William Kelly Major Works Commentary
O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.Isaiah Chapter 25
The bearing of Isa. 24 on the consummation of the age is entirely confirmed by that which follows and is now before us, where we have the prophet personifying the people raising their hearts to Jehovah in praise. They are celebrating God for His wonderful doings, and own that His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth. "Jehovah, thou [art] my God I will exalt thee, I will celebrate thy name; for thou hast done wonderful [things]: counsels of old [which are] faithfulness [and] truth. For thou hast made of the city a heap; of the fortified town a ruin; a palace of strangers to be no city - it shall never be built up. Therefore shall the mighty people glorify thee, the city of terrible nations shall fear thee. For thou hast been a fortress to the poor, a fortress to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat; for the blast of the terrible ones [was] as a storm [against] a wall. Thou hast subdued the tumult of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; [as] the heat by the shadow of a cloud, [so] the song of the terrible ones is brought low" (vv. 1-5). The execution of His judgement takes effect on the strong and their city. It is the habitable earth which comes under Jehovah's hand, as certainly as the end of the chapter before was His dealing with the heavens and the earth.
The eternal state does not enter into account. On the other hand there is no ground for making it bear on present circumstances. It is a new state of things that does not exist now; for if there be one place in the earth where, less than another, the Lord has the appearance of reigning, it is in that very Jerusalem and Mount Zion. The chosen land of Israel (1896) is in the possession of the Turk; it has been in his hands for hundreds of years, and before then it was the object of contention for the kings of the earth and equally so for the followers of Mahomet; it has been the great battle-ground between the east and the west; and up to the present time God has permitted that the devotees of Mecca should appear to have gained the victory there. Ever since the cross of the Saviour, God is no longer maintaining the glory of His Son in connection with Mount Zion. The Son of God has been rejected, and has died upon the cross. Since then all connection with the world is broken, every link with the Jew is gone; and no man has ever seen the Lord of glory, except the believer.
He was witnessed by the world before, seen of men - not merely of angels as now. He was displayed before human eyes, God manifest in the flesh. But, when man cast Him out, all acknowledgment of the world as such was terminated. He was no more seen after His resurrection by any unbeliever; none but chosen witnesses were permitted to behold Him. Taken soon after up to heaven, He sits at the right hand of God; and thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. A great mistake it is to confound the judgement of the quick with the judgement of the dead. Scripture indicates that there is a long interval of most remarkable character, which separates the one from the other. Indeed there is to be, in a certain and most important sense, a peaceful judgement of the quick going on all through the interval of a thousand years An awful execution of judgement on open enemies must be before the Lord begins to reign, as there will be an insurrection of the distant nations at the end. The judgement of the dead follows that reign, before the eternal state is manifested. (See Rev. 20 - 21)
The judgement of the dead remains, then, perfectly certain. It is a truth of God that there is a resurrection both of the just and the unjust. But it has not been so generally seen that the Lord of glory is about to revisit this world and stop the whole course of human affairs, and interpose with both providential inflictions, and then His own personal judgement, upon the guilt of man; not yet for judging the dead, which will come afterwards. Before the dead stand before the white throne divine dealing by the Lord Himself will be the portion of living men from the highest to the lowest. To this our Lord referred, when He warned His disciples of the days that were coming. Thus Matt. 24 - 25. and Luke 17, 21 refer, save a part of the last chapter, exclusively to this time and to these circumstances. Some scriptures speak only of the judgement of the dead, others both unfold the portion of the risen saints to enjoy heavenly glory with Christ, and tell how the dead are to be judged according to their works.
The believer is saved according to the worth of Christ's work; he who shall be judged according to his own works is lost for ever. No child of God, if judged as he deserved, could be saved. For, if judged at all, God must judge after His own justice with no less a standard than Christ. We must be as spotless as His Son in order to be fit companions for Him. But on that ground there is an end of all hope. The gospel turns on this, that Jesus was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification, not for our judgement. What is the value in God's sight of the work He has done? Is it only a partial salvation? or for only some believers? If it be not a full salvation for sinners, yea, for the worst of those who believe it is not what God commends to us, nor a due and righteous answer to the cross of Christ. Therein is the very comfort of the salvation that Christ has effected. It is a perfect salvation, it delivers from all sins, it places the chief of sinners upon a new ground as Christians, kings, priests, and children of God. Thenceforward our business is to trust and obey Him, labouring for and suffering with Christ and for Christ, as we await His return from heaven, even Jesus our Deliverer, Who will judge His adversaries.
