by Adam Clarke
Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
On the term prophet, and on the nature and several kinds of prophecy, I have already discoursed in different parts of this work. See the notes on Genesis 15:1; (note); Genesis 20:7; (note), and the preface to the four Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles. A few things only require to be recapitulated. נבא naba signifies not only to foretell future events, but also to pray and supplicate; and נביא nabi, the prophet, was by office not only a declarer of events still future, but the general preacher of the day; and as he frequently foresaw the approach of disastrous times, such was the wickedness of the people, he employed his time in counseling sinners to turn from the error of their ways, and in making strong prayer and supplication to God to avert the threatened judgments: for such predictions, however apparently positive in their terms, were generally conditional; strange as this may appear to some who, through their general ignorance of every thing but the peculiarities of their own creed, suppose that every occurrence is impelled by an irresistible necessity.
To his own conduct, in reference to such matters, God has been pleased to give us a key (see Jeremiah 18.) which opens all difficulties, and furnishes us with a general comment on his own providence. God is absolute master of his own ways; and as he has made man a free agent, whatever concerns him in reference to futurity, on which God is pleased to express his mind in the way of prophecy, there is a condition generally implied or expressed. As this is but seldom attended to by partial interpreters, who wish by their doctrine of fatalism to bind even God himself, many contradictory sentiments are put in the mouths of his prophets.
In ancient times those who were afterwards called Prophets were termed Seers; 1 Samuel 9:9. הראה haroeh, the seeing person; he who perceives mentally what the design of God is. Sometimes called also חזה chozeh, the man who has visions, or supernatural revelations; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Kings 17:13. Both these terms are translated seer in our common Version. They were sometimes called men of God, and messengers or angels of God. In their case it was ever understood that all God's prophets had an extraordinary commission and had their message given them by immediate inspiration.
In this the heathen copied after the people of God. They also had their prophets and seers; and hence their augurs and auguries, their haruspices, and priestesses, and their oracles; all pretending to be divinely inspired, and to declare nothing but the truth; for what was truth and fact among the former, was affected and pretended among the latter.
Many prophets and seers are mentioned in the sacred writings; but, fragments and insulated prophecies excepted, we have the works of only Sixteen; four of whom are termed the former or larger prophets, and twelve, the latter or minor prophets. They have these epithets, not from priority of time, or from minor importance, but merely from the places they occupy in the present arrangement of the books in the Bible, and from the relative size of their productions.
The Jews reckon forty-eight prophets, and seven prophetesses; and Epiphanius, in a fragment preserved by Cotelerius, reckons not fewer than seventy-three prophets, and ten prophetesses; but in both collections there are many which have no Scriptural pretensions to such a distinguished rank.
The succession of prophets in the Jewish Church is well worthy of note, because it not only manifests the merciful regards of God towards that people, but also the uninterrupted succession of the prophetic influence, at least from Moses to Malachi, if not before; for this gift was not withheld under the patriarchal dispensation; indeed we might boldly ask any man to show when the time was in which God left himself without a witness of this kind.
To show this succession, I shall endeavor to give the different prophets in order of time.
- The first man, Adam, has an undoubted right to stand at the head of the prophets, as he does at the head of the human race. His declaration concerning marriage, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife," is so truly prophetic, that no doubt can be formed on the subject. There was then nothing in nature or experience to justify such an assertion; and he could have it only by Divine inspiration. The millions of instances which have since occurred, and the numerous laws which have been founded on this principle among all the nations of the earth, show with what precision the declaration was conceived, and with what truth it was published to the world. Add to this, his correct knowledge of the nature of the different animals, so that he could impose on them names expressive of their respective natures or propensities; which proves that he must have acted under a Divine inspiration; for known only to God are all his works from the beginning.
- Moses became one of the most eminent prophets that had ever appeared. He not only enjoyed the continual prophetic afflatus, but had such visions of and intercourse with God as no other person either before or since was favored with; and by which he was highly qualified to perform the arduous work which God had given him to do, and to frame that Code of Laws which had no equal before the promulgation of the Gospel. See Deuteronomy 24:10. He predicted expressly the coming of the Messiah. See Deuteronomy 18:18.
It is not easy to ascertain the order in which the sixteen prophets, whose writings are preserved, have succeeded to each other. There are chronological notes prefixed to several of their prophecies, which assist to settle generally the times of the whole. Several were contemporary, as the reader has already seen in the preceding list. The major and minor prophets may be thus arranged: -
- Jonah, under the reign of Jeroboam the second.
