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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


DIVISION I (Isaiah 1-12)

This division has prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem, closing with promises of restoration and a psalm of thanksgiving.

This chapter has the title for the whole prophecy (Isaiah 1:1), God’s complaint against Israel (Isaiah 1:2-9), the statement that Israel has no excuse (Isaiah 1:10-15), a summary of God’s requirements (Isaiah 1:16-20), the prophet’s lament over Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:21-23), and a declaration of God’s judgment upon the apostate people (Isaiah 1:24-31).

Verse 1

“The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”

The critical viewpoint that alleges an error in this title because the whole prophecy of Isaiah does indeed have many prophecies concerning other cities and nations besides Judah and Jerusalem is in error because all of the prophecies throughout the whole Book of Isaiah are included because of their relationship to the covenant people of Judah and Jerusalem, and because of their bearing upon the ultimate achievement of God in his purpose of salvation for mankind. As Rawlinson noted, “In the scriptural sense, all prophecy relates to Judah and Jerusalem.”(F1)

“The vision” “This is a technical term for `Divine Revelation,” as something displayed before the mind’s eye of the prophet.(F2) Actually, much of the Book of Isaiah was communicated to the prophet in a manner unknown to us, as the author of Hebrews put it, “by various manners and various portions” Hebrews 1:1, NIV. There are also examples of “visions” in the usual sense, as in Isaiah 6.

“The son of Amoz” This is not the same name as “Amos.” The meaning of Amoz, the father of Isaiah, is “strong” or “brass.” The name which he gave to his son (Isaiah) means “salvation is of the Lord,” or “Jehovah is helper.” It is supposed by some that Amoz was the uncle of Uzziah, which, if true, would make Isaiah the king’s cousin.(F3) Whether or not this is true, Isaiah was certainly well educated and was apparently of high social standing as indicated by his easy access to the presence of the king and his familiarity with royal problems.

Some have wondered why Manasseh was not mentioned here by Isaiah, since it is certain that Manasseh was associated with Hezekiah in the throne for the last ten years of Hezekiah’s reign (see introduction). Added to this is the well established tradition that Isaiah was “sawn asunder” by Manasseh, a tradition accepted by many Jewish authorities and seemingly suggested by Hebrews 11:37. The evil character of Manasseh could have been the reason for Isaiah’s omission of his name here. After all, Hezekiah was actually the monarch on the throne during the first ten years of the period assigned to the reign of Manasseh, a fact proved by the truth stated in 2 Chronicles 32:32, where it is stated that Isaiah wrote the biography of Hezekiah including “the rest of his acts” in the prophecy called the “Vision of Isaiah.”

Verse 2

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for Jehovah hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me,”

This whole prophecy is very largely devoted to the great apostasy of the chosen people and their consequent loss of their status as being anything special in the eyes of God. There are many even today who simply have failed to understand this essential message of Isaiah. The appeal to heaven and earth to “hear” suggests a formal arraignment in a court of law and carries the implication that details and specific examples of Israel’s rebellion will be spelled out. This Isaiah proceeded to do.

Verses 3-9

“The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly! they have forsaken Jehovah, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are estranged and gone backward. Why will ye be still stricken, that ye revolt more and more? the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and fresh stripes: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with oil. Your country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except Jehovah of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, we should have been like unto Gomorrah.”

One of the interesting things in this passage is the number of different words used to describe the sins of Israel. They are called rebellion (Isaiah 1:2), ignorance, lack of consideration (Isaiah 1:3), sin, iniquity, evil-doing, corruption, forsaking God, estrangement from God, backsliding (Isaiah 1:4), revolt, transgression, disobedience, sickness, (Isaiah 1:5) and unsoundness (Isaiah 1:6). The wounds and bruises of Israel mentioned here should not be viewed as resulting from the hostile attacks of her enemies but as the result of the stripes of punishment laid upon the sinful nation by the hand of her God.

The picture in Isaiah 1:5-6 is not of a sick man but of someone who has been flogged in an inch of his life, yet asking for more. Therefore sores in Isaiah 1:6 are actually weals.(F4)

The mention of the ox and the ass (Isaiah 1:3) stresses the truth that even domesticated animals of the type usually cited for their lack of intelligence exhibited desirable qualities that were absent in the behavior of Israel, which seemed to be totally ignorant of the signal blessings they had received from God and his amazing deliverance of them from slavery and oppression.

We entertain a strong objection to receiving the desolation depicted in these verses as an actual historical picture of conditions in Palestine following some invasion, either that of the earlier reign .of Josiah or, of that when Sennacherib shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage”. We are aware that many commentators offer this explanation; but to us it seems clear enough that what we have here is a master prophecy outlining the whole history of Israel in advance, not only covering the invasions mentioned here but the final overthrow of Israel by Babylon with the resulting captivity, and the return of “the remnant,” significantly mentioned here as all that would be left of the chosen people. Rawlinson believed that the “remnant” here was “the few godly people left in Jerusalem!”(F5) However, such interpretations of this prophecy would make it necessary to accept the godless Manasseh as a part of that “righteous remnant.” No! The very fact of the “remnant” being introduced in this opening passage unerringly points to the remnant of Israel that would form the nucleus of the “New Israel” of God. that is, the church, or kingdom, of Messiah! Furthermore, is not this chapter introduced as a part of the vision of Isaiah? The very word means a supernatural revelation of events to take place in the future from the time of the vision; and if this chapter is nothing more than Isaiah’s observations on the current state of the land of Palestine, it is not entitled to any place whatever in Isaiah’s prophecy. No! The commentators are merely deceived by the liberal canard that predictive prophecy is not found in the Bible. As we shall see, this chapter is really a summary of the whole Book of Isaiah.

