1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Vol II Introduction 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 Alexander's Works
The last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah (xl-lxvi) form a distinct and continuous discourse, connected with the former part, and at the same time separated from it by four chapters (xxxvi--xxxix) almost entirely historical. These later Prophecies of Isaiah have a character so marked and so peculiar as to call for some additional preliminary views in the shape of a separate and special introduction.
One of the most important functions of the prophetic office was the exposition of the Law, that is to say, of the Mosaic institutions, the peculiar form in which the Church was organized until the advent of Messiah. This inspired exposition was of absolute necessity, in order to prevent or to correct mistakes which were constantly arising, not only from the blindness and perverseness of the people, but from the very nature of the system under which they lived. That system, being temporary and symbolical, was necessarily material, ceremonial, and restrictive in its forms; as nothing purely spiritual could be symbolical or typical of other spiritual things, nor could a catholic or free constitution have secured the necessary segregation of the people from all others for a temporary purpose.
The evils incident to such a state of things were the same that have occurred in many other like cases, and may all be derived from the superior influence of sensible objects on the mass of men, and from the consequent propensity to lose sight of the end in the use of the means, and to confound the sign with the thing signified. The precise form and degree of this perversion no doubt varied with the change of times and circumstances, and a corresponding difference must have existed in the action of the Prophets who were called to exert a corrective influence on these abuses.
In the days of Hezekiah, the national corruption had already passed through several phases, each of which might still be traced in its effects, and none of which had wholly vanished. Sometimes the prevailing tendency had been to make the ceremonial form of the Mosaic worship, and its consequent coincidence in certain points with the religions of surrounding nations, an occasion or a pretext for adopting heathen rites and usages, at first as a mere extension and enlargement of the ritual itself, then more boldly as an arbitrary mixture of heterogeneous elements, and lastly as an open and entire substitution of the false for the true, and of Baal, Ashtoreth, or Moloch, for Jehovah.
At other times the same corruption had assumed a less revolting form and been contented with perverting the Mosaic institutions while externally and zealously adhering to them. The two points from which this insidious process of perversion set out were the nature and design of the ceremonial law, and the relation of the chosen people to the rest of men. As to the first, it soon became a current and at last a fixed opinion with the mass of irreligious Jews, that the ritual acts of the Mosaic service had an intrinsic efficacy, or a kind of magical effect upon the moral and spiritual state of the worshipper. Against this error the Law itself had partially provided by occasional violations and suspensions of its own most rigorous demands, plainly implying that the rites were not intrinsically efficacious, but significant of something else. As a single instance of this general fact it may be mentioned, that although the sacrifice of life is everywhere throughout the ceremonial law presented as the symbol of atonement, yet in certain cases, where the circumstances of the offerer forbade an animal oblation, he was suffered to present one of a vegetable nature, even where the service was directly and exclusively expiatory; a substitution wholly inconsistent with the doctrine of an intrinsic virtue or a magical effect, but perfectly in harmony with that of a symbolical and typical design, in which the uniformity of the external symbol, although rigidly maintained in general, might be dispensed with in a rare and special case without absurdity or inconvenience.
It might easily be shown that the same corrective was provided by the Law itself in its occasional departure from its own requisitions as to time and place and the officiating person; so that no analogy whatever really exists between the Levitical economy, even as expounded by itself, and the ritual systems which in later times have been so confidently built upon it. But the single instance which has been already cited will suffice to illustrate the extent of the perversion which at an early period had taken root among the Jews, as to the real nature and design of their ceremonial services. The natural effect of such an error on the spirit and the morals is too obvious in itself, and too explicitly recorded in the sacred history, to require either proof or illustration.
