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*1 "Afterward" - Hosea 3:5, and "in the latter days", there is to be this restoration of the people who have sinned, to whom such mercy was provided (Hosea 1:1-3, 11:4-8), but who departed in the very face of such warnings, witnesses and loving-kindnesses from the Lord who had dealt so personally with them. How long before this people, who "are bent on backsliding from Me" (Hosea 11:7, cf. 7:11-16), are to have this restoration to the sacrificial cover from which they are to be punitively removed (Hosea 3:4) for "many days" ? how many ? What is the extent of this national removal ? Far worse than having anti-ballistic missile protective cover taken from a city is this; for it is the removal of cover of the Lord of hosts.
'Many days' extending to the 'latter days' epoch of blessed history, that continues undimmed in the presence of the Lord for ever (Hosea 3:5, cf. Isaiah 2 overall, Micah 4:4-6 and esp. 4:7; and Ezekiel as displayed on pp. 1095-1104, see Appendix A infra).
In Hosea 6, this categorical reviving of Israel relates to the "third day" (cf. 471 ff. supra), bringing back to life, with its base in God, acting as ransom from death on their behalf (Hosea 13:14).
Prior to this, Israel is still "bound up" with "iniquity" (Hosea 13:12, 12:10-13), not yet subjected to this purification, this purge, this transformative and reviving procedure from God. The transformations in view are derivative from, and dependent on this divine transforming action, to which Isaiah shows (49:7) Israel would be far from responsive!... to the point, indeed, of murdering the Messiah, by them, so lightly esteemed (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 11).
That categorical response, that transformation, indeed transmutation to which Hosea earlier referred (Hosea 2:19-23), one so great that it occasions the bringing in of that which was as totally alien as were the Gentiles! (cf. Romans 9:25), is set forth in Hosea 2 in one of the most moving passages in scripture (cf. Isaiah 65, Deuteronomy 32:22-43). It is the de-pollution of the prodigal people (qua harlot - Hosea 2:1-5; 14). At first then, unresponsive, selling the Lord with tawdry disdain (Zechariah 11:12), they are later to come (Zechariah 12; 14:1-3), appalled at themselves, at what they did to the Messiah, with this epochal and heart rending response.
To the pierced and once devalued Lord, there is then, this wide-ranging national return predicted, occurring in the very vicinity of the end of the Age, and of His return in judgment, personally, post-piercing, amid a penitent people. Specifically, they are to look with loathing on what they had done to the Lord in so betraying and selling Him, piercing and rejecting Him. That is "many days".
There are times when what men do quickly, they repent slowly. Here a whole divine outpouring of mercy, incarnation of the Lord, turning to the Gentiles and bringing back of a rebellious people who (Zechariah 12, 14), surrounded by menaces from men, at last return to the Lord (Romans 11:25 ff., cf. Deuteronomy 32:22-43). There, in Romans 11, some 1900 years ago, the apostle Paul spoke of these days and of this restoration in the same embracive terms of the one gospel, at work in a terminal impact on the Jewish nation.
*2 One should first read Isaiah 7-10-14, and preferably 7:14, to better grasp discussion. We see in Isaiah 7:14 a Hebrew term which denotes "the lass", something as E. J. Young points out in his Studies in Isaiah (p. 183) rather more definite even than 'damsel', since there is no evidence it was ever used of a married woman. A simple girl, unmarried (a 'laddess' as Dr Duff Forbes rendered it), is to be with child. This Hebrew word is unlike bethulah, a technical term which, though it may mean 'virgin' may also be associated with marriage (Joel 1:8 - where a bethulah mourns for the husband of her youth). Young notes this other term may also be used with the addition, 'who had never known a man' (loc. cit.) which, in view of the betrothal arrangements, is not meaningless.
'Almah,' however, the term in Isaiah 7:14, conveys the sense of simple, normal, as yet unwed, uninvolved, untouched youth. It is divorced from marital maturity or participation like Spring from Summer.
Now rightly denounced, in no uncertain terms, has been any sense of a fornicator or slut.
There is simply no ground for assuming an immoral or fallen or guilty young lady. "Innocent till proved guilty" is merely one facet of the case. You don't engineer a focus for deliverance (as is the context in Isaiah 7), a 'sign' as this young lady in that place undoubtedly is, with a reference to the perversion of youth or the squandering of sanctity in sexual licence - as a mere guess! The context says no such thing; nor does it censure. It speaks rather, categorically of youth outside child-birth considerations, that would in any way relate to marriage. It is indeed set in idyllic atmosphere (Isaiah 7:21 ff.). Further, for God to designate a simple young lady in His holy plan as a focus, (Behold the virgin, He announces, "the unmarried maiden with child"), and for us to assume that He has a 'dirty', distorted or specifically fallen thing in mind: this comes near to imputing to God a breach of His own principle, "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy- meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8), and breaches this one: "Love hopes all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7).
We have no right to enter here such territory, no warrant, no ground or basis, without being instructed so to do. It would be eisegesis - that is the importation of thought from outside the passage, not exegesis - the expression and bringing out of the passage, what is written. To add to God's words is forbidden (Proverbs 30:6), and to follow such a procedure would be to become a joint author with God, without invitation so to be...
Yet the 'case' for avoiding the virgin prophecy is far worse than that. How can a straightforward and not very uncommon 'fallen woman' syndrome be a sign (Isaiah 7:ll) of such magnitude as is found here, and found rather rarely in Scripture. As Machen points out (op. cit. pp. 290-291), the divine offer of the sign in this passage would naturally lead us "to think of some event like the turning back of the sun on Hezekiah's dial, or the phenomena in connection with Gideon's fleece" - the first in Isaiah, the other in Judges - such focus was made on a sign... Such focus ? some such focus, for in this case the focus is explicitly more than merely astronomical, it is CELESTIAL. "Ask a sign!", God challenges, reaching up upwards into the heights, down into the depths ... There is not only a request to ask a sign, and this being God, the limits of magnitude are not there; these limits are explicitly off as well. Here is a sign to end all signs, making history a preliminary! Events in the coming will 'unwrap' what is more than remarkable, or even unique; they will paint, portray, institute a supreme marvel even in the action of the divine One, of God Himself, upon this earth.
