In trouble His people poured out their hearts to Him when His chastening was upon them. Like a pregnant woman is in pain and cries out in her pangs when the time of her delivery is nigh, so were His people in His sight (through the ages of the Old Dispensation). They had conceived and were in pain; but all they brought forth is wind as it were, that is typical deliverers none of whom had wrought true salvation in the earth and therefore here characterized as wind (vss. 16-18). The thought here to be supplied is that in the fullness of time God Himself wrought true salvation through Christ, who also was in the loins of His people. And so the elect dead were raised from their spiritual death and Christ shall raise them up in the last day. And therefore let the righteous who now dwell in the dust, arise and sing. For their dew is as the dew of herbs. They, in other words, are like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in its season. And they shall rise from the dead unto life everlasting (vs. 19).
And let His people enter the Lord’s chamber where they dwell securely till his indignation be overpast. For He comes forth from His sanctuary to inflict. punishment on the inhabitants of the earth for their sins (vs. 21).
The destruction of the satanic world-power and Israel’s joyful prosperity. Isaiah 27:1-9
In the text this power is made to assume the form of beasts as the swift-moving leviathan, the coiled serpent and the crocodile. They shall be destroyed by the strong sword of the Lord (ver. 1). In that day a song shall be sung to the vineyard of the fermented wine, the church of the elect. In this hymn the Lord is the speaker. Every moment, day and night, He guards His vineyard lest anyone visit her with evil intent. And He will abundantly water her (vss. 2, 3). Were Israel thorns and thistles (reprobate), He would march against him and consume him altogether. But He is His heritage in Christ. Let him then take hold of the Lord’s strength and make peace with Him. And that he shall. For in the days to come the Lord shall cause Jacob—in the first instance Christ and secondarily the body of the elect—to take root and to blossom, and Israel to bear fruit. And they shall fill the earth with fruit (vss. 4-6). For the Lord has not smitten him with the stroke of the smiter, i.e. ever so hard as He smote those who smote him. Never has he been slain as the enemies were slain by the Lord (vs. 7). In a measure, when he shoots forth his branches, shall the Lord strive with him. He shall blow with a strong east wind in the day of the east wind. In this manner will his iniquity be atoned. And the fruit thereof will be that the Lord shall make all the stones of the altar as limestone that are crushed fine, and He will cast to the ground the groves and images (vss. 8, 9).
This is a rather difficult passage. But its meaning is clear nevertheless. Israel is God’s people. Hence, in smiting him the Lord does not utterly destroy His vineyard. There is always a remnant according to the election of grace. The vine is not uprooted but pruned. This pruning action of the Lord, by which the dead branches are removed, is here compared to a strong east wind that the Lord will blow over His vineyard in the days of visitation. By these visitations, the full burden of which would ultimately be born by Christ, the iniquity of Israel was expiated. And the result thereof is that the fruit of the vineyard fills the earth. Everywhere the men of His good pleasure, with the riches of the cross dwelling in them abundantly, turn from their idols to serve the living God.
The fortified city destroyed and Israel gathered. Isaiah 27:10-13.
The fortified city shall be solitary, an abandoned habitation, forsaken like a wilderness. They shall be broken off and gathered by women for fuel. For it was a people without understanding. Therefore the Lord their maker will show them no mercy (vss. 10, 11).
Whether the “fortified city” is Babylon and in the final instance the Antichristian world-power of this present dispensation or whether the city meant is Jerusalem here below is a question. I incline toward the view of Calvin that it is the earthly Jerusalem of which the prophet here speaks, the reprobated Israel. The imagery of the text favors this view. It speaks of branches withered and broken off. This makes it likely that the prophet had before his mind the metaphor of the vineyard, that he employed at the beginning of the chapter.
In that day the Lord shall beat off the flood of the river (Euphrates) unto the stream of Egypt (the Nile), and every one of the children of Israel—the church of the elect both Jews and Gentiles—shall be gathered in this gospel period. A great trumpet shall be blown and the perishing ones in the land of Assyria and the outcasts in the land of Egypt shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem (vss. 12, 13).
This is a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles in the gospel period by the exalted and glorified Christ working through His Spirit and His word. Accordingly Assyria and Egypt are the whole earth from the four corners of which the church is gathered. The Jerusalem in the mount of which the called ones worship is the Jerusalem above. Of this work of Christ the turning of Judah’s captivity was the prophetic type. Necessarily implied is the atonement of Christ and the appearing of the church in glory.
Herewith ends the second cycle of Isaiah’s prophecies.
Prophecies occasioned by Israel’s lack of trust in the Lord regarding the Assyrian menace in the time of Hezekiah. Isaiah 28-33.
