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13

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;

break forth, O mountains, into singing!

For the Lord has comforted his people,

and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

 

14

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,

my Lord has forgotten me.”

15

Can a woman forget her nursing child,

or show no compassion for the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

16

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;

your walls are continually before me.

17

Your builders outdo your destroyers,

and those who laid you waste go away from you.


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13. Praise, O heavens; and rejoice, O earth. Though he exhorts and encourages all the godly to thanksgiving, yet he likewise aims at confirming the promise which might have been regarded as doubtful; for afflictions trouble our consciences, and cause them to waver in such a manner that it is not so easy to rest firmly on the promises of God. In short, men either remain in suspense, or tremble, or utterly fall and even faint. So long as they are oppressed by fear or anxiety, or grief, they scarcely accept of any consolation; and therefore they need to be confirmed in various ways. This is the reason why Isaiah describes the advantages of this deliverance in such lofty terms, in order that believers, though they beheld nothing around them but death and ruin, might sustain their heart by the hope of a better condition. Accordingly, he places the subject almost before their eye, that they may be fully convinced that they shall have the most abundant cause of rejoicing; though at that time they saw nothing but grief and sorrow.

Let us therefore remember, that whenever the Lord promises anything, we ought to add thanksgiving, that we may more powerfully affect our hearts; and next, that we ought to raise our minds to the power of God, who exercises a wide and extensive dominion over all the creatures; for as soon as he lifts his hand, “heaven and earth” are moved. If the tokens of his wonderful power are to be seen everywhere, he intends that there shall be an eminent and remarkable example of it in the salvation of the Church.

And he wilt have compassion on his poor. By this metaphor the Prophet shews that no obedience which is rendered to God by heaven and earth is more acceptable to him than to join together and lend their mutual aid to his Church. Moreover, that believers may not faint under the weight of distresses, before promising to them consolation from God, he exhorts them calmly to bear distresses; for by the word poor he means that the Church, in this world, is liable to many calamities. In order, therefore, that we may partake of the compassion of God, let us learn, under the cross and amidst many annoyances, to strive after it with sighs and tears.

14. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me. In order to magnify his grace the more, God complains that the hearts of the Jews were so narrow and close, that the road was almost shut against him, if he had not overcome their wicked thoughts by his great goodness. Yet at the same time he endeavors to correct this fault, that the deliverance which is offered, and, as it were, set before them, may be received by them with open hearts, and that, as he is willing to assist them, so they, on the other hand, may be prepared to cherish favorable hopes. Now, to us also this doctrine belongs; because almost all of us, when God delays his assistance, are fearfully distressed and tormented; for we think that he has forsaken and rejected us. Thus despair quickly creeps in, which must be opposed, that we may not be deprived of the grace of God. And indeed amidst these doubts our unbelief is manifested and exposed, by our not relying on the promises of God, so as to bear patiently either the chastisements by which God urges us to repentance, or the trials of faith by which he trains us to patience, or any afflictions by which he humbles us. Justly therefore does God remonstrate with the Jews for rejecting by wicked distrust the salvation offered to them, and not permitting themselves to receive assistance. Nor does he limit this accusation to a small number, but includes nearly the whole Church, in order to shew that he will be kind and bountiful toward the Jews beyond the measure of their faith, and that he even strives with them, that by his salvation he may break through all the hinderances by which they opposed him. Let each of us therefore beware of indulging or flattering ourselves in this matter; for the Lord contends with the whole Church, for uttering speeches of this kind, which proceed from the fountain of distrust.

15. Shall a woman forget her child! In order to correct that distrust, he adds to the remonstrance an exhortation full of the sweetest consolation. By an appropriate comparison, he shews how strong is his anxiety about his people, comparing himself to a mother, whose love toward her offspring is so strong and ardent, as to leave far behind it a father’s love. Thus he did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, (which on other occasions he very frequently employs,) but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls them not merely “children,” but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection. What amazing affection does a mother feel toward her offspring, which she cherishes in her bosom, suckles on her breast, and watches over with tender care, so that she passes sleepless nights, wears herself out by continued anxiety, and forgets herself! And this carefulness is manifested, not only among men, but even among savage beasts, which, though they are by nature cruel, yet in this respect are gentle.