On the other great point, the relation of the Jews to the surrounding nations, their opinions seem to have become at an early period equally erroneous. In this as in the other case, they went wrong by a superficial judgment founded on appearances, by looking simply at the means before them, and neither forwards to their end, nor backwards to their origin. From the indisputable facts of Israel's divine election as the people of Jehovah, his extraordinary preservation as such, and his undisturbed exclusive possession of the written word and the accompanying rites, they had drawn the natural but false conclusion, that this national pre-eminence was founded on intrinsic causes, or at least on some original and perpetual distinction in their favour. This led them to repudiate or forget the fundamental truth of their whole history, to wit, that they were set apart and kept apart, not for the ruin and disgrace, but for the ultimate benefit and honour of the whole world, or rather of the whole church which was to be gathered from all nations, and of which the ancient Israel was designed to be the symbol and the representative. As it had pleased God to elect a certain portion of mankind to everlasting life through Christ. so it pleased him that until Christ came, this body of elect ones, scattered through all lands and ages, should be represented by a single nation, and that this representative body should be the sole depository of divine truth and a divinely instituted worship; while the ultimate design of this arrangement was kept constantly in view by the free access which in all ages was afforded to the gentiles who consented to embrace the true religion.
It is difficult indeed to understand how the Jews could reconcile the immemorial reception of proselytes from other nations, with the dogma of national superiority and exclusive hereditary right to the divine favour. The only solution of this singular phenomenon is furnished by continual recurrence to the great representative principle on which the Jewish church was organized, and which was carried out not only in the separation of the body as a whole from other men, but in the internal constitution of the body itself, and more especially in the separation of a whole tribe from the rest of Israel, and of a single family in that tribe from the other Levites, and of a single person in that family, in whom was finally concentrated the whole representation of the Body on the one hand, while on the other he was a constituted type of the Head.
If the Jews could have been made to understand or to remember that their national pre-eminence was representative, not original; symbolical, not real; provisional, not perpetual; it could never have betrayed them into hatred or contempt of other nations, but would rather have cherished an enlarged and catholic spirit, as it did in the most enlightened, an effect which may be clearly traced in the writings of Moses, David, and Isaiah. That view of the Mosaic dispensation which regards this Jewish bigotry as its genuine spirit is demonstrably a false one. The true spirit of the old economy was not indeed a latitudinarian indifference to its institutions, or a premature anticipation of a state of things still future. It was scrupulously faithful even to the temporary institutions of the ancient church; but while it looked upon them as obligatory, it did not look upon them as perpetual. It obeyed the present requisitions of Jehovah, but still looked forward to something better. Hence the failure to account, on any other supposition, for the seeming contradictions of the Old Testament, in reference to the ceremonies of the Law. If worthless, why were they so conscientiously observed by the best and wisest men? If intrinsically valuable, why are they disparaged and almost repudiated by the same men? Simply because they were neither worthless nor intrinsically valuable, but appointed temporary signs of something to be otherwise revealed thereafter; so that it was equally impious and foolish to reject them altogether with the skeptic, and to rest in them forever with the formalist.
It is no less true, and for exactly the same reason, that the genuine spirit of the old economy was equally adverse to all religious mixture with the heathen or renunciation of the Jewish privileges on one hand, and to all contracted national conceit and hatred of the gentiles on the other. Yet both these forms of error had become fixed in the Jewish creed and character long before the days of Hezekiah. That they were not universal even then, we have abundant proof in the Old Testament. Even in the worst of times, there is reason to believe that a portion of the people held fast to the true doctrine and the true spirit of the extraordinary system under which they lived. How large this more enlightened party was at any time, and to how small a remnant it was ever reduced, we have not the means of ascertaining; but we know that it was always in existence, and that it constituted the true Israel, the real church of the Old Testament.
To this class the corruption of the general body must have been a cause not only of sorrow but of apprehension; and if express prophetic threatenings had been wanting, they could scarcely fail to anticipate the punishment and even the rejection of their nation. But in this anticipation they were themselves liable to error. Their associations were so intimately blended with the institutions under which they lived, that they must have found it hard to separate the idea of Israel as a church from that of Israel as a nation; a difficulty similar in kind, however different in degree, from that which we experience in forming a conception of the continued existence of the soul without the body. And as all men, in the latter case, however fully they may be persuaded of the separate existence of the spirit and of its future disembodied state, habitually speak of it in terms strictly applicable only to its present state; so the ancient saints, however strong their faith, were under the necessity of framing their conceptions, as to future things, upon the model of those present; and the imperceptible extension of this process beyond the limits of necessity would naturally tend to generate errors not of form merely but of substance. Among these we may readily suppose to have had place the idea that, as Israel had been unfaithful to its trust, and was to be rejected, the Church or People of God must as a body share the same fate; or in other words, that if the national Israel perished, the spiritual Israel must perish with it, at least so far as to be disorganized and resolved into its elements.
