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444

CHAPTER XXX.

THE RESURRECTION.

Isaiah xxvi. 14-19; xxv. 6-9.

Granted the pardon, the justice, the Temple and the God, which the returning exiles now enjoyed, the possession of these only makes more painful the shortness of life itself. This life is too shallow and too frail a vessel to hold peace and righteousness and worship and the love of God. St. Paul has said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. What avails it to have been pardoned, to have regained the Holy Land and the face of God, if the dear dead are left behind in graves of exile, and all the living must soon pass into that captivity,8484   Hezekiah's expression for death, xxxviii. 12. from which there is no return?

It must have been thoughts like these, which led to the expression of one of the most abrupt and powerful of the few hopes of the resurrection which the Old Testament contains. This hope, which lightens chap. xxv. 7, 8, bursts through again—without logical connection with the context—in vv. 14-19 of chap. xxvi.

The English version makes ver. 14 to continue the reference to the lords, whom in ver. 13 Israel confesses to have served instead of Jehovah. "They are dead; they shall not live: they are deceased; they shall not rise."445 Our translators have thus intruded into their version the verb "they are," of which the original is without a trace. In the original, dead and deceased (literally shades) are themselves the subject of the sentence—a new subject and without logical connection with what has gone before. The literal translation of ver. 14 therefore runs: Dead men do not live; shades do not rise: wherefore Thou visitest them and destroyest them, and perisheth all memory of them. The prophet states a fact, and draws an inference. The fact is, that no one has ever returned from the dead; the inference, that it is God's own visitation or sentence which has gone forth upon them, and they have really ceased to exist. But how intolerable a thought is this in presence of the other fact that God has here on earth above gloriously enlarged and established His people (ver. 15). Thou hast increased the nation, Jehovah; Thou hast increased the nation. Thou hast covered Thyself with glory; Thou hast expanded all the boundaries of the land. To this follows a verse (16), the sense of which is obscure, but palpable. It "feels" to mean that the contrast which the prophet has just painted between the absolute perishing of the dead and the glory of the Church above ground is the cause of great despair and groaning: O Jehovah, in The Trouble they supplicate Thee; they pour out incantations when Thy discipline is upon them.8585   I think this must be the meaning of ver. 16, if we are to allow that it has any sympathy with vv. 14 and 15. Bredenkamp suggests that the persons meant are themselves the dead. Jehovah has glorified the Church on earth; but the dead below are still in trouble, and pour out prayers (Virgil's "preces fundunt," Æneid, vi., 55), beneath this punishment which God causes to pass on all men (ver. 14). Bredenkamp bases this exegesis chiefly on the word for "prayer," which means chirping or whispering, a kind of voice imputed to the shades by the Hebrews and other ancient peoples. But while this word does originally mean whispering, it is never in Scripture applied to the dead, but, on the other hand, is a frequent name for divining or incantation. I therefore have felt compelled to understand it as used in this passage of the living, whose only resource in face of death—Goa's discipline par excellence—is to pour out incantations. If it be objected that the prophet would scarcely parallel the ordinary incantations on behalf of the dead with supplications to Jehovah, the answer is that he is talking poetically or popularly. In face of The Trouble446 and The Discipline par excellence of God, what else can man do but betake himself to God? God sent death; in death He is the only resource. Israel's feelings in presence of The Trouble are now expressed in ver. 17: Like as a woman with child that draweth near the time of her delivery writheth and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been before Thee, O Jehovah. Thy Church on earth is pregnant with a life, which death does not allow to come to the birth. We have been with child; we have been in the pangs, as it were; we have brought forth wind; we make not the earth, in spite of all we have really accomplished upon it in our return, our restoration and our enjoyment of Thy presence—we make not the earth salvation, neither are the inhabitants of the world born.8686   English version, fallen; i.e., like our expression for the birth of animals, dropped.

The figures are bold. Israel achieves, through God's grace, everything but the recovery of her dead; this, which alone is worth calling salvation, remains wanting to her great record of deliverances. The living Israel is restored, but how meagre a proportion of the people it is! The graves of home and of exile do not give up their dead. These are not born again to be inhabitants of the upper world.

