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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 45

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


The subject which was introduced in the previous chapter Isaiah 44:28 constitutes the main topic of this. God had there introduced the name of Cyrus as he who was to deliver his people from their captivity, and to restore them to their own land. This chapter is almost entirely occupied with a statement of the deliverance which would be effected through him - with an occasional reference to the more important deliverance which would be effected under the Messiah. The general subject of the chapter is the overthrow of Babylon, the deliverance of the Jews by Cyrus, and the events consequent on that, adapted to give consolation to the friends of God, particularly the future conversion of the Gentiles to the true religion.

I. An apostrophe to Cyrus, stating the design for which God had raised him up, and what he would do for him Isaiah 45:1-8. This statement also comprises several items:

1. God would subdue nations before him, open brass gates, and give him the treasures of kings Isaiah 45:1-3.

2. The design for which God would do this would be, that he might deliver his people, and that the world might know that Yahweh was the true and only God Isaiah 45:4-7.

3. The joyful consequences of this event - so great that the heavens are represented as dropping down righteousness, and the earth as bringing forth salvation in consequence of it Isaiah 45:8.

II. Those who strive with their Maker are reproved and rebuked Isaiah 45:9-10. This is probably designed to apply to the people of Babylon, or to complainers in general in regard to the government of God.

III. God vindicates himself against the calumnies and objections of his enemies, and states the evidence that he is God, and the consequence of his interposition in raising up Cyrus.

1. He condescends to reason with people, and is willing to be inquired of respecting future events Isaiah 45:11.

2. He had made the earth and all things, and he had raised up Cyrus for the purpose of delivering his people Isaiah 45:12-13.

3. He states the consequence of his raising up Cyrus, and thcir deliverance, for the purpose of comforting his people Isaiah 45:14.

4. All the worshippers of idols should be ashamed and confounded Isaiah 45:15-16.

5. They who put their trust in God should never be confounded Isaiah 45:17.

IV. God vindicates his own character; and calls on the nations of idolaters to come and compare the claims of idols with him, and especially appeals, in proof that he is God, to his power of predicting future evcnts Isaiah 45:18-21.

V. The chapter closes by a call on all nations to trust in him in view of the fact that he is the only true God; and with an assurance that all should yet trust in him, and that the true religion should yet spread over the world Isaiah 45:22-25. This is designed further to comfort the people of God in their exile, and is a striking prophecy of the final universal prevalence of the gospel.

Verse 1

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed - This is a direct apostrophe to Cyrus, though it was uttered not less than one hundred and fifty years before Babylon was taken by him. The word ‘anointed’ is that which is usually rendered “Messiah” (משׁיח mâshı̂yach), and here is rendered by the Septuagint, Τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ Tō christō mou Kurō - ‘To Cyrus, my Christ,’ i. e, my anointed. It properly means “the anointed,” and was a title which was commonly given to the kings of Israel, because they were set apart to their office by the ceremony of anointing, who hence were called οι χρυστοὶ Κυρίου hoi christoi Kuriou - ’The anointed of the Lord’ 1 Samuel 2:10, 1Sa 2:35; 1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:5; 1Sa 16:6; 1 Samuel 24:7, 1 Samuel 24:11; 1Sa 26:9, 1 Samuel 26:11, 1 Samuel 26:23; 2Sa 1:14, 2 Samuel 1:16; 2 Samuel 19:22-23. There is no evidence that the Persian kings were inaugurated or consecrated by oil, but this is an appellation which was common among the Jews, and is applied to Cyrus in accordance with their usual mode of designating kings. It means here that God had solemnly set apart Cyrus to perform an important public service in his cause. It does not mean that Cyrus was a man of piety, or a worshipper of the true God, of which there is no certain evidence, but that his appointment as king was owing to the arrangement of God’s providence, and that he was to be employed in accomplishing his purposes. The title does not designate holiness of character, but appointment to an office.

Whose right hand I have holden - Margin, ‘Strengthened.’ Lowth, ‘whom I hold fast by the right hand.’ The idea seems to be, that God had upheld, sustained, strengthened him as we do one who is feeble, by taking his right hand (see the notes at Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 42:6)

To subdue nations before him - For a general account of the conquests of Cyrus, see the notes at Isaiah 41:2. It may be added here, that ‘besides his native subjects, the nations which Cyrus subdued, and over which he reigned, were the Cilicians, Syrians, Paphlagonians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Phenicians, Arabians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Bactrians, Saeae, and Maryandines. Xenophon describes his empire as extending from the Mediterranean and Egypt to the Indian Ocean, and from Ethiopia to the Euxine Sea, and conveys a physical idea of its extent by observing that the extremities were difficult to inhabit, from opposite causes - some from excess of heat, and others from excess of cold; some from a scarcity of water, and others from too great abundance.’ - (Pictorial Bible.)

And I will loose the loins of kings - The ancients dressed in a large, loose, flowing robe thrown over an under-garment or tunic, which was shaped to the body. The outer robe was girded with a sash when they toiled, or labored, or went to war, or ran. Hence, ‘to gird up the loins’ is indicative of preparation for a journey, for labor, or for war. To unloose the girdle, or the loins, was indicative of a state of rest, repose, or feebleness; and the phrase here means that God would so order it in his providence that the kings would be unprepared to meet him, or so feeble that they would not be able to resist him (compare Job 38:3; Jeremiah 1:17). See also Job 12:21 :

He poureth contempt upon princes,

And weakeneth the strength of the mighty;

Margin, more correctly, ‘Looseth the girdle of the strong.’ There was a literal fulfillment of this in regard to Belshazzar, king of Babylon, when the city was taken by Cyrus. When the hand came forth on the walls of his palace, and the mysterious finger wrote his condemnation, it is said, ‘Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other’ Daniel 5:6. The Vulgate renders this, ‘I will turn the backs of kings.’

To open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut - The folding gates of a city, or a palace. It so happened in the scene of revelry which prevailed in Babylon when Cyrus took it, that the gates within the city which led from the streets to the river were left open. The city was not only enclosed with walls, but there were walls within the city on each side of the river Euphrates with gates, by which the inhabitants had access to the water of the river. Had not these gates been left open on that occasion, contrary to the usual custom, the Persians would have been shut up in the bed of the river, and could all have been destroyed. It also happened in the revelry of that night, that the gates of the palace were left open, so that there was access to every part of the city. Herodotus (i. 191) says, ‘If the besieged had been aware of the designs of Cyrus, or had discovered the project before its actual accomplishment, they might have effected the total destruction of these troops. They had only to secure the little gates which led to the river, and to have manned the embankments on either side, and they might have enclosed the Persians in a net from which they could never have escaped; as it happened they were taken by surprise; and such is the extent of that city, that, as the inhabitants themselves affirm, they who lived in the extremities were made prisoners before the alarm was communicated to the center of the palace.’ None but an omniscient Being could have predicted, a hundred and fifty years before it occurred, that such an event would take place; and this is one of the many prophecies which demonstrate in the most particular manner that Isaiah was inspired.

Verse 2

I will go before thee - To prepare the way for conquest, a proof that it is by the providence of God that the proud conquerors of the earth are enabled to triumph. The idea is, I will take away everything that would retard or oppose your victorious march.

And make the crooked paths straight - (See the note at Isaiah 40:4). The Chaldee renders this, ‘My word shall go before thee, and I will prostrate the walls.’ Lowth renders it, ‘Make the mountains plain.’ Noyes, ‘Make the high places plain.’ The Septuagint renders it, Ὄρη ὁμαλιῶ Orē homaliō - ‘Level mountains.’ Vulgate, Gloriosos terroe humiliabo - ‘The high places of the earth I will bring down.’ The word הדוּרים hădûrı̂ym is from הדר hâdar, to be large, ample, swollen, tumid; and probably means the swollen tumid places, that is, the hills or elevated places; and the idea is, that God would make them level, or would remove all obstructions out of his way.

I will break in pieces the gates of brass - Ancient cities were surrounded by walls, and secured by strong gates, which were not unfrequently made of brass. To Babylon there were one hundred gates, twenty-five on each side of the city, which, with their posts, were made of brass. ‘In the circumference of the walls,’ says Herodotus (i. 179), ‘at different distances, were a hundred massy gates of brass, whose hinges and frames were of the same metal.’ It was to this, doubtless, that the passage before us refers.