It is plain that there are two classes of men who are to enter the resurrection state. I do not say to rise at the same time, for no scripture says this. It is said that "the hour is coming when all that are in the graves . . . shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgement"* (John 5:28-29). All this is quite true, but not a word about their coming forth at the same time. Other scriptures show that the two resurrections, here shown to be distinct in principle and issue, will not take place simultaneously. Hence, while both might be said to be the rising of the dead, that of the righteous alone is or could be called a rising from the dead, the rest being left as yet in their graves. From Rev. 20. again, it is plain that a thousand years at least will intervene between the resurrection of the just and that of the unjust. Any one reading the Revelation without prejudice could not fail to gather that the righteous dead are raised first to reign with Christ; and then, after the earthly reign, that the rest of the dead are raised, who are judged according to their works; and of these it is said that whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. There is not a hint of any who were found written. When God judges according to works, nothing can follow but destruction. Their evil works abound in the books; and the book of life has none of their names in it.
*"Damnation" though the effect of judgement, is not the sense of the expression. It is an instance of men giving their own strength to a word and really weakening the passage in result.
This strongly links itself with what is before us. Here we have the Lord, not hidden in heaven, but appearing from heaven to reign. He is not reigning on the earth now. It is chiefly. among idle speculative men (of learning perhaps) where you find any dream so foolish. Who is not aware that if any period in the history of Christendom was particularly dreary as to outward light, it is that from Constantine, or some time after, to the Reformation - the dark ages, as they are called? Yet even pious men are not wanting who maintain that this is the very time when Christ was reigning; that it began in the year 320 and ended 1320! that is, the most unrelieved reign of darkness that Christendom has yet seen! Augustine made this reign begin with Christ and extend all through Christianity. This was bad; the other is worse, though maintained by H. Grotius. Both exercised an enormous influence in the world. The great Dutchman, if consulted in a matter of erudition, would have probably given no inconsiderable help to most men; but when he came to the word of God, he was as much at sea there as St. Peter or St. John would have been in that which was his favourite province. In divine things learning is of small value - except as a drudge to men of spiritual judgement and lowly; for the meek only has God promised to guide in judgement. The assumption that, because a man is a profound scholar, even if a Christian also, he is a safe expositor of scripture, is a grave mistake.
Let my reader, if he know it not already, search and see whether there be not a time coming when the Lord, Who is now in heaven at the right hand of God, will leave it to introduce His reign over the earth with the chosen city as His earthly metropolis. Do you ask why there should be such an attraction to that spot? Certainly it has been the scene of sorrow and shame and rivalry between the east and west, and also of the deepest humiliation of God's ancient people. But let me ask you, even on your ground, where there is a spot on earth so full of grand associations, so connected with all that is dear to the believer? There the Lord of glory came. There He died. It is His city, the city of the Great King. Why should He not then come and take it for Himself? Is it not worthy of Him to pardon and bless and sanctify and magnify Jerusalem before the world, overcoming her evil with His good? Most plain is the scripture that the Lord has to come there, and to establish it as the capital of His earthly kingdom. It is not meant that the Lord will dwell literally on the earth, but be King over it. Yet scripture says He will plant His foot upon the mount of Olives. It is therefore quite necessary for the truth of His future kingdom to maintain that He will visibly come and smite the earth, and establish His kingdom there, and fill the world with the blessed effects of His presence and glory. Scripture says that He will surely come and display Himself here; but for how long, to what extent, and how often during that reign, it is not for me at least to pretend to aver; for I am not aware that scripture answers those questions. And as there is a special place, so there is a people He will favour most Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
But what is to become of Christians? Are they and the Jews to be huddled in Jerusalem together as the old Chiliasts affirmed? Is this the Christian hope? Such an idea is ignorant and monstrous. The Christian is even now in title blessed in the heavenly places. Thence he will reign over the earth. The Jews then gathered and converted will be in their own promised land and city, on which the eyes of Jehovah rest continually; for it is the truth of God that He never withdraws a gift, and never repents of a promise. He might repent of creating man: this was not a promise; it was simply an exertion of His will. But if God chose Israel or the church, He repented of neither, though both have been unfaithful; for He meant to bless, He does bless, and, no matter what the difficulty, He will bless for ever. This we have to hold fast: the purpose of God shall stand. Changes in man and the earth may be, but the counsel of God must yet be accomplished.
