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Cyrus, God’s Instrument

45

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,

whose right hand I have grasped

to subdue nations before him

and strip kings of their robes,

to open doors before him—

and the gates shall not be closed:

2

I will go before you

and level the mountains,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze

and cut through the bars of iron,

3

I will give you the treasures of darkness

and riches hidden in secret places,

so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,

the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

4

For the sake of my servant Jacob,

and Israel my chosen,

I call you by your name,

I surname you, though you do not know me.

5

I am the Lord, and there is no other;

besides me there is no god.

I arm you, though you do not know me,

6

so that they may know, from the rising of the sun

and from the west, that there is no one besides me;

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

7

I form light and create darkness,

I make weal and create woe;

I the Lord do all these things.

 

8

Shower, O heavens, from above,

and let the skies rain down righteousness;

let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,

and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;

I the Lord have created it.

 

9

Woe to you who strive with your Maker,

earthen vessels with the potter!

Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?

or “Your work has no handles”?

10

Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you begetting?”

or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”

11

Thus says the Lord,

the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:

Will you question me about my children,

or command me concerning the work of my hands?

12

I made the earth,

and created humankind upon it;

it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,

and I commanded all their host.

13

I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,

and I will make all his paths straight;

he shall build my city

and set my exiles free,

not for price or reward,

says the Lord of hosts.

14

Thus says the Lord:

The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia,

and the Sabeans, tall of stature,

shall come over to you and be yours,

they shall follow you;

they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.

They will make supplication to you, saying,

“God is with you alone, and there is no other;

there is no god besides him.”

15

Truly, you are a God who hides himself,

O God of Israel, the Savior.

16

All of them are put to shame and confounded,

the makers of idols go in confusion together.

17

But Israel is saved by the Lord

with everlasting salvation;

you shall not be put to shame or confounded

to all eternity.

 

18

For thus says the Lord,

who created the heavens

(he is God!),

who formed the earth and made it

(he established it;

he did not create it a chaos,

he formed it to be inhabited!):

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

19

I did not speak in secret,

in a land of darkness;

I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,

“Seek me in chaos.”

I the Lord speak the truth,

I declare what is right.

 

Idols Cannot Save Babylon

20

Assemble yourselves and come together,

draw near, you survivors of the nations!

They have no knowledge—

those who carry about their wooden idols,

and keep on praying to a god

that cannot save.

21

Declare and present your case;

let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?

Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?

There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Savior;

there is no one besides me.

 

22

Turn to me and be saved,

all the ends of the earth!

For I am God, and there is no other.

23

By myself I have sworn,

from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness

a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,

every tongue shall swear.”

 

24

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,

are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him

shall come to him and be ashamed.

25

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel

shall triumph and glory.

 


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1. Thus saith Jehovah. He pursues the subject which he had begun to handle. He shews that not in vain did he promise deliverance to his people, since the manner of it was altogether decreed and appointed by him; 191191     “Estoit decrete et ordonne desia en son conseil.” “Was already decreed and appointed in his counsel.” for when the question relates to our salvation, we always inquire into the way and manner. Although God frequently chooses to hold us in suspense, and thus conceals from us the method which he has ready at hand, yet, in this instance he indulges the weakness of his people, and explains the method in which he will deliver them.

To Cyrus his anointed. He names the person by whose hand he will bring them back; for, since their faith would be sharply tried by other temptations, he wished in this respect to provide against doubt, that the difficulty of the event might not shake them. And in order to impart greater efficacy to this discourse, he turns to Cyrus himself: “I have chosen thee to be a king to me; I will take hold of thy hand, and will subject the nations to thy authority, so that they shall open up a passage for thee, and voluntarily surrender.” These words have greater effect than if the Lord spoke to his people.

Yet it might be thought strange that he calls Cyrus his Anointed; for this is the designation which was given to the kings of Israel and Judah, because they represented the person of Christ, who alone, strictly speaking, is “the Lord’s Anointed.” “The Lord went forth with his Anointed,” says Habakkuk, “for the salvation of his people.” (Habakkuk 3:13.) In the person of David a kingdom had been set up, which professed to be an image and figure of Christ; and hence also the prophets in many passages call him “David,” and “the Son of David.” (Ezekiel 37:24, 25.) It was indeed a special anointing, intended to distinguish that priestly kingdom from all heathen kingdoms. Since therefore this title belonged to none but the kings of Judea, it might be thought strange that it is here bestowed on a heathen king and a worshipper of idols; for although he was instructed by Daniel, yet we do not read that he changed his religion. True, he regarded with reverence the God of Israel, and considered him to be the Highest; but he was not prompted by a sincere affection of the heart to worship him, and did not advance so far as to forsake superstitions and idolatries.

Thus God deigns to call him his “Anointed,” not by a perpetual title, but because he discharged for a time the office of Redeemer; for he both avenged the Church of God and delivered it from the Assyrians, who were its enemies. This office belongs peculiarly to Christ; and this ordinary appellation of kings ought to be limited to this circumstance, that he restored the people of God to the enjoyment of liberty. This should lead us to observe how highly God values the salvation of the Church, because, for the sake of this single benefit, Cyrus, a heathen man, is called “the Messiah,” 192192     For an explanation of the meaning and use of the term “Messiah,” see Harmony of the Evangelists, vol. 1, p. 92, n. 2, and p. 142, n. 2. — Ed. or “the Anointed.

Whose right hand I have taken hold of. By this mode of expression, he means that Cyrus shall prosper in all his undertakings, for he shall carry on war under God’s direction; and therefore Isaiah declares that, for the sake of the Church, in order that he may deliver her, God will grant to him prosperity in all things; while he again commends the providence of God, that the Jews may fully believe, amidst changes and troubles, that God on high governs all things in such a manner as to promote the benefit of his elect. Now, since it was not easy for Cyrus to penetrate as far as Babylon, because the whole of Asia had leagued together in order to frustrate his designs, the Prophet testifies that God will dissolve all the strength which men can bring against him.

I will loose the loins of kings. Because the whole strength lies in the reins, the Hebrew writers use the phrase “opening,” or “loosing the loins,” to denote “being deprived of strength.” We might also view it somewhat differently, that is, that the Lord will “make bare,” or “loose their loins,” according to the customary manner of Scripture, by which kings are said to be ungirded of the belt, namely, of the badge of royalty, when they are deprived of authority. Job (Job 12:18) employs this mode of expression, and Isaiah will afterwards employ it: 193193     Our author has already explained this allusion. See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 2, p. 135. — Ed. “I will gird thee.” (Ver. 5.) On this account I more readily adopt this sense, that the force of the contrast may be more evident. This shews clearly that kings have just as much strength and power as the Lord bestows on them for the preservation of each nation; for when he determines to convey their authority to others, they cannot defend their condition by any weapons or swords.

To open the gates before him. By this expression he means that no fortresses can resist God, which indeed is acknowledged by all, but yet they do not cease to place foolish confidences in bulwarks and fortresses; for, where cities are well surrounded by walls, and the gates are shut, men think that there they are safe. On the other hand the Prophet shews that all defences are useless, and that it serves no purpose to block up every entrance, when the Lord wishes to open up a way for the enemies. Although it is certain that the gates were shut and securely barred, yet, because Cyrus pushed his way as swiftly as if all the cities had been thrown open, the Prophet justly affirms that nothing shall be closed against him.

2. and 3. I will go before thee. These two verses contain nothing new; but, in general, he shews that Cyrus will gain an easy and rapid victory, because he will have the Lord for the leader of his expedition. Accordingly he promises that all crooked paths shall be made straight, because God will remove every obstruction. Now, since money is the sinews of war, and Cyrus came from the scorched and poor mountains of Persia, Jehovah says that treasures which were formerly hidden and concealed shall come into the hands of Cyrus, so that, laden with rich booty, he shall have enough for defraying any expenditure; for by the treasures of darkness he means those which lay concealed, and as it were buried in safe and deep places of defense. It is abundantly clear from history, that all these things happened; for by taking Croesus, king of Lydia, who was at that time the richest of all men, he obtained large sums of money. Nor would any one have expected that he would gain victories so easily; and the reason of so great success is now added, because the Lord called and directed him, that he might give in him an illustrious demonstration of his power; for he adds —

That thou mayest know that I am Jehovah. True, Cyrus, as we formerly said, though he acknowledged that the God of Israel is the true God, and was filled with admiration, yet was not converted to him, and never embraced his pure worship according to the standard of the Law. This was therefore special knowledge, that is, so far as he assisted the Church, for whose deliverance he was appointed; and therefore it was necessary that he should be under the influence of this knowledge, in order that he might execute this work of God. Thus he does not speak of that knowledge by which we are enlightened, or about the Spirit of regeneration, but about special knowledge, such as men destitute of religion 194194     “Les profanes et incredules.” “Heathens and infidels.” may possess.

