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The Degenerate City


How the faithful city

has become a whore!

She that was full of justice,

righteousness lodged in her—

but now murderers!


Your silver has become dross,

your wine is mixed with water.


Your princes are rebels

and companions of thieves.

Everyone loves a bribe

and runs after gifts.

They do not defend the orphan,

and the widow’s cause does not come before them.



Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:

Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,

and avenge myself on my foes!


I will turn my hand against you;

I will smelt away your dross as with lye

and remove all your alloy.


And I will restore your judges as at the first,

and your counselors as at the beginning.

Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,

the faithful city.


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21. How is the faithful city become an harlot! In order to make the rebuke more forcible, and the crime of the people more shocking, in having thus departed from God and from all uprightness, he cries aloud as if he had seen some monstrous thing; and certainly it was a change fitted to awaken horror, that a nation devoted to God, and chosen to a royal priesthood, (Exodus 19:6,) had fallen from lofty piety to the lowest sink of wickedness. More especially he speaks of the city of Jerusalem, which was God’s sanctuary and royal abode. He complains that the city which had formerly been a guardian of justice is a den of robbers; that she who formerly was a chaste and pure virgin hath become a harlot, To strike the deeper shame into the degenerate Jews, who had departed widely from their holy fathers, he assumes the air of a person astonished, and asks himself how this could possibly have happened.

The faithful city By the word faithful he alludes, in my opinion, to the conjugal fidelity which a wife ought to preserve to her husband. The signification is undoubtedly more extensive; but when I look at the connection of the passage I do not hesitate to say that faithful means chaste; for immediately afterwards he employs another term in contrast with it, calling her an harlot. Whereas she once was a virtuous wife, faithful to the marriage-contract, she has now become an harlot, and her base conduct brings not a blush on her countenance. The Scriptures frequently call the Church the wife of God. (Hosea 2:19, 20.) That honorable rank Jerusalem held, so long as she maintained spiritual chastity, and continued in the pure and lawful worship of God; but as soon as she departed from it she became an harlot.

This astonishment of the Prophet was undoubtedly joined with the deepest grief; for we ought to look upon it as something monstrous when men revolt from God, and refuse that allegiance which they have promised to render; nor is it possible that right-hearted men, when they behold such a revolt, can fail to be affected with the most poignant grief. We read that the angels in heaven rejoice at the conversion of one sinner; (Luke 15:7, 10;) and therefore they cannot but mourn over the final ruin of any sinner. How much more then will they bewail the ruin and destruction of a whole state and Church!

Besides, that astonishment conveys also a complaint; as if the Prophet had said, “O Jerusalem, from what a flourishing condition hast thou fallen! Into what distress hast thou plunged thyself! What shame and disgrace hast thou brought upon thee!” When the flourishing state in which she had been, and the respect that had been paid to her in former times, are called to her remembrance, it ought to produce a still deeper impression on her mind; for she who was at one time the respected mother of a family is naturally more careful about her honor and reputation than one who has spent her whole life in base and licentious conduct.

It was full of judgment He shows what fruits were produced by that allegiance to God at a former period. We may take judgment as but another name for uprightness; or, if it be thought preferable, we may call it justice when men render to every man his own, and judgment when the cause of the innocent is defended, and the poor and needy are avenged; for such is the use of the words in Scripture when they are employed together; but as they are not perfectly connected in this passage, I consider judgment to denote uprightness; so that the same thing is twice expressed for the purpose of explaining it more fully.

But now murderers He shows in what manner Jerusalem became an harlot. It was, that the city, which had formerly been distinguished for the love of justice and equity, was now full of murders. The meaning is, as we have formerly said, not that they were assassins or robbers, but that, by fraudulent and dishonest methods, under the pretense of justice, they had gained the property of others. In short, he means that they did not act fairly and justly towards their fellow-men, whatever might be the estimation in which they were held; for sometimes, and indeed very frequently, it happens that very wicked men are held in high esteem.

The condition to which Jerusalem was reduced should lead us to consider how often Satan exercises what may be called unbounded tyranny over the Church of God; for if ever there was a Church, there was one at that time in Jerusalem; and yet Isaiah affirms that it was a den of robbers, or a slaughterhouse, where they cut men’s throats. But if Satan could freely riot in that Church, let us not wonder that the same thing takes place among us; but let us labor not to suffer ourselves to be corrupted by such wicked examples.

22. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water Isaiah speaks metaphorically, and by two comparisons shows here, that though the outward appearance of affairs was not openly overturned, yet their condition was changed and corrupted, so as to be widely different from what it had formerly been: for he says that dross now shines instead of gold, and that the wine, though it retains its color, has lost its flavour. “Though thou still make an empty show,” saith the Prophet, “yet nothing pure will be found in thee: that wine which was wont to be Stare in thee is corrupted; and though its color deceive the eye, its taste shows that it has been mixed.”

All this means nothing more than that the Jews should lay aside hypocrisy, and should begin to confess their sins, and no longer flatter themselves after the manner of hypocrites. The comparisons here employed are exceedingly well adapted to this end, for dross bears some resemblance to gold; and in like manner, the color of wine mixed with water resembles that of pure wine; and yet both are very far from having that purity of which they make an outward show. In like manner hypocrites, by their hypocrisy, may be said to assume a false color of silver, though they are of no more value than dross, and indeed are the more detestable on this account, that, though they are exceedingly wicked, yet, with not less treachery than baseness, they present to God and to men those hollow pretensions by which they cloak their malice.

23. Thy princes are rebellious There is here an elegant allusion or play on words. 2828     Our author illustrates it by the alliteration of primi pravi. “The word סוררים (sorerim) is here equivalent,” says Jarchi, “to סרים, (sarim,) that is, persons departing from the right path.” “In this word סוררים, (sorerim,)” says his annotator Breithaupt, which our Commentator here explains by סרים, (sarim,) departers, “there is an allusion to the word שרים, (princes,) which we here find in the sacred text.” — Ed He does not speak of princes in such a manner as if the common people were holy and needed no reproof, but he points out the source of the evil; for as no disease is more injurious than that which spreads from the head into the whole body, so no evil is more destructive in a commonwealth than a wicked and depraved prince, who conveys his corruptions into the whole body both by his example and by the liberty which he allows. Hence, too, comes the proverb, ὁποῖα ἡ δέσποινα, τοῖαι καὶ αἱ θεραπαινίδες, like mistress, like maids. The meaning, therefore, is as if the Prophet had said that there was no one vice more than another that reigned among the people, but that an unbounded commission of crimes prevailed among the nobles themselves, and that in this manner the whole body was stained with pollution. Something which gives additional force to the statement is implied in the word princes; for it is deeply to be lamented when an evil arises from that very quarter in which the remedy for it ought to be expected. He next mentions a particular instance.

Companions of thieves By these words he means that they are so far from restraining theft and false dealing, that, on the contrary, they draw gain from them; and he justly calls those persons companions of thieves, who, by receiving part of the booty, grant permission to commit theft. And, indeed, when a judge is corrupted by a bribe, it is impossible but that crimes shall abound and pass unpunished, with the perpetrators of which we must consider him to be in collusion.

Every one loveth a gift He next points out the reason why princes have made themselves companions of thieves, and have bound themselves by a wicked conspiracy to lend countenance to crimes. It is avarice. When judges are devoted to the love of money, justice is utterly destroyed; for if the acceptance of persons be a corruption of judgment, so that no room is left for justice, every man who is under the dominion of covetousness will assuredly regard the person rather than the cause. The consequence is, that he will not be able to perceive what is just and right, but, as one expresses it, will make laws and unmake them.

This reminds us how great a virtue it is in a magistrate to disregard money; for unless he keep his mind, his hands, and his eyes under restraint, he will never be able to judge justly. It is absurd to say, as some men do, that they keep their heart pure and uncorrupted, even though they receive bribes. What the Lord saith must be true, that a gift blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous. (Exodus 23:8.) No man is so upright, no man is so clearsighted and sagacious, that his mind shall resist the enchantment, and his eyes the blinding influence, of gifts. Such judges, therefore, he justly declares to be companions of thieves; for, hurried along by a blind desire of money, they overturn all law both of God and man, and leave no room for justice or modesty.

