It is especially instructive in a day like this to note the discipline to which the prophets in Old Testament times were subjected, for they were raised up in order to revive the truth of God among His people, and to announce to them the judgment which would fall on them if they did not repent; and hence the energy of Satan in that day was to set up false prophets, as even in this day there are false teachers.
Isaiah prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The first notice we have of him is that a vision was given him; and this is important, as defining the nature and line of the truth of which he is to be the witness. It concerns Judah and Jerusalem; the royal tribe, and the city of God, and the apostasy of Judah. " My people doth not consider ... from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it," and yet " Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness."
Next, in chapter 2 we get " The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem," and this word extends down to the end of chapter 5.
Up to this, Isaiah had the vision and the word of the Lord: one, what was shown him, the other, the word spoken ; both so necessary for the prophet. Now in chapter 6 we have his own personal exercises. Here Isaiah sees the Lord in glory. In the former chapter we have the twofold form of instruction, the vision and the word. Here is presented to us how he was personally qualified for ministering what he had been instructed in. He sees the King, the Lord of hosts, or as it is said in John 12, " When he saw his glory." Here the instruction really takes root; here he is made the fitted channel for communicating the things given to him. I think it will be found that every preparation for service is according to the measure of sense which the soul has of being in the presence of God, and in this way the state of the soul is in keeping with the line of service. The appearance of the Lord in glory is not confined to one or two; in measure He appeared in glory to each of His servants. That is to say, it was from the glory they received the nature and extent of their commission. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. As God appeared to each, so did He reveal Himself to them, and according as He was revealed to them, so was their service defined. He appeared to Moses, to Joshua and so on ; but in every instance I apprehend that the appearance of the Lord in His own glory and status determined the line of the servant's mission. Then it was that His mind was given to the servant in form, and then they received the impression which they were to maintain in their course here. We know Paul got the gospel thus, and if ever he failed in the terms of it, he had to recur to what was then written in his soul by the Spirit of the living God. So here Isaiah is qualified for the duties of his office, the Lord appears to him in glory, and, as is always the case, the terrible contrast of himself in nature to the holiness of God's presence, is pressed upon him. He is filled with fear and shame ; he is deeply conscious of his unfitness for God. The presence of the glory always exposes this ; the depth of humiliation in me personally, is always the effect of the light of the glory; but then there is grace in the glory; hence a live coal from the altar, like the kiss to the prodigal, touches his lips, and there is also the word to assure the heart of its operation. " Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." This is a wondrous revelation to the favored servant, even that in God's glory he is freed from iniquity and his sin purged. This is a great lesson; and if not the first, it is the greatest, and the one which will most sustain the servant in his course. After this discipline we read that when the Lord calls, " Whom shall I send? " Isaiah readily answers, " Here am I; send me." Then he gets his commission which embraces the state of Israel from that day to this, and is quoted by our Lord in John 12 and by Paul in Acts 28.
Next we have Isaiah, in his service, directed by the Lord thus, " Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field." To himself and his son (as that which was derived from himself) is thus committed the message given of God. Peculiar and interesting expression of thorough faithfulness! It is worthy of note how the children indicated the faith of the parent and his present standing with God.
I think it is important to note the difference between the instruction the prophet has to impart to Ahaz, as the mind and grace of God, and what he himself personally must manifest practically. Hence, in chapter 8: 1, Isaiah is directed to take a great -roll, and to write in it with a man's pen concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Thus is recorded, as a definite and positive event, that there should be a hastening to the spoil; and again, it is the child of the prophet who is to bear witness by his name to this gracious intervention of God. How significant that a man should be so thoroughly for God that everything which emanates from him (as his offspring especially does) should indicate in living impersonation the mind and favour of God! How blessed when the servant not only communicates the mind of God and reveals His purposes, but when he also, in his son-his own generation, practically maintains testimony to the present ways of God. How effectual has been the discipline when the servant is at once God's organ and witness!
