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Judgment on Corrupt Rulers, Priests, and Prophets


Ah, the proud garland of the drunkards of Ephraim,

and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

which is on the head of those bloated with rich food, of those overcome with wine!


See, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;

like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,

like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters;

with his hand he will hurl them down to the earth.


Trampled under foot will be

the proud garland of the drunkards of Ephraim.


And the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

which is on the head of those bloated with rich food,

will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer;

whoever sees it, eats it up

as soon as it comes to hand.



In that day the L ord of hosts will be a garland of glory,

and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people;


and a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment,

and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.



These also reel with wine

and stagger with strong drink;

the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,

they are confused with wine,

they stagger with strong drink;

they err in vision,

they stumble in giving judgment.


All tables are covered with filthy vomit;

no place is clean.



“Whom will he teach knowledge,

and to whom will he explain the message?

Those who are weaned from milk,

those taken from the breast?


For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little.”



Truly, with stammering lip

and with alien tongue

he will speak to this people,


to whom he has said,

“This is rest;

give rest to the weary;

and this is repose”;

yet they would not hear.


Therefore the word of the L ord will be to them,

“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little;”

in order that they may go, and fall backward,

and be broken, and snared, and taken.



Therefore hear the word of the L ord, you scoffers

who rule this people in Jerusalem.


Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,

and with Sheol we have an agreement;

when the overwhelming scourge passes through

it will not come to us;

for we have made lies our refuge,

and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;


therefore thus says the Lord G od,

See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone,

a tested stone,

a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:

“One who trusts will not panic.”


And I will make justice the line,

and righteousness the plummet;

hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,

and waters will overwhelm the shelter.


Then your covenant with death will be annulled,

and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;

when the overwhelming scourge passes through

you will be beaten down by it.


As often as it passes through, it will take you;

for morning by morning it will pass through,

by day and by night;

and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.


For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it,

and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.


For the L ord will rise up as on Mount Perazim,

he will rage as in the valley of Gibeon

to do his deed—strange is his deed!—

and to work his work—alien is his work!


Now therefore do not scoff,

or your bonds will be made stronger;

for I have heard a decree of destruction

from the Lord G od of hosts upon the whole land.



Listen, and hear my voice;

Pay attention, and hear my speech.


Do those who plow for sowing plow continually?

Do they continually open and harrow their ground?


When they have leveled its surface,

do they not scatter dill, sow cummin,

and plant wheat in rows

and barley in its proper place,

and spelt as the border?


For they are well instructed;

their God teaches them.



Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,

nor is a cart wheel rolled over cummin;

but dill is beaten out with a stick,

and cummin with a rod.


Grain is crushed for bread,

but one does not thresh it forever;

one drives the cart wheel and horses over it,

but does not pulverize it.


This also comes from the L ord of hosts;

he is wonderful in counsel,

and excellent in wisdom.


14. Wherefore hear ye the word of the Lord. He goes on to address to them still stronger reproof, and at the same time mingles with it a consolation in order to encourage the hearts of the godly. While he threatens utter destruction against the wicked, he leaves for believers ground of consolation, by declaring that their salvation is dear and precious in the sight of God.

Ye scornful men. By this term he means men who are addicted to sophistry and deceit, who think that by jeers and cunning they can escape the judgment of God; for לוץ (lūtz) 228228    {Bogus footnote} signifies to jeer or scorn. Now, he addresses not ordinary men, but rulers and governors, who, in governing the people, thought that they surpassed other men in sharpness and dexterity, but turned their acuteness to cunning, by which they acted hypocritically towards God himself, and therefore, in keen irony, he calls them “scorners;” as if he had said,

“You think that you have enough of craftiness to mock God,
but you will not succeed in mocking him.” (Galatians 6:7.)

The Prophet’s chief and severest contest was with the nobles; for although all ranks were exceedingly corrupted, yet the nobles, being puffed up with a false belief of their own wisdom, were more obstinate than the rest. It has commonly been found, in almost every age, that the common people, though they are distinguished by unrestrained fierceness and violence, do not proceed to such a pitch of wickedness as nobles or courtiers, or other crafty men, who think that they excel others in ability and wisdom. The ministers of the word ought chiefly, therefore, to arm themselves against ingenious adversaries. None can be more destructive; for they not only of themselves do injury, but excite others to the same kind of scorn and wickedness, and frequently, through the estimation in which they are held, and the splendor of their reputation, they dazzle the common people who are less clear-sighted. It is a dreadful and monstrous thing when the governors of the Church not only are themselves blinded, but even blind others, and excite them to despise God, and ridicule godly doctrine, and taunt it by their jeers, and, in short, employ their utmost ingenuity for overturning religion; but in opposition to such persons we ought to encourage our hearts by the example of the Prophet, that we may not sink or lose heart in this contest. He shews us also the way in which we ought to treat such persons. 229229    {Bogus footnote} We ought not to spend much time in teaching them, (for instruction would be of little use,) but must threaten them severely, and terrify them by the judgment of God.

