Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 4

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

Connubii; liceat tumulo scripsisse, Catonis Marcia.

‘Indulge me only with the empty title of wife.

Let there only be inscribed on my tomb, “Marcia, wife of Cato.”’

To take away my reproach - The reproach of being unmarried; compare Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6.

Verse 2

The branch of the Lord - צמח יהוה yehovâh tsemach. “The sprout” of Yahweh. This expression, and this verse, have had a great variety of interpretations. The Septuagint reads it, ‘In that day God shall shine in counsel with glory upon the earth, to exalt, and to glorify the remnant of Israel.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘In that day, the Messiah of the Lord shall be for joy and glory, and the doers of the law for praise and honor to those of Israel who are delivered.’ It is clear that the passage is designed to denote some signal blessing that was to succeed the calamity predicted in the previous verses. The only question is, to what has the prophet reference? The word ‘branch’ (צמח tsemach) is derived from the verb (צמח tsâmach) signifying “to sprout, to spring up,” spoken of plants. Hence, the word “branch” means properly that which “shoots up,” or “sprouts” from the root of a tree, or from a decayed tree; compare Job 14:7-9.

The Messiah is thus said to be ‘a root of Jesse,’ Romans 11:12; compare Isaiah 11:1, note; Isaiah 11:10, note; and ‘the root and offspring of David,’ Revelation 22:16, as being a “descendant” of Jesse; that is, as if Jesse should fall like an aged tree, yet the “root” would sprout up and live. The word ‘branch’ occurs several times in the Old Testament, and in most, if not all, with express reference to the Messiah; Jeremiah 23:5 : ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a king shall reign;’ Jeremiah 33:15 : ‘In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David;’ Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12. In all these places, there can be no doubt that there is reference to him who was “to spring up” from David, as a sprout does from a decayed and fallen tree, and who is, therefore, called a “root,” a “branch” of the royal stock. There is, besides, a special beauty in the figure.

The family of David, when the Messiah was to come, would be fallen into decay and almost extinct. Joseph, the husband of Mary, though of the royal family of David Matthew 1:20; Luke 2:4, was poor, and the family had lost all claims to the throne. In this state, as from the decayed root of a fallen tree, a “sprout” or “branch” was to come forth with more than the magnificence of David, and succeed him on the throne. The name ‘branch,’ therefore, came to be significant of the Messiah, and to be synonymous with ‘the son of David.’ It is so used, doubtless, in this place, as denoting that the coming of the Messiah would be a joy and honor in the days of calamity to the Jews. Interpreters have not been agreed, however, in the meaning of this passage. Grotius supposed that it referred to Ezra or Nehemiah, but ‘mystically to Christ and Christians.’ Vogellius understood it of the “remnant” that should return from the Babylonian captivity. Michaelis supposed that it refers to the Jews, who should be a “reformed” people after their captivity, and who should spring up with a new spirit. Others have regarded it as a poetic description of the extraordinary fertility of the earth in future times. The reasons for referring it to the Messiah are plain:

(1) The word has this reference in other places, and the representation of the Messiah under the image of a branch or shoot, is, as we have seen, common in the Scriptures. Thus, also, in Isaiah 53:2, he is called also שׁרשׁ shoresh, root, and יונק yônēq, a tender plant, a sucker, sprout, shoot, as of a decayed tree; compare Job 8:16; Job 14:7; Job 15:30; Ezekiel 17:22. And in reference to the same idea, perhaps, it is said, Isaiah 53:8, that he was נגזר nı̂gezar, “cut off,” as a branch, sucker, or shoot is cut off by the vine-dresser or farmer from the root of a decayed tree. And thus, in Revelation 5:5, he is called ῥίζα Δαβὶδ riza Dabid - the root of David.

(2) This interpretation accords best with the “magnificence” of the description, Isaiah 4:5-6; and,

(3) It was so understood by the Chaldee interpreter, and, doubtless, by the ancient Jews.

Shall be beautiful and glorious - Hebrew, ‘Shall be beauty and glory;’ that is, shall be the chief ornament or honor of the land; shall be that which gives to the nation its chief distinction and glory. In such times of calamity, his coming shal be an object of desire, and his approach shall shed a rich splendor on that period of the world.

And the fruit of the earth - הארץ פרי perı̂y hâ'ârets correctly rendered “fruit of the earth, or of the land.” The word ‘earth’ is often in the Scriptures used to denote the land of Judea, and perhaps the article here is intended to denote that that land is particularly intended. This is the parallel expression to the former part of the verse, in accordance with the laws of Hebrew poetry, by which one member of a sentence expresses substantially the same meaning as the former; see the Introduction, Section 8. If the former expression referred to the “Messiah,” this does also. The ‘fruit of the earth’ is that which the earth produces, and is here not different in signification from the “branch” which springs out of the ground. Vitringa supposes that by this phrase the Messiah, according to his human nature, is meant. So Hengstenberg (“Christology, in loc.”) understands it; and supposes that as the phrase “branch of Yahweh” refers to his divine origin, as proceeding from Yahweh; so this refers to his human origin, as proceeding from the earth. But the objections to this are obvious:

(1) The second phrase, according to the laws of Hebrew parallelism, is most naturally an echo or repetition of the sentiment in the first member, and means substantially the same thing.