There is no agreement whatever among scholars as to which of two principal invasions Isaiah referred to in this description of the devastated land. Archer stated that some scholars understand the whole passage as a description of Sennacherib’s invasion of 701 B.C.,(F6) rather than the usual habit of applying it to the invasion of the Edomites and the Philistines in 734-733 B.C. All of the uncertainty is cleared up by understanding the passage as an extended prophecy of what was in store for Israel in a far more general sense. No other understanding of the place takes care of the question about who constituted that “righteous remnant.”

Isaiah 1:8 refers to Jerusalem, “the daughter of Zion,” as totally deserted like a “booth in a vineyard,” or a “lodge in a garden of cucumbers.” Jerusalem was never deserted throughout the life of Isaiah, nor until more than half a century later; therefore, this passage simply cannot be a description of conditions that Isaiah saw. This is a prophecy of the going of Israel into the Babylonian captivity.

Verses 10-17

“Hear the word of Jehovah, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; for incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, - I cannot; away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of hearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

“Ye rulers of Sodom… people of Gomorrah” This line is addressed to Jerusalem, and therefore Jerusalem, which was spared in both of the invasions which commentators suppose produced the conditions Isaiah was describing in this chapter, cannot possibly be the “righteous remnant” referred to in Isaiah 1:9. The most helpful comment we have discovered with reference to that “righteous remnant” is that of Eiselen who said:

“It was the birth of a new era in Old Testament religion, for it was the birth of the conception of the Church, the first step in the emancipation of spiritual religion from the forms of political life, a step not less significant that all its consequences were not seen until centuries had passed away.”(F7)

The language of this paragraph has been used to disparage the observance of all forms, ceremonies, and sacrifices connected with holy religion; but such a usage is an irresponsible device for “wresting the Holy scriptures.” What God protested against in this paragraph is certainly not the faithful observance of those very ceremonies and sacrifices which God had commanded his people to observe, but the substitution of a meaningless observance of such forms and sacrifices without the heartfelt devotion and faithful obedience to all of God’s commandments which were supposed to accompany such external observances. As Jamieson put it, “God does not here absolutely disparage sacrifice, which is as old and universal as sin itself, but sacrifice unaccompanied by obedience of heart and life.”(F8) Any other view of this passage becomes impossible when it is seen that the very same teaching on forms and sacrifices here is also given with reference to prayer (Isaiah 1:15); and in view of the Holy Saviour’s command that his human children should continue steadfastly in prayer, it becomes impossible to misunderstand the true teaching of Isaiah in these verses.

“Bring no more vain oblations” There is an ocean of difference in this commandment and the dishonest understanding of it as a command to “Bring no more oblations!” Evil men prefer the dishonest version of it.

Verses 18-20

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.”

The proper understanding of this passage as a reference to the new covenant which was destined eventually to replace the Law of Moses is faithfully witnessed by the unerring instinct of the Church which has incorporated these words into their hymnals all over the world. Jeremiah indicated that the forgiveness of sins was an infallible identifying mark of the New Covenant (Isa. 31:35). Thus we have further proof that Isaiah in this chapter is not merely describing the results of some undetermined invasion; but he is speaking of the New Covenant, the “faithful remnant” and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Also, we should notice that obedience, faithful and loyal obedience, is the sine qua non with regard to that redemption which includes forgiveness. The threat of the sword for the disobedient is a statement negatively of the same universal and eternal principle.

Verses 21-23

“How is the faithful city become a harlot! she that was full of justice! righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water. Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.”

This is further lament over the extensive apostasy of Jerusalem. The message of Isaiah here is very similar to that repeated so frequently in practically all of the twelve minor prophets. Social justice simply did not exist any longer in Israel nor in Judah. Israel had, at the times of Isaiah, just about filled up the cup of their wickedness. They had become “traffickers,” that is Canaanites, meaning that they were at that time no better than the godless Canaanites whom God had driven out of Palestine in order to re-populate the land with Israel. At this period in their history, the time was as when God would remove them from what, at one time, had been “their land.” Israel at that point fully deserved to be removed from Palestine. Why then did God spare “a remnant,” bring them back from Babylon and repatriate them in Palestine? There can be but one answer. Due to the Divine promises to the great patriarchs of Israel’s history, God had no honorable course except to retain his watchfulness over the apostate nation till Messiah should come, fulfilling the ancient promises.

See my comment in Vol. 2 of the commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 198.

Verses 24-31

“Therefore saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies; and I will turn my hand upon thee, and thoroughly purge away thy dross, and will take away all thy sin; and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shall be called, The city of righteousness, a faithful town. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her converts with righteousness. But the destruction of transgressors and sinners shall be together, and they that forsake Jehovah shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens ye have chosen. For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. For the strong shall be as tow, and his work as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.”

This paragraph follows the same pattern so frequently noted in all the rest of the Old Testament prophecies, especially in the writings of a number of the minor prophets, where one finds a blending of the prophecies that speak of the fate of the secular Israel, with undeniable references to that indefinite “afterward,” “in the latter day,” “in those days,” etc., all of which references (as these latter ones) refer to the New Israel, which is the Church, and not to the old secular Israel. This mingling of such diverse prophecies in the same paragraph, and sometimes in the same sentence, often poses difficult problems of interpretation. Here Isaiah 1:29 refers to the “groves” of the prevalent Baalim in Palestine with the shameful religion observed with pagan immorality; and the “gardens” mentioned with them is another reference to the same thing. The destruction of sinners and transgressors, along with God’s avenging himself upon his adversaries and the mention of sinful men and their evil works being burned up “together” are references, first of all to the ultimate destruction of the fleshly Israel, and typically to the eventual destruction of the incorrigibly wicked in hell, following the second advent and the final judgment of mankind.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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