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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 26

Verse 1


"In several respects Isaiah 26 parallels Isaiah 25, and so reinforces its message."[1] No other scripture in the Old Testament surpasses this in providing comfort for God's people in time of distress by a contemplation of future blessings; and no other passage in the Old Testament surpasses the definite promise of a bodily resurrection of the righteous dead in Isaiah 26:19.

The chapter may be divided thus: (1) a contrast between two cities (Isaiah 26:1-6); (2) a song, which is a complicated melding of lament, trust, confession, praise of God, and comment regarding the wicked (Isaiah 26:7-19); and (3) the last two verses which carry practical admonition and an assurance that God will indeed punish the wicked (Isaiah 26:20,21).

Isaiah 26:1-6

"At that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: we have a strong city; salvation will he appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation that keepeth faith may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is staid on thee; because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in Jehovah forever; for Jehovah, even Jehovah is an everlasting rock. For he hath brought down them that dwell on high, the lofty city: he layeth it low, he layeth it low even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy."

"At that day ..." These words indicate that the prophecy relates to the Messianic kingdom in the far distant future. Some have tried to find here the celebration of literal Israel's return from Babylonian captivity; but the words do not fit. For many years following the conclusion of the captivity, the literal Jerusalem was no "strong city" in any sense. Furthermore, the people rebuilt walls of stone and mortar, quite a different wall from that of the city in view here, where God appointed "salvation" for walls and bulwarks. Also, can any person even imagine that God ever referred to the literal Jewish nation as "a righteous nation"? Look at Isaiah 26:2: "Open ye the gates that the righteous nation which keepeth faith may come in"! This was never true of ancient Israel.

Therefore, we must agree with Archer who wrote: The redeemed saints will come to the gates of the (New) Jerusalem at the end of the age, chanting hymns of praise (therefore called `Judah,' which means praise); they will be a righteous nation because clothed with Christ's righteousness and indwelt by God's Spirit.[2]

The people of this "righteous nation" are not merely Jews, but, "A people made up of all kindreds, nations and tongues, which should henceforth be `the people of God.'"[3]

Isaiah 26:3 has the words "perfect peace"; but the Hebrew from which this is rendered reads: "peace, peace," "Which means positive well-being, not merely lack of strife."[4]

That other city, mentioned here, may not be identified with Nineveh, Babylon, or any other individual place. It is, "the lofty world-city of wickedness."[5] "It is the world-city, the idealized stronghold of the adversaries of God in this world."[6] "It is the capital of the world-empire."[7] We prefer to identify this "lofty city" with the entrenched wickedness of all cities, identical with the "cities" of Revelation 16:19. Of course, Barnes and other respected scholars identify it with Babylon.[8] We reject such views because it is "the end of the age," not "the return from Babylonian captivity" that forms the subject of the prophecy in these verses.

Verse 7

"The way of the just is uprightness: thou that art upright doth direct the path. Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Jehovah, have we waited for thee; to thy name, even to thy memorial name, is the desire of our soul. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee earnestly: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal wrongfully, and will not behold the majesty of Jehovah."

Note that Isaiah 26:7-8 are speaking of the same thing, and therefore they are included in the same paragraph here.

"It is especially significant in this paragraph that righteousness is learned only when God's judgments are abroad in the earth (Isaiah 26:9b). When favor is shown to the wicked, they learn nothing."[9] It must not be thought, however, that this failure of the wicked was due to their inability to learn. It was the result of their stubborn refusal to learn. Barnes rendered Isaiah 26:10, "He will not learn," indicating that the wicked have no desire to learn. As Christ saw it, "Light has come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19). Satan would have us believe that men disbelieve because they are "smart"; but that is one of Satan's favorite lies. Men disbelieve because they are wicked.

Here also we find the necessity for God's judgments. Isaiah 26:10 carries the idea that, "God's judgments are necessary because his favor is ineffectual."[10] However, Isaiah 26:11 in the next paragraph, thunders God's message, "The adversaries shall see ... and be ashamed."[11] This is the ultimate word for all unbelievers. Whether or not they wish to believe or intend to believe, there will not be an unbeliever anywhere in the whole universe on the occasion of the final judgment. See Revelation 6:12ff.

