Reformed — or Removed

For, behold, the Lord, Jehovah of hosts is removing from Jerusalem and from Judah supporter and supportress, all support of bread, and all support of water, mighty man and fighting man, judge and prophet, also fortune-teller and elder, the captain of fifty and the distinguished person, even the counselor and skilled craftsmen and expert charmer.

Isaiah 3:1-3

I. Their Captain of Fifty Removed. For, expressing the reason for the command and good advice of the preceding verse, “Cease ye from man!” and so from every leaning upon the dictates of humanism. For God is about to remove from the people every ground they rest on, natural and spiritual, beginning with all the support of food and drink, all support of government and society, including civil, military, labor and religious “very important persons.” In the last two mentioned, not only ministers and officebearers, but heads of the mechanical and magical arts are threatened. 

Behold! The command is to look at that which is near to come, and hints at the shortness of time, so short that they would be eye-witnesses of what would shortly come to pass. The Lord, God considered as sovereign over all, with all subject to him, hence, as E. J. Young translates Adon, the Sovereign! He, the sovereign God, is himself the stay and foundation of all creation. In Him all things consist. Jehovah Tsebhaoth: The combination of the names Adonai and Jehovah of hosts appears in the prophecy where judgments are being introduced and publicly proclaimed (1:24; 10:16, 33; 19:4), showing that they come, not by chance, but from the Lord himself. is removing—- This removal results in the government, business, and all society in general falling into worse than mediocrity, into incompetent hands (v. 4). Then extortion crops up everywhere, down to the grass-roots level, even to “everyone by his neighbor” (5a), the evil running, of into insubordination (5b) and resultant confusion. Finally, with no qualified person either in office or available for public service, the people are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, and the state is a shambles (6, 7). What provoked this fearful destruction was the sin of the people. They brought it all upon themselves (8, 9). In the midst of these judgments, the righteous, too, suffer, but are nevertheless comforted in and through them, while the wicked must endure the punishment of them (10, 11). Another cause and provocation of this complete ruination was female pride and vanity, which would all come to grief (18-24). Terrible retribution would overwhelm them in the form of desolating war (25, 26), fulfilled in 2 Kings 24:14,16. This judgment really began in the time of Ahaz. As far back as his reign you hear of the inroads and invasions of foreign powers, and from then on such names as, Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, Morodach-baladan, Esarhaddon, Assurbanipal (or Sardanapalus) and Nebuchadnezzar, under whose reign the ruin was complete. The prophecy of Jeremiah and his Lamentations are the best commentaries on this. The land suffered a drastic decimation of the male population, leaving widows in a pitiful state of existence (4:1). But the finalized and most devastating blow came in 70 A.D., in the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, when the curses of Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 were literally fulfilled. 

From Jerusalem and from Judah. In chapter 1:10-21, Isaiah had pronounced judgment on the entire universe as apostate from its Creator. Now judgment falls more particularly on not only the capital, but on the whole kingdom of Judah. (In chap. 1:1 and 2:1, there is the opposite order, Judah and Jerusalem.) — supporter and supportress (3 :12, 16-4:1; i.e., support of every kind), all support of bread and all support of water, the main staples of human life. Bread, a good gift, is in itself no blessing, as Hagg. 1:6 will show. In fact, bread in the teeth of the imperious becomes a downright sin, a name for iniquity (Ezek. 16:49). Then bread, so far from being a blessing, which must be added to the mere gift of bread (Deut. 28:5), becomes a curse (28:17). Life is supported by bread and water. Life hobbles along on the crutch of bread and water. Without that crutch, life can’t make it; it expires. 

Mighty man and fighting man. Great men in government shall be so discouraged as to decide to serve no more and resign their commissions. Judge and prophet, also fortune-teller. The nation’s legitimate and illegitimate supports are removed, as Hosea, a contemporary of Isaiah, had already prophesied, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim” (3:4). and elder(LXX, presbyter), the captain of fifty, the inferior officer, the semi-centurion (Josh. 5:14f, II Ki. 1:9-11,13), shall be removed; and the distinguished person, (the lifted up in face, the exalted person, as Mordecai), even the counselor, as Joseph was to Pharaoh, Moses to another Pharaoh (who knew not Joseph), Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus; and Mordecai to Ahasuerus. The position of counselor was a sharing in the office of Christ, as shown in 9:6 (Wonderful Counselor!), and shows that biblical counseling is both instructive and directive (40:13). 

