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It has already been observed (the note at Isaiah 43:28), that the commencement of this chapter is properly a continuation and completion of the argument commenced there; and that the division should have been made at what is now the close of the fifth vcrsc of this chapter. This chapter may be divided into the following parts:
I. The assurance that though they had sinned Isaiah 43:23-28 God would have mercy on them, and would restore them to his favor, and to their land Isaiah 44:1-5. They had nothing to fear Isaiah 44:1-2 : God would bless their offspring, and they should grew and flourish like willows by the waters Isaiah 44:3-5, and there should be among them a general turning to the Lord, and devotion to his service Isaiah 44:5.
II. An argument to show that Yahweh was the true God; and a severe and most sarcastic reproof of idolatry - designed to reprove idolaters, and to lead the people to put their confidence in Yahweh Isaiah 44:6-20. This argument consists of the following parts -
1. A solemn assertion of Yahweh himself, that there was no other God Isaiah 44:6.
2. An appeal to the fact that he only had foretold future events, and that he only could do it Isaiah 44:7-8.
3. A sarcastic statement of the manner in which idols were made, and of course, the folly of worshipping them Isaiah 44:9-20.
III. The assurance that Yahweh would deliver his people from all their calamities and oppressions Isaiah 44:21-28. This part contains:
1. The assurance that he would do it, and that their sires were blotted out Isaiah 44:21-22.
2. A calling upon the heavens and the earth to rejoice over so great and glorious an event Isaiah 44:23.
3. An appeal to what Yahweh had done, and could do, as an evidence that he could deliver his people, to wit: he had formed the heavens - he had made the earth without aid - he made diviners mad - he frustrated the plans of the wise, and he had confirmed the promises which he had made by his servants Isaiah 44:24-26; he said to Jerusalem that it should be inhabited, and the cities of Judah that they should be rebuilt; he had dried up the rivers; and he had raised up Cyrus for the express purpose of delivering his people Isaiah 44:26-28; and by all this, it should be known that he would visit, and vindicate, and restore them.
Yet now hear - This should be read in immediate connection with the previous chapter. ‘Notwithstanding you have sinned, yet now hear the gracious promise which is made in regard to your deliverance.’
Thus saith the Lord that made thee - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).
And formed thee from the womb - This is equivalent to the declaration that he was their Maker, or Creator. It means, that from the very beginning of their history as a people, he had formed and moulded all their institutions, and directed all things in regard to them - as much as he is the former of the body from the commencement of its existence. It may be observed that the words, ‘from the womb,’ are joined by some interpreters with the phrase, ‘that formed thee,’ meaning, that he had been the originator of all their customs, privileges, and laws, from the beginning of their history; and by others with the phrase, ‘will help thee,’ meaning, that from the commencement of their existence as a nation, he had been their helper. According to the Masoretic marks of distinction, the former is the true sense. So the Septuagint, Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Lowth, etc.; but Jerome, Luther, and some others, prefer the latter mode.
Fear not - (See the note at Isaiah 41:10). Though you have sinned as a people Isaiah 43:23-24, Isaiah 43:27, and though all these heavy judgments have come upon you Isaiah 43:28, yet you have no reason to fear that God will finally abandon and destroy you.
And thou Jeshurun - (וישׁרוּן vayeshurûn). This word occurs but four times in the Bible, as a poetical name for the people of Israel, apparently expressing affection and tenderness (Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26; and in this place). It is, says Gesenius (Commentary in loc.), ‘a flattering appellation (schmeichelwort) for Israel,’ and is probably a diminutive from ישׁור yāshûr = ישׁר yāshâr, the passive form in an intransitive verb with an active signification. The ending ון ôn, he adds, is terminatio charitiva - a termination indicating affection, or kindness. In his Lexicon, he observes, however (as translated by Robinson), that ‘it seems not improbable that it was a diminutive form of the name ישׂראל yı̂s'râ'ēl, which was current in common life for the fuller form ישׂיאלוּן yı̂s'râ'ēlûn, title of affection for Israel, but, like other common words of this sort, contracted, and more freely inflected, so as at the same time to imply an allusion to the signification of right or uprightness, contained in the root ישׁר yâshar.’ Jerome renders it, Rectissime - ‘Most upright.’ The Septuagint renders it, Ἠγαπημένος Ἰσραήλ Ēgapēmenos Israēl - ‘Beloved Israel.’ The Syriac renders it, ‘Israel.’ So also the Chaldee. It is, doubtless, a title of affection, and probably includes the notion of uprightness, or integrity.
For I will pour water - Floods, rivers, streams, and waters, are often used in the Scriptures, and especially in Isaiah, to denote plenteous divine blessings, particularly the abundant influences of the Holy Spirit (see the note at Isaiah 35:6-7). That it here refers to the Holy Spirit and his influences, is proved by the parallel expressions in the subsequent part of the verse.
Upon him that is thirsty - Or rather, ‘on the thirsty land.’ The word צמא tsâmē' refers here rather to land, and the figure is taken from a burning sandy desert, where waters would be made to burst out in copious streams (see Isaiah 35:6-7). The sense is, that God would bestow blessings upon them as signal and marvelous, as if floods of waters were made to descend on the dry, parched, and desolated earth.
And floods - The word נוזלים nôzelı̂ym, from נזל nâzal, “to flow,” to run as liquids, means properly flowings, and is used for streams and rivers Exodus 15:8; Psalms 78:16; Proverbs 5:15; Jeremiah 18:0 It means here that the spiritual influences which would descend on the afflicted, desolate, comfortless, and exiled people, would be like torrents of rain poured on the thirsty earth. This beautiful figure is common in the Scriptures:
He shall come down like rain upon the grass,
And as showers that water the earth.
My doctrine shall drop as the rain
My speech shall distil as the dew
As the small rain upon the tender herb,
And as the showers upon the grass.
I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed - (See Isaiah 59:21). This is in accordance with the promises everywhere made in he Bible to the people of God (see Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalms 89:4; Isaiah 43:5). It may be regarded, first, as a promise of the richest blessings to them as parents - since there is to a parent’s heart no prospect so consoling as that which relates to his offspring; and, secondly, as an assurance of the perpetuity of their religion; of their return from captivity, and their restoration to their own land.