The same confusion of ideas still exists among the uninstructed classes, and to some extent among the more enlightened also, in those countries where the Church has for ages been a national establishment, and scarcely known in any other form; as, for instance, in Sweden and Norway among Protestants, or in Spain and Portugal among Papists. To the most devout in such communities the downfall of the hierarchical establishment seems perfectly identical with the extinction of the church; and nothing but a long course of instruction, and perhaps experience, could enable them to form the idea of a disembodied unestablished Christian church. If such mistakes are possible and real even now, we have little reason either to dispute their existence or to wonder at it, under the complicated forms and in the imperfect light of the Mosaic dispensation. It is not only credible but altogether natural, that even true believers, unassisted by a special revelation, should have shunned the extreme of looking upon Israel's pre-eminence among the nations as original and perpetual, only by verging towards the opposite error of supposing that the downfall of the nation would involve the abolition of the church, and human unbelief defeat the purposes and make void the promises of God.
Here then are several distinct but cognate forms of error, which appear to have gained currency among the Jews before the time of Hezekiah, in relation to the two great distinctive features of their national condition, the ceremonial law and their seclusion from the gentiles. Upon each of these points there were two shades of opinion entertained by very different classes. The Mosaic ceremonies were with some a pretext for idolatrous observances, while others rested in them, not as types or symbols, but as efficacious means of expiation. The pre-eminence of Israel was by some regarded as perpetual, while others apprehended in its termination the extinction of the church itself. These various forms of error might be variously combined and modified in different cases, and their general result must of course have contributed largely to determine the character of the church and nation.
It was not, perhaps, until these errors had begun to take a definite and settled form among the people, that the Prophets, who had hitherto confined themselves to oral instruction or historical composition, were directed to utter and record for constant use discourses meant to be corrective or condemnatory of these dangerous perversions. This may at least be regarded as a plausible solution of the fact that prophetic writing in the strict sense became so much more abundant in the later days of the Old Testament history. Of these prophetic writings, still preserved in our canon, there is scarcely any part which has not a perceptible and direct bearing on the state of feeling and opinion which has been described. This is emphatically true of Isaiah's earlier prophecies, which, though so various in form, are all adapted to correct the errors in question, or to establish the antagonistic truths. This general design of the predictions might be so used as to throw new light upon their exposition, by connecting it more closely with the prevalent errors of the ancient church than was attempted in the other volume. Guided even by this vague suggestion, an attentive reader will be able for the most part to determine with respect to each successive portion whether it was specially intended to rebuke idolatry, to rectify the errors of the formalist in reference to the ceremonial system, to bring down the arrogance of a mistaken nationality, or to console the true believer by assuring him that though the carnal Israel should perish, the true Israel must endure forever.
But although this purpose may be traced, to some extent, in all the prophecies, it is natural to suppose that some part of the canon would be occupied with a direct, extensive, and continuous exhibition of the truth upon a subject so momentous; and the date of such a prophecy could scarcely be assigned to any other period so naturally as to that which has been specified, the reign of Hezekiah, when all the various forms of error and corruption which had successively prevailed were co-existent, when idolatry, although suppressed by law, was still openly or secretly practised, and in many cases superseded only by a hypocritical formality and ritual religion, attended by an overweening sense of the national pre-eminence of Israel, from which even the most godly seem to have found refuge in despondent fears and skeptical misgivings. At such a time,--when the theocracy had long since reached and passed its zenith, and a series of providential shocks, with intervals of brief repose, had already begun to loosen the foundations of the old economy in preparation for its ultimate removal,--such a discourse as that supposed must have been eminently seasonable, if not absolutely needed, to rebuke sin, correct error, and sustain the hopes of true believers. It was equally important, nay, essential to the great end of the temporary system, that the way for its final abrogation should be gradually prepared, and that in the meantime it should be maintained in constant operation.