The figures are bold, but bolder is the hope that breaks from them. Like as when the Trumpet shall447 sound, ver. 19 peals forth the promise of the resurrection—peals the promise forth, in spite of all experience, unsupported by any argument, and upon the strength of its own inherent music. Thy dead shall live! my dead bodies shall arise! The change of the personal pronoun is singularly dramatic. Returned Israel is the speaker, first speaking to herself: thy dead, as if upon the depopulated land, in face of all its homes in ruin, and only the sepulchres of ages standing grim and steadfast, she addressed some despairing double of herself; and secondly speaking of herself: my dead bodies, as if all the inhabitants of these tombs, though dead, were still her own, still part of her, the living Israel, and able to arise and bless with their numbers their bereaved mother. These she now addresses: Awake and sing, ye dwellers in the dust, for a dew of lights is Thy dew, and the land bringeth forth the dead.8787   Technical Hebrew word for the inhabitants of the underworld—the shades.

If one has seen a place of graves in the East, he will appreciate the elements of this figure, which takes dust for death and dew for life. With our damp graveyards mould has become the traditional trappings of death; but where under the hot Eastern sun things do not rot into lower forms of life, but crumble into sapless powder, that will not keep a worm in life, dust is the natural symbol of death. When they die, men go not to feed fat the mould, but down into the dust; and there the foot of the living falls silent, and his voice is choked, and the light is thickened and in retreat, as if it were creeping away to die. The only creatures the visitor starts are timid, unclean bats, that flutter and whisper about him like the ghosts of the dead. There are no448 flowers in an Eastern cemetery; and the withered branches and other ornaments are thickly powdered with the same dust that chokes, and silences and darkens all.

Hence the Semitic conception of the underworld was dominated by dust. It was not water nor fire nor frost nor altogether darkness, which made the infernal prison horrible, but that upon its floor and rafters, hewn from the roots and ribs of the primeval mountains, dust lay deep and choking. Amid all the horrors he imagined for the dead, Dante did not include one more awful than the horror of dust. The picture which the northern Semites had before them when they turned their faces to the wall was of this kind.8888   Extracted from the Assyrian Descent of Istar to Hades (Dr. Jeremias' German translation, p. 11, and Records of the Past, i., 145).

The house of darkness....

The house men enter, but cannot depart from.

The road men go, but cannot return.

The house from whose dwellers the light is withdrawn.

The place where dust is their food, their nourishment clay.

The light they behold not; in darkness they dwell.

They are clothed like birds, all fluttering wings.

On the door and the gateposts, the dust lieth deep.

Either, then, an Eastern sepulchre, or this its infernal double, was gaping before the prophet's eyes. What more final and hopeless than the dust and the dark of it?

But for dust there is dew, and even to graveyards the morning comes that brings dew and light together. The wonder of dew is that it is given from a clear heaven, and that it comes to sight with the dawn. If the Oriental looks up when dew is falling, he sees nothing to thank for it between him and the stars. If he sees dew in the morning, it is equal liquid and lustre; it seems to distil from the beams of the sun—449the sun, which riseth with healing under his wings. The dew is thus doubly "dew of light." But our prophet ascribes the dew of God, that is to raise the dead, neither to stars nor dawn, but, because of its Divine power, to that higher supernal glory which the Hebrews conceived to have existed before the sun, and which they styled, as they styled their God, by the plural of majesty: A dew of lights is Thy dew.8989   Cf. James i. 17. As, when the dawn comes, the drooping flowers of yesterday are seen erect and lustrous with the dew, every spike a crown of glory, so also shall be the resurrection of the dead. There is no shadow of a reason for limiting this promise to that to which some other passages of resurrection in the Old Testament have to be limited: a corporate restoration of the holy State or Church. This is the resurrection of its individual members to a community which is already restored, the recovery by Israel of her dead men and women from their separate graves, each with his own freshness and beauty, in that glorious morning when the Sun of righteousness shall arise, with healing under His wings—Thy dew, O Jehovah!