As Machen puts it, "Equally suggestive is the elaborate way in which the 'sign' is introduced. The whole passage is couched in such terms as to induce in the reader or hearer a sense of profound mystery as he contemplates the young woman and her child." The offer to Ahaz was virtually infinite and the Lord's choice of sign, when Ahaz declined to activate the matter, is in the category that has no bounds. Such is this setting, situation and scope.
To seek a simple, common, all too natural signal in the sight of such supernatural initiative is to ignore what is written, be blind to the context and to miss the point... which is that here is something prima facie all but incredible! But that is precisely what we have been led to expect, might expect in any case perhaps, but certainly must expect in such a context. God appoints it on His own, with scathing effect on the welfare of Ahaz, but no remission of His intended utterance. Weary God they may, but God is not wearied to perform what He will (Isaiah 7:13). "Therefore - [in the very face of this weary faithlessness of man], the Lord Himself will give you a sign!" activating on a personal basis what they failed to appropriate, in a way that might have brought blessing personally as well.
The divine irony is intense, for the onset of Assyria in desolating triumph over Jewry is announced at once (Isaiah 7:17-20), penal clauses proliferating in the face of this rejection of mercy by jesuitical jousting with God. Certainly this blessedness of Immanuel is far removed from the people whose faith was as far removed from accepting the unconditional gift and glorious deliverance so lightly esteemed by Ahaz. This, their defaulting king, was all too fitting a representative of the people (Isaiah 1:4-17), for which only chastisement was fitting; yet to whom IN THE LORD'S OWN TIME, THE virgin would nevertheless come. It WOULD come however wearisome (Isaiah 7:13) the contemporary hardness of heart and blindness of eyes, deafness of ear, might be! It would come when once the penalties were come, and the realities of trifling with God, as if to try His patience, were met with long years in which the people would need in patience to await their deliverer, so lightly esteemed.
Does not this action of Ahaz, then, rise
to the peak as the very exemplar for all the straight, liberal radicalism,
frothy existentialism, name of the game changing neo-orthodox and
neo-evangelical lethargy now provided by the parallel deviations of the
Gentiles ? He, Ahaz would not tempt the Lord by believing what He said! Such
sanctified restraint by which to characterise rebellion! He would not accept the
unlimited bounty of the divine gift - ASK! (Isaiah 7:11-12). God was merely
mocking him perhaps in giving such a gift as
this ? a gift which was later, despite the lack of hands at that time to receive it, to come in any case as the Lord Jesus Christ, not a god without power, but the power of God and the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1).. Yes, the Gentiles have come, as in the time of judgment which began to settle on Judah, now themselves near the end of the Age appointed (SMR Ch.8), and in their falsetto evasions and spectrum of deviations to match the error of the Jews at that critical point, they too in droves will not 'tempt' the Lord by believing in obedience what He says, by acting on what He gives; but rather from the midst of the structures of many churches, they build with Ahaz a resort of verbal subterfuge, a substitute for the wholehearted acceptance that walks with God in the way He assigns, as well as talks about Him (cf. Ezekiel 33:32). But let us return to the tableau in Isaiah 7.
THE virgin then ? Not some woman of unknown character, unnamed, in the crowd whose time was coming fast for desolation, castigation and correction. Rather the one who would do the job, perform the function, encompass the man who, as sinless for a human offering (Isaiah 53, Leviticus 4:3, Hebrews ) and of eternal divine character (Micah 5:1-3, Psalm 45) MUST obtain a parentage which was not encompassed by sin. THE virgin is the one predicted, THE virgin is the one written, who must bear the MIGHTY GOD (Isaiah 9:6), one who can be called the Everlasting Father (cf. John 14, Zechariah 12:10); for this is the name of Isaiah 9:6.
It is there, in Isaiah 9:6-7, that the Messiah is in focus, His works in view, His name announced with accolade, deposited in profusion. THAT, it is no name for the Father, but for the gift, the sacrifice, the ruler to come, the Son of David to bring the glory of God to the earth. THAT, it is no name for the Father, but for the Son whose kingdom shall know no end (Isaiah 9:7), for how would it be a specific for the Father when it is specialised in the precise person of the Son in this way! Is the Father to be the son of David? How far must confusion go ? as far as with Ahaz, who simply WOULD NOT ACCEPT plain dealing and unambiguous blessing from God, and who dared to pretend reason backed him, humility helped him to ruin his people by trifling with God, as if he were some magical modern theologian, inventing gods that are not there, and fittingly enough, failing to worship what he makes.
Hence THE virgin is announced with the clarity of mid-day sun overhead in the open fields; the virgin whose offspring had been so long predicted, the seed on its female side, of woman, whose heel would be bruised in crushing the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). There is exactly no other specific for the "THE" which signalises, except the signal given, which is 'God with us', through the medium of the one chosen to bear His incarnate form.
There is then simply no other option but something like Jeremiah's "new thing" (31:22) and at that, a new thing in the world. What was that? "A woman shall encompass a man!" This is in the context of a change from catastrophe and calamity, in the midst of tender and solicitous divine love and appeal, leading to incalculable blessing. The term 'encompass' is, as Harris and Archer point out in their Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, related to concepts of damming, shutting up, encircling, being shut up to something so that it is all around you, as to God's will for our life. The totality of word and context indicates categorically a human prodigy of divine basis which is transformative of malignancy to benignancy, in the love of a tender and seeking Father.
This therefore is precisely what we find in Isaiah 7, with the differences noted, and this we discover in particular: that this blessing is delivered to unbelief; for the day of its coming is by the sovereign will of God. On the other hand, Jeremiah adds to the total context also, despite amazing and intimate similarities: in that case, the new covenant is spelt out (Jeremiah 31:31), alike with Jeremiah 31:22 as a new thing, in all its transformative, and inward wonder and as a procedure for a new inward thing for all who receive Him. We are in the same transformative, infinitely sacred and vastly significant arena. The vistas merge both in content and uniqueness, in preliminaries and in results. As in the Isaiah 7 case, we marvel at the human vehicle in its providing certain bounds to so amazing a result as this prince; in Jeremiah we wonder at the exclusion of the human male partner. One deals with the inclusion of deity via result; the other with the exclusion of the human male, by method. Both share the consequences, the need and the prodigious character of the stakes, significance and wonder involved, with the intense blessing to come to those over whom this incarnate Sovereign will rule in peace with hearts who know this peace (Jeremiah 31:33-34, Isaiah 9:7).
