W W W W World Wide Web Witness Inc. Home Page Volume What is New
BULLETIN TWENTY FIVE
SYMBOLS STRUCTURE AND SENSE
Method of Biblical Fidelity
and Interpreting Wonder
In Isaiah 32-33, there is such a close resemblance, though it is far more symbolic, to Isaiah 11. It is there the realm of the Messianic rule is manifestly over the whole world (cf. Isaiah 11:10), not as mere dictator, but as its only hope. There is, in this passage, a movement into symbolism so intense, so glorious in conception, tender in disposition, so basic in character, so fulsome in rounding into the speech by suggestion, evoking a sense of glory and wonder, that there can be no doubt, of its portent, its underlying meaning.
It is as obvious as is the Messianic exaltation on this earth, cumulatively attested in Isaiah 49:6,26 and 42:6, as in, for example, Jeremiah 31 and 33, or Ezekiel 36ff.. The last noted moves on to Ezekiel 37:24 where the Messiah's is the crown as likewise in Jeremiah 23:5-6, 33:15ff., Micah 1:2, 4:1-4, 7:16-17, Jeremiah 16:19-21, and in Isaiah 11:10. Here we find the Divine Lord and Ruler enthroned, with universal glory on this earth, the son of David, the only begotten Son of God, the report culminating in concept in the exultant detail of Psalm 72.
The basis is Christ the Redeemer, the explosion of understanding is express in the case of Israel, a nation newly begotten (as in Zechariah 12) and restored (as in Romans 11). This is as clear as its correlative: that the world has none other than this same Messiah for its hope, glory, marvel, and that He will rule on the earth (as in Psalm 67:7, 98:9, with Matthew 25:31ff., Isaiah 65), whether over this or that nation, fulfilling to the last all that He has said. The answer to the limpid in laxity is as always, to the question, Has God said ? Yes! He has and the plight for scoffers is no sinecure, sin securing only ruin.
While, then, Isaiah 32-33 deals primarily with Israel, yet its spiritual coverage is uniform with that for all the Gentiles, for whom the rest that may be found in the Lord will indeed be "glorious", and that same Lord will parcel out that same Gospel. The New Testament contains much from the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul; and though the consummate togetherness is more obvious here than in the Old Testament, the message is the same, each specialising more, in this or that domain, but both with the same message.
It is this: One earth, one Lord, one Messiah, one Gospel, with vindication ON EARTH of the Messiah, in His rule unlike any other, and fulfilment of every phase of prediction. With this, we find profound impact through all these things of the astounding grandeur and unmitigated wonder of the entire divinely donated script (as in Romans 11:33-36, reminding one of Jeremiah 16:19-21).
The people (Psalm 110), we read, will be willing or volunteers in the day of His manifest power as not only Creator but ultimate Lord. They may share with Israel, and Israel may share with those converted in this world among the Gentiles, but that is all one body (Isaiah 66), with one Gospel (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), Thus prime is the message of striking and singular exaltation of the Messiah and in particular, deliverance for a convicted, converted and repentant people who had been enduring strong discipline for their special sins in their closely attested land and its noted cities. The symbolism is too intense, sustained and vivid, too far from the simple facts of realism, points so dynamically to spiritual culmination and the rule of the King of glory over this earth, as descendant in the flesh of David, to admit of anything other than a landing as it were, in Israel the nation, with extension of the basis to the whole earth.
Description here by poetry, imagination, and what might be called message-depiction, the use of unfolding symbolism in its own domain, to paint an entire canvas, is at work. Though the locale is local, the domain is universal. Zion here is not only its primary recipient, the land about Jerusalem, but its content pours in the entire Old Testament context, into a type for this world, in spiritual terms. So far from being shorn of its oft-affirmed due destiny within the Messiah, in place in His rule, it grows a thicker coat; but the wool of access to God by the Gospel, is of one kind only.
Just as clear in emphasis in these areas of the Old Testament, is that Israel itself is not to be forgotten just because its sins are still seen in context as an enormity having required their profound discipline, and their position in His grace still requires their staggering return, to the Lord by His grace, and by that same grace to their land. How emphatic is the vindication of the voice of the Lord, and dramatic in education, the information the Gentiles will absorb, that THIS was why they went, their sustained sins and rebellion, and His grace is the reason for confirmation despite all they have done, of their abundantly blessed return to land and Lord.