And they shall spring up - The idea is, that as plants and trees planted by water-courses, and in well-watered fields, grow and flourish, so should their children grow in virtue, hope, piety, and zeal.
As among the grass - They shall spring up and flourish as the grass does when abundantly watered from heaven. On the meaning of the unusual form of the word בבים bebēyn, in the Hebrew (“in among”), see Vitringa and Rosenmuller. The ב (b) here is undoubtedly an error of the transcriber for כ (k) (“as”) - an error which, from the similarity of the letters, might be readily made. The Septuagint reads it, Ὡς Hōs - ‘As.’ The Chaldee reads it, כ (k) (“as”).
As willows by the water-courses - Willows are usually planted in such places, and grow rapidly and luxuriantly. It denotes here, abundant increase, vigor and beauty; and means that their posterity would be greatly blessed of God. A similar figure to denote the prosperity and happiness of the righteous occurs in Psalms 1:3 :
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
His leaf also shall not wither.
These two verses teach us:
1. That God will pour his blessings on the children of his people - a promise which in all ages, when parents are faithful, is abundantly fulfilled.
2. That one of the richest blessings which can be imparted to a people is, that God’s Spirit should descend on their children.
3. That the Spirit of God alone is the source of true happiness and prosperity to our children. All else - property, learning, accomplishment. beauty, vigor, will be vain. It is by his blessing only - by the influence of piety - that they will spring forth as among the grass, and like willows by the streams of water.
4. Parents should pray earnestly for a revival of religion. No better description can be given of a revival than that given here - the Spirit of God descending like streams and floods on the young; and their springing forth in the graces of piety as among the grass, and growing in love to God and love to mankind like willows by the water-courses. Who would not pray for such a work of grace? What family, what congregation, what people can be happy without it?
One shall say - It shall be common to say this, or a profession of religion shall be common. The various expressions in this verse mean substantially the same thing - that there should prevail among the people a disposition to make a profession of attachment to Yahweh in every proper public manner. It is in immediate connection with what is said in the previous verses, that he would pour his Spirit upon them, and especially on their children. The effect would be, that many would make a public profession of religion. This refers, doubtless, in the main, to the period after their return from the captivity, and to the general prevalence of religion then. But it is also true of the people of God at all times - especially under the Messiah. God pours his Spirit like gentle dews, or rains, on the families of his people; and the effect is, that many publicly profess attachment to him.
I am the Lord’s - I belong to Yahweh; I devote myself to him. This expresses the true nature of a profession of religion - a feeling that we are not our own, but that we belong to God. It is, that we not only feel that we are bound to worship him, but that we actually belong to him; that our bodies and spirits, and all that we have and are, are to be sacredly employed in his service (see 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Nothing, in few words, can more appropriately describe the true nature of a profession of religion than the expression used here (אני ליהוה layhovâh 'ānı̂y) ‘For Yahweh am I’ - ‘I am wholly, and entirely, and forever for Yahweh, to obey him; to do his will; to suffer patiently all that be appoints; to live where he directs; to die when, where, and how he pleases; to moulder in the grave according to his will; to be raised up by his power; and to serve him forever in a better world.’
And another shall call himself by the name of Jacob - The Chaldee renders this, ‘He shall pray in the name of Jacob.’ The idea seems to be, that he should call himself a friend of Jacob - an Israelite. He should regard himself as belonging to the same family and the same religion, as Jacob; as worshipping the same God; and as maintaining the same belief. To call oneself by the same name as another, is indicative of friendship and affection; and is expressive of a purpose to be united to him, and to identify our interest with his. The idea is that which one would express by saying, that he cast in his interest with the people of God, or he became identified with them; as we now say, a man calls himself by the name of Christ, that is, a Christian. Jerome renders this, ‘He shall call by the name of Jacob.’ that is, sinners to repentance (compare the note at Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 48:1; Psalms 24:6).
And another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord - The Septuagint renders this, ‘And another shall write with his hand (χειρί cheiri), I am of God.’ Lowth, ‘On his hand,’ Aquila and Symmachus, (Χειρά Cheira). Lowth supposes that the allusion here is to the marks which were made indelible by puncture with ink on the hand or on other parts of the body. He supposes that the mark thus indelibly impressed was the name of the person, or the name of the master if he was a slave, or some indication by which it might be known to whom he belonged. In this way, the soldier marked himself with the name of his commander; the idolater, with the name of his god; and in this way, Procopius says, that the early Christians marked themselves. On this passage he says, ‘Because many marked their wrists or their arms with the sign of the cross, or with the name of Christ’ (see Revelation 20:4; Spencer, De Leg. Heb. ii. 20).
But all this is too refined, and is evidently a departure from the true sense of the passage. The mark, or writing, was not on the hand, but with it - literally, ‘and this shall write his hand to Yahweh; ‘and the figure is evidently taken from the mode of making a contract or bargain, where the name is subscribed to the instrument. It was a solemn compact or covenant, by which they enrolled themselves among the worshippers of God, and pledged themselves to his service. The manner of a contract among the Hebrews is described in Jeremiah 32:10, Jeremiah 32:12, Jeremiah 32:44. A public, solemn, and recorded covenant, to which the names of princes, Levites, and priests, were subscribed, and which was sealed, by which they bound themselves to the service of God, is mentioned in Nehemiah 9:38. Here it denotes the solemn manner in which they would profess to be worshippers of the true God; and it is expressive of the true nature of a profession of religion.
The name is given in to God. It is enrolled by the voluntary desire of him who makes the profession among his friends. It is done, after the manner of solemn compacts among men, in the presence of witnesses Hebrews 12:1. Among Christians, it is sealed in a solemn manner by baptism, and the Lord’s supper. It has, therefore, all the binding force and obligation of a solemn compact; and every professor of religion should regard his covenant with God as the most sacred of all compacts, and as having a more solemn obligation than any other. And yet, how many professors are there who would shrink back with horror from the idea of breaking a compact with man, who have no alarm at the idea of having proved unfaithful to their solemn pledge that they would belong wholly to God, and would live to him alone! Let every professor of religion remember that his profession has all the force of a solemn compact that he has voluntarily subscribed his name, and enrolled himself among the friends of God; and that there is no agreement of a more binding nature than that which unites him in public profession to the cause and the kingdom of the Saviour.