Here we find that the prophet not only clearly saw things as they were, but he was taught of God to see the order of things which hereafter would be introduced for the glory of God; and hence he saw them not only as they were then, but as they would be. Consequently, in the end of the chapter he tells us in verse i I. " The Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people." And then from verse 12 to verse 18, the mind of Christ during His rejection is imparted to him; and the prophet, in his own mind, personates Him. The strong hand of Jehovah has instructed him, introducing him, through a knowledge of His mind, into the very interval which we now occupy. Then we get the sorrows of Israel from verses 19-22.
In chapter 9 : 1-7 the prophet sees the beginning of blessing and the consummation of it. I only note this to mark how the Lord prepares and fashions the servant for His service in the grievous time he was to live in. We know that he lived during all the reign of Ahaz, even sixteen years, and for more than twenty-five years of Hezekiah's reign. What a sad and peculiar time it was I What a contrast is the history of our prophet to that of Israel as recorded in 2 Kings 16! What blessed instruction he got to form and qualify him for dealing with the various forms of evil then reaching a head in Israel. There is discipline through the word, as well as discipline through circumstances; nay, the former exceeds the latter. The word of God is quick and powerful, and from the effects of it one would be like Daniel, " a man astonied."
Ahaz was the first king of Judah who made his son pass through the fire ; the corruption which had been allowed in Israel had now been adopted by him; he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. The line which had distinguished Judah from the ten kingdoms was fast fading away; the moral distinction no longer continued. Thus is it in Christendom. The advocates for the Bible, and the rights of God, are fast committing themselves to the worst corruptions. Ahaz sacrificed and burnt incense in high places, and on the hills and under every green tree. He sends to Tiglath-pileser to help him, and he consummates his apostasy by erecting an altar after the pattern of one he 'had seen at Damascus. I note all this in order to present the state of things in Judah during this part of Isaiah's prophecy, extending to chapter 14 when we read-king Ahaz died. The instruction which the Lord communicated to him during that trying time qualified and empowered him to be the prophet for the Lord, able to recall the remnant to the purpose and counsel of God. As to appearances, from the throne downwards, there was everything to discourage him; but so peculiar and vivid were the communications made to him, that he was able to rise above all that was visible, and to look right onward and forward, as a godly Jew would have done, into the beautiful arena of God's future ways on earth.
Let us briefly review. In chapter 9 : 1-7, the future blessing of Israel is foreseen, beginning in Galilee of the Gentiles, and reaching on to its consummation in the kingdom. How blessedly must a disclosure like this have strengthened Isaiah for the Lord's service in that evil day! Nothing places one so superior to anything as having knowledge of the issue. It is not acquaintance with what exists that helps one, but he who has the secret of the result holds the key of the position. With this key Isaiah is entrusted, and every servant of God fitted by Him to stand in an evil day is in the Lord's mercy similarly qualified. He is not only instructed as to the final blessing of the people, but the judgment that must fall on them, because of their evil, is also communicated to him. The grace of God as well as His righteousness is shewn out more fully by the wickedness of man.
Hence Isaiah is not only shewn the future deliverance of God's people, but he is also instructed in the judgment that was to fall on them, and how the 'Assyrian,' the rod of mine anger, " will tread them down like mire in the street," chap. 10: 5. Yet the remnant shall return (V. 21). Here, be it remarked, the interpretation of Shear-jashub, the prophet's son, is----" the remnant shall return." Most interesting that his own son should bear a name pregnant with so much to a servant of God at such a time. How various and suitable are the touching modes by which the blessed God fits and sustains one in His service! The condition and blessing of the remnant is detailed down to the end of chapter 12.
In chapters 13 and 14, down to verse 27, the rise and fall of Babylon are presented to the prophet. It is worthy of note that at this time, historically, Babylon was a very insignificant place; but the Spirit of God instructs His servant as to His own estimate of Babylon, and the evil principles it had given birth to, and not according to man's judgment. I think we should gather from the manner and order of the Lord's teaching the truth which qualified a servant of God for the times and circumstances in which he was placed.