In both however, is this transcendent wonder and absolute novelty, the key, the king, the incarnate One, the penetration of God in Person into this realm, with uncontainable results. In Isaiah 7, in particular, it is to be something so categorically different, celestially filled with initiative that even among signs it will have an initiative and wonder that will stagger. So it does and that is both the demonstration and verification.
Yes, the prophecy means just what it says: not in a common way, but in a unique and celestial way, which God only could do, there will be a sign among signs, reaching as we see in the outcome - up, upwards, yes up to God Himself and coming down to earth from God Himself, in a way that will spell categorical, absolute, spiritual and effective deliverance, though not for the anti-opportunistic, unbelieving, devious seeming Ahab (Isaiah 7:11). The splendour of this thing is illimitable, boundless, incomparable: those are its criteria, this is the offer. And to this ? To this king relates his negative to a divine offer in terms of a specious humility; and small wonder it is deemed a weariness (Isaiah 7:13) to the sparkling glory of the practical and performing divine love, to encounter this jesuitical (to allow the anachronism for the sake of the spirit of the thing, which matches to perfection) substitute for faith, on the part of Ahab.
Thus there is simply no other meaning but that given by Matthew in rendering the prophecy. A young damsel is to be with child, without marriage and with morals. A donation of deity is to occur, as Isaiah 9:6 and Micah 5:1-3 make so clear, as does indeed Isaiah 48:16, in human format. In human form is to come One whose name is the same as God's (Psalm 45:6, Isaiah 9:6), who being on the one hand, able to be deemed "the everlasting Father", is also called "the Prince of peace". God has chosen to include Himself, not merely for display purposes, not only for performance, but for being stricken by men. The grandeur of the beginning of this action will lend lustre to the meaning of its end, and indeed, of its ends!
It is not an unknown but a declared thing that is given, focussing a stated Prince who is identical with the Father, One with an everlasting kingdom while His shoulder will bear both this and the glory (Zechariah 6:12-13), in a way stringently forbidden to any but God as we have seen; and do it in such a manner as to combine that forbidden synthesis, as far as Israel was concerned, Prince plus Priest!
What then could be both "everlasting Father" and "Prince of peace", as a man? nothing could have both except an incarnation, express and unique, categorical and complete, depictive and declarative of God without essential diminution... indeed, without being such as Paul describes in Colossians 2:9 as a matter of fact - "in Him was the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form."
For this incarnation, then, the context of Isaiah more broadly asks, as indeed does that of the prophets; and Isaiah 7 gives the medium. This is met by the young damsel, the virgin it is, the one without whom genuine incarnation could not occur: the incarnation which is so often assumed, but now as in Jeremiah and in Micah 5:1-3, is spoken of in more terrestrial terms. This is how and through whom the Christ of the Psalms and the prophets (Psalm 40 tells us that a body is to be gained by the One who is to dispense with sacrifices), is to gain that body, which as man on earth He would need to have. Not through a splendid creation of a new frame without man; but through woman will this Messiah come. This Immanuel is the crux.
To the Jew for whom, as Machen points out, Isaiah 53 would remain mysteriously obscure, for whom indeed the concept of celestial splendour reaching down to human squalor and its sin (albeit as a ransom for that part of it surrendered in repentance) could be repugnant, this passage would be a trial! As with so much else (Luke 21:44), the plain sense of prophecy can be avoided with spectacular ability when God's prodigious and sometimes spectacular works are not faced with that simple realism with which He faces us. Taken as it undoubtedly stands, this virgin birth prophecy is so prodigious as to make many baulk at it. Yet it is in the area, the arena of prodigy, quite explicitly, that this scripture, this benign event, this hallowed offer to Ahaz is found - the sign reaching up to heaven or down to the abyss.
Hence what amazes becomes what verifies that the plain sense is meant. We are not told that the sign will be the absence of sign, or the signal will be a metaphor. Behold the unmarried and moral damsel, she is with child! Small good it may do faithless Ahab, and indeed the prophecy is now addressed to the house of David which is to continue. It is rebuke; and this and the remarkable - are now to mix. The sign will come; it will meet the specifications; but it will not be so used as to bring on Ahaz the blessing he missed; but rather God's choice within these dimensions is a sign of magnificence formed so as to constitute contemporary rebuke, to the king who missed the opportunity of a lifetime, indeed of an epoch, and future blessing which indeed applies to any (cf. Isaiah 53:1) who will believe.
It is nevertheless to be faced, and when faced, and pondered, its full benefit to belief perceived, it is small wonder that we find such a song as this, of the redeemed, set to music by Handel. You may care to listen.
There is probably no greater rebuke to disbelief than the format of the sign which is the focus for faith. God-with-us is the name the mother (the only one involved other than God, not the father as normal child-namer, at this time) is to give this prodigy: in Himself, that is what He confers. Wherever he goes, where faith is and hence operation, that is the result. Isaiah 9:6 expatiates much more on this aspect, but here in Isaiah 7, it is already announced. It is God (Isaiah 48:16) who is being sent; and this through a human mother so that His powers and protection will be available, through faith, to man (Isaiah 11, 32:1-3, 9:6-7, 7:14).
There was disfaith then, that poignantly pathetic disease, as there is the same syndrome now; there was disheartened rejection then, with appalling consequences complementing other inducements to disaster for the Jews; and there is disfaith now, with similarly appalling disasters for the Gentiles, for all those little Ahabs indeed, who flock to the contemporary scene as if the whole world were Surfer's Paradise, and the prime sport of luxuriant folly were this: to skid down the wave of unbelief. This was crucial then; it is as crucial now; and those who have more light now (John 1) have merely this in store, more responsibility for the same folly. Let us however proceed with the exposition.