Calling thee by thy name. From some commentators this mode of expression has received a trivial interpretation, that “before Cyrus was born, God called and described him by his name.” But we have seen in a former passage, (Isaiah 43:1,) that the Prophet, while he used the same form of expression, meant something different; for God is said to “call by name” those whom he has chosen, and whom he appoints to perform some particular work, that they may be separated from the multitude. This word denotes closer and more familiar intercourse. Thus a shepherd is said to “call his sheep by name,” (John 10:3,) because he knows them individually. This applies indeed, in the highest degree, to believers, whom God reckons as belonging to his flock, and to the number of the citizens of his Church. God did not bestow this favor on Cyrus; but because, by appointing him to be the leader of so excellent a deliverance, he engraved on him distinguished marks of his power; with good reason is the commendation of an excellent calling applied to him.

The God of Israel. This ought to be carefully observed; for superstitious men ascribe to their idols the victories which they have obtained, and, as Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:16) says, “They sacrifice every one to his god;” and therefore they wander in their thoughts, and conceive in their hearts any deity that they fancy, while they ought to acknowledge that Jehovah is the only and true God. What is said of Cyrus ought to be much more applied to us, that we may not fashion any knowledge of God according to our fancy, but may distinguish him from idols, so as to embrace him alone, and to know him in Christ alone, apart from whom nothing but an idol, or even a devil can be worshipped. In that; respect, therefore, let us surpass Cyrus, to whom the knowledge of God was revealed, so that we may lay aside superstitions and all false worship, and may thus adore him in a holy and upright manner.

4. For the sake of my servant Jacob. He shews for what purpose he would grant such happy and illustrious success to this prince. It is, in order that he may preserve his people; as if the Lord had said, “Thou shalt indeed obtain a signal victory, bur I will have regard to my own people rather than to thee; for it is for their sake that I subject kings and nations to thy power.” By these predictions, indeed, the Lord intended to encourage the hearts of believers, that they might not despair amidst those distresses; but undoubtedly he intended likewise to excite Cyrus to acknowledge that he owed to that nation all that he should accomplish, that he might he more disposed to treat them with all kindness.

And Israel mine elect. In this second clause there is a repetition which serves still farther to explain that reason; and at the same time he shews on what ground he reckons the Israelites to be “his servants.” It is because he condescended to choose them by free grace; for it is not in the power of men to make themselves “servants of God,” or to obtain so great honor by their own exertions. This clause is therefore added, 195195     “Ce mot d’ eleu est donc adjuste.” “This word elect is thus added.” as before, for the sake of explanation. But still it denotes also the end of election; for, since we are naturally the slaves of Satan, we are called in order that, being restored to liberty, we may serve God. Yet he shews that no man is worthy of that honor, as we have said, but he whom God hath chosen; for who will boast that he is worthy of so high an honor, or what can we render or offer to God? Thus “we are not sufficient of ourselves, but the Lord hath made us sufficient,” as Paul says. (2 Corinthians 3:5.) The beginning of our salvation, therefore, is God’s election by free grace; and the end of it is the obedience which we ought to render to him.

But although this is limited to the history of Cyrus, still we may draw from it a general doctrine. When various changes happen in the world, God secures at the same time the salvation of his people, and in the midst of storms wonderfully preserves his Church. We are indeed blind and stupid as to the works of God, yet we ought firmly to believe that, even when everything appears to be driven about at random, and to be tossed up and down, God never forgets his Church, whose salvation, on the contrary, he promotes by hidden methods, so that it is at length seen that he is her guardian and defender.

Josephus relates a memorable narrative about Alexander, who, while he was besieging Tyre, sent ambassadors to Jerusalem, to demand the tribute which the Jews were paying to Darius. Jaddus, the high-priest, who had sworn that he would pay that tribute, would not become subject to Alexander, and refused to pay him the tribute. Alexander was highly offended, and, swelling with pride and fierceness, determined to destroy Jerusalem, and, after having conquered Darius, marched to Jerusalem, for the purpose of consigning it to utter destruction. Jaddus went out to meet him, accompanied by other priests and Levites, wearing the priestly dress; and Alexander, as soon as he saw him, leapt from his horse, and threw himself down as a suppliant at his feet. Every person was astonished at a thing so strange and so inconsistent with his natural disposition, and thought that he had lost his senses. Parmenio, who alone of all who were present asked the reason, received a reply, that he did not adore this man, but God, whose servant he was; and that, before he left Dion, a city of Macedonia, a man of that appearance and dress, who appeared to have the form of God, presented himself to him in a dream, encouraged him to take Asia, and promised to be the leader of the army, so that he ought to entertain no doubt of victory, and therefore that he could not but be powerfully affected by seeing him. In this manner, therefore, was Jerusalem rescued from the jaws of that savage highwayman who aimed at nothing else than fire and bloodshed, and even obtained from him greater liberty than before, and likewise gifts and privileges. 196196     Joseph. Ant., Book 11, chap. 8.

I have quoted this example in order to shew that the Church of God is preserved in the midst of dangers by strange and unusual methods. Those were troublous times, and scarcely a corner of the earth was at rest; but above all other countries Judea might be said to be devoted to destruction. Yet behold the Church rescued in a wonderful and unusual manner, while other nations are destroyed, and nearly the whole world has changed its face!

And yet thou hast not known me. These words are added for the purpose of giving greater force to the statement, not only that Cyrus may learn that this is not granted on account of any of his own merits, but that he may not despise the God of Israel, though he does not know him. The Lord frequently, indeed, reminds us on this subject, that he anticipates all the industry that exists in men, in order that he may beat down all the pride of the flesh. But there is another reason, as regards Cyrus; for if he had thought that the Lord granted those things for his own sake, he would have disregarded the Jews and treated them as despicable slaves. For this reason the Lord testifies that it does not happen on account of Cyrus’s own merit, but only for the sake of the people, whom he determines to rescue out of the hands of enemies. Besides, nothing was more probable than that this man, in his blindness, would appropriate to his idols that which belonged to the true God; because, being entirely under the influence of wicked superstitions, he would not willingly have given place to a strange and unknown God, if he had not been instructed by this prediction.

5. I am Jehovah. He confirms the preceding statement, and the repetition is not superfluous; for it was proper that it should be often repeated to Cyrus, that there is one God, by whose hands all rulers and nations are governed, that he might be drawn aside from all delusions and be converted to the God of Israel. Besides, it is clearly stated that we ought not to try to find divinity in any other; as if he had said, “Beware of ascribing this victory to idols, or forming any confused idea of a god such as men imagine; know that the God of Israel is the only author of this victory.” Although Cyrus did not profit by this admonition to such an extent as to leave his idols and devote himself to the true God, yet it made so deep an impression on his heart that he acknowledged Jehovah to be God and to possess the highest authority. At the same time, it was proper that they who were members of the Church should embrace this doctrine, that they might boldly despise all pretended gods.

I have girded thee. That girding corresponds to the nakedness which he formerly mentioned, (verse 1,) when he said that he “opened” or “ungirded the loins of kings;” for he is said to “gird” those whom he supplies with strength and courage and renders victorious. Hence it ought to be inferred, that men have no courage but when the Lord imparts to them his power and strength, that neither weapons nor any military force can do anything unless he assist, and, in a word, that he presides over all wars, and gives victory to whomsoever he pleases, that none may think that it happens by chance. He again repeats, Though thou hast not known me, in order to make it still more certain that these things are granted to Cyrus for the sake of the Church, in order that he may give evidence that he remembers it with gratitude, and may shew kindness to the people of God in return for such a distinguished favor.

6. Therefore they shall know. He means that this favor shall be so remarkable as to be acknowledged and admired by all nations. This was not indeed immediately fulfilled; for, although the fame of that victory was spread far and wide, yet few understood that the God of Israel was the author of it; but it was immediately made known to the neighbors, and was communicated by one nation to another, till the report of it was spread throughout the whole world. He does not predict what shall happen immediately, but what shall happen afterwards, though these things were long concealed. God therefore did not permit the remembrance of this transaction to fade away, but determined that it should be handed down in permanent records, that it might be celebrated in all ages, and by the most distant nations, to the very end of the world. We must therefore remember what I formerly remarked, that the Prophet interweaves earlier and later events, because the return of the people was the prelude to a future redemption, and that he thus speaks of a perfect restoration of the Church. Besides, when it happens that the illustrious works of God are buried by the ingratitude and malice of men, still it does not cease to be true, that they shall be visible to the whole world; for they shine openly and brightly, though the blind do not see them.

