Elohim, The Divine Personalities, Working Out Man's Redemption
I. THE PROPHET'S IMPERSONATION OF KING MESSIAH
Isa 48:1-22 Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; who swear by the name of Jehovah, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness (2) (for they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; Jehovah of hosts is his name): (3) I have declared the former things from of old; yea, they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them: suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. (4) Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; (5) therefore I have declared it to thee from of old; before it came to pass I showed it thee; lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them. (6) Thou hast heard it; behold all this; and ye, will ye not declare it? I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, which thou hast not known. (7) They are created now, and not from of old; and before this day thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. (8) Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from of old thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou didst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb. (9) For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. (10) Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. (11) For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be profaned? and my glory will I not give to another.
(12) Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called: I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. (13) Yea, my hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spread out the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. (14) Assemble yourselves, all ye, and hear; who among them hath declared these things? He whom Jehovah loveth shall perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. (15) I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him; I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. (16) Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit.
(17) Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Jehovah thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. (18) Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: (19) thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the grains thereof: his name would not be cut off nor destroyed from before me.
(20) Go ye forth from Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans; with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth: say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed his servant Jacob. (21) And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. (22) There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked.
The passage which we now have for consideration is one of the most profound portions in the Word of God. It therefore demands our closest scrutiny and most earnest consideration. In order to see its message, we must be scientific in our spirit and view honestly and conscientiously each bit of material that is set forth in this marvelous revelation. Let us, as we investigate this passage, have but one thought in mind--to get the exact meaning which the inspired writer had in view. We want truth and not error; we want facts and not fiction.
There are several principles which we must recognize before approaching the body of the text. In the first place let us note the fact that in Isaiah, chapters 40-48, the prophet foresaw the Babylonian captivity of Israel. We should, however, remember that Isaiah lived and ministered in the latter half of the eighth century, B.C., according to the accepted chronology, and that the Babylonian captivity did not begin until about 605 B.C.--one hundred years after Isaiah had completed his ministry. By prophetic insight he foresaw that Cyrus the Persian would capture Babylon and would issue a decree for the Jews to return to their homeland and to rebuild their city and Temple (Isa. 44:27,28; 45:13). In chapters 41-45 the restoration of the Jews from Babylon loomed very large upon the political horizon. But when we come to chapters 46-48, Babylon and the Chaldeans are still in view. At this point, figuratively speaking, the prophet lifted his eyes and looked into the distant future, saw Babylon as the dominating metropolis of the world in the end time, and foretold its complete and sudden destruction. Proof of this assertion is to be found in Isaiah 47:5, 8, and 9. When Babylon suffers the fate that she can no longer be called the mistress of kingdoms, the prediction will be fulfilled. When she is overthrown according to the forecast of verse 9, two things occur to her "in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood; in their full measure shall they come upon thee, in the multitude of thy sorceries, and the great abundance of thine enchantments." Note the fact that her overthrow occurs in a moment on a given day. The retribution will be "in full measure." Did such a calamity overtake Babylon when Cyrus captured it? The answer is a most emphatic negative. The authority was simply taken over by the Medes and Persians, and Babylon continued to wield a mighty influence over the world! Even when Alexander the Great conquered the Medo-Persian Empire, he made Babylon his capital; and it was indeed the mistress of kingdoms. An examination of the history of Babylon shows that this prophecy has never been fulfilled.
According to Isaiah's prediction in chapters 13 and 14 Babylon will be overthrown suddenly in one day during the period which is known as "the day of Jehovah's wrath," the great Tribulation Period which is out before us. The prediction found in Jeremiah, chapters 50 and 51, foretells the complete and sudden overthrow of Babylon in the day of Jehovah. A careful study of these two predictions shows that it has never been overthrown in any such manner as foretold. Thus all these prophecies relating to the sudden and total destruction of Babylon await complete fulfillment.