This people which is in Jerusalem. Their guilt is highly aggravated by the consideration that they inhabit the very sanctuary of God, and infect with their pollution God’s chosen people.

15. Because ye have said. The Prophet next assigns the reason why he called them “scorners;” it was because they had thrown off all fear of God. He likewise describes the manner in which they acted, by saying that they promised to themselves that they would escape punishment amidst all their crimes and enormities, and became the more daring, and, as if they had obtained greater liberty to pursue wicked courses, rushed forward without dread wherever their unruly passions carried them.

We have struck a league with death, and with hell have we made a compact. This is what he means by the league into which they had entered with death and the grave; for by despising and boldly ridiculing all God’s threatenings and chastisements, they thought that they were out of all danger. חזה (chōzĕh) means what he had formerly expressed by ברית, (bērīth,) for it is a repetition of the same statement. Literally it signifies seeing, 230230    {Bogus footnote} and denotes what is conveyed by the French phrase, avoir intelligence, or by the English phrase, “to have a mutual understanding.” There appears to be also an implied contrast between prophetic visions and that deceitful craftiness on which veterans in wicked arts value themselves.

We have made lies our refuge. It is certain that those cunning men never broke out into such boasting as to utter those offensive words, for that would have been childish and absurd. 231231    {Bogus footnote} Besides, though they despised God and set at nought all his admonitions, they undoubtedly wished to be held in some estimation by the people, and would never have confessed that they “made lies their refuge;” but the Prophet looked at their feelings and aims, and not at their pretexts, and took into account their actions and dispositions, and not their words. Whoever, then, flatters himself and his vices, and fearlessly despises God’s threatenings, declares that he has “entered into a league with death,” which he does not at all dread, notwithstanding the Lord’s threatenings.

The Prophet, therefore, reproves in general that carnal presumption by which men are led to forgetfulness of the judgment of God, and willingly deceive themselves, as if they could escape the arm of God: but chiefly he attacks Lucianists 232232    {Bogus footnote} and censorious men, who place their wisdom in nothing else than in irreligious contempt of God; and the more eager they are to conceal their dishonor, the more earnestly does the Prophet expose them, as if he had dragged forth to the light, from a deep concealment, their cunning wiles, and as if he had said, “This is the dexterity, skill, and cunning of the wise men of this world, who are exposed on every hand to troubles and afflictions, and yet imagine that they are concealed and safe. They unquestionably deserve to seek salvation from falsehood, for they disregard God’s salvation, and despise and ridicule him.” Their tricks, and cunning, and imposture, are indeed concealed by them under plausible names, and they do not think that they are falsehoods; but the Prophet calls them by their proper names.

When the overflowing scourge shall pass through. As to “the overflowing scourge,” the Prophet here includes two metaphors; for he compares the calamities and afflictions by which God chastises the transgressions of the world to a “scourge,” and then says, that they are so rapid and violent that they resemble a “flood.” Against those calamities, however severe and distressing, wicked men of this description think that they are fortified by lying and deceit, and hope that they shall be able to escape them, though they overflow far and wide over the whole world. They perceive the judgments of God, and the calamities to which men are exposed; but, because they do not observe the hand and providence of God, and ascribe everything that happens to fortune, they therefore seek to obtain such defences and safeguards as may drive such “scourges” away from them.

16. Therefore thus saith the Lord God. Isaiah now comforts the godly, and threatens against the wicked such punishment as they deserved. In the first instance, he brings forward consolation, because the godly were a laughingstock to those crafty men, as we see at the present day that irreligious men laugh at our simplicity, and reckon us to be fools, because amidst such deep adversity and sore afflictions we still hope that it will turn out to our advantage. In opposition to this insolence of the reprobate, the Prophet encourages and supports the hearts of the godly to pass by with indifference, and reckon of no account their jeers and reproaches, and to believe firmly that their hope will not be confounded or vain.

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone, a stone of trial. The demonstrative particle behold expresses certainty; as if he had said, “Though wicked men despise my words, and refuse to believe them, yet I will perform what I have promised.” The pronoun I is emphatic, that the prophecy may be more firmly believed. As to the words, the genitive בחן, (bōchăn,) of trial, which is used instead of an adjective along with stone, may be taken both in an active and in a passive sense, either for a stone by which the whole building is “tried,” or examined as by a standard, or for a “tried stone.” The former meaning appears to me to be more appropriate, and undoubtedly the usage of the Hebrew language requires us to interpret it rather in an active sense. He calls it therefore a trying stone, or a trier, on account of the effect produced; because by this stone the whole building must be squared and adjusted, otherwise it must unavoidably totter and fall.