The bars of iron - With which the gates of the city were fastened. ‘One method of securing the gates of fortified places among the ancients, was to cover them with thick plates of iron - a custom which is still used in the East, and seems to be of great antiquity. We learn from Pitts, that Algiers has five gates, and some of these have two, some three other gates within them, and some of them plated all over with iron. Pococke, speaking of a bridge near Antioch, called the iron bridge, says, that there are two towers belonging to it, the gates of which are covered with iron plates. Some of these gates are plated over with brass; such are the enormous gates of the principal mosque at Damascus, formerly the church of John the Baptist’ (Paxton). The general idea in these passages is, that Cyrus would owe his success to divine interposition; and that that interposition would be so striking that it would be manifest that he owed his success to the favor of heaven. This was so clear in the history of Cyrus, that it is recognized by himself, and was also recognized even by the pagan who witnessed the success of his arms. Thus Cyrus says Ezra 1:2, ‘Jehovah, God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth.’ Thus Herodotus (i. 124) records the fact that Harpagus said in a letter to Cyrus, ‘Son of Cambyses, heaven evidently favors you, or you could never have thus risen superior to fortune.’ So Herodotus (i. 205) says that Cyrus regarded himself as endowed with powers more than human:, ‘When he considered the special circumstances of his birth, he believed himself more than human. He reflected also on the prosperity of his arms, and that wherever he had extended his excursions, he had been followed by success and victory.’

Verse 3

And I will give thee the treasures of darkness - The treasures which kings have amassed, and which they have laid up in dark and secure places. The word ‘darkness,’ here, means that which was hidden, unknown, secret (compare Job 12:22). The treasures of the kings of the East were usually hidden in some obscure and strong place, and were not to be touched except in cases of pressing necessity. Alexander found vast quantities of treasure thus hidden among the Persians; and it was by taking such treasures that the rapacity of the soldiers who followed a conqueror was satisfied, and in fact by a division of the spoils thus taken that they were paid. There can be no doubt that large quantities of treasure in this manner would be found in Babylon. The following observations from Harmer (Obs. pp. 111, 511-513), will show that it was common to conceal treasures in this manner in the East; ‘We are told by travelers in the East, that they have met with great difficulties, very often from a notion universally disseminated among them, that all Europeans are magicians, and that their visits to those eastern countries are not to satisfy curiosity, but to find out, and get possession of those vast treasures they believe to be buried there in great quantities.

These representations are very common; but Sir John Chardin gives us a more particular and amusing account of affairs of this kind: “It is common in the Indies, for those sorcerers that accompany conquerors, everywhere to point out the place where treasures are bid. Thus, at Surat, when Siragi came thither, there were people who, with a stick striking on the ground or against walls, found out those that had been hollowed or dug up, and ordered such places to be opened.” He then intimates that something of this nature had happened to him in Mingrelia. Among the various contradictions that agitate the human breast, this appears to be a remarkable one; they firmly believe the power of magicians to discover bidden treasures, and yet they continue to hide them. Dr. Perry has given us all account of some mighty treasures hidden in the ground by some of the principal people of the Turkish empire, which, upon a revolution, were discovered by domestics privy to the secret.

D’Herbelot has given us accounts of treasures concealed in the same manner, some of them of great princes, discovered by accidents extremely remarkable: but this account of Chardin’s, of conquerors pretending to find out hidden treasures by means of sorcerers, is very extraordinary. As, however, people of this cast have made great pretences to mighty things, in all ages, and were not unfrequently confided in by princes, there is reason to believe they pretended sometimes, by their art, to discover treasures, anciently, to princes, of which they had gained intelligence by other methods; and, as God opposed his prophets, at various times, to pretended sorcerers, it is not unlikely that the prophet Isaiah points at some such prophetic discoveries, in those remarkable words Isaiah 45:3 : “And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.” I will give them, by enabling some prophet of mine to tell thee where they are concealed.

Such a supposition throws a great energy into those words.’ The belief that the ruins of cities abound with treasures that were deposited there long since, prevails in the East, and the inhabitants of those countries regard all travelers who come there, Burckhardt informs us, as coming to find treasures, and as having power to remove them by enchantment. ‘It is very unfortunate,’ says he, ‘for European travelers, that the idea of treasures being hidden in ancient edifices is so strongly rooted in the minds of the Arabs and Turks; they believe that it is sufficient for a true magician to have seen and observed the spot where treasures are hidden (of which be is supposed to be already informed by the old books of the infidels who lived on the spot), in order to be able afterward at his ease to command the guardian of the treasure to set the whole before him. It was of no avail to tell them to follow me and see whether I searched for money.

Their reply was, “Of course you will not dare to take it out before us, but we know that if you are a skillful magician you will order it to follow you through the air to whatever place you please.” If the traveler takes the dimensions of a building or a column, they are persuaded it is a magical proceeding.’ (Travels in Syria, pp. 428, 429. Ed. Lond. 4to, 1822.) Laborde, in his account of a visit to Petra, or Sela, has given an account of a splendid temple cut in the solid rock, which is called the Khasne, or ‘treasury of Pharaoh.’ It is sculptured out of an enormous block of freestone, and is one of the most splendid remains of antiquity. It is believed by the Arabs to have been the place where Pharaoh, supposed to have been the founder of the costly edifices of Petra, had deposited his wealth. ‘After having searched in vain,’ says Laborde, ‘all the coffins and funeral monuments, to find his wealth, they supposed it must be in the urn which surmounted the Khasne. But, unhappily, being out of their reach, it has only served the more to kindle their desires.

Hence, whenever they pass through the ravine, they stop for a moment, charge their guns, aim at the urn, and endeavor by firing at it, to break off some fragments, with a view to demolish it altogether, and get at the treasure which it is supposed to contain.’ (Laborde’s Sinai and Petra, p. 170. Ed. Lond. 1836.) The treasures which Cyrus obtained in his conquests are known to have been immense. Sardis, the capital of Croesus, king of Lydia, the most wealthy monarch of his time, was, according to Herodotus (i. 84), given up to be plundered; and his hoarded wealth became the spoil of the victor (see also Xen. Cyr. vii.) That Babylon abounded in treasures is expressly declared by Jeremiah Jeremiah 51:13 : ‘O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures.’ These treasures also, according to Jeremiah Jeremiah 50:37, became the spoil of the conqueror of the city. Pithy also has given a description of the wealth which Cyrus obtained in his conquests, which strikingly confirms what Isaiah here declares: ‘Cyrus, in the conquest of Asia, obtained thirty-four thousand pounds weight of gold, besides golden vases, and gold that was made with leaves, and the palm-tree, and the vine.

In which victory also he obtained five hundred thousand talents of silver, and the goblet of Semiramis, which weighed fifteen talents.’ (Nat. Hist. 33. 3.) Brerewood has estimated that this gold and silver amounted to one hundred and twenty-six million, and two hundred and twenty-four thousand pounds sterling. (De Pon. et Men. 10.) Babylon was the center of an immense traffic that was carried on between the eastern parts of Asia and the western parts of Asia and Europe. For a description of this commerce, see an article in the Bib. Rep. vol. vii. pp. 364-390. Babylonian garments, it will be remembered, of great value, had made their way to Palestine in the time of Joshua Joshua 7:21. Tapestries embroidered with figures of griffons and other monsters of eastern imagination were articles of export (Isaac Vossius, Observatio). Carpets were made there of the finest materials and workmanship, and formed an article of extensive exportation. They were of high repute in the times of Cyrus; whose tomb at Pasargada was adorned with them (Arrian, Exped. Alex. vi. 29). Great quantities of gold were used in Babylon. The vast image of gold erected by Nebuchadnezzar in the plain of Dura is proof enough of this fact. The image was sixty cubits high and six broad Daniel 3:1. Herodotus (i. 183) informs us that the Chaldeans used a thousand talents of frankincense annually in the temple of Jupiter.

That thou mayest know - That from these signal successes, and these favors of heaven, you may learn that Yahweh is the true God. This he would learn because he would see that he owed it to heaven (see the note at Isaiah 45:2); and because the prediction which God had made of his success would convince him that he was the true and only God. That it had this effect on Cyrus is apparent from his own proclamation (see Ezra 1:2). God took this method of making himself known to the monarch of the most mighty kingdom of the earth, in order, as he repeatedly declares, that through his dealings with kingdoms and people he may be acknowledged.

Which call thee by thy name - (See the notes at Isaiah 43:1). That thou mayest know that I, who so long before designated thee by name, am the true God. The argument is, that none but God could have foretold the name of him who should be the deliverer of his people.

Am the God of Israel - That the God of Israel was the true and only God. The point to be made known was not that he was the God of Israel, but that the God of Israel was Yahweh the true God.

Verse 4

For Jacob my servant’s sake - (see the note at Isaiah 42:19). The statement here is, that God had raised up Cyrus on account of his own people. The sentiment is common in the Bible, that kings and nations are in the hand of God; and that he overrules and directs their actions for the accomplishment of his own purposes, and especially to protect, defend, and deliver his people (see the note at Isaiah 10:5; compare Isaiah 47:6).