And surname himself by the name of Israel - Shall call himself an Israelite, and shall be a worshipper of the same God. The word rendered ‘shall surname’ (כנה kânâh, not used in the Qal, in the Piel כנה kinnâh) means to address in a friendly and soothing manner; to speak kindly to anyone. Gesenius renders it, ‘And kindly, soothingly names the name of Israel.’ But the idea is probably that expressed in our translation. The word sometimes denotes a giving of flattering titles to anyone, by way of compliment Job 32:21-22 :
Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person;
Neither let me give flattering titles unto man.
For I know not to give flattering titles;
In so doing my Maker would soon take me away.
In Isaiah 45:4, it is rendered, ‘I have surnamed thee (Cyrus), though thou hast not known me.’ The word does not occur elsewhere. It conveys the idea of an honorable title; and means here, I think, that he would call himself by the honorable appellation of Israel - or an Israelite - a worshipper of the God o f Jacob. It implies that a profession of the true religion is honorable, and that it is and should be esteemed so by him who makes it. It is observable, also, that this verse contains an instance of the parallelism in the Hebrew writings where the alternate members correspond to each other. Here the first and third members, and the second and the fourth correspond to each other (see the Introduction, Section 8).
Thus saith the Lord - This commences, as I suppose (see Analysis), the argument to prove that Yahweh is the only true God, and that the idols were vanity. The object is, to show to the Jews, that he who had made to them such promises of protection and deliverance was able to perform what he had pledged himself to do.
The King of Israel - (See the notes at Isaiah 41:21).
And his Redeemer - (See the notes at Isaiah 43:1).
The Lord of hosts - (See the notes at Isaiah 1:9).
I am the first - (See the notes at Isaiah 41:4).
And I am the last - In Isaiah 41:4, this is expressed ‘with the last;’ in Revelation 1:8, ‘I am Alpha and Omega.’ The sense is, that God existed before all things, and will exist forever.
And besides me there is no God - This is repeatedly declared (Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 4:39; see the note at Isaiah 43:10-12). This great truth it was God‘s purpose to keep steadily before the minds of the Jews; and to keep it in the world, and ultimately to diffuse it abroad among the nations, was one of the leading reasons why he selected them as a special people, and separated them from the rest of mankind.
And who, as I - This verse contains an argument to prove that he is God. In proof of this, he appeals to the fact that he alone can predict future events, and certainly declare the order, and the time in which they will come to pass (see the notes at Isaiah 41:21-23; Isaiah 44:9-10).
Shall call - That is, call forth the event, or command that to happen which he wills - one of the highest possible exhibitions of power. See a similar use of the word call in Isaiah 46:2; Isaiah 48:15.
And shall declare it - Declare, or announce with certainty the future event.
And set it in order - Arrange it; secure the proper succession and place (see the notes at Isaiah 41:22). The word used here (ערך ‛ârak) denotes properly “to place in a row; set in order; arrange.” It is of the same signification as the Greek τάσσω tassō or τάττω tattō, and is applied to placing the wood upon the altar in a proper manner (Genesis 22:9); or to placing the showbread in proper order on the table Leviticus 24:8; and especially to setting an army in order, or putting it in battle array Genesis 14:8; Judges 20:20, Jdg 20:22; 1 Samuel 17:2. Here it means, that God would arrange the events in a proper order - as an army is marshalled and arrayed for battle. There should be no improper sequences of events; no chance; no hap-hazard; no confusion. The events which take place under his government, occur in proper order and time, and so as best to subserve his plans.
For me - In order to execute my plans, and to promote my glory. The events on earth are for God. They are such as he chooses to ordain, and are arranged in the manner which he chooses.
Since I appointed the ancient people - ‘From my constituting the people of old;’ that is, God had given them intimations of future events from the very period when he in times long past, had selected and appointed them as his people. They were, therefore, qualified to be his witnesses Isaiah 44:8.
And the things that are coming, let them show - (See the notes at Isaiah 41:22-23).
Fear ye not, neither be afraid - (see the notes at Isaiah 41:10). The word rendered here ‘be afraid,’ occurs nowhere else in the Bible. There can be no doubt, however, in regard to its meaning. The Septuagint renders it, Μηδέ πλανᾶσθε Mēde planasthe - ‘Neither be deceived.’ All the other ancient versions express the sense to fear, to be afraid (Gesenius’ Lexicon on the word ירה yârahh).
Have not I told thee from that time - Have I not fully declared from the very commencement of your history as a people, in the main what shall occur?
Ye are even my witnesses - (See the notes at Isaiah 43:12).
Is there a God besides me? - This is a strong mode of affirming that there is no God besides Yahweh (see the note at Isaiah 44:6).
Yea, there is no God - Margin, ‘Rock’ (צור tsûr). The word rock is often applied to God (see the note at Isaiah 30:29; compare Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:30-31; Psalms 19:14; Psalms 31:2-3; Psalms 42:9; et soepe al. The idea is taken from the fact that a lofty rock or fastness was inaccessible by an enemy, and that those who fled there were safe.
They that make a graven image - A graven image is one that is cut, or sculptured out of wood or stone, in contradistinction from one that is molten, which is made by being cast. Here it is used to denote an image, or an idol-god in general. God had asserted in the previous verses his own divinity, and he now proceeds to show, at length, the vanity of idols, and of idol-worship. This same topic was introduced in Isaiah 40:18-20 (see the notes at that passage), but it is here pursued at greater length, and in a tone and manner far more sarcastic and severe. Perhaps the prophet had two immediate objects in view; first, to reprove the idolatrous spirit in his own time, which prevailed especially in the early part of the reign of Manasseh; and secondly, to show to the exile Jews in Babylon that the gods of the Babylonians could not protect their city, and that Yahweh could rescue his own people. He begins, therefore, by saying, that the makers of the idols were all of them vanity. Of course, the idols themselves could have no more power than their makers, and must be vanity also.
