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8. Assyria, the Lord's Instrument
1And Jehovah said unto me, Take thee a great tablet, and write upon it with the pen of a man, For Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 2and I will take unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. 3And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. 4For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and, My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria. 5And Jehovah spake unto me yet again, saying, 6Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; 7now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the River, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks; 8and it shall sweep onward into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through; it shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. 9Make an uproar, O ye peoples, and be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces. 10Take counsel together, and it shall be brought to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. 11For Jehovah spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, 12Say ye not, A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people shall say, A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof. 13Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15And many shall stumble thereon, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. 16Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17And I will wait for Jehovah, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion. 19And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? 20To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. 21And they shall pass through it, sore distressed and hungry; and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and turn their faces upward: 22and they shall look unto the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away.
1. And Jehovah said to me. 117117 Moreover, the LORD said unto me. — Eng. Ver. This prophecy contains nothing new, but is a confirmation of the preceding one, in which Isaiah predicted the approaching desolation of the kingdom of Israel and Syria. He had foretold that both countries would be deprived of their kings, before the children who should soon afterwards be born could distinguish between good and evil, that is, before they were grown up. (Isaiah 7:16.) But because the wicked are not terrified by any threatenings, it was therefore necessary that this prediction should be repeated and demonstrated by some outward sign.
First, in order more effectually to arouse the nation, God commands that this prophecy be made publicly known by writing, that it may be understood by all. We have formerly said, 118118 See the Author’s Preface, page 32. that it was the custom of the Prophets, after having been enjoined to deliver any message to the people, to sum up in a few words the substance of what they had said, and to affix it to the gates of the temple; as may be learned from Habakkuk 2:2; for if that passage be compared with the present, the matter will be sufficiently obvious. But here something peculiar is expressed; for God does not merely command him to write the prophecy, but demands a great and large roll, in order that it may be read at a distance. The smaller the writing is, it is the more obscure, and can with greater difficulty be read. To the same purpose is what immediately follows, with the pen of a common man, 119119 With a man’s pen. — Eng. Ver. Our Author’s version is Write on it with a common pen, and his marginal reading is, or, with the pen of a man. — Ed. for אנש (enosh) denotes any man of ordinary rank; and the meaning is, that not even the most ignorant and uneducated persons may be unable to read the writing.
Make speed to spoil, hasten to the prey. 120120 Our translators have not translated these words, but have left them in the form of the original Hebrew, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Their marginal reading is, “Heb. In making speed to the spoil he hasteneth the prey, or, make speed,” etc. “To the next word מהר, (maher,) the prefix ל (lamed) shews,” says Bishop Stock, “that it is an inscription; as in Ezekiel 37:16, Write on it להודה ולבני ישראל (lihudah velibne Israel) (τὸ) this inscription, Judah and the sons of Israel. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means, Hasteneth the spoil! soon cometh the prey.” — Ed This concise brevity is more emphatic than if he had made a long discourse; for any one could carry home four words, and perceive in them the swiftness of the wrath of God, and be truly and deeply affected by the judgment of God, as if it had been pointed out with the finger. In short, God determined that he should not waste words, because there was no time for controversy, but that he should represent the matter by an outward sign. The Prophets having so frequently, and without any good effect, threatened vengeance, he gave a striking exhibition of it by an example, that it might make a deeper impression on their minds, and be engraven on their memory. As often as these words מהר שלל הש בז (Maher-shalal-hash-baz) were mentioned, they would recall to their remembrance the destruction of Israel and Syria, and would make them more certain of it.
Isaiah having prophesied about the coming of Christ in the former chapter, (Isaiah 7:14,) many improperly explain this also as relating to the same subject, that, endued with heavenly power, he came to spoil the prince of this world, (John 12:31,) and therefore hastened to the prey. This ingenuity is pleasing enough, but cannot at all harmonize with the text; for the true and natural view of the context shows that in this passage the Prophet brings forward nothing that is new, but supports what he had formerly said.
2. And I took into me witnesses. The noun עדים, (gnedim,) and the verb אעיד, (agnid,) which the Prophet employs, are derived from the same root, and the allusion is elegant, as if we were to say, “I have called-to-witness witnesses.” 121121 The Latin language afforded to our Author an exceedingly successful imitation of the Hebrew phrase, “Contestatus sum testes.” It is readily acknowledged that the turn of expression adopted by the translator is much less felicitous; but it is hoped that it will aid the judgment, though it may fail to gratify the taste, of the English reader. — Ed. As this was a matter of great importance, he therefore took to himself witnesses, as is usually done on important occasions.
Faithful witnesses. He calls them faithful, that is, true and worthy of credit; and yet one of them was an ungodly and worthless apostate, who, wishing to flatter his king, erected an altar resembling the altar at Damascus, and openly defended ungodliness and unlawful modes of worship. Some commentators, I am aware, are of opinion that it was a different person; but a careful examination of the circumstances will convince any one, that this was the same Urijah, of whom the sacred history declares that he was slavishly devoted to the ungodliness and lawless desires of the king. (2 Kings 16:11.) As to those who think that it was a different person, because Isaiah here calls this man faithful, such an argument carries little weight; for the Prophet did not look at the man, but at the office which he held, and which rendered him a fit person for bearing testimony. Accordingly, he does not mean that he was a good and excellent man, but that his office gave him such influence that nobody could reject him, and that his testimony was, as they say, free from every objection.
Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. I think that this prophecy was affixed to the gates of the temple, Uriah and Zechariah having been taken to be witnesses; for he does not speak of a vision, but of a command of God, which he actually obeyed, in order that these words, like a common proverb, might be repeated by every person.
3. And I approached to the prophetess. What follows happened to the Prophet, I have no doubt, by a vision, for the purpose of sealing the former prediction. The vision given to Isaiah was, that he had a child by his wife, and was enjoined to give him this name. There would, indeed, be no absurdity in admitting that the Prophet actually had a son by his wife, and gave him this name; and I shall not eagerly dispute with any one who is of that opinion. But as it is not probable that this name was given to any man, and as there is no evidence to prove it, I am more disposed to think that this was a vision exhibited to the Prophet, in order to confirm the former prediction. He calls his wife a prophetess, not in the same sense in which the wives of kings, for the sake of showing them respect, are called queens, but because in this vision she sustained a public character. 122122 Nec dubium est, quin animos piorum a libidinoso coitu data opera abducere voluit Isaias, ut ad sacrum mysterium attenti forent. Et certe quamvis in conjugio, etc.
4. Truly before the child have knowledge to cry. This is an interpretation both of the dark saying and of the vision which was added to it; for although God did not intend to speak in direct language, still it was proper that obscurity should be removed. I interpret הנער, (hannagnar,) the child, to mean not the Prophet’s son, but rather all who should be born soon afterwards. He declares that, before they are grown up, the two kings of Israel and Samaria 123123 It is evident that, by a slip of the pen, Samaria is put for Syria. — Ed. will be destroyed.
Before the face of the king of Assyria. That is, at the disposal, or at the will, of the king of Assyria; alluding perhaps to an ancient custom of carrying the spoils of the enemies before the chariot of those who received a public triumph. In like manner shall the spoils of Samaria and Damascus be carried before the king of Assyria.
