LESSON III., ISA. 28:1-13, JANUARY 17.
This portion of Isaiah's prophecy is set forth in the International Lesson series as the temperance lesson for this quarter: and it certainly is a very strong one. But while we carefully observe this, let us not forget its prophetic character; for a prophecy must be received as a prophecy, and not merely as a collection of moral or religious precepts to be indiscriminately applied.
Our first observation in studying any prophecy should be as to the time when its predictions will be realized, and when, therefore, its warnings should be specially heeded. The division into chapters and verses, it will be remembered, is merely an arbitrary arrangement in modern times for the sake of convenience. Glancing back to chapters 26:21 and 27:1 we see that a definite time is marked—"In that day." What day? In the day when "the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (26:21); the same day which Daniel foretold, saying, "And there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time" (Dan. 12:1); the day of which Malachi said, "Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble" (Mal. 4:1); and again, "Who may abide the day of his [Christ's] coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap." (Mal. 3:2.) Ah! yes: it is the harvest time of the Gospel age, the day of reckoning, the very day in which we are now living—from 1874 to 1914—the latter part of which is to witness the great conflict foretold, and the preparations for which are now going on in the world. The wheat and tares of nominal Christendom are now being separated, and the latter bound in bundles—tied up tightly in great organizations—preparatory to the symbolic burning or trouble of the closing days of this age and the ushering in of the Millennial day.
Among the things mentioned concerning that day, the Prophet (28:1) foretells woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim. As the language is symbolic, we next inquire, Who is referred to under the name Ephraim? It is the very same class mentioned in our last lesson (Isa. 26:5) as the "lofty city" that the Lord is going to bring down to the dust—that great city, "Babylon" (Rev. 16:19; 17:5; 18:2), which now proudly calls itself Christendom (Christ's kingdom). The Prophet in succeeding chapters applies to it several symbolic names. The name Ephraim here used signifies fruitful, and is symbolically applied to the great nominal Christian system, both Papal and Protestant. It has a great show of fruitfulness in number, influence, power and wealth; but this is not the kind of fruitfulness for which the Lord is looking. This he calls "hasty fruit"—sour and bitter, like that forced before the summer.—Verse 4.
Verse 1. "Woe to the crown of pride"—the worldly prosperity—the boast of the great Nominal Church. Her glory in numbers and wealth and power is a fading flower. Who can not see it, in this day when her position is disputed and her doctrines and authority are boldly called in question? Her "beauty" crown the "fat valleys" of worldly-mindedness where many are overcome, intoxicated, with the spirit of the world. The trouble or "woe" on these systems is beginning to be experienced, and will be continually increasing.
Verse 2. The "mighty and strong one" is the Lord, whose instrument is the Truth, which, "like a flood of mighty waters" (Water is a symbol of truth), is destined to cover the earth—"The knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea." It will come as "a tempest of hail and a destroying storm." Hail represents truth put in a hard, forcible way; and "a tempest of hail" indicates the destructive and forceful method which the Lord will adopt. Thus the Truth will batter down the old and long-established errors upon which the great systems of "Christendom" have been built. The Lord has refrained from the separating of the wheat and tares until this time of harvest; now he will separate them, glorify the "wheat," and cast the "tares" into the fiery furnace of a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation (Matt. 13:30). Thus he will do "his work, his strange work, [R1357 : page 28] and bring to pass his act, his strange act" (verse 21)—viz.: the bringing down to the earth and laying low of great Babylon—Christendom.
Verse 3. "The crown of pride"—the wealth and fame and prestige of these great systems, together with all who have been intoxicated with their worldly spirit shall be "trodden under foot"—humbled in the dust. Compare Rev. 18:2,5.
Verse 4. In rejecting the Lord's plans and adopting plans of their own, the various nominal churches have had great fruitfulness in numbers, etc., but the fruit is not good. It is "hasty," immature fruit. Thousands of such have been brought into the various nominal churches whose hearts remained unchanged, and hypocrites of every shade also find a home there, until, in the language of Inspiration, "Babylon has become the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."—Rev. 18:2.
Verse 5. Unto "the residue of his people"—those who are truly consecrated to the Lord and who follow his leading, who love and obey his truth—the Lord will be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty. They are his betrothed and will shortly be exalted as his bride and joint-heir. To all such who are still in Babylon as wheat in the midst of tares he says, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues."—Rev. 18:4.
