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The TWO-EDGED SWORD
FOR and AGAINST
and the setting is
SIN or SALVATION
DISQUISITION FROM THE BIBLE
INTRODUCTION IN TERMS OF TRUE HOLINESS
AND DIVINE HEART
Isaiah 34 in its Multiple Spiritual Contexts
There is, in the beauty of the divine holiness, more to be said, and it is found in Isaiah 34. How deep and difficult it is to bring up children in saintliness and true holiness. As we see in Ephesians 4:14-16, it is a gloriously challenging thing, obtainable only from the Lord:
"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro,
and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,
and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things,
who is the head, even Christ:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together
and compacted by that which every joint supplies,
according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
The parts of the body unite in comprehensive purposive plan to increase the totality of the body, as the Head directs the components in their true way, so that holiness results. Thus the body is an image in this, as a figure, of the soul, more than the life, the very spirit of man.
Paul then presents what it is NOT:
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord,
that you henceforth do not walk as other Gentiles walk,
in the vanity of their mind,
having the understanding darkened,
being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,
because of the blindness of their heart:
Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness,
to work all uncleanness with greediness."
Then he expatiates on spirituality and its new foundation equipment on which the Lord operates, when the person is newly begotten by the power of the Spirit of God in terms of the everlasting Gospel of divine grace (Titus 3:5-7).
"But you have not so learned Christ- if it be so that you have heard him,
and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
That you put off concerning the former way of life the old man,
which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
and be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
and that you put on the new man,
which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
"Therefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour:
for we are members one of another.
"Be ye angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath:
neither give place to the devil.
"Let him who stole, steal no more:
but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good,
that he may have to give to him who has need.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,
but what is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption.
"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking,
be put away from you, with all malice:
and be kind one to another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."
What a program, and what a power is needed to perform it, and what a new basis is required in the regenerated life which proceeds from Christ upon repentance and faith in THIS SAME JESUS!
It is hard to bring up children, but when they know the Lord and find in Him their solace, salvation and strength, then it is in His hands, though we all should attend the one to help the other, as Paul declares in Romans 12,15, Ephesians 2 and 4.
When it comes to a metaphorical child, Israel, as so superbly put in Hosea 11, then the case is different. There are the same difficulties, though they have other and varied institutions and cores; but there is the matter of time. In this case, a whole new generation can arise, and many such, over centuries, and decline or advance may occur, while prophets aplenty as in Kings and Chronicles, may be seen addressing the people.
Yet there remains an intensely personal element in it, as you see in Hosea 11, surely one of the most tender parts of the Bible. It devolves on God who made persons, being personal Himself.
"When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.
"I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them."
Here is the paternal care but there is the trend which mounts up to perilous levels over time, to forsake the Father and to worship naturalistic objects, precisely as today in England, Australia and America, this of course with swift desolations of the same kind in Europe, and other lands. Consider the invisible, we must say it again and again. Your heart is moved by invisible considerations, such as morals, ideals, desire for the good life, to ascertain what goodness is and where it may be found, as well as latencies of lust and folly, excitability or dour drabness as the case may be. This may come with an increasing fondness for peace which attracts many; yet this in turn may be pitted with various desires, objectives and considerations of which sort of kingdom you find arresting you.
It is all invisible, as is your spirit as is God Himself; but neither His nor your works are anything remotely like invisible. They are often very visible, and with man, all too visible. Yet their invisible foundations are indisputable.
Matter does not formulate; though it may be formed. Electrons do not consider, though they may speed. Trees do not think, though they show profound thought in their magnificent instructions that they may live, and geometrical blendings with individuality which makes an all but overwhelming beauty. Man thinks. He aspires. He has visions, and some love to have a vision which disparages vision; but it is still a vision, a perspective incorporating perspective, desire and aspiration, even if the dust-bin is its anomalous fascination.
God was imbuing Israel with kindness, inspiration, illumination, remonstration, with leading; and yet they strayed. It is staggering but instructive to consider that immediately after the above passage from Hosea 11, we read then this:
"He shall not return to the land of Egypt;
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts,
And consume them,
Because of their own counsels.
"My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him."