7. Forming light. As if he had said, that they who formerly were wont to ascribe everything either to fortune or to idols shall acknowledge the true God, so as to ascribe power and the government and glory of all things, to him alone. He does not speak of perfect knowledge, though this intelligence is requisite for the attainment of it. But since the Prophet says that it shall be manifest even to heathens, that everything is directed and governed by the will of God, they who bear the Christian name ought to be ashamed, when they strip him of his power, and bestow it on various governors, whom they have formed according to their fancy, as we see done in Popery; for God is not acknowledged when a bare and empty name is given to him, but when we ascribe to him full authority.

Making peace, and creating evil. By the words “light” and “darkness” he describes metaphorically not only peace and war; but adverse and prosperous events of any kind; and he extends the word peace, according to the custom of Hebrew writers, to all success and prosperity. This is made abundantly clear by the contrast; for he contrasts “peace” not only with war, but with adverse events of every sort. Fanatics torture this word evil, as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts “peace” with “evil,” that is, with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences. If he contrasted “righteousness” with “evil,” there would be some plausibility in their reasonings, but this is a manifest contrast of things that are opposite to each other. Consequently, we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of the “evil” of punishment, but not of the “evil” of guilt.

But the Sophists are wrong in their exposition; for, while they acknowledge that famine, barrenness, war, pestilence, and other scourges, come from God, they deny that God is the author of calamities, when they befall us through the agency of men. This is false and altogether contrary to the present doctrine; for the Lord raises up wicked men to chastise us by their hand, as is evident from various passages of Scripture. (1 Kings 11:14, 23.) The Lord does not indeed inspire them with malice, but he uses it for the purpose of chastising us, and exercises the office of a judge, in the same manner as he made use of the malice of Pharaoh and others, in order to punish his people. (Exodus 1:11 and 2:23.) We ought therefore to hold this doctrine, that God alone is the author of all events; that is, that adverse and prosperous events are sent by him, even though he makes use of the agency of men, that none may attribute it to fortune, or to any other cause.

8 Drop down dew from above. Some think that a form of prayer is here added, which it was the duty of believers to use while they were waiting for the redemption which is here described; and they connect this verse with the preceding in the following manner, “The Lord will not so speedily deliver you, but still it is your duty to be diligently employed in prayer.” But I interpret it differently in this manner. The Prophet always speaks in the name of God, who, in the exercise of his authority, calls on heaven and earth to lend their services to the restoration of the Church.

This verse is fitted very powerfully to confirm the godly in the hope of future redemption; for the people, wherever they looked, saw nothing but despair. If they tumed their eyes towards heaven, there they beheld the wrath of God; if towards the earth, there also were beheld afflictions and chastisements; and therefore nothing fitted to lead them to entertain favorable hope was visible. On this account the Prophet confirms them, and enjoins heaven and earth, which held out nothing but threatentings and terrors, to bring forth salvation and “righteousness.” This is more emphatic than if he promised that it shall be, when all the elements, which are ready to yield obedience to God, receive orders as to what he wishes them to do. And thus the stream of the discourse will flow on continuously, which otherwise will be abruptly broken off, if we understand this passage to be a prayer. 197197     “This is what is usually called ‘a prophetic imperative,’ which supplies the place of the future tense; for the prophets command those things to be done which they promise, and which they know will certainly happen. Thus Elisha said to Naaman, ‘Wash thee seven times in Jordan, and be thou clean;’ that is, ‘And thou shalt be clean.’ (2 Kings 5:10.) See also Isaiah 23:1, and 26:19“ — Rosenmuller.

And let the clouds drop righteousness. This form of expression is frequently employed in Scripture; such as,

“And the mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the hills righteousness.”
(Psalm 72:3.)

And again, “Piety and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other; truth shall spring from the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven;” where David describes the kingdom of Christ and its prosperity, and shews that in it “righteousness, peace, mercy, and truth, shall be joined together.” (Psalm 85:10, 11.) This passage treats of the same subject. There is an allusion to the ordinary food of men, who subsist on bread and other productions of the soil; for their life needs such aids. Now, in order that the earth may bring forth fruits, it must obtain its vigor from heaven and draw water from the clouds, that it may be rendered fertile, and then bring forth herbs and fruits both for men and for animals.

By the word righteousness he means nothing else than the fidelity with which the Lord defends and preserves his people. The Lord thus “drops down from heaven righteousness,” that is, well established order, of which salvation is the fruit; for he speaks of the deliverance of the people from Babylon, in which the Lord shews that he will be their protector. Yet while we understand the natural meaning of the Prophet, we must come down to the kingdom of Christ, to which these words undoubtedly bear a spiritual import; for God does not limit these promises to a few years, but continues his favors down to the coming of Christ, in whom all these things were abundantly fulfilled. There can be no doubt, therefore, that he likewise celebrates that eternal righteousness and salvation which is brought to us by Christ; but we ought first to observe that simple interpretation about the return from the captivity in Babylon.

9. and 10. Wo to him that striveth with his Maker! This passage is explained in various ways. Some think that it refers to King Belshazzar, who, as is evident from Daniel, haughtily defied God, when he profaned the vessels of the Temple. (Daniel 5:3.) But that is too forced an exposition. The second might appear to be more probable, that the Lord grants far more to his children than a man would grant to his sons, or an artisan to his work; for they suppose that a comparison of this kind is made. “If the son rise up against the father, and debate with him, he will not be listened to. The father will choose to retain his power, and deservedly will restrain his son; and in like manner, if the clay rise up against the workman. But the Lord permits questions to be put to him, and kindly offers to satisfy the people; nay, even bids them put questions to him.” And thus they join together the 10th and 11th verses, and think that God’s forbearance is manifested by treating us with greater kindness, and condescending to greater familiarity, than men usually exhibit towards their sons.

The latter exposition is indeed more plausible, but both are at variance with the Prophet’s meaning; and therefore a more simple view appears to me to be, to understand that the Prophet restrains the complaints of men, who in adversity murmur and strive with God. This was a seasonable warning, that the Jews, by patiently and calmly bearing the cross, might receive the consolation which was offered to them; for whenever God holds us in suspense, the flesh prompts us to grumble, “Why does he not do more quickly what he intends to do? Of what benefit is it to him to torture us by his delay?” The Prophet, therefore, in order to chastise this insolence, says, “Does the potsherd dispute with the potter? Do sons debate with their fathers? Has not God a right to treat us as he thinks fit? What remains but that we shall bear patiently the punishments which he inflicts on us? We must therefore allow God to do what belongs to him, and must not take anything from his power and authority.” I consider הוי, (hoi,) Wo! to be an interjection expressive of reproof and chastisement.

Potsherd to potsherds. That is, as we say in common language, (Que chacun se prenne a son pareil,) “Let each quarrel with his like,” “Let potsherds strive with potsherds of the earth.” 198198     “It seems to be a just observation of Hitzig, that earth is not mentioned as the dwelling of the potsherd, but as its material, which is indeed the predominant usage of אדמה, (adamah,) as distinguished from ארץ, (eretz.)” Alexander. When he sends men to those who are like themselves, he reproves their rashness and presumption, in not considering that it is impossible to maintain a dispute with God without leading to destruction; as if he had said, “With whom do they think that they have to deal? Let them know that they are not able to contend with God, 199199     “Que Dieu sera plus fort qu’ eux.” “That God will be stronger than they.” and that at length they must yield. And if, unmindful of their frailty, they attack heaven after the manner of the giants, they shall at length feel that they did wrong in warring 200200     “Qu’ ils ont eu tort de guerroyer.” with their Maker, who can without any difficulty break in pieces, and even crush into powder, the vessels which he has made.

Some interpret חשים (charasim) to mean “workmen” or “potters,” and suppose the meaning to be, “Shall the potsherd rise up against the potter?” But those interpreters change the point and read ש (schin) instead of ש (sin). I acknowledge that such diversity and change may easily occur, but I prefer to follow the ordinary reading, and to adopt this simple meaning, “Shall the clay say to its maker? A potter is allowed to make any vessel of what form he pleases, a father is allowed to command his sons; will you not admit that God possesses a higher right?” Thus he reproves those who in adversity remonstrate with God, and cannot patiently endure afflictions.