If the circumstances of the times which have been stated are enough to make it probable that such a revelation would be given, they will also aid us in determining beforehand, not in detail but in the general, its form and character. The historical occasion and the end proposed would naturally lead us to expect in such a book the simultaneous or alternate presentation of a few great leading truths, perhaps with accompanying refutation of the adverse errors, and with such reproofs, remonstrances and exhortations, promises and threatenings, as the condition of the people springing from these errors might require, not only at the date of the prediction but in later times. In executing this design the Prophet might have been expected to pursue a method more rhetorical than logical, and to enforce his doctrine not so much by dry didactic statements as by animated argument combined with earnest exhortation, passionate appeals, poetical apostrophes, impressive repetitions, and illustrations drawn both from the ancient and the later history of Israel. In fine, from what has been already said, it follows that the doctrines, which would naturally constitute the staple of the prophecy in such a case, are those relating to the true design of Israel's vocation and seclusion from the gentiles, and of the ceremonial institutions under which he was in honourable bondage. The sins and errors which find their condemnation in the statement of these truths are those of actual idolatry, a ritual formality, a blinded nationality, and a despondent apprehension of the failure of Jehovah's promise. Such might even a priori be regarded as the probable structure and complexion of a prophecy or series of prophecies intended to secure the end in question. If the person called to this important service had already been the organ of divine communications upon other subjects, or with more direct reference to other subjects, it would be reasonable to expect a marked diversity between these former prophecies and that uttered under a new impulse. Besides the very great and striking difference which must always be perceptible between a series of detached compositions, varying and possibly remote from one another as to date, and a continuous discourse on one great theme, there would be other unavoidable distinctions springing directly from the new and wide scope of prophetic vision, and from the concentration in one vision of the elements diffused through many others. This diversity would be enhanced by any striking difference of outward circumstances, such as the advanced age of the writer, his matured experience, his seclusion from the world and from active life, or any other changes which might have the same effect; but even in the absence of these outward causes, the diversity would still be very great and unavoidable.
From these probabilities let us now turn to realities. Precisely such a book as that described is extant, having formed a part of the collection of Isaiah's Prophecies as far back as the history of the canon can be traced, without the slightest vestige of a different tradition among Jews or Christians as to the author. The tone and spirit of these chapters (xl.--lxvi.) are precisely such as might have been expected from the circumstances under which they are alleged to have been written, and their variations from the earlier chapters such as must have been expected from the change in the circumstances themselves.
A cursory inspection of these later prophecies is enough to satisfy the reader that he has before him neither a concatenated argument nor a mass of fragments, but a continuous discourse in which the same great topies are continually following each other, somewhat modified in form and combination, but essentially the same from the beginning to the end. If required to designate a single theme as that of the whole series, we might safely give the preference to Israel, the Peculiar People, the Church of the Old Testament, its origin, vocation, mission, sins and sufferings, former experience and final destiny. The doctrine inculcated as to this great subject may be summarily stated thus. The race of Israel was chosen from among the other nations, and maintained in the possession of peculiar privileges, not for the sake of any original or acquired merit, but by a sovereign act of the divine will; not for its own exclusive benefit and aggrandizement, but for the ultimate salvation of the world. The ceremonies of the Law were of no intrinsic efficacy, and when so regarded and relied on became hateful in the sight of God. Still more absurd and impious was the practice of analogous ceremonies, not in obedience to Jehovah's will, but in the worship of imaginary deities or idols. The Levitical rites, besides immediate uses of a lower kind, were symbols of God's holiness and man's corruption, the necessity of expiation in general, and of expiation by vicarious suffering in particular. Among them there were also types, prophetic symbols, of the very form in which the great work of atonement was to be accomplished, and of Him by whom it was to be performed. Until this work was finished and this Saviour come, the promise of both was exclusively entrusted to the chosen people, who were bound to preserve it both in its written and its ritual form. To this momentous trust a large part of the nation had been unfaithful, some avowedly forsaking it as open idolaters, some practically betraying it as formal hypocrites. For these and other consequent offences, Israel as a nation was to be rejected and deprived of its pre-eminence. But in so doing God would not cast off his people. The promises to Israel, considered as the people of