We must likewise observe that the Prophet, in order to convince hypocrites, brings forward their actions which were open and universally known; for otherwise they would not submit. And yet there can be no doubt that there were at that time many who objected, when he thus called them thieves, as even in the present day most men impudently and obstinately exclaim that they are not thieves on account of receiving the rewards and gifts which are offered to them, because their do not prevent them from passing a just judgment. But these replies being frivolous, the Prophet, after having exposed their wicked actions, satisfies himself with the reproof which he has given, and argues with them no longer. And, indeed, nature declares that it is impossible to give just judgment, when judges are so eager for gain and regard; because they cannot but absolutely expose to sale their honesty and reputation.

They judge not the fatherless As the Lord specially recommends to us the fatherless and widows, because they have been deprived of the protection of men, so we need not wonder if he is displeased when they are abandoned by the judges, who ought to have been their guardians and defenders; for since they have neither foresight, nor industry nor strength if no one comes forward to render assistance they must be exposed without redress to every kind of violence and injustice. Now, when no regard is paid to them, it follows that the sway is held, not by justice, but by covetousness and plunder.

24. Therefore saith the lord, the LORD of hosts He first employs the word האדון, (haadon) which literally signifies lord, and expresses the relation to a servant. Next is added the word יהוה (Jehovah,) which denotes the eternal essence and majesty of God. After having laid open some kinds of crimes, which made it manifest that in that nation everything was corrupted, Isaiah, now wishing to threaten and to hold out to them the judgment of God, not only represents God as invested with the power and authority of a Judge, but at the same time reminds them that the children of Abraham are his peculiar people, and for this reason he immediately adds, the mighty One of Israel. There may also be implied in it a kind of irony, by which he stings the Jews, as if he had said that it was foolishness in them to boast of the name of God, seeing that they were worthless and unprincipled servants, and that it was vain for them to rely on his strength, which would immediately break forth against them. After this preface, he adds —

Ah! I will take consolation on my adversaries 2929     In our English version it runs, Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries. — Ed. By these words he intimates that God will not be pacified until he has satiated himself with inflicting punishment. He employs the word consolation after the manner of men; for as anger is nothing else than the desire of revenge, so revenge gives relief to the mind, and he who has taken vengeance congratulates himself and is satisfied. By this course, which may be regarded as a kind of compensation, the Lord says that he will satisfy himself with inflicting punishment on his adversaries

There are various ways, indeed, of expounding this passage; and I shall not undertake the task of examining all the interpretations and refuting those which I do not approve: it will be enough if we ascertain the true meaning. He does not here speak of Chaldeans or Assyrians, as some imagine, but of Jews, to whom, in the character of a herald, he proclaims war in the name of the Lord. This threatening sounded harshly in their ears; for they supposed that they were joined in such a confederacy with God, that he was an adversary to their adversaries. He declares, on the other hand, that he is their enemy because he had so often been provoked by their crimes. In this manner we must shake off the slothfulness of hypocrites, who are continually waging war with God, and yet do not hesitate to allege that they enjoy his protection. We need not wonder, therefore, if the Prophet sternly pronounces them to be adversaries of God, who had broken the covenant, and had thus carried on war against him.

And yet, in order to show that he is unwillingly, as it were, constrained to inflict punishment on his people, God utters his threatening with a kind of groan. For as nothing is more agreeable to his nature than to do good, so whenever he is angry with us and treats us harshly, it is certain that our wickedness has compelled him to do so, because we do not allow his goodness to take its free course. More especially he is disposed to treat his own people with gentleness, and when he sees that there is no longer any room for his forbearance, he takes measures, as it were in sorrow, for inflicting punishment.

Some would rather choose perhaps to explain the particle הוי (hoi) as of God made this exclamation when aroused by anger. For my own part, I rather consider it, in this passage, to be an expression of grief; because God, being mindful of his covenant, would willingly spare his chosen people, were it not that pardon was entirely prevented by their obstinacy.

And avenge me of mine enemies In this second clause there is a reduplication, (ἀναδίπλωσις) a figure of speech customary with the Hebrews, who frequently express the same thing twice in one verse. Hence also we learn that the object of the statement is, that God cannot rest until he has taken vengeance on a wicked and treacherous people

25. And I will turn my hand upon thee This is an alleviation of the former threatening; for though he still proceeds with what he had begun to state about his severity, he at the same time declares that, amidst those calamities which were to be inflicted, the Church would be preserved. But the principal design was to comfort believers, that they might not suppose the Church to be utterly ruined, though God treated them more roughly than before. The Spirit of God, by the Prophets, continually warns the children of God, who always tremble at his word, not to be overwhelmed and lose heart on account of terrors and threatening; for the more daringly that wicked men practice licentiousness and scoff at all threatening the more do those who are affected by a sincere fear of God tremble at them.