I have surnamed thee - On the meaning of the word ‘surname,’ see the notes at Isaiah 44:5. The reference here is to the fact that he had appointed him to accomplish important purposes, and had designated him as his ‘shepherd’ Isaiah 44:28, and his ‘anointed’ Isaiah 45:1.

Though thou hast not known me - Before he was called to accomplish these important services, he was a stranger to Yahweh, and it was only when he should have been so signally favored of heaven, and should be made acquainted with the divine will in regard to the deliverance of his people and the rebuilding of the temple Ezra 1:1-3, that he would be acquainted with the true God.

Verse 5

I am the Lord ... - (see the notes at Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 44:8; Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah 45:22).

I girded thee ... - (see the note at Isaiah 45:1). The sense is, I girded thee with the girdle - the military belt; I prepared thee, and strengthened thee for war and conquest. Even people who are strangers to the true God are sustained by him, and are unable to accomplish anything without his providential aid.

Verse 6

That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west - This phrase is evidently used here to designate the whole world. Kimchi says, that the reason why the north and the south are not mentioned here is, that the earth from the east to the west is perfectly inhabitable, but not so from the north to the south. That this was accomplished, see Ezra 1:1 ff Cyrus made public proclamation that Yahweh had given him all the kingdoms of the earth, and had commanded him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The purpose of all this arrangement was, to secure the acknowledgment of the truth that Yahweh was the only true God, as extensively as possible. Nothing could be better adapted to this than the actual course of events. For,

1. The conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar was an event which would be extensively known throughout all nations.

2. Babylon was then the magnificent capital of the pagan world, and the kingdom of which it was the center was the most mighty kingdom of the earth.

3. The fact of the conquest of Babylon, and the manner in which it was done, would be known all over that empire, and would attract universal attention. Nothing had ever occurred more remarkable; nothing more fitted to excite the wonder of mankind.

4. The hand of Yahweh was so manifest in this, and the prophecies which had been uttered were so distinctly fulfilled, that Cyrus himself acknowledged that it was of Yahweh. The existence, the name, and the truth of Yahweh became known as far as the name and exploits of Cyrus; and there was a public recognition of the true God by him who had conquered the most mighty capital of the world, and whose opinions and laws were to enter into the constitution of the Medo-Persian empire that was to succeed.

Verse 7

I form the light, and create darkness - Light, in the Bible, is the emblem of knowledge, innocence, pure religion, and of prosperity in general; and darkness is the emblem of the opposite. Light here seems to be the emblem of peace and prosperity, and darkness the emblem of adversity; and the sentiment of the verse is, that all things prosperous and adverse are under the providential control and direction of God. Of light, it is literally true that God made it; and emblematically true that he is the source of knowledge, prosperity, happiness, and pure religion. Of darkness, it is literally true also that the night is formed by him; that he withdraws the light of the sun, and leaves the earth enveloped in gloomy shades. It is emblematically true also that calamity, ignorance, disappointment, and want of success are ordered by him; and not less true that all the moral darkness, or evil, that prevails on earth, is under the direction and ordering of his Providence. There is no reason to think, however, that the words ‘darkness’ and ‘evil’ are to be understood as referring to moral darkness; that is, sin.

A strict regard should be had to the connection in the interpretation of such passages; and the connection here does not demand such an interpretation. The main subject is, the prosperity which would attend the arms of Cyrus, the consequent reverses and calamities of the nations whom he would subdue, and the proof thence furnished that Yahweh was the true God; and the passage should be limited in the interpretation to this design. The statement is, that all this was under his direction. It was not the work of chance or hap-hazard. It was not accomplished or caused by idols. It was not originated by any inferior or subordinate cause. It was to be traced entirely to God. The successes of arms, and the blessings of peace were to be traced to him; and the reverses of arms, and the calamities of war to him also. This is all that the connection of the passage demands; and this is in accordance with the interpretation of Kimchi, Jerome, Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Calvin, and Grotius. The comment of Grotius is, ‘Giving safety to the people, as the Persians; sending calamities upon the people, as upon the Medes and Babylonians.’ Lowth, Jerome, Vitringa, Jahn, and some others, suppose that there is reference here to the prevalent doctrine among the Persians, and the followers of the Magian religion in general, which prevailed all over the East, and in which Cyrus was probably educated, that there are two supreme, independent, co-existent and eternal causes always acting in opposition to each other - the one the author of all good, and the other of all evil; and that these principles or causes are constantly struggling with each other.

The good being or principle, they call light; and the evil, darkness; the one, Oromasden, and the other Ahrimanen. It was further the doctrine of the Magians that when the good principle had the ascendency, happiness prevailed; and when the evil principle prevailed, misery abounded. Lowth supposes, that God here means to assert his complete and absolute superiority over all other things or principles; and that all those powers whom the Persians supposed to be the original authors of good and evil to mankind were subordinate, and must be subject to him; and that there is no power that is not subservient to him, and under his control. That these opinions prevailed in very early times, and perhaps as early as Isaiah, there seems no good reason to doubt (Hyde, de Relig. Veter. Persar, xxii.) But there is no good evidence that Isaiah here referred to those opinions. Good and evil, prosperity and adversity, abound in the world at all times; and all that is required in order to a correct understanding of this passage is the general statement that all these things are under providential direction.

I make peace - I hush the contending passions of mankind; I dispose to peace, and prevent wars when I choose - a passage which proves that the most violent passions are under his control. No passions are more uncontrollable than those which lead to wars; and nowhere is there a more striking display of the Omnipotence of God than in his power to repress the pride, ambition, and spirit of revenge of conquerors and kings:

Which stilleth the noise of the seas,

The noise of their waves,

And the tumult of the people.

Psalms 65:7

And create evil - The parallelism here shows that this is not to be understood in the sense of all evil, but of that which is the opposite of peace and prosperity. That is, God directs judgments, disappointments, trials, and calamities; he has power to suffer the mad passions of people to rage, and to afflict nations with war; he presides over adverse as well as prosperous events. The passage does not prove that God is the author of moral evil, or sin, and such a sentiment is abhorrent to the general strain of the Bible, and to all just views of the character of a holy God.

Verse 8

Drop down, ye heavens, from above - That is, as a result of the benefits that shall follow from the rescue of the people from their captivity and exile. The mind of the prophet is carried forward to future times, and he sees effects from that interposition, as striking as if the heavens should distil righteousness; and sees the prevalence of piety and happiness as if they should string out of the earth. It may be designed primarily to denote the happy results of their return to their own land, and the peace and prosperity which would ensue. But there is a beauty and elevation in the language which is better applicable to the remote and distant consequences of their return - the coming and reign of the Messiah. The figure is that of the rain and dew descending from heaven, and watering, the earth, and producing fertility and beauty; and the idea is, that piety and peace would prevail in a manner resembling the verdure of the fields under such rains and dews. A figure remarkably similar to this is employed by the Psalmist Psalms 85:11-12 :

Truth shall spring out of the earth;

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good -

And our land shall yield her increase.

The phrase, ‘drop down, ye heavens, from above,’ means, pour forth, or distil, as the clouds distil, or drop down the rain or dew Psalms 45:12-13. It is appropriately applied to rain or dew, and here means that righteousness would be as abundant as if poured down like dews or showers from heaven. The Septuagint however, render it, ‘Let the heavens above be glad,’ but evidently erroneously.

And let the skies - The word used here (שׁחקים shechaqiym) is derived from the verb שׁצק shâchaq, “to rub,” pound fine, or beat in pieces; and is then applied to dust (see Isaiah 40:15); to a thin cloud; a cloud of dust; and then to clouds in general Job 36:28; Job 37:18; Job 38:37. The sense here is, that righteousness should be poured down like rain from the clouds of heaven; that is, it should be abundant, and should prevail on the earth.

Pour down righteousness - The result of the deliverance from the captivity shall be, that righteousness shall be abundant. During the captivity they had been far away from their native land; the temple was destroyed; the fire had ceased to burn on the altars; the praises of God had ceased to be celebrated in his courts; and all the means by which piety had been nourished had been withdrawn. This state of things was strikingly similar to the earth when the rain is witcheld, and all verdure droops and dies. But after the return from the exile, righteousness would abound under the re-establishment of the temple service and the means of grace. Nor can there be any doubt, I think, that the mind of the prophet was also fixed on the prevalence of religion which would yet take place under the Messiah, whose coming, though remotely, would be one of the results of the return from the exile, and of whose advent, that return would be so strikingly emblematic.

Let the earth open - As it does when the showers descend and render it mellow, and when it brings forth grass and plants and fruits.

And let them bring forth salvation - The Chaldee renders this, ‘Let the earth open, and the dead revive, and righteousness be revealed at the same time.’ The idea is, let the earth and the heavens produce righteousness, or become fruitful in producing salvation. Salvation shall abound as if it descended like showers and dews, and as if the fertile earth everywhere produced it. Vitringa supposes that it means that the hearts of people would be opened and prepared for repentance and the reception of the truth by the Holy Spirit, as the earth is made mellow and adapted to the reception of seed by the rain and dew.