On the style of the prophets much has been said by several learned men; particularly Calmet, Lowth, Bishop Newton, Vitringa, Michaelis, and Houbigant. Their chief observations, and especially those most within the reach of the common people, have been selected and abridged with great care and industry by the Revelation Dr. John Smith, of Cambleton, in his little Tract entitled "A Summary View and Explanation of the Writings of the Prophets," to which it forms preliminary observations, drawn up at the desire of the Scottish Society for propagating Christian Knowledge, in a small 8vo. 1804. From this work I thankfully borrow what concerns the present subject; taking occasion at the same time to recommend the whole to all Christian ministers, to private persons, and to all families who wish to read the prophets to their edification.
"The writings of the prophets, the most sublime and beautiful in the world, lose much of that usefulness and effect which they are so well calculated to produce on the souls of men, from their not being more generally understood. Many prophecies are somewhat dark, till events explain them. They are, besides, delivered in such lofty and figurative terms, and with such frequent allusions to the customs and manners of times and places the most remote, that ordinary readers cannot, without some help, be supposed capable of understanding them. It must therefore be of use to make the language of prophecy as intelligible as may be, by explaining those images and figures of speech in which it most frequently abounds; and this may be done generally, even when the prophecies themselves are obscure.
"Some prophecies seem as if it were not intended that they should be clearly understood before they are fulfilled. As they relate to different periods, they may have been intended for exciting the attention of mankind from time to time both to providence and to Scripture and to furnish every age with new evidence of Divine revelation; by which means they serve the same purpose to the last ages of the world that miracles did to the first. Whereas, if they had been in every respect clear and obvious from the beginning, this wise purpose had been in a great measure defeated. Curiosity, industry, and attention would at once be at an end, or, by being too easily gratified, would be little exercised.
"Besides, a great degree of obscurity is necessary to some prophecies before they can be fulfilled; and if not fulfilled, the consequence would not be so beneficial to mankind. Thus many of the ancient prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem had a manifest relation to the remoter destruction by the Romans, as well as to the nearer one by the Chaldeans. Had the Jews perceived this, which was not indeed clear enough till the event explained it, they would probably have wished to have remained for ever in their captivity at Babylon, rather than expose themselves or their offspring a second time to a destruction so dreadful as that which they had already experienced.
"With respect to our times, by far the greatest number of prophecies relate to events which are now past; and therefore a sufficient acquaintance with history, and with the language and style of prophecy, is all that is requisite to understand them. Some prophecies, however, relate to events still future; and these too may be understood in general although some particular circumstances connected with them may remain obscure till they are fulfilled. If prophecies were not capable of being understood in general, we should not find the seers so often blamed in this respect for their ignorance and want of discernment. That they did actually understand many of them when they chose to search the Scriptures we know. Daniel understood, from the prophecies of Jeremiah, the time at which the captivity in Babylon was to be at an end; and the scribes knew from Micah, and told Herod, where the Messiah was to be born. A very little attention might have enabled them in the same manner to understand others, as they probably did; such as the seventy weeks of Daniel; the destruction of the Babylonian empire, and of the other three that were to succeed; and also of the ruin of the people and places around them, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and Idumea. Perhaps, indeed, a few enigmatical circumstances might have been annexed, which could not be understood till they were accomplished; but the general tenor of the prophecies they could be at no loss to understand. With regard to prophecies still future, we are in a similar situation. It is understood in general, that the Jews will be gathered from their dispersions, restored to their own land, and converted to Christianity; that the fullness of the Gentiles will likewise come in; that Antichrist, Gog and Magog, and all the enemies of the Church will be destroyed; after which the Gospel will remarkably flourish, and be more than ever glorified. But several circumstances connected with those general events must probably remain in the dark till their accomplishment shall clearly explain them.
"But this degree of obscurity which sometimes attends prophecy does not always proceed from the circumstances or subject; it frequently proceeds from the highly poetical and figurative style, in which prophecy is for the most part conveyed, and of which it will be proper to give some account. To speak of all the rhetorical figures with which the prophets adorn their style would lead us into a field too wide, and would be more the province of the rhetorician than of the commentator. It will be sufficient for our purpose at present to attend to the most common of them, consisting of allegory, parable, and metaphor, and then to consider the sources from which the prophets most frequently borrow their images in those figures, and the sense which they wish to convey by them.
