Expository Notes on The Prophet Isaiah
H.A. Ironside, Litt.D.
For several years Dr. H. A. Ironside had it on his heart to write an exposition of the Book of Isaiah. His extremely busy preaching and teaching schedule, and later his failing sight, seemed to prevent his making headway on the exposition. Then, when he had progressed part way in this work, the Lord took him to be with Himself. It seemed as if the planned volume were doomed to be left uncompleted.
But God had planned otherwise. Surely the events that transpired to produce this volume are of God. We have asked Mrs. Ironside to tell a little about the way this exposition on Isaiah has come to fulfillment, believing that readers of this volume will be thrilled, as we were, to see how God arranges men’s affairs so that their work for Him can never be thwarted.
In December 1949, Dr. Ironside gave lectures on the Book of Isaiah at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the students, Ray C. Stedman, made wire recordings of the classroom lectures.
Mr. Stedman also did a great deal of secretarial work for Dr. Ironside during his stay at the seminary. He was so efficient and helpful that Dr. Ironside asked him if he would be willing to travel with us during the summer, and help with the writing of his exposition of the Book of Isaiah, which had long been delayed on account of his failing sight.
Mr. Stedman joined us in June 1950, after his graduation from the seminary, and for two months served not only as chauffeur, secretary, and companion, but as a “brother beloved” was so helpful in all the varied activities of the itinerant ministry that we came to love him as a son. Without his help and cooperation the publication of Dr. Ironside’s “Isaiah” would have been impossible.
Traveling constantly, Dr. Ironside’s reference library consisted of M. A. Vine’s Isaiah – Prophecies, Promises, and Warnings; F. C. Jennings’ Isaiah; a one-volume Bible encyclopedia; and J. N. Darby’s New Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
As Dr. Ironside was unable to read at all during this time, except with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass, his method of working under this handicap may be of interest. Mr. Stedman writes.
“In general our procedure was as follows: I would read to him the portion chosen for comment, out of the Authorized Version – a portion which had previously been read to him and over which he had been meditating. He would take a moment or two to gather his thoughts and then would begin dictating, seldom pausing for rephrasing or changes. I would then read the next section and he would dictate on that until an entire chapter had been covered.
After that I would read through the next chapter, usually from Darby’s “New Translation” and also the corresponding portion from Jennings and Vine. This would form the basis for his meditation in preparation for the next day’s dictation.
“Occasionally we would discuss interesting sections of the chapters together and he would ask me to look up certain words in a one-volume Bible encyclopedia he carried. I was always amazed at the way he kept his comments from simply being a “rehash” of Vine and Jennings, but always managed to bring out some interesting sidelight which the others had overlooked.”
When Mr. Stedman left us to go to the pastorate of the Peninsula Bible Fellowship at Palo Alto, California, the first thirty-five chapters of Isaiah were completed and typed.
After the operation on Dr. Ironside’s eyes in September 1950, which entirely restored his sight, he edited the manuscript and left it with Loizeaux Brothers before our departure for New Zealand. Chapters 35-39 were written by Dr. Ironside in his characteristic scrawl during December 1950 and were copied in longhand by his wife, who was his only secretary on the trip.
When he went to be with the Lord from Rotorna, New Zealand, on January 15, 1951, he had only completed chapter 39.
As to chapters 40-66, Ray Stedman writes: “I had taken them on wire recordings at the time of his lectures in Dallas. Unfortunately, I did not have enough wire to take the whole series. I did record the early chapters, too, but had to wipe them off and use that same wire for the later chapters, which I saved. Upon the request of one of the students, I copied off on Soundscriber discs the entire series from chapter 40 on. It was these discs which were sent Loizeaux Brothers for transcription . . . It certainly was the hand of the Lord that I should have retained the lectures beginning with the very one where Dr. Ironside left off and that they should be on Soundscriber discs, ready for immediate transcription. The wire originals are a precious heritage to me, and have already proven of wide blessing wherever they have been played.”
Chapters 40-66, after having been transcribed from the Soundscriber discs, have been edited by Miss Emily Farmer, who edited in the past, most of Dr. Ironside’s manuscripts when his works were being prepared for publication. We are most grateful for her careful and efficient work as unto the Lord.