We ought therefore to listen to the warning given by Peter, when he bids us learn to submit to God, and to “humble ourselves under his mighty hand,” (1 Peter 5:6,) so as to yield to his authority, and not to strive with him, if he sometimes tries us by various afflictions; because we ought to acknowledge his just right to govern us according to his pleasure. If we must come to debate, he will have such strong and decisive arguments as shall constrain us, being convicted, to be dumb. And when he restrains the insolence of men, it is not because he is destitute of argument, but because it is right and proper that we should yield and surrender ourselves to be wholly governed according to his pleasure; but at the same time he justly claims this right, that his own creatures should not call him to render an account. What can be more detestable than not to approve of his judgments, if they do not please men?

Paul makes use of the same metaphor, but on a higher subject; for he argues about God’s eternal predestination, and rebukes the foolish thoughts of men, who debate with God why he chooses some, and reprobates and condemns others. He shews that we ought, at least, to allow to God as much power as we allow to a potter or workman; and therefore he exclaims,

“O man, who art thou, that repliest against God? Shall the clay say to the potter, Why hast thou made me thus?”
(Romans 9:20.)

“Who is so daring as to venture to oppose God, and to enter into debate with him?” Thus he perfectly agrees with the Prophet, though he makes use of this metaphor on a different and more intricate subject; for both affirm that God has full power over men, so as to permit themselves to be ruled and governed by him, and to endure patiently all adverse events. There is only this difference, that Isaiah reasons about the course of the present life, but Paul ascends to the heavenly and eternal life.

His work hath no hands. The Prophet speaks in ordinary language, as we say that one “puts the last hand,” when a thing is completed, and that “hands are wanting,” when a work is disorderly, confused, or imperfect. Thus, whenever men murmur against God for not complying with their wishes, they accuse him either of slothfulness or of ignorance.

11. Thus saith Jehovah. I have already said, that I do not agree with those who connect this verse with the preceding, as if God, abandoning his just right, gave permission to the Jews to put questions more than is allowed among men. There is another meaning not much different, that the Israelites are miserable, because they know not, and do not even wish to know the will of the Lord; that they do not seek and even do not accept of consolation; and, in short, that the deep sorrow with which they are oppressed arises from the fault of the people, that is, because they do not ask at the mouth of the Lord. If we adopt this exposition, we must arrive at the conclusion that this passage treats of a different kind of inquiry; for as it is unlawful to thrust ourselves into the secret decrees of God, so he graciously condescends to make known to his people, as far as is necessary, what he intends to do; and, when he opens his sacred mouth, he justly commands us to open our ears to him, and to hear attentively whatever he declares. Now, we also know by experience that which Isaiah brings as a reproach against the ancient people.

But it is more reasonable to view this statement as depending on the preceding, so as to be an application of the metaphor in this sense: “A son will not be allowed to enter into a dispute with his father, and the clay will not be permitted to strive with its potter; how much more intolerable is this liberty which men take, when they prescribe to God in what manner he ought to treat his sons?” For otherwise this sentence would be broken and imperfect, but those two clauses agree beautifully with each other. “The potter will make clay of any shape according to his pleasure, the son of a mortal man will not venture to expostulate with his father; and will you refuse to me, who am the supreme Father and Maker of all things, to have equal power over my sons and my creatures?” If the former meaning be preferred, the Prophet reproaches men with their slothfulness, in not deigning to put questions to God, and to learn from his mouth those things which related to their consolation; for they might have learned from the prophecies that God took care of them, and might have known the conclusion of their distresses. And indeed there is no better remedy in adversity than to ask at the mouth of God, so as not to fix our eyes on the present condition of things, but to embrace with the heart that future salvation which the Lord promises.

“The Lord is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tried beyond what we are able to bear; but with the temptation will also grant deliverance, and will increase his grace in us.”
(1 Corinthians 10:13.)

Command ye me. This must not be understood as denoting authority; for it does not belong to us to “command” God, or to press upon him unseasonably; and it will not be possible for any person to profit by the word of God, who does not bring an humble heart. 201201     “Un esprit humble et modeste.” “An humble and modest mind.” But God presents himself to us, that we may ask from him what is of importance to us to know; as if he had said, “Order me; I am ready to reveal those things which are of the highest importance for you to know, that you may derive consolation from them.” But as that would be an unnatural mode of expression, I consider that the complaint which I have stated is more simple, that God is robbed of a father’s right, if he do not retain the absolute and uncontrolled government of his Church. Thus, in the clause, Ask me of things to come, the word ask is taken in a bad sense, when men, forgetting modesty, do not hesitate to summon God to their bar, and to demand a reason for anything that he has done. This is still more evident from the word command; as if he had said, “It will belong to you, forsooth, to prescribe what shape I ought to give to my work!”

In a word, the Prophet’s design is to exhort men to moderation and patience; for, as soon as they begin to dispute with him, they endeavor to drag him from his heavenly throne. Now, he does not address the Jews alone, for he needed to restrain the blasphemies which even at that time were current among infidels. It is as if God, wishing to maintain his right, thus refuted the slanders of the whole world: “How far shall your insolence carry its excesses, that you will not allow me to be master in my own workshop, or to govern my family as I think fit?”

12. I made the earth. He appears merely to maintain the power of God, as be had formerly done; so that there is an indirect contrast between God and idols, which superstitious persons worship. Foolish men ask counsel of idols, as if the world were governed at their pleasure. On the contrary, God calls us back to himself, when he says that he

“made the earth, and placed man upon it, and that his hands stretched out the heavens.” (Genesis 1:1, 6,26.)

But it will be more appropriate, in my opinion, to apply the whole of this discourse to the nature of the present subject. “Can anything be more foolish than that men shall uphold their own rank, and shall haughtily interrogate, and treat as a criminal, God, whose majesty is above the heavens?” Thus he indirectly censures the madness of men, who do not scruple to exalt themselves above the very heavens. Yet at the same time he reminds them that, if it must come to a strict examination, God will not want arguments to defend his cause; for, if he governs the whole world, he undoubtedly takes a peculiar care about his own people, and does not care for strangers, so as to allow the members of his family to be scattered and wander. Thus, then, I understand this verse. “Shall I, whose vast and inconceivable wisdom and power shine brightly in heaven and earth, not only be bound by human laws, but be degraded below the ordinary lot of men? And if there be any doubts of my justice, shall not I, who rule and govern all things by my hand, be careful of those whom I have adopted into my family? Shall I not watch over their salvation?”

Thus it is an argument from the less to the greater, and this meaning is agreeable to Scripture. We know that we have been adopted by God, in such a manner that, having been received under his protection, we are guarded by his hand; and none can hurt us, but by his permission. If “a sparrow,” as Christ tells us, “does not fall to the ground without his permission,” (Matthew 10:29,) shall we whom he values more than the sparrows be exposed by him at hazard to the rage and cruelty of enemies? And, therefore, since God upholds all the creatures by his providence, he cannot disregard the Church, which he prefers to the whole world. We must, therefore, betake ourselves to this providence, even in the most desperate affairs, and must not give way to any temptations by which Satan attacks us in various ways.

13. I have raised him up. He now continues the subject on which he had entered in the beginning of the chapter; for, having undertaken to soothe their affliction, which was exceedingly sharp and severe, Isaiah holds out the hope of deliverance, and stretches out his hand to them, that they may look for an absolutely certain redemption. Though you think that you are ruined, yet the Lord will protect you against destruction. Why the reproof which we have seen was intermingled with it, may be easily gathered from the event itself; for, if Isaiah had not abruptly made this digression, the Jews, in their vehement impatience, would have been hurried into despair.

In righteousness. This means “justly and truly,” and must be understood relatively; for it assigns the reason why God determined to raise up Cyrus, that is, because he is a faithful guardian of his Church, and does not disappoint his worshippers. Some explain it, “in justice,” that is, in order that he may punish the Babylonians; and others, “that he may reign justly;” but the Prophet meant nothing of this sort. But in the Scriptures, “righteousness” often signifies fidelity, (Psalm 5:8; 22:31), because the Lord manifests his “righteousness” by fulfilling his promises and defending his servants. The “righteousness” of God shines brightly in giving a display of exalted and perfect rectitude by saving his people; for, although there is no work of God on which a mark of righteousness is not engraven, yet a much more clear and striking proof is seen in the salvation of the Church. The meaning therefore is, that he “raised up” Cyrus, in order to manifest his “righteousness” in him, whom he has appointed to lead and conduct in bringing back his people.

He shall build my city. Jerusalem is meant, which he calls “his city,” because he wished that there the remembrance of his name should be preserved, and because he had consecrated it in a peculiar manner to himself. In like manner God himself had declared,

“Wherever I shall cause my name to be recorded, I will come to thee, and will bless thee.” (Exodus. 20:24.)