"By allegory, the first of the figures mentioned, is meant that mode of speech in which the writer or speaker means to convey a different idea from what the words in their obvious and primary signification bear. Thus, 'Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns,' ( Jeremiah 4:3;), is to be understood, not of tillage, but of repentance. And these words, 'Thy rowers have brought thee into great waters, the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas,' Ezekiel 27:26, allude not to the fate of a ship, but of a city.
"To this figure the parable, in which the prophets frequently speak, is nearly allied. It consists in the application of some feigned narrative to some real truth, which might have been less striking or more disagreeable if expressed in plain terms. Such is the following one of Isaiah, Isaiah 5:1, Isaiah 5:2; : 'My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.' The seventh verse tells us that this vineyard was the house of Israel, which had so ill requited the favor which God had shown it. On this subject see the dissertation at the end of the notes on Matthew 13 (note).
"There is, besides, another kind of allegory not uncommon with the prophets, called mystical allegory or double prophecy. Thus it is said of Eliakim, Isaiah 22:22; : 'And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.' In the first and obvious sense, the words relate to Eliakim; but in the secondary or mystical sense, to the Messiah. Instances of the same kind are frequent in those prophecies that relate to David, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, and other types of Christ. In the first sense the words relate to the type; in the second, to the antitype. The use of this allegory, however, is not so frequent as that of the former. It is generally confined to things most nearly connected with the Jewish religion; with Israel, Sion, Jerusalem, and its kings and rulers; or such as were most opposite to these, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Idumea, and the like. In the former kind of allegory the primitive meaning is dropped, and the figurative only is retained; in this, both the one and the other are preserved, and this is what constitutes the difference.
"But of all the figures used by the prophets the most frequent is the metaphor, by which words are transferred from their primitive and plain to a secondary meaning. This figure, common in all poetry and in all languages, is of indispensable necessity in Scripture, which, having occasion to speak of Divine and spiritual matters, could do it only by terms borrowed from sensible and material objects. Hence it is that the sentiments, actions, and corporeal parts, not only of man, but also of inferior creatures, are ascribed to God himself; it being otherwise impossible for us to form any conceptions of his pure essence and incommunicable attributes. But though the prophets, partly from necessity and partly from choice, are thus profuse in the use of metaphors, they do not appear, like other writers, to have the liberty of using them as fancy directed. The same set of images, however diversified in the manner of applying them, is always used, both in allegory and metaphor, to denote the same subjects, to which they are in a manner appropriated. This peculiar characteristic of the Hebrew poetry might perhaps be owing to some rules taught in the prophetic schools, which did not allow the same latitude in this respect as other poetry. Whatever it may be owing to, the uniform manner in which the prophets apply these images tends greatly to illustrate the prophetic style; and therefore it will be proper now to consider the sources from which those images are most frequently derived, and the subjects and ideas which they severally denote. These sources may be classed under four heads; natural, artificial, religious, and historical.
- "I. The first and most copious, as well as the most pleasing source of images in the prophetic writings, as in all other poetry, is nature; and the principal images drawn from nature, together with their application, are the following: -
"Light and darkness are used figuratively for joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity. 'We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness;' Isaiah 59:9. An uncommon degree of light denotes an uncommon degree of joy and prosperity, and vice versa. 'The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold;' Isaiah 30:26. The same metaphors are likewise used to denote knowledge and ignorance. 'If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them;' Isaiah 8:20. 'The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;' Isaiah 9:2.
"Dew, moderate rains, gentle streams, and running waters denote the blessings of the Gospel. 'Thy dew is as the dew of herbs;' Isaiah 26:19. 'He shall come unto us as the rain;' Hosea 6:3. 'I will water it every moment;' Isaiah 27:3. 'I will pour water on him that is thirsty;' Isaiah 44:3.
"Immoderate rains on the other hand, hail, floods, deep waters, torrents, and inundations, denote judgments and destruction. 'I will rain upon him an overflowing rain, and great hailstones,' Ezekiel 38:22. 'Waters rise up out of the north, and shall overflow the land,' Jeremiah 47:2.
"Fire also, and the east wind, parching and hurtful, frequently denote the same. 'They shall cast thy choice cedars into the fire,' Jeremiah 22:7. 'He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind,' Isaiah 27:8.