King Ahaz’s sin had been that he sought protection against Syria-Ephraim not in the Lord but in Assyria at the time the rising world-power. Since then Assyria had become a scourge through Ahab’s blood-guiltiness. After the example of Ahaz, Hezekiah, otherwise a god-fearing king, sought protection against Assyria not in the Lord but in Egypt. It seems that under the pressure of surrounding unbelief he approved an attempt to conclude a covenant with Egypt as the means of deliverance. But the Alliance that his government was trying to bring about through promises of large sums of money and property, was contrary to the will of God. Hence, Isaiah opposed it with all his might. The result was a new cycle of prophecies formed of five speeches each of which begins with a woe.
The First Woe. Isaiah 28
Woe to Samaria and Jerusalem. Isaiah 28:1-13
The city of Samaria was still standing. Located on a hill that overlooked fertile valleys, it was a city of “glorious beauty” and as such the crown of the pride of its godless inhabitants, who were steeped in the vice of drunkenness. But the beauty of their city is a fading flower. Operating through a mighty and strong foe—the world power—the Lord as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, and as a flood of mighty over-flowing waters shall cast the city down to the earth. And the drunkards in it shall be trodden underfoot. (vss. 1-4).
In the text Samaria is called Ephraim (vs. 1). It indicates that the prophecy implies the prediction of the permanent dispersion of the Israel of the ten tribes. But there will be a remnant according to the election. And its glory shall be not the fading beauty of the earthly—here the wicked and doomed city of Samaria—but the Lord. With Him they shall sit in judgment as filled, with His Spirit and strength and as warring His warfare (vss. 5, 6).
The prophet now turns to Jerusalem. Like Samaria this city, too, is a sink of iniquity. Priests and prophets, alike have abandoned themselves to drunkenness. Even the tables of the sanctuary are covered with their vomit so that there is no clean place on them. Their debaucheries have wholly unfitted them for their office. They err in vision and waver in judgment (vss. 7, 8). What is worse, they will not submit to the Lord’s word of rebuke and instruction, which they characterize as suitable for small children but wearisome for grown people. In their own words, it is “precept upon precept and line upon line, here a little, there a little” (vss. 9, 10). In punishment of their obduracy, the Lord will speak to them with lips of a people of another tongue. This is a veiled prediction of the Babylonian invasion and exile with all its attending suffering. But they will have no reason to complain as they despised the rest and refreshment—the gospel of Christ—set before them by the Lord (vss. 11, 12). That they mocked with the Lord’s word is explained by the fact that it was in His heart that they should stumble backward, be snared and broken. This was the supreme reason (v. 13).
This passage sets out with the sentence, “But theyhave also erred through wine (ver. 7). That the pronoun indicates the inhabitants of Judah and particularly of Jerusalem, is clear, it seems to me, from the fact that in this passage our prophet decries also the pollution of the tables by the drunken priests. Doubtless these tables belong to the furniture of the temple in Jerusalem.
The sure foundation. Isaiah 28:14-22
Now the rulers of Jerusalem are commanded to attend to the word of the Lord. Described here as scoffers, they are presented as saying that they have made a covenant with death and an agreement with Hades, meaning that they imagine that by setting lies their refuge and deceit their hiding place they have secured themselves against the scourge when it passes through so that it will not come near them (vss. 14, 15). Therefore the Lord lays in Zion a corner—sure foundation—stone, tried and precious. He that believes in Him shall not be confounded. This stone is Christ. And on this foundation stone the building will be erected through judgment and righteousness (vss. 16, 17). But the scoffers will not turn from their lies to betake themselves in faith to the Stone. Therefore their lies shall be swept away by the scourge of God and they themselves will be trodden down by it. So will their covenant with death be annulled and their agreement with Hades obliterated (ver. 18). The scourge will come not once but repeatedly by day and night. And when the prophet’s preaching that the scoffers ignore as so much trifling talk comes to pass, they shall understand, that is they will be filled with a lively and terrifying awareness that it was God’s word indeed that they despised (v. 19). That lies cannot serve a man as a place of refuge is a truth that the prophet sets forth by a double figure, namely that of a bed that is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it, and that of a covering that is narrower than he can wrap himself in it. Therefore it will be naught but grief for the scoffers in the hour of judgment (v. 20). For the Lord will rise up in’ His might as formerly on Mount Perazim and in the valley of Gibeon to execute His strange work of destruction that the scoffers deem impossible. Therefore they should desist from mocking, lest they remain in their bands forever. For a consumption has been determined upon the whole earth. The prophet knows for he has heard it from the Lord (vss. 21, 22).