Hence the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. He gave the land of Israel to their fathers. He gave the promise to make their seed a blessing. He connected His own Son with Israel after the flesh, that, spite of their sin in Christ's cross, in virtue of His grace therein an immovable basis of blessing might be laid, when they shall be raised to such a pinnacle of greatness on the earth as is reserved for no other people here below. When the Lord will come to reign, He will have removed to the Father's house the heavenly people. He will have raised the dead from their graves, and changed the living into the likeness of His own glory. For this all Christians should be looking, as their expectation. When they are caught up thus, then the earth is clear for the Holy Ghost to work among the Jews. The Spirit of God does not operate to two different ends - a heavenly and an earthly - at the same time. But here we find Him at work among the Jews who are not caught up to heaven, as we expect to be, but are blessed under the Messiah on the earth.
Our Lord then having first come and removed the Christians dead and living to be with Himself above, will next begin to act upon the Jews and prepare them as His people when He reigns. This is what is in question here. The earthly centre of His reign is Mount Zion and Jerusalem. This it is which gives to the reign of David such emphasis in the word of God. For he was the chosen type of the Lord, not merely in His humiliation, but also in His glory. He had also to war and put down his enemies, and therefore was called a "man of blood." Our Lord will be first an executor of judgement, though not, as David, allowing anything of his own spirit or will to interfere and spoil the work; but, in the holy authority of God Himself, in the pouring out of divine wrath and indignation, all will be perfect and dealt with in righteousness. In that day the Lord will convulse the whole universe, punishing "the host of the high ones on high," that is, in the scene that they have defiled, "and the kings of the earth on the earth" (Isaiah 24:21).
Thus the believing Jews of that day will utter the song in evident reference to their experience of the faithfulness of God. They do not address God as Father in the Spirit of adoption, for they are not Christians; they will be believers, but believing Jews. It is gross ignorance to talk of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, David, or Daniel as Christians. They were all saints, but none then were Christians. Not merely was it after Christ came that the disciples were first called Christians, but the place into which believers were at length brought by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit differs essentially. There is hardly a worse error for a believer now; for it alike tells upon the present and the future and the past, merging all the various displays of God's mind in confusion. This blunts the edge of the word, hinders the full blessing and testimony of the church, and by its ignorance mars the glory of God as much as man can, who is not an open adversary.
Now, no doubt, in presence of the cross, and the Holy Ghost sent personally on earth, the old distinctions of Jew and Gentile fade before their common ruin in sin and death morally. But when the Lord comes, He will prepare the Jewish people to receive Him according to the prophets; and they will be made the witnesses of His mercies no less than of His glory here below; as now they are the most obstinate enemies of the gospel and of His grace to the Gentiles. Whereas in this chapter we hear the proper language of Jews. If a Christian were to address God as Jehovah, it is of course in itself true; but it is a very unintelligent title in our worship. To us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. Jehovah is the name of God looked at as a governor that maintains His kingdom; whereas Father is that name which first came out in connection with His beloved Son, and now, by virtue of redemption, is true of us who believe in Him.
Hence, as often noticed, the very day that Christ was raised from the dead, He says, "Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). Christ, by His death and resurrection, has brought us into the same place with Himself. This the Lord always had in view when He was here, so that He never addressed God as Jehovah, because the New Testament presents Him in view of Christianity. But the Old Testament shows that the Lord will have a people, and that they will know Him and the Father as Jehovah. This suffices to indicate the difference; and these remarks have been made to show that another class of people are here spoken of, not Christians, but Jews, who recognise God by that title which God gave Himself in relation to Israel of old. When God chose Moses, He bade him go and make Himself known to them as Jehovah, telling them that He was not so known before. Thus was it ordered at the commencement of the public dealings of God with His people, and throughout their national history it was as Jehovah He appeared. It was not that the name did not previously exist, but He never took it before for His recognised title as the God of Israel.
It is now the prophet who speaks on behalf of Israel, he breaks into the language of praise, and individualises it in behalf of the people in ver. 1. What are the wonderful things? The death and resurrection of Christ? Not a word about either. These are the themes we should speak about. Thus, on the Lord's-day morning, when we come together, what occupies our hearts is the burden of His praise. We have the still more wonderful works of God in Christ and the new creation; and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven bears His witness to these (Acts 2:11).
Here Israel are supposed to be occupied with the wonderful things God has wrought for the deliverance of their nation. For God will have interposed and put forth His power to deliver His ancient people by the judgement of their mightiest enemies. They speak of the ruin God has inflicted on all around them. As long as the Jews are unbroken for their sins and indifferent to the truth of God, only bent on making money and serving as the world's bankers, people will be content to use them and let them alone. But from the moment that God calls the Jew out of his present spiritual and national degradation, when the dry bones are gathered together, when their hearts turn to the rejected Messiah, the nations will turn against them, and once more rend them, as truly as ever. How do we know this? The Bible delivers the believer from guess work. People who do not study the prophetic word can only speculate about the future. There can be no certainty for them; to pretend to it would be presumptuous. But when you in detail believe the Bible, you are entitled through the teaching of God's Spirit to have the certain light of God. It is entirely our own unbelief if we do not enjoy it.
