with His people.

This rapid survey has made two things sufficiently clear. First, that while the bulk of chs. xl.-lxvi. was composed in Babylonia during the Exile of the Jews, there are considerable portions which date from before the Exile, and betray a Palestinian origin; and one or two smaller pieces that seem—rather less evidently, however—to take for granted the Return from the Exile. But, secondly, all these pieces, which it seems necessary to assign to different epochs and authors, have been arranged so as to exhibit a certain order and progress—an order, more or less observed, of date, and a progress very apparent (as we shall see in the course of exposition) of thought and of clearness in definition. The largest portion, of whose unity we are assured and whose date we can fix, is found at the beginning. Chs. xl.-xlviii. are certainly by one hand, and may be dated, as we have seen, between 555 and 538—the[Pg 21] period of Cyrus' approach to take Babylon. There the interest in Cyrus ceases, and the thought of the redemption from Babylon is mainly replaced by that of the subsequent Return. Along with these lines, we shall discover a development in the prophecy's great doctrine of the Servant of Jehovah. But even this dies away, as if the experience of suffering and discipline were being replaced by that of return and restoration; and it is Zion in her glory, and the spiritual mission of the people, and the vengeance of the Lord, and the building of the temple, and a number of practical details in the life and worship of the restored community, which fill up the remainder of the book, along with a few echoes from pre-exilic times. Can we escape feeling in all this a definite design and arrangement, which fails to be absolutely perfect, probably, from the nature of the materials at the arranger's disposal?

We are, therefore, justified in coming to the provisional conclusion, that Second Isaiah is not a unity, in so far as it consists of a number of pieces by different men, whom God raised up at various times before, during, and after the Exile, to comfort and exhort amid the shifting circumstance and tempers of His people; but that it is a unity, in so far as these pieces have been gathered together by an editor very soon after the Return from the Exile, in an order as regular both in point of time and subject as the somewhat mixed material would permit. It is in this sense that throughout this volume we shall talk of "our prophet," or "the prophet;" up to ch. xlix., at least, we shall feel that the expression is literally true; after that it is rather an editorial than an original unity which is apparent. In this question of unity the dramatic style of the prophecy forms, no doubt, the greatest difficulty. Who shall dare to determine of the many[Pg 22] soliloquies, apostrophes, lyrics and other pieces that are here gathered, often in want of any connection save that of dramatic grouping and a certain sympathy of temper, whether they are by the same author or have been collected from several origins? We must be content to leave the matter uncertain. One great reason, which we have not yet quoted, for supposing that the whole prophecy is not by one man, is that if it had been his name would certainly have come down with it.

Do not let it be thought that such a conclusion, as we have been led to, is merely a dogma of modern criticism. Here, if anywhere, the critic is but the patient student of Scripture, searching for the testimony of the sacred text about itself, and formulating that. If it be found that such a testimony conflicts with ecclesiastical tradition, however ancient and universal, so much the worse for tradition. In Protestant circles, at least, we have no choice. Litera Scripta manet. When we know that the only evidence for the Isaian authorship of chs. xl.-lxvi. is tradition, supported by an unthinking interpretation of New Testament citations, while the whole testimony of these Scriptures themselves denies them to be Isaiah's, we cannot help making our choice, and accepting the testimony of Scripture. Do we find them any the less wonderful or Divine? Do they comfort less? Do they speak with less power to the conscience? Do they testify with more uncertain voice to our Lord and Saviour? It will be the task of the following pages to show that, interpreted in connection with the history out of which they themselves say that God's Spirit drew them, these twenty-seven chapters become only more prophetic of Christ, and more comforting and instructive to men, than they were before.

[Pg 23]

But the remarkable fact is, that anciently tradition itself appears to have agreed with the results of modern scholarship. The original place of the Book of Isaiah in the Jewish canon seems to have been after both Jeremiah and Ezekiel,[13] a fact which goes to prove that it did not reach completion till a later date than the works of these two prophets of the Exile.

If now it be asked, Why should a series of prophecies written in the Exile be attached to the authentic works of Isaiah? that is a fair question, and one which the supporters of the exilic authorship have the duty laid upon them of endeavouring to answer. Fortunately they are not under the necessity of falling back, for want of other reasons, on the supposition that this attachment was due to the error of some scribe, or to the custom which ancient writers practised of filling up any part of a volume, that remained blank when one book was finished, with the writing of any other that would fit the place.[14] The first of these reasons is too accidental, the second too artificial, in face of the undoubted sympathy which exists among all parts of the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah himself plainly prophesied of an exile longer than his own generation experienced, and prophesied of a return from it (ch. xi.). We saw no reason to dispute his claims to the predictions about Babylon in chs. xxi. and xxxix. Isaiah's, too, more than any other prophet's, were those great and final hopes of the Old Testament—the survival of Israel and the[Pg 24] gathering of the Gentiles to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem. But it is for the express purpose of emphasizing the immediate fulfilment of such ancient predictions, that Isa. xl.-lxvi. were published. Although our prophet has new things to publish, his first business is to show that the former things have come to pass, especially the Exile, the survival of a Remnant, the sending of a Deliverer, the doom of Babylon. What more natural than to attach to his utterances those prophecies, of which the events he pointed to were the vindication and fulfilment? The attachment was the more easy to arrange that the authentic prophecies had not passed from Isaiah's hand in a fixed form. They do not bear those marks of their author's own editing, which are borne by the prophecies both of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is impossible to be dogmatic on the point. But these facts—that our chapters are concerned, as no other Scriptures are, with the fulfilment of previous prophecies; that it is the prophecies of Isaiah which are the original and fullest prediction of the events they are busy with; and that the form, in which Isaiah's prophecies are handed down, did not preclude additions of this kind to them—contribute very evident reasons why Isa. xl.-lxvi., though written in the Exile, should be attached to Isa. i.-xxxix.[15]

Thus we present a theory of the exilic authorship of Isa. xl.-lxvi. within itself complete and consistent,[Pg 25] suited to all parts of the evidence, and not opposed by the authority of any part of Scripture. In consequence of its conclusion, our duty, before proceeding to the exposition of the chapters, is twofold: first, to connect the time of Isaiah with the period of the Captivity, and then to sketch the condition of Israel in Exile. This we shall undertake in the next three chapters.

Note to Chapter I.

Readers may wish to have a reference to other passages of this volume, in which the questions of the date, authorship and structure of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. are discussed. See pp. 65-68, 112, 146 f., 212, 223; Introduction to Book III.; opening paragraphs of ch. xviii. and of ch. xix., etc.

[Pg 26]



701-587 b.c.

At first sight, the circumstances of Judah in the last ten years of the seventh century present a strong resemblance to her fortunes in the last ten years of the eighth. The empire of the world, to which she belongs, is again divided between Egypt and a Mesopotamian power. Syria is again the field of their doubtful battle, and the question, to which of the two shall homage be paid, still forms the politics of all her states. Judah still vacillates, intrigues and draws down on herself the wrath of the North by her treaties with Egypt. Again there is a great prophet and statesman, whose concern is righteousness, who exposes both the immorality of his people and the folly of their politics, and who summons the evil from the North as God's scourge upon Israel: Isaiah has been succeeded by Jeremiah. And, as if to complete the analogy, the nation has once more passed through a puritan reformation. Josiah has, even more thoroughly than Hezekiah, effected the disestablishment of idols.

Beneath this circumstantial resemblance, however, there is one fundamental difference. The strength of Isaiah's preaching was bent, especially during the closing years of the century, to establish the inviolableness of Jerusalem. Against the threats of the Assyrian[Pg 27] siege, and in spite of his own more formidable conscience of his people's corruption, Isaiah persisted that Zion should not be taken, and that the people, though cut down to their roots, should remain planted in the land,—the stock of an imperial nation in the latter days. This prophecy was vindicated by the marvellous relief of Jerusalem on the apparent eve of her capture in 701. But its echoes had not yet died away, when Jeremiah to his generation delivered the very opposite message. Round him the popular prophets babbled by rote Isaiah's ancient assurances about Zion. Their soft, monotonous repetitions lapped pleasantly upon the immovable self-confidence of the people. But Jeremiah called down the storm. Even while prosperity seemed to give him the lie, he predicted the speedy ruin of Temple and City, and summoned Judah's enemies against her in the name of the God, on whose former word she relied for peace. The contrast between the two great prophets grows most dramatic in their conduct during the respective sieges, of which each was the central figure. Isaiah, alone steadfast in a city of despair, defying the taunts of the heathen, rekindling within the dispirited defenders, whom the enemy sought to bribe to desertion, the passions of patriotism and religion, proclaiming always, as with the voice of a trumpet, that Zion must stand inviolate; Jeremiah, on the contrary, declaring the futility of resistance, counselling each citizen to save his own life from the ruin of the state, in treaty with the enemy, and even arrested as a deserter,—these two contrasting figures and attitudes gather up the difference which the century had wrought in the fortunes of the City of God. And so, while in 701 Jerusalem triumphed in the Lord by the sudden raising of the Assyrian siege, three years[Pg 28] after the next century was out she twice succumbed to the Assyrian's successor, and nine years later was totally destroyed.

What is the reason of this difference, which a century sufficed to work? Why was the sacredness of Judah's shrine not as much an article of Jeremiah's as of Isaiah's creed,—as much an element of Divine providence in 600 as in 700 b.c.? This is not a very hard question to answer, if we keep in our regard two things—firstly, the moral condition of the people, and, secondly, the necessities of the spiritual religion, which was identified for the time with their fortunes.

The Israel, which was delivered into captivity at the word of Jeremiah, was a people at once more hardened and more exhausted than the Israel, which, in spite of its sin, Isaiah's efforts had succeeded in preserving upon its own land. A century had come and gone of further grace and opportunity, but the grace had been resisted, the opportunity abused, and the people stood more guilty and more wilful than ever before God. Even clearer, however, than the deserts of the people was the need of their religion. That local and temporary victory—after all, only the relief of a mountain fortress and a tribal shrine—with which Isaiah had identified the will and honour of Almighty God, could not be the climax of the history of a spiritual religion. It was impossible for Monotheism to rest on so narrow and material a security as that. The faith, which was to overcome the world, could not be satisfied with a merely national triumph. The time must arrive—were it only by the ordinary progress of the years and unhastened by human guilt—for faith and piety to be weaned from the forms of an earthly temple, however sacred; for the individual—after all, the real[Pg 29] unit of religion—to be rendered independent of the community and cast upon his God alone; and for this people, to whom the oracles of the living God had been entrusted, to be led out from the selfish pride of guarding these for their own honour—to be led out, were it through the breaches of their hitherto inviolate walls, and amid the smoke of all that was most sacred to them, so that in level contact with mankind they might learn to communicate their glorious trust. Therefore, while the Exile was undoubtedly the penance, which an often-spared but ever more obdurate people had to pay for their accumulated sins, it was also for the meek and the pure-hearted in Israel a step upwards even from the faith and the results of Isaiah—perhaps the most effectual step which Israel's religion ever took. Schultz has finely said: "The proper Tragedy of History—doom required by long-gathering guilt, and launched upon a generation which for itself is really turning towards good—is most strikingly consummated in the Exile." Yes: but this is only half the truth. The accomplishment of the moral tragedy is really but one incident in a religious epic—the development of a spiritual faith. Long-delaying Nemesis overtakes at last the sinners, but the shock of the blows, which beat the guilty nation into captivity, releases their religion from its material bonds. Israel on the way to Exile is on the way to become Israel after the Spirit.

With these principles to guide us, let us now, for a little, thread our way through the crowded details of the decline and fall of the Jewish state.

Isaiah's own age had foreboded the necessity of exile for Judah. There was the great precedent of Samaria, and Judah's sin was not less than her sister's. When the authorities at Jerusalem wished to put Jeremiah to[Pg 30] death for the heresy of predicting the ruin of the sacred city, it was pointed out in his defence that a similar prediction had been made by Micah, the contemporary of Isaiah. And how much had happened since then! The triumph of Jehovah in 701, the stronger faith and purer practice, which had followed as long as Hezekiah reigned, gave way to an idolatrous reaction under his successor Manasseh. This reaction, while it increased the guilt of the people, by no means diminished their religious fear. They carried into it the conscience of their former puritanism—diseased, we might say delirious, but not dead. Men felt their sin and feared Heaven's wrath, and rushed headlong into the gross and fanatic exercises of idolatry, in order to wipe away the one and avert the other. It availed nothing. After an absence of thirty years the Assyrian arms returned in full strength, and Manasseh himself was carried captive across the Euphrates. But penitence revived, and for a time it appeared as if it were to be at last valid for salvation. Israel made huge strides towards their ideal life of a good conscience and outward prosperity. Josiah, the pious, came to the throne. The Book of the Law was discovered in 621, and king and people rallied to its summons with the utmost loyalty. All the nation stood to the covenant. The single sanctuary was vindicated, the high places destroyed, the land purged of idols. There were no great military triumphs, but Assyria, so long the accepted scourge of God, gave signs of breaking up; and we can feel the vigour and self-confidence, induced by years of prosperity, in Josiah's ambition to extend his borders, and especially in his daring assault upon Necho of Egypt at Megiddo, when Necho passed north to the invasion of Assyria. Altogether, it was a people[Pg 31] that imagined itself righteous, and counted upon a righteous God. In such days who could dream of exile?

But in 608 the ideal was shivered. Israel was threshed at Megiddo, and Josiah, the king after God's own heart, was slain on the field. And then happened, what happened at other times in Israel's history when disillusion of this kind came down. The nation fell asunder into the elements of which it was ever so strange a composition. The masses, whose conscience did not rise beyond the mere performance of the Law, nor their view of God higher than that of a Patron of the state, bound by His covenant to reward with material success the loyalty of His clients, were disappointed with the results of their service and of His providence. Being a new generation from Manasseh's time, they thought to give the strange gods another turn. The idols were brought back, and after the discredit which righteousness received at Megiddo, it would appear that social injustice and crime of many kinds dared to be very bold. Jehoahaz, who reigned for three months after Josiah, and Jehoiakim, who succeeded him, were idolaters. The loftier few, like Jeremiah, had never been deceived by the people's outward allegiance to the Temple or the Law, nor considered it valid either to atone for the past or now to fulfil the holy demands of Jehovah; and were confirmed by the disaster at Megiddo, and the consequent reaction to idolatry, in the stern and hopeless views of the people which they had always entertained. They kept reiterating a speedy captivity. Between these parties stood the formal successors of earlier prophets, so much the slaves of tradition that they had neither conscience for their people's sins nor understanding of the world[Pg 32] around them, but could only affirm in the strength of ancient oracles that Zion should not be destroyed. Strange is it to see how this party, building upon the promises of Jehovah through a prophet like Isaiah, should be taken advantage of by the idolaters, but scouted by Jehovah's own servants. Thus they mingle and conflict. Who indeed can distinguish all the elements of so ancient and so rich a life, as they chase, overtake and wrestle with each other, hurrying down the rapids to the final cataract? Let us leave them for a moment, while we mark the catastrophe itself. They will be more easily distinguished in the calm below.

It was from the North that Jeremiah summoned the vengeance of God upon Judah. In his earlier threats he might have meant the Scythians; but by 605, when Nebuchadrezzar, Nabopolassar of Babylon's son, the rising general of the age, defeated Pharaoh at Carchemish, all men accepted Jeremiah's nomination for this successor of Assyria in the lordship of Western Asia. From Carchemish Nebuchadrezzar overran Syria. Jehoiakim paid tribute to him, and Judah at last felt the grip of the hand that was to drag her into exile. Jehoiakim attempted to throw it off in 602; but, after harassing him for four years by means of some allies, Nebuchadrezzar took his capital, executed him, suffered Jehoiachin, his successor, to reign only three months, took Jerusalem a second time, and carried off to Babylon the first great portion of the people. This was in 598, only ten years from the death of Josiah, and twenty-one from the discovery of the Book of the Law.

The exact numbers of this first captivity of the Jews it is impossible to determine. The annalist sets the soldiers at seven thousand, the smiths and craftsmen[Pg 33] at one thousand; so that, making allowance for other classes whom he mentions, the grown men must alone have been over ten thousand;[16] but how many women went, and how many children—the most important factor for the period of the Exile with which we have to deal—it is impossible to estimate. The total number of persons can scarcely have been less than twenty-five thousand. More important, however, than their number was the quality of these exiles, and this we can easily appreciate. The royal family and the court were taken, a large number of influential persons, the mighty men of the land, or what must have been nearly all the fighting men, with the necessary artificers; priests also went, Ezekiel among them, and probably representatives of other classes not mentioned by the annalist. That this was the virtue and flower of the nation is proved by a double witness. Not only did the citizens, for the remaining ten years of Jerusalem's life, look to these exiles for her deliverance, but Jeremiah himself counted them the sound half of Israel—a basket of good figs, as he expressed it, beside a basket of bad ones. They were at least under discipline, but the remnant of Jerusalem persisted in the wilfulness of the past.

For although Jeremiah remained in the city, and the house of David and a considerable population, and although Jeremiah himself held a higher position in public esteem since the vindication of his word by the events of 598, yet he could not be blind to the unchanged character of the people, and the thorough doom which their last respite had only more evidently[Pg 34] proved to be inevitable. Gangs of false prophets, both at home and among the exiles, might predict a speedy return. All the Jewish ability of intrigue, with the lavish promises of Egypt and frequent embassies from other nations, might work for the overthrow of Babylon. But Jeremiah and Ezekiel knew better. Across the distance which now separated them they chanted, as it were in antiphon, the alternate strophes of Judah's dirge. Jeremiah bade the exiles not to remember Zion, but "let them settle down," he said, "into the life of the land they are in, building houses, planting gardens, and begetting children, and seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto Jehovah for it, for in the peace thereof ye shall have peace—the Exile shall last seventy years." And as Jeremiah in Zion blessed Babylon, so Ezekiel in Babylon cursed Zion, thundering back that Jerusalem must be utterly wasted through siege and famine, pestilence and captivity. There is no rush of hope through Ezekiel. His expectations are all distant. He lives either in memory or in cold fancy. His pictures of restoration are too elaborate to mean speedy fulfilment. They are the work of a man with time on his hands; one does not build so colossally for to-morrow. Thus reinforced from abroad, Jeremiah proclaimed Nebuchadrezzar as the servant of Jehovah, and summoned him to work Jehovah's doom upon the city. The predicted blockade came in the ninth year of Zedekiah. The false hopes which still sustained the people, their trust in Egypt, the arrival of an Egyptian army in result of their intrigue, as well as all their piteous bravery, only afforded time for the fulfilment of the terrible details of their penalty. For nearly eighteen months the siege closed in—months of famine[Pg 35] and pestilence, of faction and quarrel and falling away to the enemy. Then Jerusalem broke up. The besiegers gained the northern suburb and stormed the middle gate. Zedekiah and the army burst their lines only to be captured on an aimless flight at Jericho. A few weeks more, and a forlorn defence by civilians of the interior parts of the city was at last overwhelmed. The exasperated besiegers gave her up to fire—the house of Jehovah, the king's house, and every great house—and tore to the stones the stout walls that resisted the conflagration. As the city was levelled, so the citizens were dispersed. A great number—and among them the king's family—were put to death. The king himself was blinded, and, along with a host of his subjects, impossible for us to estimate, and with all the temple furniture, was carried to Babylon. A few peasants were left to cultivate the land; a few superior personages—perhaps such as, with Jeremiah, had favoured the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was among them—were left at Mizpah under a Jewish viceroy. It was a poor apparition of a state; but, as if the very ghost of Israel must be chased from the land, even this small community was broken up, and almost every one of its members fled to Egypt. The Exile was complete.

[Pg 36]



Before we follow the captives along the roads that lead to exile, we may take account of the spiritual goods which they carried with them, and were to realise in their retirement. Never in all history did paupers of this world go forth more richly laden with the treasures of heaven.

1. First of all, we must emphasize and define their Monotheism. We must emphasize it as against those who would fain persuade us that Israel's monotheism was for the most part the product of the Exile; we must analyse its contents and define its limits among the people, if we would appreciate the extent to which it spread and the peculiar temper which it assumed, as set forth in the prophecy we are about to study.

Idolatry was by no means dead in Israel at the fall of Jerusalem. On the contrary, during the last years which the nation spent within those sacred walls, that had been so miraculously preserved in the sight of the world by Jehovah, idolatry increased, and to the end remained as determined and fanatic as the people's defence of Jehovah's own temple. The Jews who fled to Egypt applied themselves to the worship of the Queen of Heaven, in spite of all the remonstrances of Jeremiah and him they carried with them, not because[Pg 37] they listened to him as the prophet of the One True God, but superstitiously, as if he were a pledge of the favour of one of the many gods, whom they were anxious to propitiate. And the earliest effort, upon which we shall have to follow our own prophet, is the effort to crush the worship of images among the Babylonian exiles. Yet when Israel returned from Babylon the people were wholly monotheist; when Jerusalem was rebuilt no idol came back to her.

That this great change was mainly the result of the residence in Babylon and of truths learned there, must be denied by all who remember the creed and doctrine about God, which in their literature the people carried with them into exile. The law was already written, and the whole nation had sworn to it: Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God; Jehovah is One, and thou shalt worship Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. These words, it is true, may be so strictly interpreted as to mean no more than that there was one God for Israel: other gods might exist, but Jehovah was Sole Deity for His people. It is maintained that such a view receives some support from the custom of prophets, who, while they affirmed Jehovah's supremacy, talked of other gods as if they were real existences. But argument from this habit of the prophets is precarious: such a mode of speech may have been a mere accommodation to a popular point of view. And, surely, we have only to recall what Isaiah and Jeremiah had uttered concerning Jehovah's Godhead, to be persuaded that Israel's monotheism, before the beginning of the Exile, was a far more broad and spiritual faith than the mere belief that Jehovah was the Sovereign Deity of the nation, or the satisfaction of the desires of Jewish hearts alone.[Pg 38] Righteousness was not coincident with Israel's life and interest; righteousness was universally supreme, and it was in righteousness that Isaiah saw Jehovah exalted.[17] There is no more prevailing witness to the unity of God than the conscience, which in this matter takes far precedence of the intellect; and it was on the testimony of conscience that the prophets based Israel's monotheism. Yet they did not omit to enlist the reason as well. Isaiah and Jeremiah delight to draw deductions from the reasonableness of Jehovah's working in nature to the reasonableness of His processes in history,—analogies which could not fail to impress both intellect and imagination with the fact that men inhabit a universe, that One is the will and mind which works in all things. But to this training of conscience and reason, the Jews, at the beginning of the Exile, felt the addition of another considerable influence. Their history lay at last complete, and their conscience was at leisure from the making of its details to survey it as a whole. That long past, seen now by undazzled eyes from under the shadow of exile, presented through all its changing fortunes a single and a definite course. One was the intention of it, one its judgement from first to last. The Jew saw in it nothing but righteousness, the quality of a God, who spake the same word from the beginning, who never broke His word, and who at last had summoned to its fulfilment the greatest of the world-powers. In those historical books, which were collected and edited during the Exile, we observe each of the kings and generations of Israel, in their turn, confronted with the same high standard of fidelity to the One True[Pg 39] God and His holy Law. The regularity and rigour, with which they are thus judged, have been condemned by some critics as an arbitrary and unfair application of the standard of a later faith to the conduct of ruder and less responsible ages. But, apart from the question of historical accuracy, we cannot fail to remark that this method of writing history is at least instinct with the Oneness of God, and the unvarying validity of His Law from generation to generation. Israel's God was the same, their conscience told them, down all their history; but now as He summoned one after another of the great world-powers to do His bidding,—Assyria, Babylon, Persia,—how universal did He prove His dominion to be! Unchanging through all time, He was surely omnipotent through all space.

This short review—in which, for the sake of getting a complete view of our subject, we have anticipated a little—has shown that Israel had enough within themselves, in the teaching of their prophets and in the lessons of their own history, to account for that consummate expression of Jehovah's Godhead, which is contained in our prophet, and to which every one allows the character of an absolute monotheism. We shall find this, it is true, to be higher and more comprehensive than anything which is said about God in pre-exilic Scriptures. The prophet argues the claims of Jehovah, not only with the ardour that is born of faith, but often with the scorn which indicates the intellect at work. It is monotheism, treated not only as a practical belief or a religious duty, but as a necessary truth of reason; not only as the secret of faith and the special experience of Israel, but also as an essential conviction of human nature, so that not to believe in One God is a thing irrational and absurd for Gentiles as well as Jews.[Pg 40] God's infinitude in the works of creation, His universal providence in history, are preached with greater power than ever before; and the gods of the nations are treated as things, in whose existence no reasonable person can possibly believe. In short, our great prophet of the Exile has already learned to obey the law of Deuteronomy as it was expounded by Christ. Deuteronomy says, Thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. Christ added, and with all thy mind. This was what our prophet did. He held his monotheism with all his mind. We shall find him conscious of it, not only as a religious affection, but as a necessary intellectual conviction; which if a man has not, he is less than a man. Hence the scorn, which he pours upon the idols and mythologies of his conquerors. Beside his tyrants, though in physical strength he was but a worm to them, the Jew felt that he walked, by virtue of his faith in One God, their intellectual master.

We shall see all this illustrated later on. Meantime, what we are concerned to show is, that there is enough to account for this high faith within Israel themselves—in their prophecy and in the lessons of their history. And where indeed are we to be expected to go in search of the sources of Israel's monotheism, if not to themselves? To the Babylonians? The Babylonians had nothing spiritual to teach to Israel; our prophet regards them with scorn. To the Persians, who broke across Israel's horizon with Cyrus? Our prophet's high statement of monotheism is of earlier date than the advent of Cyrus to Babylon. Nor did Cyrus, when he came, give any help to the faith, for in his public edicts he owned the gods of Babylon and the God of Israel with equal care and equal policy. It was not because[Pg 41] Cyrus and his Persians were monotheists, that our prophet saw the sovereignty of Jehovah vindicated, but it was because Jehovah was sovereign that the prophet knew the Persians would serve His holy purposes.

2. But if in Deuteronomy the exiles carried with them the Law of the One God, they preserved in Jeremiah's writings what may be called the charter of the Individual Man. Jeremiah had found religion in Judah a public and a national affair. The individual derived his spiritual value only from being a member of the nation, and through the public exercises of the national faith. But, partly by his own religious experience, and partly by the course of events, Jeremiah was enabled to accomplish what may be justly described as the vindication of the individual. Of his own separate value before God, and of his right of access to his Maker apart from the nation, Jeremiah himself was conscious, having belonged to God before he belonged to his mother, his family, or his nation. Before I found thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest out of the womb I consecrated thee. His whole life was but the lesson of how one man can be for God and all the nation on the other side. And it was in the strength of this solitary experience, that he insisted, in his famous thirty-first chapter, on the individual responsibility of man and on every man's immediate communication with God's Spirit; and that, when the ruin of the state was imminent, he advised each of his friends to take his own life out of it for a prey.[18] But Jeremiah's doctrine of the religious value and independence of the individual had a complement. Though the prophet felt so keenly his separate responsibility and right of access to God,[Pg 42] and his religious independence of the people, he nevertheless clave to the people with all his heart. He was not, like some other prophets, outside the doom he preached. He might have saved himself, for he had many offers from the Babylonians. But he chose to suffer with his people—he, the saint of God, with the idolaters. More than that, it may be said that Jeremiah suffered for the people. It was not they, with their dead conscience and careless mind, but he, with his tender conscience and breaking heart, who bore the reproach of their sins, the anger of the Lord, and all the agonizing knowledge of his country's inevitable doom. In Jeremiah one man did suffer for the people.

In our prophecy, which is absorbed with the deliverance of the nation as a whole, there was, of course, no occasion to develop Jeremiah's remarkable suggestions about each individual soul of man. In fact, these suggestions were germs, which remained uncultivated in Israel till Christ's time. Jeremiah himself uttered them, not as demands for the moment, but as ideals that would only be realised when the New Covenant was made.[19] Our prophecy has nothing to say about them. But that figure, which Jeremiah's life presented, of One Individual—of One Individual standing in moral solitude over against the whole nation, and in a sense suffering for the nation, can hardly have been absent from the influences, which moulded the marvellous confession of the people in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, where they see the solitary servant of God on one side and themselves on the other, and Jehovah made to light on him the iniquities of us all. It is true that the exiles themselves had some consciousness of[Pg 43] suffering for others. Our fathers, cried a voice in their midst, when Jerusalem broke up, Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities. But Jeremiah had been a willing sufferer for his people; and the fifty-third chapter is, as we shall see, more like his way of bearing his generation's guilt for love's sake than their way of bearing their fathers' guilt in the inevitable entail of sin.[20]

3. To these beliefs in the unity of God, the religious worth of the individual and the virtue of his self-sacrifice, we must add some experiences of scarcely less value rising out of the destruction of the material and political forms—the temple, the city, the monarchy—with which the faith of Israel had been so long identified.

Without this destruction, it is safe to say, those beliefs could not have assumed their purest form. Take, for instance, the belief in the unity of God. There is no doubt that this belief was immensely helped in Israel by the abolition of all the provincial sanctuaries under Josiah, by the limitation of Divine worship to one temple and of valid sacrifice to one altar. But yet it was well that this temple should enjoy its singular rights for only thirty years and then be destroyed. For a monotheism, however lofty, which depended upon the existence of any shrine, however gloriously vindicated by Divine providence, was not a purely spiritual faith. Or, again, take the individual. The individual could not realise how truly he himself was the highest temple of God, and God's most pleasing[Pg 44] sacrifice a broken and a contrite heart, till the routine of legal sacrifice was interrupted and the ancient altar torn down. Or, once more, take that high, ultimate doctrine of sacrifice, that the most inspiring thing for men, the most effectual propitiation before God, is the self-devotion and offering up of a free and reasonable soul, the righteous for the unrighteous—how could common Jews have adequately learned that truth, in days when, according to immemorial practice, the bodies of bulls and goats bled daily on the one valid altar? The city and temple, therefore, went up in flames that Israel might learn that God is a Spirit, and dwelleth not in a house made with hands; that men are His temple, and their hearts the sacrifices well-pleasing in His sight; and that beyond the bodies and blood of beasts, with their daily necessity of being offered, He was preparing for them another Sacrifice, of perpetual and universal power, in the voluntary sufferings of His own holy Servant. It was for this Servant, too, that the monarchy, as it were, abdicated, yielding up to Him all its title to represent Jehovah and to save and rule Jehovah's people.

4. Again, as we have already hinted, the fall of the state and city of Jerusalem gave scope to Israel's missionary career. The conviction, that had inspired many of Isaiah's assertions of the inviolableness of Zion, was the conviction that, if Zion were overthrown and the last remnant of Israel uprooted from the land, there must necessarily follow the extinction of the only true testimony to the living God which the world contained. But by a century later that testimony was firmly secured in the hearts and consciences of the people, wheresoever they might be scattered; and what was now needed was exactly such a dispersion,—in[Pg 45] order that Israel might become aware of the world for whom the testimony was meant, and grow expert in the methods by which it was to be proclaimed. Priesthood has its human as well as its Godward side. The latter was already sufficiently secured for Israel by Jehovah's age-long seclusion of them in their remote highlands—a people peculiar to Himself. But now the same Providence completed its purpose by casting them upon the world. They mixed with men face to face, or, still more valuably to themselves, on a level with the most downtrodden and despised of the peoples. With no advantage but the truth, they met the other religions of the world in argument, debating with them upon the principles of a common reason and the facts of a common history. They learned sympathy with the weak things of earth. They discovered that their religion could be taught. But, above all, they became conscious of martyrdom, the indispensable experience of a religion that is to prevail; and they realised the supreme influence upon men of a love which sacrifices itself. In a word, Israel, in going into exile, put on humanity with all its consequences. How real and thorough the process was, how successful in perfecting their priesthood, may be seen not only from the hopes and obligations towards all mankind, which burst in our prophecy to an urgency and splendour unmatched elsewhere in their history, but still more from the fact that when the Son of God Himself took flesh and became man, there were no words oftener upon His lips to describe His experience and commission, there are no passages which more clearly mirror His work for the world, than the words and the passages in which these Jews of the Exile, stripped to their bare humanity, relate their sufferings or exult in their destiny that should follow.

[Pg 46]

5. But with their temple in ruins, and all the world before them for the service of God, the Jews go forth to exile upon the distinct promise of return. The material form of their religion is suspended, not abolished. Let them feel religion in purely spiritual aspects, unassisted by sanctuary or ritual; let them look upon the world and the oneness of men; let them learn all God's scope for the truth He has entrusted to them,—and then let them gather back again and cherish their new experience and ideas for yet awhile in the old seclusion. Jehovah's discipline of them as a nation is not yet exhausted. They are no mere band of pilgrims or missionaries, with the world for their home; they are still a people, with their own bit of the earth. If we keep this in mind, it will explain certain apparent anomalies in our prophecy. In all the writings of the Exile the reader is confused by a strange mingling of the spiritual and the material, the universal and the local. The moral restoration of the people to pardon and righteousness is identified with their political restoration to Judah and Jerusalem. They have been separated from ritual in order to cultivate a more spiritual religion, but it is to this that a restoration to ritual is promised for a reward. While Jeremiah insists upon the free and immediate communication of every believer with Jehovah, Ezekiel builds a more exclusive priesthood, a more elaborate system of worship. Within our prophecy, while one voice deprecates a house for God built with hands, affirming that Jehovah dwells with every one who is of a poor and contrite spirit, other voices dwell fondly on the prospect of the new temple and exult in its material glory. This double line of feeling is not merely due to the presence in Israel of those two opposite tempers of mind, which so[Pg 47] naturally appear in every national literature. But a special purpose of God is in it. Dispersed to obtain more spiritual ideas of God and man and the world, Israel must be gathered back again to get these by heart, to enshrine them in literature, and to transmit them to posterity, as they could alone be securely transmitted, in the memories of a nation, in the liturgies and canons of a living Church.

Therefore the Jews, though torn for their discipline from Jerusalem, continued to identify themselves more passionately than ever with their desecrated city. A prayer of the period exclaims: Thy saints take pleasure in her stones, and her dust is dear to them.[21] The exiles proved this by taking her name. Their prophets addressed them as Zion and Jerusalem. Scattered and leaderless groups of captives in a far-off land, they were still that City of God. She had not ceased to be; ruined and forsaken as she lay, she was yet graven on the palms of Jehovah's hands; and her walls were continually before Him.[22] The exiles kept up the register of her families; they prayed towards her; they looked to return to build her bulwarks; they spent long hours of their captivity in tracing upon the dust of that foreign land the groundplan of her restored temple.

With such beliefs in God and man and sacrifice, with such hopes and opportunities for their world-mission, but also with such a bias back to the material Jerusalem, did Israel pass into exile.

[Pg 48]



From 589 till about 550 b.c.

It is remarkable how completely the sound of the march from Jerusalem to Babylon has died out of Jewish history. It was an enormous movement: twice over within ten years, ten thousand Jews, at the very least, must have trodden the highway to the Euphrates; and yet, except for a doubtful verse or two in the Psalter, they have left no echo of their passage. The sufferings of the siege before, the remorse and lamentation of the Exile after, still pierce our ears through the Book of Lamentations and the Psalms by the rivers of Babylon. We know exactly how the end was fulfilled. We see most vividly the shifting panorama of the siege,—the city in famine, under the assault, and in smoke; upon the streets the pining children, the stricken princes, the groups of men with sullen, famine-black faces, the heaps of slain, mothers feeding on the bodies of the infants whom their sapless breasts could not keep alive; by the walls the hanging and crucifixion of multitudes, with all the fashion of Chaldean cruelty, the delicate and the children stumbling under heavy loads, no survivor free from the pollution of blood. Upon the hills around, the neighbouring tribes are gathered to jeer[Pg 49] at the day of Jerusalem, and to cut off her fugitives, we even see the departing captives turn, as the worm turns, to curse those children of Edom. But there the vision closes. Was it this hot hate which blinded them to the sights of the way, or that weariness and depression among strange scenes, that falls upon all unaccustomed caravans, and has stifled the memory of nearly every other great historical march? The roads which the exiles traversed were of immemorial use in the history of their fathers; almost every day they must have passed names which, for at least two centuries, had rung in the market-place of Jerusalem—the Way of the Sea, across Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, round Hermon, and past Damascus; between the two Lebanons, past Hamath, and past Arpad; or less probably by Tadmor-in-the-Wilderness and Rezeph,—till they reached the river on which the national ambition had lighted as the frontier of the Messianic Empire, and whose rolling greatness had so often proved the fascination and despair of a people of uncertain brooks and trickling aqueducts. Crossing the Euphrates by one of its numerous passages—either at Carchemish, if they struck the river so high, or at the more usual Thapsacus, Tiphsah, the passage, where Xenophon crossed with his Greeks, or at some other place—the caravans must have turned south across the Habor, on whose upper banks the captives of Northern Israel had been scattered, and then have traversed the picturesque country of Aram-Naharaim, past Circesium and Rehoboth-of-the-River, and many another ancient place mentioned in the story of the Patriarchs, till through dwindling hills they reached His—that marvellous site which travellers praise as one of the great view-points of the world—and looked out at last upon the land of[Pg 50] their captivity, the boundless, almost level tracts of Chaldea, the first home of the race, the traditional Garden of Eden. But of all that we are told nothing. Every eye in the huge caravans seems to have been as the eyes of the blinded king whom they carried with them,—able to weep, but not to see.

One fact, however, was too large to be missed by these sad, wayworn men; and it has left traces on their literature. In passing from home to exile, the Jews passed from the hills to the plain. They were highlanders. Jerusalem lies four thousand feet above the sea. From its roofs the skyline is mostly a line of hills. To leave the city on almost any side you have to descend. The last monuments of their fatherland, on which the emigrants' eyes could have lingered, were the high crests of Lebanon; the first prospect of their captivity was a monotonous level. The change was the more impressive, that to the hearts of Hebrews it could not fail to be sacramental. From the mountains came the dew to their native crofts—the dew which, of all earthly blessings, was likest God's grace. For their prophets, the ancient hills had been the symbols of Jehovah's faithfulness. In leaving their highlands, therefore, the Jews not only left the kind of country to which their habits were most adapted and all their natural affections clung; they left the chosen abode of God, the most evident types of His grace, the perpetual witnesses to His covenant. Ezekiel constantly employs the mountains to describe his fatherland. But it is far more with a sacramental longing than a mere homesickness that a psalmist of the Exile cries out, I will lift up mine eyes to the hills: from whence cometh mine help? or that our prophet exclaims: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him[Pg 51] that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth.

By the route sketched above, it is at least seven hundred miles from Jerusalem to Babylon—a distance which, when we take into account that many of the captives walked in fetters, cannot have occupied them less than three months. We may form some conception of the aspect of the caravans from the transportations of captives which are figured on the Assyrian monuments, as in the Assyrian basement in the British Museum. From these it appears as if families were not separated, but marched together. Mules, asses, camels, ox-waggons, and the captives themselves carried goods. Children and women suckling infants were allowed to ride on the waggons. At intervals fully-armed soldiers walked in pairs.[23]


Mesopotamia, the land "in the middle of the rivers," Euphrates and Tigris, consists of two divisions, an upper and a lower. The dividing line crosses from near Hit or His on the Euphrates to below Samarah on the Tigris. Above this line the country is a gently undulating plain of secondary formation at some elevation above the sea. But Lower Mesopotamia is absolutely flat land, an unbroken stretch of alluvial[Pg 52] soil, scarcely higher than the Persian Gulf, upon which it steadily encroaches. Chaldea was confined to this Lower Mesopotamia, and was not larger, Rawlinson estimates, than the kingdom of Denmark.[24] It is the monotonous level which first impresses the traveller; but if the season be favourable, he sees this only as the theatre of vast and varied displays of colour, which all visitors vie with one another in describing: "It is like a rich carpet;" "emerald green, enamelled with flowers of every hue;" "tall wild grasses and broad extents of waving reeds;" "acres of water-lilies;" "acres of pansies." There was no such country in ancient times for wheat, barley, millet, and sesame;[25] tamarisks, poplars, and palms; here and there heavy jungle; with flashing streams and canals thickly athwart the whole, and all shining the more brilliantly for the interrupting patches of scurvy, nitrous soil, and the grey sandy setting of the desert with its dry scrub. The possible fertility of Chaldea is incalculable. But there are drawbacks. Bounded to the north by so high a tableland, to the south and south-west by a superheated gulf and broad desert, Mesopotamia is the scene of violent changes of atmosphere. The languor of the flat country, the stagnancy and sultriness of the air, of which not only foreigners but the natives themselves complain, is suddenly invaded by southerly winds, of tremendous force and laden with clouds of fine sand, which render the air so dense as to be suffocating,[Pg 53] and "produce a lurid red haze intolerable to the eyes." Thunderstorms are frequent, and there are very heavy rains. But the winds are the most tremendous. In such an atmosphere we may perhaps discover the original shapes and sounds of Ezekiel's turbulent visions—the fiery wheels; the great cloud with a fire infolding itself; the colour of amber, with sapphire, or lapis lazuli, breaking through; the sound of a great rushing. Also the Mesopotamian floods are colossal. The increase of both Tigris and Euphrates is naturally more violent and irregular than that of the Nile.[26] Frequent risings of these rivers spread desolation with inconceivable rapidity, and they ebb only to leave pestilence behind them. If civilisation is to continue, there is need of vast and incessant operations on the part of man.

Thus, both by its fertility and by its violence, this climate—before the curse of God fell on those parts of the world—tended to develop a numerous and industrious race of men, whose numbers were swollen from time to time both by forced and by voluntary immigration. The population must have been very dense. The triumphal lists of Assyrian conquerors of the land, as well as the rubbish mounds which to-day cover its surface, testify to innumerable villages and towns; while the connecting canals and fortifications, by the making of them and the watching of them, must have filled even the rural districts with the hum and activity of men. Chaldea, however, did not draw all her greatness from herself. There was immense traffic with East and West, between which Babylon lay, for the greater part of antiquity, the world's central market and exchange.[Pg 54] The city was practically a port on the Persian Gulf, by canals from which vessels reached her wharves direct from Arabia, India and Africa. Down the Tigris and Euphrates rafts brought the produce of Armenia and the Caucasus; but of greater importance than even these rivers were the roads, which ran from Sardis to Shushan, traversed Media, penetrated Bactria and India, and may be said to have connected the Jaxartes and the Ganges with the Nile and the harbours of the Ægean Sea. These roads all crossed Chaldea and met at Babylon. Together with the rivers and ocean highways, they poured upon her markets the traffic of the whole ancient world.

It was, in short, the very centre of the world—the most populous and busy region of His earth—to which God sent His people for their exile. The monarch, who transplanted them, was the genius of Babylonia incarnate. The chief soldier of his generation, Nebuchadrezzar will live in history as one of the greatest builders of all time. But he fought as he built—that he might traffic. His ambition was to turn the trade with India from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, and he thought to effect this by the destruction of Tyre, by the transportation of Arab and Nabathean merchants to Babylon, and by the deepening and regulation of the river between Babylon and the sea.

There is no doubt that Nebuchadrezzar carried the Jews to Babylon not only for political reasons, but in order to employ them upon those large works of irrigation and the building of cities, for which his ambition required hosts of labourers. Thus the exiles were planted, neither in military prisons nor in the comparative isolation of agricultural colonies, but just where Babylonian life was most busy, where they were forced to[Pg 55] share and contribute to it, and could not help feeling the daily infection of their captors' habits. Do not let us forget this. It will explain much in what we have to study. It will explain how the captivity, which God inflicted upon the Jews as a punishment, might become in time a new sin to them, and why, when the day of redemption arrived, so many forgot that their citizenship was in Zion, and clung to the traffic and the offices of Babylon.

The majority of the exiles appear to have been settled within the city, or, as it has been more correctly called, "the fortified district," of Babylon itself. Their mistress was thus constantly before them, at once their despair and their temptation. Lady of Kingdoms she lifted herself to heaven from broad wharves and ramparts, by wide flights of stairs and terraces, high walls and hanging gardens, pyramids and towers—so colossal in her buildings, so imperially lavish of space between! No wonder that upon that vast, far-spreading architecture, upon its great squares and between its high portals guarded by giant bulls, the Jew felt himself, as he expressed it, but a poor worm. If, even as they stand in our museums, captured and catalogued, one feels as if one crawled in the presence of the fragments of these striding monsters, with how much more of the feeling of the worm must the abject members of that captive nation have writhed before the face of the city, which carried these monsters as the mere ornaments of her skirts, and rose above all kingdoms with her strong feet upon the poor and the meek of the earth?

Ah, the despair of it! To see her every day so glorious, to be forced to help her ceaseless growth,—and to think how Jerusalem, the daughter of Zion,[Pg 56] lay forsaken in ruins! Yet the despair sometimes gave way to temptation. There was not an outline or horizon visible to the captive Jew, not a figure in the motley crowds in which he moved, but must have fascinated him with the genius of his conquerors. In that level land no mountain, with its witness of God, broke the skyline; but the work of man was everywhere: curbed and scattered rivers, artificial mounds, buildings of brick, gardens torn from their natural beds and hung high in air by cunning hands to please the taste of a queen; lavish wealth and force and cleverness, all at the command of one human will. The signature ran across the whole, "I have done this, and with mine own hand have I gotten me my wealth;" and all the nations of the earth came and acknowledged the signature, and worshipped the great city. It was fascinating merely to look on such cleverness, success and self-confidence; and who was the poor Jew that he, too, should not be drawn with the intoxicated nations to the worship of this glory that filled his horizon? If his eyes rose higher, and from these enchantments of men sought refuge in the heavens above, were not even they also a Babylonian realm? Did not the Chaldean claim the great lights there for his patron gods? were not the movements of sun, moon, and planets the secret of his science? did not the tyrant believe that the very stars in their courses fought for him? And he was vindicated; he was successful; he did actually rule the world. There seemed to be no escape from the enchantments of this sorceress city, as the prophets called her, and it is not wonderful that so many Jews fell victims to her worldliness and idolatry.

[Pg 57]


The social condition of the Jews in Exile is somewhat obscure, and yet, both in connection with the date and with the exposition of some portions of "Second Isaiah," it is an element of the greatest importance, of which we ought to have as definite an idea as possible.

What are the facts? By far the most significant is that which faces us at the end of the Exile. There, some sixty years after the earlier, and some fifty years after the later, of Nebuchadrezzar's two deportations, we find the Jews a largely multiplied and still regularly organised nation, with considerable property and decided political influence. Not more than forty thousand can have gone into exile, but forty-two thousand returned, and yet left a large portion of the nation behind them. The old families and clans survived; the social ranks were respected; the rich still held slaves; and the former menials of the temple could again be gathered together. Large subscriptions were raised for the pilgrimage, and for the restoration of the temple; a great host of cattle was taken. To such a state of affairs do we see any traces leading up through the Exile itself? We do.

The first host of exiles, the captives of 598, comprised, as we have seen, the better classes of the nation, and appear to have enjoyed considerable independence. They were not scattered, like the slaves in North America, as domestic bondsmen over the surface of the land. Their condition must have much more closely resembled that of the better-treated exiles in Siberia; though of course, as we have seen, it was not a Siberia, but the centre of civilisation, to which they were banished.[Pg 58] They remained in communities, with their own official heads, and at liberty to consult their prophets. They were sufficiently in touch with one another, and sufficiently numerous, for the enemies of Babylon to regard them as a considerable political influence, and to treat with them for a revolution against their captors. But Ezekiel's strong condemnation of this intrigue exhibits their leaders on good terms with the government. Jeremiah bade them throw themselves into the life of the land; buy and sell, and increase their families and property. At the same time, we cannot but observe that it is only religious sins, with which Ezekiel upbraids them. When he speaks of civic duty or social charity, he either refers to their past or to the life of the remnant still in Jerusalem. There is every reason to believe, therefore, that this captivity was an honourable and an easy one. The captives may have brought some property with them; they had leisure for the pursuit of business and for the study and practice of their religion. Some of them suffered, of course, from the usual barbarity of Oriental conquerors, and were made eunuchs; some, by their learning and abstinence, rose to high positions in the court.[27] Probably to the end of the Exile they remained the good figs, as Jeremiah had called them. Theirs was, perhaps, the literary work of the Exile; and theirs, too, may have been the wealth which rebuilt Jerusalem.

But it was different with the second captivity, of 589. After the famine, the burning of the city, and the prolonged march, this second host of exiles must have reached Babylonia in an impoverished condition. They were a lower class of men. They had exasperated their[Pg 59] conquerors, who, before the march began, subjected many of them to mutilation and cruel death; and it is, doubtless, echoes of their experience which we find in the more bitter complaints of our prophet. This is a people robbed and spoiled; all of them snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and for a spoil. Thou, that is, Babylon, didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke.[28] Nebuchadrezzar used them for his building, as Pharaoh had used their forefathers. Some of them, or of their countrymen who had reached Babylonia before them, became the domestic slaves and chattels of their conquerors. Among the contracts and bills of sale of this period we find the cases of slaves with apparently Jewish names.[29]

In short, the state of the Jews in Babylonia resembled what seems to have been their fortune wherever they have settled in a foreign land. Part of them despised and abused, forced to labour or overtaxed; part left alone to cultivate literature or to gather wealth. Some treated with unusual rigour—and perhaps a few of these with reason, as dangerous to the government of the land—but some also, by the versatile genius of their race, advancing to a high place in the political confidence of their captors.

Their application to literature, to their religion, and to commerce must be specially noted.

1. Nothing is more striking in the writings of Ezekiel than the air of large leisure which invests them. Ezekiel lies passive; he broods, gazes and builds his[Pg 60] visions up, in a fashion like none of his terser predecessors; for he had time on his hands, not available to them in days when the history of the nation was still running. Ezekiel's style swells to a greater fulness of rhetoric; his pictures of the future are elaborated with the most minute detail. Prophets before him were speakers, but he is a writer. Many in Israel besides Ezekiel took advantage of the leisure of the Exile to the great increase and arrangement of the national literature. Some Assyriologists have lately written, as if the schools of Jewish scribes owed their origin entirely to the Exile.[30] But there were scribes in Israel before this. What the Exile did for these, was to provide them not only with the leisure from national business which we have noted, but with a powerful example of their craft as well. Babylonia at this time was a land full of scribes and makers of libraries. They wrote a language not very different from the Jewish, and cannot but have powerfully infected their Jewish fellows with the spirit of their toil and of their methods. To the Exile we certainly owe a large part of the historical books of the Old Testament, the arrangement of some of the prophetic writings, as well as—though the amount of this is very uncertain—part of the codification of the Law.

2. If the Exile was opportunity to the scribes, it can only have been despair to the priests. In this foreign land the nation was unclean; none of the old sacrifice or ritual was valid, and the people were reduced to the simplest elements of religion—prayer, fasting and the reading of religious books. We shall find our prophecy[Pg 61] noting the clamour of the exiles to God for ordinances of righteousness—that is, for the institution of legal and valid rites.[31] But the great lesson, which prophecy brings to the people of the Exile, is that pardon and restoration to God's favour are won only by waiting upon Him with all the heart. It was possible, of course, to observe some forms; to gather at intervals to inquire of the Lord, to keep the Sabbath, and to keep fasts. The first of these practices, out of which the synagogue probably took its rise, is noted by our prophet,[32] and he enforces Sabbath-keeping with words, that add the blessing of prophecy to the law's ancient sanction of that institution. Four annual fasts were instituted in memory of the dark days of Jerusalem—the day of the beginning of Nebuchadrezzar's siege in the tenth month, the day of the capture in the fourth month, the day of the destruction in the fifth month, and the day of Gedaliah's murder in the tenth month. It might have been thought, that solemn anniversaries of a disaster so recent and still unrepaired would be kept with sincerity; but our prophet illustrates how soon even the most outraged feelings may grow formal, and how on their days of special humiliation, while their captivity was still real, the exiles could oppress their own bondsmen and debtors. But there is no religious practice of this epoch more apparent through our prophecies than the reading of Scripture. Israel's hope was neither in sacrifice, nor in temple, nor in vision nor in lot, but in God's written Word; and when a new prophet arose like the one we are about to study, he did not appeal for his authorisation, as previous prophets had done, to the fact of his call or inspiration, but it was[Pg 62] enough for him to point to some former word of God, and cry, "See! at last the day has dawned for the fulfilment of that." Throughout Second Isaiah this is what the anonymous prophet cares to establish—that the facts of to-day fit the promise of yesterday. We shall not understand our great prophecy unless we realise a people rising from fifty years' close study of Scripture, in strained expectation of its immediate fulfilment.

3. The third special feature of the people in exile is their application to commerce. At home the Jews had not been a commercial people.[33] But the opportunities of their Babylonian residence seem to have started them upon those habits, for which, through their longer exile in our era, the name of Jew has become a synonym. If that be so, Jeremiah's advice to build and plant[34] is historic, for it means no less than that the Jews should throw themselves into the life of the most trafficking nation of the time. Their increasing wealth proves how they followed this advice,—as well as perhaps such passages as Isa. lv. 2, in which the commercial spirit is reproached for overwhelming the nobler desires of religion. The chief danger, incurred by the Jews from an intimate connection with the commerce of Babylonia, lay in the close relations of Babylonian commerce with Babylonian idolatry. The merchants of Mesopotamia had their own patron gods. In completing business contracts, a man had to swear by the idols,[35] and might have to enter their temples. In Isa. lxv. 11, Jews are blamed for forsaking Jehovah, and forgetting My holy mountain; preparing a table for Luck, and filling up mixed wine to[Pg 63] Fortune. Here it is more probable that mercantile speculation, rather than any other form of gambling, is intended.


But while all this is certain and needing to be noted about the habits of the mass of the people, what little trace it has left in the best literature of the period! We have already noticed in that the great absence of local colour. The truth is that what we have been trying to describe as Jewish life in Babylon was only a surface over deeps in which the true life of the nation was at work—was volcanically at work. Throughout the Exile the true Jew lived inwardly. Out of the depths do I cry to Thee, O Lord. He was the inhabitant not so much of a foreign prison as of his own broken heart. He sat by the rivers of Babylon; but he thought upon Zion. Is it not a proof of what depths in human nature were being stirred, that so little comes to the surface to tell us of the external conditions of those days? There are no fossils in the strata of the earth, which have been cast forth from her inner fires; and if we find few traces of contemporary life in these deposits of Israel's history now before us, it is because they date from an age in which the nation was shaken and boiling to its centre.

For if we take the writings of this period—the Book of Lamentations, the Psalms of the Exile, and parts of other books—and put them together, the result is the impression of one of the strangest decompositions of human nature into its elements which the world has ever seen. Suffering and sin, recollection, remorse and revenge, fear and shame and hate—over the confusion of these the Spirit of God broods as over a second[Pg 64] chaos, and draws each of them forth in turn upon some articulate prayer. Now it is the crimson flush of shame: our soul is exceedingly filled with contempt. Now it is the black rush of hate; for if we would see how hate can rage, we must go to the Psalms of the Exile, which call on the God of vengeance and curse the enemy and dash the little ones against the stones. But the deepest surge of all in that whirlpool of misery was the surge of sin. To change the figure, we see Israel's spirit writhing upward from some pain it but partly understands, crying out, "What is this that keeps God from hearing and saving me?" turning like a wounded beast from the face of its master to its sore again, understanding as no brute could the reason of its plague, till confession after confession breaks away and the penalty is accepted, and acknowledged guilt seems almost to act as an anodyne to the penalty it explains. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? If thou, Jehovah, shouldest mark iniquity, who shall stand? No wonder, that with such a conscience the Jews occupied the Exile in writing the moral of their delinquent history, or that the rest of their literature which dates from that time should have remained ever since the world's confessional.

But in this awful experience, there is still another strain, as painful as the rest, but pure and very eloquent of hope—the sense of innocent suffering. We cannot tell the sources, from which this considerable feeling may have gathered during the Exile, any more than we can trace from how many of the upper folds of a valley the tiny rivulets start, which form the stream that issues from its lower end. One of these sources may have been, as we have already suggested, the experience of Jeremiah; another very probably sprang with every[Pg 65] individual conscience in the new generation. Children come even to exiles, and although they bear the same pain with the same nerves as their fathers, they do so with a different conscience. The writings of the time dwell much on the sufferings of the children. The consciousness is apparent in them, that souls are born into the wrath of God, as well as banished there. Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we bear their iniquities. This experience developed with great force, till Israel felt that she suffered not under God's wrath, but for His sake; and so passed from the conscience of the felon to that of the martyr. But if we are to understand the prophecy we are about to study, we must remember how near akin these two consciences must have been in exiled Israel, and how easy it was for a prophet to speak—as our prophet does, sometimes with confusing rapidity of exchange—now in the voice of the older and more guilty generation, and now in the voice of the younger and less deservedly punished.

Our survey of the external as well as the internal conditions of Israel in Exile is now finished. It has, I think, included every known feature of their experience in Babylonia, which could possibly illustrate our prophecy—dated, as we have felt ourselves compelled to date this, from the close of the Exile. Thus, as we have striven to trace, did Israel suffer, learn, grow and hope for fifty years—under Nebuchadrezzar till 561, under his successor Evil-merodach till 559, under Neriglassar till 554, and then under the usurper Nabunahid. The last named probably oppressed the Jews more grievously than their previous tyrants, but with[Pg 66] the aggravation of their yoke there grew evident, at the same time, the certainty of their deliverance. In 549, Cyrus overthrew the Medes, and became lord of Asia from the Indus to the Halys. From that event his conquest of Babylonia, however much delayed, could only be a matter of time.

It is at this juncture that our prophecy breaks in. Taking for granted Cyrus' sovereignty of the Medes, it still looks forward to his capture of Babylon. Let us, before advancing to its exposition, once more cast a rapid glance over the people, to whom it is addressed, and whom in their half century of waiting for it we have been endeavouring to describe.

First and most manifest, they are a People with a Conscience—a people with the most awful and most articulate conscience that ever before or since exposed a nation's history or tormented a generation with the curse of their own sin and the sin of their fathers. Behind them, ages of delinquent life, from the perusal of the record of which, with its regularly recurring moral, they have just risen: the Books of Kings appear to have been finished after the accession of Evil-merodach in 561. Behind them also nearly fifty years of sore punishment for their sins—punishment, which, as their Psalms confess, they at last understand and accept as deserved.

But, secondly, they are a People with a Great Hope. With their awful consciousness of guilt, they have the assurance that their punishment has its limits; that, to quote ch. xl., ver. 2, it is a set period of service: a former word of God having fixed it at not more than seventy years, and having promised the return of the nation thereafter to their own land.

And, thirdly, they are a People with a Great Opportunity.[Pg 67] History is at last beginning to set towards the vindication of their hope: Cyrus, the master of the age, is moving rapidly, irresistibly, down upon their tyrants.

But, fourthly, in face of all their hope and opportunity, they are a People Disorganised, Distracted, and very Impotent—worms and not men, as they describe themselves. The generation of the tried and responsible leaders of the days of their independence are all dead, for flesh is like grass; no public institutions remain in their midst such as ever in the most hopeless periods of the past proved a rallying-point of their scattered forces. There is no king, temple, nor city; nor is there any great personality visible to draw their little groups together, marshal them, and lead them forth behind him. Their one hope is in the Word of God, for which they wait more than they that watch for the morning; and the one duty of their nameless prophets is to persuade them, that this Word has at last come to pass, and, in the absence of king, Messiah, priest, and great prophet, is able to lift them to the opportunity that God's hand has opened before them, and to the accomplishment of their redemption.

Upon Israel, with such a Conscience, such a Hope, such an Opportunity, and such an unaided Reliance on God's bare Word, that Word at last broke in a chorus of voices.

Of these the first, as was most meet, spoke pardon to the people's conscience and the proclamation that their set period of warfare was accomplished; the second announced that circumstances and the politics of the world, hitherto adverse, would be made easy to their return; the third bade them, in their bereavement of earthly leaders, and their own impotence, find their[Pg 68] eternal confidence in God's Word; while the fourth lifted them, as with one heart and voice, to herald the certain return of Jehovah, at the head of His people, to His own City, and His quiet, shepherdly rule of them on their own land.

These herald voices form the prologue to our prophecy, ch. xl. 1-11, to which we will now turn.

[Pg 69]



[Pg 70]

[Pg 71]



Isaiah xl. 1-11.

It is only Voices which we hear in this Prologue. No forms can be discerned, whether of men or angels, and it is even difficult to make out the direction from which the Voices come. Only one thing is certain—that they break the night, that they proclaim the end of a long but fixed period, during which God has punished and forsaken His people. At first, the persons addressed are the prophets, that they may speak to the people (vv. 1, 2); but afterwards Jerusalem as a whole is summoned to publish the good tidings (ver. 9). This interchange between a part of the people and the whole—this commission to prophesy, made with one breath to some of the nation for the sake of the rest, and with the next breath to the entire nation—is a habit of our prophet to which we shall soon get accustomed. How natural and characteristic it is, is proved by its appearance in these very first verses.

The beginning of the good tidings is Israel's pardon; yet it seems not to be the people's return to Palestine which is announced in consequence of this, so much as their God's return to them. Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight a highway for our God. Behold the Lord Jehovah will come. We may, however, take the way of Jehovah in the wilderness to mean what it[Pg 72] means in the sixty-eighth Psalm,—His going forth before His people and leading of them back; while the promise that He will come to shepherd His flock (ver. 11) is, of course, the promise that He will resume the government of Israel upon their own land. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this chapter was meant for the people at the close of their captivity in Babylon. But do not let us miss the pathetic fact, that Israel is addressed not in her actual shape of a captive people in a foreign land, but under the name and aspect of her far-away, desolate country. In these verses Israel is Jerusalem, Zion, the cities of Judah. Such designations do not prove, as a few critics have rather pedantically supposed, that the writer of the verses lived in Judah and addressed himself to what was under his eyes. It is not the vision of a Jew at home that has determined the choice of these names, but the desire and the dream of a Jew abroad: that extraordinary passion, which, however distant might be the land of his exile, ever filled the Jew's eyes with Zion, caused him to feel the ruin and forsakenness of his Mother more than his own servitude, and swept his patriotic hopes, across his own deliverance and return, to the greater glory of her restoration.[36] There is nothing, therefore, to prevent us taking for granted, as we did in the previous chapter, that the speaker or speakers of these verses stood among the exiles themselves; but who they were—men or angels, prophets or scribes—is lost in the darkness out of which their music breaks.[37]

[Pg 73]

Nevertheless the prophecy is not anonymous. By these impersonal voices a personal revelation is made. The prophets may be nameless, but the Deity who speaks through them speaks as already known and acknowledged: My people, saith your God.