God in His grandeur is able to despatch of Himself no mere glint or glimmer, but a Person who is His very expression, bearing His name and glory (Zechariah 6:13, 2:8-10, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, Micah 5:1-3). If that is not a sign to eclipse signs, what is! The match of meaning to word is perfect; and rational alternatives do not exist.
The fact of
the incarnation, its place in tribe (Genesis 49), in geography (Micah 5), and
in woman (Isaiah 7, Jeremiah 31), in Jewish history (Isaiah 49:7, Zechariah
11:1-11), and in consequences in the face of sustained unbelief (Matthew
23:37-39, Luke 19:42 ff., Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 18) on the one hand, and
for faith on the other (Isaiah 7:14, Psalms 2, 45) are all set forth. All that the devil had
to do was to breach THE PRACTICAL AND HISTORICAL FULFILMENT of any one
of these prophecies. He
tried in Herod at the 'Massacre of the Innocents', as it is
called (Matthew 2:16-19). He tried at the temptation more
subtly (Matthew 4), and of course, the devil tried yet again at
Calvary (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). He tried and he failed. Neither his power nor
his wisdom is sufficient. His negativity is overwhelmed by reality. His
failure, like that of all his minions, whether conscious and committed or
unconscious and duped, it is simply one more verification of the word of
God. Satan and his cohorts, whether glamorous or merely fallen and specious,
His performance according to His prophetic word, unspotted in any feature, adequate in all, never able to be exposed as error in any part or way, regard or aspect, but to the contrary, always luminous with creativity, wonder and precision:
Even His enemies serve Him. The Jews went out of their way to remove Him. He went out of His way to remove them, and said so in advance, as we saw, from Moses and Hosea for example. He would deprive them of their sacrificial place, He predicted: He did. They would be scorned. They were. They would be scattered over the earth (Deuteronomy 32 - remember ?). They were. They would suffer almost extinction (Deuteronomy 32:27,35). They did. They would reject Christ as a nation (Isaiah 49) as we saw. They did. They would continue in this way for so long that Gentiles would characteristically be the new place of God's servants (Isaiah 65:l3-l6). This they did, and it is so. We are here renewing our thoughts on these areas both to summarise and to extend, and to consider some scriptures in more depth.
Isaiah 65 is one of these.
What a calamitous division and rejection is here! In Isaiah 65:1, God indicates that He will make Himself available to those who were not noted for seeking Him! The 'specials' were renegade, so the ordinaries would be swift to replace them, at least for a season. Deuteronomy 32:39-43 shows that that season would not be for ever; but that eventually the Gentiles and Jews would be glad together in the one God - those of them who accepted His requirements of faith, and surrender to the unitary reality and declaration of the New Covenant, back of it all (32:43). Paul stresses this also in Romans 11, fulfilling in his New Covenant exposition of the events, the predictive prophecy which forecast them. (Romans 4 shows indeed, in theNew Covenant, that it is still essentially the same as that in the days of Abraham.)
The changeless God does not change His principles and reality (Malachi 3:6).
Hosea also shows the return of many Jews to their God on the basis of redemption from death, ransom. This is portrayed partly through a visual display by the prophet, partly in prediction - Chapters 3:3 and 14. Jew and Gentile alike share the only saviour and salvation there is (Isaiah 49:6, 62:11; 42, 51, 61, 65).
We revert to Isaiah 65. God proceeds to indict the nation (65:2-12). He continually protests to an unheeding people (v.2). Fathers can appreciate this in many cases! Therefore...! there looms and booms, 65:13, in stringent justice after all but inconceivable patience and mercy, therefore...! God will act.
Verses 13-16 are amongst the most amazing in predictive scripture. Not only does the prophet exhibit accurately some of the appalling history-to-come, of the stricken race of the Jews, in grave detail, but he contrasts the believers amongst the Gentiles with just the sort of language which Christians in their thousands have used, in print, in song, in testimony. "My servants shall rejoice... sing for joy of heart...", God predicts in Isaiah 65:13-14. Moreover there is to be a new name for God's servants. That is history - they are in fact called 'Christians' now, the servants of God (cf. Acts 11:26) - or, if we took the Hebrew form and anglicised it, we might have it - Messiah-ans, an obvious title when the predicted person is so central and is deity.
This happened. It all happens. It always happens. No rational person can ask more of verification. Thus we have a prescribed people being replaced by a prescribed people for a prescribed reason, with a prescribed name change and a prescribed terminology of experience-to-be.
How extraordinary that it was not racial bigots against the Jews who said all this: their own prophets at the inspiration of God as they claimed, said these things. They were not said for their own generation, they did not help popularity, but they were helped enormously by the correct (Deuteronomy 18) prescription for a prophet. These words, they all happened, were realised with rigour, were fulfilled to the jot and tittle as Christ insisted they would be (Matthew 5:18-20).
That is another feature of the immigration department of our 'hospital'. The information is that whatever the prophets of this people, their words set in the Book called the Book of the Lord (Isaiah 34:16), have to say: it comes to pass. Much has it harboured in the form of vehement denunciation of this people, declaring prescribed periods of history, sequences and phases, and changes of the very name, once theirs, in favour of those who will come to replace them, pending the Jewish return in spirit and in heart, then to be gathered with the people of God!
Quite unique as a people are they! and this not because of talent (though they may show it), not because of myth-makers like Goebbels on the one hand, or heroics such as stemmed from Churchill, on the other: but because of the voice of Him who declares through their prophets that He is God, and is not satisfied because of their stubborn unbelief, as seen (cf. Psalm 107) from time to time: an unbelief to be rendered final and crucial in the killing of their own Christ, the Messiah (Zechariah 9:6, 11:12,10).
He broke the covenant (Zechariah 11:10). He brought them, in other words, into the rigours of its negative aspects (*1), when they removed the very One who could have been the glorious conclusion of it. He will honour what He said to Abraham, we learn, but the people in the interim will know the meaning of unbelief in the face of evidence so colossal that it is enough to warrant fountains of grief (Hosea 14, 13:14, Jeremiah 33:14-16,20-26, Jeremiah 9:1, Leviticus 26, Isaiah 41:8-14, Micah 7:8-20, Psalm 105:4-10; see also Appendix A, Vol. 3).
i) It is predicted that the functions of priest and king - emphatically separated in the divinely instituted State of Israel - would coalesce. Let us refresh our memories and extend our thoughts on this matter.
