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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Isaiah 57

 

 

Verse 1

LVII.

(1) The righteous perisheth . . .—The words seem written as if in the anticipation or in the actual presence of Manasseh’s persecution of the true prophets. Even before that persecution burst out in its full violence, the “righteous” survivors of Hezekiah’s régime may well have vexed their souls even to death with the evils that were around them. The prophet finds comfort in the thought that their death was a deliverance from yet worse evils. The singular number points to the few conspicuous sufferers.


Verse 2

(2) He shall enter into peace . . .—Notice- able as presenting the brighter side of the dim thoughts of Israel as to the life behind the veil, and so far contrasted with Hezekiah’s shrinking fear. (Comp. Job 3:17.) For the righteous there was peace in death as in life. For the wicked there was peace in neither (Isaiah 57:21).

They shall rest in their beds.—The “bed” is obviously the grave, the thought following naturally on that of death being as the sleep “after life’s fitful fever.” (Ezekiel 32:25.)

Each one walking in his uprightness.—Better, every one who has walked straight before him—has taken, i.e., the straight path of duty (Isaiah 30:21.)


Verse 3

(3) Ye sons of the sorceress.—The words may be purely figurative, as meaning those who practise sorcery, but it is also possible that they may have reference to the female soothsayers, such as are described in Ezekiel 13:17-23.

The adulterer.—Here again the epithet may have had both a figurative and a literal application. (Comp. Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; James 4:4.)


Verse 4

(4) Against whom do ye sport yourselves?—The question, as in Isaiah 37:23, is one of indignant scorn, the implied answer being that the mockers were deriding the servants of Jehovah. (Comp. Wisdom 2), and, in so doing, mocking Jehovah himself. The “wide mouth,” and the “drawn-out tongue,” are the natural symbols of derision.


Verse 5

(5) Enflaming yourselves.—The best illustration of the phrase is found in the real or supposed derivation of “fanatic” as meaning one who is circa fana calefactus. No word could better describe the orgiastic excitement of heathen rites. For “with idols read among the terebinths, which were prominent, with other trees, in the groves dedicated to idol-worship (Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13).

Under every green tree is almost a stereotyped formula in this connection (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23; Jeremiah 2:20), the tree itself becoming a direct object of the cultus.

Slaying the children in the valleys . . .—This had been done by Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:3). It was perfectly natural that it should be done by Manasseh. There is not the slightest trace of the revival of the practice among the exiles in Babylon or after their return. The scenery described—the torrent-stream, the clefts of the rock—belongs distinctively to Palestine.


Verse 6

(6) Among the smooth stones . . .—The worship of stones was almost as widely diffused as that of trees and serpents. In Genesis 28:18 we have, at least, an analogous practice, which might easily become identical. Among the Phœnicians such stones were known as Bœtulia (probably a Grecised form of Bethel), and were connected with the worship of the reproductive powers of nature. As the true portion of Israel was emphatically Jehovah (Jeremiah 10:16; Psalms 16:5) there is an indignant irony in the word thus used. The idolaters had chosen a fetish instead of the Eternal One. In thy portion, we have the feminine singular, designating Israel as the faithless wife.

Should I receive comfort in these?—i.e., better, Should I be quiet in spite of all this? (Comp. Jeremiah 5:7.)


Verse 7

(7) Set thy bed . . .—Idolatry being as adultery, the “bed” follows naturally as representing the locality of the idol-worship. Comp. Ezekiel 16:31; Ezekiel 23:17.


Verse 8

(8) Hast thou set up thy remembrance . . .—The noun has been commonly referred to the Mesusah, or memorial text, “Jehovah is our God; Jehovah is one,” which was to be written on the door-posts of each house (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20); and the prophet is supposed to point to the fact that this had been written behind the door, as showing that Israel had been ashamed to confess her creed. The explanation seems tenable, but it is possible that “remembrance” may stand for some idolatrous symbol or inscription which had been substituted for the true confession.

Thou hast discovered thyself.—The figure of the unfaithful wife is carried into its details almost with Ezekiel’s boldness.

Made thee a covenant with them . . .—The noun, as the italics show, is implied in the verb. The faithless wife forsook the covenant of her youth with her husband, and made a fresh compact with the adulterers.

Where thou sawest it.—And thou sawest the place, the words being used euphemistically for the obscene image of a Chemosh-liko idol.


Verse 9

(9) Thou wentest to the king . . .—The alteration of a single letter would give to Molech; and this may be the meaning even of the text as it stands. Looking to the Manasseh-surroundings of the passage, however, it is more natural to refer the words to the king, the great king of Assyria, whose religion Judah had basely and shamefully adopted. The sin of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:11) had been reproduced by his grandson. The description that follows is that of a harlot adorning herself for her evil calling, and finds its best illustration in Proverbs 7:14-17. Looking to the previous traces of Isaiah’s study of that book (Isaiah 11:1-4, &c) we may, perhaps, find in it a deliberate reproduction of that passage. The “ointment” and “perfumes” are symbols of the treasures which were lavished to secure the Assyrian alliance. The words help us to understand Isaiah’s indignation at what must have seemed to him the initial step of a like policy on the part of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:3-7). The words which point to the “far-off” land, to which the messengers were sent, seem almost like an echo from that king’s apology.

