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57. God's Accusation Against Wicked
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. 2He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
3But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. 4Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, 5Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks? 6Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these? 7Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. 8Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it. 9And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell. 10Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved. 11And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? 12I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.
13When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain; 14And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people. 15For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. 16For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. 17For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. 18I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. 19I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him. 20But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. 21There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
1. The righteous man hath perished. Isaiah continues his subject; for, after having shown how fearlessly hypocrites indulge in their luxuries, and with what impudence they despise the word of God, he likewise complains that they do not consider the works of God. We have been placed here, as in a spacious theater, to behold the works of God; and there is no work of God so small that we ought to pass by it; lightly, but all ought to be carefully and diligently observed.
And no man layeth it to heart. The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions. The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense, that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound.
Men of mercy are gathered. If by “men of mercy” be meant kind or tender-hearted men, this description ought to be carefully studied, by which the Prophet shows what is the true righteousness of the children of God; for hypocrites reckon this to be of no value. But nothing is more acceptable to God than kindness, by which we give evidence of our righteousness, and manifest that our heart is free from all hypocrisy. Yet we may with equal propriety take the phrase “men of mercy” in a passive sense, as meaning those whom the Lord has embraced by his mercy; for it is a phrase of frequent occurrence in Hebrew writings. Nor will it be inappropriate to suppose that there is an implied contrast between the grace of God and the wicked and unfavorable judgments of men; for they are wont to look on those persons as condemned who are taken away in the flower of their age. But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.
Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men. This doctrine is highly appropriate to every age. It frequently happens that God takes good men out of this world, when he intends to punish severely the iniquities of the ungodly; for the Lord, having a peculiar regard to his own people, takes compassion upon them, and, as it were, snatches them from the burning, that even survivors may perceive in it the wrath of God. And yet this is not an invariable rule; for righteous men are frequently involved, along with the reprobate, in temporal punishments; but it is so frequent that it rarely happens otherwise. 105105 “This is a beautiful sentiment, that God removes righteous and good men from a world unworthy of them, and takes them to himself, so that they are not stained by the offenses of their time, or mingled with the prevailing corruption that universally devours, and do not consent to it, or connive at it, and thus expose themselves to similar judgments of God, which have been decreed and appointed for the ungodly. It has undoubtedly been remarked by the wise in every age, that the sudden death of good and judicious men is a clear indication of the approaching ruin of a state.” Vitringa.
In our own times a remarkable instance of this was given in the death of Luther, who was snatched from the world a short time before that terrible calamity befell Germany, which he had foretold many years before, when he exclaimed loudly against that contempt of the Gospel, and that wickedness and licentiousness which everywhere prevailed. Frequently had he entreated the Lord to call him out of this life before he beheld that dreadful punishment, the anticipation of which filled him with trembling and horror. And he obtained it from the Lord. Soon after his death, lo, a sudden and unforeseen war sprang up, by which Germany was terribly afflicted, when nothing was farther from her thoughts than the dread of such a calamity.
Instances of this kind occur every day; and if men observed them, they would not so heedlessly flatter themselves and their vices. But I thought it right to take special notice of this event, both because it happened lately, 106106 “Pource que c’est une chose avenue depuis peu d’annees.” “Because it is an event that happened but a few years ago.” and because in so distinguished a preacher of the Gospel and prophet of God it must be more clearly seen. We ought, therefore, to consider diligently the worlds of the Lord, both in the life and in the death of “the righteous,” but especially in their death, by which the Lord calls them away to a better life, that they may be rescued from those afflictions in which the wicked must be plunged.
2. Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.
They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”
Whosoever walketh before him. 107107 “Walking in his uprightness, or, before him.” (Eng. Ver.) “The phrase denotes, ‘One who walks straight before him,’ so as to follow constantly the rule, not turning aside from it to the right hand or the left, and observing and keeping the straight line and road towards the end or mark which the Lord has held out to them, according to the example of the Apostle. (Philippians 3:14)” — Vitringa. I do not think that the verb “walketh” is connected with שלום, (shalom,) “peace,” as some do, who suppose the meaning to be this, that peace shall go before believers, so as to be, as it were, the guide of their life. But I am of opinion that believers, on the contrary, are described by it; as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.
It will be said, “Do not righteous men enjoy this peace while they live?” for the fruit of faith is, that; “in patience we may possess our souls.” (Luke 21:19) Although faith produces peace in our hearts, (Romans 5:3) yet we are tossed about by various storms and tempests; and never in life are we so calm and peaceful as when the Lord takes us to himself. Peaceful and calm, therefore, is the death of the righteous, (Psalm 116:15) for it is “precious in the sight of God;” but stormy is the death of the wicked. 108108 “Mais celle des meschans est effroyable.” “But that of the wicked is frightful.” Hence also we may learn that souls are immortal; for if souls had no feeling, (as some fanatics have dreamed,) they could not enjoy “peace.” Thus they enjoy peace and repose, because they live in Christ.
3. And draw near, ye sons of the sorceress. After having spoken of the happy and peaceful death of good men, he breaks out with very great vehemence against the wicked, who did not cease to lead a base and shameful life, and were not moved by the death of believers. As he had said that good men enjoy peace, so he threatens that the wicked shall have ceaseless war. He taught that to the holy servants of God death shall even be like a hiding-place, to shelter them from the whirlwind, and storm, and other tempests, that he might threaten the worst of evils against the obstinate despisers of God. Here we ought to observe the contrast, between good men who walk before God, and the wicked, who cease not rebelliously to resist God. The former shall enjoy peace when they die; the latter shall have no peace during life, and shall feel dreadful torments in death.
