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The Future House of God
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Judgment Pronounced on Arrogance
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
For you have forsaken the ways of your people,
O house of Jacob.
Indeed they are full of diviners from the east
and of soothsayers like the Philistines,
and they clasp hands with foreigners.
Their land is filled with silver and gold,
and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their own fingers have made.
And so people are humbled,
and everyone is brought low—
do not forgive them!
Enter into the rock,
and hide in the dust
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty.
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high;
against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
against all the high mountains,
and against all the lofty hills;
against every high tower,
and against every fortified wall;
against all the ships of Tarshish,
and against all the beautiful craft.
The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
The idols shall utterly pass away.
Enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
On that day people will throw away
to the moles and to the bats
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts in the crags,
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
Turn away from mortals,
who have only breath in their nostrils,
for of what account are they?
1. The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw This prophecy is a confirmation of that doctrine which we had a little before, concerning the restoration of the Church. For since it is difficult to cherish the hope of safety, when we are, as it were, in the midst of destruction, while the wrath of God burns and consumes everything far and wide, or while his threatenings strike terror into our minds, at such a period the bare promises are hardly sufficient to support us and to allay our fears. For this reason the Lord determined that to the consolation which had already been proclaimed there should be added this special vision, by way of confirmation, in order to make it more certain and undoubted that, whatever calamities might arise, his Church would never perish. I have no doubt, therefore, but that this vision agrees with what is stated in the 26th and 27th verses of the former chapter.
Hence we learn what was the advantage and design of visions; for since doctrine sometimes has not sufficient weight with us, God therefore adds visions, that by means of them he may seal his doctrine to us. Since, therefore, this vision is connected with the former promise, we learn from it this useful doctrine, that all visions of every kind which God formerly gave to his Prophets must be joined to the promises in such a manner as to be seals of them. And thus we perceive more and more the astonishing goodness of God, that, not satisfied with giving us his bare word, he places before our eyes, as it were, representations of the events.
He has added a confirmation, that the restoration of the Church is a matter of very great importance, and necessary to be known. For where is the truth of the Lord, where is faith, if there be no Church? If there be none, it follows that God is a liar, and that everything contained in his word is false. But as God frequently shows, by striking proofs, that he preserves the Church by unknown methods and without the assistance of men, so he now declares by a remarkable prediction that he will do this.
There were two purposes to be served by this prediction. First, since Isaiah, and others who came after him, were unceasingly to proclaim terror, on account of the obstinate wickedness of the people, until the temple should be burnt, and the city destroyed, and the Jews carried into captivity, it was necessary that such severity should be mitigated towards believers by some consolation of hope. Secondly, as they were to languish in captivity, and as their minds were shaken, even after their return, by a succession of varied calamities, and at length were almost overwhelmed with despair by the dreadful desolation and confusion, they might a hundred times have fainted, if they had not been upheld. As to those who had already fallen, they were raised up and confirmed by the promised restoration, to such an extent, at least, that they retained among them the practice of calling on God, which is the only and undoubted remedy for the worst of evils. הדבר, (haddabar,) the word, is rendered by some interpreters the thing, which accords with the general signification of this term; but it is better to view it as denoting a divine purpose. Isaiah says that it was revealed to him by a special vision.
2. And it shall come to pass in the last of the days 3535 In the last days. — Eng. Ver. When he mentions the end or completion of days, let us remember that he is speaking of the kingdom of Christ; and we ought also to understand why he gives to the kingdom of Christ this appellation. It was because till that time everything might be said to be in a state of suspense, that the people might not fix their eyes on the present condition of things, which was only a shadow, but on the Redeemer, by whom the reality would be declared. Since Christ came, therefore, if that time be compared with ours, we have actually arrived at the end of ages. It was the duty of the fathers who lived at that time to go, as it were, with outstretched arms to Christ; and since the restoration of all things depended on his coming, it is with good reason that they are enjoined to extend their hope to that period. It was indeed always useful for them to know, that under Christ the condition of the Church would be more perfect; more especially because they were held under figures, for the Lord was pleased to arouse them in various wavy for the express purpose of keeping them in suspense.
But there was a peculiar importance attached to this prediction; for, during four hundred years or thereby, there were innumerable occasions on which they might have fainted, had they not called to remembrance that fullness of days, in which the Church was to be perfectly restored. During the various storms, therefore, by which the Church was nearly overwhelmed, every believer, when shipwrecked, seized on this word as a plank, that by means of it he might be floated into the harbour. Yet it ought to be observed, that while the fullness of days began at the coming of Christ, it flows on in uninterrupted progress until he appear the second time for our salvation. (Hebrews 9:28.)
That the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established This vision might be thought to wear the aspect of absurdity, not only because Zion was a little hill of no extraordinary height, just as if one should compare a handful of earth to huge mountains; but because he had but a little before predicted its destruction. How, then, could it be believed that Mount Zion, after having lost all her greatness, would again shine with such lustre as to draw upon her the eyes of all the nations? And yet she is extolled as if she hail been loftier than Olympus.” Let the Gentiles,” says Isaiah, “boast as much as they please of their lofty mountains; for they shall be nothing in comparison of that hill, though it be low and inconsiderable.” According to nature, this certainly was very improbable. What! shall Zion be hung up in the clouds? And therefore there can be no doubt that wicked men scoffed at this prediction; for ungodliness has always been ready to break forth against God.
Now the peculiarity which I have noticed tended to weaken the belief of this prediction; for when Zion, after the destruction of the temple, had fallen into the deepest disgrace, how could she rise again so suddenly? And yet it was not in vain that Isaiah prophesied; for at length this hill was actually raised above all the mountains, because from it was heard the voice of God, and sounded through the whole world, that it might lift us up to heaven; because from it the heavenly majesty of God shone brightly; and lastly, because, being the sanctuary of God, it surpassed the whole world in lofty excellence.
The use of this prophecy deserves our attention. It was, that Isaiah intended to bring consolation, which would support the minds of the people during the captivity; so that, although there should be no temple, and no sacrifices, and though all should be in ruins, still this hope would be cherished in the minds of the godly, and, amidst a condition so desolate and so shockingly ruinous, they would still reason thus: “The mountain of the Lord is indeed forsaken, but there he will yet have his habitation; and greater shall be the glory of this mountain than of all others.” To prevent them, therefore, from doubting that such would be the result, the Prophet has here, as it were, sketched a picture in which they might behold the glory of God; for although the mountain was still in existence, yet a disgraceful solitude made it almost an object of detestation, since it had lost its splendor in consequence of having been forsaken by God. But it was the duty of the pious to look not at those ruins, but at this vision. Moreover, the reason why he speaks in such lofty terms concerning the exaltation of Mount Zion is sufficiently evident from what follows; because thence proceeded the Gospel, in which the image of God shines. Other mountains might excel it in height; but as the glory of God has surpassing excellence, so the mountain in which he is manifested must also be highly distinguished. It was not, therefore, on her own account that he extolled Mount Zion, but in respect of her ornament, the splendor of which would be communicated to the whole world.
