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The Servant’s Humiliation and Vindication

4

The Lord God has given me

the tongue of a teacher,

that I may know how to sustain

the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens—

wakens my ear

to listen as those who are taught.

5

The Lord God has opened my ear,

and I was not rebellious,

I did not turn backward.

6

I gave my back to those who struck me,

and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;

I did not hide my face

from insult and spitting.

 

7

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced;

therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

8

he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

9

It is the Lord God who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

All of them will wear out like a garment;

the moth will eat them up.

 


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4. The Lord Jehovah. After having twice convicted them of guilt, he adds a consolation in his usual manner; for when the Lord covers us with shame, he intends immediately to free us from shame. Although, therefore, he shewed that the people had been rejected for the best possible reasons, and had perished by their own fault, because they proved themselves to be even unworthy of deliverance, yet he promises assistance to them. Again, because in a matter so difficult to be believed there needed more than ordinary proof, he begins by saying that God has sent and instructed him to execute his commands. This passage is commonly explained so as to relate to Christ, as if it had not been applicable to the Prophet, because he afterwards says, that he had been beaten with rods, which we nowhere read was done to Isaiah. But there is no great force in this argument; for David complains that his garments were divided, (Psalm 22:18,) which applies literally to Christ, (Matthew 27:35; John 19:24,) and yet it does not follow that this did not happen to David himself. For my own part, I have no doubt, that Isaiah comes forward as one who represents all the servants of God, not only those who were from the beginning, but those who should come afterwards.

Hath given me the tongue of the learned. He says that the Lord hath given him a “tongue,” that the promises bywhieh he cheers the people may have greater weight. Our faith wavers, if we suspect that a man speaks from himself; and the condition of that people was so wretched that no human arguments could induce them to entertain the hope of deliverance. It amounts to this, that the message of approaching salvation is brought to them from heaven; and if any person do not receive it, he must prove himself to be rebellious and disobedient. Although these words are literally intended by the Prophet to secure the belief of his statements, yet we may infer from them generally, that no man is fit to teach who has not first been qualified by God. This reminds all godly teachers to ask from the Spirit of God what otherwise they could not at all possess. They must indeed study diligently, so as not to ascend the pulpit till they have been fully prepared; but they must hold by this principle, that all things necessary for discharging their office are gifts of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, if they were not organs of the Holy Spirit, it would be extreme rashness to come forth publicly in the name of God.

That I may know a word in season to the weary. Some verb must be supplied here, such as, “to administer” or “to utter.” The word “know” includes wisdom and skill, which a pastor ought to possess, that the word of God may be faithfully and profitably administered by him; as if he had said that he has been well instructed in the school of God, and thus knows well what is suitable to those who are wretched and who groan under a burden. 1717     “Qui gemissent sous le fardeau de leurs pechez;” “Who groan under the burden of their sins.” The term “weary” is applied to those who are overwhelmed by many afflictions; as we have formerly seen, “who giveth strength to the weary.” (Isaiah 40:29.) Thus also Christ speaks, “Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.” (Matthew 11:28.) He therefore means that God has been his teacher and instructor, that he may be able to soothe wretched men by appropriate consolation, that by means of it their dejected hearts may be encouraged by feeling the mercy of God.

Hence we infer that the most important duty of the ministers of the word is, to comfort wretched men, who are oppressed by afflictions, or who bend under their weight, and, in short, to point out what is true rest and serenity of mind, as we have formerly seen. (Isaiah 33:20.) We are likewise taught what each of us ought chiefly to seek in the Scriptures, namely, that we may be fumished with doctrine appropriate and suitable for relieving our distresses, He who, by seasonable consolation, in afflictive or even desperate affairs, can cheer and support his heart, ought to know that he has made good proficiency in the Gospel. I acknowledge that doctrine has indeed various uses; for not only is it useful for comforting the afflicted and feeble, but it likewise contains severe reproofs and threatenings against the obstinate. (2 Timothy 3:16.) But Isaiah shews that the chief duty incumbent on him is, to bring some consolation to the Jews who, in the present distress, are ready to faint.

