THE TRAVAIL OF ZION.
We have shown by the prophecies of Moses the founder of the nation, of Joshua the vanquisher of the original possessors of the promised land, and of David the greatest of the kings of Israel and one of the greatest of its prophets, that the nation would completely apostatize, and that God would disown them and would "pluck them off the land." And we have shown that those prophecies are fully confirmed by the New Testament Scriptures.
But some will ask if later prophets, as Isaiah, Ezekiel or Zechariah, have not foretold the return of the children of Israel to Palestine, and by implication prophesied the re-constitution of the nation?
The answer is that the later prophets could not contradict the word of the earlier prophets - they all being the mouthpieces of Jehovah - and that, of course, they do not. What has misled some students of the Bible in this regard is the fact that the prophets of later times, as Isaiah and Jeremiah, predicted the captivity of the Jews in Babylon and their return from that captivity (Isa. 6:12, 13; 44:26-28; 45:13; Jer. 30:3, etc.). Prophecies of that class have all been fulfilled.
There are also prophecies concerning the "remnant of Israel" that would return to the Lord in the latter days. Now it is not surprising that the utterly degenerate and carnally minded Jewish teachers of the times of Christ should have interpreted prophecies of that class as foretelling the restoration of the nation and its earthly grandeur; but for Christian teachers to make that mistake is surely inexcusable, seeing that, as has been shown in Chapter II of the present volume, the Holy Spirit, by the apostle Paul, has made known that such prophecies and promises have their fulfilment in God's new covenant people, the true "Israel of God."
Thus, to cite another example, Isaiah prophecies concerning "the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob," of whom he says that they shall return "unto the mighty God." And he continues: "For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea" - for multitude - "yet a remnant of them [only] shall return." This was to be in the days when "the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of the land" (Isa. 10:20-23).
We do not at present undertake an exposition of this prophecy, having cited it merely to remind the reader that, according to the interpretation of it given by Paul, the prophet was speaking of the few Israelites who, in these gospel times, should believe in Jesus Christ and "be saved." For the apostle quotes the passage thus: "Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the Children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved" (Rom. 9:27). And further on he explains that such prophecies have their fulfilment in the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5).
There are also prophecies concerning those who, in future times, should "come to Zion" (Isa. 35:10; 51:11). But the New Testament Scriptures make it evident that this and similar prophecies have their fulfilment in the heavenly realm. Thus, the apostle Peter, writing to converted Jews (the diasporia, "scattered throughout Pontus," and other provinces of the Roman Empire), says "Ye also, as living stones are [being] built up a spiritual house... Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone," etc. (I Pet. 2:6), quoting Isaiah 28:16. And the writer of Hebrews, addressing believers in Jesus Christ, says, "For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched" - the earthly mount Sinai; "But ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels," etc. (Heb.12:18-24).
So far as the writer has been able to find, there is no prophecy of the later, or of the earlier prophets, which foretells the return of the Jews to Palestine and their re-possession of that land as their national home (under the Theocracy of God), subsequent to the destruction of the nation by the Romans. We have seen that there are, on the contrary, many prophecies that seem to make such an event an impossibility.
And, disregarding all Bible prophecies, it seems to the writer that recent developments in connection with the political movement known as Zionism, following the mandate to Great Britain of the government of the land of Palestine, and following the famous "Balfour Declaration," make it more than even unlikely that the Jews will return to Palestine in a body, or in any considerable numbers, or will ever re-possess that land as their national home. For, according to the latest official figures (June 1929) the entire Jewish population of Palestine is less than one hundred and fifty thousand; and they are outnumbered by the non-Jewish population more than five to one.
A VOICE FROM THE TEMPLE
Let us turn now to a passage in the last chapter of Isaiah which is sometimes cited as foretelling the conversion of the Jewish nation in a day yet future, but which in my opinion, and as will be evident to the unbiased mind upon slight examination, refers to this present gospel dispensation, and indeed to one of the most conspicuous events of the early days thereof.
The passage begins with these words:
"A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to His enemies. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children" (Isa. 66:6-8).
Clearly there is nothing here about any salvation for Israel in the millennium; and nothing about the conversion of that nation, as a nation, at any time. On the contrary, the subject of the passage is the birth of another nation. Zion is represented as being in travail, and as bringing forth children. There can be no room for doubt, therefore, that the "nation" whereof the prophet here speaks is that "holy nation," concerning which Peter wrote (1 Pet. 2:9); a nation composed of all who have been "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God" (1:23-25).
And beyond all question the "one day" here foretold is that great day of Pentecost, which was the birthday of that marvelous "nation," the like whereof had never been in the world before.
The predicted "noise from the city" had a striking fulfilment in what is recorded (Acts 2:6) in these words: - "Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together." And the predicted "Voice from the temple" was fulfilled when "Peter standing up with the eleven lifted up his voice, and said unto them" - (v. 14); and when, by the miracle of tongues, they all spake in different languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance, proclaiming the wonderous truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (In Chap. XII of this volume it is shown that all this occurred in the Temple at Jerusalem - See Lu. 24:53; Acts 2:1, 46; 3:11; 5:20, etc.) Then it was that a nation was "born at once."
Moreover, there is a striking significance in the words, "Before she travailed she brought forth"; for the earthly Zion's real "travail" did not come upon her until forty years later; God in His mercy, and in answer to our Lord's prayer on the cross for His murderers, having granted a reprieve for that space of time. Those distresses, which our Lord Himself foretold - that "great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world" (Mat. 24:21) - were termed by Him, "the beginning of sorrows," literally birth pangs (Mat. 24:8). Hence this prophecy of our Lord strikingly confirmed and also helps interpret that of His servant, Isaiah.