3. And many people shall go In the former verse he had slightly noticed the reason why Mount Zion would hold so high a rank. It was because all nations would flow to it, as if the rivers were overflowing through the great abundance of waters. He now makes the same statement, and assigns the reason; for it might be asked why various nations flocked to it in crowds from distant lands. He says, therefore, that the desire of serving God was their motive.
The word רבים, (rabbim,) many, implies a contrast; for it means that there will not be, as formerly, but one nation which devotes itself to the worship of the true God, but that those who formerly were strangers and foreigners (Ephesians 2:19) will come into the same agreement with them about religion; as if he had said that the Church, which had formerly been, as it were, shut up in a corner, would now be collected from every quarter. By the word many he meant various; for unquestionably he did not intend to weaken the force of what he had said a little before about all nations. Now, though this was never fulfilled, that the nations of the whole world, each of them leaving their native country, made a journey into Judea; yet, because the doctrine of the gospel, by which God hath gathered to himself a Church indiscriminately out of all nations, proceeded from Mount Zion, he justly says that they will come to it who having, with one consent of faith, embraced the covenant of eternal salvation, have been united into one Church. We must also observe the harmony between the figures of the law and that spiritual worship which began to be introduced at the coming of Christ.
And shall say, Come By these words he first declares that the godly will be filled with such an ardent desire to spread the doctrines of religion, that every one not satisfied with his own calling and his personal knowledge will desire to draw others along with him. And indeed nothing could be more inconsistent with the nature of faith than that deadness which would lead a man to disregard his brethren, and to keep the light of knowledge choked up within his own breast. The greater the eminence above others which any man has received from his calling so much the more diligently ought he to labor to enlighten others.
This points out to us also the ordinary method of collecting a Church, which is, by the outward voice of men; for though God might bring each person to himself by a secret influence, yet he employs the agency of men, that he may awaken in them an anxiety about the salvation of each other. By this method he likewise strengthens their mutual attachment, and puts to the test their willingness to receive instruction, when every one permits himself to be taught by others.
Next Isaiah shows that those who take upon them the office of teaching and exhorting should not sit down and command others, but should join and walk along with them as companions; as we see that some men are very severe instructors, and eager to urge others forward, who yet do not move a step. But here believers, instead of addressing to their brethren the command, Go up, rather lead the way by their own example. This is the true method, therefore, of profitable teaching, when, by actually performing what we demand, we make it evident that we speak with sincerity and earnestness.
And he will teach us in his ways 3636 And he will teach us his ways. — Eng. Ver. He shows, first, that God cannot be worshipped aright until we have been enlightened by doctrine; and, secondly, that God is the only teacher of the Church, on whose lips we ought to hang. Hence it follows that nothing is less acceptable to God than certain foolish and erring services which men call devotion and likewise, that though he employs the agency of men in teaching, still he reserves this as his own right, that they must utter nothing but his word. Had this rule been followed by those who called themselves teachers of the Church religion would not have been so shamefully corrupted by a wide and confused diversity of superstitions. Nor is it possible that we shall not be carried away into various errors, where we are tossed about by the opinions of men. Justly therefore, does Isaiah, when he claims for God alone the power and authority to teach the Church, shut the mouths of all mortals; so that the office of teaching is committed to pastors for no other purpose than that God alone may be heard there. Let those who wish to be reckoned ministers of Christ allow themselves to be regulated by this statement, that they may take nothing away from his authority.
The Hebrew words ויורנו מדרכיו (veyorenu midderachaiv) may be literally rendered, he will teach us OF his ways; which means, “He will show us what his ways are,” or, he will set before us his ways for a perfect instruction.
Next he adds obedience, we will walk in his paths, by which he points out both the object and the result; for the instruction which is delivered to us from the mouth of the Lord is not mere speculation, but directs the course of our life, and leads us to obey him. But we ought also to observe, that the commandments of God are called ways and paths, in order to inform us that they go miserably astray who turn aside from them in the smallest degree. Thus every kind of unlawful liberty is restrained, and all men, from the least even to the greatest, are enjoined to observe this rule of obedience, that they keep themselves within the limits of the word of God.
For out of Zion shalt go forth the law This is an explanation of the former verse, in which he said that Mount Zion will be placed above all mountains; that is, that she will be raised to the highest pitch of honor, when she shall become the fountain of saving doctrine, which shall flow out over the whole world. He calls it the law; but we have elsewhere spoken of the derivation and meaning of this word; for תורה (torah) means instruction, and the most complete of all kinds of instruction is contained in the law. He speaks, therefore, after the manner of the prophets; for since the rule of godliness was to be obtained from the law, they were wont, by a figure of speech, (synecdoche,) in which a part is taken for the whole, to include under the word law all the instruction which God has given; just as under the word altar they include the whole worship of God.
Now, since we know that this prediction was fulfilled, when the preaching of the gospel began at that very place, (for Christ first taught at Jerusalem, and afterwards his doctrine was spread throughout the whole world,) we must not take the word law in a limited sense; for at that time, as to its figures and bondage, it was rather abolished. (Luke 2:46; Mark 16:10; Ezekiel 47:1; Luke 24:47.) Hence we conclude that the term is applied, without limitation, to the word of God. And when the prophets say that waters will spring out of the temple to water the whole world, (Ezekiel 47:1,) they express metaphorically what Isaiah lays down in plain language; namely, that the source of saving doctrine will be from that place; for out of it the apostles and other teachers spread the gospel through the whole world.
We must observe the reason why the Prophet made these statements. It was, that he might fortify the godly against various changes, which otherwise, on manifold occasions, might have crushed their minds; and therefore it was of great importance to provide against offenses, and to fortify the minds of the godly. “Whatever may be the condition of your affairs, and though you should be oppressed by afflictions on all sides, still continue to cherish this assured hope, that the law will go forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; for this is an infallible decree of God, which no diversity or change of events will make void.”
How much the godly needed this consolation may be easily inferred from the course of events which immediately followed; for when Judea had been forsaken, the temple destroyed, the worship of Goal overturned, and the comely order of the Church utterly defaced while tyranny became more and more oppressive, it was natural that their minds should be discouraged, and that all hope should be thrown away. On the other hand, after the return of the Jews from Babylon, when dreadful superstitions gradually obtained prevalence, and the priests, instead of discharging their office in a lawful manner, grasped at wicked tyranny, what else could have occurred to the minds of the goodly than that religion had fallen into neglect, and that the worship of Goal was entirely laid aside, if they had not been supported by this promise? For there can be no doubt that this temptation, which arose out of internal vices, was more injurious than their banishment into Babylon. So long as they were exiles, they had at least prophets, by whose instruction they were encouraged; but in that state of corruption the good effect of instruction had been lost, and no regard was paid to religion or godliness. But by the aid of this prediction alone the Lord granted to them the support which they needed. For why had the law, which God appeared to have consecrated for himself in his own habitation, been thrown down and basely trampled under foot? Who, then, would have thought not only that it would have a place there, but that it would also reign in all foreign places, and in the most distant regions? On the other hand, the Prophet declares not only that the law will remain in its place, but that it will travel further; by which he means that it will not be confined within its former boundaries, for it will be proclaimed to the Gentiles without distinction.