This is a point, which, though it takes for its expression no more than these two little pronouns, we must not hurriedly pass over. All the prophecy we are about to study may be said to hang from these pronouns. They are the hinges, on which the door of this new temple of revelation swings open before the long-expectant people. And, in fact, such a conscience and sympathy as these little words express form the necessary premise of all revelation. Revelation implies a previous knowledge of God, and cannot work upon men, except there already exist in them the sense that they and God somehow belong to each other. This sense need be neither pure, nor strong, nor articulate. It may be the most selfish and cowardly of guilty fears,—Jacob's dread as he drew near Esau, whom he had treacherously supplanted,—the vaguest of ignorant desires, the Athenians' worship of the Unknown God. But, whatever it is, the angel comes to wrestle with it, the apostle is sent to declare it; revelation in some form takes it as its premise and starting-point. This previous sense of God may also be fuller than in the cases just cited. Take our Lord's own illustration. Upon the prodigal in the strange country there surged again the far-ebbed memory of his home and childhood, of his years of familiarity with a Father; and it was this tide which carried back his penitent heart within the hearing of his Father's voice, and the revelation of the love that became his new life. Now Israel, also in a far-off land, were borne upon the recollection of home and of life[Pg 74] in the favour of their God. We have seen with what knowledge of Him and from what relations with Him they were banished. To the men of the Exile God was already a Name and an Experience, and because that Name was The Righteous, and that Experience was all grace and promise, these men waited for His Word more than they that wait for the morning; and when at length the Word broke from the long darkness and silence, they received it, though its bearers might be unseen and unaccredited, because they recognised and acknowledged in it Himself. He who spoke was their God, and they were His people. This conscience and sympathy was all the title or credential which the revelation required. It is, therefore, not too much to say, as we have said, that the two pronouns in ch. xl., ver. 1, are the necessary premise of the whole prophecy which that verse introduces.

With this introduction we may now take up the four herald voices of the Prologue. Whatever may have been their original relation to one another, whether or not they came to Israel by different messengers, they are arranged (as we saw at the close of the previous chapter) in manifest order and progress of thought, and they meet in due succession the experiences of Israel at the close of the Exile. For the first of them (vv. 1 and 2) gives the subjective assurance of the coming redemption: it is the Voice of Grace. The second (vv. 3-5) proclaims the objective reality of that redemption: it may be called the Voice of Providence, or—to use the name by which our prophecy loves to entitle the just and victorious providence of God—the Voice of Righteousness. The third (vv. 6-8) uncovers the pledge and earnest of the redemption: in the weakness[Pg 75] of men this shall be the Word of God. While the fourth (vv. 9-11) is the Proclamation of Jehovah's restored kingdom, when He cometh as a shepherd to shepherd His people. To this progress and climax the music of the passage forms a perfect accompaniment. It would be difficult to find in any language lips that first more softly woo the heart, and then take to themselves so brave a trumpet of challenge and assurance. The opening is upon a few short pulses of music, which steal from heaven as gently as the first ripples of light in a cloudless dawn—

Năhămu, năhămu ammi:
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people:
Dabbĕru `al-lev Yerushālaîm.
Speak upon the heart of Jerusalem.[38]

But then the trumpet-tone breaks forth, Call unto her; and on that high key the music stays, sweeping with the second voice across hill and dale like a company of swift horsemen, stooping with the third for a while to the elegy upon the withered grass, but then recovering itself, braced by all the strength of the Word of God, to peal from tower to tower with the fourth, upon the cry, Behold, the Lord cometh, till it sinks almost from sound to sight, and yields us, as from the surface of still waters, that sweet reflection of the twenty-third Psalm with which the Prologue concludes.

1. Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.
[Pg 76]Speak ye home to the heart of Jerusalem, and call unto her,
That accomplished is her warfare, that absolved is her iniquity;
That she hath received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins.

This first voice, with the music of which our hearts have been thrilled ever since we can remember, speaks twice: first in a whisper, then in a call—the whisper of the Lover and the call of the Lord. Speak ye home to the heart of Jerusalem, and call unto her.

Now Jerusalem lay in ruins, a city through whose breached walls all the winds of heaven blew mournfully across her forsaken floors. And the heart of Jerusalem, which was with her people in exile, was like the city—broken and defenceless. In that far-off, unsympathetic land it lay open to the alien; tyrants forced their idols upon it, the peoples tortured it with their jests.

For they that led us captive required of us songs,
And they that wasted us required of us mirth.

But observe how gently the Divine Beleaguerer approaches, how softly He bids His heralds plead by the gaps, through which the oppressor has forced his idols and his insults. Of all human language they might use, God bids His messengers take and plead with the words with which a man will plead at a maiden's heart, knowing that he has nothing but love to offer as right of entrance, and waiting until love and trust come out to welcome him. Speak ye, says the original literally, on to, or up against, or up round the heart of Jerusalem,—a forcible expression, like the German "An das Herz," or the sweet Scottish, "It cam' up roond my heart," and perhaps best rendered into English by the phrase, Speak home to the heart.[Pg 77] It is the ordinary Hebrew expression for wooing. As from man to woman when he wins her, the Old Testament uses it several times. To speak home to the heart is to use language in which authority and argument are both ignored, and love works her own inspiration. While the haughty Babylonian planted by force his idols, while the folly and temptations of heathendom surged recklessly in, God Himself, the Creator of this broken heart, its Husband and Inhabitant of old,[39] stood lowly by its breaches, pleading in love the right to enter. But when entrance has been granted, see how He bids His heralds change their voice and disposition. The suppliant lover, being received, assumes possession and defence, and they, who were first bid whisper as beggars by each unguarded breach, now leap upon the walls to call from the accepted Lord of the city: Fulfilled is thy time of service, absolved thine iniquity, received hast thou of Jehovah's hand double for all thy sins.

Now this is no mere rhetorical figure. This is the abiding attitude and aim of the Almighty towards men. God's target is our heart. His revelation, whatever of law or threat it send before, is, in its own superlative clearness and urgency, Grace. It comes to man by way of the heart; not at first by argument addressed to the intellect, nor by appeal to experience, but by the sheer strength of a love laid on to the heart. It is, to begin with, a subjective thing. Is revelation, then, entirely a subjective assurance? Do the pardon and peace which it proclaims remain only feelings of the heart, without anything to correspond to them in real fact? By no means; for these Jews the revelation now whispered[Pg 78] to their heart will actually take shape in providences of the most concrete kind. A voice will immediately call, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and the way will be prepared. Babylon will fall; Cyrus will let Israel go; their release will appear—most concrete of things!—in "black and white" on a Persian state-parchment. Yet, before these events happen and become part of His people's experience, God desires first to convince His people by the sheer urgency of His love. Before He displays His Providence, He will speak in the power and evidence of His Grace. Afterwards, His prophets shall appeal to outward facts; we shall find them in succeeding chapters arguing both with Israel and the heathen on grounds of reason and the facts of history. But, in the meantime, let them only feel that in His Grace they have something for the heart of men, which, striking home, shall be its own evidence and force.

Thus God adventures His Word forth by nameless and unaccredited men upon no other authority than the Grace, with which it is fraught for the heart of His people. The illustration, which this affords of the method and evidence of Divine revelation, is obvious. Let us, with all the strength of which we are capable, emphasize the fact that our prophecy—which is full of the materials for an elaborate theology, which contains the most detailed apologetic in the whole Bible, and displays the most glorious prospect of man's service and destiny—takes its source and origin from a simple revelation of Grace and the subjective assurance of this in the heart of those to whom it is addressed. This proclamation of Grace is as characteristic and dominant in Second Isaiah, as we saw the proclamation of conscience in ch. i. to be characteristic of the First Isaiah.

[Pg 79]

Before we pass on, let us look for a moment at the contents of this Grace, in the three clauses of the prophet's cry: Fulfilled is her warfare, absolved her guilt, received hath she of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins. The very grammar here is eloquent of grace. The emphasis lies on the three predicates, which ought to stand in translation, as they do in the original, at the beginning of each clause. Prominence is given, not to the warfare, nor to the guilt, nor to the sins, but to this, that accomplished is the warfare, absolved the guilt, sufficiently expiated the sins. It is a great At Last which these clauses peal forth; but an At Last whose tone is not so much inevitableness as undeserved grace. The term translated warfare means period of military service, appointed term of conscription; and the application is apparent when we remember that the Exile had been fixed, by the Word of God through Jeremiah, to a definite number of years. Absolved is the passive of a verb meaning to pay off what is due.[40] But the third clause is especially gracious. It declares that Israel has suffered of punishment more than double enough to atone for her sins. This is not a way of regarding either sin or atonement, which, theologically speaking, is accurate. What of its relation to our Articles, that man cannot give satisfaction for his sins by the work of his hands or the pains of his flesh? No: it would scarcely pass some of our creeds to-day. But all the more, that it thus bursts forth from strict terms of dealing, does it reveal the generosity of Him who utters it. How full of pity God is, to take so much account of the sufferings sinners have brought upon themselves! How full of grace to reckon those sufferings double the[Pg 80] sins that had earned them! It is, as when we have seen gracious men make us a free gift, and in their courtesy insist that we have worked for it. It is grace masked by grace. As the height of art is to conceal art, so the height of grace is to conceal grace, which it does in this verse.

Such is the Voice of Grace. But,

2. Hark, One calling!
In the wilderness prepare the way of Jehovah!
Make straight in the desert an highway for our God!
Every valley shall be exalted,
And every mountain and hill be made low:
And the crooked grow straight,
And rough places a plain:
And the glory of Jehovah be revealed,
And see it shall all flesh together;
For the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken.

The relation of this Voice to the previous one has already been indicated. This is the witness of Providence following upon the witness of Grace. Religion is a matter in the first place between God and the heart; but religion does not, as many mock, remain an inward feeling. The secret relation between God and His people issues into substantial fact, visible to all men. History vindicates faith; Providence executes Promise; Righteousness follows Grace. So, as the first Voice was spoken to the heart, this second is for the hands and feet and active will. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. If you, poor captives as you are, begin to act upon the grace whispered in your trembling hearts, the world will show the result. All things will come round to your side. A levelled empire, an altered world—across those your way shall lie clear to Jerusalem.[Pg 81] You shall go forth in the sight of all men, and future generations looking back shall praise this manifest wonder of your God. The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and see it shall all flesh together.

On which word, how can our hearts help rising from the comfort of grace to the sense of mastery over this world, to the assurance of heaven itself? History must come round to the side of faith—as it has come round not in the case of Jewish exiles only, but wheresoever such a faith as theirs has been repeated. History must come round to the side of faith, if men will only obey the second as well as the first of these herald voices. But we are too ready to listen to the Word of the Lord, without seeking to prepare His way. We are satisfied with the personal comfort of our God; we are contented to be forgiven and—oh mockery!—left alone. But the word of God will not leave us alone, and not for comfort only is it spoken. On the back of the voice, which sets our heart right with God, comes the voice to set the world right, and no man is godly who has not heard both. Are we timid and afraid that facts will not correspond to our faith? Nay, but as God reigneth they shall, if only we put to our hands and make them; all flesh shall see it, if we will but prepare the way of the Lord.

Have we only ancient proofs of this? On the contrary, God has done like wonders within the lives of those of us who are yet young. During our generation, a people has appealed from the convictions of her heart to the arbitrament of history, and appealed not in vain. When the citizens of the Northern States of the American Republic, not content as they might have been with their protests against slavery, rose to vindicate these by the sword, they faced, humanly[Pg 82] speaking, a risk as great as that to which Jew was ever called by the word of God. Their own brethren were against them; the world stood aloof. But even so, unaided by united patriotism and as much dismayed as encouraged by the opinions of civilisation, they rose to the issue on the strength of conscience and their hearts. They rose and they conquered. Slavery was abolished. What had been but the conviction of a few men, became the surprise, the admiration, the consent of the whole world. The glory of the Lord was revealed, and all flesh saw it together.

3. But the shadow of death falls on everything, even on the way of the Lord. By 550 b.c.—that is, after thirty-eight years of exile—nearly all the strong men of Israel's days of independence must have been taken away. Death had been busy with the exiles for more than a generation. There was no longer any human representative of Jehovah to rally the people's trust; the monarchy, each possible Messiah who in turn held it, the priesthood, and the prophethood—whose great personalities so often took the place of Israel's official leaders—had all alike disappeared. It was little wonder, then, that a nation accustomed to be led, not by ideas like us Westerns, but by personages, who were to it the embodiment of Jehovah's will and guidance, should have been cast into despair by the call, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. What sort of a call was this for a people, whose strong men were like things uprooted and withered! How could one be, with any heart, a herald of the Lord to such a people!

Hark one saying "Call."[41]
And I said:
[Pg 83] "What can I call?
All flesh is grass,
And all its beauty like a wild-flower!
Withers grass, fades flower,
When the breath of Jehovah blows on it.
Surely grass is the people."

Back comes a voice like the east wind's for pitilessness to the flowers, but of the east wind's own strength and clearness, to proclaim Israel's everlasting hope.

Withers grass, fades flower,
But the word of our God endureth for ever.

Everything human may perish; the day may be past of the great prophets, of the priests—of the King in his beauty, who was vicegerent of God. But the people have God's word; when all their leaders have fallen, and every visible authority for God is taken away, this shall be their rally and their confidence.

All this is too like the actual experience of Israel in Exile not to be the true interpretation of this third, stern Voice. Their political and religious institutions, which had so often proved the initiative of a new movement, or served as a bridge to carry the nation across disaster to a larger future, were not in existence. Nor does any Moses, as in Egypt of old, rise to visibleness from among his obscure people, impose his authority upon them, marshal them, and lead them out behind him to freedom. But what we see is a scattered and a leaderless people, stirred in their shadow, as a ripe cornfield is stirred by the breeze before dawn—stirred in their shadow by the ancient promises of God, and everywhere breaking out at the touch of these into psalms and prophecies of hope. We see them expectant of redemption, we see them resolved to return, we see[Pg 84] them carried across the desert to Zion, and from first to last it is the word of God that is their inspiration and assurance.

They, who formerly had rallied round the Ark or the Temple, or who had risen to the hope of a glorious Messiah, do not now speak of all these, but their hope, they tell us, is in His word; it is the instrument of their salvation, and their destiny is to be its evangelists.

4. To this high destiny the fourth Voice now summons them, by a vivid figure.

Up on a high mountain, get thee up,
Heraldess of good news, O Zion!
Lift up with strength thy voice,
Heraldess of good news, Jerusalem!
Lift up, fear not, say to the cities of Judah:—
Behold, your God.
Behold, my Lord Jehovah, with power He cometh,
And His arm rules for Him.
Behold, His reward with Him,
And His recompense before Him.
As a shepherd His flock He shepherds;
With His right arm gathers the lambs,
And in His bosom bears them.
Ewe-mothers He tenderly leads.

The title which I have somewhat awkwardly translated heraldess—but in English there is really no better word for it—is the feminine participle of a verb meaning to thrill, or give joy, by means of good news. It is used generally to tell such happy news as the birth of a child, but mostly in the special sense of carrying tidings of victory or peace home from the field to the people. The feminine participle would seem from Psalm lxviii., the women who publish victory to the great[Pg 85] host, to have been the usual term for the members of those female choirs, who, like Miriam and her maidens, celebrated a triumph in face of the army, or came forth from the city to hail the returning conqueror, as the daughters of Jerusalem hailed Saul and David. As such a chorister, Zion is now summoned to proclaim Jehovah's arrival at the gates of the cities of Judah.

The verses from Behold, your God, to the end of the Prologue are the song of the heraldess. Do not their mingled martial and pastoral strains exactly suit the case of the Return? For this is an expedition, on which the nation's champion has gone forth, not to lead His enemies captive to His gates, but that He may gather His people home. Not mailed men, in the pride of a victory they have helped to win, march in behind Him,—armour and tumult and the garment rolled in blood,—but a herd of mixed and feeble folk, with babes and women, in need of carriage and gentle leading, wander wearily back. And, therefore, in the mouth of the heraldess the figure changes from a warrior-king to the Good Shepherd. With His right arm He gathers the lambs, and in His bosom bears them. Ewe-mothers He gently leads. How true a picture, and how much it recalls! Fifty years before, the exiles left their home (as we can see to this day upon Assyrian sculptures) in closely-driven companies, fettered, and with the urgency upon them of grim soldiers, who marched at intervals in their ranks to keep up the pace, and who tossed the weaklings impatiently aside. But now, see the slow and loosely-gathered bands wander back, just as quickly as the weakest feel strength to travel, and without any force or any guidance save that of their Almighty, Unseen Shepherd.

[Pg 86]

We are now able to appreciate the dramatic unity of this Prologue. How perfectly it gathers into its four Voices the whole course of Israel's redemption: the first assurance of Grace whispered to the heart, co-operation with Providence, confidence in God's bare Word, the full Return and the Restoration of the City.

But its climax is undoubtedly the honour it lays upon the whole people to be publishers of the good news of God. Of this it speaks with trumpet tones. All Jerusalem must be a herald-people. And how could Israel help owning the constraint and inspiration to so high an office, after so heartfelt an experience of grace, so evident a redemption, so glorious a proof of the power of the Word of God? To have the heart thus filled with grace, to have the will enlisted in so Divine a work, to have known the almightiness of the Divine Word when everything else failed—after such an experience, who would not be able to preach the good news of God, to foretell, as our prophet bids Israel foretell, the coming of the Kingdom and Presence of God—the day when the Lord's flock shall be perfect and none wanting, when society, though still weary and weak and mortal, shall have no stragglers nor outcasts nor reprobates.

O God, so fill us with Thy grace and enlist us in Thy work, so manifest the might of Thy word to us, that the ideal of Thy perfect kingdom may shine as bright and near to us as to Thy prophet of old, and that we may become its inspired preachers and ever labour in its hope. Amen.

[Pg 87]



Isaiah xl. 12-31.

Such are the Four Voices which herald the day of Israel's redemption. They are scarcely silent, before the Sun Himself uprises, and horizon after horizon of His empire is displayed to the eyes of His starved and waiting people. From the prologue of the prophecy, in ch. xl. 1-11, we advance to the presentation, in chs. xl. 12-xli., of its primary and governing truth—the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, the God of Israel.

We may well call this truth the sun of the new day which Israel is about to enter. For as it is the sun which makes the day, and not the day which reveals the sun; so it is God, supreme and almighty, who interprets, predicts and controls His people's history, and not their history, which, in its gradual evolution, is to make God's sovereignty and omnipotence manifest to their experience. Let us clearly understand this. The prophecy, which we are about to follow, is an argument not so much from history to God as from God to history. Israel already have their God; and it is because He is what He is, and what they ought to know Him to be,[42] that they are bidden believe that[Pg 88] their future shall take a certain course. The prophet begins with God, and everything follows from God. All that in these chapters lends light or force, all that interprets the history of to-day and fills to-morrow with hope, fact and promise alike, the captivity of Israel, the appearance of Cyrus, the fall of Babylon, Israel's redemption, the extension of their mission to the ends of the earth, the conversion of the Gentiles, the equipment, discipline and triumph of the Servant Himself,—we may even say the expanded geography of our prophet, the countries which for the first time emerge from the distant west within the vision of a Hebrew seer,—all are due to that primary truth about God with which we are now presented. It is God's sovereignty which brings such far-off things into the interest of Israel; it is God's omnipotence which renders such impossible things practical. And as with the subjects, so with the style of the following chapters. The prophet's style is throughout the effect of his perfect and brilliant monotheism. It is the thought of God which everywhere kindles his imagination. His most splendid passages are those, in which he soars to some lofty vision of the Divine glory in creation or history; while his frequent sarcasm and ridicule owe their effectiveness to the sudden scorn, with which, from such a view, scattering epigrams the while, he sweeps down upon the heathen's poor images, or Israel's grudging thoughts of his God. The breadth and the force of his imagination, the sweep of his rhetoric, the intensity of his scorn, may all be traced to his sense of God's sovereignty, and are the signs to us of how absolutely he was possessed by this as his main and governing truth.

This, then, being the sun of Israel's coming day, we[Pg 89] may call what we find in ch. xl. 11-xli. the sunrise—the full revelation and uprising on our sight of this original gospel of the prophet. It is addressed to two classes of men; in ch. xl. 12-31 to Israel, but in ch. xli. (for the greater part, at least) to the Gentiles. In dealing with these two classes the prophet makes a great difference. To Israel he presents their God, as it were, in sacrament; but to the Gentiles he urges God's claims in challenge and argument. It is to the past that he summons Israel, and to what they ought to know already about their God; it is to the future, to history yet unmade, that he proposes to the Gentiles they should together appeal, in order to see whether his God or their gods are the true Deity. In this chapter we shall deal with the first of these—God in sacrament.

The fact is familiar to all, that the Old Testament nowhere feels the necessity of proving the existence of God. That would have been a proof unintelligible to those to whom its prophets addressed themselves. In the time when the Old Testament came to him, man as little doubted the existence of God as he doubted his own life. But as life sometimes burned low, needing replenishment, so faith would grow despondent and morbid, needing to be led away from objects which only starved it, or produced, as idolatry did, the veriest delirium of a religion. A man had to get his faith lifted from the thoughts of his own mind and the works of his own hand, to be borne upon and nourished by the works of God,—to kindle with the sunrise, to broaden out by the sight of the firmament, to deepen as he faced the spaces of night,—and win calmness and strength to think life into order as he looked forth[Pg 90] upon the marshalled hosts of heaven, having all the time no doubt that the God who created and guided these was his God. Therefore, when psalmist or prophet calls Israel to lift their eyes to the hills, or to behold how the heavens declare the glory of God, or to listen to that unbroken tradition, which day passes to day and night to night, of the knowledge of the Creator, it is not proofs to doubting minds which he offers: it is spiritual nourishment to hungry souls. These are not arguments—they are sacraments. When we Christians go to the Lord's Supper, we go not to have the Lord proved to us, but to feed upon a life and a love of whose existence we are past all doubt. Our sacrament fills all the mouths by which needy faith is fed—such as outward sight, and imagination, and memory, and wonder, and love. Now very much what the Lord's Supper is to us for fellowship with God and feeding upon Him, that were the glory of the heavens, and the everlasting hills, and the depth of the sea, and the vision of the stars to the Hebrews. They were the sacraments of God. By them faith was fed, and the spirit of man entered into the enjoyment of God, whose existence indeed he had never doubted, but whom he had lost, forgotten, or misunderstood.

Now it is as such a minister of sacrament to God's starved and disheartened people that our prophet appears in ch. xl. 12-31.

There were three elements in Israel's starvation. Firstly, for nearly fifty years they had been deprived of the accustomed ordinances of religion. Temple and altar had perished; the common praise and the national religious fellowship were impossible; the traditional symbols of the faith lay far out of sight; there was at best only a precarious ministry of the Word. But, in[Pg 91] the second place, this famine of the Word and of Sacraments was aggravated by the fact that history had gone against the people. To the baser minds among them, always ready to grant their allegiance to success, this could only mean that the gods of the heathen had triumphed over Jehovah. It is little wonder that such experience, assisted by the presentation, at every turn in their ways, of idols and a splendid idol-worship, the fashion and delight of the populations through whom they were mixed, should have tempted many Jews to feed their starved hearts at the shrines of their conquerors' gods. But the result could only be the further atrophy of their religious nature. It has been held as a reason for the worship of idols that they excite the affection and imagination of the worshipper. They do no such thing: they starve and they stunt these. The image reacts upon the imagination, infects it with its own narrowness and poverty, till man's noblest creative faculty becomes the slave of its own poor toy. But, thirdly, if the loftier spirits in Israel refused to believe that Jehovah, exalted in righteousness, could be less than the brutal deities whom Babylon vaunted over Him, they were flung back upon the sorrowful conviction that their God had cast them off; that He had retreated from the patronage of so unworthy a people into the veiled depths of His own nature. Then upon that heaven, from which no answer came to those who were once its favourites, they cast we can scarcely tell what reflection of their own weary and spiritless estate. As, standing over a city by night, you will see the majestic darkness above stained and distorted into shapes of pain or wrath by the upcast of the city's broken, murky lights, so many of the nobler exiles saw upon the blank, unanswering[Pg 92] heaven a horrible mirage of their own trouble and fear. Their weariness said, He is weary; the ruin of their national life reflected itself as the frustration of His purposes; their accusing conscience saw the darkness of His counsel relieved only by streaks of wrath.

But none of these tendencies in Israel went so far as to deny that there was a God, or even to doubt His existence. This, as we have said, was nowhere yet the temptation of mankind. When the Jew lapsed from that true faith, which we have seen his nation carry into exile, he fell into one of the two tempers just described—devotion to false gods in the shape of idols, or despondency consequent upon false notions of the true God. It is against these tempers, one after another, that ch. xl. 12-31 is directed. And so we understand why, though the prophet is here declaring the basis and spring of all his subsequent prophecy, he does not adopt the method of abstract argument. He is not treating with men, who have had no true knowledge of God in the past, or whose intellect questions God's reality. He is treating with men, who have a national heritage of truth about God, but they have forgotten it; who have hearts full of religious affection, but it has been betrayed; who have a devout imagination, but it has been starved; who have hopes, but they are faint unto death. He will recall to them their heritage, rally their shrinking convictions by the courage of his own faith, feed their hunger after righteousness[43] by a new hope set to noble music, and display to the imagination that has been stunted by so[Pg 93] long looking upon the face of idols the wide horizons of Divine glory in earth and heaven.

His style corresponds to his purpose. He does not syllogize; he exhorts, recalls and convicts by assertion. The passage is a series of questions, rallies and promises. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? is his chief note. Instead of arranging facts in history or nature as in themselves a proof for God, he mentions them only by way of provoking inward recollections. His sharp questions are as hooks to draw from his hearers' hearts their timid and starved convictions, that he may nourish these upon the sacramental glories of nature and of history.

Such a purpose and style trust little to method, and it would be useless to search for any strict division of strophes in the passage.[44] The following, however, is a manifest division of subject, according to the two tempers to which the prophet had to appeal. Verses 12 to 25, and perhaps 26, are addressed to the idolatrous Jews. But in 26 there is a transition to the despair of the nobler hearts in Israel, who, though they continued to believe in the One True God, imagined that He had abandoned them; and to such vv. 27 to 31 are undoubtedly addressed. The different treatment accorded to the two classes is striking. The former of these the prophet does not call by any title of the people of God; with the latter he pleads by a dear double name that he[Pg 94] may win them through every recollection of their gracious past, Jacob and Israel (ver. 27). Challenge and sarcasm are his style with the idolaters, his language clashing out in bursts too loud and rapid sometimes for the grammar, as in ver. 24; but with the despondent his way is gentle persuasiveness, with music that swells and brightens steadily, passing without a break from the minor key of pleading to the major of glorious promise.

1. Against the Idolaters. A couple of sarcastic sentences upon idols and their manufacture (vv. 19, 20) stand between two majestic declarations of God's glory in nature and in history (vv. 12-17 and 21-24). It is an appeal from the worshippers' images to their imagination. Who hath measured in his hollow hand the waters, and heaven ruled off with a span? Or caught in a tierce the dust of the earth, and weighed in scales mountains, and hills in a balance? Who hath directed the spirit of Jehovah, and as man of His counsel hath helped Him to know? With whom took He counsel, that such an one informed Him and taught Him in the orthodox path, and taught Him knowledge and helped Him to know the way of intelligence? The term translated orthodox path is literally path of ordinance or judgement, the regular path, and is doubtless to be taken along with its parallel, way of intelligence, as a conventional phrase of education, which the prophet employed to make his sarcasm the stronger. Lo nations! as a drop from a bucket, and like dust in a balance, are they reckoned. Lo the Isles![45] as a trifle He lifteth. And Lebanon is by no means enough for burning, nor its brute-life enough for an offering. All the nations are as[Pg 95] nothing before Him, as spent and as waste are they reckoned for Him.

When he has thus soared enough, as on an archangel's wings, he swoops with one rapid question down from the height of his imagination upon the images.

To whom then will ye liken God, and what likeness will ye range by Him?

The image! A smith cast it, and a smelter plates it with gold, and smelts silver chains. He that is straitened for an offering—he chooseth a tree that does not rot, seeks to him a cunning carver to set up an image that will not totter.[46]

The image shrivels up in face of that imagination; the idol is abolished by laughter. There is here, and for almost the first time in history, the same intellectual intolerance of images, the same burning sense of the unreasonableness of their worship, which has marked all monotheists, and turned even the meekest of their kind into fierce scorners and satirists—Elijah, Mohammed, Luther, and Knox.[47] We hear this laughter from them all. Sometimes it may sound truculent or even brutal, but let us remember what is behind it. When we hear it condemned—as, in the interests of art and imagination, its puritan outbursts have often been condemned—as a barbarian incapacity to sympathise[Pg 96] with the æsthetic instincts of man, or to appreciate the influence of a beautiful and elevating cult, we can reply that it was the imagination itself which often inspired both the laughter at, and the breaking of, images, and that, because the iconoclast had a loftier vision of God than the image-maker, he has, on the whole, more really furthered the progress of art than the artist whose works he has destroyed. It is certain, for instance, that no one would exchange the beauties of the prophecy now before us, with its sublime imaginations of God, for all the beauty of all the idols of Babylonia which it consigned to destruction. And we dare to say the same of two other epochs, when the uncompromising zeal of monotheists crushed to the dust the fruits of centuries of Christian art. The Koran is not often appealed to as a model of poetry, but it contains passages whose imagination of God, broad as the horizon of the desert of its birth, and swift and clear as the desert dawn, may be regarded as infinitely more than compensation—from a purely artistic point of view—for the countless works of Christian ritual and imagery which it inspired the rude cavalry of the desert to trample beneath the hoofs of their horses. And again, if we are to blame the Reformers of Western Christendom for the cruelty with which they lifted their hammers against the carved work of the sanctuary, do not let us forget how much of the spirit of the best modern art is to be traced to their more spiritual and lofty conceptions of God. No one will question how much Milton's imagination owed to his Protestantism, or how much Carlyle's dramatic genius was the result of his Puritan faith. But it is to the spirit of the Reformation, as it liberated the worshipper's soul from bondage to artificial and ecclesiastical symbols of the[Pg 97] Deity, that we may also ascribe a large part of the force of that movement towards Nature and the imagination of God in His creation which inspired, for example, Wordsworth's poetry, and those visual sacraments of rainbow, storm, and dawn to which Browning so often lifts our souls from their dissatisfaction with ritual or with argument.

From his sarcasm on the idols our prophet returns to his task of drawing forth Israel's memory and imagination. Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? He that is enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its dwellers are before Him as grasshoppers; who stretcheth as a fine veil the heavens, and spreadeth them like a dwelling tent—that is, as easily as if they were not even a pavilion or marquee, but only a humble dwelling tent. He who bringeth great men to nothing, the judges of the earth He maketh as waste. Yea, they were not planted; yea, they were not sown; yea, their root had not struck in the earth, but immediately He blew upon them and they withered, and a whirlwind like stubble carried them away. To whom, then, will ye liken Me, that I may match with him? saith the Holy One. But this time it is not necessary to suggest the idols; they were dissolved by that previous burst of laughter. Therefore, the prophet turns to the other class in Israel with whom he has to deal.

2. To the Despairers of the Lord. From history we pass back to nature in ver. 26, which forms a transition, the language growing steadier from the impetuosity of the address to the idolaters to the serene music of the second part. Enough rebuke has the prophet made. As he now lifts his people's vision[Pg 98] to the stars, it is not to shame their idols, but to feed their hearts. Lift up on high your eyes and see! Who hath created these? Who leads forth by number their host, and all of them calleth by name, by abundance of might, for He is powerful in strength, not one is amissing. Under such a night, that veils the confusion of earth only to bring forth all the majesty and order of heaven, we feel a moment's pause. Then as the expanding eyes of the exiles gaze upon the infinite power above, the prophet goes on. Why then sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel? Hidden is my way from Jehovah, and from my God my right hath passed.

Why does the prophet point his people to the stars? Because he is among Israel on that vast Babylonian plain, from whose crowded and confused populations, struggling upon one monotonous level, there is no escape for the heart but to the stars. Think of that plain when Nebuchadrezzar was its tyrant; of the countless families of men torn from their far homes and crushed through one another upon its surface; of the ancient liberties that were trampled in that servitude, of the languages that were stifled in that Babel, of the many patriotisms set to sigh themselves out into the tyrant's mud and mortar. Ah heaven! was there a God in thee, that one man could thus crush nations in his vat, as men crushed shell-fish in those days, to dye his imperial purple? Was there any Providence above, that he could tear peoples from the lands and seas, where their various gifts and offices for humanity had been developed, and press them to his selfish and monotonous servitude? In that medley of nations, all upon one level of captivity, Israel was just as lost as the most insignificant tribe; her history severed, her worship impossible, her very language[Pg 99] threatened with decay. No wonder, that from the stifling crowd and desperate flatness of it all she cried, Hidden is my way from Jehovah, and from my God my right hath passed.

But from the flatness and the crowd the stars are visible; and it was upon the stars that the prophet bade his people feed their hearts. There were order and unfailing guidance; for the greatness of His might not one is missing. And He is your God. Just as visible as those countless stars are, one by one, in the dark heavens, to your eyes looking up, so your lives and fortunes are to His eyes looking down on this Babel of peoples. He gathereth the outcasts of Israel.... He telleth the number of the stars.[48] And so the prophet goes on earnestly to plead: Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard? that an everlasting God is Jehovah, Creator of the ends of the earth. He fainteth not, neither is weary. There is no searching of His understanding. Giver to the weary of strength! And upon him that is of no might, He lavisheth power. Even youths may faint and be weary, and young men utterly fall; but they who hope in Jehovah shall renew strength, put forth pinions like eagles, run and not weary, walk and not faint. Listen, ears, not for the sake of yourselves only, though the music is incomparably sweet! Listen for the sake of the starved hearts below, to whom you carry the sacraments of hope, whom you lift to feed upon the clear symbols of God's omnipotence and unfailing grace.

This chapter began with the assurance to the heart of Israel of their God's will to redeem and restore them. It closes with bidding the people take hope in God. Let us again emphasize—for we cannot do so too often,[Pg 100] if we are to keep ourselves from certain errors of to-day on the subject of Revelation—the nature of this prophecy. It is not a reading-off of history; it is a call from God. No deed has yet been done pointing towards the certainty of Israel's redemption; it is not from facts writ large on the life of their day, that the prophet bids the captives read their Divine discharge. That discharge he brings from God; he bids them find the promise and the warrant of it in their God's character, in their own convictions of what that character is. In order to revive those convictions, he does, it is true, appeal to certain facts, but these facts are not the facts of contemporary history which might reveal to any clear eye, that the current and the drift of politics was setting towards the redemption of Israel. They are facts of nature and facts of general providence, which, as we have said, like sacraments evidence God's power to the pious heart, feed it with the assurance of His grace, and bid it hope in His word, though history should seem to be working quite the other way.

This instance of the method of revelation does not justify two opinions, which prevail at the present day regarding prophecy. In the first place, it proves to us, that those are wrong who, too much infected by the modern temper to judge accurately writers so unsophisticated, describe prophecy as if it were merely a philosophy of history, by which the prophets deduced from their observation of the course of events their idea of God and their forecast of His purposes. The prophets had indeed to do with history; they argued from it, and they appealed to it. The history that was past was full of God's condescension to men, and shone like Nature's self with sacramental signs of His power and will: the history that was future was to be[Pg 101] His supreme tribunal, and to afford the vindication of the word they claimed to have brought from Him. But still all this—their trust in history and their use of it—was something secondary in the prophetic method. With them God Himself was first; they came forth from His presence, as they describe it, with the knowledge of His will gained through the communion of their spirits with His Spirit. If they then appealed to past history, it was to illustrate their message; or to future, it was for vindication of this. But God Himself was the Source and Author of it; and therefore, before they had facts beneath their eyes to corroborate their promises, they appealed to the people, like our prophet in ch. xl., to wait on Jehovah. The day might not yet have dawned so as to let them read the signs of the times. But in the darkness they hoped in Jehovah, and borrowed for their starved hearts from the stars above, or other sacrament, some assurance of His unfailing power.

Jehovah, then, was the source of the prophets' word: His character was its pledge. The prophets were not mere readers from history, but speakers from God.

But the testimony of our chapter to all this enables us also to arrest an opinion about Revelation, which has too hurriedly run off with some Christians, and to qualify it. In the inevitable recoil from the scholastic view of revelation as wholly a series of laws and dogmas and predictions, a number of writers on the subject have of late defined Revelation as a chain of historical acts, through which God uttered His character and will to men. According to this view, Revelation is God manifesting Himself in history, and the Bible is the record of this historical process. Now, while it is true that the Bible is, to a large extent, the annals and interpretation of the great and small events of a[Pg 102] nation's history—of its separation from the rest of mankind, its miraculous deliverances, its growth, its defeats and humiliations, its reforms and its institutions; in all of which God manifested His character and will—yet the Bible also records a revelation, which preceded these historical deeds; a revelation the theatre of which was not the national experience, but the consciousness of the individual; which was recognised and welcomed by choice souls in the secret of their own spiritual life, before it was realised and observed in outward fact; which was uttered by the prophet's voice and accepted by the people's trust in the dark and the stillness, before the day of the Lord had dawned or there was light to see His purposes at work. In a word, God's revelation to men was very often made clear in their subjective consciousness, before it became manifest in the history about them.

And, for ourselves, let us remember that to this day true religion is as independent of facts as it was with the prophet. True religion is a conviction of the character of God, and a resting upon that alone for salvation. We need nothing more to begin with; and everything else, in our experience and fortune, helps us only in so far as it makes that primary conviction more clear and certain. Darkness may be over us, and we lonely and starved beneath it. We may be destitute of experience to support our faith; we may be able to discover nothing in life about us making in the direction of our hopes. Still, let us wait on the Lord. It is by bare trust in Him, that we renew our strength, put forth wings like eagles, run and not weary, walk and not faint.

Put forth wings—run—walk! Is the order correct? Hope swerves from the edge of so descending a promise,[Pg 103] which seems only to repeat the falling course of nature—that droop, we all know, from short ambitions, through temporary impulsiveness, to the old commonplace and routine. Soaring, running, walking—and is not the next stage, a cynic might ask, standing still?

On the contrary, it is a natural and a true climax, rising from the easier to the more difficult, from the ideal to the real, from dream to duty, from what can only be the rare occasions of life to what must be life's usual and abiding experience. History followed this course. Did the prophet, as he promised, think of what should really prove to be the fortune of his people during the next few years?—the great flight of hope, on which we see them rising in their psalms of redemption as on the wings of an eagle; the zeal and liberality of preparation for departure from Babylon; the first rush at the Return; and then the long tramp, day after day, with the slow caravan, at the pace of its most heavily-laden beasts of burden, when they shall walk and not faint should indeed seem to them the sweetest part of their God's promise.

Or was it the far longer perspective of Israel's history that bade the prophet follow this descending scale? The spirit of prophecy was with himself to soar higher than ever before, reaching by truly eagle-flight to a vision of the immediate consummation of Israel's glory: the Isles waiting for Jehovah, the Holy City radiant in His rising, and open with all her gates to the thronging nations; the true religion flashing from Zion across the world, and the wealth of the world pouring back upon Zion. And some have wondered, and some scoff, that after this vision there should follow centuries of imperceptible progress—five-and-a-half centuries of preparation for the coming of[Pg 104] the Promised Servant; and then—Israel, indeed gone forth over the world, but only in small groups, living upon the grudged and fitful tolerance of the great centres of Gentile civilisation. The prophet surely anticipates all this, when he places the walking after the soaring and the running. When he says last, and most impressively, of his people's fortunes, that they shall walk and not faint, he has perhaps just those long centuries in view, when, instead of a nation of enthusiasts taking humanity by storm, we see small bands of pioneers pushing their way from city to city by the slow methods of ancient travel,—Damascus, Antioch, Tarsus, Iconium, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Rome,—everywhere that Paul and the missionaries of the Cross found a pulpit and a congregation ready for the Gospel; toiling from day to day at their own trades, serving the alien for wages, here and there founding a synagogue, now and then completing a version of their Scriptures, oftentimes achieving martyrdom, but ever living a pure and a testifying life in face of the heathen, with the passion of these prophecies at their hearts. It was certainly for such centuries and such men that the word was written, they shall walk and not faint. This persistence under persecution, this monotonous drilling of themselves in school and synagogue, this slow progress without prize or praise along the common highways of the world and by the world's ordinary means of livelihood, was a greater proof of indomitableness than even the rapture which filled their hearts on the golden eve of the Return, under the full diapason of prophecy.

And so must it ever be. First the ideal, and then the rush at it with passionate eyes, and then the daily trudge onward, when its splendour has faded from the[Pg 105] view, but is all the more closely wrapped round the heart. For glorious as it is to rise to some great consummation on wings of dream and song, glorious as it is, also, to bend that impetus a little lower and take some practical crisis of life by storm, an even greater proof of our religion and of the help our God can give us is the lifelong tramp of earth's common surface, without fresh wings of dream, or the excitement of rivalry, or the attraction of reward, but with the head cool, and the face forward, and every footfall upon firm ground. Let hope rejoice in a promise, which does not go off into the air, but leaves us upon solid earth; and let us hold to a religion, which, while it exults in being the secret of enthusiasm and the inspiration of heroism, is daring and Divine enough to find its climax in the commonplace.

[Pg 106]



Isaiah xli.

Having revealed Himself to His own people in ch. xl., Jehovah now turns in ch. xli. to the heathen, but, naturally, with a very different kind of address. Displaying His power to His people in certain sacraments, both of nature and history, He had urged them to wait upon Him alone for the salvation, of which there were as yet no signs in the times. But with the heathen it is evidently to these signs of the times, that He can best appeal. Contemporary history, facts open to every man's memory and reason, is the common ground on which Jehovah and the other gods can meet. Ch. xli. is, therefore, the natural complement to ch. xl. In ch. xl. we have the element in revelation that precedes history: in ch. xli. we have history itself explained as a part of revelation.

Ch. xli. is loosely cast in the same form of a Trial-at-Law, which we found in ch. i. To use a Scotticism, which exactly translates the Hebrew of ver. 1, Jehovah goes to the law with the idols. His summons to the Trial is given in ver. 1; the ground of the Trial is advanced in vv. 2-7. Then comes a digression, vv. 8-20, in which the Lord turns from controversy with the heathen to comfort His people. In vv. 21-29[Pg 107] Jehovah's plea is resumed, and in the silence of the defendants—a silence, which, as we shall presently see by calling in the witness of a Greek historian, was actual fact—the argument is summed up and the verdict given for the sole divinity of Israel's God.

The main interest of the Trial lies, of course, in its appeal to contemporary history, and to the central figure Cyrus, although it is to be noted that the prophet as yet refrains from mentioning the hero by name. This appeal to contemporary history lays upon us the duty of briefly indicating, how the course of that history was tending outside Babylon,—outside Babylon, as yet, but fraught with fate both to Babylon and to her captives.

Nebuchadrezzar, although he had virtually succeeded to the throne of the Assyrian, had not been able to repeat from Babylon that almost universal empire, which his predecessors had swayed from Nineveh. Egypt, it is true, was again as thoroughly driven from Asia as in the time of Sargon: to the south the Babylonian supremacy was as unquestioned as ever the Assyrian had been. But to the north Nebuchadrezzar met with an almost equal rival, who had helped him in the overthrow of Nineveh, and had fallen heir to the Assyrian supremacy in that quarter. This was Kastarit or Kyaxares, an Aryan, one of the pioneers of that Aryan invasion from the East, which, though still tardy and sparse, was to be the leading force in Western Asia for the next century. This Kyaxares had united under his control a number of Median tribes,[49] a people of[Pg 108] Turanian stock. With these, when Nineveh fell, he established to the north of Nebuchadrezzar's power the empire of Media, with its western boundary at the river Halys, in Asia Minor, and its capital at Ecbatana under Mount Elwand. It is said that the river Indus formed his frontier to the east. West of the Halys, the Mede's progress was stopped by the Lydian Empire, under King Alyattis, whose capital was Sardis, and whose other border was practically the coast of the Ægean. In 585, or two years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Alyattis and Kyaxares met in battle on the Halys. But the terrors of an eclipse took the heart to fight out of both their armies, and, Nebuchadrezzar intervening, the three monarchs struck a treaty among themselves, and strengthened it by intermarriage. Western Asia now virtually consisted of the confederate powers, Babylonia, Media and Lydia.[50]

Let us realise how far this has brought us. When we stood with Isaiah in Jerusalem, our western horizon lay across the middle of Asia Minor in the longitude of Cyprus.[51] It now rests upon the Ægean; we are almost within sight of Europe. Straight from Babylon to Sardis runs a road, with a regular service of couriers. The court of Sardis holds domestic and political intercourse with the courts of Babylon and Ecbatana; but the court of Sardis also lords it over the Asiatic Greeks, worships at Greek shrines, will shortly be visited by Solon and strike an alliance with Sparta. In the time[Pg 109] of the Jewish exile there were without doubt many Greeks in Babylon; men may have spoken there with Daniel, who had spoken at Sardis with Solon.

This extended horizon makes clear to us what our prophet has in his view, when in this forty-first chapter he summons Isles to the bar of Jehovah: Be silent before me, O Isles, and let Peoples renew their strength,—a vision and appeal which frequently recur in our prophecy. Listen, O Isles, and hearken, O Peoples from afar (xlix. 1); Isles shall wait for His law (xlii. 4); Let them give glory to Jehovah, and publish His praise in the Isles (xlii. 12); Unto me Isles shall hope (li. 5); Surely Isles shall wait for me, ships of Tarshish first.[52] The name is generally taken by scholars—according to the derivation in the note below—to have originally meant habitable land, and so land as opposed to water. In some passages of the Old Testament it is undoubtedly used to describe a land either washed, or surrounded, by the sea.[53]

But by our prophet's use of the word it is not necessarily maritime provinces that are meant. He makes isles parallel to the well-known terms nations, peoples, Gentiles, and in one passage he opposes it, as dry soil, to water.[54] Hence many translators take it in[Pg 110] its original sense of countries or lands. This bare rendering, however, does not do justice to the sense of remoteness, which the prophet generally attaches to the word, nor to his occasional association of it with visions of the sea. Indeed, as one reads most of his uses of it, one is quite sure that the island-meaning of the word lingers on in his imagination; and that the feeling possesses him, which has haunted the poetry of all ages, to describe as coasts or isles any land or lighting-place of thought which is far and dim and vague; which floats across the horizon, or emerges from the distance, as strips and promontories of land rise from the sea to him who has reached some new point of view. I have therefore decided to keep the rendering familiar to the English reader, isles, though, perhaps, coasts would be better. If, as is probable, our prophet's thoughts are always towards the new lands of the west as he uses the word, it is doubly suitable; those countries were both maritime and remote; they rose both from the distance and from the sea.

"The sprinkled isles,
Lily on lily, that o'erlace the sea
And laugh their pride, where the light wave lisps, 'Greece.'"

But if Babylonia lay thus open to Lydia, and through Lydia to the isles and coasts of Greece, it was different with her northern frontier. What strikes us here is the immense series of fortifications, which Nebuchadrezzar, in spite of his alliance with Astyages, cast up between his country and Media. Where the Tigris and Euphrates most nearly approach one another, about seventy miles to the north of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar connected their waters by four canals, above which[Pg 111] he built a strong bulwark, called by the Greeks the Median wall. This may have been over sixty miles long; Xenophon tells us it was twenty feet broad by one hundred high.[55] At Sippara this line of defence was completed by the creation of a great bason of water to flood the rivers and canals on the approach of an enemy, and of a large fortress to protect the bason. Alas for the vanity of human purposes! It is said to have been this very bason which caused the easy fall of Babylon. By turning the Euphrates into it, the enemy entered the capital through the emptied river-bed.

The triple alliance—Lydia, Media, Babylonia—stood firm after its founders passed away. In 555, Crœsus and Astyages, who had succeeded their fathers at Sardis and Ecbatana respectively, and Nabunahid, who had usurped the throne at Babylon, were still at peace, and contented with the partition of 585. But outside them and to the east, in a narrow nook of land at the head of the Persian Gulf, the man was already crowned, who was destined to bring Western Asia again under one sceptre. This was Kurush or Cyrus II. of Anzan, but known to history as Cyrus the Great or Cyrus the Persian. Cyrus was a prince of the Akhæmenian house of Persia, and therefore, like the Mede, an Aryan, but independent of his Persian cousins, and ruling in his own right the little kingdom of Anzan or Anshan, which, with its capital of Susan, lay on the rivers Choaspes and Eulæus, between the head of the Persian Gulf and the Zagros Mountains.[56]

[Pg 112]

Cyrus the Great is one of those mortals whom the muse of history, as if despairing to do justice to him by herself, has called in her sisters to aid her in describing to posterity. Early legend and later and more elaborate romance; the schoolmaster, the historian, the tragedian and the prophet, all vie in presenting to us this hero "le plus sympathique de l'antiquité"[57]—this king on whom we see so deeply stamped the double signature of God, character and success. We shall afterwards have a better opportunity to speak of his character. Here we are only concerned to trace his rapid path of conquest.

He sprang, then, from Anshan, the immediate neighbour of Babylonia to the east. This is the direction indicated in the second verse of this forty-first chapter: Who hath raised up one from the east? But the twenty-fifth verse veers round with him to the north: I have raised up one from the north, and he is come. This was actually the curve, from east to north, which his career almost immediately took.

For in 549 Astyages, king of Media, attacked Cyrus,[58] king of Anshan; which means that Cyrus was already a considerable and an aggressive prince. Probably he had united by this time the two domains of his house, Persia and Anshan, under his own sceptre, and secured as his lieutenant Hystaspes, his cousin, the lineal king[Pg 113] of Persia. The Mede, looking south and east from Ecbatana, saw a solid front opposed to him, and resolved to crush it before it grew more formidable. But the Aryans among the Medes, dissatisfied with so indolent a leader as Astyages, revolted to Cyrus, and so the latter, with characteristic good fortune, easily became lord of Media. A lenient lord he made. He spared Astyages, and ranked the Aryan Medes second only to the Persians. But it took him till 546 to complete his conquest. When he had done so he stood master of Asia from the Halys to perhaps as far east as the Indus. He replaced the Medes in the threefold power of Western Asia, and thus looked down on Babylon, as v. 25 says, from the north (xli. 25).

In 545, Cyrus advanced upon Babylonia, and struck at the northern line of fortifications at Sippara. He was opposed by an army under Belshazzar, Bel-shar-uzzur, the son of Nabunahid, and probably by his mother's side grandson of Nebuchadrezzar. Army or fortifications seem to have been too much for Cyrus, and there is no further mention of his name in the Babylonian annals till the year 538. It has been suggested that Cyrus was aware of the discontent of the people with their ruler Nabunahid, and, with that genius which distinguished his whole career for availing himself of the internal politics of his foes, he may have been content to wait till the Babylonian dissatisfaction had grown riper, perhaps in the meantime fostering it by his own emissaries.

In any case, the attention of Cyrus was now urgently demanded on the western boundary of his empire, where Lydia was preparing to invade him. Crœsus, king of Lydia, fresh from the subjection of the Ionian Greeks, and possessing an army and a treasure second[Pg 114] to none in the world, had lately asked of Solon, whether he was not the most fortunate of men; and Solon had answered, to count no man happy till his death. The applicability of this advice to himself Crœsus must have felt with a start, when, almost immediately after it, the news came that his brother-in-law Astyages had fallen before an unknown power, which was moving up rapidly from the east, and already touched the Lydian frontier at the Halys. Crœsus was thrown into alarm. He eagerly desired to know Heaven's will about this Persian and himself, who now stood face to face. But, in that heathen world, with its thousand shrines to different gods, who knew the will of Heaven? In a fashion only possible to the richest man in the world, Crœsus resolved to discover, by sending a test-question, on a matter of fact within his own knowledge, to every oracle of repute: to the oracles of the Greeks at Miletus, Delphi, Abæ; to that of Trophonius; to the sanctuary of Amphiaraus at Thebes; to Dodona; and even to the far-off temple of Ammon in Libya. The oracles of Delphi and Amphiaraus alone sent an answer, which in the least suggested the truth. "To the gods of Delphi and Amphiaraus, Crœsus, therefore, offered great sacrifices,—three thousand victims of every kind; and on a great pile of wood he burned couches plated with gold and silver, golden goblets, purple robes and garments, in the hope that he would thereby gain the favour of the god yet more.... And as the sacrifice left behind an enormous mass of molten gold, Crœsus caused bricks to be made, six palms in length, three in breadth and one in depth; in all there were 117 bricks.... In addition there was a golden lion which weighed ten talents. When these were finished, Crœsus sent them to Delphi; and he added two very large[Pg 115] mixing bowls, one of gold, weighing eight talents and a half and twelve minæ, and one of silver (the work of Theodorus of Samos, as the Delphians say, and I believe it, for it is the work of no ordinary artificer), four silver jars, and two vessels for holy water, one of gold, the other of silver, circular casts of silver, a golden statue of a woman three cubits high, and the necklace and girdles of his queen."[59] We can understand, that for all this Crœsus got the best advice consistent with the ignorance and caution of the priests whom he consulted. The oracles told him that if he went against Cyrus he would destroy a great empire; but he forgot to ask, whether it was his own or his rival's. When he inquired a second time, if his reign should be long, they replied: "When a mule became king of the Medes," then he might fly from his throne; but again he forgot to consider that there might be mules among men as among beasts.[60] At the same time, the oracles tempered their ambiguous prophecies with some advice of undoubted sense, for when he asked them who were the most powerful among the Greeks, they replied the Spartans, and to Sparta he sent messengers with presents to conclude an alliance. "The Lacedæmonians were filled with joy; they knew the oracle which had been given Crœsus, and made him a friend and ally, as they had previously received many kindnesses at his hands."[61]

This glimpse into the preparations of Crœsus, whose embassies compassed the whole civilised world, and whose wealth got him all that politics or religion could,[Pg 116] enables us to realise the political and religious excitement into which Cyrus' advent threw that generation. The oracles in doubt and ambiguous; the priests, the idol-manufacturers, and the crowd of artisans, who worked in every city at the furniture of the temple, in a state of unexampled activity, with bustle perhaps most like the bustle of our government dockyards on the eve of war; hammering new idols together, preparing costly oblations, overhauling the whole religious "ordnance," that the gods might be propitiated and the stars secured to fight in their courses against the Persian; rival politicians practising conciliation, and bolstering up one another with costly presents to stand against this strange and fatal force, which indifferently threatened them all. What a commentary Herodotus' story furnishes upon the verses of this chapter, in which Jehovah contrasts the idols with Himself. It may actually have been Crœsus and the Greeks whom the prophet had in his mind when he wrote vv. 5-7: The isles have seen, and they fear; the ends of the earth tremble: they draw near and they come. They help every man his neighbour, and to his brother each sayeth, Be strong. So carver encourageth smelter, smoother with hammer, smiter on anvil; one saith of the soldering, It is good: and he fasteneth it with nails lest it totter. The irony is severe, but true to the facts as Herodotus relates them. The statesmen hoped to keep back Cyrus by sending sobbing messages to one another, Be of good courage; the priests "by making a particularly good and strong set of gods."[62]

While the imbecility of the idolatries was thus manifest, and the great religious centres of heathendom were reduced to utter doubt that veiled itself in[Pg 117] ambiguity and waited to see how things would issue, there was one religion in the world, whose oracles gave no uncertain sound, whose God stepped boldly forth to claim Cyrus for His own. In the dust of Babylonia lay the scattered members of a nation captive and exiled, a people civilly dead and religiously degraded; yet it was the faith of this worm of a people, which welcomed and understood Cyrus, it was the God of this people who claimed to be his author. The forty-first chapter looks dreary and ancient to the uninstructed eye, but let our imagination realise all these things: the ambiguous priests, oracles that would not speak out, religions that had no articulate counsel nor comfort in face of the conqueror who was crushing up the world before him, but only sobs, solder and nails; and our heart will leap as we hear how God forces them all into judgement before Him, and makes His plea as loud and clear as mortal ear may hear. Clatter of idols, and murmur of muffled oracles, filling all the world; and then, hark how the voice of Jehovah crashes His oracle across it all!

Keep silence towards Me, O Isles, and let the peoples renew their strength: let them approach; then let them speak: to the Law let us come.

Who hath stirred up from the sunrise Righteousness, calleth it to his foot? He giveth to his face peoples, and kings He makes him to trample; giveth them as dust to his sword, as driven stubble to his bow. He pursues them, and passes to peace a road that he comes not with his feet. Who has wrought it and done it? Summoner of generations from the source,[63] I Jehovah the First, and with the Last; I am He.

[Pg 118]

Crœsus would have got a clear answer here, but it is probable that he had never heard of the Hebrews or of their God.

After this follows the satiric picture of the heathen world, which has already been quoted. And then, after an interval during which Jehovah turns to His own people (vv. 8-20),—for whatever be His business or His controversy, the Lord is mindful of His own,—He directs His speech specially against the third class of the leaders of heathendom. He has laughed the foolish statesmen and imagemakers out of court (vv. 5-7); He now challenges, in ver. 21, the oracles and their priests.

We have seen what these were, which this vast heathen world—heathen but human, convinced as we are that at the back of the world's life there is a secret, a counsel and a governor, and anxious as we are to find them—had to resort to. Timid waiters upon time, whom not even the lavish wealth of a Crœsus could tempt from their ambiguity; prophets speechless in face of history; oracles of meaning as dark and shifty as their steamy caves at Delphi, of tune as variable as the whispering oak of Dodona; wily-tongued Greeks, masters of ambiguous phrase, at Miletus, Abæ, and Thebes; Egyptian mystics in the far off temple of "Lybic Hammon,"—these are what the prophet sees standing at the bar of history, where God is Challenger.

Bring here your case, saith Jehovah; apply your strong grounds, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring out and declare unto us what things are going to happen; the first things[64] announce what they are, that we may set our heart on them, and know the issue of them;[Pg 119] or the things that are coming, let us hear them. Announce the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods. Yea, do good or do evil, that we may stare and see it together. Lo! ye are nothing, and your work is of nought; an abomination is he who chooseth you.

Which great challenge just means, Come and be tested by facts. Here is history needing an explanation, and running no one knows whither. Prove your divinity by interpreting or guiding it. Cease your ambiguities, and give us something we can set our minds to work upon. Or do something, effect something in history, be it good or be it evil,—only let it be patent to our senses. For the test of godhead is not ingenuity or mysteriousness, but plain deeds, which the senses can perceive, and plain words, which the reason and conscience can judge. The insistance upon the senses and mental faculties of man is remarkable: Make us hear them, that we may know, stare, see all together, set our mind to them.

But as we have learned from Herodotus, there was nobody in the world to answer such a challenge. Therefore Jehovah Himself answers it. He gives His explanation of history, and claims its events for His doing.

I have stirred up from the north, and he hath come; from the rising of the sun one who calleth upon My Name: and he shall trample satraps like mortar, and as the potter treadeth out clay.

Who hath announced on-ahead[65] that we may know,[Pg 120] and beforehand that we may say, "Right!" Yea, there is none that announced, yea, there is none that published, yea, there is none that heareth your words. But a prediction—or predicter, literally a thing or man on-ahead (r'ishôn corresponding to the me-r'osh of ver. 26)—a prediction to Zion, "Behold, behold them," and to Jerusalem a herald of good news—I am giving. The language here comes forth in jerks, and is very difficult to render. But I look and there is no man even among these, and no counsellor, that I might ask them and they return word. Lo, all of them vanity! and nothingness their works; wind and waste their molten images.

Let us look a little more closely at the power of Prediction, on which Jehovah maintains His unique and sovereign Deity against the idols.

Jehovah challenges the idols to face present events, and to give a clear, unambiguous forecast of their issue. It is a debatable question, whether He does not also ask them to produce previous predictions of events happening at the time at which He speaks. This latter demand is one that He makes in subsequent chapters; it is part of His prophet's argument in chs. xlv.-xlvi., that Jehovah intimated the advent of Cyrus by His servants in Israel long before the present time. Whether He makes this same demand for previous predictions in ch. xli. depends on how we render a clause of ver. 22, declare ye the former things. Some scholars take former things in the sense, in which it is used later on in this prophecy, of previous predictions. This is very doubtful. I have explained in a note, why I think them wrong; but[Pg 121] even if they are right, and Jehovah be really asking the idols to produce former predictions of Cyrus' career, the demand is so cursory, it proves so small an item in His plea, and we shall afterwards find so many clearer statements of it, that we do better to ignore it now and confine ourselves to emphasizing the other challenge, about which there is no doubt,—the challenge to take present events and predict their issue.[66] Crœsus had asked the oracles for a forecast of the future. This is exactly what Jehovah demands in ver. 22, declare unto us what things are going to happen; in ver. 23, declare the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; in ver. 26 (spoken from the standpoint of the subsequent fulfilment of the prediction), who declared it on-ahead that we may know, and beforehand that we may now say, "Right!" Yea, there is none that declared, yea, there is none that published, yea, there is none that heareth your words. But a prediction unto Zion, "Behold, behold[Pg 122] them," and to Jerusalem a herald of good news—I give. I give is emphatically placed at the end,—"I Jehovah alone, through my prophets in Israel, give such a prediction and publisher of good news."

We scarcely require to remind ourselves, that this great challenge and plea are not mere rhetoric or idle boasting. Every word in them we have seen to be true to fact. The heathen religions were, as they are here represented, helpless before Cyrus, and dumb about the issue of the great movements which the Persian had started. On the other hand, Jehovah had uttered to His people all the meaning of the new stir and turmoil in history. We have heard Him do so in ch. xl. There He gives a herald of good news to Jerusalem,—tells them of their approaching deliverance, explains His redemptive purposes, proclaims a gospel. In addition, He has in this chapter accepted Cyrus for His own creation and as part of His purpose, and has promised him victory.

[Pg 123]

The God of Israel, then, is God, because He alone by His prophets claims facts as they stand for His own deeds, and announces what shall become of them.

Do not let us, however, fall into the easy but vulgar error of supposing, that Jehovah claims to be God simply because He can predict. It is indeed prediction, which He demands from the heathen; for prediction is a minimum of godhead, and in asking it He condescends to the heathen's own ideas of what a god should be able to do. When Crœsus, the heathen who of all that time spent most upon religion, sought to decide which of the gods was worthiest to be consulted about the future and propitiated in face of Cyrus, what test did he apply to them? As we have seen, he tested them by their ability to predict a matter of fact: the god who told him what he, Crœsus, should be doing on a certain day was to be his god. It is evident, that, to Crœsus, divinity meant to be able to divine. But the God, who reveals Himself to Israel, is infinitely greater than this. He is not merely a Being with a far sight into the future; He is not only Omniscience. In the chapter preceding this one His power of prediction is not once expressed; it is lost in the two glories by which alone the prophet seeks to commend His Godhead to Israel,—the glory of His power and the glory of His faithfulness. Jehovah is Omnipotence, Creator of heaven and earth; He leads forth the stars by the greatness of His might; Supreme Director of history, it is He who bringeth princes to nothing. But Jehovah is also unfailing character: the word of the Lord standeth for ever; it is foolishness to say of Him that He has forgotten His people, or that their right has passed from Him; He disappoints none who wait upon Him. Such is the God, who steps down from ch. xl. into the controversy with the heathen in[Pg 124] ch. xli. If in the latter He chiefly makes His claim to godhead to rest upon specimens of prediction, it is simply, as we have said, that He may meet the gods of the heathen before a bar and upon a principle, which their worshippers recognise as practical and decisive. What were single predictions, here and there, upon the infinite volume of His working, who by His power could gather all things to serve His own purpose, and in His faithfulness remained true to that purpose from everlasting to everlasting! The unity of history under One Will—this is a far more adequate idea of godhead than the mere power to foretell single events of history. And it is even to this truth that Jehovah seeks to raise the unaccustomed thoughts of the heathen. Past the rude wonder, which is all that fulfilled predictions of fact can excite, He lifts their religious sense to Himself and His purpose, as the one secret and motive of all history. He not only claims Cyrus and Cyrus' career as His own work, but He speaks of Himself as summoner of the generations from aforehand; I Jehovah, the First, and with the Last; I am He. It is a consummate expression of godhead, which lifts us far above the thought of Him as a mere divining power.