Isaiah now enters on a new era. Hezekiah has ascended the throne of Judah. The burden in the four last verses in chapter 14: 28-32 is an epitome of the sufferings of Israel and the restoration of the remnant. There will be a momentary deliverance through Hezekiah, but there will also come judgment first ; and in all this must the prophet, in such a day, be instructed and preserved by the word and counsel of God; and hence we are shown how truly he has been fitted for his post. We little comprehend the value of a mind well disciplined in the purposes of God, through His word, and how one so disciplined addresses himself to meet things here. To such an one all the actings of men seem only as the raving of madness, or the trifling of little children; there is no preparation like the discipline of the word to one who, like Isaiah, has been set at rest in the glory of the presence of God. And hence, as I understand, from chapter 15 to 36, he is shewn how Judah, and the nations connected with it, are in the eye of God. First he has been set with God as to his own soul; and then in his children, which arc the expression of himself in continuation, there is testimony to the mind and purpose of God; and then he is able, after surveying the judgment of God on Moab, Damascus, Ethiopia, and Egypt, when the Assyrian power initiates the judgment, to loose the sackcloth from his loins, and put off the shoe from his foot, walking naked and barefoot, as a witness in himself of the nature of the sufferings that they should endure; chap. 20: 2. What is interesting to note and gather up from these chapters is the manner of the discipline through which God would pass His servant in the times in which he lived. We have now traced in him three great exercises: one, as to his own position with God in glory; secondly, in that his children express the mind of God ; and thirdly, that he is suffering-that he endures in himself personally the very suffering which he predicts on the rebellious and thoughtless; but he endures, without deserving it, what they endure, because they do deserve it, and this though it be on Egypt. A testimony of the nature of the sufferings is set forth by the one who predicts them. He is not unconscious of, or indifferent to, what he predicts, and this is very necessary discipline for the prophet.
Now in chapter 21 we find Isaiah going through another very necessary experience, even that of sorrow and distress in his own spirit, because of the terrible things about to happen, though one of these very things is the overthrow of Babylon. That is, he sees the coming up of the Persians, and the destruction of Babylon by them ; he is filled with pain and -anguish. The treacherous dealer hath dealt treacherously : he is bowed down at the hearing of it, and dismayed at the seeing of it. The prophet is not a mere machine ; he enters into and feels the nature and character of the things he is the minister of. The fall of Babylon has well-nigh overwhelmed him, though it be judgment on the nation that was Israel's scourge ; yet Isaiah feels in his soul, before the Lord, the terribleness of the judgment ; and hence, when the wave of judgment overtakes Jewry in chapter 22, he suffers still more acutely ; he is not a passive spectator of the sufferings he foresees, he suffers before anyone else suffers, and this is true discipline, even for a servant to enter into the nature and effect of the very truths which he announces. He says, " Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people " (v. 4). After passing through this sorrow of heart, he is sent to Shebna, the treasurer (v. 15) " which is over the house," to announce to him that all his greatness, even that connected with a tomb, should fail; he is to be an example of the nature of the judgment on Jerusalem: The Lord " will violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country : there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house " (v. 18).. And yet there should be restoration in Eliakim. In the very moment of judgment, and when the heart of the servant is bowed down because of it, and when a leading man is singled out as the type of it, he is comforted and reassured as to future deliverance. Yet the range and sweeping nature of the judgment are continued, so that though he sees the mercy of Jehovah, yet he is conscious of what he is himself, in such a scene of overflowing judgment; and hence in chapter 24: 16 he exclaims, " My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! " In verse 19 he announces " the earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage " ; yet when in judgment the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.
And now the prophet passes through another experience of which we are given the benefit. If it was sorrow a little while ago because of impending judgment, now it is praise because of the kingdom and glory. But all this new scene or era will be only brought about through judgment ; and hence the prophet proceeds in chapters 27 to 36 to describe the process through which they will be led, and warns them that in their trial they should not go down into Egypt. But the interesting part, as connected with the prophet himself, is that the process is first communicated to him; he in his own soul travels through the great facts which he is appointed to announce. He is made, in a , sense, experienced in all that will happen before he Proclaims it; he is master of the story, and, like every skillful historian, he is practically connected with each transaction. It is of immense importance to the prophet to be so absolutely in mind in the scenes that he may describe them with living, personal interest ; even as great historians have visited the scenes of great deeds, in order that they might catch up the sense and feelings of one actually engaged in them. A tale comes so differently from one who has been an actor in them, and from one who merely records it. No experience is more necessary or useful for a teacher than that he should be first personally affected by the truths which he preaches or announces.