It has been a joy to each of us to have a part in the publication of this book. May God continue to bless the written ministry of “H.A.I.,” who, being dead, yet speaketh.
Ann Hightower Ironside
Thomaston, Georgia, 1952
Publishers’ Note: Miss Emily Farmer came to Loizeaux Brothers from Colchester, England, in 1907. From that time until her retirement in 1947 she was invaluable as an accurate proofreader and an able editor with a wide knowledge and deep appreciation of the truths of Scripture.
Dr. Scofield borrowed the services of Miss Farmer to give editorial assistance in preparing notes for the Scofield Bible in their final form. The excellence of the Scofield Bible today is attributable in no small measure to Miss Farmer’s keen discernment of sound doctrine.
In her work on Dr. Ironside’s ISAIAH, Miss Farmer has had to accomplish this while lying in her bed and it has thus been a real labor of love on her part, for which the Publishers wish to express their heartfelt thanks.
ISAIAH’S “wild measure” has ever been a portion of God’s Holy Word in which spiritually minded believers have found much to exercise their hearts and lead out their souls in glad anticipation of the coming day when Immanuel, of whom this prophet speaks, will take His great power and reign.
Longer than any other prophetic book, it contains the fullest Messianic predictions to be found in the Old Testament, testifying in no uncertain way to “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Of late, like all other books of the Bible, it has suffered much at the hands of unbelieving and haughty critics, who have done their best to undermine the faith of the simple in the integrity and unity of the Bible, but all that is settled for those who have faith by the Lord Jesus. When here on earth He placed the seal or his divine approval upon it in its entirety. And from this book the apostles drew again and again in their ministry after the ascension of the Saviour, all by the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, giving it a place of unquestionable authority as the very word of the Lord.
Isaiah himself was a man of wealth, rank, and learning, if we may give any credence to Jewish tradition respecting him. He is supposed to be the one referred to in Hebrews 11:37, who was “sawn asunder” by the enraged rejecters of his prophetic ministry. If this be so, it occurred at the close of a long and honored life, for his public service extended over at least half a century. As he tells us in the opening verse, he prophesied “in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.” In all likelihood he did not appear in the prophetic office until the last year of Uzziah’s long reign (Isaiah 6:1).
Chapter six records his divine commission, and it is questionable if he had uttered the burdens of the previous chapters ere the vision there portrayed, which took place “in the year that King Uzziah died”: that is, not necessarily after he died but in the same year as that solemn event. We know he continued to give forth the word of the Lord later than the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, for it was then that he was commissioned to make known to the stricken monarch that fifteen years were to be added to his life. He was, therefore, contemporary with Hosea throughout, and possibly with Amos for a very brief season, though it is more likely the herdsman-prophet had passed off the scene before Isaiah began to make known the mind of God.
Micah also held the prophetic office during the reigns of the last three kings mentioned. So Isaiah would be the chief among a goodly little company, who had the secret of the Lord in a day when formalism and hypocrisy largely prevailed.
That there was but one Isaiah, not two, is evident from the testimony given by the inspired writer of the Gospel of Luke. He tells us that on the occasion of the Lord’s first public visit to the synagogue at Nazareth, “there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias,” (not of “the great unknown”), and from it He preached His gospel of deliverance to the captives and the acceptable year of the Lord. The glorious predictions of Isaiah 61:1,2 the Lord cited as inspired Scripture and written by Isaiah, not as the writing of an unknown poet of the Maccabean or a later period.
The book as it stands bears every evidence of being preserved in its divinely arranged order. It is only unbelieving ignorance coupled with amazing egotism, that could lead any to think to rearrange and dissect it in the manner of modern critics, of which George Adam Smith’s “Isaiah” in the Expositor’s Bible series is the most commonly known specimen. It is a virtual denial of inspiration and a biased attempt to destroy the true prophetic character of the Messianic portions of this magnificent “golden prophecy.”