A precious corner-stone, a sure foundation. He calls it a corner-stone, because it supports the whole weight of the building, and by this name, which is also given to it in Psalm 118:22, he commends its force and strength. Lastly, he calls it a “foundation,” and, so to speak, a “fundamental foundation,” proceeding gradually in the commendation of it; for he shews that it is not an ordinary stone, or one of many which contribute to the building, but that it is a highly valuable stone, on which the whole weight of the building exclusively rests. It is a stone, but a stone which fills the whole corner; it is a corner-stone, but the whole house is founded on it. As “another foundation cannot be laid,” so on it alone must the whole Church, and every part of it, rest and be built. (1 Corinthians 3:11.)

He that believeth shall not make haste. This clause is interpreted by some as an exhortation, “He that believeth, let him not make haste.” But I prefer to take it in the future tense, both because that meaning agrees best with the context, and because it is supported by the authority of the Apostle Paul. I do acknowledge that the Apostles followed the Greek translation, 233233    {Bogus footnote} and used such liberty, that while they were satisfied with giving the meaning, they did not quote the exact words. Yet they never changed the meaning, but, taking care to have it properly applied, they gave the true and genuine interpretation. Whenever, therefore, they quote any passage from the Old Testament, they adhere closely to its object and design.

Now, Paul, when he quotes this prophecy, adopts the Greek version, “He that believeth shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 9:33; 10:11.) And certainly the design of the Prophet is to shew, that they who believe will have peace and serenity of mind, so that they shall not desire anything more, and shall not wander in uncertainty, or hasten to seek other remedies, but shall be fully satisfied with this alone. That is not a departure from the meaning, for the word signifying to make haste conveys the idea of eagerness or trembling. In short, the design of the Prophet is, to extol faith on account of this invaluable result, that by means of it we enjoy settled peace and composure. Hence it follows that, till we possess faith, we must have continual perplexity and distress; for there is but one harbour on which we can safely rely, namely, the truth of the Lord, which alone will give us peace and serenity of mind.

This fruit of faith is elsewhere described by the same Apostle Paul, when he says that, “being justified by faith, we obtain peace with God.” (Romans 5:1.) The Apostles and evangelists shew that this “stone” is Christ, because the Church was actually settled and founded at the time when he was presented to the view of the world. (Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6.) First, in him the promises have their firmness; secondly, the salvation of men rests on him alone, and therefore if Christ be taken away, the Church will fall down and be ruined. The state of the fact therefore shews, that these statements must undoubtedly be referred to Christ, without whom there is no certainty of salvation; and therefore at every moment ruin is at hand. Next, we have the authority of evangelists and Apostles; and indeed the Holy Spirit conveys that instruction by their mouth.

But it will be proper to examine it more closely, that we may see in what manner these things are applied to Christ. First, it is not without good reason that Isaiah represents God as speaking, whose peculiar work it is to found the Church, as we have already seen elsewhere, and as the Prophet will afterwards declare; and this statement occurs very frequently in the Psalms. For if all men devote their labor to it, they will not be able to lay the least stone. It is God alone, therefore, who founds and builds his Church, though he employs for this purpose the labors and services of men. Now, by whom was Christ given, but by the Father? So then it was the heavenly Father who did and accomplished these things, and who appointed Christ to be the only foundation on which our salvation rests.

But was not this stone laid before? Did not the Church always rest on this foundation? I acknowledge that it did, but only in hope; for Christ had not yet been revealed, and had not fulfilled the office of a Redeemer. On this account the Prophet speaks of it as a future event, that believers may be fully persuaded that the Church, which they saw not only tottering and falling, but grievously shaken and almost laid in ruins, will yet be made firm by a new support, when it shall rest on a stone laid by the hand of God.

I lay in Zion. He says that it is “in Zion;” because Christ must come out of it, which contributes greatly to confirm our faith, when we see that he came out of that place which was appointed for this purpose so long before. Now, at the present day, “Mount Zion” is everywhere; for the Church has spread to the ends of the world.

Christ is truly “the stone of trial,” for by him must the whole building be regulated, and we cannot be the building of God, if we are not adapted to him. Hence also Paul exhorts us to

“grow in him who is the head, from whom the whole body must be joined and united.” (Ephesians 4:15.)

Our faith must be wholly applied to Christ, that he may be our rule. He is also the “corner-stone,” on which rests not only one part of the building, but its whole weight, and the foundation itself.

“No man,” as Paul says, “can lay any other foundation than Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 3:11.)

