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Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 48

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This chapter contains renewed assurances of the deliverance of the exile Jews from Babylon. It is designed, in the main, to state the causes for which the captivity would occur, and to furnish the assurance also that, notwitbstanding the judgment that should come upon them, God would deliver them from bondage. It contains lamentations that there was a necessity for bringing these calamities upon them; assurances that God had loved them; appeals to themselves in proof that all that they had suffered had been predicted; and a solemn command to go forth out of Babylon. It is to be regarded as addressed to the exile Jews in Babylon, though it is not improbable that the prophet designed it to have a bearing on the Jews of his own time, as given to idolatry, and that he intended that the former part of the chapter should be an indirect rebuke to them by showing them the consequences of their proneness to idolatry. The chapter is exceedingly tender, and full of love, and is an expression of the kindness which God has for his own people.

It is not very susceptible of division, or of easy analysis, but the following topics present probably the main points of the chapter.

I. A reproof of the Jews for their idolatrous tendencies, reminding them that this was the characteristic of the nation, and indirectly intimating that all their calamitics would come upon them on account of that Isaiah 48:1-8. This part contains:

1. An address to the Jews, as those who professed to worship God, though in insincerity and hypocrisy Isaiah 48:1-2.

2. A solemn declaration of God that he had foretold all these events, and that they could not be traced in any manner to the power of idols, and that he, therefore, was God Isaiah 48:3-7.

3. Their character had been that of rebellion and treachery, from the very commencement of their history Isaiah 48:8.

II. Promises of deliverance from the evils which their sins had brought upon them, with expressions of regret that their conduct hurl been such as to make such judgments necessary Isaiah 48:9-19.

1. God says that he would restrain his anger, and would not wholly cut them of Isaiah 48:9.

2. The purpose of the calamities brought upon them was to refine and purify them, as in a furnace Isaiah 48:10.

3. All his dealings with them had been for his own glory, and so as to promote his own honor Isaiah 48:11.

4. An assertion of his power, and his ability to accomplish what he had purposed Isaiah 48:12-13.

5. He had solemnly purposed to destroy Babylon, and the Chaldeans Isaiah 48:14.

6. He had raised up for that purpose one who should accomplish his designs Isaiah 48:15-16.

7. He expresses his deep regret that their conduct had been such as to make it necessary to bring these heavy judgments on them, and states what would have been the result if thcy had observed his commandments. Their peace would have been as a river, their righteousness as the waves of the sea, and their offspring as the sand Isaiah 48:17-19.

III. A command to go forth from Babylon, implying the highest assurance that they should be delivered from their long and painful captivity Isaiah 48:20-22.

1. They should go out with singing and triumph; and the ends of the earth should see it Isaiah 48:20.

2. God would provide for them in the deserts, and cause the waters to flow for them in their journey through the pathless wilderness Isaiah 48:21.

The chapter concludes with a general declaration that the wicked have no peace, implying that they only have peace and security who put their trust in God Isaiah 48:22.

Verse 1

The idea is, that Judah was the fountain, or origin of the people who were then exiled in Babylon. The ten tribes had revolted, and had been carried away, and the name of Benjamin had been absorbed in that of Judah, and this had become the common name of the nation. Perhaps Judah is mentioned here with honor as the fountain of the nation, because it was from him that the Messiah was to descend Genesis 49:10 : and this mention of his name would serve to bring that promise to view, and would be an assurance that the nation would not be destroyed, nor the power finally depart until He should come.

Which swear by the name - Who worship Yahweh, and acknowledge him as the only true God (see the notes at Isaiah 19:18; Isaiah 45:23; compare Isaiah 48:1; Isaiah 65:16).

And make mention - That is, in your prayers and praises. You acknowledge him, and profess to worship him.

But not in truth - In a hypocritical manner; not in sincerity. Compare Jeremiah 5:2 : ‘And though they say, The Lord liveth, surely they swear falsely.’

Verse 2

For they call themselves of the holy city - Of Jerusalem (see Isaiah 52:1; Nehemiah 11:1; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53; Revelation 21:2-27). The word rendered ‘for’ here, (כי kı̂y) means, as it often does, “although”; and the sense is, although they call themselves of the holy city, they do not worship God in sincerity and truth. Jerusalem was called ‘the holy city,’ because the temple, the ark, and the symbol of the divine presence were there, and it was the place where God was worshipped. It was deemed sacred by the Jews, and they regarded it as sufficient proof of goodness, it would seem, that they had dwelt there. Even in Babylon they would pride themselves on this, and suppose, perhaps, that it entitled them to divine protection and favor.