He orders them to come forth to the judgmentseat of God, which they hope that they will be able to escape by their disguises; and therefore he affirms that they gain nothing by their refusal, for they shall be dragged against their will. The more hardened they were, the sharper were the excitements that must be applied to them; and therefore the harshness of the Prophet could not be excessive, either in arousing their stupidity, or in casting down their pride. And indeed it is well known how insolent was the vanity of the Jews on account of their genealogy; for which reason the prophets frequently beat down their haughtiness and pride, and affirmed that they were not the children of Abraham, because they were bastards and traitors.
On this account Isaiah calls them “the seed of the adulterous and the whore.” In like manner Ezekiel reproaches them, “Thy father is an Amorite; thy mother a Hittite.” (Ezekiel 16:3) Similar forms of expression are found ill many parts of Scripture. Thus he beats down their intolerable hardihood, and drags them forward unwillingly and reluctantly, that they might not think that they could escape the judgmentseat of God.
4. On whom have ye made sport? The Prophet shows that there is no reason why the Jews should boast so proudly on the pretense of their birth, seeing that they mocked at God and the prophets. They thought that they had to deal with men, when they rejected the word; as we see that wicked men in the present day, while they fearlessly despise the doctrine of God and laugh at ministers, nevertheless shelter themselves, and falsely glory in the name of God. This is the reason why the Prophet bears hard upon them and censures with severity.
On whom have ye opened the mouth? The meaning of the words is, “When ye put forth the tongue against God, and mock his word, do ye think that ye have to deal with a mortal man?” The question (“On whom?“) means that they resorted to disguises and concealments, in order to conceal their impiety; for wicked men do not confess that they are rebels against God, and even complain that they are very unjustly treated. But they must be dragged to the light and convicted of their wickedness; for if there be a God in heaven, they carry on war with him, by attacking and rejecting his word and treating it as a fable.
To “open the mouth” and to “put forth the tongue” mean the same thing, except that by these expressions he has more fully described their wickedness, in not only rejecting God, but also mocking him. The inward contempt of the heart had driven them to open jeers and blasphemies, so that they were not moved by any fear of disgrace.
Seed of the adulterer and the whore. At length he concludes that they are treacherous children, a lying seed, and that he has justly reproached them with being “the children of the whore;” for such contempt of God could not be found in the children of Abraham. Hence we learn in what manner wicked men ought to be treated, and with what severity they ought to be reproved, that they may not flatter themselves; and the more they despise everything that is held out in the name of God, the more ought their sacrilegious wickedness to be exposed and dragged forth to public view.
5. Inflaming yourselves. Others render it, “Taking delight” or “consolation;” but the Prophet makes use of a metaphor which is often found in Scripture, and which is exceedingly adapted to the present subject; for the Lord compares the ardor by which idolaters are hurried along to the love of a harlot, by which poor wretched men are inflamed so as to be transported with blind eagerness. (Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 2:2; 4:5) Idolaters have no moderation, and do not permit themselves to be reclaimed from their madness by any arguments. In the sight of God idolatry is a very base kind of fornication.
Under the oaks, or, with the gods. Some translate אלים (elim) “gods,” and others “oaks.” 109109 See Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 1, p. 84, n. 1. I leave every one at liberty to adopt either reading; for the meaning will always be the same, and commentators are agreed that the Prophet condemns idolatry. I do not dispute, therefore, about the reading; though it is probable that the same thing is twice repeated, in accordance with the practice of Hebrew writers, in a particular and in a general form, and yet that the Prophet, by means of an ambiguous word, alludes to “the gods.”
Sacrificing children. Here he bears still harder on the Jews, and shows that they are not the true seed of Abraham; seeing that they pollute themselves with superstitions of every kind. In consequence of the delight which the Jews took in such practices, he exposes their vileness. “You shelter yourselves, indeed, under the name of religion, but I declare that you commit fornication with idols.” In this manner it was proper to expose and freely to point out that wickedness which base and malicious men endeavor to cloak under various pretenses; and thus the Prophet boldly discharges his duty by summoning men to the judgmentseat of God, and holding them to be guilty, though they wish to take every method of excusing themselves. He shows that they are treacherous, and have departed from the law of God by abominable idolatry, and mentions one kind of shocking and even accursed and monstrous worship; namely, the “sacrificing of children,” from which it is very evident how powerful is the spirit of error, when men have once turned aside from God. Satan seizes their minds (2 Thessalonians 2:9) in such a manner that he drives them altogether to madness and rage. They who do not hesitate to slay their children, as if on the ground of its being a righteous sacrifice, must be in a state of furious madness.
And yet those cruel murderers of their children did not want some pretense; for they cloaked their crime under the example of Abraham, who did. not spare (Genesis 22:16) his onlybegotten son; and the ancient Hebrew writers pronounce it to have been (κακοζηλία) a wicked imitation “If we are Abraham’s descendants, we ought not to spare our children.” But Abraham did this (Genesis 22:2) by the command of God; while they did it of their own accord, and without God’s command. It was an extraordinary example, by which the Lord intended to try and attest Abraham’s faith. Besides, Isaac was not sacrificed; for the Lord was satisfied with Abraham’s cheerful and ready will. (Genesis 22:12) They slew their children. It was, therefore, a perverse and damnable imitation, for they differed widely from their father This should be carefully observed; for a large portion of superstitions has proceeded from this source of (κακοζηλία) wicked imitation. Men have rashly and without discrimination seized on everything that was done by the fathers.
6. Amidst polished stones, or, in parts of the valley. He continues the same subject, and reproves in various ways the superstitions which abounded in Judea; for no place was altogether free from idolatry. There were no rocks, no rivers, no valleys, no corner whatever, in which they had not erected a monument of their superstition. They had their groves and mountains, in which they sacrificed after the manner of the Gentiles.