This is the reason why, when the Lord promises by the mouth of Isaiah the restoration of his Church, he reminds us of the foundation; for it was wasted in such a manner that it resembled a ruin, and there was no way in which it could be restored but by Christ. As to Christ being called also the “stone of stumbling,” this is accidental; for the fault lies on ungrateful men, who, having rejected him, find him to be altogether different from what he would have been to them. But on this subject we have spoken at 8:14. 234234    {Bogus footnote}

17. And I will lay judgment to the line. The ruinous condition of the Church being such that believers hardly ventured to hope that it would be improved, he shews that God has in his hand the ready means of forming the Church entirely anew. As he lately mentioned a building, so now, by a different metaphor, he shews that there is no reason to fear that God will not at length finish the work of building which has been begun. Yet indirectly he reproves the pride and insolence of those who wished to be accounted pillars of the Church, while they were endeavoring, as far as lay in their power, to raze it to the foundation. Although, in consequence of an almost total extinction of the light of faith, and a frightful corruption of the worship of God, the state of the people was hideous, yet they boasted of their royal priesthood, in the same manner as we see the Papists at the present day shamelessly utter similar boasting, though lamentable confusion cries aloud that the form of the Church has utterly perished among them. For this reason the Prophet describes what will be the reformation of the Church.

Judgment to the line, and righteousness to the measure or plummet. It is probable that קו, (kāv,) a line, and משקלת, (mĭshkōlĕth,) a plummet, mean the same thing, as may be inferred with greater certainty from another passage:

“I will stretch over Jerusalem the rope or line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab.” (2 Kings 21:13.)

Yet I do not deny that he alludes to the examination of weights; but both metaphors are taken from buildings, in which the master-builders and masons try everything by a rule, in order to preserve a due proportion in every part. Thus it is said that the Lord administers equal judgment, when he restores the Church, in which otherwise everything is disordered and confused, as in a hideous ruin, when the ungodly are exalted and enjoy prosperity, while the godly are despised and sorrowful.

He makes the same statement concerning “righteousness,” that he will measure or try it by his weights, and will regulate everything by a rule; for by righteousness and judgment he means a proper and lawful administration of the Church, as contrasting with the masks and disguises boasted of by those who fear the title of Bishops. The meaning is, that this foundation is laid, not only that the Church may be commenced, but that it may be perfectly restored, to use a common phrase, “from top to bottom” (De fonds en comble.)

The hail shall sweep away the reliance of falsehood. This second part of the metaphor denotes also a very exact equality. Nothing then will be wanting to the building, if Christ be laid for the foundation; and, on the other hand, if he be not there, all will be vanity and confusion. Now since there was no room for “judgment and righteousness,” but by sweeping away the false confidences, he declares that they shall be all swept away, because the violence of God’s anger shall cast down all loftiness, and the flood shall penetrate all the hiding-places of thoughtless indifference. He therefore threatens that hypocrites, with all their boasting, shall nevertheless perish, even though the Lord preserve the Church; for he does not speak of chastisements, as if the wicked would be corrected by them, because, on the contrary, they become hardened and more obstinate. The cleansing, therefore, he shews, will be such as to drag them forth from their hiding-places and strip them of false and empty confidence; for wicked men think that they are so thoroughly concealed by their falsehood and deceit, that they shall never feel strokes, and therefore they please and flatter themselves amidst their iniquities and crimes; but the waters will easily reach them; that is, the wrath of God, which shall rush down upon them like a deluge, will easily break through their lurking-places.

18. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled. Formerly he directed his reproof against hypocrites, who obstinately mocked at God and all his threatenings; and he checked their thoughts in imagining that “they had made a covenant with death,” (verse 15,) that is, in promising to themselves that all their transgressions would pass unpunished; as if by jeers and laughter they could escape the arm of God. He now threatens that, when they shall be fully aware that they must render an account to God, they shall be struck with fear and dread, whether they will or not; 235235    {Bogus footnote} for that state of ease and indifference into which they are sunk, arises from a kind of lethargy or drunkenness, which hinders them from perceiving the alarming nature of their disease; but the Lord will arouse them from their sleep, however profound, and will annul their imaginary compacts.

In short, he means that that peace which the wicked enjoy, while they slumber in their sins, will not be perpetual; for they shall be compelled, even against their will, to acknowledge that God is their judge, and, when they shall wish to enjoy repose, and while they are careless and unprepared, they shall be suddenly seized and agitated by strange terrors and anguish of mind. Their case is similar to that of malefactors, who, if they have broken out of prison and escaped, mock their judges, and utter reproachful and forward and insolent language against them, but, when they see the officers of justice close at their heels, suddenly tremble, and find that all their joy is turned into mourning, and that their condition is far worse than if they had not broken out of prison. Thus the wicked enjoy some momentary gladness, which they obtain by forgetfulness of their guilt; but the Lord immediately lays his hand on them, and terrifies their consciences in such a manner that they can find no rest.

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