This makes it still more evident that the Prophet intended nothing else than to foretell the desolation of the kingdom of Israel and of Syria. He does this for the purpose of comforting the godly, and likewise of holding up to scorn the foolish dread of the wicked king, who could not endure that the Lord should assist him; for he rejected not only the promises, but likewise the sign which was offered. In consequence of this, the Prophet goes farther and farther in reproving his wickedness, and that of the whole nation. “Thou dost, indeed, believe nothing, but the Lord will assist his own; and thou shalt quickly see sudden and unexpected changes, by which the Lord will deliver his people.” And yet these words were spoken not so much to the king as to godly men; and hence we ought to infer that the servants of God do not always speak so as to be believed by their hearers; for Isaiah here addresses wicked men, in whom he produces no conviction. Why, then, does he speak to them? To convict them more and more of their unbelief, and to reprove them for it; and next, to render the goodness of God more manifest: for who would not have thought that such aggravated wickedness would entirely shut the door against the mercy of God? And yet the Lord, by his goodness, rises superior to the wickedness both of the king and of the people. The object of the Prophet therefore is, to reprove the ungodly for their rebelliousness, and at the same time show that God is always like himself.
6. Because this people hath despised (or, disdained 124124 The former word occurs in the version, and the latter at the exposition. — Ed. ) the waters of Shiloah That Ahaz may not slumber in unfounded expectation, the Prophet all at once breaks off his discourse about the general safety of the godly, and next threatens punishment on unbelievers. Some think that he speaks against those who wished for revolutions; as it frequently happens that the multitude are not satisfied with their present condition, and desire to have a new king. Those who are diseased often expect that, by a change of place, they will be in better health. So perverse is the will of men, that when matters do not go to their wish, they look for a change of their condition, snatch at it eagerly, and hope to obtain from it some relief.
But I think that the Prophet’s meaning is more extensive, and does not apply to those only who desired a change; but that the discourse is general, and includes all ranks; for impiety and contempt of God almost universally prevailed, and he does not speak of a few persons, or of a particular party, but of the great body of the nation. I confess, indeed, that he excepts a few persons, servants of God, who will afterwards be mentioned; but that does not prevent the remonstrances of Isaiah from being directed against the whole nation; for since almost all were corrupted, he justly reproves them all. The offense is, that the people, distrusting their own weakness, sought increased wealth and increased forces. He says, therefore, that they despised the waters of Shiloah, because the Jews despised and disdained their condition.
And their joy was to Rezin and Remaliah’s son. 125125 And rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. — Ed. Some render it with Rezin, but the preposition to expresses more fully the perverse desire. He means that the Jews, perceiving that they had not strong fortresses, looked in another direction, and longed for the wealth of the kingdom of Israel. Beholding their small number and their poverty, they trembled, and placed no confidence in God, but only in outward assistance, and thought that they would be perfectly safe, if they had as powerful a king as the Israelites had. Thus they rejoiced in the riches of others, and in longing for them.
7. Therefore, behold. He speaks in the present tense, that all may attend more closely: Behold, the Lord bringeth violent waters. We must attend to the metaphors which the Prophet employs, for the style is much more elegant than if it had been naked and unadorned. “It is as if he had said, Because the people are not satisfied with their condition, and desire the riches of others, I will show them what it is to have a powerful king.” For instance, if a small nation, whose king was mean and little esteemed, had powerful neighbors over whom an illustrious king reigned, and said, “How delightful would it be to serve that prosperous king, to be the subjects of the emperor, or of the kings of France; for their power is irresistible!” would not God justly punish such an unlawful desire? The more powerful that kings are, the more grievously do they oppress their people; there is nothing which they will not attempt, they do everything according to their caprice. Besides, they know no limit to their power, and in proportion to their strength they indulge with less restraint. The Lord reproves that mad desire of the Jews, in not being satisfied with their condition, and in looking, not to the Lord, but to the resources of powerful kings; and this reproof is far more graceful under these metaphors than if he had spoken in plain and direct language.
Shiloah, as Jerome tells us, was a small fountain, from which flowed a little river that ran gently through the midst of Jerusalem. That narrow river yielding them little protection, they therefore distrusted it, and desired to have those great rivers by which cities are usually defended and greatly enriched; for there is nothing by which a country is more enlarged or more rapidly enriched, than by those large and navigable rivers, which render it easy to import and export merchandise of every description. He therefore compares Euphrates, which was the most celebrated river in all the East, to Shiloah, and pursues the same metaphor, meaning by those rapid waters of the river the Assyrians, who would destroy the whole of Judea, and would waste it like a deluge. (2 Kings 18:13, 17.) “I will show,” saith the Lord, “what it is to desire those rapid and violent waters.”
And he shall come up. This passage ought to be carefully observed; for we all have a distrust that may be called natural to us, so that, when we see ourselves deprived of human assistance, we lose courage. Whatever God may promise, we cannot at all recover ourselves, but keep our eyes fixed on our nakedness, and sit like bewildered persons in our fear; and therefore we ought to seek a cure for this fault. Shiloah, therefore, that is, the calling or lot which God has assigned to us accompanied by a promise, though we do not see it with our eyes, ought to be our defense, and we should prefer it to the highest power of all the kings in the world. For if we rely on human aid, and place our strength in large forces and abundance of wealth, we must look for the punishment which is here threatened by the Prophet.
The sacred history assures us that these things were fulfilled, so that any one who shall read the history will not need a lengthened exposition of this passage; for the Assyrians, whom the Jews called to their assistance, destroyed them. This was the just punishment of their distrust; and we see in it a striking instance of the wicked greediness of men, who cannot be satisfied with the promise and assistance of God.
From this destruction of the Jews let us learn to attend to our own interests. The Church is almost always in such a condition as to be destitute of human aid, lest, if we were too largely furnished, we should be dazzled by our wealth and resources, and forget our God. We ought to be so well satisfied and so highly delighted with our weakness as to depend wholly on God. The small and gentle waters should be more highly valued by us than the large and rapid rivers of all the nations, and we ought not to envy the great power of the ungodly. Such is the import of what is written in the Psalms:
“The streams of the river shall make glad the city of God, the sanctuary of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; God will help her before the dawn. Let the heathen rage, let the kingdoms be moved, and let the earth melt when the sound is uttered. Jehovah of armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:4-7.)
If it be objected that we ought not to reject human aid, the answer is easy. The Prophet does not condemn human aid, but he condemns that wicked fear by which we are thrown into distrust, and tremble, so that no promise of God can keep us within reasonable bounds. Now, we ought to render to God this honor, that though all things else should fail, we shall be satisfied with him alone, and shall be convinced that he is at hand. And in that case it matters little whether we have or have not outward assistance; if we have it, we are at liberty to use it; if we have it not, let us bear the want of it with patience, and let God alone suffice us for all that we need; for he will be able to execute his promises, since he has no need of any outward aid. Only let us trust entirely to his power and defense.
8. And crossing over into Judah The verb חלפ, (chalaph,) which sometimes signifies to pass through, here means to attack and cut off: that is, it will not only water Judea, but will overflow it, so as utterly to drown it; for it will spread far and wide on every part. He adds —
Even to the neck. The comparison is taken from a man who, entering a river, dips into it gradually, till the water reaches to the neck. In this manner shall Judea be overflowed by that rapid river, that is, by the Assyrian, till he be plunged up to the neck. He means Jerusalem, which was the metropolis of the country; and when the Assyrian came to it, Judea was at no great distance from destruction.