"Wind in general is often taken in the same sense. 'The wind shall eat up all thy pastures,' Jeremiah 22:22. Sometimes it is put for any thing empty or fallacious, as well as hurtful. 'The prophets shall become wind,' Jeremiah 5:13. 'They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind,' Hosea 8:7.
"Lebanon and Carmel; the one remarkable for its height and stately cedars, was the image of majesty, strength, or anything very great or noble. 'He shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one,' Isaiah 10:34. 'The Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon,' Ezekiel 31:3. The other mountain (Carmel) being fruitful, and abounding in vines and olives, denoted beauty and fertility. 'The glory of Lebanon shall be given it, the excellency of Carmel,' Isaiah 35:2. The vine alone is a frequent image of the Jewish Church. 'I had planted thee a noble vine,' Jeremiah 2:21.
"Rams and bullocks of Bashan, lions, eagles, sea-monsters, or any animals of prey, are figures frequently used for cruel and oppressive tyrants and conquerors. 'Hear this word ye kine of Bashan, which oppress the poor,' Amos 4:1. 'The lion is come up from his thicket,' Jeremiah 4:7. 'A great eagle came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar,' Ezekiel 17:3. 'Thou art as a whale in the seas,' Ezekiel 32:2. 'The unicorns shall come down, and their land shall be soaked with blood,' Isaiah 34:7.
- "II. The ordinary occupations and customs of life, with the few arts practiced at the time, were another source from which the prophets derived many of their figures, particularly,
"The vintage and winepress also furnish many images, obvious enough in their application. 'The press is full, the fats overflow, for their wickedness is great,' Joel 3:13. 'I have trod the winepress alone. I will tread down the people in mine anger,' Isaiah 63:3, etc. As the vintage was gathered with shouting and rejoicing, the ceasing of the vintage-shouting is frequently one of the figures that denote misery and desolation. 'None shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting,' Jeremiah 48:33.
"From the occupation of tending cattle we have many images. 'Wo unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture,' Jeremiah 23:1. The people are the flock; teachers and rulers the pastors. 'Israel is a scattered sheep, the lions have driven him away.' 'As a shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear,' etc., Amos 3:12. Some of the images derived from husbandry, tending cattle, etc., may perhaps appear mean to us; though not to the Jews, whose manner of life was simple and plain, and whose greatest men (such as Moses, David, Gideon, etc.) were often husbandmen and shepherds. Accordingly, the Messiah himself is frequently described under the character of a shepherd.
[See Fleury's Manners of the Israelites].
"It was customary in deep mournings to shave the head and beard, to retire to the housetops, which in those countries were flat, and furnished with little chambers adapted to the purposes of devotion or of sequestered grief; also to sing dirges at funerals, and to accompany them with a mournful sort of music; and from these and the like circumstances images are frequently borrowed by the prophets to denote the greatest danger, and the deepest distress. 'Mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes.' 'Every head shall be bald, and every beard clipt - there shall be lamentation on all the house - tops of Moab,' Jeremiah 48:36-38; Isaiah 15:2, Isaiah 15:3.
"The mode of burying in the Jewish sepulchers, or 'sides of the pit,' and their Hades, or state of the dead, supplied many images of the same kind. See observations on Isaiah 14 (note), and Ezekiel 26:20; (note).
"According to the barbarous custom of those times, conquerors drove their captives before them almost naked, and exposed to the intolerable heat of the sun, and the inclemencies of the weather. They afterwards employed them frequently in grinding at the handmill, (watermills not being then invented); hence nakedness, and grinding at the mill, and sitting on the ground (the posture in which they wrought) express captivity. 'Descend and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; take the millstones - thy nakedness shall be uncovered,' Isaiah 47:1-3.
"The marriage relation supplied metaphors to express the relation or covenant between God and his people. On the other hand adultery, infidelity to the marriage bed, etc., denoted any breach of covenant with God, particularly the love and worship of idols. 'Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you,' Jeremiah 3:14. 'There were two women, the daughters of one mother, and they committed whoredoms - with their idols have they committed adultery,' etc., Ezekiel 23:2-37.
"The debility and stupefaction caused by intoxicating liquors suggested very apt images to express the terrible effects of the Divine judgments on those who are the unhappy objects of them. 'Thou shalt be filled with drunkenness, with the cup of thy sister Samaria,' Ezekiel 23:33.
"From the method of refining metals in the furnace images are often borrowed to denote the judgments inflicted by God on his people, with a view to cleanse them from their sins, as metal from its dross. 'Israel is dross in the midst of the furnace,' Ezekiel 22:18. 'He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,' Malachi 3:3.