Whether we here adopt the reading, “Polished stones,” or “Parts of the river,” the meaning will be the same. The Prophet means that the Jews chose their own method of worshipping God, and turned aside from the rule which he had laid down in his Law; and consequently that every kind of worship which they followed by their own choice was abominable and wicked; for in religion and in the worship of God it is only to the voice of God that we ought to listen. If it be thought preferable to render it “polished stones,” then Isaiah rebukes the contempt of the Law by which God forbade the use of hammers, (Exodus 20:25) in hewing or chiselling the stones to be employed in building the altar; for he did not wish that sacrifices should be offered on any but one altar. But as it was customary with the Gentiles to dedicate temples near fountains and rivers, the other meaning will be equally appropriate.
They, they are thy lot. The repetition of “they, they” is highly emphatic. A word may be supplied by way of permission, as if the Lord permitted the Jews to abide by their practices, since they had forsaken him and preferred idols and false worship; as it is said, “Go, sacrifice to idols.” (Ezekiel 20:39) I am disposed to favor this reading; as if he had said, “I leave to you your inventions, and willingly permit you to be entirely devoted to them, and relinquish my right; for I have nothing to do with traitors and apostates.” And yet he undoubtedly alludes to that passage in the writings of Moses, by whose mouth God said that he would be the inheritance of his people, so that they ought to be satisfied with having him alone. (Numbers 18:20) This was also followed by David, who says, “The Lord is my portion, my inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5) Since, therefore, the Jews had revolted from God, and had followed idols, the Lord justly commanded them to keep the idols to themselves, and intimated that he would have nothing in common with them.
Even to them hast thou poured a drink-offering. He proceeds in enumerating superstitions, and confirms the statement that he has been rejected and cast off by them; for they alienated to false gods what he wished to belong to himself alone. The Jews might have replied to every word of the Prophet, that they had no other intention than to worship God. But the Prophet pays no regard to such idle and frivolous pretenses; for the wrath of God is provoked by false worship, and is the more inflamed by it in proportion as it is more constant and longer continued. Hence we learn what sobriety we ought to observe in the worship of God, that we may depend on his word alone; for whosoever shall swerve from it in the smallest degree, will not only lose his labor, but will kindle the wrath of God, whose majesty he wickedly insults and does all that is in his power to lessen.
Shall I take pleasure in these things? It might also be translated, “Shall I repent?” This interpretation has been most generally adopted, because he wishes to assign a reason why he punishes the people. As if he had said, “When I take vengeance for these transgressions, is it possible that I shall repent?“ Yet the interpretation which I have followed appears to me preferable, “Shall I take delight, or consolation, from those sacrifices which thou hast offered to me?” For idolaters commonly take delight in their own inventions, and imagine that God also is delighted with everything that they pursue with mad and furious eagerness. Nor is such a question superfluous; for men think that God is like themselves, and will approve of everything that is agreeable to them. On the contrary, he declares that nothing is approved by him, or is acceptable to him, but what agrees with his word. 110110 “Jehovah adds a question, ‘Should I take consolation in these things?’ Should I shake off from my mind, and bury in oblivion, my indignation which arises from your heinous crimes, so as to allow them to pass unpunished? The meaning has been accurately expressed by the Septuagint, ἐπὶ τούτοις οὖς οὐκ ὀργισθήσομαι; ‘Shall I not be enraged on account of these things?’ which has been followed by Jerome, ‘Nunquid super his non indignabor?‘“ Rosenmuller
7. Upon a lofty and high mountain. He again repeats that metaphor at which we have formerly glanced. Superstitious persons commit fornication with their idols, because, by forsaking the simplicity of the word, they violate the bond of that holy marriage into which God has entered with them, and prostitute themselves to Satan. But now Isaiah intended to express something more; for, when he says that they set up their bed on a lofty place, he means that they are not at all ashamed of their shameful conduct. As a harlot, who has lost all shame, dreads not the sight of men, and cares not about her reputation, so they openly and shamefully committed fornication in a lofty and conspicuous place. He compares altars and groves to “beds” on which that accursed crime is committed, and he compares men who sacrifice on them to impudent and abandoned harlots. As to the opinion entertained by some, that this relates to the couches on which they reclined at their sacrificial feasts, there is no good foundation for it.
To offer a sacrifice. Here he describes without a figure that kind of fornication which he rebukes, namely, that they offered sacrifices to idols. They imagined, indeed, that in doing so they were rendering obedience to God; but the Lord rejects all that men contrive according to their own pleasure, and abhors that licentiousness.
8. Behind the door. He dwells largely on the crime of which we have already spoken, that the people may no longer flatter themselves in their inventions. It is probable that Isaiah alludes to the words of Moses, by which God commanded them to have the Law continually placed before them, to attach it to the posts of their houses, and to keep it written and wrapped around their arms and the fringes of their garments, that they might be constantly reminded of their duty. (Deuteronomy 6:9; 11:20) But the Jews, on the contrary, polluted the doors and posts of their houses by tokens of idolatry, and left no corner free or pure from such pollutions. Thus they came to forget everywhere God and the Law, and substituted in their room the excitements of their own lust.
Thou hast enlarged thy bed. He again repeats what he formerly said, and returns to that clause, that the Jews most basely commit fornication with idols when they think that they are worshipping God; because they do not follow the rule of the word. It is the same as if a woman, having forsaken her husband, should prostitute herself in a brothel, and freely receive all that came, as if the bed had been a large plain, and capable of containing a vast multitude.
For this reason he says that she was detected by him, because, having laid aside the modesty of the married state, she allowed herself to be dishonored and ravished by others; for God holds the place of a husband, to whom she ought to have been subject, but she sought new husbands, and broke the bond of marriage, he describes their aggravated guilt, by saying that the Jews of their own accord devoted themselves to idols, as if a base woman ran after a man with blind eagerness.
