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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 57

Verse 1

This is the final chapter (the 9th) in Section B of Division VI of Isaiah's prophecy; and it is composed principally of a series of severe warnings to God's people (the Jews) that nothing but disaster awaits them because of their turning away from God, their unspeakable ungodliness, idolatry, and hypocritical wickedness.

There is no doubt whatever of its having been authored by Isaiah, and the time envisioned in the chapter is that of the times of Isaiah himself, and the times immediately afterward and reaching down to the captivity, all of the sins and idolatries mentioned here being historically identified with that particular period, and to no other. This was not written by some later Isaiah in Babylon, because the geographical features (the high mountain in Isaiah 57:7) and the trees mentioned were not in Babylon, but in Judah.

The critical allegations that began in the eighteenth century to the effect that the things condemned here pertained to the post-exilic period are ridiculous and unintelligent, because only the times of Manasseh exhibit the sacrifices of children to Molech, and the gross, sensuous worship of the Canaanite Baals, with their shameless fertility rites. It has been an axiom of Biblical interpretation for ages that, The Jews never again resorted to idolatry, after their return from Babylon.

We are positively certain, therefore, that such postulations as those of Wardle that, "This chapter is an invective against the pro-Samaritan party,"[1] after the return from Babylon, are absolutely untenable and incorrect, being unsupported by any evidence whatever, and contrary to the known facts of history. It is distressing to see alleged "scholars" of our own times still parroting such old, discredited, and ridiculous shibboleths of the critical community of perverters of God's Word.

In this chapter, "The prophet proceeds to describe the national character of the Jews in his own day, and down to the time of the captivity."[2] The chapter may be divided thus: (1) the public indifference to the death of the righteous (Isaiah 57:1,2); (2) their mockery of God (Isaiah 57:3,4); (3) the practice of the grossest idolatry (Isaiah 57:5-8); (4) the extent of their seeking self-gratification (Isaiah 57:9,10); (5) Jehovah's warning to them (Isaiah 57:11,12); (6) deliverance promised to the penitent (Isaiah 57:13-18); (7) announcement of the Gospel to be preached in the Messianic age (Isaiah 57:19); (8) obstinate transgressors to be deprived of every blessing (Isaiah 57:20-21).

Isaiah 57:1-2

"The righteous perisheth, and no man lays it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He entereth into peace; they rest in their beds, each one that walketh in his uprightness."

These verses refer to the fact that from the times of Isaiah and afterward to the captivity, "Most of the few godly persons left, perished, partly through vexation at the prevailing ungodliness, partly by the horrible persecutions under Manasseh,"[3] of whom the Scriptures say, "Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem one end to another; besides his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin in doing that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah" (2 Kings 21:16). We call on the critics to produce anything whatever that fits these words in that post-exilic period which they vainly assert was described by these verses!

"The righteous is taken away from the evil to come ..." (Isaiah 57:1). God here gave the reason why many of the righteous perished during those dreadful years. By their death, the righteous would escape the temptations of their godless environment, and they would not have to witness the awful punishment that would fall upon the godless nation. Thus, "Abijah's death is represented as a blessing conferred upon him by God for his piety (1 Kings 14:10-14)";[4] and the prophetess Huldah likewise promised Josiah that, "Thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eye see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" (2 Kings 22:20).

"Those martyrs in the times of Manasseh were actually saved from the horrors of Judah's approaching siege and captivity; and they entered into the peace of `Abraham's bosom' (Luke 16:22), there to await Christ's resurrection."[5]

Verse 3

"But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of adulterers and the harlot. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make yea wide mouth, and put out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood?"

This is a reference to the mocking behavior of the unbelieving Jews who made up the majority of that pre-exilic generation, and back to the times of Isaiah who wrote these words. As McGuiggan wrote: "This looks exactly like the times of Manasseh. There is no reason to believe, with Willis, that this is a prophetic description of the post-exilic community. There is no evidence that the post-exilic community of the Jews were involved in the idolatry described in this chapter. Harrison is surely correct when he wrote that `Canaanite Baalism was a long dead issue for the Jews by the time that the post-exilic period rolled around.'"[6] We say "Amen" to this.