Unbelief finds difficulties where faith bows with adoring reverence. As I write not for skeptics, but for those who truly know Christ whose sufferings and glories Isaiah foretold, I shall pay but slight attention to the objections of those unbelieving, natural men, albeit distinguished in the world of letters and in the Christless religious circles of the day.
Many professing Christians pay little or no attention to the prophetic word, but in neglecting that which formed so large a part of the Holy Scriptures, they wrong their own souls and dishonor Him who gave His Word for our edification and comfort. The real value of prophecy is that it occupies us with a Person, not merely with events. That Person is our Lord Jesus Christ who came once to suffer and is coming again to reign. Of both these advents Isaiah treats, and that In a way more plain and full than do any of the other Old Testament seers.
It should be borne in mind, however, that prophecy is not simply the foretelling of future events, but is rather the forth-telling of the mind of God for the moment. When both the priesthood and the monarchy had failed completely in Israel and Judah, God continued to minister to His people through the prophets. These were men to whom special insight was given into holy things, and who were sent of God to call an erring people to repentance.
It was their responsibility to put before the people not only the coming glories into which they were to enter in Messiah’s day, but also to impress upon them the necessity of preparing the way of the Lord by turning from sin to righteousness, and from their idolatrous vanities to the living God who had so wonderfully manifested His power on their behalf throughout Israel’s history.
Those who are interested in the curious things of Scripture have noticed long since that Isaiah, in one sense, comprises a miniature Bible. The Bible consists of sixty-six books: Isaiah has sixty-six chapters. The Bible is divided into two Testaments, Old and New.
Isaiah is also divided into two parts, the first having to do largely with Israel’s past condition and the promise of Messiah’s coming, and the second dealing particularly with their future deliverance. The Old Testament has thirty-nine books: the first half of Isaiah has thirty-nine chapters. The New Testament has twenty-seven books: the second part of Isaiah has twenty-seven chapters. This, of course, is a mere coincidence because it was not the Spirit of God but human editors who divided the book in this way; nevertheless it is interesting and quite suggestive when we realize that Isaiah deals in a very definite way with that which is the outstanding theme of all the Scriptures – God’s salvation as revealed in His blessed Son.
There are many things in the writings of Isaiah which are perhaps beyond our present comprehension even as they were beyond the comprehension of the writer himself. Like the other prophets, Isaiah wrote at the command of the Lord, and then searched his own scriptures, the scriptures then available, as to what manner of time the Spirit of Christ that was in him did prophesy when he testified beforehand concerning the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow.
The portions that deal with the sufferings of Christ which took place at His first advent have become amazingly clear in the light of the New Testament Gospels. Those that have to do with the glories that shall follow at His second advent, while linked with all prophecy as to that glorious advent, will never be fully understood until the day of fulfillment arrives. Even though at times, as we study this book, we may seem to see through a glass darkly, we may be assured of real blessing as we weigh carefully before God that which He commissioned Isaiah to proclaim.
The divisions of the book would seem to be as follows.
There are three great divisions, though these again readily subdivide:
Part I is chiefly ministry to the conscience of Israel and Judah, suffering under God’s hand In government, with Messiah’s coming as the goal of blessing before them. It consists of chapters one to thirty-five, and is an orderly, connected series of messages or burdens, evidently uttered by Isaiah before the illness of Hezekiah.
Part II is historical, though of a prophetical, and typical character, showing how, for Judah, all blessing is bound up with a Son of David who goes down to death but is raised up by omnipotent power. It consists of chapters thirty-six to thirty-nine, and is almost identical with II Kings 18:13 to 20:19, and also as to the main points with II Chronicles 32. Isaiah himself doubtless was the recorder of the portion of the book of Kings written during his ministry, and by divine direction he introduces the parts specified into the book bearing his name.
Part III concludes the prophecy, embracing chapters forty to sixty-six. It sets forth the utter failure of the first man and the bringing in of the Second, the Lord from Heaven. Israel as the servant of God is shown to be unfaithful in every particular and is set aside that the True Servant, the Elect of the Lord, may be manifested.
Through Him, all God’s counsels shall stand and His glory be established, and that forevermore.