He will waken in the morning. The Prophet here testifies that the Lord is so careful about wretched and oppressed persons that he aids them “in the morning,” that is, seasonably. I do acknowledge that we are often destitute of consolation; but, although God often permits us to languish, yet he knows every moment that is suitable for seasonably meeting the necessity by his aid. Besides, if his assistance be somewhat late, this happens through our own fault; for not only by our indolence, but likewise by rebellion, we withdraw ourselves from his grace. However that may be, he always watches carefully and runs to give aid; and even when we fly and resist, he calls us to him, that we may be refreshed by tasting his grace and kindness.

He twice repeats the phrase, “in the morning,” by which he expresses continuance and earnestness, that we may not think that he is liable to sudden impulses like men, to cast off or quickly forget those whom he has once undertaken to guard, whom he continues, on the contrary, to make the objects of his grace till the end, and never leaves destitute of consolation.

That I may hear as the learned. He means that his ear has not only been pulled or twitched, as for sluggish and indolent persons, but has been formed and trained. Yet by his example he shews that God efficaciously teaches all whose ministry he intends to employ for the salvation of his Church; for it would have been a small matter to be instructed after the manner of men, if they had not within them the Spirit of God as their instructor. This makes still more evident the truth of what we have formerly said, that none are good teachers but those who have been good scholars. He calls them “learned’and “well-instructed;” for they who do not deign to learn, because they think that they are wise enough, are doubly fools; since they alone, in the judgment of God, are reckoned to be “well-instructed” and “learned,” who permit themselves to be taught before discharging the office of teachers, that they may have clear knowledge of those things which they communicate to others, and may publicly bring forward nothing but what they can testify to have proceeded from God; and, in a word, they alone are “learned,” 1818     “Ceux-la sont doctes.” who, by continually learning, do not refuse to make constant progress. Some read the word in the accusative, meaning, “that I may hear as (hearing) the learned;” but that is harsh and at variance with the true meaning.

5. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear. He again repeats what he had formerly said, and here includes everything that belongs to the office of a teacher; for the “opening of the ear” must be understood to refer not only to doctrine, but to the whole calling; that is, when he takes one to be his servant, and intbrms of his duty him whom he has determined to send, when he gives commands, and enjoins him to execute what he commands. But the Lord “opens the ear,” not only when he declares what is his will, but when he powerfully affects a man’s heart and moves him to render obedience, as it is said,

“Thou hast bored mine ear.” (Psalm 40:6.)

And Christ says,

“Whosoever hath heard and learned from the Father cometh to me.”
(John 6:45.)

Such is also the import of the second clause, And I was not rebellious, the meaning of which may be thus summed up: “He undertakes nothing at random, but, being fully convinced of God’s calling, he discharges the office of a teacher, though it is laborious and difficult, because he is ready to obey.”

6. I exposed my body to the smiters. With the reproaches, jeers, and insolence of wicked men, he contrasts the unshaken courage which he possesses; as if he had said that, “whatever resistancemay be attempted by the despisers of God, yet he will baffle all their insults, so that he will never repent of the labors which he has undertaken.” Yet this passage plainly shows that the ministers of the word cannot perform their office faithfully without being exposed to a contest with the world, and even without being fiercely assailed on all sides; for as soon as Isaiah says that he has obeyed the command of God, he likewise adds that “He has exposed his body to the smiters.” The faithful servants of God, when they administer the doctrine of the word, cannot escape from this condition, but must endure fights, reproaches, hatred, slanders, and various attacks from adversaries, who loathe that liberty of advising and reproving which it is necessary for them to use. Let them, therefore, arm themselves with steadfastness and faith; for a dreadful battle is prepared for them. And not only does he describe the persecutions of wicked men, but the reproach of the world; because wicked men desire to be thought to have good cause for opposing the ministers of the word and persecuting their doctrine, and wish that those ministers should be regarded as criminals and malefactors, and held up to universal hatred and abhorrence. For these reasons they lead them with various slanders, and do not refrain from any kind of reproach, as we know well enough by experience in the present day, when our adversaries call us heretics, deceivers, seditious persons, and assail us with other slanders, which were also directed against Christ and the Apostles. (Matthew 27:63; John 7:12; Acts 16:20.)