The facts are, as they are recorded in history, that Babylon, after it had been taken over by the Medes and Persians, continued in a dominant position in the ancient world. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, he made it his capital. It continued into the present era. During these centuries it gradually declined until it ceased to be a factor in the world. As to the exact time when its sun sank below the historical horizon, one cannot be dogmatic. But of this fact we may be certain--it has never been destroyed in fulfillment of the oracles of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Since the Scriptures cannot be broken, we confidently expect these predictions to be fulfilled when the time arrives foreseen by the prophets.
As suggested above, Isaiah, chapters 46,47, and 48 constitute one single sermon in which the complete and sudden overthrow of Babylon looms large upon the prophetic horizon. (I ask the reader to peruse very carefully the three chapters referred to as a unit and note what is said concerning Babylon.)
When one reads Isaiah 48:1-16, one is impressed with the frequent recurrence of the personal pronouns, I, my, and me. The thoughtful reader instantly asks the question, "Of whom spoke the prophet this? of himself? or of another?" The well-versed Bible student knows that the prophets adopted two methods or forms into which they cast their oracles. Usually they appeared before their audiences as the ambassadors of the Almighty and introduced their messages with the formula, "Thus saith Jehovah," or "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah." In using these phrases, they disavowed authorship of their messages and attributed them to the inspiration which they received from the Almighty. The second method was that of impersonation. When they adopted this mode of expression, they did not employ the formula, "Thus saith Jehovah." They simply enacted the role of the one whom they impersonated--the Lord Jehovah, or Jehovah the Messiah. In doing this, they spoke and acted as if they were the one whom they were impersonating.
Whenever a prophet therefore uses the personal pronouns, I, my, and me, one must look at all the facts of the context to determine whether or not he is speaking of himself, his experiences and actions, or, whether he is impersonating one of the personalities of the Deity. We are to assume that he is speaking of himself unless in his speech he moves out into a circle of experiences which transcend that of mortal man. Whenever the prophets do this, they make it plain that they are thus impersonating one of the Deity.
What is the situation in Isaiah, chapter 48? In verse 3 the speaker declares that he was the author of all prophecy in the past, and that he suddenly fulfilled and carried out the predictions that he had made. Did Isaiah or any prophet ever do such a thing? The answer is an emphatic no. In verse 12 he calls upon Israel to hearken to him and declares that "I am he; I am the first, I also am the last." Here he claims to be the Absolute One. According to verse 13 he asserts that he is the creator of the universe. When we see such statements, we know that Isaiah was not speaking of his own experiences, but that he was thus impersonating the Creator of all things. Since we see that the prophet was not speaking of himself but of the Creator, we must determine which one of the persons of the Holy Trinity he was impersonating. In Isaiah 42:1-4 we see that the prophet played the role of the Almighty; but in verses 14-18 of this same chapter, he enacted the part of the one who is sent to the earth to take the world situation in hand. When we recognize these facts and study this passage in the light of related predictions, we see that it is God the Father who sends God the Son, the Messiah of Israel. Study carefully Psalm 2, which passage was recognized by the ancient Synagogue as being a messianic prediction. The divine personality, in verses 6-9, relates what another of the Trinity said to Him: "Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee." Obviously the Father here addresses the Son, to whom He in due course of time will turn over the government of all nations. The Son, the Messiah, then will take His great power and rule all peoples.
At this point of our investigation the question arises: What time or of what period of time was the prophet speaking in Isaiah, chapter 48? To answer this question, we must note the fact that in impersonating the Messiah, the prophet addressed Israel and urged her to give heed to the message. Moreover, the one whom he impersonated declared that the Lord God had sent him. When these two statements are seen in their proper relation, the one to the other, we know that this prediction foretells the time when the Creator of the world is sent from heaven to Israel by the Lord Jehovah to deliver a message to her. The language when allowed to speak for itself can be understood in no other manner. Is this visit then simply a theophany, like those of which we read in the Torah of Moses? Or is it a more permanent and prolonged one? When this passage is read in the light of related ones, we see that it assumes what is foretold in other places of Scripture; namely, that the Messiah, the creator of the universe, would enter the world by miraculous conception and virgin birth in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא לָכֶם אוֹת הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ עִמָּנוּאֵל׃ "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." In view of all these facts it becomes quite evident then that the prophet impersonated Messiah when He would leave heaven and enter the world by miraculous conception and virgin birth.