Are all of them vanity - (See the note at Isaiah 41:29).
And their delectable things - Margin, ‘Desirable.’ The sense is, their valued works, their idol-gods, on which they have lavished so much expense, and which they prize so highly.
Shall not profit - Shall not be able to aid or protect them; shall be of no advantage to them (see Habakkuk 2:18).
And they are their own witnesses - They can foretell nothing; they can furnish no aid; they cannot defend in times of danger. This may refer either to the worshippers, or to the idols themselves - and was alike true of both.
They see not - They have no power of discerning anything. How can they then foresee future events?
That they may be ashamed - The same sentiment is repeated in Isaiah 44:11, and in Isaiah 45:16. The sense is, that shame and confusion must await all who put their trust in an idol-god.
Who hath formed a god - The Septuagint reads this verse in connection with the close of the previous verse, ‘But they shall be ashamed who make a god, and all who sculpture unprofitable things.’ This interpretation also, Lowth, by a change in the Hebrew text on the authority of a manuscript in the Bodleian library, has adopted. This change is made by reading כי kı̂y instead of מי mı̂y in the beginning of the verse. But the authority of the change, being that of a single MS. and the Septuagint, is not sufficient. Nor is it necessary. The question is designed to be ironical and sarcastic: ‘Who is there,’ says the prophet, ‘that has done this? Who are they that are engaged in this stupid work? Do they give marks of a sound mind? What is, and must be the character of a man that bas formed a god, and that has made an unprofitable graven image?
Behold, all his fellows - All that are joined in making, and in worshipping it, are regarded as the fellows, or the companions (חברין chăbērâyn) of the idol-god (see Hosea 4:17 - ‘Ephraim is joined to idols’). They and the idols constitute one company or fellowship, intimately allied to each other.
Shall be, ashamed - Shall be confounded when they find that their idols cannot aid them.
And the workmen - The allusion to the workmen is to show that what they made could not be worthy of the confidence of people as an object of worship.
They are of men - They are mortal people; they must themselves soon die. It is ridiculous, therefore, for them to attempt to make a god that can defend or save, or that should be adored.
Let them all be gathered together - For purposes of trial, or to urge their claims to the power of making an object that should be adored (see the note at Isaiah 41:1).
Let them stand up - As in a court of justice, to defend their cause (see the note at Isaiah 41:21).
They shall fear - They shall be alarmed when danger comes. They shall find that their idol-gods cannot defend them.
The smith with the tongs - The prophet proceeds here to show the folly and absurdity of idolatry; and in order to this he goes into an extended statement Isaiah 44:12-19 of the manner in which idols were usually made. Lowth remarks, ‘The sacred writers are generally large and eloquent on the subject of idolatry; they treat it with great severity, and set forth the absurdity of it in the strongest light. But this passage of Isaiah far exceeds anything that was ever written on the subject, in force of argument, energy of expression, and elegance of composition. One or two of the Apocryphal writers have attempted to imitate the prophet, but with very ill success (Wisd. 13:11-19; 15:7; etc.; Baruch 6) Horace, however, has given a description of the making of idols, which, for severity of satire, and pungency of sarcasm, has a strong resemblance to this description in Isaiah:
Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum;
Cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum
Maluit esse Deum.
Sat. I. viii. 1-3.
Lowth renders the phrase ‘the smith with the tongs,’ ‘The smith cutteth off a portion of iron.’ Noyes, ‘The smith prepareth an axe’ The Septuagint, ‘The carpenter sharpeneth (ὤζυνε ōzune) iron’ (σίδηρον sidēron), that is, an axe. So also the Syriac. Gesenius renders it, ‘The smith makes an axe.’ Many other renderings of the passage have been proposed. The idea in this verse is, I think, that the prophet describes the commencement of the process of making a graven image. For that purpose, he goes back even to the making of the instruments by which it is manufactured, and in this verse he describes the process of making an axe, with a view to the cutting down of the tree, and forming a god. That he does not here refer to the making of the idol itself is apparent from the fact that the process here described is that of working in iron; but idols were not made of iron, and that here described especially (Isaiah 44:11 ff) is one made of wood. The phrase used here, therefore, refers to the process of axe-making with a view to cutting down a tree to make a god; and the prophet describes the ardor and activity with which it is done, to show how much haste they were in to complete it. The literal translation of this phrase is, ‘The workman (חרשׁ chârash, st. const. for חרשׁ chârâsh) of iron (maketh) an axe.’
Both worketh in the coals - And he works the piece of iron of which he is making an axe in the coals. He blows the coals in order to produce an intense heat (see Isaiah 54:16) - ‘Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire.’
And fashioneth it with hammers - Forms the mass of iron into an axe. Axes were not cast, but made.
And worketh it with the strength of his arms - Or, he works it with his strong arms - referring to the fact that the arm of the smith, by constant usage, becomes exceedingly strong. A description remarkably similar to this occurs in Virgil when he is describing the Cyclops:
Illi inter sesc magna vi brachia tollunt
In numerum; versantque tenaci forcipe ferrum.
Georg. iv. 174, 175.
Heaved with vast strength their arms in order rise,
And blow to blow in measured chime replies;
While with firm tongs they turn the sparkling ore,
And Etna’s caves with ponderous anvils roar.
Yea, he is hungry - He exhausts himself by his hard labor. The idea is, that he is so anxious to have it done, so engaged, so diligent, that he does not even stop to take necessary refreshment.
And his strength faileth - He works until he is completely exhausted.
He drinketh no water - He does not intermit his work even long enough to take a draught of water, so hurried is he. While the iron is hot, he works with intense ardor, lest it should grow cool, and his work be retarded - a very graphic description of what all have seen in a blacksmith’s shop. The Rev. John Williams states that when the South Sea islanders made an idol, they strictly abstained from food; and although they might be, and were sometimes, three days about the work, no water, and he believes no food, passed their lips all the time. This fact would convey a satisfactory elucidation of an allusion not otherwise easily explained (Pictorial Bible).