Thou lovedst their bed in the place which thou sawest. By a different figure he accuses them of that hasty love, because, as if by a single glance, they were suddenly and eagerly hurried on to any place whatever. Yet he blames the rashness of men, who think that they are sagacious in worshipping God, and select places according to their own pleasure. But this sagacity is diabolical; for God commands us to keep our eyes fixed on himself and his word, so as to be closed against everything else.
9. And thou wentest to the king with ointment. Here the Prophet censures another vice closely allied to the former; for ungodliness begets various errors, and leads into grievous and intricate distresses those minds which are frivolous and destitute of the fear of God; for it is proper that they who refuse to rest on God should be tossed about, or rather driven up and down. He therefore reproaches the Jews with having labored much and long in seeking the assistance of the wicked; that is, with having attempted to bring the Egyptians against the Assyrians, and next, when they had been disappointed of their hope, with having begun to betake themselves to the Babylonians. When their hearts have been estranged from God, they seek assistance from another quarter, and by great labor and expense bring upon themselves severer distresses. Yet while the Lord grants repose to his people, that they may perform their work in peace, wicked men “vex themselves in vain, rise early, go late to rest, eat the bread of sorrow,” as it is said, (Psalm 127:2) and yet do not gain a farthing, because all that they do is without God’s authority or guidance. But the Spirit inflicts on them this punishment, so that they incessantly wander and are tossed about in doubt and uncertainty, and never can find rest in their minds.
10. Thou art wearied. He means that men undertake superfluous and useless labors, when they do not follow God. They vex themselves in vain, as has been already said; for nothing that is attempted in opposition to God can ever be successful. Besides, he wittily ridicules the wicked practices of those who choose rather to waste themselves by incessant toil than to advance calmly wherever God calls them.
And hast not said, There is no hope; that is, “Although thou seest that thy labors are fruitless, yet thou obstinately perseverest and pursuest thy designs; whereas even fools, when they are unsuccessful, commonly repent.” Men must therefore be obstinate and desperate, when an unhappy and unsuccessful issue of their schemes does not sometimes lead them to ask themselves, What are you doing? Jeremiah glances at this obstinacy, hut in different words; for he says that the Jews were so foolhardy as to say,
“We are undone, yet we will follow our own thoughts. This has been determined by us, and our opinion cannot be changed.” (Jeremiah 18:12)
But here he censures that stupidity which bewildered them so much that they could not acknowledge their folly and repent, and turn again to the right road.
Thou hast found the life of thine hand. “Life” is here supposed by some to mean “food; “as if the Prophet had said, “Thy labor was as delightful to thee as if thou wert gaining food for thyself by thy hand.” 111111 “Comme si tu eusses gaigne ta vie en travaillant de tes mains.” “As if thou hadst gained thy life by labouring with thy hands.” Others take “the life of the hand” to mean delight, or the highest pleasure; and both interpretations amount to the same thing.
But there is somewhat greater difficulty in the question, “Does he speak sincerely or ironically?” If the words be taken in the literal sense, the meaning will be, “Thou didst not grieve, because fortune appeared to favor thee for a time.” When unbelievers succeed to their wish, they encourage themselves the more in their unbelief, and, as the common saying is, “Men are blinded by prosperity.” But especially this happens when men have forsaken God, and abide by their own ways and schemes; for then they fearlessly despise God. But they may also be viewed as ironical, “How comes it that thou dost not retrace thy steps and repent? Why dost thou not acknowledge thy folly? Is it because thou hast life in thy hand, and because everything goes prosperously with thee? 112112 “Dathius thus translates the Hebrew text, ‘Thou hast found thy life, therefore thou dost not feel thy disease,’ and adds in a note, ‘The phrase, (thy life,) is used ironically by the Prophet to denote idols, which brought destruction instead of life to the people. He calls them the life of the hand for this reason, that they employed all their industry in making them.’ The simplest meaning appears to me to be, to take ‘the life of the hand’ as denoting either their strength or the supports of life procured by the hand; so that the meaning is, Still thou thinkest that by these thy labors thou wilt procure strength and assistance.” Rosenmuller.
I prefer the latter interpretation, though I do not reject the former. It is plain enough from history that the Jews had no good reason for being proud of their prosperity or success; for the treaty into which they entered, first with the Egyptians, next with the Assyrians, and lastly with the Babylonians, was destructive and fatal to them; and they found by experience how rash they had been in calling allies to their aid; so that the Prophet justly taunts them with having found “the life of their hand.” Thus he heightens his description of the foolishness of this people, who willingly rush forward to their own destruction, and obstinately bring down ruin on themselves, when they ought, at least, like fools, to have gained wisdom by the misery which they had experienced.
11. And whom hast thou worshipped and feared? Here he breaks out more vehemently against the Jews, because they were destitute of the fear of God, though they boasted of their holiness and sheltered themselves under an empty title of religion. Not only do hypocrites flatter themselves in their superstitions, but they are likewise regarded by the common people as holy and pious; and, therefore, they act haughtily and insolently towards God and men. But the Prophet declares that true fear of God cannot exist, where the worship is not pure and agreeable to his word. All the opinions entertained by men, as to the plausible forms of worship observed by superstitious persons, are absolute wickedness and folly, he declares, therefore, that there is no fear of him and no religion among them, although they are greatly delighted with their masks.
What is more, by their religious ceremonies, as manifest proofs, they show that they have no reverence or fear of God; for God testifies, by Moses, that he makes trial whether or not they love him with all their heart, when he permits superstition and idolatry to be introduced by the false prophets. (Deuteronomy 13:3) All that fly to them, therefore, show that they are altogether destitute of the fear of God; for, if they considered that they must one day give an account to him, they would not so daringly trample under foot his commandments.