A. Israel Addressed
The spiritually intelligent people in the prophet's audience, or those who read his prediction, would understand by this impersonation that he was setting forth Messiah's coming to earth for the benefit of mankind.
In verses 1 and 2 Messiah calls upon the house of Jacob and the men of Israel to give heed to his message. He speaks of them as those who came forth from the waters of Judah. By this bold figure, which appears in Deuteronomy 33:28 and Psalm 68:26, he compares the descendants of Jacob to a stream of water. He likewise designates the Hebrew people as those who swear by the name of Jehovah and make mention of the God of Israel. At the same time he charges them with insincerity and lack of truth and righteousness. He makes the further revelation that they call themselves by the name of the holy city and lean, at least outwardly, upon the God of Israel; but their lives do not correspond with their profession. Moses and the prophets likewise spoke boldly against the Jewish people and condemned hypocrisy and unrighteousness at all times. Isaiah therefore says that the Messiah, when He comes, will likewise reprimand them for their lack of righteousness and godly living.B. Messiah the Author of All Former Revelations
According to verse 3 Messiah, when He comes to visit Israel, declares that He is the author of all the predictions which have been uttered by the prophets from the beginning of time. That no one might misunderstand His meaning, He declares that "yea, they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them." This language is equal to an affirmation that He, the Messiah, has existed from the beginning of time. Otherwise He could not have uttered these oracles. But what is assumed in this statement is asserted in verse 12 below, which passage we shall study presently.C. The Reason for Prophecy
Not only does the Messiah inform Israel that it is He who has spoken through the prophets in the past, but that He is the one who has fulfilled those predictions. This truth He asserts in the following words: "Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass." In other words, Messiah claims that not only did He give the oracles, but that He has fulfilled those that pertain to events prior to the time here foreseen--prior to His coming to earth in fulfillment of this passage.
The reason for God's making events known ahead of time is given in verses 4-6a in the following words: "Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; 5 therefore I have declared it to thee from of old; before it came to pass I showed it thee; lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image and my molten image, hath commanded them. 6 Thou hast heard it; behold all this; and ye, will ye not declare it?"D. The New Revelation and the New Creation
Note the fact that Messiah declares His knowledge concerning Israel's being obstinate. In speaking of this characteristic, He declares to the Hebrew people that, "Thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow, brass; therefore I have declared it to thee from of old." This revelation was made far in advance of the events lest an obstinate people who do not want truth might say, "Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them."
It is a fact well known to Bible students that evil spirits can speak through those who yield themselves to them and can foretell certain things. However, their knowledge of the future is very limited indeed. There are authentic cases on record of various things foretold by spiritists that actually have proved to be correct. It was evident that it was by superhuman power that these revelations were made known, but we must understand that the evil spirits are limited in their knowledge and in their activity. Messiah declares, according to this prediction, that He foretold events far in advance of their occurrence in order that there could not be a possibility for a thinking Israelite's declaring that said event would transpire because his idol or image had made the revelation. The complete and accurate fulfillment of prophecies that have been made centuries ago proves the authenticity and the inspiration of the original predictions.
If one is interested in this phase of truth, one would do well to procure a copy of The Wonders of Prophecy by John Urquhart. In this volume the author quotes from the prophets and then shows how the predictions have been literally fulfilled centuries after they were spoken.
In Isaiah 48:6 we have this language: "Thou hast heard it; behold all this; and ye, will ye not declare it?" According to the verse Messiah calls Israel's attention to the fact that she has had the prophetic word on the sacred page before her eyes. She has seen it, she has heard it, and she has beheld it. He therefore asks her will she not declare it; that is, confess that these prophecies uttered centuries prior to that time have been fulfilled and are being fulfilled, even those relating to His appearing to them.