The breadth of thy land. That is, in all directions; for he pursues his metaphor in his prophecy, and shows how violent the Assyrian will be, and enlarges the representation of his strength and violence by the same comparison; that is, by comparing him to an impetuous river, which bursting through its barriers and overflowing its banks, spreads far and wide, and overturns and destroys everything by its violence. He proceeds in his discourse against the Jews, as he had begun to do in the two former verses; for, having foretold the destruction of the Israelites and Syrians, he likewise threatens that the Jews, in their turn, shall be punished for their unbelief.
To understand this better, Isaiah’s highly beautiful and closely connected discourse must be examined. First, he turned aside to address others; for Ahaz was unworthy of being addressed. The Lord will give you a sign; which was declared in the former chapter. Next, he adds the manner of preserving Jerusalem, by the sudden changes which should take place in Syria and Samaria. This was confirmed, in the beginning of this chapter, both by a commandment and by a vision. He now comes to the Jews themselves, that they may not hope to escape without being punished, or be too highly elated by the destruction of their enemies; for he declares that for them also a reward is prepared, and that they, too, will be punished for their wickedness and treachery, because they despised the Lord, and would not rest satisfied with his promises, and signs, and acts of kindness largely and bountifully offered.
O Immanuel. It may be asked, Why does the Prophet direct his discourse to Christ, instead of simply calling the land “God’s holy land?” For there can be no doubt that by the name Immanuel he means Christ. It might be thought that this expression was used in order to express the disgrace more strongly; for, since Judea not only was set apart to God, but in the person of the Mediator had God as the guardian of its safety, it was disgraceful that it should be destroyed by a heathen king. But I rather think that the Prophet added this name, in order to hold out to good men some remnant of hope, and to comfort them in so great a calamity; for, when the country was wasted and cruelly torn, they might have lost courage. He therefore means, that that desolation would not prevent the coming of the Redeemer, of whom he had formerly spoken. As if he had said, “Nevertheless, the land shall be thine, O Immanuel; in it shalt thou have thy residence and abode.” This was, therefore, added instead of a consolation, in order to intimate that the land, though torn and wasted, belongs to God and not to men. The sudden change too a direct address (ἀποστροφὴ) is emphatic; for in this way the Prophet solemnly declares his belief in redemption, that the Lord may set a limit to the frightful calamities.
9. Associate yourselves. The verb רעו, (rognu,) whether it be derived from רוע (ruang) or from רעה, (ragnah,) signifies to bruise. But as רעה (ragnah) signifies to associate, some prefer taking it in this sense, which certainly agrees better with the scope and argument of the Prophet. Some render it, Bruise ye, that is, bruise the kingdom of Judah, or, bruise the Assyrians; but this appears to be unnatural or far-fetched. That it describes the plans and undertakings by which they endeavored to crush the Church of God, is evident from its being immediately added, and a second time repeated, by the Prophet, Gird you, that is, “Form a plan.” The word associate, therefore, is the most suitable, unless, perhaps, it be thought preferable to take the verb רעו (rognu) metaphorically; and I willingly favor that opinion, so as to make it mean to heap up 126126 The Author illustrates it by a word borrowed from his own vernacular, entasser, which, like the Latin verb coacervare, signifies to heap up, or gather into heaps. — Ed. ; for those things which are bruised must of necessity be violently pressed and squeezed together. He therefore means not only gathering together, but likewise pressing closely together; as if he had said, “Draw close to one another, as if you were a dense mass.” This meaning agrees beautifully, I think, with the scope of this passage; for to the same purpose is what he immediately adds, “Arm yourselves, Gird you.”
The Prophet rises into confidence after having mentioned Immanuel, that is, God, who would assist his people; and at the same time cherishes increased hope in opposition to enemies, that though it might be thought that they had gained their object when they had depopulated the country, still the Lord would be victorious, and would preserve his people against the cruelty of their enemies. Withdrawing his mind, therefore, from the sight of that calamity, he turns to Christ, and, by contemplating him, acquires such courage that he ventures to taunt his enemies as if he had vanquished them. We must view the Prophet as on a watch-tower, from which he beholds the distressed condition of the people, and the victorious Assyrians proudly exulting over them. Refreshed by the name and the sight of Christ, he forgets all his distresses, as if he had suffered nothing; and, freed from all his wretchedness, rises against the enemies whom the Lord would immediately destroy. This ought to be carefully observed; that, as we have still to contend against the same temptations amidst those afflictions which the Church endures, and by the weight of which it is almost overwhelmed, we may direct our eyes to Christ, by the sight of whom we shall be able to triumph over Satan and over enemies of every description.
Ye peoples. 127127 “O ye people.” — Eng. Ver. Why does he call them עמים, (gnammim,) peoples, when it was the Assyrian only that would lay waste Judea? I reply, the army of the Assyrian was composed of various peoples; for he had subdued not only the Chaldeans, but many other peoples; and, accordingly, that monarchy consisted of various nations. Yet the Prophet might refer to the Israelites, the Syrians, and the Egyptians, and to all others who were enemies of the Church of God; for he does not speak of one stroke inflicted on the Church, but of the incessant contests which the chosen people had continually to endure. But in order to understand this better, we must join with it the following verse, at the end of which we find the words for Immanuel, that is, for God is with us; for this is the security for our deliverance. Let men league together, and contrive, and form plans and determinations, they will not be able to accomplish anything;
for there is no counsel against the Lord, (Proverbs 21:30;)
and therefore we must begin with this foundation, if we wish to stand firm.
But we must ascertain if all men have a right to glory on that ground, for wicked men also boast that God is with them, and in his name do not scruple to grow insolent and haughty; but their glorying is idle and unfounded. Now, the valor of the godly rests on the word of God, and proceeds from true faith; and if this dwells in our minds, we may triumph over all our enemies; as Paul also teaches, when he encourages the godly by this doctrine,
If God be for us, who shall be against us?
First, then, we ought to make sure that God is with us, which cannot be unless we embrace the promises by faith; and if we have faith, we do not glory in vain. As to his addressing a nation so distant, to whom that word could not reach, the reason is obvious, that the efficacy of the word might be made known to unbelievers, and that they might know that he would restrain the Assyrians with all their warlike accoutrements, though they were at a great distance; as if he had said, “You do indeed despise God, but it will be easy for him to keep you at a distance, and to repress all your rage.”
Gird yourselves. This is not a superfluous repetition; for it is far more difficult to expect the assistance of God a second time, when we have once been delivered, than to embrace the promise of one single deliverance. Besides, although the first attacks of enemies do not so greatly alarm us, yet when we see them hardened in their malice, their obstinacy reduces us to weakness. We have experience of this every day; for if any danger threatens us, we may expect assistance from the Lord; but if we are again in danger, we give way; and so great is our ingratitude, that we scarcely think that God will help us a second time. In consequence of this, we faint if we are frequently brought into danger, and do not consider that God is never wearied by doing us good, and by continually assisting us.
Isaiah, therefore, intended to oppose this frailty of men, that when armed foes had once and again attacked us, we may stand firm. If, after being vanquished or weakened, they again muster their forces, and do not cease to annoy us, let us not be discouraged; for to-morrow, and the next day, and as often as they league together, God will be able to frustrate and destroy them. Hence, also, we are reminded of our condition, that we may be always prepared for enduring additional conflicts, and may not think that we have done all that was required from us, when we have once resisted; for Satan is unwearied in his efforts, and continually labors to accomplish our destruction; he animates his soldiers, and inflames them with new eagerness. But although the contests must be often maintained, we are certain of victory, and therefore we ought to fight boldly, and to remain constantly on the field.