And let righteousness spring up together - Let it at the same time germinate as a plant does. It shall spring forth like green grass, and like flowers and plants in the well-watered earth. The language in the verse is figurative, and very beautiful. The idea is, that peace, prosperity, and righteousness start up like the fruits of the earth when it is well watered with the dews anti rains of heaven; that the land and world would be clothed in moral loveliness; and that the fruits of salvation would be abundant everywhere. That there was a partial fulfillment of this on the return to the land of Canaan, there can be no doubt. The Jews were, for a time at least, much more distinguished for piety than they had been before. Idolatry ceased; the temple was rebuilt; the worship of God was re-established; and the nation enjoyed unaccustomed prosperity. But there is a richness and fullness in the language which is not met by anything that occurred in the return from the exile; and it doubtless receives its entire fulfillment only under that more important deliverance of which the return from Babylon was but the emblem. As referred to the Messiah, and to his reign, may we not regard it as descriptive of the following things?

1. The prevalence and diffusion of the knowledge of salvation under his own preaching and that of the apostles. Religion was revived throughout Judea, and spread with vast rapidity throughout almost the whole of the known world. It seemed as if the very heavens shed down righteousness on all lands, and the earth, so long barren and sterile, brought forth the fruits of salvation. Every country partook of the benefits of the descending showers of grace, and the moral world put on a new aspect - like the earth after descending dews and rains.

2. It is beautifully descriptive of a revival of religion like that on the day of Pentecost. In such scenes, it seems as if the very heavens ‘poured down’ righteousness. A church smiles under its influence like parched and barren fields under rains and dews, and society puts on an aspect of loveliness like the earth after copious showers. Salvation seems to start forth with the beauty of the green grass, or of the unfolding buds, producing leaves and flowers and abundant fruits. There cannot be found anywhere a more beautiful description of a genuine revival of pure religion than in this verse.

3. It is descriptive, doubtless, of what is yet to take place in the better days which are to succeed the present, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth. All the earth shall be blessed, as if descending showers should produce universal fertility, and every land, now desolate, barren, sterile, and horrid by sin, shall become ‘like a well-watered garden’ in reference to salvation.

Verse 9

Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker! - This verse commences a new subject. Its connection with the preceeding is not very obvious. It may be designed to prevent the objections and cavils of the unbelieving Jews who were disposed to complain against God, and to arraign the wisdom of his dispensations in regard to them, in permitting them to be oppressed by their enemies, and in promising them deliver ance instead of preventing their captivity. So Lowth understands it. Rosenmuller regards it as designed to meet a cavil, because God chose to deliver them by Cyrus, a foreign prince, and a stranger to the true religion, rather than by one of their own nation. Kimchi, and some others, suppose that it is designed to repress the pride of the Babylonians, who designed to keep the Jews in bondage, and who would thus contend with God. But perhaps the idea is of a more general nature.

It may be designed to refer to the fact that any interposition of God, any mode of manifesting himself to people, meets with enemies, and with those who are disposed to contend with him, and especially any display of his mercy and grace in a great revival of religion. In the previous verse the prophet had spoken of the revival of religion. Perhaps he here adverts to the fact that such a manifestation of his mercy would meet with opposition. So it was when the Saviour came, and when Christianity spread around the world; so it is in every revival now; and so it will be, perhaps, in the spreading of the gospel throughout the world in the time that shall usher in the millennium. Men thus contend with their Maker; resist the influences of his Spirit; strive against the appeals made to them; oppose his sovereignty; are enraged at the preaching of the gospel, and often combine to oppose him. That this is the meaning of this passage, seems to be the sentiment of the apostle Paul, who has borrowed this image, and has applied it in a similar manner: ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel auto honor, and another unto dishonor?’ Romans 9:20-21 It is implied that people are opposed to the ways which God takes to govern the world; it is affirmed that calamity shall follow all the resistance which people shall make. This we shall follow, because, first, God has all power, and all who contend with him must be defeated and overthrown; and, secondly, because God is right, and the sinner who opposes him is wrong, and must and will be punished for his resistance.

Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds ... of the earth - Lowth renders this,

Woe unto him that contendeth with the power that formed him;

The potsherd with the moulder of the clay.

The word rendered ‘potsherd’ (חרשׁ cheresh) means properly “a shard,” or “sherd,” that is, a fragment of an earthen vessel Leviticus 6:28; Leviticus 11:33; Job 2:8; Job 41:22; Psalms 22:16. It is then put proverbially for anything frail and mean. Here it is undoubtedly put for man, regarded as weak and contemptible in his efforts against God. Our translation would seem to denote that it was appropriate for man to contend with equals, but not with one so much his superior as God; or that he might have some hope of success in contending with his fellowmen, but none in contending with his Maker. But this sense does not well suit the connection. The idea in the mind of the prophet is not that such contentions are either proper or appropriate among people, but it is the supreme folly and sin of contending with God; and the thought in illustration of this is not that people may appropriately contend with each other, but it is the superlative weakness and fragility of man. The translation proposed, therefore, by Jerome, ‘Wo to him who contends with his Maker - testa de samiis terrae - a potsherd among the earthen pots (made of the earth of Samos) of the earth’ - and which is found in the Syriac, and adopted by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, and Noyes, is doubtless the true rendering. According to Gesenius, the particle את 'êth here means “by” or “among”; and the idea is, that man is a potsherd among the potsherds of the earth; a weak fragile creature among others equally so - and yet presuming impiously to contend with the God that made him. The Septuagint renders this, ‘Is anything endowed with excellence? I fashioned it like the clay of a potter. Will the plowman plow the ground all the day long? Will the clay say to the potter,’ etc.

Shall the clay ... - It would be absurd for the clay to complain to him that moulds it, of the form which he chooses to give it. Not less absurd is it for man, made of clay, and moulded by the hand of God, to complain of the fashion in which he has made him; of the rank which he has assigned him in the scale of being; and of the purposes which he designs to accomplish by him.

He hath no hands - He has no skill, no wisdom, no power. It is by the hand chiefly that pottery is moulded; and the hands here stand for the skill or wisdom which is evinced in making it. The Syriac renders it, ‘Neither am I the work of thy hands.’

Verse 10

Wo unto him that saith unto his father ... - It is wicked and foolish for a son to complain of his father or mother in regard to his birth, or of his rank and condition of life. Probably the idea is, that if a child is by his birth placed in circumstances less advantageous than others, he would have no right to com plain of his parents, or to regard them as having acted improperly in having entered into the marriage relation. In like manner it would be not less improper, certainly, to complain of God who has brought us into existence by his own power, and who acts as a sovereign in the various allotments of our lives. The design is to rebuke the spirit of complaining against the allotments of Providence - a spirit which perhaps prevailed among the Jews, and which in fact is found everywhere among people; and to show that God, as a sovereign, has a right to dispose of his creatures in the manner which he shall judge to be best. The passage proves:

1. That man is formed by God, and that all his affairs are ordered by him as really as the work of the potter is moulded by the hands of the workman.

2. That God had a design in making man, and in ordering and arranging his circumstances in life.

3. That man is little qualified to judge of that design, and not at all qualified to pronounce it unwise, anymore than the clay could charge him that worked it into a vessel with want of wisdom; and,

4. That God is a sovereign, and does as he pleases. He has formed man as he chose, as really as the potter moulds the clay into any shape which he pleases. He has given him his rank in creation; given him such a body - strong, vigorous, and comely; or feeble, deformed, and sickly, as he pleased; he has given him such an intellect - vigorous, manly, and powerful; or weak, feeble, and timid, as he pleased; he has determined his circumstances in life - whether riches, poverty, an elevated rank, or a depressed condition, just as he saw fit; and he is a sovereign also in the dispensation of his grace - having a right to pardon whom he will; nor has man any right to complain.

This passage, however, should not be adduced to prove that God, in all respects, moulds the character and destiny of people as the potter does the clay. Regard should be had in the interpretation to the fact that God is just, and good, and wise, as well as a sovereign; and that man is himself a moral agent, and subject to the laws of moral agency which God has appointed. God does nothing wrong. He does not compel man to sin, and then condemn him for it. He does not make him a transgressor by physical power, as the potter moulds the clay, and then doom him for it to destruction. He does his pleasure according to the eternal laws of equity; and man has no right to call in question the rectitude of his sovereign dispensations.

Verse 11

Thus saith the Lord - This verse is designed still further to illustrate the general subject referred to in this chapter, and especially to show them, that instead of complaining of his designs, or of finding fault with his sovereignty, it was their privilege to inquire respecting his dealings, and even to ‘command’ him. He was willing to be inquired of, and to instruct them in regard to the events which were occurring.