Now, it is well for us—were it only for the great historic interest of the thing, though it will also further our argument—to take record here that, although this conception of the unity of life under One Purpose and Will was still utterly foreign, and perhaps even unintelligible, to the heathen world, which the prophecy has in view, the first serious attempt in that world to reach such a conception was contemporary with the forty-first chapter of Isaiah. It is as miners feel, when, tunnelling from opposite sides of a mountain, they begin to hear the noise of each other's picks through the dwindling[Pg 125] rock. We, who have come down the history of Israel towards the great consummation of religion in Christianity, may here cease for a moment our labours, to listen to the faint sound from the other side of the wall, still separating Israel from Greece, of a witness to God and an argument against idolatry similar to those with which we have been working. Who is not moved by learning, that, in the very years when Jewish prophecy reached its most perfect statement of monotheism, pouring its scorn upon the idols and their worshippers, and in the very Isles on which its hopes and influence were set, the first Greek should be already singing, who used his song to satirize the mythologies of his people, and to celebrate the unity of God? Among the Ionians, whom Cyrus' invasion of Lydia and of the Ægean coast in 544 drove across the seas, was Xenophanes of Colophon.[67] After some wanderings he settled at Elea in South Italy, and became the founder of the Eleatic school, the first philosophic attempt of the Greek mind to grasp the unity of Being. How far Xenophanes himself succeeded in this attempt is a matter of controversy. The few fragments of his poetry which are extant do not reveal him as a philosophical monotheist, so much as a prophet of "One greatest God." His language (like that of the earlier Hebrew prophets in praising Jehovah) apparently implies the real existence of lesser divinities:—

"One God, 'mongst both gods and men He is greatest,
Neither in shape is He like unto mortals, nor thought."[68]

[Pg 126]

Xenophanes scorns the anthropomorphism of his countrymen, and the lawless deeds which their poets had attributed to the gods:—

"Mortals think the gods can be born, have their feelings, voice and form; but, could horses or oxen draw like men, they too would make their gods after their own image."[69]

"All things did Homer and Hesiod lay on the gods,
Such as with mortals are full of blame and disgrace,
To steal and debauch and outwit one another."[70]

Our prophet, to whose eyes Gentile religiousness was wholly of the gross Crœsus kind, little suspected that he had an ally, with such kindred tempers of faith and scorn, among the very peoples to whom he yearns to convey his truth. But ages after, when Israel and Greece had both issued into Christianity, the service of Xenophanes to the common truth was recounted by two Church writers—by Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata, and by Eusebius the historian in his Præparatio Evangelica.

We find, then, that monotheism had reached its most absolute expression in Israel in the same decade, in which the first efforts towards the conception of the unity of Being were just starting in Greece. But there is something more to be stated. In spite of the splendid progress, which it pursued from such beginnings, Greek philosophy never reached the height on which, with Second Isaiah, Hebrew prophecy already rests; and[Pg 127] the reason has to do with two points on which we are now engaged,—the omnipotence and the righteousness of God.

Professor Pfleiderer remarks: "Even in the idealistic philosophy of the Greeks ... matter remains, however sublimated, an irrational something, with which the Divine power can never come to terms. It was only in the consciousness, which the prophets of Israel had of God, that the thought of the Divine omnipotence fully prevailed."[71] We cannot overvalue such high and impartial testimony to the uniqueness of the Hebrew doctrine of God, but it needs to be supplemented. To the prophets' sense of the Divine omnipotence, we must add their unrivalled consciousness of the Divine character. To them Jehovah is not only the Holy, the incomparable God, almighty and sublime; He is also the true, consistent God. He has a great purpose, which He has revealed of old to His people, and to which He remains for ever faithful. To express this the Hebrews had one word,—the word we translate righteous. We should often miss our prophet's meaning, if by righteousness we understood some of the qualities to which the term is often applied by us: if, for instance, we used it in the general sense of morality, or if we gave it the technical meaning, which it bears in Christian theology, of justification from guilt. We shall afterwards devote a chapter to the exposition of its meaning in Second Isaiah, but let us here look at its use in ch. xli. In ver. 26, it is applied to the person whose prediction turns out to be correct: men are to say of him "right" or "righteous." Here it is evident[Pg 128] that the Hebrew—ssaddîq—is used in its simplest meaning, like the Latin rectus, and our "right," of what has been shown to be in accordance with truth or fact. In ver. 2, again, though the syntax is obscure, it seems to have the general sense of good faith with the ability to ensure success. Righteousness is here associated with Cyrus, because he has not been called for nothing, but in good faith for a purpose which will be carried through. Jehovah's righteousness, then, will be His trueness, His good faith, His consistency; and indeed this is the sense which it must evidently bear in ver. 10. Take it with the context: But thou, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham who loved Me, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners, I called thee and said unto thee, Thou art My servant. I have chosen thee, and will not cast thee away. Fear not, for I am with thee. Look not round in despair, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness. Here righteousness evidently means that Jehovah will act in good faith to the people He has called, that He will act consistently with His anciently revealed purpose towards them. Hitherto Israel has had nothing but the memory that God called them, and the conscience that He chose them. Now Jehovah will vindicate this conscience in outward fact. He will carry through His calling of His people, and perform His promise. How He will do this, He proceeds to relate. Israel's enemies shall become as nothing (vv. 11, 12). Israel himself, though a poor worm of a people, shall be changed to the utmost conceivable opposite of a worm—even a sharp threshing instrument having teeth—a people who shall leave their mark on the world. They shall overcome all difficulties and rejoice[Pg 129] in Jehovah. Their redemption shall be accomplished in a series of evident facts. The poor and the needy are seeking water, and there is none, their tongue faileth for thirst; I, Jehovah, will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. And this shall be done on such a scale, that all the world will wonder and be convinced, vv. 18-19: I will open on the bare heights rivers, and in the midst of the plains fountains. I will make the desert a pool of water, and the dry ground water-springs. I will plant in the wilderness cedars and acacias and myrtles and oil-trees; I will plant in the desert pines, planes and sherbins together. Do not let us spoil the meaning of this passage by taking these verses literally, or even as illustrative of the kind of restoration which Israel was to enjoy. This vast figure of a well-watered and planted desert the prophet uses rather to illustrate the scale on which the Restoration will take place: its evident extent and splendour. That they may see and know and consider and understand together, that Jehovah hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. The whole passage, then, tells us what God means by His righteousness. It is His fidelity to His calling of Israel, and to His purpose with His people. It is the quality by which He cannot forsake His own, but carries through and completes His promises to them; by which He vindicates and justifies, in facts so large that they are evident to all mankind, His ancient word by His prophets.[72]

This lengthened exposition will not have been in vain, if it has made clear to us, that Hebrew monotheism owed its unique quality to the emphasis, which the prophets laid upon the two truths of the Power and[Pg 130] the Character of God. There was One Supreme Being, infinite in might, and with one purpose running down the ages, which He had plainly revealed, and to which He remained constant. The people, who knew this, did not need to wait for the fulfilment of certain test-predictions before trusting Him as the One God. Test-predictions and their fulfilment might be needful for the heathen, from whose minds the idea of One Supreme Being with such a character had vanished; the heathen might need to be convinced by instances of Jehovah's omniscience, for omniscience was the most Divine attribute of which they had conceived. But Israel's faith rested upon glories in the Divine nature of which omniscience was the mere consequence. Israel knew God was Almighty and All-true, and that was enough.

Note upon Jehovah's Claim to Cyrus.

In ver. 25 a phrase is used of Cyrus which is very obscure, and to which, considering its vagueness even upon the most definite construction, far too much importance has been attached. The meaning of the words, the tenses, the syntax—perhaps even the original text itself—of this verse are uncertain. The English revisers give, I have raised up one from the north, and he is come; from the rising of the sun one that calleth upon My Name. This is probably the true syntax.[73] But in what tense is the verb to call, and what does calling upon My name mean? In the Old Testament the phrase is used in two senses,—to invoke or adore, and to proclaim or celebrate the name of a person.[74] As long as scholars understood that Cyrus was a monotheist, there was a temptation to choose the former of these meanings, and to find in the verse Jehovah's claim upon the Persian, as a worshipper of Himself, the One True God. But this interpretation[Pg 131] received a shock from the discovery of a proclamation of Cyrus after his entry into Babylon, in which he invokes the names of Babylonian deities, and calls himself their "servant."[75] Of course his doing so in the year 538 does not necessarily discredit a description of him as a monotheist eight years before. Between 548 and 546—the probable date of ch. xli.—a prophet might in all good faith have hailed as a worshipper of Jehovah a Persian who still stood in the rising of the sun,—who had not yet issued from the east and its radiant repute of a religion purer than the Babylonian; although eight years afterwards, from motives of policy, the same king acknowledged the gods of his new subjects. This may be; but there is a more natural way out of the difficulty. Is it fair to lay upon the expression, calleth on My name, so precise a meaning as that of a strict monotheism? Some have turned to the other use of the verb, and, taking it in the future tense, have translated, who shall proclaim or celebrate My name,—which Cyrus surely did, when, in the name of Jehovah, he drew up the edict for the return of the Jews to Palestine.[76] But do we need to put even this amount of meaning upon the phrase? In itself it is vague, but it also stands parallel to another vague phrase: I have raised up one from the north, and he is come; from the sunrising one who calleth on My name. Taken in apposition to the phrase he is come, calleth on My name may mean no more than that, answering to the instigation of Jehovah, and owning His impulse, Cyrus by his career proclaimed or celebrated Jehovah's name. In any case, we have said enough to show that, in our comparative ignorance of what Cyrus' faith was, and in face of the elastic use of the phrase to call on the name of, it is quite unwarrantable to maintain that the prophet must have meant a strict monotheist, and therefore absurd to draw the inference that the prophet was incorrect. A way has been attempted out of the difficulty by slightly altering the text, and so obtaining the version, I have raised up one from the north, and he is come; from the sunrise I call him by name.[77] This is a change which is in harmony with ch. xlv. 3, 4, but has otherwise no evidence in its favour.

[Pg 132]



Isaiah xlii. 13-17.

At the beginning of ch. xlii. we reach one of those distinct stages, the frequent appearance of which in our prophecy assures us, that, for all its mingling and recurrent style, the prophecy is a unity with a distinct, if somewhat involved, progress of thought. For while chs. xl. and xli. establish the sovereignty and declare the character of the One True God before His people and the heathen, ch. xlii. takes what is naturally the next step, of publishing to both these classes His Divine will. This purpose of God is set forth in the first seven verses of the chapter. It is identified with a human Figure, who is to be God's agent upon earth, and who is styled the Servant of Jehovah. Next to Jehovah Himself, the Servant of Jehovah is by far the most important personage within our prophet's gaze. He is named, described, commissioned and encouraged over and over again throughout the prophecy; his character and indispensable work are hung upon with a frequency and a fondness almost equal to the steadfast faith, which the prophet reposes in Jehovah Himself. Were we following our prophecy chapter by chapter, now would be the time to put the question, Who[Pg 133] is this Servant, who is suddenly introduced to us? and to look ahead for the various and even conflicting answers, which rise from the subsequent chapters. But we agreed, for clearness' sake,[78] to take all the passages about the Servant, which are easily detached from the rest of the prophecy, and treat by themselves, and to continue in the meantime our prophet's main theme of the Power and Righteousness of God as shown forth in the deliverance of His people from Babylon. Accordingly, at present we pass over xlii. 1-9, keeping this firmly in mind, however, that God has appointed for His work upon earth, including, as it does, the ingathering of His people and the conversion of the Gentiles, a Servant,—a human figure of lofty character and unfailing perseverance, who makes God's work of redemption his own, puts his heart into it, and is upheld by God's hand. God, let us understand, has committed His cause upon earth to a human agent.

God's commission of His Servant is hailed by a hymn. Earth answers the proclamation of the new things which the Almighty has declared (ver. 9) by a new song (vv. 10-13). But this song does not sing of the Servant; its subject is Jehovah Himself.

Sing to Jehovah a new song,
His praise from the end of the earth;
Ye that go down to the sea, and its fulness,
Isles, and their dwellers!
Let be loud,—the wilderness and its townships,
Villages that Kedar inhabits!
Let them ring out,—the dwellers of Sela!
From the top of the hills let them shout!
[Pg 134] Let them give to Jehovah the glory,
And publish His praise in the Isles!
Jehovah as hero goes forth,
As a man of war stirs up zeal,
Shouts the alarm and battle cry,
Against his foes proves Himself hero.

The terms of the last four lines are military. Most of them will be found in the historical books, in descriptions of the onset of Israel's battles with the heathen. But it is no human warrior to whom they are here applied. They who sing have forgotten the Servant. Their hearts are warm only with this, that Jehovah Himself will come down to earth to give the alarm, and to bear the brunt of the battle. And to such a hope He now responds, speaking also of Himself and not of the Servant. His words are very intense, and glow and strain with inward travail.

I have long time kept my peace,
Am dumb and hold myself in:
Like a woman in travail I gasp,
Pant and palpitate together.

Remember it is God who speaks these words of Himself, and then think what they mean of unshareable thought and pain, of solitary yearning and effort. But from the pain comes forth at last the power.

I waste mountains and hills,
And all their herb I parch;
And I have set rivers for islands,
And marshes I parch.

Yet it is not the passion of a mere physical effort that is in God; not mere excitement of war that thrills Him. But the suffering of men is upon Him, and He[Pg 135] has taken their redemption to heart. He had said to His Servant (vv. 6, 7): I give thee ... to open the blind eyes, to bring out from prison the bound, from the house of bondage the dwellers in darkness. But here He Himself puts on the sympathy and strain of that work.

And I will make the blind to walk in a way they know not,
By paths they know not I will guide them;
Turn darkness before them to light,
And serrated land to level.
These are the things that I do, and do not remit them.
They fall backwards, with shame are they shamed,
That put trust in a Carving,
That do say to a Cast, Ye are our Gods.

Now this pair of passages, in one of which God lays the work of redemption upon His human agent, and in another Himself puts on its passion and travail, are only one instance of a duality that runs through the whole of the Old Testament. As we repeatedly saw in the prophecies of Isaiah himself,[80] there is a double promise of the future through the Old Testament:—first, that God will achieve the salvation of Israel by an extraordinary human personality, who is figured now as a King, now as a Prophet and now as a Priest; but, second also, that God Himself, in undeputed, unshared power, will come visibly to deliver His people and to reign over them. These two lines of prophecy run parallel, and even entangled, through the Old Testament, but within its bounds no attempt is made to reconcile them. They pass from it still separate, to find their synthesis, as we all know, in One of whom[Pg 136] each is the incomplete prophecy. While considering the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, which run upon the first of these two lines, we pointed out, that, though standing in historical connection with Christ, they were not prophecies of His divinity. Lofty and expansive as were the titles they attributed to the Messiah, these titles did not imply more than an earthly ruler of extraordinary power and dignity. But we added that in the other and concurrent line of prophecy, and especially in those well-developed stages of it which appear in Isa. xl.-lxvi., we should find the true Old Testament promise of the Deity in human form and tabernacling among men. We urged that, if the divinity of Christ was to be seen in the Old Testament, we should more naturally find it in the line of promise, which speaks of God Himself descending to battle and to suffer by the side of men, than in the line that lifts a human ruler almost to the right hand of God. We have now come to a passage, which gives us the opportunity of testing this connection, which we have alleged between the so-called anthropomorphism of the Old Testament, and the Incarnation, which is the glory of the New.

When God presents Himself in the Old Testament as His people's Saviour, it is not always as Isaiah mostly saw Him, in awful power and majesty—a King high and lifted up, or as coming from far, burning and thick-rising smoke, and overflowing streams; causing the peal of His voice to be heard, and the lighting down of His arm to be seen, in the fury of anger and devouring fire—bursting and torrent and hailstones.[81] But in a large number of passages, of which the one before us and the[Pg 137] famous first six verses of ch. lxiii. are perhaps the most forcible, the Almighty is clothed with human passion and agony. He is described as loving, hating, showing zeal or jealousy, fear, repentance and scorn. He bides His time, suddenly awakes to effort, and makes that effort in weakness, pain and struggle, so extreme that He likens Himself not only to a solitary man in the ardour of battle, but to a woman in her unshareable hour of travail. To use a technical word, the prophets in their descriptions of God do not hesitate to be anthropopathic—imparting to Deity the passions of men.

In order to appreciate the full effect of this habit of the Jewish religion, we must contrast it with some principles of that religion, with which at first it seems impossible to reconcile it.

No religion more necessarily implies the spirituality of God than does the Jewish. It is true that in the pages of the Old Testament, you will nowhere find this formally expressed. No Jewish prophet ever said in so many words what Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, God is spirit. In our own prophecy, spirit is frequently used, not to define the nature of God, but to express His power and the effectiveness of His will. But the Jewish Scriptures insist throughout upon the sublimity of God, or, to use their own term, His holiness. He is the Most High, Creator, Lord,—the Force and Wisdom that are behind nature and history. It is a sin to make any image of Him; it is an error to liken Him to man. I am God and not man, the Holy One.[82] We have seen how absolutely the Divine omnipotence and sublimity are expressed by our own prophet, and we shall find Him[Pg 138] again speaking thus: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.[83] But perhaps the doctrine of our prophet which most effectively sets forth God's loftiness and spirituality is his doctrine of God's word. God has but to speak and a thing is created or a deed done. He calls and the agent He needs is there; He sets His word upon him and the work is as good as finished. My word that goeth forth out of My mouth, it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.[84] Omnipotence could not farther go. It would seem that all man needed from God was a word,—the giving of a command, that a thing must be.

Yet it is precisely in our prophecy, that we find the most extreme ascriptions to the Deity of personal effort, weakness and pain. The same chapters which celebrate God's sublimity and holiness, which reveal the eternal counsels of God working to their inevitable ends in time, which also insist, as this very chapter does, that for the performance of works of mercy and morality God brings to bear the slow creative forces that are in nature, or which again (as in other chapters) attribute all to the power of His simple word,—these same Scriptures suddenly change their style and, after the most human manner, clothe the Deity in the travail and passion of flesh. Why is it, that instead of aspiring still higher from those sublime conceptions of God to some consummate expression of His unity, as for instance in Islam, or of His spirituality, as in certain modern[Pg 139] philosophies, prophecy dashes thus thunderously down upon our hearts with the message, scattered in countless, broken words, that all this omnipotence and all this sublimity are expended and realised for men only in passion and in pain?

It is no answer, which is given by many in our day, that after all the prophets were but frail men, unable to stay upon the high flight to which they sometimes soared, and obliged to sacrifice their logic to the fondness of their hearts and the general habit of man to make his god after his own image. No easy sneer like that can solve so profound a moral paradox. We must seek the solution otherwise, and earnest minds will probably find it along one or other of the two following paths.

1. The highest moral ideal is not, and never can be, the righteousness that is regnant, but that which is militant and agonizing. It is the deficiency of many religions, that while representing God as the Judge and almighty executor of righteousness, they have not revealed Him as its advocate and champion as well. Christ gave us a very plain lesson upon this. As He clearly showed, when He refused the offer of all the kingdoms of the world, the highest perfection is not to be omnipotence upon the side of virtue, but to be there as patience, sympathy and love. To will righteousness, and to rule life from above in favour of righteousness, is indeed Divine; but if these were the highest attributes of divinity, and if they exhausted the Divine interest in our race, then man himself, with his conscience to sacrifice himself on behalf of justice or of truth,—man himself, with his instinct to make the sins of others his burden, and their purity his agonizing endeavour, would indeed be higher than his God. Had Jehovah[Pg 140] been nothing but the righteous Judge of all the earth, then His witnesses and martyrs, and His prophets who took to themselves the conscience and reproach of their people's sins, would have been as much more admirable than Himself, as the soldier who serves his country on the battle-field or lays down his life for his people is more deserving of their gratitude and more certain of their devotion, than the king who equips him, sends him forth—and himself stays at home.

The God of the Old Testament is not such a God. In the moral warfare to which He has predestined His creatures, He Himself descends to participate. He is not abstract—that is, withdrawn—Holiness, nor mere sovereign Justice enthroned in heaven. He is One who arises and comes down for the salvation of men, who makes virtue His Cause and righteousness His Passion. He is no whit behind the chiefest of His servants. No seraph burns as God burns with ardour for justice; no angel of the presence flies more swiftly than Himself to the front rank of the failing battle. The human Servant, who is pictured in our prophecy, is more absolutely identified with suffering and agonizing men than any angel could be; but even he does not stand more closely by their side, nor suffer more on their behalf, than the God who sends him forth. For the Lord stirreth up jealousy like a man of war; in all His people's affliction He is afflicted; against His enemies He beareth Himself as a hero. So much from the side of righteousness.

2. But take the equally Divine attribute of love. When a religion affirms that God is love, it gives immense hostages. What is love without pity and compassion and sympathy? and what are these but self-imposed weakness and pain? Christ has told us of the greatest[Pg 141] love. Greater love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends; and the cost and sacrifice in which He thus outmatched man is one that the prophets before He came did not hesitate to impute to God. As far as human language is adequate for such a task, they picture God's love for men as costing Him so much. He painfully pleads for His people's loyalty; He travails in pain for their new birth and growth in holiness; in all their affliction He is afflicted; and He meets their stubbornness, not with the swift sentence of outraged holiness, but with longsuffering and patience, if so in the end He may win them. But the pain, that is thus essentially inseparable from love, reaches its acme, when the beloved are not only in danger but in sin, when not only the future of their holiness is uncertain, but their guilty past bars the way to any future at all. We saw how Jeremiah's love thus took upon itself the conscience and reproach of Israel's sin; how much distress and anguish, how much sympathy and self-sacrificing labour, and at last how much hopeless endurance of the common calamity, that sin cost the noble prophet, though he might so easily have escaped it all. Now even thus does God deal with His people's sins; not only setting them in the light of His awful countenance, but taking them upon His heart; making them not only the object of His hate, but the anguish and the effort of His love. Jeremiah was a weak mortal, and God is the Omnipotent. Therefore, the issue of His agony shall be what His servant's never could effect, the redemption of Israel from sin; but in sympathy and in travail the Deity, though omnipotent, is no whit behind the man.

We have said enough to prove our case, that the true[Pg 142] Old Testament prophecy of the nature and work of Jesus Christ is found not so much in the long promise of the exalted human ruler, for whom Israel's eyes looked, as in the assurance of God's own descent to battle with His people's foes and to bear their sins. In this God, omnipotent, yet in His zeal and love capable of passion, who before the Incarnation was afflicted in all His people's affliction, and before the Cross made their sin His burden and their salvation His agony, we see the love that was in Jesus Christ. For Jesus, too, is absolute holiness, yet not far off. He, too, is righteousness militant at our side, militant and victorious. He, too, has made our greatest suffering and shame His own problem and endeavour. He is anxious for us just where conscience bids us be most anxious about ourselves. He helps us, because He feels when we feel our helplessness the most. Never before or since in humanity has righteousness been perfectly victorious as in Him. Never before or since, in the whole range of being, has any one felt as He did all the sin of man with all the conscience of God. He claims to forgive, as God forgives; to be able to save, as we know only God can save. And the proof of these claims, apart from the experience of their fulfilment in our own lives, is that the same infinite love was in Him, the same agony and willingness to sacrifice Himself for men, which we have seen made evident in the Passion of God.

[Pg 143]



Isaiah xliii.-xlviii.

We have now surveyed the governing truths of Isa. xl.-xlviii.: 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, chs. xliii.-xlviii. 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[Pg 144] 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; chs. xlvi. and xlvii. describe Babylon as if on the eve of her fall, and ch. xlviii., 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 ch. xlix., and the chapters following, speak more of Zion's Restoration and less of the Captivity, yet ch. xlix. is closely connected with ch. xlviii., and we do not finally leave Babylon behind till ch. lii. 12. Nevertheless, in the meantime ch. xlviii. 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 Crœsus 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 Crœsus, 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[Pg 145] 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 (xli. 3, 25). I have holden his right hand to bring down before him nations, and the loins of kings will I loosen,—poor ungirt Crœsus, 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 (xlv. 1-3). Some have found in this an allusion to the immense hoards of Crœsus, 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 Ægean, was bound to come into the Persian's hands. But the process of subjection turned out to be a long one. The Greeks got no help from Greece. Sparta sent to Cyrus[Pg 146] 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-sar-ussur. 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 chs. xliii.-xlviii. were composed. That, at least, is what they themselves suggest. In three[Pg 147] 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 ch. xliii. 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 Babylon's fate was already on the way to her, but not yet arrived. Again, in the verses which deal with Cyrus himself, xlv. 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 ver. 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 to-day no question about the date of Isa. xl.-xlviii. 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. Ch. xlviii., 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, chs. xliii.-xlviii. repeat with greater detail and impetuosity[Pg 148] the truths, which we have already gathered from chs. xl.-xlii.

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 to-day on I am He.[85] 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, Elohim, beside Me, God-Righteous, El Ssaddîq, 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 chs. xliii.-xlviii. They let us see at a glance what a part the first personal pronoun plays in the Divine revelation.[Pg 149] 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,"[86]—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."[Pg 150] 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[Pg 151] 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[Pg 152] 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 to-day and the issues of to-morrow.

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 soul, One God, Maker of heaven and earth: 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.[Pg 153] 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[87]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[88] 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!

[Pg 154]


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.[89]


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,
[Pg 155] 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,[90] 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 judgement 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[Pg 156] 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 wearied thee with incense ... but thou hast made Me to slave with thy sins, thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities (xliii. 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 judgement together; indict, that thou mayest be justified (ver. 26). But it had been agelong 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 (vv. 27, 28). The Exile itself was but an episode in a tragedy, which began far back with Israel's history. And so ch. xlviii. repeats: I knew that thou dost deal very treacherously, and Transgressor-from-the-womb do they call thee (ver. 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 (ver. 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 (ver. 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,[Pg 157] 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.[91] 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 ch. xliii. 12: I have published and I have saved. These are the two acts by[Pg 158] which Jehovah proves His solitary divinity over against the idols.

The publishing, of course, is the same prediction, of which ch. xli. 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 (xliv. 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. Ch. xliii. instances the delivery from Egypt (vv. 16, 17), but immediately proceeds (vv. 18, 19): Remember ye not the former things—here our old friend ri'shonôth occurs again, but this time means simply previous eventsneither 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'shonôth, things aheadlet them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified, and let them hear and say,[Pg 159] Truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah, to Israel (xliii. 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. ver. 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 xlv. 19 ff. says: Not in secret have I spoken, in a place of the land of darkness. I have not said to the seed of Jacob, In vanity seek ye Me. I Jehovah am a speaker of righteousness,[92] 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 xliii. 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[Pg 160] in history. God is righteous because, according to another verse in the same prophecy (xliv. 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, xliv. 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, to-day 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 to-day, by the readiness to predict to-day what will happen to-morrow, He is surely God and God alone. Singular fact, that[Pg 161] 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.

[Pg 162]



Isaiah xli. 2, 25; xliv. 28-xlv. 13; xlvi. 11; xlviii. 14, 15.

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[Pg 163] but the prince of Anshan, or Anzan,[93]—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 Cyropædia 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[Pg 164] 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 Cyropædia 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[Pg 165] thoroughness,—all-rightness.[94] 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,[95] 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.[96] Cyrus was very probably the pious ruler, described by Xenophon, but[Pg 166] 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 (ch. xlv. 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 (xliv. 24, 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[97] 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[Pg 167] 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 (xlv. 1, 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 Himself 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[Pg 168] concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me! I have made Earth,[98] and created man upon her: I, My hands, have stretched Heaven, and all its host 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 (xlv. 9-13).

To this bare fiat, the passages referring to Cyrus in ch. xlvi. and ch. xlviii. 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 (xlvi. 9, 10, 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 (xlviii. 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.[99]

[Pg 169]

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 emphasizes 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 (xlv. 1, 2). That Cyrus is doing a work in God's hand and for God's end, and therefore forcibly, and sure[Pg 170] 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 that 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 judgement 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 Cyropædia, 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[Pg 171] 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."[100] 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 Cyropædia. 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 Cyropædia—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 Cyropædia, 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[Pg 172] meaning of his whole career,—the liberation of the Jews. The Cyropædia 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 an 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 an 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[Pg 173] Greek or Jew had his hand on the pulse of the world's main 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 Cyropædia!" 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 only by the fear and obligation of God. I speak now of applying this[Pg 174] 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[Pg 175] 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[Pg 176] 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.

[Pg 177]



Isaiah xlvi.

Chapter xlvi. is a definite prophecy, complete in itself. It repeats many of the truths which we have found in previous chapters, and we have already seen what it says about Cyrus. But it also strikes out a new truth, very relevant then, when men made idols and worshipped the works of their hands, and relevant still, when so many, with equal stupidity, are more concerned about keeping up the forms of their religion than allowing God to sustain themselves.

The great contrast, which previous chapters have been elaborating, is the contrast between the idols and the living God. On the one side we have had pictures of the busy idol-factories, cast into agitation by the advent of Cyrus, turning out with much toil and noise their tawdry, unstable images. Foolish men, instead of letting God undertake for them, go to and try what their own hands and hammers can effect. Over against them, and their cunning and toil, the prophet sees the God of Israel rise alone, taking all responsibility of salvation to Himself—I, I am He: look unto Me, all the ends of the earth, and be ye saved. This contrast comes to a head in ch. xlvi.

[Pg 178]

It is still the eve of the capture of Babylon; but the prophet pictures to himself what will happen on the morrow of the capture. He sees the conqueror following the old fashion of triumph—rifling the temples of his enemies and carrying away the defeated and discredited gods as trophies to his own. The haughty idols are torn from their pedestals and brought head foremost through the temple doors. Bel crouches—as men have crouched to Bel; Nebo cowers—a stronger verb than crouches, but assonant to it, like cower to crouch.[101] Their idols have fallen to the beast and to the cattle. Beast, "that is, tamed beast, perhaps elephants in contrast to cattle, or domestic animals."[102] The things with which ye burdened yourselves, carrying them shoulder high in religious processions, are things laden, mere baggage-bales, a burden for a hack, or jade. The nouns are mostly feminine—the Hebrew neuter—in order to heighten the dead-weight impression of the idols. So many baggage-bales for beasts' backs—such are your gods, O Babylonians! They cower, they crouch together (fall limp is the idea, like corpses); neither are they able to recover the burden, and themselves!—literally their soul, any real soul of deity that ever was in them—into captivity are they gone.

This never happened. Cyrus entered Babylon not in spite of the native gods, but under their patronage, and was careful to do homage to them. Nabunahid, the king of Babylon, whom he supplanted, had vexed the priests of Bel or Merodach; and these priests had been among the many conspirators in favour of the Persian. So far, then, from banishing the idols, upon his entry into the city, Cyrus had himself proclaimed as "the[Pg 179] servant of Merodach," restored to their own cities the idols that Nabunahid had brought to Babylon, and prayed, "In the goodness of their hearts may all the gods whom I have brought into their strong places daily intercede before Bel and Nebo, that they should grant me length of days. May they bless my projects with prosperity, and may they say to Merodach, my lord, that Cyrus the king, thy worshipper, and Kambyses, his son (deserve thy favour)."[103]

Are we, then, because the idols were not taken into captivity, as our prophet pictures, to begin to believe in him less? We shall be guilty of that error, only when we cease to disallow to a prophet of God what we do allow to any other writer, and praise him when he employs it to bring home a moral truth—the use of his imagination. What if these idols never were packed off by Cyrus, as our prophet here paints for us? It still remains true that, standing where they did, or carried away, as they may have been later on, by conquerors, who were monotheists indeed, they were still mere ballast, so much dead-weight for weary beasts.

Now, over against this kind of religion, which may be reduced to so many pounds avoirdupois, the prophet sees in contrast the God of Israel. And it is but natural, when contrasted with the dead-weight of the idols, that God should reveal Himself as a living and a lifting God: a strong, unfailing God, who carries and who saves. Hearken unto Me, O House of Jacob, and all the remnant of the House of Israel; burdens from the womb, things carried from the belly. Burdens, things carried, are the exact words used of the idols in ver. 1. Even unto old age I am He, and unto grey hairs I will[Pg 180] bear—a grievous word, used only of great burdens. I have made, and I will carry; yea, I will bear, and will recover. Then follow some verses in the familiar style. To whom will ye liken Me, and match Me, and compare Me, that we may be like? They who pour gold from a bag, and silver they measure off with an ellwand—gorgeous, vulgar Babylonians!—they hire a smelter, and he maketh it a god—out of so many ells of silver!—they bow down to it, yea, they worship it! They carry him upon the shoulder, they bear him,—again the grievous word,—to bring him to his station; and he stands; from his place he never moves. Yea, one cries unto him, and he answers not; from his trouble he doth not save him. Remember this, and show yourselves men—the playing with these gilded toys is so unmanly to the monotheist (it will be remembered what we said in ch. iii. about the exiles feeling that to worship idols was to be less than a man[104])—lay it again to heart, ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, El, and there is none else; God, Elohim, and there is none like Me. Publishing from the origin the issue, and from ancient times things not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and all My pleasure shall I perform; calling out of the sunrise a Bird-of-prey, from the land that is far off the Man of My counsel. Yea, I have spoken; yea, I will bring it in. I have purposed; yea, I will do it. Hearken unto Me, ye obdurate of heart—that is, brave, strong, sound, but too sound to adapt their preconceived notions to God's new revelation;—ye that are far from righteousness, in spite of your sound opinions as to how it ought to come. I have brought near My righteousness, in distinction to yours. It shall not be far off, like your[Pg 181] impossible ideas, and My salvation shall not tarry, and I will set in Zion salvation, for Israel My glory. It is evident that from the idolaters Jehovah has turned again, in these last verses, to the pedants in Israel, who were opposed to Cyrus because he was a Gentile, and who cherished their own obdurate notions of how salvation and righteousness should come. Ah, their kind of righteousness would never come, they would always be far from it! Let them rather trust to Jehovah's, which He was rapidly bringing near in His own way.

Such is the prophecy. It starts a truth, which bursts free from local and temporal associations, and rushes in strength upon our own day and our own customs. The truth is this: it makes all the difference to a man how he conceives his religion—whether as something that he has to carry, or as something that will carry him. We have too many idolatries and idol manufactories among us to linger longer on those ancient ones. This cleavage is permanent in humanity—between the men that are trying to carry their religion, and the men that are allowing God to carry them.

Now let us see how God does carry. God's carriage of man is no mystery. It may be explained without using one theological term; the Bible gives us the best expression of it. But it may be explained without a word from the Bible. It is broad and varied as man's moral experience.

1. The first requisite for stable and buoyant life is ground, and the faithfulness of law. What sends us about with erect bodies and quick, firm step is the sense that the surface of the earth is sure, that gravitation will not fail, that our eyes and the touch of our feet and our judgement of distance do not deceive us.[Pg 182] Now, what the body needs for its world, the soul needs for hers. For her carriage and bearing in life the soul requires the assurance, that the moral laws of the universe are as conscience has interpreted them to her, and will continue to be as in experience she has found them. To this requisite of the soul—this indispensable condition of moral behaviour—God gives His assurance. I have made, He says, and I will bear.[105] These words were in answer to an instinct, that must have often sprung up in our hearts when we have been struggling for at least moral hope—the instinct which will be all that is sometimes left to a man's soul when unbelief lowers, and under its blackness a flood of temptations rushes in, and character and conduct feel impossible to his strength—the instinct that springs from the thought, "Well, here I am, not responsible for being here, but so set by some One else, and the responsibility of the life, which is too great for me, is His." Some such simple faith, which a man can hardly separate from his existence, has been the first rally and turning-point in many a life. In the moral drift and sweep he finds bottom there, and steadies on it, and gets his face round, and gathers strength. And God's Word comes to him to tell him that his instinct is sure. Yea, I have made, and I will bear.

2. The most terrible anguish of the heart, however, is that it carries something, which can shake a man off even that ground. The firmest rock is of no use to the paralytic, or to a man with a broken leg. And the most steadfast moral universe, and most righteous moral governor, is no comfort—but rather the reverse—to the[Pg 183] man with a bad conscience, whether that conscience be due to the guilt, or to the habit, of sin. Conscience whispers, "God indeed made thee, but what if thou hast unmade thyself? God reigns; the laws of life are righteousness; creation is guided to peace. But thou art outlaw of this universe, fallen from God of thine own will. Thou must bear thine own guilt, endure thy voluntarily contracted habits. How canst thou believe that God, in this fair world, would bear thee up, so useless, soiled, and infected a thing?" Yet here, according to His blessed Word, God does come down to bear up men. Because man's sunkenness and helplessness are so apparent beneath no other burden or billows, God insists that just here He is most anxious, and just here it is His glory, to lift men and bear them upward. Some may wonder what guilt is or the conviction of sin, because they are selfishly or dishonestly tracing the bitterness and unrest of their lives to some other source than their own wicked wills; but the thing is man's realest burden, and man's realest burden is what God stoops lowest to bear. The grievous word for bear, "sabal," which we emphasized in the above passage, is elsewhere in the writings of the Exile used of the bearing of sins, or of the result of sins. Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we bear their iniquities,[106] says one of the Lamentations. And in the fifty-third of Isaiah it is used twice of the Servant, that He bore our sorrows, and that He bare their iniquities.[107] Here its application to God—to such a God as we have seen bearing the passion of His people's woes—cannot fail to carry with it the associations of these passages. When it is said, God bears, and this grievous verb is[Pg 184] used, we remember at once that He is a God, who does not only set His people's sins in the awful light of His countenance, but takes them upon His heart. Let us learn, then, that God has made this sin and guilt of ours His special care and anguish. We cannot feel it more than He does. It is enough: we may not be able to understand what the sacrifice of Christ meant to the Divine justice, but who can help comprehending from it that in some Divine way the Divine love has made our sin its own business and burden, so that that might be done which we could not do, and that lifted which we could not bear?

3. But this gospel of God's love bearing our sins is of no use to a man unless it goes with another—that God bears him up for victory over temptation and for attainment in holiness. It is said to be a thoroughly Mohammedan fashion, that when a believer is tempted past the common he gives way, and slides into sin with the cry, "God is merciful;" meaning that the Almighty will not be too hard on this poor creature, who has held out so long. If this be Mohammedanism, there is a great deal of Mohammedanism in modern Christianity. It is a most perfidious distortion of God's will. For this is the will of God, even our sanctification; and God never gives a man pardon but to set him free for effort, and to constrain him for duty. And here we come to what is the most essential part of God's bearing of man. God, as we have seen, bears us by giving us ground to walk on. He bears us by lifting those burdens from our hearts that make the firmest ground slippery and impossible to our feet. But He bears us best and longest by being the spirit and the soul and the life of our life. Every metaphor here falls short of the reality. By inspired men the bearing of God has[Pg 185] been likened to a father carrying his child, to an eagle taking her young upon her wings, to the shepherd with the lamb in his bosom. But no shepherd, nor mother-bird, nor human father ever bore as the Lord bears. For He bears from within, as the soul lifts and bears the body. The Lord and His own are one. To me, says he who knew it best, To me to live is Christ. It is, indeed, difficult to describe to others what this inward sustainment really is, seating itself at the centre of a man's life, and thence affecting vitally every organ of his nature. The strongest human illustration is not sufficient for it. If in the thick of the battle a leader is able to infuse himself into his followers, so is Christ. If one man's word has lifted thousands of defeated soldiers to an assault and to a victory, even so have Christ's lifted millions: lifted them above the habit and depression of sin, above the weakness of the flesh, above the fear of man, above danger and death and temptation more dangerous and fatal still. And yet it is not the sight of a visible leader, though the Gospels have made that sight imperishable; it is not the sound of Another's Voice, though that Voice shall peal to the end of time, that Christians only feel. It is something within themselves; another self—purer, happier, victorious. Not as a voice or example, futile enough to the dying, but as a new soul, is Christ in men; and whether their exhaustion needs creative forces, or their vices require conquering forces, He gives both, for He is the fountain of life.

4. But God does not carry dead men. His carrying is not mechanical, but natural; not from below, but from within. You dare not be passive in God's carriage; for as in the natural, so in the moral world, whatever dies is thrown aside by the upward pressure of life, to[Pg 186] rot and perish. Christ showed this over and over again in His ministry. Those who make no effort—or, if effort be past, feel no pain—God will not stoop to bear. But all in whom there is still a lift and a spring after life: the quick conscience, the pain of their poverty, the hunger and thirst after righteousness, the sacredness of those in their charge, the obligation and honour of their daily duty, some desire for eternal life—these, however weak, He carries forward to perfection.

Again, in His bearing God bears, and does not overbear, using a man, not as a man uses a stick, but as a soul uses a body,—informing, inspiring, recreating his natural faculties. So many distrust religion, as if it were to be an overbearing of their originality, as if it were bound to destroy the individual's peculiar freshness and joy. But God is not by grace going to undo His work by nature. I have made, and I will bear—will bear what I have made. Religion intensifies the natural man.

And now, if that be God's bearing—the gift of the ground, and the lifting of the fallen, and the being a soul and an inspiration of every organ—how wrong those are who, instead of asking God to carry them, are more anxious about how He and His religion are to be sustained by their consistency or efforts!

To young men, who have not got a religion, and are brought face to face with the conventional religion of the day, the question often presents itself in this way: "Is this a thing I can carry?" or "How much of it can I afford to carry? How much of the tradition of the elders can I take upon myself, and feel that it is not mere dead weight?" That is an entirely false attitude. Here you are, weak, by no means master of yourself; with a heart wonderfully full of suggestions to evil; a[Pg 187] world before you, hardest where it is clearest, seeming most impossible where duty most loudly calls; yet mainly dark and silent, needing from us patience oftener than effort, and trust as much as the exercise of our own cleverness; with death at last ahead. Look at life whole, and the question you will ask will not be, Can I carry this faith? but, Can this faith carry me? Not, Can I afford to take up such and such and such opinions? but, Can I afford to travel at all without such a God? It is not a creed, but a living and a lifting God, who awaits your decision.

At the opposite end of life, there is another class of men, who are really doing what young men too often suppose that they must do if they take up a religion,—carrying it, instead of allowing it to carry them; men who are in danger of losing their faith in God, through over-anxiety about traditional doctrines concerning Him. A great deal is being said just now in our country of upholding the great articles of the faith. Certainly let us uphold them. But do not let us have in our churches that saddest of all sights, a mere ecclesiastical procession,—men flourishing doctrines, but themselves with their manhood remaining unseen. We know the pity of a show, sometimes seen in countries on the Continent, where they have not given over carrying images about. Idols and banners and texts will fill a street with their tawdry, tottering progress, and you will see nothing human below, but now and then jostling shoulders and a sweaty face. Even so are many of the loud parades of doctrines in our day by men, who, in the words of this chapter, show themselves stout of heart by holding up their religion, but give us no signs in their character or conduct that their religion is holding up them. Let us prize our faith,[Pg 188] not by holding it high, but by showing how high it can hold us.

Which is the more inspiring sight,—a banner carried by hands, that must sooner or later weary; or the soldier's face, mantling with the inexhaustible strength of the God who lives at his heart and bears him up?

[Pg 189]



Isaiah xlvii.

Throughout the extent of Bible history, from Genesis to Revelation, One City remains, which in fact and symbol is execrated as the enemy of God and the stronghold of evil. In Genesis we are called to see its foundation, as of the first city that wandering men established, and the quick ruin, which fell upon its impious builders. By the prophets we hear it cursed as the oppressor of God's people, the temptress of the nations, full of cruelty and wantonness. And in the Book of Revelation its character and curse are transferred to Rome, and the New Babylon stands over against the New Jerusalem.

The tradition and infection, which have made the name of Babylon as abhorred in Scripture as Satan's own, are represented as the tradition and infection of pride,—the pride, which, in the audacity of youth, proposes to attempt to be equal with God: Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may touch heaven, and let us make us a name; the pride, which, amid the success and wealth of later years, forgets that there is a God at all: Thou sayest in thine heart, I am, and there is none beside me. Babylon is the Atheist of the Old Testament, as she is the Antichrist of the New.

[Pg 190]

That a city should have been originally conceived by Israel as the arch-enemy of God is due to historical causes, as intelligible as those which led, in later days, to the reverse conception of a city as God's stronghold, and the refuge of the weak and the wandering. God's earliest people were shepherds, plain men dwelling in tents,—desert nomads, who were never tempted to rear permanent structures of their own except as altars and shrines, but marched and rested, waked and slept, between God's bare earth and God's high heaven; whose spirits were chastened and refined by the hunger and clear air of the desert, and who walked their wide world without jostling or stunting one another. With the dear habits of those early times, the truths of the Bible are therefore, even after Israel has settled in towns, spelt to the end in the images of shepherd life. The Lord is the Shepherd, and men are the sheep of His pasture. He is a Rock and a Strong Tower, such as rise here and there in the desert's wildness for guidance or defence.[108] He is rivers of water in a dry place, and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. And man's peace is to lie beside still waters, and his glory is, not to have built cities, but to have all these things put under his feet—sheep and oxen and the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air and the fish of the sea.

Over against that lowly shepherd life, the first cities rose, as we can imagine, high, terrible and impious. They were the production of an alien race,[109] a people with no true religion, as it must have appeared to the Semites, arrogant and coarse. But Babylon had a special curse. Babylon was not the earliest city,—Akkad[Pg 191] and Erekh were famous long before,—but it is Babylon that the Book of Genesis represents as overthrown and scattered by the judgement of God. What a contrast this picture in Genesis,—and let it be remembered that the only other cities to which that book leads us are Sodom and Gomorrah,—what a contrast it forms to the passages in which classic poets celebrate the beginnings of their great cities! There, the favourable omens, the patronage of the gods, the prophecies of the glories of civil life; the tracing of the temple and the forum; visions of the city as the school of industry, the treasury of wealth, the home of freedom. Here, but a few rapid notes of scorn and doom: man's miserable manufacture, without Divine impulse or omen; his attempt to rise to heaven upon that alone, his motive only to make a name for himself; and the result—not, as in Greek legend, the foundation of a polity, the rise of commerce, the growth of a great language, by which through the lips of one man the whole city may be swayed together to high purposes, but only scattering and confusion of speech. To history, a great city is a multitude of men within reach of one man's voice. Athens is Demosthenes; Rome is Cicero persuading the Senate; Florence is Savonarola putting by his word one conscience within a thousand hearts. But Babylon, from the beginning, gave its name to Babel, confusion of speech, incapacity for union and for progress. And all this came, because the builders of the city, the men who set the temper of its civilisation, did not begin with God, but in their pride deemed everything possible to unaided and unblessed human ambition, and had only the desire to make a name upon earth.

The sin and the curse never left the generations, who[Pg 192] in turn succeeded those impious builders. Pride and godlessness infested the city, and prepared it for doom, as soon as it again gathered strength to rise to heaven. The early nomads had watched Babylon's fall from afar; but when their descendants were carried as captives within her in the time of her second glory,[110] they found that the besetting sin, which had once reared its head so fatally high, infected the city to her very heart. We need not again go over the extent and glory of Nebuchadrezzar's architecture, or the greatness of the traffic, from the Levant to India, which his policy had concentrated upon his own wharves and markets.[111] It was stupendous. But neither walls nor wealth make a city, and no observant man, with the Hebrew's faith and conscience, could have lived those fifty years in the centre of Babylon, and especially after Nebuchadrezzar had passed away, without perceiving, that her life was destitute of every principle which ensured union or promised progress. Babylon was but a medley of peoples, without common traditions or a public conscience, and incapable of acting together. Many of her inhabitants had been brought to her, like the Jews, against their own will, and were ever turning from those glorious battlements they were forced to build in their disgust, to scan the horizon for the advent of a deliverer. And many others, who moved in freedom through her busy streets, and shared her riches[Pg 193] and her joys, were also foreigners, and bound to her only so long as she ministered to their pleasure or their profit. Her king was an usurper, who had insulted her native gods; her priesthood was against him. And although his army, sheltered by the fortifications of Nebuchadrezzar, had repulsed Cyrus upon the Persian's first invasion from the north, conspiracies were now so rife among his oppressed and insulted subjects, that, on Cyrus' second invasion, Babylon opened her impregnable gates and suffered herself to be taken without a blow. Nor, even if the city's religion had been better served by the king, could it in the long run have availed for her salvation. For, in spite of the science with which it was connected,—and this "wisdom of the Chaldeans" was contemptible in neither its methods nor its results,—the Babylonian religion was not one to inspire either the common people with those moral principles, which form the true stability of states, or their rulers with a reasonable and consistent policy. Babylon's religion was broken up into a multitude of wearisome and distracting details, whose absurd solemnities, especially when administered by a priesthood hostile to the executive, must have hampered every adventure of war, and rendered futile many opportunities of victory. In fact, Babylon, for all her glory, could not but be short-lived. There was no moral reason why she should endure. The masses, who contributed to her building, were slaves who hated her; the crowds, who fed her business, would stay with her only so long as she was profitable to themselves; her rulers and her priests had quarrelled; her religion was a burden, not an inspiration. Yet she sat proud, and felt herself secure.

It is just these features, which our prophet describes[Pg 194] in ch. xlvii., in verses more notable for their moral insight and indignation, than for their beauty as a work of literature. He is certain of Babylon's immediate fall from power and luxury into slavery and dishonour (vv. 1-3). He speaks of her cruelty to her captives (ver. 6), of her haughtiness and her secure pride (vv. 7, 8). He touches twice upon her atheistic self-sufficiency, her "autotheism,"—"I am, and there is none beside me," words which only God can truly use, but words which man's ignorant, proud self is ever ready to repeat (vv. 8-10). He speaks of the wearisomeness and futility of her religious magic (vv. 10-14). And he closes with a vivid touch, that dissolves the reality of that merely commercial grandeur on which she prides herself. Like every association that arises only from the pecuniary profit of its members, Babylon shall surely break up, and none of those, who sought her for their selfish ends, shall wait to help her one moment after she has ceased to be profitable to them.

Here now are his own words, rendered literally except in the case of one or two conjunctions and articles,—rendered, too, in the original order of the words, and, as far as it can be determined, in the rhythm of the original. The rhythm is largely uncertain, but some verses—1, 5, 14, 15—are complete in that measure which we found in the Taunt-song against the king of Babylon in ch. xiii.,[112] and nearly every line or clause has the same metrical swing upon it.

Down! and sit in the dust, O virgin,
Daughter of Babel!
Sit on the ground, with no throne,
Daughter of Khasdîm!
[Pg 195] For not again shall they call thee
Tender and Dainty.
Take to thee millstones, and grind out the meal,
Put back thy veil, strip off the garment,
Make bare the leg, wade through the rivers;
Bare be thy nakedness, yea, be beholden thy shame!
Vengeance I take, and strike treaty with none.
Our Redeemer! Jehovah of Hosts is His Name,
Holy of Israel!
Sit thou dumb, and get into darkness,
Daughter of Khasdîm!
For not again shall they call thee
Mistress of Kingdoms.
I was wroth with My people, profaned Mine inheritance,
Gave them to thy hand:
Thou didst show them no mercy, on old men thou madest
Thy yoke very sore.
And thou saidst, For ever I shall be mistress,
Till thou hast set not these things to thy heart,
Nor thought of their issue.
Therefore now hear this, Voluptuous,
Sitting self-confident:
Thou, who saith in her heart, "I am: there is none else.
I shall not sit a widow, nor know want of children."
Surely shall come to thee both of these, sudden, the same day,
Childlessness, widowhood!
[Pg 196] To their full come upon thee, spite of the mass of thy spells,
Spite of the wealth of thy charms—to the full!
And thou wast bold in thine evil; thou saidst,
"None doth see me."
Thy wisdom and knowledge—they have led thee astray,
Till thou hast said in thine heart, "I am: there is none else."
Yet there shall come on thee Evil,
Thou know'st not to charm it.
And there shall fall on thee Havoc,
Thou canst not avert it.
And there shall come on thee suddenly,
Unawares, Ruin.
Stand forth, I pray, with thy charms, with the wealth of thy spells—
With which thou hast wearied thyself from thy youth up—
If so thou be able to profit,
If so to strike terror!
Thou art sick with the mass of thy counsels:
Let them stand up and save thee—
Mappers of heaven, Planet-observers, Tellers at new moons—
From what must befall thee!
Behold, they are grown like the straw!
Fire hath consumed them;
Nay, they save not their life
From the hand of the flame!
—'Tis no fuel for warmth,
Fire to sit down at!—
[Pg 197] Thus are they grown to thee, they who did weary thee,
Traders of thine from thy youth up;
Each as he could pass have they fled;
None is thy saviour!

We, who remember Isaiah's elegies on Egypt and Tyre,[113] shall be most struck here by the absence of all appreciation of greatness or of beauty about Babylon. Even while prophesying for Tyre as certain a judgement as our prophet here predicts for Babylon, Isaiah spoke as if the ruin of so much enterprise and wealth were a desecration, and he promised that the native strength of Tyre, humbled and purified, would rise again to become the handmaid of religion. But our prophet sees no saving virtue whatever in Babylon, and gives her not the slightest promise of a future. There is pity through his scorn: the way in which he speaks of the futility of the mass of Babylonian science; the way in which he speaks of her ignorance, though served by hosts of counsellors; the way in which, after recalling her countless partners in traffic, he describes their headlong flight, and closes with the words, None is thy saviour,—all this is most pathetic. But upon none of his lines is there one touch of awe or admiration or regret for the fall of what is great. To him Babylon is wholly false, vain, destitute—as Tyre was not destitute—of native vigour and saving virtue. Babylon is sheer pretence and futility. Therefore his scorn and condemnation are thorough; and mocking laughter breaks from him, now with an almost savage coarseness, as he pictures the dishonour of the virgin who was no virgin—Bare thy nakedness, yea, be beholden thy shame; and now in roguish glee, as he interjects about the fire which[Pg 198] shall destroy the mass of Babylon's magicians, astrologers and haruspices: No coal this to warm oneself at, fire to sit down before. But withal we are not allowed to forget, that it is one of the Tyrant's poor captives, who thus judges and scorns her. How vividly from the midst of his satire does the prisoner's sigh break forth to God:—

"Our Redeemer! Jehovah of Hosts is His Name,
Holy of Israel!"

Not the least interesting feature of this taunt-song is the expression which it gives to the characteristic Hebrew sense of the wearisomeness and immorality of that system of divination, which formed the mass of the Babylonian and many other Gentile religions. The worship of Jehovah had very much in common with the rest of the Semitic cults. Its ritual, its temple-furniture, the division of its sacred year, its terminology, and even many of its titles for the Deity and His relations to men, may be matched in the worship of Phœnician, Syrian and Babylonian gods, or in the ruder Arabian cults. But in one thing the "law of Jehovah" stands by itself, and that is in its intolerance of all augury and divination. It owed this distinction to the unique moral and practical sense which inspired it. Augury and divination, such as the Chaldeans were most proficient in, exerted two most evil influences. They hampered, sometimes paralysed, the industry and politics of a nation, and they more or less confounded the moral sense of a people. They were, therefore, utterly out of harmony with the practical sanity and Divine morality of the Jewish law, which strenuously forbade them; while the prophets, who[Pg 199] were practical men as well as preachers of righteousness, constantly exposed the fatigue they laid upon public life, and the way they distracted attention from the simple moral issues of conduct. Augury and divination wearied a people's intellect, stunted their enterprise, distorted their conscience. Thy spells,—the mass of thy charms, with which thou hast wearied thyself from thy youth. Thou art sick with the mass of thy counsels. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge! they have led thee astray. When "the Chaldean astrology" found its way to the New Babylon, Juvenal's strong conscience expressed the same sense of its wearisomeness and waste of time.[114]

Ashes and ruins, a servile and squalid life, a desolate site abandoned by commerce,—what the prophet predicted, that did imperial Babylon become. Not, indeed, at the hand of Cyrus, or of any other single invader; but gradually by the rivalry of healthier peoples, by the inevitable working of the poison at her heart, Babylon, though situated in the most fertile and central part of God's earth, fell into irredeemable decay. Do not let us, however, choke our interest in this prophecy, as so many students of prophecy do, in the ruins and dust, which were its primary fulfilment. The shell of Babylon, the gorgeous city which rose by Euphrates, has indeed sunk into heaps; but Babylon herself is not dead. Babylon never dies. To the conscience of Christ's seer, this mother of harlots, though dead and desert in the East, came to life again in the West. To the city of Rome, in his day, John transferred word by word the phrases of our[Pg 200] prophet and of the prophet who wrote the fifty-first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah. Rome was Babylon, in so far as Romans were filled with cruelty, with arrogance, with trust in riches, with credulity in divination, with that waste of mental and moral power which Juvenal exposed in her. I sit a queen, John heard Rome say in her heart, and am no widow, and shall in no wise see mourning. Therefore in one day shall her plagues come, death and mourning and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God which judged her.[115] But we are not to leave the matter even here: we are to use that freedom with John, which John uses with our prophet. We are to pass by the particular fulfilment of his words, in which he and his day were interested, because it can only have a historical and secondary interest to us in face of other Babylons in our own day, with which our consciences, if they are quick, ought to be busy. Why do some honest people continue to confine the reference of those chapters in the Book of Revelation to the city and church of Rome? It is quite true, that John meant the Rome of his day; it is quite true, that many features of his Babylon may be traced upon the successor of the Roman Empire, the Roman Church. But what is that to us, with incarnations of the Babylonian spirit so much nearer ourselves for infection and danger, than the Church of Rome can ever be. John's description, based upon our prophet's, suits better a commercial, than an ecclesiastical state,—though self-worship has been as rife in ecclesiasticism, Roman or Reformed, as among the votaries of Mammon. For every phrase of John's, that may be true of the Church of Rome in certain ages, there are six apt[Pg 201] descriptions of the centres of our own British civilisation, and of the selfish, atheistic tempers that prevail in them. Let us ask what are the Babylonian tempers and let us touch our own consciences with them.

Forgetfulness of God, cruelty, vanity of knowledge (which so easily breeds credulity) and vanity of wealth,—but the parent of them all is idolatry of self. Isaiah told us about this in the Assyrian with his war; we see it here in Babylon with her commerce and her science; it was exposed even in the orthodox Jews,[116] for they put their own prejudices before their God's revelation; and it is perhaps as evident in the Christian Church as anywhere else. For selfishness follows a man like his shadow; and religion, like the sun, the stronger it shines, only makes the shadow more apparent. But to worship your shadow is to turn your back on the sun; selfishness is atheism, says our prophet. Man's self takes God's word about Himself and says, I am, and there is none beside me. And he, who forgets God, is sure also to forget his brother; thus self-worship leads to cruelty. A heavy part of the charge against Babylon is her treatment of the Lord's own people. These were God's convicts, and she, for the time, God's minister of justice. But she unnecessarily and cruelly oppressed them. On the aged thou hast very heavily laid thy yoke. God's people were given to her to be reformed, but she sought to crush the life out of them. God's purpose was upon them, but she used them for her aggrandisement. She did not feel that she was responsible to God for her treatment even of the most guilty and contemptible of her subjects.

In all this Babylon acted in accordance with what was[Pg 202] the prevailing spirit of antiquity; and here we may safely affirm that our Christian civilisation has at least a superior conscience. The modern world does recognise, in some measure, its responsibility to God for the care even of its vilest and most forfeit lives. No Christian state at the present day would, for instance, allow its felons to be tortured or outraged against their will in the interests either of science or of public amusement. We do not vivisect our murderers nor kill them off by gladiatorial combats. Our statutes do not get rid of worthless or forfeit lives by condemning them to be used up in dangerous labours of public necessity. On the contrary, in prisons we treat our criminals with decency and even with comfort, and outside prisons we protect and cherish even the most tainted and guilty lives. In all our discharge of God's justice, we take care that the inevitable errors of our human fallibility may fall on mercy's side. Now it is true that in the practice of all this we often fail, and are inconsistent. The point at present is that we have at least a conscience about the matter. We do not say, like Babylon, "I am, and there is none beside me. There is no law higher than my own will and desire. I can, therefore, use whatever through its crime or its uselessness falls into my power, for the increase of my wealth or the satisfaction of my passions." We remember God, and that even the criminal and the useless are His. In wielding the power which His Law and Providence put into our hands towards many of His creatures, we remember that we are administering His justice, and not satisfying our own revenge, or feeding our own desire for sensation, or experimenting for the sake of our science. They are His convicts, not our spoil. In our treatment of them we are subject to[Pg 203] His laws,—one of which, that fences even His justice, is the law against cruelty; and another, for which His justice leaves room, is that to every man there be granted, with his due penalty, the opportunity of penitence and reform. There are among us Positivists, who deny that these opinions and practices of modern civilisation are correct. Carrying out the essential atheism of their school—I am man, and there is none else: that in the discharge of justice and the discharge of charity men are responsible only to themselves—they dare to recommend that the victims of justice should be made the experiments, however painful, of science, and that charity should be refused to the corrupt and the useless. But all this is simply reversion to the Babylonian type, and the Babylonian type is doomed to decay. For history has writ no surer law upon itself than this—that cruelty is the infallible precursor of ruin.

But while speaking of the state, we should remember individual responsibilities as well. Success, even where it is the righteous success of character, is a most subtle breeder of cruelty. The best of us need most strongly to guard ourselves against censoriousness. If God does put the characters of sinful men and women into our keeping, let us remember that our right of judging them, our right of punishing them, our right even of talking about them, is strictly limited. Religious people too easily forget this, and their cruel censoriousness or selfish gossip warns us that to be a member of the Church of Christ does not always mean that a man's citizenship is in heaven; he may well be a Babylonian and carry the freedom of that city upon his face. To "be hard on those who are down" is Babylonian; to make material out of our neighbours' faults, for our pride, or for love of gossip, or for prurience,[Pg 204] is Babylonian. There is one very good practical rule to keep us safe. We may allow ourselves to speak about our erring brothers to men, just as much as we pray for them to God. But if we pray much for a man, he will surely become too sacred to be made the amusement of society or the food of our curiosity or of our pride.