10. Take counsel. After having spoken of the forces of the enemies, he now comes to their counsels; as if he had said, “Although the enemies may abound not only in armor and in strength, but, in counsel and wisdom, still they will accomplish nothing.” And this warning was very necessary; for it often happens that we despise enemies, though powerful and well armed, because they want counsel, and are guided by blind violence rather than by reason. He therefore forewarns them that the craftiness of the enemies, and all the arts by which they endeavor to gain advantage over the people of God, will in the end be unsuccessful; and, therefore, that they will accomplish nothing, though they be in want of nothing, and though they may have a great abundance of everything, of forces, and counsels, and crafty designs. He adds —
Speak the word. To make the meaning more clear, I have rendered it decree a decree. This relates to their insolence, or it is the conclusion of the consultation; for after deliberation a decree usually follows. He declares that all these things will vanish into smoke. It is, therefore, sufficiently evident what the Prophet means, and to what purpose this passage ought to be applied; for it may be regarded as a shield by which we can drive away all the terrors of enemies, whether they excel, on the one hand, in forces, wealth, power, influence, and rank; or, on the other, in wisdom, counsel, craftiness, sagacity, and invention, or, in a word, in insolence. For we are well armed and very powerful, if God is with us; and, therefore, all the contrivances or decrees of adversaries will immediately vanish away.
For God is with us. כי עמנו אל, (ki Immanu-el;) literally, for Immanuel. We have already explained the force of this argument. 128128 See page 271. For my own part, I have no doubt that he alludes to the name which he formerly gave to Christ; for although he means that God assists his people, yet as the majesty of God is not of itself sufficient to support us, he contemplates God himself in the person of the Mediator, in whom alone he has promised to assist us.
11. For thus Jehovah spake to me. Here the Prophet contends against another kind of temptations, that is, against the unbelief of the people; and in order to make that more manifest, it ought to be observed that there were two remarkable temptations, the one external, and the other internal. The external temptation came from professed enemies, such as from the Assyrian; and when the people saw his plundering and cruelty, they thought that all was over with them, because he had brought them almost to utter ruin. The other temptation was internal; for that sacred people, which boasted of having been chosen by God, relied on the assistance of man rather than of God. Now, this was a most dangerous temptation; for it appeared as if that nation, by its unbelief, refused admission to the promises of God, which were daily offered, and which were continually sounded in their ears. And what could the Prophet think, amidst so great perplexity, but that the destruction of this wicked people, which did not cease wickedly to reject the grace of God, was close at hand? The Lord, therefore, determined that both the Prophet and his disciples should be armed against a temptation of this kind.
As if by taking hold of my hand. 129129 With a strong hand. — Eng. Ver. The marginal reading is, “Heb. in strength of hand.” — Ed. This is a beautiful metaphor, which the commentators, I think, have not understood. He alludes to fathers or teachers, who, when their words have not sufficient effect, seize the hand of their children or scholars, and hold them so as to compel them to obey. Thus the servants of the Lord are sometimes disposed to throw everything away, because they think that they are laboring to no purpose; but the Lord lays as it were, his hand on them, and holds them fast, that they may go forward in the discharge of their duty. This is well understood to be very necessary, and is actually experienced by all who faithfully serve the Lord; for no temptation is more severe than when they in whom faith ought to dwell revolt; and, in a word, when faith appears to be banished from the world.
This taking hold of the hand is, therefore, highly necessary, because not only are we fickle and liable to unsteadiness, but we are also by nature too much inclined to what is evil, though no one entice us. But if the force of custom be added, we are scarcely master of ourselves. Undoubtedly, we would every moment be driven up and down, were it not that we are held by the powerful government of God, and fix the anchor of constancy in firm ground. Every one of us ought to meditate earnestly on this thought; for though we may be convinced, yet when it comes to the trial we fail, and look at men rather than God. We should, therefore, attend more carefully to this doctrine, and pray to God to hold us, not only by his word but by laying his hand on us.
Besides, it ought to be observed that we are exceedingly disposed to wicked imitation. When we see bad examples, we are drawn to them with great force, and take the example for a law; for when others go before us, we think that we have a right to act in the same manner, and especially when it is not only one or a few persons who have led the way, but the custom has become universal. What is in itself manifestly wrong is concealed by the plausible cloak of public opinion; and not only so, but all are carried, as it were, by the violence of a whirlwind, to adopt an established custom, as if the will of the people had the force of a law to authorize their corruptions. This has not been the fault of a single age, but at the present day it abounds as much or even more than before; for it is an evil deeply seated in all by the corruption of nature, to reckon a prevailing error as a law. Hence arise the superstitions of all ages, and those which at the present day exist in Popery, the origin of which, if it be investigated, will be found to be nothing else than that some persons have drawn others into the same error; and thus almost all have been foolishly caught by the snares of Satan, and the general agreement of men is still the chief foundation of those superstitions. All defend themselves by this weapon. “We are not alone,” say they; “we follow an immense multitude.”
12. Say not, a conspiracy. First, we must consider what was the condition of that people, for they saw that they were not provided with numerous forces, and were not able to contend in battle against such powerful enemies. They longed for outward assistance, and eagerly desired to obtain it, for they thought that they were utterly ruined if they did not obtain the assistance of others. In this sense I understand the word conspiracy, that they thought it necessary to have the assistance of allies. The word conspiracy being employed by the Hebrews in different acceptations, and sometimes denoting a bond, I take it in a good sense. But some take it in a bad sense: “Behold thy enemies, the king of Israel and the king of Syria, have conspired together.” But I rather agree with those who apply it to the league and friendship which many unbelievers were desirous to contract with the Assyrian. The Lord therefore admonishes Isaiah not to regard the counsels of wicked men, though the whole of the people should vie with each other in attending to them.
Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. There may also be a twofold meaning; for some read it separately, as if in this second clause the Prophet condemned in general terms the wicked customs of the people. But these two clauses ought rather to be joined together. “Let it not distress you, if your countrymen in the present day plot about unlawful confederacies, and do not consent to them.” Now, though the Prophet belonged to the number of those who needed to be admonished not foolishly to dissuade others from following by faith, yet the plural number, say ye not, shows that all the godly were taught in his person.
Their fear. Hence we perceive what is the source of those wavering counsels by which men are agitated; it is, because their minds are overwhelmed by terror, so that they are violently hurried along without any moderation. He describes the cause of all this, why the Jews so eagerly desired to have the Assyrians for allies. It was because they were terrified beyond measure, and did not expect to be preserved in any other way, and because their blind fear did not permit them to look to the assistance of the Lord. This was the reason why they so eagerly desired a league. The same cause of fear was alleged both against the godly and against the ungodly; but all did not fear in the same manner, for the godly composed their minds, because they knew that God took care of their preservation, and, armed by the promise of God, cheered their hearts whenever they mentioned the name of Immanuel. But the ungodly, overcome by terror, thought of nothing but the assistance of the Assyrians, did not consider that there is help in God, and did not betake themselves to him. The Lord certainly does not forbid the godly to fear, for they cannot avoid that; but he bids them overcome that excessive terror by which the ungodly are swallowed up. Let us not, therefore, by their example, gaze around in every direction, and rush headlong to seek unlawful aid; and especially we must beware lest fear take away our judgment. There is but one remedy for this evil, to restrain ourselves by the word of God, from which proceeds real tranquillity of mind. Comparing the condition of that people with our own, let us learn to betake ourselves to the name of God, which will be to us an impregnable fortress. (Proverbs 18:10.)