Jehovah, should inure to the body of believers, the remnant according to the election of grace. These were in fact from the beginning the true Israel, the true seed of Abraham, the Jews who were Jews inwardly. In these the continued existence of the church should be secured and perpetuated, first within the limits of the outward Israel, and then by the accession of believing gentiles to the spiritual Israel. When the fulness of time should come for the removal of the temporary and restrictive institutions of the old economy, that change should be so ordered as not only to effect the emancipation of the church from ceremonial bondage, but at the same time to attest the divine disapprobation of the sins committed by the carnal Israel throughout their history. While these had everything to fear from the approaching change, the spiritual Israel had everything to hope; not only the continued existence of the church, but its existence under a more spiritual, free, and glorious dispensation, to be ushered in by the appearance of that great Deliverer, towards whom the ceremonies of the Law all pointed. From this statement of the Prophet's doctrine, it is easy to account for some peculiarities of form and phraseology, particularly for the constant alternation of encouragement and threatening, and for the twofold sense or rather application of the national name, Israel. This latter usage is explained by Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans (ch. 2:17-29. 9:6-9. 11:1-7), where the very same doctrine is propounded in relation to the ancient church that we have just obtained by a fair induction from Isaiah's later prophecies. There is in fact no part of the Old Testament to which the New affords a more decisive key in the shape of an authoritative and inspired interpretation. Another peculiarity of form highly important in the exposition of these Prophecies is the frequent introduction of allusions to particular events in the history of Israel, as examples of the general truths so constantly repeated. The events thus cited are not numerous, but of the greatest magnitude, such as the calling of Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the destruction of Babylon, the return from exile, and the advent of Messiah.
The following exposition supposes the main subject of these Prophecies, or rather of this Prophecy, to be the Church or People of God, considered in its members and its head, in its design, its origin, its progress, its vicissitudes, its consummation, in its various relations to God and to the world, both as a field of battle and a field of labour, an enemy's country to be conquered and an inheritance to be secured. Within the limits of this general description it is easy to distinguish, as alternate objects of prophetic vision, the two great phases of the Church on earth, its state of bondage and its state of freedom, its ceremonial and its spiritual aspect; in a word, what we usually call the Old and New Economy or Dispensation. Both are continually set before us, but with this observable distinction in the mode of presentation, that the first great period is described by individual specific strokes, the second by its outlines as a definite yet undivided whole. To the great turning point between the two dispensations the prophetic view appears to reach with clear discrimination of the intervening objects, but beyond that to take all in at a single glance. Within the boundaries first mentioned the eye passes with a varied uniformity from one salient point to another; but beyond them it contemplates the end and the beginning, not as distinct pictures, but as necessary elements of one. This difference might naturally be expected in a Prophecy belonging to the Old Dispensation, while in one belonging to the New we should as naturally look for the same definiteness and minuteness as the older prophets used in their descriptions of the older times.
If this be so, it throws a new light on the more specific Prophecies of this part of Isaiah, such as those relating to the Babylonish Exile; which are then to be regarded, not as the main subject of the Prophecy, but only as prominent figures in the great prophetic picture, some of which were to the Prophet's eye already past, and some still future. In this respect the Prophecy is perfectly in keeping with the History of Israel, in which the Exile or the Restoration stands conspicuously forth as one of the great critical conjunctures which at distant intervals prepared the way for the removal of the ancient system, and yet secured its continued operation till the time of that removal should arrive. How far the same thing may be said of other periods which occupy a like place in the history of the Jews, such as the period of the Maccabees, is a question rendered doubtful by the silence of the Prophecy itself, and by the absence of any indications which are absolutely unambiguous. The specific reference of certain passages to this important epoch has no antecedent probability against it; but we cannot with the same unhesitating confidence assert such an allusion as we can in the case of Babylon and Cyrus, which are mentioned so expressly and repeatedly. It may be that historical discovery, the march of which has been so rapid in our own day, will enable us, or those who shall come after us, to set this question finally at rest. In the meantime it is safest to content ourselves with carefully distinguishing between the old and new economy as represented on the Prophet's canvass, without attempting to determine by conjecture what particular events are predicted even in the former, any further than we have the certain guidance of the Prophecy itself.