And his Maker - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).

Ask me of things to come - I alone can direct and order future events; and it is your duty and privilege to make inquiry respecting those events. Lowth renders this as a question, ‘Do ye question me concerning my children?’ But the more correct rendering is doubtless that in our translations, where it is represented as a duty to make inquiry respecting future events from God. The idea is:

1. That God alone could direct future events, and give information respecting them.

2. That instead of complaining of his allotments, they should humbly inquire of him in regard to their design, and the proper manner of meeting them; and

3. That if they were made the subject of humble, fervent, believing prayer, he would order them so as to promote their welfare, and would furnish them grace to meet them in a proper manner.

Concerning my sons - Those who are my adopted children. It is implied that God loved them as his children, and that they had the privilege of pleading for his favor and regard, with the assurance that he would be propitious to their cry, and would order events so as to promote their welfare.

And concerning the work of my hands - In regard to what I do. This is also read as a question by Lowth; ‘And do ye give me directions concerning the work of my hands?’ According to this interpretation, God would reprove them for presuming to give him direction about what he should do, in accordance with the sentiment in Isaiah 45:9-10. This interpretation also is adopted by Vitringa, Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and some others. Grotius renders it, ‘Hinder, if you can, my doing what I will with them. Thus you will show what you can do, and what I can do.’ Rosenmuller supposes it to mean, ‘Commit my sons, and the work of my hands to me: suffer me to do with my own what I will.’ It seems to me, however, that the word ‘command’is here to be taken rather as indicating the privilege of his people to present their desires in the language of fervent and respectful petition; and that God here indicates that he would, so to speak, allow them to direct him; that he would hear their prayers, and would conform the events of his administration to their wishes and their welfare. This is the most obvious interpretation; and this will perhaps suit the connection as well as any other. Instead of complaining, and opposing his administration Isaiah 45:9-10, it was their privilege to come before him and spread out their needs, and even to give direction in regard to future events, so far as the events of his administration would bear on them, and he would meet their desires. Thus interpreted, it accords with the numerous passages of the Bible which command us to pray; and with the promises of God that he will lend a listening ear to our cries.

Verse 12

I have made the earth - God here asserts that he had made all things, doubtless with a view to show that he was able to hear their cry, and to grant an answer to their requests. His agency was visible everywhere, alike in forming and sustaining all things, and in raising up for them a deliverer. They might, therefore, go before him with confidence, and spread out all their needs.

Have stretched out the heavens - (See the notes at Isaiah 40:26).

And all their host - The stars (see the notes at Isaiah 40:26).

Have I commanded - All are under my direction and control. What more can be needed by his people than the friendship and protection of him who made the heavens and the earth, and who leads on the stars!

Verse 13

I have raised him up - That is. Cyrus (see the notes at Isaiah 41:2).

In righteousness - In Isaiah 41:2, he is called ‘the righteous man.’ He had raised him up to accomplish his own righteous plans. It does not necessarily mean that Cyrus was a righteous man (see the notes at Isaiah 41:2).

And I will direct all his ways - Margin, ‘Make straight.’ This is the meaning of the Hebrew word (see the notes at Isaiah 40:4). The sense here is, I will make his paths all smooth and level, that is, whatever obstacles are in his way I will remove, and give him eminent success.

He shall build my city - Jerusalem. See Ezra 1:2, where, in his proclamation, Cyrus says, ‘Jehovah, God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’ It is very probable that Cyrus was made acquainted with these predictions of Isaiah. Nothing would be more natural than that the Jews in Babylon, when he should become master of the city, knowing that he was the monarch to whom Isaiah referred, and that he had been raised up for their deliverance, should acquaint him with these remarkable prophecies, and show him that God bad long before designated aim to accomplish this great work (compare the notes at Isaiah 44:28).

And he shall let go my captives - Hebrew, ‘My captivity,’ or ‘my migration;’ that is, those of his people who were in captivity.

Not for price - They shall not be purchased of him as slaves, nor shall they be required to purchase their own freedom. They shall be sent away as freemen, and no price shall be exacted for their ransom (compare Isaiah 52:3). The Jews in Babylon were regarded as captives in war, and therefore as slaves.

Nor for reward - The Hebrew word used here (שׁחד shochad) denotes properly that which is given to conciliate the favor of others, and hence, often a bribe. Here it means, that nothing should be given to Cyrus for their purchase, or to induce him to set them at liberty. He should do it of his own accord. It was a fact that he not only released them, but that he endowed them with rich arid valuable gifts, to enable them to restore their temple and city Ezra 1:7-11.

Verse 14

Thus saith the Lord - This verse is designed to denote the favors which in subsequent times would be conferred on Jerusalem, the city which Isaiah 45:13 was to be rebuilt. It bas reference, according to Lowth, to the conversion of the Gentiles, and their admission into the church of God. Grotius, however, understands it as addressed to Cyrus, and as meaning that, because he had released the Jews without reward, therefore God would give him the wealth of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sabaea, and that those nations should be subject to him. But in this opinion probably he stands alone, and the objections to it are so obvious that they need not be specified. Some of the Jewish interpreters suppose that it refers to the same events as those recorded in Isaiah 43:3, and that it relates to the fact that God had formerly given those nations for the deliverance and protection of his people. They suppose that particular reference is had to the slaughter and destruction of the army of Sennacherib. Vitringa regards it as referring to the fact that proselytes should be made from all these nations to the true religion, and finds, as he supposes, a fulfillment of it in the times of the Saviour and the apostles. In regard to the true meaning of the passage; we may observe:

1. That it refers to the times that would succeed their return from their exile; and not to events that were then past. This is apparent on the face of the passage.

2. It relates to Jerusalem, or to the people of God, and not to Cyrus. This is evident, because it was not true that these nations became subject to Cyrus after his taking Babylon, for it was not Cyrus, but his son Cambyses that invaded and subdued Egypt, and because the whole phraseology has reference to a conversion to religion, and not to the subjection involved in the conquests of war.

3. It appropriately relates to a conversion to the true God, and an embracing of the true religion. This is implied in the language in the close of the verse, ‘saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.’

4. The passage, therefore, means, that subsequent to their return from Babylon, there would be the conversion of those nations; or that they - perhaps mentioned here as the representatives of great and mighty nations in general - would be converted to the true faith, and that their wealth and power would be consecrated to the cause of Yahweh. The time when this was to be, is not fixed in the prophecy itself. It is only determined that it was to be subsequent to the return from the exile, and to be one of the consequences of that return. The fulfillment, therefore, may be sought either under the first preaching of the gospel, or in times still more remote. A more full explanation will occur in the examination of the different parts of the verse.

The labor of Egypt - That is, the fruit, or result of the labor of Egypt; the wealth of Egypt (see the word thus used in Job 10:3; Psalms 78:46; Isaiah 55:2; Jeremiah 3:24; Jeremiah 20:5; Ezekiel 23:9). The idea is, that Egypt would be converted to the true religion, and its wealth consecrated to the service of the true God. The conversion of Egypt is not unfrequently foretold Psalms 68:31 :

Princes shall come out of Egypt.

Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.

See the notes at Isaiah 19:18-22 - where the conversion of Egypt is introduced and discussed at length.

And merchandise of Ethiopia - On the situation of Ethiopia, see the notes at Isaiah 18:1. The word ‘merchandise’ here means the same as wealth, since their wealth consisted in their traffic. That Cush or Ethiopia would be converted to the true religion and be united to the people of God, is declared in the passage above quoted from Psalms 68:31; and also in various other places. Thus in Psalms 67:4 : ‘Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there;’ Zephaniah 3:10 : ‘From beyond the ruins of Ethiopia, my suppliants, even the daughters of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.’