We are now come to Sennacherib's invasion of Israel, where Hezekiah, who represents the future remnant of Israel, is subjected to two trials, and is brought through two deliverances--one outward, when he is saved from the Assyrian; and the other inward, when he is, so to speak, raised from the dead. The part which Isaiah had to act in these two trials is the subject before us. It is always the manner in which the servant acts which discloses the effect of the discipline which he has undergone. Every servant requires, and as he waits for it, receives, preparation for every coming service. He does not know the service for which he is being prepared. Were he to know it the tendency would be to make him think how to act, instead of being simply prepared of God. This is to be noted in the service of every one. There may be the most elaborate preparation for some particular service and it may be performed in a very orderly useful way, but it lacks the vitality which would mark it were the same person imbued with the mind of God, and thus suited for the service appointed him of God, though quite ignorant of the particular service for which he is being prepared. A true servant is like a garden which grows any kind of fruit desired by its owner. He does not know what will be required of him, but he is prepared for the demand on his services when it comes. I believe the lack in service arises from not being thus prepared ; and the only discipline which effects this preparation is the word of God ; the servant must be so occupied with it, so imbued by it, that he can act according to His mind when the demand comes.
It is most interesting and important for every servant to understand the mode and manner by which he is prepared for any or every service. The graver the nature of it, the greater the need for preparation. And, as I have said, one of the great peculiarities connected with this preparation is that the particular service is not divulged until we are 'ready for it. Orders indeed are given, but they are like the sealed orders given to the captain of a ship ; and the reason of this is that the service itself may not occupy our thoughts and desires, as it naturally would, more than the power needed to perform it, in God's way, and according to His mind. I do not mean that I must be ignorant, for instance, of the subject on which I should speak, but I might think more of the subject than of the power of Christ, or of the force and unction which can only be acquired in His presence, and without which the greatest truth, delivered in the most perfect way, is deficient. When I am truly prepared, I am sure to be well up in my subject, because it is doubtless the staple of my service, and there is no preparation apart from it.
See the immense amount of truth communicated to the prophet Isaiah before he was called to any service, but he was not told the nature of the particular service for which he was being prepared. Abram was not told that Melchisedec's visit and blessing were to prepare him for the interview with, and offers of, the king of Sodom; but he was so well prepared by it that he was enabled positively to refuse everything from him, from a thread to a shoe-latchet. Moses is another example. He was detained forty days in the glory, primarily to learn the true and full form and appearance of the tabernacle, and also to get morally fitted for the great service he would be called to in consequence of Israel's idolatry; so that when he comes down and sees the apostasy of the people, however great and terrible the surprise was to him, he, without any con~ fusion or hesitation, knows how to act ; he is neither afraid of man, nor doubtful with God; he is prepared for the crisis, and perfectly assured in heart ; he acts according to God, and takes the tabernacle and pitches it without the camp, afar off from the camp, apart from all the idolatries of the apostate people. Thus also was the apostle Paul prepared for service, and to be, as the Lord says to him, " A minister and a witness both of the things which thou hast seen and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee." Even in the case of the vision shown to Peter (Acts 10) he is impressed more with the mind and counsel of God than with any particular form of expression which he was to use to Cornelius. When truly and fully imbued with the mind of God, the manner and way of giving it out is in keeping with His mind.
Thus is it with Isaiah. Having been prepared of God by the communication of His mind about Israel, and about all the nations in connection with Israel, he is summoned now to act in this twofold trial to Hezekiah, who impersonates the remnant of Israel; and in the way he serves he exemplifies to us the true way of serving at such a juncture. The king sends to him; chap. 37. The servant of the Lord should be known as one. " So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah " to hear the mind of the Lord from him. And Isaiah said unto them, " Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land ; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land." Isaiah has no fear; the enemy seems a very small thing to him, because his soul is so full of the greatness and might of God; and this is the surest evidence that one has been near Him. The sickness unto death of Hezekiah was prior to the invasion of the Assyrian, and it will be helpful for us to see how Isaiah acts towards him in his first and personal trial, before. we note his service to him in the second outward trial.
