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A Rare Dessert in the Desert
I Translation in Word
Confessedly, this is one of the more difficult verses to translate. Both possibilities have much to commend them, and both interpretations are completely truth in themselves.
Our task however in approaching the scriptures in which God the Lord has reposed His word and revealed His will is not to have an uncertainty, as an aim, but to find what He means. It is as wrong to be brash in superficial opinionativeness, as to be lax as if there were no answer.
Thus Proverbs 8:8-9 has this incitement and invitation alike:
"All the words of my mouth are with righteousness;
Nothing crooked or perverse is in them.
They are all plain to him who understands,
And right to those who find knowledge."
Let us then seek the meaning in this verse, whether it be:
I) "Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation.
The fear of the Lord is his treasure"
"Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times,
And the strength of salvation.
The fear of the Lord is His treasure"
The difference, as far as English translation is concerned, lies in the capitalisation of one letter, the "h" of "his"!
Matthew Poole in his remarkable commentary is of the view that translation 1) above is correct: that is, that it is not "the fear of the Lord is His treasure" as in the NKJV, as if the One who is here said to treasure it, is the LORD; but shows that it is the one who fears the Lord to whom it is a treasure.
In immediate resonance with such a theme of course is Psalm 119:35-36:
"Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness."
in association with vv. 47-48
"And I will delight myself in Your commandments,
Which I love.
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments,
Which I love,
And I will meditate on Your statutes."
and with vv. 69-72
"The proud have forged a lie against me,
But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Their heart is as fat as grease,
But I delight in Your law.
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me
Than thousands of coins of gold and silver..."
It also tolls like a bell in carillon association with Psalm
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
"Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward."
In this last, you see the sense of treasure, no less than in the reference to its being more desirable than gold, sweeter than honeycomb, as well as in the relationship of the human soul to what God says, in this, that it is a clean 'fear' or awesome reverence. And why ? it is not least because it is a PURE commandment which enlightens the eye. What more of treasure then is in view! It is the very written word of the Lord whose living word has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:9), and this word is an avenue of access, a call, an invitation and a place of empowerment in understanding, for it leads to Him to whom, from whom and for whom are all things, whether judgment or mercy, boon or blight. To know Him is beyond all blight, and past all discipline is the end of the matter, to know God as one's knows a friend, but more intimately and with total consummation of what one is made for, in Him who made in the first place!
Again, in Psalm 119:69-72, so great is the delight in the way, will, word and precepts of the Lord that though a lie be forged against his righteous zeal and path, though enticement or repudiation set in like black or acid rain, yet the law of God is better than thousands of gold and silver; and what is more, even the refinement of spirit which came to the Psalmist, in his afflictions and persecutions, are deemed to be 'good'. Why is that ? It is because it all brings out the wonder of the will, witness and way of the Lord in which one is enclosed. It rubs like polish on tarnished brass: painful but necessary that the truth of the metal be exposed and the wonder of light upon it be seen.
Here, yes here is a treasure incomparable, except of course in the very Person whose word it is; but then, as His direct product, His express and intimate, bold and clear revelation, it is like light on the countenance of the beloved, inseparable from the thing it reveals.
Thus IF you love Me, you will keep My words! is the very strong stress that Christ makes in John 14:21-23. "If anyone love Me, he will keep My words!"
So far, then, we have seen in what delicious intimacy with the surrounding arena of thought, lies this conception of the fear of the Lord being like a treasure to the man who loves Him, trusts Him, inhabits His presence and looks to Him, to His face for enlightenment and knowledge of His will and way. Just as in Isaiah 33:6, we find elsewhere in a strong salvation, in wisdom and knowledge, in stability, the surrounding arena of thought.
Now, far is this from suggesting it is not a treasured thing in the Lord to find the fear of the Lord, a thing quite apparent in the book of Job!
It is true that it is a thing of much value to the Lord that one should reverence Him and show the awe and adoration which is apt to His wonder and meet for the redeemed. It is not for one moment less true than that one treasures His fear. Thus we find in Isaiah 66:2, that to this man will the Lord look, even to the one who is humble and contrite and trembles at His word. To which interpretation then of Isaiah 33:6 is one to move ?
First, we need to realise that our concern is not what might be appropriate for speech, but what is said in Isaiah 33:6.