That the Lord did not speak to the Prophet alone, is also evident from the words being in the plural number, לא תיראו, (lo thireu,) fear ye not. Peter also has drawn from it a general doctrine, (1 Peter 3:14,) warning us not to fear with the fear of the ungodly, but to place all our confidence in God, and to keep our eyes continually fixed on him, that we may remain steadfast, though heaven and earth should be mingled. If that warning of Peter was ever necessary, it is especially so in the present day, for we see all things tossed up and down and mingled in frightful confusion. That we may not be disturbed, the Lord withdraws us from beholding men, that we may, by attending to his word, keep our position firmly. Peter, indeed, understands this fear passively, while Isaiah understands it actively; for Peter exhorts believers to perseverance, so as not to waver on account of the threats and terrors of the ungodly; but Isaiah condemns the trembling, which induced the Jews to seek heathen alliances. But as it was not the intention of Peter to explain this passage, or even to quote the exact words, and as he meant only to allude to that statement, we need not wonder at this diversity.
13. Sanctify Jehovah of hosts himself. We have said that the reason why dangers lead to immoderate alarm is, that wretched men do not raise their eyes and minds to heaven. The Prophet now, therefore, proposes a suitable remedy for allaying terrors, that they who dread the evils which threaten them may learn to give to God the honor due to him. To sanctify the God of armies means to exalt his power highly; so as to remember that he holds the government of the world, and that the beginning and the end of good and evil actions are at his disposal. Hence it follows that, in some respects, God is robbed of his holiness, when we do not immediately betake ourselves to him in cases of perplexity. This mode of expression, therefore, is highly emphatic; for it shows us that no higher affront can be offered to God than to give way to fear, as if he were not exalted above all creatures, so as to control all events. On the other hand, when we rely on his aid, and, through victorious steadfastness of faith, despise dangers, then do we actually ascribe to him lawful government; for if we are not convinced that innumerable methods, though unknown to us, are in his power for our deliverance, we conceive of him as a dead idol.
And let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. He properly adds, that God himself should be the fear and the dread of the people, in order to inform them that there awaits them a just and lawful reward of their crimes and of their contempt of God, when they thus in wretchedness and alarm tremble at dangers. Though he speaks not only of fear but of dread, yet he does not mean that the Jews should be filled with horror at the name of God, so as to desire to flee from him, but merely demands from them reverence for God, and uses both words in order to express continuance. He therefore means that they will be free and exempted from solicitude of mind, if a sincere fear of God be deeply engraven on their hearts, and never pass away from them; and indeed every person who freely devotes himself to God, and undertakes to fear him alone, so as to lay this restraint on himself, will find that no haven is more safe than his protection. But as the ungodly do not cease to provoke his anger by shameless transgression, he harasses their minds by continual uneasiness, and thus inflicts the most appropriate revenge for their careless indifference.
14. And he shall be for a sanctuary. He promises that the true worshippers of God will enjoy tranquillity of mind, because the Lord, covering them, as it were, under his wings, will quickly dispel all their fears. There is an allusion to the word sanctify which he had lately used; for the word מקדש, (mikdash,) which means sometimes a sanctuary, and sometimes a place of refuge, is derived from the same root. 130130 It may aid the English reader, in understanding this observation, to be reminded that the two words sanctify and sanctuary, come from the same root, sanct, or saint, that is, holy. — Ed. The meaning therefore is, that God demands nothing for which he does not offer mutual recompense, because every one that sanctifies him will undoubtedly find him to be a place of refuge. Now, although in this sanctification there is a mutual relation between us and God, yet there is a difference, for we sanctify him by ascribing all praise and glory to him, and by relying entirely upon him; but he sanctifies us, by guarding and preserving us from all evils. As there were few who believed and relied on his promises, the Prophet wished that the godly should be fortified against this kind of temptation; for there was a danger lest they should be carried away by such bad examples as by a kind of tempest.
The Prophet therefore meant, “The Lord will be your best and most faithful guardian. Though others stumble against him, yet be not you terrified; remain steadfastly in your calling.” And here a contrast is implied, though not expressed; for a sanctuary may be said to be a citadel situated in a lofty position, and a bulwark for defending and guarding the godly, but for destroying and overwhelming the ungodly, because they rashly stumble against it. We shall afterwards see more clearly how this was fulfilled, partly during the reign of Hezekiah, and partly at the time of the captivity into Babylon; and yet at the same time Christ was prefigured, who was to be not a place of refuge, but rather a stone of stumbling to the Israelites. Isaiah forewarns them of this stumbling, that the godly may be aware of it.
To the two houses of Israel. The Jews ignorantly and improperly tear asunder this verse, instead of dividing it. “God will be,” say they, “partly a sanctuary and partly a stone of stumbling; as if by the two families he distinguished between the godly and the unbelievers. On the contrary, he enjoins believers, though nearly the whole multitude of both kingdoms should dissuade them from obedience to God, not to be discouraged, but to disregard everything else, and break through all opposition. The Prophet might have simply said, he will be for an offense to Israel; but he intended to express more, for he includes the whole nation, and declares that God will be their destruction. The nation was divided into two kingdoms, Ephraim and Judah; and, therefore, he mentioned both. There were, indeed, some exceptions, but he speaks here of the whole body.
This is a remarkable passage and cannot be sufficiently called to remembrance, especially at the present time, when we see the state of religion throughout the whole Christian world brought nearly to ruin. Many boast that they are Christians who are strongly alienated from God, and to whom Christ is a stone of stumbling. The papists insolently and proudly boast of his name, though they profane the whole of his worship by superstitions, and bring upon it dishonor and reproach. Among those to whom a purer worship of God has been restored, there are very few who embrace the Gospel of God with sincere regard. Wherever we turn our eyes, very sore temptations meet us in every direction; and, therefore, we ought to remember this highly useful instruction, that it is no new thing, if a great multitude of persons, and almost all who boast that they belong to the Church, stumble against God. Yet let us constantly adhere to him, however small may be our numbers.
For a snare to the inhabitant of Jerusalem. This is the second circumstance introduced for heightening the picture; for, after having mentioned the two kingdoms, he names the metropolis itself. Although the whole country was crippled, yet it seemed that the Lord kept his abode there. He therefore means that God became a snare, not only to the common people who were scattered throughout the fields and villages, but to the nobles themselves, and to the priests who dwelt in Jerusalem, who dwelt in that holy habitation in which God intended that the remembrance of his name should be chiefly preserved. That was testified also by David, that those builders whom the Lord appointed rejected the chief corner-stone. (Psalm 118:22.) Christ quotes this passage against the Jews, and shows that it applies to himself. (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10.) This happened, indeed, in the time of Isaiah, but still more in the time of Christ; for ungodliness and rebellion gradually increased till they came to a height. Accordingly, both the highest and the lowest, who always had obstinately disobeyed God, at that time broke out against him still more with unrestrained indulgence, and therefore their destruction also reached its height; for they were altogether rejected by God, whose Son they had refused. Hence also we infer the eternal divinity of Christ, for Paul shows that it is God of whom the Prophet here speaks. (Romans 9:33.) Now, he speaks not of a pretended God, but of that God by whom heaven and earth were created, and who revealed himself to Moses. (Exodus 3:6.) It is, therefore, the same God by whom the Church has been always governed.