(2) The phrase ‘branch of Yahweh’ does not refer of necessity to his divine nature. The idea is that of a decayed tree that has fallen down, and has left a living root which sends up a shoot, or sucker; and can be applied with great elegance to the decayed family of David. But how, or in what sense, can this be applied to Yahweh? Is Yahweh thus fallen and decayed? The idea properly is, that this shoot of a decayed family should be nurtured up by Yahweh; should be appointed by him, and should thus be “his” branch. The parallel member denotes substantially the same thing; ‘the fruit of the earth’ - the shoot which the earth produces - or which springs up from a decayed family, as the sprout does from a fallen tree.

(3) It is as true that his human nature proceeded from God as his divine. It was produced by the Holy Spirit, and can no more be regarded as ‘the fruit of the earth’ than his divine nature; Luke 1:35; Hebrews 10:5.

(4) This mode of interpretation is suited to bring the whole subject into contempt. There are plain and positive passages enough to prove that the Messiah had a divine nature, and there are enough also to prove that he was a man; but nothing is more adapted to produce disgust in relation to the whole subject, in the minds of skeptical or of thinking men, than a resort to arguments such as this in defense of a great and glorious doctrine of revelation.

Shall be excellent - Shall be “for exaltation,” or “honor.”

Comely - Hebrew, ‘For an ornament;’ meaning that “he” would be an honor to those times.

For them that are escaped of Israel - Margin, ‘The escaping of Israel.’ For the remnant, the small number that shall escape the calamities - a description of the pious portion of Israel which now escaped from all calamities - would rejoice in the anticipated blessings of the Messiah’s reign, or would participate in the blessings of that reign. The idea is not, however, that the number who would be saved would be “small,” but that they would be characterized as those who had “escaped,” or who had been rescued.

Verse 3

He that is left in Zion - This “properly” refers to the remnant that should remain after the mass of the people should be cut off by wars, or be borne into captivity. If it refer to the few that would come back from Babylon, it means that they would be reformed, and would be a generation different from their fathers - which was undoubtedly true. If it refer, as the connection seems to indicate, to the times of the Messiah, then it speaks of those who are ‘left,’ while the great mass of the nation would be unbelievers, and would be destroyed. The mass of the nation would be cut off, and the remnant that was left would be holy; that is, all true friends of the Messiah would be holy.

Shall be called holy - That is, shall “be” holy. The expression ‘to be called,’ is often used in the Scriptures as synonymous with ‘to be.’

Every one that is written among the living - The Jews were accustomed to register the names of all the people. Those names were written in a catalogue, or register, of each tribe or family. To be written in that book, or register, meant to be alive, for when a death occurred, the name was stricken out; Exodus 32:32; Daniel 12:1; Ezekiel 13:9. The expression came also to denote all who were truly the friends of God; they whose names are written in “his” book - the book of life. In this sense it is used in the New Testament; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 17:5. In this sense it is understood in this place by the Chaldee Par.: ‘Every one shall be called holy who is written to eternal life; he shall see the consolation of Jerusalem.’ If the reference here is to the Messiah, then the passage denotes that under the reign of the Messiah, all who should be found enrolled as his followers, would be holy. An effectual separation would subsist between them and the mass of the people. They would be “enrolled” as his friends, and they would be a separate, holy community; compare 1 Peter 2:9.

Verse 4

When the Lord - That is, “after” God has done this, then all that are written among the living shall be called holy. The prophet in this verse states the benefits of “affliction” in purifying the people of God. He had said, in the previous verse, that all who should be left in Zion should be called holy. He here states that “previous” to that, the defilement of the people would be removed by judgment.

Shall have washed away - The expression, “to wash,” is often used to denote to “purify” in any way. In allusion to this fact is the beautiful promise in Zechariah 13:1; see the note at Isaiah 1:16.

The filth - This word here refers to their “moral” defilement - their pride, vanity, haughtiness; and perhaps to the idolatry and general sins of the people. As the prophet, however, in Isaiah 3:16-23, had particularly specified the sins of the female part of the Jewish people, the expression here probably refers especially to them, and to the judgments which were to come upon them; Isaiah 3:24. It is not departing from the spirit of this passage to remark, that the church is purified, and true religion is often promoted, by God’s humbling the pride and vanity of females. A love of excessive ornament; a fondness for dress and display; and an exhibition of great gaiety, often stand grievously in the way of pure religion.

The daughters of Zion - see Isaiah 3:16.

And shall have purged - This is synonymous with the expression “to wash.” It means to purify, to remove, as one removes blood from the hands by washing.

Blood of Jerusalem - Crime, blood-guiltiness - particularly the crime of “oppression, cruelty,” and “robbery,” which the prophet Isaiah 1:15 had charged on them.

