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A Prophecy of Deliverance from Foes
Ah, you destroyer,
who yourself have not been destroyed;
you treacherous one,
with whom no one has dealt treacherously!
When you have ceased to destroy,
you will be destroyed;
and when you have stopped dealing treacherously,
you will be dealt with treacherously.
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
our salvation in the time of trouble.
At the sound of tumult, peoples fled;
before your majesty, nations scattered.
Spoil was gathered as the caterpillar gathers;
as locusts leap, they leaped upon it.
The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high;
he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;
he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.
Listen! the valiant cry in the streets;
the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,
travelers have quit the road.
The treaty is broken,
its oaths are despised,
its obligation is disregarded.
The land mourns and languishes;
Lebanon is confounded and withers away;
Sharon is like a desert;
and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves.
“Now I will arise,” says the Lord,
“now I will lift myself up;
now I will be exalted.
You conceive chaff, you bring forth stubble;
your breath is a fire that will consume you.
And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,
like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.”
Hear, you who are far away, what I have done;
and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can live with the devouring fire?
Who among us can live with everlasting flames?”
Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly,
who despise the gain of oppression,
who wave away a bribe instead of accepting it,
who stop their ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shut their eyes from looking on evil,
they will live on the heights;
their refuge will be the fortresses of rocks;
their food will be supplied, their water assured.
The Land of the Majestic King
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty;
they will behold a land that stretches far away.
Your mind will muse on the terror:
“Where is the one who counted?
Where is the one who weighed the tribute?
Where is the one who counted the towers?”
No longer will you see the insolent people,
the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
stammering in a language that you cannot understand.
Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!
Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a quiet habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be pulled up,
and none of whose ropes will be broken.
But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor stately ship can pass.
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,
the Lord is our king; he will save us.
Your rigging hangs loose;
it cannot hold the mast firm in its place,
or keep the sail spread out.
Then prey and spoil in abundance will be divided;
even the lame will fall to plundering.
And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”;
the people who live there will be forgiven their iniquity.
1. Wo to thee that spoilest. If these words shall be expounded as relating to the Babylonians, the strain will flow easily enough; for, after having promised freedom to the prisoners, (Isaiah 32:15,) he now appropriately taunts the conquerors. Besides, they needed to be peculiarly confirmed, that they might give credit to a prediction which appeared to be incredible; for they could not think it probable that such vast power would be destroyed and overthrown, and that, the wretched prisoners who were now in a state of despair would speedily be permitted to return to their native country. Amidst such distresses, therefore, they might have fainted and given up all hope of safety, if the Prophet had not met them with these exhortations. Accordingly, he anticipates those doubts which might have tormented their minds and tempted them to despair, after having been carried away by the Babylonians, and reduced to slavery; for they saw none of those things which are here promised, but everything entirely opposite.
Yet, as it is almost universally agreed that this is the beginning of a new discourse, and that it is addressed to Sennacherib and his army, I am not unwilling to believe that the Prophet pronounces against the Assyrians, who unjustly oppressed all their neighbors, a threatening which was intended to alleviate the distresses and anxieties of the people. He therefore means that there will be a wonderful revolution of affairs, which will overthrow the flourishing condition of Nineveh, though it appears to be invincible; for the Babylonians will come in a hostile manner to punish them for that cruelty which they exercised on other nations.
In order to impart greater energy to this discourse, he addresses the Assyrians themselves, “Wo to thee that plunderest; you may now ravage with impunity; no one has power to resist you; but there will one day be those who in their turn shall plunder you, as you have plundered others.” He speaks to them in the singular number, but in a collective sense, which is very customary. Others read it as a question, “Shalt thou not be spoiled? Dost thou think that thou wilt never be punished for that violence? There will one day be those who will render to thee the like.” But we may follow the ordinary exposition, according to which the Prophet exhibits in a striking light the injustice of enemies, who were so eager for plunder that they spared nobody, not even the innocent who had never injured them; for that is a demonstration of the utmost cruelty. I am therefore the more disposed to adopt this exposition, according to which he describes in this first clause what the Assyrians are, shews them to be base and cruel robbers, and gives a strong exhibition of their cruelty in harassing and pillaging harmless and inoffensive persons; so that, when the Jews beheld such unrestrained injustice, they might consider that God is just, and that such proceedings will not always pass unpunished.
When thou shalt have ceased to plunder. This is the second clause of the sentence, by which the Prophet declares that the Assyrians now plunder, because God has given loose reins to them, but that he will one day check them, so that they will have no power to do injury. If we were to understand him to mean, “when they would no longer wish to plunder,” that would be a feeble interpretation; but the Prophet advances higher, and declares that the time will come “when they shall make an end of plundering,” because the Lord will restrain and subdue them. The meaning is therefore the same as if he had said, “When thou shalt have reached the height;” for we see that tyrants have boundaries assigned to them which they cannot pass. Their career is rapid, so long as they keep their course; but as soon as the goal, their utmost limit, has been reached, they must stop.
Let us cheer our hearts with this consolation, when we see tyrants insolently and fiercely attack the Church of God; for the Lord will at length compel them to stop, and the more cruel they have been, the more severely will they be punished. The Lord will destroy them in a moment; for he will raise up against them enemies who will instantly ruin and punish them for their iniquities.
Here we ought also to acknowledge the providence of God in the overthrow of kingdoms; for wicked men imagine that everything moves at random and by the blind violence of fortune; but we ought to take quite another view, for the Lord will repay their deserts, so that they shall be made to know that the cruelty which they exercised against inoffensive persons does not remain unrevenged. And the event shewed the truth of this prediction; for not long afterwards Nineveh was conquered by the Babylonians, and lost the monarchy, and was even so completely destroyed that it lost its name. But as Babylon, who succeeded in her room, was not less a “spoiler,” the Prophet justly foretells that there will be other robbers to rob her, and that the Babylonians, when their monarchy shall be overthrown, will themselves be plundered of those things which they seized and pillaged from others.
2. O Jehovah, have pity upon us. This sentiment was added by the Prophet, in order to remind the godly where they ought to go amidst such distresses, even when they shall appear to be deprived of all hope of safety; that they ought to betake themselves to prayer, to supplicate from God the fulfillment of these promises, even when they shall be most wretched, and when the power of the enemy to oppress them cruelly shall be very formidable. And here we ought carefully to observe the order which the Prophet has followed, in first exhibiting the promise of God and immediately exhorting to prayer. Not only so, but he breaks off the stream of his discourse, and suddenly bursts out into prayer; for although the Lord hastens to perform what he has promised, yet he delays for a time, in order to exercise our patience. But when we ought to wait, there is found in us no steadfastness or perseverance; our hearts immediately faint and languish. We ought, therefore, to have recourse to prayer, which alone can support and gladden our hearts, while we look earnestly towards God, by whose guidance alone we shall be delivered from our distresses. Yet let us patiently, with unshaken hope and confidence, expect what he has promised to us; for at length he will shew that he is faithful, and will not disappoint us.
At the same time the Prophet bids us not only consider in general the judgment of God against the Assyrians, but God’s fatherly kindness towards his chosen people; as if he had said that the Assyrians will be destroyed, not only that they may receive the just reward of their avarice and cruelty, but because in this manner God will be pleased to provide for the safety of his Church. But while he exhorts us to pray for mercy, he likewise declares that we shall be miserable.
In thee have we hoped. In order to cherish the hope of obtaining favor, believers next declare that they “have hoped in God,” on whom they now call; and indeed our prayers must be idle and useless, if they are not founded on this principle.
“Let thy mercy be upon us,” saith David,
“according as we have hoped in thee.” (Psalm 33:22.)
For to go into the presence of God, if he did not open up the way by his word, would be excessively rash; and, therefore, as he kindly and gently invites us, so we ought to embrace his word, whenever we approach to him. Besides, patience must be added to faith; and, therefore, when faith is taken away, we do not deserve that the Lord should hear us, for it is by faith that we call upon him. Now faith alone is the mother of calling on God, as is frequently declared in many passages of Scripture; and if faith be wanting, there can be nothing left in us but hypocrisy, than which nothing is more abhorred by God. (Romans 10:14.)