It is on account His grace that they are back (Jeremiah 36:22), and His faithfulness that His word is fulfilled to the particle. ALL are humbled, and in particular, those Gentiles which dared to assault the disciplined Zion, for these will find the cup of sorrow and rebuke transferred to themselves, for their envy, outrage and opportunistic, cruel and humiliating arrogance against Israel, like bullies kicking a fellow student already smitten by the Headmaster.
But what of the symbolism in Isaiah 33 ? It is made utterly manifest. Thus we reflect in this Chapter that there are no rivers in Jerusalem on which proud galleons could come. But there is, by graphic depiction, access to it by those who metaphorically sail in, in order like savage pirates to prey on it. Nor is there any doubt about the latitude and longitude of the "land that is very far off" for the voidance of all assault and threat, for that one is not on this earth, though it may be seen, in vision, before the victory makes it display its character for a time, on this earth, as in Psalm 72 before the due and coming removal of that body (Matthew 24:35).
For now, that place is where the Lord is seen in
His beauty. It is the saint's (that is, the genuine Christian's) access by
the vision of faith (as in Acts 2 citation from Joel), to the constantly
available "land" of the beauty of holiness, which will yet for a time inhabit
this earth when its time comes; and it is here speaking to the heart of those
who know God long before. That is an extension, as often in figures and symbols,
of the earlier into the later, the prelude to the finale, the introduction to
CONTEXT WHICH EXUDE
AND OTHERS THAT EXCLUDE
What then is "Zion" in this context ? As has been made clear, the issue in general depends on the context, local and biblical, and bringing in philosophical predilections is not merely waste of time, but a virtual dictation to the Speaker, who happens to be God, an unwise procedure.
In this case of Isaiah 32, then, the Zion is indeed Jerusalem as seen in various references, but not ONLY the geographical Jerusalem, for the presence of sustained and demonstrable symbolism is too overpowering to be ignored in any just and careful approach. It is also the TYPE of Jerusalem, that is, the representation of Jew and Gentile alike in what Jerusalem stood for, as paralleling the worldwide rule of the Messiah as depicted through Isaiah and some of the Psalms. Isaiah 32 in its most practical and pointed reference to historical Israel with its special faults, touches down in the land; Isaiah 33 takes flight, this established to the land beyond these lands, the tower soaring above, the ultimate in direct new creation, sighted and to be settled, even heaven itself.
What then is made very clear ?
It is this.
It is otiose to try to force symbolism into the term "Zion" when this would involved categorical and repeated contradiction of numerous features in one context, as often happens in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah. It is no less so, however, to exclude the parameters of the symbolism where as in Isaiah 33, it is utterly warranted by the contextual figures in their imaginative assemblage. Each is in its place as it comes.
Some contexts exude, others exclude this or that interpretation, as in other literature, and there is no mystery here, but that of a certain obstinacy which comes like a hot wind in a dry land, which WILL NOT bow to context, and hence makes an arbitrary distortion of the word of the Lord (cf. Mark 7:7ff., Isaiah 29:13). For that reason, biblical teaching is often cut off, as if two things in view were rather too much for theologians to stomach. On the contrary, as in a diamond, each aspect is to faithfully pondered in its place, as it was faithfully published for our race.
It is not new. Traditions and parties arise. It is good to be party to no party and to plan no idea, or force any outcome: but to absorb the text and be true to it fearlessly. As it is written, let it be sovereign over the mind, to exclude intrusion. The result is a marvel of completeness, fidelity, reliability to the point Christ indicated (Matthew 5:17-20), and an instruction.
If we have much to learn, yet what is given is the word of God, and one thing to learn is not to make it moult, or alter it, or add to it (Proverbs 30:6), not to dip it into the philosophical vat (Colossians 28). As in many other writings (God DID become man), there are in His word times of imaginative decor, splendour of elevated design, and times of simple direction. The latter normally outweigh the former, though this is merely an interesting statistic.
Rightly dividing the word of God is not a matter of inclination, desire, method of theological slant and so forth, but close and continual watching of the context, near and far, in its every phase, imparting IN His written word through His grace.