Thus, it cannot well, in this context, be forgotten that in a very little more, the same chapter dwells on and expatiates about the "sinners in Zion" - namely in 33:14-18. There is a sense of the presence of the Lord who is to act, and make His majesty to be revealed. NOT fearing Him is being shown up as a playing with a furnace, at its very mouth.
The response is for the sinners in Zion to fear, and the question becomes acute: "Who among us shall dwell in the consuming fire ?"
While none is more emphatic in the Old Testament than is Isaiah or David on the necessity of imputed righteousness if one is to stand before God (Isaiah 53, Psalm 32, 17), yet there are certain good fruits which grow on trees planted by the Lord (Matthew 7, 15:13). Among these expressions of sincerity and the reality of a living faith, some are named a little later in this same Chapter, Isaiah 33. The man whose way (as in II Peter 2) is so adorned, he will
"see the King in His beauty" and his eyes
"will see the land that is very far off," so that
will not see a fierce people ...
Here the emphasis in this very setting of stability and strength has one thing in common with that expressed in Isaiah 33:6. It is that we are in the presence of GIFTS, of DIVINE PROVISIONS, and things donated, or of conditions induced. We are in a stream of gifts and graces. Thus similarly and in parallel in 33:6, we find that there is GIVEN the quality of stability, of wisdom, that knowledge is imbued, salvation has a strength in its enduement, and for the one who is in this situation is further regaled in this mercy, goes the flow and sequence, in this, that "the fear of the Lord is his treasure." Given strength of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, caressed with stability, this man on whom the focus lies, is seen now enshrouded in this superlative accompaniment, as if someone were accompanying a singer on the piano, that "the fear of the Lord is his treasure."
If you do not reverence the Lord, you do not have even the
beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), but this man, for him it is not merely
present, it is "his treasure."
Relative to the word "his", rather than "your" as in the "stability of your times", Poole notes that this change of persons is common in these writings. Thus in Isaiah 33:22, "the Lord will save us" and in 33:24, "the people who dwell in it will be forgiven iniquity", for which the NKJ naturally enough, adds "their" as intended. In other words, in that case, it is incontestable that "the people" is third in person, and "us" is first person. Thus, it moves in perspective.
Even nearer in parallel is Isaiah 50:10-11, where for making the point, pronouns in view here will be emphasised below:
"Who among you fears the Lord?
Who obeys the voice of His Servant?
Who walks in darkness
And has no light?
"Let him trust in the name of the Lord
And rely upon his God.
Look, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled—
This you shall have from My hand:
You shall lie down in torment."
This passage has this advantage for us, that it lets see the main THEME unleashed, namely the vast emphasis on having the fear of the Lord, its intimate association with trust and reliance on the Lord, and its inseparable character from a life of abundance and relish in the presence of the Lord. It is in precisely such a context that it appears in Isaiah 33:6.
Isaiah 48:17-19, moreover, is even more closely intimate to this alternation of the personal, from second person in this case to third, with an intimacy and easy which as Poole says, is common. Again the emphasis will be added.
"Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
The Holy One of Israel:
'I am the Lord your God,
Who teaches you to profit,
Who leads you by the way you should go.
'Oh, that you had heeded My commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
'Your descendants also would have been like the sand,
And the offspring of your body like the grains of sand;
His name would not have been cut off
Nor destroyed from before Me.' "
Further, as to the alternation coming here near the end, it has precisely this sense of suddenness, as if someone were appealing to you personally, and then suddenly looked at things in the round, and dealt impersonally or at least in the third person again. It is then as if a more overall perspective replaced the personal discourse, by way of reflection. This is not only common but of great impact, as one feels first the address to one's person and then sees the thing in its place!
Finally, we return to the intimate contextual consideration in Isaiah 33:6, namely that it is a passage in which like the other cited above, there is one vast thematic and obvious emphasis. There is RECEPTION, there is CONCENTRATION on the operation of the gift, environmentally, circumstantially, personally, in a cornucopia of donation and operation from the divine bounty to the surface of the earth and those fortunate so to function in such a situation.
Accordingly, we find wisdom, knowledge, stability of times, these things come like a rushing torrent from above, and we see them in situ; and just so, then, is the last, the fear of the Lord, in situ, that indispensable, that incomparable, that essential aspect which as seen later in Isaiah 33, is to be sought in the fire, and is wrought in the heart, the fear of the Lord. It is all in a generic: things donated, given, attributed to the one below, to the redeemed in view, in a very wonder of liberality and a fund for finding grace imbued.