By the spirit of judgment - This refers, doubtless, to the “calamities,” or “punishment,” that would come upon the nation; principally, to the Babylonian captivity. After God should have humbled and reformed the nation by a series of judgments, then they who were purified by them should be called holy. The word “spirit” here cannot be shown to be the Holy Spirit; and especially as the Holy Spirit is not represented in the Scriptures as the agent in executing judgment. It perhaps would be best denoted by the word “influence,” or “power.” The word properly denotes “wind, air, motion” Genesis 8:1; Job 1:19; then “breathing, exhalation, or breath” Job 7:7; Psalms 33:6; hence, it means the “soul;” and it means also God’s “influence,” or his putting forth his power and life-giving energy in animating and sustaining the universe; and also, as here, his putting forth any influence in accomplishing his works and designs.

And by the spirit of burning - “Fire” is often, in the Scriptures, the emblem of punishment, and also of purifying; compare the note at Matthew 3:11-12; see Malachi 3:2-3. The Chaldee translates this, ‘by the word of judgment, and by the word of consuming.’ The reference is to the “punishments” which would be sent to purify the people “before” the coming of the Messiah.

Verse 5

And the Lord will create - The meaning of this verse and the next is, that God would take his people into his holy care and protection. The idea is expressed by images drawn, in this verse, from the protection which he afforded to the Israelites in their journeying from Egypt. The word “create” means here, he will afford, or furnish, such a defense.

Upon every dwelling-place ... - Upon all the habitations of his people; that is, they shall be secure, and regarded as under his protection. The word “upon” refers to the fact that the pillar of cloud stood “over” the tabernacle in the wilderness, as a symbol of the divine favor and presence. So his protection should be “on” or “over” the houses of all his people; compare Psalms 92:4-6.

Of mount Zion - compare the note at Isaiah 1:8.

And upon her assemblies - Their convocations; their sacred assemblies, such as were called together on the Sabbath; Leviticus 23:2; Numbers 28:18. It refers here to their “future” assemblies, and, therefore, includes the Christian church assembled to worship God.

A cloud and smoke by day - This refers to the pillar of cloud that went before the Israelites in their journey in the wilderness; Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:20.

By day - By day, this appeared to them as a cloud; by night, as a pillar of fire; Exodus 13:21-22. That is, it was always conspicuous, and could be seen by all the people. A pillar of cloud could not have been seen by night; and God changes the symbols of his presence and protection, so that at all times his people may see them. The meaning here is, that as God gave to the Israelites a symbol of his presence and protection, so he would be the protecter and defender of his people hereafter.

For upon all the glory - Above all the “glorious object;” that is, his church, his people. It is here called ‘the glory,’ as being a glorious, or an honorable object.

A defense - This word properly means “a covering, a protection,” from the verb “to cover,” and means that God will protect, or defend his people.

Verse 6

And there shall be a tabernacle - The reference here is to the “tabernacle,” or sacred “tent” that God directed Moses to make in the wilderness. The image of the cloudy pillar mentioned in the previous verses, seems to have suggested to the mind of the prophet the idea of the tabernacle over which that pillar rested. The principal idea here is, however, not a tabernacle as a symbol of the divine protection, or of divine worship, but of a place of refuge from a tempest; that is, that they should be “safe” under his protection. In Eastern countries they dwelt chiefly in tents. The idea is, therefore, that God would furnish them a place of shelter, a hiding-place from the storm.

In the daytime from the heat - The heat in those regions was often very intense, particularly in the vast plains of sand. The “idea” here is, therefore, one that is very striking. It means, that God would furnish to them a refuge that would be like the comfort derived from a tent in a burning desert.

For a place of refuge - A place to which to flee in the midst of a storm, as a tent would be.

A covert - A place of retreat, a safe place to retire to. The figure used here is not unfrequently employed in the prophets; Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2. In eastern countries this idea would be very striking. While traversing the burning sands of a desert, exposed to the rays of a tropical sun, nothing could be more grateful than the cool shadow of a rock. Such figures are, therefore, common in oriental writings, to denote protection and agreeable shelter from calamities; see the note at Isaiah 32:2. The idea in these verses is:

(1) That God will be a defender of his people.

(2) That he will protect their families, and that his blessing will be upon their dwelling-places; compare the note at Isaiah 59:21.

(3) They may expect his blessing on their religious assemblies.

(4) God, through the promised Messiah, would be a refuge and defense.

The sinner is exposed to the burning wrath of God, and to the storms of divine vengeance that shall beat forever on the naked soul in hell. From all this burning wrath, and from this raging tempest, the Messiah is the only refuge. Through him God forgives sin; and united to him by faith, the soul is safe. There are few images more beautiful than this. Soon the storms of divine vengeance will beat on the sinner. God will summon him to judgment. But then, he who has fled to the Messiah - the Lord Jesus - as the refuge of his soul, shall be safe. He shall have nothing to fear, and in his arms shall find defense and salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.