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THE THIRD SERIES OF THE PROPHECIES OF ISAIAH.
The prophetic vision, as we pursue its course, seems to be advancing nearer and nearer the grand object of its revelation—the establishment of the glorious kingdom of Messiah in the last days. In the former series, which ended with the last chapter, we were stationed in the period previous to the Babylonian captivity; and that event was often seen in connexion, in the foreground, as it were, of those far distant scenes, which were disclosed to our view by the Spirit of prophecy. But we may be said, in the last chapter, to have passed by this era of the captivity in Babylon, and to have witnessed the restoration of a small remnant at Jerusalem.
We are now again invited to ascend the hill of vision, and to contemplate the same distant scenes on a somewhat nearer station. The captivity and the restoration now lie behind us; they no longer intercept our view, nor are any more pointed out as intervening objects. But a new prospect now more clearly and distinctly opens itself before us, in the space between our station, and those great and glorious scenes, which are still descried as the great and ultimate object of prophecy. We seem now to see lying at our feet the dark valley of the Saviour's humiliation; his rejection, his cross, and passion, are objects near in view. Often does the light of prophecy dart a bright beam on these scenes; and while our heavenly Director points with one hand to the glorious objects of the second advent, with the other he shows the afflictive disclosures made below : and we learn what " it behoves" the Redeemer •' first to suffer," before "he enters into his glory;"—how he is to appear once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; and—to them that wait for him—is to appear a second time " without sin unto salvation."
The great business of an expositor of this part of the prophecies, is to mark what belongs to thejirst, and what to the second advent; for both scenes lie constantly before our view: and though the contrast of the several objects is very great, they are often seen in immediate connexion, or the transition of the enlightening beam from one to the other is quick and sudden.
In the opening of the forty-ninth chapter, where, as I have observed, the last series of the prophecies of Isaiah begins, " the distant coasts," — that is, as we have seen before, the maritime countries to the west of Asia, Europe especially, known at that time only by the colonies that Asia and Egypt had planted on its coasts, and which was only visited by the merchants, that passed the seas in "ships of Tarshish ;"—these countries are commanded to attend: —
1. Hearken unto me, ye distant coasts;
The event has, indeed, disclosed, that in the ages in contemplation, the word of prophecy would become more the concern and consideration of that part of the glohe than of any other, as being the principal residence of the believers in revelation.
The Saviour himself is now introduced as speaking, referring to his miraculous human birth, and to his ministry, as the messenger of the Father — the powerful instrument in his hand to accomplish salvation and deliverance : —
Jehovah hath called me from the womb,
From the bowels of my mother hath he mentioned my name.
2. And he hath made my mouth as a sharp sword,
And he hath made me a tempered shaft,
This language seems to imply, that the instrument has indeed been prepared, but, as to the great acts to be achieved, has not yet been used. It is a sword concealed by the sleeve of the wearer, an arrow hid in his quiver. It is, by " The Man whom he hath appointed," " God will judge the world :" —
3. And He said to me,
Thou art my servant, Israel,
"Israel, that is," as Bishop Stock observes, " the prevai/er reith God—an event shadowed in Jacob, fulfilled in Jesus Christ."
The next verse exhibits, as many of the Psalms had already done, the great anxiety, and almost despair, of the human soul of Jesus, at a certain period of the Saviour's passion, when he seemed in his humiliation to labour in vain, being rejected and despised by all: —
4. But I skid,
"In vain have I laboured; for nought,
And to no purpose have I spent my strength!"
Nevertheless my cause ' was" before Jehovah,
Even at this very time, when he seemed to be rejected of all, a portion was to be given him, a remnant according to the election of grace; not only among the Jews, but also among the Gentiles.
But the prophecy next reverts to the promise of greater things: —
5. And now Jehovah hath said,
He that formed me in the womb to be his servant,
That I shall bring back Jacob to him,'
And I shall be honoured in the eyes of Jehovah,
These are the pleadings of the once rejected Saviour, now our Advocate with the Father; the subject of his plea is the promised restoration of Israel, and he prevails with God.
6. He said moreover:
It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant,
1 Sec Bishop Lowlh.
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved of Israel.
I will give thee also for a light of the nations,
The prayer concerning Israel is evidently answered; not denied, and something given to the petitioner instead; but his request is granted, and something given him in addition. The call of the Gentiles, therefore, while Israel is rejected, cannot be the ultimate view of the prophecy; but that greater blessing to the world, which Israel's restoration is to be, when the nations are to rejoice with his people. This is corroborated by what follows: —
7. Thus hath Jehovah said:
O! Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One;'
'Him,' the despised in heart,' the nation abhorred,
Shall kings behold, and shall arise
Because of Jehovah, who is faithful;
O Holy One of Israel, because he is well pleased in thee.
The difficulties of this passage may be acknowledged. But I conceive that, like the preceding and following verses, it is addressed by the Father to his incarnate Son respecting Israel—the long despised, the long enslaved
'Or, " his sanctified one." Peter tells the Jews, " they had
That this term applies to the in- denied the Holy One, and the Just
carnate Saviour, is plain from One." Acts, iii. 14. Luke, iv. 34; where the evil spirit '"Contcinptus ab anima."—
exclaims, " I know thee, who thou Sim. Lf.x. art, the Holy One of God." St.