"Among the other few arts from which the Hebrew poets derive some of their images, are those of the fuller and potter, Malachi 3:2, etc.; Jeremiah 18:1, etc.; of which the application is obvious. No less so is that of images derived from fishing, fowling, and the implements belonging to them; the hook, net, pit, snare, etc., which generally denote captivity or destruction. 'I will send for many fishers, and they shall fish them; and for many hunters, and they shall hunt them; for their iniquity is not hid from mine eyes,' Jeremiah 16:16, Jeremiah 16:17. 'I will put hooks to thy jaws,' Ezekiel 29:4. 'Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth,' Isaiah 24:17.
"A few images are derived from building, as when the Messiah is denoted by a foundation and corner-stone, Isaiah 28:16. The next verse describes the rectitude of judgment by metaphors borrowed from the line and plummet; and by building with precious stones is denoted a very high degree of prosperity, whether applied to church or state, Isaiah 54:11, Isaiah 54:12.
- "III. Religion, and things connected with it, furnished many images to the sacred poets.
"The killing of sacrifices and feasting upon them, serve as metaphors for slaughter. 'The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,' Isaiah 34:6; Ezekiel 39:17.
"The pontifical robes, which were very splendid, suggested several images expressive of the glory of both the Jewish and Christian Church. 'I clothed thee with broidered work,' etc., Ezekiel 16:10. 'He clothed me with the garments of salvation,' Isaiah 61:10. The prophets wore a rough upper garment; false prophets wore the like, in imitation of true ones; and to this there are frequent allusions. 'Neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive,' Zechariah 13:4.
"From the pots, and other vessels and utensils of the temple, are likewise borrowed a few metaphors obvious enough without explanation: 'Every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness,' Zechariah 14:21.
"The prophets have likewise many images that allude to the idolatrous rites of the neighboring nations, to their groves and high places, Isaiah 27:9, and to the worship paid to their idols, Baal, Molech, Chemosh, Gad, Meni, Ashtaroth, Tammuz, etc., Ezekiel 8:10-14.
- "IV. Many of the metaphors and images used by the prophets are likewise borrowed from history, especially sacred.
"From chaos: 'I beheld the earth, and, lo! it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light;' Jeremiah 4:23. 'He shall stretch over it the line of devastation, and the plummet of emptiness;' Isaiah 34:11.
"From the deluge: 'The windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake;' Isaiah 24:18.
"From the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: 'And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch;' Isaiah 34:9. Also from the destruction of the Hivites and Amorites, etc., Isaiah 17:9.
"The exodus and deliverance from Egypt, is frequently used to shadow forth other great deliverances: 'Thus saith the Lord, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters,' etc.; Isaiah 11:15, Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 43:16-19; Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah 51:10, etc.
"From the descent on Sinai: 'Behold, the Lord cometh forth out of his place, and will come down and tread on the high places of the earth; and the mountains shall be molten under him;' Micah 1:3, Micah 1:4.
"From the resurrection, the end of the world, and the last judgment, are derived many images, of which the application is natural and obvious: 'Thy dead men shall live, with my dead body shall they arise, - awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust,' etc.; Isaiah 26:19. 'And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down as a leaf falleth from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree;' Isaiah 34:4.
"The foregoing account of the images which most frequently occur in the writings of the prophets may be of considerable use in studying their style; but as a thorough knowledge of this must be allowed to be of the highest importance, a few general remarks are farther added, although some part of them may appear to be superseded by what has been already observed.
- Although the prophets use words so frequently in a figurative or metaphorical meaning; yet we ought not, without necessity, to depart from the primitive and original sense of language; and such a necessity there is, when the plain and original sense is less proper, less suitable to the subject and context, or contrary to other scriptures.
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness
As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
"Attention to this peculiarity in sacred poetry will frequently lead to the meaning of many passages in the poetical parts of Scripture, in which it perpetually occurs, as the one line of a couplet, or member of a sentence, is generally a commentary on the other. Thus: -
The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah,
And a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
"Here the metaphor in the first line is expressed in plain terms in the next: the sacrifice in Bozrah means the great slaughter in Idumea, of which Bozrah was the capital. "It must be observed that the parallelism is frequently more extended. Thus: -
For I will pour out waters on the thirsty,
And flowing streams upon the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on thy seed,
And my blessing on thine offspring.
