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1. A Rebellious Nation

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. 2Hear, 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. 3The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4Ah 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.

5Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6From 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. 7Your 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. 8And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9Except 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.

10Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. 11To 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. 12When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13Bring 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. 14Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15And 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.

16Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18Come 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. 19If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

21How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. 22Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: 23Thy 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. 24Therefore 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:

25And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: 26And 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. 27Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

28And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed. 29For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. 30For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. 31And 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.

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17. Learn to do well As he had just now, ill enjoining them to cease to do evil, charged them with the continual practice of iniquity as if he had said that their whole life was a constant habit of sinning; so now he enjoins them to become skilled in acts of kindness, and in entreating them to learn this, he addresses them as scholars who had not yet learned their earliest lessons. And first he bids them seek judgment. Others render it, inquire respecting judgment, of which I do not approve; for by the word seek the Prophet meant more than this, he meant what we call the actual practice of it. By the word judgment he denotes what is good and right; as if he had said, “Aim at uprightness.”

Relieve the oppressed The Prophet, after his wonted manner, adds to the general description the mention of particular classes; and although he has already given a special exhortation to kindness and justice, yet wishing to press them more closely, he enters into a more careful enumeration of certain classes, so as to present a more complete view of the subject. For otherwise men always wish to be reckoned good and righteous, and can scarcely be moved by general instruction; but when we come to particular cases, they are forced, as it were, to deal with the matter in hand, and are compelled to yield, or at least become more tractable, of which we have daily experience.

Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow The Prophet here selects two classes, by means of which the wickedness of men is more fully exposed; for it seldom happens that the causes of the fatherless and widows are defended, because men do not expect from them any rewards. To such an extent are they exposed to every kind of injustice, that no man comes forward in defense of them, because there is no man who follows justice on its own account; and not only so, but there is a very great number of persons who are ready to plunder the poor and needy. This proves that there is no one who cares about exercising judgment; for we need not at all wonder that men of wealth and influence have friends to assist them, who are excited and allured by the expectation of reward. But the Lord declares that he takes charge of the fatherless and widows, and will avenge them if they shall sustain any injury.

“Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict then in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry: and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:22-24.)

The same declaration is now extended to all others, who are oppressed and groan under the violence and lawless passions of men of rank and influence.

This ought to yield the highest consolation to all the children of God, who are enjoined to possess their souls in patience. (Luke 21:19.) Whatever may be the haughty boasting of enemies, this will not prevent the people of God from glorying amidst their tribulations, while such considerations as these shall have an abiding place in their minds: “The Lord will be our avenger. Though men disregard us, he takes care of us. He will aid the destitute, and will defend their cause.”

18. Come now, and let us reason together 2424     ונוכחה (venivvakechah), and let us settle our dispute. Bishop Stock. “Both of us, I and you, that we may ascertain which of us has committed an offense against the other; and if you have sinned against me, still I hope to convert you.” — Jarchi. The Hebrew word נא (na) is commonly translated I pray, or therefore; but I think that it denotes the confidence of a good cause, and thus is an exhortation, Come. For the Lord declares that the Jews will have nothing, to reply, and that, even though they obtain an opportunity of clearing themselves, they will still be speechless. And certainly this is the way in which hypocrites ought to be treated; for they boldly enter into disputes with God, and there is no end of their reasonings. Accordingly, he tells them that, if they choose to debate, he will be equally prepared on the other side.

The question will perhaps be put, Why does the Prophet speak chiefly about the second table of the law, and not rather about the worship of God? For we know that there were good reasons why God assigned the foremost place to the first table, when he divided the law; and there can be no doubt that, as it comes first in order, so it is likewise of greater importance. I reply, when the Prophets reprove the hypocrisy of men, they employ various modes of address. Sometimes they complain that the Sabbath has been profaned; sometimes they say that men do not call on God; but for the most part they censure idolatry, and raise their voice against superstitions. But here Isaiah complains that their duties towards their neighbors have not been performed.