God will not return Israel as an import package to Egypt from which He had in magnificent power delivered them centuries earlier. Their hearts had often enough longed for such things; but the utter repudiation and rejection involved in a return to the site of redemption from that evil power, this He cannot, will not enact in His discipline of their centuries of profound waywardness, so often in the ascendant. Not there... no, He will not return them to Egypt, as if to undo that magnificence of deliverance; but He WILL deliver them to a new oppressor in their own region, and that ? It is none other than the brutal Assyrian.
It is not He who MAKES Assyria brutal: that is a composite result of the power of creation and liberty, working to make man, so that he can - if he so wish - turn the liberty to lust and the lust to ferocity and that to ruin for others. Exposures to such evils are like the withdrawing of a missile shield, by God; though HE needs not actual missiles, working in His own manifold and multiform ways as He will. That, nevertheless, is an image of what it means to be God-forsaken.
Thus the very lavishness of the tenderness becomes a key to the stringency of the discipline, and the utter and growing devotion of ancient Israel to its naturalistic follies, it leads to harsh, unfeeling results, as is most lamentable but proper for those who depart from the tender intimacies of the PERSONAL GOD for the meaningless fragments of a misused 'Nature'.
But this is not all. The Lord IS personal and He yearns for Israel and does NOT utterly forsake it: not at all. Listen to this message from His entirely personal heart. It follows as a third phase on the other two just noted.
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
"I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror."
There is the indelible attachment: He WILL save some, and something and it is His invisible love with highly visible restraints in practice, which impels events at His hand. The one who does not understand the visible is left with a forlorn and irrational attention to what lacks what it takes to make what we are, and that ? it does not work, as this 21st century world brilliantly attests.
It is sunk in naturalism, seeks mysterious tid-bits of mysticism at wandering lust and desire, dabbles in astrology, arises like a rocket to acts of all but incredible hostility, menace, heartlessness and vile violence, as if man had become some kind of piranha, stripping flesh as an exhibit of remorseless ferocity. He deliberates and snatches, he humiliates and treats flesh as stuff, he blows up with bombs, he seeks to occupy new territories, he destroys buildings and greedily occupies properties with seemingly endless credit till it all collapses; and he does it again, now this way and now that, while the merciless exploit labour and buy things up with the by-products, laughing as they taunt, and being taunted as they laugh.
Man cannot handle man. He was not made that way. A car cannot handle a car, for it was not made for that. It is not an automated-self-servicing unit, but requires attention. The mechanic for man is God who is far more than that, but not less. It is He who knows what is needed, where the oil of the Spirit needs application and where the spirit of man lies in the field of existence, and what fathering it requires, what salvation and by what mode: even the everlasting Gospel (Revelation 14:3). Reject Him and ignorance is your tutor, folly your mother and iniquity is your offspring, perhaps with a sprinkling of pride amongst them, so that you may be dipped the more indelibly into your own destiny and fate.
True holiness, says Paul, it is this which must be obtained. There is no imitation, there are no substitutes and it is found in God, and that ? it is ONCE you are redeemed, regenerated and made once more pliable to His attentions and responsive to His caring.
Israel as we see in Hosea 11 (not to mention the language of the Exodus when God tells Pharaoh that Israel is like a son to Him, and if Egypt insists on keeping that son then it will lose many of its own sons, as occurred because of Egyptian recalcitrance) is like a child to God. It is like one that He brought up, but it has gone to seed. That was the position as outlined in the words of the prophet. It is necessary to have understanding of background if you are to grasp the significance of the present.
ISAIAH 34 GIVES FAR MORE THAN POWER
Now we turn to Isaiah 34. The theme, as in the previous six Chapters of this volume, is the relationship between God and Israel, with special emphasis on the divine attitude to those bullies who seek to exploit the perils of a rebuked and disciplined Israel, for predatory or manipulative purposes of their own. We have seen much already, but this is more.
At once, as you see at the end of the Chapter (with all the power of a forceful conclusion drawing the strands together found at their base), the word of God is crucial. WHAT He is going to do is not only spectacular and sovereign, majestic and sure, but it relates to what He SAYS with extraordinary fidelity. Thus the perspective moves from what as a matter of fact this nation or enemy of Israel is going to do, and how, and when, and with what menace, to what GOD IS GOING TO DO through whomever. God does not create moral evil, but He does not avoid using it when it is found in the hearts of the foolish, to His glory when its talons are bared and its intentions are wicked. Thus
"He makes the wrath of man to serve Him
and with the remainder He girds Himself" ...