As to a similar attempt in reference to the New Dispensation, it is wholly inconsistent with the view which we have taken of the structure of these Prophecies, and which regards them not as particular descriptions of this or that event in later times, but as a general description of the Church in its emancipated state, or of the Reign of the Messiah, not at one time or another, but throughout its whole course, so that the faint light of the dawn is blended with the glow of sunset and the blaze of noon. The form under which the Reign of Christ is here presented to and by the Prophet is that of a glorious emancipation from the bondage and the darkness of the old economy, in representing which he naturally dwells with more minuteness upon that part of the picture which is nearest to himself, while the rest is bathed in a flood of light, to penetrate beyond which, or to discriminate the objects hid beneath its dazzling veil, formed no part of this Prophet's mission, but was reserved for the ulterior revelations of the New Testament.
It is not however merely to the contrast of the two dispensations that the Prophet's eye is here directed. It would indeed have been impossible to bring this contrast clearly into view without a prominent exhibition of the great event by which the transition was effected, and of the great person who effected it. That person is the Servant of Jehovah, elsewhere spoken of as his Anointed or Messiah, and both here and elsewhere represented as combining the prophetic, regal, and sacerdotal characters suggested by that title. The specific relation which he here sustains to the Israel of God, is that of the Head to a living Body; so that in many cases what is said of him appears to be true wholly or in part of them, as forming one complex person, an idea perfectly accordant with the doctrines and the images of the New Testament. It appears to have been first clearly stated in the dictum of an ancient writer quoted by Augustin: "de Christo et Corpore ejus Ecclesia tanquam de una persona in Scriptura saepius mentionem fieri, cui quaedam tribuuntur quae tantum in Caput, quaedam quae tantum in Corpus competunt, quaedam vero in utrumque." There is nothing in these Prophecies more striking or peculiar than the sublime position occupied by this colossal figure, standing between the Church of the Old and that of the New Testament, as a mediator, an interpreter, a bond of union, and a common head.
If this be a correct view of the structure of these prophecies, nothing can be more erroneous or unfriendly to correct interpretation than the idea, which appears to form the basis of some expositions, that the primary object in the Prophet's view is Israel as a race or nation, and that its spiritual or ecclesiastical relations are entirely adventitious and subordinate. The natural result of this erroneous supposition is a constant disposition to give everything a national and local sense. This is especially the case with respect to the names so frequently occurring, Zion, Jerusalem, and Judah; all which, according to this view of the matter, must be understood, wherever it is possible, as meaning nothing more than the hill, the city, and the land, which they originally designate. This error has even been pushed by some to the irrational extreme of making Israel as a race the object of the promises, after their entire separation from the church and their reduction for the time being to the same position with the sons of Ishtnael and of Esau. That this view should be taken by the modern Jews, in vindication of their own continued unbelief, is not so strange as its adoption by some Christian writers, even in direct opposition to their own interpretation of former prophecies, almost identical in form and substance. The specifications of this general charge will be fully given in the exposition.
The claim of this mode of interpretation to the praise of strictness and exactness is a false one, if the Israel of prophecy is not the nation as such merely, but the nation as the temporary frame-work of the church, and if the promises addressed to it, in forms derived from this transitory state, were nevertheless meant to be perpetual, and must be therefore independent of all temporary local restrictions. The true sense of the prophecies in this respect cannot be more strongly or explicitly set forth than in the words of the Apostle, when he says that "God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew;"--"Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it and the rest were blinded;"-- "not as though the word of God hath taken none effect, for they are not all Israel which are of Israel."