The carpenter - The axe is made Isaiah 44:12, and the carpenter now proceeds to the construction of the god.
Stretcheth out his rule - For the purpose of laying out his work, or measuring it. The word rendered here ‘rule,’ however (קו qâv), means properly “a line”; and should be so rendered here. The carpenter stretches out a line, but not a rule.
He marketh it out with a line - He marks out the shape; the length, and breadth, and thickness of the body, in the rough and unhewn piece of wood. He has an idea in his mind of the proper shape of a god, and he goes to work to make one of that form. The expression ‘to mark out with a line,’ is, however, not congruous. The word which is used here, and which is rendered ‘line’ (שׂרד s'ered) occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Lowth and Kimchi render it, ‘Red ochre.’ According to this the reference is to the chalk, red clay, or crayon, which a carpenter uses on a line to mark out his work. But according to Gesenius, the word means an awl, or a stylus, or engraver; with which the artist sketches the outlines of the figure to be sculptured. A carpenter always uses such an instrument in laying out and marking his work.
He fitteth it with planes - Or rather with chisels, or carving-tools, with which wooden images were carved. Planes are rather adapted to a smooth surface; carving is performed with chisels. The word is derived from קצע qâtsa‛, ‘to cut off.’ The Chaldee renders it, אזמל 'azemēl - ‘A knife.’ The Septuagint renders this, ‘Framed it by rule, and glued the parts together.’
Marketh it out with the compass - From חוּג chûg, “to make a circle,” to revolve, as compasses do. By a compass he accurately designates the parts, and marks out the symmetry of the form.
According to the beauty of a man - Perhaps there may be a little sarcasm here in the thought that a god should be made in the shape of a man. It was true, however, that the statues of the gods among the ancients were made after the most perfect conceptions of the human form. The statuary of the Greeks was of this description, and the images of Apollo, of Venus, and of Jupiter, have been celebrated everywhere as the most perfect representations of the bureau form.
That it may remain in the house - To dwell in a temple. Such statues were usually made to decorate a temple; or rather perhaps temples were reared to be dwelling places of the gods. It may be implied here, that the idol was of no use but to remain in a house. It could not hear, or save. It was like a useless piece of furniture, and had none of the attributes of God.
He heweth him down cedars - In the previous verses, the prophet had described the formation of an axe with which the work was to be done Isaiah 44:12, and the laying out, and carving of the idol Isaiah 44:13. In this verse he proceeds to describe the material of which the idol was made, and the different purposes Isaiah 44:15-17 to which that material was applied. The object is to show the amazing stupidity of those who should worship a god made of the same material from which they made a fire to warm themselves, or to cook their food. For a description of cedars, see the notes at Isaiah 9:10.
And taketh - Takes to himself; that is, makes use of.
The cypress - (תרזה tı̂rzâh). This word occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It is probably derived from a root (תרז târaz) signifying to be hard, or firm. Hence, it probably means some species of wood that derived its name from its hardness or firmness. Jerome translates it, Ilex (a species of oak) - ‘the holm-oak.’ It was an evergreen. This species of evergreen, Gesenius says, was abundant in Palestine.
And the oak - The oak was commonly used for this purpose on account of its hardness and durability.
Which he strengtheneth for himself - Margin, ‘Taketh courage.’ The word אמץ 'ı̂mmēts means properly “to strenthen,” to make strong, to repair, to replace, to harden. Rosenmuller and Gesenius suppose that it means here to choose, that is, to set fast, or appoint; and they appeal to Psalms 80:15, Psalms 80:17, ‘thou madest strong for thyself.’ Kimchi supposes that it means, that he gave himself with the utmost diligence and care to select the best kinds of wood for the purpose. Vitringa, that he was intent on his work, and did not leave the place, but refreshed himself with food in the woods without returning home, in order that be might accomplish his design. Others interpret it to mean that he girded himself with strength, and made use of his most intense efforts in felling the trees of the forest. Lowth renders it, ‘Layeth in good store of the trees of the forest.’ It may mean that he gave himself with great diligence to the work; or may it not mean that he planted such trees, and took great pains in watering and cultivating them for this purpose?
He planteth an ash - (ארן 'oren). The Septuagint renders it, Πίτυν Pitun - ‘Pine.’ Jerome also renders it, Pinum. Gesenius supposes the name was given from the fact that the tree had a tall and slender top, which, when it vibrated, gave forth a tremulous, creaking sound (from רנן rânan). This derivation is, however, somewhat fanciful. Most interpreters regard it as the ash - a well-known tree. In idolatrous countries, where it is common to have idols in almost every family, the business of idol-making is a very important manufacture. Of course, large quantities of wood would be needed; and it would be an object to procure that which was most pure, or as we say, ‘clear stuff,’ and which would work easily, and to advantage. It became important, therefore, to cultivate that wood, as we do for shipbuilding, or for cabinet-work, and doubtless groves were planted for this purpose.
And the rain doth nourish it - These circumstances are mentioned to show the folly of worshipping a god that was formed in this manner. Perhaps also the prophet means to intimate that though the man planted the tree, yet that be could not make it grow. He was dependent on the rains of heaven; and even in making an idol-god he was indebted to the providential care of the true God. Men, even in their schemes of wickedness, are dependent on God. Even in forming and executing plans to oppose and resist him, they can do nothing without his aid. He preserves them, feeds them, clothes them; and the instruments which they use against him are those which he has nurtured. On the rain of heaven; on the sunbeam and the dew; on the teeming earth, and on the elements which he has made, and which he controls, they are dependent; and they can do nothing in their wicked plans without abusing the bounties of his Providence, and the expressions of his tender mercy.
Then shall it be for a man to burn - It will afford materials for a fire. The design of this verse and the following is, to ridicule the idea of a man’s using parts of the same tree to make a fire to cook his victuals, to warm himself, and to shape a god. Nothing could be more stupid than the conduct here referred to, and yet it is common all over the pagan world. It shows the utter debasement of the race, that they thus of the same tree make a fire, cook their food, and construct their gods.
With part thereof he eateth flesh - That is, he prepares flesh to eat, or prepares his food.
