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Lowell Brueckner

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To the Law and the Testimony


10. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 8

I hope that there are some serious Bible students following me in these studies. We are studying together and I am trying to hear the Author, the Holy Spirit, as He speaks through Isaiah. His voice echoes through the ages and we must capture the original intent, which continues to live for us. When we are dealing with eternal truth, it is outside of time and, therefore, we cannot relegate it to any particular era. What is the truth is always true. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (Jn.14:6) and the writer of Hebrews declared, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13:8). Please open you Bibles to Isaiah 8 and follow verse by verse through its context.

Make speed to the spoil; hasten the prey

In the last chapter, we studied Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, and now we learn of his other son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Imagine Isaiah outside his house calling him, “Mahershalalhashbaz, come to dinner! I don’t want to have to call you twice!” I hope not… perhaps he had a shorter nickname. There is a lesson for us concerning a prophet as we open this chapter. A prophet does not simply sit in his office, waiting for a word from heaven. A true prophet lives his prophecy; that is, his ministry is his life.

This is one major instance that proves the point, and I will not take the time and space to point to more texts throughout the Bible that confirm this affirmation. When he wakes in the morning, he is a prophet, and when he goes to bed at night, he is still a prophet. His life is wrapped around his ministry and his wife and children enter into it (v.1-3). Isaiah was a prophet, his wife was a prophetess and his two sons were prophecies. I think this is a healthier way to view the ministry/family relationship, rather than separating them into two categories and pitting one against the other, as we often are taught to do these days (see v.18).

Maher-shalal-hash-baz means make speed to the spoil; hasten the prey. The use of synonyms, actually makes the same statement with different words, and accents the prediction (speed = hasten; spoil = prey). This was written on a large tablet or plate of wood, metal or stone and engraved with an iron stylus. It seems to be the title of a permanent, easy-to-read record, written for the benefit of the common populace, as in Habacuc 2:2; “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.” The message would be found in the name of Isaiah’s future son and the event to which it is applied is to the Assyrian’s rapid conquest of Samaria and Syria. The prophecy endured to become part of the Old Testament canon and remains today in modern print. Who, then, can deny its relevance? 

God takes amazing care to preserve and perpetuate His word. It is never enough for Him to rely on the spoken word in communicating to men, but he establishes it in written form. He not only writes it, but sees that it is done by permanent engraving on enduring material. As if that were not enough, He has faithful witnesses standing by to confirm His testimony (v.2) and then imprints it indelibly upon the lives of human beings, in this case, Isaiah’s son (v.3), “to be known and read of all men” (2 Co.3:2).

As in chapter 7, God uses the infant to mark the soon-coming destruction of the enemies of Judah. Keep your eyes on this boy and as you watch him grow, you will also see the Assyrian conquerors coming ever closer to Damascus and Samaria (v.4).

The invasion of Immanuel’s land

A new prophecy came to Isaiah (v.5) and he gives it to the ten northern tribes, as well as to a faction in Judah. These are the ones, who have rejected the kingdom of David, that is, the house that the Lord had promised to David many generations in the past. This reign is compared to the fountain of Shiloah, which is carried through channels, gently flowing underground, much of the way, to pools in the city of Jerusalem. It is rejected, in favor of Rezin, king of the northern tribes, especially because he is aided by Syria (v.6).

Since they are not satisfied with God’s benevolent government, He will show them what it is like to serve the ungodly, worldly system. The strong current of the Assyrian Euphrates will carry them away in flood-water fury. The king of Assyria will sweep away the northern kingdom and reach down into Judah (2 Kgs.18:13). The waters will go to the neck, says the prophecy, meaning the walls of Jerusalem, into the land, where God is the proprietor and where He dwells with His people (v.8)… in Immanuel’s land.