II. Our Captain of Fifty Reformed. Our captain of fifty isThe Standard Bearer! It is indeed a captain, a leader in the Reformed world, and has been a captain, a champion of the Reformed Faith, for fifty years consistently holding up the standard of truth. Always it has recognized the need for continued and on-going reformation. As one has well put it, “all the Reformed churches . . . recognized the Church as always in need of reformation, even as they felt this to be the ceaseless need of every individual Christian. Calvin and other Reformers lived in a time when reformation was notoriously necessary, and even many [Roman] Catholics in these days were calling loudly for reformation in head and members. 

“However, the actual accomplishment of this was opposed within the bosom of the Church, but our fathers persisted in their testimony, and came to action. That as a consequence they were cast out of the church was not at their direct initiative, but thisbecame a situation which was forced upon them; whence the Roman Church was really the schismatic. ” (The Reformed Principle of Authority, G. H. Hospers, The Reformed Press, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1924, p. 231). In answer to the charge that the work of reformation in and of the church “made a schism in the Church,” Calvin replied, “Our adversaries, therefore, if they would persuade us that they are the true Church, must, first of all, show that the true doctrine of God is among them.” That is, the true church will bear its own distinctive, identifying marks, “the preaching of the Word, the pure administration of the sacraments and the exercise of holy discipline.” On the point of schism, he remarked, “Let our opponents, then, in the first instance, draw near to Christ, and then let them convict us of schism, in daring to dissent from them in doctrine. But, since I have made it plain that Christ is banished from their society, and the doctrine of the gospel exterminated, their charge against us simply amounts to this, that we adhere to Christ in preference to them . . . Those who refuse to be led away from Christ and his truth . . . are thereby schismatics?!” (Calvin’s Tracts & Treatises, I, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, 211-217). 

When the churches cease to reform and conform to the pattern of Scripture, but instead apostatize from the Reformed Faith, then the nation begins gradual decline to ruin. It especially then proves useless to rely on popular statesmen, great soldiers, modern psychologists or the counsel of judge or prophet. For the Lord removes them; He withdraws their breath; they die in the very emergency in which they were needed most. Or, if they live, their acumen, courage and success evaporate before public eye, or their reputation fails, and down dashes once high expectations. No good will come to church or nation from prophets and teachers no longer given a hearing, or whose warnings are rejected; no, nor from false prophets who prophesy smooth things, who prophesy deceits, such as, Peace!, when there is no peace. What a decadent nation or church it is where the moral fiber of the people is lost, and their firm, unbending, uncompromising leaders are things of the past, and the elder, in age, and in office, with years of valuable experience making a fit counselor, is nowhere to be found! 

Therefore, the church must be reformed or be removed. The churches of all the ages were and are warned of this. The very best churches do well to heed this warning. Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall. One of the best churches was the church of Ephesus. It was a church sound in doctrine. It preached the Word of God and faithfully exercised Christian discipline. As a church, it was active in the work of the Lord. It did not become weary in well-doing. There was love in that church. It was on the move, too. But it was like a jet which has cut its motors and is spiraling gradually in ever widening circles to a landing. No longer does it send out its jet-stream and go streaking like an arrow to its target in the sky. So this church lacked the motivating power of its first love. It just did not have the spiritual life it once had. It was falling asleep and drifting along, partly on momentum of the motor of first love, now really shut off and lost, and partly on the momentum of tradition and custom. It is this church which is warned, “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and willremove thy lamp stand out of its place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5). The divine warning is, Be reformed! or be removed! That warning has been faithfully sounded forth by our captain of fifty, The Standard Bearer for as many years. It is of God’s grace alone that our captain of fifty still remains in the land, and continues to perform the work of its calling!