And hence it is evident that there is no Christianity in the whole of Popery; for if the chief part of the worship of God consists of prayer, and if they know not what it is to pray, (for they bid us continually doubt, and even accuse of rashness the faith of the godly,) what kind of worshippers of God are they? Can that prayer be lawful which is perplexed by uncertainty, and which does not rely with firm confidence on the promises of God? Do
not those Rabbins, who wish to be reckoned theologians, shew that they are mere babes? Certainly our children excel them in knowledge and in the true light of godliness.
“Certainement nos enfans sont plus savans et religieux qu’eux.”
“Certainly our children are more learned and religious than they are.”
Let us also learn from these words that our faith is proved by adversity; for the actual trial of faith is when, with unshaken patience in opposition to all dangers and assaults, we continue to rely on the word and the promises. Thus we shall give practical evidence that we have sincerely believed.
Be what thou hast been, their arm in the morning. Others render it as if it were a continued prayer, “Be our arm in the morning, and our salvation in tribulation.” As to believers speaking in the third person, they consider it to be a change which is frequently employed by the Hebrews. But I think that the Prophet’s meaning is different; for he intended to express that desire which is rendered more intense by benefits formerly received; and, therefore, in my opinion, that clause is appropriately inserted, “their arm in the morning,” in which I supply the words “who hast been,” in order to bring forward the ancient benefits bestowed by God on the fathers. “Thou, Lord, didst hearken to the prayers of our fathers; when they fled to thee, thou gavest them assistance i now also be thou our salvation, and relieve us from our afflictions.”
“Arm” and “salvation” differ in this respect, that “arm” denotes the power which the Lord exerted in defense of his Church, and that before she was afflicted; while “salvation” denotes the deliverance by which the Lord rescues the Church, even when she appears to be ruined. He therefore places on record ancient benefits which the Lord formerly bestowed on the fathers, that he may be moved to exercise the same compassion towards the children. As if he had said, “O Lord, thou didst formerly turn away the dangers which threatened thy Church; relying on thy favor she flourished and prospered. Thou didst also deliver her when oppressed. In like manner wilt thou act on our own account, especially since it belongs to thy character to render assistance when matters are desperate and at the worst.” 22 “Puis que ton naturel est d’assister aux tiens, quand tout est reduit au desespoir.” “Since thy disposition is to assist thy people when all is reduced to despair.”
The particle אף, (aph,) even, is very emphatic for confirming our faith, that we may not doubt that God, who always continues to be like himself, and never degenerates from his nature or swerves from his purpose, will also be our deliverer; for, such have believers found him to be. We ought, therefore, to place continually before our eyes the manner in which the Lord formerly assisted and delivered the fathers, that we may be fully convinced that we also shall not fail to obtain from him assistance and deliverance.
3. At the voice of the tumult the peoples fled. He now returns to the former doctrine, or rather he continues it, after having inserted a short exclamation. He had already shewn that the Assyrians would be defeated, though they appeared to be out of the reach of all danger; and now he bids the Jews look upon it as having actually taken place; for their power was vast, and all men dreaded them and reckoned them invincible. Isaiah therefore places before the eyes of the Jews the dreadful ruin of the Assyrians, as if it had been already accomplished. He makes use of the plural number, saying that they were peoples; for the kingdom of the Assyrians consisted of various “peoples,” and their army had been collected out of various nations; and therefore he affirms that, although their number was prodigious and boundless, yet they would miserably perish.
At thy exaltation. The word “exaltation” is explained by some to mean the “manifestation” by which the Lord illustriously displayed what he was able to do. But I explain it in a more simple manner, that the Lord, who formerly seemed as it were to remain at rest, when he permitted the Babylonians to ravage with impunity, now suddenly came forth to public view; for his delay was undoubtedly treated with proud scorn by the enemies, as if the God of Israel had been humbled and vanquished; but at length he arose and sat down on his judgmentseat, and took vengeance on the crimes of the ungodly. There is therefore an implied contrast between the “exaltation” and that kind of weakness which the Lord appeared to exhibit, when he permitted his people to be afflicted and scattered. 33 The rising meant is not the ascent of the Judge to the judgmentseat, (Piscator,) nor the exaltation of the Assyrian power, (AbenEzra.) but the act of rising from a state of seeming inaction, as when one rouses himself to strike, (Barnes.)” — Alexander.
By “the voice of the tumult” some suppose to be meant that the Lord will put the enemies to flight by merely making a noise; but that interpretation, I fear, is more ingenious than solid. I therefore willingly interpret the word “voice” to mean the loud noise which would be raised by the Medes and Persians.
4. And your prey shall be gathered. Here he addresses the Assyrians, if it be not thought preferable to refer it to the Jews, and to take the word “prey” in an active sense. But the former opinion is more appropriate; and this sudden turn of direct address imparts great vehemence to the prediction, when he openly and expressly taunts the proud adversaries. Yet it is doubtful whether it denotes the final ruin of the nation, or the defeat of King Sennacherib, when his army was destroyed by the hand of an angel before the walls of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 19:35.) The latter opinion has been adopted by almost all commentators, but it appears to me to be too limited; for I think that the Prophet, from the beginning of the chapter, intended to express something more, when he spoke of the destruction of that nation, The prophecy might even be still farther extended, as I suggested a little ago, so as to include likewise the Babylonians, who were the latest enemies of the Church; but, passing this, it is sufficiently evident that his pen is directed against the monarchy of Nineveh.
By your gathering of caterpillars. He compares that warlike nation to “caterpillars,” because they will have no power to resist, but will all tremble and faint, so that they shall be gathered into large heaps to be destroyed. The comparison is highly appropriate, and is employed also by the Prophet Nahum, (Nahum 3:15,) though in a somewhat different sense; for that insect, we know, is exceedingly destructive to trees, and exceedingly hurtful, so that it may justly be called The calamity of the earth. But as their vast number gives no power to defend themselves, even children can easily shake off, and gather, and slay them in heaps wherever they meet with them. This also, the Prophet declares, will befall those insatiable robbers; for, although they did much injury by plundering for a long period, they will at length be slain and destroyed without the smallest effort; because, deprived of manly vigor, and almost of life, they will fall into the power of their enemies; and the wealth of Nineveh, amassed by robbery, shall be carried to Babylon.
According to the running of locusts. He now adds another comparison, that the Babylonians will “run like locusts,” to devour the whole country; for those creatures, being exceedingly voracious, and moving forward without interruption, and leaping with astonishing rapidity, consume all the fruits of the earth. Some refer it to the same Assyrians, as if the Prophet compared them to “locusts,” because they will be easily dispersed; but that interpretation does not apply, for the Prophet draws up an army of “locusts,” so as completely to cover in its march the whole land; and he beautifully draws a comparison between the “caterpillars” and the “locusts,” on account of their insatiable avarice and vast numbers.
5 Jehovah is exalted. He explains more fully what we briefly noticed a little before, about the exaltation of God, and follows out the subject which we formerly mentioned, that the destruction of a monarchy so powerful will make it evident how highly God values the salvation of his Church, for whose sake he will utterly ruin Nineveh, the queen of cities, and her inhabitants. This lesson is highly useful, that God does not spare reprobate and irreligious men; for, by opposing their unlawful desires, his object is to testify how much he loves his elect; and it is no ordinary consolation that the glory of God shines most brightly in the salvation of the Church.
Who dwelleth on high. First, he declares that God is raised “on high,” whereas wicked men imagine that he was cast down and humbled by the destruction of the people. Again, lest any one should think that God has only recovered what he lost, as it frequently happens in the world that they who have been vanquished, as soon as a favorable change takes place, again put forth fresh vigor, he expressly declares that God is “exalted” before the eyes of men, because this is due to him on account of his greatness, for he inhabiteth the heavens. Hence it follows, that although he frequently conceals his power, yet he never loses his right, but, whenever he thinks proper, openly displays his exalted rank; for to dwell “in the heavens” denotes, as we know, supreme authority, to which the whole world is subject. (Psalm 115:3.) In this manner he not only shews that God can easily and readily cast down all that is lofty in the world, but argues from God’s eternal nature, that when God is despised by wicked men, he cannot, at length, do otherwise than manifest his glory; for otherwise he would “deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13.)
He hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness. Thus he again confirms the statement, that it will be a proof of God’s wonderful kindness, when the Jews shall be delivered from the tyranny of the Babylonians. It was proper to place before their eyes the Author of so great a blessing; for we see how basely his glory is obscured by our ingratitude. Now, “the fullness of righteousness and judgment” means, that God will largely and copiously pour forth his kindness in restoring the Church. Yet it will not be unsuitable to view these words as referring to lawful order, when everything is justly and properly administered; for without this the Church will never enjoy prosperity, though everything else may succeed according to the wish. Holy and welladjusted order, therefore, and not corruptible riches, is the standard by which our prosperity should be judged.
6. And the stability of thy times shall be. He promises that the state of the kingdom under the reign of Hezekiah will yet be happy and prosperous, especially when he contrasts it with the wretched, destructive, and ruinous aspect which it exhibited under the reign of Ahaz; for, although the enemy had been driven out, hardly any one would have expected that the Jews, who had been so heavily oppressed, would be restored to their former order. As to the words, some translate them, “Truth, and strength, and salvation shall be in thy times;” as if the Prophet described the prosperity which the nation should enjoy under a pious king; and they think that each of those terms denotes so many of God’s benefits. Others think that אמונת (emunath) denotes “fidelity,” as if the Prophet said that it would be “salvation and strength.” Others draw from it a somewhat different sense, that “strength, salvation, and knowledge” will be “stable” under the reign of Hezekiah. But when I examine closely the words of the Prophet, I choose rather to make a different distinction, that “stability, strength, and salvation will be established by wisdom, and knowledge,” during the reign of Hezekiah.
The fear of Jehovah is his treasure. When he says that “the fear of God is the treasure” of a pious king, this accords with the explanation which we have now given; for during peace all men wish to lead a safe and easy life; but few care how they shall enjoy such distinguished benefits. Indeed the greater part of men would desire to fatten like a herd of swine; and thus while all are eagerly directed by blind lust to seek outward benefits, the light of heavenly doctrine, which is an invaluable blessing, is almost set at nought. He therefore means that the prosperity of the Church will be “stable,” 44 This word is rendered by Calvin and our own translators, “stability.” when “wisdom and knowledge” shall reign in it; that its “strength” will be lasting, when the “knowledge” of God shall prevail; and that its salvation will be eternal, when men shall be well instructed in the knowledge of God.
This is a very remarkable passage; and it teaches us that our ingratitude shuts the door against God’s blessings, when we disregard the Author of them, and sink into gross and earfifty desires; and that all the benefits which we can desire or imagine, even though we actually obtained them, would be of no avail for our salvation, if they were not seasoned with the salt of faith and knowledge. Hence it follows that the Church is not in a healthy condition unless when all its privileges have been preceded by the light of the knowledge of God, and that it flourishes only when all the gifts which God has bestowed upon it are ascribed to Him as their author. But when the knowledge of God has been taken away, and when just views of God have been extinguished or buried, any kind of prosperity is worse than all calamities.
For these reasons I consider stability, strength, and salvations, to denote the same thing, that the condition of the Church will be secure, when men shall have been cured of blindness and ignorance, and shall begin to know God. And hence we see what kind of Church the Papists have, distinguished, indeed, by pomp and splendor, but they want this “knowledge,” and, therefore, it cannot be stable or secure, and is not a Church of God. If, therefore, the Lord shall grant to us this blessing, that the brightness of faith shall actually shine in the midst of us, other blessings will follow of their own accord, and if we are shaken and tossed about by various tempests, we shall always be supported by the arm of God.
Of thy times. He addresses Hezekiah, not as a private individual, but as the head of the whole people; and he includes the whole people in this description. But since the kingdom of Hezekiah was but a slender shadow of the kingdom of Christ, as we formerly remarked, these words must be referred to Christ, in whom is found true wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3.)
It is proper to observe the designations which are here employed in order to commend the word of God and the gospel. They are likewise employed by Paul, when he speaks of “teaching in all wisdom and knowledge;” for by this commendation he extols the dignity of the gospel. (Colossians 1:9, 28.) Hence also it ought to be inferred that, where Christ is not known, men are destitute of true wisdom, even though they have received the highest education in every branch of learning; for all their knowledge is useless till they truly “know God.” (John 17:3.)
The fear of Jehovah is his treasure. 55 “Here Judah is spoken of in the third person, though mentioned in the second just before; an enallage frequent in Hebrew poetry.” — Stock. I think that the expression, “the fear of Jehovah,” was added by the Prophet for the sake of explanation, in order to state more fully that the knowledge of which he spoke is the teacher of piety, and is not cold or lifeless, but penetrates powerfully into our heart, to form us to “the fear of God.” Hence also, in other passages of Scripture, this “fear” is called “wisdom,” or rather “the beginning of wisdom,” that is, the substance and chief part of it. (Proverbs 1:7, and 9:10.) It is a mistake to suppose that the word “beginning” denotes rudiments or elements, for Solomoil means by it the chief part and design; and the reason is, that, as men are fools till they submit to the word of God, so the perfection of wisdom springs from the docility or obedience of faith. “The fear of God” is therefore called a “treasure,” without which all prosperity is miserable; and this shews more fully the scope of the passage, that the full perfection of a happy life consists in the knowledge of God, which we obtain by faith.
Thus, in the person of the king he shews that it is an invaluable blessing to worship God with due piety and reverence. They who are destitute of “the fear of God” are pronounced by him to be miserable and ruined; and, on the other hand, they who “fear the Lord” are declared to be very happy, even though in other respects they be reckoned in the judgment of men to be very miserable. He speaks of that “fear” which contains within itself true obedience, and renews our hearts; for it is a different kind of fear which influences even wicked men, and leads them to dread God as criminals dread a judge. That “fear” does not deserve to be so highly applauded; for it springs neither from a true knowledge of God, nor from a cheerful desire to worship him, and therefore differs widely from that wisdom which Isaiah describes. These statements were made by him in reference to Hezekiah, but, as we have already said, they related to the whole body of the people; and hence we infer that they apply both to men of ordinary rank and to the king, but more especially to Christ, who was filled with “the Spirit of the fear of the Lord,” as we formerly saw, 66 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1, p. 374. (Isaiah 11:2,) that he might make us partakers of it.
7. Behold, their messengers 77 “Their valiant ones, or messengers.” — (Eng. Ver.) “The Targum and some other ancient versions seem to treat אראלם, (erellam,) as a contraction of אראה לם, (ereh lam, or eraeh lam.) Thus Aquila has ὁραθήσομαι αὐτοῖς Symmachus,ὀφθήσομαι; the Vulgate, videntes But there is no example of the form לם (lam) for להם (lahaem). — Alexander. shall cry without. It is difficult to determine whether Isaiah relates historically the fearful perplexity and imminent danger to which the Jews were reduced, in order to exhibit more strikingly the favor of deliverance, or predicted a future calamity, that the hearts of the godly might not soon afterwards faint under it. For my own part, I think it probable that this is not the history of, a past transaction, but that, as a heavy and sore temptation was at hand, it was intended to fortify the hearts of believers to wait patiently for the assistance of God when their affairs were at the worst. However that may be, the sad and lamentable desolation of the Church is here described, that believers may not cease to entertain good hope even in the midst of their perplexity, and that, when they have been rescued from danger; they may know that it was accomplished by the wonderful power of God.
