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The portion of Holy Scripture which we here consider is represented in the traditional Bible by the last twenty-seven chapters of the Book of Isaiah. This is now recognized as an independent poem, by accident joined on to the Book of Isaiah in the transmission of the Bible through the ages. Some would meet the case by calling it the "Second Isaiah.” But there is no real justification for use of the name “Isaiah”: the poem is anonymous. It is also without subject-title; which makes easier to understand the accident of its being joined on to a leading book of prophecy. The words “Zion Redeemed” are of course only a modern title, founded on the general drift of the work.
This is perhaps the most exalted poem in all literature. It is also one of great difficulty for the modern reader who comes upon it unprepared. The difficulty is threefold.
The first difficulty is the rhapsodic form of this poem, which is unfamiliar in modern literature. The Rhapsody-chief contribution of the Bible to literary form-is (we have seen) * a drama cast wholly in the region of the spiritual. Drama in the ordinary sense is among the easiest to follow of all literary forms: a movement of events on the stage is visible to the eye of the spectator in the theatre. In a rhapsody the appeal is to the eye of the spiritual imagination; the stage becomes the whole universe; in place of simple dialogue various literary forms serve to carry on the action. Yet the main effect is always a movement of the Divine Providence which the Bible expresses by the word "Judgement.
A second source of difficulty is that in this poem two distinct trains of thought are kept side by side; they blend, and there is constant transition from the one to the other. This ceases to be a difficulty when the reader is prepared for it. One of these is a course of historic events: the deliverance of Israel (that is, of a remnant of Israel) from captivity, and their restoration to their own land. It is brought about by the power of the Persian Cyrus; Cyrus is named in the poem as an agent of God. And, by an interesting figure, the conquering career of Cyrus is represented as the reward Jehovah presents to him for the deliverance of God's chosen people. The second train of thought is more spiritual. It is not only the deliverance of a nation: Israel's mission to the
Above, pp. 154-163.
nations is also resumed, and in being resumed is spiritually exalted. The blending of these two trains of ideas is the basis on which the whole of this prophetic work rests.
A third kind of difficulty may just be mentioned. When read in its complete form the poem presents the copious flow of exalted eloquence which distinguishes the Hebrew Scriptures, with constant reiteration of leading thoughts. The language of this part of Scripture has been almost inextricably bound up with discussions of modern theology, often controversial theology. Hence it is often difficult to keep the surface and literary significance of the poem distinct from the theological implications that have been read into it. The suggestion is made to the readers of this work that they should reserve the poem in its full form for special study. In the condensed form in which it is here presented it is not difficult to grasp the movement of the whole poem, and the connection of its parts. It also becomes easy to see how the Rhapsody of Zion Redeemed makes a Climax to the Old Testament; in the light of this poem the whole course of the succession of books constituting the Old Testament becomes a clear unity, and a link is given by which the Old Testament joins on to the New.
The essence of the poem is conveyed in the six selections which follow.-I. The first gives the short Prelude to the poem. Jehovah speaks a word of comfort for his people: the captivity which was the punishment for their sins is at an end. Voices seem to catch up the glad tidings, and to bear them across the desert—the desert separating the region of captivity from the holy land-nearer and nearer to Jerusalem. Thus the Prelude breathes lyrically the spirit of the poem as a whole.
II. In such a work there is naturally constant contrast between the true God and the Idols of the nations. Scorn for idolatry is a regular motive of prophecy. The much quoted passage which makes the second selection turns upon this idea.
III. It is the third selection that gives the key note of the whole movement. It is a grand dramatic scene in which the Nations of the world are summoned to the Bar of God, to hear Divine interpretation of a career of world conquest. The usual scorn for idols manifests itself in a brief passage picturing the panic of the idolatrous Nations as they assemble, and their anxiety lest the idols
may not stand in contact with the true God. Then our imagination realizes the stupendous scene: all the Nations of the world before the Bar of God, the idolatrous nations on one side, Israel on the other, Jehovah alternately addressing the one and the other. He challenges the Idols of the Nations to “declare former things and show things to come.” In the tendency already noted (page 144) to dwarf the idea of prophecy into that of prediction, traditional interpretation has often lost the significance of this challenge by emphasizing only one part of it, as if God were challenging the Idols to predict something. The whole clause must be taken: in "declaring former things and showing things to come” the point of the challenge is that the Idols should put such a meaning on the whole course of events from first to last as will compare with the meaning which the true God is about to place upon it. It is thus a Divine plan of all history that we are to hear proclaimed from the throne of the universe. The Idols are of course dumb. Then Jehovah proclaims his own interpretation of history. He points to the Nation of Israel as his Servant; and the service is to bring the other nations to the law of Israel's God. But to this mission they have been unfaithful, and for their sins they have fallen into the prison houses of the captivity. By the power of Cyrus they are set free; and they emerge from captivity reawakened to their high destiny. “Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.”
But this is only part of the significance of this scene. In Jehovah's proclamation of Israel and its mission there are found these words:
He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement in truth. He shall not burn dimly nor be bruised, till he have set judgement in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law.
In the New Testament the substance of these words is applied (most appropriately) to Jesus Christ. But this is secondary interpretation. In the primary significance of the prophecy the
words are applied to the Nation of Israel in its Divine mission. Thus the proclamation by Jehovah-after interrupting cries of joy-goes on to say that this Servant of Jehovah has been blind and deaf, and has for its sins fallen into the captivity of the nations. The Nation is delivered, with glorious words of redemption; and with deliverance has come reawakening to the Nation's mission. But the words quoted bring out how this mission of Israel to the nations has undergone spiritual exaltation. The tradition had been of a world conquerer as the Messiah, who should rule the nations with a rod of iron. It now appears that not by force is Israel's mission to be accomplished, but by spiritual conviction, by agencies as gentle, yet irresistible, as the light. The ideal of World Conquest has been transformed into that of World Redemption.
IV. A fourth selection--taken for convenience out of its order in the poem-presents Israel in its mission to the Nations. It is in the literary form of the Doom prophecies: monologue of Deity is heard proclaiming Israel as "witness to the Nations,” while the lyric interruptions convey the invitation of Zion to the peoples of the world to enter into covenant with Zion's God.
V. But another phase of the thought underlying this poem has yet to be brought out. In the central section of the rhapsodythe place of emphasis in Hebrew poetry-we have "The Servant of Jehovah Exalted." The literary form of this section is simple: Jehovah proclaims the exaltation of his Servant, and the theme is celebrated by a Chorus of Nations. But as we read we find that a profound change has come over the conception of the "Servant of Jehovah.” Before this the phrase described clearly the Nation of Israel. As we read this central section in contrast with what has preceded, we realize that Nationality has changed to Personality; not ordinary Personality, but a Mystic Personality whose sufferings are recognized by the Nations as vicarious. Before this it had appeared how Israel's conquest of the world for God was to be accomplished, not by force, but by spiritual agencies gentle as the light. The new thought is here added, that as part of these spiritual agencies is to be recognized the redemptive force of vicarious suffering. VI. The sixth of the selections brings the thought of the poem to