The last curse on Babylon reminds us of the fatal looseness of a society that is built only upon the interests of trade; of the loneliness and uselessness that await, in the end, all lives, which keep themselves alive simply by trafficking with men. If we feed life only by the news of the markets, by the interest of traffic, by the excitement of competition, by the fever of speculation, by the passions of cupidity and pride, we may feel healthy and powerful for a time. But such a life, which is merely a being kept brisk by the sense of gaining something or overreaching some one, is the mere semblance of living; and when the inevitable end comes, when they that have trafficked with us from our youth depart, then each particle of strength with which they fed us shall be withdrawn, and we shall fall into decay. There never was a truer picture of the quick ruin of a merely commercial community, or of the ultimate loneliness of a mercenary and selfish life, than the headlong rush of traders, each as he could find passage, from the city that never had other attractions even for her own citizens than those of gain or of pleasure.

[Pg 205]



Isaiah xlviii.

On the substance of ch. xlviii. we have already encroached, and now it is necessary only to summarise its argument, and to give some attention to the call to go forth from Babylon, with which it concludes.

Chapter xlviii. is addressed, as its first verse declares, to the exiles from Judah[117]: Hear this, Oh House of Jacob, that call yourselves by the name of Israel, and from the waters of Judah have come forth: that is, you so-called Israelites, who spring from Judah. But their worship of Jehovah is only nominal and unreal: They who swear by the name of Jehovah, and celebrate the God of Israel, not in truth and not in righteousness; although by the Holy City they name themselves, and upon the God of Israel they lean—Jehovah of Hosts is His Name!

[Pg 206]

The former things I published long ago;[118] from My mouth they went forth, and I let them be heard—suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I knew how hard thou wert, and a sinew of iron thy neck, and thy brow brass. And I published to thee long ago; before it came to pass I let thee hear it, lest thou shouldest say: Mine idol hath wrought them, and my Image and my Casting hath commanded them. Thou didst hear it: look at it whole,—now that it is fulfilled,—and you! should ye not publish it? All the past lies as a unity, prediction and fulfilment together complete; all of it the doing of Jehovah, and surely enough of it to provide the text of confession of Him by His people. But now,—

I let thee hear new things—in contrast with the former things—from now, and hidden things, and thou knewest them not. Now are they created, and not long ago; and before to-day thou hadst not heard them, lest thou shouldest say, Behold I knew them. Verily,[119] thou hadst not heard, verily, thou hadst not known, verily, long since thine ear was not open; because I knew thou art thoroughly treacherous, and Transgressor-from-the-womb do they call thee.

The meaning of all this is sufficiently clear. It is a reproach addressed to the formal Israelites. It divides into two parts, each containing an explanation Because I knew that, etc.: vv. 3-6a, and vv. 6b-9. In the first part Jehovah treats of history already finished,[Pg 207] both in its prediction and fulfilment. Many of the wonderful things of old Jehovah predicted long before they happened, and so left His stubborn people no excuse for an idolatry to which otherwise they would have given themselves (ver. 5). Now that they see that wonderful past complete, and all the predictions fulfilled, they may well publish Jehovah's renown to the world. In the first part of His reproach, then, Jehovah is dealing with stages of Israel's history that were closed before the Exile. The former things are wonderful events, foretold and come to pass before the present generation. But in the second part of His reproach (vv. 6b-9) Jehovah mentions new things. These new things are being created while His prophet speaks, and they have not been foretold (in contradistinction to the former things of ver. 3). What events fulfil these two conditions? Well, Cyrus was on his way, the destruction of Babylon was imminent, Israel's new destiny was beginning to shape itself under God's hands: these are evidently the things that are in process of creation while the prophet speaks. But could it also be said of them, that they had not been foretold? This could be said, at least, of Cyrus, the Gentile Messiah. A Gentile Messiah was something so new to Israel, that many, clinging to the letter of the old prophecies, denied, as we have seen, that Cyrus could possibly be God's instrument for the redemption of Israel. Cyrus, then, as a Gentile, and at the same time the Anointed of Jehovah, is the new thing which is being created while the prophet speaks, and which has not been announced beforehand.

How is it possible, some may now ask, that Cyrus should be one of the unpredicted new things that are happening while the prophet speaks, when the prophet[Pg 208] has already pointed to Cyrus and his advance on Babylon as a fulfilment of ancient predictions? The answer to this question is very simple. There were ancient predictions of a deliverance and a deliverer from Babylon. To name no more, there were Jeremiah's[120] and Habakkuk's; and Cyrus, in so far as he accomplished the deliverance, was the fulfilment of these ancient r'ishonôth. But in so far as Cyrus sprang from a quarter of the world, not hinted at in former prophecies of Jehovah—in so far as he was a Gentile and yet the Anointed of the Lord, a combination not provided for by any tradition in Israel—Cyrus and his career were the new things not predicted beforehand, the new things which caused such offence to certain tradition-bound parties in Israel.

We cannot overestimate the importance of this passage. It supplies us with the solution of the problem, how the presently-happening deliverance of Israel from Babylon could be both a thing foretold from long ago, and yet so new as to surprise those Israelites who were most devoted to the ancient prophecies. And at the same time such of us as are content to follow our prophet's own evidence, and to place him in the Exile, have an answer put into our mouths, to render to those, who say that we destroy a proof of the Divinity of prophecy by denying to Isaiah or to any other prophet, so long before Cyrus was born, the mention of Cyrus by name. Let such objectors, who imagine that they are more careful of the honour of God and of the Divinity of Scripture, because they maintain that Cyrus was named two hundred years before he was born, look at verse 7. There God Himself says, that[Pg 209] there are some things, which, for a very good reason, He does not foretell before they come to pass. We believe, and have shown strong grounds for believing, that the selection of Cyrus, the mention of his name, and the furtherance of his arms against Babylon, were among those new things, which God says He purposely did not reveal till the day of their happening, and which, by their novel and unpredicted character, offended so many of the traditional and stupid party in Israel. Must there always be among God's people, to-day as in the day of our prophet, some who cannot conceive a thing to be Divine unless it has been predicted long before?

In vv. 3-8, then, God claims to have changed His treatment of His people, in order to meet and to prevent the various faults of their character. Some things He told to them, long before, so that they might not attribute the occurrence of these to their idols. But other things He sprang upon them, without predictions, and in an altogether novel shape, so that they might not say of these things, in their familiarity with them, We knew of them ourselves. A people who were at one time so stubborn, and at another so slippery, were evidently a people who deserved nothing at God's hand. Yet He goes on to say, vv. 9-11, that He will treat them with forbearance, if not for their sake, yet for His own: For the sake of My Name I defer Mine anger, and for My praise—or renown, or reputation, as we would say of a man—I will refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold I have smelted thee, but not as silver: I have tested thee in the furnace of affliction. For Mine own sake, for Mine own sake, I am working;—for how was My Name being profaned![121]and My glory to another I will not give.

[Pg 210]

Then he gathers up the sum of what He has been saying in a final appeal.

Hearken unto Me, O Jacob, and Israel My Called: I am He; I am First, yea, I am Last. Yea, My hand hath founded Earth,[122] and My right hand hath spread Heaven; when I call unto them they stand together.

Be gathered, all of you, and hearken, Who among them—that is, the Gentiles—hath published these things?—that is, such things as the following, the prophecy given in the next clause of the verse: Whom Jehovah loveth shall perform His pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. This was the sum of what Jehovah promised long ago;[123] not Cyrus' name, not that a Gentile, a Persian, should deliver God's people, for these are among the new things which were not published beforehand, at which the traditional Israelites were offended,—but this general fiat of God's sovereignty, that whomever Jehovah loves, or likes, he shall perform His pleasure on Babylon. I, even I, have spoken—this, in ver. 14b, was My speaking. Yea, I have called him; I have brought him, and he will make his way to prosper. Again emphasize the change of tense. Cyrus is already called, but, while the prophet speaks, he has not yet reached his goal in the capture of Babylon.

Some ambassador from the Lord, whether the prophet or the Servant of Jehovah, now takes up the parable, and, after presenting himself, addresses a final exhortation to Israel, summing up the moral meaning of the Exile. Draw near to me, hear this; not from[Pg 211] aforetime in secret have I spoken; from the time that it was, there am I: and now my Lord, Jehovah, hath sent me with His Spirit.[124]

Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, Holy of Israel, I am Jehovah thy God, thy Teacher to profit, thy Guide in the way thou shouldest go: Would that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments, then were like the River thy peace, and thy righteousness like the waves of the sea! Then were like the sand thy seed, and the offspring of thy bowels like its grains![125] He shall not be cut off, nor shall perish his name from before Me.

And now at last it is time to be up. Our salvation is nearer than when first we believed. Day has dawned, the gates are opening, the Word has been sufficiently spoken.

Go forth from Babel, fly from the Chaldeans;
With a ringing voice publish and let this be heard,
Send ye it out to the end of the earth,
Say, Redeemed hath Jehovah His Servant Jacob.

[Pg 212]And they thirsted not in the deserts He caused them to walk;
Waters from a rock He let drop for them,
Clave a rock and there flowed forth waters!

No peace, saith Jehovah, for the wicked.

We have arrived at the most distinct stage of which our prophecy gives trace. Not that a new start is made with the next passage. Ch. xlix. is the answer of the Servant himself to the appeal made to him in xlviii. 20; and ch. xlix. does not introduce the Servant for the first time, but simply carries further the substance of the opening verses of ch. xlii. Nor is this urgent appeal to Go forth from Babylon, which has come to Israel, the only one, or the last, of its kind. It is renewed in ch. lii. 11-12. So that we cannot think that our prophet has even yet got the Fall of Babylon behind him. Nevertheless, the end of ch. xlviii. is the end of the first and chief stage of the prophecy. The fundamental truths about God and salvation have been laid down; the idols have been thoroughly exposed; Cyrus has been explained; Babylon is practically done with. Neither Babylon, nor Cyrus, nor, except for a moment, the idols, are mentioned in the rest of the prophecy. The Deliverance of Israel is certain. And what now interests the prophet is first, how the Holy Nation will accomplish the destiny for which it has been set free, and next, how the Holy City shall be prepared for the Nation to inhabit. These are the two themes of chs. xlix. to lxvi. The latter of them, the Restoration of Jerusalem, has scarcely been touched by our prophet as yet. But he has already spoken much of the Nation's Destiny as the Servant of the Lord; and now that we have exhausted the subject of the deliverance from Babylon, we will take up his prophecies on the Servant, both those which we have[Pg 213] passed over in chs. xl.-xlviii. and those which still lie ahead of us.

Before we do this, however, let us devote a chapter to a study of our prophet's use of the word righteousness, for which this seems to be as convenient a place as any other.

[Pg 214]



Isaiah xl.-lxvi.

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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. righteousness is more often claimed as a Divine attribute, than enforced as a human duty or ideal.[126]

[Pg 215]

I. Righteousness.

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.[127] Paths of righteousness, in Psalm xxiii., ver. 4, are not necessarily straight paths, but rather sure, genuine, safe paths.[128] 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;[129] and so many are the instances in which the word has a forensic force,[130] 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[Pg 216] 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.[131]

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[Pg 217] 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.[132] 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 Psalm xviii., ver. 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,[Pg 218] 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 naïve self-righteousness. History went against them, and the prophets quickened their conscience.[133] 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 Psalm xviii., 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 an harlot! it was full of justice, righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers: thy princes are rebellious,[Pg 219] 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. Israel's unrighteousness is her state of discredit and disgrace under[Pg 220] 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi., we shall simply not understand some of the grandest passages of the prophecy. We must clearly keep in view, that while the prophet ceaselessly emphasizes 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,[134] 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 (lxii. 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 (lxii. 2): And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory. Or again in the way that righteousness and renown are identified (lxi. 11): The Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and renown to spring forth before all the nations. In each[Pg 221] 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. The same is manifest from another text (xlviii. 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 (lxi. 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 (li. 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 (lviii. 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[Pg 222] 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. Here are some commands and reproaches which seem to imply it. Keep judgement, and do righteousness,—where, from what follows, righteousness evidently means observing the Sabbath and doing no evil (lvi. 1 ff). And justice is fallen away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off, for truth is fallen in the street, and steadfastness cannot enter (lix. 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 (lviii. 2); Hearken unto Me, ye that know righteousness, a people—My law is in their hearts (li. 7); Thou meetest him that worketh righteousness (lxiv. 5); No one sues in righteousness, and none goeth to law in truth (lix. 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. to the Exile. Yet, even if these passages have all to be[Pg 223] 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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. 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 Isa. i.-xxxix. 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 ch. xxxix. to ch. xl., 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.

[Pg 224]

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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. 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 ch. xli. 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 xlv. 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 (xlv. 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[Pg 225] 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 ch. xli. 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 ssaddîq.[135] Here ssaddîq simply means right, correct, true to fact. It is much the same meaning in xliii. 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 ch. xlvi., 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[Pg 226] 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,[136] 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,[137] and shamed shall be all that are incensed against Him. In Jehovah shall be righteous and renowned all the seed of Israel (xlv. 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 (ver. 19); against their opportunism and want of foresight, it is described as equivalent to the capacity for arranging things beforehand and predicting[Pg 227] what must come to pass, therefore as purposefulness; while against their futility, it is plainly effectiveness and power to prevail (ver. 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 (xlv. 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[Pg 228] 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' sake (xlii. 21); His righteousness, it upheld Him; and He put on righteousness as a breastplate (lix. 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 xlvi. 13, I bring near My righteousness; and in li. 5, My righteousness is near, My salvation is gone forth; ver. 6, My salvation shall be for ever, 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 (xlv. 8; cf. lxi. 10, My Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness to spring forth).

[Pg 229]

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—lvi. 1, Observe judgement—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 Isa. xl.-lxvi. 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.[138]

That the masculine and feminine forms sometimes occur, with the same or with different meanings, in the[Pg 230] 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?

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[Pg 232]

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Having completed our survey of the fundamental truths of our prophecy, and studied the subject which forms its immediate and most urgent interest, the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, we are now at liberty to turn to consider the great duty and destiny which lie before the delivered people—the Service of Jehovah. The passages of our prophecy which describe this are scattered both among those chapters we have already studied and among those which lie before us. But, as was explained in the Introduction, they are all easily detached from their surroundings; and the continuity and progress, of which their series, though so much interrupted, gives evidence, demand that they should be treated by us together. They will, therefore, form the Third of the Books, into which this volume is divided.

The passages on the Servant of Jehovah, or, as the English reader is more accustomed to hear him called, the Servant of the Lord, are as follows: xli. 8 ff; xlii. 1-7, 18-25; xliii. passim, especially 8-10; xliv. 1, 21; xlviii. 20; xlix. 1-9; l. 4-11; lii. 13-liii. The main passages are those in xli., xlii., xliii., xlix., l., and lii.-liii. The others are incidental allusions to Israel as the Servant of the Lord, and do not develop the character of the Servant or the Service.

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Upon the questions relevant to the structure of these prophecies—why they have been so scattered, and whether they were originally from the main author of Isa. xl.-lxvi., or from any other single writer,—questions on which critics have either preserved a discreet silence, or have spoken to convince nobody but themselves,—I have no final opinions to offer. It may be that these passages formed a poem by themselves before their incorporation with our prophecy; but the evidence, which has been offered for this, is very far from adequate. It may be that one or more of them are insertions from other authors, to which our prophet consciously works up with ideas of his own about the Servant; but neither for this is there any evidence worth serious consideration. I think that all we can do is to remember that they occur in a dramatic work, which may, partly at least, account for the interruptions which separate them; that the subject of which they treat is woven through and through other portions of Isa. xl.-liii., and that even those of them which, like ch. xlix., look as if they could stand by themselves, are led up to by the verses before them; and that, finally, the series of them exhibits a continuity and furnishes a distinct development of their subject. See pp. 313, 314, and 336 ff.

It is this development which the following exposition seeks to trace. As the prophet starts from the idea of the Servant as being the whole, historical nation Israel, it will be necessary to devote, first of all, a chapter to Israel's peculiar relation to God. This will be ch. xv., "One God, One People." In ch. xvi. we shall trace the development of the idea through the whole series of the passages; and in ch. xvii. we shall give the New Testament interpretation and fulfilment of[Pg 235] the Servant. Then will follow an exposition of the contents of the Service and of the ideal it presents to ourselves, first, as it is given in Isa. xlii. 1-9, as the service of God and man, ch. xviii. of this volume; then as it is realised and owned by the Servant himself, as prophet and martyr, Isa. xlix.-l., ch. xix. of this volume; and finally as it culminates in Isa. lii. 13-liii., ch. xx. of this volume.

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Isaiah xli. 8-20, xlii.-xliii.

We have been listening to the proclamation of a Monotheism so absolute, that, as we have seen, modern critical philosophy, in surveying the history of religion, can find for it no rival among the faiths of the world. God has been exalted before us, in character so perfect, in dominion so universal, that neither the conscience nor the imagination of man can add to the general scope of the vision. Jesus and His Cross shall lead the world's heart farther into the secrets of God's love; God's Spirit in science shall more richly instruct us in the secrets of His laws. But these shall thereby only increase the contents and illustrate the details of this revelation of our prophet. They shall in no way enlarge its sweep and outline, for it is already as lofty an idea of the unity and sovereignty of God, as the thoughts of man can follow.

Across this pure light of God, however, a phenomenon thrusts itself, which seems for the moment to affect the absoluteness of the vision and to detract from its sublimity. This is the prominence given before God to a single people, Israel. In these chapters the uniqueness of Israel is as much urged upon us as the unity of God. Is He the One God in heaven? they[Pg 237] are His only people on earth, His elect, His own, His witnesses to the end of the earth. His guidance of them is matched with His guidance of the stars, as if, like the stars shining against the night, their tribes alone moved to His hand through an otherwise dark and empty space. His revelation to humanity is given through their little language; the restoration of their petty capital, that hill fort in the barren land of Judah, is exhibited as the end of His processes, which sweep down through history and affect the surface of the whole inhabited world. And His very righteousness turns out to be for the most part His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel.

Now to many in our day it has been a great offence to have "the curved nose of the Jew" thus thrust in between their eyes and the pure light of God. They ask, Can the Judge of all the earth have been thus partial to one people? Did God confine His revelation to men to the literature of a small, unpolished tribe? Even most uncritical souls have trouble to understand why salvation is of the Jews.

The chief point to know is that the election of Israel was an election, not to salvation, but to service. To understand this is to get rid of by far the greater part of the difficulty that attaches to the subject. Israel was a means, and not an end; God chose in him a minister, not a favourite. No prophet in Israel failed to say this; but our prophet makes it the burden of his message to the exiles. Ye are My witnesses, My Servant whom I have chosen. Ye are My witnesses, and I am God. I will also give thee for a light to the nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth (xliii. 10). Numbers of other verses might be quoted to the same effect, that "there is no[Pg 238] God but God, and Israel is His prophet."[139] But if the election of Israel is thus an election to service, it is surely in harmony with God's usual method, whether in nature or history. So far from such a specialisation as Israel's being derogatory to the Divine unity, it is but part of that order and division of labour which the Divine unity demands as its consequence throughout the whole range of Being. The universe is diverse. To every man his own work is the proper corollary of God over all, and Israel's prerogative was but the specialisation of Israel's function for God in the world. In choosing Israel to be His mediator with mankind, God did but do for religion what in the exercise of the same practical discipline He did for philosophy, when He dowered Greece with her gifts of subtle thought and speech, or with Rome when He trained her people to become the legislators of mankind. And how else should work succeed but by specialisation,—the secret as it is of fidelity and expertness? Of fidelity—for the constraint of my duty surely lies in this, that it is due from me and no other; of expertness—for he drives best and deepest who drives along one line. In lighting a fire you begin with a kindled faggot; and in lighting a world it was in harmony with all His law, physical and moral, for God to begin with a particular portion of mankind.

The next question is, Why should this particular portion of mankind be a nation, and not a single prophet, or a school of philosophers, or a church universal? The answer is found in the condition of the ancient world. Amid its diversities of language and of racial feeling, a missionary prophet travelling[Pg 239] like Paul from people to people is inconceivable; and almost as inconceivable is the kind of Church which Paul founded among various nations, in no other bonds than the consciousness of a common faith. Of all possible combinations of men the nation was the only form, which in the ancient world stood a chance of surviving in the struggle for existence. The nation furnished the necessary shelter and fellowship for personal religion; it gave to the spiritual a habitation upon earth, enlisted in its behalf the force of heredity, and secured the continuity of its traditions. But the service of the nation to religion was not only conservative, it was missionary as well. It was only through a people that a God became visible and accredited to the world. Their history supplied the drama in which He played the hero's part. At a time when it was impossible to spread a religion, by means of literature, or by the example of personal holiness, the achievements of a considerable nation, their progress and prestige, furnished a universally understood language, through which the God could publish to mankind His power and will; and in choosing, therefore, a single nation to reveal Himself by, God was but employing the means best adapted for His purpose. The nation was the unit of religious progress in the ancient world. In the nation God chose as His witness, not only the most solid and permanent, but the most widely intelligible and impressive.[140]

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The next question is, Why Israel should have been this singular and indispensable nation? When God selected Israel to serve His purpose, He did so, we are told, of His sovereign grace. But this strong thought, which forms the foundation of our prophet's assurance about his people, does not prevent him from dwelling also on Israel's natural capacity for religious service. This, too, was of God. Over and over again Israel hears Jehovah say: I have created thee, I have formed thee, I have prepared thee. One passage describes the nation's equipment for the office of a prophet; another their discipline for the life of a saint; and every now and then our prophet shows how far back he feels this preparation to have begun, even when the nation, as he puts it, was still in the womb. How easily these well-worn phrases slip over our lips! Yet they are not mere formulas. Modern research has put a new meaning into them, and taught us that Israel's creation, forming, election, polishing, carriage, and defence were processes as real and measurable as any in natural or political history. For instance, when our prophet says that Israel's preparation began from the womb,—I am thy moulder, saith Jehovah, from the womb,—history takes us back to the pre-natal circumstance of the nation, and there exhibits it to us as already being tempered to a religious disposition and propensity. The Hebrews were of the Semitic stock. The womb from which Israel sprang was a race of wandering shepherds, upon the hungry deserts of Arabia, where man's home is the[Pg 241] flitting tent, hunger is his discipline for many months of the year, his only arts are those of speech and war, and in the long irremediable starvation there is nothing to do but to be patient and dream. Born in these deserts, the youth of the Semitic race, like the probation of their greatest prophets, was spent in a long fast, which lent their spirit a wonderful ease of detachment from the world and of religious imagination, and tempered their will to long suffering—though it touched their blood, too, with a rancorous heat that breaks out through the prevailing calm of every Semitic literature.[141] They were trained also in the desert's august style of eloquence. He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me.[142] A "natural prophecy," as it has been called, is found in all the branches of the Semitic stock. No wonder that from this race there came forth the three great universal religions of mankind—that Moses and the prophets, John, Jesus Himself and Paul, and Mohammed were all of the seed of Shem.

This racial disposition the Hebrew carried with him into his calling as a nation. The ancestor, who gave the people the double name by which they are addressed throughout our prophecy, Jacob-Israel, inherited with all his defects the two great marks of the religious temper. Jacob could dream and he could wait. Remember him by the side of the brother, who could so little think of the future, that he was willing to sell its promise for a mess of pottage; who, though God was[Pg 242] as near to him as to Jacob, never saw visions or wrestled with angels; who seemed to have no power of growth about him, but carrying the same character, unchanged through the discipline of life, finally transmitted it in stereotype to his posterity;—remember Jacob by the side of such a brother, and you have a great part of the secret of the emergence of his descendants from the life of wandering cattle-breeders to be God's chief ministers of religion in the world. Their habits, like their father's, might be bad, but they had the tough and malleable constitution, which it was possible to mould to something better. Like their father, they were false, unchivalrous, selfish, "with the herdsman's grossness in their blood," and much of the rancour and cruelty of their ancestors, the desert-warriors, but with it all they had the two most potential of habits—they could dream and they could wait. In his love and hope for promised Rachel, that were not quenched or soured by the substitution, after seven years' service for her, of her ill-favoured sister, but began another seven years' effort for herself, Jacob was a type of his strange, tenacious people, who, when they were brought face to face with some Leah of a fulfilment of their fondest ideals, as they frequently were in their history, took up again with undiminished ardour the pursuit of their first unforgettable love. It is the wonder of history, how this people passed through the countless disappointments of the prophecies to which they had given their hearts, yet with only a strengthening expectation of the arrival of the promised King and His kingdom. If other peoples have felt a gain in character from such miscarriages of belief, it has generally been at the expense of their faith. But Israel's experience did not take faith away or even impair faith's elasticity. We see their[Pg 243] appreciation of God's promises growing only more spiritual with each postponement, and patience performing her perfect work upon their character; yet this never happens at the cost of the original buoyancy and ardour. The glory of it we ascribe, as is most due, to the power of the Word of God; but the people who could stand the strain of the discipline of such a word, its alternate glow and frost, must have been a people of extraordinary fibre and frame. When we think of how they wore for those two thousand years of postponed promise, and how they wear still, after two thousand years more of disillusion and suffering, we cease to wonder why God chose this small tribe to be His instrument on earth. Where we see their bad habits, their Creator knew their sound constitution, and the constitution of Israel is a thing unique among mankind.

From the racial temper of the elect nation we pass to their history, on the singularity of which our prophet dwells with emphasis. Israel's political origin had no other reason than a call to God's service. Other peoples grew, as it were, from the soil; they were the product of a fatherland, a climate, certain physical environments: root them out of these, and, as nations, they ceased to be. But Israel had not been so nursed into nationality on the lap of nature. The captive children of Jacob had sprung into unity and independence as a nation at the special call of God, and to serve His will in the world,—His will that so lay athwart the natural tendencies of the peoples. All down their history it is wonderful to see how it was the conscience of this service, which in periods of progress was the real national genius in Israel, and in times of decay or of political dissolution upheld the assurance of the nation's survival. Whenever a ruler like Ahaz[Pg 244] forgot that Israel's imperishableness was bound up with their faithfulness to God's service, and sought to preserve his throne by alliances with the world-powers, then it was that Israel were most in danger of absorption into the world. And, conversely, when disaster came down, and there was no hope in the sky, it was upon the inward sense of their election to the service of God that the prophets rallied the people's faith and assured them of their survival as a nation. They brought to Israel that sovereign message, which renders all who hear it immortal: "God has a service for you to serve upon earth." In the Exile especially, the wonderful survival of the nation, with the subservience of all history to that end, is made to turn on this,—that Israel has a unique purpose to serve. When Jeremiah and Ezekiel seek to assure the captives of their return to the land and of the restoration of the people, they commend so unlikely a promise by reminding them that the nation is the Servant of God. This name, applied by them for the first time to the nation as a whole, they bind up with the national existence. Fear thou not, O My Servant Jacob, saith Jehovah; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity.[143] These words plainly say, that Israel as a nation cannot die, for God has a use for them to serve. The singularity of Israel's redemption from Babylon is due to the singularity of the service that God has for the nation to perform. Our prophet speaks in the same strain: Thou, Israel, My Servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My lover, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners.[Pg 245] I have called thee and said unto thee, My Servant art thou, I have chosen thee and have not cast thee away (ch. xli. 8 ff). No one can miss the force of these words. They are the assurance of Israel's miraculous survival, not because he is God's favourite, but because he is God's servant, with a unique work in the world. Many other verses repeat the same truth.[144] They call Israel the Servant, and Jacob the chosen, of God, in order to persuade the people that they are not forgotten of Him, and that their seed shall live and be blessed. Israel survives because he serves—Servus servatur.

Now for this service,—which had been the purpose of the nation's election at first, the mainstay of its unique preservation since, and the reason of all its singular pre-eminence before God,—Israel was equipped by two great experiences. These were Redemption and Revelation.

On the former redemptions of Israel from the power of other nations our prophet does not dwell much. You feel, that they are present to his mind, for he sometimes describes the coming redemption from Babylon in terms of them. And once, in an appeal to the Arm of Jehovah, he calls out: Awake like the days of old, ancient generations! Art thou not it that hewed Rahab in pieces, that pierced the Dragon? Art thou not it which dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that made the depths of the sea a way of passage for the redeemed?[145] There is, too, that beautiful passage in ch. lxiii., which makes mention of the lovingkindnesses of Jehovah, according to all that He hath bestowed upon us; which describes the carriage of the people all the days of old, how He brought them out of the sea, caused His glorious arm to go at the[Pg 246] right hand of Moses, divided the water before them, led them through the deeps as a horse on the meadow, that they stumbled not. But, on the whole, our prophet is too much engrossed with the immediate prospect of release from Babylon, to remember that past, of which it has been truly said, He hath not dealt so with any people. It is the new glory that is upon him. He counts the deliverance from Babylon as already come; to his rapt eye it is its marvellous power and costliness, which already clothes the people in their unique brilliance and honour. Thus saith Jehovah, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake have I sent to Babylon, and I will bring down their nobles, all of them, and the Chaldeans, in the ships of their exulting.[146] But it is more than Babylon that is balanced against them. I am Jehovah, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. I am giving as thy ransom, Egypt, Cush and Seba in exchange for thee, because thou art precious in mine eyes, and hast made thyself valuable (lit., of weight); and I have loved thee, therefore do I give mankind for thee, and peoples for thy life.[147] Mankind for thee, and peoples for thy life,—all the world for this little people? It is intelligible only because this little people are to be for all the world. Ye are My witnesses that I am God. I will also give thee for a light to nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth.

But more than on the Redemption, which Israel experienced, our prophet dwells on the Revelation, that has equipped them for their destiny. In a passage, in ch. xliii., to which we shall return, the present stupid and unready character of the mass of the people is contrasted with the instruction which God has lavished[Pg 247] upon them. Thou hast seen many things, and wilt not observe; there is opening of the ears, but he heareth not. Jehovah was pleased for His righteousness' sake to magnify the Instruction and make it glorious,—but that—the result and the precipitate of it all—is a people robbed and spoiled. The word Instruction or Revelation is that same technical term, which we have met with before, for Jehovah's special training and illumination of Israel. How special these were, how distinct from the highest doctrine and practice of any other nation in that world to which Israel belonged, is an historical fact that the results of recent research enable us to state in a few sentences.

Recent exploration in the East, and the progress of Semitic philology, have proved that the system of religion, which prevailed among the Hebrews, had a very great deal in common with the systems of the neighbouring and related heathen nations. This common element included not only such things as ritual and temple-furniture, or the details of priestly organization, but even the titles and many of the attributes of God, and especially the forms of the covenant in which He drew near to men. But the discovery of this common element has only thrown into more striking relief the presence at work in the Hebrew religion of an independent and original principle. In the Hebrew religion historians observe a principle of selection operating upon the common Semitic materials for worship,—ignoring some of them, giving prominence to others, and with others again changing the reference and application. Grossly immoral practices are forbidden; forbidden, too, are those superstitions, which, like augury and divination, draw men away from single-minded attention to the moral issues of life; and even religious customs are omitted, such as the employment of women in the[Pg 248] sanctuary, which, however innocent in themselves, might lead men into temptations, not desirable in connection with the professional pursuit of religion.[148] In short, a stern and inexorable conscience was at work in the Hebrew religion, which was not at work in any of the religions most akin to it. In our previous volume we saw the same conscience inspiring the prophets. Prophecy was not confined to the Hebrews; it was a general Semitic institution; but no one doubts the absolutely distinct character of the prophecy, which was conscious of having the Spirit of Jehovah. Its religious ideas were original, and in it we have, as all admit, a moral phenomenon unique in history. When we turn to ask the secret of this distinction, we find the answer in the character of the God, whom Israel served. The God explains the people; Israel is the response to Jehovah. Each of the laws of the nation is enforced by the reason, For I am holy. Each of the prophets brings his message from a God, exalted in righteousness. In short, look where you will in the Old Testament,—come to it as a critic or as a worshipper,—you discover the revealed character of Jehovah to be the effective principle at work. It is this Divine character, which draws Israel from among the nations to their destiny, which selects and builds the law to be a wall around them, and which by each revelation of itself discovers to the people both the measure of their delinquency and the new ideals of their service to humanity. Like the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, we see it in front of Israel at every stage of their marvellous progress down the ages.

So that when Jehovah says that He has magnified[Pg 249] the Revelation and made it glorious, He speaks of a magnitude of a real, historical kind, that can be tested by exact methods of observation. Israel's election by Jehovah, their formation, their unique preparation for service, are not the mere boasts of an overweening patriotism, but sober names for historical processes as real and evident as any that history contains.

To sum up, then. If Jehovah's sovereignty be absolute, so also is the uniqueness of Israel's calling and equipment for His Service. For, to begin with, Israel had the essential religious temper; they enjoyed a unique moral instruction and discipline; and by the side of this they were conscious of a series of miraculous deliverances from servitude and from dissolution. So singular an experience and career were not, as we have seen, bestowed from any arbitrary motive, which exhausted itself upon Israel, but in accordance with God's universal method of specialisation of function, were granted to fit the nation as an instrument for a practical end. The sovereign unity of God does not mean equality in His creation. The universe is diverse. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; and even so in the moral kingdom of Him, who is Lord of the Hosts of both earth and heaven, each nation has its own destiny and function. Israel's was religion; Israel was God's specialist in religion.

For confirmation of this we turn to the supreme witness. Jesus was born a Jew, He confined His ministry to Judæa, and He has told us why. By various passing allusions, as well as by deliberate statements, He revealed His sense of a great religious difference between Jew and Gentile. Use not vain repetitions as the Gentiles do.... For after all these things do the nations[Pg 250] of the world seek; but your Father knoweth that you have need of these things. He refused to work except upon Jewish hearts: I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And He charged His disciples, saying, Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And again He said to the woman of Samaria: Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.

These sayings of our Lord have created as much question as the pre-eminence given in the Old Testament to a single people by a God, who is described as the one God of Heaven and earth. Was He narrower of heart than Paul, His servant, who was debtor to Greek and Barbarian? Or was He ignorant of the universal character of His mission till it was forced upon His reluctant sympathies by the importunity of such heathen as the Syrophenician woman? A little common-sense dispels the perplexity, and leaves the problem, over which volumes have been written, no problem at all. Our Lord limited Himself to Israel, not because He was narrow, but because He was practical; not from ignorance, but from wisdom. He came from heaven to sow the seed of Divine truth; and where in all humanity should He find the soil so ready as within the long-chosen people? He knew of that discipline of the centuries. In the words of His own parable, the Son when He came to earth directed His attention not to a piece of desert, but to the vineyard which His Father's servants had so long cultivated, and where the soil was open. Jesus came to Israel because He expected faith in Israel. That this practical end was the deliberate intention of His will, is proved by the[Pg 251] fact that when He found faith elsewhere, either in Syrian or Greek or Roman hearts, He did not hesitate to let His love and power go forth to them.

In short, we shall have no difficulty about these Divine methods with a single, elect people, if we only remember that to be Divine is to be practical. Yet God also is wise, said Isaiah to the Jews when they preferred their own clever policies to Jehovah's guidance. And we need to be told the same, who murmur that to confine Himself to a single nation was not the ideal thing for the One God to do; or who imagine that it was left to one of our Lord's own creatures to suggest to Him the policy of His mission upon earth. We are shortsighted: and the Almighty is past finding out. But this at least it is possible for us to see, that, in choosing one nation to be His agent among men, God chose the type of instrument best fitted at the time for the work for which He designed it, and that in choosing Israel to be that nation, He chose a people of temper singularly suitable to His end.

Israel's election as a nation, therefore, was to Service. To be a nation and to be God's Servant was pretty much one and the same thing for Israel. Israel were to survive the Exile, because they were to serve the world. Let us carry this over to the study of our next chapter—The Servant of Jehovah.

[Pg 252]



Isaiah xli. 8-20; xlii. 1-7, 18 ff; xliii. 5-10; xlix. 1-9; l. 4-10; lii. 13-liii.

With chapter xlii. we reach a distinct stage in our prophecy. The preceding chapters have been occupied with the declaration of the great, basal truth, that Jehovah is the One Sovereign God. This has been declared to two classes of hearers in succession—to God's own people, Israel, in ch. xl., and to the heathen in ch. xli. Having established His sovereignty, God now publishes His will, again addressing these two classes according to the purpose which He has for each. Has He vindicated Himself to Israel, the Almighty and Righteous God, Who will give His people freedom and strength: He will now define to them the mission for which that strength and freedom are required. Has He proved to the Gentiles that He is the one true God: He will declare to them now what truth He has for them to learn. In short, to use modern terms, the apologetic of chs. xl.-xli. is succeeded by the missionary programme of ch. xlii. And although, from the necessities of the case, we are frequently brought back, in the course of the prophecy, to its fundamental claims for the Godhead of Jehovah, we are nevertheless sensible that with ver. 1 of ch. xlii.[Pg 253] we make a distinct advance. It is one of those logical steps which, along with a certain chronological progress that we have already felt, assures us that Isaiah, whether originally by one or more authors, is in its present form a unity, with a distinct order and principle of development.

The Purpose of God is identified with a Minister or Servant, whom He commissions to carry it out in the world. This Servant is brought before us with all the urgency with which Jehovah has presented Himself, and next to Jehovah he turns out to be the most important figure of the prophecy. Does the prophet insist that God is the only source and sufficiency of His people's salvation: it is with equal emphasis that He introduces the Servant as God's indispensable agent in the work. Cyrus is also acknowledged as an elect instrument. But neither in closeness to God, nor in effect upon the world, is Cyrus to be compared for an instant to the Servant. Cyrus is subservient and incidental: with the overthrow of Babylon, for which he was raised up, he will disappear from the stage of our prophecy. But God's purpose, which uses the gates opened by Cyrus, only to pass through them with the redeemed people to the regeneration of the whole world, is to be carried to this Divine consummation by the Servant: its universal and glorious progress is identified with his career. Cyrus flashes through these pages a well-polished sword: it is only his swift and brilliant usefulness that is allowed to catch our eye. But the Servant is a Character, to delineate whose immortal beauty and example the prophet devotes as much space as he does to Jehovah Himself. As he turns again and again to speak of God's omnipotence and faithfulness and agonising love for His own, so[Pg 254] with equal frequency and fondness does he linger on every feature of the Servant's conduct and aspect: His gentleness, His patience, His courage, His purity, His meekness; His daily wakefulness to God's voice, the swiftness and brilliance of His speech for others, His silence under His own torments; His resorts—among the bruised, the prisoners, the forwandered of Israel, the weary, and them that sit in darkness, the far-off heathen; His warfare with the world, His face set like a flint; His unworldly beauty, which men call ugliness; His unnoticed presence in His own generation, yet the effect of His face upon kings; His habit of woe, a man of sorrows and acquainted with sickness; His sore stripes and bruises, His judicial murder, His felon's grave; His exaltation and eternal glory—till we may reverently say that these pictures, by their vividness and charm, have drawn our eyes away from our prophet's visions of God, and have caused the chapters in which they occur to be oftener read among us, and learned by heart, than the chapters in which God Himself is lifted up and adored. Jehovah and Jehovah's Servant—these are the two heroes of the drama.

Now we might naturally expect that so indispensable and fondly imagined a figure would also be defined past all ambiguity, whether as to His time or person or name. But the opposite is the case. About Scripture there are few more intricate questions than those on the Servant of the Lord. Is He a Person or Personification? If the latter, is He a Personification of all Israel? Or of a part of Israel? Or of the ideal Israel? Or of the Order of the Prophets? Or if a Person—is he the prophet himself? Or a martyr who has already lived and suffered, like Jeremiah? Or[Pg 255] One still to come, like the promised Messiah? Each of these suggestions has not only been made about the Servant, but derives considerable support from one or another of our prophet's dissolving views of his person and work. A final answer to them can be given only after a comparative study of all the relevant passages; but as these are scattered over the prophecy, and our detailed exposition of them must necessarily be interrupted, it will be of advantage to take here a prospect of them all, and see to what they combine to develop this sublime character and mission. And after we have seen what the prophecies themselves teach concerning the Servant, we shall inquire how they were understood and fulfilled by the New Testament; and that will show us how to expound and apply them with regard to ourselves.


The Hebrew word for Servant means a person at the disposal of another—to carry out his will, do his work, represent his interests. It was thus applied to the representatives of a king or the worshippers of a god.[149] All Israelites were thus in a sense the servants of Jehovah; though in the singular the title was reserved for persons of extraordinary character or usefulness.

[Pg 256]

But we have seen, as clearly as possible, that God set apart for His chief service upon earth, not an individual nor a group of individuals, but a whole nation in its national capacity. We have seen Israel's political origin and preservation bound up with that service; we have heard the whole nation plainly called, by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Servant of Jehovah.[150] Nothing could be more clear than this, that in the earlier years of the Exile the Servant of Jehovah was Israel as a whole, Israel as a body politic.

It is also in this sense that our prophet first uses the title in a passage we have already quoted (xli. 8); Thou Israel, My Servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, seed of Abraham My lover, whom I took hold of from the ends of the earth and its corners! I called thee and said unto thee, My Servant art thou. I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Here the Servant is plainly the historical nation, descended from Abraham, and the subject of those national experiences which are traced in the previous chapter. It is the same in the following verses:—xliv. 1 ff: Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: thus saith Jehovah thy Maker, and thy Moulder from the womb, He will help thee. Fear not, My servant Jacob; and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.... I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring. xliv. 21: Remember these things, O Jacob; and Israel, for My servant art thou: I have formed thee; a servant for Myself art thou; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. xlviii. 20: Go ye forth from Babylon; say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed His servant Jacob. In all these verses, which bind up the nation's restoration from exile with[Pg 257] the fact that God called it to be His Servant, the title Servant is plainly equivalent to the national name Israel or Jacob. But Israel or Jacob is not a label for the mere national idea, or the bare political framework, without regard to the living individuals included in it. To the eye and heart of Him, Who counts the number of the stars, Israel means no mere outline, but all the individuals of the living generation of the people—thy seed, that is, every born Israelite, however fallen or forwandered. This is made clear in a very beautiful passage in ch. xliii. (vv. 1-7): Thus saith Jehovah, thy Creator, O Jacob; thy Moulder, O Israel.... Fear not, for I am with thee; from the sunrise I will bring thy seed, and from the sunset will I gather thee; ... My sons from far, and My daughters from the end of the earth; every one who is called by My name, and whom for My glory I have created, formed, yea, I have made him. To this Israel—Israel as a whole, yet no mere abstraction or outline of the nation, but the people in mass and bulk—every individual of whom is dear to Jehovah, and in some sense shares His calling and equipment—to this Israel the title Servant of Jehovah is at first applied by our prophet.

2. We say "at first," for very soon the prophet has to make a distinction, and to sketch the Servant as something less than the actual nation. The distinction is obscure; it has given rise to a very great deal of controversy. But it is so natural, where a nation is the subject, and of such frequent occurrence in other literatures, that we may almost state it as a general law.

In all the passages quoted above, Israel has been spoken of in the passive mood, as the object of some affection or action on the part of God: loved, formed,[Pg 258] chosen, called, and about to be redeemed by Him. Now, so long as a people thus lie passive, their prophet will naturally think of them as a whole. In their shadow his eye can see them only in the outline of their mass; in their common suffering and servitude his heart will go out to all their individuals, as equally dear and equally in need of redemption. But when the hour comes for the people to work out their own salvation, and they emerge into action, it must needs be different. When they are no more the object of their prophet's affection only, but pass under the test of his experience and judgement, then distinctions naturally appear upon them. Lifted to the light of their destiny, their inequality becomes apparent; tried by its strain, part of them break away. And so, though the prophet continues still to call on the nation by its name to fulfil its calling, what he means by that name is no longer the bulk and the body of the citizenship. A certain ideal of the people fills his mind's eye—an ideal, however, which is no mere spectre floating above his own generation, but is realised in their noble and aspiring portion—although his ignorance as to the exact size of this portion, must always leave his image of them more or less ideal to his eyes. It will be their quality rather than their quantity that is clear to him. In modern history we have two familiar illustrations of this process of winnowing and idealising a people in the light of their destiny, which may prepare us for the more obscure instance of it in our prophecy.

In a well-known passage in the Areopagitica, Milton exclaims, "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the[Pg 259] full midday beam, ... while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means." In this passage the "nation" is no longer what Milton meant by the term in the earlier part of his treatise, where "England" stands simply for the outline of the whole English people; but the "nation" is the true genius of England realised in her enlightened and aspiring sons, and breaking away from the hindering and debasing members of the body politic—"the timorous and flocking birds with those also that love the twilight"—who are indeed Englishmen after the flesh, but form no part of the nation's better self.

Or, recall Mazzini's bitter experience. To no man was his Italy more really one than to this ardent son of hers, who loved every born Italian because he was an Italian, and counted none of the fragments of his unhappy country too petty or too corrupt to be included in the hope of her restoration. To Mazzini's earliest imagination, it was the whole Italian seed, who were ready for redemption, and would rise to achieve it at his summons. But when his summons came, how few responded, and after the first struggles how fewer still remained,—Mazzini himself has told us with breaking heart. The real Italy was but a handful of born Italians; at times it seemed to shrink to the prophet alone. From such a core the conscience indeed spread again, till the entire people was delivered from tyranny and from schism, and now every peasant and burgher from the Alps to Sicily understands what Italy means, and is proud to be an Italian. But for a time Mazzini and his few comrades stood alone. Others of their blood and speech were Piedmontese, Pope's men, Neapolitans,—merchants, lawyers, scholars,—or merely[Pg 260] selfish and sensual. They alone were Italians; they alone were Italy.

It is a similar winnowing process, through which we see our prophet's thoughts pass with regard to Israel. Him, too, experience teaches that the many are called, but the few chosen. So long as his people lie in the shadow of captivity, so long as he has to speak of them in the passive mood, the object of God's call and preparation, it is their seed, the born people in bulk and mass, whom he names Israel, and entitles the Servant of Jehovah. But the moment that he lifts them to their mission in the world, and to the light of their destiny, a difference becomes apparent upon them, and the Servant of Jehovah, though still called Israel, shrinks to something less than the living generation, draws off to something finer than the mass of the people. How, indeed, could it be otherwise with this strange people, than which no nation on earth had a loftier ideal identified with its history, or more frequently turned upon its better self, with a sword in its hand. Israel, though created a nation by God for His service, was always what Paul found it, divided into an Israel after the flesh, and an Israel after the spirit. But it was in the Exile that this distinction gaped most broad. With the fall of Jerusalem, the political framework, which kept the different elements of the nation together, was shattered, and these were left loose to the action of moral forces. The baser elements were quickly absorbed by heathendom; the nobler, that remained loyal to the divine call, were free to assume a new and ideal form. Every year spent in Babylonia made it more apparent that the true and effective Israel of the future would not coincide with all the seed of Jacob, who went into exile.[Pg 261] Numbers of the latter were as contented with their Babylonian circumstance as numbers of Mazzini's "Italians" were satisfied to live on as Austrian and Papal subjects. Many, as we have seen, became idolaters; many more settled down into the prosperous habits of Babylonian commerce, while a large multitude besides were scattered far out of sight across the world. It required little insight to perceive that the true, effective Israel—the real Servant of Jehovah—must needs be a much smaller body than the sum of all these: a loyal kernel within Israel, who were still conscious of the national calling, and capable of carrying it out; who stood sensible of their duty to the whole world, but whose first conscience was for their lapsed and lost countrymen. This Israel within Israel was the real Servant of the Lord; to personify it in that character—however vague might be the actual proportion it would assume in his own or in any other generation—would be as natural to our dramatic prophet as to personify the nation as a whole.

All this very natural process—this passing from the historical Israel, the nation originally designed by God to be His Servant, to the conscious and effective Israel, that uncertain quantity within the present and every future generation—takes place in the chapters before us; and it will be sufficiently easy for us to follow if we only remember that our prophet is not a dogmatic theologian, careful to make clear each logical distinction, but a dramatic poet, who delivers his ideas in groups, tableaux, dialogues, interrupted by choruses; and who writes in a language incapable of expressing such delicate differences, except by dramatic contrasts, and by the one other figure of which he is so fond—paradox.

Perhaps the first traces of distinction between the[Pg 262] real Servant and the whole nation are to be found in the Programme of his Mission in ch. xlii. 1-7. There it is said that the Servant is to be for a covenant of the people (ver. 6). I have explained below why we are to understand people as here meaning Israel.[151] And in ver. 7 it is said of the Servant that he is to open blind eyes, bring forth from prison the captive, from the house of bondage dwellers in darkness: phrases that are descriptive, of course, of the captive Israel. Already, then, in ch. xlii. the Servant is something distinct from the whole nation, whose Covenant and Redeemer he is to be.

The next references to the Servant are a couple of paradoxes, which are evidently the prophet's attempt to show why it was necessary to draw in the Servant of Jehovah from the whole to a part of the people. The first of these paradoxes is in ch. xlii. ver. 18.

Ye deaf, hearken! and ye blind, look ye to see!
Who is blind but My Servant, and deaf as My Messenger
whom I send?
[Pg 263]Who is blind as Meshullam, and blind as the Servant of Jehovah?
Vision of many things—and thou dost not observe,
Opening of ears and he hears not!

The context shows that the Servant here—or Meshullam, as he is called, the devoted or submissive one, from the same root, and of much the same form as the Arabic Muslim[152]—is the whole people; but they are entitled Servant only in order to show how unfit they are for the task to which they have been designated, and what a paradox their title is beside their real character. God had given them every opportunity by making great His instruction (ver. 21, cf. p. 247), and, when that failed, by His sore discipline in exile (vers. 24, 25). For who gave Jacob for spoil and Israel to the robbers? Did not Jehovah? He against whom we sinned, and they would not walk in His ways, neither were obedient to His instruction. So He poured upon him the fury of His anger and the force of war. But even this did not awake the dull nation. Though it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it kindled upon him, yet he laid it not to heart. The nation as a whole had been favoured with God's revelation; as a whole they had been brought into His purifying furnace of the Exile. But as they have benefited by neither the one nor the other, the natural conclusion is that as a whole they are no more fit to be God's Servant. Such is the hint which this paradox is intended to give us.

But a little further on there is an obverse paradox, which plainly says, that although the people are blind and deaf as a whole, still the capacity for service is found among them alone (xliii. 8, 10).

[Pg 264]

Bring forth the blind people—yet eyes are there!
And the deaf, yet ears have they!...
Ye are My witnesses, saith Jehovah, and My Servant whom I have chosen.

The preceding verses (vv. 1-7) show us that it is again the whole people, in their bulk and scattered fragments, who are referred to. Blind though they be, yet are there eyes among them; deaf though they be, yet they have ears. And so Jehovah addresses them all, in contradistinction to the heathen peoples (ver. 9), as His Servant.

These two complementary paradoxes together show this: that while Israel as a whole is unfit to be the Servant, it is nevertheless within Israel, alone of all the world's nations, that the true capacities for service are found—eyes are there, ears have they. They prepare us for the Servant's testimony about himself, in which, while he owns himself to be distinct from Israel as a whole, he is nevertheless still called Israel. This is given in ch. xlix. And He said unto me, My Servant art thou; Israel, in whom I will glorify Myself. And now saith Jehovah, my moulder from the womb to be a Servant unto Him, to turn again Jacob to Him, and that Israel might not be destroyed; and I am of value in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is my strength. And He said, It is too light for thy being My Servant, merely to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also set thee for a light of nations, to be My salvation to the end of the earth (xlix. 3-6). Here the Servant, though still called Israel, is clearly distinct from the nation as a whole, for part of his work is to raise the nation up again. And, moreover, he tells us this as his own testimony about himself. He is no longer[Pg 265] spoken of in the third person, he speaks for himself in the first. This is significant. It is more than a mere artistic figure, the effect of our prophet's dramatic style—as if the Servant now stood opposite him, so vivid and near that he heard him speak, and quoted him in the direct form of speech. It is more probably the result of moral sympathy: the prophet speaks out of the heart of the Servant, in the name of that better portion of Israel which was already conscious of the Divine call, and of its distinction in this respect from the mass of the people.

It is futile to inquire what this better portion of Israel actually was, for whom the prophet speaks in the first person. Some have argued, from the stress which the speaker lays upon his gifts of speech and office of preaching, that what is now signified by the Servant is the order of the prophets; but such forget that in these chapters the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the ideal, not of prophets only, but of the whole people. Zion as a whole is to be heraldess of good news (xl. 9). It is, therefore, not the official function of the prophet-order which the Servant here owns, but the ideal of the prophet-nation. Others have argued from the direct form of speech, that the prophet puts himself forward as the Servant. But no individual would call himself Israel. And as Professor Cheyne remarks, the passage is altogether too self-assertive to be spoken by any man of himself as an individual; although, of course, our prophet could not have spoken of the true Israel with such sympathy, unless he had himself been part of it. The writer of these verses may have been, for the time, as virtually the real Israel as Mazzini was the real Italy. But still he does not speak as an individual. The passage is manifestly a piece of[Pg 266] personification. The Servant is Israel—not now the nation as a whole, not the body and bulk of the Israelites, for they are to be the object of his first efforts, but the loyal, conscious and effective Israel, realised in some of her members, and here personified by our prophet, who himself speaks for her out of his heart, in the first person.

By ch. xlix., then, the Servant of Jehovah is a personification of the true, effective Israel as distinguished from the mass of the nation—a Personification, but not yet a Person. Something within Israel has wakened up to find itself conscious of being the Servant of Jehovah, and distinct from the mass of the nation—something that is not yet a Person. And this definition of the Servant may stand (with some modifications) for his next appearance in ch. l. 4-9. In this passage the Servant, still speaking in the first person, continues to illustrate his experience as a prophet, and carries it to its consequence in martyrdom. But let us notice that he now no longer calls himself Israel, and that if it were not for the previous passages it would be natural to suppose that an individual was speaking. This supposition is confirmed by a verse that follows the Servant's speech, and is spoken, as chorus, by the Prophet himself. Who among you is a fearer of Jehovah, obedient to the voice of His Servant, who walketh in darkness, and hath no light. Let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay himself upon his God. In this too much neglected verse, which forms a real transition to ch. lii. 13-liii., the prophet is addressing any individual Israelite, on behalf of a personal God. It is very difficult to refrain from concluding that therefore the Servant also is a Person. Let us, however, not go beyond what we have evidence for; and note only[Pg 267] that in ch. l. the Servant is no more called Israel, and is represented not as if he were one part of the nation, over against the mass of it, but as if he were one individual over against other individuals; that in fine the Personification of ch. xlix. has become much more difficult to distinguish from an actual Person.

3. This brings us to the culminating passage—ch. lii. 13-liii. Is the Servant still a Personification here, or at last and unmistakably a Person?

It may relieve the air of that electricity, which is apt to charge it at the discussion of so classic a passage as this, and secure us calm weather in which to examine exegetical details, if we at once assert, what none but prejudiced Jews have ever denied, that this great prophecy, known as the fifty-third of Isaiah, was fulfilled in One Person, Jesus of Nazareth, and achieved in all its details by Him alone. But, on the other hand, it requires also to be pointed out that Christ's personal fulfilment of it does not necessarily imply that our prophet wrote it of a Person. The present expositor hopes, indeed, to be able to give strong reasons for the theory usual among us, that the Personification of previous passages is at last in ch. liii. presented as a Person. But he fails to understand, why critics should be regarded as unorthodox or at variance with New Testament teaching on the subject, who, while they acknowledge that only Christ fulfilled ch. liii., are yet unable to believe that the prophet looked upon the Servant as an individual, and who regard ch. liii. as simply a sublimer form of the prophet's previous pictures of the ideal people of God. Surely Christ could and did fulfil prophecies other than personal ones. The types of Him, which the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, are not exclusively individuals.[Pg 268] Christ is sometimes represented as realising in His Person and work statements, which, as they were first spoken, could only refer to Israel, the nation. Matthew, for instance, applies to Jesus a text which Hosea wrote primarily of the whole Jewish people: Out of Egypt have I called My Son.[153] Or, to take an instance from our own prophet—who but Jesus fulfilled ch. xlix., in which, as we have seen, it is not an individual, but the ideal of the prophet people, that is figured? So that, even if it were proved past all doubt—proved from grammar, context, and every prophetic analogy—that in writing ch. liii. our prophet had still in view that aspect of the nation which he has personified in ch. xlix., such a conclusion would not weaken the connection between the prophecy and its unquestioned fulfilment by Jesus Christ, nor render the two less evidently part of one Divine design.

But we are by no means compelled to adopt the impersonal view of ch. liii. On the contrary, while the question is one, to which all experts know the difficulty of finding an absolutely conclusive answer one way or the other, it seems to me that reasons prevail, which make for the personal interpretation. . Let us see what exactly are the objections to taking ch. lii. 13-liii. in a personal sense. First, it is very important to observe, that they do not rise out of the grammar or language of the passage. The reference of both of these is consistently individual. Throughout, the Servant is spoken of in the singular.[154] The name[Pg 269] Israel is not once applied to him: nothing—except that the nation has also suffered—suggests that he is playing a national rôle; there is no reflection in his fate of the features of the Exile. The antithesis, which was evident in previous passages, between a better Israel and the mass of the people has disappeared. The Servant is contrasted, not with the nation as a whole, but with His people as individuals. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. As far as grammar can, this surely distinguishes a single person. It is true, that one or two phrases suggest so colossal a figure—he shall startle many nations, and kings shall shut their mouths at him—that for a moment we think of the spectacle of a people rather than of a solitary human presence. But even such descriptions are not incompatible with a single person.[155] On the other hand, there are phrases which we can scarcely think are used of any but a historical individual; such as that he was taken from oppression and judgement, that is from a process of law which was tyranny, from a judicial murder, and that he belonged to a particular generation—As for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living. Surely a historical individual is the natural meaning of these words. And, in fact, critics like Ewald and Wellhausen, who interpret the passage, in its present context, of the ideal Israel, find themselves forced to argue, that it has been borrowed for this use from the older story of some actual martyr—so individual do its references seem to them throughout.

[Pg 270]

If, then, the grammar and language of the passage thus conspire to convey the impression of an individual, what are the objections to supposing that an individual is meant? Critics have felt, in the main, three objections to the discovery of a historical individual in Isa. lii. 13-liii.

The first of these that we take is chronological, and arises from the late date to which we have found it necessary to assign the prophecy. Our prophet, it is averred, associates the work of the Servant with the restoration of the people; but he sees that restoration too close to him to be able to think of the appearance, ministry and martyrdom of a real historic life happening before it. (Our prophet, it will be remembered, wrote about 546, and the Restoration came in 538.) "There is no room for a history like that of the suffering Servant between the prophet's place and the Restoration."[156]

Now, this objection might be turned, even if it were true that the prophet identified the suffering Servant's career with so immediate and so short a process as the political deliverance from Babylon. For, in that case, the prophet would not be leaving less room for the Servant, than, in ch. ix., Isaiah himself leaves for the birth, the growth to manhood, and the victories of the Prince-of-the-Four-Names, before that immediate relief from the Assyrian, which he expects the Prince to effect. But does our prophet identify the suffering Servant's career with the redemption from Babylon and the Return? It is plain that he does not—at least in those portraits of the Servant, which are most personal. Our[Pg 271] prophet has really two prospects for Israel—one, the actual deliverance from Babylon; the other, a spiritual redemption and restoration. If, like his fellow prophets, he sometimes runs these two together, and talks of the latter in the terms of the former, he keeps them on the whole distinct, and assigns them to different agents. The burden of the first he lays on Cyrus, though he also connects it with the Servant, while the Servant is still to him an aspect of the nation (see xlix. 8a, 9b). It is temporary, and soon passes from his thoughts, Cyrus being dropped with it. But the other, the spiritual redemption, is confined to no limits of time; and it is with its process—indefinite in date and in length of period—that he associates the most personal portraits of the Servant (ch. l. and lii. 13-liii.). In these the Servant, now spoken of as an individual, has nothing to do with that temporary work of freeing the people from Babylon, which was over in a year or two, and which seems to be now behind the prophet's standpoint. His is the enduring office of prophecy, sympathy, and expiation—an office in which there is all possible "room" for such a historical career as is sketched for him. His relation to Cyrus, before whose departure from connection with Israel's fate the Servant does not appear as a person, is thus most interesting. Perhaps we may best convey it in a homely figure. On the ship of Israel's fortunes—as on every ship and on every voyage—the prophet sees two personages. One is the Pilot through the shallows, Cyrus, who is dropped as soon as the shallows are past; and the other is the Captain of the ship, who remains always identified with it—the Servant. The Captain does not come to the front till the Pilot has gone; but, both alongside the Pilot, and after the Pilot has been dropped, there is every room for his office.

[Pg 272]

The second main objection to identifying an individual in ch. lii. 13-liii. is, that an individual with such features has no analogy in Hebrew prophecy. It is said that, neither in his humiliation, nor in the kind of exaltation, which is ascribed to him, is there his like in any other individual in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the Messiah. Elsewhere in Scripture (it is averred) the Messiah reigns, and is glorious; it is the people who suffer, and come through suffering to power. Nor is the Messiah's royal splendour at all the same as the very vague influence, evidently of a spiritual kind, which is attributed to the Servant in the end of ch. liii. The Messiah is endowed with the military and political virtues. He is a warrior, a king, a judge. He sits on the throne of David, He establishes David's kingdom. He smites the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He slays the wicked. But very different phrases are used of the Servant. He is not called king, though kings shut their mouths at him,—he is a prophet and a martyr, and an expiation; and the phrases, I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, are simply metaphors of the immense spiritual success and influence with which His self-sacrifice shall be rewarded; as a spiritual power He shall take His place among the dominions and forces of the world. This is a true prophecy of what Israel, that worm of a people, should be lifted to; but it is quite different from the political throne, from which Isaiah had promised that the Messiah should sway the destinies of Israel and mankind.

But, in answer to this objection to finding the Messiah, or any other influential individual, in ch. liii., we may remember that there were already traces in[Pg 273] Hebrew prophecy of a suffering Messiah: we come across them in ch. vii. There Isaiah presents Immanuel, whom we identified with the Prince-of-the-Four-Names in ch. ix., as at first nothing but a sufferer—a sufferer from the sins of His predecessors.[157] And, even though we are wrong in taking the suffering Immanuel for the Messiah, and though Isaiah meant him only as a personification of Israel suffering for the error of Ahaz, had not the two hundred years, which elapsed between Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's glorious Deliverer, been full of room enough, and, what is more, of experience enough, for the ideal champion of the people to be changed to something more spiritual in character and in work? Had the nation been baptized, for most of those two centuries, in vain, in the meaning of suffering, and in vain had they seen exemplified in their noblest spirits the fruits and glory of self-sacrifice?[158] The type of Hero had changed in Israel since Isaiah wrote of his Prince-of-the-Four-Names. The king had been replaced by the prophet; the conqueror by the martyr; the judge who smote the land by the rod of his mouth, and slew the wicked by the breath of his lips,—by the patriot who took his country's sins upon his own conscience. The monarchy had perished; men knew that, even if Israel were set upon their own land again, it would not be under an independent king of their own; nor was a Jewish champion of the martial kind, such as Isaiah had promised for deliverance from the Assyrian, any more required. Cyrus, the Gentile, should do all the campaigning required against Israel's enemies, and Israel's native Saviour be relieved for gentler methods and more spiritual aims. It is all this experience, of[Pg 274] nearly two centuries, which explains the omission of the features of warrior and judge from ch. liii., and their replacement by those of a suffering patriot, prophet and priest. The reason of the change is, not because the prophet who wrote the chapter had not, as much as Isaiah, an individual in his view, but because, in the historical circumstance of the Exile, such an individual as Isaiah had promised, seemed no longer probable or required.