And stay themselves upon the God of Israel - In time of danger and trial they profess to seek him, and to commit their cause to him.

The Lord of hosts is his name - (See the notes at Isaiah 1:9). The object of the prophet in here mentioning his holy name is, probably, to show them the guilt of their conduct. He was Yahweh, the source of all existence. He was the God of all the hosts of heaven, and all the armies on earth. How wicked, therefore, it was to come before him in a false and hypocritical manner, and while they were professedly worshipping him, to be really offering their hearts to idols, and to be characteristically inclined to relapse into idolatry!

Verse 3

I have declared the former things - That is, in former times I have predicted future events by the prophets, which have come to pass as they were foretold. Though the fulfillment might have appeared to be long delayed, yet it came to pass at the very time, showing it to be an exact fulfillment of the prophecy. The design of thus referring to the former predictions is, to remind them of their proneness to disregard his declarations, and to recall to their attention the fact that all that he said would be certainly accomplished. As a people, they had been prone to disbelieve his word. He saw that the same thing would take place in Babylon, and that there also they would disbelieve his prophecies about raising up Cyrus, and restoring them to their own land. He therefore endeavors to anticipate this, by reminding them of their former unbelief, and of the fact that all that he had foretold in former times had come to pass.

From the beginning - In regard to this, and the meaning of the phrase, ‘the former things, see the notes at Isaiah 41:22; Isaiah 43:9. The phrase. ‘former things,’ refers to the things which precede others; the series, or order of events.

I did them suddenly - They came to pass at an unexpected time; when you were not looking for them, and when perhaps you were doubting whether they would occur, or were calling in question the divine veracity. The idea is, that God in like manner would, certainly, and suddenly, accomplish his predictions about Babylon, and their release from their captivity.

Verse 4

Because I knew that thou art obstinate - I made these frequent predictions, and fulfilled them in this striking manner, because I knew that as a people, you were prone to unbelief, and in order that you might have the most full and undoubted demonstration of the truth of what was declared. As they were disinclined to credit his promises, and as he saw that in their long captivity they would be prone to disbelieve what he had said respecting their deliverance under Cyrus, he had, therefore, given them these numerous evidences of the certainty of the fulfillment of all his prophecies, in order that their minds might credit what he said about their return to their own land.

That thou art obstinate - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘Hard,’ The sense is, that they were obstinate and intractable - an expression probably taken from a bullock which refuses to receive the yoke. The word hard, as expressive of obstinacy, is often combined with others. Thus, in Exodus 32:9; Exodus 34:9, ‘hard of neck,’ that is, stiff-necked, stubborn; ‘hard of face’ Ezekiel 2:4; ‘hard of heart’ Ezekiel 3:7. The idea is, that they were, as a people, obstinate, rebellious, and indisposed to submit to the laws of God - a charge which is often brought against them by the sacred writers, and which is abundantly verified by all their history as a people (compare Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3-5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6-13; Deuteronomy 31:27; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Ezekiel 2:4; Acts 7:51).

Thy neck is an iron sinew - The word גיד giyd means properly a cord, thong, or band; then a nerve, sinew, muscle, or tendon. The metaphor is taken from oxen when they make their neck stiff, and refuse to submit it to the yoke.

And thy brow brass - Thy forehead is hard and insensible as brass. The phrase is applied to the shameless brow of a harloi Jeremiah 3:3; Ezekiel 3:7, where there is an utter want of modesty, and consummate impudence. A brow of brass is an image of insensibility, or obstinacy (so in Jeremiah 6:28).

Verse 5

I have even from the beginning declared it to thee - He had foretold future events, so that they had abundant demonstration thai he was the true God, and so that they could not be under a mistake in regard to the source of their deliverances from danger.

Mine idol hath done them - The idols and molten images had not foretold these events and when they came to pass, it could not, therefore, be pretended that they had been produced by idols. By predicting them, Yahweh kept up the proof that he was the true God, and demonstrated that he alone was worthy of their confidence and regard.

Verse 6

Thou hast heard - You are witnesses that the prediction was uttered long before it was fulfilled.

See all this - Behold how it is all fulfilled. Bear witness that the event is as it was predicted.