Prophecy, however, does not go beyond this earth, so it is “as long as the sun and moon endure.” But we know from the later revelation that He, the Eternal Son of the Father, will be the One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead shall be displayed forever.
With these preliminary thoughts before us, we turn then to the consideration of the book itself, assured that like all other Scriptures, we shall find it “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness”.
“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (verses 1-6).
ABRUPTLY the voice of the Lord breaks in upon the ears of men who prided themselves upon their religiousness and trusted in their formal observance of the legal ritual, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.” There is something sublime in the very simplicity of this challenge to obedience. Heaven and earth, ever subject to His wl1l, are called to witness the base ingratitude of the Lord’s people. The objects of His solicitous care from their childhood in Egypt to the moment then present, they had never, as an entire nation, given Him that loving obedience which was His due.
Individual faithfulness there ever was; but nationally, as later in the case of the Church viewed as a collective body, failure had come in almost at the very beginning and there had never been recovery. Ox and ass know their owner or their master’s crib because of his care for them. May we not well challenge our hearts as to how far we really know our Owner? To what extent do we sanctify Christ as Lord? He is our Owner now. Other lords have had dominion over us, but by Him only will we now make mention of the ineffable Name.
– The kingdom of God for us is that of the Son of His love.
– To the Crucified we owe unswerving allegiance.
– Our Master’s crib is the Word of God, a part of which we have now before us.
Do we really know it? Does hunger ever drive us to it; or, are we often found foolishly sniffing the desert air, following the wind like the wild ass, our backs on God’s well-filled storehouse, vainly seeking a satisfactory portion in the world we have professed to judge?
Solemn questions these, not to be evaded or ignored, but faced in the presence of the Lord: lest a day come when, of us too He shall have to say, “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (verse 4).
There is no breach of relationship suggested here. Judah was still owned of God, but her moral state was such as demanded discipline. Yet that discipline she had despised until it seemed to be useless to chasten her further. The sore seemed too deep to be healed; the whole head was sick and the heart faint. Everywhere the evidences of inward corruption were manifest. Soundness, there was none; nor had their hearts turned to Him that He who had smitten might bind them up in His grace and longsuffering.
“Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When you come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be wi1l1ng and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (verses 7-20).
Prophetically, Isaiah beholds the sad result of all this cold-hearted indifference to the message he brought. Their country was soon to be desolate and their fair cities were to be destroyed by conflagration. Strangers should dwell in their land and but a feeble remnant be left as a workman’s hut in a vineyard or a keeper’s lodge in a cucumber field.
The prophet speaks of things not seen as yet, in the present sense, for faith’s eye can see all that God has declared as though already fulfilled. It is here he uses the words quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:29: “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (verse 9).
That remnant alone could be owned of God. Because of it, He would not utterly cast off His people, and it will be observed that throughout the balance of the book, the remnant is ever given the place of the nation. The mass are already rejected – “children in whom is no pleasure.”
In verses 10-20 it is this evil majority who are before God. No link of relationship does He acknowledge with them. They are in very deed as Sodom and Gomorrah, and as such He designates them and calls them to repentance. Rulers and people alike were evil; and in their unholy, unregenerate state, they could have no place before Him. For such as these to offer sacrifice was but to mock and insult His holiness. He found no delight in their offerings, nor could He complacently behold them treading His courts.
What a scathing rebuke have we here for any who would profess to draw near to God by sacramental observances while not born of His Spirit and broken before Him!
– Ritualism is an offence;
– Religious exercises, as they are called, are filthy in His sight, if there be no true recognition of guilt and the need of atonement whereby iniquity may be purged.
From all their solemn feasts and sacred seasons, the Lord turned away in disgust. He would hide His face and close His ears, for the proof of their defiled condition was in their hands.
What was needed? The application of the Word of God to heart and conscience, evidencing genuine faith in Him whose voice to man it is, resulting in purged ways and a clean life. “Wash you, make you clean,” He cries; “ Put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
Observe the order here. There is no promise of gospel blessing until the Word of God be bowed to. Nor is it making grace to wait on works, or salvation dependent on human effort or upon advancement in righteousness. But God has no blessing either for time or eternity for the man who persists in sin and refuses to judge himself in the light of His revealed Word. Where faith is truly present, contrition for sin will be manifest and amendment will follow inevitably.