He roasteth roast - He roasts meat.
They have not known nor understood - They are stupid, ignorant, and blind. Nothing could more strikingly show their ignorance and stupidity than this idol worship.
He hath shut their eyes - God hath closed their eyes. Margin, ‘Daubed.’ The word used here, טה ṭah from טוה ṭûah denotes properly “to spread over”; to besmear; to plaster; as, e. g., a wall with mortar Lev 14:42; 1 Chronicles 29:4; Ezekiel 13:10; Ezekiel 22:28. Here it means to cover over the eyes so as to prevent vision; and hence, metaphorically, to make them stupid, ignorant, dull. It is attributed to God in accordance with the common statement of the Scriptures, that he does what he permits to be done (see the notes at Isaiah 6:9-10). It does not mean that God had done it by any physical, or direct agency, but that it had occurred under the administration of his Providence. It is also true that the Hebrew writers sometimes employ an active verb when the signification is passive, and when the main idea is, that anything was in fact done. Here the main point is not the agent by which this was done, but the fact that their eyes were blinded - and perhaps all the force of the verb טה ṭah used here would be expressed if it was rendered in an impersonal, or in a passive form, ‘it is covered as to their eyes,’ that is, their eyes are shut, without suggesting that it was done by God. So the Septuagint renders it, Ἀπημαυρώθησαν Apēmaurōthēsan - ‘They are blind,’ or involved in darkness.
So the Chaldee, מטמטמן meṭmeṭemân (also in the plural) - ‘Their eyes are obscured’ or blind. It cannot be proved from this text that God is, by direct agency, the author by whom it was done. It was not uncommon to shut up, or seal up the eyes for various purposes in the East, and unquestionably the prophet alludes to some such custom. ‘It is one of the solemnities at a Jewish wedding at Aleppo, according to Dr. Russell, who mentions it as the most remarkable thing in their ceremonies at that time. It is done by fastening the eyelids together with a gum, and the bridegroom is the person, he says, if he remembered right, that opens the bride’s eyes at the appointed time. It is also used as a punishment in those countries. So Sir Thomas Roe’s chaplain, in his account of his voyages to East India, tells us of a son of the Great Mogul, whom he had seen, and with whom Sir Thomas had conversed, that had before that time been cast into prison by his father, where his eyes were sealed up, by something put before them, which might not be taken off for three years; after which time the seal was taken away, that he might with freedom enjoy the light, though not his liberty.’ (Harmer’s Obs. vol. iii., pp. 507, 508. Ed. Lond. 8vo, 1808.)
And none considereth in his heart - Margin, ‘Setteth to.’ He does not place the subject near his heart or mind; he does not think of it. A similar phrase occurs in Isaiah 46:8 : ‘Bring it again to mind.’ It is a phrase drawn from the act of placing an object near us, in order to examine it closely; and we express the same idea by the phrase ‘looking at a thing,’ or ‘looking at it closely.’ The sense is, they had not attentively and carefully thought on the folly of what they were doing - a sentiment which is as true of all sinners as it was of stupid idolaters.
An abomination - A name that is often given to an idol 2 Kings 11:5, 2Ki 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13. The meaning is, that an idol was abominable and detestable in the sight of a holy God. It was that which he could not endure.
Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? - Margin, ‘That which comes of.’ The word בוּל bûl means properly “produce, increase,” and here evidently a stock or trunk of wood. So it is in the Chaldee.
He feedeth on ashes - There have been various interpretations of this. Jerome renders it, ‘A part of it is ashes;’ the Chaldee, ‘Lo! half of the god is reduced to ashes;’ the Septuagint, ‘Know thou that their heart is ashes.’ The word rendered here ‘feedeth’ (רעה ro‛eh) means properly “to feed, graze, pasture”; and then, figuratively, to delight, or take pleasure in any person or thing Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 15:14; Proverbs 28:7; Proverbs 29:3. In Hosea 12:1, ‘Ephraim feedeth on wind,’ it means to strive after something vain or unprofitable; to seek that which will prove to be vain and unsatisfactory. So here it means, that in their idol-service they would not obtain that which they sought. It would be like a man who sought for food, and found it to be dust or ashes; and the service of an idol compared with what man needed, or compared with the true religion, would be like ashes compared with nutritious and wholesome diet. This graphic description of the effect of idolatry is just as true of the ways of sin, and of the pursuits of the world now. It is true of the frivolous and the fashionable; of those who seek happiness in riches and honors; of all those who make this world their portion, that they are feeding on ashes - they seek that which is vain, unsubstantial, unsatisfactory, and which will yet fill the soul itself with disgust and loathing.
A deceived heart hath turned him aside - This is the true source of the difficulty; this is the fountain of all idolatry and sin. The heart is first wrong, and then the understanding, and the whole conduct is turned aside from the path of truth and duty (compare Romans 1:28).
A lie in my right hand - The right hand is the instrument of action. A lie is a name often given to an idol as being false and delusive. The sense is, that that which they had been making, and on which they were depending, was deceitful and vain. The work of their right hand - the fruit of their skill and toil, was deceptive, and could not save them. The doctrine is, that that which sinners rely on to save their souls; that which has cost their highest efforts as a scheme to save them, is false and delusive. All schemes of religion of human origin are of this description: and all will be alike deceptive and ruinous to the soul.
Remember these - Remember these things which are now said about the folly of idolatry, and the vanity of worshipping idols. The object of the argument is, to turn their attention to God, and to lead them to put their trust in him.
Thou art my servant - (See the notes at Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 43:1).
I have blotted out - The word used here (מחח mâchâh), means properly “to wipe away,” and is often applied to sins, as if the account was wiped off, or as we express it, blotted out (Psalms 51:3, Psalms 51:11; see the note at Isaiah 43:25). The phrase, ‘to blot out sins like a cloud,’ however, is unusual, and the idea not very obvious. The true idea would be expressed by rendering it, ‘I have made them to vanish as a thick cloud;’ and the sense is, as the wind drives away a thick cloud, however dark and frowning it may be, so that the sky is clear and serene, so God had caused their sins to disappear, and had removed the storm of his anger. Nothing can more strikingly represent sin in its nature and consequences, than a dense, dark, frowning cloud that comes over the heavens, and shuts out the sun, and fills the air with gloom; and nothing can more beautifully represent the nature and effect of pardon than the idea of removing such a cloud, and leaving the sky pure, the air calm and serene, and the sun pouring down his beams of warmth and light on the earth. So the soul of the sinner is enveloped and overshadowed with a dense cloud; but pardon dissipates that cloud, and it is calm, and joyful, and serene.