Still in all these cases the object is the same, to show that our actions are of no value in the sight of God, when they do not proceed from a good conscience, and when we are destitute of the fear of God. This fear they sometimes denote by “calling on the name of God,” sometimes by “keeping the Sabbath,” and sometimes by other actions; but as the distinction between true worship and hypocrisy is most clearly and manifestly pointed out by means of the duties of brotherly kindness, there are good reasons why the mention of those duties is brought forward by Isaiah. For hypocrites are careful to perform outward worship and ceremonies; but inwardly they are full of envy, they swell with pride and contempt of the brethren, they burn with covetousness and ambition; and while they conceal themselves under those masks, they cannot easily be detected. They must, therefore, be tried by this rule, as by a touchstone, and thus it must be ascertained whether or not they fear God.

We might, indeed, be deceived, were it from the second table only that we formed our judgment about the godliness of a man; but if any one discharge the duties of the first table, which are evidences of godliness and of the worship of God, he must then be brought to this standard, Does he act inoffensively towards other men? Does he abstain from every act of injustice? Does he speak truth? Does he live in the exercise of kindness to his brethren? This is the reason why Christ pronounces

mercy, judgment, and faith, to be the weighty matters of the law, (Matthew 23:23,)

and censures the Pharisees because, in their eagerness about tithes and offerings, they attended only to smaller matters, and neglected true righteousness. By faith he means fidelity, or what we commonly call loyalty. 2525     Loyauté By judgment he means every kind of uprightness, when we render to every man what belongs to him, and do not allow others to be injured, but assist them, as far as lies in our power.

But if these are the weighty matters of the law, in what order ought we to place the commandments of the second table? I answer, they retain their due importance and order; but by means of those duties which Christ so rigidly demands, and on which he dwells so largely, hypocrisy is more fully detected, and we are better enabled to judge whether a man sincerely fears God or not. In the same sense ought we to understand that passage, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13;) for mercy is an evidence and proof of true godliness. Again, it is pleasing to God, because it is a true demonstration of the love which we owe to our fellow-men; but sacrifices are pleasing to him for a different reason. It is now, I think, sufficiently plain why the Prophet Isaiah mentions kindness rather than faith or calling upon God; and why the prophets employ such variety in their modes of address, when they endeavor to bring back hypocrites to the true worship of God, and when they bid them show it by its fruits.

Though your sins be as scarlet It is as if he had said, that he does not accuse innocent persons, and has no wish to enter into controversy; so that the charges which he makes against them are not brought forward or maintained without strong necessity. For hypocrites are wont to find fault with God, as if he were too severe, and could not be at all appeased. They go still farther, and discover this excuse for their obstinacy, that it is in vain for them to attempt to return to a state of favor with God. If every other expedient fail, still they fly to this, that it is not proper to make such rigid demands on them, and that even the very best of men have something that needs to be forgiven. The Prophet anticipates the objection, by introducing the Lord speaking ill this manner — “For my part, if it be necessary, I do not refuse to dispute with you; for the result will be to show that it is your own obstinacy which prevents a reconciliation from taking place between us. Only bring cleanness of heart, and all controversy between us will be at an end. I would no longer contend with you, if you would bring me an upright heart.”

Hence we obtain a declaration in the highest degree consolatory, that God does not contend with us as if he wished to pursue our offenses to the utmost. For if we sincerely turn to him, he will immediately return to favor with us, and will blot out all remembrance of our sins, and will not demand an account of them. For he is not like men who, even for a slight and inconsiderable offense, often refuse to be reconciled. Nay, so far is he from giving us reason to complain of his excessive severity, that he is ready to cleanse us, and to make us as white as snow. He is satisfied With cleanness of heart, and if, notwithstanding of this cleanness of heart, there be any offense, he forgives it, and acquits those who have provoked him.




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