Now, there was no other city which he had appointed for sacrifices and vows, and for calling on his name; and, therefore, also it is called (Psalm 46:4, 5) “The city of God, the holy tabernacle of the Most High, for God is in the midst of her;” and in another place it is said, “This is my rest for ever and ever.” (Psalm 132:14.) Now, Cyrus did not build this city with his own hand, but by royal edicts forbade any one to hinder the rebuilding of it, and likewise supplied the people with provisions and money. (2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2; 6:3.)

And shall release my captivity, not for a price, that is, “for nothing.” This was uncommon; for, if captives are released by a conqueror, either a price is demanded, or harsh conditions are imposed on them; but Cyrus did nothing of that kind. Hence it follows that this deliverance took place by the will of God, and not by the will of man. The word “captivity” is here used as a collective noun, denoting “captives.”

14. Thus saith Jehovah. He still speaks of the restoration which was afterwards effected under the conduct of Cyrus; but we must keep in remembrance what we formerly remarked, that those promises must be extended farther; for it includes the whole time which followed, down to the coming of Christ. Whoever shall duly consider and weigh this Prophet’s ordinary style will find in his words nothing extravagant, and will not look upon his language as exaggerated.

The labor of Egypt, the merchandise of Ethiopia. The Prophet alludes to the expenses which Cyrus contributed for building and adorning the temple. (Ezra 6:8) At that time was fulfilled what he says, that “the labor of Egypt” and “the merchandise of Ethiopia” came to the Jews; for “Egypt and Ethiopia” were tributaries and subjects of the king of Persia. From those tributes the temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt. But as that restoration was only the prelude to that which was accomplished by Christ, so likewise the homage which foreign nations rendered to the people of God was only the beginning of that homage which various nations rendered to the Church of God, after Christ had been revealed to the world.

Now, under the name of “Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sabeans,” who flourished at that time, he includes also the rest of the nations. It is as if he had said, “You are now oppressed by the tyranny of foreign nations, but the time shall one day come when they shall be subject to you.” This was not immediately fulfilled, but only at the time when Christ, by his coming, subdued their flinty and hitherto untameable hearts, so that they mildly submitted to the yoke that was laid upon them. But the Lord redeemed his people from Babylon, in order that he might preserve some Church till the coming of Christ, to whose authority all nations should be subject; and therefore we need not wonder, if the Prophet, when speaking of the return of the people, directs his discourse at the same time to God’s end and design, and makes it to be one redemption.

In chains they shall pass over. When he says that the Israelites shall be victorious over all the nations, this depends on the mutual relation between the Head and the members. Because the Only-begotten Son of God unites to himself those who believe in him, so that they are one with him, it frequently happens that what belongs to him is attributed to

“the Church, which is his body and fullness.”
(Ephesians 1:23.)

In this sense also government is ascribed to the Church, not so as to obscure by haughty rule the glory of her Head, or even to claim the authority which belongs to him, or, in a word, so as to have anything separate from her Head; but because the preaching of the gospel, which is committed to her, is the spiritual scepter of Christ, by which he displays his power. In this respect no man can bow down submissively before Christ, without also obeying the Church, so far as the obedience of faith is joined to the ministry of doctrine, yet so that Christ their Head alone reigns, and alone exercises his authority.

Surely 202202     “Seulement.” “Only.” God is in thee. He relates what will be said by those who shall make respectful entrearies to the Church. They will acknowledge that “God is in her.” Some translate אך (ach) only, which I do not object to, and even acknowledge to be well adapted to express the Prophet’s meaning; yet it will not be inappropriate to explain it affirmatively, Surely God is in thee

And there is none besides God. 203203     “N’y en a point d’autre que Dieu.” “There is no other than God.” He explains the manner in which foreign nations shall be subject to the Jews; that is, by acknowledging that there is no other God than He whom the Jews worshipped. If it be objected, that this has nothing to do with the Jews, who are now alienated from the Church, I reply, The gospel nevertheless proceeded from them, and was diffused throughout the whole world; and thus we acknowledge Jerusalem to be the fountain from which pure doctrine flowed. (Psalm 76:2; Luke 24:47.) In ancient times there undoubtedly were none but the Jews who understood who is God, and what is the proper manner of worshipping him; the rest were devoted to trifles and delusions, and worshipped their own inventions. Hence also Christ, addressing the Samaritan woman, says, “We know what we worship.” (John 4:22.) Justly, therefore, is it here said, “God is in thee,” because other nations were ignorant of God. Yet as there is an implied contrast, I cheerfully admit the adverb only, so as to be a testimony of the repentance of the Gentiles, when they are satisfied with the one God and forsake their idols.

The meaning may be thus summed up, “They who formerly were haughty, and with lofty brow despised the Church, shall submit to her, when it shall be known that she is the sanctuary of the true God,” for, as we have said, when God extols his Church, he does not relinquish his own authority. And this is a Sign of true conversion, that we do not worship a God whom we have imagined, but him who is acknowledged in the Church. We ought also to observe this encomium pronounced on the Church, “God is in thee;” for, as we formerly quoted, “God is in the midst of her,” because he hath chosen her to be his habitation. (Psalm 46:5.) If we are the people of God, and are subject to his doctrine which bringeth salvation, it follows that he will assist, us; because he does not wish to forsake his people; for this promise is perpetual, and ought not to be viewed as referring solely to that time.

15. Truly thou art a God that hidest thyself. Isaiah now exclaims, that there is need of long exercise of patience, that we may enjoy the promises of God; for the people might have been prompted to despair, when the wicked had everything to their wish, and when everything adverse befell themselves. I am aware that some expound it differently. The Jewish writers commonly interpret it to mean, that the Lord will hide himself from the Gentiles, but will reveal himself to his people. Christian interpreters bring forward a different sense, but too far-fetched. There is ingenuity, indeed, in what they say, that Christ is a hidden God, because his divinity lies concealed under the infirmity of the flesh. But it does not agree with the Prophet’s meaning; for he calls himself “a hidden God,” because he appears to withdraw, 204204     By a reference to the human form ἀνθρωπομορφῶς God is said, in the ordinary language of Scripture, to hide himself when he refuses assistance, does not answer prayers, and withdraws himself, that is, withdraws his power from the wishes of men. There is, as Hensler has justly observed, a beautiful contrast between מסתתר,(mistatter,) hiding, and מושיע, (moshiang,) saving.” Doederlein. and, in some measure, to conceal himself, when he permits his people to be afflicted and oppressed by various calamities; and, therefore, our hearts ought to be encouraged by hope. Now, as Paul says, (Romans 8:24,) “hope is not directed to those things which are seen;” and in this sense Isaiah calls him “a hidden God,” because those things which he promised are not immediately visible to our eyes.

Thus he intended that we should withdraw our minds from present objects, and raise them above the heavens, which we must do, 205205     “Ce qu’ aussi nous devons faire.” if we wish to receive and accept of his aid. There is “need of patience,” (Hebrews 10:36,) therefore, that we may continue to direct our desires towards him, when he delays the execution of his promises. He had said, a little before, that unbelievers, though at that time they were blind and stupid, would feel the presence of God; but, because the time of manifestation was not yet at hand, this exclamation is appropriately introduced, that God, before he displays his glory, conceals his power in order to try our faith.

God the Savior of Israel. That the Prophet does not speak of the essence of God, but of his assistance, may be easily inferred from the epithet which is now added, when he calls God “the Savior.” He explains that God “hides himself” in the method which he takes for saving his Church, because he conceals his hand for a time in such a manner as if he had intended totally to abandon them. He wishes that our salvation should remain, as it were, hidden in darkness, that, if we desire to enjoy it, we may know that we must go out of this world, 206206     “Hors de ce monde.” for it will not all at once present itself to us, or become visible to our eyes. We ought, therefore, to look for it with unshaken steadfastness; for it is highly advantageous that in this manner God should try and prove our faith, that, when we shall be oppressed by various afflictions on every hand, we may nevertheless rely on God and on his promises.

16. and 17. They shall all be put to shame. Here the Prophet compares the Jews with the Gentiles, in order to meet a grievous and dangerous temptation, by which they might be assailed, when they saw the Gentiles enjoying prosperity; 207207     “En voyant les Gentils avoir toutes choses a souhait.” “When they saw the Gentiles have everything to their wish.” for, amidst so great troubles, they might have suspected that God was favorable to the Gentiles, or that he had cast away the care of his people, or that everything was governed by the blind impulse of fortune. The Prophet, therefore, assures them that, although for a time the Gentiles flourish and appear to be exalted to heaven, 208208     “Et semblent estre elevees jusqu’ au ciel.” yet the result must be, that they shall perish and Israel shall be saved. In a word, he exhorts them not to judge of the power of God from the present condition of things, not to have their minds fixed on temporary happiness, but to raise them to eternal salvation, and, when struck by the hand of God, patiently to bear their condition, and, on the other hand, not to envy the prosperity of the wicked, which shall be followed by a moumful reverse, as it is excellently described by the Psalmist. (Psalm 37:1,2.)