And of the Sabeans, men of stature - (סבאים sebâ'ı̂ym). The inhabitants of Seba (סבא sebâ', not שׁבא shebâ'). Sheba and the Sabeans of that name were a country and people of Arabia Felix - comprising a considerable part of the country now known as Yemen, lying in the southwest part of Arabia Joel 3:8; Job 1:15. That country abounded in frankincense, myrrh, spices, gold, and precious stones 1 Kings 10:1; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20. Seba, here referred to, was a different country. It was inhabited by a descendant of Cush Genesis 10:7, and was probably the same as Meroe in Upper Egypt (see the notes at Isaiah 43:3). That this people was distinguished for height of stature is expressly affirmed by Herodotus (iii. 20), who says of the Ethiopians, among whom the Sabeans are to be reckoned, that they were ‘the tallest of men’ (λέγονται εἶναι μέγιστοι ἀνθρώπων legontai einai megistoi anthrōpōn); and Solinus affirms that the Ethiopians are ‘twelve feet high.’ Agatharchides, an ancient Greek poet, quoted by Bochart (Phaleg. ii. 26), says of the Sabeans, τὰ σώματά ἐστι τῶν κατοικούντων ἀξιολογωτερα ta sōmata esti tōn katoikountōn achiologōtera - ‘the bodies of those who dwell there are worthy of special remark.’ This shows at least a coincidence between the accounts of Scripture and of profane writers. This country is alluded to by Solomon in Psalms 72:10 :

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents;

The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

They are connected here with the Egyptians, and with the inhabitants of Ethiopia or Cush; and their conversion to the true religion would occur probably about the same time. Doubtless the Christian religion was early introduced into these countries, for among those converted on the day of Pentecost, were foreigners from Egypt, and the adjacent countries Acts 2:10-11, who would carry the gospel with them on their return. See also the ease of the eunuch of Ethiopia Acts 8:26-39, by whom, undoubtedly, the gospel was conveyed to that region The first bishop of Ethiopia was Frumentius, who was made bishop of that country about 330 a.d. There is a current tradition among the Ethiopians that the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, was called Maqueda, and that she was not from Arabia, but was a queen of their own country. They say that she adopted the Jewish religion, and introduced it among her people; and the eunuch, who was treasurer under Queen Candace, was probably a Jew by religion if not by birth. Yet there will be in future times a more signal fulfillment of this prophecy, when the inhabitants of these countries, and the people of all other nations, shall be converted to the true religion, and shall give themselves to God (compare the notes at Isaiah 60:3-14). That prophecy has a remarkable similarity to this, and indeed is little more than a beautiful expansion of it.

Shall come over unto thee - To thy religion; or shall be united to thee in the worship of the true God. It denotes a change not of place, but of character, and of religion.

And they shall be thine - A part of thy people; united to thee. The whole language of this description, however, is taken from the custom in the conquests of war, where one nation is made subject to another, and is led along in chains. It is here figurative, denoting that the true religion would make rapid and extensive conquests among the pagan; that is, that the true religion would everywhere triumph over all others. The phrase ‘shall come over,’ denotes that their subjection would be voluntary, and that they should freely abandon their own systems; while the phrases ‘shall be thine,’ ‘in chains,’ denote the triumphant and mighty power of the truth.

They shall come after thee - You shall precede them in the honor of having conveyed to them the true religion, and in that priority of rank which always belongs to those who are first blessed with intelligence, and with the revelation of God.

In chains shall they come over - Language taken from conquests, when subjugated nations are led along as captives; and here denoting the power of that truth which would subdue their false systems, and bring them into complete and entire subjection to the true religion. This does not mean that it would be against their will, or that they could not have resisted it; but merely that they would be in fact as entirely subject to the true religion as are prisoners of war, in chains, to the will of their conquerors (see the notes at Isaiah 14:1-2).

And they shall fall down unto thee - Recognizing thee as having the knowledge of the true God. To fall down is indicative of reverence; and it means here that Jerusalem would be honored as being the source from where the true religion should emanate (compare Luke 24:47). An expression similar to that used here occurs in Isaiah 49:23 : ‘And kings - and queens - shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet.’

They shall make supplication unto thee - Lowth renders this, ‘And in suppliant guise address thee.’ The Hebrew properly means, they shall pray unto thee; but the idea is, that they should come as suppliants to Jerusalem, confessing that there was the knowledge of the only true God, and praying her inhabitants to impart to them an acquaintance with the true religion (see the notes at Isaiah 2:3). The idea indicated by this is, that there would be a condition of anxious solicitude among pagan nations on the subject of the true religion, and that they would seek counsel and direction from those who were in possession of it. Such a state has already existed to some extent among the pagan; and the Scriptures, I think, lead us to suppose that the final spread and triumph of the gospel will be preceded by such an inquiry prevailing extensively in the pagan world. God will show them the folly of idolatry; he will raise up reformers among themselves; the extension of commercial contact will acquaint them with the comparative happiness and prosperity of Christian nations; and the growing consciousness of their own inferiority will lead them to desire that which has conferred so extensive benefits on other lands, and lead them to come as suppliants, and ask that teachers and the ministers of religious may be sent to them. One of the most remarkable characteristics of the present time is, that pagan nations are becoming increasingly sensible of their ignorance and comparative degradation; that they welcome the ministers and teachers sent out from Christian lands; and the increased commerce of the world is thus preparing the world for the final spread of the gospel.

God is in thee - In Jerusalem; or thou art in possession of the only true system of religion, and art the worshipper of the only true God (see Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 60:14).

Verse 15

Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself - That is, that hidest thy counsels and plans. The idea is, that the ways of God seems to be dark until the distant event discloses his purpose; that a long series of mysterious events seem to succeed each other, trying to the faith of his people, and where the reason of his doings cannot be seen. The remark here seems to be made by the prophet, in view of the fact, that the dealings of God with his people in their long and painful exile would be to them inscrutable, but that a future glorious manifestation would disclose the nature of his designs, and make his purposes known (see Isaiah 55:8-9): ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (compare Psalms 44:24; the notes at Isaiah 8:17).

The Saviour - Still the Saviour of his people, though his ways are mysterious and the reasons of his dealings are unknown. The Septuagint renders this, ‘For thou art God, though we did not know it, O God of Israel the Saviour.’ This verse teaches us that we should not repine or complain under the mysterious allotments of Providence. They may be dark now. But in due time they will be disclosed, and we shall be permitted to see his design, and to witness results so glorious, as shall satisfy us that his ways are all just, and his dealings right.

Verse 16

They shall be ashamed and confounded - That is, they shall find all their hopes fail, and shall be suffused with shame that they were ever so senseless as to trust in blocks of wood and stone (see the notes at Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 30:5; Isaiah 43:17).

They shall go to confusion - They shall all retire in shame and disgrace. That is, when they have gone to supplicate their idols, they shall find them unable to render them any aid, and they shall retire with shame.

Verse 17

But Israel shall be saved - Referring primarily to the Jews in Babylon, but affirming the universal truth that the true Israel (compare Romans 2:28-29), that is, the people of God, shall be saved from all their trials, and shall be brought to his everlasting kingdom.

In the Lord - By Jehovah - ביהוה bayohvâh; Septuagint, Ἀπὸ κυρίου Apo kuriou. It shall be done by the power of Yahweh, and shall be traced to him alone. No more human power could have saved them from their captivity in Babylon; no human power can save the soul from hell.

With an everlasting salvation - It shall not be a temporary deliverance; but it shall be perpetual. In heaven his people shall meet no more foes; they shall suffer no more calamity: they shall be driven into no exile; they shall never die.

Ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded - This means:

1. That they should never find God to fail, that is, to be either unable or unwilling to befriend and rescue them Psalms 46:1.

2. That they should never be ashamed, that is, have cause to regret that they had put their trust in him.

The idea is, that they who become his friends never regret it; never are ashamed of it. The time never can come, when anyone who has become a true friend of God will regret it. In prosperity or adversity; in sickness or health; at home or abroad; in safety or in danger; in life or in death: there will be no situation in which they will be ashamed that they gave their hearts to God. There never have been any true Christians who regretted that they became the friends of the Redeemer. Their religion may have exposed them to persecution; their names may have been east out as evil; they may have been stripped of their property; they may have been thrown into dungeons, laid on the rack, or led to the stake; but they have not regretted that they became the friends of God. Nor will they ever regret it. No man on a dying bed regrets that he is a friend of God. No man at the judgment bar will be ashamed to be a Christian. And in all the interminable duration of the world to come, the period never will, never can arrive, when anyone will ever be ashamed that he gave his heart early, and entirely to the Redeemer. Why then should not all become his friends? Why will not people pursue that course which they know they never can regret, rather than the ways of sin and folly, which they know must cover them with shame and confusion hereafter?

Verse 18

For thus saith the Lord - This verse is designed to induce them to put uuwavering confidence in the true God. For this purpose, the prophet enumerates the great things which God had done in proof that he alone was A mighty, and was worthy of trust.

He hath established it - That is, the earth. The language here is derived from the supposition that the earth is laid upon a foundation, and is made firm. The Septuagint renders this, ‘God who displayed the earth to view, and who, having made it, divided it (διώρισεν αὐτὴν diōrisen autēn) that is, parcelled it out to be inhabited. This accords well with the scope of the passage.

He created it not in vain - He did not form it to remain a vast desert without inhabitants.

He formed it to be inhabited - By man, and the various tribes of animals. He makes it a convenient habitation for them; adapts its climates, its soil, and its productions, to their nature; and makes it yield abundance for their support. The main idea, I think, in the statement of this general truth, is, that God designed that the earth at large should be inhabited; and that, therefore, he intended that Judea - thru lying waste while the captives were in Babylon - should be re-populated, and again become the happy abode of the returning exiles. So Grotius interprets it. The Jews, from this passage, infer, that the earth shall be inhabited after the resurrection - an idea which has every probability, since there will not be fewer reasons why the earth shall be inhabited then than there are now; nor can there be any reasons why the earth should then exist in vain anymore than now.