And as a cloud - The Chaldee render this, ‘As a flying cloud.’ The difference between the two words rendered here ‘thick cloud,’ and ‘cloud’ ( עב ‛âb and ענן ‛ânân) is, that the former is expressive of a cloud as dense, thick, compact; and the latter as covering or veiling the heavens. Lowth renders the latter word ‘Vapour;’ Noyes, ‘Mist.’ Both words, however, usually denote a cloud. A passage similar to this is found in Demosthenes, as quoted by Lowth: ‘This decree made the danger then hanging over the city pass away like a cloud.
Return unto me - Since your sins are pardoned, and such mercy has been shown, return now, and serve me. The argument here is derived from the mercy of God in forgiving them, and the doctrine is, that the fact that God has forgiven us imposes the strongest obligations to devote ourselves to his service. The fact that we are redeemed and pardoned is the highest argument why we should consecrate all our powers to him who has purchased and forgiven us.
Sing, O ye heavens - (see Isaiah 42:10). It is common in the sacred writings to call on the heavens, the earth, and all created things, to join in the praise of God on any great and glorious event (see Psalms 96:1, Psalms 96:11-12; Psalms 148:1-14) The occasion of the joy here was the fact that God had redeemed his people - a fact, in the joy of which the heavens and earth were called to participate. An apostrophe such as the prophet here uses is common in all writings, where inanimate objects are addressed as having life, and as capable of sharing in the emotions of the speaker. Vitringa has endeavored to show that the various objects here enumerated are emblematic, and that by the heavens are meant the angels which are in heaven; by the lower parts of the earth, the more humble and obscure republics of the pagan; by the mountains, the greater and more mighty kingdoms; by the forest, and the trees, large and spacious cities, with their nobles. So Grotius also interprets the passage. But the passage is a highly-wrought expression of elevated feeling; the language of poetry, where the prophet calls on all objects to exult; - an apostrophe to the highest heavens and the lowest part of the earth - the mountains and the forests - the most sublime objects in nature - to exult in the fact that the Jewish people were delivered from their long and painful captivity, and restored again to their own land.
The Lord hath done it - Has delivered his people from their captivity in Babylon. There is, however, no impropriety in supposing that the eye of the prophet also rested on the glorious deliverance of his people by the Messiah; and that he regarded one event as emblematic of, and introductory to the other. The language used here will certainly appropriately express the feelings which should be manifested in view of the plan of redemption under the Messiah.
Shout, ye lower parts of the earth - The foundations of the earth; the parts remote from the high heavens. Let the highest and the lowest objects shout; the highest heavens, and the depths of the earth. The Septuagint renders it, Τὰ Θεμέλια τῆς γῆς Ta Themelia tēs gēs - ‘The foundations of the earth.’ So the Chaldee.
Ye mountains - So in Psalms 148:9, Psalms 148:13 : ‘Mountains and all hills; fruitful trees and all cedars - let them praise the name of the Lord.’
O forest, and every tree therein - Referring either to Lebanon, as being the most magnificent forest known to the prophet; or to any forest as a great and sublime object.
Thy Redeemer - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).
And he that formed thee from thee womb - (See the note at Isaiah 44:2).
That stretcheth forth the heavens - (See the note at Isaiah 40:22).
That spreadeth abroad the earth - Representing the earth, as is often done in the Scriptures, as a plain. God here appeals to the fact that he alone had made the heavens and the earth, as the demonstration that he is able to accomplish what is here said of the deliverance of his people. The same God that made the heavens is the Redeemer and Protector of the church, and therefore the church is safe.
That frustrateth - Hebrew, ‘Breaking:’ that is, destroying, rendering vain. The idea is, that that which necromancers and diviners relied on as certain demonstration that what they predicted would be fulfilled, God makes vain and inefficacious. The event which they predicted did not follow, and all their alleged proofs that they were endowed with divine or miraculous power he rendered vain.
The tokens - Hebrew, אתות 'othôth - ‘Signs.’ This word is usually applied to miracles, or to signs of the divine interposition and presence. Here it means the things on which diviners and soothsayers relied; the tricks of cunning and sleight-of-hand which they adduced as miracles, or as demonstrations that they were under a divine influence. See the word more fully explained in the notes at Isaiah 7:2.
The liars - Deceivers, boasters - meaning conjurers, or false prophets (compare Jeremiah 50:36; see also the note at Isaiah 16:6).
And maketh diviners mad - That is, makes them foolish, or deprives them of wisdom. They pretend to foretell future events, but the event does not correspond with the prediction. God orders it otherwise, and thus they are shown to be foolish, or unwise.
That turneth wise men backward - Lowth renders this, ‘Who reverseth the devices of the sages.’ The sense is, he puts them to shame. The idea seems to be derived from the fact that when one is ashamed, or disappointed, or fails of performing what he promised, he turns away his face (see 1 Kings 2:16, margin) The ‘wise men,’ here denote the sages; the diviners, the soothsayers; and the sense is, that they were not able to predict future events, and that when their prediction failed, they would be suffused with shame.
And maketh their knowledge foolish - He makes them appear to be fools. It is well known that soothsayers and diviners abounded in the East; and it is not improbable that the prophet here means that when Babylon was attacked by Cyrus, the diviners and soothsayers would predict his defeat, and the overthrow of his army, but that the result would show that they were utterly incapable of predicting a future event. The whole passage here has reference to the taking of Babylon by Cyrus, and should be interpreted accordingly.