The ambassadors of peace wept bitterly. It is given as a token of despair, that the ambassadors who had been sent to appease the tyrant were unsuccessful; for every way and method of obtaining peace was attempted by Hezekiah, but without any success. Accordingly, “the ambassadors” returned sad and disconsolate, and even on the road could not dissemble their grief, which it was difficult to conceal in their hearts, when matters were in so wretched a condition. He undoubtedly means that Sennacherib has haughtily and disdainfully refused to make peace, so that “the ambassadors,” as; if they had forgotten their rank, are constrained to pour out in public their grief and lamentations, and, ere they have returned to their king and given account of their embassy, openly to proclaim what kind of answer they have obtained from the cruel tyrant, 88 “Eliakim, with the rest, who returned to Hezekiah, with their clothes rent, in despair at the rejection of all conditions of peace. Isaiah 36:2, 22.” — Stock. Others think, that by “the ambassadors of peace” are meant those who were wont to announce peace; but that interpretation appears to me to be feeble and farfetched. By “the ambassadors of peace,” therefore, I understand to be meant those who had been sent to pacify the king, that they might purchase peace on some condition.
8. The roads are deserted. He now adds, that “the roads” will be shut up, so that no one shall go in or out; which commonly happens when war has been declared. The Prophet appears to represent the ambassadors as declaring that henceforth there will be no opportunity of carrying on merchandise, and even that the highways will not be safe. 99 “These are not the words of the ambassadors reporting the condition of the country (Grotius), but of the Prophet himself describing it. The scene presented is not that of Protestant cities seized by Antichrist, and a stop put to a religious course and conversation (Gill), but the actual condition of Judea during the Assyrian invasion. (Compare Judges 5:6).” — Alexander. It is immediately added, —
They have violated the treaty. These words are viewed by some commentators as a complaint made by hypocrites that God does not fulfill his promises. If it were thought proper to view them as referring to God, still it would not be necessary to say that such a complaint proceeds from none but wicked men; for sometimes believers also quarrel with God in this manner. But I cannot approve of that interpretation; and, therefore, consider this to be a part of the description which the Prophet gives of the cruelty and insatiable rage of Sennacherib, in treacherously breaking the treaty which he had formerly made with Hezekiah; for, although he had promised that he would maintain peace, yet as soon as an opportunity presented itself for invading Judea, he violated his promise and made preparations for war. Such is also the import of the conclusion of the verse, that he hath despised the cities, he hath regarded no man, which means that his cruelty will be so great that he will not be restrained by shame or fear.
9. The earth hath mourned and languished. Here he describes more fully how wretched and desperate the Jews would perceive their condition to be, that their confidence might nevertheless come forth out of a deep gulf. The places are also specified by him, Lebanon, Bashan, and Carmel, which are widely distant from each other, and which form almost the farthest boundaries of the holy land, in order to shew that no part of it; will remain safe or uninjured. He describes this calamity in such a manner as to assign to each place what peculiarly belongs to it. To “Lebanon” he assigns confusion, because it is elsewhere mentioned as beautiful and glorious, in consequence of having been covered with lofty and valuable trees. He declares that “Sharon,” which was a level and fertile district, will be “like a wilderness,” and that “Bashan and Carmel,” which abounded in “fruits,” will be “shaken.” Thus he alludes to the natural character of each place, and describes the misery and distress in such a manner as to magnify and illustrate the kindness of God, by whom they would be delivered, even though they appeared to be utterly ruined; for here we may see the hand of God openly displayed, if it be not thought preferable to view the Prophet as relating a past transaction in order to excite them to thankfulness.
10. Now will I rise. There is great force in the particle now, and likewise in the repetition which is added, “I shall be exalted, I shall be lifted up on high.” We ought to observe the time to which these statements relate, that is, when the Church appeared to be utterly ruined; for God declares that he will judge that to be the most suitable time for rendering assistance. This is, therefore, a comparison of things which are contrary to each other; for he exhibits to believers the heavy and grievous calamities by which they should be oppressed, and under which they would easily sink, if they were not upheld by some consolation. As if he had said, “The Lord will suffer you to be brought very low, but when your affairs shall be at the worst, and when you shall have in vain tried every remedy, the Lord will arise and succor you.” Thus even when we are afflicted and brought very low, we ought to acknowledge that our safety cometh from God alone.
Accordingly, the word now denotes a period of the deepest distress. Men might think it exceedingly strange, but we plainly see the best reason why God thus delays to render assistance. It is, because it is useful to exercise the patience of the godly, to try their faith, to subdue the desires of the flesh, to excite to earnestness in prayer, and to strengthen the hope of a future life; and, therefore, he lays a restraint, that they may not with headlong eagerness anticipate that period which God has already marked out for them. The repetition is very emphatic, and is added for the purpose of confirming the statement; for when our affairs are desperate, we think that we are ruined, but at that very time we ought especially to hope, because the Lord generally selects it for giving a display of his power. For this reason, by extolling his loftiness, he arouses believers to the exercise of courage, that they may boldly defy the insolence of their enemies. 1010 “The emphasis is not upon the pronoun (Barnes), which in that case would have been expressed in Hebrew, but upon the adverb now, which is twice repeated to imply that the time for the divine interposition is arrived, and that there shall be no more delay.” — Alexander.
11. Ye shall conceive chaff. He now addresses his discourse to the enemies of the Church, whose insolence, he says, is foolish and to no purpose; for when God shall have brilliantly displayed his power, they shall know that their efforts will be fruitless, and that they will accomplish nothing, even though they be leagued together in vast crowds. The Lord laughs at their madness, in thinking that everything is in their power, when he can instantly, by the slightest expression of his will, restrain and destroy them, though they may be defended by a very powerful army.
It is customary in the Scriptures to employ the word conceptions for denoting the designs and efforts of men. (Job 15:35; Psalm 7:14; Isaiah 26:17, and 59:4.) The metaphor is taken from pregnant women. Men are said to “conceive” and to “bring forth,” when they attempt anything; but he declares that their “conception” shall be fruitless, and that they shall also “bring forth” to no purpose, for whatever they undertake shall be unsuccessful. There is nothing, therefore, in the brilliant military forces of our adversaries that ought to alarm us; for, although God may permit them for a time to bustle, and toil, and rage, yet God will at length turn into “chaff” all their rash and daring attempts. Let us learn that what Isaiah foretold about Sennacherib relates to all the adversaries of believers and of the Church.
The fire of your breath shall devour you. That they “shall be devoured by the fire of their breath” is usually explained to mean, “Your breath, like fire, shall devour you.” But that is an unsuitable and even absurd comparison, and the true meaning readily suggests itself, “The fire kindled by your breath shall devour you.” We commonly kindle a fire by blowing, and therefore he declares, that the fire which wicked men have blown by their wicked contrivances shall be destructive to them, because it shall consume them. It is the same statement which is often conveyed by a variety of metaphors in Scripture.
“They shall fall into the pit which they have digged. They are entangled in a net which they had prepared for others. The sword which they had drawn hath entered into their own bowels. Their arrow hath been turned back to pierce their own hearts.” (Psalm 7:15; 37:15; 57:6.)
Thus the Prophet shews that the wicked tyrant who laid waste Judea and besieged Jerusalem with a numerous army, and all others who in like manner are adversaries of the Church, bring down destruction on themselves, and will at length be destroyed; and, in short, that they will be consumed by that “fire” which they have kindled.
12. And the peoples shall be the burnings of lime. He compares them to “the burning of lime,” because their hardness shall be bruised, as fire softens the stones, so that they shall easily be reduced to powder; and, undoubtedly, the more powerfully wicked men are inflamed with a desire to commit injury, the more do they bruise themselves by their own insolence.
As thorns cut up. 1111 “In the Chaldee כסח (chasach) signifies “to prune,” and in the Syriac it denotes “the pruning of vines,” as in Asseman. Bibl. Orient., tom. 1, p. 374. The meaning therefore is, as thorns lopped off and dried are quickly consumed, with a crackling noise, by the fire laid under them.” — Rosenmuller. This metaphor is not less appropriate; for although they hinder men from touching them by the painful wounds which they inflict on the hands, yet there is no kind of wood that burns more violently or is more quickly consumed. Something of the same kind, we have said, may be observed in “lime,” which at first is hard, but is softened by the fire. The Prophet declares that the same thing will happen to the Babylonians, whom the Lord will easily destroy, though at first they appear to be formidable, and though it may be supposed to be unlikely that they shall be consumed by any conflagration. Whenever, therefore, we behold the enemies of the Church collecting all sorts of wealth and forces, and military preparations, in order to destroy us and set on fire the whole world, let us know that they are kindling a fire which shall miserably destroy them.