This statement is added to the preceding; for whoever shall know that God, when he is a “Savior,” is “hidden,” will not wonder that wicked men enjoy prosperity, and that good men are poor, and despised, and tried by various afflictions. Thus the Lord makes trial of our faith and patience, and yet no part of our eternal salvation is lost; but they who now appear to be a thousand times safe and happy shall at length perish, and all the wealth which they possess shall plunge them in deeper ruin; because they abuse God’s benefits, and, like robbers, seize on what belongs to other men, even though they appear to possess all of them by a just title. Whenever, therefore, this thought arises in our minds, “Wicked men are at ease, and therefore God favors them, and the promises on which we rely are unworthy of credit;” let us betake ourselves to this declaration of the Prophet as the surest anchor, and let us fortify ourselves by it, “The Lord will not disappoint our expectation, but we shall at length be delivered, even though we be now exposed to the reproaches, slanders, mockings, and cruelty of the wicked.”

18. For thus saith Jehovah. This verse tends to confirm the preceding; for the Prophet means that the Jews are fully convinced that the Lord will at length deliver them, though they are oppressed by wretched bondage.

God the maker of the earth. Some think that by “the earth” is here meant Judea, but I consider it to be an argument from the less to the greater, as we said formerly on the twelfth verse, that, since the providence of God extends universally to the creatures, much more does it relate to those whom he has adopted to be his sons; for of them he has a special care. In short, the Prophet’s argument is this. “Since God created the earth, that men might have an abode and habitation in it, much more did he create it, that there might be a residence for his Church; for he takes a deeper concern about his Church than about all the rest.” If, therefore, he founded the earth, if he gave to it a shape and a fixed use, that men might be nourished by the fruits which it should produce, he has undoubtedly assigned to his children the first place and the highest rank of honor. This is not always visible to our eyes, and therefore our hearts ought to be encouraged and upheld by hope, that we may stand unmoved against all temptations.

In a word, as long as the earth shall endure, so long shall the Church of God exist; so long as the sun and moon shall last, it shall not fail. Afterwards the Prophet will use a still stronger argument. “If the covenant which God made with Noah, as to the settled order of this world, is stable, much more the covenant which he hath made concerning the Church must be stable. (Isaiah 54:9; Genesis 9:9.) The world is fading and corruptible; but the Church, that is, the kingdom of Christ, shall be eternal; and therefore it is reasonable to believe that the promises which relate to the Church shall undoubtedly be more stable and permanent than all the rest.

He did not create it empty. As it is the principal ornament of the earth that it is the abode of inhabitants, he adds, that it was not created in order that, by being empty, it might be waste and desolate. If it be objected, on the other hand, that the earth was “empty and void” when it was created, as appears from that passage in which Moses employs the same word that is here used by the Prophet, תהו, (tohu,) which means “shapeless and empty,” the answer is easy. The Prophet does not speak of the commencement of the creation, but of God’s purpose by which the earth was set apart for the use and habitation of men; and therefore, there is nothing here that is contrary to what is said by Moses, for Isaiah contemplates the end and use.

He formed it to be inhabited. This statement indeed extends to all mankind, because the earth was appointed to all, that they might dwell in it; for how comes it that God nourishes us and supplies us with everything that is necessary, and even supports wicked men, but because he intended that his decree should stand, by which he gave the earth to be inhabited by men? In any other point of view, it is strange that he bears with so many sins and crimes, and does not entirely destroy mankind; but he has regard to his own purpose, and not to our merit. Hence kingdoms and commonwealths are sustained, and hence ranks of society and forms of government are preserved even amidst barbarians and infidels; for, although God often reduces some countries to desolation on account of the sins of men, and sprinkles them, as it were, with “saltness,” (Psalm 107:34, 209209     It may be necessary to remind the reader, that, in the passage alluded to, the word commonly rendered “barrenness” literally means “saltness.” On this point our author’s version and commentary, and the editor’s instructive note, may be consulted with advantage. See Com. on the Psalms, vol. 4, p. 260. — Ed. ) that they may become barren, and may never again be able to support their inhabitants, yet he always adds this alleviation, “that the earth may be inhabited;” for this is his inviolable decree. Yet we must bear in remembrance what I have already said, that, so long as the earth shall be inhabited, it is impossible that God shall not support his worshippers who call upon him. Besides, from this passage all good men ought to derive the highest consolation, that, although they are despised by the world and are few and feeble, and although, on the other hand, wicked men surpass them in numbers, and power, and influence, while they are despised so as to be reckoned of less value than “the offscourings of the world,” (1 Corinthians 4:13,) yet they are precious in the sight of God, because he reckons them in the number of his children, and will never suffer them to perish.

I am Jehovah. When he repeats that he is God, this is not intended merely to assert his essence, but to distinguish him from all idols, and to keep the Jews in the pure faith; for even superstitious men acknowledge that there is one God, but conceive of him according to their fancy; and therefore we must acknowledge God, who revealed himself to the fathers, and who spoke by Moses. Thus, he does not speak merely of God’s eternal essence, as some think, but of all the offices which belong to him alone, that no part of them may be ascribed to creatures.

19. Not in secret have I spoken. He now recalls the people to the doctrine of the Law, because God cannot be comprehended by human faculties; but as he is concealed from carnal reason, so he abundantly reveals himself, and affords the remedy, by his word, which supplies what was wanting, that we may not desire anything more. If this had not been granted, we should have had no hope, and should have lost all courage. Now, he solemnly declares that he does not invite us in vain, though he delay his assistance; for what he has promised is most certain, and, as he plainly shewed to whom we ought to betake ourselves, and on whom we ought to rely, so he will give practical demonstration that the hope of those who relied on his word was not vain, or without foundation.

This enables us to see clearly how wicked are the speeches of those who say that no certainty can be obtained from the word, and who pretend that it is a nose of wax, in order to deter others from reading it; for thus do wicked men blaspheme, because the mere doctrine of the word exposes and refutes their errors. But we reply with David,

“Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths.”
(Psalm 119:105.)

We reply with Isaiah and the rest of the prophets, that the Lord has taught nothing that is obscure, or ambiguous, or false. We reply also with Peter, that

“the prophetic word is more sure, and you do well if you take heed to it, as to a lamp buming in a dark place, till the day dawn, and the morning-star arise in our hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19.)

If these things were said concerning the Law and the prophets, what shall we say of the Gospel, by which the clearest light has been revealed to us? Shall we not say with Paul,

“If the Gospel is dark, it is dark to those who are lost, whom Satan, the prince of this world, hath blinded?”
(2 Corinthians 4:3,4.)

Let blind and weak-sighted men therefore accuse themselves, when they cannot endure this brightness of the word; but, whatever may be the darkness by which they shall endeavor to clothe it, let us adhere firmly and steadfastly to this heavenly light.

Besides, the Prophet appears to allude to the predictions which were uttered out of the groves and tripods of the idols. 210210     “Vitringa, Lowth, Ewald, and Umbreit suppose an allusion to the mysterious and doubtful responses of the heathen oracles. The objections of Gesenius are of no more weight than in verses 1, 2, 3, the analogy of which places makes it not improbable that such an allusion to the oracles is couched under the general terms of the verse before us.” — Alexander. They are uncertain and deceitful, but nothing of this kind can be found in God’s answers; for he speaks openly, and utters nothing that is deceitful or ambiguous. But experience tells us that Scripture is somewhat dark and hard to be understood. This is indeed true, but ought to be ascribed to the dulness and slowness of our apprehension, and not to the Scripture; for blind or weak-sighted men have no right to accuse the sun, because they cannot look at him.

I have not said in vain to the seed of Jacob, Seek me. This continues to be a fixed principle, that they who shew themselves to be submissive and obedient, do not spend their labor in vain; because God faithfully performs the office of a teacher towards poor and little ones. Now, though all do not rise in the highest degree, yet the labor of those who shall sincerely seek God will never be unprofitable. By this expression, Seek me, Isaiah points out the principal end and use of the Law, to invite men to God; and, indeed, their true happiness lies in being united to God, 211211     “C’est leur vraye felicite d’estre conjoints a leur Sauveur.” “It is their true happiness to be united to their Savior.” and the sacred bond of union is faith and sincere piety.