And will ye not declare it? - Will you not bear witness to the entire fulfillment of the prophecy? God appeals to them as qualified to testify that what he had declared had come to pass, and calls on them to make this known as a demonstration that he alone was God (see the notes at Isaiah 44:8).

I have showed thee new things from this time - From this time I make known a thing which has not before occurred, that you may have a similar demonstration that Yahweh is God. The ‘new thing’ here referred to, is, doubtless, the prediction of the deliverance from the captivity at Babylon - a new thing, in contradistinction from those which had been before predicted, and which were already fulfilled (see the notes at Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:19).

Even hidden things - Events which are so concealed that they could not be conjectured by any political sagacity, or by any contemplation of mere natural causes. They are, as it were, laid up in dark treasurehouses (compare Isaiah 45:3), and they can be known only by him to whom ‘the darkness shineth as the day,’ and to whom the night and the day are both alike Psalms 139:12.

Verse 7

They are created now - The Septuagint renders this, Νῦν γίνεται nun ginetai - ‘Done now;’ and many expositors interpret it in the sense that they are now brought into light, as if they were created. Aben Ezra renders it, ‘They are decreed and determined by me.’ Rosenmuller supposes that it refers to the revelation, or making known those things. Lowth renders it, ‘They are produced now, and not of old.’ Noyes, ‘It is revealed now, and not long ago.’ But the sense is probably this: God is saying that they did not foresee them, nor were they able to conjecture them by the contemplation of any natural causes. There were no natural causes in operation at the time the predictions were made, respecting the destruction of Babylon, by which it could be conjectured that that event would take place; and when the event occurred, it was as if it had been created anew. It was the result of Almighty power and energy, and was to be traced to him alone. The sense is, that it could no more be predicted, at the time when the prophecy was uttered, from the operation of any natural causes, than an act of creation could be predicted, which depended on the exercise of the divine will alone. It was a case which God only could understand, in the same way as he alone could understand the purposes and the time of his own act of creating the world.

And not from the beginning - The events have not been so formed from the beginning that they could be predicted by the operation of natural causes, and by political sagacity.

Even before the day when thou heardest them not - The sense of this probably, ‘and before this day thou hast not heard of them;’ that is, these predictions pertain to new events, and are not to be found in antecedent prophecies. The prophet did not speak now of the deliverance from Egypt, and of the blessings of the promised land, which had constituted the burden of many of the former prophecies, but he spoke of a new thing; of the deliverance from Babylon, and of events which they could by no natural sagacity anticipate, so that they could claim that they knew them.

Lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them - The taking of Babylon by Cyrus, and the deliverance of the exiles from their bondage, are events which can be foreseen only by God. Yet the prophet says that he had declared these events, which thus lay entirely beyond the power of human conjecture, long before they occurred, so that they could not possibly pretend that they knew them by any natural sagacity, or that an idol had effected this.

Verse 8

Yea, thou heardest not - This verse is designed to show not only that these events could not have been foreseen by them, but that when they were actually made known to them, they were stupid, dull, and incredulous. It is not only re-affirming what had been said in the previous verses, but is designed to show that they were characteristically and constantly a perverse, hardened, and insensible people. The phrase, ‘thou heardest not,’ therefore means that they did not attend to these things when they were uttered, and were prone to disregard God, and all his predictions and promises.

Yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened - The word ‘that’ which is here supplied by our translators, greatly obscures the sense. The meaning is, ‘from the first, thine ear was not open to receive them’ (Lowth); that is, they were stupid, insensible, and uniformly prone to disregard the messages of God. To open the ear, denotes a prompt and ready attention to what God says (see Isaiah 50:5), and to close the ear denotes an unwillingness to listen to what is spoken by him.

For I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously - I knew that, as a people, you are characteristically false and perfidious. This does not refer to their conduct toward other nations, but to their conduct toward God. They were false and unfaithful to him, and the sense is, that if God had not foretold the destruction of Babylon and their deliverance from it so clearly that there could have been no misunderstanding of it, and no perversion, they would have also perverted this, and ascribed it to something else than to him. Perhaps they might, as their forefathers did, when they came out of Egypt Exodus 32:4, have ascribed it to idols (compare Isaiah 48:5), and the result might have been a relapse into that very sin, to cure which was the design of removing them to Babylon.’

And wast called - This was thy appropriate appellation.

From the womb - From the very commencement of your national history; from the very time when the nation was first organized (see the notes at Isaiah 44:2).