Verse 6. The Lord will give judgment, discretion, to those who endeavor to discern between truth and error, and who bring all things both new and old to the test of his Word. His strength will also be given to those who battle against the forces of error—who endeavor to "turn the battle at the gate." The gates of ancient cities were generally important places in the defence of the city and there courts of justice, public assemblies, etc., were often held. To turn the battle at the gate would, therefore, in symbolic language, signify public effort to withstand error with the truth, even in the strongholds of error. For this God will and now does give strength to his people, so that one may "chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight."
Verse 7. "But they also"—to whom the people look as leaders and teachers, viz.: the clergy—"have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way: the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink, they err in vision, they stumble in judgment." Here, in harmony with the symbolic character of the prophecy, we see that the wine and strong drink are also symbols—symbols, too, of something bad, something deceptive in its character and [R1358 : page 28] intoxicating in its effects—hence, indirectly, a rebuke to the evil thing itself. But as a symbol what does it mean? It is a forceful symbol of the spirit of the world, the love of the world and of the world's approval and emoluments, with which spirit all the systems of Christendom are intoxicated, especially the "priests and the prophets"—the leaders and teachers in Babylon. Therefore do they "err in vision and stumble in judgment." It is for this very reason that they cannot understand this prophecy which we are now considering. They are so infatuated with the greatness of their antichristian systems that in their pride they cannot see its application to them; and in their blindness they set forth these verses as a lesson on temperance in the use of intoxicating beverages, taking no notice of the time of its application—"In that day" (verse 5)—nor to its symbolic and prophetic character. Truly, said the Prophet, "they err in vision, they stumble in judgment."
Verse 8. "For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean." "Here is a forceful statement of the condition of affairs of which we are all witnesses today. The Calvinistic tables are all so polluted with the rejected dogmas swallowed in the past, that people are now turning away in disgust from the tables around which they formerly gathered so complacently. The Arminian tables are almost equally polluted, so that Methodists are beginning to discuss the propriety of absolving the laity from all doctrinal tests, lest they lose a large proportion of their membership. And truly, look where we will, through all the sects of "Christendom," as the Prophet says, "There is no place clean"—no table fit for God's intelligent children. But God is providing "meat in due season" now for all who hunger and thirst after righteousness, outside of Babylon. "My table thou hast furnished in the presence of mine enemies," the true Church may still sing.
Verse 9. Here the Prophet raises the question, "Whom shall he [the Lord] teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?" In other words, Who among all this people, who are in this miserable plight, are worthy of the truth which is now due to the faithful? Will he give it to the drunken? or will he give it to those who are satisfied with their polluted tables? or to those who have no hungering and thirsting after truth prompting them to seek it? No, the Prophet says he will give it "to them that are weaned from the milk [R1358 : page 29] and drawn from the breasts"—to them who are reaching out after more knowledge of God and of his gracious plans. Blessed are the hungry who desire more and stronger spiritual food that they may grow thereby, for they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6.) Milk is for babes, but strong meat is for those who have passed the infant stage and who are no longer babes in Christ.—Heb. 5:14.
Verses 10-12 show that it will take a great many more lessons to help those in Babylon who are not yet ready to be helped; for he will not longer speak to them through the old tongues—the intoxicated "priests and prophets" to whom they still look for leading. But "by men of strange lips and with another tongue will he speak to his people." (R.V.) He will raise up other teachers—teachers not ordained of men, but of God—whom therefore they will not incline to recognize or heed; because they will not "prophesy smooth things," saying, Peace! peace! when there is no peace." And when these (verse 12) point out the true rest and refreshment of divine truth, they will not hear.
Verse 13 is a solemn warning of the responsibility of such; showing that when they are ensnared in the traps of error, and thereby fail of the reward of faithfulness to the truth, it will have been due to their own improper condition of heart, and not to any lack of faithfulness on God's part.
In view of this solemn averment of responsibility on the part of those who hear but will not heed the truth, and who are too much intoxicated with the spirit of the world to discern it, how solemn are the words of rebuke that follow. This whole prophecy is one which every child of God who desires to know the truth and to escape the snares of error would do well to study with reverent humility and lay its solemn warnings and precepts well to heart.
But let all such first make sure that they are not in the least intoxicated with the wine or strong drink of Babylon, but that in simplicity of heart they desire the strong meat of truth, that they may grow thereby.