And undoubtedly this had very great authority and weight with the Apostles, when they knew that they were appointed to perform those things which are here promised. Otherwise they would never have had courage enough to venture to undertake the office, and, in short, would not have been able to endure the burden, especially when the whole world furiously opposed them. But they knew that he by whom this had been promised, and from whom they had received authority to deliver this message, would easily remove every obstacle. It ought also to be observed that we obtain from it a strong confirmation of our faith, when we learn that the doctrine of the gospel came forth out of Zion; because we thence conclude that it is not new, or lately sprung up, but that it is the eternal truth of God, of which a testimony had been given in all ages before it was brought to light.
We also infer that it was necessary that all the ancient ceremonies should be abolished, and that a new form of teaching should be introduced, though the substance of the doctrine continue to be the same; for the law formerly proceeded out of Mount Sinai, (Exodus 19:20,) but now it proceeded out of Zion, and therefore it assumed a new form. Two things, therefore, must be observed; first, that the doctrine of God is the same, and always agrees with itself; that no one may charge God with changeableness, as if he were inconsistent; and though the law of the Lord be now the same that it ever was, yet it came out of Zion with a new garment; secondly, when ceremonies and shadows had been abolished, Christ was revealed, in whom the reality of them is perceived.
4. And he shall judge among the nations He means that the doctrine will be like a king’s scepter, that God may rule among all nations; for, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, the Hebrew word שפט, (shaphat,) to judge, means to govern or to reign. since, therefore, God had not taken more than one nation to be subject to his reign, the Prophet here shows that the boundaries of his kingdom will be enlarged, that he may rule over various nations. He likewise notices indirectly the difference between the kingdom of David, which was but a shadow, and this other kingdom, which would be far more excellent. At that time God ruled over his chosen people by the hand of David, but after the coming of Christ he began to reign by himself, that is, in the person of his only-begotten Son, who was truly God manifested in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16.) The prophets sometimes employ the name of David when they are speaking about the kingdom of Christ, and they do so with propriety, that is, with respect to his human nature; for the Redeemer had been promised to spring from that family. (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24.) But here the Prophet extols his divine majesty from which it is evident how much more excellent is the condition of the new Church than that of the ancient Church, since God hath revealed himself as King in his Son. And again he confirms the calling of the Gentiles, because Christ is not sent to the Jews only, that he may reign over them, but that he may hold his sway over the whole world.
And shall rebuke many nations The word יכח (yakach) sometimes means to expostulate, sometimes to correct, and likewise to prepare; but the ordinary interpretation is most suitable to this passage, in which the Prophet speaks of the reformation of the Church. For we need correction, that we may learn to submit ourselves to God; because, in consequence of the obstinacy which belongs to our nature, we shall never make progress in the word of God, till we have been subdued by violence. Accordingly, Christ makes the beginning of preaching the gospel to be, that the world be reproved concerning sin. (John 16:8.) That the doctrine may not be without profit, Isaiah shows that the stubbornness of our flesh must be subdued; and therefore he attributes to God the office of a reproving judge, that he may try our life, and, by condemning our vices, may effect a reformation of our morals. And, indeed, we see how little effect is produced by the gospel unless where that power of the Spirit is exercised which leads men to repentance.
And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares He next mentions the beneficial result which will follow, when Christ shall have brought the Gentiles and the nations under his dominion. Nothing is more desirable than peace; but while all imagine that they desire it, every one disturbs it by the madness of his lusts; for pride, and covetousness, and ambition, lead men to rise up in cruelty against each other. Since, therefore, men are naturally led away by their evil passions to disturb society, Isaiah here promises the correction of this evil; for, as the gospel is the doctrine of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:18,) which removes the enmity between us and God, so it brings men into peace and harmony with each other. The meaning amounts to this, that Christ’s people will be meek, and, laying aside fierceness, will be devoted to the pursuit of peace.
This has been improperly limited by some commentators to the time when Christ was born; because at that time, after the battle of Actium, the temple of Janus 3737 The temple of Janus was built by Numa Pompilius, whose wise and peaceful administration contrasts strongly with the bloody and ferocious wars by which many of the succeeding emperors endeavored to make themselves illustrious. It was expressly intended by its founder that this temple should repress the natural fierceness of the people by discouraging warlike operations. For this purpose the opening or shutting of its doors was made to indicate whether the Roman empire was in a condition of war or peace with the surrounding states. When war raged on all sides, all its doors stood open by night and by day; and the shutting of any one of them declared, that in that direction towards which it looked peace had been restored. Livy tells us, that so remarkable an event as the entire shutting up of this temple, which proclaimed that universal peace existed throughout the empire, had occurred but thrice during the long period of seven hundred years; once under the reign of Numa, next, during the consulship of Titus Manlius, and lastly, after the battle of Actium, in which the Emperor Augustus gained a splendid naval victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. (Liv. 1:19.) Historians have fixed the date of the latter event with extraordinary precision; and, while their only object was to pronounce a lofty panegyric on Augustus as the peculiar favourite of heaven, they have unintentionally recorded that the temple of Janus was shut up when the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) was ushered into the world. So striking a coincidence could not fail to attract observation, as belonging to the fullness of the time (Galatians 4:4) at which the Messiah appeared, and as one of the beautiful arrangements of him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. (Isaiah 28:29.) Rarely has chronology proved to be so delightful and instructive. — Ed. was closed, as appears from the histories. I readily admit that the universal peace which existed throughout the Roman empire, at the birth of Christ, was a token of that eternal peace which we enjoy in Christ. But the Prophet’s meaning was different. He meant that Christ makes such a reconciliation between God and men, that a comfortable state of peace exists among themselves, by putting an end to destructive wars. For if Christ be taken away, not only are we estranged from God, but we incessantly carry on open war with him, which is justly thrown back on our own heads; and the consequence is, that everything in the world is in disorder.
Besides, Isaiah promises that, when the gospel shall be published, it will be an excellent remedy for putting an end to quarrels; and not only so, but that, when resentments have been laid aside, men will be disposed to assist each other. For he does not merely say, swords shall be broken in pieces, but they shall be turned into mattocks; by which he shows that there will be so great a change that, instead of annoying one another, and committing various acts of injustice, as they had formerly done, they will henceforth cultivate peace and friendship, and will employ their exertions for the common advantage of all; for mattocks and pruning-hooks are instruments adapted to agriculture, and are profitable and necessary for the life of man. He therefore shows that, when Christ shall reign, those who formerly were hurried along by the love of doing mischief, will afterwards contend with each other, in every possible way, by acts of kindness.
Neither shall they practice war any more 3838 Neither shall they learn war any more. — Eng. Ver. The word למד (lamad) signifies either to be accustomed to, or to learn. But the meaning of the Prophet is plain enough, that they will not train themselves in destructive arts, and will not strive with each other in acts of cruelty and injustice, as they were formerly accustomed to do. Hence we infer that they have made little proficiency in the gospel, whose hearts have not been formed to meekness, and among whom there does not yet reign that brotherly love which leads men to perform kind offices to each other. But this cannot be done before the consciences have been brought into a state of peace with God; for we must begin there, in order that we may also be at peace with men.
