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45. The Lord, Not Idols

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 2I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. 4For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.

5I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 6That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. 7I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. 8Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. 9Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? 10Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? 11Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. 12I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. 13I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts. 14Thus saith the Lord, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God. 15Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. 16They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols. 17 But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end. 18For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else. 19I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

20Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. 21Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 22Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. 24Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 25In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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