Hailey's paraphrase of these lines is as follows:

"The citizens of Judah are children of idolatry, the offspring of people who forsook Jehovah for the witchcraft of the heathen; and they are the posterity of spiritual adulterers who went `whoring' after false gods. The rejection of Jehovah had resulted in apostasy and excessive wickedness."[7]

As Cheyne suggested, the implied question which the Lord directed to the mockers is this, "Judge if ye are not yourselves fitter objects of scorn than those godly persons whom you are mocking!"[8]

Verse 5

"Ye that inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every green tree; that slay the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks? Among the smooth stones of the valley is thy portion; they are thy lot; even to them hast thou poured a drink-offering, thou hast offered an oblation. Shall I be appeased for these things? Upon a high and lofty mountain hast thou set thy bed; thither also wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. And behind the doors and the posts hast thou set up thy memorial; for thou hast uncovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them: thou lovest their bed where thou sawest it."

These verses are a description of the conduct of God's people who forsook him and "went whoring" after false gods. Many commentators stress that this was "merely spiritual adultery"; but the truth is that, although it was indeed spiritual adultery, it was also actual adultery and fornication of the most perverted and shameful kind. The old fertility rites of Canaanite Baalism were as licentious, vulgar, sensuous and degrading as any conduct ever known.

"Ye that inflame yourselves ..." (Isaiah 57:5). "This describes the excitement that attended the orgies which accompanied the celebration of heathen rites."[9] "The `memorial' of Isaiah 57:8 was probably a phallic symbol."[10]

"Shall I be appeased for these things? ..." (Isaiah 57:6). This is a positive statement made in the form of a question which is common in Hebrew; and it has the meaning of, "I will certainly not be appeased for these things."

Notice the reference in Isaiah 57:7 to the "high and lofty mountain," a geographical feature of Judah, not Babylon. It is this feature of these chapters that exploded the theory of "Two Isaiahs" and led to the invention of what Wardle called "Trito-Isaiah";<10b> and, as noted in our Introduction to this prophecy, once the unity of Isaiah is denied, not two, nor three, but a dozen divisions will inevitably follow.

"Among the smooth stones of the valley ..." (Isaiah 57:6). "Smooth stones, rounded by water-action were among the objects worshipped by many Semitic peoples; and they were worshipped with libations of wine and oil from their worshippers."[11] Some believe that the statues of the idol Molech were constructed of such smooth stones, that being the reason for the proximity of "slaying the children" (by which Molech was worshipped) and the "smooth stones of the valley" in adjacent Isaiah 57:5,6, in this passage. The Jews described in this chapter widely practiced the worship of Molech, some of their kings making their sons "pass through the fire to Molech," as did Manasseh. "The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Cretans and other pagan nations practiced this barbarous rite; and although some have attempted to deny that the children were actually burned to death, such passages as Psalms 106:37,38; Jeremiah 7:31; and Jeremiah 19:5 prove that they were burned to death. It was practiced by the Jews in the valley of Hinnom (2 Chronicles 3; 33:6); and as would appear from this text, in other valleys also."[12] Of course, there is absolutely nothing in the post-exilic history of the Jews that even remotely suggests the type of behavior described here.

Verse 9

"And thou wentest to the king with oil, and didst increase thy perfumes, and thou didst send thine ambassadors far off, and didst debase thyself even unto Sheol. Thou wast wearied with the length of thy way; yet saidest thou not It is in vain: thou didst find a quickening of thy strength; therefore thou wast not faint."

"Thou wentest to the king ..." (Isaiah 57:9). "The word here rendered `king' is capable of being rendered `Molech,'[13] the savage old god of the Ammonites; and the passage indicates that many Jews had made him their "king" instead of Jehovah.

These verses stress two things: (1) the debasing of the people even unto Sheol by their shameless worship of pagan gods, and (2) their seeking foreign aid, instead of relying upon Jehovah. Also, Isaiah 57:10 indicates that they went far beyond their ordinary strength in such shameful activities.