Besides, the turning of the hands of God denotes generally a token of his presence, as if he should say, I will display my hand. This he is wont to do in two ways, either by chastising the wicked, or by delivering believers from their distresses. Since, therefore, it is evident from the context that God purposes, by applying consolation, to mitigate the severity of punishment, the turning of the hands must here be viewed as referring to the restoration of the Church; for although he declared in general terms that all were his enemies, he now modifies or limits that statement by addressing Jerusalem or Zion by name.

When he adds, I will purge away thy dross, though he points out the fruit of correction, that believers may not be immoderately grieved or distressed on account of it, yet we learn from this expression that the purification of the Church is God’s own work. For this purpose he always lifts up his hand to punish transgressions, that he may bring back wanderers into the road; but rods would be of no avail, if he did not make them useful by touching their hearts inwardly. And, indeed, since he points out here a special favor which he bestows on his elect, it follows from this that repentance is a true and peculiar work of the Holy Spirit; for otherwise the sinner, instead of profiting in the smallest degree, would be more and more hardened by chastisements.

The pure purging, so that no dross remains, must not, however, be understood as if God ever cleansed his Church entirely in this world from every stain, but must be regarded as spoken after the manner of men; as if he said that the condition of his Church will be such that her holiness will shine like pure silver. These words, therefore, indicate real purity, for the Jews had formerly been too well satisfied with their filthiness. This is a highly appropriate comparison, by which the Prophet declares, that though the Church was at that time polluted by many defilements, still some remnant would be left, which, after the removal of the pollution, would regain its brightness. In this manner he also connects both clauses; for when he formerly spoke of their crimes, he said that their silver had become dross. (Isaiah 1:22.)

26. And I will restore thy judges as at the first He now speaks without a figure; and having said that the source and origin of the evils was in the princes, he shows that a divine hand will purify that rank, when the Lord shall be pleased to restore the Church to perfect health. And, indeed, when they who rule are good and holy men, public order is maintained; for when wicked men have power, everything goes to ruin. By judges and counsellors are evidently meant any kind of magistrates; and when he promises that they will be such as they were at the beginning, he brings to their remembrance the extraordinary goodness of God, of which they had been deprived. God had graciously raised up the throne of David, and in that government was pleased to give a bright resemblance of his own parental love. Though the authority of the family of David had degenerated into the grossest tyranny, yet they continued to boast of a false title; for they still vaunted of the reign of David in the same manner as the papists of the present day plume themselves on a false pretense of the Church. Justly, therefore, are the people reminded of the happiness from which they had fallen by their own fault, that they might not be displeased at a diminution of their numbers, by means of which they would again possess that order which God had established

Then shalt thou be called He describes the fruit of that reformation, of which he has spoken, as extending to the whole body; for, having said that Jerusalem, before she revolted from God, was a faithful city, full of righteousness, the Prophet now says, that when she shall have been chastised the same virtues will be illustriously displayed in her. Here, too, is expressed the sum of true repentance; for by righteousness is meant uprightness, when every man obtains what belongs to him, and men live with each other without committing injury. The word faithful has a still more extensive meaning; for when a city is called faithful, it means not only that justice and honesty between man and man are observed, but that the purity of God’s worship is maintained and therefore the chastity and purity of the mind are included under that designation.

It must also be observed, however, that from this faithfulness springs justice; for when we adhere to truth in our mutual intercourse, justice easily gains the ascendency. And, indeed, when I closely examine the whole passage, I think that the Prophet now employs the word faithfulness in a more limited sense than formerly, and connects the two virtues as leading to the same object, so that, while truth goes first as the cause, justice is the effect of it. Isaiah promises not only that she will be righteous and faithful, but that she will also be distinguished by these commendations; by which he means that the knowledge or reputation of it will be everywhere diffused. We know that hypocrites, too, are adorned with honorable titles; but Isaiah, having introduced God as speaking, takes for granted that the city will actually be righteous, as it is foretold that she shall be. In the meantime, as I have said, he describes the fruit of a true conversion; as if he had said,” When Jerusalem shall be brought Jack to true godliness, men will be persuaded that she is renewed.”