And hast not remembered me. When he complains of having been forgotten, he shows that it was through obstinate wickedness that they fought against God, and not through ignorance that they wandered from him; because, having a sure rule of leading a holy life, they willingly revolted from him, and broke the promise which they had made to him. We ought to consider diligently how dreadful is the thunder launched against hypocrites, who mock at all threatenings, and cover themselves by vain disguises, when he declares that they are destitute of the fear of God, and that they are liars and have forgotten him.
Is it not because I held my peace? 113113 “Have I not held my peace?” (Eng. Ver.) Here I have thought it right to insert the word “because,” which needs to be supplied, in order to bring out more fully the Prophet’s meaning; for those who do not supply some word subject themselves to a vast amount of trouble in bringing out an exposition; and we know how frequently this mode of expression is employed by the Hebrew writers. He reproaches the Jews with having abused God’s forbearance and patience, by which their hearts ought rather to have been softened. But such is the wickedness of men, that it renders them bolder in transgression, and leads them to think that they may do what they please without being punished.
Accordingly, in the last clause of the verse I consider the particle ו (vau) to mean therefore. “And therefore thou dost not fear me, because I held my peace, whereas thou oughtest rather to have been melted by my goodness.” Hence we infer that the Jews could not complain of God’s excessive severity, since he bore patiently with them for a long time, and they grew worse and worse in consequence of having been exempted from punishment. It was therefore necessary that he should assume a totally different character, and punish them more severely for their iniquities.
12. I will declare thy righteousness. The Prophet affirms that the Lord will no longer endure what he formerly endured, and that henceforth he must follow a different method. He calls it ironically “their righteousness;“ for he means by it all the wickedness and all the errors by which they were stained and corrupted; as if he had said, “I will show what is the nature of your righteousness.” So long as God “holds his peace,” they who are most unrighteous and most unholy appear to be “righteous” persons; but when the Lord ascends his judgment-seat, men are brought out of their lurkingplaces, and their baseness is dragged forth to public view. And so the Prophet means that the greatest wickedness passes in the world for “righteousness,” so long as God holds his peace, but that it shall at length be scattered, when he ascends his judgmentseat; for men, after having much and long flattered themselves, shall at length feel that he is their judge.
And they shall not profit thee. This relates to the effect, by which men almost always judge; for they do not inquire whether a thing be righteous or unrighteous, but think that whatever is profitable to them ought to be approved. The Prophet therefore threatens that all the works from which they hoped to derive some profit shall be destructive to them.
13. When thou shalt cry, let thy troops deliver thee. He states more fully what he had slightly touched in the former verse, that, when they shall come to close quarters, they shall be ashamed; for the potential mood, “Let them deliver,” amounts to saying, “They will not do it.” He alludes to what he had formerly said, (verse 9) “Thou wentest to the king with ointments.” And accordingly he gives the name of “troops” to all the means of defense by which the Jews thought that they would be safe; for, by trusting to them, they abandoned themselves to every kind of vices, as if they should be certain of escaping punishment, because they were guarded and fortified on every side. But the Lord shows how unavailing are all the troops which are assembled without his authority.
“Cry” denotes here that calamity by which they were to be afflicted; for, relying on their treaties and on the aid of allies, they thought that they would enjoy profound peace, as if they had never at any former period been deceived. But he declares that all the military defenses which they have collected for themselves shall be of no advantage to them whatever. Detestable and accursed is that confidence which men, having forsaken God, place in things of this world or in human defenses. (Jeremiah 17:5) Formerly he brought it as a reproach against the people, that they were not satisfied with the gentle waters of Shiloah, and desired to have the rapid and impetuous rivers which would at length overflow them. (Isaiah 8:6) This actually happened; for the Assyrians and Egyptians, and lastly the Babylonians, were not only unprofitable, but even ruinous, to the Jews whose allies they were.
But he who hopeth in me. Next follows a contrast, in which he invites them to confidence in God, which is the remedy that ought to be employed against all evils; as, on the other hand, all evils arise from unbelief and distrust. As to the promise of an inheritance to those who hope in God, it amounts to this, — “What else do you seek than to remain safe and sound, and to have your inheritance uninjured? It is I who can do this. For who brought you into this country? Who gave you possession of it? And yet you run after Egypt, and seek from men assistance which will be of little avail, and disregard my help.”
Shall have the land by inheritance. I have no doubt that by the word “inheritance” he means Judea, in which the Jews were desirous to remain in safety; for he afterwards mentions the “mountain of his holiness,” that is, the mountain on which the temple was built. So, then, the Jews did not ascribe to the Lord that which belonged to him, when they fled, not to him, but to the Assyrians or Egyptians, for help. Hence we ought to draw a universal doctrine, namely, that our affairs will succeed admirably, if we hope in the Lord; and if we throw away confidence in him, we certainly need not wonder if we waver and are tossed about in various ways.
When he calls the mountain to which the Jews were to be brought back “the mountain of holiness,” he means that life and all its comforts are not in themselves desirable, except that we may worship God; for the end of human life is this, that God may have a people who shall render to him purity of worship. Let our eyes, therefore, be always fixed on the worship and service of God, if we desire life, or deliverance, or any of the comforts of life.