In this second clause he not only asserts that he has spoken clearly and without ambiguity, but declares the certainty and steadfastness of his word; as if he had said, that he does not promise largely with an intention to deceive, or amuse hungry men by words, but actually performs what he has promised. This demonstrates the ingratitude of those who, when they are called, do not answer; since God has no other design than to make us partakers of all blessings, of which we are otherwise empty and destitute.

I Jehovah speaking righteousness. This is added for the sake of explanation; as if he had said that the word by which he draws his elect to himself, is not soiled by any stain of fraud, but contains the most perfect holiness. “The words of the Lord,” as David says, “are clean, like silver purified in an earthen fumace, seven times refined.” (Psalm 12:6.) Thus, in the word of God we have bright righteousness, which instantly shines into our hearts, when the darkness has been removed.

20. Assemble yourselves, He challenges all superstitious persons, and, as it were, appoints a day that they may submit to a righteous judgment, as we have formerly seen in expounding other passages, in order to shew that they can plead nothing which shall not be speedily overtumed. Now, indeed, they delight in their superstitions; but all their smoke shall be dispelled, when they come to plead their cause, and without any difficulty they shall be convicted. Let them then “assemble” in crowds, let them conspire and make every effort by fraud, and threatenings, and terrors; the truth shall at length be victorious. This confirmation was highly necessary for the Jews, because in every nation and in every place they beheld the spread of wicked errors which buried the worship of the true God. We also ought to betake ourselves to this refuge, when we see how few and how feeble we are. The Mahometans possess a large portion of the world, the Papists, with elevated crest, triumph far and wide, while we are but a handful of people, 212212     “Qui ne sommes qu’une poignee de gens.” and are scarcely reckoned in the number of men. But truth shall at last prevail, and shall cast down all that loftiness which now dazzles the eyes of men.

Ye rejected of the nations 213213     “Ye (that are) escaped of the nations.” — Eng. Ver.
This interpretation, though set aside by our author, is approved by able commentators. “Escaped of the nations has been variously explained to mean the Jews who had escaped from the oppression of the Gentiles, and the Gentiles who had escaped from the dominion of idolatry. But these last would scarcely have been summoned to a contest. On the whole, it seems most natural to understand the nations who survived the judgments sent by God upon them. The Hebrew phrase is in itself ambiguous, the noun added to פליטי (pelite) sometimes denoting the whole body, out of which a remnant has escaped, sometimes the power from which they are delivered. Compare Judges 12:4; Ezra 6:9; 7:16; Obadiah 11, with Jeremiah 44:28; Ezra 6:8. The predominant usage and the context here decide in favor of the first interpretation.” — Alexander.
פליטי (pelite) is translated by some “rejected,” by others “exiles,” or “those who have escaped;” and the address is supposed to be made to the Jews who had retumed from the captivity. But that is too forced a sense. The more generally received interpretation is, “Rejected of the nations,” because פלט (palat) means “to reject.” Not that he describes the meaner sort, or the refuse of men; but, on the contrary, he directs his discourse to those who were the highest in rank, and wealth, and power, and learning among the Gentiles. He calls them “rejected,” because they are of no value in the sight of God, though they are highly esteemed by men; for

“that which ranks high among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15.)

Yet if it be thought preferable to translate it “distant,” I have no objection; as if he had said, “Let them assemble from the farthest parts of the earth.”

That carry the wood of their graven image. He shews how great is the madness which seizes idolaters, who worship images, which they bear on their shoulders and carry round on waggons. Or we may take נשיים (nesum) as denoting “to place on a lofty and elevated spot,” as it was a crafty device of Satan to erect statues on pillars and lofty places, in order to excite the admiration of men, and to lead men to pay honor and reverence by merely looking at them. But we may interpret it simply as denoting all worship that is rendered to images, so as to convict them of vanity and madness. Superstitious persons know that idols need the aid and assistance of men, instead of men needing the aid and assistance of idols, which cannot even be made to stand upright without the agency of men. 214214     “Lesquelles ne pourroyent demeurer debout si les hommes n’y mettoyent la main.” “Which could not stand upright, if men did not put their hand to them.” And this is the meaning of what next follows, to pray to a god that cannot save; for what can be more foolish than to address vows and prayers to wood and stone? and yet infidels run about to dead statues, for the purpose of seeking salvation from them.

21. Tell ye. He again challenges all those who might have annoyed the Jews and shaken their faith by their taunts; for he always keeps this object in view, to fortify the faith of the people against all the assaults of the Gentiles. Amidst temptations so numerous and so severe, there was danger lest the Jews should sink under their terrible afflictions, if there had not been powerful arguments on the other side to induce them still to worship and trust the true God; and therefore he permits heathens to produce and bring forward everything that they can find in support of their cause.

Let them also take counsel together. These words are added, in order to inspire greater confidence; for the Prophet means, as we have already said, that they will gain nothing, though they “take counsel” among themselves and enter into a conspiracy. Yet, perhaps, he intended also to make it evident that there is nothing but groundless pretense and falsehood in all that infidels contrive for excusing their errors. Whatever then may be the gaudy ostentation with which they plume themselves on their inventions, the Prophet shews that the word of God will be abundantly strong to support the faith of believers. He challenges them to a strict examination, in order to compare with the Law and the prophets all that infidels boast of as having been foretold by their idols. I cheerfully admit what is generally believed, that the Prophet speaks of the redemption of the people; but as the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy was likewise connected with it, I think that it is also included.

Who hath proclaimed this from the beginning? Because there is a repetition of the same statement, מקדם (mikkedem) and מאז (meaz) mean the same thing; as if he had said, “from the beginning,” or, “from of old;” for this prophecy was published long before the event happened. Hence believers might with certainty conclude that God had spoken.

And a savior. To foreknowledge he adds power, as in a former passage. Yet he likewise describes for what purposes he exerts his power, that is, for “saving” his people.

22. Look unto me. Hitherto he addressed the Jews alone, as if to them alone salvation belonged, but now he extends his discourse farther. He invites the whole world to the hope of salvation, and at the same time brings a charge of ingratitude against all the nations, who, being devoted to their errors, purposely avoided, as it were, the light of life; for what could be more base than to reject deliberately their own salvation? He therefore commands all “to look to him,” and to the precept adds a promise, which gives it greater weight, and confirms it more than if he had made use of a bare command.

And ye shall be saved. Thus we have a striking proof of the calling of the Gentiles; because the Lord, after having broken down “the partition-wall” (Ephesians 2:14) which separated the Jews from the Gentiles, invites all without exception to come to him. Besides, we are here reminded also what is the true method of obtaining salvation; that is, when we “look to God,” and tum to him with our whole heart. Now, we must “look to him” with the eye of faith, so as to embrace the salvation which is exhibited to all through Christ; for “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him may not perish.” (John 3:16.)

For I am God. When he exhorts all the ends of the earth, he at the same time shews that all men have hitherto wandered, and have not “looked to” the true God; for where infidelity exists, there cannot be a distinct looking towards God, so as to distinguish him from empty masks. In a word, he declares that the ruin of all has been occasioned by their being driven about by their wicked inventions, and thus revolting from the true God, from the knowledge of whom certain and eternal salvation flows. The Lord therefore stretches out his hand, in order to rescue all and point out the method of obtaining salvation.

This makes it evident that it was not at random that the doctrine of the Gospel was preached to all nations, but by the decree of God, by whom it had been long ago ordained. Yet, as I remarked a little before, he accuses the Gentiles of stupidity, in allowing their senses to be tumed and whirled about in all directions, wherever their fancy led them. Though by nature they could not approach to God, and though they even sucked in with their milk the superstitions by which they were blinded, yet God might have justly reproached them with wicked contempt of his grace; for ignorance always implies hypocrisy, when men choose rather to be deceived by empty flatteries than to go straight to God.

23. I have sworn by myself. He adds a clearer confirmation of the preceding statement; for, in consequence of this calling being unusual and marvellous, he adds an oath, as is usually done in what is new and hard to be believed. The Jews might have objected, that they alone were called by the name of the elect people; but, when he confirms it by an oath, this removes all debate. The Prophet still, indeed, aims at the same object, namely, that the glory of God shall be so visible in the restoration of the Church as to arouse the whole world to the admiration of it from the rising to the setting of the sun, or, to express it more briefly, that this demonstration of the power of God shall be so splendid and illustrious as to strike all nations with fear. Yet from these words we may justly infer what I have remarked, that the Gentiles shall be admitted to an equality with the Jews, so that God shall be the common Father of all, and shall be worshipped in every country.