We read in chapter 38 that Isaiah came unto Hezekiah, sent of God, to announce to him that he must die and not live. What a discipline for Isaiah! As the guardian of the Lord's interests at the time, he must have rejoiced in the faithfulness of Hezekiah ; but now all is to cease, and he is the one to announce a stroke, which practically must carry him in prospect into all the break-up and ruin of his people. In the prospect of Hezekiah's death, he is made to taste the end and dissolution of Israel. It is a needed discipline for a servant to enter into the end of everything of man. This qualifies him for his future testimony respecting Israel, when he cries, " Surely the people is grass," etc. The great instrument of restoration must fade away as a leaf.
Isaiah, having been subjected to this great sorrow, having practically entered into this tunnel, so necessary for every servant, in order really and in any measure fully to appreciate resurrection, is eventually enabled to ten Hezekiah the remedy to use in order that he might recover; chap. 38: 21. Thus when all hope is over, when the cold hand of death withers up everything, then breaks in a light to the darkness. Then deep conviction is wrought in the soul that there is a God that raiseth the dead. This was, to the heart of Isaiah, a real vision of his people. They were to die, to be cut off, as they now dispensationally are, and yet surely there will be a reviving of them again. Israel shall be restored.
Then there is the oppression from the adversary from without, which the king of Assyria. represents in this history; and from this oppression Isaiah assures Hezekiah he shall be delivered; chap. 38 : 6, 7. But this is not all. When Hezekiah prays against Sennacherib, Isaiah comes to him not only with assurance of deliverance, but accompanied with a very marked national favour. " And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself ; and the second year that which springeth of the same : and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof." And then it is added, " And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward : for out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of Mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this." Thus the prophet has not only been prepared of God for the unfolding of His mind for the services to which he was called, but he has to enter experimentally into the two trials which awaited his nation: one, the sinking down, even into death, because of inherent weakness ; the other, complete captivity by the hand of the enemy. But these very trying experiences were needed in order to lead his heart into a true sense of the wonderful way in which God would effect this double deliverance for the nation of Israel. Of this Isaiah prophesies, and luxuriates in, from chapter 40 to the end of the book. To what wondrous prospects is he introduced! And though he could say that they were at that time vague and beyond all human comprehension, yet he had practically seen the manner and the reality of God's future ways to His people. It is not enough for the servant that he should be in secret prepared of God by the unfolding of His mind. Without that he is unable le to comprehend things according to God ; but besides this, he has to enter into the double trial here, even the death-weakness of man in himself; and the terrible power of the enemy, for it is only as the servant is practically sensible of these two, and has known the way of God's deliverance through and out of them, that he can in any adequate way speak of His kingdom, or talk of His power. In order to be qualified or ready to enter into and comprehend the scope and magnitude of God's future counsels, it is always necessary that the servant should have practically learned death here, and the ruin of everything because of Satan's power through man's fall; and then, as he learns the power of resurrection in God, through Christ, he is prepared and ready for the disclosures which God has prepared for them that love Him. Abraham was prepared for the great revelation respecting his future seed after he had learned practically to have no hope but in God who raiseth the dead. He had entered into the end of everything here, and now he is fit for the knowledge of the fact, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. There is great moral consistency in this fact, that no one is fit or ready for the future or prospective glory laid up for him who has not entered into the completeness of the ruin here through the combined action of man's weakness and Satan's power. So was it with Isaiah, and so was it, as we have seen, with Moses and Paul. However prepared they were to act for God, they had to learn these two great realities here-the antagonism of the enemy without, and the utter weakness of man in himself, and how everything fails in his hand; so that Moses, in the deep sense of it, cries out, " Shew me thy glory." And Paul can say, " I desire to depart and be with Christ."