14. And he shall say, Prepare, prepare. Because this promise, that they who hoped in the Lord should possess the land, might be thought ridiculous, (for soon afterwards they were to be driven out of it,) for the sake of believers that still remained, there is added this second promise, by which he pledges himself that, although they have been driven out of the land of Canaan, and banished to a distant country, yet they shall be brought back to it. He therefore meets a doubt which might arise, that good men might not despair during that painful and longcontinued banishment, or imagine that the promise of God had failed of accomplishment. Some explain it to mean, that the Lord will send true and faithful prophets, to cleanse from its scandals the Church which had been corrupted by false prophets and wicked rulers; as he formerly showed that from them arose the cause of her ruin; and so they think that this is a promise of a better and happier condition. But such an interpretation is excessively forced, and therefore I choose rather to adopt the former interpretation, that, although for a time the Jews shall be deprived of that land, yet they shall be restored to it by the Lord, who will order the roads to be levelled, in order to bring them back.
This passage agrees with that which we formerly examined, (Isaiah 40:1-4) in which the Lord commanded to bring comfort to his people, to proclaim and publish the return to Judea, and to clear the roads; for, in consequence of their having been shut up in Babylon as in a grave, and of the length and difficulty of the journey, and of the vast wilderness that lay between, they could scarcely have any hope of returning to their native country. It was therefore proper that Isaiah should not pass by this matter lightly, that they might not dread the mountains or the sea that lay between, or any other obstructions.
Level the road. He addresses Cyrus and Darius, whose minds the Lord inspired to open up the path, and grant protection to the Jews; as if he had said, that the Lord will send ministers, who are now unknown to them, by whose agency he will “prepare the way” and bring out the people. The apostrophe, also, by which he directly addresses them, carries greater force than if he had spoken in the third person. By ordering them to remove the stumbling blocks, he shows that there is no reason why they should be terrified by the difficulties and obstructions of the roads, which the Lord will easily “take away,” whenever he thinks fit.
Out of the way of my people. The hope of return is contained in this, that the Lord determines to bring back his people, and place them again in the land of Canaan. Wherefore, though there were no other road, yet there must be one, and every bar and obstacle must be removed; because the Lord hath promised their return, and consequently is their leader in the journey.
15. For thus hath spoken the High and Lofty One. He confirms the former statement about the restoration of the people from captivity. But this verse may be explained in two ways; either that the Prophet meets the doubt which might spring up in the hearts of good men, and thus compares things which are contrasted with each other; or, that he draws an argument from the nature of God, in order to strengthen weak minds. To explain these things more clearly, we know, first, that our hearts are often distracted by these thoughts, that God is actually in heaven, but that there is a great distance between him and us, and that, he overlooks or despises human affairs, and, in a word, that he takes no care at all about us. In order to correct this imagination, the Prophet says that God does indeed dwell in a lofty place, but does not the less on that account look at this world and govern it by his providence; for he is anxious about the salvation of men, and dwells with the afflicted, and with them that are of a broken and humble heart; as it is said, “Jehovah is high, and hath respect to the lowly,” (Psalm 138:6) and in other passages.
The other meaning is, that the Prophet shows that God is very unlike us; for we tremble in adversity, because we measure him by our standard, and say, “How shall the Lord render assistance to us, who are oppressed?” Besides, men who are in distress are commonly overlooked and despised. Thus we think that God holds us in no estimation, because we form our ideas of him from our own nature. But we ought to entertain very different views of him; and therefore he says, that he “dwelleth in heaven,” in order to intimate that he is not liable to human passions; for he is like himself at all times, and never changes his purpose; and therefore as he has once promised restoration to his people, so he will perform it. I do not dislike this interpretation, nor do I reject the former, which is fuller and more abundant, and agrees with other passages of Scripture, that commonly join together those two things; that the Lord dwelleth in heaven, and taketh care of human affairs, and especially of his children, as I stated briefly a little before.
Who dwelleth in eternity. We are fickle, and apply our minds sometimes to one subject, and sometimes to another; and our hearts do not continue to be fixed on that which we have once embraced. On this account he distinguishes between God and men, for on him no shadow of change falls; but we have not such steadfastness as to exercise constant care about those who need our assistance.
I inhabit the high and holy. קדוש (kadosh) sometimes denotes the temple, but here it denotes heaven itself. We see the reason why he calls him “the Holy One,” and “the inhabitant of the holy and lofty place.” It is in order to inform us how much he differs from us, and how unlike he is to our nature. Besides, we ought to draw from it a singular consolation, that the Lord wishes to assist the wretched, and even chooses for himself a habitation amongst them, that is, provided that they acknowledge their wretchedness.
And with him who is lowly in spirit. Wicked men are oppressed by various calamities, but do not cease to be fierce and haughty. It will be vain for them to hope that God will draw near to them; 114114 “Que telles gens n’esperent point que Dieu s’approche d’eux.” “Let not such persons hope that God will draw near to them.” for their hearts must be lowly and utterly cast down, if they expect to obtain any assistance from God. Accordingly, he descends even to the lifeless, that he may breathe new life into them and form them anew. Twice he expressly mentions the “lowly spirit,” and the “afflicted heart,” that we may know that these promises belong to those who, in their afflictions, shall not be hardhearted and rebellious, and who, in short, shall lay aside all haughtiness and be meek and lowly.
16. Because not for ever will I strive. He continues the same doctrine; for it was difficult to persuade them of this, seeing that during that painful captivity they perceived that God was their enemy, and could scarcely obtain any taste of the grace of God, by which their hearts might be encouraged or relieved. The Prophet therefore meets this doubt, and shows that the punishments which they shall endure will be for a short time, and that God will not always be angry with them; that God has indeed very good reason to be angry, but yet that he will relinquish his right, and will make abatement of that which he might have demanded. Thus he connects the wrath of God with that moderation by which he soothes believers, that they may not be discouraged; for, although he draws an argument from the nature of God, yet this promise is especially directed to the Church.