Now, God “swears by himself,” because he cannot have another equally competent witness of the truth; for he alone is the truth. “Men,” as the Apostle says, “swear by a greater than themselves; but God, because he had no greater, hath sworn by himself.” (Hebrews 6:16.) We ought to observe the reason why he “swears.” It is because he intended to aid the weakness of his people, that they might not be tossed about in uncertainty. This certainly is wonderful condescension, that, in order to remedy the fault of our distrust, he does not scruple to bring forward his own name as holding the place of a pledge; and the more base and disgraceful must be our unbelief, if even an oath does not satisfy us. Besides, since God claims for himself all confirmation of the truth, we ought to be exceedingly careful, when we appeal to him by an oath, not to mingle any other names either of saints or of any creature, but, by using his name with all becoming reverence, to preserve the honor due to him entire and unabated.

The word hath gone out of my mouth in righteousness. He means that all that he has commanded to be published by his Prophet is firm and lasting, as if he had said that this commandment did not proceed “out of his mouth” rashly or unadvisedly. And in this sense the word righteousness is often used in Scripture, that is, for a word that is not deceitful, which shall clearly appear to be perfectly true; and thus he says that the decree cannot be revoked.

And shall not return. This is another mode of expression conveying the same idea. It means that the word of God shall continue to make progress, till the actual result shall make manifest that it has proceeded from a just and true and almighty God. A person is said to return, when some obstacle hinders him from proceeding farther; but, because nothing can prevent God from executing what he has decreed, the Prophet justly infers that nothing can interrupt or retard the course of this word. The particle כי, (ki,) that, must be viewed as introducing an explanatory clause; as much as to say, “This is the word,”

That to me every knee shall bow. By this mode of expression he means that all the Gentiles shall be suppliants to God, because the astonishing deliverance of the Church shall strike terror upon all. Yet hence also it follows, that his worship shall be spread among all nations; for we cannot truly “bend the knee” before God till he hath been made known to us. To an unknown God, indeed, men may render some kind of worship; but it is false and unprofitable. But here he speaks of a true profession, which proceeds from a knowledge of God deeply seated in our hearts; for, where there is no faith, there can be no worship of God, and faith is not directed to a thing unknown or uncertain. Accordingly, he has made use of the sign to express the thing itself, as is frequently done.

Hence it ought to be observed, that God demands also external worship; for the Prophet does not separate an external profession of religion from the inward feelings of the heart. In vain, therefore, do fanatics boast that in some manner they worship God and do homage to him, while they bow down before idols. In vain, I say, do they pretend that their heart is upright towards God; for the worship of the heart cannot be separated from an external profession. In like manner the soul cannot be dedicated and consecrated to God, while the body is consecrated to the devil; for both ought to be consecrated to God, and thus the worship of the heart ought also to be accompanied by an external profession.

“With the heart we believe to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (Romans 10:10)

Hence also the Lord, approving of the piety and uprightness of his people, says, “that they have not bowed a knee before Baal.” (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4.)

Paul applies this passage of Isaiah to the last judgment, when he says (Romans 14:10, 11) that “we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;” although the subject here treated of is, the redemption of the people, the publication of the gospel, and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. But he takes for granted (what all ought to know) that those statements which relate to the kingdom of Christ must not be limited to any part of it, but extend to the whole of its course, till it arrive at full perfection. The knee is bent to Christ, when his doctrine is obeyed, and when the preaching of the gospel is accepted. But many still oppose and boldly despise him; Satan contrives many schemes and incessantly carries on war with him; and therefore we are at a great distance from the full accomplishment of this prophecy. Then shall every knee be truly bent to Christ, when he shall triumph over vanquished and utterly ruined adversaries, and shall render visible to all men his majesty, which Satan and wicked men now oppose. Thus Paul teaches that, when Christ shall ascend his judgment-seat to judge the world, then shall be fully accomplished that which began to be done at the commencement of the gospel, and which we still see done from day to day.

Every tongue shall swear. By a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, the word swear is put for worship, reverence, or subjection. “Swearing” is one department of the honor which is due to God; for by it we confess and acknowledge that he is the Author and Father and lawful defender of the truth, and that “all things are naked and open to him.” (Hebrews 4:13.) Whenever therefore this honor is bestowed on idols, the majesty of God is dishonored by abominable sacrilege; and consequently they who worship him purely swear exclusively by his name. But on this subject we have spoken 215215     See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 2, p. 70. in the exposition of another passage. (Isaiah 19:18.)

24. Surely in Jehovah. He shews what is the nature of true faith and of the true worship of God; that is, when we not only acknowledge, or perceive by the understanding, that there is a God, but likewise feel what he wishes to be towards us. Whoever shall be satisfied with a bare knowledge departs very widely from faith, which must invite us to God in such a manner that we shall feel him to be in us. In like manner Paul wishes that

“Christ should dwell in the hearts of believers through faith.” (Ephesians 3:17.)

He who imagines that God sits unemployed in heaven either will not humble himself sincerely before him, or will not make an open and sincere profession.

Righteousness and strength. As these are the two principal parts of our salvation, when believers acknowledge that they receive both of them from God, they ascribe to him the undivided praise of a happy life, and testify that by nature they do not possess that which they acknowledge that they owe to his grace. Thus they own that in themselves they have nothing either of “righteousness” or of “strength,” but seek them in God alone, that he may not be defrauded of his right.

To him shall he come. Here commentators differ; but, for my own part, I take a simple view of this passage as relating to believers who submit themselves to God, so as to enable us to perceive the nature of the contrast between them and rebels, who do not cease obstinately to resist God. I explain it thus: “They who shall confess that their righteousness is placed in God will approach to him.” He means that we obtain access to God through faith, so that they who perceive that their righteousness is placed in him, feel that he is present; and indeed no man, if he be not reconciled to God, will ever approach to him willingly, but, on the contrary, all who dread his majesty will fly to the greatest possible distance from him. Thus the Prophet applauds the very delightful result of grace, because it will unite to God those men who were formerly driven away from him by their wickedness; and to this corresponds what is said by the Psalmist,

“Thou art the God that heareth prayer; to thee shall all flesh come.” (Psalm 65:2.)

But all who defy him shall be ashamed. After having testified that God wishes to gather strangers from their dispersion, that he may bring them into a state of intimate friendship with himself, he threatens vengeance against despisers, who, being without God, and despising God, give the reins to their wicked passions, and wallow in the enjoyments of the world. As it is only by faith that we obey God, so it is by unbelief alone that Isaiah declares his anger to be provoked; while he distinguishes all unbelievers by this mark, that they are disobedient to God, and even challenge him to a contest. Although they now use the language of triumph, the Prophet declares that they shall be clothed with shame and disgrace.

25. In Jehovah shall be justified. He now makes a brief reply to an objection which might be urged, that it appeared absurd to say, that the Lord called the Gentiles, who had always been alienated from him. “Is it in vain that the Lord hath chosen the seed of Abraham? Is his promise void, which he so frequently repeated?” (Genesis 15:5, and 17:7.) In order to remove this doubt, he declares that the Lord will nevertheless stand by his promises; that, though he choose the Gentiles, yet the covenant which he made with the fathers shall not fall to the ground, because the elect people shall enjoy the privileges of their rank. Nor does he in this passage, as in many others, speak of the rejection of that nation; but the Prophet simply shews that the grace of God, which shall be diffused throughout the whole world, shall flow from that fountain.

As to the greater number having been rejected by God, still this did not set aside God’s covenant; because the remnant of adoption were always the true and lawful Israel; and although they were few in number, yet they were the first-born in the Church. Besides, all those among the Gentiles who had been ingrafted into that body began also, as we have formerly seen, to be accounted children of Abraham.

“One shall say, I belong to Jacob; another shall subscribe with his band, I am a descendant of Israel.” (Isaiah 44 5.)

And on this ground we are now reckoned the genuine Israel of God, though we are not the descendants of Israel. The Prophet therefore added this, both that the Jews might not think that the Lord’s covenant had failed, and that they might not boast of their birth and despise the Gentiles.

All the seed of Israel. He extends this seed farther, that they may not suppose that it ought to be limited to the family of Abraham; for the Lord gathers his people without distinction from among Jews and Gentiles, and here he speaks universally of the whole human race.

Shall be justified and shall glory. It ought to be observed that the Prophet says that we “are justified and glory in the Lord,” for in none else ought we to seek “righteousness” or “glory.” He has joined to it “glory,” which depends on “righteousness,” and is added to it. Hence also Paul says,

“Where is thy glorying? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:27.)

And, again,

“If Abraham was justified by works, he hath glory,
but not before God.” (Romans 4:2.)

It follows, therefore, that they alone deservedly glory who seek their righteousness in God, and acknowledge that in themselves they have no ground for glorying.




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