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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 Judah117117   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!: 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!


The former things I published long ago;118118   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. 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,119119   Literally, also. But נם, a cumulative conjunction, when it is introduced to repeat the same thought as preceded it, means yea, truly, profecto, imo. 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,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 prophet208 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's120120   Ch. xxv., which is undoubtedly an authentic prophecy of Jeremiah. 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, that209 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!121121   The Hebrew has not the words My Name. The LXX. has them.and My glory to another I will not give.


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,122122   A second time without article though applied to the whole world. 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;123123   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. 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 from211 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.124124   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.

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!125125   Or like its bowels, referring to the sea. 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.

212And 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 have213 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.

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