Even if they shall forget. Since it does sometimes happen that mothers degenerate into such monsters as to exceed in cruelty the wild beasts and forget “the fruit of their womb,” the Lord next declares that, even though this should happen, still he will never forget his people. The affection which he bears toward us is far stronger and warmer than the love of all mothers. We ought also to bear in mind the saying of Christ,

“If ye, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more your heavenly Father?” (Matthew 7:11.)

Men, though by nature depraved and addicted to self-love, are anxious about their children. What shall God do, who is goodness itself? Will it be possible for him to lay aside a father’s love? Certainly not. Although therefore it should happen that mothers (which is a monstrous thing) should forsake their own offspring, yet God, whose love toward his people is constant and unremitting, will never forsake them. In a word, the Prophet here describes to us the inconceivable carefulness with which God unceasingly watches over our salvation, that we may be fully convinced that he will never forsake us, though we may be afflicted with great and numerous calamities.

16. Behold, on the palms of my hands. By another cormparison he describes that inconceivable carefulness which the Lord exercises toward us. It is a common proverb, that “we have it on our fingers’ ends,” when we have anything fully and deeply fixed on our memory. And Moses when he recommends constant meditation on the Law, says, “Thou shalt bind them for a sign on thy hand;” that is, that they should always have the commandments of God placed before their eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8.) He now makes use of the same comparison; as if he had said, “I cannot look at my hands without beholding thee in them; I carry thee engraved on my heart, so that no forgetfulness can efface thee; in a word, I cannot forget thee without forgetting myself.” True, indeed, God has neither hands nor bodily shape; but Scripture accommodates itself to our weak capacity so as to express the strength of God’s love toward us.

Thy walls are continually before me. As the Church is frequently called the “habitation” or “city of God,” (and hence also the metaphor of “building” (Psalm 102:16; Jeremiah 24:6; Matthew 16:18) is frequently employed in Scripture,) so he makes use of the figurative term “walls,” by which he denotes the peace and prosperity of the Church; as if he had said that he would take care that Jerusalem should thrive and flourish. Yet it ought to be observed that the term “walls” denotes proper order of policy and discipline, of which God declares that he will be the ceaseless and unwearied guardian. Let us remember that this prophecy was accomplished during that frightful desolation, when the “walls” of Jerusalem, which were a lively image of the Church, had been cast down, the temple overthrown, and government overtumed, and, in a word, when everything had been destroyed and nearly razed to the foundation; for immediately afterwards he promises that they shall all be restored.

17. Thy builders hasten. He affirms what had been briefly stated in the former verse; for it might have been thought that there was no ground for what he had now asserted about the unceasing care which God takes of his Church and of her walls, which he permits to be razed to their foundations, and therefore he adds the explanation, that it will indeed be thrown down, but will afterwards be built anew. Builders. From this word we may learn what is the true method of restoring the Church, namely, if the Lord send “builders, 77     “Maistres charpentiers et massons.” “Master carpenters and masons.” to rear it, and next if he drive far away the destroyers who demolish it. Though God could, by himself, and without the aid of men, rebuild the Church, yet he deigns to employ their hands; and although he alone, by the secret influence of his Spirit, completes this whole building, yet he blesses their labor, that it may not be useless. From him, therefore, we ought to ask and look for builders; for it belongs to him to render them “sufficient,” as Paul also informs us, (2 Corinthians 3:5,) and to assign to each his department.

We ought also to pray not only that he may “send forth laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:38,) but that he may recruit their strength and efficaciously direct them, so that they may not labor in vain; for, when the doctrine of the Gospel is preached with any advantage, it arises from his extraordinary goodness. But even this would not be enough, if he did not “drive destroyers far away;” for Satan, by innumerable arts, invades and assails the Church, and is in no want of servants and attendants, who direct their whole energy to destroy, or spoil, or hinder the Lord’s building. We ought, therefore, constantly to entreat that he would ward off their attacks; and if the result be not entirely according to our expectations, let us blame our own sins and ingratitude; for the Lord was ready to bestow those blessings abundantly upon us.




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