In verse 6b we have this statement: "I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, which thou hast not known." The marginal reading in the Revised Version on this verse is, "I show thee new things from this time, etc." Either translation is correct, since the Hebrew verb does not carry the time element. This must be determined by the context and the flow of thought. The drift of the argument here demands the marginal reading, "I show, etc." Messiah asserts that He uttered these things beforehand and that at the proper time He has suddenly performed them. Then He tells Israel that He is showing her new things "from this time"--that is, from the time when He appears in her midst. He makes new revelations to her. She, in fulfillment of this prophecy, has a right to expect Messiah to make new disclosures of truth to her. According to verse 7 the "new things" mentioned in verse 6 are said to be "created now"; that is, the new things are created when Messiah appears in Israel in fulfillment of this prediction. As to what these new things are, the passage does not tell. This information must be gathered from related scriptures. Moreover, Messiah informs Israel that "thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them." What are these new things which Messiah reveals when He comes, and which He creates from that time on--the things which the nation has not known, these hidden things? Possibly light may be thrown upon this question by a glance at Isaiah 61:1-3. In this passage we see that the prophet was again impersonating Messiah. In order that we might have the full picture before us, let us look at the prediction in both the original and the translation.
רוּחַ אֲדֹנָי יֱהוָֹה עָלָי יַעַן מָשַׁח יְהוָה אֹתִי לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים שְׁלָחַנִי לַחֲבֹשׁ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב לִקְרֹא לִשְׁבוּיִם דְּרוֹר וְלַאֲסוּרִים פְּקַח־קוֹחַ׃ לִקְרֹא שְׁנַת־רָצוֹן לַיהוָה וְיוֹם נָקָם לֵאלֹהֵינוּ לְנַחֵם כָּל־אֲבֵלִים׃ לָשׂוּם ׀ לַאֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן לָתֵת לָהֶם פְּאֵר תַּחַת אֵפֶר שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן תַּחַת אֵבֶל מַעֲטֵה תְהִלָּה תַּחַת רוּחַ כֵּהָה וְקֹרָא לָהֶם אֵילֵי הַצֶּדֶק מַטַּע יְהוָה לְהִתְפָּאֵר׃
Isa 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; (2) to proclaim the year of Jehovah's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; (3) to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that he may be glorified.
That the prophet was impersonating Messiah is clear from his declaring that he does and will do things which neither he nor any other mortal could accomplish. He therefore is playing the role of Messiah who here claims that He is anointed with the Spirit of Jehovah, the Holy Spirit. The one who anoints Him is Jehovah himself. Thus we see the three persons of the Godhead. Messiah is anointed to engage in a personal ministry among the meek and humble of Israel. He proclaims the gospel of God's grace, binds up the brokenhearted, and proclaims liberty to the captives. For those who accept His message, He does something which He compares to the mending of broken pottery--He makes them whole again. This is a spiritual work of grace in the heart that is accomplished by divine power. Furthermore, He gives liberty and freedom to those who accept Him. The power of bad habits and of sin in the life is broken, and those who experience the creative power of God in their souls are liberated. Such is the work which the Messiah, according to this passage, performs for those who accept Him.E. The Uncircumcised Condition of Israel's Heart
He also proclaims "the year of Jehovah's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God." All prophetic students know that the expression, "the day of vengeance of our God," is a period of seven years that is designated by Jeremiah as "the time of Jacob's trouble." It is spoken of as "the day of Jehovah." But preceding it is an era which the prophet designates as "the year of Jehovah's favor." The first period is thus compared to a year, whereas the other is thought of as a day. Since the latter is a space of seven years, we are logical in concluding that an approximate proportion exists between this period of grace and that of the day of vengeance which obtains between a year and a day. The day of vengeance is a period of seven years; the year of Jehovah's favor, according to analogy, would proportionally be a greater period of time.
Messiah is not only anointed to proclaim the long era during which God extends His grace and mercy toward people and the period following it known as the day of vengeance, but He is also anointed to comfort all that mourn, especially those in Zion, and to appoint them to official positions in His kingdom. The mourning mentioned here is none other than Israel's turning to Him with all her heart in genuine repentance of all sins and wrongdoing. Thus those who mourn in Israel will be crowned with garlands, will be made plants of righteousness in order that the Lord himself may be glorified. According to all the prophetic scriptures, God will be glorified only through the nation of Israel whom He has chosen as a channel of world blessing.