My face I did not hide from shame and spitting. He not only says that open and outward foes spat and inflicted blows on him, but glances at the slanders which he is compelled to bear from foes who are within and belong to the household; for out of the very bosom of the Church there always spring up wicked men and despisers of God, who insolently attack the prophets. They who wish to serve God must be prepared to endure all these things calmly, that they may walk through evil report and through good report, (2 Corinthians 6:8,) and may despise not only banishment, stripes, imprisonment, and death, but likewise reproaches and disgrace, though they may sometimes appear harder to endure than death itself. While this doctrine belongs to all believers, it belongs especially to the teachers of the word, who ought to go before others, and to be, as it were, standard-bearers.

7. For the Lord Jehovah will help me. The Prophet declares whence comes so great courage, which he and the other servants of God need to possess, in order to withstand courageously the attacks of every one. It comes from God’s assistance, by relying on whom he declares that he is fortified against all the attacks of the world. After having, with lofty fortitude, looked down contemptuously on all that was opposed to him, he exhorts others also to maintain the same firmness, and gives what may be called a picture of the condition of all the ministers of the word; that, by tuming aside from the world, they may tum wholly to God and have their eyes entirely fixed upon him. There never will be a contest so arduous that they shall not gain the victory by trusting to such a leader.

Therefore I have set my face as a flint. By the metaphor of “a flint” he shews that, whatever may happen, he will not be afraid; for terror or alarm, like other passions, makes itself visible in the face. The countenance itself speaks, and shews what are our feelings. The servants of God, being so shamefully treated, must inevitably have sunk under such attacks, had they not withstood them with a forehead of stone or of iron. In this sense of the term, Jeremiah also is said to have been “set for a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall, against the kings of Judah, and the princes, and the people,” (Jeremiah 1:18;) and to Ezekiel is said to have been given “a strong forehead, and even one of adamant, and harder than that, that he might not be dismayed at the obstinacy of the people.” (Ezekiel 3:9.)

Therefore I was not ashamed. The word “ashamed” is twice used in this verse, but in different senses; for in the former clause it relates to the feeling, and in the latter to the thing itself or the effect. Accordingly, in the beginning of the verse, where he boasts that he is not confounded with shame, because God is on his side, he means that it is not enough that God is willing to help us, if we do not also feel it; for of what advantage to us will the promises of God be, if we distrust him? Confidence, therefore, is demanded, that we may be supported by it, and may assuredly know that we enjoy God’s favor.

I shall not be confounded. In the conclusion of the verse he boldly declares his conviction that the end will be prosperous. Thus “to be confounded” means “to be disappointed;” for they who had entertained a vain and deceitful hope are liable to be mocked. Here we see that some special assistance is promised to godly teachers and ministers of the word; so that the fiercer the attacks of Satan, and the stronger the hostility of the world, so much the more does the Lord defend and guard them by extraordinary protection. And hence we ought to conclude, that all those who, when they come to the contest, tremble and lose courage, have never been duly qualified for discharging their office; for he who knows not how to strive knows not how to serve God and the Church, and is not fitted for administering the doctrine of the word.