It is to the self-judged, therefore, that the glorious Word comes in power; “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (verse 18). No more blessed proclamation of full amnesty is found in all the Bible than in this lovely verse. It is the offer of full judicial cleansing for every repentant soul, no matter how grievous his record may have been. Well may Isaiah be called “the evangelical prophet.” A wondrous gospel pervades all his pages, though warnings of judgment are ever before us.
Cleansed and forgiven, the delivered soul is then called to tread the path of obedience and subjection to the One who has justified from all things. Dispensationally, it may be remarked, justification had to await the revelation of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, announced in New Testament times only; but, actually, every soul in every age who heard the Word in faith was cleared of every charge.
The obedience here indicated was of a decidedly legal character as befitting the age of law and the reward in keeping. “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” But in this age of grace there is a land, unknown to sight but seen and enjoyed by faith, of whose goodly fruits each subject soul eats in abundance through the Spirit’s gracious ministry. On the other hand, where the Word of life and blessing is refused and a rebellious spirit is manifested, in place of one of contrition and brokenness, the sword, whether as here of a human enemy or as more clearly made known in the New Testament, of divine judgment, must devour the gainsayer, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” This whole section is deeply instructive and should be carefully weighed in the light of eternity, by every soul to whom it comes, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”
Another section begins with verse 21 and goes on to the end of the chapter. It has in view Jerusalem, once the faithful city, now corrupt and adulterous: in itself, the exemplification of all the evils that afflicted the land. In dirge-like measure the prophet bewails its fallen estate; but the Spirit of grace distinguishes a remnant still and so he sings of mercy and of judgment.
“How is the faithful city become an harlot? it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: and I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them” (verses 21-31).
The city in whose devotedness the Lord had once found such delight, which once bore the name of the holy, had become an harlot, following after other lovers who could not save. Once full of discretion and the home of righteousness, it had become a lodging -place for men of blood. In place of silver, speaking of atonement (cf. Exodus 30:11- 16), was the dross of complacent self-sufficiency; and the wine of joy was diluted with the foul water of earth’s broken cisterns (verses 21, 22).
The leaders of the people, who should have set an example of subjection to the Word of God, were rebellious and bribe-lovers. Righteous judgment was forgotten in the base desire for gain. Because of all this, the Lord Himself would awake to judgment, and pour out His vengeance upon those who, posing as His friends, were in reality at enmity with Him. But unmixed judgment it could not be, for they were His covenant people still. He would correct in measure.
His discipline would have the effect of removing the unjust and unholy, purging the nation from its dross and sin, from all that was base and unpleasing to God, after which He would restore their judges as at the first and their counselors as of old. Then, redeemed with judgment, Zion shall be called once more The city of righteousness, The faithful city (verses 25-27).
This will be their final blessing as other Scriptures show us, after the long years of their dispersion and the bitterness of the last great tribulation have come to an end.
Their sufferings must go on until the unrepentant transgressors and willful sinners shall be utterly destroyed, and those that remain – a weak but faithful remnant – shall loathe themselves for their past sins and be ashamed of the many false gods who have allured them, as a nation, away from the God of their fathers. Beautifully, we see this spirit exemplified in three ninth chapters of our Bible: namely, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel; all remnant books, where faithful men judge their people’s sin as their own sin, but from it turn with abhorrence, to seek the Lord with all their hearts. All who do not repent shall be consumed together by the fierce anger of the Lord as a withered oak, a waterless garden, and as tow to which the Lord shall apply the spark.
Nor have the words of this section a voice for the Jew alone. They are also “written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived. The failure of the professing Church has been even greater than that of Jerusalem, because of the greater light against which we have sinned. Soon must the Holy and the True, disgusted with such corruption, vomit out of His mouth all that is unreal and opposed to His Word.
But He stands knocking at the door, and whenever there is reality and a heart for Himself, He will come in and sup there in hallowed, blest communion, though the doom of guilty Christendom is so near.