In Isaiah 61:1-3 we see that the prophet in impersonating the Messiah on this occasion revealed His personal ministry as He proclaimed the truth to the meek and foretold certain periods of time subsequent to His visit to the earth on this occasion. Thus certain things pertaining to the future are revealed in this passage. But in Isaiah 48:6,7, the prophet, as he impersonates Messiah, declares that He will make new revelations concerning things of which Israel, prior to this time, has never heard. These new disclosures doubtless are in addition to those that are foretold in Isaiah 61:1-3. This further revelation supplements that which has already been made known through the prophets. In other words, Messiah when He appears upon earth gives a fuller and more complete picture of these spiritual realities than the prophets made known. Israel therefore has a right to expect Messiah to make these additional revelations and to bring into being by His creative power things that have not existed prior to His coming.
"Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from of old time thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou didst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb" (Isa. 48:8). According to this verse Israel has not heard of the new things mentioned in verse 6b and the created things referred to in verse 7. The people therefore do not know them. Their ear is not opened to the truth, because the Lord knows they deal very treacherously and have been transgressors from the beginning. We have already seen in the preceding discussion that Messiah who is here speaking has from times immemorial, and all through the centuries, uttered prophecies and has brought them to pass suddenly when the time arrived for the fulfillment. But certain details concerning the things which He shows at the time of His appearance upon the earth and makes known have been kept in secret. As we have already seen, these things were partially known; but the details were withheld. The reason for concealing them is that the ear of the nation is not opened. The people themselves have been in the habit of dealing treacherously and have been called transgressors from birth. This indictment is in perfect alignment with that which Moses uttered, as we see in Deuteronomy 29:2-4:
2 And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that Jehovah did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; 3 the great trials which thine eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders: 4 but Jehovah hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
In this passage Moses asserted that God performed many and marvelous wonders in the land of Egypt at the time when He delivered Israel. These things were accomplished in the presence of the people, "but," declared the lawgiver, "Jehovah hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." The heart of man in its natural condition cannot see nor appreciate spiritual realities. Though those mighty wonders of God had been performed before the eyes of the Israelites, they were unable to see the import and the significance of them because their eyes were not open to see the facts in the case and neither were their hearts receptive to the truth. Isaiah, in chapter 1, verses 2-17, declared that Israel--the whole nation--was in a sinful state. Jeremiah affirmed that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; there is therefore no telling what the unregenerated man will do (Jer. 17:9).
God always gives truth to those who want it; but from those who do not desire it, He withholds it. Jeremiah cried to his contemporaries saying,
15 Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud; for Jehovah hath spoken. 16 Give glory to Jehovah your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. 17 But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because Jehovah's flock is taken captive (Jer. 13:15-17).
From this passage we see that God calls upon people to hear and to give heed. He warned them against the danger of being proud. This call to give heed was an exhortation to them to receive the Word of God "before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." The Lord pleads with people to be open to truth and to receive it; but, if they refuse to do this, He will send spiritual darkness upon them so that it will be utterly impossible for them to comprehend the truth.
If men choose their own ways in preference to God's will and Word, the Lord will choose their own delusions. This fact is set forth in the following quotation: "Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations: 4 I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not" (Isa. 66:3b,4). The same fundamental principle upon which God deals with men is set forth once more in Ezekiel 14:1-5.
14. Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. 2 And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 3 Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? 4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Every man of the house of Israel that taketh his idols into his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I Jehovah will answer him therein according to the multitude of his idols; 5 that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
From this quotation we see that the elders of Israel came to the prophet of God to inquire of the Lord concerning certain matters. At the same time they were wedded to their idols and delighted in various things connected with pagan worship. Thus their coming and inquiring for the word of God was hypocritical. The Almighty therefore said: "Every man of the house of Israel that taketh his idols into his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I Jehovah will answer him therein according to the multitude of his idols; 5 that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols." Quotations like these could be taken from various prophets, but these will suffice to show the danger that there is in one's not opening one's heart, ears, and eyes to hear, see, and to receive the truth.