This sentence, therefore, ought always to be remembered by us amidst our sorest afflictions, lest we should think that God is our enemy, or that he will always contend with us. When he says that God is angry, he speaks as if he made an admission, and in accordance with the feelings of our flesh; for we cannot form any other conception of God during our afflictions, than that he is angry with us. It is even profitable to be moved by this feeling, that it may instruct us to repentance; and therefore this form of expression must be viewed as referring exclusively to our capacity, and not to God.
For the spirit shall be clothed, (or, shall be concealed, or, shall fail.) He assigns the reason why he will not always strive. There are various interpretations of this passage. Among others this appears to me to be the more appropriate; that “the spirit is clothed” with the body, as with a garment. Hence also the body is called the tabernacle, and, as it were, the habitation of the spirit. If we adopt this signification of the word, there will be two modes of interpreting this clause. Some explain it as referring to the last resurrection: “the spirit shall be clothed;“ that is, after having gone out of the body, will again return to it as to its habitation. Thus there will be an argument from the greater to the less: “I will raise up dead bodies; why then shall I not restore you, though halfdead, to a better life?” Another meaning, which is also adopted by some, will be simpler and better; for the interpretation of the clause, as referring to the last resurrection, is too remote from the context. “I surrounded the spirit with a body;” as if he had said, “I created men, and therefore will take care of them.”
But for my own part, I think that the Prophet rises higher; for he shows that the Lord deals so gently and kindly with us, because he perceives how weak and feeble we are; as is also pointed out in other passages of Scripture, such as Psalm 103:13, 14. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. He knoweth our condition, remembering that we are dust. The age of man is like grass, and flourisheth as a flower in the field.” The same thing is said in Psalm 78:38, 39. “Yet being inclined to mercy, he was gracious to their iniquity, and did not destroy them, and often recalled his anger, and did not stir up all his indignation, remembering that they were flesh, and a wind that passeth away and returneth not again.” Here the Prophet appears to me to mean the same thing; as if the Lord had said, “I am unwilling to try my strength with breath or wind, which would be as if with grass or a leaf, that shall suddenly vanish away when they have felt the heat of the sun.” יעטוף (yagnatoph) is explained by some to mean “Shall fail;“ which agrees very well with this passage; for our spirit shall fail, when the Lord puts forth his power against us. Leaving the signification of the words as somewhat doubtful, we sufficiently understand the Prophet’s design. He shows that God deals gently with us, and acts with little severity in correcting our sins, because he takes into account our weakness, and wishes to support and relieve it.
17. For the iniquity of his lust. Here he complains of the obstinate wickedness of the people, and shows that the Lord had very good reason for punishing him in this manner; so that there can be no complaint of his immoderate cruelty. בצעו (betzagno) is translated by some “lust,” and by others “covetousness.” If it be “covetousness,” it will then be a figurative mode of expression, in which a part is taken for the whole; for this is the source from which all evils arise. (1 Timothy 6:10) But we may take it generally for every kind of sinful desire; for it was on account of the various and numerous vices by which the Jews were polluted, that the Lord was angry, and inflicted on them severe punishments. But he expressly mentions “lust,” in order to intimate that they were punished, not because they were openly wicked, but because they were sinful in the sight of God; for it is enough to condemn them, that God is Judge of the hearts, and punishes not only for outward crimes, but likewise for wicked dispositions and “lusts.” At the same time he reminds them that their punishment is just, in order that, being conscious of guilt, they may humbly pray for pardon.
I struck him, I hid myself. He means that his favor was, in some respects, withdrawn and “hidden” for a time. Now, he speaks according to the opinion of men, because, as we have already said, we imagine that God is an enemy, and is angry with us, when he punishes for our transgressions. And it is necessary that we should have those views and conceptions of him, that we may arrive at a true acknowledgment of our sins; for we should never acknowledge them sincerely, or be distressed on account of them, if we did not reflect with ourselves, and know that we had provoked God’s wrath. But, while it is desirable that we should be led to repentance in this manner, we must beware, on the other hand, lest in consequence of imagining that God is hostile and unwilling to be reconciled to us, we should be swallowed up by sorrow. The Prophet therefore restrains these immoderate terrors, and forbids us to judge of God according to our natural disposition; for although he chastises us, he does not cease to cherish a father’s love and affection towards those whom he has once embraced.
But he went away. This is the rebelliousness which the Prophet blames and rebukes, that the people were in no degree made better, but persevered in their wickedness. He shows that they were desperate, because the violent remedies which the Lord had tried could not bring them back into the right way.
18. I have seen his ways. 115115 “When he (the people of Israel) humbled himself during the affliction which came upon him.” Jarchi. Here the Lord, on the contrary, magnifies his mercy, because he is gracious to that people, though obstinate and rebellious, and anticipates them by his grace and mercy. As if he had said, “I labored to bring back this people to repentance by my chastisements, because they violently pursued their lusts; but they were obstinate and untameable; all that I did was of no avail. I might justly, indeed, have ruined him, but I choose rather to heal and preserve. This cannot be done but by distinguished and incomparable mercy. I will therefore cease to punish them.” For these reasons Isaiah gradually magnifies the mercy of God, whom he represents as a physician considering what remedies are best adapted for healing this people. Now, our diseases are incurable, if the Lord do not anticipate us by his mercy.
And will guide him. No chastisements, however severe, will drive us to repentance, if the Lord do not quicken us by his Spirit; for the consequence will be, to render us more rebellious and hardhearted. And so we may behold, in the example of this people, an image of mankind; that we may clearly see what is our rebellion and obstinacy against God, and what remedies are necessary for curing our diseases; and that, when we are diseased and almost beyond hope, we are healed, are brought back to the right path, and afterwards continue in it. Hence follows consolation:
Restoring comforts to him. If piety be wanting, there can be no faith and no consolation; for they who are not dissatisfied with themselves on account of their vices can look for nothing but the wrath of God, terrors and despair. It is proper, therefore, to observe the context, in which the Prophet, after mentioning “healing,” next mentions “consolation;“ for they whose diseases have been cured obtain, at the same time, that joy of heart and that consolation of which they had been deprived.