So far, then, from the difference between ch. liii. and previous prophecies of the Messiah affording evidence that in ch. liii. it is not the Messiah who is presented, this very change, that has taken place, explicable as it is from the history of the intervening centuries, goes powerfully to prove that it is the Messiah, and therefore an individual, whom the prophet so vividly describes.

The third main objection to our recognising an individual in ch. liii. is concerned only with our prophet himself. Is it not impossible, say some—or at least improbably inconsistent—for the same prophet first to have identified the Servant with the nation, and then to present him to us as an individual? We can understand the transference by the same writer of the name from the whole people to a part of the people; it is a natural transference, and the prophet sufficiently explains it. But how does he get from a part of the nation to a single individual? If in ch. xlix. he personifies, under the name Servant, some aspect of the nation, we are surely bound to understand the same personification when the Servant is again introduced—unless we have an explanation to the contrary. But we have none. The prophet gives no hint, except by dropping the name Israel, that the focus of his vision[Pg 275] is altered,—no more paradoxes such as marked his passage from the people as a whole to a portion of them,—-no consciousness that any explanation whatever is required. Therefore, however much finer the personification is drawn in ch. liii. than in ch. xlix., it is surely a personification still.

To which objection an obvious answer is, that our prophet is not a systematic theologian, but a dramatic poet, who allows his characters to disclose themselves and their relation without himself intervening to define or relate them. And any one who is familiar with the literature of Israel knows, that no less than the habit of drawing in from the whole people upon a portion of them, was the habit of drawing in from a portion of the people upon one individual. The royal Messiah Himself is a case in point. The original promise to David was of a seed; but soon prophecy concentrated the seed in one glorious Prince. The promise of Israel had always culminated in an individual. Then, again, in the nation's awful sufferings, it had been one man—the prophet Jeremiah—who had stood forth singly and alone, at once the incarnation of Jehovah's word, and the illustration in his own person of all the penalty that Jehovah laid upon the sinful people. With this tendency of his school to focus Israel's hope on a single individual, and especially with the example of Jeremiah before him, it is almost inconceivable that our prophet could have thought of any but an individual when he drew his portrait of the suffering Servant. No doubt the national sufferings were in his heart as he wrote; it was probably a personal share in them that taught him to write so sympathetically about the Man of pains, who was familiar with ailing. But to gather and[Pg 276] concentrate all these sufferings upon one noble figure, to describe this figure as thoroughly conscious of their moral meaning, and capable of turning them to his people's salvation, was a process absolutely in harmony with the genius of Israel's prophecy, as well as with the trend of their recent experience; and there is, besides, no word in that great chapter, in which the process culminates, but is in thorough accordance with it. So far, therefore, from its being an impossible or an unlikely thing for our prophet to have at last reached his conception of an individual, it is almost impossible to conceive of him executing so personal a portrait as ch. lii. 13-liii., without thinking of a definite historical personage, such as Hebrew prophecy had ever associated with the redemption of his people.

4. We have now exhausted the passages in Isa. xl.-lxvi. which deal with the Servant of the Lord. We have found that our prophet identifies him at first with the whole nation, and then with some indefinite portion of the nation—indefinite in quantity, but most marked in character; that this personification grows more and more difficult to distinguish from a person; and that in ch. lii. 13-liii. there are very strong reasons, both in the text itself and in the analogy of other prophecy, to suppose that the portrait of an individual is intended. To complete our study of this development of the substance of the Servant, it is necessary to notice that it runs almost stage for stage with a development of his office. Up to ch. xlix., that is to say, while he is still some aspect of the people, the Servant is a prophet. In ch. l., where he is no longer called Israel, and approaches more nearly to an individual, his prophecy passes into martyrdom. And in ch. liii., where at last we recognise him as intended for an actual personage,[Pg 277] his martyrdom becomes an expiation for the sins of the people. Is there a natural connection between these two developments? We have seen that it was by a very common process that our prophet transferred the national calling from the mass of the nation to a select few of the people. Is it by any equally natural tendency that he shrinks from the many to the few, as he passes from prophecy to martyrdom, or from the few to the one, as he passes from martyrdom to expiation? It is a possibility for all God's people to be prophets: few are needed as martyrs. Is it by any moral law equally clear, that only one man should die for the people? These are questions worth thinking about. In Israel's history we have already found the following facts with which to answer them. The whole living generation of Israel felt themselves to be sinbearers: Our fathers have sinned, and we bear their iniquities. This conscience and penalty were more painfully felt by the righteous in Israel. But the keenest and heaviest sense of them was conspicuously that experienced by one man—the prophet Jeremiah.[159] And yet all these cases from the past of Israel's history do not furnish more than an approximation to the figure presented to us in ch. liii. Let us turn, therefore, to the future to see if we can find in it motive or fulfilment for this marvellous prophecy.

[Pg 278]



In last chapter we confined our study of the Servant of Jehovah to the text of Isa. xl.-lxvi., and to the previous and contemporary history of Israel. Into our interpretation of the remarkable Figure, whom our prophet has drawn for us, we have put nothing which cannot be gathered from those fields and by the light of the prophet's own day. But now we must travel further, and from days far future to our prophet borrow a fuller light to throw back upon his mysterious projections. We take this journey into the future for reasons he himself has taught us. We have learned that his pictures of the Servant are not the creation of his own mind; a work of art complete "through fancy's or through logic's aid." They are the scattered reflections and suggestions of experience. The prophet's eyes have been opened to read them out of the still growing and incomplete history of his people. With that history they are indissolubly bound up. Their plainest forms are but a transcript of its clearest facts; their paradoxes are its paradoxes (reflections now of the confused and changing consciousness of this strange people, or again of the contrast between God's design for them and their real character): their ideals are[Pg 279] the suggestion and promise which its course reveals to an inspired eye. Thus, in picturing the Servant, our prophet sometimes confines himself to history that has already happened to Israel; but sometimes, also, upon the purpose and promise of this, he outruns what has happened, and plainly lifts his voice from the future. Now we must remember that he does so, not merely because the history itself has native possibilities of fulfilment in it, but because he believes that it is in the hands of an Almighty and Eternal God, who shall surely guide it to the end of His purpose revealed in it. It is an article of our prophet's creed, that the God who speaks through him controls all history, and by His prophets can publish beforehand what course it will take; so that, when we find in our prophet anything we do not see fully justified or illustrated by the time he wrote, it is only in observance of the conditions he has laid down, that we seek for its explanation in the future.

Let us, then, take our prophet upon his own terms, and follow the history, with which he has so closely bound up the prophecy of the Servant, both in suggestion and fulfilment, in order that we may see whether it will yield to us the secret of what, if we have read his language aright, his eyes perceived in it—the promise of an Individual Servant. And let us do so in his faith, that history is one progressive and harmonious movement under the hand of the God in whose name he speaks. Our exploration will be rewarded, and our faith confirmed. We shall find the nation, as promised, restored to its own land, and pursuing through the centuries its own life. We shall find within the nation what the prophet looked for,—an elect and effective portion, with the conscience of a national service to the world,[Pg 280] but looking for the achievement of this to such an Individual Servant, as the prophet seemed ultimately to foreshadow. The world itself we shall find growing more and more open to this service. And at last, from Israel's national conscience of the service we shall see emerge One with the sense that He alone is responsible and able for it. And this One Israelite will not only in His own person exhibit a character and achieve a work, that illustrate and far excel our prophet's highest imaginations, but will also become, to a new Israel infinitely more numerous than the old, the conscience and inspiration of their collective fulfilment of the ideal.

1. In the Old Testament we cannot be sure of any further appearance of our prophet's Servant of the Lord. It might be thought, that in a post-exilic promise, Zech. iii. 8, I will bring forth My Servant the Branch, we had an identification of the hero of the first part of the Book of Isaiah, the Branch out of Jesse's roots (xi. 1), with the hero of the second part; but servant here may so easily be meant in the more general sense in which it occurs in the Old Testament, that we are not justified in finding any more particular connection. In Judaism beyond the Old Testament the national and personal interpretations of the Servant were both current. The Targum of Jonathan, and both the Talmud of Jerusalem and the Talmud of Babylon, recognise the personal Messiah in ch. liii.; the Targum also identifies him as early as in ch. xlii. This personal interpretation the Jews abandoned only after they had entered on their controversy with Christian theologians; and in the cruel persecutions, which Christians inflicted upon them throughout the middle ages, they were supplied[Pg 281] with only too many reasons for insisting that ch. liii. was prophetic of suffering Israel—the martyr-people—as a whole.[160] It is a strange history—the history of our race, where the first through their pride and error so frequently become the last, and the last through their sufferings are set in God's regard with the first. But of all its strange reversals none surely was ever more complete than when the followers of Him, who is set forth in this passage, the unresisting and crucified Saviour of men, behaved in His Name with so great a cruelty as to be righteously taken by His enemies for the very tyrants and persecutors whom the passage condemns.

2. But it is in the New Testament that we see the most perfect reflection of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person.

In the generation, from which Jesus sprang, there was, amid national circumstances closely resembling those in which the Second Isaiah was written, a counterpart of that Israel within Israel, which our prophet has personified in ch. xlix. The holy nation lay again in bondage to the heathen, partly in its own land, partly scattered across the world; and Israel's righteousness, redemption and ingathering were once more the questions of the day. The thoughts of the masses, as of old in Babylonian days, did not rise beyond a political restoration; and although their popular leaders insisted[Pg 282] upon national righteousness as necessary to this, it was a righteousness mainly of a ceremonial kind—hard, legal, and often more unlovely in its want of enthusiasm and hope than even the political fanaticism of the vulgar. But around the temple, and in quiet recesses of the land, a number of pious and ardent Israelites lived on the true milk of the word, and cherished for the nation hopes of a far more spiritual character. If the Pharisees laid their emphasis on the law, this chosen Israel drew their inspiration rather from prophecy; and of all prophecy it was the Book of Isaiah, and chiefly the latter part of it, on which they lived.

As we enter the Gospel history from the Old Testament, we feel at once that Isaiah is in the air. In this fair opening of the new year of the Lord, the harbinger notes of the book awaken about us on all sides like the voices of birds come back with the spring. In Mary's song, the phrase He hath holpen His Servant Israel; in the description of Simeon, that he waited for the consolation of Israel, a phrase taken from the Comfort ye, comfort ye My people in Isa. xl. 1; such frequent phrases, too, as the redemption of Jerusalem, a light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, light to them that sit in darkness, and other echoed promises of light and peace and the remission of sins, are all repeated from our evangelical prophecy. In the fragments of the Baptist's preaching, which are extant, it is remarkable that almost every metaphor and motive may be referred to the Book of Isaiah, and mostly to its exilic half: the generation of vipers,[161] the trees and axe laid to the root,[162] the threshing floor and fan,[163] the fire,[164] the[Pg 283] bread and clothes to the poor,[165] and especially the proclamation of Jesus, Behold the Lamb of God that beareth the sin of the world.[166] To John himself were applied the words of Isa. xl.: The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight; and when Christ sought to rouse again the Baptist's failing faith it was of Isa. lxi. that He reminded him.

Our Lord, then, sprang from a generation of Israel, which had a strong conscience of the national aspect of the Service of God,—a generation with Isa. xl.-lxvi. at its heart. We have seen how He Himself insisted upon the uniqueness of Israel's place among the nations—salvation is of the Jews—and how closely He identified Himself with His people—I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But all Christ's strong expression of Israel's distinction from the rest of mankind, is weak and dim compared with His expression of His own distinction from the rest of Israel. If they were the one people with whom God worked in the world, He was the one Man, whom God sent to work upon them, and to use them to work upon others. We cannot tell how early the sense of this distinction came to the Son of Mary. Luke reveals it in Him, before He had taken His place as a citizen and was still within the family: Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business? At His first public appearance He had it fully, and others acknowledged it. In the opening year of His ministry it threatened to be only a Distinction of the First—they took Him by force, and would have made Him King. But as time went on it grew evident that it was to be, not the Distinction of the First, but the Distinction of the Only. The[Pg 284] enthusiastic crowds melted away: the small band, whom He had most imbued with His spirit, proved that they could follow Him but a certain length in His consciousness of His Mission. Recognising in Him the supreme prophet—Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life—they immediately failed to understand, that suffering also must be endured by Him for the people: Be it far from Thee, Lord. This suffering was His conscience and His burden alone. Now, we cannot overlook the fact, that the point at which Christ's way became so solitary was the same point at which we felt our prophet's language cease to oblige us to understand by it a portion of the people, and begin to be applicable to a single individual,—the point, namely, where prophecy passes into martyrdom. But whether our prophet's pictures of the suffering and atoning Servant of the Lord are meant for some aspect of the national experience, or as the portrait of a real individual, it is certain that in His martyrdom and service of ransom Jesus felt Himself to be absolutely alone. He who had begun His Service of God with all the people on His side, consummated the same with the leaders and the masses of the nation against Him, and without a single partner from among His own friends, either in the fate which overtook Him, or in the conscience with which He bore it.

Now all this parallel between Jesus of Nazareth and the Servant of the Lord is unmistakable enough, even in this mere outline; but the details of the Gospel narrative and the language of the Evangelists still more emphasize it. Christ's herald hailed Him with words which gather up the essence of Isa. liii.: Behold the Lamb of God. He read His own commission from[Pg 285] ch. lxi.: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. To describe His first labours among the people, His disciples again used words from ch. liii.: Himself bare our sicknesses. To paint His manner of working in face of opposition they quoted the whole passage from ch. xlii.: Behold My Servant ... He shall not strive. The name Servant was often upon His own lips in presenting Himself: Behold, I am among you as one that serveth. When His office of prophecy passed into martyrdom, He predicted for Himself the treatment which is detailed in ch. l.,—the smiting, plucking and spitting: and in time, by Jew and Gentile, this treatment was inflicted on Him to the very letter.[167] As to His consciousness in fulfilling something more than a martyrdom, and alone among the martyrs of Israel offering by His death an expiation for His people's sins, His own words are frequent and clear enough to form a counterpart to ch. liii. With them before us, we cannot doubt that He felt Himself to be the One of whom the people in that chapter speak, as standing over against them all, sinless, and yet bearing their sins. But on the night on which He was betrayed, while just upon the threshold of this extreme and unique form of service, into which it has been given to no soul of man, that ever lived, to be conscious of following Him—as if anxious that His disciples should not be so overwhelmed by the awful part in which they could not imitate Him as to forget the countless other ways in which they were called to fulfil His serving spirit—He took a towel and girded Himself, and when He had washed their feet, He said unto them, If I,[Pg 286] then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet—thereby illustrating what is so plainly set forth in our prophecy, that short of the expiation, of which only One in His sinlessness has felt the obligation, and short of the martyrdom, which it has been given to but few of His people to share with Him, there are a thousand humble forms rising out of the needs of everyday life, in which men are called to employ towards one another the gentle and self-forgetful methods of the true Servant of God.

With the four Gospels in existence, no one doubts or can doubt that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the cry, Behold My Servant. With Him it ceased to be a mere ideal, and took its place as the greatest achievement in history.

3. In the earliest discourses of the Apostles, therefore, it is not wonderful that Jesus should be expressly designated by them as the Servant of God,—the Greek word used being that by which the Septuagint specially translates the Hebrew term in Isa. xl.-lxvi.[168]: God hath glorified His Servant Jesus. Unto you first, God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.... In this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel foreordained to pass. Grant that signs and wonders may be done through[Pg 287] the name of Thy Holy Servant Jesus.[169] It must also be noticed, that in one of the same addresses, and again by Stephen in his argument before the Sanhedrim, Jesus is called The Righteous One,[170] doubtless an allusion to the same title for the Servant in Isa. liii. 11. Need we recall the interpretation of Isa. liii. by Philip?[171]

It is known to all how Peter develops this parallel in his First Epistle, borrowing the figures but oftener the very words of Isa. liii. to apply to Christ. Like the Servant of the Lord, Jesus is as a lamb: He is a patient sufferer in silence; He is the Righteous—again the classic title—for the unrighteous; in exact quotation from the Greek of Isa. liii.: He did no sin, neither was found guile in His mouth, ye were as sheep gone astray, but He Himself hath borne our sins, with whose stripes ye are healed.[172]

Paul applies two quotations from Isa. lii. 13-liii. to Christ: I have striven to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named; as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand; and He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin.[173] And none will doubt that when he so often disputed that the Messiah must suffer, or wrote Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he had Isa. liii. in mind, exactly as we have seen it applied to the Messiah by Jewish scholars a hundred years later than Paul.

4. Paul, however, by no means confines the prophecy of the Servant of the Lord to Jesus the Messiah. In a way which has been too much overlooked by students[Pg 288] of the subject, Paul revives and reinforces the collective interpretation of the Servant. He claims the Servant's duties and experience for himself, his fellow-labourers in the gospel, and all believers.

In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas said of themselves to the Jews: For so hath the Lord commanded us saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation to the ends of the earth.[174] Again, in the eighth of Romans, Paul takes the Servant's confident words, and speaks them of all God's true people. He is near that justifieth me, who is he that condemneth me? cried the Servant in our prophecy, and Paul echoes for all believers: It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?[175] And again, in his second letter to Timothy, he says, speaking of that pastor's work, For the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all; words which were borrowed from, or suggested by, Isa. xlii. 1-3.[176] In these instances, as well as in his constant use of the terms slave, servant, minister, with their cognates, Paul fulfils the intention of Jesus, who so continually, by example, parable, and direct commission, enforced the life of His people as a Service to the Lord.

5. Such, then, is the New Testament reflection of the Prophecy of the Servant of the Lord, both as People and Person. Like all physical reflections, this moral one may be said, on the whole, to stand reverse[Pg 289] to its original. In Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Servant is People first, Person second. But in the New Testament—except for a faint and scarcely articulate application to Israel in the beginning of the gospels—the Servant is Person first and People afterwards. The Divine Ideal which our prophet saw narrowing down from the Nation to an Individual, was owned and realised by Christ. But in Him it was not exhausted. With added warmth and light, with a new power of expansion, it passed through Him to fire the hearts and enlist the wills of an infinitely greater people than the Israel for whom it was originally designed. With this witness, then, of history to the prophecies of the Servant, our way in expounding and applying them is clear. Jesus Christ is their perfect fulfilment and illustration. But we who are His Church are to find in them our ideal and duty,—our duty to God and to the world. In this, as in so many other matters, the unfulfilled prophecy of Israel is the conscience of Christianity.

[Pg 290]



Isaiah xlii. 1-7.

We now understand, whom to regard as the Servant of the Lord. The Service of God was a commission to witness and prophesy for God upon earth, made out at first in the name of the entire nation Israel. When their unfitness as a whole became apparent, it was delegated to a portion of them. But as there were added to its duties of prophecy, those of martyrdom and atonement for the sins of the people, our prophet, it would seem, saw it focussed in the person of an individual.

In history Jesus Christ has fulfilled this commission both in its national and in its personal aspects. He realised the ideal of the prophet-people. He sacrificed Himself and made atonement for the sins of men. But having illustrated the service of God in the world, Christ did not exhaust it. He returned it to His people, a more clamant conscience than ever, and He also gave them grace to fulfil its demands. Through Christ the original destination of these prophecies becomes, as Paul saw, their ultimate destination as well. That Israel refused this Service or failed in it only leaves it more clearly to us as duty; that Jesus fulfilled it not only confirms that duty, but adds hope and courage to discharge it.

[Pg 291]

Although the terms of this Service were published nearly two thousand five hundred years ago, in a petty dialect that is now dead, to a helpless tribe of captives in a world, whose civilisation has long sunk to ruin, yet these terms are so free of all that is provincial or antique, they are so adapted to the lasting needs of humanity, they are so universal in their scope, they are so instinct with that love which never faileth, though prophecies fail and tongues cease, that they come home to heart and conscience to-day with as much tenderness and authority as ever. The first programme of these terms is given in ch. xlii. 1-7. The authorised English version is one of unapproachable beauty, but its emphasis and rhythm are not the emphasis and rhythm of the original, and it has missed one at least of the striking points of the Hebrew. The following version, which makes no attempt at elegance, is almost literal, follows the same order as the original that it may reproduce the same emphasis, and, as far as English can, repeats the original rhythm. The point, which it rescues from the neglect of the Authorised Version, is this, that the verbs used of the Servant in ver. 4, He shall not fade nor break, are the same as are used of the wick and the reed in ver. 3.

Lo, My Servant! I hold by him;
My Chosen! Well-pleased is My soul!
I have set My Spirit upon him;
Law to the Nations he brings forth.
He cries not, nor lifts up,[177]
Nor lets his voice be heard in the street.
[Pg 292] Reed that is broken he breaks not off,
Wick that is fading he does not quench:
Faithfully brings he forth Law.
He shall not fade neither break,
Till he have set in the Earth[178] Law;
And for his teaching the Isles are waiting.
Thus saith the God, Jehovah,
Creator of the heavens that stretched them forth,
Spreader of Earth and her produce,
Giver of breath to the people upon her,
And of spirit to them that walk therein:
I, Jehovah, have called thee in righteousness,
To grasp thee fast by thy hand, and to keep thee,
And to set thee for a covenant of the People,
For a light of the Nations:
To open blind eyes,
To bring forth from durance the captive,
From prison the dwellers in darkness.

I. The Conscience of Service.

As several of these lines indicate, this is a Service to Man, but what we must first fasten upon is that before being a Service to Man it is a Service for God. Behold, My Servant, says God's commission very emphatically. And throughout the prophecy the Servant is presented as chosen of God, inspired of God, equipped of God, God's creature, God's instrument; useful only because he is used, influential because he is influenced, victorious because he is obedient; learning the methods of his[Pg 293] work by daily wakefulness to God's voice, a good speaker only because he is first a good listener; with no strength or courage but what God lends, and achieving all for God's glory. Notice how strongly it is said that God holds by him, grasps him by the hand. We shall see that his Service is as sympathetic and comprehensive a purpose for humanity as was ever dreamed in any thought or dared in any life. Whether we consider its tenderness for individuals, or the universalism of its hope for the world, or its gentle appreciation of all human effort and aspiration, or its conscience of mankind's chief evil, or the utterness of its self-sacrifice in order to redeem men,—we shall own it to be a programme of human duty, and a prophecy of human destiny, to which the growing experience of our race has been able to add nothing that is essential. But the Service becomes all that to man, because it first takes all that from God. Not only is the Servant's sense of duty to all humanity just the conscience of God's universal sovereignty,—for it is a remarkable and never-to-be-forgotten fact, that Israel recognised their God's right to the whole world, before they felt their own duty to mankind,—but the Servant's character and methods are the reflection of the Divine. Feature by feature the Servant corresponds to His Lord. His patience is but sympathy with Jehovah's righteousness,—I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness. His gentleness with the unprofitable and the unlovely—He breaks not off the broken reed nor quenches the flickering wick—is but the temper of the everlasting God, who giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. His labour and passion and agony, even they have been anticipated in the Divine nature, for the LORD stirreth up seal like a[Pg 294] man of war; He saith, I will cry out like a travailing woman. In no detail is the Servant above his Master. His character is not original, but is the impress of his God's: I have put My spirit upon him.

There are many in our day, who deny this indebtedness of the human character to the Divine, and in the Service of Man would have us turn our backs upon God. Positivists, while admitting that the earliest enthusiasm of the individual for his race did originate in the love of a Divine Being, assert nevertheless that we have grown away from this illusory motive; and that in the example of humanity itself we may find all the requisite impulse to serve it. The philosophy of history, which the extreme Socialists have put forward, is even more explicit. According to them, mankind was disturbed in a primitive, tribal socialism—or service of each other—by the rise of spiritual religion, which drew the individual away from his kind and absorbed him in selfish relations to God. Such a stage, represented by the Hebrew and Christian faiths, and by the individualist political economy which has run concurrent with the later developments of Christianity, was (so these Socialists admit) perhaps necessary for temporary discipline and culture, like the land of Egypt to starved Jacob's children; but like Egypt, when it turned out to be the house of bondage, the individualist economy and religion are now to be abandoned for the original land of promise,—Socialism once more, but universal instead of tribal as of old. Out of this analogy, which is such Socialists' own, Sinai and the Ten Commandments are, of course, omitted. We are to march back to freedom without a God, and settle down to love and serve each other by administration.

[Pg 295]

But can we turn our backs on God, without hurting man? The natural history of philanthropy would seem to say that we cannot. This prophecy is one of its witnesses. Earliest ideal as it is, of a universal service of mankind, it starts in its obligation from the universal Sovereignty of God; it starts in every one of its affections from some affection of the Divine character. And we have not grown away from the need of its everlasting sources. Cut off God from the Service of man, and the long habit and inherent beauty of that Service may perpetuate its customs for a few generations; but the inevitable call must come to subject conduct to the altered intellectual conditions, and in the absence of God every man's ideal shall surely turn from, How can I serve my neighbour? to, How can I make my neighbour serve me? As our prophet reminds us in his vivid contrast between Israel, the Servant of the Lord, and Babylon, who saith in her heart: I am, and there is none beside me, there are ultimately but two alternative lords of the human will, God and Self. If we revolt from the Authority and Example of the One, we shall surely become subject, in the long run, to the ignorance, the short-sightedness, the pedantry, the cruelty of the other. These words are used advisedly. With no sense of the sacredness of every human life as created in the image of God, and with no example of an Infinite Mercy before them, men would leave to perish all that was weak, or, from the limited point of view of a single community or generation, unprofitable. Some Positivists and those Socialists, who do not include God in the society they seek to establish, admit that they expect something like that to follow from their denial of God. In certain Positivist proposals for the reform of charity, we are told that the ideal scheme of[Pg 296] social relief would be the one which limited itself to persons judged to be of use to the community as a whole; that is, that in their succour of the weak, their bounty to the poor, and their care of the young, society should be guided, not by the eternal laws of justice and of mercy, but by the opinions of the representatives of the public for the time being and by their standard of utility to the commonwealth. Your atheist-Socialist is still more frank. In the state, which he sees rising after he has got rid of Christianity, he would suppress, he tells us, all who preached such a thing as the fear of the future life, and he would not repeat the present exceptional legislation for the protection of women and children, for whom, he whines, far too much has been recently done in comparison with what has been enacted for the protection of men.[179] These are, of course, but vain things which the heathen imagine (and some of us have an ideal of socialism very different from the godlessness which has usurped the noble name), but they serve to illustrate what clever men, who have thrown off all belief in God, will bring themselves to hope for: a society utterly Babylonian, without pity or patience,—if it were possible for these eternal graces to die out of any human community,—subject to the opinion of pedants, whose tender mercies would be far more fatal to the weak and poor than the present indifference of the rich; seriously fettering liberty of conscience and destitute of chivalry. It may be that our Positivist critics are right, and that the interests of humanity have suffered in Christian times from the prevalence of too selfish and introspective a religion; but whether our religion has looked too[Pg 297] intensely inward or not, we cannot, it is certain, do without a religion that looks steadily up, owning the discipline of Divine Law and the Example of an Infinite Mercy and Longsuffering.

But, though we had never heard of Positivism or of the Socialism that denies God, our age, with its popular and public habits, would still require this example of Service, which our prophecy enforces: it is an age so charged with the instincts of work, with the ambition to be useful, with the fashion of altruism; but so empty of the sense of God, of reverence, discipline and prayer. We do not need to learn philanthropy,—the thing is in the air; but we do need to be taught that philanthropy demands a theology both for its purity and its effectiveness. When philanthropy has become, what it is so much to-day, the contest of rival politicians, the ambition of every demagogue, who can get his head above the crowd, the fitful self-indulgence of weak hearts, the opportunity of vain theorists, and for all a temptation to work with lawless means for selfish ends,—it is time to remember that the Service of Man is first of all a great Service for God. This faith alone can keep us from the wilfulness, the crotchets and the insubordination, which spoil so many well-intentioned to their kind, and so wofully break up the ranks of progress. Humility is the first need of the philanthropist of to-day: humility, discipline and the sense of proportion; and these are qualities, which only faith in God and the conscience of law are known to bestow upon the human heart. It is the fear of God that will best preserve us from making our philanthropy the mere flattery of the popular appetite. To keep us utterly patient with men we need to think of God's patience with ourselves. While to us all[Pg 298] there come calls to sacrifice, which our fellow-men may so little deserve from us, and against which our self-culture can plead so many reasons, that unless God's will and example were before us, the calls would never be obeyed. In short, to be most useful in this life it is necessary to feel that we are used. Look at Christ. To Him philanthropy was no mere habit and spontaneous affection; even for that great heart the love of man had to be enforced by the compulsion of the will of God. The busy days of healing and teaching had between them long nights of lonely prayer; and the Son of God did not pass to His supreme self-sacrifice for men till after the struggle with, and the submission to, His Father's will in Gethsemane.

II. The Substance of Service.

The substance of the Servant's work is stated in one word, uttered thrice in emphatic positions. Judgement for the nations shall he bring forth.... According to truth shall he bring forth judgement.... He shall not flag nor break, till he set in the earth[180] judgement.

The English word judgement is a natural but misleading translation of the original, and we must dismiss at once the idea of judicial sentence, which it suggests. The Hebrew is "mishpat," which means, among other things, either a single statute, or the complete body of law which God gave Israel by Moses, at once their creed and their code; or, perhaps, also the abstract quality of justice or right. We rendered it as the latter in Isa. i.-xxxix. But, as will be seen from the note[Pg 299] below,[181] when used in Isa. xl.-lxvi. without the article, as here, it is the "mishpat" of Jehovah,—not so much the actual body of statutes given to Israel, as the principles of right or justice which they enforce. In one passage it is given in parallel to the civic virtues righteousness, truth, uprightness, but—as its etymology compared with theirs shows us—it is these viewed not in their character as virtues, but in their obligation as ordained by God. Hence, duty to Jehovah as inseparable from His religion (Ewald), religion as the law of life (Delitzsch), the law (Cheyne, who admirably compares the Arabic ed-Dîn) are all good renderings. Professor Davidson gives the fullest exposition. "It can scarcely," he says, "be rendered 'religion' in the modern sense, it is the equity and civil right which is the result of the true religion of Jehovah; and though[Pg 300] comprehended under religion in the Old Testament sense, is rather, according to our conceptions, religion applied in civil life. Of old the religious unit was the state, and the life of the state was the expression of its religion. Morality was law or custom, and both reposed upon God. A condition of thought such as now prevails, where morality is based on independent grounds, whether natural law or the principles inherent in the mind apart from religion, did not then exist. What the prophet means by 'bringing forth right' is explained in another passage, where it is said that Jehovah's 'arms shall judge the peoples,' and that the 'isles shall wait for His arm' (ch. li. 5). 'Judgment' is that pervading of life by the principles of equity and humanity which is the immediate effect of the true religion of Jehovah."[182] In short, "mishpat" is not only the civic righteousness and justice, to which it is made parallel in our prophecy, but it is these with God behind them. On the one hand it is conterminous with national virtue, on the other it is the ordinance and will of God.

This, then, is the burden of the Servant's work, to pervade and instruct every nation's life on earth with the righteousness and piety that are ordained of God. He shall not flag nor break, till he have set in the earth Law,—till in every nation justice, humanity and worship are established as the law of God. We have seen that the Servant is in this passage still some aspect or shape of the people,—the people who are not a people, but scattered among the brickfields of Babylonia, a horde of captives. When we keep that in mind, two or three things come home to us about this task of theirs. First, it is no mere effort at proselytism. It[Pg 301] is not an ambition to Judaise the world. The national consciousness and provincial habits, which cling about so many of the prophecies of Israel's relation to the world, have dropped from this one, and the nation's mission is identified with the establishment of law, the diffusion of light, the relief of suffering. I will give thee for a light to the nations: to open blind eyes, to bring out from durance the bound, from the prison the dwellers in darkness.[183] Again, it is no mere office of preaching, to which the Servant's commission is limited, no mere inculcation of articles of belief. But we have here the same rich, broad idea of religion, identifying it with the whole national life, which we found so often illustrated by Isaiah, and which is one of the beneficial results to religion of God's choice for Himself of a nation as a whole.[184] What such a Service has to give the world, is not merely testimony to the truth, nor fresh views of it, nor artistic methods of teaching it; but social life under its obligation, the public conscience of it, the long tradition and habit of it, the breed—what the prophets call the seed—of it. To establish true religion as the constitution, national duty, and regular practice of every people under the sun, in all the details of order, cleanliness, justice, purity and mercy, in which it had been applied to themselves,—such was the Service and the Destiny of Israel. And the marvel of so universal and political an ideal was, that it came not to a people in the front ranks of civilisation or of empire, but to a people that at the time had not even a political shape for themselves,—a mere herd of captives,[Pg 302] despised and rejected of men. When we realise this, we understand that they never would have dared to think of it, or to speak of it to one another, unless they had believed it to be the purpose and will of Almighty God for them; unless they had recognised it, not only as a service desirable and true in itself, and, needed also by humanity, but withal as His "mishpat," His judgement or law, who by His bare word can bring all things to pass. But before we see how strongly He impressed them with this, that His creative force was in their mission, let us turn to the methods by which He commanded them to achieve it,—methods corresponding to its purely spiritual and universal character.

III. The Temper of Service.

1. He shall not cry, nor lift up,
Nor make his voice to be heard in the street.

There is nothing more characteristic of our prophecy than its belief in the power of speech, its exultation in the music and spell of the human voice. It opens with a chorus of high calls: none are so lovely to it as heralds, or so musical as watchmen when they lift up the voice; it sets the preaching of glad tidings before the people as their national ideal; eloquence it describes as a sharp sword leaping from God's scabbard. The Servant of the Lord is trained in style of speech; his words are as pointed arrows; he has the mouth of the learned, a voice to command obedience. The prophet's own tones are superb: nowhere else does the short sententiousness of Hebrew roll out into such long, sonorous periods. He uses speech in every style: for comfort, for bitter controversy, in clear proclamation, in deep-throated denunciation: Call with the throat, spare not, lift[Pg 303] up the voice like a trumpet. His constant key-notes are, speak a word, lift up the voice with strength, sing, publish, declare. In fact, there is no use to which the human voice has ever been put in the Service of Man, for comfort's sake, or for justice, or for liberty, for the diffusion of knowledge or for the scattering of music, which our prophet does not enlist and urge upon his people.

When, then, he says of the Servant that he shall not cry, nor lift up, nor make his voice to be heard in the street, he cannot be referring to the means and art of the Service, but rather to the tone and character of the Servant. Each of the triplet of verbs he uses shows us this. The first one, translated cry, is not the cry or call of the herald voice in ch. xl., the high, clear Kārā; it is ssa`aḳ, a sharper word with a choke in the centre of it meaning to scream, especially under excitement. Then to lift up is the exact equivalent of our "to be loud." And if we were seeking to translate into Hebrew our phrase "to advertise oneself," we could not find a closer expression for it than to make his voice be heard in the street. To be "screamy," to be "loud," to "advertise oneself,"—these modern expressions for vices that were ancient as well as modern render the exact force of the verse. Such the Servant of God will not be nor do. He is at once too strong, too meek and too practical. That God is with him, holding him fast, keeps him calm and unhysterical; that he is but God's instrument keeps him humble and quiet; and that his heart is in his work keeps him from advertising himself at its expense. It is perhaps especially for the last of these reasons that Matthew (in his twelfth chapter) quotes this passage of our Lord. Jesus had been disturbed in His labours of healing by the disputatious Pharisees. He had answered[Pg 304] them, and then withdrawn from their neighbourhood. Many sick were brought after Him to His privacy, and He healed them all. But He charged them that they should not make Him known; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold, My Servant ... he shall not strive, nor cry aloud, neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets. Now this cannot be, what some carelessly take it for, an example against controversy or debate of all kinds, for Jesus had Himself just been debating; nor can it be meant as an absolute forbidding of all publishing of good works, for Christ has shown us, on other occasions, that such advertisement is good. The difficulty is explained, by what we have seen to explain other perplexing actions of our Lord, His intensely practical spirit. The work to be done determined everything. When it made argument necessary, as that same day it had done in the synagogue, then our Lord entered on argument: He did not only heal the man with the withered hand, but He made him the text of a sermon. But when talking about His work hindered it, provoked the Pharisees to come near with their questions, and took up His time and strength in disputes with them, then for the work's sake He forbade talk about it. We have no trace of evidence that Christ forbade this advertisement also for His own sake,—as a temptation to Himself and fraught with evil effects upon His feelings. We know that it is for this reason we have to shun it. Even though we are quite guiltless of contributing to such publication ourselves, and it is the work of generous and well-meaning friends, it still becomes a very great danger to us. For it is apt to fever us and exhaust our nervous force, even when it does not turn our heads with its praise,—to[Pg 305] distract us and to draw us more and more into the enervating habit of paying attention to popular opinion. Therefore, as a man values his efficiency in the Service of Man, he will not make himself to be heard in the street. There is an amount of making to be heard which is absolutely necessary for the work's sake; but there is also an amount which can be indulged in only at the work's expense. Present-day philanthropy, even with the best intentions, suffers from this over-publicity, and its besetting sins are "loudness" and hysteria.

What, then, shall tell us how far we can go? What shall teach us how to be eloquent without screaming, clear without being loud, impressive without wasting our strength in seeking to make an impression? These questions bring us back to what we started with, as the indispensable requisite for Service—some guiding and religious principles behind even the kindliest and steadiest tempers. For many things in the Service of Man no exact rules will avail; neither logic nor bye-laws of administration can teach us to observe the uncertain and constantly varying degree of duty, which they demand. Tact for that is bestowed only by the influence of lofty principles working from above. This is a case in point. What rules of logic or "directions of the superior authority" can, in the Service of Man, distinguish for us between excitement and earnestness, bluster and eloquence, energy and mere self-advertisement; on whose subtle differences the whole success of the service must turn. Only the discipline of faith, only the sense of God, can help us here. The practical temper by itself will not help us. To be busy but gives us too great self-importance; and hard work often serves only to bring out the combative[Pg 306] instincts. To know that we are His Servants shall keep us meek; that we are held fast by His hand shall keep us calm; that His great laws are not abrogated shall keep us sane. When for our lowliest and most commonplace kinds of service we think no religion is required, let us remember the solemn introduction of the evangelist to his story of the foot-washing. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came forth from God and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and He took a towel, and girded Himself; then He poureth water into the bason, and began to wash His disciples' feet.

2. But to meekness and discipline the Servant adds gentleness.

Reed that is broken he breaks not off,
Wick that is fading he does not quench;
Faithfully brings he forth law.

The force of the last of these three lines is, of course, qualificative and conditional. It is set as a guard against the abuse of the first two, and means that though the Servant in dealing with men is to be solicitous about their weakness, yet the interests of religion shall in no way suffer. Mercy shall be practised, but so that truth is not compromised.

The original application of the verse is thus finely stated by Professor Davidson: "This is the singularly humane and compassionate view the Prophet takes of the Gentiles,—they are bruised reeds and expiring flames.... What the prophet may refer to is the human virtues, expiring among the nations, but not yet dead; the sense of God, debased by idolatries, but not extinct; the consciousness in the individual[Pg 307] soul of its own worth and its capacities, and the glimmering ideal of a true life and a worthy activity almost crushed out by the grinding tyranny of rulers and the miseries entailed by their ambitions—this flickering light the Servant shall feed and blow into a flame.[185]... It is the future relation of the 'people' Israel to other peoples that he describes. The thought which has now taken possession of statesmen of the higher class, that the point of contact between nation and nation need not be the sword, that the advantage of one people is not the loss of another but the gain of mankind, that the land where freedom has grown to maturity and is worshipped in her virgin serenity and loveliness should nurse the new-born babe in other homes, and that the strange powers of the mind of man and the subtle activities of his hand should not be repressed but fostered in every people, in order that the product may be poured into the general lap of the race—this idea is supposed to be due to Christianity. And, immediately, it is; but it is older than Christianity. It is found in this Prophet. And it is not new in him, for a Prophet, presumably a century and a half his senior, had said: The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples as a dew from the Lord, as showers upon the grass (Micah v. 7)."[186]

But while this national reference may be the one originally meant, the splendid vagueness of the metaphor forbids us to be content with it, or with any solitary application. For the two clauses are as the eyes of the All-Pitiful Father, that rest wherever on this broad earth there is any life, though it be so low as to be conscious only through pain or doubt; they are as the healing[Pg 308] palms of Jesus stretched over the multitudes to bless and gather to Himself the weary and the poor in spirit. We contrast our miserable ruin of character, our feeble sparks of desire after holiness, with the life, which Christ demands and has promised, and in despair we tell ourselves, this can never become that. But it is precisely this that Christ has come to lift to that. The first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount closes with the awful command, Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect; but we work our way back through the chapter, and we come to this, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled; and to this, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Such is Christ's treatment of the bruised reed and the smoking flax. Let us not despair. There is only one kind of men, for whom it has no gospel,—the dead and they who are steeped in worldliness, who have forgotten what the pain of a sore conscience is, and are strangers to humility and aspiration. But for all who know their life, were it only through their pain or their doubt, were it only in the despair of what they feel to be a last struggle with temptation, were it only in contrition for their sin or in shame for their uselessness, this text has hope. Reed that is broken he breaketh not off, wick that is fading he doth not quench.

This objective sense of the Servant's temper must always be the first for us to understand. For more than he was, we are, mortal, ready ourselves to break and to fade. But having experienced the grace, let us show the same in our service to others. Let us understand that we are sent forth like the great Servant of God, that man may have life, and have it more abundantly. We need resolutely and with pious obstinacy[Pg 309] to set this temper before us, for it is not natural to our hearts. Even the best of us, in the excitement of our work, forget to think of anything except of making our mark, or of getting the better of what we are at work upon. When work grows hard, the combative instincts waken within us, till we look upon the characters God has given us to mould as enemies to be fought. We are passionate to convince men, to overcome them with an argument, to wring the confession from them that we are right and they wrong. Now Christ our Master must have seen in every man He met a very great deal more to be fought and extirpated than we can possibly see in one another. Yet He largely left that alone, and addressed Himself rather to the sparks of nobility He found, and fostered these to a strong life, which from within overcame the badness of the man,—the badness which opposition from the outside would but have beaten into harder obduracy. We must ever remember that we are not warriors but artists,—artists after the fashion of Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn life because it was imperfect, but to build life up to the image of God. So He sends us to be artists; as it is written, He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some pastors and teachers. For what end? For convincing men, for telling them what fools they mostly are, for crushing them in the inquisition of their own conscience, for getting the better of them in argument?—no, not for these combative purposes at all, but for fostering and artistic ones: for the perfecting of the saints, for the building up of the body of Christ; till we all come unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

He who, in his Service of Man, practises such a temper towards the breaking and the fading, shall never himself[Pg 310] break or fade, as this prophecy implies when it uses the same verbs in verses three and four. For he who is loyal to life shall find life generous to him; he who is careful of weakness shall never want for strength.

IV. The Power behind Service.

There only remains now to emphasize the power that is behind Service. It is, say verses five and six, the Creative Power of God.

Thus saith The God, Jehovah,
Creator of the heavens, that stretched them forth,
Spreader of the earth and her produce,
Giver of breath to the people upon her,
And of spirit to them that walk thereon,
I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness,
That I may grasp thee by thy hand, and keep thee.

Majestic confirmation of the call to Service! based upon the fundamental granite of this whole prophecy, which here crops out into a noble peak, firm station for the Servant, and point for prospect of all the future. It is our easy fault to read these words of the Creator as the utterance of mere ceremonial commonplace, blast of trumpets at the going forth of a hero, scenery for his stage, the pomp of nature summoned to assist at the presentation of God's elect before the world. Yet not for splendour were they spoken, but for bare faith's sake. God's Servant has been sent forth, weak and gentle, with quiet methods and to very slow effects. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor make his voice to be heard in the streets. What chance has such, our service, in the ways[Pg 311] of the world, where to be forceful and selfish, to bluster and battle, is to survive and overcome! So we speak, and the panic ambition rises to fight the world with its own weapons, and to employ the kinds of debate, advertisement and competition by which the world goes forward. For this, the Creator calls to us, and marshals His powers before our eyes. We thought there were but two things,—our own silence and the world's noise. There are three, and the world's noise is only an interruption between the other two. Across it deep calleth unto deep; the immeasurable processes of creation cry to the feeble convictions of truth in our hearts, We are one. Creation is the certificate that no moral effort is a forlorn hope. When God, after repeating His results in creation, adds, I have called thee in righteousness, He means that there is some consistency between His processes in creation, rational and immense as they are, and those poor efforts He calls on our weakness to make, which look so foolish in face of the world. Behind every moral effort there is, He says, Creative force. Right and Might are ultimately one. Paul sums up the force of the passage, when, after speaking of the success of his ministry, he gives as its reason that the God of Creation and of Grace are the same. Therefore seeing we have received this ministry we faint not. For God, who hath commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The spiritual Service of Man, then, has creative forces behind it; work for God upon the hearts and characters of others has creative force behind it. And nature is the seal and the sacrament of this. Let our souls, therefore, dilate with her prospects. Let our impatience study her reasonableness and her laws. Let our weak[Pg 312] wills feel the rush of her tides. For the power that is in her, and the faithful pursuance of purposes to their ends, are the power and the character that work behind each witness of our conscience, each effort of our heart for others. Not less strong than she, not less calm, not less certain of success, shall prove the moral Service of Man.

[Pg 313]



Isaiah xlix. 1-9; l. 4-11.

The second great passage upon the Servant of the Lord is ch. xlix. 1-9, and the third is ch. l. 4-11. In both of these the servant himself speaks; in both he speaks as prophet; while in the second he tells us that his prophecy leads him on to martyrdom. The two passages may, therefore, be taken together.

Before we examine their contents, let us look for a moment at the way in which they are woven into the rest of the text. As we have seen, ch. xlix. begins a new section of the prophecy, in so far that with it the prophet leaves Babylon and Cyrus behind him, and ceases to speak of the contrast between God and the idols. But, still, ch. xlix. is linked to ch. xlviii. In leading up to its climax,—the summons to Israel to depart from Babylon,—ch. xlviii. does not forget that Israel is delivered from Babylon in order to be the Servant of Jehovah: say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed His Servant Jacob. It is this service, which ch. xlix. carries forward from the opportunity, and the call, to go forth from Babylon, with which ch. xlviii. closes. That opportunity, though real, does not at all mean that Israel's redemption is complete. There were many moral reasons which prevented the whole nation from taking[Pg 314] full advantage of the political freedom offered them by Cyrus. Although the true Israel, that part of the nation which has the conscience of service, has shaken itself free from the temptation as well as from the tyranny of Babel, and now sees the world before it as the theatre of its operations,—ver. 1, Hearken, ye isles, unto Me; and listen, ye peoples, from far,—it has still, before it can address itself to that universal mission, to exhort, rouse and extricate the rest of its nation, saying to the bounden, Go forth; and to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves (ver. 9). Ch. xlix., therefore, is the natural development of ch. xlviii. There is certainly a little interval of time implied between the two—the time during which it became apparent that the opportunity to leave Babylon would not be taken advantage of by all Israel, and that the nation's redemption must be a moral as well as a political one. But ch. xlix. 1-9 comes out of chs. xl.-xlviii., and it is impossible to believe that in it we are not still under the influence of the same author.

A similar coherence is apparent if we look to the other end of ch. xlix. 1-9. Here it is evident that Jehovah's commission to the Servant concludes with ver. 9a; but then its closing words, Say to the bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves, start fresh thoughts about the redeemed on their way back (vv. 9b-13); and these thoughts naturally lead on to a picture of Jerusalem imagining herself forsaken, and amazed by the appearance of so many of her children before her (vv. 14-21). Promises to her and to them follow in due sequence down to ch. l. 3, when the Servant resumes his soliloquy about himself, but abruptly, and in no apparent connection with what immediately precedes. His soliloquy ceases in ver. 9, and another voice, probably that of God Himself, urges[Pg 315] obedience to the Servant (ver. 10), and judgement to the sinners in Israel (ver. 11); and ch. li. is an address to the spiritual Israel, and to Jerusalem, with thoughts much the same as those uttered in xlix. 14-l. 3.

In face of these facts, and taking into consideration the dramatic form in which the whole prophecy is cast, we find ourselves unable to say that there is anything which is incompatible with a single authorship, or which makes it impossible for the two passages on the Servant to have originally sprung, each at the place at which it now stands, from the progress of the prophet's thoughts.[187]

Babylon is left behind, and the way of the Lord is prepared in the desert. Israel have once more the title-deeds to their own land, and Zion looms in sight. Yet with their face to home, and their heart upon freedom, the voice of this people, or at least of the better half of this people, rises first upon the conscience of their duty to the rest of mankind.

Hearken, O Isles, unto Me;
And listen, O Peoples, from far!
From the womb Jehovah hath called me,
From my mother's midst mentioned my name.[188]
And He set my mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand did He hide me;
Yea, He made me a pointed arrow,
In His quiver He laid me in store,
And said to me, My Servant art thou,
Israel, in whom I shall break into glory.
[Pg 316] And I—I said, In vain have I laboured,
For waste and for wind my strength have I spent!
Surely my right's with Jehovah,
And the meed of my work with my God!
But now, saith Jehovah—
Moulding me from the womb to be His own Servant,
To turn again Jacob towards Him,
And that Israel be not destroyed.[189]
And I am of honour in the eyes of Jehovah,
And my God is my strength!
And He saith,
'Tis too light for thy being My Servant,
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
Or gather the survivors of Israel.
So I will set thee a light of the Nations,
To be My salvation to the end of the earth.
Thus saith Jehovah,
Israel's Redeemer, his Holy,
To this mockery of a life, abhorrence of a nation, servant of tyrants,[190]
Kings shall behold and shall stand up,
Princes shall also do homage,
For the sake of Jehovah, who shows Himself faithful,
Holy of Israel, and thou art His chosen.
[Pg 317] Thus saith Jehovah,
In a favourable time I have given thee answer,
In the day of salvation have helped thee,
To keep thee, to give thee for covenant of the people,
To raise up the land,
To give back the heirs to the desolate heirdoms,
Saying to the bounden, Go forth!
To them that are in darkness, Appear!

"Who is so blind as not to perceive that the consciousness of the Servant here is only a mirror in which the history of Israel is reflected—first, in its original call and design that Jehovah should be glorified in it; second, in the long delay and apparent failure of the design; and, thirdly, as the design is now in the present juncture of circumstances and concurrence of events about to be realized?"[191] Yes: but it is Israel's calling, native insufficiency, and present duty, as owned by only a part of the people, which, though named by the national name (ver. 3), feels itself standing over against the bulk of the nation, whose redemption it is called to work out (vv. 8 and 9) before it takes up its world-wide service. We have already sufficiently discussed this distinction of the Servant from the whole nation, as well as the distinction of the moral work he has to effect in Israel's redemption from Babylon, from the political enfranchisement of the nation, which is the work of Cyrus. Let us, then, at once address ourselves to the main features of his consciousness of his mission to mankind. We shall find these features to be three. The Servant owns for his chief end the glory of God; and he feels that he has to glorify God in two ways—by Speech, and by Suffering.

[Pg 318]

I. The Servant glorifies God.

He did say to me, My servant art thou,
Israel, in whom I shall break into glory.

The Hebrew verb, which the Authorised Version translates will be glorified, means to burst forth, become visible, break like the dawn into splendour. This is the scriptural sense of Glory. Glory is God become visible. As we put it in Volume I.,[192] glory is the expression of holiness, as beauty is the expression of health. But, in order to become visible, the Absolute and Holy God needs mortal man. We have felt something like a paradox in these prophecies. Nowhere else is God lifted up so absolute, and so able to effect all by His mere will and word; yet nowhere else is a human agency and service so strongly asserted as indispensable to the Divine purpose. But this is no more a paradox, than the fact that physical light needs some material in which to become visible. Light is never revealed of itself, but always when shining from, or burning in, something else. To be seen, light requires a surface that will reflect, or a substance that will consume. And so, to break into glory, God requires something outside Himself. A responsive portion of humanity is indispensable to Him,—a people who will reflect Him and spend itself for Him. Man is the mirror and the wick of the Divine. God is glorified in man's character and witness,—these are His mirror; and in man's sacrifice,—that is His wick.

And so we meet again the central truth of our prophecy, that in order to serve men it is necessary[Pg 319] first to be used of God. We must place ourselves at the disposal of the Divine, we must let God shine on us and kindle us, and break into glory through us, before we can hope either to comfort mankind or to set them on fire. It is true that ideas very different from this prevail among the ranks of the servants of humanity in our day. A large part of our most serious literature professes for "its main bearing this conclusion, that the fellowship between man and man, which has been the principle of development, social and moral, is not dependent upon conceptions of what is not man, and that the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of a goodness entirely human."[193] But such theories are possible only so long as the still unexhausted influence of religion upon society continues to supply human nature, directly or indirectly, with a virtue which may be plausibly claimed for human nature's own original product. Let religion be entirely withdrawn, and the question, Whence comes virtue? will be answered by virtue ceasing to come at all. The savage imagines that it is the burning-glass which sets the bush on fire, and as long as the sun is shining it may be impossible to convince him that he is wrong; but a dull day will teach even his mind that the glass can do nothing without the sun upon it. And so, though men may talk glibly against God, while society still shines in the light of His countenance, yet, if they and society resolutely withdraw themselves from that light, they shall certainly lose every heat and lustre of the spirit which is indispensable for social service.[Pg 320][194] On this the ancient Greek was at one with the ancient Hebrew. Enthusiasm is just God breaking into glory through a human life. Here lies the secret of the buoyancy and "freshness of the earlier world," whether pagan or Hebrew, and by this may be understood the depression and pessimism which infects modern society. They had God in their blood, and we are anæmic. But I, I said, I have laboured in vain; for waste and for wind have I spent my strength. We must all say that, if our last word is our strength. But let this not be our last word. Let us remember the sufficient answer: Surely my right is with the Lord, and the meed of my work with my God. We are set, not in our own strength or for our own advantage, but with the hand of God upon us, and that the Divine life may break into glory through our life. Carlyle said, and it was almost his last testimony, "The older I grow, and I am now on the brink of eternity, the more comes back to me the first sentence of the catechism, which I learned when a child, and the fuller does its meaning grow—'What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.'"

It was said above, that, as light breaks to visibleness either from a mirror or a wick, so God breaks to glory either from the witness of men,—that is His mirror,—or from their sacrifice—that is His wick. Of both of these ways of glorifying God is the Servant conscious. His service is Speech and Sacrifice, Prophecy and Martyrdom.

[Pg 321]

II. The Servant as Prophet.

Concerning his service of Speech, the Servant speaks in these two passages—ch. xlix. 2 and l. 4-5:

He set my mouth like a sharp sword,
In the shadow of His hand did He hide me,
And made me a pointed arrow;
In His quiver He laid me in store.
My Lord Jehovah hath given me
The tongue of the learners,
To know how to succour the weary with words.
He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear
To hear as the learners.
My Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear.
I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.

At the bidding of our latest prophet we have become suspicious of the power of speech, and the goddess of eloquence walks, as it were, under surveillance among us. Carlyle reiterated, "All speech and rumour is short-lived, foolish, untrue. Genuine work alone is eternal. The talent of silence is our fundamental one. The dumb nations are the builders of the world." Under such doctrine some have grown intolerant of words, and the ideal of to-day tends to become the practical man rather than the prophet. Yet, as somebody has said, Carlyle makes us dissatisfied with preaching only by preaching himself; and you have but to read him with attention to discover that his disgust with human speech is consistent with an immense reverence for the voice as an instrument of[Pg 322] service to humanity. "The tongue of man," he says, "is a sacred organ. Man himself is definable in philosophy as an 'Incarnate Word;' the Word not there, you have no man there either, but a Phantasm instead."

Let us examine our own experience upon the merits of this debate between Silence and Speech in the service of man. Though beginning low, it will help us quickly to the height of the experience of the Prophet Nation, who, with nought else for the world but the voice that was in them, accomplished the greatest service that the world has ever received from her children.

One thing is certain,—that Speech has not the monopoly of falsehood or of any other presumptuous sin. Silence does not only mean ignorance,—by some supposed to be the heaviest sin of which Silence can be guilty,—but many things far worse than ignorance, like unreadiness, and cowardice, and falsehood, and treason, and base consent to what is evil. No man can look back on his past life, however lowly or limited his sphere may have been, and fail to see that not once or twice his supreme duty was a word, and his guilt was not to have spoken it. We all have known the shame of being straitened in prayer or praise; the shame of being, through our cowardice to bear witness, traitors to the truth; the shame of being too timid to say No to the tempter, and speak out the brave reasons of which the heart was full; the shame of finding ourselves incapable of uttering the word that would have kept a soul from taking the wrong turning in life; the shame, when truth, clearness and authority were required from us, of being able only to stammer or to mince or to rant. To have been dumb before the ignorant or the dying, before a questioning child or before the[Pg 323] tempter,—this, the frequent experience of our common life, is enough to justify Carlyle when he said, "If the Word is not there, you have no man there either, but a Phantasm instead."

Now, when we look within ourselves we see the reason of this. We perceive that the one fact, which amid the mystery and chaos of our inner life gives certainty and light, is a fact which is a Voice. Our nature may be wrecked and dissipated, but conscience is always left; or in ignorance and gloom, but conscience is always audible; or with all the faculties strong and assertive, yet conscience is still unquestionably queen,—and conscience is a Voice. It is a still, small voice, which is the surest thing in man, and the noblest; which makes all the difference in his life; which lies at the back and beginning of all his character and conduct. And the most indispensable, and the grandest service, therefore, which a man can do his fellow-men, is to get back to this voice, and make himself its mouthpiece and its prophet. What work is possible till the word be spoken? Did ever order come to social life before there was first uttered the command, in which men felt the articulation and enforcement of the ultimate voice within themselves? Discipline and instruction and energy have not appeared without speech going before them. Knowledge and faith and hope do not dawn of themselves; they travel, as light issued forth in the beginning, upon the pulses of the speaking breath.

It was the greatness of Israel to be conscious of their call as a nation to this fundamental service of humanity. Believing in the Word of God as the original source of all things,—In the beginning God said, Let there be light; and there was light,—they had the[Pg 324] conscience, that, as it had been in the physical world, so must it always be in the moral. Men were to be served and their lives to be moulded by the Word. God was to be glorified by letting His Word break through the life and the lips of men. There was in the Old Testament, it is true, a triple ideal of manhood: prophet, priest and king. But the greatest of these was the prophet, for king and priest had to be prophets too. Eloquence was a royal virtue,—with persuasion, the power of command and swift judgement. Among the seven spirits of the Lord which Isaiah sees descending in the King-to-Come is the spirit of counsel, and he afterwards adds of the King: He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. Similarly, the priests had originally been the ministers, not so much of sacrifice, as of the revealed Word of God. And now the new and high ideal of priesthood, the laying down of one's life a sacrifice for God and for the people, was not the mere imitation of the animal victim required by the priestly law, but was the natural development of the prophetic experience. It was (as we shall presently see) the prophet, who, in his inevitable sufferings on behalf of the truth he uttered, developed that consciousness of sacrifice for others, in which the loftiest priesthood consists. Prophecy, therefore, the Service of Men by the Word of God, was for Israel the highest and most essential of all service. It was the individual's and it was the nation's ideal. As there was no true king and no true priest, so there was no true man, without the Word. Would to God, said Moses, that all the Lord's people were prophets. And in our prophecy Israel exclaims: Listen, O Isles, unto me; and hearken, ye peoples from far. He hath made my mouth[Pg 325] like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me.

At first it seems a forlorn hope thus to challenge the attention of the world in the dialect of one of its most obscure provinces,—a dialect, too, that was already ceasing to be spoken even there. But the fact only serves more forcibly to emphasize the belief of these prophets, that the word committed to what they must have known to be a dying language was the Word of God Himself,—bound to render immortal the tongue in which it was spoken, bound to re-echo to the ends of the earth, bound to touch the conscience and commend itself to the reason of universal humanity. We have already seen, and will again see, how our prophet insists upon the creative and omnipotent power of God's Word; so we need not dwell longer on this instance of his faith. Let us look rather at what he expresses as Israel's preparation for the teaching of it.

To him the discipline and qualification of the prophet nation—and that means, of every Servant of God—in the high office of the Word, are threefold.

1. First, he lays down the supreme condition of Prophecy, that behind the Voice there must be the Life. Before he speaks of his gifts of Speech, the Servant emphasizes his peculiar and consecrated life. From the womb Jehovah called me, from my mother's midst mentioned my name. Now, as we all know, Israel's message to the world was largely Israel's life. The Old Testament is not a set of dogmas, nor a philosophy, nor a vision; but a history, the record of a providence, the testimony of experience, the utterances called forth by historical occasions from a life conscious of the purpose for which God has called it and set it apart through the ages. But these words,[Pg 326] which the prophet nation uses, were first used of an individual prophet. Like so much else in "Second Isaiah," we find a suggestion of them in the call of Jeremiah. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth from the womb I consecrated thee: I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.[195] A prophet is not a voice only. A prophet is a life behind a voice. He who would speak for God must have lived for God. According to the profound insight of the Old Testament, speech is not the expression of a few thoughts of a man, but the utterance of his whole life. A man blossoms through his lips;[196] and no man is a prophet, whose word is not the virtue and the flower of a gracious and a consecrated life.

2. The second discipline of the prophet is the Art of Speech. He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me: He hath made me a polished shaft, in His quiver hath He laid me in store. It is very evident, that in these words the Servant does not only recount technical qualifications, but a moral discipline as well. The edge and brilliance of his speech are stated as the effect of solitude, but of a solitude that was at the same time a nearness to God. Now solitude is a great school of eloquence. In speaking of the Semitic race, of which Israel was part, we pointed out that, prophet-race of the world as it has proved, it sprang from the desert, and nearly all its branches have inherited the desert's clear and august style of speech; for, in the leisure and serene air of the desert, men speak as they speak nowhere else. But Israel speaks of a solitude, that was the shadow of God's hand, and the fastness of God's quiver; a seclusion,[Pg 327] which, to the desert's art of eloquence, added a special inspiration by God, and a special concentration upon His main purpose in the world. The desert sword felt the grasp of God; He laid the Semitic shaft in store for a unique end.[197]

3. But in ch. l., vv. 4-5, the Servant unfolds the most beautiful and true understanding of the Secret of Prophecy, that ever was unfolded in any literature,—worth quoting again by us, if so we may get it by heart.