"Here the two last lines explain the metaphor in the two preceding."
As the gift of prophecy was the greatest which God gave to men upon earth, so the prophet, as being the immediate instrument of revealing the will of God to the people, was the greatest, the most important, the most august, venerable, and useful person in the land of Israel. Ipsi eis exeant, says St. Augustine, philosophi ipsi sapientes, ipsi theologi, ipsi prophetae, ipsi doctores probitatis ac pietatis; "They were to the people the philosophers, the wise men, the divines, the prophets, and the teachers of truth and godliness." By their intercourse with God, they were his mediators with the people; and their persons, as well as their office, were considered as peculiarly sacred. They did not mix with the people, and only appeared in public when they came to announce the will of God. They were also a kind of typical persons - whatever occurred to them was instructive, so that they were for signs, metaphors, and portents.
Most of the ancient prophets were extraordinary messengers. They were not bred up to the prophetic function; as the office was immediately from God, as well as the message they were to deliver to the people, so they had no previous education, in reference to such an office, for no man knew whom the God of Israel might please to call to announce his righteousness to the people. Several of them were taken out of the walks of common life. Jonah appears to have been a private person at Gath-heper, in Galilee, before God called him to prophesy against Nineveh. Elisha was a ploughman at Abel-meholah ( 1 Kings 19:16;) when called to the prophetic function. Zechariah appears to have been a husbandman, and a keeper of cattle, Zechariah 13:5. Amos was a herdsman of Tekoa, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit; ( Amos 1:1; Amos 7:14, Amos 7:15;); and no doubt several others of the ancient prophets had an equally mean origin; but the office and the calling dignified the man. We know that our blessed Lord called not his disciples from the higher walks or offices of life; but out of fishermen, tax-gatherers, and tent-makers, he formed evangelists and apostles.
The prophets appear to have gone in mean clothing; either sack-cloth, hair-cloth, or coats of skin appear to have been their ordinary clothing. They spoke against the pride and vain-glory of man; and their very garb and manner gave additional weight to the solemn words they delivered. They lived in a retired manner; and, when not sent on special errands, they employed their vacant time in the instruction of youth; as this is probably what we are to understand by the schools of the prophets, such as those over which Elijah, Elisha, and Samuel presided; though no doubt there were some of their disciples that were made partakers of the prophetic gift.
The prophets do not appear to have been called to a life of celibacy. Isaiah was a married man, Isaiah 8:3; and so was Hosea, Isaiah 1:2; unless we are to understand the latter case enigmatically. And that the sons of the prophets had wives, we learn from 2 Kings 4:1, etc.; and from this, as well as from the case of the apostles, we learn that the matrimonial state was never considered, either by Moses or the prophets, Christ or his apostles, as disqualifying men from officiating in the most holy offices; as we find Moses, Aaron, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Peter, all married men, and yet the most eminent of their order.
Of Isaiah, the writer of this book, very little is known. He is supposed to have been of the tribe of Judah, and of the royal family of David. Himself says that he was son of Amoz; and others tell us that this Amoz was the son of Joash, and brother of Amaziah, king of Judah. "Of his family and tribe we know nothing," says R. D. Kimchi, "only our rabbins, of blessed memory, have received the tradition that Amoz and Amaziah were brothers;" and it is on this ground that he has been called the royal prophet. It has been also said that Isaiah gave his daughter in marriage to Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, king of Judah; and that himself was put to death by Manasseh, being sawn asunder with a wooden saw. But all these traditions stand on very slender authority, and are worthy of very little regard. Several commentators have thought that his prophecies afford presumptive evidence of his high descent and elegant education:
- Because his style is more correct and majestic than any of the other prophets.
Isaiah appears to have had two sons, who were typical in their names; one, Shear-jashub, "a remnant shall return," Isaiah 7:3; and the other Maher-shalal-hash-baz, "haste to the spoil; quick to the prey;" Isaiah 8:3; and it is remarkable, that his wife is called a prophetess. Other matters relative to his character will appear in the notes on his prophecies.