LESSON IV., ISA. 37:14-21,33-38, JANUARY 24.
Golden Text.—"The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth and delivereth them."—Psa. 34:17.
This lesson is a scrap of history incidentally interwoven with Isaiah's prophecy. In reading it we should bear in mind that Israel was God's peculiar people and under his special protection and care, as it is written, "Ye are the children of the Lord your God....Thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." "The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure."—Deut. 14:2; Psa. 135:4.
We should remember also that God himself was King of Israel, and that Hezekiah and others were his representatives on the throne, as it is written, "Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king, instead of David his father." (1 Chron. 29:23.) While God thus ruled in Israel he permitted all the other nations to pursue their own course and follow their own inclinations except when they interfered with his plans for the government of Israel. When Israel became refractory and disobedient he often chastised them by permitting the other nations to annoy them and take them into captivity, but as long as they were obedient to the Lord they had prosperity.
All the promises made to Israel were promises of temporal good; no mention was made to them of the heavenly hopes set before the Gospel Church. These are peculiar to the gospel dispensation which had its beginning in our Lord's ministry and at Pentecost, and which closes with the dawn of the Millennium. The promises made to Israel were that they should have the land of Canaan "for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8), and that, if they were willing and obedient subjects of God, their King, they should "eat the good of the land."—Isa. 1:19.
But they were also told that if they were disobedient and walked contrary to the Lord, he also would walk contrary to them, and bring upon them distress and trouble. See Lev. 26, and observe in their history how God dealt with them as he said he would do. So long as Israel was under the divine rulership and care no evil could befall them except by divine permission for their correction and discipline, as it is written, "Shall there be evil in a city [a city of Israel], and the Lord hath not done it [or brought it upon them]?" And they were generally forewarned of such impending evils or calamities and given the alternative of repentance; for, said the Prophet (Amos 3:7), "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
In reading Hezekiah's prayer for the deliverance of Israel from the Assyrian invaders, and the Lord's answer to that prayer in the destruction of the enemy, we are not to consider that a precedent is thus established, whereby other nations may claim God's help in overcoming their national enemies; for none of the other nations has ever been recognized as God's [R1358 : page 30] kingdom, nor has Israel, since the rejection of the Messiah. Since that time, God has had no kingdom set up in the world, but has permitted the Gentile kingdoms to have full sway until the time appointed for the establishment of his own glorious kingdom in the hands of his Anointed—our Lord Jesus and his Church. And when that time arrives, which now is not far distant, all these Gentile kingdoms must be destroyed.
The only sense in which the kingdom of God now is or has been in the world since the beginning of the Gospel age is in its embryo or incipient stage, and it is composed of the prospective heirs of that kingdom. In this sense all through the Gospel age the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent have taken it by force (Matt. 11:12). Suffering and ignominy, and often martyrdom, have been its lot; but the glory is to follow in due time.
This scrap of Israel's history which the Prophet here narrates was given, not merely to point a moral lesson, but to show, in connection with other similar items recorded by other prophets and historians, how God actually did deal with them as a people according to his promises and his threatenings. However, we may take all the good suggestions we can draw out of the narrative. Thus, for instance, we may admire Hezekiah's sterling character, particularly in view of the wicked example of his father who reigned before him; for instead of heedlessly following in his unrighteous ways, as most sons of unrighteous parents incline to do, Hezekiah resolved to do differently, and became a great reformer in his day; and the narrative of this lesson shows his reliance upon God's promises in time of trouble, and how God honored his prayer and fulfilled those promises in the deliverance of Israel from a great impending calamity.
LESSON V., JANUARY 31, ISAIAH 53:1-12.
Golden Text—"The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."—Isa. 53:6.
In the midst of his vivid and striking prophecies of the Millennial glory of Christ's Kingdom in the earth, and of the overthrow and destruction of Great Babylon preparatory thereto, the Prophet here predicts, and particularly describes, that one great event which was to be the foundation upon which the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation and the hope of future glory should rest.