Predicted in this passage was the Lord’s coming in judgment through the Assyrians and the Chaldeans as their successors. By their invasions they covered the whole land as a mighty water flood until it was desolate.
The symbol of the plowman. Isaiah 28:23-29
The prophet cannot leave his announcement of judgment directed to Jerusalem without concluding it with the proclamation of salvation. For his main task is to comfort God’s people, that is all such who come in faith to the Stone. So he requests their ear as he shows them from the manner of working of the plowman how wonderful God is in His counsel and how excellent in His working. The farmer does not plough all the day, that is he does not cut and break the soil endlessly, as though he plowed for the mere sake of lacerating the ground. On the contrary, when the soil is prepared, he sows fitches, cummin, the principle wheat, selected barley and spelt—the kinds of seed named in the text—each in their place. But the wisdom of the plowman is not of himself. God instructs him to discretion and teaches him (vss. 23-26).
This makes the sensible and discretionary farming of the plowman a sign of heavenly things. There is infinitely wise and loving purpose that activates God, the heavenly husbandman, in His plowing and threshing His elect. The outstanding example is Christ. Because He was bruised for our iniquities, He sees His seed, the family of redeemed (Isa. 52:10). Tribulations work patience and the hope that maketh not ashamed. His chastisements yield peaceable fruits of righteousness. How infinitely far God is from bruising His people for the sole reason of making them suffer.
The task of freeing the grain from the chaff in the time of harvest is done just as judiciously. The fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cartwheel turned, upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised (v. 27).
God’s strokes differ as to kind and severity. Each saint is chastised in a manner and measure as is needful to prepare him for his own place in God’s house.
But the plowman will not ever be threshing it. For then were the grain destroyed. This prudence, too, is of the Lord (v. 29).
When the elect are once gathered and separated from the chaff the threshing will have served its purpose and come to an end.
How wonderful in counsel is God and excellent in working (v. 29).
The Second Woe. Isaiah 29.
The announcement of this woe is directed to Ariel, i.e. the city where David &dwelt, Jerusalem. Though as gazing into the future the scoffers add year to year and foresee an endless return of the cycle of feasts, though, in a word, the prophet’s prediction of judgments to come were to the scoffers as idle tales, yet certainly the Lord will greatly distress Ariel. Notwithstanding it shall be to Him Ariel. He will never be unmindful of the fact that it is Ariel upon whom He lays His hands (vss. 1, 2). This thought is further worked out in the sequel. The Lord causes it to be known that He will encamp against Ariel round about, lay siege against her with a garrison, build fortifications against her, so that she, brought down into the dust, will let her speech be heard in whispers and. her voice faintly as a spirit from the dead (vss. 2-4). But immediately the promise is added that the multitude of her enemies shall be like small dust and be made to pass away like chaff in an instant, suddenly. The Lord of hosts will visit them with thunder, earthquake, a great noise, storm, tempest and a flame of devouring fire (vss. 5, 6). The whole multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel shall be as a dream of a night vision. They shall pass away and their remembrance will be obliterated (vs. 7). They shall be in the condition of a thirsty and hungry man who dreams that he eats and drinks and whose hunger and thirst persist because it was only a dream (v. 8). The point to this imagery is that the Assyrians, certain of victory, feasted in their minds upon the spoils of an imagined conquest that did not materialize in that the Lord destroyed them before the gates of Jerusalem.
The prophet once more addresses the mockers. He bids them to tarry and be amazed at his revelations, to regard them with attention and be blinded by them. He describes the effect that his world produces in this people. They are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink, meaning that in their unbelief they are hardened and stupefied by his preaching. Seeing, they do not perceive; and they hear, but do not understand. He reveals the reason. The Lord has poured out upon them the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed their eyes. This includes their secondary prophets, heads, and seers (vss. 9, 10), the teachers in Israel whose task it was to explain the revelations to the people. All the preaching of the prophet has become to them as the words of a letter that is sealed, because they do not desire the knowledge of the truth. And all have their excuses for not attending to the prophet’s words and taking them to heart. To drive home the point the prophet avails himself of a figure. One who is learned is given a piece of writing and asked to read. But he cannot, because, so he says, the writing is sealed. It is then given to an unlearned man with the same request. He replies that he cannot read it because he is unlearned. So the scoffers. The one says that the prophet’s preaching is confused and unintelligible and that therefore it can be understood by no man, while the other, falling back on the fact that he is unlearned, complains that it is above his comprehension. But the fact is that the prophet’s revelations could be understood by anyone that hungered after the word of God (vss. 11, 12).