After carefully comparing all the methods of division and arrangement which have come to my knowledge, I am clearly of opinion that in this part of Scripture, more perhaps than any other, the evil to be shunned is not so much defect as excess; that the book is not only a continued but a desultory composition; that although there is a sensible progression in the whole from the beginning to the end, it cannot be distinctly traced in every minor part, being often interrupted and obscured by retrocessions and resumptions, which, though governed by a natural association in each case, are not reducible to rule or system. The conventional division into chapters, viewed as a mechanical contrivance for facilitating reference, is indispensable, and cannot be materially changed with any good effect at all proportioned to the inconvenience and confusion which would necessarily attend such a departure from a usage long established and now universally familiar. The disadvantages attending it, or springing from an injudicious use of it by readers and expounders, are the frequent separation of parts which as really cohere together as those that are combined, and the conversion of one great shifting spectacle, in which the scenes are constantly succeeding one another in a varied order, into a series of detached and unconnected pictures, throwing no light on each other even when most skilfully divided, and too often exhibiting a part of one view in absurd juxtaposition with another less akin to it than that from which it has been violently sundered.
The most satisfactory and useful method of surveying the whole book with a view to the detailed interpretation of the parts is, in my opinion, to obtain a clear view of the few great themes with which the writer's mind was filled, and of the minor topics into which they readily resolve themselves, and then to mark their varied combinations as they alternately present themselves, some more fully and frequently in one part of the book, some exclusively in one part, others with greater uniformity in all. The succession of the prominent figures will be pointed out as we proceed in the interpretation of the several chapters. But in order to afford the reader every preliminary aid before attempting the detailed interpretation, I shall close this Introduction with a brief synopsis of the whole, presenting at a single glance its prominent contents and the mutual relation of its parts.
The prominent objects here presented to the Prophet's view are these five: 1. The carnal Israel, the Jewish nation, in its proud self-reliance and its gross corruption, whether idolatrous or only hypocritical and formal. 2. The spiritual Israel, the true Church, the remnant according to the election of grace, considered as the object of Jehovah's favour and protection but at the same time as weak in faith and apprehensive of destruction. 3. The Babylonish Exile and the Restoration from it, as the most important intermediate point between the date of the prediction and the advent of Messiah, and as an earnest or a sample of Jehovah's future dealing with his people both in wrath and mercy. 4. The Advent itself, with the person and character of Him who was to come for the deliverance of his people not only from eternal ruin but from temporal bondage, and their introduction into "glorious liberty." 5. The character of this new condition of the Church or of the Christian Dispensation, not considered in its elements but as a whole; not in the way of chronological succession, but at one view; not so much in itself, as in contrast with the temporary system that preceded it.
These are the subjects of the Prophet's whole discourse, and may be described as present to his mind throughout, but the degree in which they are respectively made prominent is different in different parts. The attempts which have been made to show that they are taken up successively and treated one by one, are unsuccessful, because inconsistent with the frequent repetition and recurrence of the same theme. The order is not that of strict succession, but of alternation. It is still true, however, that the relative prominence of these great themes is far from being constant. As a general fact, it may be said that their relative positions in this respect answer to those which they hold in the enumeration above given. The character of Israel, both as a nation and a church, is chiefly prominent in the beginning, the Exile and the Advent in the middle, the contrast and the change of dispensations at the end. With this general conception of the Prophecy, the reader can have very little difficulty in perceiving the unity of the discourse, and marking its transitions for himself, even without the aid of such an abstract as the following.