Even unto hell—i.e., Hades or Sheol, the world of the dead—as the symbol of an abysmal depth of degradation.


Verse 10

(10) Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way . . .—Better, with the length of thy journey—i.e., with the long embassies to Assyria, and to Babylon, as for the time the residence of its kings. For “there is no hope,” read, there is no result, or profit. Judah would not acknowledge that the negotiations were fruitless.

Thou hast found the life of thine hand . . .—The words arc a literal rendering, and convey the meaning, Thou didst renew the strength of thine hand—i.e., Judah found a fancied increase of power in the alliance she was seeking, and therefore did not repent of her ignominious diplomacy.


Verse 11

(11) And of whom hast thou been afraid . . .?—The question implies that Judah had been led by the fear of man to forsake the fear of Jehovah, and this had led her to what was, in the fullest sense of the word, the false step of an alliance with Assyria, which was an acted lie.

Have I not held my peace . . .?—The words suggest, half-pityingly, the cause of the people’s little faith. From “of old,” i.e., during the period that preceded the captivity, or perhaps in the dark time of Manasseh, Jehovah had been silent, and His long- suffering had been mistaken for apathy, and therefore the people had not feared Him.


Verse 12

(12) I will declare thy righteousness . . .—Accepting the Hebrew text, we must look on the word as used ironically, the righteousness which is no righteousness. Comp. Isaiah 64:6. A slight alteration, adopted by many critics, gives “my righteousness.”


Verse 13

(13) Let thy companies . . .—The word is used contemptuously of the crowd of gods introduced by the confluent idolatry of Manasseh. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 33:3-7.) The prophet taunts the worshipper with their impotence, “Let them save thee, if they can,” but that taunt is followed by a declaration that true help and strength will be given to all who trust in Jehovah.


Verse 14

(14) And shall say . . .—Better, And one said. The prophet hears, as it were, a voice behind him, bringing an oracle from Heaven, which renews the cry of the herald in Isaiah 40:3. The verb, cast up, points to the construction of the “highway” of a spiritual return, from which all impediments are removed.


Verse 15

(15) For thus saith the high and lofty . . .—The central truth for the comfort of God’s people is that the infinitely Great One cares even for the infinitely little. The truth of the greatness of lowliness manifested in the life of Christ was but the reflection of the permanent law of the Divine government. The “high and holy place” is, of course, the heavenly temple, the “light inaccessible.” The verse, as a whole, combines the truths of 2 Chronicles 6:18, and Psalms 51:17.


Verse 16

(16) I will not contend for ever . . .—The words come as a message of comfort to the penitent who is still bearing the chastisement of his sins. The time during which God “contends” with him as an accuser and a judge has its limits. Were it not so. the souls which he had made would be utterly consumed, and His purpose in creation would be frustrated. The words seem like an echo of Genesis 6:3; Genesis 8:21. (Comp. Psalms 103:9-10).


Verse 17

(17) For the iniquity of his covetousness . . .—Literally, of his gain. This was the root-evil, out of which all others sprang (Jeremiah 6:13; Ezekiel 33:31; 1 Timothy 6:10), and for this, therefore, a sharp chastisement was needed that men might learn what their true wealth consisted in. The last clause may either state the guilt Which caused the wrath, or paint the obduracy which went on doing evil in spite of it.


Verse 18

(18) I have seen his ways . . .—The words have been interpreted: (1) of the evil ways described in the previous verse; (2) of the way of repentance into which Israel had been led by chastisement. (1) seems most in harmony with the context. The paths had been rough and thorny, but Jehovah presents Himself as the Healer to those who had been wounded by them, and leads them into a better way. The “mourners” are those who have been touched as with the “godly sorrow” of 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.


Verse 19

(19) The fruit of the lips . . .—The words point primarily to the praise and thanksgiving of the pardoned penitent (comp. Hosea 14:2; Hebrews 13:15), but include also all true utterances of the wise of heart (Proverbs 10:31). All these alike have their origin in the creative fiat of Jehovah, which proclaims “peace” (i.e., salvation) to all, whether near or far, Jews in Jerusalem, or Jews in exile, or (as in Ephesians 2:17) the Gentiles whose distance was that of spiritual remoteness. The message of healing is for all.


Verse 20

(20) The wicked are like the troubled sea . . .—The promise of healing is, however, not unconditional. The acceptance of peace requires calmness; but for the wicked, whose thoughts are restlessly seething with evil ripening into act, this true peace is, in the nature of the case, impossible. We note the recurrence of the watchword of Isaiah 48:22, as indicating the close of another section of the prophecy. The MSS. and versions present a curious variation in Isaiah 57:21 : some “saith Jehovah,” some “God,” some “the Lord God.” It would almost seem as if transcribers and translators had shrunk from the prophet’s boldness in claiming God as in some special sense his God. It has a parallel, however, in Isaiah 7:13, and may be noted, accordingly, as one of the characteristic touches common to the two parts of Isaiah. The “Sea” of which Isaiah speaks may possibly have been the Dead Sea, casting up its salt bituminous deposits.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 57:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/isaiah-57.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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