Some madmen torture this passage to promote anarchy, (ἀναρχίαν) as if it took away from the Church entirely the right to use the sword, and bring it forward for condemning with great severity every kind of wars. For example, if a prince defend the people entrusted to him, and protect them against injustice, those people say, “It is unlawful for Christians to use the sword.” But it is easy to reply to this; for the Prophet speaks metaphorically about the kingdom of Christ, which leads men, through mutual kindness, to become reconciled to each other. The Scriptures frequently employ a metaphor, in which the thing signified is denoted by a sign; as in that passage,
He who hath not a sword, let him buy one. (Luke 22:36.)
Christ certainly did not intend to induce his followers to fight, but intimated that the time of war was at hand. 0n the other hand, we are told that swords shall cease to exist, or shall be beaten down to serve a different purpose, when hatred and fighting shall be at an end, and when they who formerly were at enmity shall be reconciled to each other.
It may be objected that, in a state of harmony and peace, the sword will no longer be needed. I reply, that peace exists among us just as far as the kingly power of Christ is acknowledged, and that these two things have a mutual relation. Would that Christ reigned entirely in us! for then would peace also have its perfect influence. But since we are still widely distant from the perfection of that peaceful reign, we must always think of making progress; and it is excessive folly not to consider that the kingdom of Christ here is only beginning. Besides, God did not gather a Church — by which is meant an assembly of godly men — so as to be separate from others; but the good are always mixed with the bad; and not only so, but the good have not yet reached the goal, and are widely distant from that perfection which is required from them. The fulfillment of this prophecy, therefore, in its full extent, must not be looked for on earth. It is enough, if we experience the beginning, and if, being reconciled to God through Christ, we cultivate mutual friendship, and abstain from doing harm to any one.
5. O house of Jacob He sharply rebukes the Jews by holding out the example of the Gentiles; for since, in consequence of the spread of his kingdom, God would give law to all nations from Mount Zion, so as to ingraft them into the body of his chosen people, nothing could be more strange than that the house of Jacob should revolt from him, and that, when strangers were drawing near, the members of the household, who ought to have been foremost, should withdraw. This is, therefore, not only an exceedingly vehement exhortation, but also a heavy and sharp complaint. Accordingly, he addresses them by an honorable name, saying, O house of Jacob, come; that he may express more strongly their ingratitude, which appeared in twist that though they were in the Church God’s first-born, they utterly renounced that right of inheritance which they held in common with others.
There is, therefore, an implied comparison, as if he had said, “Lo, the Gentiles flow together to Mount Zion, and every one exhorts and urges on his neighbor; they submit to receive instruction from God, and to be reproved by him and why do you, O Israelites, you who are the inheritance of God, why do you draw back? Shall the Gentiles submit to God, and shall you refuse to acknowledge his authority? Has so great a light been kindled in every part of the world, and shall you not be enlightened by it? Shall so many waters flow, and will you not drink? What madness is this, that when the Gentiles run so eagerly, you sit still in idleness?”
And we will walk in the light of the Lord When he adds we will walk, he means that the light is placed before their feet, but that they disregard it by shutting their eyes, and even extinguish it as far as lies in their power; and yet its brightness draws to it distant nations.
6. Surely thou hast forsaken thy people In these words he now plainly charges the people with having a perverse disposition; and he does this not in direct terms, but, as it were, bursting into astonishment, he suddenly breaks off his discourse, and, turning to God, exclaims, “Why should I waste words on a nation grown desperate, which thou, O Lord, hast justly rejected, because, giving itself up to idolatrous practices, it has treacherously departed from thy word?”
It may also be a prediction of punishment still future which he foresaw by the Spirit; as if he had said, That it was not wonderful if ruin and desolation were about to overtake Mount Zion on account of the great crimes of the nation. His design may have been, that so mournful a spectacle might not be the occasion of despair, and that those who were capable of being cured might be moved by repentance, and turn to God ere this calamity arrived. For while the prophets are heralds of God’s judgments, and threaten vengeance against the ungodly, they usually endeavor, at the same time, to bring as many as they can to some kind of repentance. The servants of God ought never to lay aside this disposition, which would lead them to endeavor to do good even to the reprobate, if that were possible. (2 Timothy 2:25.)
This passage ought to yield abundant consolation to godly teachers; for when we think that we are speaking to the deaf, we become faint, and are tempted to give up all exertion, and to say, “What am I about? I am beating the air.” Yet the Prophet does not cease to exhort those in whom he perceived no ground of comfortable hope; and while he stands like one astonished at this destruction of the people, he nevertheless addresses those whom he sees going to ruin. At the same time we must observe that, however obstinate the ungodly may be, we must pronounce vengeance against them; and though they refuse and gnaw the bridle, yet, that they may be left without excuse, we must always summon them to the judgment-seat of God.
I consider the כי (ki) to mean surely; 3939 In the English Version it is rendered therefore. — Ed. for this signification is more suitable, because he breaks off the exhortation which he had begun, and addresses God. And when he again calls them the house of Jacob, this is added for the purpose of imparting greater vehemence, as is usually done in a moving discourse; as if he had said, “This holy nation, which God had chosen, is now forsaken.”
Because they are replenished from the East As the Hebrew word קדם (kadem) sometimes denotes the east, and sometimes antiquity, it may be interpreted to mean that they were filled with ancient manners; because they had again brought into use those superstitions by which the land of Canaan was formerly infected. For we know that the prophets often reproach the nation of Israel with resembling the Canaanites more than they resembled Abraham and the rest of the holy fathers. And, indeed, because they had been brought into the possession of this land, when the ancient inhabitants had been driven out, in order that it might be cleansed from its pollution, and afterwards devoted to holiness, the refusal to change their wicked customs involved a twofold ingratitude. But as the other meaning — from the East — has been more generally adopted, I have chosen to retain it; though even in this view the commentators differ, for some consider the letter מ (mem) to denote comparison, and מקדם (mikkedem) to denote more than the inhabitants of thee East, while others adopt the simpler, and, as I think, the more correct view, that they were filled with the east, that is, with the vices which they had contracted from that quarter; for wicked imitation is amazingly contagious, and nothing is more natural than that corruptions should glide from one place into another more distant.
And with divinations, like the Philistines This clause explains the former more fully; for under divinations he includes, by synecdoche, the impostures of Satan to which heathen nations were addicted. The Prophet therefore means that they now differ in no respect from the Philistines, though God had separated them from that people by the privilege of his adoption; and this was sufficient to bring upon them the severest condemnation, that they had forgotten their calling, and polluted themselves with the corrupted and ungodly customs of the Gentiles. Hence it appears that to sin by the example of another contributes nothing to alleviate the guilt.