And there is none else - (See the note at Isaiah 45:6).

Verse 19

I have not spoken in secret - The word rendered ‘secret’ (סתר sı̂ther) denotes a hiding, or covering; and the phrase here means secretly, privately. He did not imitate the pagan oracles by uttering his predictions from dark and deep caverns, and encompassed with the circumstances of awful mystery, and with designed obscurity.

In a dark place of the earth - From a cave, or dark recess, in the manner of the pagan oracles. The pagan responses were usually given from some dark cavern or recess, doubtless the bettcr to impress with awe the minds of those who consulted the oracles, and to make them more ready to credit the revelations of the fancied god. Such was the seat of the Sybil, mentioned by Virgil, AEn. vi. 4:

Excisum Euhoicae latus ingens rupis in antrum

Such also was the famous oracle at Delphi. Strobe (ix.) says, ‘The oracle is said to be a hollow cavern of considerable depth, with an opening not very wide.’ Diodorus, giving an account of this oracle, says, ‘that there was in that place a great chasm, or cleft in the earth; in which very place is now situated what is called the Adytum of the temple.’ In contradistinction from all this, God says that he had spoken openly, and without these circumstances of designed obscurity and darkness. In the language here, there is a remarkable resemblance to what the Saviour said of himself, and it is not improbable that he had this passage in his mind: ‘I spoke openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing’ John 18:20. A similar declaration occurs in Deuteronomy 30:11 : ‘This commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.’

I said not to the seed of Jacob - The seed, or the race of Jacob, here means his people: and the idea is, that he had not commanded them to call upon him without his being ready to answer them.

Seek ye me in vain - The phrase, ‘seek ye,’ may refer to worship in general; or more properly to their calling upon him in times of calamity and trial. The sense is, that it had not been a vain or useless thing for them to serve him; that he had been their protector, and their friend; and that they had not gone to him, and spread out their needs for nothing. It is still true, that God does not command his people to seek him in vain (compare Deuteronomy 32:47). His service is always attended with a rich blessing to them; and they are his witnesses that he confers on them inexpressibly great and valuable rewards. It follows from this - first, that his people have abundant encouragement to go to him in all times of trial, persecution, and affliction; secondly, that they have encouragement to go to him in a low state of religion, to confess their sins, to supplicate his mercy, and to pray for the influences of his Holy Spirit, and the revival of his work; and, thirdly, that the service of God is always attended with rich reward. Idols do not benefit those wire serve them. The pursuit of pleasure, gain, and ambition, is often attended with no reward, and is never attended with any benefits that satisfy the needs of the undying mind; but the service of God meets all the needs of the soul; fills all its desires, and confers permanent and eternal rewards.

I the Lord speak righteousness - This stands in opposition to the pagan oracles, which often gave false, delusive, and unjust responses. But not so with God. He had not spoken, as they did, from deep and dark plates - fit emblems of the obscurity of their answers; he had not, as they had, commanded a service that was unprofitable and vain; and he had not, as they had, uttered oracles which were untrue and fitted to delude.

I declare things that are right - Lowth renders this, ‘Who give direct answers;’ and supposes it refers to the fact, that the pagan oracles often give ambiguous and deceitful responses. God never deceived. His responses were always true and unambiguous.

Verse 20

Assemble yourselves, and come - This, like the passage in Isaiah 41:1 ff, is a solemn appeal to the worshippers of idols, to come and produce the evidences of their being endowed with omniscience, and with almighty power, and of their having claims to the homage of their worshippers.

Ye that are escaped of the nations - This phrase has been very variously interpreted. Kimchi supposes that it means those who were distinguished among the nations, their chiefs, and rulers; Aben Ezra, that the Babylonians are meant especially; Vitringa, that the phrase denotes proselytes, as those who have escaped from the idolatry of the pagan, and have embraced the true religion; Grotius, that it denotes those who survived the slaughter which Cyrus inflicted on the nations. Rosenmuller coincides in opinion with Vitringa. The word used here (פליט pâlı̂yṭ) denotes properly one who has escaped by flight from battle, danger, or slaughter Genesis 14:13; Joshua 8:32. It is not used anywhere in the sense of a proselyte; and the idea here is, I think, that those who escaped from the slaughter which Gyrus would bring on the nations, were invited to come and declare what benefit they had derived from trusting in idol-gods. In Isaiah 45:16, God had said they should all be ashamed and confounded who thus put their trust in idols; and he here calls on them as living witnesses that it was so. Those who had put their confidence in idols, and who had seen Cyrus carry his arms over nations notwithstanding their vain confidence, could now testify that no reliance was to be placed on them, and could be adduced as witnesses to show the importance of putting their trust in Yahweh.

That set up the wood - The word ‘wood’ is used here to show the folly of worshipping an image thus made, and to show how utterly unable it was to save.

Verse 21

Tell ye, and bring them near - That is, announce, and bring forward your strongest arguments (see the notes at Isaiah 41:1).

Who hath declared this from ancient time? - Who has clearly announced the events respecting Cyrus, and the conquest of Babylon, and the deliverance from the captivity? The argument is an appeal to the fact that God had clearly foretold these events long before, and that therefore he was the true God. To this argument he often appeals in proof that he alone is God (see the note at Isaiah 41:22-23).

And there is no God else beside me - (See Isaiah 45:5).

A just God - A God whose attribute it is always to do right; whose word is true; whose promises are fulfilled; whose threatenings are executed; and who always does that which, under the circumstances of the case, ought to be done. This does not refer particularly to the fact that he will punish the guilty, but, in the connection here, rather seems to mean that his course would be one of equity.

And a Saviour - Saving his people. It was a characteristic of him, that he saved or preserved his people; and his equity, or truth, or justice, was seen in his doing that. His being ‘a just God’ and ‘a Saviour’ are not set here in contrast or contradiction, as if there was any incongruity in them, or as if they needed to be reconciled; but they refer to the same thing, and mean that he was just and true in saving his people; it was a characteristic of him that be was so true to his promises, and so equitable in his government, that he would save them. There is here no unique and special reference to the work of the atonement. But the language is such as will accurately express the great leading fact in regard to the salvation of sinners. It is in the cross of the Redeemer that God has shown himself eminently to be just, and yet a Saviour; true, and merciful; expressing his abhorrence of sin, and yet pardoning it; maintaining the honor of his violated law, and yet remitting its penalty and forgiving the offender. It is here, in the beautiful language of the Psalmist Psalms 85:10, that

Mercy and truth are met together,

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

The same idea is expressed in Romans 3:26 : ‘That he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.’ It is the glory of the character of God that he can be thus just and merciful at the same time; that he can maintain the honor of his law, secure the stability of his government, and yet extend pardon to any extent. No human administration can do this. Pardon under a human government always does much to weaken the authority of the government, and to set aside the majesty of the law. If never exercised, indeed, government assumes the form of tyranny; if often, the law loses its terrors, and crime will walk fearless through the earth. But in the divine administration, through the atonement, pardon may be extended to any extent, and yet the honor of the law be maintained, for the substituted sufferings of the innocent in the place of the guilty, will in fact do more to restrain from transgression than where the guilty themselves suffer. Of no human administration can it be said that it is at the same time just, and yet forgiving; evincing hatred of the violation of the law, and yet extending mercy to any extent to the violators of the laws. The blending together of these apparently inconsistent attributes belongs only to God, and is manifested only in the plan of salvation through the atonement.

Verse 22

Look unto me, and be ye saved - This is said in view of the declaration made in the previous verse, that he is a just God and a Saviour. It is because he sustains this character that all are invited to look to him; and the doctrine is, that the fact that God is at the same time just and yet a Saviour, or can save consistently with his justice, is an argument why they should took to him, and confide in him. If he is at the same time just - true to his promises; righteous in his dealings; maintaining the honor of his law and government, and showing his hatred of sin; and also merciful, kind, and forgiving, it is a ground of confidence in him, and we should rejoice in the privilege of looking to him for salvation. The phrase ‘look unto me’ means the same as, direct the attention to as we do to one from whom we expect aid. It denotes a conviction on our part of helplessness - as when a man is drowning, he casts an imploring eye to one on the shore who can help him; or when a man is dying, he casts an imploring eye on a physician for assistance. Thus the direction to look to God for salvation implies a deep conviction of helplessness and of sin; and a deep conviction that he only can save. At the same time it shows the ease of salvation. What is more easy than to look to one for help? What more easy than to cast the eyes toward God the Saviour? What more reasonable than that he should require us to do it? And what more just than that God, if people will not look to him in order that they may be saved, should cast them off forever? Assuredly, if a dying, ruined, and helpless sinner will not do so simple a thing as to look to God for salvation, he ought to be excluded from heaven, and the universe will acquiesce in the decision which consigns him to despair.