15. And many among them shall stumble. He goes on to threaten the ungodly, as he had formerly begun, and declares that those who refuse to trust in God will not escape without being punished. The threatening runs thus: “when they have stumbled, they will then fall, and afterwards they will be bruised.” This agrees with the former metaphor, in which he compared God to a stone. Christ has alluded to that metaphor, including both clauses.
“He who shall fall on this stone will be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will bruise him.”
And shall be snared and taken. This agrees with the latter metaphor, in which he compared God to a snare and gin. Let not the ungodly, therefore, imagine that they are stronger or wiser than God; for they will find that he excels them in strength and wisdom, and that to their destruction. They must, therefore, unavoidably be ruined; for either they will be utterly bruised, or they will be snared in such a manner, that they can never extricate themselves.
This threatening also regards the godly, that they may not hesitate to withdraw from holding fellowship with the multitude, and that they may not resolutely disregard the sinfulness of revolt. Now, this does not strictly belong to God, but is rather, as we would say, accidental; for it belongs to God to receive men into his favor, and to give them a firm security for their salvation. That was more clearly manifested in Christ, and is still manifested; and, therefore, Peter reminds us that, though many unbelievers stumble, this is no reason why their stumbling should obstruct the progress of our faith; for Christ is notwithstanding a chosen and precious stone. (1 Peter 2:4.)
16. Bind up the testimony. The Lord now turns his discourse to the Prophet, and encourages him, while he must contend against apostates and rebels, to discharge his office with boldness and perseverance. This was highly necessary, for Isaiah had met with great obstinacy in the people; so that if he had only looked at their present condition, that is, at the unbelief of the people, and his fruitless and unsuccessful exertions, he must have altogether given way. On this account the Lord determined to confirm and seal his calling, not only on his account, but for the sake of all who should obey his doctrine; and if very few persons believed the words of the Prophet, still the Lord testifies that his doctrine has been sealed to them, and that, therefore, neither must he desist from his office of teaching, nor must they cease to yield the obedience of faith.
Seal the law. He compares the doctrine of the word to a sealed letter, which may indeed be felt and handled by many persons, but yet is read and understood by few, that is, by those to whom it is sent and addressed. Thus the word of God is received by few, that is, by the elect, though it is held out indiscriminately to all. The word is therefore sealed to those who derive no advantage from it, and is sealed in such a manner that the Lord unseals and opens it to his own people by the Spirit. Some derive the verb צור (tzor) from נצר, (natzar,) and translate it keep. But though this does not greatly affect the general meaning, still the superiority of the rendering which I have followed 131131 Which is also followed in the English Bible, namely, Bind. — Ed. may be proved from the other verb seal; for the custom in ancient times was, first, to tie a thread around a letter, and then to seal it.
We draw from it this highly useful doctrine, namely, that teachers and ministers of the word ought constantly to persevere in discharging their office, though it may seem that all men revolt, and give no evidence of anything but obstinacy and rebellion; for the Lord will reserve for himself some disciples, by whom his letter will be read with advantage, though it be closed to others. The Prophet afterwards employs the same metaphor, when he says, that the word is like a closed book, (Isaiah 29:11;) but there he only mentions wicked men, and here he mentions disciples, to whom the doctrine of the word is not without advantage.
It may be objected, Was it then the duty of the Prophet to disregard the people, and to withdraw and shut himself up with the disciples, among whom some good effect was produced? I reply, this was not the Prophet’s meaning; for it was the will of the Lord that Isaiah should appear in public, and cry aloud, and reveal his will to all. But as he spoke to the deaf, and might be discouraged by seeing no evidence of the fruit of his labors, the Lord determined to excite and encourage him to go forward, even when matters were in a desperate condition, and, satisfied with his disciples, though their number was small, to become every day more and more courageous.
17. Therefore I will wait for the Lord. 132132 And I will wait for the Lord. — Eng. Ver. I have chosen to render the particle ו (vau) by therefore; for the Prophet recovers himself, after having received from the Lord the consolation which we have just now seen. “Seeing that the Lord is pleased to have disciples to whom his doctrine is sealed, I will wait for him, though he hath hid his face from Jacob, that is, hath rejected and cast off his people.” This is a remarkable passage, and, by meditating continually on it, we must be greatly encouraged; for though it may seem as if the whole world had revolted, still we ought boldly to persevere; and even though God hath hid his face from his people, and they who professed his name have been cast off, still we ought to wait for him with unshaken hope. This is the only remedy that is left to us.
The word wait is exceedingly emphatic; as if he had said, “Still I will not turn aside from God, I will persevere in faith.” He increases the force of it by adding, I will look for him; for the occurrence of any offense is wont to make our faith waver and faint, and it is most grievously shaken when we see that we are deprived of allies, and that there are open enemies who boldly take to themselves the name of the Church. Offenses commonly turn us aside from God, and perplex us in such a manner that we call in question the truth of the word. This consolation is therefore highly necessary, whether the Church is oppressed by outward calamities, or thrown into confusion by the treachery of the multitude.
18. Behold, I. Here the Prophet not only testifies that he will wait patiently, but also gives an evidence of courage, by appearing in public along with the disciples whom he had gained to God, and who still remained. As if he had said, “Though others may withdraw, yet I am ready to obey thee, and I bring along with me those whom thou hast been pleased to preserve in a wonderful manner through my agency.” He therefore declares by these words his unshaken courage, and promises that he will persevere in faith and obedience to the Lord, though all should revolt.
And the children. By children are meant the various classes of servants, agreeably to the ordinary custom of the Hebrew, and also of the Latin language. 133133 The allusion is to the Latin noun Puer, to which might have been added the Greek noun Παἰς, and similar uses of the word denoting Child are found in modern languages. — Ed He speaks of the disciples whom he had formerly mentioned. Hence we see what is demanded from those who wish to be reckoned among the true disciples of the Lord. It is, to declare with Isaiah that they are submissive and ready to hear, and that, as soon as the Lord has spoken, they will yield immediate obedience. Now, teachers ought to bring disciples with them, and not merely to send them before; they ought, I say, to go before them, and by their example to point out the way, as was formerly explained, 134134 See page 94 where the difference between Come and Go up is explained. — Ed. (Isaiah 2:3;) otherwise they will have no authority in teaching. The apostle to the Hebrews applies this passage to Christ, (Hebrews 2:13,) and draws from it an instruction which ought to be a very powerful excitement to us, that considering ourselves to be followers not only of Isaiah, but of Christ himself, as our leader and instructor, we may press forward with greater alacrity.
Whom the Lord hath given me. By this the Prophet shows to whom our faith ought to be ascribed. It is to God, and to his undeserved election; for Isaiah taught publicly, admonished every person, and invited all without exception to come to God; but his doctrine is of advantage to those only who have been given to him by God. By given he means those whom God drew by an inward and secret operation of his Spirit, when the sound of the external voice fell on the ears of the multitude without producing any good effect. In like manner Christ declares that the elect were given to him by the Father. (John 17:6.) Thus we see that readiness to believe does not depend on the will of men; but that some of the multitude believe, because, as Luke tells us, they had been foreordained. (Acts 13:48.) Now, whom he foreordained he likewise calls, (Romans 8:30,) and efficaciously seals in them the proof of their adoption, that they may become obedient and submissive. Such, therefore, is the giving of which Isaiah now speaks. This applies strictly to Christ, to whom the Father presents and gives disciples, as it is said in the Gospel by John,
No man cometh to me, unless the Father hath drawn him.