And have delighted in the children of strangers The last part of the verse is interpreted in various ways; because the phrase, the children of strangers, is viewed by some metaphorically, as denoting laws and customs; while others regard them as referring to marriages; because, by marrying indiscriminately women of foreign extraction, they had mingled their seed, so that there were many illegitimate children. Jerome gives a harsher exposition, that they polluted themselves by wicked lusts contrary to nature. For my own part, I have no doubt that by the children of strangers are meant foreign nations, and not figuratively the laws themselves. The crime charged against them by the Prophet therefore is, that, by endeavoring to please the Gentiles, they entangled themselves in their vices, and thus preferred not only mortal men, but wicked men, to God. He says that they delighted, because the desire or delight of wicked imitation effaced from their hearts the love of God and of sound doctrine.
7. Their land is filled with silver and gold We must attend to the order which the Prophet here observes; for he now enumerates the reasons why the Lord rejected his people. In the former verse he began with divinations and the customs of strangers; he now comes down to silver and gold; and afterwards he will speak of horses and chariots. There can be no doubt that, having first condemned idolatry, he reproves them, secondly, for covetousness, and, thirdly, for sinful trust, when men depart from God, and contrive for themselves vain grounds of confidence. It was not a thing in itself to be condemned, that this nation had abundance of gold and silver; but because they burned with insatiable covetousness, and trusted to horses and chariots, he justly reproves them.
The Hebrew particle ו (vau) is here viewed by some as denoting a contrast, supposing the meaning to be, and yet their land is filled with silver and gold. This would show the ingratitude of the people to be the greater, because, though they enjoyed an abundance of all good things, they betook themselves, as if their case had been desperate, to magical arts and to idols, which is much less excusable than if they had fled to them during their adversity; because, though they were fed to the full with an abundance of good things, yet they shook off the yoke of God. In this way he would aggravate the criminality of a nation that fled to idols freely and of their own accord, even though they were luxuriating in their abundance. But I do not receive this interpretation, for I think it too far-fetched. On the contrary, he includes in one continued enumeration the vices with which that nation was chargeable, covetousness, sinful confidence, and idolatry. Accordingly, though the opinion of those who explain it as a contrast be a true opinion, it does not harmonize with this passage.
And there is no end of their treasures Isaiah proceeds to illustrate more clearly and forcibly what he has formerly said; for, though it be not in itself sinful or blamable that a person should possess gold or silver, provided that he make a proper use of it, he properly launches out against that wicked desire and mad eagerness to accumulate money, which is most detestable. He says that there is no end, because their eagerness is insatiable, and goes beyond the bounds of nature. The same opinion must be formed about horses and chariots, for false confidence is here reproved. To prevent this evil, the Lord had forbidden kings to gather together a great multitude of horses or chariots, lest, trusting to them, they should cause the people to return to Egypt. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) since, therefore, it is difficult for men to have resources of this kind in abundance without being also lifted up with pride, it was the will of God that his people should not have them at all, or at least should be satisfied with a moderate share.
8. Their land is also full of idols He repeats what he had already noticed about idolatry, but enters into it more fully; and, having first mentioned the subject itself, he next speaks of the use of it, which almost always follows. It seldom happens that we do not abuse idols when they are set up among us, for it is as when fire has been applied to a pile of wood, which must immediately burn; and wood is not more ready to be set on fire than we are to follow superstition. In the Hebrew language idols are very properly denominated by the word אלילים, (elilim) which the Prophet here employs, for they are empty things, and of no value. 4040 “So called,” says Buxtorf, “because they are absolutely nothing, agreeably to that saying of the Apostle, an idol is nothing in the world,” (1 Corinthians 8:4.) רפאי אלל, (rophee elil) physicians of no value, (Job 13:4,) is an instance of the literal use of the word. — Ed And undoubtedly the Holy Spirit intended by this word to reprove the madness of men who imagined that, by relying on such inventions, they approached nearer to God; as the papists of the present day, in order to plead for the usefulness of their idols, boast that they are the books of the unlearned: but we ought rather to believe the testimony of the Holy Spirit; and even the facts themselves plainly show what advantage the unlearned derive from them; for, led away by gross fancies, they imagine to themselves earthly and carnal gods. Hence Jeremiah justly declares not only that idols are useless, but that they are teachers of falsehood and lies. (Jeremiah 10:14.)
And they have bowed down 4141 They worship. — Eng. Ver. before the work of their own hands We must also attend to this description, in which the Prophet relates that the people bowed down before the works of their own hands; for how stupid was it that men should not only worship wood and stone instead of God, but should honor their own workmanship with the appellation of Deity, which they cannot bestow on themselves! It is truly shocking and monstrous that, as soon as a block of wood which lay neglected has received the finishing-stroke from a mortal man, he presently worships it as if it had been made a God. Although the Prophet addresses the ancient people, the same reasoning applies to the papists, who acknowledge no majesty of God but in the works of their own hands.
Before that which their own fingers have made The repetition is emphatic, and to the hands he adds the fingers, in order to exhibit more strongly the grossness of the crime. We must also attend to the mode of expression, which denotes adoration by means of outward gesture; not that it is unlawful among men to bend the knee or the head for the sake of paying public respect, but because he who bows down before an idol professes to render divine worship. Consequently, the silly talk of papists about that adoration which they call Dulia 4242 The popish distinction between an inferior kind of adoration, called δουλεία and a higher kind of adoration, called λατρεία, is illustrated and refuted by our Author, in the Institutes, vol. 1, p. 141, and in the Harmony of the Evangelists, vol. 1, p. 221. — Ed (δουλεία) is a childish evasion; for when the Prophet speaks of religious worship he condemns universally every token of homage. 4343 That is, of homage paid to idols. — Ed.
9. And the mean man boweth down Some commentators read these words in immediate connection with what goes before, as if the Prophet were proceeding still farther to show the extent of their criminality. If we adopt this meaning, then by the mean man and the mighty man we must understand all the Israelites; as if the Prophet said that no man is pure and free from this stain. Others not improperly are of opinion that he repeats in other words what he had said about punishment, and that in this way he expresses the destruction which awaits a people forsaken by God. This will agree best with the scope of the passage, that all, both small and great, will speedily be overtaken by the ruin which lays low a whole nation; because amidst so great wickedness there was no reason to expect deliverance from the vengeance of God.
Besides, in those two expressions, bow down and humble, there is a rapid allusion to that bowing down which he mentioned a little before, as if he had said, “They have bowed themselves down before idols, therefore God will lay them low under a vast weight of calamities.” Yet I have no doubt that he likewise attacks their pride; for it was difficult to believe that a nation so abundantly supplied with wealth would, in a short period, be overwhelmed by calamities.