That these should coalesce: it is so astonishing that it might be like our Australian government saying we would not be ruled by a priori relativism! It is virtually unthinkable, at this time. Yet in the case of the Jews, it is yet more remarkable.
It was by divine institution this separation was made, not by some preference for a court of other nations. So severe was this requirement, protecting the theocratic State from regal intrusion into the religious administration, that one king became a leper as payment for his breach. That was the otherwise notably righteousking, Uzziah (II Chronicles 26:1,4,16-23). "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests... who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed!"That was merely for burning incense! You will get no honour from the Lord, declared the fearless officials to their king.
The misguided Uzziah "was a leper until the day of his death" and it happened so suddenly at the very time, that "while he was still angry with the priest, leprosy broke out on his forehead... and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous, so they thrust him out of the place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him." But, says Zechariah, of the man called The Branch (to whom we are well introduced!):
Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord - He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; and He shall be priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both (Zechariah 6:12-13).
So He shall be a "priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." That is to flaunt the difference! God as man shall be both!... priest and king.
Thus Israel, we find from our Immigration Department, is to be changed fundamentally, though its God does not change! How can these things be ? It is simple, but profound. God has given patterns of holy things (Exodus 25:40), and these are to be succeeded by that to which they refer - as by Christ actually offering Himself, as we have seen at length in several Old Testament prophets.
God has chosen to present visual imagery before the reality of that divinely incarnated virtuous man who is to replace them (Isaiah 66:3-4, 53:10-12, Psalm 40:6-8). In this, we see the delighted offering presenting Himself for sacrifice, gaining an insight to the interior feeling of Him, whose actions have so occupied us, and whose people's reactions have so occupied the prophets, who outlined the results of this rejection (Isaiah 53:3-4). He shall be the salvation, have it and confer it (Isaiah 49:6, Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 53:10, 55:1-6, 40:9-19). The division of function, of office, of labour is to cease when God as man takes both key features and does it Himself. Having all spiritual functions, God is able, in principle, to do all whereas man, being equally naturally, limited and neither omni-competent nor inclusively called to all tasks, does not. This is an index to be expected; and it is assuredly found (cf. John 3:34).
ii) This is featured vehemently in Ezekiel 34 where God, seeing the inadequacy and unreliability of those who set themselves to look after His flock, Israel, committed Himself to coming and doing it Himself. That is a very special feature from our Immigration Office. God is to take over the office of provision of shepherding skills, personal counselling, saving power direct. This is of course precisely as Christ claimed and fulfilled in His sacrifice as the ultimate in responsibility and adequacy. Using words clearly cast from this passage, Christ said that the Son of Man had come to seek and to save that which was lost. So in Ezekiel 34:11, we read: "For thus says the Lord God: 'Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered...' "
Christ took this place as shown in Luke 15:1-32 in various parables, and in Luke 19:1-10 in the illustrious case of little Zacchaeus who came to act so largely so soon. It is made systematic in John 10, and enacted to the full in John 19.
While the Jews indeed rejected their Shepherd, thereby facilitating the predestined plan of salvation as Peter pointed out (Acts 2:23-4), the plan continued to have its phases of fulfilment; and fulfilled, of course God makes it clear it will be, as we have already considered. Psalms indeed such as 72 take the matter wholly unconditionally, and specify the environs of Israel not least.
The Shepherd is to be established (Ezekiel 34:23-24) and the Jews whose national physiognomy (see Appendix A, Vol.3) has just been outlined, will "know that I am the Lord their God" - a matter where thitherto, there were obviously envisaged, some problems... for them.
iii) This eventual acceptance of their Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:30-31) is to occur after the national return of the Jews, still unbelieving, to their land. Ezekiel 36:7-8 starts our thoughts on their return, and verse 15 makes it clear we are considering here the ultimate case, the national end of the downward march!
Nor will I let you hear the taunts of the nations anymore, nor bear the reproach of the peoples any more, nor will you cause your nation to stumble any more, says the Lord God.
Thus we are in this setting, both at the end of the exile period noted by Moses, and coming directly to the era of a large national acceptance of the Messiah, so long rejected. What taunts they have indeed borne in the meantime!
They are, at this time, not to be allowed to "bear the reproach of the peoples anymore..." This era of return to the land is to be eventually consummated by a return to the Lord and then this blessing just noted will occur. "Nor will you cause your nation to stumble anymore." God undertakes (Ezekiel 36:24) to abstract them from their worldwide dispersion. One: He will take them out of those nations and into their land. Two: He will "sprinkle clean water on" them and make them clean.
Just as verse 25 follows verse 24, so the sequence is geographical and then spiritual (*2). The geographical has already happened since the crucifixion which, not being here in view, is clearly past; as indeed it is in Zechariah 12:10, when also back in their land prior to the personal coming of Christ as King to reign on earth, as there depicted, they are to repent. That is, back in their land, before that ultimate day, they are to find their hearts opened by the Holy Spirit to the realities of that Jesus Christ whom they had crucified; and very much in the way of Peter's address (Acts 2:36), they will be inwardly convicted and go and mourn. That is what the parallel in Zechariah, for these ultimate days of eventual deliverance, has to tell us - 12:14.
We notice in Ezekiel 37, thus reinforced, that in these great days, again, "they shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with their transgressions..." The idolatry of Christ rejected for the sake of religion - is over, passé, pronounced dead! The prophet treats us in Ezekiel 37 to a further insight. The nation is compared to a lot of scattered bones which are to be reconstructed, being regathered - and so the nation anew will be articulated and jointed in its place. This is so fascinating that it must simply be read. Notice however that first the bones are to be gathered (v.7) and then (v.9) they are given (spiritual) life. There are two distinct acts of prophesying to the bones so clear and diverse and so determinate in sequence, that one would need perhaps almost physical blindness not to see that it is written. Geographical collection starkly preceded conversion1.
