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2

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

on them light has shined.


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1. Yet the darkness shall not be. He begins to comfort the wretched by the hope of alleviation, that they may not be swallowed up by the huge mass of distresses. Many take these words in quite an opposite meaning, that is, as a threatening which denounces against the Jews a heavier affliction than that with which Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29) and Shalmanezer (2 Kings 17:6) afflicted them. The former inflicted a heavy calamity, the latter inflicted one still heavier, for he carried the twelve tribes into captivity, and blotted out the name of the nation. Some think that he now foretells the heaviest calamity of all, for if it be compared with the former two, it exceeds both of them. Though I am not prepared to reject this view, for it does not want plausibility, yet I rather favor a different opinion. The other interpretation is indeed more plausible, that the Prophet intended to deprive hypocrites of every enjoyment, that they might not imagine that this calamity would quickly pass away like a storm as the others had done, for it would be utterly destructive; and so we shall take the particle כי (ki) in its literal meaning. 138138     The Hebrew particle כי, (ki,) which is placed at the beginning of this verse, is rendered in the English version by Nevertheless; but Calvin says that he is willing to translate it forEd

But in my opinion it is most appropriate to view it as a consolation, in which he begins to mitigate what he had said about that frightful darkness and driving, (Isaiah 8:22,) and, by allaying the bitterness of those punishments, encourages them to expect the favor of God. As if he had said, “and yet, amidst that shocking calamity which the Jews shall endure, the darkness will not be such as when the land of Israel was afflicted, first, by Tiglath-pileser, (2 Kings 15:29,) and afterwards more grievously by Shalmanezer,” (2 Kings 17:6.) Amidst so great extremities believers might otherwise have fainted, if their hearts had not been cheered by some consolation. Isaiah therefore directs his discourse to them lest they should think that they were ruined, for he intimates that the chastisements which are now to be inflicted will be lighter than those which came before. That this is the natural interpretation will quickly appear from what immediately follows.

But why does the Prophet say that this calamity, which was far more dreadful, would be more mild and gentle? For Jerusalem was to be razed, the temple thrown down, and the sacrifices abolished, which had remained untouched during the former calamities. It might be thought that these were the severest of all, and that the former, in comparison of them, were light. But it ought to be observed, that while in the former instances there was no promise, an explicit promise was added to this threatening. By this alone can temptations be overcome and chastisements be rendered light. By this seasoning alone, I say, are our afflictions alleviated; and all who are destitute of it must despair. But if, by means of it, the Lord strengthen us by holding out the hope of assistance, there is no affliction so heavy that we shall not reckon it to be light.

This may be made plain by a comparison. A man may happen to be drowned in a small stream, and yet, though he had fallen into the open sea, if he had got hold of a plank he might have been rescued and brought on shore. In like manner the slightest calamities will overwhelm us if we are deprived of God’s favor; but if we relied on the word of God, we might come out of the heaviest calamity safe and uninjured.

As to the words, some take מועף (mugnaph) for an adjective, as if the Prophet said, It shall not be darkened; but the feminine pronoun which immediately follows, בה (bahh), in her, does not allow us to refer this to men. It is more accurately described by others to be a substantive noun; and, therefore, I have resolved to render it literally, there shall not be darkness in Judea according to the affliction of the time when, etc. Some explain הקל (hekal) to mean that the land was relieved of a burden, in consequence of the people having been carried into captivity; but this is altogether at variance with the Prophet’s meaning, and does not agree with what follows; for it is immediately added that the seacoast has been more grievously afflicted by a second calamity. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this verb corresponds to the other verb הכביד, (hikbid.) 139139     הקל (hekal) signifies literally to make light, and in accordance with an English idiom, sometimes denotes figuratively, to make light of. Stock’s rendering is, he made vile, answering to Lowth’s, he debased. Both agree in rendering הכביד (hikbid) he hath made it glorious. The English version concurs with Calvin in rendering הקל, (hekal,) he lightly afflicted, and הבביד, (hikbid,) he did more grievously afflict. — Ed Not more than a small part of the kingdom having been afflicted by Tiglath-pileser, the calamity which he brought upon it is said to be light as compared with the second which was inflicted by Shalmanezer.