Hence it follows, that he is also appointed to be our guardian, to preserve us under his protection to the end. (John 10:28.) Wherefore he saith,
not one of those whom the Father hath given to me shall perish. (John 17:12.)
For signs and wonders. Some consider this passage to refer to miracles, but that is inapplicable, for the meaning is totally different, namely, that all the godly will be regarded not only with hatred, but even with abhorrence, as if they had been monsters; and that not only by strangers or by professed enemies, but even by Israel. We have experience of this at the present day; for papists look upon us with greater abhorrence than they look upon Mahometans or Jews, or even dogs or monsters. Though this is exceedingly base, we need not greatly wonder at it; for it was necessary that this prophecy should even now be fulfilled. It was experienced by Isaiah from his countrymen, and has been experienced by all others who have followed his doctrine.
Nor is it only in papists that we discover it, but in those who wish to be regarded as very closely connected with the Church, the greater part of whom either view us with strong dislike, or ridicule us, or, in a word, hold us to be monsters, because we are so anxious, and give ourselves so much uneasiness, about the salvation of the Church, the honor of God, and eternal life; and because we do not scruple to undergo so many dangers, such hatred, censure, reproach, banishment, poverty, hunger, nakedness, and, in a word, death itself. These things appear monstrous to them; for when they are so careful to protect their skin, how could they have a relish for the highest blessings? But that we may not be disturbed by their reproaches, we must arm ourselves with this exhortation of the Prophet.
From the Lord of hosts. To show how trifling and worthless is the conspiracy of the wicked multitude, he contrasts the God of armies with the pride of the whole world, and raises a lofty defiance; as if he had said, that he cared not though he were universally abhorred by men, because he knew that God was on his side.
Who dwelleth in Mount Zion. The addition of these words carries great weight; for although the people abounded in every kind of crimes and enormities, still they boasted that they were devoted to God, and, abusing his promises, condemned the true servants of God who reproved them. On the other hand, the Prophets, in order to shake off their false confidence and pride, declared that they were the servants of the only and true God, whom the people falsely boasted of worshipping in Mount Zion. God had not chosen it for his habitation as if, because he was bound to the spot, he would accept of false and spurious worship, but he wished to be sought and worshipped according to the rule of his word.
Accordingly, when Isaiah claims for himself God who dwelleth in Mount Zion, he sharply reproves hypocrites, because through false boasting they indulge in foolish pride whenever they say, The temple of the Lord, (Jeremiah 7:4,) for it was rather an idol in which they boasted contrary to the word. Though they snatched at the promises, yet they falsely tortured them against the true servants of God, as the papists at the present day are wont to torture them against us. The Prophets, therefore, distinguish God by this title, in order to tear the mask from hypocrites, who were accustomed to quote the mere name of the temple in opposition to the plain word of God. For this reason Isaiah now says, “Take us, if you choose, for monsters, yet God acknowledges us to be his own; and you cannot detest us without at the same time abhorring the God of Abraham and David, whose servants we are.”
19. And when they shall say to you. Isaiah continues the former subject, which is, that all the godly should not only use the authority of God as a shield, but should fortify themselves with it as a brazen wall, to contend against all ungodliness. He therefore entreats them to resist courageously if any one shall tempt them to superstition and unlawful modes of worship. The plural number is employed by him in order to signify that it was a vice which pervaded all ranks, and which abounded everywhere; as if he had said, “I see what will happen; you will be placed in great danger; for your countrymen will endeavor to draw you away from the true God; for, being themselves ungodly, they will wish you to resemble them.” At the same time he shows how wickedly they had departed from God’s law and covenant, by shamelessly pushing forward diviners and soothsayers whose name ought to have been held by them in abhorrence.
Should not a people ask counsel of their God? Some read these words in connection with what goes before, applying them to the ungodly, as if this were a pretense which they abused in order to deceive the simple; because there is no nation that has not oracles and revelations, but every nation consults its gods, or, in place of them, magicians and soothsayers. But what I reckon to be the more correct view is, that Isaiah advises his disciples to give this answer if they shall happen to be tempted to wicked modes of worship. Still the meaning is not fully cleared up; for this passage is commonly expounded as if it were a comparison drawn from the less to the greater. “What! seeing that the Gentiles consult their gods, and yet these gods are false, shall we not more highly esteem him whom we know to be the true God, and who hath revealed himself to us by so many proofs? What a shame will it be if their idols are more highly valued by the Gentiles than God is by us!”
But I interpret this as referring to the Jews themselves, who were called by way of eminence (κατ ᾿ ἐξοχὴν) the people, because God had adopted them. Nor is it of any importance that the Prophet employs the plural form אלהיו, 135135 If אלהים (elohim) were not only a plural form, as it actually is, but used in a plural signification, it would mean gods, and אלהיו (elohaiv) would mean his gods; but since אלהים (elohim) means God, אלהיו (elohaiv) means his God. It may be proper to add that the pronominal affix, his agrees with עם, (gnam,) people, which is masculine. — Ed (elohaiv;) for אלהים (elohim) is used as in the singular number. This is a shield by which all the superstitions which come imperceptibly upon us ought to be repelled. While some ponder and hesitate whether or not it be proper to consult diviners, let us have this answer in readiness, that God alone ought to be consulted. The Prophet alludes to that passage in Deuteronomy in which the Lord forbade them to go to magicians and soothsayers; and lest they should excuse themselves on the pretense that every nation had its interpreters or fortune-tellers, added, that they would not cease to have a Prophet, or be deprived of necessary instruction (Deuteronomy 18:10-15.) It was therefore the will of the Lord that they should depend entirely on his word, and should learn from it alone whatever was useful for them to know, and should render obedience to him.
From the living to the dead. The preposition בעד (begnad) is variously rendered: frequently it is translated for; and in that case the meaning will be, “Shall the dead be consulted for the business of the living?” But as that meaning is forced, it would perhaps be better to explain it thus: “The Lord desires to be our teacher, and for that purpose hath appointed prophets, that we may learn from them his will, for a prophet is the mouth of the Lord. It is therefore unlawful to go to the dead, who have not been appointed for that end; for God did not intend to make use of the dead for instructing us.”
But when I examine the whole matter more closely, I choose rather to consider בעד (begnad) to mean from, that is, from the living to the dead; as if he had said, “One God is sufficient for us for the living and the dead. If you search through heaven, earth, and hell, you will find that one God is sufficient for us.” This is, I think, the best sense, and flows naturally. Accordingly, the Prophet arms the godly against the schemes and contrivances of wicked men by whom they might otherwise have been tempted to revolt, with the exhortation to be satisfied with God alone as their teacher, and not to offer him such an insult as to disregard his instruction and seek other teachers, but to cast away everything else, and depend on his truth alone, which immediately afterwards he again repeats and confirms.
20. To the law and testimony. There are indeed various ways of explaining this passage. Some think that it is the form of an oath, as if the Prophet were swearing by the law that they were apostates, and would entice others to a similar apostasy. But I take a different view of it, which is, that he directs our attention to the law and the testimony; for the preposition ל, (lamed,) to, plainly shows that this is the meaning. Now, the testimony is joined with the law, not as if it were different, but for the sake of explanation, “to the law,” which contains the testimony or declaration of the will of God toward us. In short, we ought to take the word testimony as describing a quality, in order to inform us what advantage we derive from the law; namely, that God reveals himself to us in the law, and declares what is that relation to us which he chooses to hold, and lays down what he demands from us, and in short everything necessary to be known.