The form in which the Prophecy begins is determined by its intimate connection with the threatening in the thirty-ninth chapter. To assure the Israel of God, or true church, that the national judgments which had been denounced should not destroy it, is the Prophet's purpose in the fortieth chapter, and is executed by exhibiting Jehovah's power, and willingness and fixed determination to protect and save his own elect. In the forty-first, his power and omniscience are contrasted with the impotence of idols, and illustrated by an individual example. In the forty-second, the person of the great Deliverer is introduced, the nature of his influence described, the relation of his people to himself defined, and their mission or vocation as enlighteners of the world explained. The forty-third completes this exposition by exhibiting the true design of Israel's election as a people, its entire independence of all merit in themselves, and sole dependence on the sovereign will of God. In the forty-fourth the argument against idolatry is amplified and urged, and the divine sufficiency and faithfulness exemplified by historical allusion to the exodus from Egypt, and a prophetic one to the deliverance from Babylon, in which last Cyrus is expressly named. The last part of this chapter should have been connected with the first part of the forty-fifth, in which the name of Cyrus is repeated, and his conquests represented as an effect of God's omnipotence, and the prediction as a proof of his omniscience, hoth which attributes are then again contrasted with the impotence and senselessness of idols. The same comparison is still continued in the forty-sixth, with special reference to the false gods of Babylon, as utterly unable to deliver either their worshippers or themselves. In the forty-seventh the description is extended to the Babylonian government, as wholly powerless in opposition to Jehovah's interference for the emancipation of his people. The forty-eighth contains the winding up of this great argument from Cyrus and the fall of Babylon, as a conviction and rebuke to the unbelieving Jews themselves. The fact that Babylon is expressly mentioned only in these chapters, is a strong confirmation of our previous conclusion that it is not the main subject of the prophecy. By a natural transition he reverts in the forty-ninth to the true Israel, and shows the groundlessness of their misgivings, by disclosing God's design respecting them, and showing the certainty of its fulfilment notwithstanding all discouraging appearances. The difference in the character and fate of the two Israels is still more exactly defined in the fiftieth chapter. In the fifty-first the true relation of the chosen people both to God and to the gentiles is illustrated by historical examples, the calling of Abraham and the exodus from Egypt, and the same power pledged for the safety of Israel in time to come. In the last part of this chapter and the first of the fifty-second, which cohere in the most intimate manner, the gracious purposes of God are represented as fulfilled already, and described in the most animating terms. This view of the future condition of the church could not be separated long from that of Him by whom it was to be effected; and accordingly the last part of this chapter, forming one un-broken context with the fifty-third, exhibits him anew, no longer as a teacher, but as the great sacrifice for sin. No sooner is this great work finished than the best days of the church begin, the loss of national distinction being really a prelude to her glorious emancipation. The promise of this great change in the fifty-fourth chapter, is followed in the fifty-fifth by a gracious invitation to the whole world to partake of it. The fifty-sixth continues the same subject, by predicting the entire abrogation of all local, personal, and national distinctions. Having dwelt so long upon the prospects of the spiritual Israel or true church, the Prophet, in the last part of the fifty-sixth and the first part of the fifty-seventh, looks back at the carnal Israel, as it was in the days of its idolatrous apostasy, and closes with a threatening which insensibly melts into a promise of salvation to the true Israel. The fifty-eighth again presents the carnal Israel, not as idolaters but as hypocrites, and points out the true mean between the rejection of appointed rites and the abuse of them. The fifty-ninth explains Jehovah's dealings with the nation of the Jews, and shows that their rejection was the fruit of their own doings, as the salvation of the saved was that of God's omnipotent compassions. In the sixtieth he turns once more to the true Israel, and begins a series of magnificent descriptions of the new dispensation as a whole, contrasted with the imperfections and restrictions of the old. The prominent figures of the picture in this chapter are immense increase by the accession of the gentiles, and internal purity and peace. The prominent figure in the sixty-first is that of the Messiah as the agent in this great work of spiritual emancipation. In the sixty-second it is that of Zion, or the Church herself, in the most intimate union with Jehovah and the full fruition of his favour. But this anticipation is inseparably blended with that of vengeance on the enemies of God, which is accordingly presented in the sublime vision of the sixty-third chapter, followed by an appeal to God's former dealings with his people, as a proof that their rejection was their own fault, and that he will still protect the true believers. These are represented in the sixty-fourth as humbly confessing their own sins and suing for the favour of Jehovah. In the sixty-fifth he solemnly announces the adoption of the gentiles and the rejection of the carnal Israel because of their iniquities, among which idolatry is once more rendered prominent. He then contrasts the doom of the apostate Israel with the glorious destiny awaiting the true Israel. And this comparison is still continued in the sixty-sixth chapter, where the Prophet, after ranging through so wide a field of vision, seems at last to fix his own eye and his reader's on the dividing line or turning point between the old and new economy, and winds up the whole drama with a vivid exhibition of the nations gathered to Jerusalem for worship, while the children of the kingdom, i. e. Israel according to the flesh, are cast forth into outer darkness, where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched. Upon this awful spectacle the curtain falls, and we are left to find relief from its impressions in the merciful disclosures of a later and more cheering revelation.