Therefore forgive them not; or, thou wilt not forgive them. This latter clause is explained in two ways, though it does not much affect the real meaning which of the views you adopt; for the design of the Prophet is to show that towards such obstinate men God will not be appeased. If it be taken in the future tense, thou wilt not forgive them, the meaning will be more easily brought out; but if it be taken as a prayer, forgive them not, it will amount to the same thing; for we know that, when the prophets, inflamed by zeal for God, pour out prayers as under the dictation of the Spirit, they threaten just punishment against the ungodly: and we need not wonder that the Prophets offended by crimes so numerous and so shocking, kindles into such warmth that he consigns his countrymen to destruction; for nothing was more dear to him than the sacred honor of God. But at the same time it must be understood that he makes a tacit reservation of a remnant; because he does not here speak of every individual, but of the body of the people, which was so deeply infected by its vices that there was no hope of cure; otherwise it would have been unreasonable to give exhortations to repentance, and to hold out the hope of pardon to men who were incurable and thoroughly obstinate. The meaning therefore amounts to this, that the restoration of a new Church must not be expected till God has executed his judgments by destroying the temple.
10. Enter into the rock As ungodly men, for the most part, lull themselves in excessive indifference about God’s threatenings, it is customary with the prophets, when they threaten sinners, with the view of producing terror, to add lively descriptions, as if for the purpose of bringing those matters under the immediate view of men. This is the reason why the Prophet now bids despisers of God enter into the rocks and caves, to conceal themselves under ground. And, first, he means that the judgment of God is more to be dreaded than a thousand deaths, and that for the sake of escaping that judgment it were to be wished that they should go down into the grave. But, by addressing men themselves, he gives a more impressive illustration of the weight of the divine vengeance.
From the dread of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty Although by the dread of God he means the scourges by which God would take vengeance on a wicked people, yet it is not without good reason that he immediately adds, his magnificent glory; as if he had said, “It is according to the measure of his own glory that God ought to be dreaded by the ungodly, in whose destruction he displays his boundless power.” But though the ungodly are not reformed or made to bow down by any punishment, they are forced to tremble when they feel the presence of the wrath of God. In quite a different manner do punishments instruct the elect to fear God; for, in consequence of being subdued by strokes, they learn to bear the yoke. Isaiah therefore declares that the glory of God will be more illustriously displayed when he shall come forth as a righteous judge; for when he conceals himself he is not observed, and they scarcely think of his existence.
Hence let pastors learn how they ought to deal with drowsy consciences, which must be awakened by the judgment of God, that they may regard that judgment with actual dread. Though we often sing to the deaf, yet terror pierces even hearts of iron, so that they are without excuse. Frequently, too, it happens that some are healed; and in like manner believers gain advantage from it, when they learn the terrific forms of punishment which await the ungodly and reprobate.
11 The loftiness of the looks of man 4444 The lofty looks of man. — Eng. Ver. shall be humbled Wicked men, relying on the wealth and quietness and prosperity which they at present enjoy, regard the threatenings of the Prophets with haughty disdain, and thus harden their hearts against God, and are even led to indulge in wantonness. 0n this account, Isaiah here determines, as we have already said, to repress their arrogance; as if he had said, “The time will come when this pride of yours, by which you vainly and madly contend against God, shall be brought down.” For wicked men, though they pretend to have some religion, are yet so daring that they raze against God himself, and imagine that they are higher than God. On the other hand, by thundering against them, he lays low their haughtiness, that he alone may be exalted.
And this is what we have already said, that when crimes are allowed to pass unpunished, it is a sort of cloud held before our eyes, which hinders us from beholding the glory of the Lord; but when he takes vengeance on men’s transgressions, his glory shines forth illustriously. This is also the reason which Solomon assigns why wicked men are hardened against God: it is because they think that bad and good men are equally happy in this world.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil, (Ecclesiastes 8:11;)
for all of them grow more insolent, and are more and more blinded.
But here he shows that, when proud men shall have been brought to their proper level, there will be nothing to prevent God from being acknowledged to be what he is. It was indeed highly becoming that the people should, of their own accord, humbly behold the greatness of God, under whose shadow they were defended; and for this purpose the posterity of Abraham was so remarkably distinguished by numerous blessings, that it might be the mirror of the glory and holiness of God. Isaiah now threatens that, because the Jews have risen up against him, God will employ a new method of exalting his glory, that is, by their destruction. When he speaks of lofty looks and loftiness, he employs an outward gesture to denote the inward pride of the mind; for sinful confidence almost always betrays, by the very looks, a contempt of God and of men. In the same sense does David describe the man whose eyes are lofty. (Psalm 101:5.)
12. For the day of the LORD of hosts will be on every one that is proud and lofty In this verse he confirms the same thing more fully and from the vehement manner in which he heaps up words, we may easily infer how bold was the wickedness which at that time abounded. But we shall not wonder that he labors so hard to subdue the arrogance of men, if we consider how difficult it is to bend the stubbornness of those who, relying on their wealth, are afraid of nothing, and who suppose that the design of their elevated rank is, that whatever they do shall pass unpunished. For even at the present day we experience how sensitive and passionate those men are who make arrogant claims for themselves, and how obstinately they reject all admonitions. And this is also the reason why the Prophet uses sharp language against theme instead of threatening vengeance, in general terms, against the whole nation.
Yet it is not against the princes alone, whose high rank raised them far above other men, that his invectives are launched; for not only they, but even persons of the lowest rank, often swell with pride; and, as the common proverb runs, “Every man carries within him the heart of a king.” In like manner, we find that even the basest persons, if you do but prick them with a pill, vomit out the poison of intolerable arrogance. Since, therefore, this vice was so widely spread, Isaiah includes both the highest and the lowest of the people, declaring that in proportion to the forbearance which God had exercised toward them is the severity of the impending judgment; for, in consequence of their abundance, their hearts had swollen to fierceness.
Moreover, though the letter ל, (lamed,) 4545 ליהוה The natural rendering of “Quoniam dies Iehovae exercituum super omnem superbum et exelsum erit“ appears to be what I have given above, for the day of the Lord of hosts will be on every one that is proud and lofty. But if Jehovae be in the dative, and not in the genitive case, the ambiguity might have been partly removed by some such collocation as the following: — Quoniam Jehovae exercituum erit dies, which might have meant, For to the Lord of hosts there will be a day, or, the Lord of hosts will have a day; and such an emphatic meaning of the phrase must have been intended by our author. — Ed which is the sign of the dative case, be sometimes superfluous, yet in this passage it retains its force; for it would appear that Isaiah appoints a fixed day, as usually happens in judicial trials. Accordingly, I interpret it to mean that God himself hath previously appointed a day on which proud men must be summoned to the judgment-seat of God, to receive a sentence of condemnation.
We may also learn from these words that God avows himself to be the enemy of all the proud. This appointing of a day is therefore to the same effect as if God declared that he cannot endure men wickedly to indulge in pride, and that they who unduly exalt themselves cannot escape being crushed by his hand. And if our minds were sincerely convinced of this, who would not abhor pride, which provokes the anger of God against us? If any person choose rather to interpret (superbum et elatum) proud and lofty as in the neuter gender, meaning that which is proud and lofty, we must understand them to refer to the fortresses, bulwarks, and fortifications; but the rules of grammar do not admit of their being applied in any other way than to persons.