We know that this was fulfilled in Sennacherib, for the event proved the truth of these predictions, though they appeared to be altogether incredible. Let us hope that the same thing shall happen to all others who shall imitate the actions of this tyrant, and let us comfort ourselves by that example, and innumerable others, amidst our distresses and afflictions, which shall be followed by certain deliverance and dreadful vengeance on our enemies.
13. Near, ye that are far off. Isaiah here makes a preface, as if he were about to speak on a very weighty subject; for he bids his hearers be attentive, which is commonly done when any important and remarkable subject is handled. He addresses both those who are near, who would be eyewitnesses of this event, and the most distant nations to whom the report would be communicated; as if he had said that the power of God will be such as to be perceived not only by a few persons, or by those who are at hand, but also by those who shall be at a very great distance. Thus he means that it will be a striking and extraordinary demonstration of the power of God, because wicked men, who formerly were careless and unconcerned, as if they had been free from all danger of distress or annoyance, shall be shaken with terror.
14. The sinners in Zion are afraid. But some one might object that the subject here treated is not so important as to need that lofty preface intended to arouse the whole world. Was it a matter of so great importance that wicked men were struck with fear? But by an attentive examination it will be found that it is no ordinary exhibition of divine power, when wicked men are aroused from their indolence, so that, whether they will or not, they perceive that God is their judge, especially when contempt of God is accompanied by hypocrisy, For although it is difficult to arouse irreligious men, when a veil is spread over their hearts, 1212 “Quand leurs coeurs sont endureis.” “When their hearts are hardened.” yet still greater is the obstinacy of hypocrites, who imagine that God is under obligations to them. Thus we see that men are so bewitched by madness, that they despise all threatenings and terrors, and mock at the judgments of God, and, in short, by witty jesting, set aside all prophecies, so that it ought to be regarded as a miracle that men who make such resistance are overthrown. Hence Isaiah, with good reason, kindles into rage against them;for, when he employs the word Zion, he undoubtedly reproves the degenerate Jews, because, when they were covered with the shadow of the sanctuary, they thought that they were in possession of a fortress which could not be stormed; and undoubtedly, as I remarked a little before, the haughtiest and proudest of all men are they who shelter themselves under the name of God, and glory in the title of the Church.
Terror hath seized the wicked, הנפים (chanephim) is translated hypocrites, but still more frequently it may be viewed as denoting “treacherous revolters and men utterly worthless.” Since, therefore, they were so wicked, and mocked at God and the prophets, he three, tens that God will be a judge so sharp and severe, that they shall no longer find pleasure in their impostures. Next is added a conression which wears the aspect of humility, in order to shew more clearly that hypocrites, who do not willingly obey God, at length find that experience is their instructor how dreadful is the judgment of God. As soon, therefore, as their “laughing” is turned into “gnashing of teeth,” they begin to acknowledge that their whole strength is chaff or stubble. (Luke 6:25; Matthew 8:12.)
Which of us shall dwell with the devouring fire? As to the meaning of the words, some translate them, “Who shall dwell instead of us?” Others, “Which of us shall dwell?” If we view them simply as meaning “to us,” or “for us,” the meaning may be thus explained, “Who shall encounter the fire, or place himself between, so that the flame may not reach us?” There are also other interpretations which amount to the same thing; but commentators differ in this respect, that some view the words as relating to the king of Assyria, and others as relating to God. I prefer the latter opinion, as has been already shewn; for although the king of Assyria might be regarded as a “fire” that would burn up the earth with his heat, yet the Prophet intended to express something far more dreadful, namely, the inward anguish by which ungodly men are tormented, the stings of conscience which cannot be allayed, the unquenchable burning of crimes which exceeds every kind of torments; for whatever is the course pursued by ungodly men, such will they find the dispensations of God to be towards them.
On their account, therefore, God is called a devouring fire, as we may learn from Moses, (Deuteronomy 4:24, and 9:3,) from whom the prophets, as we have frequently remarked, borrow their doctrines, and who is also followed by the Apostle. (Hebrews 12:29.) This exposition is confirmed by the Prophet himself, who shews what was the cause of that terror. It might be objected that God was excessively severe, and that he terrified them beyond measure; but he is usually kind and gentle to the godly, while wicked men feel that he is severe and terrible. Some think that the Prophet intended to convince all men of their guilt, in order that they might abandon all confidence, in their works, and in a lowly and humble manner betake themselves to the grace of God, as if he had said, “None but he who is perfectly righteous can stand before the judgmentseat of God, and therefore all are accursed.”
But he rather speaks in the name, and agreeably to the feelings, of those who formerly scorned all threatenings; and he now represents those very persons as inquiring with trembling dismay, “Who shall dare to go into the presence of God?” This mournful complaint is a manifestation of that terror which hath lately seized them, when, being convinced of their frailty, they cry out in sorrow, “Who shall endure the presence of God?” But since they still murmur against God, though he compels them reluctantly to utter these words, the Prophet, on the other hand, in order to restrain their wicked barkings, replies that God is not naturally the object of terror or alarm to men, but that it arises through their own fault, because conscience, which God does not suffer to lie idle, terrifies them with their crimes.
15. He that walketh in righeousness. Now, therefore, he explains more fully what we briefly remarked a little before, that they who provoke his anger, and thus drive away from them his forbearance, have no right to complain that God is excessively severe. Thus he convinces them of their guilt and exhorts them to repentance, for he shews that there is a state of friendship between God and men, if they wish to follow and practice “righteousness,” if they maintain truth and integrity, if they are free from all corruptions and act inoffensively towards their neighbors; but because they abound in every kind of wickedness, and have abandoned themselves to malice, calumny, covetousness, robbery, and other crimes, it is impossible that the Lord should not strike them down with fear, by shewing that he is terrible to them. In short, the design of the Prophet is to shut the mouths of wicked babblers, that they may not accuse God of cruelty in their destruction; for the whole blame rests on themselves. By evasions they endeavor to escape condemnation. But the Prophet declares that God is always gracious to his worshippers, and that in this sense Moses calls him “a fire,” (Deuteronomy 4:24, and 9:3,) that men may not despise his majesty and power; but that every one who shall approach to him with sincere piety will know by actual experience that nothing is more pleasant or delightful than his presence. Since, therefore, God shines on believers with a bright countenance, they enjoy settled peace with him through a good conscience; and hence it follows that God is not naturally terrible, but that he is forced to it by our wickedness.
This discourse is directed chiefly against hypocrites, who throw a false veil of piety over their hidden pollutions and crimes, and make an improper use of the name of God, that they may indulge more freely in wickedness. By the examples which he adduces in illustration of “righteousness,” the Prophet more openly reproves their crimes. He enumerates the principal actions of life by means of which we shew what sort of persons we are. Here, as in many other passages, he treats of the second table of the Law, by which the sincerity of godliness is put to the test; for, as gold is tried in the fire, so the dispositions which we cherish towards God are ascertained from the habitual course of our life, when our sincerity comes to be seen by the duties which we owe to each other.
The word walketh is the wellknown metaphor of a road, which is frequently employed in Scripture for describing the manner of life or habitual conduct. By righteousness he means not the entire keeping of the Law, but that equity which is included in the second table; for we must not; imagine that subtle disquisitions about “righteousness” are here intended.
Who speaketh what is right. He now enumerates the chief parts of that uprightness which ought to be maintained; and as the tongue is the chief instrument by which a man regulates his actions, he places it in the second rank after “righteousness.” He who restrains it from slander and evilspeaking, from deceit, perjury, and falsehood, so as not to injure his brother in any matter, is said to “speak what is right.” Next is added another department,
Who despiseth the gain arising from violence and calumny. He might have said in a single word, “who despiseth money;” but he employed more homely language, and accommodated himself to the ignorance of men. He who is desirous of riches, and does not refrain from robbery or from base and unlawful means of making gain, harasses and oppresses the poor and feeble, and cares for nothing else than to lay hold on money in every direction, and by every method either right or wrong. He next proceeds farther, and describes corruptions of every sort.