My Lord Jehovah hath given me
The tongue of the learners,
To know how to succour the weary with words.
He wakeneth, morning by morning He wakeneth mine ear
To hear as the learners.
My Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear,
I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.

The prophet, say these beautiful lines, learns his speech, as the little child does, by listening. Grace is poured upon the lips through the open ear. It is the lesson of our Lord's Ephphatha. When He took the deaf man with the impediment in his speech aside from the multitude privately, He said unto him, not, Be loosed, but, Be opened; and first his ears were opened, and then the bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. To speak, then, the prophet must listen; but mark to what he must listen! The secret of his eloquence lies not in the hearing of thunder, nor in the knowledge of mysteries, but in a daily wakefulness to[Pg 328] the lessons and experience of common life. Morning by morning He openeth mine ear. This is very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy and Hebrew wisdom, which listened for the truth of God in the voices of each day, drew their parables from things the rising sun lights up to every wakeful eye, and were, in the bulk of their doctrine, the virtues, needed day by day, of justice, temperance and mercy, and in the bulk of their judgements the results of everyday observation and experience. The strength of the Old Testament lies in this its realism, its daily vigilance and experience of life. It is its contact with life—the life, not of the yesterday of its speakers, but of their to-day—that makes its voice so fresh and helpful to the weary. He whose ear is daily open to the music of his current life will always find himself in possession of words that refresh and stimulate.

But serviceable speech needs more than attentiveness and experience. Having gained the truth, the prophet must be obedient and loyal to it. Yet obedience and loyalty to the truth are the beginnings of martyrdom, of which the Servant now goes on to speak as the natural and immediate consequence of his prophecy.

III. The Servant as Martyr.

The classes of men, who suffer physical ill-usage at the hands of their fellow-men, may roughly be described as three,—the Military Enemy, the Criminal, and the Prophet; and of these three we have only to read history to know that the Prophet fares by far the worst. However fatal men's treatment of their enemies in war or of their criminals may be, it is, nevertheless, subject to a certain order, code of honour or principle of[Pg 329] justice. But in all ages the Prophet has been the target for the most licentious spite and cruelty; for torture, indecency and filth past belief. Although our own civilisation has outlived the system of physical punishment for speech, we even yet see philosophers and statesmen, who have used no weapons but exposition and persuasion, treated by their opponents—who would speak of a foreign enemy with respect—with execration, gross epithets, vile abuse and insults, that the offenders would not pour upon a criminal. If we have this under our own eyes, let us think how the Prophet must have fared before humanity learned to meet speech by speech. Because men attacked it, not with the sword of the invader or with the knife of the assassin, but with words, therefore (till not very long ago) society let loose upon them the foulest indignities and most horrible torments. Socrates' valour as a soldier did not save him from the malicious slander, the false witness, the unjust trial and the poison, with which the Athenians answered his speech against themselves. Even Hypatia's womanhood did not awe the mob from tearing her to pieces for her teaching. This unique and invariable experience of the Prophet is summed up and clenched in the name Martyr. Martyr originally meant a witness or witness-bearer, but now it is the synonym for every shame and suffering which the cruel ingenuity of men's black hearts can devise for those they hate. A Book of Battles is horrible enough, but at least valour and honour have kept down in it the baser passions. A Newgate Chronicle is ugly enough, but there at least is discipline and an hospital. You have got to go to a Book of Martyrs to see to what sourness, wickedness, malignity, pitilessness and ferocity men's hearts can lend themselves. There is something in[Pg 330] the mere utterance of truth, that rouses the very devil in the hearts of many men.

Thus it had always been in Israel, nation not only of prophets, but of the slayers of prophets. According to Christ, prophet-slaying was the ineradicable habit of Israel. Ye are the sons of them that slew the prophets.... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets and stoner of them that are sent unto her! To them who bare it the word of Jehovah had always been a reproach: cause of estrangement, indignities, torments, and sometimes of death. Up to the time of our prophet there had been the following notable sufferers for the Word: Elijah; Micaiah the son of Imlah; Isaiah, if the story be true that he was slain by Manasseh; but nearer, more lonely and more heroic than all, Jeremiah, a laughing-stock and mockery, reviled, smitten, fettered, and condemned to death. In words which recall the experience of so many individual Israelites, and most of which were used by Jeremiah of himself, the Servant of Jehovah describes his martyrdom in immediate consequence from his prophecy.

And I—I was not rebellious,
Nor turned away backward.
My back I have given to the smiters,
And my cheek to tormenters;
My face I hid not from insults and spitting.

These are not national sufferings. They are no reflection of the hard usage which the captive Israel suffered from Babylon. They are the reflection of the reproach and pains, which, for the sake of God's word, individual Israelites more than once experienced from their own nation. But if individual experience, and[Pg 331] not national, formed the original of this picture of the Servant as Martyr, then surely we have in this another strong reason against the objection to recognise in the Servant at last an individual. It may be, of course, that for the moment our prophet feels that this frequent experience of individuals in Israel is to be realised by the faithful Israel, as a whole, in their treatment by the rest of their cruel and unspiritual countrymen. But the very fact that individuals have previously fulfilled this martyrdom in the history of Israel, surely makes it possible for our prophet to foresee, that the Servant, who is to fulfil it again, shall also be an individual.

But, returning from this slight digression on the person of the Servant to his fate, let us emphasize again, that his sufferings came to him as the result of his prophesying. The Servant's sufferings are not penal, they are not yet felt to be vicarious. They are simply the reward with which obdurate Israel met all her prophets, the inevitable martyrdom which followed on the uttering of God's Word. And in this the Servant's experience forms an exact counterpart to that of our Lord. For to Christ also reproach and agony and death—whatever higher meaning they evolved—came as the result of His Word. The fact that Jesus suffered as our great High Priest must not make us forget, that His sufferings fell upon Him because He was a Prophet. He argued explicitly He must suffer, because so suffered the prophets before Him. He put Himself in the line of the martyrs: as they had killed the servants, He said, so would they kill the Son. Thus it happened. His enemies sought to entangle Him in His talk: it was for His talk they brought Him to trial. Each torment and indignity which the[Pg 332] Prophet-Servant relates, Jesus suffered to the letter. They put Him to shame and insulted Him;[198] His helpless hands were bound; they spat in His face and smote Him with their palms; they mocked and they reviled Him; scourged Him again; teased and tormented Him; hung Him between thieves; and to the last the ribald jests went up, not only from the soldiers and the rabble, but from the learned and the religious authorities as well, to whom His fault had been that He preached another word than their own. The literal fulfilments of our prophecy are striking, but the main fulfilment, of which they are only incidents, is, that like the Servant, our Lord suffered directly as a Prophet. He enforced and He submitted to the essential obligation, which lies upon the true Prophet, of suffering for the Word's sake. Let us remember to carry this over with us to our final study of the Suffering Servant as the expiation for sin.

In the meantime, we have to conclude the Servant's appearance as Martyr in ch. l. He has accepted his martyrdom; but he feels it is not the end with him. God will bring him through, and vindicate him in the eyes of the world. For the world, in their usual way, will say that because he gives them a new truth he must be wrong, and because he suffers he is surely guilty and cursed before God. But he will not let himself be confounded, for God is his help and advocate.

But my Lord Jehovah shall help me;
Therefore, I let not myself be rebuffed:
[Pg 333] Therefore, I set my face like a flint,
And know that I shall not be shamed.
Near is my Justifier; who will dispute with me?
Let us stand up together!
Who is mine adversary?[199]
Let him draw near me.
Lo! my Lord Jehovah shall help me;
Who is he that condemns me?
Lo! like a garment all of them rot;
The moth doth devour them.

These lines, in which the Holy Servant, the Martyr of the Word, defies the world and asserts that God shall vindicate his innocence, are taken by Paul and used to assert the justification, which every believer enjoys through faith in the sufferings of Him, who was indeed the Holy Servant of God.[200]

The last two verses of ch. l. are somewhat difficult. The first of them still speaks of the Servant,[201] and distinguishes him—a distinction we must note and emphasize—from the God-fearing in Israel.

Who is among you that feareth Jehovah,
That hearkens the voice of His Servant,
That walks in dark places,
And light he has none?
Let him trust in the name of Jehovah,
And lean on his God.

That is, every pious believer in Israel is to take the Servant for an example; for the Servant in distress[Pg 334] leans upon his God. And so Paul's application of the Servant's words to the individual believer is a correct one. But if our prophet is able to think of the Servant as an example to the individual Israelite, that surely is a thought not very far from the conception of the Servant himself as an individual.

If ver. 10 is addressed to the pious in Israel, ver. 11 would seem to turn with a last word—as the last words of the discourses in Second Isaiah so often turn—to the wicked in Israel.

Lo! all you, players with fire,[202]
That gird you with firebrands!
Walk in the light of your fire,
In the firebrands ye kindled.
This from my hand shall be yours;
Ye shall lie down in sorrow.

It is very difficult to know, who are meant by this warning. An old and almost forgotten interpretation is, that the prophet meant those exiles who played with the fires of political revolution, instead of abiding the deliverance of the Lord. But there is now current among exegetes the more general interpretation that these incendiaries are the revilers and abusers of the Servant within Israel: for so the Psalms speak of the slingers of burning words at the righteous. We must notice, however, that the metaphor stands over against those in Israel who walk in dark places and have no light. In contrast to that kind of life, this may be the kind that coruscates with vanity, flashes with pride, or burns and scorches with its evil passions. We have a[Pg 335] similar name for such a life. We call it a display of fireworks. The prophet tells them, who depend on nothing but their own false fires, how transient these are, how quickly quenched.

But is it not weird, that on our prophet's stage, however brilliantly its centre shines with figures of heroes and deeds of salvation, there should always be this dark, lurid background of evil and accursed men?

[Pg 336]



Isaiah lii. 13-liii.

We are now arrived at the last of the passages on the Servant of the Lord. It is known to Christendom as the Fifty-third of Isaiah, but its verses have, unfortunately, been divided between two chapters, lii. 13-15 and liii. Before we attempt the interpretation of this high and solemn passage of Revelation, let us look at its position in our prophecy, and examine its structure.

The peculiarities of the style and of the vocabulary of ch. lii. 13-liii., along with the fact, that, if it be omitted, the prophecies on either side readily flow together, have led some critics to suppose it to be an insertion, borrowed from an earlier writer.[203] The style—broken, sobbing and recurrent—is certainly a change from the forward, flowing sentences, on which we have been carried up till now, and there are a number of words that we find quite new to us. Yet surely both style and words are fully accounted for by the novel and tragic nature of the subject, to which the prophet has[Pg 337] brought us: regret and remorse, though they speak through the same lips as hope and the assurance of salvation, must necessarily do so with a very different accent and set of terms. Criticism surely overreaches itself, when it suggests that a writer, so versatile and dramatic as our prophet, could not have written ch. lii. 13-liii. along with, say, ch. xl. or ch. lii. 1-12 or ch. liv. We might as well be asked to assign to different authors Hamlet's soliloquy, and the King's conversation, in the same play, with the ambassadors from Norway. To aver that if ch. lii. 13-liii. were left out, no one who had not seen it would miss it, so closely does ch. liv. follow on to ch. lii. 12, is to aver what means nothing. In any dramatic work you may leave out the finest passage,—from a Greek tragedy its grandest chorus, or from a play of Shakespeare's the hero's soliloquy,—without seeming, to eyes that have not seen what you have done, to have disturbed the connection of the whole. Observe the juncture in our prophecy at which this last passage on the Servant appears. It is one exactly the same as that at which another great passage on the Servant was inserted (ch. xlix. 1-9), viz., just after a call to the people to seize the redemption achieved for them and to come forth from Babylon. It is the kind of climax or pause in their tale, which dramatic writers of all kinds employ for the solemn utterance of principles lying at the back, or transcending the scope, of the events of which they treat. To say the least, it is surely more probable that our prophet himself employed so natural an opportunity to give expression to his highest truths about the Servant, than that some one else took his work, broke up another already extant work on the Servant and thrust the pieces of the latter into the former. Moreover, we[Pg 338] shall find many of the ideas, as well as of the phrases, of ch. lii. 13-liii. to be essentially the same as some we have already encountered in our prophecy.[204]

There is then no evidence that this singular prophecy ever stood apart from its present context, or that it was written by another writer than the prophet, by whom we have hitherto found ourselves conducted. On the contrary, while it has links with what goes before it, we see good reasons, why the prophet should choose just this moment for uttering its unique and transcendent contents, as well as why he should employ in it a style and a vocabulary, so different from his usual.

Turning now to the structure of ch. lii. 13-liii., we observe that, as arranged in the Canon, there are fifteen verses in the prophecy. These fifteen verses fall into five strophes of three verses each, as printed by the Revised English Version. When set in their own original lines, however, the strophes appear, not of equal, but of increasing length. As will be seen from the version given below, the first (ch. lii. 13-15) has nine lines, the second (ch. liii. 1-3) has ten lines, the third (vv. 4-6) has eleven lines, the fourth (vv. 7-9) thirteen lines, the fifth (vv. 10-12) fourteen lines. This increase would be absolutely regular, if, in the fourth strophe, we made either the first two lines one, or the last two one, and if in the fifth again we ran the first[Pg 339] two lines together,—changes which the metre allows and some translators have adopted. But, in either case, we perceive a regular increase from strophe to strophe, that is not only one of the many marks with which this most artistic of poems has been elaborated, but gives the reader the very solemn impression of a truth that is ever gathering more of human life into itself, and sweeping forward with fuller and more resistless volume.

Each strophe, it is well to notice, begins with one word or two words which summarise the meaning of the whole strophe and form a title for it. Thus, after the opening exclamation Behold, the words My Servant shall prosper form, as we shall see, not only a summary of the first strophe, in which his ultimate exaltation is described, but the theme of the whole prophecy. Strophe ii. begins Who hath believed, and accordingly in this strophe the unbelief and thoughtlessness of them who saw the Servant without feeling the meaning of his suffering is confessed. Surely our sicknesses fitly entitles strophe iii., in which the people describe how the Servant in his suffering was their substitute. Oppressed yet he humbled himself is the headline of strophe iv., and that strophe deals with the humility and innocence of the Servant in contrast to the injustice accorded him. While the headline of strophe v., But Jehovah had purposed, brings us back to the main theme of the poem, that behind men's treatment of the Servant is God's holy will; which theme is elaborated and brought to its conclusion in strophe v. These opening and entitling words of each strophe are printed, in the following translation, in larger type than the rest.

As in the rest of Hebrew poetry, so here, the measure is neither regular nor smooth, and does not[Pg 340] depend on rhyme. Yet there is an amount of assonance, which at times approaches to rhyme. Much of the meaning of the poem depends on the use of the personal pronouns—we and he stand contrasted to each other—and it is these coming in a lengthened form at the end of many of the lines that suggest to the ear something like rhyme. For instance, in liii. 5, 6, the second and third verses of the third strophe, two of the lines run out on the bisyllable -ênū, two on înu, and two on the word lānū, while the third has ênu, not at the end, but in the middle; in each case, the pronominal suffix of the first person plural. We transcribe these lines to show the effect of this.

Wehu' meholal mippesha'ênū
Medhukka' me`ăwōnōthênū
Mūṣar shelōmēnū `alaw
Ubhahăbhurātho nirpa'-lānū
Kullānū kass-ss'on ta`înū
'îsh ledharko panînū
Wa Jahweh hiphgî`a bô 'eth-`awon kullānū.

This is the strophe in which the assonance comes oftenest to rhyme; but in strophe i. êhū ends two lines, and in strophe ii. it ends three. These and other assonants occur also at the beginning and in the middle of lines. We must remember that in all the cases quoted it is the personal pronouns, which give the assonance,—the personal pronouns on which so much of the meaning of the poem turns; and that, therefore, the parallelism primarily intended by the writer is one rather of meaning than of sound. The pair of lines, parallel in meaning, though not in sound, which forms so large a part of Hebrew poetry, is used throughout[Pg 341] this poem; but the use of it is varied and elaborated to a unique degree. The very same words and phrases are repeated, and placed on points, from which they seem to call to each other; as, for instance, the double many in strophe i., the of us all in strophe iii., and nor opened he his mouth in strophe iv. The ideas are very few and very simple; the words he, we, his, ours, see, hear, know, bear, sickness, strike, stroke, and many form, with prepositions and particles, the bulk of the prophecy. It will be evident how singularly suitable this recurrence is for the expression of reproach, and of sorrowful recollection. It is the nature of grief and remorse to harp upon the one dear form, the one most vivid pain. The finest instance of this repetition is verse 6, with its opening keynote "kullanu"—of us all like sheep went astray, with its close on that keynote guilt of us all, "kullanu." But throughout notes are repeated, and bars recur, expressive of what was done to the Servant, or what the Servant did for man, which seem in their recurrence to say, You cannot hear too much of me: I am the very Gospel. A peculiar sadness is lent to the music by the letters h and l in "holie" and "hehelie," the word for sickness or ailing (ailing is the English equivalent in sense and sound), which happens so often in the poem. The new words, which have been brought to vary this recurrence of a few simple features, are mostly of a sombre type. The heavier letters throng the lines: grievous bs and ms are multiplied, and syllables with long vowels before m and w. But the words sob as well as tramp; and here and there one has a wrench and one a cry in it.

Most wonderful and mysterious of all is the spectral fashion in which the prophecy presents its Hero. He[Pg 342] is named only in the first line and once again: elsewhere He is spoken of as He. We never hear or see Himself. But all the more solemnly is He there: a shadow upon countless faces, a grievous memory on the hearts of the speakers. He so haunts all we see and all we hear, that we feel it is not Art, but Conscience, that speaks of Him.

Here is now the prophecy itself, rendered into English quite literally, except for a conjunction here and there, and, as far as possible, in the rhythm of the original. A few necessary notes on difficult words and phrases are given.


lii. 13: Behold, my Servant shall prosper,[205]
Shall rise, be lift up, be exceedingly high.[206]
Like as they that were astonied before thee were many,
—So marred from a man's was his visage,
And his form from the children of men!—
So shall the nations he startles[207] be many,
Before him shall kings shut their mouths.
For that which had never been told them they see,
And what they had heard not, they have to consider.

[Pg 343]


Who gave believing to that which we heard,[208]
And the arm of Jehovah to whom was it bared?
For he sprang like a sapling before Him,[209]
As a root from the ground that is parched;
He had no form nor beauty that we should regard him,
Nor aspect that we should desire him.
Despised and rejected of men,
Man of pains and familiar with ailing,
And as one we do cover the face from,
Despised, and we did not esteem him.


Surely our ailments he bore,
And our pains he did take for his burden.[210]
But we—we accounted him stricken,
Smitten of God and degraded.[211]
[Pg 344] Yet he—he was pierced for crimes that were ours,[212]
He was crushed for guilt that was ours,[212]
The chastisement of our peace was upon him,
By his stripes healing is ours.[212]
Of us all[213] like to sheep went astray,
Every man to his way we did turn,
And Jehovah made light upon him
The guilt of us all.


Oppressed, he did humble himself,
Nor opened his mouth—
As a lamb to the slaughter is led,
As a sheep 'fore her shearers is dumb—
Nor opened his mouth.
By tyranny and law was he taken;[214]
And of his age who reflected,
That he was wrenched[215] from the land of the living,
For My people's transgressions the stroke was on him?
So they made with the wicked his grave,
Yea, with the felon[216] his tomb.
Though never harm had he done,
Neither was guile in his mouth.


But Jehovah had purposed to bruise him,
Had laid on him sickness;
[Pg 345] So[217] if his life should offer guilt offering,
A seed he should see, he should lengthen his days.
And the purpose of Jehovah by his hand should prosper,
From the travail of his soul shall he see,[218]
By his knowledge be satisfied.
My Servant, the Righteous, righteousness wins he for many,
And their guilt he takes for his load.
Therefore I set him a share with the great,[219]
Yea, with the strong shall he share the spoil:
Because that he poured out his life unto death,
Let himself with transgressors be reckoned;
Yea, he the sin of the many hath borne,
And for the transgressors he interposes.

Let us now take up the interpretation strophe by strophe.

I. Ch. lii. 13-15. When last our eyes were directed to the Servant, he was in suffering unexplained and unvindicated (ch. l. 4-6). His sufferings seemed to have fallen upon him as the consequence of his fidelity to the Word committed to him; the Prophet had inevitably become the Martyr. Further than this his sufferings were not explained, and the Servant was left in them,[Pg 346] calling upon God indeed, and sure that God would hear and vindicate him, but as yet unanswered by word of God or word of man.

It is these words, words both of God and of man, which are given in Isaiah ch. lii. 13-liii. The Sufferer is explained and vindicated, first by God in the first strophe, ch. lii. 13-15, and then by the Conscience of Men, His own people, in the second and third (liii. 1-6); and then, as it appears, the Divine Voice, or the Prophet speaking for it, resumes in strophes iv. and v., and concludes in a strain similar to strophe i.

God's explanation and vindication of the Sufferer is, then, given in the first strophe. It is summed up in the first line, and in one very pregnant word. Jeremiah had said of the Messiah, He shall reign as a King and deal wisely or prosper;[220] and so God says here of the Servant, Behold he shall deal wisely or prosper. The Hebrew verb does not get full expression in any English one. In rendering it shall deal wisely or prudently our translators undoubtedly touch the quick of it. For it is originally a mental process or quality: has insight, understands, is farseeing. But then it also includes the effect of this—understands so as to get on, deals wisely so as to succeed, is practical both in his way of working and in being sure of his end. Ewald has found an almost exact equivalent in German, "hat Geschick;" for Geschick means both skill or address and fate or destiny. The Hebrew verb is the most practical in the whole language, for this is precisely the point which the prophecy seeks to bring out about the Servant's sufferings. They are practical. He is practical in them. He endures them, not for their own sake, but for some[Pg 347] practical end of which he is aware and to which they must assuredly bring him. His failure to convince men by his word, the pain and spite which seem to be his only wage, are not the last of him, but the beginning and the way to what is higher. So shall he rise and be lift up and be very high. The suffering, which in ch. l. seemed to be the Servant's misfortune, is here seen as his wisdom which shall issue in his glory.

But of themselves men do not see this, and they need to be convinced. Pain, the blessed means of God, is man's abhorrence and perplexity. All along the history of the world the Sufferer has been the astonishment and stumbling-block of humanity. The barbarian gets rid of him; he is the first difficulty with which every young literature wrestles; to the end he remains the problem of philosophy and the sore test of faith. It is not native to men to see meaning or profit in the Sufferer; they are staggered by him, they see no reason or promise in him. So did men receive this unique Sufferer, this Servant of Jehovah. The many were astonied at him; his visage was so marred more than men, and his form than the children of men. But his life is to teach them the opposite of their impressions, and to bring them out of their perplexity into reverence before the revealed purpose of God in the Sufferer. As they that were astonied at thee were many, so shall the nations he startles be many; kings shall shut their mouths at him, for that which was not told them they see, and that which they have heard not they have to consider,—viz., the triumph and influence to which the Servant was consciously led through suffering. There may be some reflection here of the way in which the Gentiles regarded the Suffering Israel, but the reference is vague, and perhaps purposely so.

[Pg 348]

The first strophe, then, gives us just the general theme. In contrast to human experience God reveals in His Servant that suffering is fruitful, that sacrifice is practical. Pain, in God's service, shall lead to glory.

II. Ch. liii. 1-3. God never speaks but in man He wakens conscience, and the second strophe of the prophecy (along with the third) is the answer of conscience to God. Penitent men, looking back from the light of the Servant's exaltation to the time when his humiliation was before their eyes, say, "Yes: what God has said is true of us. We were the deaf and the indifferent. We heard, but who of us believed what we heard, and to whom was the arm of the Lord—His purpose, the hand He had in the Servant's sufferings—revealed?"[221]

Who are these penitent speakers? Some critics have held them to be the heathen, more have said that they are Israel. But none have pointed out that the writer gives himself no trouble to define them, but seems more anxious to impress us with their consciousness of their moral relation to the Servant. On the whole, it would appear that it is Israel, whom the prophet has in mind as the speakers of vv. 1-6. For, besides the fact that the Old Testament knows nothing of a bearing by Israel of the sins of the Gentiles, it is expressly said in ver. 8, that the sins for which the[Pg 349] Servant was stricken were the sins of my people; which people must be the same as the speakers, for they own in vv. 4-6 that the Servant bore their sins. For these and other reasons the mass of Christian critics at the present day are probably right when they assume that Israel are the speakers in vv. 1-6;[222] but the reader must beware of allowing his attention to be lost in questions of that kind. The art of the poem seems intentionally to leave vague the national relation of the speakers to the Servant, in order the more impressively to bring out their moral attitude towards him. There is an utter disappearance of all lines of separation between Jew and Gentile,—both in the first strophe,[Pg 350] where, although Gentile names are used, Jews may yet be meant to be included, and in the rest of the poem,—as if the writer wished us to feel that all men stood over against that solitary Servant in a common indifference to his suffering and a common conscience of the guilt he bears. In short, it is no historical situation, such as some critics seem anxious to fasten him down upon, that the prophet reflects; but a certain moral situation, ideal in so far as it was not yet realised,—the state of the quickened human conscience over against a certain Human Suffering, in which, having ignored it at the time, that conscience now realises that the purpose of God was at work.

In vv. 2 and 3 the penitent speakers give us the reasons of their disregard of the Servant in the days of his suffering. In these reasons there is nothing peculiar to Israel, and no special experience of Jewish history is reflected by the terms in which they are conveyed. They are the confession, in general language, of an universal human habit,—the habit of letting the eye cheat the heart and conscience, of allowing the aspect of suffering to blind us to its meaning; of forgetting in our sense of the ugliness and helplessness of pain, that it has a motive, a future and a God. It took ages to wean mankind from those native feelings of aversion and resentment, which caused them at first to abandon or destroy their sick. And, even now, scorn for the weak and incredulity in the heroism or in the profitableness of suffering are strong in the best of us. We judge by looks; we are hurried by the physical impression, which the sufferer makes on us, or by our pride that we are not as he is, into peremptory and harsh judgements upon him. Every day we allow the dulness of poverty, the ugliness of disease, the[Pg 351] unprofitableness of misfortune, the ludicrousness of failure, to keep back conscience from discovering to us our share of responsibility for them, and to repel our hearts from that sympathy and patience with them, which along with conscience would assuredly discover to us their place in God's Providence and their special significance for ourselves. It is this original sin of man, of which these penitent speakers own themselves guilty.

But no one is ever permitted to rest with a physical or intellectual impression of suffering. The race, the individual, has always been forced by conscience to the task of finding a moral reason for pain; and nothing so marks man's progress as the successive solutions he has attempted to this problem. The speakers, therefore, proceed in the next part of their confession, strophe iii., to tell us what they first falsely accounted the moral reason of the Servant's suffering and what they afterwards found to be the truth.

III. liii. 4-6. The earliest and most common moral judgement, which men pass upon pain, is that which is implied in its name—that it is penal. A man suffers because God is angry with him and has stricken him. So Job's friends judged him, and so these speakers tell us they had at first judged the Servant. We had accounted him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted,—stricken, that is, with a plague of sickness, as Job was, for the simile of the sick man is still kept up; smitten of God and degraded or humbled, for it seemed to them that God's hand was in the Servant's sickness, to punish and disgrace him for his own sins. But now they know they were wrong. The hand of God was indeed upon the Servant, and the reason was sin; yet the sin was not his, but theirs. Surely our sicknesses he bore,[Pg 352] and our pains he took as his burden. He was pierced for iniquities that were ours. He was crushed for crimes that were ours. Strictly interpreted, these verses mean no more than that the Servant was involved in the consequences of his people's sins. The verbs bore and made his burden are indeed taken by some to mean necessarily, removal or expiation; but in themselves, as is clear from their application to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the whole of the generation of Exile, they mean no more than implication in the reproach and the punishment of the people's sins.[223] Nevertheless, as we have explained in a note below, it is really impossible to separate the suffering of a Servant, who has been announced as practical and prosperous in his suffering, from the end for which it is endured. We cannot separate the Servant's bearing of the people's guilt[Pg 353] from his removal of it. And, indeed, this practical end of his passion springs forth, past all doubt, from the rest of the strophe, which declares that the Servant's sufferings are not only vicarious but redemptive. The discipline of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. Translators agree that discipline of our peace must mean discipline which procures our peace. The peace, the healing, is ours, in consequence of the chastisement and the scourging that was his. The next verse gives us the obverse and complement of the same thought. The pain was his in consequence of the sin that was ours. All we like sheep had gone astray, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all,—literally iniquity, but inclusive of its guilt and consequences. Nothing could be plainer than these words. The speakers confess, that they know that the Servant's suffering was both vicarious and redemptive.[224]

But how did they get this knowledge? They do not describe any special means by which it came to them. They state this high and novel truth simply as the last step in a process of their consciousness. At first they were bewildered by the Servant's suffering; then they thought it contemptible, thus passing upon it an intellectual judgement; then, forced to seek a moral reason for it, they accounted it as penal and due to the Servant for his own sins; then they recognised that its penalty was vicarious, that the Servant was suffering for them;[Pg 354] and finally, they knew that it was redemptive, the means of their own healing and peace. This is a natural climax, a logical and moral progress of thought. The last two steps are stated simply as facts of experience following on other facts. Now our prophet usually publishes the truths, with which he is charged, as the very words of God, introducing them with a solemn and authoritative Thus saith Jehovah. But this novel and supreme truth of vicarious and redemptive suffering, this passion and virtue which crowns the Servant's office, is introduced to us, not by the mouth of God, but by the lips of penitent men; not as an oracle, but as a confession; not as the commission of Divine authority laid beforehand upon the Servant like his other duties, but as the conviction of the human conscience after the Servant has been lifted up before it. In short, by this unusual turn of his art, the prophet seeks to teach us, that vicarious suffering is not a dogmatic, but an experimental truth. The substitution of the Servant for the guilty people, and the redemptive force of that substitution, are no arbitrary doctrine, for which God requires from man a mere intellectual assent; they are no such formal institution of religion as mental indolence and superstition delight to have prepared for their mechanical adherence: but substitutive suffering is a great living fact of human experience, whose outward features are not more evident to men's eyes than its inner meaning is appreciable by their conscience, and of irresistible effect upon their whole moral nature.

Is this lesson of our prophet's art not needed? Men have always been apt to think of vicarious suffering, and of its function in their salvation, as something above and apart from their moral nature, with a value[Pg 355] known only to God and not calculable in the terms of conscience or of man's moral experience; nay, rather as something that conflicts with man's ideas of morality and justice. Whereas both the fact and the virtue of vicarious suffering come upon us all, as these speakers describe the vicarious sufferings of the Servant to have come upon them, as a part of inevitable experience. If it be natural, as we saw, for men to be bewildered by the first sight of suffering, to scorn it as futile and to count it the fault of the sufferer himself, it is equally natural and inevitable that these first and hasty theories should be dispelled by the longer experience of life and the more thorough working of conscience. The stricken are not always bearing their own sin. "Suffering is the minister of justice. This is true in part, yet it also is inadequate to explain the facts. Of all the sorrow which befalls humanity, how small a part falls upon the specially guilty; how much seems rather to seek out the good! We might almost ask whether it is not weakness rather than wrong that is punished in this world."[225] In every nation, in every family, the innocent suffer for the guilty. Vicarious suffering is not arbitrary or accidental; it comes with our growth; it is of the very nature of things. It is that part of the Service of Man, to which we are all born, and of the reality of which we daily grow more aware.

But even more than its necessity life teaches us its virtue. Vicarious suffering is not a curse. It is Service—Service for God. It proves a power where every other moral force has failed. By it men are redeemed, on whom justice and their proper punishment[Pg 356] have been able to effect nothing. Why this should be is very intelligible. We are not so capable of measuring the physical or moral results of our actions upon our own characters or in our own fortunes as we are upon the lives of others; nor do we so awaken to the guilt and heinousness of our sin as when it reaches and implicates lives, which were not partners with us in it. Moreover, while a man's punishment is apt to give him an excuse for saying, I have expiated my sin myself, and so to leave him self-satisfied and with nothing for which to be grateful or obliged to a higher will; or while it may make him reckless or plunge him into despair; so, on the contrary, when he recognises that others feel the pain of his sin and have come under its weight, then shame is quickly born within him, and pity and every other passion that can melt a hard heart. If, moreover, the others who bear his sin do so voluntarily and for love's sake, then how quickly on the back of shame and pity does gratitude rise, and the sense of debt and of constraint to their will! For all these very intelligible reasons, vicarious suffering has been a powerful redemptive force in the experience of the race. Both the fact of its beneficence and the moral reasons for this are clear enough to lift us above a question, which sometimes gives trouble regarding it,—the question of its justice. Such a question is futile about any service for man, which succeeds as this does where all others have failed, and which proves itself so much in harmony with man's moral nature. But the last shred of objection to the justice of vicarious suffering is surely removed when the sufferer is voluntary as well as vicarious. And, in truth, human experience feels that it has found its highest and its holiest fact in the love that, being[Pg 357] innocent itself, stoops to bear its fellows' sins,—not only the anxiety and reproach of them, but even the cost and the curse of them. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends; and greater Service can no man do to man, than to serve them in this way.

Now in this universal human experience of the inevitableness and the virtue of vicarious suffering, Israel had been deeply baptized. The nation had been served by suffering in all the ways we have just described. Beginning with the belief that all righteousness prospered, Israel had come to see the righteous afflicted in her midst; the best Israelites had set their minds to the problem, and learned to believe, at least, that such affliction was of God's will,—part of His Providence, and not an interruption to it. Israel, too, knew the moral solidarity of a people: that citizens share each other's sorrows, and that one generation rolls over its guilt upon the next. Frequently had the whole nation been spared for a pious remnant's sake; and in the Exile, while all the people were formally afflicted by God, it was but a portion of them whose conscience was quick to the meaning of the chastisement, and of them alone, in their submissive and intelligent sufferance of the Lord's wrath, could the opening gospel of the prophecy be spoken, that they had accomplished their warfare, and had received of the Lord's hand double for all their sins. But still more vivid than these collective substitutes for the people were the individuals, who, at different points in Israel's history, had stood forth and taken up as their own the nation's conscience and stooped to bear the nation's curse. Far away back, a Moses had offered himself for destruction, if for his sake God would spare his sinful[Pg 358] and thoughtless countrymen. In a psalm of the Exile it is remembered that,

He said, that He would destroy them,
Had not Moses His chosen stood before Him in the breach,
To turn away His wrath, lest He should destroy.

And Jeremiah, not by a single heroic resolve, but by the slow agony and martyrdom of a long life, had taken Jerusalem's sin upon his own heart, had felt himself forsaken of God, and had voluntarily shared his city's doom, while his generation, unconscious of their guilt and blind to their fate, despised him and esteemed him not. And Ezekiel, who is Jeremiah's far-off reflection, who could only do in symbol what Jeremiah did in reality, was commanded to lie on his side for days, and so bear the guilt of his people.[227]

But in Israel's experience it was not only the human Servant who served the nation by suffering, for God Himself had come down to carry His distressed and accursed people, and to load Himself with them. Our prophet uses the same two verbs of Jehovah as are used of the Servant.[228] Like the Servant, too, God was afflicted in all their affliction; and His love towards them was expended in passion and agony for their sins. Vicarious suffering was not only human, it was Divine.

Was it very wonderful that a people with such an[Pg 359] experience, and with such examples, both human and Divine, should at last be led to the thought of One Sufferer, who would exhibit in Himself all the meaning, and procure for His people all the virtue, of that vicarious reproach and sorrow, which a long line of their martyrs had illustrated, and which God had revealed as the passion of His own love? If they had had every example that could fit them to understand the power of such a sufferer, they had also every reason to feel their need of Him. For the Exile had not healed the nation; it had been for the most of them an illustration of that evil effect of punishment to which we alluded above. Penal servitude in Babylon had but hardened Israel. God poured on him the fury of anger, and the strength of battle: it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.[229] What the Exile, then, had failed to do, when it brought upon the people their own sins, the Servant, taking these sins upon himself, would surely effect. The people, whom the Exile had only hardened, his vicarious suffering should strike into penitence and lift to peace.

IV. Ch. liii. 7-9. It is probable that with ver. 6 the penitent people have ceased speaking, and that the parable is now taken up by the prophet himself. The voice of God, which uttered the first strophe, does not seem to resume till ver. 11.

If strophe iii. confessed that it was for the people's sins the Servant suffered, strophe iv. declares that he himself was sinless, and yet silently submitted to all which injustice laid upon him.

Now Silence under Suffering is a strange thing in the[Pg 360] Old Testament—a thing absolutely new. No other Old Testament personage could stay dumb under pain, but immediately broke into one of two voices,—voice of guilt or voice of doubt. In the Old Testament the sufferer is always either confessing his guilt to God, or, when he feels no guilt, challenging God in argument. David, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Job, and the nameless martyred and moribund of the Psalms, all strive and are loud under pain. Why was this Servant the unique and solitary instance of silence under suffering? Because he had a secret which they had not. It had been said of him: My Servant shall deal wisely or intelligently, shall know what he is about. He had no guilt of his own, no doubts of his God. But he was conscious of the end God had in his pain, an end not to be served in any other way, and with all his heart he had given himself to it. It was not punishment he was enduring; it was not the throes of the birth into higher experience, which he was feeling: it was a Service he was performing,—a service laid on him by God, a service for man's redemption, a service sure of results and of glory. Therefore as a lamb to the slaughter is led, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, he opened not his mouth.

The next two verses (8, 9) describe how the Servant's Passion was fulfilled. The figure of a sick man was changed in ver. 5 to that of a punished one, and the punishment we now see carried on to death. The two verses are difficult, the readings and renderings of most of the words being very various. But the sense is clear. The Servant's death was accomplished, not on some far hill top by a stroke out of heaven, but in the forms of human law and by men's hands. It was a judicial murder. By tyranny and by judgement,—that is, by a[Pg 361] forced and tyrannous judgement,—he was taken. To this abuse of law the next verse adds the indifference of public opinion: and as for his contemporaries, who of them reflected that he was cut off from, or cut down in, the land of the living,—that in spite of the form of law that condemned him he was a murdered man,—that for the transgression of my people the stroke was his? So, having conceived him to have been lawfully put to death, they consistently gave him a convict's grave: they made his grave with the wicked, and he was with the felon in his death, though—and on this the strophe emphatically ends—he was an innocent man, he had done no harm, neither was guile in his mouth.

Premature sickness and the miscarriage of justice,—these to Orientals are the two outstanding misfortunes of the individual's life. Take the Psalter, set aside its complaints of the horrors of war and of invasion, and you will find almost all the rest of its sighs rising either from sickness or from the sense of injustice. These were the classic forms of individual suffering in the age and civilisation to which our prophet belonged, and it was natural, therefore, that when he was describing an Ideal or Representative Sufferer, he should fill in his picture with both of them. If we remember this,[230] we shall feel no incongruity in the sudden change of the hero from a sick man to a convict, and back again in[Pg 362] ver. 10 from a convict to a sick man. Nor, if we remember this, shall we feel disposed to listen to those interpreters, who hold that the basis of this prophecy was the account of an actual historical martyrdom. Had such been the case the prophet would surely have held throughout to one or the other of the two forms of suffering. His sufferer would have been either a leper or a convict, but hardly both. No doubt the details in vv. 8 and 9 are so realistic that they might well be the features of an actual miscarriage of justice; but the like happened too frequently in the Ancient East for such verses to be necessarily any one man's portrait. Perverted justice was the curse of the individual's life,—perverted justice and that stolid, fatalistic apathy of Oriental public opinion, which would probably regard such a sufferer as suffering for his sins the just vengeance of heaven, though the minister of this vengeance was a tyrant and its means were perjury and murder. Who of his generation reflected that for the transgression of my people the stroke was on him!

V. Ch. liii. 10-12. We have heard the awful tragedy. The innocent Servant was put to a violent and premature death. Public apathy closed over him and the unmarked earth of a felon's grave. It is so utter a perversion of justice, so signal a triumph of wrong over right, so final a disappearance into oblivion of the fairest life that ever lived, that men might be tempted to say, God has forsaken His own. On the contrary—so strophe v. begins—God's own will and pleasure have been in this tragedy: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him. The line as it thus stands in our English version has a grim, repulsive sound. But the Hebrew word has no necessary meaning of pleasure or enjoyment. All it says is, God so willed it. His purpose was in this[Pg 363] tragedy. Deus vult! It is the one message which can render any pain tolerable or light up with meaning a mystery so cruel as this: The LORD Himself had purposed to bruise His Servant, the LORD Himself had laid on him sickness (the figure of disease is resumed).

God's purpose in putting the Servant to death is explained in the rest of the verse. It was in order that through his soul making a guilt-offering, he might see a seed, prolong his days, and that the pleasure of the Lord might prosper by his hand.

What is a guilt-offering? The term originally meant guilt, and is so used by a prophet contemporary to our own.[231] In the legislation, however, both in the Pentateuch and in Ezekiel, it is applied to legal and sacrificial forms of restitution or reparation for guilt. It is only named in Ezekiel along with other sacrifices.[232] Both Numbers and Leviticus define it, but define it differently. In Numbers (v. 7, 8) it is the payment, which a transgressor has to make to the human person offended, of the amount to which he has harmed that person's property: it is what we call damages. But in Leviticus it is the ram, exacted over and above damages to the injured party (v. 14-16; vi. 1-7), or in cases where no damages were asked for (v. 17-19), by the priest, the representative of God, for satisfaction to His law; and it was required even where the offender had been an unwitting one. By this guilt-offering the priest made atonement for the sinner and he was forgiven. It was for this purpose of reparation to the Deity that the plagued Philistines sent a guilt-offering back with the ark of Jehovah, which they had stolen.[233] But there is another historical[Pg 364] passage, which though the term guilt-offering is not used in it, admirably illustrates the idea.[234] A famine in David's time was revealed to be due to the murder of certain Gibeonites by the house of Saul. David asked the Gibeonites what reparation he could make. They said it was not a matter of damages. But both parties felt that before the law of God could be satisfied and the land relieved of its curse, some atonement, some guilt-offering, must be made to the Divine Law. It was a wild kind of satisfaction that was paid. Seven men of Saul's house were hung up before the Lord in Gibeon. But the instinct, though satisfied in so murderous a fashion, was a true and a grand instinct,—the conscience of a law above all human laws and rights, to which homage must be paid before the sinner could come into true relations with God, or the Divine curse be lifted off.

It is in this sense that the word is used of the Servant of Jehovah, the Ideal, Representative Sufferer. Innocent as he is, he gives his life as satisfaction to the Divine law for the guilt of his people. His death was no mere martyrdom or miscarriage of human justice: in God's intent and purpose, but also by its own voluntary offering, it was an expiatory sacrifice.[235] By his death the Servant did homage to the law of God. By dying for it He made men feel that the supreme[Pg 365] end of man was to own that law and be in a right relation to it, and that the supreme service was to help others to a right relation. As it is said a little farther down, My Servant, righteous himself, wins righteousness for many, and makes their iniquities his load.

It surely cannot be difficult for any one, who knows what sin is, and what a part vicarious suffering plays both in the bearing of the sin and in the redemption of the sinner, to perceive that at this point the Servant's service for God and man reaches its crown. Compare his death and its sad meaning, with the brilliant energies of his earlier career. It is a heavy and an honourable thing to come from God to men, laden with God's truth for your charge and responsibility; but it is a far heavier to stoop and take upon your heart as your business and burden men's suffering and sin. It is a needful and a lovely thing to assist the feeble aspirations of men, to put yourself on the side of whatever in them is upward and living,—to be the shelter, as the Servant was, of the bruised reed and the fading wick; but it is more indispensable, and it is infinitely heavier, to seek to lift the deadness of men, to take their guilt upon your heart, to attempt to rouse them to it, to attempt to deliver them from it. It is a useful and a glorious thing to establish order and justice among men, to create a social conscience, to inspire the exercise of love and the habits of service, and this the Servant did when he set Law on the Earth, and the Isles waited for his teaching; but after all man's supreme and controlling relation is his relation to God, and to this their righteousness the Servant restored guilty men by his death.

And so it was at this point, according to our prophecy, that the Servant, though brought so low, was nearest his exaltation; though in death, yet nearest life, nearest the[Pg 366] highest kind of life, the seeing of a seed, the finding of himself in others; though despised, rejected and forgotten of men, most certain of finding a place among the great and notable forces of life,—therefore do I divide him a share with the great, and the spoil he shall share with the strong. Not because as a prophet he was a sharp sword in the hand of the Lord, or a light flashing to the ends of the earth, but in that—as the prophecy concludes, and it is the prophet's last and highest word concerning him—in that he bare the sin of the many, and interposed for the transgressors.

We have seen that the most striking thing about this prophecy is the spectral appearance of the Servant. He haunts, rather than is present in, the chapter. We hear of him, but he himself does not speak. We see faces that he startles, lips that the sight of him shuts, lips that the memory of him, after he has passed in silence, opens to bitter confession of neglect and misunderstanding; but himself we see not. His aspect and his bearing, his work for God and his influence on men, are shown to us, through the recollection and conscience of the speakers, with a vividness and a truth that draw the consciences of us who hear into the current of the confession, and take our hearts captive. But when we ask, Who was he then? What was his name among men? Where shall we find himself? Has he come, or do you still look for him?—neither the speakers, whose conscience he so smote, nor God, whose chief purpose he was, give us here any answer. In some verses he and his work seem already to have happened upon earth, but again we are made to feel that he is still future to the prophet,[Pg 367] and that the voices, which the prophet quotes as speaking of having seen him and found him to be the Saviour, are voices of a day not yet born, while the prophet writes.

But about five hundred and fifty years after this prophecy was written, a Man came forward among the sons of men,—among this very nation from whom the prophecy had arisen; and in every essential of consciousness and of experience He was the counterpart, embodiment and fulfilment of this Suffering Servant and his Service. Jesus Christ answers the questions, which the prophecy raises and leaves unanswered. In the prophecy we see one, who is only a spectre, a dream, a conscience without a voice, without a name, without a place in history. But in Jesus Christ of Nazareth the dream becomes a reality; He, whom we have seen in this chapter only as the purpose of God, only through the eyes and consciences of a generation yet unborn,—He comes forward in flesh and blood; He speaks, He explains Himself, He accomplishes almost to the last detail the work, the patience and the death that are here described as Ideal and Representative.

The correspondence of details between Christ's life and this prophecy, published five hundred and fifty years before He came, is striking; if we encountered it for the first time, it would be more than striking, it would be staggering. But do not let us do what so many have done—so fondly exaggerate it as to lose in the details of external resemblance the moral and spiritual identity.

For the external correspondence between this prophecy and the life of Jesus Christ is by no means perfect. Every wound that is set down in the fifty-third of Isaiah was not reproduced or fulfilled in the sufferings[Pg 368] of Jesus. For instance, Christ was not the sick, plague-stricken man, whom the Servant is at first represented to be. The English translators have masked the leprous figure, that stands out so clearly in the original Hebrew,—for acquainted with grief, bearing our griefs, put him to grief, we should in each case read sickness. Now Christ was no Job. As Matthew points out, the only way He could be said to bear our sicknesses and to carry our pains was by healing them, not by sharing them.

And again, exactly as the judicial murder of the Servant, and the entire absence from his contemporaries of any idea that he suffered a vicarious death, suit the case of Christ, the next stage in the Servant's fate was not true of the Victim of Pilate and the Pharisees. Christ's grave was not with the wicked. He suffered as a felon without the walls on the common place of execution, but friends received the body and gave it an honourable burial in a friend's grave. Or take the clause, with the rich in his death. It is doubtful whether the word is really rich, and ought not to be a closer synonym of wicked in the previous clause; but if it be rich, it is simply another name for the wicked, who in the East, in cases of miscarried justice, are so often coupled with the evildoers. It cannot possibly denote such a man as Joseph of Arimathea; nor, is it to be observed, do the Evangelists in describing Christ's burial in that rich and pious man's tomb take any notice of this line about the Suffering Servant.

But the absence of a complete incidental correspondence only renders more striking the moral and spiritual correspondence, the essential likeness between the Service set forth in ch. liii. and the work of our Lord.

The speakers of ch. liii. set the Servant over against themselves, and in solitariness of character and office.[Pg 369] They count him alone sinless where all they have sinned, and him alone the agent of salvation and healing where their whole duty is to look on and believe. But this is precisely the relation which Christ assumed between Himself and the nation. He was on one side, all they on the other. Against their strong effort to make Him the First among them, it was, as we have said before, the constant aim of our Lord to assert and to explain Himself as The Only.

And this Onlyness was to be realised in suffering. He said, I must suffer; or again, It behoves the Christ to suffer. Suffering is the experience in which men feel their oneness with their kind. Christ, too, by suffering felt His oneness with men; but largely in order to assert a singularity beyond. Through suffering He became like unto men, but only that He might effect through suffering a lonely and a singular service for them. For though He suffered in all points as men did, yet He shared none of their universal feelings about suffering. Pain never drew from Him either of those two voices of guilt or of doubt. Pain never reminded Christ of His own past, nor made Him question God.

Nor did He seek pain for any end in itself. There have been men who have done so; fanatics who have gloried in pain; superstitious minds that have fancied it to be meritorious; men whose wounds have been as mouths to feed their pride, or to publish their fidelity to their cause. But our Lord shrank from pain; if it had been possible He would have willed not to bear it: Father, save Me from this hour; Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from Me. And when He submitted and was under the agony, it was not in the feeling of it, nor in the impression it made on others, nor in the manner in which it drew men's hearts to Him, nor in the seal[Pg 370] it set on the truth, but in something beyond it, that He found His end and satisfaction. Jesus looked out of the travail of His soul and was satisfied.

For, firstly, He knew His pain to be God's will for an end outside Himself,—I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished: Father, save Me from this hour, yet for this cause came I to this hour: Father, Thy will be done,—and all opportunities to escape as temptations.

And, secondly, like the Servant, Jesus dealt prudently, had insight. The will of God in His suffering was no mystery to Him. He understood from the first why He was to suffer.[236]

The reasons He gave were the same two and in the same order as are given by our prophet for the sufferings of the Servant,—first, that fidelity to God's truth could bring with it no other fate in Israel;[237] then that His death was necessary for the sins of men, and as men's ransom from sin. In giving the first of these reasons for His death, Christ likened Himself to the prophets who had gone before Him in Jerusalem; but in the second He matched Himself with no other, and no other has ever been known in this to match himself with Jesus.

When men, then, stand up and tell us that Christ suffered only for the sake of sympathy with His kind, or only for loyalty to the truth, we have to tell them that this was not the whole of Christ's own consciousness, this was not the whole of Christ's own explanation. Suffering, which leads men into the sense of oneness[Pg 371] with their kind, only made Him, as it grew the nearer and weighed the heavier, more emphatic upon His difference from other men. If He Himself, by His pity, by His labours of healing (as Matthew points out), and by all His intercourse with His people, penetrated more deeply into the participation of human suffering, the very days which marked with increasing force His sympathy with men, only laid more bare their want of sympathy with Him, their incapacity to follow into that unique conscience and understanding of a Passion, which He bore not only with, but, as He said, for His brethren. Who believed that which we heard, and to whom was the arm of the Lord revealed? As to His generation, who reflected ... that for the transgression of my people He was stricken? Again, while Christ indeed brought truth to earth from heaven, and was for truth's sake condemned by men to die, the burden which He found waiting Him on earth, man's sin, was ever felt by Him to be a heavier burden and responsibility than the delivery of the truth; and was in fact the thing, which, apart from the things for which men might put Him to death, remained the reason of His death in His own sight and in that of His Father. And He told men why He felt their sin to be so heavy, because it kept them so far from God, and this was His purpose, He said, in bearing it—that He might bring us back to God; not primarily that He might relieve us of the suffering which followed sin, though He did so relieve some when He pardoned them, but that He might restore us to right relations with God,—might, like the Servant, make many righteous. Now it was Christ's confidence to be able to do this, which distinguished Him from all others, upon whom has most heavily fallen the conscience of their people's sins, and who have most keenly felt the duty and commission from God[Pg 372] of vicarious suffering. If, like Moses, one sometimes dared for love's sake to offer his life for the life of his people, none, under the conscience and pain of their people's sins, ever expressed any consciousness of thereby making their brethren righteous. On the contrary, even a Jeremiah, whose experience, as we have seen, comes so wonderfully near the picture of the Representative Sufferer in ch. liii.,—even a Jeremiah feels, with the increase of his vicarious pain and conscience of guilt, only the more perplexed, only the deeper in despair, only the less able to understand God and the less hopeful to prevail with Him. But Christ was sure of His power to remove men's sins, and was never more emphatic about that power than when He most felt those sins' weight.

And He has seen His seed; He has made many righteous. We found it to be uncertain whether the penitent speakers in ch. liii. understood that the Servant by coming under the physical sufferings, which were the consequences of their sins, relieved them of these consequences; other passages in the prophecy would seem to imply, that, while the Servant's sufferings were alone valid for righteousness, they did not relieve the rest of the nation from suffering too. And so it would be going beyond what God has given us to know, if we said that God counts the sufferings on the Cross, which were endured for our sins, as an equivalent for, or as sufficient to do away with, the sufferings which these sins bring upon our minds, our bodies and our social relations. Substitution of this kind is neither affirmed by the penitents who speak in the fifty-third of Isaiah, nor is it an invariable or essential part of the experience of those who have found forgiveness through Christ. Every day penitents turn to God through Christ, and[Pg 373] are assured of forgiveness, who feel no abatement in the rigour of the retribution of those laws of God, which they have offended; like David after his forgiveness, they have to continue to bear the consequences of their sins. But dark as this side of experience undoubtedly is, only the more conspicuously against the darkness does the other side of experience shine. By believing what they have heard, reaching this belief through a quicker conscience and a closer study of Christ's words about His death, men, upon whom conscience by itself and sore punishment have worked in vain, have been struck into penitence, have been assured of pardon, have been brought into right relations with God, have felt all the melting and the bracing effects of the knowledge that another has suffered in their stead. Nay, let us consider this—the physical consequences of their sins may have been left to be endured by such men, for no other reason than in order to make their new relation to God more sensible to them, while they feel those consequences no longer with the feeling of penalty, but with that of chastisement and discipline. Surely nothing could serve more strongly than this to reveal the new conscience towards God that has been worked within them. This inward righteousness is made more plain by the continuance of the physical and social consequences of their sins than it would have been had these consequences been removed.

Thus Christ, like the Servant, became a force in the world, inheriting in the course of Providence a portion with the great and dividing the spoils of history with the strong. As has often been said, His Cross is His Throne, and it is by His death that He has ruled the ages. Yet we must not understand this as if His Power was only or mostly shown in binding men, by[Pg 374] gratitude for the salvation He won them, to own Him for their King. His power has been even more conspicuously proved in making His fashion of service the most fruitful and the most honoured among men. If men have ceased to turn from sickness with aversion or from weakness with contempt; if they have learned to see in all pain some law of God, and in vicarious suffering God's most holy service; if patience and self-sacrifice have come in any way to be a habit of human life,—the power in this change has been Christ. But because these two—to say, Thy will be done, and to sacrifice self—are for us men the hardest and the most unnatural of things to do, Jesus Christ, in making these a conscience and a habit upon earth, has indeed shown Himself able to divide the spoil with the strong, has indeed performed the very highest Service for Man of which man can conceive.

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We have now reached the summit of our prophecy. It has been a long, steep ascent, and we have had very much to seek out on the way, and to extricate and solve and load ourselves with. But although a long extent of the prophecy, if we measure it by chapters, still lies before us, the end is in sight; every difficulty has been surmounted which kept us from seeing how we were to get to it, and the rest of the way may be said to be down-hill.

To drop the figure—the Servant, his vicarious suffering and atonement for the sins of the people, form for our prophet the solution of the spiritual problem of the nation's restoration, and what he has now to do is but to fill in the details of this.

We saw that the problem of Israel's deliverance from Exile, their Return, and their Restoration to their position in their own land as the Chief Servant of God to humanity, was really a double problem—political and spiritual. The solution of the political side of it was Cyrus. As soon as the prophet had been able to make it certain that Cyrus was moving down upon Babylon, with a commission from God to take the city, and irresistible in the power with which Jehovah had invested him, the political difficulties in the way of Israel's Return were as good as removed; and so the prophet gave, in the end of ch. xlviii., his great call to his countrymen to[Pg 378] depart. But all through chs. xl.-xlviii., while addressing himself to the solution of the political problems of Israel's deliverance, the prophet had given hints that there were moral and spiritual difficulties as well. In spite of their punishment for more than half a century, the mass of the people were not worthy of a return. Many were idolaters; many were worldly; the orthodox had their own wrong views of how salvation should come (xlv. 9 ff.); the pious were without either light or faith (l. 10). The nation, in short, had not that inward righteousness, which could alone justify God in vindicating them before the world, in establishing their outward righteousness, their salvation and reinstatement in their lofty place and calling as His people. These moral difficulties come upon the prophet with greater force after he has, with the close of ch. xlviii., finished his solution of the political ones. To these moral difficulties he addresses himself in xlix.-liii., and the Servant and his Service are his solution of them:—the Servant as a Prophet and a Covenant of the People in ch. xlix. and in ch. l. 4 ff.; the Servant as an example to the people, ch. l. ff.; and finally the Servant as a full expiation for the people's sins in ch. lii. 13-liii. It is the Servant who is to raise up the land, and to bring back the heirs to the desolate heritages, and rouse the Israel who are not willing to leave Babylon, saying to the bound, Go forth; and to them that sit in darkness, Show yourselves (xlix. 8, 9). It is he who is to sustain the weary and to comfort the pious in Israel, who, though pious, have no light as they walk on their way back (l. 4, 10). It is the Servant finally who is to achieve the main problem of all and make many righteous (liii. 11). The hope of restoration, the certainty of the people's redemption, the certainty of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the certainty of the growth[Pg 379] of the people to a great multitude, are, therefore, all woven by the prophet through and through with his studies of the Servant's work in xlix., l., and lii. 13-liii.,—woven so closely and so naturally that, as we have already seen (pp. 313 f., 336 ff.), we cannot take any part of chs. xlix.-liii. and say that it is of different authorship from the rest. Thus in ch. xlix. we have the road to Jerusalem pictured in vv. 9b-13, immediately upon the back of the Servant's call to go forth in ver. 9a. We have then the assurance of Zion being rebuilt and thronged by her children in vv. 14-23, and another affirmation of the certainty of redemption in vv. 24-26; In l. 1-3 this is repeated. In li.-lii. 12 the petty people is assured that it shall grow innumerable again; new affirmations are made of its ransom and return, ending with the beautiful prospect of the feet of the heralds of deliverance on the mountains of Judah (lii. 7b) and a renewed call to leave Babylon (vv. 11, 12). We shall treat all these passages in our Twenty-First Chapter.

And as they started naturally from the Servant's work in xlix. 1-9a and his example in l. 4-11, so upon his final and crowning work in ch. liii. there follow as naturally ch. liv. (the prospect of the seed that liii. 10 promised he should see), and ch. lv. (a new call to come forth). These two, with the little pre-exilic prophecy, ch. lvi. 1-8, we shall treat in our Twenty-Second Chapter.

Then come the series of difficult small prophecies with pre-exilic traces in them, from lvi. 9-lix. They will occupy our Twenty-Third Chapter. In ch. lx. Zion is at last not only in sight, but radiant in the rising of her new day of glory. In chs. lxi. and lxii. the prophet, having reached Zion, "looks back," as Dillmann well remarks, "upon what has become his task, and in connection[Pg 380] with that makes clear once more the high goal of all his working and striving." In lxiii. 1-6 the Divine Deliverer is hailed. We shall take lx.-lxiii. 6 together in our Twenty-Fourth Chapter.

Ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv. is an Intercessory Prayer for the restoration of all Israel. It is answered in ch. lxv., and the lesson of this answer, that Israel must be judged, and that all cannot be saved, is enforced in ch. lxvi. Chs. lxiii. 7-lxvi. will therefore form our Twenty-Fifth and closing Chapter.

Thus our course is clear, and we can overtake it rapidly. It is, to a large extent, a series of spectacles, interrupted by exhortations upon duty; things, in fact, to see and to hear, not to argue about. There are few great doctrinal questions, except what we have already sufficiently discussed; our study, for instance, of the term righteousness, we shall find has covered for us a large part of the ground in advance. And the only difficult literary question is that of the pre-exilic and post-exilic pieces, which are alleged to form so large a part of chs. lvi.-lix. and lxiii.-lxvi.

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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),[238] 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 of[Pg 382] 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,[Pg 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.[239] 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 its[Pg 384] 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.[240] 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.[Pg 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![241] 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 I[Pg 386] 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 that[Pg 387] 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 tyrant[242] 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.[243]

"What now is this letter of divorce,—this that you are saying I have given your mother? You say that[Pg 388] 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. God[Pg 389] 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,[Pg 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: if[Pg 391] 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 prevalent[Pg 392] 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.[244] 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, ye[Pg 393] 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 impatience[Pg 394] 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.,[245] 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.[246]

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[Pg 395] 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 that[Pg 396] 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.

[Pg 397]



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. lvi. 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.[247] 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[Pg 398] picture that full redemption which the Servant's work, culminating in ch. liii., could alone effect. Two keywords 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. l., 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. 11, 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 approximate; 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[Pg 399] to point out a supreme instance of the operation of that unique conscience of the religion of Jehovah, which was spoken of before,[248] 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 licentiousness the example and sanction of religion. So debased 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 marriage, 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 absolute 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[Pg 400][249] men, this close relation to Him of marriage was expressed 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 unpleasant 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, were 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 undercurrent 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[Pg 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. lxii. 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.[250] 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 shalt 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[251] I 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[Pg 402] 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 foundation 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,[252] 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 repentance 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[Pg 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.[253] 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. 4b-6, the only hard[Pg 404] 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.[254] God will conclude an everlasting covenant with them, equivalent 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[Pg 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 transferred 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[255] tossing their unlopped[Pg 406] 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. lvi. 1-8).

The opening verse of this small prophecy, My salvation 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. lvi. 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 themselves to Jehovah and His Law.

Such a prophecy was very necessary. The dispersion 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 converts 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.[256] Again, all the[Pg 407] male Jews could hardly have escaped the disqualification, 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 foreshadows Christ's own expansion of the ancient strictness, 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 community of God,—that in the new temple a monument[257] and a name should be given, better and more enduring than sons or daughters. This prophecy is further noteworthy 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 almost every religious act save that of keeping fasts and Sabbaths and serving God in prayer. On our prophet's teaching about the Sabbath there will be more to say in the next chapter.

[Pg 408]



Isaiah lvi. 9-lix.