All the ends of the earth - For the meaning of this phrase, see the note at Isaiah 40:28. The invitation here proves:

1. That the offers of the gospel are universal. None are excluded. The ends of the earth, the remotest parts of the world, are invited to embrace salvation, and all those portions of the world might, under this invitation, come and accept the offers of life.

2. That God is willing to save all; since he would not give an invitation at all unless he was willing to save them.

3. That there is ample provision for their salvation; since God could not invite them to accept of what was not provided for them, nor could he ask them to partake of salvation which had no existence.

4. That it is his serious and settled purpose that all the ends of the earth shall be invited to embrace the offers of life.

The invitation has gone from his lips, and the command has gone forth that it should be carried to every creature Mark 16:15, and now it pertains to his church to bear the glad news of salvation around the world. God intends that it shall be done, and on his church rests the responsibility of seeing it speedily executed.

For I am God - This is a reason why they should look to him to be saved. It is clear that none but the true God can save the soul. No one else but he can pronounce sin forgiven; no one but he can rescue from a deserved hell. No idol, no man, no angel can save; and if, therefore, the sinner is saved, he must come to the true God, and depend on him. That he may thus come, whatever may have been his character, is abundantly proved by this passage. This verse contains truth enough, if properly understood and applied, to save the world; and on the ground of this, all people, of all ages, nations, climes, ranks, and character, might come and obtain eternal salvation.

Verse 23

I have sworn by myself - This verse contains a fuller statement of the truth intimated in the previous verse, that the benefits of salvation should yet be extended to all the world. It is the expression of God’s solemn purpose that all nations should yet be brought to acknowledge him, and partake of the benefits of the true religion. The expression, ‘I have sworn by myself,’ denotes a purpose formed in the most solemn manner, and ratified in the most sacred form. God could swear by no greater Hebrews 6:13, Hebrews 6:16; and this, therefore, is the most solemn assurance that could be possibly given that the purpose which he had formed should be executed. To swear by himself is the same as to swear by his life, or to affirm solemnly that the event shall as certainly occur as that he exists. The same idea is often expressed by the phrase, ‘as I live.’ See a parallel declaration in Numbers 14:21 : ‘But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord’ (compare Numbers 14:28; Isaiah 49:18; Jeremiah 22:24; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16, Ezekiel 14:18, Ezekiel 14:20; Zephaniah 2:9; Romans 14:11). This passage is quoted by Paul in Romans 14:11, where the phrase, ‘I have sworn by myself’ is rendered, ‘as I live, saith the Lord,’ showing that they are equivalent expressions.

The word is gone out of my mouth - The Septuagint renders this, ‘Righteousness shall proceed from my mouth, my words shall not return.’ Lowth renders it, ‘Truth is gone forth from my mouth; the word, and it shall not be revoked.’ Jerome, ‘The word of righteousness has gone forth from my mouth, and shall not return.’ Rosenmuller accords with the interpretation a of Lowth. Probably the correct translation is ‘righteousness’ (that is, the righteous sentence, or purpose, where the word צדקה tsedâqâh is used in the sense of truth, see Isaiah 45:19), has gone out of my mouth, the word (that is, the promise), and it shall not return.’ In this construction the י (y) before לא lo' has the force of a relative pronoun, and is to be referred to דבר dâbâr, ‘the word.’ The sense is, that God had spoken it, and that all which he has spoken shall certainly be fulfilled. The fact that the declaration has once passed his lips, is full proof that the purpose shall be accomplished. This is not to be understood of any promise which he had made before, but it is a solemn declaration which he now makes by the prophet.

That unto me every knee shall bow - To bow or bend the knee, is indicative of homage or adoration; and the idea is, that all should yet acknowledge him to be God (see the note at Romans 14:11). The ancient mode of offering adoration, or of paying homage, was to place the knee on the ground, and then slowly to incline the body until the head touched the earth. This is practiced now in eastern countries (compare Genesis 41:43; 1Ki 19:18; 2 Chronicles 6:13; Matthew 27:29; Romans 11:4; Philippians 2:10; Ephesians 3:14). The obvious and proper signification of this is, that the time would come when God would be everywhere acknowledged as the true God. It refers therefore to the future period of glory on the earth, when all people shall have embraced the true religion, and when idolatry shall have come to an end.

Every tongue shall swear - This expression is evidently taken from the practice of taking an oath of allegiance to a sovereign, and here means that all would solemnly acknowledge him to be the true God, and submit themselves to his government and will. See the phrase explained in the the note at Isaiah 19:18. That this refers to the Messiah and his times, is apparent from the fact that it is twice referred to by the apostle Paul, and applied by him to the Lord Jesus and his religion Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10. It is a glorious promise which remains yet to be fulfilled, and there is no promise in the Bible more certain than that this earth shall yet be filled with the knowledge of the true God.

Verse 24

Surely, shall one say - Margin, ‘He shall say of me, In the Lord is all righteousness and strength.’ The design of the verse is, to set forth more fully the effect of the prevalence of the true religion; and the main thought is, that there shall be an universal acknowledgment that salvation and strength were in Yahweh alone. Idols and people could not save; and salvation was to be traced to Yahweh only. A literal translation of the passage would be, ‘Truly in Jehovah, he said unto me,’ or it is said unto me, that is, I heard it said, ‘is righteousness and strength,’ that is, this would be everywhere the prevailing sentiment that righteousness and strength were to be found in Yahweh alone. The sense is, first, that it was by him alone that they could be pardoned and justified; and, secondly, that it was by him alone that they could obtain strength to meet their enemies, to overcome their sins, to discharge their duties, to encounter temptations, to hear afflictions, and to support them in death. These two things, righteousness and strength, are all that man needs. The whole of religion consists essentially in the feeling that righteousness and strength are to be found in God our Saviour. The Septuagint renders this, ‘Every tongue shall swear to God, saying, Righteousness and glory shall come unto him, and all those who make distinctions among them shall be ashamed.’

Even to him shall men come - For the purpose of being saved (see the notes at Isaiah 2:3).

And all that are incensed against him - All that are opposed to his government and laws.

Shall be ashamed - (See the note at Isaiah 45:16). The enemies of God shall see their own feebleness and folly; and they shall be ashamed that they have endeavored to oppose one so mighty and so glorious as the living God. The multitudes that have in various ways resisted him shall see the folly of their course, and be overwhelmed with shame that they have dared to lift the hand against the God that made the heavens. Jarchi renders this, ‘All who have opposed themselves to God, shall come to him, led by penitence on account of the things which they have done, and shall be ashamed.’

Verse 25

In the Lord - It shall be only in Yahweh that they shall find justification, and this must mean, that it is by his mercy and grace. The entire passage here, I suppose, has reference to the times of the Redeemer (see the notes at Isaiah 45:21-24). If so, it means that justification can be obtained only by the mercy of God through a Redeemer. The great truth is, therefore, here brought into view, which constitutes the sum of the New Testament, that people are not justified by their own works, but by the mercy and grace of God.

All the seed of Israel - All the spiritual seed or descendants of Jacob. It cannot mean that every individual shall be justified and saved, for the Bible abundantly teaches the contrary (see Matthew 8:11-12; Romans 11:0) But it must mean that all who have a character resembling that of Israel, or Jacob; all who are the true children and friends of God (see Romans 2:28-29; Romans 4:9-13).

Be justified - Be regarded and treated as righteous. Their sins shall be pardoned, and they shall be acknowledged and treated as the children of God (see the notes at Romans 3:24-25). To justify, here, is not to pronounce them innocent, or to regard them as deserving of his favor; but it is to receive them into favor, and to resolve to treat them as if they had not sinned; that is, to treat them as if they were righteous. All this is by the mere mercy and grace of God, and is through the merits of thc Redeemer, who died in their place.

And shall glory - Or rather, shall praise and celebrate his goodness. The word used here (חלל châlal) means, in the Piel, “to sing, to chant, to celebrate the praises of anyone” 1 Chronicles 16:36; Psalms 44:9; Psalms 117:1; Psalms 145:2, and is the word of which the word “hallelujah” is in part composed. Here it means, that the effect of their being justified by Yahweh would be, that they would be filled with joy, and would celebrate the goodness of God. This effect of being justified, is more fully stated in Romans 5:1-5. It is a result which always follows; and a disposition to praise and magnify the name of God in view of his boundless mercy in providing a way by which sinners may be justified, is one of the first promptings of a renewed heart, and one of the evidences that a soul is born again.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 45". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/isaiah-45.html. 1870.
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