The purpose of this discourse is given in chap. 40: “Comfort ye my people,” saith your God. The prophecy of Isaiah is a prophecy of comfort. Let this statement not be misunderstood. The meaning is not that the discourses of the other prophets have no comfort for the believers or that it was not the mission of these others to speak comfortable words; what is meant is that the prophecy of Isaiah is pre-eminently a prophecy of comfort and that he more than the others gave utterance to comforting speech.
That he did so is due to the immense scope of his prophetic discourse. He saw clearer than any of the others what constitutes the hearts of redemption. His horizon was wonderfully large and extended; his insight into the economy of redemption marvelously profound. To him the Spirit of God lay bare the very core of salvation. Of all the prophets he alone declared: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed (Is. 53)
Of all the prophets he had most clearly before his eye the blessed state of affairs on the new earth, the earth as cleansed from the godless race that now defiles it. Says he: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . . . (Is. 11)
Throughout this discourse the true remnant appears as a people approaching a time that was to become for it a most wretched present. The Lord is about to come with His judgments; He shall bring upon the house of David days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah. It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall hiss a fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. Where there were a thousand vines, there shall be briars and thorns. All the land shall become briars and thorns, (chap. 7). The women and the careless daughters shall be troubled and tremble. Burning shall be upon all the houses of the joyous city. The palaces shall be forsaken.
Forts and towers shall be for dens forever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks, (chap. 32). The country shall be desolate, cities burned with fire, strangers shall devour the land. It shall be desolate, overthrown by strangers. The Lord will carry His people away with a mighty captivity. He will surely violently turn and toss His people like a ball in a large country; He will drive it from its station, and from its state shall Ho pull it down (chap. 22).
These are but examples of the many doleful descriptions with which the discourse is interspersed. The total of all these woes is regarded as Israel’s death. Saith the Lord by the mouth of his prophet: “There, in that large country thou shalt die.” Such was the sentence the Lord pronounced upon the nation.
The reason for this impending catastrophe is the nation’s covenant infidelity. It has forsaken the Lord, provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger by its revolt. It has gone astray, (chap. 1).
However, in this wicked nation is hidden a remnant.. It formed together with the reprobated shell the one nation upon which the Lord would empty the vials of His wrath. The remnant had also made itself guilty of death by its backslidings. The sins of the nation are also its sins.
However for this remnant the prophet has a good word of comfort, which when lying in the midst of death it will embrace and wait for the salvation of the Lord.
The nucleus of this comfort: Her (Jerusalem’s) recompense is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned, she hath received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The Lord will come with a strong hand and his arm shall rule for him. Behold, his reward is with him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. (Chap. 40).
Herewith we have given the keynote of this entire prophetic discourse. It may be expressed thus: Comfort my people about to descend into the pit of death. Comfort them by giving my word of pardon, deliverance, and eternal bliss. So then, what sets this prophetic discourse apart is that it is pre-eminently a word of comfort consisting in the promise of pardon and salvation for a people in the throes of death.
It is to be noticed that in this 40th chapter Israel appears as atoning for its own sin. After it will have died and will thus have suffered the penalty of its sin, it will be pardoned and again be raised to a state of glory.
In the sequence of this discourse (chap. 42) Israel the servant of Jehovah who atones for its sins is narrowed down to a single individual—personal servant of Jehovah—who is bruised for our iniquities (chap. 43).
Herewith we have given the themes of this discourse. They are: sin, judgment, repentance, redemption, blessedness. Upon these themes Isaiah has more to say than the other prophets.
What according to the prophet is the character of this redemption? The answer is found in the very first chapter: Zion shall be redeemed with judgment and her converts with righteousness. The entire discourse is nothing else than an exposition of this declaration.
As was said, the book of Isaiah is pre-eminently a book of comfort. For this reason its outstanding theme as compared with the prophecy of Jeremiah, e.g. is salvation. Fact is, that by far the greater part of this discourse has to do with this theme. A scanning of the contents of this discourse brings this out.
Israel’s relation to Assyria, the representative of the world-power in general described: The prophetic perspective of the time of Ahaz; the prophecy of Immanuel, the son of a virgin. Isaiah gives the whole nation a sign by the birth of her son, Mahershalalhasbaz. Additions: Despisers of Shiloh shall be punished by the waters of Euphrates. Threatening warning to those that conspire against Judah, and to those that fear the conspirators. The testament of the prophet to his disciples. Threatening of judgment to be accomplished by Assyria directed against the Israel of the ten tribes. Assyria’s destruction; Israel’s salvation: Woe against Assyria. Israel’s redemption from Assyria. Israel’s redemption in relation to the Messiah.