"And in this mountain shall Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the veil which veileth all peoples, and the covering that is spread over all the nations. He will swallow up death in victory. And the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken" (vv. 6-8). The Spirit of God refers here to resurrection: so the apostle, in 1 Corinthians 15:54, applies the beginning of verse 8, "When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." The resurrection synchronises with the deliverance of Israel, which itself will be "life from the dead" for the world (Romans 11:15). Thus the first open stroke at death will be at this very time. Jesus is the resurrection and the life; and when He comes with His risen saints He will receive His ancient people, and will swallow up the covering that is spread over all the nations. For there is no deliverance wrought in the earth up to that time. It is when His reign over the earth is to begin, not when it ends.
"Jehovah hath spoken." Why, we ask, does He say so here? Is it not because He foresaw that man would be incredulous? The special mark of Jehovah's voice is here, the evil heart of unbelief being well known to Him, and all the delusions of wise and unwise, deceiving and being deceived. He knew how Christendom would say, in reading of predicted judgements, they were for the Jews; and of blessings, these are for themselves. Thus they claim all the good things for the church, as they leave all the dark things for Israel; but even there they destroy conscience by the lie which views prophecy as past and obsolete. "And it shall be said in that day, Behold, this [is] our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this [is] Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For in this mountain shall the hand of Jehovah rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down on the dunghill. And he will spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth [them] forth to swim, and he will bring down their pride together with the plots of their hands. And the fortress of the high defences of thy walls will he bring down, lay low, [and] bring to the ground, into the dust" (vv. 9-12).
We must examine of whom God speaks; there are judgements upon Israel and upon Christendom, and blessings for Israel and for the church. That this is for Israel has been already shown; the language used is only suited to them. They speak of themselves, not as we do, conscious children of God, but as His people and of judgements which introduce their blessing. Were all the earth to be dissolved, it would neither lessen nor increase our blessing. When Christ comes, He will simply remove us to Himself, changed into His likeness and out of the scene of weakness and sin and sorrow into His own heavenly home. Whereas here, "It shall be said in that day, Behold, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation." They are not saved yet. Such is not our case now, save as to the body. Search the New Testament and you will see that, as regards the soul, we must be saved now; and if we believe, we are. It is plain that here is another class, Jews who have waited in shame for Jehovah, and who when He comes in glory, say, "This is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us." Not for us but for them "shall the hand of Jehovah" rest in "this mountain." Our portion is in heaven. "This mountain" is the lofty centre of the earthly glory. And accordingly the name of a proud national foe of Israel follows, as doomed to humiliation. Is the Christian looking for Moab to be trodden down? The wholesale christening of the Jewish prophets tends to make scripture ridiculous, and many a man has become hardened in his incredulity by such baseless preoccupation with the gospel and the church. There are general truths and principles that apply to us; for all prophets are intended for the use of the Christian, as the law also. Every scripture is inspired and profitable; but it is absurd thence to infer that all is about ourselves. "The law is good," says the apostle, "if a man use it lawfully"; and very profitable are the prophets yet we must hear them not as if we were Jews, but as Christians.
Here then is proof plain enough that not Christians, not the church of God, are before us, but Israel. What have we to do with Moab as an enemy? and an enemy which is to be trodden down? Do we look to tread down our enemies, if it were even the Roman papacy? Here is scripture, but it is not a prophecy of scripture about us: assuredly we ought to enjoy it and to bless God for it; yet the people concerned are not ourselves but Israel. They on the earth will see their former enemies completely put down, and Moab among the rest - a consideration which ought to have kept any from interpolating the church and from obliterating the Jew. For they are preserved as a separate people for mercy at the end, and mercy enduring for ever, and for the first place of earthly distinction and power under the Messiah, whereas we of the church are sharers of Christ's rejection on earth, but to be glorified on high as He is, and to reign over the earth with Him in that day.
For thou hast made of a city an heap; of a defenced city a ruin: a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built.
Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee, the city of the terrible nations shall fear thee.
For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.
Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low.
And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
For in this mountain shall the hand of the LORD rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill.
And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim: and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoils of their hands.
And the fortress of the high fort of thy walls shall he bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, even to the dust.