Attempts are so often made to trace the hopes of resurrection, which break the prevailing silence of the Old Testament on a future life, to foreign influences experienced in the Exile, that it is well to emphasize the origin and occasion of the hopes that utter themselves so abruptly in this passage. Surely nothing could be more inextricably woven with the national fortunes of Israel, as nothing could be more native and original to Israel's temper, than the verses just expounded. We need not deny that their residence among a people, accustomed as the Babylonians were to belief in the resurrection, may have thawed in the Jews450 that reserve which the Old Testament clearly shows that they exhibited towards a future life. The Babylonians themselves had received most of their suggestions of the next world from a non-Semitic race; and therefore it would not be to imagine anything alien to the ascertained methods of Providence if we were to suppose that the Hebrews, who showed what we have already called the Semitic want of interest in a future life, were intellectually tempered by their foreign associations to a readiness to receive any suggestions of immortality, which the Spirit of God might offer them through their own religious experience. That it was this last, which was the effective cause of Israel's hopes for the resurrection of her dead, our passage puts beyond doubt. Chap. xxvi. shows us that the occasion of these hopes was what is not often noticed: the returned exiles' disappointment with the meagre repopulation of the holy territory. A restoration of the State or community was not enough: the heart of Israel wanted back in their numbers her dead sons and daughters.

If the occasion of these hopes was thus an event in Israel's own national history, and if the impulse to them was given by so natural an instinct of her own heart, Israel was equally indebted to herself for the convictions that the instinct was not in vain. Nothing is more clear in our passage than that Israel's first ground of hope in a future life was her simple, untaught reflection upon the power of her God. Death was His chastening. Death came from Him, and remained in His power. Surely He would deliver from it. This was a very old belief in Israel. The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up. Such words, of course, might be only an extreme figure for recovery from disease, and the silence of so great a saint as451 Hezekiah about any other issue into life than by convalescence from mortal sickness staggers us into doubt whether an Israelite ever did think of a resurrection. But still there was Jehovah's almightiness; a man could rest his future on that, even if he had not light to think out what sort of a future it would be. So mark in our passage, how confidence is chiefly derived from the simple utterance of the name of Jehovah, and how He is hailed as our God. It seems enough to the prophet to connect life with Him and to say merely, Thy dew. As death is God's own discipline, so life, Thy dew, is with Him also.

Thus in its foundation the Old Testament doctrine of the resurrection is but the conviction of the sufficiency of God Himself, a conviction which Christ turned upon Himself when He said, I am the Resurrection and the Life. Because I live, ye shall live also.

If any object that in this picture of a resurrection we have no real persuasion of immortality, but simply the natural, though impossible, wish of a bereaved people that their dead should to-day rise from their graves to share to-day's return and glory—a revival as special and extraordinary as that appearing of the dead in the streets of Jerusalem when the Atonement was accomplished, but by no means that general resurrection at the last day which is an article of the Christian faith—if any one should bring this objection, then let him be referred to the previous promise of immortality in chap. xxv. The universal and final character of the promise made there is as evident as of that for which Paul borrowed its terms in order to utter the absolute consequences of the resurrection of the Son of God: Death is swallowed up in victory. For the prophet, having in ver. 6 described the restoration of the people, whom exile had452 starved with a famine of ordinances, to a feast in Zion of fat things and wines on the lees well refined, intimates that as certainly as exile has been abolished, with its dearth of spiritual intercourse, so certainly shall God Himself destroy death: And He shall swallow up in this mountain—perhaps it is imagined, as the sun devours the morning mist on the hills—the mask of the veil, the veil that is upon all the peoples, and the film spun upon all the nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever, and the Lord Jehovah shall wipe away tears from off all faces, and the reproach of His people shall He remove from off all the earth, for Jehovah hath spoken it. And they shall say in that day, Behold, this is our God: we have waited for Him, and He shall save us; this is Jehovah: we have waited for Him; we will rejoice and be glad in His salvation. Thus over all doubts, and in spite of universal human experience, the prophet depends for immortality on God Himself. In chap. xxvi. 3 our version beautifully renders, Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee. This is a confidence valid for the next life as well as for this. Therefore trust ye in the Lord for ever. Amen.

Almighty God, we praise Thee that, in the weakness of all our love and the darkness of all our knowledge before death, Thou hast placed assurance of eternal life in simple faith upon Thyself. Let this faith be richly ours. By Thine omnipotence, by Thy righteousness, by the love Thou hast vouchsafed, we lift ourselves and rest upon Thy word. Because I live, ye shall live also. Oh keep us steadfast in union with Thyself, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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