Such is the vastness of the superiority of this time, its consummatory magnificence, that not merely is the fear of the Lord PRESENT, as it must be, scripturally, for wisdom to have so much as a beginning, but here, it is present as the treasure of the one so placed. In other words, GRACE ABOUNDS! We are not suddenly taken from the consequences of the outpouring of such splendid wonders to enrich and enable the saints, to what contextually would be an isolated consideration in the Giver; but rather we continue in the welter of wonder with which they are adorned, as the robes of salvation are placed graciously upon the redeemed (cf. Isaiah 61:10, where just such an action is specialised and specific, on the part of the Lord!).
To assume otherwise is merely to import into the context what is not its environment of terms. Where then there is question as to the meaning, it is not for us to import, but to rest assured that the One who gave the context would have given the criteria for the CHANGE if He had wanted it.
It is all clear to him who understands, we read in Proverbs 8, so that it COULD not well be clear if there were such a sudden change to an isolated consideration, in such a case, where two possible meanings are both very sound in themselves, so that we are or are not to ASSUME that a sudden change of emphasis and topic supervenes.
Changes may supervene, but if there is to be clarity, their supervention needs indication according as the context requires for the result specified to be obtained: ALL CLEAR. Since this lacks, and indeed the sense of unitary force is paramount, the thought of adding such a concept when the text does not present it as the new milieu, is otiose, and cannot well be sustained.
Poole in this particular point, is quite right, and it must be confessed, the NKJV errs. The AV does not choose, since it does not use capitals for the deity, as in "His treasure" or by contrast, 'his treasure'.
If ever there was an occasion when the fear of the Lord NEEDS emphasis, in this matey with the Almighty milieu of today, when so much that lies around atmosphere is spreading like weevils in porridge, it is now. This however is far from mere utility: for, on the other hand, there was a precisely similar sort of seductive situation in the day of Isaiah when there was manifest a spiritual sloth and slackness as shown in Ahaz' notorious deviousness in Isaiah 7, and in the parade of hypocritical complacency in Isaiah 5, leading to judgment.
We are in parallel in this also! Thus the greater context and the immediate one, that in the Chapter and that in the time concerned, all agree in one; and clarity demands that no importation of sudden change without signal be considered in such a context, thus to be made ambiguous by caprice, not by content.
II Translation in Life
Now, however, let us return from the deserts of Ahaz and today, to the dessert in all its delicacy, which is before us in this verse. Instead of the devious and desiccated writhings of Ahaz, while he tried to appear 'religious' while frankly and categorically REFUSING to use FAITH in order to ACCEPT the profound deliverance which Isaiah was offering him, in Isaiah 7's report, let us aptly appreciate our own case. HE was offered ANYTHING, up to heaven, down to hell, within the purity of God Himself, and declining, pretended despite his anxieties, that it would tempt the Lord to OBEY Him and ASK!
He had only to ASK, and whether the thing ascended to the heavens, or descended to the horrendous depths, it would be his. His situation was clear, two nations were impending in their punitive parades, salivating nearby, and preparing for his destruction, and that of his land. Objectively, great was his danger, his peril breathing down his neck, his life facing devastation. His anguish was great, the disturbance like a wind was rushing through the established territories of Israel (cf. Isaiah 7:1-2).
"Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel,
went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it.
"And it was told to the house of David, saying,
'Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.'
"So his heart and the heart of his people were moved
as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind."
The wind was up, and their hearts responded in kind!
It was a theocracy, a people committed to the Lord, and here a servant of the Lord, the prophet Isaiah was offering WHATEVER was needed to meet this challenge. In this context, we must see the pure enormity of the address in terms of Ahaz' resonse:
Make it high, Isaiah exhorted in the name of the Lord, make it high going up, low going down, but ask.
I will not tempt the Lord!
came the answer of sanctified unbelief from the spiritually defoliated Ahaz.
There was misrule.