This nation is remarkable then in this: on file in the Immigration Office is this datum. This nation who are to reject their Messiah and facilitate His offering as a sacrifice for sins, whilst rejecting Him for their own, are eventually to return after near international annihilation and will be brought back by divine intervention to their land, from which they will long have been absent (Ezekiel 38:8 - cf. Appendix A, Vol. III, and pp. 874 ff. infra,). He will later bring them back to their rejected Messiah, and as we see, they will then in a massive movement embrace Him, mourning for their sins.
The return by drastic dynamics, in the face of every obstacle including that of the British in 1948, who in the Balfour Declaration had earlier assisted them, has been accomplished, subsequent to the crucifixion of Christ as predicted - long indeed has the land lain desolate (Isaiah 35 amplifies this). It does indeed blossom as the rose as there predicted, for they even send roses by the millions to the European market, annually. The return has been made without the Jews as a nation returning to Christ, precisely as predicted. What an amazing people, and what strength has this, the God whom they rejected, the God of Abraham who will not relent, but after predicted rebuke and exile, then fulfils the covenant to give this land to that people, as He unconditionally said (Genesis 17:8 - see also Micah 7 as above)! He will do it, despite the fact they do not deserve it (Ezekiel 36:31-32). Like the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour, that stands dominating the horizons of this 36th. chapter.
... Some further data on this element seem warranted, by the extraordinary scope of this prophetic fulfilment.
In 1917-18, there had been a change in the military successes of the British. With their Balfour Declaration of 1917, they favoured resettlement of Jews in the land; and they did this as a great Empire. Here was an immense prophetic fulfilment in the bringing to bear of such a vast power set behind favour to the Jews, to resettlement. It resembled in magnitude the earlier favour predicted by Isaiah (44-45) of Cyrus when he aided them back to their land, having defeated the Babylonians who had caused exile to many.
In I918 the newly formed R.A.F. used repeated bombing raids to help secure the success of Allenby in 1917, in taking over Jerusalem from the Turks. Before that, in 1916, the Turks had even managed to take a surrendering British force. Now the first notable correlation of events is this: On November 2, 1917, Balfour sent his letter to Zionist leaders assuring them his government would favour the 'establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.'
That, as noted, was a remarkable thing for this nation. At that time, the Allies were doing badly on most fronts, as Snellgrove emphasises (The Modern World Since 1870, p. 119). Yet on December 9, 1917, General Allenby entered Jerusalem, just 37 days after the British offer to the Jews! Is this not dramatic ? Consider the breadth of the war and the speed of this result for such a time of peril. God states, as has been emphasised here, His intention to bring back the Jews after a long sojourn outside their land (like prison in reverse!). Britain takes action to secure the former capital city of the Jews from religious enemies (for the Turks, being Moslem, were this) ... in a context of favouring the Jewish nation. Within days, the delivering British General is entering Jerusalem.
This, striking as it is, is not however our major discovery. Rather it is that after Jerusalem was thus secured, then the R.A.F. bombing became a major force to help retain his victory, and hence keep Jerusalem. Now in Isaiah 30, God first castigated the Jew (Isaiah 30:8-11, cf. Deuteronomy 28:13-14, 20-28, 36-37) in categorical terms:
Write it before them on a tablet, that it may be for time to come, for ever and ever: That this is a rebellious people ... who say to their seers, Do not see!
This is an age-long assessment. It is however followed by a tender appeal;
In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence will be your strength, but you would not. (Isaiah 30:15-18)
God indicates His intention to "wait, that He may be gracious to you, and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you..." (*3). He proceeds in 30:19 ff. to speak of a Jerusalem which will be truly spiritual, where evil will no longer be able to rampage, and we swiftly recognise the same sort of Messianic features as are shown in Isaiah, Chapters 35, 60, 32:1-6, 33:20 ff., 32:15-17.
This last occurs in a chapter first introducing the Messiah in terms like those of Isaiah 4:4-6, which there presented a 'tabernacle' in these terms of rest, protection and a covering. He now shows this protective tabernacle as a man, a king, the Messiah of whom the book is so full.
In this Chapter 32 then, at verses 15-17, we see yet another Isaianic presentation of Gospel material:
Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high ...
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted a forest.
Then judgment will dwell in the wilderness, and
the work of righteousness will be peace;
And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.
The work of the Messiah shown in Chapters 52-53 especially, is the basis for the healing (53:5), and His sacrifice (53:10) for the sin-bearing and the new birth. From this comes a righteousness that remains (cf. Isaiah 51:6), because it is His and it is conferred (Isaiah 53:11). There comes moreover a work which produces peace, because it has removed the grounds of enmity, of warfare (cf. Isaiah 40:1-3), of disruption (53:5). The effect of the whole matter is that there will be that quietness of heart which fears no judgment, that assurance which knows that nothing will separate from the Saviour (Isaiah 32:17).
Thus, to revert to our immediate purpose, we have cited an age-long rebuke against Israel (Isaiah 30:8, cf. Deuteronomy 28:14,37), one vindicated and verified abundantly; and have looked through appeal and an expression of a determination on God's part to wait, for the signal blessing, to a Messianic era to come. Isaiah 30:21 gives deft and beautiful expression to the intimacy of the Lord's presence, which will be available to Jews as to Christians in terms of the one Gospel which, though rejected (Isaiah 49:6-7) by the Jews, will be the only one they are to have to share, for that matter (Isaiah 49:6).
In this vast panoramic view of things, we see in Isaiah 31:5 that the Lord is to come down to fight for Mount Zion:
Like birds flying about ('hovering'-NASB margin),
So will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending He will also deliver it; passing over, He will preserve it.
Isaiah resumes his appeal from the Lord (v.6, NASB - lit. 'they have deeply ...'):
Return to Him from whom you have deeply defected, O sons of Israel -
and proceeds to dwell on the Messiah and His coming reign, in Chapter 32. He expresses the Gospel further in 32:15-17 as we have seen, and in 33:20-24 gives a depiction of Messianic blessedness, its beauty and its power. By Chapter 35*, he is again describing the wonder of the healing and reinforcing power of the mighty God, for whom a son was cited as born, back in Isaiah 9:6, He on whose shoulder will lie the government. (§ See p. 788 supra.)