Who shaketh his hands from accepting a bribe. Under the name of bribes, by which judges are corrupted, he likewise includes everything else. There is nothing by which the dispositions of men and righteous judgment are so much perverted; and therefore he bids them “shake their hands,” so as to intimate in what abhorrence they should be held, and with what care they should be avoided by all, lest, if they only handled or were tainted by barely touching them, they should be drawn aside kern what is just and right; for “bribes” have wonderful powers of fascination, so that it is very difficult for judges to keep their hands altogether clean and uncorrupted by them. What, then, can we think of those who always have their hands stretched out and ready to receive, and crooked nails ready to catch; and not only so, but, like harlots, openly hire themselves out for gain? Need we wonder if God thunders against them with unrelenting vengeance?
Who stoppeth his ear that it way not hear blood. At length he demands that the manifestation of uprightness shall be made in the ears. By blood he means murder and manslaughter, but he likewise includes wicked conspiracies of every kind, that the “ears” may not be open to hear them, so.as to give our consent.. He does not mean that our “ears” should be shut against the cries of the poor, when they suffer injuries and oppression; but he means that we should detest wicked devices by which unprincipled men contrive the ruin of the innocent, that we may not even lend our “ears” to their discourses, or allow ourselves to be solicited in any way to do what is evil.
Who shutteth his eyes. At length he demands the same holiness in the “eyes.” In short, he teaches that we ought to restrain all our senses, that we may not give to wicked men any token of our approbation, if we wish to escape the wrath of God and that terrible burning of which he formerly spake.
16. He shall dwell in high places. That the Jews may know that the chastisements which God had inflicted on them were righteous, and may endeavor to be restored to his favor, he says that his blessing is ready to be bestowed on good and upright men, such as he described in the former verse, and that they are not subject to any danger, and have no reason to dread that burning which he mentioned, because they shall be made to dwell in a place of the greatest safety. As to wicked men, slanderers, robbers, and deceitful persons, on the other hand, who cannot restrain their tongue, and hands, and ears, and eyes from base and wicked actions, the Prophet shews that we need not wonder if God treat them with severity, and that, while God is their judge, their own conscience is at the same time their executioner; and consequently, that the only means of hindering them from dreading the presence of God, is to keep themselves voluntarily in the fear of God. By “high places,” he means a very safe place, and free from all danger, which ns attack of the enemy can reach, as he declares plainly enough immediately afterwards by assigning to them a habitation among “fortified rocks.”
Bread shall be given to him. To a safe dwelling he adds an abundance of good things; as if he had said that the holy and upright worshippers of God shall lack nothing, because God will not only protect them so as to keep them safe from all danger, but will also supply them abundantly with all that is necessary for the support of life. By the words “bread” and “water” he means all the daily necessaries of life.
And his waters shall be sure. Though wicked men have abundance for a time, they shall afterwards be hungry; as God threatens in the Law, that they shall have famine and hunger. (Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23, 48.) The same remark may be made with regard to “bread,” for the word “sure” relates to both; as if he had said, that all believers shall have their food made “sure.” “Lions are hungry, and wander about; but they that fear God shall not want any good thing,” (Psalm 34:10;) because God, who is by nature bountiful, is not wearied by bestowing liberally, and does not exhaust his wealth by acts of kindness.
Besides, as the life of men is exposed to various dangers, and as abundance of meat and drink is not all that is necessary for our support, unless the Lord defend us by his power, we ought, therefore, to observe carefully what he formerly mentioned, that believers are placed in a safe abode. The Lord performs the office of a shepherd, and not only supplies them with food, but also defends them from the attacks of robbers, enemies, and wolves; and, in short, keeps them under his protection and guardianship, so as not to allow any evil to befall them. Whenever, therefore, it happens, that enemies annoy us, let us consider that we are justly punished for our sins, and that we are deprived of God’s assistance because we do not deserve it; for we must reckon our sins to be the cause of all the evils which we endure.
Yet let not those who are conscious of their integrity imagine that God has forsaken them, but let them to the latest day of their life rely on those promises in which the Lord assures his people that he will be a very safe refuge to them. No man, indeed, can be so holy or upright as to be capable of enduring the eye of God; for “if the Lord mark our iniquities,” as David says, “who shall endure?” (Psalm 130:3.) We therefore need a mediator, through whose intercession our sins may be forgiven; and the Prophet did not intend to set aside the ordinary doctrine of Scripture on this subject, but to strike with terror wicked men, who are continually stung and pursued by an evil conscience, 1313 “D’un remords de mauvaise conscience.” “By the remorse of a bad conscience.” This ought to be carefully observed in opposition to the Popish doctors, by whom passages of this kind, which recommend works, are abused in order to destroy the righteousness of faith; as if the atonement for our sins, which we obtain through the sacrifice of Christ, ought to be set aside.
17. The king in his beauty. Although the Prophet changes the person, yet this verse must be connected with the preceding verse; for he addresses the sincere worshippers of God, to whom he promises this additional blessing, Thou shalt see the king in his beauty This promise was highly necessary for supporting the hearts of believers, when the state of affairs in Judea was so lamentable and so desperate. When Jerusalem was besieged, the king shut up within the city and surrounded by treacherous counsellors, the people unsteady and seditious, and everything hastening to ruin, there appeared to be no hope left. Still the royal authority in the family of David was a remarkable pledge of the love of God. Isaiah, therefore, meets this danger by saying, that though they behold their king covered with filthy garments, yet he shall be restored to his former rank and splendor.
First, it ought to be observed how invaluable is the kindness of God, when the commonwealth is at peace, and enjoys good princes, by whom everthing is administered justly and faithfully; for by their agency God rules over us. Since, therefore, this happiness is not inconsiderable, the Prophet was unwilling to leave out this part, in promising prosperity to the worshippers of God. Yet it, ought also to be observed, that that kingdom was a type of the kingdom of Christ, whose image Hezekiah bore; for there would be a slight fulfillment of this promise, if we did not trace it to Christ, to whom all these things must be understood to refer. Let no man imagine that I am here pursuing allegories, to which I am averse, and that this is the reason why I do not interpret the passage as relating directly to Christ; but, because in Christ alone is found the stability of that frail kingdom, the likeness which Hezekiah bore leads us to Christ, as it were, by the hand. I am, therefore, disposed to view Hezekiah as a figure of Christ, that we may learn how great will be his beauty. In a word, Isaiah here promises the restoration of the Church.
The land very far off. The restoration of the Church consists of two parts; first, that “the king shall be seen in his beauty;” and secondly, that the boundaries of the kingdom shall be extended. We know that the appearance of Christ is so disfigured as to be contemptible in the eyes of the world, because “no beauty or loveliness” (Isaiah 53:2) is seen in him; but at length, his majesty and splendor and beauty shall be openly displayed, his kingdom shall flourish and be extended far and wide. Although at present wicked men have everything in their power, and oppress the true servants of God, so that they scarcely have a spot on which they can plant their foot in safety, yet with firm hope we ought to look for our King, who will at length sit down on his bright and magnificent throne, and will gloriously enrich his people.
18. Thy heart shall meditate terror. Believers are again informed what calamities are at hand, lest, by being suddenly overtaken with such heavy afflictions, they should sink under them. יהגה (yehgeh) is translated by some in the preterite, “meditated,” and by others in the future, “shall meditate;” because such an exchange of tenses is customary in the Hebrew language. For my own part, believing that he warns the people of approaching distresses, instead of relating those which had been formerly endured, I willingly retain the future tense, which is also the tense employed by the Prophet, “shall meditate.”