Verse 11

"And of whom hast thou been afraid and in fear, that thou liest, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to heart? have not I held my peace even of long time, and thou fearest not. I will declare thy righteousness; and as for thy works, they shall not profit thee. When thou criest, let them that thou hast gathered deliver thee; but the wind shall take them, a breath shall carry them all away: but he that taketh refuge in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain."

"Israel's original possession of the land was unconditional. It was given to them in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:7); and it was intended to be theirs permanently, `forever' (Exodus 32:13); but the retaining of the land was conditional (Leviticus 26:14,15)." It would appear, then, that at the time God gave these prophecies through Isaiah, there was, even that late, a possibility that Israel might repent, turn away from idols, and return to the true worship of God. Their failure to do so resulted in the captivity. These verses are an exhortation to Israel to repent, coupled with the warning that the false gods in which they trust will be utterly helpless to aid them.

Verse 14

"And he will say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way. take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit would faint before me, and the souls that I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him; I hid my face and was wroth; and he went on backsliding in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners." "Isaiah 57:14 is a promise that the believing remnant shall have every obstacle to their return cleared out of the way at the coming return from captivity."[14]

"Stumbling-block ..." (Isaiah 57:14). The proud, unbelieving majority of Israel were a stumbling block to the repentance and return of the "righteous remnant" to Jehovah; and it continued in the same pattern even after the Christ came. "The pride and self-righteousness of the Jews were the stumbling-blocks in the way of their acknowledging Christ."[15]

"I will not contend forever ..." (Isaiah 57:16). Such words as these carry a sense of terrible finality and doom. These are almost the same words as those in Genesis 6:3, "My Spirit will not always contend with man." The meaning is that, since God has given man the freedom of choice, God will not force him to be obedient. The words in Genesis preceded the Great Deluge; and the words here preceded the awful captivity of Israel. When man has made his choice of rebellion against his Maker, and after God has given him time and opportunity to repent, the inevitable destruction will surely fall upon the disobedient.

"For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth ..." (Isaiah 57:17). As Cheyne said, "The prophet here seems to ascribe the captivity to simple covetousness."[16] However, he further explained how such a single designation is, in fact, a synecdoche; and, "It includes all of the other besetting sins of the Jews, such as violence, murder, etc."[17] This rhetorical figure is used extensively in the New Testament, where a single command is frequently made to stand for the whole Christian system. In turn, salvation, for example is said to be bestowed on the basis of faith, or hope, or baptism, or repentance, or grace, or confession; but the Word of God nowhere states that upon the basis of any one of these alone does one receive salvation. All such statements actually include all Christian obligations in any one of them singled out."

"I will heal him ..." (Isaiah 57:18). This promise pertains only to the believing penitent. God is always ready to receive the soul that with humble and contrite heart returns obediently to the fold of Jehovah. As the next verse indicates, there is also a promise of the proclamation of the Gospel in this verse.

Verse 19

"I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near, saith Jehovah; and I will heal him."

The apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost applied the expression, "to him that is far off," to the call of the Gentiles into the ranks of the Church (Acts 2:39). The literal words in the Greek here are "far from the temple," thus applying to all persons, even to those who were not Jews. Note also God's promise of healing, which is here a promise of pardon and forgiveness of sins.

Verse 20

"But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."

This conclusion of Section 2 of Division VI is a reiteration of the same thought found in Isaiah 48:22, being a categorical exclusion of all wicked and disobedient souls from the blessings of God's mercy. The comparison here of the wicked with the sea suggests New Testament references in 2 Peter 2:22; James 1:6; and Jude 1:1:13.

The plight of the wicked appears more sharply here than in Isaiah 48:22, because it contrasts with the glorious salvation they have refused. "Only the choice of men separates the `peace, peace' of Isaiah 57:19 from the `no peace' of Isaiah 57:21."[18]

(The end of Section II of Division VI)

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 57". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.