It is therefore a very high commendation of the law that it contains the doctrine of salvation, and the rule of a good and happy life. For this reason also he justly forbids us to turn aside from it in the smallest degree; as if he should say, “Forsake all the superstitions on which they are so madly bent; for they are not satisfied with having God alone, and call to their aid innumerable inventions.” In this manner also Christ speaks,
They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them, (Luke 16:29;)
for though Abraham is there brought forward as the speaker, still it is a permanent oracle which is uttered by the mouth of God. We are therefore enjoined to hear the law and the prophets, that we may not be under the influence of eager curiosity, or seek to learn anything from the dead. If the law and the prophets had not been sufficient, the Lord would not have refused to allow us other assistance.
Hence we learn that everything which is added to the word must be condemned and rejected. It is the will of the Lord that we shall depend wholly on his word, and that our knowledge shall be confined within its limits; and therefore, if we lend our ears to others, we take a liberty which he has forbidden, and offer to him a gross insult. Everything that is introduced by men on their own authority will be nothing else than a corruption of the word; and consequently, if we wish to obey God, we must reject all other instructors. He likewise warns us that, if we abide by the law of the Lord, we shall be protected against superstitions and wicked modes of worship; for, as Paul calls
the word of God is the sword of the Spirit,
so by the word, Satan and all his contrivances are put to flight. We ought therefore to flee to him whenever we shall be attacked by enemies, that, being armed with it, we may contend valiantly, and at length put them to flight.
If they shall not speak. I do not relate all the expositions of this passage, for that would be too tedious; and I consider the true exposition to be so well supported that it will easily refute all others. It is usually explained to mean that wicked men trifle with their inventions, and expose their impostures to sale, because there is no light in them; that is, because they have not ordinary understanding. For my own part, I consider this to be a reason for encouraging believers to perseverance; that if wicked men depart from the true doctrine, they will evince nothing else than their own blindness and darkness. We ought to despise their folly, that it may not be an obstruction to us; as Christ also teaches us that we should boldly set aside such persons, so as not to be in any degree affected by their blindness or obstinacy. “They are blind,” says he, “and leaders of the blind. Do you wish of your own accord to perish with them?” (Matthew 15:14.)
The Prophet therefore enjoins us to ascribe to the word such high authority, that we shall venture boldly to despise the whole world, if the word be opposed by them; for if even angels should do this, we might condemn them also by the authority of the word.
If an angel from heaven, says Paul, preach anything else, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8, 9.)
How much more boldly, therefore, shall we condemn men who set themselves in opposition to God? The mode of expression is emphatic, If they shall not speak according to this word. He brings an accusation of blindness against every man who does not instantly and without dispute adopt this sentiment, that we ought not to be wise beyond the law of God.
21. Then they shall pass through that land. Not to permit believers to be ensnared by the common errors, he adds how dreadful is the punishment which awaits the ungodly when they have revolted from God, and have labored to induce others to join in the same revolt. The passage is somewhat obscure; but the obscurity arises from the want of proper attention in examining the words. The verb עבר (gnabar) is emphatic; for by passing through he means that uncertainty in which men wander up and down, and are not able to find a resting-place, or any permanent abode. To the indefinite verb we must supply a noun, The Jews shall pass. By the pronoun בה, (bahh,) in it, 136136 Through it. — Eng. Ver. he means Judea, which the Lord had preferred to all other countries; and therefore it is easily understood, though the Prophet does not express it. As if he had said, “I promised indeed that that country would be the perpetual inheritance of my people, (Genesis 13:15; 17:8;) but they shall lead a wandering and restless life, as is the case with those who, driven from their habitations, and afflicted with hunger and pestilence and every kind of calamities, seek, but nowhere find, a better condition and abode.” These words are therefore contrasted with the extraordinary kindness of God, which is so frequently mentioned by Moses, namely, that they will have a fixed residence in Judea; for here he threatens that they will be stragglers and wanderers, not in their own, but in a foreign country; so that, wherever they come, they will be attacked and hunted down by innumerable vexations.
When they shall be hungry. The Prophet appears to point out the conversion of the Jews, as if he had said, “When they have been weighed down by afflictions they will at length repent;” and undoubtedly this is the remedy by which the Lord generally cures the disease of obstinacy. Yet if any one suppose that the word hunger describes the indignation and roaring of the wicked without repentance, it may be stated that it includes not only hunger and thirst, but, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, (συνεκδοχικῶς,) every other kind of calamity.
They shall fret themselves. 137137 Not satisfied with the Latin word irritentur for conveying the import of the Hebrew התקצף, (hithkatzeph,) Calvin illustrates it by a phrase taken from his own vernacular, Ils se despiteront, which means, they will fume, or chafe, or burst into furious passion. — Ed They will begin to be displeased with themselves, and to loathe all the supports on which they had formerly relied; and this is the beginning of repentance; for in prosperity we flatter ourselves, but in sore adversity we loathe everything that is around us. But if it be thought preferable to refer it to the reprobate, this word denotes the bitterness, which is so far from leading them to humility that it rather aggravates their rage.
And curse their king and their God. By King some suppose that he means God. In this sense Zephaniah used the word מלכם (malcham), that is, their King. (Zephaniah 1:5.) But here I draw a distinction between King and God; for wicked men are first blinded by a false confidence in idols, and afterwards they place their defense in earthly things. When the Jews had a king, they were proud of his glory and power; and when Isaiah preached, wicked men enraged the king against him, and even aroused the whole of the nation to follow the king as their standard-bearer. Since, therefore, their false boasting had been partly in the idols and partly in the king, he threatens that they will be afflicted with so many calamities, that they will be constrained to abhor both their gods and the king. And this is the beginning of repentance, to loathe and drive far from us everything that kept us back or led us away from God.
And look upward. He describes the trembling and agitation of mind by which wretched men are tormented until they have learned steadfastly to look up. There is, indeed, some proficiency, as I lately hinted, when, in consequence of having been taught by afflictions and chastisements, we throw away our indifference and endeavor to find out remedies. But we must advance farther. Fixing our eye on God alone we must not gaze on all sides, or through fickleness be tossed to and fro. (Ephesians 4:14.) However that may be, Isaiah threatens the utter destruction of the Jews; for so thoroughly were they hardened, that their rebellion could not be subdued by a light and moderate chastisement from the hand of God. Yet it might be taken in a good sense, that the Jews will at length raise their eyes to heaven; but in that case we must read separately what follows: —
22. And when they shall look to the earth. The meaning will then be, that the Jews will be converted to God, because they will be deprived of every assistance on the earth, and will see nothing but frightful calamities, to whatever side they turn their eyes.
Behold, trouble and darkness. These words are partly figurative and partly literal; for by dimness and darkness he means nothing else than adversity, according to the custom of Scripture. But he adds, driven to darkness. This aggravates the calamity to an amazing degree; for if one who is in darkness be driven or pushed forward, he is far more in danger of stumbling than before. Thus he intimates, that to a heavy calamity another still heavier will be added, that they may be more completely ruined; for he means nothing else than that the judgments of God will be so dreadful, and the punishments so severe, that, whether they will or not, they shall be constrained to look up to heaven.