13. Upon all the cedars of Lebanon The allegory which is here introduced, about the trees of Lebanon and the lofty mountains, instead of obscuring, sheds light on the subject; for however high may be the wishes or endeavors of a mortal man, yet he will never be able to reach the height of the mountains and the lofty trees, which it is as easy for God to throw down as for a breath of wind to scatter the fallen leaves. Accordingly, in what may be called a painting, Isaiah shows to proud men how idle and foolish they are in believing that their elevation will be their defense. There is also an implied exaggeration, which must have contributed to heighten the terror. It cannot be supposed that God is actually angry with the mountains and trees, or that, having changed his purpose, he throws down what he has built up; but in the harmless creatures Isaiah holds out to view the judgment of God, in order more fully to convince wicked and unprincipled men that their presumption will not pass unpunished. Thus we see the reason why he mixes up the metaphors of cedars, oaks, and mountains
15. And upon every lofty tower What he adds about towers and walls is not figurative or metaphorical. We know how men, when they think that they are well defended, congratulate themselves that they no longer need the assistance of God. Accordingly, under the name of towers and walls Isaiah mentions the object of false confidence; for if any place seem to be impregnable, there do irreligious men build their nest, that they may look down from it on heaven and earth; for they imagine that they are placed beyond all the uncertainties of fortune. Isaiah therefore threatens that, when it shall please God to humble men, he will throw down all the defenses on which they place a false confidence. And although those things are not in themselves evil, yet because they receive too large a share of our attention, it is with great propriety that Isaiah sharpens his pen against them.
To the same purpose is what he says about horses and chariots; for, as we are told by Micah, because men have improperly relied on earthly riches, they must be altogether deprived of them, that they may owe this preservation entirely to the hand of God. (Micah 5:10.) A little before, he had reproved them for the abundance of their horses (verse 7); he now addresses them about the judgment of God, and warns them that, as the only possible way of gaining the favor of God, he must take from the Jews all their horsemen, that they may no longer place sinful reliance on earthly support.
16. And upon all ships of Tarshish Tarshish was unquestionably the Hebrew name for Cilicia; and as the Jews had much traffic with that nation, Scripture frequently mentions the ships of Tarshish, which are so called, because they sailed on that sea. Navigation cannot, indeed, be condemned on its own account; for, by importing and exporting articles of merchandise, it is of great advantage to mankind. Nor can any fault be found with this mode of intercourse between nations; for it is the will of God that the whole human race should be joined together by, mutual acts of kindness. But as it most frequently happens that abundance leads to pride and cruelty, Isaiah reproves this kind of merchandise, which was the chief source of the wealth of the land. Besides, in that merchandise which is carried on with distant and foreign nations, there is often a large amount of tricks and dishonesty, and no limit set to the desire of gain. First, then, Isaiah means that the Jews will be deprived of riches, that they may learn to submit to God. Secondly, he describes covetousness and unlawful gains by means of a sign, as if one were to express murder by holding out a bloody sword.
And upon elegant pictures This second part of the verse shows still more clearly that the Prophet condemns navigation, which had brought many corruptions into the land. It is too frequent and common that riches are followed by luxury, effeminacy, and a superfluity of pleasures, which we commonly see in wealthy countries and commercial cities; for those who trade by sea in distant countries are not satisfied with the commodities obtained at home, but carry away new luxuries which were formerly unknown. Since, therefore, wealth is usually the mother of superfluity, the Prophet here mentions costly furniture, as if he had said that the Jews, by adorning their houses at great expense, draw down upon themselves the judgment of God; for he employs the word pictures, by a well-known figure of speech, to denote rich tapestry, and the productions of Phrygia, and vessels framed with consummate skill
It is certain that the manners of men are corrupted, when they eagerly pursue, in every direction, superfluous enjoyments And we see how destruction was brought on the Roman Empire by delicacies of this nature; for before they traveled into Greece, the greatest moderation prevailed among them; and no sooner had Asia been vanquished than they began to grow soft and effeminate; and when their eyes were dazzled by pictures, furniture, precious stones, and tapestry and their nostrils regaled by ointments and perfumes, all their senses were immediately overpowered, and, by imitating the luxury of the East as a higher form of civilization, they began gradually to indulge in every kind of debauchery.
17. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down The Prophet declares that he had his eye on men, when he described the various kinds of loftiness; for God is not displeased saith the steep mountains or tall cedars, which he created, but informs us that the whole evil lies in men, who vainly trust to what is high and lofty. It may be objected, that it frequently happens that wicked men are not rendered more humble by chastisement, but, on the contrary, become more fierce and obstinate, as is evident from the case of Pharaohs whose hardness of heart no plagues could subdue, (Exodus 8:15, and 9:34;) and consequently that what the Prophet here threatens does not always take place. I reply, he does not describe the effect of chastisement, as if God bent rebellious men to obey hills; but the meaning of this passage is, that, although the hearts of the reprobate be not changed, yet the Lord will not cease to inflict punishment upon them, till their haughtiness and presumption are brought low. For, trusting to their wealth and fortifications, they congratulate themselves, as we have said, on their safety, and do not fear God. But whatever may be the nature of their defenses, the Lord will easily subdue and lay them low, and that not only by one or another chastisement, but by chastisements so numerous and so severe, that they will at length be beaten down and subdued, will cease to rise up against him, and will acknowledge that they gain nothing by their insolence and presumption. The next clause, and the LORD alone shall be exalted, has been already explained.
18 And the idols he will utterly abolish As he had formerly, in his reproof, joined idolatry with luxury and covetousness, and other views; so he now joins them in the threatening of punishment.
19. And they shall enter into the holes of the rocks He had formerly used other words when addressing them in the second person, Enter into the rock, (verse 10,) that he might inflict a severer stroke on their minds. But now he declares what they will do, and says that they must enter; and hence it is evident that the former statement was not an exhortation, but a severe denunciation of the wrath of God, in order to terrify wicked and obstinate men, who despise all warnings and all threatenings.
From the presence of the terror of Jehovah, and from the glory of his majesty What he adds about the terror of God must be understood to mean that terror which was thrown into them by the Chaldeans and Assyrians, whose hand he called a little before, and now also calls, the glory of God for God employed their agency to chastise his people. Although they were wicked and treacherous, yet they promoted the glory of God; for even the devil himself contributes in some way to the glory of God, though contrary to his wish. Thus he speaks of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, because in the punishments which the Lord will inflict on the Jews by their agency we may behold his glory
The same thing is confirmed by the word Arise, which means to go before the judgment-seat. In the phrase which immediately follows, לערץ הארף, (laarotz haaretz,) to shake terribly the earth, there is an elegant allusion or play on words, which can hardly be conveyed in any other language. 4646 The “play on words,” which turns entirely on the sound of the Hebrew noun and verb, cannot be expressed in a translation. Our author has illustrated it by ad terram terrendam, which again may be fully imitated by this alliteration, “to terrify the terrestrial globe.” — Ed. He says that the Lord ariseth, because he appears to sleep so long as he delays his judgments. But he ariseth, when he comes forth as a judge to inflict punishments on the wicked; so as to make it evident to men that nothing escapes the knowledge, or is hidden from the eyes, of Him who permits no crime to pass unpunished.