The prophecies against foreign nations. The discourse against individual nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ephraim, Ethiopia, Egypt. The second prophecy against Babylon, then prophecies against Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem and the chamberlain Shebna. The final of the prophecies against the nations. Relation of Israel to Assyria in the time of king Hezekiah. The conclusion of the first part of the book. Historical pieces containing the conclusion of the Assyrians and the preparation for the Babylonian period.
The entire future salvation beginning with redemption from the Babylonian exile, concluding with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. These last 26 chapters deal almost exclusively with salvation. The objective and subjective basis of redemption. First appearance of the Redeemer from the east and of the servant of Jehovah. Also the first and second use of the prophecy relating to this in proof of the divinity of Jehovah. The third chief figure, the personal Servant of Jehovah, in the contrasted features of his appearance. Redemption in its entire compass. Prophecy as proof of divinity comes to the front and culminates in the name of Cyrus (44:6-28). The fall of the Babylonian gods and the gain of Israel’s knowledge of God that will be derived therefrom.The well- deserved and inevitable overthrow of Babylon.
The personal Servant of Jehovah. Parallel between the personal Servant of Jehovah and Zion. Both have a small beginning and a great end. The connection between the guilt of Israel and the sufferings of the Servant of Jehovah, and the liberation from the former through the latter. The final redemption of Israel. A dialogue between the Servant of Jehovah who enters as if veiled, Israel, Jehovah and the prophet. The restoration of the city of Jerusalem. Golgotha. The new salvation. The new way of appropriating salvation. The moral, social and physical fruits of the new way of salvation. A look at the mournful present which will not hinder the coming of the glorious future.
The new creature: Bridge from the present to the future, from preaching repentance to preaching glory. The rise of the heavenly sun of life upon Jerusalem and the new personal and natural life conditioned thereby. The personal center of the revelation of salvation. The prophet in spirit puts himself in the place of the exiled church and brings its cause in prayer before the Lord. The death and life-bringing period.
A glance at the above scheme is sufficient to convince one that the principal theme of this prophecy is salvation. It is this theme that constitutes the discourse as a whole as a message of comfort.
The above scheme also brings out the truth of the assertion that the divine announcement found in 40:2: “Cry out unto her that he recompense is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins,’’ is the foundation truth upon which the prophet continues to build until the entire truth-structure of salvation stands before us in all its grandeur completed.
Let us now attend to the character of this salvation. The assertion was made that rightly considered the entire discourse is an exposition of the divine announcement that Zion shall be redeemed with judgment and her converts with righteousness. Let us now show that this is true. The announcement implies that Zion is in bondage for her sin. In his discourse the prophet describes Zion’s sin. The entire discourse is interspersed with woeful descriptions of her apostasies. Zion’s captor is the godless world power that takes on flesh and blood in the surrounding heathen nations, chief of which is Assyria. In the grip of this power Israel is considered dead. This power of course is the scourge of Jehovah. From the grip of this captor Zion will be redeemed. To redeem means to buy back with a price.
In chapter 40 Zion is set forth as herself paying this price. As was said, however, in the sequence Zion is narrowed down to the personal Servant of Jehovah who by His suffering atones for Zion’s sins and by His blood buys her from the captor.
Israel’s death consists in her being held captive and tormented by the ungodly world power. It is to this ungodly world-power that the announcement, Zion will be redeemed by judgment, must first be made to apply. This worldly power, through the rod of God’s anger for the chastisement and punishment of Zion, God will judge. In persecuting Zion the world fills its measure of iniquity and makes itself ripe for judgment. Its destruction is a matter of divine necessity. Being righteous God cannot condone the abuse heaped by the world on His people. What is done to Zion is done to Him. It is God’s heritage that is being spoiled. Hence He will ease Himself upon the enemies of His people. Through the destruction of this power, Zion is saved.
For the above reason the prophet is bidden to speak against the nations surrounding Israel and to predict their speedy overthrow. As we have seen, there are discourses against Babyon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom and Tyre. It should be borne in mind that these nations are the type and representative of the ungodly world power of all ages.
However, if according to the promise made unto Abraham, all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in Him, what then is to become of this prediction if the nations are to be destroyed? The answer: In each nation is hidden an elect nucleus counted for the nation. It is to this nucleus that God calls, Come unto me all ye ends of the earth and be saved. This call is heeded. The Gentiles in this discourse appear as turning unto the Lord. For the two aforesaid reasons, the heathen nations assumed so prominent a place in Isaiah’s prophecy.