God thereby shows, in both the Old and New Testament, that His kingdom is not exempt from infiltration of the enemy with resulting judgment, as can be clearly seen in the Lord’s parables in Matthew 13: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field… his enemy came and sowed tares.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… and became a tree.” “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet… gathering fish of every kind.” In Matthew 25: “The kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins… five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.” It is a fact that many Christians refuse to accept, but be sure of this: God’s purposes, though they be seriously threatened, cannot be obliterated. Judah will be restored for the sake of Messiah.

Beware a conspiracy mentality and the fear of men

From the mention of Immanuel, His land and His people, the prophecy takes a turn. “Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered” (v.9), whether you be Syria, (Northern) Israel, or Assyria, and, I think, all the world powers to come, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome and the anti-christ kingdom. Powerful words follow, expressing divine truth and principle, valid for all times and all places, for the multitudes and the individual: “Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; state a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (v.10). Every child of God can stand on this promise, and this one, “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper…” (Is.54:17) and many, many more.

God instructs Isaiah not to develop a “conspiracy mentality” (v.11). “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’… You are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it” (v.12) I have learned to discard extra-biblical conspiracy theories, because they are not useful, very often never come to pass, and only create fear and confusion. So many of God’s people are susceptible to them, but God forbids us to take them to heart. What takes place in this world is not allowed by God in order that His people be extremely cautious, but “this is the work of God that you might believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn.6:29) God wants us to trust Him on increasingly higher levels!

We are not to fear man: “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what will man do to me?” (Heb.13:6) The people who fear men and obey them, in order to be rewarded and honored for their obedience, who keep still about sin and disobedience to the Bible, in order not to offend men, and who think that they are pleasing to God, when they submit to the ordinances of men, are gravely deceived. They should be questioned as to whether they know the God of the Bible at all. Their service and praise is meaningless.

I have seen too much of this; how can I be quiet? Let me apply the following to them. Hear the word of the Lord, you who give only lip service, but say you love from the heart: “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy, and He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread” (v.13). Where are those, who will stand up to their leaders, as the apostles, declaring “We must obey God rather than men”? (Ac.5:29). You say you believe this; you may even preach it. Then don’t be a coward; put it into practice.

Christ, a refuge or a stumbling stone

This prophecy survives 700 years and never loses an ounce of its strength. Jesus went to the book of Isaiah, as to the fountain of absolute truth. Indeed, He was the author! The writer of Hebrews heard His voice in verse 18: “Behold I and the children whom God has given Me” (Heb.2:13). He spoke to the Father of those that were given to Him, those whom He faithfully kept without losing one (Jn.17:6, 9, 12, 24). He is the sanctuary of verse 14 to them, who believe on His name and flee to Him for refuge.

As both the houses of Israel in Isaiah’s day (v.15), so in Christ’s time on the earth, according to Paul, “They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, ‘Behold I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’” (Ro.9:32,33). Peter wrote to the Christian church and his inspired word speaks through the centuries to those who do not believe: “‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’ for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word and to this doom they were also appointed” (1 P.2:8). We can see how the word of truth lives on, applicable for all generations.

He speaks to disciples (v.16), to Isaiah’s own disciples and beyond, to all the followers of God and of His Christ. The book is sealed and kept among the disciples. They are also taught of God: “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit” and outside their circle, there is no understanding. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Co.2:14).

The prophecies of Christ are for those who wait for Him, while the rest of the world goes on with their own business and concerns (v.17). Why should they waste time with that, in which they do not believe? Therefore the things of God are hidden from them and it is so to this day. Richard Dawson, a famous infidel of our time, was asked, “If one day you found out you were wrong in your atheism and you stand before |God, what will you say to Him?” He replied, “I guess I would ask Him, ‘Why did you do such a good job of hiding yourself?’”

Here is the plain answer: “I will wait for the Lord who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob.” He hid from the house of Jacob and He hides from all those, who do not take Him seriously. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’” (Jn. 14:22-23).