Verse 11

"Jehovah, thy hand is lifted up, yet they see not: but they shall see thy zeal for the people, and be put to shame; yea, fire shall devour thine adversaries. Jehovah, thou wilt ordain peace for us; for thou has also wrought all our works for us. O Jehovah our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live, they are deceased: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all remembrance of them to perish. Thou hast increased the nation, O Jehovah, thou hast increased the nation; thou art glorified; thou has enlarged all the borders of the land."

On Isaiah 26:11, see under Isaiah 26:10, above. Isaiah 26:13-14 are the most challenging verses in this paragraph. Who is it that received this triple declaration in the Word of God that they are dead, deceased, perished? Barnes believed that these "other lords" were "kings of Babylon who had ruled over the Jews";[12] and, of course, other scholars have followed his lead in this; but we believe that Archer has the proper understanding of it.

"Other lords are probably false gods, rather than foreign rulers ... Now they are dead because Christianity forever abolished the worship of all the heathen gods known to the Jews.[13] (Rawlinson agreed with this). The power of the idol gods is altogether passed away, because God has visited and destroyed them, and made their very memory to perish."[14]

What a wonderful demonstration does history itself become in connection with all of those heathen gods which were once worshipped by millions and millions of people! What a demonstration of the power of Almighty God and what a demonstration of the effects of the rise of Christianity is the current status of all those ancient gods and goddesses!

Bel, Asshur, Milcom, Molech, Zeus, Juno, Iris, Astarte, Diana, Mercury, Baal, etc., etc. Where are they now? They are deservedly almost totally forgotten; and, furthermore, there is not even the remotest possibility of the worship of such "gods" ever being renewed.

It is regrettable that some able scholars have missed the point about who those "other lords" actually were. The interpretation that understands them to have been the kings of Babylon, Nineveh, etc. makes the proper understanding of this passage impossible. For example Kelley, on the basis of what this passage says, and in the light of his erroneous application of it to former earthly overlords of Israel, stated that:

"The meaning of Isaiah 26:14 is that the death of the wicked will be final and irrevocable ... they will never rise."[15]

Now the startling thing about this is the fact that, "If this is really what Isaiah 26:14 teaches, it is a lie"; because Jesus plainly taught that both the righteous and the wicked shall rise in the judgment. The Old Testament teaches the same thing (Daniel 12:2). Of course, the word of God never contradicts the Word of God, thus the error is in the interpretation.

Hailey did not fall into the same error that Kelley made, avoiding it only by referring this absence of any kind of a resurrection for those "wicked" in Isaiah 26:14 to the resurrection of "their states." We do not believe that the death of mortal men is even hinted at in Isaiah 26:14; for the reference is to the "death of the pagan gods and goddesses." They are the ones for whom no "resurrection" will ever come. Such considerations as these compel us to find the end of the age, the second advent, and the final judgment in this passage. Nothing else fits all the facts.

"Thou hast increased the nation, O Jehovah, thou hast increased the nation ..." (Isaiah 26:15). Note the repetition, which, in the Hebrew always means extreme emphasis. "This remarkable increase of God's people points to the inclusion of the worldwide Gentile Church; hence also the enlargement of the borders of the kingdom."[16]

Verse 16

How strange it seems that the times of "trouble" should be mentioned here in that proleptic song of the redeemed at the very moment of their being participants in the joys of eternal life! In this, their minds go back to the sorrows and tribulations they suffered during their earth-life; and they find something for which to be thankful even in all that trouble. Rawlinson explained it thus:

"They remember what brought them back to God from the alienation which they confessed (Isaiah 26:13). It was the affliction which they so long endured. Their present bliss is the result of their former woe, and recalls the thought of it."[17]

"We have brought forth wind ..." (Isaiah 26:18). This simply means that all human efforts toward salvation are futile, with no result whatever. We have not been able to defeat our enemies, nor has the entrenched wickedness of mankind diminished.

Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the resurrection. "Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust ... The earth shall cast forth the dead." It is surprising that Barnes applied this resurrection to the resurrection of the state of Israel. "They had been dead, that is, civilly dead in Babylon ... `Shall live' means `they shall be restored to their country'."[18] Although ingenious, such an explanation seems totally inadequate.

Hailey gave three widely accepted explanations of what this resurrection is: (1) the figurative resurrection of the state of Israel, following their Babylonian captivity; (2) the final resurrection of the body at the end of time; and (3) the spiritual resurrection that occurred in the Messianic age. Hailey favored the third of these explanations as, "The most plausible of the three."[19]

Others, with whom this writer agrees, accept the second of the above three understandings of this resurrection. "The prophet draws out the implications of Isaiah 25:8 in Isaiah 26:19 ... yesterday and today's martyrs shall live. Few Old Testament writers were granted this glimpse beyond the grave."[20] "Though obscure in details, Isaiah 26:19 clearly promises bodily resurrection."[21]

Some cannot see the final resurrection here because the passage makes no mention of the resurrection of the wicked; but it is a characteristic of the Bible that the "whole truth" on any subject is seldom, if ever, given by any writer; but as Isaiah himself said, "here a little and there a little." See our introduction to this prophecy. Kidner noted this; and in connection with what Isaiah revealed here, he pointed out that Daniel (Daniel 12:2) specifically included the resurrection of the wicked also in what appears to be a simultaneous resurrection. In fact, there are a number of other Old Testament revelations of the resurrection. If this were not true, how? we may ask could the writer of Hebrews have stated that "Some were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35).

Christ stated that God's declaration to Moses (Exodus 3:6) that, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" is a clear indication of the resurrection; because God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:28-33). In that same passage, Jesus stated that the refusal of the Sadducees to believe in the resurrection was due to "their ignorance of the scriptures," the Old Testament.

We feel certain that the passages in this division, namely, Isaiah 25:5 and Isaiah 26:19, as Gleason stated it, "Are a most explicit prediction of the bodily resurrection of believers."[22]

The prophet did not linger over this world-shaking revelation of a bodily resurrection but went forward at once to give practical admonition and to reiterate the certainty of God's punishment of the wicked.

Verse 20

"Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past."

Lowth called this, "An exhortation to patience and resignation, with a confident expectation of deliverance by the power of God."[23] This might be an indirect reference to that night of the Passover when God's children were told to enter their houses and not to go out of them until morning (Exodus 12:22). The message is eternal, that faith is a private and personal matter. It stands totally within the periphery of the inner and private life of true believers. There are times when every Christian should shut his doors to the noises and distractions of the world and to pursue privately his loving devotions to God, or as Christ put it, "When thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee" (Matthew 6:6).

Verse 21

"For behold Jehovah cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain."

This is a clear warning of the final judgment when Adam's rebellious race (the inhabitants of the earth) shall receive their final reward. This conclusion is required by the fact of the whole earth's "disclosing her blood," that is, by God's exposing all of earth's murders, such an event being clearly scheduled for the last day. Rawlinson said that this refers to, "The many murders men have committed on earth." In the same place, he also wrote that:

"Isaiah denounced murder in his very first chapter (Isaiah 1:27). Manasseh's murders were the main cause of the first destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:4). The second destruction was equally a judgment for the innocent blood that had been shed upon the earth "from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias (Matthew 23:35). Bloodshed cries to God for vengeance (Genesis 4:10); and bloodshed will be one of the main causes of the world's final destruction at the last day (Revelation 16:6; 18:20).[24]

"The earth shall no more cover her slain ..." "In the last day, there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and nothing hidden that shall not be known" (Matthew 10:26). "Every murder, however secret, will be brought to light; and every murderer, however unsuspected previously, will be denounced and punished."[25]

The implications of what is said here compel the identification of this event with the last day. Therefore, the punishment of the wicked promised in Isaiah 26:21 is a reference to the consignment of Satan and all who have followed him in the "eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.