On the contrary, in the delightful contrast of Isaiah 33:6, you see that there is to come a time, that no doubt specified in Isaiah 32, as in 7, 9, 11, 22, the Messianic era, when Christ would rule. Whether one sees the full flourish of that glorious and coming day, or the faithful exercise of regal power as a prelude, when as in many a land and in many a revival, a foretaste was found, as in some of the nineteenth century in the USA or in Scotland or Wales, there was another way shown.
Here delicacy was coming to be present, and this in wisdom, for people were acutely concerned to understand: for the fear of the Lord as in Proverbs 9:10 is not only the beginning of wisdom, but it is allied to the knowledge of the Holy One which is understanding!
What did Isaiah 33:6 predict ? It was this. To wisdom is allied 'knowledge', and both are to give 'stability' of the times. That has rushed up like a coming express train, its resonance long heralding its arrival on the rails; and it has given token of what is to be. Where darkness has proliferated, light will blaze.
Let us see the negative side for one moment, the sagging of what lacks what comes, has come, and will come consummately when the Lord returns.
Knowledge without wisdom is means without ends, propulsion and impulsion or even compulsion without pure purpose and depth of awareness of what one is and what is this world, where it is going, for whom, and where one is and should be going for one's own part. It is like a handbook used as football and occasionally glanced at.
Wisdom without knowledge is unknowledgeable wisdom, which is not wise at all. \
When however you have both these things, data awareness and dynamic understanding, and you see means for what they are, ends both in the chronological manner and in the sense of destiny and purpose, then there is stability. You no longer find governments wondering whether to slaughter embryos, USE life to MANAGE life; but you find them happy to employ mere scrapings which do not injure life, for such a purpose. Then, when these great and divine gifts are present and ruling, then there is no cavalier attitude to life, or living. Then you realise whence you came, where you go and why; and you act accordingly. You are contained, delimited and then only become free, for then only are you not abusing your Maker, your world and your soul.
Here is stability, not in the confused disorders and disquiets of our changing world, besotted with itself and alarmed at itself simultaneously. It is different when as in Isaiah 33:6, you come to stability, founded on truth, and equipped with the "fear of the Lord" as its "treasure". It does not pretend to be super-race, and the ruler does not aspire to be 'super-face', but it looks for superb grace from God, to meet each challenge, and in humility, trembling at His word, it is proceeding with purity and joy, jubilation and elation, care and assurance (Isaiah 32:17). Equipped with brakes, this car has cargo; indeed, it is more like a vessel, with a ballast of truth and a mast of dynamic, crafted for its impacts of directive winds, carrying peace as it proceeds to its appointed destiny.
The individuals concerned in this dower of bounty, this knowledge, wisdom and stability, this gift of grace have a great destiny to ponder, in which lies the power of their commencement, the completion for their genesis, and it encompasses the direction, the quality and the purpose, the power and the effectiveness in the last analysis, of their living.
Such a life of faith as this: it is NOT as for the fallen who will not rise, from the extremities of an abyss, but it is instead drawing upon the Maker and Redeemer who holds one up, apart from infamy and in the heights of culmination, in spiritual cleanness, His charge and accomplishment, that one may see His face, as in Isaiah 33:17.
To this we look in our next chapter, for it is a delicacy indeed.
The destiny in deserted desiccation however, it is the dereliction of life, which was never meaningless, but simply wilfully misunderstood: its challenge chided, its remedy derided, its point ignored and the love which penetrates, mocked with the emptiness which a lost core leaves. This world is now echoing in emptiness, intent on means, ignoring the end as the beginning; and its heavings and sighings are like those of a patient, impatient, but none the better for that, thinking in speed and facility, in agility and acuity, to remedy its bursting joints and broken sinews, its pangs and its gross immoralities, in which it delights, precisely as shown in Romans 1:31-32. The patient needs, however, to find the Physician, and to be still as He directs (Romans 5:12-21).