That one central or pivotal truth, is briefly expressed in our golden text—"The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The one referred to we readily recognize by the prophetic description to be the Christ of the New Testament history. The prophecy and the fulfilment both stand out prominently on the pages of divinely-attested truth. But notwithstanding the importance of this great truth to the whole human race, the Prophet, speaking from a then future standpoint when the fulfilment of his prophecy had been accomplished, inquires, "Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"—thus calling attention to that which we now realize, viz. that only a very few understand or appreciate the good tidings. And when we remember that faith in this message is necessary to the receiving of its benefits, it is disheartening, unless we know some of the further steps of the divine plan, to realize how few believe it. Daily there are thousands and tens of thousands, in both civilized and uncivilized lands, going down into the grave without faith, and without the least ray of hope from this precious truth. In view of these things, many seem to think that God's arm is shortened that it cannot save—except the very few who now believe.
But let such observe the second inquiry of the Prophet—"And to whom is the arm of Jehovah revealed?"—intimating that his arm, his power, has not yet been revealed to many that they might believe. But his arm, his power, will be fully revealed to all in due time in the final accomplishment of his plan. But that plan is one which requires ages for its complete accomplishment; hence the "arm of Jehovah" is revealed now, to those only who can receive the revelation of it by faith. The household of faith may therefore comfort themselves with this blessed assurance, that "God our Savior will have all men to be saved [out of the Adamic death], and to come to the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Tim. 2:3-6.) To this end, a resurrection, "both of the just and the unjust," is promised: "The hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth." (Acts 24:15; John 5:28,29.) They will come forth in due time to have the truth fully testified to them, and to profit by it; and if they are obedient to it, they may go on unto perfection and live forever.
Verses 2 and 3 describe "the man Christ Jesus," saying, "For he shall grow up before [R1359 : page 31] him [Jehovah] as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." All humanity under the condemnation of death was reckoned dead; and this one alone, like a new, fresh, living root out of the barren soil, grew up from infancy to manhood. But, in the estimation of men, he had no desirable form nor comeliness, nor beauty. His glorious perfection made manifest their deformity; and when he declared himself the Messiah and the King of the Jews, they had no desire for such a king. They were looking for a king like Alexander the Great, or like the Caesars; one who, with military skill and carnal weapons, should deliver them from the Roman yoke. They had no faith therefore in the meek Nazarene and his claims: they saw no beauty such as they were looking for in him. Consequently, he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was despised, and men esteemed him not. And because men lightly esteemed and even despised him, "he hid as it were his face from them." [See margin. Because of their unbelief and hardness of heart, they therefore lost the benefit of his wisdom and teaching and many of his mighty works.—Rom. 11:20; Matt. 13:58.]
Verse 4. "Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted." As a perfect man, apart from the condemned race, and having no sin nor any cause of death in him, he voluntarily bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Though he was rich before he became a man, and though as a man he had all the talent necessary to secure earthly riches, he voluntarily became poor and remained poor—so poor that often he had not where to lay his head. Thus he was able to sympathize with the poor of this world. And though as a perfect man, without sin, and consequently without the consequences of sin, he had perfect health, yet during the three years of his ministry he was continually imparting his vitality—vigor, strength—to the suffering ones around him, thus impoverishing himself and so being "touched with a feeling of our infirmities," as it is written: "And the whole multitude sought to touch him, for there went virtue [vitality, strength] out of him, and healed them all;" "And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me, for I perceive that virtue [vitality, strength] is gone out of me." He felt the consequent weakness.—See Luke 6:17-19; 8:46-48; Mark 5:30-34.
But while he thus, from exhausting labor and daily sacrifice for the good of others, endured weakness and weariness, so that at the end of the three and a half years of his ministry he was unable to bear his cross to the place of execution (Luke 23:26), men did not recognize the real cause of his physical weakness, but esteemed him stricken and smitten of God, as though he were a sinner like other men, and therefore, like them, subject to physical decline and death. But no, "In him was no sin:" he was generously and sympathetically bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, while we ungratefully "esteemed him smitten of God and afflicted."
Verse 5. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." The dreadful tragedy of Calvary was not for his own sins, but for ours, as also saith the Prophet Daniel (9:26)—"Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself." "He suffered for sins," says Peter, "being put to death in the flesh, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." (1 Pet. 3:18.) And Isaiah continues—verses 6 and 7—"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord [Jehovah] hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." And meekly and willingly he bore our burden; for, though "he was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." See Mark 15:3-5.
Verse 8. "Through oppression and through judicial punishment [by means of false accusations which secured a legal condemnation to death] was he taken away; but his generation—who shall declare it? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken."