The more the nations arise to torment truth on the one hand, with their naturalistic fallacies (cf. The gods of naturalism have no go!) in general, and on the other, with their attacks on Israel, as if to extinguish the truth that God has a special destiny for it and has no slightest intention of having it obliterated by the school bullies of this world, either those with pallid words of seeming care or with blatant force of devilish construction: the more they fall into their own pit.
"For the indignation of the LORD is against all nations,
and His fury against all their armies.
He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to the slaughter" -
To that phase, we shall return, but let us first advance to the particular. While as in Isaiah 51:6, the very earth itself is to be removed, there is amidst all this mêlée, this ruin and judgment (as seen also in the world tremblings and ruin to come, Isaiah 24), a specific thrust. It is here against Edom; and there is a specific reason for it.
The Lord, we learn, has a "great slaughter" in the land of EDOM (v. 6), and His sword "will be bathed in heaven" - that is, judgment and justice are thrusting out to a nation that seeks and gains no mercy (v. 5). WHY ?
"For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance." For what does He so bring on such judgment ? It is "the year of recompense for the cause of Zion." We learned of detail in Obadiah (as in Obadiah 12), where Edomites used the devastations which Jerusalem suffered to exploit her neighbouring Israel. Oppression, one never tires of repeating, is not approved by the Lord, Why then do so many seek to apply it ? Its end is especially nasty.
Now notice this, that it is a matter of recompense. Hitler did not live too long; the USSR did not make hay for a vast period (about 1917-1990, about the span of a man's life). England having betrayed Israel (after such magnificent support earlier) sinks. Iraq, still at war we were told in the days of Saddam Hussein, with Israel in inveterate hostility since its return to its famed land, had a sad dismantling. Iran is the latest Pharaoh-type contestant for its devastation. They come, and go.
In Isaiah 34 we see that there is a wrath against all nations, and this of course is attendant upon their numerous inveterate sins and the squalor which brings King Culture, that inane attendant on the lies of this world, as the crusher of kids as they grow, till the litany of spoliation of humanity, with its tart tongue and self-assured manner, becomes intolerable to truth. This calamitous evil reaches to the point that it will go, and this world with it (as in II Peter 3:9-13), but some remain, and these ? they are those who take the mercy of the Lord where it MAY be found (as in Isaiah 55, II Corinthians 5). They remain with Him, come world, or go (as in Isaiah 51:6).
He ? He is original and the originator: worlds are one of the things He makes.
However, this wrath is specific here to Edom. In verses 8ff., we have in Isaiah 34 an outline of the specific features of the ruin of Edom. It includes various wild creatures, and of these we find that not one will lack its mate.
It then proceeds in 34:16 to ask us to conduct a search.
"Search from the book of the LORD, and read,
Not one of these shall fail,
Not one shall lack her mate.
For My mouth has commanded it,
and His Spirit has gathered them."
Thus so sure is the word of God that when it rests on a specific creature for a specific place, the Spirit of God will gather those particular things to that place, and all will be gathered. Nothing will fail, no, not one. If then the word specifies what is to be there, and not one will fail, then it is the word which is the criterion for the Spirit's action in so gathering; and just as the particular thing comes to its site in the time in view, so the particular word governs it. Thus you come readily to the word of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 5:17ff., where we learn that NOT ONE JOT OR TITTLE will fail from the word of God till all is fulfilled.
The word of the living God, in the Book of the Lord, the Bible: It is not vague, tendential, suggestive, a suggestion box for employes called man, to regard at their pleasure and leisure if so inclined, indeed. It is a fiat. It is done. To be sure, in mercy He is ever ready to hear the cry of faith, but He knows when it will come, and though in protestations almost innumerable He plies His pleadings to those to go, yet He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), and in His word often shows that deliberately (as in Isaiah 41,43, 48, and in specific detail concerning Cyrus and His plans for Israel in terms of that foreign King, in 44-45).
The other side of course, as in Isaiah 55, is that when the conditions of discourse are taken, the Gospel as outlined in Isaiah predictively, that fulfilment of the symbolism so often shown in the Old Testament and of the prophecies there made and the mercy there given, in its final basis, which was there from the first and culminates at the last, then what follows ? It is this.