By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. He calls it the way of the sea, because Galilee was adjoining to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and on one side it was bounded by the course of the Jordan. It is called Galilee of the Gentiles, not only because it was contiguous to Tyre and Sidon, but because it contained a great multitude of Gentiles, who were mingled with the Jews; for from the time that Solomon granted this country to King Hiram, (1 Kings 9:11,) it could never be subdued in such a manner as not to have some part of it possessed by the Gentiles

2. The people walking in darkness hath seen a great light. He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.” Matthew, who quotes this passage, appears to torture it to a different meaning; for he says that this prediction was fulfilled when Christ preached along the sea-coast. (Matthew 4:16.) But if we take a just view of the comparison, it will be found that Matthew has applied this passage to Christ correctly, and in its true meaning. Yet it does not appear that the view generally given by our commentators is a successful elucidation of the passage; for they merely assert that it belongs to the kingdom of Christ, but do not assign a reason, or show how it accords with this passage. If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls. When we shall have made a little progress in reading Isaiah, we shall find that this was his ordinary custom.

Having spoken of the captivity in Babylon, which held out the prospect of a very heavy calamity, he shows that this calamity will be lighter than that which Israel formerly endured; because the Lord had fixed a term and limit to that calamity, namely, seventy years, (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10,) after the expiration of which the light of the Lord would shine on them. By this confident hope of deliverance, therefore, he encourages their hearts when overpowered by fear, that they might not be distressed beyond measure; and thus he made a distinction between the Jews and the Israelites, to whom the expectation of a deliverance so near was not promised. Though the Prophets had given to the elect remnant some taste of the mercy of God, yet, in consequence of the redemption of Israel being, as it were, an addition to the redemption of Judah, and dependent on it, justly does the Prophet now declare that a new light has been exhibited; because God hath determined to redeem his people. Appropriately and skilfully, too, does Matthew extend the rays of light to Galilee and the land of Zebulun. (Matthew 4:15.)

In the land of the shadow of death. He now compares the captivity in Babylon to darkness and death; for those who were kept there, were wretched and miserable, and altogether like dead men; as Ezekiel also relates their speech,

Dead men shall arise out of the graves. (Ezekiel 37:11, 12.)

Their condition, therefore, was such as if no brightness, no ray of light, had shone on them. Yet he shows that this will not prevent them from enjoying light, and recovering their former liberty; and that liberty he extends, not to a short period, but, as we have already said, to the time of Christ.

Thus it is customary with the Apostles to borrow arguments from the Prophets, and to show their real use and design. In this manner Paul quotes (Romans 9:25) that passage from Hosea,

I will call them my people which were not my people,
(Hosea 2:23,) 140140     In the original text the reference reads: (Hos. ii. 13.) which I assume was a typographical error. — fj.

and applies it to the calling of the Gentiles, though strictly it was spoken of the Jews; and he shows that it was fulfilled when the Lord brought the Gentiles into the Church. Thus, when the people might be said to be buried in that captivity, they differed in no respect from the Gentiles; and since both were in the same condition, it is reasonable to believe that this passage relates, not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also. Nor must it be viewed as referring to outward misery only, but to the darkness of eternal death, in which souls are plunged, till they come forth to spiritual light; for unquestionably we lie buried in darkness, till Christ shine on us by the doctrine of his word. Hence also Paul exhorts,

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians 5:14.)

If therefore we extend the commencement of the deliverance from the return from Babylon down to the coming of Christ, on whom all liberty and all bestowal of blessings depends, we shall understand the true meaning of this passage, which otherwise has not been satisfactorily explained by commentators.




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