It is the same Messiah whose wisdom, righteousness and illimitable spirituality is shown in Chapter 11, associated with the return of the Jews in its time (11:11 ff.). As to that, this is "the second time", indeed, one following the advent of the Messiah (11:1), on whom the Gospel is there exposed as already built (11:1-11), a basis for and basic to the entire proceeding, the glorious rest of the Gentiles (those who know Him). It parallels closely Zechariah 10:8-12, likewise following Messiah's advent (9:9, 10:4).
The Arabs - current occupiers of Assyria (*4) - are not as a people to prevail as the time for peace draws near (cf. Isaiah 32:15-17, 51:6): eternal peace, for the misplaced and displaced people, being brought back from the corners of the world, and soon to be returned also to the Lord, departure voluntarily from whom, had in the first place led to their involuntary and much grieved over, departure, dispersion and despising.
Meanwhile, amongst these dynamic terrestrial changes for the Jews, we have just read of Lord's defending them, "like birds flying".
Now that is what happened with the R.A.F. in this environment of terms: with Christ having long since come and having been rejected, yet persisting in His appeal and proclamation prior to the eventual decisive territorial impacts (Ezekiel 38-39). His resolve to restore Jerusalem is exhibited in action, and this action was fulfilled in minute detail in 1917, prior to the Jews' deliverance. Indeed this event was just before the Jews finally taking over the land. The R.A.F. protected Jerusalem, like hovering birds; the birds 'flew' on metallic wings, and the Lord defended Jerusalem, and defending, delivered it.
In context, it all happened, as in sequence, precisely as predicted. Indeed, it will be noted that it was not with birds, but in way which resembled birds in their flight, that this defence would occur, a delivering defence. Now in this same context it is intensely interesting that there is, a little earlier, a reference made to Egypt.
While this contrasts them with the Lord, their flesh with His Spirit, and the context is neither limited to them, nor focussed on them, but rather on the issues of which this is an illustration, it is still fascinating that one of the several episodes of deliverance and defence of Jerusalem in such a context, is the 1967 date. At this, the Jewish or Israeli air force, by largely destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground, ensured that an immense and highly propagandised Egyptian assault on Israel - and of course on its capital, indeed on its very existence - was able to defend and deliver Jerusalem, the Egyptian tanks on the land being easy prey through these iron birds of Israel, so that they were indeed the vehicle of the victory. This however was not to be for Egypt!
While on the local context - one to be revisited in various connections, it is equally fascinating to observe that the Assyrian (Isaiah 31:8) is also to fall in mysterious and unusual circumstances, creating fear and confusion. That of course happened, apart from other occasions in the repeated attacks of Iraq (current name for the Assyrian core region), in 1991. This occurred when indeed the fire of the Lord whose furnace is in Jerusalem (v.9, cf. p. 882 infra), made Jerusalem incandescent to enemies through the U.S. involvement, during the Iraqi re-declaration of war on Israel (or re-issuance of the 'writ'), and use of Scud missiles against Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv, as if to try out, or try 'on' the divine declaration of intent to defend and deliver Jerusalem. This is made most intensely explicit in Zechariah 12, in the post-crucifixion time, when the Jews are back in their land. That is the third set of deliverence by what resembled ''birds flying'' - U.S. hovering detector planes, and patriot missiles.
Following this, Isaiah 32:1-4 proceeds at once to the Messiah and His reign (cf. pp. 803 ff., 794 ff. and Appendix A infra; Isaiah 66:7-16, 49:19-25, Joel 2:30-3:2).
The second remarkable thing about God's determination (cf. also Isaiah 62:6) so often expressed to bring the Jews back at the right time, and to bring them into a blessing after the 'bones' are assembled, when He is ready (*5), is this. In 1947, the U.N. decided to put Old Jerusalem in an Arab section and to internationalise it. Actually, it was to be run jointly by Jews and Arabs, through an autonomous committee, under international charter. The Jewish territories did not even adjoin it, so that this was war indeed on the city of the Jews, to whom the Balfour Declaration had granted Palestine as a homeland. Indeed, the British were now withdrawing.
The 1948 war was the end of that; for the Jews took half of Jerusalem, and thus established a territorial base of their own, articulating with it. Then in December 1949, the U.N. decided to make a permanent internationalising of Jerusalem. Once again, there is international war on the Jewishness of Jerusalem. (Cf. p. 855 infra.)
Let us put that as if it were London. What would a Britisher feel, if London were to be permanently internationalised ? Would he perhaps feel as if 'their finest hour' and all that was in vain ... London not British ? Will the sea next not be wet! This conflict of 1948 was the war of Zechariah 14:1-2 as we have noted, and part of the Zechariah 12 situation. It led, as we see, to the division of Jerusalem as predicted in Zechariah 14:1-2. The famous Mandelbaum Gate marked the actual division, and stood as such till the Jews won the rest of the city in 1967, once again assaulted, in the notable 6 day war.
This is one of the most marvellous and remarkable prophecies of all time. God does not merely restore Jerusalem to the Jews, but does it in pieces, in accordance with what He said and what is written. It is like an older brother, fighting off his younger brother with one arm tied behind his back! Not only so, the disproportion between the numbers and organisational status of the Arabs and the Jews was also extraordinary. Tens of millions of Arabs with their various State structures long in place, and Arabs being handed power, via the Arab Legion, from the British, as we learn, and yet... and yet they lost.
Now this is not in praise of the Jews. It is in praise of the Lord. He said in Zechariah 12:8, that one 'feeble' Jew, in this situation, would be as David, and "the house of David like God"; that is, God pledged His power for the results for a returned Israel, post-crucifixion, fighting for life against numerous, disproportionate enemy assaults.
The apologetic reason for this emphasis is simple: it was written and it happened; and the way it was written mirrored the way it happened; and the criteria of what was written suggested peril for the Jews, amazingly overcome, and thus it was in history, itself like a lamb led by the halter of prophecy... a most obedient lamb. Here is the sovereignty and the fidelity of God, who challenged anyone to compare with His predictions, as one method of attesting His reality and reinforcing His appeal for realism, repentance and the rejoicing of truth, in mercy, for His people.