Those of you, who followed my studies last year, may remember a similar passage to verse 18 in the book of Zechariah: “You and your friends who are sitting in front of you… indeed they are men who are a symbol” (Zech.3:8). Isaiah said that they are signs and wonders. I wrote, Christians are companions of the High Priest, a nation of priests, who ought to cause astonishment in society, no matter where they live. People should be asking, “What different kind of people are these?” The only answer is that Christ lives in them.”

The Bible versus extra-biblical sources

When we read verse 19, our minds will probably go immediately to King Saul, who, because God was no longer speaking to him, went to a witch for counsel. This was becoming common advice in Judah in Isaiah’s time, many generations later. Today, when people no longer find reality in Christ, when the supernatural and miraculous is taken away from Christianity, don’t be surprised if people will look to other sources. Many are moving out of the historic, traditional churches and some of them, perhaps many, are turning to cults.

There they are likely to find more than they asked for in extra-scriptural manifestations. Every dream, vision or revelation, outside the Bible, must be brought up for judgment, as the apostle John counsels, to see if the spirit is of God (1 Jn.4:1).  The consulting of spirits, “mediums and spiritists who whisper and mutter”, whether of men or devils, is called necromancy and in the Greek Septuagint, it is called, surprisingly, ventriloquism. Isaiah gives us some fascinating detail to consider, but at this point, we have probably given the subject enough attention to understand what was taking place… and what still does take place.

Is it not logical that it is a step backward for the living to resort to the dead for counsel? Is it not a step backward for the people of God to resort to demonic sources for their counsel? What do the dead know about what is happening in the land of the living and how can the citizens of hell help us in the affairs of heaven? This is all great, diabolical deception. We have a true and living God, who interests Himself intimately in the affairs of men.

How are we, then, to hear from God, Isaiah? Where is the point of contact with the living God? The call is emphatic and clear: “To the law and to the testimony!” (v.20). To the revealed word of God; to the maximum authority, by which we are to live. This is the only law and it is our obligation to believe and obey it, not some revelation received from another source. He is speaking especially of this word that he is giving (v.16). “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

Where are we to go for a word of maximum authority? How are we to find discernment between that, which is from God and what may be derived from any other source? To the Bible, Christian! Don’t tell me your latest dream! I want chapter and verse; I want to know, what says the Word of God! I don’t want to hear your latest dubious interpretation of a single text; I want to see how it fits into the whole tenor of Scripture, Old Testament and New, from Genesis to Revelation. You had better be into a serious study of the Old Testament, because if you are not, you have no basis on which to place your New Testament ideas. The New Testament is built upon the Old and that is so obviously true, that it should not need an explanation.  

“If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” That is, they are in spiritual darkness; they are blinded. The light has not even begun to shine in their hearts and minds. Now that is spiritual truth and it is always true from that day to this.

Albert Barnes comments: The meaning here may be, ‘If their teachings do not accord with the law and the testimony, it is proof that they are totally ignorant, without even the twilight of true knowledge; that it is total darkness with them.’ Or it may mean, ‘If they do not speak according to this word, then no dawn will arise, that is, no prosperity will smile upon this people.’

Isaiah is giving us the future of those in his land, who have forsaken God and His word. The people in the condition described in the paragraphs above, who are resorting to other sources rather than the word of God, are doomed to wander aimlessly through this life (v.21). No relief comes from any of those to whom they have consorted. They are children of the night, hungry and oppressed. Obviously, there is no repentance or self-scrutiny, even as they look upward.  These are angry people who blame their king and their God for their miserable condition… anyone, but themselves.

Upon this earth, there is no hope or pleasure, only “distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness” (v.22). If there is no help from heaven, there certainly cannot be any from earth. No king, no friendly nation will come to their aid. Barnes says: “(Isaiah) accumulates images; piles words on each other; and deepens the anxiety by each additional word, until we almost feel that we are enveloped by the gloom, and see objects of terror and alarm on every side.” In this way, we are forced to leave chapter 8.


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