It was inevitable, as soon as their city was again fairly in sight, that there should re-awaken in the exiles the civic conscience; that recollections of those besetting sins of their public life, for which their city and their independence were destroyed, should throng back upon them; that in prospect of their again becoming responsible for the discharge of justice and other political duties, they should be reminded by the prophet of their national faults in these respects, and of God's eternal laws concerning them. If we keep this in mind, we shall understand the presence in "Second Isaiah" of the group of prophecies at which we have now arrived, ch. lvi. 9-lix. Hitherto our prophet, in marked contrast to Isaiah himself, has said almost nothing of the social righteousness of his people. Israel's righteousness, as we saw in our fourteenth chapter, has had the very different meaning for our prophet of her pardon and restoration to her rights. But in ch. lvi. 9-lix. we shall find the blame of civic wrong, and of other kinds of sin of which Israel could only have been guilty in her own land; we shall listen to exhortations to social justice and mercy like those we heard from Isaiah to his generation. Yet these are mingled with[Pg 409] voices, and concluded with promises, which speak of the Return as imminent. Undoubtedly exilic elements reveal themselves. And the total impression is that some prophet of the late Exile, and probably the one, whom we have been following, collected these reminiscences of his people's sin in the days of their freedom, in order to remind them, before they went back again to political responsibility, why it was they were punished and how apt they were to go astray. Believing this to be the true solution of a somewhat difficult problem, we have ventured to gather this mixed group of prophecies under the title of the Rekindling of the Civic Conscience. They fall into three groups: first, ch. lvi. 9-lvii.; second, ch. lviii.; third, ch. lix. We shall see that, while there is no reason to doubt the exilic origin of the whole of the second, the first and third of these are mainly occupied with the description of a state of things that prevailed only before the Exile, but they contain also exilic observations and conclusions.

I. A Conscience but no God (ch. lvi. 9-lvii.).

This is one of the sections which almost decisively place the literary unity of "Second Isaiah" past possibility of belief. If ch. lvi. 1-8 flushes with the dawn of restoration, ch. lvi. 9-lvii. is very dark with the coming of the night, which preceded that dawn. Almost none dispute, that the greater part of this prophecy must have been composed before the people left Palestine for exile. The state of Israel, which it pictures, recalls the descriptions of Hosea, and of the eleventh chapter of Zechariah. God's flock are still in charge of their own shepherds (lvi. 9-12),—a description inapplicable to Israel in exile. The shepherds[Pg 410] are sleepy, greedy, sensual, drunkards,—victims to the curse, against which Amos and Isaiah hurled their strongest woes. That sots like them should be spared while the righteous die unnoticed deaths (lvii. 1) can only be explained by the approaching judgement. No man considereth that the righteous is taken away from the Evil. The Evil cannot mean, as some have thought, persecution,—for while the righteous are to escape it and enter into peace, the wicked are spared for it. It must be a Divine judgement,—the Exile. But he entereth peace, they rest in their beds, each one that hath walked straight before him,—for the righteous there is the peace of death and the undisturbed tomb of his fathers. What an enviable fate when emigration, and dispersion through foreign lands, are the prospect of the nation! Israel shall find her pious dead when she returns! The verse recalls that summons in Isa. xxvi., in which we heard the Mother Nation calling upon the dead she had left in Palestine to rise and increase her returned numbers.

Then the prophet indicts the nation for a religious and political unfaithfulness, which we know was their besetting sin in the days before they left the Holy Land. The scenery, in whose natural objects he describes them seeking their worship, is the scenery of Palestine, not of Mesopotamia,—terebinths and wâdies, and clefts of the rocks, and smooth stones of the wâdies. The unchaste and bloody sacrifices with which he charges them bear the appearance more of Canaanite than of Babylonian idolatry. The humiliating political suits which they paid—thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thine ambassadors afar off, and didst debase thyself even unto Sheol (ver. 9)—could not be attributed to a[Pg 411] captive people, but were the sort of degrading diplomacy that Israel learned from Ahaz. While the painful pursuit of strength (ver. 10), the shabby political cowardice (ver. 11), the fanatic sacrifice of manhood's purity and childhood's life (ver. 5), and especially the evil conscience which drove their blind hearts through such pain and passion in a sincere quest for righteousness (ver. 12), betray the age of idolatrous reaction from the great Puritan victory of 701,—a generation exaggerating all the old falsehood and fear, against which Isaiah had inveighed, with the new conscience of sin which his preaching had created.[258] The dark streak of blood and lust that runs through the condemned idolatry, and the stern conscience which only deepens its darkness, are sufficient reasons for dating the prophecy after 700. The very phrases of Isaiah, which it contains, have tempted some to attribute it to himself. But it certainly does not date from such troubles as brought his old age to the grave. The evil, which it portends, is, as we have seen, no persecution of the righteous, but a Divine judgement upon the whole nation,—presumably the Exile. We may date it, therefore, some time after Isaiah's death, but certainly—and this is the important point—before the Exile. This, then, is an unmistakably pre-exilic constituent of "Second Isaiah."

Another feature corroborates this prophecy's original independence of its context. Its style is immediately and extremely rugged. The reader of the original feels the difference at once. It is the difference between travel on the level roads of Mesopotamia, with their unchanging horizons, and the jolting carriage of the[Pg 412] stony paths of Higher Palestine, with their glimpses rapidly shifting from gorge to peak. But the remarkable thing is that the usual style of "Second Isaiah" is resumed before the end of the prophecy. One cannot always be sure of the exact verse at which such a literary change takes place. In this case some feel it as soon as the middle of ver. 11, with the words, Have not I held My peace even of long time, and thou fearest Me not?[259] It is surely more sensible, however, after ver. 14, in which we are arrested in any case by an alteration of standpoint. In ver. 14 we are on in the Exile again—before ver. 14 I cannot recognise any exilic symptom—and the way of return is before us. And one said,—it is the repetition to the letter of the strange anonymous voice of ch. xl. 6,—and one said, Cast ye up, Cast ye up, open up, or sweep open, a way, lift the stumbling block from the way of My people. And now the rhythm has certainly returned to the prevailing style of "Second Isaiah," and the temper is again that of promise and comfort.

These sudden shiftings of circumstance and of prospect are enough to show the thoughtful reader of Scripture how hard is the problem of the unity of "Second Isaiah." On which we make here no further remark, but pass at once to the more congenial task of studying the great prophecy, vv. 14-21, which rises one and simple from these fragments as does some homogeneous rock from the confusing débris of several geological epochs.

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For let the date and original purpose of the fragments we have considered be what they may, this prophecy has been placed as their conclusion with at least some rational, not to say spiritual, intention. As it suddenly issues here, it gathers up, in the usual habit of Scripture, God's moral indictment of an evil generation, by a great manifesto of the Divine nature, and a sharp distinction of the characters and fate of men. Now, of what kind is the generation, to whose indictment this prophecy comes as a conclusion? It is a generation which has lost its God, but kept its conscience. This sums up the national character which is sketched in vv. 3-13. These Israelites had lost Jehovah and His pure law. But the religion into which they fell back was not, therefore, easy or cold. On the contrary, it was very intense and very stern. The people put energy in it, and passion, and sacrifice that went to cruel lengths. Belief, too, in its practical results kept the people from fainting under the weariness in which its fanaticism reacted. In the length of thy way thou wast wearied, yet thou didst not say, It is hopeless; life for thy hand—that is, real, practical strength—didst thou find: wherefore thou didst not break down. And they practised their painful and passionate idolatry with a real conscience. They were seeking to work out righteousness for themselves (ver. 12 should be rendered: I will expose your righteousness, the caricature of righteousness which you attempt). The most worldly statesman among them had his sincere ideal for Israel, and intended to enable her, in the possession of her land and holy mountain, to fulfil her destiny (ver. 13). The most gross idolater had a hunger and thirst after righteousness, and burnt his children or sacrificed his purity[Pg 414] to satisfy the vague promptings of his unenlightened conscience.

It was indeed a generation which had kept its conscience, but lost its God; and what we have in vv. 15 to 21 is just the lost and forgotten God speaking of His Nature and His Will. They have been worshipping idols, creatures of their own fears and cruel passions. But He is the high and lofty one—two of the simplest adjectives in the language, yet sufficient to lift Him they describe above the distorting mists of human imagination. They thought of the Deity as sheer wrath and force, scarcely to be appeased by men even through the most bloody rites and passionate self-sacrifice. But He says, The high and the holy I dwell in, yet with him also that is contrite and humble of spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. The rest of the chapter is to the darkened consciences a plain statement of the moral character of God's working. God always punishes sin, and yet the sinner is not abandoned. Though he go in his own way, God watches his ways in order to heal him. I create the fruit of the lips, that is, thanksgivings: Peace, peace, to him that is far off and him that is near, saith Jehovah, and I will heal him. But, as in ch. xlviii. and ch. l., a warning comes last, and behind the clear, forward picture of the comforted and restored of Jehovah we see the weird background of gloomy, restless wickedness.

II. Social Service and the Sabbath (ch. lviii.).

Several critics (including Professor Cheyne) regard ch. lviii. as post-exilic, because of its declarations against formal fasting and the neglect of social charity,[Pg 415] which are akin to those of post-exilic prophets like Zechariah and Joel, and seem to imply that the people addressed are again independent and responsible for the conduct of their social duties. The question largely turns on the amount of social responsibility we conceive the Jews to have had during the Exile. Now we have seen that many of them enjoyed considerable freedom: they had their houses and households; they had their slaves; they traded and were possessed of wealth. They were, therefore, in a position to be chargeable with the duties to which ch. lviii. calls them. The addresses of Ezekiel to his fellow-exiles have many features in common with ch. lviii., although they do not mention fasting; and fasting itself was a characteristic habit of the exiles, in regard to which it is quite likely they should err just as is described in ch. lviii. Moreover, there is a resemblance between this chapter's comments upon the people's enquiries of God (ver. 2) and Ezekiel's reply when certain of the elders of Israel came to enquire of Jehovah.[260] And again vv. 11 and 12 of ch. lviii. are evidently addressed to people in prospect of return to their own land and restoration of their city. We accordingly date ch. lviii. from the Exile. But we see no reason to put it as early as Ewald does, who assigns it to a younger contemporary of Ezekiel. There is no linguistic evidence that it is an insertion, or from another hand than that of our prophet. Surely there were room and occasion for it in those years which followed the actual deliverance of the Jews by Cyrus, but preceded the restoration of Jerusalem,—those years in which there were no longer political problems[Pg 416] in the way of the people's return for our prophet to discuss, and therefore their moral defects were all the more thrust upon his attention; and especially, when in the near prospect of their political independence, their social sins roused his apprehensions.

Those, who have never heard an angry Oriental speak, have no idea of what power of denunciation lies in the human throat. In the East, where a dry climate and large leisure bestow upon the voice a depth and suppleness prevented by our vulgar haste of life and teasing weather, men have elaborated their throat-letters to a number unknown in any Western alphabet; and upon the lowest notes they have put an edge, that comes up shrill and keen through the roar of the upper gutturals, till you feel their wrath cut as well as sweep you before it. In the Oriental throat, speech goes down deep enough to echo all the breadth of the inner man; while the possibility of expressing within so supple an organ nearly every tone of scorn or surprise preserves anger from that suspicion of spite or of exhaustion, which is conveyed by too liberal a use of the nasal or palatal letters. Hence in the Hebrew language to call with the throat means to call with vehemence, but with self-command; with passion, yet as a man; using every figure of satire, but earnestly; neither forgetting wrath for mere art's sake, nor allowing wrath to escape the grip of the stronger muscles of the voice. It is to lift the voice like a trumpet,—an instrument, which, with whatever variety of music its upper notes may indulge our ears, never suffers its main tone of authority to drop, never slacks its imperative appeal to the wills of the hearers.

This is the style of the chapter before us, which opens with the words, Call with the throat, spare not, lift up[Pg 417] thy voice like a trumpet. Perhaps no subject more readily provokes to satire and sneers than the subject of the chapter,—the union of formal religion and unlovely life. And yet in the chapter there is not a sneer from first to last. The speaker suppresses the temptation to use his nasal tones, and utters, not as the satirist, but as the prophet. For his purpose is not to sport with his people's hypocrisy, but to sweep them out of it. Before he has done, his urgent speech, that has not lingered to sneer nor exhausted itself in screaming, passes forth to spend its unchecked impetus upon final promise and gospel. It is a wise lesson from a master preacher, and half of the fruitlessness of modern preaching is due to the neglect of it. The pulpit tempts men to be either too bold or too timid about sin; either to whisper or to scold; to euphemise or to exaggerate; to be conventional or hysterical. But two things are necessary,—the facts must be stated, and the whole manhood of the preacher, and not only his scorn or only his anger or only an official temper, brought to bear upon them. Call with the throat, spare not, like a trumpet lift up thy voice, and publish to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sin.

The subject of the chapter is the habits of a religious people,—the earnestness and regularity of their religious performance contrasted with the neglect of their social relations. The second verse, "the descriptions in which are evidently drawn from life,"[261] tells us that the people sought God daily, and had a zeal to know His ways, as a nation that had done righteousness,—fulfilled the legal worship,—and had not forsaken the law[262] of their God: they ask of Me laws[262] of righteousness,—that is, a legal[Pg 418] worship, the performance of which might make them righteous,—and in drawing near to God they take delight. They had, in fact, a great greed for ordinances and functions,[263]—for the revival of such forms as they had been accustomed to of old. Like some poor prostrate rose, whose tendrils miss the props by which they were wont to rise to the sun, the religious conscience and affections of Israel, violently torn from their immemorial supports, lay limp and windswept on a bare land, and longed for God to raise some substitute for those altars of Zion by which, in the dear days of old, they had lifted themselves to the light of His face. In the absence of anything better, they turned to the chill and shadowed forms of the fasts they had instituted.[264] But they did not thereby reach the face of God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and Thou hast not seen? we have humbled our souls, and Thou takest no notice? The answer comes swiftly: Because your fasting is a mere form! Lo, in the very day of your fast ye find a business to do, and all your workmen you overtask. So formal is your fasting that your ordinary eager, selfish, cruel life goes on beside it just the same. Nay, it is worse than usual, for your worthless, wearisome fast but puts a sharper edge upon your temper: Lo, for strife and contention ye fast, to smile with the fist of tyranny. And it has no religious value: Ye fast not like as you are fasting to-day so as to make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose,—a day for a man to afflict himself? Is it to droop his head like a rush, and grovel on sackcloth and ashes? Is it this thou wilt call a fast[Pg 419] and a day acceptable to Jehovah? One of the great surprises of the human heart is, that self-denial does not win merit or peace. But assuredly it does not, if love be not with it. Though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Self-denial without love is self-indulgence. Is not this the fast that I choose? to loosen the bonds of tyranny, to shatter the joints of the yoke, to let the crushed go free, and that ye burst every yoke. Is it not to break to the hungry thy bread, and that thou bring home wandering poor?[265] when thou seest one naked that thou cover him, and that from thine own flesh thou hide not thyself? Then shall break forth like the morning thy light, and thy health[266] shall immediately spring. Yea, go before thee shall thy righteousness, the glory of Jehovah shall sweep thee on, literally, gather thee up. Then thou shalt call, and Jehovah shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here am I. If thou shalt put from thy midst the yoke, and the putting forth of the finger, and the speaking of naughtiness—three degrees of the subtlety of selfishness, which when forced back from violent oppression will retreat to scorn and from open scorn to backbiting,—and if thou draw out to the hungry thy soul,—tear out what is dear to thee in order to fill his need, the strongest expression for self-denial which the Old Testament contains,—and satisfy the soul that is afflicted, then shall uprise in the darkness thy light, and thy gloom[Pg 420] shall be as the noonday. And guide thee shall Jehovah continually, and satisfy thy soul in droughts, and thy limbs make lissom; and thou shalt be like a garden well-watered,[267] and like a spring of water whose waters fail not. And they that are of thee shall build the ancient ruins; the foundations of generation upon generation thou shalt raise up, and they shall be calling thee Repairer-of-the-Breach, Restorer-of-Paths-for-habitation.[268] Thus their righteousness in the sense of external vindication and stability, which so prevails with our prophet, shall be due to their righteousness in that inward moral sense in which Amos and Isaiah use the word. And so concludes a passage, which fills the earliest, if not the highest, place in the glorious succession of Scriptures of Practical Love, to which belong the Sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, the Twenty-fifth of Matthew and the Thirteenth of First Corinthians. Its lesson is,—to go back to the figure of the draggled rose,—that no mere forms of religion, however divinely prescribed or conscientiously observed, can of themselves lift the distraught and trailing affections of man to the light and peace of Heaven; but that our fellow-men, if we cling to them with love and with arms of help, are ever the strongest props by which we may rise to God; that character grows rich and life joyful, not by the performance of ordinances with the cold conscience of duty, but by acts of service with the warm heart of love.

And yet such a prophecy concludes with an exhortation to the observance of one religious form, and places the keeping of the Sabbath on a level with the practice of love. If thou turn from the Sabbath thy foot, from doing thine own business on My holy day;[269] and callest the[Pg 421] Sabbath Pleasure,—the word is a strong one, Delight, Delicacy, Luxury,—Holy of Jehovah, Honourable; and dost honour it so as not to do thine own ways, or find thine own business, or keep making talk: then thou shalt find thy pleasure, or thy delight, in Jehovah,—note the parallel of pleasure in the Sabbath and pleasure in Jehovah,—and He shall cause thee to ride on the high places of the land, and make thee to feed upon the portion of Jacob thy father: yea, the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken.

Our prophet, then, while exalting the practical Service of Man at the expense of certain religious forms, equally exalts the observance of Sabbath; his scorn for their formalism changes when he comes to it into a strenuous enthusiasm of defence. This remarkable fact, which is strictly analogous to the appearance of the Fourth Commandment in a code otherwise consisting of purely moral and religious laws, is easily explained. Observe that our prophet bases his plea for Sabbath-keeping, and his assurance that it must lead to prosperity, not on its physical, moral or social benefits, but simply upon its acknowledgment of God. Not only is the Sabbath to be honoured because it is the Holy of Jehovah and Honourable, but making it one's pleasure is equivalent to finding one's pleasure in Him. The parallel between these two phrases in ver. 13 and ver. 14 is evident, and means really this: Inasmuch as ye do it unto the Sabbath, ye do it unto Me. The prophet, then, enforces the Sabbath simply on account of its religious and Godward aspect. Now, let us remember the truth, which he so often enforces, that the Service of Man, however ardently and widely pursued, can never lead or sum up our duty; that the Service of God has, logically and practically, a prior claim, for without it the Service of Man must suffer both in[Pg 422] obligation and in resource. God must be our first resort—must have our first homage, affection and obedience. But this cannot well take place without some amount of definite and regular and frequent devotion to Him. In the most spiritual religion there is an irreducible minimum of formal observance. Now, in that wholesale destruction of religious forms, which took place at the overthrow of Jerusalem,[270] there was only one institution, which was not necessarily involved. The Sabbath did not fall with the Temple and the Altar: the Sabbath was independent of all locality; the Sabbath was possible even in exile. It was the one solemn, public and frequently regular form in which the nation could turn to God, glorify Him and enjoy Him. Perhaps, too, through the Babylonian fashion of solemnising the seventh day, our prophet realised again the primitive institution of the Sabbath, and was reminded that, since seven days is a regular part of the natural year, the Sabbath is, so to speak, sanctioned by the statutes of Creation.

An institution, which is so primitive, which is so independent of locality, which forms so natural a part of the course of time, but which, above all, has twice—in the Jewish Exile and in the passage of Judaism to Christianity—survived the abrogation and disappearance of all other forms of the religion with which it was connected, and has twice been affirmed by prophecy or practice to be an essential part of spiritual religion and the equal of social morality,—has amply proved its Divine origin and its indispensableness to man.

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III. Social Crimes (ch. lix.).

Ch. lix. is, at first sight, the most difficult of all of "Second Isaiah" to assign to a date.[271] For it evidently contains both pre-exilic and exilic elements. On the one hand, its charges of guilt imply that the people addressed by it are responsible for civic justice to a degree, which could hardly be imputed to the Jews in Babylon. We saw that the Jews in the Exile had an amount of social freedom and domestic responsibility which amply accounts for the kind of sins they are charged with in ch. lviii. But ver. 14 of ch. lix. reproaches them with the collapse of justice in the very seat and public office of justice, of which it was not possible they could have been guilty except in their own land and in the days of their independence. On the other hand, the promises of deliverance in ch. lix. read very much as if they were exilic. Judgement and righteousness are employed in ver. 9 in their exilic sense,[272] and God is pictured exactly as we have seen Him in other chapters of our prophet.

Are we then left with a mystery? On the contrary, the solution is clear. Israel is followed into exile by her old conscience. The charges of Isaiah and Ezekiel against Jerusalem, while Jerusalem was still a "civitas," ring in her memory. She repeats the very words. With truth she says that her present state, so vividly[Pg 424] described in vv. 9-11, is due to sins of old, of which, though perhaps she can no longer commit them, she still feels the guilt. Conscience always crowds the years together; there is no difference of time in the eyes of God the Judge. And it was natural, as we have said already, that the nation should remember her besetting sins at this time; that her civic conscience should awake again, just as she was again about to become a civitas.[273][274]

The whole of this chapter is simply the expansion and enforcement of the first two verses, that keep clanging like the clangour of a great, high bell: Behold, Jehovah's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is His ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have been separators between you and your God, and your[Pg 425] sins have hidden His face from you, that He will not hear. There is but one thing that comes between the human heart and the Real Presence and Infinite Power of God; and that one thing is Sin. The chapter labours to show how real God is. Its opening verses talk of His Hand, His Ear, His Face. And the closing verses paint Him with the passions and the armour of a man,—a Hero in such solitude and with such forward force, that no imagination can fail to see the Vivid, Lonely Figure. And He saw that there was no man, and He wondered that there was none to interpose; therefore His own right arm brought salvation unto Him, and His righteousness it upheld Him. And He put on righteousness like a breastplate and salvation for an helmet upon His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped Himself in zeal like a robe. Do not let us suppose this is mere poetry. Conceive what inspires it,—the great truth that in the Infinite there is a heart to throb for men and a will to strike for them. This is what the writer desires to proclaim, and what we believe the Spirit of God moved his poor human lips to give their own shape to,—the simple truth that there is One, however hidden He may be to men's eyes, who feels for men, who feels hotly for men, and whose will is quick and urgent to save them. Such an One tells His people, that the only thing which prevents them from knowing how real His heart and will are—the only thing which prevents them from seeing His work in their midst—is their sin.

The roll of sins to which the prophet attributes the delay of the people's deliverance is an awful one; and the man who reads it with conscience asleep might conclude that it was meant only for a period of extraordinary violence and bloodshed. Yet the chapter implies that[Pg 426] society exists, and that at least the forms of civilisation are in force. Men sue one another before the usual courts. But none sueth in righteousness or goeth to the law in truth. They trust in vanity and speak lies. All these charges might be true of a society as outwardly respectable as our own. Nor is the charge of bloodshed to be taken literally. The Old Testament has so great a regard for the spiritual nature of man, that to deny the individual his rights or to take away the peace of God from his heart, it calls the shedding of innocent blood. Isaiah reminds us of many kinds of this moral murder when he says, your hands are full of blood: seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Ezekiel reminds us of others when he tells how God spake to him, that if he warn not the wicked, and the same wicked shall die in his iniquity, his blood will I require at thy hand. And again a Psalm reminds us of the time when the Lord maketh inquisition for blood, He forgetteth not the cry of the poor.[275] This is what the Bible calls murder and lays its burning words upon,—not such acts of bloody violence as now and then make all humanity thrill to discover that in the heart of civilisation there exist men with the passions of the ape and the tiger, but such oppression of the poor, such cowardice to rebuke evil, such negligence to restore the falling, such abuse of the characters of the young and innocent, such fraud and oppression of the weak, as often exist under the most respectable life, and employ the weapons of a Christian civilisation in order to fulfil themselves. We have need to take the bold, violent standards of the prophets and lay them to our own lives,—the prophets that call the man who sells his[Pg 427] honesty for gain, a harlot, and hold him blood-guilty who has wronged, tempted or neglected his brother. Do not let us suppose that these crimson verses of the Bible may be passed over by us as not applicable to ourselves. They do not refer to murderers or maniacs: they refer to social crimes, to which we all are in perpetual temptation, and of which we all are more or less guilty,—the neglect of the weak, the exploitation of the poor for our own profit, the soiling of children's minds, the multiplying of temptation in the way of God's little ones, the malice that leads us to blast another's character, or to impute to his action evil motives for which we have absolutely no grounds save the envy and sordidness of our own hearts. Do not let us fail to read all such verses in the clear light which John the Apostle throws on them when he says: He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.

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Isaiah lx.-lxiii. 7.

The deliverance from Babylon has long been certain, since ch. xlviii.; all doubts in the way of Return have been removed, ch. xlix.-lii. 12; the means for the spiritual Restoration of the people have been sufficiently found, ch. liii. and preceding chapters on the Servant; Zion has been hailed from afar, ch. liv.; last calls to leave Babylon have been uttered, ch. lv.; last councils and comforts, lvi. 1-8; and the civic conscience has been rekindled, ch. lvi. 9-lix. There remains now only to take possession of the City herself; to rehearse the vocation of the restored people; and to realise all the hopes, fears, hindrances and practical problems of the future. These duties occupy the rest of our prophecy, chs. lx.-lxvi.

Ch. lx. is a prophecy as complete in itself as ch. liv. The City, which in liv. was hailed and comforted from afar, is in ch. lx. bidden rise and enjoy the glory that has at last reached her. Her splendours, hinted at in ch. liv., are seen in full and evident display. In chs. lxi.-lxii. her prophet, her genius and representative, rehearses to her his duties, and sets forth her place among the peoples. And in ch. lxiii. 1-7 we have another of those theophanies or appearances of the—Sole[Pg 429] Divine Author of His people's salvation, which, abrupt and separate as if to heighten the sense of the solitariness of their subject—occur at intervals throughout our prophecy,—for instance, in ch. xlii., vv. 10-17, and in ch. lix. 16-19. These three sections, ch. lx., chs. lxi.-lxii. and ch. lxiii. 1-7, we will take together in this chapter of our volume.

I. Arise, Shine (ch. lx.)

The Sixtieth chapter of Isaiah is the spiritual counterpart of a typical Eastern day, with the dust laid and the darts taken out of the sunbeams,—a typical Eastern day in the sudden splendour of its dawn, the completeness and apparent permanence of its noon, the spaciousness it reveals on sea and land, and the barbaric profusion of life, which its strong light is sufficient to flood with glory.

Under such a day we see Jerusalem. In the first five verses of the chapter, she is addressed, as in ch. liv., as a crushed and desolate woman. But her lonely night is over, and from some prophet at the head of her returning children the cry peals, Arise, shine, for come hath thy light, and the glory of Jehovah hath risen upon thee. In the East the sun does not rise; the word is weak for an arrival almost too sudden for twilight. In the East the sun leaps above the horizon. You do not feel that he is coming, but that he is come. This first verse is suggested by the swiftness with which he bursts upon an Eastern city, and the shrouded form does not, as in our twilight, slowly unwrap itself, but shines at once, all plates and points of glory. Then the figure yields: for Jerusalem is not merely one radiant point in a world equally lighted by the sun, but[Pg 430] is herself Jehovah's unique luminary. For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples, but upon thee shall Jehovah arise, and His glory upon thee shall be seen. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. In the next two verses it is again a woman who is addressed. Lift up thine eyes round about and see, all of them have gathered, have come to thee: thy sons from afar are coming, and thy daughters are carried in the arms.[276] Then follows the fairest verse in the chapter. Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall throb and grow large; for there shall be turned upon thee the sea's flood-tide, and the wealth of the nations shall come to thee. The word which the Authorised English version translated shall flow together, and our Revised Version lightened, means both of these. It is liquid light,—light that ripples and sparkles and runs across the face; as it best appears in that beautiful passage of the thirty-fourth Psalm, they looked to Him and their faces were lightened. Here it suggests the light which a face catches from sparkling water. The prophet's figure has changed. The stately mother of her people stands not among the ruins of her city, but upon some great beach, with the sea in front,—the sea that casts up all heaven's light upon her face and drifts all earth's wealth to her feet, and her eyes are upon the horizon with the hope of her who watches for the return of children.

The next verses are simply the expansion of these two clauses,—about the sea's flood and the wealth of the Nations. Vv. 6-9 look first landward and then seaward, as from Jerusalem's own wonderful position[Pg 431] on the high ridge between Asia and the sea: between the gates of the East and the gates of the West. On the one side, the city's horizon is the range of Moab and Edom, that barrier, in Jewish imagination, of the hidden and golden East across which pour the caravans here pictured. Profusion of camels shall cover thee, young camels of Midian and Ephah; all of them from Sheba shall come: gold and frankincense shall they bring, and the praises of Jehovah shall they publish. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to thee: they shall come up with acceptance on Mine altar, and the house of My glory will I glorify. These were just what surged over Jordan from the far countries beyond, of which the Jews knew little more than the names here given,—tawny droves of camels upon the greenness of Palestine like a spate of the desert from which they poured; rivers of sheep brimming up the narrow drove-roads to Jerusalem:—conceive it all under that blazing Eastern sun. But then turning to Judah's other horizon, marked by the yellow fringe of sand and the blue haze of the sea beyond, the prophet cries for Jehovah: Who are these like a cloud that fly, and like doves to their windows? Surely towards Me the Isles[277] are stretching, and ships of Tarshish in the van, to bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, to the Name of Jehovah of Hosts and to the Holy of Israel, for He hath glorified thee. The poetry of the Old Testament has been said to be deficient in its treatment of the sea; and certainly it dwells more frequently, as was natural for the imagination of an inland and a highland people to do, upon the hills. But in what literature will you find passages[Pg 432] of equal length more suggestive of the sea than those short pieces in which the Hebrew prophet sought to render the futile rage of the world, as it dashed on the steadfast will of God, by the roar and crash of the ocean on the beach;[278] or painted a nation's prosperity as the waves of a summer sea;[279] or described the long coastlands as stretching out to God, and the white-sailed ships coming up the horizon like doves to their windows!

The rest of the chapter, from ver. 10 onwards, is occupied with the rebuilding and adornment of Jerusalem, and with the establishment of the people in righteousness and peace. There is a very obvious mingling of the material and the moral. The Gentiles are to become subject to the Jew, but it is to be a voluntary submission before the evidence of Jerusalem's spiritual superiority. Nothing is said of a Messiah or a King. Jerusalem is to be a commonwealth; and, while her magistracy shall be Peace and her overseers Righteousness, God Himself, in evident presence, is to be her light and glory. Thus the chapter ends with God and the People, and nothing else. God for an everlasting light around, and the people in their land, righteous, secure and growing very large. The least shall become a thousand, and the smallest a strong nation: I Jehovah will hasten it in its time.

This chapter has been put through many interpretations to many practical uses:—to describe the ingathering of the Gentiles to the Church (in the Christian year it is the Lesson for Epiphany), to prove the doctrine that the Church should live by the endowment of the[Pg 433] kingdoms of this world, and to enforce the duty of costliness and magnificence in the public worship of God. The glory of the Lebanon shall come unto thee, fir-tree, plane-tree and sherbin together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary, and I will make the place of My feet glorious.

The last of these duties we may extend and qualify. If the coming in of the Gentiles is here represented as bringing wealth to the Church, we cannot help remembering that the going out to the Gentiles, in order to bring them in, means for us the spending of our wealth on things other than the adornment of temples; and that, besides the heathen, there are poor and suffering ones for whom God asks men's gold, as He asked it in olden days for the temple, that He may be glorified. Take that last phrase:—And—with all that material wealth which has flowed in from Lebanon, from Midian, from Sheba—I will make the place of My feet glorious. When this singular name was first uttered it was limited to the dwelling-place of the Ark and Presence of God, visible only on Mount Zion. But when God became man, and did indeed tread with human feet this world of ours, what were then the places of His feet? Sometimes, it is true, the Temple, but only sometimes; far more often where the sick lay, and the bereaved were weeping,—the pool of Bethesda, the death-room of Jairus' daughter, the way to the centurion's sick servant, the city gateways where the beggars stood, the lanes where the village folk had gathered, against His coming, their deaf and dumb, their palsied and lunatic. These were the places of His feet, who Himself bare our sicknesses and carried our infirmities; and these are what He would seek our wealth to make glorious. They say that the reverence of men builds[Pg 434] now no cathedrals as of old; nay, but the love of man, that Christ taught, builds far more of those refuges and houses of healing, scatters far more widely those medicines for the body, those instruments of teaching, those means of grace, in which God is as much glorified as in Jewish Temple or Christian Cathedral.

Nevertheless He, who set the place of His feet, which He would have us to glorify, among the poor and the sick, was He, who also did not for Himself refuse that alabaster box and that precious ointment, which might have been sold for much and given to the poor. The worship of God, if we read Scripture aright, ought to be more than merely grave and comely. There should be heartiness and lavishness about it,—profusion and brilliance. Not of material gifts alone or chiefly, gold incense or rare wood, but of human faculties, graces and feeling; of joy and music and the sense of beauty. Take this chapter. It is wonderful, not so much for the material wealth which it devotes to the service of God's house, and which is all that many eyes ever see in it, as for the glorious imagination and heart for the beautiful, the joy in light and space and splendour, the poetry and the music, which use those material things simply as the light uses the wick, or as music uses the lyre, to express and reveal itself. What a call this chapter is to let out the natural wonder and poetry of the heart, its feeling and music and exultation,—all that is within us, as the Psalmist says,—in the Service of God. Why do we not do so? The answer is very simple. Because, unlike this prophet, we do not realise how present and full our salvation is; because, unlike him, we do not realise that our light has come, and so we will not arise and shine.

[Pg 435]

II. The Gospel (chs. lxi.-lxii.)

The speaker in ch. lxi. is not introduced by name. Therefore he may be the Prophet himself, or he may be the Servant. The present expositor, while feeling that the evidence is not conclusive against either of these, and that the uncertainty is as great as in ch. xlviii. 16,[280] inclines to think that there is, on the whole, less objection to its being the prophet who speaks than to its being the Servant. See the appended note. But it is not a very important question, which is intended, for the Servant was representative of[Pg 436] prophecy; and if it be the prophet who speaks here, he also speaks with the conscience of the whole function and aim of the prophetic order. That Jesus Christ fulfilled this programme does not decide the question one way or the other; for a prophet so representative was as much the antetype and foreshadowing of Christ as the Servant himself was. On the whole, then, we must be content to feel about this passage, what we must have already felt about many others in our prophecy, that the writer is more anxious to place before us the whole range and ideal of the prophetic gift than to make clear in whom this ideal is realised; and for the rest Jesus of Nazareth so plainly fulfilled it, that it becomes, indeed, a very minor question to ask whom the writer may have intended as its first application.

If ch. lx. showed us the external glory of God's people, ch. lxi. opens with the programme of their inner mission. There we had the building and adornment of the Temple, that Jehovah might glorify His people: here we have the binding of broken hearts and the beautifying of soiled lives, that Jehovah may be glorified. But this inner mission also issues in external splendour, in a righteousness, which is like the adornment of a bride and like the beauty of spring.

The commission of the prophet is mainly to duties we have already studied in preceding passages, both on himself and on the Servant. It will be enough to point out its special characteristics. The Spirit of my Lord Jehovah is upon me, for that Jehovah hath anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim to the captive liberty, and to the prisoners open ways;[281] to proclaim an[Pg 437] acceptable year for Jehovah, and a day of vengeance for our God; to comfort all that mourn; to offer to the mourners of Zion, to give unto them a crest[282] for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of dimness;[283] so that men may call them Oaks-of-Righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that He may break into glory.

There are heard here all the keynotes of our prophet, and clear, too, is that usual and favourite direction of his thoughts from the inner and spiritual influences to the outward splendour and evidence, the passage from the comfort and healing of the heart to the rich garment, the renown, and his own dearest vision of great forest trees,—in short, Jehovah Himself breaking into glory. But one point needs special attention.

The prophet begins his commission by these words, to bring good tidings to the afflicted, and again says, to proclaim to the captive. The afflicted, or the poor, as it is mostly rendered, is the classical name for God's people in Exile. We have sufficiently moved among this people to know for what reason the bringing of good tidings should here be reckoned as the first and most indispensable service that prophecy could render them. Why, in the life of every nation, there are hours, when the factors of destiny, that loom largest at other times, are dwarfed and dwindle before the momentousness of a piece of news,—hours, when the nation's attitude in a great moral issue, or her whole freedom and destiny, are determined by telegrams from the seat of war. The simultaneous news of Grant's capture of Vicksburg and Meade's defeat of Lee, news that finally turned English opinion, so long shamefully debating and wavering, to[Pg 438] the side of God and the slave; the telegrams from the army, for which silent crowds waited in the Berlin squares through the autumn nights of 1870, conscious that the unity and birthright of Germany hung upon the tidings,—are instances of the vital and paramount influence in a nation's history of a piece of news. The force of a great debate in Parliament, the expression of public opinion through all its organs, the voice of a people in a general election, things in their time as ominous as the Fates, all yield at certain supreme moments to the meaning of a simple message from Providence. Now it was for news from God that Israel waited in Exile; for good tidings and the proclamation of fact. They had with them a Divine Law, but no mere exposition of it could satisfy men who were captives and waited for the command of their freedom. They had with them Psalms, but no beauty of music could console them: How should we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? They had Prophecy, with its assurance of the love and the power of their God; and much as there was in it to help them to patience and to hope, general statements were not enough for them. They needed the testimony of a fact. Freedom and Restoration had been promised them: they waited for the proclamation that it was coming, for the good news that it had arrived. Now our prophecy is mainly this proclamation and good news of fact. The prophet uses before all other words two,—to call or proclaim, kara, and to tell good tidings, bisser. We found them in his opening chapter: we find them again here when he sums up his mission. A third goes along with them, to comfort, naham, but it is the accompaniment, and they are the burden, of his prophecy.

But good tidings and the proclamation meant so[Pg 439] much more than the mere political deliverance of Israel—meant the fact of their pardon, the tale of their God's love, of His provision for them, and of His wonderful passion and triumph of salvation on their behalf—that it is no wonder that these two words came to be ever afterwards the classical terms for all speech and prophecy from God to man. We actually owe the Greek words of the New Testament for gospel and preaching to this time of Israel's history. The Greek term, from which we have evangel, evangelist and evangelise, originally meant good news, but was first employed in a religious sense in the Greek translation of our prophecy. And our word "preach" is the heir, though not the lineal descendant, through the Latin prædicare and the Greek κηρυσσειν, of the word, which is translated in ch. lx. of our prophet to proclaim, but in ch. xl. to call or cry. It is to the Exile that we trace the establishment among God's people of regular preaching side by side with sacramental and liturgical worship; for it was in the Exile that the Synagogue arose, whose pulpit was to become as much the centre of Israel's life as was the altar of the Temple. And it was from the pulpit of a synagogue centuries after, when the preaching had become dry exposition or hard lawgiving, that Jesus re-read our prophecy and affirmed again the good news of God.

What is true of nations is true of individuals. We indeed support our life by principles; we develop it by argument;—we cannot lay too heavy stress upon philosophy and law. But there is something of far greater concern than either argument or the abstract principles from which it is developed; something that our reason cannot find of itself, that our conscience but increases our longing for. It is, whether certain things[Pg 440] are facts or not; whether, for instance, the Supreme Power of the Universe is on the side of the individual combatant for righteousness; whether God is love; whether Sin has been forgiven; whether Sin and Death have ever been conquered; whether the summer has come in which humanity may put forth their shoots conscious that all the influence of heaven is on their side, or whether, there being no heavenly favours, man must train his virtue and coax his happiness to ripen behind shelters and in conservatories of his own construction. Now Christ comes to us with the good news of God that it is so. The supreme force in the Universe is on man's side, and for man has won victory and achieved freedom. God has proclaimed pardon. A Saviour has overcome sin and death. We are free to break from evil. The struggle after holiness is not the struggle of a weakly plant in an alien soil and beneath a wintry sky, counting only upon the precarious aids of human cultivation; but summer has come, the acceptable year of the Lord has begun, and all the favour of the Almighty is on His people's side. These are the good tidings and proclamation of God, and to every man who believes them they must make an incalculable difference in life.

As we have said, the prophet passes in the rest of this prophecy from the spiritual influences of his mission to its outward effects. The people's righteousness is described in the external fashion, which we have already studied in Chapter Fourteen; Zion's espousals to Jehovah are celebrated, but into that we have also gone thoroughly (pp. 398 ff.); the restoration of prophecy in Jerusalem is described (lxii. 6-9), as in ch. lii. 8; and another call is given to depart from Babylon and every foreign city and come to Zion. This call coming now,[Pg 441] so long after the last, and when we might think that the prophet had wholly left Babylon behind, need not surprise us. For even though some Jews had actually arrived at Zion, which is not certain, others were hanging back in Babylon; and, indeed, such a call as this might fitly be renewed for the next century or two: so many of God's people continued to forget that their citizenship was in Zion.

III. The Divine Saviour (ch. lxiii. 1-7).

Once again the prophet turns to hail, in his periodic transport, the Solitary Divine Hero and Saviour of His people.

That the writer of this piece is the main author of "Second Isaiah" is probable, both because it is the custom of the latter to describe at intervals the passion and effort of Israel's Mighty One, and because several of his well-known phrases meet us in this piece. The speaker in righteousness mighty to save recalls ch. xlv. 19-24; and the day of vengeance and year of my redeemed recalls ch. lxi. 2; and I looked, and there was no helper, and I gazed, and there was none to uphold, recalls lix. 16. The prophet is looking out from Jerusalem towards Edom,—a direction in which the watchmen upon Zion had often in her history looked for the return of her armies from the punishment of Israel's congenital and perpetual foe. The prophet, however, sees the prospect filled up, not by the flashing van of a great army, but by a solitary figure, without ally, without chariot, without weapons, swaying on in the wealth of his strength. The keynote of the piece is the loneliness of this Hero. A figure is used, which, where battle would only have suggested complexity, enthrals us with the spectacle of[Pg 442] solitary effort,—the figure of trampling through some vast winefat alone. The Avenging Saviour of Israel has a fierce joy in being alone: it is his new nerve to effort and victory,—therefore mine own right arm, it brought salvation to me. We see One great form in the strength of one great emotion. My fury, it upheld me.

The interpretation of this chapter by Christians has been very varied, and often very perverse. To use the words of Calvin, "Violenter torserunt hoc caput Christiani." But, as he sees very rightly, it is not the Messiah nor the Servant of Jehovah, who is here pictured, but Jehovah Himself. This Solitary is the Divine Saviour of Israel, as in ch. xlii. 7 f. and in ch. lix. 16 f. In Chapter Eight of this volume we spoke so fully of the Passion of God, that we may now refer to that chapter for the essential truth which underlies our prophet's anthropomorphism, and claims our worship where a short sight might only turn the heart away in scorn at the savage and blood-stained surface. One or two other points, however, demand our attention before we give the translation.

Why does the prophet look in the direction of Edom for the return of his God? Partly, it is to be presumed, because Edom was as good a representative as he could choose of the enemies of Israel other than Babylon.[284] But also partly, perhaps, because of the names which match the red colours of his piece,—the wine and the blood. Edom means red, and Bossrah is assonant to Bôsser, a vinedresser.[285] Fitter background[Pg 443] and scenery the prophet, therefore, could not have for his drama of Divine Vengeance. But we must take care, as Dillmann properly remarks, not to imagine that any definite, historical invasion of Edom by Israel, or other chastening instrument of Jehovah, is here intended. It is a vision which the prophet sees of Jehovah Himself: it illustrates the passion, the agony, the unshared and unaided effort which the Divine Saviour passes through for His people.

Further, it is only necessary to point out, that the term in ver. 1 given as splendid by the Authorised Version, which I have rendered sweeping, is literally swelling, and is, perhaps, best rendered by sailing on or swinging on. The other verb which the Revised Version renders marching means swaying, or moving the head or body from one side to another, in the pride and fulness of strength. In ver. 2 like a wine-treader is literally like him that treadeth in the pressing-house—Geth (the first syllable of Gethsemane, the oil-press). But ור ה in ver. 3 is the pressing-trough.

Who is this coming from Edom,
Raw-red his garments from Bossrah!
This sweeping on in his raiment,
Swaying in the wealth of his strength?
I that do speak in righteousness,
Mighty to save!
Wherefore is red on thy raiment,
And thy garments like to a wine-treader's?
A trough I have trodden alone,
Of the peoples no man was with me.
[Pg 444] So I trod them down in my wrath,
And trampled them down in my fury;
Their life-blood sprinkled my garments,
And all my raiment I stained.
For the day of revenge in my heart,
And the year of my redeemed has come.
And I looked, and no helper;
I gazed, and none to uphold!
So my righteousness won me salvation;
And my fury, it hath upheld me.
So I stamp on the peoples in my wrath,
And make them drunk with my fury,
And bring down to earth their life-blood.

[Pg 445]



Isaiah lxiii. 7-lxvi.

We might well have thought, that with the section we have been considering the prophecy of Israel's Redemption had reached its summit and its end. The glory of Zion in sight, the full programme of prophecy owned, the arrival of the Divine Saviour hailed in the urgency of His feeling for His people, in the sufficiency of His might to save them,—what more, we ask, can the prophecy have to give us? Why does it not end upon these high notes? The answer is, the salvation is indeed consummate, but the people are not ready for it. On an earlier occasion, let us remember, when our prophet called the nation to their Service of God, he called at first the whole nation, but had then immediately to make a distinction. Seen in the light of their destiny, the mass of Israel proved to be unworthy; tried by its strain, part immediately fell away. But what happened upon that call to Service happens again upon this disclosure of Salvation. The prophet realises that it is only a part of Israel who are worthy of it. He feels again the weight, which has been the hindrance of his hope all through,—the weight of the mass of the nation, sunk in idolatry and wickedness, incapable of appreciating the promises. He will make one more effort[Pg 446] to save them—to save them all. He does this in an intercessory prayer, ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv., in which he states the most hopeless aspects of his people's case, identifies himself with their sin, and yet pleads by the ancient power of God that we all may be saved. He gets his answer in ch. lxv., in which God sharply divides Israel into two classes, the faithful and the idolaters, and affirms that, while the nation shall be saved for the sake of the faithful remnant, Jehovah's faithful servants and the unfaithful can never share the same experience or the same fate. And then the book closes with a discourse in ch. lxvi., in which this division between the two classes in Israel is pursued to a last terrible emphasis and contrast upon the narrow stage of Jerusalem itself. We are left, not with the realisation of the prophet's prayer for the salvation of all the nations, but with a last judgement separating its godly and ungodly portions.

Thus there are three connected divisions in lxiii. 7-lxvi. First, the prophet's Intercessory Prayer, ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv.; second, the Answer of Jehovah, ch. lxv.; and third, the Final Discourse and Judgement, ch. lxvi.

I. The Prayer for the Whole People (ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv.).

There is a good deal of discussion as to both the date and the authorship of this piece,—as to whether it comes from the early or the late Exile, and as to whether it comes from our prophet or from another. It must have been written after the destruction and before the rebuilding of the Temple; this is put past all doubt by these verses: Thy holy people possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down Thy sanctuary. Thy[Pg 447] holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. The house of our holiness and of our ornament, wherein our fathers praised Thee, is become for a burning of fire, and all our delights are for ruin.[286]

This language has been held to imply that the disaster to Jerusalem was recent, as if the city's conflagration still flared on the national imagination, which in later years of the Exile was impressed rather by the long, cold ruins of the Holy Place, the haunt of wild beasts. But not only is this point inconclusive, but the impression that it leaves is entirely dispelled by other verses, which speak of the Divine anger as having been of long continuance, and as if it had only hardened the people in sin; compare ch. lxiii. 17 and lxiv. 6, 7. There is nothing in the prayer to show that the author lived in exile, and accordingly the proposal has been made to date the piece from among the first attempts at rebuilding after the Return. To the present expositor this seems to be certainly wrong. The man who wrote vv. 11-15 of ch. lxiii. had surely the Return still before him; he would not have written in the way he has done of the Exodus from Egypt unless he had been feeling the need of another exhibition of Divine Power of the same kind. The prayer, therefore, must come from pretty much the same date as the rest of our prophecy,—after the Exile had long continued, but while the Return had not yet taken place. Nor is there any reason against attributing it to the same writer. It is true the style differs from the rest of his work, but this may be accounted for, as in the case of ch. liii., by the[Pg 448] change of subject. Most critics, who hold that we still follow the same author, take for granted that some time has elapsed since the prophet's triumphant strains in chs. lx.-lxii. This is probable; but there is nothing to make it certain. What is certain is the change of mood and conscience. The prophet, who in ch. lx. had been caught away into the glorious future of the people, is here as utterly absorbed in their barren and doubtful present. Although the salvation is certain, as he has seen it, the people are not ready. The fact he has already felt so keenly about them,—see ch. xlii., vv. 24, 25,—that their long discipline in exile has done the mass of them no good, but evil, comes forcibly back upon him (ch. lxiv. 5b ff.). Thou wast angry, and we sinned only the more: in such a state we have been long, and shall we be saved! The banished people are thoroughly unclean and rotten, fading as a leaf, the sport of the wind. But the prophet identifies himself with them. He speaks of their sin as ours, of their misery as ours. He takes of them the very saddest view possible, he feels them all as sheer dead weight: there is none that calleth on Thy name, that stirreth himself up to take hold on Thee: for Thou hast hid Thy face from us, and delivered us into the power of our iniquities. But the prophet thus loads himself with the people in order to secure, if he can, their redemption as a whole. Twice he says in the name of them all, Doubtless Thou art our Father. His great heart will not have one of them left out; we all, he says, are the work of Thy hand, we all are Thy people.

But this intention of the prayer will amply account for any change of style we may perceive in the language. No one will deny that it is quite possible for the same man now to fling himself forward into the glorious vision[Pg 449] of his people's future salvation, and again to identify himself with the most hopeless aspects of their present distress and sin; and no one will deny that the same man will certainly write in two different styles with regard to each of these different feelings. Besides which, we have seen in the passage the recurrence of some of our prophecy's most characteristic thoughts. We feel, therefore, no reason for counting the passage to be by another hand than that which has mainly written "Second Isaiah." It may be at once admitted that he has incorporated in it earlier phrases, reminiscences and echoes of language about the fall of Jerusalem in use when the Lamentations were written. But this was a natural thing for him to do in a prayer, in which he represented the whole people and took upon himself the full burden of their woes.

If such be the intention of chs. lxiii. 7-lxiv., then in them we have one of the noblest passages of our prophet's great work. How like he is to the Servant he pictured for us! How his great heart fulfils the loftiest ideal of Service: not only to be the prophet and the judge of his people, but to make himself one with them in all their sin and sorrow, to carry them all in his heart. Truly, as his last words said of the Servant, he himself bears the sin of many, and interposes for the transgressors. Before we see the answer he gets, let us make clear some obscure things and appreciate some beautiful ones in his prayer.

It opens with a recital of Jehovah's ancient lovingkindness and mercies to Israel. This is what perhaps gives it connection with the previous section. In ch. lxii. the prophet, though sure of the coming glory, wrote before it had come, and urged upon the Lord's remembrancers to keep no silence, and give Him no silence till He[Pg 450] establish and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. This work of remembrancing, the prophet himself takes up in lxiii. 7: The lovingkindnesses of Jehovah I will record, literally, cause to be remembered, the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah hath bestowed upon us. And then he beautifully puts all the beginnings of God's dealings with His people in His trusting of them: For He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not deal falsely; so He became their Saviour. In all their affliction He was afflicted, the Angel of His Face saved them. This must be understood, not as an angel of the Presence, who went out from the Presence to save the people, but, as it is in other Scriptures, God's own Presence, God Himself; and so interpreted, the phrase falls into line with the rest of the verse, which is one of the most vivid expressions that the Bible contains of the personality of God.[287] In His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and bare them, and carried them all the days of old. Then he tells us how they disappointed and betrayed this trust, ever since the Exodus, the days of[Pg 451] old. But they rebelled and grieved the Spirit of His holiness: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, He Himself fought against them. This refers to their history down to, and especially during, the Exile: compare ch. xlii., vv. 24, 25. Then in their affliction they remembered the days of old—the English version obscures the sequence here by translating he remembered—and then follows the glorious account of the Exodus. In ver. 13 the wilderness is, of course, prairie, flat pasture-land; they were led as smoothly as a horse in a meadow, that they stumbled not. As cattle that come down into the valley—cattle coming down from the hill sides to pasture and rest on the green, watered plains—the Spirit of Jehovah caused them to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people to make Thyself a glorious name. And then having offered such precedents, the prophet's prayer breaks forth to a God, whom His people feel no longer at their head, but far withdrawn into heaven: Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of Thy holiness and Thy glory: where is Thy zeal and Thy mighty deeds? the surge of Thy bowels and thy compassions are restrained towards me. Then he pleads God's fatherhood to the nation, and the rest of the prayer alternates between the hopeless misery and undeserving sin of the people, and, notwithstanding, the power of God to save as He did in times of old; the willingness of God to meet with those who wait for Him and remember Him; and, once more, His fatherhood, and His power over them, as the power of the potter over the clay.

Two points stand out from the rest. The Divine Trust, from which all God's dealing with His people is said to have started, and the Divine Fatherhood, which the prophet pleads.

He said, Surely they are My people, children that will not[Pg 452] deal falsely: so He was their Saviour. The "surely" is not the fiat of sovereignty or foreknowledge: it is the hope and confidence of love. It did not prevail; it was disappointed.

This is, of course, a profound acknowledgment of man's free will. It is implied that men's conduct must remain an uncertain thing, and that in calling men God cannot adventure upon greater certainty than is implied in the trust of affection. If one asks, What, then, about God's foreknowledge, who alone knoweth the end of a thing from the beginning, and His sovereign grace, who chooseth whom He will? are you not logically bound to these?—then it can only be asked in return, Is it not better to be without logic for a little, if at the expense of it we obtain so true, so deep a glimpse into God's heart as this simple verse affords us? Which is better for us to know—that God is Wisdom which knows all, or Love that dares and ventures all? Surely, that God is Love which dares and ventures all with the worst, with the most hopeless of us. This is what makes this single verse of Scripture more powerful to move the heart than all creeds and catechisms. For where these speak of sovereign will, and often mock our affections with the bare and heavy (if legitimate) sceptre they sway, this calls forth our love, honour and obedience by the heart it betrays in God. Of what unsuspicious trust, of what chivalrous adventure of love, of what fatherly confidence, does it speak! What a religion is this of ours in the power of which a man may every morning rise and feel himself thrilled by the thought that God trusts him enough to work with His will for the day; in the power of which a man may look round and see the sordid, hopeless human life about him glorified by the truth, that for the salvation of[Pg 453] such God did adventure Himself in a love that laid itself down in death. The attraction and power of such a religion can never die. Requiring no painful thought to argue it into reality, it leaps to light before the natural affection of man's heart; it takes his instincts immediately captive; it gives him a conscience, an honour and an obligation. No wonder that our prophet, having such a belief, should once more identify himself with the people, and adventure himself with the weight of their sin before God.

The other point of the prayer is the Fatherhood of God, concerning which all that is needful to say here is that the prophet, true to the rest of Old Testament teaching on the subject, applies it only to God's relation to the nation as a whole. In the Old Testament no one is called the son of God except Israel as a people, or some individual representative and head of Israel. And even of such the term was seldom employed. This was not because the Hebrew was without temptation to imagine his physical descent from the gods, for neighbouring nations indulged in such dreams for themselves and their heroes; nor because he was without appreciation of the intellectual kinship between the human and the Divine, for he knew that in the beginning God had said, Let us make man in our own image. But the same feeling prevailed with him in regard to this idea, as we have seen prevailed in regard to the kindred idea of God as the husband of His people.[288] The prophets were anxious to emphasize that it was a moral relation,—a moral relation, and one initiated from God's side by certain historical acts of His free, selecting, redeeming and adopting love. Israel was not God's son till God[Pg 454] had evidently called and redeemed him. Look at how our prophet uses the word Father, and to what he makes it equivalent. The first time it is equivalent to Redeemer: Thou, O Lord, art our Father; our Redeemer from old is Thy name (lxiii. 16b). The second time it is illustrated by the work of the potter: But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and we are all the work of Thy hand (lxiv. 8). Could it be made plainer in what sense the Bible defines this relation between God and man? It is not a physical, nor is it an intellectual relation. The assurance and the virtue of it do not come to men with their blood or with the birth of their intellect, but in the course of moral experience, with the sense that God claims them from sin and from the world for Himself; with the gift of a calling and a destiny; with the formation of character, the perfecting of obedience, the growth in His knowledge and His grace. And because it is a moral relation time is needed to realise it, and only after long patience and effort may it be unhesitatingly claimed. And that is why Israel was so long in claiming it, and why the clearest, most undoubting cries to God the Father, which rise from the Greek in the earliest period of his history, reach our ears from Jewish lips only near the end of their long progress, only (as we see from our prayer) in a time of trial and affliction.

We have a New Testament echo of this Old Testament belief in the Fatherhood of God, as a moral and not a national relation, in Paul's writings, who in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (vi. 17, 18) urges thus: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you,[Pg 455] and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

On these grounds, then,—that God in His great love had already adventured Himself with this whole people, and already by historical acts of election and redemption proved Himself the Father of the nation as a whole,—does our prophet plead with Him to save them all again. The answer to this pleading he gets in ch. lxv.

II. God's Answer to the Prophet's Intercession (ch. lxv.).

God's answer to his prophet's intercession is twofold. First, He says that He has already all this time been trying them with love, meeting them with salvation; but they have not turned to Him. The prophet has asked, Where is Thy zeal? the yearning of Thy bowels and Thy compassions are restrained towards me. Thou hast hid Thy face far from us. Wilt Thou refrain Thyself for these things, O Jehovah? wilt Thou hold Thy peace and afflict us very sore. And now, in the beginning of ch. lxv., Jehovah answers, not with that confusion of tenses and irrelevancy of words with which the English version makes Him speak; but suitably, relevantly and convincingly. I have been to be inquired of those who asked not for Me. I have been to be found of them that sought Me not. I have been saying, I am here, I am here, to a nation that did not call on My name. I have stretched out My hands all the day to a people turning away, who walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; a people that have been provoking Me to My face continually,—and then He details their idolatry. This, then, is the answer of the Lord to the prophet's appeal. "In this I have not all power. It is wrong to[Pg 456] talk of Me as the potter and of man as the clay, as if all the active share in salvation lay with Me. Man is free,—free to withhold himself from My urgent affection; free to turn from My outstretched hands; free to choose before Me the abomination of idolatry. And this the mass of Israel have done, clinging, fanatical and self-satisfied, to their unclean and morbid imaginations of the Divine, all the time that My great prophecy by you has been appealing to them." This is a sufficient answer to the prophet's prayer. Love is not omnipotent; if men disregard so open an appeal of the Love of God, they are hopeless; nothing else can save them. The sin against such love is like the sin against the Holy Ghost, of which our Lord speaks so hopelessly. Even God cannot help the despisers and abusers of Grace.

The rest of God's answer to His prophet's intercession emphasizes that the nation shall be saved for the sake of a faithful remnant in it (vv. 8-10). But the idolaters shall perish (vv. 11, 12). They cannot possibly expect the same fare, the same experience, the same fate, as God's faithful servants (vv. 13-15). But those who are true and faithful Israelites, surviving and experiencing the promised salvation, shall find that God is true, and shall acknowledge Him as the God of Amen, because the former troubles are forgotten—those felt so keenly in the prophet's prayer in ch. lxiv.—and because they are hid from Mine eyes. The rest of the answer describes a state of serenity and happiness wherein there shall be no premature death, nor loss of property, nor vain labour, nor miscarriage, nor disappointment of prayer nor delay in its answer, nor strife between man and the beasts, nor any hurt or harm in Jehovah's Holy Mountain. Truly a prospect worthy of being named as the prophet names it, a new heaven and a new earth!

[Pg 457]

Ch. lxv. is thus closely connected, both by circumstance and logic, with the long prayer which precedes it. The tendency of recent criticism has been to deny this connection, especially on the line of circumstance. Ch. lxv. does not, it is argued, reflect the Babylonish captivity as ch. lxiii. 7-lxiv. so clearly does; but, on the contrary, "while some passages presuppose the Exile as past, others refer to circumstances characteristic of Jewish life in Canaan."[289] But this view is only possible through straining some features of the chapter adaptable either to Palestine or Babylon, and overlooking others which are obviously Babylonian. Sacrificing in gardens and burning incense on tiles were practices pursued in Jerusalem before the Exile, but the latter was introduced there from Babylon, and the former was universal in heathendom. The practices in ver. 5 are never attributed to the people before the Exile, were all possible in Babylonia, and some we know to have been actual there.[290] The other charge of idolatry in ver. 11 "suits Babylonia," Cheyne admits, "as well as (probably) Palestine."[291] But what seems decisive for the[Pg 458] exilic origin of ch. lxv. is that the possession of Judah and Zion by the seed of Jacob is still implied as future (ver. 9). Moreover the holy land is alluded to by the name common among the exiles in flat Mesopotamia, My mountains, and in contrast with the idolatry of which the present generation is guilty the idolatry of their fathers is characterised as having been upon the mountains and upon the hills, and again the people is charged with forgetting My holy mountain, a phrase reminiscent of Psalm cxxxvii., ver. 4, and more appropriate to a time of exile, than when the people were gathered about Zion. All these resemblances in circumstance corroborate the strong logical connection which we have found between ch. lxiv. and ch. lxv., and leave us no reason for taking the latter away from the main author of "Second Isaiah," though he may have worked up into it recollections and remains of an older time.

III. The Last Judgement (ch. lxvi.).

Whether with the final chapter of our prophecy we at last get footing in the Holy Land is doubtful.[292] It was said on p. 20 that, "in vv. 1 to 4 of this chapter[Pg 459] the Temple is still unbuilt, but the building would seem to be already begun." This latter clause should be modified to, "the building would seem to be in immediate prospect." The rest of the chapter, vv. 6-24, has features that speak more definitely for the period after the Return; but even they are not conclusive, and their effect is counterbalanced by some other verses. Ver. 6 may imply that the Temple is rebuilt, and ver. 20 that the sacrifices are resumed; but, on the other hand, these verses may be, like parts of ch. lx., statements of the prophet's vivid vision of the future.[293] Vv. 7 and 8 seem to describe a repeopling of Jerusalem that has already taken place; but ver. 9 says, that while the bringing to the birth has already happened, which is, as we must suppose, the deliverance from Babylon,—or is it the actual arrival at Jerusalem?—the bringing forth from the womb, that is, the complete restoration of the people, has still to take place. Ver. 13 is certainly addressed to those who are not yet in Jerusalem.