The "Jerusalem" with which the prophet in this passage bids us "rejoice" (v. 10), and concerning which God says, "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream" (v. 12), is the heavenly Jerusalem. This appears from various indications in the context, particularly from the fact that the passage is a prophecy of the "new heavens and new earth" (65:17); in which connection God says, "And the former shall not be remembered or come upon the heart (marg.). But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: For behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying" (Isa. 65:17-19. See Rev. 21:4).
What we have said above about this new "nation" finds strong support in the word spoken by Christ to the leaders of the Jews:
"Therefore say I unto you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43).
And He has clearly identified that "nation" by the word He spoke to His disciples, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
Clearly then the kingdom of God was not to remain with that nation; nor was that nation itself to be converted in millennial times, or ever; but on the contrary, the kingdom was to be "taken from" them, and given to another nation. That Divine act of taking the kingdom from the one nation and giving it to the other (specially created to that end) was, of course, a finality.
And in this connection we would bring to mind that, immediately following Isaiah 53, where the sufferings, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord are foretold, is a prophecy concerning the barren woman who was to become a joyful mother of children, whose Maker was to be her Husband, and of whose children it is said that they shall be all taught of the Lord, that their peace shall be great, and "their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord" (Isa. 54). Paul applies this prophecy to the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26). And in the same passage he proves, by a remarkable appeal to the prophetic types, that the earthly Jerusalem and her children (answering to Hagar and Ishmael) were to be "cast out"; and that "the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman."
Now, according to the type, and according to all the pertinent Scriptures as well, this casting out of the earthly nation from all part and place in God's plan, and the disinheriting of "the son of the bondwoman," is to be forever. But the doctrine we are examining goes directly in the teeth of all this. For it reverses the order of God's revealed plan, bringing back the earthly nation again in millennial times, re-establishing all the abolished shadows of the old covenant, and making "the son of the bond woman" the sole residuary legatee, so to speak, of the forfeited promises.
ISAIAH'S PROPHECY AS A WHOLE
The occasion of God's message through this prophet and the general purport of that message, are clearly indicated by its opening words:
"I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against Me... Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers, children that are corrupters! they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward" (Isa. 1:2-4).
Then follow words of sternest reproach, words which clearly imply that, as a nation, He has utterly repudiated them, and that He spares them only for the same reason that He would have spared even Sodom had He found so many as ten righteous persons in it. Note these words:
"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; giver ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah" (vv. 9,10).
This last verse is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:24-29, and he combines with it a quotation from Isaiah 10:21,22; from which he deduces that, though the number of the natural Israel were as the sand of the sea, yet only "a remnant shall be saved"; and further, from Hosea 2:23, he declares that, to this saved remnant, God would add believing Gentiles. For thus he applies the words: "I will call them (i.e. Gentiles) My people, which were not my people, and her beloved which was not beloved" (Hos. 2:23).
In Romans 11, Paul traces this saving work of God still further; for he there intimates a working of God's grace among natural Israelites, after the fullness of the Gentiles be come in; a divine working whereby a number of Jews will be converted and added to the one body of the saved" (Rom. 11:25-27), the "all Israel" being as the context clearly shows, the whole company of God's elect.
Returning to Isaiah's prophecy, we observe that, in the verses immediately following those quoted above, God proceeds to declare in the strongest terms His abhorrence of all their assemblies, sacrifices and ceremonies. Their oblations were "vain," their incense "an abomination," their new moons and appointed feasts "My soul hateth," He said; "They are a trouble to Me, I am weary to bear them." And this is His word to the end of the prophecy. For in the very last chapter we read:
"He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cur off a dog's neck; he that offered an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol" (Isa. 66:3).
It would seem impossible to maintain, in the face of these strong words of abhorrence, that God purposes, in millennial times, to re-establish once more the whole detested system - incense, oblations, ceremonies, bloody sacrifices, and all. Nothing, we think, could be more directly contrary to the revealed purposes of God, of more contrary to the declared effect of the one Sacrifice for sins, offered by Jesus Christ "once for all" (Heb. 10:1-18).
From the foregoing Scriptures, and especially from the divinely perfect illustration of the one olive tree, which represents God's "Israel" from first to last (Rom. XI), we may know with certainty His plan for bringing to Himself an elect nation, a people for His own possession, chosen from among Jews and Gentiles.
There is much more in the prophecy of Isaiah that bears directly upon the subject of "the hope of Israel," and which tends to confirm the view that there is but "one hope" for all mankind, for Jews and Gentiles alike; or in other words, that "the hope of Israel" (Ac. 28:20) and "the hope of the gospel" (Col. 1:23) are identical; there being but one hope for all, as there is but one gospel for all.
THE NEW NATION A RESURRECTION
In the Scriptures we have been considering in this chapter, the holy nation, which is the true "Israel" and heir of the promises, is viewed as coming into existence through a new birth; the national Israel being the mother, through whose "travail" the new nation is brought forth.
The case is analogous to that of the new birth of the individual man when he is converted and become a new creature in Jesus Christ. In both cases the natural serves as the womb of the spiritual; in both cases the beginning of the existence of the new creature is accompanied by "birth pangs"; and in both cases the natural creature remains for a time after the bringing forth of the spiritual, and is in direct antagonism with it.
In another view of it, the beginning of the new Israel is a resurrection; and this too is analogous to the case of the saved individual, who is viewed in Scripture as one raised from the dead - a new creature in Christ Jesus, yet preserving his identity as an individual. So likewise, the true Israel is a nation of people who are "risen together with Christ"; a nation raised up out of the mortal and decaying remains, the dust and ashes of the natural Israel.
And manifestly, resurrection is like birth- a process that cannot be reversed.
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