20. In that day a man will cast away his idols Idolaters are amazingly delighted with their own superstitions and ungodly worship; for although they abound in enormities and crimes, still they betake themselves to this refuge, that they imagine that their worship appeases God. Just as in the present day, if we should represent the crimes and lawless passions of every kind which abound among the papists, they certainly will not be able to deny our statements, but will flatter themselves on this ground, that they have a plausible form of worship, and will believe that this vail covers all their crimes. Accordingly, the Prophet deprives idolaters of this cloak, and threatens that they will no longer be able to conceal their pollution; for the Lord will compel them to throw away their idols, that they may acknowledge that they had no good reason for placing their hope and confidence in them.
In short, they will be ashamed of their foolishness; for in prosperity they think that they enjoy the favor of God, as if he showed that he takes delight in their worship; and they cannot be convinced to the contrary, until God actually make evident how greatly he abhors them. It is only when they are brought into adversity that they begin to acknowledge their wickedness, as Hosea strikingly illustrates by comparing them to whores, who do not acknowledge their wickedness so long as they make gain, and live in splendor, but who, when they are deprived of those enjoyments, and forsaken by their lovers, begin to think of their wretchedness and disgrace, and enter into the way of repentance, of which they had never thought while they enjoyed luxury. (Hosea 2:5.) The same thing almost always happens with idolaters, who are not ashamed of their wickedness, so as to cast away their idols, until they have been visited by very sore distress, and made almost to think that they are ruined.
Which they made; that is, which were made for them by the agency of workmen. Nor was this all unnecessary addition; for he means that pretended gods are not entitled to adoration: and what sort of gods can they be that have been made by men, seeing that God exists from himself, and never had a beginning? It is therefore highly foolish, and contrary to reason, that men should worship the work of their own hands. So then by this expression, he aggravates their criminality, that idols, though they are composed of gold or silver, or some other perishable material, and have been manufactured by men, are yet worshipped instead of God; and at the same time he states the reason why they are displeasing to God: it is, because they are worshipped. On what pretense will the papists now excuse their ungodliness? for they cannot deny that they render adoration to images; and wherever such worship is performed, there ungodliness is clearly proved.
Into the holes of the moles and of the bats By the holes of the moles he means any filthy places in which they are disgracefully concealed.
21. And they shall enter into the clefts of the rocks This repetition is not superfluous, though Isaiah again employs the same words which he had lately used; for what is so difficult as to impress on the minds of men sincere fear of God? Nor is it only in hypocrites that we perceive this, but in ourselves, if we bestow careful attention; for how many things are presented to us by which our minds ought to be deeply affected, and yet we are scarcely moved! More especially, it was necessary that this judgment of God should be earnestly placed before hypocrites, who took delight in wickedness. But now he points out the severity of God’s vengeance by this consideration, that the ungodly choose rather to be swallowed up by the deepest gulfs than to come under the eye of God. This, too, is the passage from which Christ borrowed the threatening which he pronounces on the Jews,
In that day shall they say to the mountains cover us; and to the hills, Hide us. (Luke 23:30.)
22 Cease therefore from man These words are clearly connected with what goes before, and have been improperly separated from them by some interpreters. For Isaiah, after having addressed the ungodly in threatenings concerning the judgment of God, exhorts them to refrain from deluding themselves by groundless confidence; as if he had said, “I see that you are blinded and intoxicated by false hope, so that no argument can prevail with you; and this you do, because you claim too much for yourselves. But man is nothing; and you have to do with God, who can reduce the whole world to nothing by a single act of his will.”
Whose breath is in his nostrils The former part of the verse is explained in various ways; for some interpret it as referring to Christ, and view the word רוח, (ruach,) which we render breath, as denoting violence, by a comparison which is frequently used in other parts of Scripture; 4747 In 1 Kings 19:11 רוח (ruach) signifies wind, which the accompanying epithets show to have been strong and violent. — Ed and the nostril as denoting anger, because the outward sign of anger is in the nostrils. They bring out the meaning in this manner: “Beware of provoking the anger of Christ.” 4848 Instead of rendering, Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, they would render, Cease from the man who is terrible in his wrath. — Ed. But if we examine the passage closely, that exposition will be found to be at variance with the meaning of the words.
Others understand it as relating to men in general, but explain it by that saving, Fear not them who kill the body. (Matthew 10:28.) But neither can this interpretation be admitted, which does not agree either with the time or the occasion, since there was no reason for dissuading them from the fear of men. But, as I have already said, the context will quickly remove all doubt; for the commencement of the following chapter clearly explains and confirms what is here stated; and he who made this division has improperly separated those things which ought to have been joined together. For the Prophet is about to add, “The Lord will take from you those things which so highly elevate your minds, and put you in such high spirits. Your confidence is foolish and groundless. “Such is the connection of what he now says, “Cease therefore from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.”
But first we must see what is meant by breath in the nostril. It denotes human weakness, or, that the life of man is like a breath, which immediately vanishes away. And as David says,
“If the Lord take away the breath, man returns to the dust.”
“His breath will go out, and he will return to his earth.”
“They are flesh, a breath that passeth away and cometh not again.” (Psalm 78:39.)
Since, therefore, nothing is more weak or frail than our life, what means that confidence, as if our strength were deeply rooted? We ought therefore to cease from man; that is, we ought to lay aside groundless confidence; because man has his breath in his nostril, for when his breath goes out, he is immediately dissolved like water. We speak here of the breath of life, for nothing is more frail.
Besides, when we are forbidden to place confidence in men, let us begin with ourselves; that is, let us not in any respect trust to our own wisdom or industry. Secondly, let us not depend on the aid of man, or on any creature; but let us place our whole confidence in the Lord. Cursed. says Jeremiah, is he who trusteth in man, and who placeth his strength and his aid in flesh, that is, in outward resources. (Jeremiah 17:5.)
For wherein is he to be accounted of? This is the true method of repressing haughtiness. Nothing is left to men on which they ought to congratulate themselves; for the meaning is as if the Prophet had said that the whole glory of the flesh is of no value. It ought also to be observed that this is spoken comparatively, in order to inform us, that if there be in us anything excellent, it is not our own, but is held by us at the will of another. We know that God has adorned the human race with gifts which ought not to be despised. We know, also, that some excel others; but as the greater part of men neglect God, and flatter themselves beyond measure; and as irreligious men go so far as to think that they are more than gods, Isaiah wisely separates men from God, which the Holy Spirit also does in many other parts of Scripture: for when we look at them in themselves, we perceive more fully the frail, and fading, and transitory nature of their condition. Accordingly, as soon as men begin to make the smallest claim for themselves, they ought to have an opportunity of perceiving their vanity, that they may acknowledge themselves to be nothing. This single expression throws down the pompous applauses of free-will and merits, by which papists extol themselves in opposition to the grace of God. That intoxicated self-love, in which irreligious men indulge, is also shaken off. Lastly, we are brought back to God, the Author of every blessing, that we may not suppose that anything excellent is to be found but in hilly for he has not received what is due to hilly until the world has been stripped of all wisdom, and strength, and righteousness, and, in a word, of all praise.