Where is the scribe? He relates in a dramatic and lively manner (μιμητικῶς) the speeches of those who, overcome by terror, break out into these exclamations: Where is the scribe? Where is the weigher? thus expressing the powerful impression made on their minds. If any one suppose that the line of thought is suddenly broken off, because the Prophet, having in the former verse spoken of “the kings beauty,” now brings forward terrors, I have no doubt that he magnifies the kindness of God by means of comparison, in order that believers, when they have been delivered, may set a higher value on the condition to which they have attained. Men are forgetful and niggardly in judging of God’s favors, and, after having been once set free, do not consider what was the depth of their misery. Such persons need to be reminded of those wretched and disastrous times, during which they endured great sufferings, in order that they may more fully appreciate the greatness of the favor which God has bestowed on them. We ought also to observe another reason why it was advantageous that the people should be forewarned of that terror. It was that, after having heard of the kings magnificence, they might not promise themselves exemption from all uneasiness, but might be prepared to undergo any kind of troubles and distresses, and that, even while they were subject to tribute and placed under siege, they might, know that the kingdom of Judah was the object of God’s care, and would be rescued from the hands of tyrants.
It is a very wretched condition which the Prophet describes, that a free people should be oppressed by such cruel tyranny as to have all their property valued, and an inventory taken of their houses, possessions, families, and servants. How grievous this slavery is, many persons formerly unaccustomed to it actually know by experience in our times, when their property is valued to the very last farthing, and a valuation is made not only of their undoubted incomes but also of their expected gains, and not only their money and possessions, but even their names are placed on record, while new methods of taxation are contrived, not only on food but on the smallest articles, so that tyrants seize on a large portion of those things which are indispensably necessary to the wretched populace; and yet those calamities do not restrain men from insolence, licentiousness, and rebellion. What then will happen when they shall be free and at full liberty? Will they not, forgetful of all their distresses, and unmindful of God’s kindness, abandon themselves more freely than before to every kind of indulgence and licentiousness? It is not without good reason, therefore, that the Prophet places before the eyes of the people that wretched condition, that they may not, when delivered from it, giveway to their unlawful passions, but may acknowledge their deliverer and may love him with all their heart.
Some have falsely imagined that Paul (1 Corinthians 1:20) quotes this passage; for that would spoil the Prophet’s meaning and torture his words to a different purpose. They have been led into a mistake by the mere use of the word “scribe,” which there denotes a Teacher. Isaiah gives the name of “the scribe” to the person who took account of persons, families, lands, and houses, and, in short, who kept the registers of the taxes. By “the weigher,” he means the person who received the taxes, for he “weighed” the money which was paid. That office is discharged in the present day by those who are called treasurers.
Where is he who singles out the principal houses? He now.adds a very troublesome and exceedingly disliked class of men, “the describers of the towers,” that is, of the more remarkable buildings; for they visit and examine each person’s house, in order to know who are more wealthy than others, that they may demand a larger sum of money. Such men,like huntinghounds, are commonly employed by tyrants to scent the track of money, for the sake of laying on some unusual impost in addition to the ordinary taxes. The arrival of such persons must have been exceedingly annoying to the people, for they never cease till they have sucked all the blood and marrow. If any one prefer to view this term as denoting the servants of the king himself, whose business it was to destroy the houses adjoining to the walls of the city, let him enjoy his opinion. For my own part, I think it probable that the Prophet speaks of the receivers of taxes, whom conquerors appoint over vanquished nations for the sake of maintaining their authority.
19. Thou shaft not see a fierce people. The word נועז (nognaz) is translated by some “strong,” and by others “impudent;” but, undoubtedly, he intends to express the fierceness of the Assyrians, which he afterwards affirms by saying that they would have no intercourse with them, because they spoke a different language. Nothing is more fitted to excite men to compassion than the intercourse of speech, by which men explain their distresses to each other. When this is wanting, there can be no means of gaining their hearts; each party is a barbarian to the other; and nothing more can be obtained from them than if one were dealing with wild and savage beasts. The Prophet, therefore, dwells largely on the wretched condition of the people, in order to shew, on the other hand, how great was the kindness of God in delivering them from so great terror. In like manner, the Holy Spirit magnifies the grace of God, in preserving his people in Egypt, though
“they did not understand the language of that nation.”
20. Behold Zion. Some read it in the vocative case, “Behold, O Zion;” but it is preferable to read it in the accusative case. He brings forward a promise of the restoration of the Church, which ought to have great weight with all godly persons; for when the Church shakes or falls, there can be no hope of prosperity. That the Church will be restored he shews in such a manner that he places it before our eyes as having actually taken place, though he speaks of what is future; and his object is to give greater energy to his style, as if he had said, “Again you will see Zion restored and Jerusalem flourishing.” Although believers see everything destroyed and scattered, and although they despair of her safety, yet in Jerusalem there shall be a quiet and safe habitation.
The city of our solemnities, or of our assemblies. By this designation he shews that we ought to judge of the restoration of Zion chiefly on this ground, that the people “assembled” there to hear the Law, to confirm the covenant of the Lord, to call upon his name, and to offer sacrifices. When the people were deprived of these things, they were scattered and nearly lost, and appeared to be separated from their head and utterly abandoned. Accordingly, nothing was so deeply lamented by godly persons, when they were held in captivity at Babylon, as to be banished from their native country and at the same time deprived of those advantages; and that this was the chief complaint of all believers is very manifest from many passages. (Psalm 137:4.)
“Zion” is called by him “a city,” because it formed the middle of the city, and was also called “the city of David.” (Isaiah 22:9.) The extent of Jerusalem was different and larger; for, as we mentioned in the explanation of another passage, 1414 Commentary on Isaiah there was a double wall, which is customary in many cities. Here it ought to be observed that the restoration of the Church is the most valuable of all blessings, and ought above all things to be desired; that everything else, even though it should be most abundant, is of no avail, if this single blessing be, wanting; and, on the other hand, that we cannot be unhappy, so long as Jerusalem, that is, the Church, shall flourish. Now, it is restored and flourishes, when God presides in our assemblies, and when we are assembled in his name and thus cleave to him. Wicked men indeed shelter themselves under the name of God, as if they were assembled at his command; but it is an empty mask, for in their heart they are very far from him, and attempt nothing in obedience to his authority.
Jerusalem a peaceful habitation. He says that believers, who had long been agitated amidst numerous alarms, will have a safe and “peaceful habitation” in the Church of God. Although God gave to his people some taste of that peace under the reign of Hezekiah, yet it was only in Christ that the fulfillment of it was manifested. Not that since that time the children of God have had a quiet habitation in the world; even in the present day this peacefulness is concealed; for we lead an exceedingly wandering and uncertain life, are tossed about by various storms and tempests, are attacked by innumerable enemies, and must engage in various battles, so that there is scarcely a single moment that we are at rest. The peace which is promised, therefore, is not that which can be perceived by our bodily senses, but we must come to the inward feelings of the heart, which have been renewed by the Spirit of God, so that we enjoy that peace which no human understanding is able to comprehend; for, as Paul says, “it goes beyond all our senses.” (Philippians 4:7.) The Lord will undoubtedly bestow it upon us, if we dwell in the Church.
A tent which shall not be carried away, the stakes of which shall never be removed. By these metaphors of “a tabernacle” and of “stakes,” he describes accurately the condition of the Church. He might have called it a well-founded city, but he says that it is “a tabernacle,” which, by its very nature, is such that it can be speedily removed to a different place, in order that, though we may consider the condition of the Church to be uncertain and liable to many changes, yet we may know that it cannot be moved or shaken; for it will remain in spite of storms and tempests, in spite of all the attacks of enemies, and in opposition to what appears to be its nature, and to the views of our understanding. These two statements appear to be inconsistent with each other, and faith alone reconciles them, by maintaining that it is safer to dwell in this “tabernacle” than in the best defended fortresses.
We ought to employ this as a shield against temptations,which otherwise would speedily destroy our faith, whenever we perceive the Church to be not only shaken, but violently driven about in all possible directions. Who would say that amidst that violent storm the “tabernacle” was safe? But since God does not wish his people to be wholly fixed on the earth, that they may depend more on himself alone, the protection which he promises to us ought to be reckoned better than a hundred, better than a thousand supports.
21. Because there the mighty Jehovah will be to us. The two particles כי ים (ki im) often serve the place of a double affirmative, but here a reason is assigned, and they might even be appropriately rendered, For if; but I willingly retain what is more clear. The Prophet assigns the reason why the Church, which appears to resemble a movable “tent,” exceeds in stability the best founded cities. It is because “the Lord is in the midst of her,” as it is also said, (Psalm 46:5,) and “therefore she shall not be moved.” If we separate the Church from God; it will immediately fall without any attack; for it will consist of men only, than whom nothing can be more weak or frail.