If the amazing war of 1948, with the 'feeble' among the Jews (and some, having returned from searing circumstances, inexperienced and scarcely settled, were feeble) like David (in results), as predicted (Zechariah 12:8); if this was the sort of scenario and characterisation for this period of assault on Jerusalem (see Zechariah Chapters 12 and 14): what would follow ? If this was the divine response to the U.N. attack on the status of the Jewish city, using their power to reinforce the Arabs who wanted it away from the Jews, so that the whole constituted an assault on Jerusalem - what could ensue, with this more intense provocation and threat from the U.N., with the Arab lack of rapport, shall we say, more and more conspicuous ?
What would be expected when the 1949 U.N. liberalised Jerusalem to the point of no return, as a city ? It was at this time simply to be internationalised, thus wrested from the Jews. If this is not an attack, how would one find one ? if one's bank manager forbears to use a gun, when sequestering your account, is it a peaceable act, or simply war by paperwork ? If a small department of Palestine, not even near Jerusalem was the 1947 U.N. effort for the Jews, allowing some measure of Jewish participation in government in Jerusalem, what would happen for the case when the city was (1949) simply to be internationalised!
If the 1948 war was to rebuff this assault of the nations on the Jews, then much more would be expected to follow to secure agreeable release from near extermination - and such occurred in 1956 with France and Britain. The Jews again performed expertly, and although political reasons led to the end of that war, without the intentions of the allies fulfilled, the air was filled with some sobriety. The U.N. was not taking all as it would. The assault of this international, if 'legal' junta, was having the predicted result!
A breathing space... but then came the third war of 1967; and the result was that the whole city was taken over for and by the Jews. A "burdensome stone" (Zechariah 12) the city did indeed become, more and more, and the victories were undoubtedly of the historic kind, in extraordinary triumph against the international assemblages, both in councils and in weaponry.
The prophetic point was very simple. The prophetic parameters for the defence of Jerusalem in the midst of a returned Jewish nation were in place. God was very emphatic (see Appendix A, Volume 3: Jeremiah 31:35-40) about His interest in this case; and He had stated with force and clarity what would happen in this case. Stage war on Jerusalem and God is their defence. In successive unbelieving phases, the nations have demonstrated their impotence not because the Jews are strong, but because God has spoken and always does what He says; and chooses to be faithful in the way He HAS said. He is always faithful as He says. His name is in it. James Baker of the U.S. has tried very hard, but when God is a proponent, it is unwise to push.
Meanwhile, after the 1948 and 1956 wars, the provocation still standing, there came a third. The result in I967 was that Jerusalem became wholly Jewish. Assailed by Egypt, they overcame it in a few days, carting off captured equipment, and astounding the world.
Seemingly, to be taken wholly from them, first by the U.N. and then by a Nasser who kindly asked the U.N. troops to remove from the buffer area, to enable action, the city of the Jews was not to be so stripped from them; on the contrary, it was to be gained wholly by them. It was, it seems apparent, a divinely delicious fulfilment of His word. They were back, now, and the prophecies in Ezekiel did not envisage a further removal. They were to be fully back, and here it was. Jerusalem was given to them in another amazing war, fulfilling in passing the prophecy of Zechariah 12 as to the extraordinary effectiveness of the Jewish fighting force. This was not an intrinsic power, but a power derived... from the prophetic commitment of God to this result, for His own stated reasons.
These reasons included the basis that the nations would know that God had rebuilt them (Ezekiel 36:36), just as they had noted in former times that here was a people of the Lord who had lost their land (Ezekiel 36:19-21). Secondly, God was concerned at the abuse of His name which could result from misguided misinterpretations of His long discipline of the Jews (Deuteronomy 32:27-35). Thirdly, He had compassion on them, and having predestinated the movement according to counsel, He held to it (Deuteronomy 32:36). He is, fourthly, always willing to listen to the sincere cry of faith through His word, to His name (Zechariah 12:11-12, Joel 2:11), and He fulfils His plans in addition.
Returning from the revelation of God's reasons, we look again at the 1967 war, liberating the city of the Jews, Jerusalem. This is total and extravagant fulfilment of all this; and it is more. It is a measured response in which the wickedness of assault on this beleaguered people, after all they had suffered, was recognised. Was there no land but this little strip, for Arabs or anyone else, for that matter! Was it necessary for them to contest this so tiny residue of the original land divinely accorded the Jews?
Was God's mind, will, control of history to be directly challenged by an unbelieving people, because He, God had disciplined the people who broke their covenant and killed their King ? Not at all. When God ''sees that their power is gone'', says Moses in Deuteronomy (32:36), He will personally take rigorous action in their defence. (Cf. Ezekiel 38:18 - see p.851 ff. infra - where God says of one episode, "My fury will show in My face... and I will bring him to judgment" - Ezekiel 38:18,22. To judgment ? Yes, the attacking forces!)
The righteous divine anger may resemble that shown in Zechariah 11:12-16. The nations see the punishment of the Jews: but this does not give them a mandate to exact their own penalties from the Jews, on top of this!
Two faults must thus be avoided. First, we must remember that divine punishment, like that of a father may be (here is) well deserved; but IT does not legitimise other children attacking the one undergoing discipline. That could appear heartless. The second caution is this: we must not glorify the Jews because the Lord is fulfilling His promise to Abraham, as we saw. (Cf. Micah 7:20,, Genesis 17:7-8). "Not for your sakes do I this," He repeats in Ezekiel 36-37.
If the Jews are now being picked up by divine arms, as He brings them to their Messiah in His own chosen steps, this too is not to be misconstrued. It is not that the Jews are great: scripturally in terms of their own prophets, it is far from so. (See Ezekiel 16:1-30, and note especially 16:3-4, where they are put racially in place: and here compare the force of Isaiah 1:10, 30:8). It is God who is great, objectively, and until that is clear in a humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2), trouble looms.
Page 785 continued in the next section
1. Each step here requires a distinct divine act, miracle. God has threshed the Jews out (cg. Isaiah 27:12, 28:16. 26:19) but they remain blind (Romans 11:25) until God acts again, as predicted.