That confirmeth the word of his servant - Probably the word ‘servant’ here is to be taken in a collective sense, as referring to the prophets in general who had foretold the return of the Jews to their own land, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Or it may be, that the prophet refers more particularly to himself as having made a full prediction of this event. The parallel expression, ‘his messengers,’ however, is in the plural number, and thus it is rendered probable that the word here refers to the prophets collectively. The idea is, that it was a characteristic of God to establish the words of his servants the prophets, and that their predictions in regard to the return from the captivity in a special manner would be fulfilled.
The counsel of his messengers - The prophets whom he had sent to announce future events, and to give counsel and consolation to the nation.
That saith to Jerusalem - Jerusalem is here supposed to be lying in ruins, and the people to be in captivity in Babylon. In this situation, God is represented as addressing desolate Jerusalem, and saying, that it should be again inhabited, and that the cities of Judah should be rebuilt.
The decayed places - Margin, ‘Wastes.’ No land, probably, was ever more completely desolated than the land of Judea when its inhabitants were carried to Babylon.
That saith to the deep, Be dry - Lowth supposes, that this refers to the fact that Cyrus took Babylon by diverting from their course the waters of the river Euphrates, and thus leaving the bed of the river dry, so that he could march his army under the walls of the city (see the notes at Isaiah 13:0; Isaiah 14:0) With this interpretation, also, Vitringa, John II Michaelis, Grotius, Rosenmuller, and some others, accord. Gesenius supposes that it is a description of the power of God in general; and some others have referred it to the dividing of the waters of the Red Sea when the Hebrews came out of Egypt, as in Isaiah 43:16-17. The most obvious interpretation is that of Lowth, Vitringa, etc., by which it is supposed that it refers to the drying up of the Euphrates and the streams about Babylon, when Cyrus took the city. The principal reasons for this interpretation are, first, that the entire statement in these verses has reference to the events connected with the taking of Babylon; secondly, that it is strikingly descriptive of the manner in which the city was taken by Cyrus; and thirdly, that Cyrus is expressly mentioned Isaiah 44:28, as being concerned in the transaction here referred to. The word rendered ‘deep’ (צוּלה tsûlâh) denotes properly anything sunk; the depth of the sea; an abyss. ‘But it may be applied to a deep river, and especially to the Euphrates, as a deep and mighty stream. In Jeremiah 51:36, the word ‘sea’ is applied to the Euphrates:
‘I will dry up her sea,
And make her springs dry.’
Cyrus took the city of Babylon, after having besieged it a long time in vain, by turning the waters of the river into a vast lake, forty miles square, which had been constructed in order to carry off the superfluous waters in a time of inundation. By doing this, he laid the channel of the river almost dry, and was thus enabled to enter the city above and below, under the walls, and to take it by surprise. The Septuagint renders the word ‘deep’ here by Ἀβύσσῳ Abussō - ‘Abyss.’ The Chaldee, ‘Who says to Babylon, Be desolate, and I will dry up your streams.’
I will dry up thy rivers - Referring doubtless to the numerous canals or artificial streams by which Babylon and the adjacent country were watered. These were supplied from the Euphrates, and when that was diverted from its usual bed, of course they became dry.
That saith of Cyrus - This is the first time in which Cyrus is expressly named by Isaiah, though he is often referred to. He is mentioned by him only in one other place expressly by name Isaiah 45:1. He is several times mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament 2 Chronicles 26:22-23; Ezra 1:1-2, Ezra 1:7; Ezra 3:7; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 5:13, Ezra 5:17; Daniel 1:21; Daniel 6:28; Daniel 10:1. He began his reign about 550 b.c., and this prophecy was therefore delivered not far from a hundred and fifty years before he ascended the throne. None but God himself, or he whom God inspired, could have mentioned so long before, the name of him who should deliver the Jewish people from bondage; and if this was delivered, therefore, by Isaiah, it proves that he was under divine inspiration. The name of Cyrus (כורשׁ kôresh; Greek Κῦrος Kuros) the Greek writers say, means ‘the sun.’ It is contracted from the Persian word khorschid, which in that language has this signification. Cyrus was the celebrated king of the Medes and Persians, and was the son of Cambyses the Persian, and of Mandane, daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. For an account of his character and reign, see the notes at Isaiah 41:2, where I have anticipated all that is needful to be said here.
He is my shepherd - A shepherd is one who leads and guides a flock, and then the word denotes, by a natural and easy metaphor, a ruler, or leader of a people. Thus the name is given to Moses in Isaiah 43:2; compare Psalms 77:20, and Ezekiel 34:23. The name here is given to Cyrus because God would employ him to conduct his people again to their own land. The word ‘my’ implies, that he was under the direction of God, and was employed in his service.
And shall perform all my pleasure - In destroying the city and kingdom of Babylon; in delivering the Jewish captives; and in rebuilding Jerusalem, and the temple.
Even saying to Jerusalem - That is, I say to Jerusalem. The Vulgate, and the Septuagint renders this as meaning God, and not Cyrus, and doubtless this is the true construction. It was one of the things which God would do, to say to Jerusalem that it should be rebuilt.
And to the temple - Though now desolate and in ruins, yet it shall be reconstructed, and its foundation shall be firmly laid. The phrase ‘to Jerusalem,’ and ‘to the temple,’ should be rendered ‘of,’ in accordance with a common signification of the preposition ל (l), and as it is rendered in the former part of the verse when speaking of Cyrus (compare Genesis 20:13; Judges 9:54). It was indeed under the direction of Cyrus that the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, and the temple reconstructed Ezra 1:1; but still it was to be traced to God, who raised him up for this purpose. That this passage was seen by Cyrus is the testimony of Josephus, and is morally certain from the nature of the case, since, otherwise, it is incredible that he should have aided the Jews in returning to their own land, and in rebuilding their city and temple (see the Introduction, Section 2). This is one of the numerous instances in the Bible, in which God claims control and jurisdiction even over pagan princes and monarchs, and in which he says that their plans are under his direction, and made subservient to his will. It is one of the proofs that God presides over all, and that he makes the voluntary purposes of people subservient to him, and a part of the means of executing his glorious designs in relation to his people. Indeed, all the proud monarchs and conquerors of the earth have been in some sense instruments in his hand of executing his pleasure.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17