It is not in the stress and distress of distemper fogging the mind and dispiriting the soul, by means of an inchoate and incompetent substitute for the necessities of logic, the realities of life and the verifications of truth, that these things are to be found (cf. SMR esp. Ch. 7, Reason, Revelation and the Redeemer). Rather it is in association with that grand fear of the Lord, not something craven, nor yet mere respect, not reverence alone, for that does not in itself bespeak purity of motive, but a cleansing delight in an awesome wonder that inculcates itself from the very presence of God, purifying, giving depth, profound and illuminative, inspiring and simultaneously bringing the fire of glory with the contemplation of clarity; and all this in the very midst of a personal knowledge so overpoweringly wonderful as to have no comparison. Small wonder the psalmist wrote (Psalm 73:25):
“Whom have I in heaven besides Thee,
and on earth there is none that I desire besides Thee!”
is this some personal acquisition or accretion,
but rather it is an abiding in the momentous magnificence
which knows no parallel,
a purity which knows no end and a power which has no limits,
with a peace which surpasses all profundity and a personal concern
which like a Shepherd’s makes life not burden but blessing,
enriched continually with limitless love and amazing expectations.
These, they are
His who grooms, prepares and enables.
Thus the same Psalmist continues:
“My flesh and my hart fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
These. they are found like everything else for which one seeks and finds: where they are (cf. Isaiah 55). Not in evacuated emptiness is fulness found, not in irrationalities is the reason for life to be found, not in intimidatory tactics is reality to be discerned, nor does force help understanding, nor convenience still appetite astray.
Such things are as the dust of the day.
What, however, has lasted for millenia, has fulfilled itself in detail for the same period, has come to life in life, in Jesus Christ, the eternal and living word of God, has continued as He endorsed it, as the written word (Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:26 cf. SMR Appendix D): this Bible, it knows neither chasm nor spasm, and surveying all things, puts all in place (Isaiah 44:24-45:7). Insisted in faith, assisted to the uttermost in performance, resisted by rebelliousness, it yet persists by the internal and external dynamisms of its power, known by so many for so long; and calling for calamity or blessing, in its own divine terms, it is undimmed, surveyor of all and accomplisher of the good pleasure of God (Amos 3:7, Jeremiah 23:21-29, Galatians 3:8, Psalm 119).
It disdains the spurious and distances the uncontrite, but draws the repentant with relish, frees the befuddled with faith inspired, and continues like the creation itself, to do what has been prescribed. Since however it is the word of the eternal God who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:8-10), it and it alone among all the texts given to man, prescribes what it does (Amos 3:7), predicting with facility and sublime focus (SMR Chs. 8-9), makes no change in what it requires (Galatians 1, Matthew 5:17ff.), disposes of history as it wills (Isaiah 44-45, 48) and exhibits for those who love God, the meaning of the fear of the Lord in cleanness of heart, surrounding with a spectacle spectacular, a bond interminable and a liberty enhancing life, while appointing for it what is both to be desired and enabled. It is the key to Him just as it is the word from Him, the living God, who provides all these things from His own self.
It has asserted the coming of the Messiah to save, at the time specified (Highway of Holiness Ch. 4), of Him who has come to lives with pre-emptive peace (John 5:39-40), precisely as it said; and it is this which teaches what life needs (cf. CELESTIAL HARMONY FOR THE TERRESTRIAL HOST, SMR pp. 611ff., 570-600), just as the Saviour Himself gives it (John 10:10).
Without it, in despite of it, in rebellion against it and Him who uttered it, you predictably have what you are finding for this self-devastating world; and it is coming in catastrophic cumulativeness, just as you would expect in any system such as this world which, systematically violated, without reviling again, since it cannot speak, yet makes a prodigy of comment in the way it does not work. It is like a whipped horse, a dulled donkey, awry, riotous, misused.
Moreover, the Lord who both can and does speak, has spoken at length in His predictions of the predicament then to come, but now in increasingly obvious magnitude, already here in its impact: like an asteroid, in folly made, and hurled from space at himself, by man! (cf. Matthew 24, Isaiah 24, Luke 21, II Timothy 3, II Peter 2-3).
Christ worked. It was for a door of opportunity (John 10:9,27-28), a destiny of grace, a path of mercy.
It was for a highway of peace that He has laid, salvation, sanctification, redemption, realisation and consummation in Himself (Ephesians 1:10-11). Cars which go elsewhere are clutter, and there are so many, that the cluttering becomes mutual, and the clangour of such mutuality for some, comes ever closer to hell.
On the other side, the Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35), which is run according to His word, where He Himself is continually available (Isaiah 64:5, Colossians 1:27), maintained in beauty, in the fear of the Lord shows vistas of such wonder, that in the next chapter, we shall look at what follows concerning such things, in Isaiah 33, from which our verse 6 has here been the focus.