Then THE MERCIES ARE ALSO SURE TO THE MOST MINUTE PART! God is faithful, reliable but not to be played with, as if a toy. Worlds come and go but His word stays put and those who stay on it stay put with it (Matthew 24:35, John 5:24).
A toy ? Scarcely!
Truth is not like that, and as to Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God incarnate, HE is no toy, to be turned into clown or revolutionary or peasant as the cheek of man desires to change His face. If Michael Jackson sought to change his own face, that is one thing; but if man tries to change the face of God, this is not only by the action of another, but by a creation called humanity. The oddity becomes odious, the presumption utter and the result as horrible as Jude shows it!
To apply this to our theme, now over the last few Chapters of this volume: ISRAEL in particular is here made an occasion of divine wrath against a tormentor; and so far from being a merely particular matter (though it IS as a matter of fact, issuing into one), it is so generic that the Lord brings this application out of an entire overview of the nations, all of them, in this world. They are ALL to find the meaning of justice, and ONE of the major grounds to which He here refers, applicable to many, it is Israel-bashing, the abuse of His people, however rebellious, of the people of His covenant, however much it is broken, of the people for whom He reserves a national destiny in fulfilment of the application of His plan of salvation in one phase (precisely as in Romans 11). This is intolerable
Does He not remember Israel as a child, as in Hosea 11 ? Is it not something He WILL not give up as in Hosea 11:8: "How will I give you up Ephraim ..." Is this indeed not strikingly parallel to what the Lord declares in Jeremiah 31:20 ?
"Is Ephraim My dear son ?
Is he a pleasant child ?
For though I spoke against him,
I earnestly remember him still.
Therefore My heart yearns for him,
I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD."
Whether it is an episode, or whether it is in the terminal sight of all nations as in Isaiah 34 (linked to Isaiah 24 and indeed Isaiah 2, or Isaiah 65), it is all one. God will NOT give up Israel but has even yet in the Gospel a glorious action to perform, taking many suddenly to Himself through the Gospel as in Romans 11:25ff., when their epochal and epic blindness at last is lifted like a mist (it is either there or not, but while there, you do not see, that is the natural and national situation). When they are back in their land, still surrounded by epic hatred in its ever changing sameness of the nations, then there is still as in Ezekiel 37, that second phase, the spiritual revival: and this, it is not generic, but particular. Remember from Isaiah 34, the divine emphasis on the PARTICULAR.
The Saviour is a PARTICULAR Jesus, this same Jesus and not another, and the Gospel is a particular plan, and not another as in Galatians 1, and to seek to change the one makes you a false apostle as in II Corinthians 11, a lying exponent of your own folly, and to change the other in your efforts, this is simply to be accursed. So says Paul. God is not a piece of plasticene to be moulded by human mood. He is the highly specific Creator who moulds man, and those who refuse the true holiness which we noted at the first in this Chapter, have nothing else except what makes the dust-bin seem pleasant by comparison, to await. Personal beings are not like ordinary rubbish: there are personal aspects to EVERYTHING, but with persons, it is not merely derivative but direct.
Indeed, it is so in the case of Edom in Isaiah 34: what it did, this gains vengeance. It was an array of specific things that it did; and God specifically has results for it!
How grand it is, for us to learn in this way by the consideration of the divine dealings with Israel, that salvation, being particular, is both special and assurance to the last point. Nothing changes God, and His heart gives confidence. What is begotten of Him (I John 3) does not find sin its pleasant company, and as to a righteous man, he may fall seven times, but the Lord will raise him up. None is sinless, and the mouths that in hypocrisy judge what any man does in a mere episode, are merely asking to find their own come-uppance. Even Peter was not so treated!
God does not vary in His promises or change His word in anything. Faithful is He who calls you who also will do it (I Thessalonians 5:24), and he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Only be sure that it is HE and that it by faith in HIM, and not another face-lifted subversive substitute that you trust. HE, once found, HE will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:8), for then you become a new person booked for true holiness on the excursion launched before time began (Ephesians 1:4, II Timothy 1:8ff., Romans 8:29ff.) and in heaven there is then for you an inheritance reserved (I Peter 1:5ff.), which does not fade away, nor is it defiled.