"His generation." This expression may be understood in three ways truthfully, and hence properly. (1) Who of his day and generation would admit the facts?—only the very few who became his despised followers. (2) How few knew of his generation, of his divine lineage! how few believed or confessed that the despised, rejected and crucified one was the only begotten son of God, made flesh for the very purpose of thus giving himself a ransom for all! (3) But "his generation" is specially to be understood (see following verses) in the sense of his posterity. Who would suspect that he who was thus cut off childless would ever become "The Everlasting Father?" (Isa. 9:6.) Yet "he shall see his seed" (verse 10) in Jehovah's appointed season. At his second advent, times of restitution shall come (Acts 3:19-21), when, as the great Life-giver [father], he will give life and health and strength to all of Adam's [R1359 : page 32] race who will accept them under the conditions of the New Covenant. It is a gross mistake, however, to suppose that the Gospel Church is the "seed" of Christ, whether reckoned by the millions (including the black, the speckled and the ring-streaked, a worldly class, as Bishop Foster describes them) or merely the "little flock" of consecrated and faithful believers. The Church is never spoken of as the children of our Lord Jesus, either in symbol, or in type, or in literal statement. The Church "he is not ashamed to call his brethren." The bride, the Lamb's wife and joint-heir, are the honorable titles given to the little flock whom the Father, Jehovah, draws to Christ, and gives to him, as it is written, "Behold I and the children [of God] which God hath given me." (Heb. 2:11-13.) Our Lord Jesus enunciated this clearly when he said, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17.) But after the "little flock" of the Gospel age has become the Bride and joint-heir of the Lamb, the glorified body of Christ, the new dispensation, the Millennium, will open, when the glorified Christ—Head and body—will become the Life-giver or Father to the world in general, restoring to them the human life and privileges lost in Adam but redeemed for them by the sacrifice of Christ's human life. That will be the time in which the glorified Christ in kingdom power will draw ALL MEN toward righteousness and life, even as the Father now draws the elect truth-hungry ones to Christ—as it is written, "No man can come unto me unless the Father which sent me draw him. And he [thus drawn by the truth—by the promises of God] that cometh unto me [Christ] I will in no wise reject." But as many who are now drawn or called to Christ by the Father fail to profit by the drawings of the truth, and hence to make their calling and election sure, so during the Millennial age, when Christ shall bring the whole world to a knowledge of the truth and [R1360 : page 32] thus influence or draw ALL MEN toward righteousness, it will still be for each to decide the matter for himself. Such as accept the gracious offer will receive everlasting life from Christ and his glorified Church, and will thus become the children of the Christ, and the Christ becomes to such the Everlasting Father. Thus He shall see his seed [his children] and shall prolong their days everlastingly; and thus the pleasure [will, plan] of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.—Verse 10.
Verse 9. "And they made his grave with the condemned [Heb. rasha, condemned or guilty—i.e., with the race of condemned sinners], and with the rich in his death [in the tomb of the rich man—Joseph of Arimathea—Matt. 27:57-60], although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."
Verse 10 declares that all this violence that befell our blessed Lord and Redeemer was in exact accordance with the plan of Jehovah, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to redeem their life from destruction by the sacrifice of his own—"Although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth [and therefore no cause of death in him], yet it pleased the Lord [Jehovah] to bruise him: He hath put him to grief."
Verse 11. "He shall see [the fruits] of the travail of his soul [in the grand restitution of the redeemed race] and shall be satisfied." And here the Prophet interjects the statement that it was our Lord's knowledge of the divine plan or purpose to redeem and then restore the fallen race that enabled him to thus carry out that purpose in the sacrifice of himself, thus justifying many by bearing the penalty due for their iniquities—"By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
Verse 12 points to the great personal exaltation of our blessed Lord Jesus, because of his obedience to the Father's will, even unto death.—"Therefore will I [Jehovah] divide him a portion with the Great [rab—the Lord, the Chief, the Master of the whole universe, Jehovah himself]." Because of his faithfulness he was highly exalted, made a partaker of the divine nature, and was associated with his Father in his throne. (See Phil. 2:9; Rev. 3:21.) And not only so, but he has been permitted of God to carry out another feature of his plan in the selection, training and final exaltation of a faithful few from among the redeemed race to share his great reward—to become likewise "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4) and "joint-heirs" of his kingdom and glory (Rom. 8:17; Luke 12:32)—Thus "he shall divide the spoil [the great reward] with the strong"—the overcomers. In accordance with this privilege granted him by the Father he left the gracious promise on record for us—"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne."—Rev. 3:21.