Will be to us a place of rivers. When God dwells with us, he confirms and supports what was naturally feeble, and supplies to us the place of a very strong fortress, a very broad ditch, and walls and “rivers” surrounding the city on every side. He alludes to the situation of the city Jerusalem, which had only a small rivulet, and not large and rapid rivers, like those of Babylon and other cities; for in another passage (Isaiah 8:6) he enjoined them to rest satisfied with the power of God alone, and not to covet those broad rivers. As if he had said, “Our strength shall be invincible, if God rule over us; for under his guidance and direction we shall be abundantly fortified.”
There shall not pass a ship with oars. Large rivers are attended by this inconvenience, that they may give access to enemies, so as to enable them to approach with their ships nearer than is desirable; and thus, very frequently, what appeared to be of service is found to be injurious. But while the Lord says that he will be “a river,” he says also that there will be no reason to dread such an inconvenience, and that enemies will not be allowed to approach, he mentions two kinds of ships, long ships, and ships of burden, in order to shew that enemies will be shut out in every possible way. Hence we ought to draw a very useful doctrine, that the hope of safety should not be sought from any other than from God alone, and that it is in vain to collect various means of defense, which will be useless, and even hurtful, if He be not on our side.
22. For Jehovah is our judge. The Prophet now explains the manner in which God dwells in the Church. It is, that he is there worshipped and acknowledged as Judge, Lawgiver, and King; for they who obey God and yield subjection to him as their King, shall know by experience that he is the guardian of their salvation; but they who falsely glory in his name, vainly hope that he will assist them. Let us only yield to his authority, hear his voice, and obey him; and, on the other hand, he will shew that he is our protector and most faithful guardian. But when we despise his voice and disobey his word, we undoubtedly have no reason to wonder that he abandons and forsakes us in dangers.
Hence, also, we ought to observe what is the true Church of God. It is that which acknowledges God to be a “Lawgiver” and “King.” With what effrontery, therefore, do the Papists dare to boast that they are the Church of God, seeing that they reject that lawful government of it which was enjoined by Moses, and the Prophets, and Christ, and substitute in the room of it inventions and base traffic? They exert a cruel tyranny over consciences, and, by taking away all the liberty which Christ has bestowed on us, they wretchedly harass souls and lead them to perdition; but God alone has the right to rule the conscience, because he alone is “Lawgiver” and “Judge,” and he alone ought to rule and guide us by his word. He combines here the three words, “Judge,” “Lawgiver” and King,” because the subject is of very great importance, and ought not to be lightly set aside. If, therefore, we permit ourselves to be guided by his word, he will never fail us; and this is the only way of obtaining salvation.
23. Thy cords were loosed. He directs his discourse to the Assyrians, in whose person he likewise addresses all the enemies of the Church. After having promised to the Church such stability as shall never be disturbed, he rebukes the foolish confidence with which ungodly men are puffed up; as if they had been so deeply rooted as to reach the center of the earth. Although, during the intoxicating influence of prosperity, they imagine that their wealth is exceedingly secure, he foretells that ruin will quickly overtake them, because they are not supported by the hand of God.
He follows out the comparison which he had employed at the commencement. Having said that the Church resembles a place that is fortified and surrounded by very broad rivers which do not admit the approach of enemies, he now compares the condition of wicked men to ships; by which he means that they have no solid foundation, though they appear to be formidable, and though they are madly eager and fiercely cruel, and imagine that none can resist their rage. Although, therefore, they have long ships and ships of burden, by which they may be said to form a union between countries placed at great distances from each other, and to make themselves masters of sea and land, still they shall have no permanency or stability. The Lord will sink their ships, will take away their ropes and masts, and will involve them in a universal shipwreck. Let us not therefore be terrified by their fury and insolence, but let us look for the day of the Lord, when he shall make their rage and violence to fall on their own heads.
24. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick. The Prophet again returns to the Church; for the destruction which he threatened against the Assyrians tended also to the consolation of the godly, since the safety of the Church could not be maintained unless the Lord granted his protection against so many adversaries who attack and molest her on every hand. Accordingly, having briefly remarked that all the reprobate who annoy the children of God shall be defeated, he appropriately follows out his subject by affirming that God will leave nothing undone that could promote the salvation of the godly. He says, therefore, that the citizens of the Church shall be freed from every inconvenience, because through the favor of God they shall enjoy prosperity.
The people that dwell in it have been freed from iniquity. This latter clause of the verse explains the former; for it shews that there is nothing to prevent the blessings of God from being largely enjoyed by us, when our sins have been pardoned. Hence, also, we conclude, that all the miseries which press upon us spring from no other source than from our sins. On any other ground the reason which he assigns might appear to be, farfetched and inappropriate; but we must hold this principle, that all the evils which God inflicts upon us are so many tokens of his anger. Hence it follows that, when guilt has been removed, nothing remains but that God will regard us with the affection of a father, and will graciously bestow upon us all that we need. If, therefore, we desire to be delivered from afflictions, we ought to observe this order, to seek first to be reconciled to God; for the removal of the cause would be speedily followed by the removal of the effect.
But seeing that our desires, are illregulated, and that, in consequence of being anxious merely to avoid punishments, we shut our eyes against the root of our distresses, we need not wonder that we obtain no alleviation of them. Those persons, therefore, are mistaken who indulge in their vices, and yet wish to be exempted from every kind of afflictions. If they do not suffer and adversity, still they will not cease to be miserable, and cannot enjoy peace of mind so long as they are pursued by the consciousness of their crimes. Consequently, true happiness consists in this, that we have obtained pardon from God, and sincerely believe that all the blessings which we receive from his hand are the results of his fatherly kindness.
Let us also learn that there is no other way in which we can please God, or obtain the honor of being accounted his children, than when he ceases to impute to us our sins; and therefore it is only the reconciliation which we obtain by free grace that pacifies God toward us, and opens up the way to the enjoyment of his goodness. That there is no visible evidence of that exemption from afflictions does not lessen the truth of the promise, because believers are abundantly satisfied with this comfort in their afflictions, that even when they are chastened by the hand of God, still they are his beloved children. So far as they have been renewed by his Spirit, they begin to taste the blessing which was in full perfection before the fall of Adam; but because they are burdened with many sins, they constantly need to be cleansed. Still, however, through compassion on their weakness, God mitigates their punishment, and, if not by removing altogether, yet by abating and soothing their grief, shews that he promotes their happiness; and therefore it is not without good reason that the Prophet declares the Church to be exempted from ordinary calamities, so far as they proceed from the curse of God.
Hence, also, we see clearly how childish is the distinction of the Papists, that the removal of guilt is of no avail; as if we had to satisfy the judgment of God. But far otherwise do the prophets teach, as may be easily learned from various passages; and if there had been nothing more than this single passage, can anything be plainer than that sicknesses come to an end, because iniquity has been pardoned? The meaning is undoubtedly the same as if he had said, that punishment ceases because sin has been pardoned. True, indeed, though God has been pacified towards them, 1515 “Encore qu’il leur air pardonne.” “Though he has forgiven them.” he sometimes inflicts punishment on believers; and the object is, that by fatherly chastisement he may instruct them more fully for the future, and not that he may take vengeance on them, as if he had been but half reconciled. But Papists think that their punishments are of the nature of satisfactions, and that by paying them the sinner in some measure redeems himself, and puts away his guilt; which is absolutely inconsistent with a free pardon. Thus their abominable inventions, both about satisfactions, and about the fire of purgatory, fall to the ground.
It is also worthy of observation, that none but the citizens of the Church enjoy this privilege; for, apart from the body of Christ and the fellowship of the godly, there can be no hope of reconciliation with God. Hence, in the Creed we profess to believe in “The Catholic Church and the forgiveness of sins;” for God does not include among the objects of his love any but those whom he reckons among [he members of his onlybegotten Son, and, in like manuel’, does not extend to any who do not belong to his body the free imputation of righteousness. Hence it follows, that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.