These few points reveal how difficult, nay, how impossible, it is to decide the question of date, as between the days immediately before the Return and the days immediately after. To the present expositor the balance of evidence seems to be with the later date. But the difference is very small. We are at least sure—and it is really all that we require to know—that the rebuilding of Jerusalem is very near, nearer than it has been felt in any previous chapter. The Temple is, so to speak, within sight, and the prophet is able to talk of the regular round of sacrifices and sacred festivals almost as if they had been resumed.

[Pg 460]

To the people, then, either in the near prospect of Return, or immediately after some of them had arrived in Jerusalem, the prophet addresses a number of oracles, in which he pursues the division, that ch. lxv. had emphasized, between the two parties in Israel. These oracles are so intricate, that we are compelled to take up the chapter verse by verse. The first of them begins by correcting certain false feelings in Israel, excited by former promises of the rebuilding and the glory of the Temple. Thus saith Jehovah, The heavens are My throne, and earth is My footstool: what is this for a house that ye will build—or, are building—Me, and what is this for a place for My rest? Yea, all these things—that is, all the visible works of God in heaven and earth—My hand hath made, and so came to pass all these things, saith Jehovah. But unto this will I look, unto the humble and contrite in spirit, and that trembleth at My word. These verses do not run counter to, or even go beyond, anything that our prophet has already said. They do not condemn the building of the Temple: this was not possible for a prophecy which contains ch. lx. They condemn only the kind of temple which those whom they address had in view,—a shrine to which the presence of Jehovah was limited, and on the raising and maintenance of which the religion and righteousness of the people should depend. While the former Temple was standing, the mass of the people had thus misconceived it, imagining that it was enough for national religion to have such a structure standing and honoured in their midst. And now, before it is built again, the exiles are cherishing about it the same formal and materialistic thoughts. Therefore the prophet rebukes them, as his predecessors had rebuked their fathers, and reminds them of a truth he has already uttered,[Pg 461] that though the Temple is raised, according to God's own promise and direction, it will not be to its structure, as they conceive of it, that He will have respect, but to the existence among them of humble and sincere personal piety. The Temple is to be raised: the place of His feet God will make glorious, and men shall gather round it from the whole earth, for instruction, for comfort and for rejoicing. But let them not think it to be indispensable either to God or to man,—not to God, who has heaven for His throne and earth for His footstool; nor to man, for God looks direct to man, if only man be humble, penitent and sensitive to His word. These verses, then, do not go beyond the Old Testament limit; they leave the Temple standing, but they say so much about God's other sanctuary man, that when His use for the Temple shall be past, His servant Stephen[294] shall be able to employ these words to prove why it should disappear.

The next verse is extremely difficult. Here it is literally: A slaughterer of the ox, a slayer of a man; a sacrificer of the lamb, a breaker of a dog's neck; an offerer of meat-offering, swine's blood; the maker of a memorial offering of incense, one that blesseth an idol, or vanity. Four legal sacrificial acts are here coupled with four unlawful sacrifices to idols. Does this mean that in the eye of God, impatient even of the ritual He has consecrated, when performed by men who do not tremble at His word, each of these lawful sacrifices is as worthless and odious as the idolatrous practice associated with it,—the slaughter of the ox as the offering of a human sacrifice, and so forth? Or does the verse mean that there are persons in Israel who[Pg 462] combine, like the Corinthians blamed by Paul,[295] both the true and the idolatrous ritual, both the table of the Lord and the table of devils? Our answer will depend on whether we take the four parallels with ver. 2, which precedes them, or with the rest of ver. 3, to which they belong, and ver. 4. If we take them with ver. 2, then we must adopt the first, the alternative meaning; if with ver. 4, then the second of these meanings is the right one. Now there is no grammatical connection, nor any transparent logical one, between vv. 2 and 3, but there is a grammatical connection with the rest of ver. 3. Immediately after the pairs of lawful and unlawful sacrificial acts, ver. 3 continues, yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. That surely signifies that the unlawful sacrifices in ver. 3 are things already committed and delighted in, and the meaning of putting them in parallel to the lawful sacrifices of Jehovah's religion is either that Israelites have committed them instead of the lawful sacrifices, or along with these. In this case, vv. 3, 4 form a separate discourse by themselves, with no relation to the equally distinct oracle in vv. 1 and 2. The subject of vv. 3 to 4 is, therefore, the idolatrous Israelites. They are delivered unto Satan, their choice; they shall have no part in the coming Salvation. In ver. 5 the faithful in Israel, who have obeyed God's word by the prophet, are comforted under the mocking of their brethren, who shall certainly be put to shame. Already the prophet hears the preparation of the judgement against them (ver. 6). It comes forth from the city where they had mockingly cried for God's glory to appear. The mocked city avenges itself on them.[Pg 463] Hark, a roar from the City! Hark, from the Temple! Hark, Jehovah accomplishing vengeance on His enemies!

A new section begins with ver. 7, and celebrates to ver. 9 the sudden re-population of the City by her children, either as already a fact, or, more probably, as a near certainty. Then comes a call to the children, restored, or about to be restored, to congratulate their mother and to enjoy her. The prophet rewakens the figure, that is ever nearest his heart, of motherhood,—children suckled, borne and cradled in the lap of their mother fill all his view; nay, finer still, the grown man coming back with wounds and weariness upon him to be comforted of his mother. As a man whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And ye shall see, and rejoice shall your heart, and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass. But this great light shines not to flood all Israel in one, but to cleave the nation in two, like a sword of judgement. The hand of Jehovah shall be known towards His servants, but He will have indignation against His enemies,—enemies, that is, within Israel. Then comes the fiery judgement, For by fire will Jehovah plead, and by His sword with all flesh; and the slain of Jehovah shall be many. Why there should be slain of Jehovah within Israel is then explained. Within Israel there are idolaters: they that consecrate themselves and practise purification for the gardens, after one in the middle;[296] eaters of swine's flesh, and the[Pg 464] Abomination, and the Mouse. They shall come to an end together, saith Jehovah, for I know, or will punish,[297] their works and their thoughts. In this eighteenth verse the punctuation is uncertain, and probably the text is corrupt. The first part of the verse should evidently go, as above, with ver. 17. Then begins a new subject.

It is coming to gather all the nations and the tongues, and they shall come and shall see My glory; and I will set among them a sign,—a marvellous and mighty act, probably of judgement, for he immediately speaks of their survivors,—and I will send the escaped of them to the nations Tarshish, Put[298] and Lud, drawers of the bow, to Tubal and Javan,—that is, to far Spain, and the distances of Africa, towards the Black Sea and to Greece, a full round of the compass,—the isles far off that have not heard report of Me, nor have seen My glory; and they shall recount My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from among all the nations an offering to Jehovah, on horses and in chariots and in litters, and on mules and on dromedaries, up on the Mount of My Holiness, Jerusalem, saith Jehovah, just as when the children of Israel bring the offering in a clean vessel to the house of Jehovah. And also from them will I take to be priests, to be Levites, saith Jehovah. For like as the new heavens and the new earth which I am making shall be standing before Me, saith Jehovah, so shall stand your seed and your name. But again the prophecy[Pg 465] swerves from the universal hope into which we expect it to break, and gives us instead a division and a judgement: the servants of Jehovah on one side occupied in what the prophet regards as the ideal life, regular worship—so little did he mean ver. 1 to be a condemnation of the Temple and its ritual!—and on the other the rebels' unburied carcases gnawed by the worm and by fire, an abomination to all. And it shall come to pass from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, saith Jehovah: and they shall go out and look on the carcases of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

We have thus gone step by step through the chapter, because its intricacies and sudden changes were not otherwise to be mastered. What exactly it is composed of must, we fear, still remain a problem. Who can tell whether its short, broken pieces are all originally from our prophet's hand, or were gathered by him from others, or were the fragments of his teaching which the reverent hands of disciples picked carefully up that nothing might be lost? Sometimes we think it must be this last alternative that happened; for it seems impossible that pieces so strange to each other, so loosely connected, could have flowed from one mind at one time. But then again we think otherwise, when we see how the chapter as a whole continues the separation made evident in ch. lxv., and runs it on to a last emphatic contrast.

So we are left by the prophecy,—not with the new heavens and the new earth which it promised: not[Pg 466] with the holy mountain on which none shall hurt nor destroy, saith the Lord; not with a Jerusalem full of glory and a people all holy, the centre of a gathered humanity,—but with the city like to a judgement floor, and upon its narrow surface a people divided between worship and a horrible woe.

O Jerusalem, City of the Lord, Mother eagerly desired of her children, radiant light to them that sit in darkness and are far off, home after exile, haven after storm,—expected as the Lord's garner, thou art still to be only His threshing-floor, and heaven and hell as of old shall, from new moon to new moon, through the revolving years, lie side by side within thy narrow walls! For from the day that Araunah the Jebusite threshed out his sheaves upon thy high windswept rock, to the day when the Son of Man standing over against thee divided in His last discourse the sheep from the goats, the wise from the foolish, and the loving from the selfish, thou hast been appointed of God for trial and separation and judgement.

It is a terrible ending to such a prophecy as ours. But is any other possible? We ask how can this contiguity of heaven and hell be within the Lord's own city, after all His yearning and jealousy for her, after His fierce agony and strife with her enemies, after so clear a revelation of Himself, so long a providence, so glorious a deliverance? Yet, it is plain that nothing else can result, if the men on whose ears the great prophecy had fallen, with all its music and all its gospel, and who had been partakers of the Lord's Deliverance, did yet continue to prefer their idols, their swine's flesh, their mouse, their broth of abominable things, their sitting in graves, to so evident a God and to so great a grace.

[Pg 467]

It is a terrible ending, but it is the same as upon the same floor Christ set to His teaching,—the gospel net cast wide, but only to draw in both good and bad upon a beach of judgement; the wedding feast thrown open and men compelled to come in, but among them a heart whom grace so great could not awe even to decency; Christ's Gospel preached, His Example evident, and Himself owned as Lord, and nevertheless some whom neither the hearing nor the seeing nor the owning with their lips did lift to unselfishness or stir to pity. Therefore He who had cried, Come all unto Me, was compelled to close by saying to many, Depart.

It is a terrible ending, but one only too conceivable. For though God is love, man is free,—free to turn from that love; free to be as though he had never felt it; free to put away from himself the highest, clearest, most urgent grace that God can show. But to do this is the judgement.

Lord, are there few that be saved? The Lord did not answer the question but by bidding the questioner take heed to himself: Strive to enter in at the strait gate.

Almighty and most merciful God, who hast sent this book to be the revelation of Thy great love to man, and of Thy power and will to save him, grant that our study of it may not have been in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts, but that by it we may be confirmed in penitence, lifted to hope, made strong for service, and above all filled with the true knowledge of Thee and of Thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Pg 468]
[Pg 469]


The Arabic numerals on the right-hand column refer to the pages, the Roman to the chapters of the volume.

xl. 1-11 67, V.
xl. 12-31 VI.
xli.-xlv. 9
xli. VII.
xli. 2 164 f.
xli. 8-20 244 f., 256
xli. 25 12, 113, 130 f., 145
xli. 26 225
xlii. 1-7 261 f., XVIII.
xlii. 8-17 VIII.
xlii. 18 ff. 262 f.
xlii. 22 59
xlii.-xliii. XV.
xliii.-xlviii. IX.
xliii. 1-7 257
xliii. 3, 4 246
xliii. 8, 10 158 f., 263 f.
xliii. 14 147, 246
xliii. 16-19 158
xliii. 22-24 156
xliii. 25 157
xliv. 1 ff. 256
xliv. 7, 8 158
xliv. 9-20 153 f.
xliv. 21 256
xliv. 21, 22 157
xliv. 24-28 160, X.
xlv. 1-13 X.
xlv. 8 228
[Pg 470]xlv. 13 224
xlv. 18 227
xlv. 19 159, 224
xlv. 19-25 225
xlvi. XI.
xlvi. 11 168
xlvi. 13 228
xlvii. XII.
xlvii. 6 59
xlviii. XIII.
xlviii. 18 221
xlviii. 22 17.
xlix. 1-9 240 f., 264 f., XIX., 381.
xlix. 9-26 XXI.
l. 1-3 XXI.
l. 4-11 XIX.
li.-lii. 12 XXI.
li. 5 228
lii. 7 50
lii. 13-liii. 18, 267 XX.
liv.-lvi. 8 XXII.
liv. 397
lv. 402
lvi. 1-8 406
lvi. 1 222, 229
lvi. 9-lix. 18 f., XXIII.
lvi. 9-lvii. 409
lviii. 61, 414
lviii. 2 222
lix. 423
lix. 4 222
lix. 4 222
lx.-lxiii. 7 19, XXIV.
lx. 429
lxi., lxii. 435
lxi. 10, 228
lxi. 11 220
lxiii. 2 220
lxiii. 1-6 441
lxiii. 7-lxvi. 19 f., XXV.
lxiii. 7-lxiv. 446
lxiv. 5 222
lxvi. 458

[Pg 471]


(The Arabic numerals refer to pages, the Roman to chapters.)


[Pg 475]



Chaps. I.—XXXIX.

Spectator.—"This is a very attractive book. Mr. George Adam Smith has evidently such a mastery of the scholarship of his subject that it would be a sheer impertinence for most scholars, even though tolerable Hebraists, to criticise his translations; and certainly it is not the intention of the present reviewer to attempt anything of the kind, to do which he is absolutely incompetent. All we desire is to let English readers know how very lucid, impressive, and, indeed, how vivid a study of Isaiah is within their reach—the fault of the book, if it has a fault, being rather that it finds too many points of connection between Isaiah and our modern world, than that it finds too few. In other words, no one can say that the book is not full of life."

Saturday Review.—"He writes with great rhetorical power, and brings out into vivid reality the historical position of his author."

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[Pg 476]



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[1] Chs. i., ii., etc. The only title that could be offered as covering the whole book is that in ch. i., ver. 1: The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. But this manifestly cannot apply to any but the earlier chapters, of which Judah and Jerusalem are indeed the subjects.

[2] There are, it will be remembered, certain narratives in the Book of Isaiah, which are not by the prophet. They speak of him in the third person (chs. vii., xxxvi.-xxxix.), while in other narratives (chs. vi. and viii.) he speaks of himself in the first person. Their presence is sufficient proof that the Book of Isaiah, in its extant shape, did not come from Isaiah's hands, but was compiled by others.

[3] Matt. iii. 3, viii. 17, xii. 17; Luke iii. 4, iv. 17; John i. 23, xii. 38; Acts viii. 28; Rom. x. 16-20.

[4] Driver's Isaiah, pp. 137, 139.

[5] Psalm cxxi.

[6] Driver's Isaiah: His Life and Times, p. 191.

[7] Calvin on Isa. lv. 3.

[8] So quoted by Driver (Isaiah, etc., p. 200), from the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, 1879, p. 339.

[9] See p. 223.

[10] Professor Briggs' Messianic Prophecy, 339 ff.

[11] Ewald is very strong on this.

[12] Including Professor Cheyne, Encyc. Britann., article "Isaiah."

[13] According to the arrangement given in the Talmud (Baba bathra, f. 14, col. 2): "Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve." Cf. Bleek, Introduction to Old Testament, on Isaiah; Orelli's Isaiah, Eng. ed., p. 214.

[14] Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in Jewish Church, 109.

[15] It is the theory of some, that although Isa. xl.-lxvi. dates as a whole from the Exile, there are passages in it by Isaiah himself, or in his style by pupils of his (Klostermann in Herzog's Encyclopædia and Bredenkamp in his Commentary). But this, while possible, is beyond proof.

[16] The figure actually mentioned in 2 Kings xxiv. 14, but, as Stade points out (Geschichte, p. 680), vv. 14, 15 interrupt the narrative, and may have been intruded here from the account of the later captivity.

[17] See vol. i., p. 100 f.

[18] Jer. xlv.

[19] This is especially clear from ch. xxxi.

[20] Having read through the Book of Jeremiah once again since I wrote the above paragraph, I am more than ever impressed with the influence of his life upon Isa. xl.-lxvi.

[21] Psalm cii. 14.

[22] Isa. xlix. 16.

[23] If we would construct for ourselves some more definite idea of that long march from Judah to Babylon, we might assist our imagination by the details of the only other instance on so great a scale of "exile by administrative process"—the transportation to Siberia which the Russian Government effects (it is said, on good authority) to the extent of eighteen thousand persons a year. Every week throughout the year marching parties, three to four hundred strong, leave Tomsk for Irkutsk, doing twelve to twenty miles daily in fetters, with twenty-four hours' rest every third day, or three hundred and thirty miles in a month (Century Magazine, Nov. 1888).

[24] For the above details, see Rawlinson's Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, vol. i.

[25] Herodotus, Bk. I.; "Memoirs by Commander James Felix Jones, I. N.," in Selections from the Records of the Bombay Government, No. XLIII., New Series, 1857; Ainsworth's Euphrates Valley Expedition; Layard's Nineveh.

[26] Perrot and Chipiez, Histoire de l'Art d'Antiquité, vol. ii.; Assyrie p. 9.

[27] The Book of Daniel.

[28] Isa. xlii. 22, xlvii. 6.

[29] Records of the Past, second series, vol. i., M. Oppert's Translations.

[30] Mr. St. Chad Boscawen's recent lectures, of which I have been able to see only the reports in the Manchester Guardian.

[31] Ch. lviii. 2.

[32] Ch. lviii. 13, 14.

[33] See vol. i., p. 292 ff.

[34] Jer. xxix.

[35] Records of the Past, first series, ix., 95 seq.

[36] See p. 47.

[37] From the sequence of the voices, it would seem that we had in ch. xl. not a mere collection of anonymous prophecies arranged by an editor, but one complete prophecy by the author of most of Isa. xl.-lxvi., set in the dramatic form which obtains through the other chapters.

[38] Every one who appreciates the music of the original will agree how incomparably Handel has interpreted it in those pulses of music with which his Messiah opens.

[39] See ch. liv., where this figure is developed with great beauty.

[40] Lev. xxvii.

[41] The technical word to preach or proclaim.

[42] See xl. 21, Have ye not known?

[43] That is in the sense, in which our prophet uses the word, of salvation. See Ch. XIV. of this volume.

[44] Some intention of division undoubtedly appears. Notice the double refrain, To whom will ye liken, etc., of vv. 18 and 25; and then at equal distance from either occurrence of this challenge the appeal, Dost thou not know, etc., vv. 21 and 28. But though these signs of a strict division appear, the rest is submerged by the strong flood of feeling which rushes too deep and rapid for any hard-and-fast embankments.

[45] See p. 109.

[46] If an idol leant over or fell that was the very worst of omens; cf. the case of Dagon.

[47] When John Knox was a prisoner in France, "the officers brought to him a painted board, which they called Our Lady, and commanded him to kiss it. They violently thrust it into his face, and put it betwixt his hands, who, seeing the extremity, took the idol, and advisedly looking about, he cast it into the river, and said, 'Let Our Lady now save herself; she is light enough; let her learn to swim!' After that was no Scotsman urged with that idolatry."—Knox, History of the Reformation.

[48] Psalm cxlvii.

[49] Media simply means "the country." It is supposed, that of the six Median tribes only one was Aryan, holding the rest, which were Turanian, under its influence.

[50] There were, besides, a few small independent powers in Asia Minor, such as Cilicia, whose prince also intervened at the Battle of the Eclipse; and the Ionian cities in the west. But all these, with perhaps the exception of Lycia, were brought into subjection to Lydia by Crœsus, son of Alyattis.

[51] Vol. i., p. 92.

[52] Other passages are: xli. 5, Isles saw and feared, the ends of the earth trembled; xlii. 10, The sea and its fulness, Isles and their dwellers; lix. 18, He will repay, fury to His adversaries, recompence to His enemies: to the Isles He will repay recompence; lxvi. 19, The nations, Tarshish, Pul, Lud, drawers of the bow, Tubal, Javan, the Isles afar off that have not heard my fame. The Hebrew is אי 'î, and is supposed to be from a root אוה awah, to inhabit, which sense, however, never attaches to the verb in Hebrew, but is borrowed from the cognate Arabic word.

[53] Of the Philistine coast, Isa. xx. 6; of the Tyrian coast, Isa. xxiii. 2, 6; of Greece, Ezek. xxvii. 7; of Crete, Jer. xlvii. 4; of the islands of the sea, Isa. xi. 11 and Esther x. 1.

[54] xlii. 15: Eng. version, I will turn rivers into islands.

[55] Anabasis 2, 4.

[56] There were two branches of the Persian royal family after Teispes, the son of Akhæmenes, the founder. Teispes annexed Anshan on the level land between the north-east corner of the Persian Gulf and the mountains of Persia. Teispes' eldest son, Cyrus I., became king of Anshan; his other, Ariaramnes, king of Persia. These were succeeded by their sons, Kambyses I. and Arsames. Kambyses I. was the father of Cyrus II., the great Cyrus, who rejoined Persia to Anshan, to the exclusion of his second cousin, Hystaspes. Cyrus the Great was succeeded by his son, Kambyses II., with whom the Anshan line closed, and the power was transferred to Darius, son of Hystaspes. Cf. Ragozin's Media, in the "Story of the Nations" series.

[57] Halévy, "Cyrus et le Retour de l'Exil," Études Juives, I.

[58] Inscription of Nabunahid.

[59] Herodotus, Book I.

[60] Herodotus explains this by his legend of Cyrus' birth, according to which Cyrus was a hybrid—half Persian, half Mede.

[61] Herodotus, Book I.

[62] Sir Edward Strachey.

[63] Lit. from the head, "da capo." I am not sure, however, that it does not rather mean beforehand, like our on ahead.

[64] See p. 121.

[65] This seems to me to be more likely to be the meaning of the prophet, than the absolute from the beginning. It suits its parallel beforehand, and it is more in line with the general demand of the chapter for anticipation of events. It is literally from the head, "da capo," cf. p. 117.

[66] ראשנות r'ishonôth is a relative term, meaning head things, things ahead, first things, prior things, whether in rank or time. Here of course the time meaning is undoubted. But ahead of what? prior to what?—this is the difficulty. Ewald, Hitzig, A. B. Davidson, Driver, etc., take it as prior to the standpoint of the speaker; things that happened or were uttered previous to him,—a sense in which the word is used in subsequent chapters. But Delitzsch, Hahn, Cheyne, etc., take it to be things prior to other things that will happen in the later future, early events, as opposed to הבאות of the next clause, which they take to mean subsequent things, things that are to come afterwards. I think Dr. Davidson's reasons (see Expositor, second series, vol. vii., p. 256) are quite conclusive against this view of Delitzsch, that in this clause the idols are being asked to predict events in the near future. It is difficult, as he says, to see why the idols should be given a choice between the earlier and the later future: nor does the הבאות of the contrasted clause at all suggest a later future; it simply means things coming, a term which is as applicable to the near as to the far future. Nevertheless, I am not persuaded that Dr. Davidson's own view of r'ishonôth is the correct one. The rest of the context (see above) is occupied with predictions of the future only. And r'ishonôth does not necessarily mean previous predictions, although used in this sense in the subsequent chapters. It simply means, as we have seen, head things, things ahead, things beforehand, or fountain-things, origins, causes. That we are to understand it here in some such general and absolute sense is suggested, I think, by the word אחריתן which follows it, their result or issue, and is confirmed by ראשן, r'ishôn (masc. singular) of ver. 27, which is undoubtedly used in a general sense, meaning something or somebody on ahead, an anticipator, predicter, forerunner (as Cheyne gives it), or as I have rendered it above, neuter, a prediction. If r'ishôn in ver. 27 means a thing or a man given beforehand, then r'ishonôth in ver. 22 may also mean things given beforehand, predictions made now, or at least things selected and announced as causes now, whose issue, אחריתן, may be recognised in the future. In a word, r'ishonôth would mean things not necessarily previous to the speech in which they were allowed, but simply things previous to certain results, or anticipating certain events, either as their prediction or as their cause.

[67] Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, English translation, i., 51.

[68] Quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Bk. V., ch. iv., and by Eusebius, Præp. Evang. xiii., 13.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Quoted by Ueberweg, as above.

[71] Pfleiderer, Philosophy of Religion: Contents of the Religious Consciousness, ch. i. (Eng. trans., vol. iii., p. 291).

[72] See further on the subject the chapter on the Righteousness of Israel and of God, Chapter XIV. of this volume.

[73] And that which runs: ... he is come, from the rising of the sun he calleth upon My name (Bredenkamp) is wrong.

[74] The former of these in ch. lxiv. 7; the latter in xliv. 5.

[75] Translation of the Cyrus-cylinder in "Cyrus et le Retour de l'Exil," by Halévy, Revue des Études Juives, No. 1, 1880.

[76] Ezra i. 2; 2 Chron. xxxvi. 22, 23.

[77] אקרא בשמו for יקֹרא בשמי.

[78] See Introduction.

[79] So the grammar of the original.

[80] Vol. i., pp. 144, 334.

[81] Isa. xxxi.

[82] Hosea xi. 9.

[83] Ch. lv. 8, 9.

[84] Ibid. ver. 11.

[85] From to-day on, Ez. xlviii. 35; but others take it Also to-day I am He.

[86] Renan's theory of the "natural monotheism" of the Semites was first published in his Histoire des Langues Semitiques some forty years ago. Nearly every Semitic scholar of repute found some occasion or other to refute it. But with Renan's charming genius for neglecting all facts that disturb an artistic arrangement of his subject, the overwhelming evidence against the natural monotheism of the Semite has been ignored by him, and he repeats his theory unmodified in his Histoire du Peuple d'Israel, i., 31, published 1888.

[87] Literally witnessesi.e., of the idols.

[88] This word is wanting in the text, which is corrupt here. Some supply the word sharpeneth, imagining that חדד has fallen away from the beginning of the verse, through confusion with the יחד which ends the previous verse; or they bring יחד itself, changing it to חדד. But evidently חרשׁ ברזל begins the verse; cf. the parallel חרשׁ עצים which begins ver. 13.

[89] Here, again, the text is uncertain. With some critics I have borrowed for this verse the first three words of the following verse.

[90] Perhaps feeder on ashes.

[91] Chs. xliii. 25; xliv. 21, 22; xlv. 17.

[92] See ch. xiv. of this volume.

[93] Identified by Delitzsch as East, Halévy as West, and Winckler as North, Elam. Cyrus, though reigning here, was a pure Persian, an Akhæmenid or son of the royal house of Persia.

[94] The parallel which Professor Sayce (Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments, p. 147) draws between the statement of the Cyrus-cylinder, that Cyrus "governed in justice and righteousness, and was righteous in hand and heart," and Isa. xlv. 13, "Jehovah raised him up in righteousness," is therefore utterly unreal. It is very difficult to see how the Deputy-Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford could have been reminded of the one passage by the other, for in Isa. xlv. 13 righteousness neither is used of Cyrus, nor signifies the moral virtue which it does on the cylinder.

[95] See note to ch. vii.

[96] The following are extracts from the Cylinder of Cyrus (see Sayce's Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments, pp. 138-140):—"Cyrus, king of Elam, he (Merodach) proclaimed by name for the sovereignty.... Whom he had conquered with his hand, he governed in justice and righteousness. Merodach, the great lord, the restorer of his people, beheld with joy the deeds of his vicegerent, who was righteous in hand and heart. To Babylon he summoned his march, and he bade him take the road to Babylon; like a friend and a comrade he went at his side. Without fighting or battle he caused him to enter into Babylon, his city of Babylon feared. The god ... has in goodness drawn nigh to him, has made strong his name. I Cyrus ... I entered Babylon in peace.... Merodach the great lord (cheered) the heart of his servant.... My vast armies he marshalled peacefully in the midst of Babylon; throughout Sumer and Accad I had no revilers.... Accad, Marad, etc., I restored the gods who dwelt within them to their places ... all their peoples I assembled and I restored their lands. And the gods of Sumer and Accad whom Nabonidos, to the anger of the lord of gods (Merodach), had brought into Babylon, I settled in peace in their sanctuaries by command of Merodach, the great lord. In the goodness of their hearts may all the gods whom I have brought into their strong places daily intercede before Bel and Nebo, that they should grant me length of days; may they bless my projects with prosperity, and may they say to Merodach my lord, that Cyrus the king, thy worshipper, and Kambyses his son (deserve his favour)."

[97] Why so sovereign a God should be in such peculiar relations with one people, we will try to see in ch. xv. of this volume.

[98] Earth here without the article, but plainly the earth, and not the land of Judah.

[99] Cf. with this Hebrew word צלח the Greek προκοπτειν, to beat or cut a way through like pioneers; then to forward a work, advance, prosper (Luke ii. 52; Gal. i. 14; 2 Tim. ii. 16).

[100] Cyropædia, Book VIII., ch. vii., 6.

[101] Crouches, Kara`; cowers, Kores.

[102] Bredenkamp.

[103] Sayce, Fresh Light, etc., p. 140.

[104] See p. 39 f.

[105] There is a play on the words 'anî `asîthî, wa'anî, 'essā'—I have made, and I will aid.

[106] Lam. v. 7.

[107] Ver. 4, second clause, and vii.

[108] Cf. Doughty, Arabia Deserta.

[109] The Turanians, who occupied Mesopotamia before the Semitic invasion, were the first builders of cities.

[110] Babylon, as far as we can learn, first rose to power about the time of that Amraphel who fought in the Mesopotamian league against the neighbours and friends of Abraham. Amraphel is supposed to have been the father of Hammurabis, who first made Babylon the capital of Chaldea. It scarcely ever again ceased to be such; but it was not till the fall of Assyria, about 625 b.c., and the rebuilding of Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar (604-561), that the city's second and greatest glory began.

[111] See ch. iv., pp. 53-56.

[112] Vol. i., pp. 409-315.

[113] Vol. i., pp. 275, 286, 294.

[114] See especially Satires III. and VI., and cf. Bagehot's Physics and Politics.

[115] Rev. xvii., xviii.

[116] Ch. xlv.

[117] Bredenkamp will have it, that the prophet here mentions first Northern Israel and then Judah: O House of Jacob, the general term, both those that are called by the name of Israel, and that have come forth from the waters of Judah. But this is entirely opposed to the syntax, and I note the opinion simply to show how precarious the arguments are for the existence of pre-exilic elements in Isa. xl.-xlviii. The point, which Bredenkamp makes by his rendering of this verse, is that it could only be a pre-exilic prophet, who would distinguish between Judah and Northern Israel; and that, therefore, it might be Isaiah himself who wrote the verse!

[118] Former things (ri'shonôth). It is impossible to determine whether these mean predictions which Jehovah published long ago, and which have already come to pass, or former events which He foretold long ago, and which have happened as He said they would. The distinction, however, is immaterial.

[119] Literally, also. But נם, a cumulative conjunction, when it is introduced to repeat the same thought as preceded it, means yea, truly, profecto, imo.

[120] Ch. xxv., which is undoubtedly an authentic prophecy of Jeremiah.

[121] The Hebrew has not the words My Name. The LXX. has them.

[122] A second time without article though applied to the whole world.

[123] Giesebrecht takes this as an actual quotation from some former prophet: a specimen of the ancient prophecies which Jehovah sent to Israel, and which were now being fulfilled. At least it is the sum of what Jehovah's prophets had often predicted.

[124] This very difficult verse has been attributed either to Jehovah in the first three clauses and to the Servant in the fourth (Delitzsch); or in the same proportion to Jehovah and the prophet (Cheyne and Bredenkamp); or to the Servant all through (Orelli); or to the prophet all through (Hitzig, Knobel, Giesebrecht. See the latter's Beiträge zur Kritik Jesaia's, p. 136). It is a subtle matter. The present expositor thinks it clear that all four clauses must be understood as the voice of one speaker, but sees nothing in them to decide finally whether that speaker is the Servant, the people Israel, in which case I am there would have reference to Israel's consciousness of every deed done by God since the beginning of their history (cf. ver. 6a); or whether the speaker is the prophet, in which case I am there would mean that he had watched the rise of Cyrus from the first. But cf. Zech. ii. 10-11, Eng. Ver., and iv. 9.

[125] Or like its bowels, referring to the sea.

[126] It is only by confining his review of the word to its applications to God, and overlooking the passages which attribute it to the people, that Krüger, Essai sur la Théologie d'Isaïe xl.-lxvi., can affirm that the prophet holds throughout to a single idea of righteousness (p. 36). On this, as on many other points, it is Calvin's treatment, that is most sympathetic to the variations of the original.

[127] In Arabic the cognate word is applied to a lance, but this may mean a sound or fit lance as well as a straight one. "Originem Schult. de defect. hodiernis § 214-224 ponit in rigore, duritia, coll. arabic lancea dura, al. aequabilis" (Gesenii Thesaurus, art. צדק).

[128] It is not certain whether righteousness is here used in a physical sense; and in all other cases in which the root is applied in the Old Testament to material objects, it is plainly employed in some reflection of its moral sense, e.g., just weights, just balance, Lev. xix. 36.

[129] "Der Zustand welcher der Norm entspricht." Schultz, Alt. Test. Theologie, 4th ed., p. 540, n. 1.

[130] Cf. Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel, p. 388, and Kautzsch's paper, which is there quoted.

[131] "Die Begriffe צדקה und צדק ... bedeuten nun wirklich bei Amos mehr als die juristische Gerechtigkeit. Indirect gehen die Forderungen des Amos über die blos rechtliche Sphäre hinaus" (Duhm, Theologie der Propheten, p. 115).

[132] Gen. xxxviii. 26. Cf. 2 Sam. xv. 4.

[133] The first chapter of Isaiah is a perfect summary of these two.

[134] But the verb to make righteous or justify is used in a sense akin to the New Testament sense in liii. 11. See our chapter on that prophecy.

[135] At first sight this is remarkably like the cognate Arabic root, which is continually used for truthful. But the Hebrew word never meant truthful in the moral sense of truth, and here is right or correct.

[136] Earth again without article, though obviously referring to the world.

[137] Sense doubtful here. Bredenkamp translates by a slight change of reading: Only speaking by Jehovah: Fulness of righteousness and might come to Him, and ashamed, etc.

[138] צדק, the masculine, is used sixteen times; צדקה, twenty-four. Both are used of Jehovah: xlii. 21 צדקו, and lix. 16 צדקתו. Both of His speech: masc. in xlv. 19, fem. in xlv. 23 and lxiii. 1. Perhaps the passage in which their identity is most plain is li. 5, 6, where they are both parallel to salvation: ver. 5, My righteousness (m.) is near; ver. 6, My righteousness (f.) shall not be abolished. Both are used of the people's duty: lix. 4, None sueth in righteousness (m.); xlviii. 1, But not in truth nor in righteousness (f.); lvi. 1, Keep justice and do righteousness (f.) And both are used of the people's saved and glorious condition: lviii. 8, Thy righteousness (m.) shall go before thee; lxii. 1, Until her righteousness (m.) go forth as brightness; xlviii. 18, Thy righteousness (f.) as the waves of the sea; liv. 17, Their righteousness (f.) which is of Me. Both are used with prepositions (cf. xlii. 6 with xlviii. 1), and both with possessive pronouns. In fact, there is absolutely no difference made between the two.

[139] Wellhausen.

[140] "Revelation is never revolutionary.... As a rule, revelation accepts the fragments of truth and adopts the methods of religion already existing, uniting the former into a whole, and purifying the latter for its own purposes."... For instance, "in the East each people had its particular god. The god and the people were correlative ideas, that which gave the individuals of a nation unity and made them a people was the unity of its god; as, on the other hand, that which gave a god prestige was the strength and victorious career of his people. The self-consciousness of the nation and its religion re-acted on one another, and rose and fell simultaneously. This conception was not repudiated, but adopted by revelation; and, as occasion demanded, purified from its natural abuses."—Professor A. B. Davidson, Expositor, Second Series, vol. viii., pp. 257-8.

[141] Mr. Doughty, in his most interesting account of the nomads of Central Arabia, the unsophisticated Semites on their native soil, furnishes ample material for accounting for the strange mixture of passion and resignation in these prophet-peoples of the world.

[142] Ch. xlix. 2.

[143] Jer. xxx. 10, cf. xlvi. 27; also Ezek. xxxvii. 25: And they shall dwell in the land that I have given My servant Jacob. Cf. xxviii. 25.

[144] xliv. 1, 21; xlviii. 20, etc.

[145] Ch. li. 9, 10.

[146] Ch. xliii. 14.

[147] Ib. 3, 4.

[148] Robertson Smith, Burnett Lectures in Aberdeen, 1889-90.

[149] A king's courtiers, soldiers, or subjects are called his servants. In this sense Israel was often styled the servants of Jehovah, as in Deut. xxxii. 36; Neh. i. 10, where the phrase is parallel to His people. But Jehovah's servants is a phrase also parallel to His worshippers (Psalm cxxxiv. 1, etc.); to those who trust Him (Psalm xxxiv. 22); and to those who love His name (Psalm lxix. 36). The term is also applied in the plural to the prophets (Amos iii. 7); and in the singular, to eminent individuals—such as Abraham, Joshua, David and Job; also by Jeremiah to the alien Nebuchadrezzar, while engaged on his mission from God against Jerusalem.

[150] See p. 244.

[151] The definite article is not used here with the word people, and hence the phrase has been taken by some in the vaguer sense of a people's covenant, as a general expression, along with its parallel clause, of the kind of influence the Servant was to exert, not on Israel, but on any people in the world; he was to be a people's covenant, and a light for nations. So practically Schultz, A. T. Theologie, 4th ed., p. 284. But the Hebrew word for people עם is often used without the article to express the people Israel, just as the Hebrew word for land ארץ is often used without the article to express the land of Judah. (הארץ with the article, is in Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Earth.) And in ch. xlix. the phrase a covenant of the people again occurs, and in a context in which it can only mean a covenant of the people, Israel. Some render ברית עם a covenant people. But in xlix. 8 this is plainly an impossible rendering.

[152] Meshullam is found as a proper name in the historical books of the Old Testament, especially Nehemiah, e.g., iii. 4, 6, 30.

[153] Hosea xi. 1; Matt. ii. 15

[154] Of all the expressions used of him the only one which shows a real tendency to a plural reference is in his deaths (ver. 9), and even it (if it is the correct reading) is quite capable of application to an individual who suffered such manifold martyrdom as is set forth in the passage.

[155] Not one word in them betrays any sense of a body of men or an ideal people standing behind them, which sense surely some expression would have betrayed, if it had been in the prophet's mind.

[156] A. B. D., in a review of the last edition of Delitzsch's Isaiah, in the Theol. Review, iv., p. 276.

[157] Isaiah I. i.-xxxix., pp. 134, 135.

[158] See p. 42.

[159] See ch. ii. of this volume.

[160] Cf. The Jewish Interpreters on Isa. liii., Driver and Neubauer, Oxford, 1877. Abravanel, who himself takes ch. liii. in a national sense, admits, after giving the Christian interpretation, that "in fact Jonathan ben Uziel, 'the Targumist,' applied it to the Messiah, who was still to come, and this is likewise the opinion of the wise in many of their Midrashim." And R. Moscheh al Shech, of the sixteenth century, says: "See, our masters have with one voice held as established and handed down, that here it is King Messiah who is spoken of." (Both these passages quoted by Bredenkamp in his commentary, p. 307.)

[161] Isa. lix. 5.

[162] Id. vi. 13; ix. 18; x. 17, 34; xlvii. 14.

[163] Id. xxi. 10; xxviii. 27; xl. 24; xli. 15 ff.

[164] Id. i. 31; xlvii. 14.

[165] Isa. lviii. 7.

[166] Undoubtedly taken from Isa. liii.

[167] Cf. with the Greek version of Isa. l. 4-7, Luke xviii. 31, 32; Matt. xxvi. 67.

[168] In Isa. xl.-lxvi. the Septuagint translates the Hebrew for Servant by one or other of two words—παις and δουλος. Παις is used in xli. 8; xlii. 1; xliv. 1 ff.; xliv. 21; xlv. 4; xlix. 6; l. 10; lii. 13. But δουλος is used in xlviii. 20; xlix. 3 and 5. In the Acts it is παις that is used of Christ: "An apostle is never called παις (but only δουλος) Θεου" (Meyer). But David is called παις (Acts iv. 25).

[169] Acts iii. 13, 26; iv. 27-30.

[170] Acts iii. 14; vii. 52.

[171] Acts viii. 30 ff.

[172] 1 Peter i. 19; ii. 22, 23; iii. 18.

[173] Rom. xv. 20 f.; 2 Cor. v. 21.

[174] Acts xiii. 47, after Isa. xlix. 6.

[175] Isa. l. 8, and Rom. viii. 33, 34.

[176] 2 Tim. ii. 24. We may note, also, how Paul in Eph. vi. takes the armour with which God is clothed in Isa. lix. 17, breastplate and helmet, and equips the individual Christian with them; and how, in the same passage, he takes for the Christian from Isa. xl. the Messiah's girdle of truth and the sword of the Spirit,—he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

[177] The English equivalent is, nor is loud.

[178] This time with the article, so not the land of Judah only, but the Earth.

[179] Bax, Religion of Socialism.

[180] This time "arets" with the article. So not the land of Judah only but the world.

[181] The following are the four main meanings of "mishpat" in Isa. xl.-lxvi.: 1. In a general sense, a legal process, xli. 1, let us come together to the judgement, or the law (with the article), cf. l. 8, man of my judgement, i.e., my fellow-at-law, my adversary; liii. 8, oppression and judgement, i.e., a judgement which was oppressive, a legal injustice. 2. A person's cause or right, xl. 27, xlix. 4. 3. Ordinance instituted by Jehovah for the life and worship of His people, lviii. 2, ordinances of righteousness, i.e., either canonical laws, or ordinances by observing which the people would make themselves righteous. 4. In general, the sum of the laws given by Jehovah to Israel, the Law, lviii. 2, Law of their God; li. 4, Jehovah says My Law (Rev. Ver. judgement), parallel to "Torah" or Revelation (Rev. Ver. law). Then absolutely, without the article or Jehovah's name attached, xlii. 1, 3, 4. In lvi. 1 parallel to righteousness; lix. 14 parallel to righteousness, truth and uprightness. In fact, in this last use, while represented as equivalent to civic morality, it is this, not as viewed in its character, right, upright, but in its obligation as ordained by God: morality as His Law. The absence of the article may either mean what it means in the case of people and land, i.e., the Law, too much of a proper name to need the article, or it may be an attempt to abstract the quality of the Law; and if so mishpat is equal to justice.

[182] Expositor, second series, vol. viii., p. 364.

[183] This might, of course, only mean what the Servant had to do for his captive countrymen. But coming as it does after the light of nations, it seems natural to take it in its wider and more spiritual sense.

[184] See ch. xv. of this volume.

[185] Expositor, second series, viii., pp. 364, 365, 366.

[186] Ibid., p. 366.

[187] This, of course, goes against Prof. Briggs's theory of the composition of Isa. xl.-lxvi. out of two poems (see p. 18).

[188] This line is full of the letter m.

[189] This is as the text is written; but the Massoretic reading gives, that Israel to Him may be gathered.

[190] So it seems best to give the sense of this difficult line, but most translators render despised of soul, or thoroughly despised, abhorred by peoples, or by a people, etc. The word for despised is used elsewhere only in ch. liii. 3.

[191] Prof. A. B. Davidson, Expositor, Second Series, viii., 441.

[192] Page 68.

[193] So George Eliot wrote of her own writings shortly before her death. See Life, iii., 245.

[194] Lady Ponsonby, to whom George Eliot wrote the letter quoted above, confessed that, with the disappearance of religious faith from her soul, there vanished also the power of interest in, and of pity for, her kind.

[195] Jer. i. 5.

[196] See vol. i., p. 70.

[197] See p. 240 f.

[198] How all their meanness, how all the sense of shame from which He suffered, breaks forth in these words: Are ye come out as against a robber?

[199] Literally, lord of my cause; my adversary or opponent at law.

[200] Epistle to the Romans, viii., 31 ff.

[201] Though Cheyne takes His Servant in ver. 10 to be, not the Servant, but the prophet.

[202] Kindlers of fire is the literal rendering. But the word is not the common word to kindle, and is here used of wanton fireraising.

[203] Thus Ewald supposed ch. lii. 13-liii. to be an elegy upon some martyr in the persecutions under Manasseh. Professor Briggs, as we have noticed before, claims to have discovered that all the passages in the Servant are parts of a trimeter poem, older than the rest of the prophecy, which he finds to be in hexameters. See p. 315.

[204] I may quote Dillmann's opinion on this last point: "Andererseits sind nicht blos die Grundgedanken und auch einzelne Wendungen wie 52, 13-15. 53, 7. 11. 12 durch 42, 1 ff. 49, 1 ff. 50, 3 ff. so wohl vorbereitet und so sehr in Übereinstimmung damit, dass an eine fast unveränderte Herübernahme des Abschnitts aus einer verlornen Schrift (Ew.) nicht gedacht werden kann, sondern derselbe doch wesentlich als Werk des Vrf. angesehen werden muss" (Commentary 4th ed., 1890, p. 453).

[205] This verb best gives the force of the Hebrew, which means both to deal prudently and to prosper or succeed. See p. 346.

[206] Vulgate finely: "extolletur, sublimis erit et valde elatus."

[207] "The term rendered 'startle' has created unnecessary difficulty to some writers. The word means to 'cause to spring or leap;' when applied to fluids, to spirt or sprinkle them. The fluid spirted is put in the accusative, and it is spirted upon the person. In the present passage the person, 'many nations,' is in the accusative, and it is simply treason against the Hebrew language to render 'sprinkle.' The interpreter who will so translate will 'do anything.'"—A. B. Davidson, Expositor, 2nd series, viii., 443. The LXX. has θαυμασονται εθνη πολλα. The Peschitto and Vulgate render sprinkle.

[208] And not our report, or something we caused to be heard, as in the English Version,—שמועה is the passive participle of שמע, to hear, and not of השמיע, to cause to hear. The speakers are now the penitent people of God who had been preached to, and not the prophets who had preached.

[209] Tender shoot. Masculine participle, meaning sucker, or suckling. Dr. John Hunter (Christian Treasury) suggests succulent plant, such as grow in the desert. But in Job viii. 16; xiv. 7; xv. 30, the feminine form is used of any tender shoot of a tree, and the feminine plural in Ezek. xvii. 22 of the same. The LXX. read παιδιον, infant. Before Him, i.e. Jehovah. Cheyne, following Ewald, reads before us. So Giesebrecht.

[210] Took for his burden. Loaded himself with them. The same grievous word which God uses of Himself in ch. xlvi. See p. 180.

[211] There is more than afflicted (Authorised Version) in this word. There is the sense of being humbled, punished for his own sake.

[212] The possessive pronoun has been put to the end of the lines, where it stands in the original, producing a greater emphasis and even a sense of rhyme.

[213] כלנו Kūllanū so rendered instead of "all of us," in order to be assonant with the close of the verse, as the original is, which closes with kullam.

[214] That is, by a form of law that was tyranny, a judicial crime.

[215] Cut off violently, prematurely, unnaturally.

[216] See p. 368.

[217] The verbs, hitherto in the perfect in this verse, now change to the imperfect; a sign that they express the purpose of God. Cf. Dillmann, in loco.

[218] From the travail of his soul shall he see, and by his knowledge be satisfied. Taking בדעתו with ישבע instead of with יצדיק. This reading suggested itself to me some years ago. Since then I have found it only in Prof. Briggs's translation, Messianic Prophecy, p. 359. It is supported by the frequent parallel in which we find seeing and knowing in Hebrew.

[219] Some translate many, i.e., the many to whom he brings righteousness, as if he were a victor with a great host behind him.

[220] Jer. xxiii. 5.

[221] Hitzig (among others) held that it is the prophets who are the speakers of ver. 1, and that the voices of the penitent people come in only with ver. 2 or ver. 3. In that case שמועתינו would mean what we heard from God (שמועה is elsewhere used for the prophetic message) and delivered to the people. This interpretation multiplies the dramatis personæ, but does not materially alter the meaning, of the prophecy. It merely changes part of the penitent people's self-reproach into a reproach cast on them by their prophets. But there is no real reason for introducing the prophets as the speakers of ver. 1.

[222] For the argument that it is Israel who speaks here, see Hoffmann (Schriftbeweis), who was converted from the other view, and Dillmann, 4th ed., in loco. A very ingenious attempt has been made by Giesebrecht (Beiträge zur Jesaia Kritik, 1890, p. 146 ff.), in favour of the interpretation that the heathen are the speakers. His reasons are these: 1. It is the heathen who are spoken of in lii. 13-15, and a change to Israel would be too sudden. Answer: The heathen are not exclusively spoken of in lii. 13-15; but if they were a change in the next verse to Israel would not be more rapid than some already made by the prophet. 2. The words in liii. 1 suit the heathen. They have already received the news of the exaltation of the Servant, which in lii. 15 was promised them. This is the שמועתנו, that is news we have just heard. האמין is a pluperfect of the subjunctive mood: Who could or who would have believed this news of the exaltation we have just heard, and the arm of Jehovah to whom was it revealed! i.e., it was revealed to nobody. Answer: besides the precariousness of taking האמין as a pluperfect subjunctive, this interpretation is opposed to the general effort of the prophecy, which is to expose unbelief before the exaltation, not after it. 3. To get rid of the argument—that, while the speakers own that the Servant bears their sins, it is said the Servant was stricken for the sins of my people, and that therefore the speakers must be the same as "my people":—Giesebrecht would utterly alter the reading of ver. 8 from מפשע עמו ננע למו, for the transgression of my people was the stroke to him to מִפִּשְׁעָם יְנֻנַּע, for their stroke was he smitten.

[223] נשׂא and סבל. In speaking of his country's woes, Jeremiah (x. 19) says: This is sickness, or my sickness, and I must bear it, ואשׂאני זה חלי. Ezekiel (iv. 4) is commanded to lie on his side, and in that symbolic position to bear the iniquity of His people, תשא עונם. One of the Lamentations (v. 7) complains: Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we bear (סבל) their iniquities. In these cases the meaning of both נשא and סבל is simply to feel the weight of, be involved in. The verbs do not convey the sense of carrying off or expiating. But still it had been said of the Servant that in his suffering he would be practical and prosper; so that when we now hear that he bears his people's sins, we are ready to understand that he does not do this for the mere sake of sharing them, but for a practical purpose, which, of course, can only be their removal. There is, therefore, no need to quarrel with the interpretation of ver. 4, that the Servant carries away the suffering with which he is laden. Matthew makes this interpretation (viii. 17) in speaking of Christ's healing. But it is a very interesting fact, and not without light upon the free and plastic way in which the New Testament quotes from the Old, that Matthew has ignored the original and literal meaning of the quotation, which is that the Servant shared the sicknesses of the people: a sense impossible in the case for which the Evangelist uses the words.

[224] But they do not tell us, whether they were totally exempted from suffering by the Servant's pains, or whether they also suffered with him the consequence of their misdeeds. For that question is not now present to their minds. Whether they also suffer or not (and other chapters in the prophecy emphasize the people's bearing of the consequences of their misdeeds), they know that it was not their own, but the Servant's suffering, which was alone the factor in their redemption.

[225] Mystery of Pain, by James Hinton, p. 27.

[226] Psalm cvi. 23; cf. also ver. 32, where the other side of the solidarity between Moses and the people comes out. They angered Him also at the waters of Strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes ... he spake unadvisedly with his lips.

[227] See p. 352.

[228] Isa. xlvi. 3, 4. See pp. 179, 180 of this volume.

[229] Ch. xlii. 25.

[230] If we remember this we shall also feel more reason than ever against perceiving the Nation, or any aspect of the Nation, in the Sufferer of ch. liii. For he suffers, as the individual suffers, sickness and legal wrong. Tyrants do not put whole nations through a form of law and judgement. Of course, it is open to those, who hold that the Servant is still an aspect of the Nation, to reply, that all this is simply evidence of how far the prophet has pushed his personification. A whole nation has been called "The Sick Man" even in our prosaic days. But see pp. 268-76.

[231] Jer. li. 4.

[232] xl. 39; xlii. 13; xliv. 29; xlvi. 20.

[233] 1 Sam. vi. 13.

[234] Cf. Wellhausen's Prolegomena, ch. ii., 2.

[235] There is no exegete but agrees to this. There may be differences of opinion about the syntax,—whether the verse should run, though Thou makest his soul guilt, or a guilt-offering; or, though his soul make a guilt-offering; or (reading ישים for תשים), while he makes his soul a guilt-offering,—but all agree to the fact that by himself or by God the Servant's life is offered an expiation for sin, a satisfaction to the law of God.

[236] Cf. Baldensperger (Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, p. 119 ff.) on the genuineness of Christ's predictions and explanations of His sufferings.

[237] Cf. p. 330.

[238] See p. 334.

[239] 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.

[240] His humbled, His poor in the exilic sense of the word. See Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 432 ff.

[241] On the "Motherhood of God" cf. Isaiah i.-xxxix., p. 245 ff.

[242] 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.

[243] 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.

[244] 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.

[245] Isaiah. i.-xxxix., p. 441.

[246] Cf. p. 315.

[247] Cf. pp. 336 ff.

[248] See pp. 247 ff.

[249] "Das eigentliche Wort 'Liebe' kommt im A. T. von Gott fast gar nicht vor,—und wo es, bei einem späten Schriftsteller, vorkommt, ist es Bezeichnung seiner besondren Bundes-liebe zu Israel, deren natürliche Kehrseite der Hass gegen die feindlichen Völker ist."—Schultz, A. T. Theologie, 4th ed., p. 548.

[250] 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.

[251] Egre, or sudden rush of the tide, or spate, or freshet. The original is assonant: Beshesseph qesseph.

[252] So literally; LXX. crystals, carbuncles or diamonds.

[253] Cf. Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 440 ff.

[254] 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 them. 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.

[255] English version, trees of the field, but the field is the country beyond the bounds of cultivation; and as beasts of the field means wild beasts, so this means wild trees,—unforced, unaided by man's labour.

[256] Neh. xiii.

[257] The original is a hand; a term applied (perhaps because it consisted of tapering stones) to an index, or monument of victory, 1 Sam. xv. 12; or to a sepulchral monument, 2 Sam. xviii. 18.

[258] See vol. i., pp. 363, 364.

[259] So Ewald, Cheyne and Briggs. Ewald takes lvi. 9-lvii. 11a as an interruption, borrowed from an earlier prophet in a time of persecution, of the exilic prophecy, which goes on smoothly from lvi. 8 to lvii. 11b. We have seen that it is an error to suppose that lvi. 9-lvii. rose from a time of persecution.

[260] Ezek. xxi.; cf. xxxiii. 30 f.

[261] Delitzsch.

[262] Mishpat and mishpatim, cf. p. 299.

[263] Such as is also expressed by exiles in Psalms xlii., xliii. and lxiii., but there with what spiritual temper, here with what a hard legal conception of righteousness.

[264] For these see p. 61.

[265] Literally, the poor, the wandering. It was a frequent phrase in the Exile: Lam. iii. 19, Remember mine affliction and my homelessness; i. 7, Jerusalem in the day of her affliction and her homelessness. LXX. αστεγοι, roofless.

[266] Probably the fresh flesh which appears through a healing wound. Made classical by Jeremiah, who uses it thrice of Israel,—in the famous text, Is there no balm, etc., x. 22; and in xxx. 17; xxxiii. 6.

[267] Jer. xxxi. 12.

[268] Cf. Job xxiv. 13.

[269] Cf. Amos viii. 5.

[270] See pp. 43 f.

[271] Ewald conceives chs. lviii., lix. to be the work of a younger contemporary of Ezekiel, to which the chief author of "Second Isaiah" has added words of his own: lviii. 12, lix. 21. The latter is evidently an insertion; cf. change of person and of number, etc. Delitzsch puts the passage down to the last decade of the Captivity, when for a little time Cyrus had turned away from Babylon, and the Jews despaired of his coming to save them.

[272] See pp. 219 ff.

[273] Another slight trace reveals the conglomerate nature of the chapter. If, as the earlier verses indicate, it was Israel that sinned, then it is the rebellious in Israel who should be punished. In ver. 18a, therefore, the adversaries or enemies ought to be Israelites. But in 18b the foreign islands are included. The LXX. has not this addition. Bredenkamp takes the words for an insertion. Yet the consequences of Israel's sin, according to the chapter, are not so much the punishment of the rebellious among the people as the delay of the deliverance for the whole nation,—a deliverance which Jehovah is represented as rising to accomplish, the moment the people express the sense of their rebellion and are penitent. The adversaries and enemies of ver. 18, therefore, are the oppressors of Israel, the foreigners and heathen; and 18b with its islands comes in quite naturally.

[274] Note on mishpat and Ssedhaqah in ch. lix. This chapter is a good one for studying the various meanings of mishpat. In ver. 4 the verb shaphat is used in its simplest sense of going to law. In vv. 8 and 14 mishpat is a quality or duty of man. But in ver. 9 it is rather what man expects from God, and what is far from man because of his sins; it is judgement on God's side, or God's saving ordinance. In this sense it is probably to be taken in ver. 15,—Ssedhaqah follows the same parallel. This goes to prove that we have two distinct prophecies amalgamated, unless we believe that a play upon the words is intended.

[275] Isa. i. 17; Ezek. ii. 18; Psalm ix. 12.

[276] Literally, on the side or hip, the Eastern method of carrying children.

[277] Or coasts. See pp. 109 ff.

[278] Isa. xiv.; Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 281 ff.

[279] Isa. xlviii. 18.

[280] See p. 210, note. Some points of the speaker's description of himself—for example, the gift of the Spirit and the anointing—suit equally well any prophet, or the unique Servant. The lofty mission and its great results are not too lofty or great for our prophet, for Jeremiah received his office in terms as large. That the prophet has not yet spoken at such length in his own person is no reason why he should not do so now, especially as this is an occasion on which he sums up and enforces the whole range of prophecy. It can, therefore, very well be the prophet who speaks. On the other hand, to say with Diestel that it cannot be the Servant because the personification of the Servant ceases with ch. liii. is to beg the question. A stronger argument against the case for the Servant is that the speaker does not call himself by that name, as he does in other passages when he is introduced; but this is not conclusive, for in l. 4-9 the Servant, though he speaks, does not name himself. To these may be added this (from Krüger), that the Servant's discourse never passes without transition into that of God, as this speaker's in ver. 8, but the prophet's discourse often so passes; and this, that בשׂר, קרא and נחם are often used of the prophet, and not at all of the Servant. These are all the points in the question, and it will be seen how inconclusive they are. If any further proof of this were required, it would be found in the fact that authorities are equally divided. There hold for the Servant Calvin, Delitzsch, Cheyne (who previously took the other view), Driver, Briggs, Nägelsbach and Orelli. But the Targums, Ewald, Hitzig, Diestel, Dillmann, Bredenkamp and Krüger hold by the prophet. Krüger's reasons, Essai sur la Théologie d'Isaïe xl.-lxvi., p. 76, are specially worthy of attention.

[281] Literally, opening; but the word is always used of opening of the eyes. Ewald renders open air, Dillmann hellen Blick.

[282] Any insignia or ornament for the head.

[283] The same word as in xlii. 3, fading wick.

[284] See Isaiah i.-xxxix., pp. 438-40.

[285] Cf. Krüger, Essai sur la Théologie d'Isaïe xl.-lxvi., pp. 154-55. Lagarde has proposed to read מְאָדָּם, past participle, for מֵאֱדֹם and מִבּצֵר for מִבָּצְרָה. Who is this that cometh dyed red, redder in his garments than a vinedresser?

[286] Ch. lxiii. 18 and lxiv. 10, 11. In the Hebrew ch. lxiv. begins a verse later than it does in the English version.

[287] Semites had a horror of painting the Deity in any form. But when God had to be imagined or described, they chose the form of a man and attributed to Him human features. Chiefly they thought of His face. To see His face, to come into the light of His countenance, was the way their hearts expressed longing for the living God. Exod. xxiii. 14; Psalm xxxi. 16, xxxiv. 16, lxxx. 7. But among the heathen Semites God's face was separated from God Himself, and worshipped as a separate god. In heathen Semitic religions there are a number of deities who are the faces of others. But the Hebrew writers, with every temptation to do the same, maintained their monotheism, and went no farther than to speak of the angel of God's Face. And in all the beautiful narratives of Genesis, Exodus and Judges about the glorious Presence that led Israel against their enemies, the angel of God's face is an equivalent of God Himself. Jacob said, the God which hath fed me, and the angel which hath redeemed me, bless the lads. In Judges this angel's word is God's Word.

[288] See pp. 398 ff.

[289] Cheyne. Similarly Bredenkamp, who contends that the prophecy is Isaianic, and to be dated from the time of Manasseh.

[290] Cf. Dillmann, in loco.

[291] Among Orientals the planets Jupiter and Venus were worshipped as the Larger and the Lesser Luck. They were worshipped as Merodach and Istar among the Babylonians. Merodach was worshipped for prosperity (cf. Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 460, 476, 488). It may be Merodach and Istar, to whom are here given the name Gad, or Luck (cf. Genesis xxii. 11, and the name Baal Gad in the Lebanon valley) and Meni, or Fate, Fortune (cf. Arabic al-manijjat, fate; Wellhausen, Skizzen, iii., 22 ff., 189). There was in the Babylonian Pantheon a "Manu the Great who presided over fate" (Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, etc., p. 120). Instances of idolatrous feasts will be found in Sayce, op. cit., p. 539; cf. 1 Cor. x. 21, Ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of devils. See what is said in p. 62 of this volume about the connection of idolatry and commerce.

[292] Bleek (5th ed., pp. 287, 288) holds ch. lxvi. to be by a prophet who lived in Palestine after the resumption of sacrificial worship (vv. 3, 6, 30), that is, upon the altar of burnt-offering which the Returned had erected there, and at a time when the temple-building had begun. Vatke also holds to a post-exilic date, Einleitung in das A.T., pp. 625, 630. Kuenen, too, makes the chapter post-exilic. Bredenkamp takes vv. 1-6 for Palestinian, but pre-exilic, and ascribes them to Isaiah. With ver. 1 he compares 1 Kings viii. 27; and as to ver. 6 he asks, How could the unbelieving exiles be in the neighbourhood of the Temple and hear Jehovah's voice in thunder from it? Vv. 7-14 he takes as exilic, based on an Isaianic model.

[293] So Dillmann and Driver; Cheyne is doubtful.

[294] Acts vii. 49.

[295] 1 Cor. x.

[296] So, in literal translation of the text, the One being a master of ceremonies, who, standing in the middle, was imitated by the worshippers (cf. Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religions-geschichte, i., p. 315, who combats Lagarde's and Selden's view, that אהד, one, stands for the God Hadad). The Massoretes read the feminine form of one, which might mean some goddess.

[297] Know, Pesh. and some editions of the LXX.; punish, Delitzsch and Cheyne.

[298] The Hebrew text has Pul, the LXX. Put. Put and Lud occur together, Ezek. xxvii. 10-xxx. 5. Put is Punt, the Egyptian name for East Africa. Lud is not Lydia, but a North African nation. Jeremiah, xlvi. 9, mentions, along with Cush, Put and the Ludim in the service of Egypt, and the Ludim as famous with the bow.

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