In the notes on this book I have consulted throughout the commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi, and have made much use of Bishop Lowth, as the reader will perceive. His various readings I have re-collated with Dr. Kennicott, and B. De Rossi; in consequence of which I have been enabled in many cases to add double weight to the authorities by which the learned bishop was supported in the readings which he has either mentioned, or received into the text. Bishop Lowth could avail himself only of the collections of Dr. Kennicott - the sheets of Isaiah in the doctor's edition of the Hebrew Bible, as they passed through the press, were sent by him to the Bishop; but the Collections of De Rossi, more numerous and more accurate than those of Dr. Kennicott, were not published till six years after the doctor had published his Bible, and about one year before this most learned and pious prelate went to his reward. I have also consulted some excellent Hebrew MSS. in my own library from six to eight hundred years old, which have afforded me additional help in estimating the worth and importance of the various readings in the above Collections of Kenicott and De Rossi, as far as they are employed in the illustration of this prophet. From the ancient English MS. Version of this prophet I have extracted several curious translations of select parts, which I have no doubt will meet with every reader's approbation. Though I have followed Bishop Lowth chiefly, yet I have consulted the best commentators within my reach, in order to remove doubts and clear up difficult passages, but have studied to be as brief as possible, that the sacred text might not be encumbered either with the multitude or length of the notes, nor the reader's time occupied with any thing not essentially necessary; besides, I wish to bring my work to as speedy a close as possible.
This book, according to Vitringa, is twofold in its matter: 1. Prophetical; 2. Historical.
- The prophetical is divided into five parts:
Part 2: From Isaiah 13: to Isaiah 24: declares the fate of the Babylonians, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Egyptians, Tyrians, and others; and contains eight prophetic discourses.
Part 3: From Isaiah 24: to Isaiah 36: denounces judgments on the disobedient Jews, and consoles the true followers of God. This contains three discourses.
Part 4: From Isaiah 40: to Isaiah 49: refers to the Messiah and the deliverance of the Jews from the Babylonians; and contains four discourses.
Part 5: From Isaiah 49: to the end, points out the passion, crucifixion, and glory of the Messiah, and contains five discourses.
- The historical part begins with Isaiah 36, and ends with Isaiah 39:1-8, and relates some of the transactions of the prophet's own times. On this analysis Vitringa explains the whole prophecy. For my own part I have little or no confidence in such technical arrangements.
- Part 1: he supposes to relate to Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah: this is included in the first six chapters. The prophet inveighs against the crimes of the Jews; declares the judgments of God against them; predicts a more auspicious time, which took place under Hezekiah, who was a type of Christ.
Part 3: contains many prophecies against Babylon, the Philistines, Moabites, etc.
Part 4: contains prophecies against Egypt, Babylon, Kedar, Arabia, etc.
Part 5: concerns the reign of Hezekiah, and especially the war of Sennacherib against the Jews, etc. The four historical chapters inserted here contain the account of the fulfillment of the preceding prophecy.
Part 6, included in Isaiah 40 to Isaiah 45 inclusive, contains the prophet's discourses on the existence of God, the truth and perfection of the Jewish religion, the vanity of idolatry, the return of the people from captivity, and the coming of Christ.
Part 7: from Isaiah 49: to Isaiah 51, the prophet, personifying the Messiah, speaks of his sufferings, death, and burial; predicts the return from the Babylonish captivity, and the glory of the latter days.
- Part 8: speaks of the coming of the Messiah, and the vocation of the Gentiles; the disgrace and confusion of all false prophets and teachers; and the establishment of a pure and holy Church, etc.
"God never left his work for man to mend." The prophecies were given as they were necessary, and no classification was ever intended. We should take them up as we find them; and humbly endeavor to find out their objects and meaning, and how far ourselves are interested in these denunciations of Divine wrath; and in those glorious promises of mercy and salvation through Him who was once the hope of Israel, and now is salvation to the ends of the earth.
Bishop Lowth's translation is by far the best that has ever been made of this sublime prophet: as he thoroughly understood his language, so he entered deeply into his spirit. Were it allowable, I should be glad to supersede what is called the authorized version, and put that of the learned bishop, with a few genuine alterations, in its place, as being abundantly more correct and nervous, rendering the sacred text more clearly, and consequently more intelligibly, so that the common reader can understand this text better without a comment, than he can the authorized version even with one. His notes, which are a treasure of learning and sound criticism, I have almost universally preserved, intermingling them with my own; but large quotations from his notes I have distinguished by the letter L.; and I have often adopted his text, as being vastly superior to that in common use; the catch words from which follow those from the authorized version. Should a new translation of the Bible be ever published by authority, I have no doubt but, with a few alterations, that of Bishop Lowth would be adopted as the standard.
Millbrook, Sept. 24, 1823.
Saturday in Easter Week