When he adds, To his mourners, he appears especially to denote good men, 116116 “Fideles.” “Believers.” who were few in number; as appears clearly from the complaints of the prophets, who exclaim loudly against the stupidity which had seized the people on every side. Thus he describes those who, amidst the universal guilt, were constrained by sincere grief to mourn, and who not only bewailed the miseries of the people, but deeply groaned under the burden of God’s wrath, while others indulged freely in their pleasures.
19. I create the fruit of the lips. This is an explanation of the former statement, or of the manner in which the Lord will give consolation to this people. It is, because he will promise and offer peace to them; for by “the fruit of the lips” he means that he will cause them to hear the glad tidings of peace, by which they shall be filled with joy.
Peace, peace. I think that he speaks of the publication of “peace,” the ministry of which was committed to the prophets, and was afterwards enjoined on the apostles and the other ministers of the Gospel; as Paul teaches that they “are ambassadors for Christ, to reconcile men to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) The repetition of the word “Peace” is intended to express not only certainty, but also uninterrupted continuance. As if he had said, “You now hear nothing but dreadful threatenings. The doctrine of grace and salvation is silent, because you are incapable of it. Such is your obstinacy that I must deal with you by threatenings and terrors. But I will one day restore the doctrine of ‘peace,’ and open the lips of the prophets, that they may proclaim it to you.”
To them that are far off. This is added, because the people who had been carried into captivity did not think that these things belonged to them, (because they were “far off,”) but perhaps to those who were at home; for captivity was a sort of casting off. But the Prophet foretells that, though they are at a great distance, yet they shall be partakers of this grace.
And I heal him. At length he adds the end or effect, that the Lord determines to heal the people; that is, to make them safe and sound. Hence we infer what I remarked a little before, that all that relates to the full and perfect happiness of the Church is absolutely the gift of God.
Paul appears to have glanced at this passage, when he says that Christ
“brought peace to them that are near, and to them that are far off.” (Ephesians 2:17)
He speaks of Gentiles and Jews; for the Jews were “near,” because God had entered into a covenant with them; but the Gentiles were “far off,” because they were strangers to that covenant. But the Prophet appears to speak of Jews only.
I reply, Paul adheres to the true meaning of the Prophet, if the whole be but carefully examined; for the Jews are said, in this passage, to be “far off,” because the Lord appeared to have driven them out of his house; and in that respect they resembled the Gentiles. Since, therefore, at the time of that casting off, there was no difference between them and the Gentiles, Paul, by putting both, as it were, in the same rank, justly placed them on a level with the Jews, and thus applied to them what the Prophet had spoken about the Jews; as, in a manner not unlike, he elsewhere applies to the Gentiles a passage in Hosea. (Romans 9:25; Hosea 1:10)
20. But the wicked. Having formerly spoken of the “peace” which good men shall enjoy, he threatens that the wicked, on the contrary, shall have continual war and incessant uneasiness and distress of heart; in order that good men may value more highly the excellent blessing of “peace,” and next, that the reprobate may know that their condition shall in no degree be improved in consequence of that peace which is promised to the children of God. But because the reprobate make false pretensions to the name of God, and vainly glory in it, the Prophet shows that there is no reason why they should flatter themselves, or advance any claim, on the ground of this promise, since they can have no share in this peace. Nor will it avail them anything, that God, having compassion upon his people, receives them into favor, and commands peace to be proclaimed to them.
As the troubled sea. That metaphor of “the sea” is elegant and very well fitted to describe the uneasiness of the wicked; for of itself “the sea is troubled.” Though it be not beaten by the wind or agitated by frightful tempests, its billows carry on mutual war, and dash against each other with terrible violence. In the same manner wicked men are “troubled” by inward distress, which is deeply seated in their hearts. They are terrified and alarmed by conscience, which is the most agonizing of all torments and the most cruel of all executioners. The furies agitate and pursue the wicked, not with burning torches, (as the fables run,)but with anguish of conscience and the torment of wickedness; for every one is distressed by his own wickedness and his own alarm; 117117 “Et gehenne.” “And by the hell within him.” every one is agonized and driven to madness by his own guilt; they are terrified by their own evil thoughts and by the pangs of conscience. Most appropriately, therefore, has the Prophet compared them to a stormy and troubled sea. Whoever then wishes to avoid these alarms and this frightful agony of heart, let him not reject that peace which the Lord offers to him. There can be no middle course between them; for, if you do not lay aside sinful desires and accept of this peace, you must unavoidably be miserably distressed and tormented.
21. There is no peace to the wicked. He confirms the preceding statement, namely, that in vain shall the reprobate endeavor to seek peace, for everywhere they will meet with war. It is God who threatens war, and therefore there can be no hope of “peace.” Wicked men would indeed wish to enjoy peace, and ardently long for it; for there is nothing which they more eagerly desire than to be at ease, and to lull their consciences, that they may freely take their pleasures and indulge in their vices. They drive away all thoughts about the judgment of God, and endeavor to stupify themselves and to repose in indolence, and think that these are the best ways and methods of obtaining peace. But they never shall enjoy it; for, until men have been reconciled to God, conscience will never cease to annoy and carry on war with them.
Saith my God. Thus he represents God as the only author of peace, that he may, by this dreadful threatening, tear from the Jews their dearest pleasures; and calls him “his God,” in opposition to the vain boasting of those who falsely boasted of his name; for they cannot acknowledge God, so long as they reject his Prophet and his doctrine. For this reason the Prophet boldly declares that he has received a command from God to declare perpetual war against them.