8. He is near that justifieth me. We ought always to keep in remembrance that the Prophet mentions nothing that is peculiar to himself, but testifies what the Lord chooses to be, and will always be, towards faithful ministers, that whosoever has this testimony, that God has sent him, and knows that he discharges his office faithfully, may boldly despise all adversaries, and may not be moved by their reproaches, for he is “justified” by the Lord; and, in like manner, the Lord always is, and will be, near to defend and maintain his truth. Besides, that any one may be able to make this protestation, it is necessary that his conscience be pure; for, if any man thrust himself rashly into the office, and have no testimony of his calling, or bring forward his dreams publicly, in vain will he boast of this promise, which belongs only to those who have been called by God, and who sincerely and uprightly perform their duty. Now, although either hypocrites or despisers never cease to annoy the servants of God, yet Isaiah advances to meet them, as if none would venture to pick a quarrel or utter a slander; not that he can keep them in check, 1919     “Non pas qu’il puisse tenir les meschans en bride;” “Not that he can keep wicked men in check.” but because they will gain nothing by all their attempts. He therefore declares, that he looks down with utter contempt on the false accusations which the enemies of sound doctrine pour out against its teachers. There is no crime with which they do not upbraid them; but their efforts are fruitless; for the Judge, by whom their integrity is maintained, is not far off. They may, therefore, as Paul did, boldly appeal from the wicked and unjust judgments of men to “the day of the Lord,” by whom their innocence will be made manifest. (1 Corinthians 4:4.)

Let us stand together. Godly teachers ought to have so great confidence as not to hesitate to give a bold defiance to adversaries. Satan, with his agents, does not always venture to attack openly, especially when he fights by falsehoods, but by ambuscade, and by burrowing under ground, endeavors to take them by surprise; but the servants of God are not afraid to “stand up” openly, and enter into contest with the enemy, and contend by arguments, provided that adversaries are willing to enter into the lists. So great is the force of truth that it does not dread the light of day, as we say that Isaiah here attacks boldly those whom he perceives to be plotting against him; and therefore he repeats, —

Let him draw near to me. Godly ministers ought to be ready to assign a reason for their doctrine. But where is the man that is willing to hear them patiently, and to consider what is the nature of that doctrine which they publicly declare? True indeed, adversaries will approach, but it is to draw their swords to slay them; to sharpen their tongues, that by every kind of slander they may tear them in pieces. In short, their whole defense consists in arms or deceitful stratagems; for they do not venture to contend by scriptural arguments. Relying, therefore, on the justice of our cause, we may freely defy them to the conflict. Though they condemn us without listening to our vindication, and though they have many that support the sentence which they have pronounced, we have no reason to be afraid; for God, whose cause we plead, is our Judge, and will at length acquit us.

9. Who is he that condemmeth me? Paul appears to allude to this passage, in his Epistle to the Romans, when he says, “It is God that justifieth; who shall condemn?” (Romans 8:33, 34.) We may safely have recourse to the judgment-seat of God, when we are well assured that we have obtained his righteousness by free grace through Christ. But here Isaiah handles a different subject; for he does not speak of the universal salvation of men, but of the ministry of the Word, which the Lord will defend against the attacks of wicked men, and will not suffer his people to be overwhelmed by their fraud or violence.

Lo, they shall all wax old as a garment. He now shews more clearly that it is not in the shade or at case that he boasts of his courage, as if none were giving him any disturbance; but he declares that, though he is assailed by deadly foes, still he boldly maintains his position; because all who fight with the Word of God shall fall and vanish away through their own frailty. In order to place the matter before their own eyes, he employs a demonstrative particle, “Behold, like garments shall they perish, being consumed by worms.” The Psalmist makes use of the same metaphor, when he compares the men of this world to the children of God. (Psalm 49:14, 15.) The former, though they make a show and shine like dazzling garments, shall perish; but believers, who now are covered with filth, shall at length obtain new brightness and shine brilliantly like the stars. Here he speaks literally of fierce dogs that attack and bark at godly teachers. Though such persons are held in high estimation by men, and possess very high authority among them, yet their lustre shall perish and fade away, like that of garments which are eaten by worms.




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