Verse 9

For my name’s sake - (See the notes at Isaiah 43:25; compare Isaiah 66:5). It is possible that the design of this verse may be, to answer an objection. ‘If the character of the nation is such, it might be said, ‘why should God desire to restore them again to their own land? If their sins have been so great as to make these heavy judgments proper, why not suffer them to remain under the infliction of the deserved judgment? Why should God interpose? why raise up Cyrus? why overthrow Babylon? why conduct them across a pathless wilderness, and provide for them in a sandy desert?’ To this the answer is, that it was not on their account. It was not because they were deserving of his favor, nor was it primarily and mainly in order that they might be happy. It was on his own account - in order to show his covenant faithfulness; his fidelity to the promises made to their fathers, his mercy, his compassion, his readiness to pardon, and his unchanging love. And this is the reason why he ‘defers his anger,’ in relation to any of the children of people. His own glory, and not their happiness, is the main object in view. And this is right. The glory, the honor, and the happiness of God, are of more importance than the welfare of any of his creatures; because, first, they are in themselves of more importance, just in proportion as God is more elevated than any of his creatures; and, secondly, the welfare of any or all of his creatures depends on the maintaining of the honor of God, and of his government, and on the manifestation of his perfections to the universe (see the treatise of President Edwards on The end for which God created the world, in Works, vol. iii. New York Ed. 1830).

Will I defer mine anger - That is, I will spare you, and restore you again to your own land (see the note at Isaiah 48:11).

And for my praise will I refrain for thee - Will I refrain my anger in reference to you as a nation. The word used here (חטם châṭam) denotes properly to muzzle, and is commonly employed with reference to an animal in order to tame or subdue it. Here it means that God would restrain himself; He would not put forth His anger in order to destroy them. Learn hence:

1. That God acts with reference to his own glory, in order to manifest his own perfections, and to secure his praise.

2. That the reason why the wicked are not cut off sooner in their transgressions is, that He may show his forbearance, and secure praise by long-suffering.

3. That the reason why the righteous are kept amidst their frequent failures in duty, their unfaithfulness, and their many imperfections, is, that God may get glory by showing his covenant fidelity.

4. That it is one evidence of piety - and one that is indispensable - that there should be a willingness thai God should secure his own glory in his own way, and that there should be a constant desire that his praise should be promoted, whatever may befall his creatures.

Verse 10

Behold, I have refined thee - This refers to the Jews in their afflictions and captivity in Babylon. It states one design which he had in view in these afflictions - to purify them. The word used here, and rendered ‘refined’ (צרף tsâraph), means properly to melt; to smelt metals; to subject them to the action of fire, in order to remove the scoria or dross from them (see the notes at Isaiah 1:25). Then it means to purify in any manner. Here it means that God had used these afflictions for the same purpose for which fire is used in regard to metals, in order that every impurity in their moral and religious character might be removed.

But not with silver - Margin, ‘For.’ Hebrew, בכסף bekâseph. Many different interpretations of this have been proposed. Jerome renders it, Non quasi argentum - ‘Not as silver.’ The Septuagint, Οὐχ ἕνεκεν ἀργυρίου ouch heneken arguriou - ‘Not on account of silver.’ Grotius explains it, ‘I have a long time tried thee by afflictions, but nothing good appears in thee;’ that is, I have not found you to be silver, or to be pure, as when a worker in metals applies the usual heat to a mass of ore for the purpose of separating the dross, and obtains no silver. Gesenius explains it to mean, ‘I sought to make you better by afflictions, but the end was not reached; you were not as silver which is obtained by melting, but as dross.’ Rosenmuller supposes it means, that he had not tried them with that intensity of heat which was necessary to melt and refine silver; and remarks, that those skilled in metals observe that gold is easily liquified, but that silver requires a more intense heat to purify it. Jarchi renders it, ‘Not by the fire of Gehenna as silver is melted by the fire.’ Kimchi explains it, ‘Not as one who is smelting silver, and who removes all the scoria from it, and so consumes it that nothing but pure silver remains. If that had been done, but few of you would have been left.’ Vitringa supposes that it means, that God had sent them to Babylon to be purified, yet it was not to be done with silver. It was by the agency of a people who were wicked, sinful, and unbelieving. Amidst this variety of interpretation, it is difficult to determine the sense. Probably it may be, I have melted thee, and found no silver; or the result has not been that you have been shown to be pure by all your trials; and thus it will agree with what is said above, that they were perverse, false, and rebellious as a people.

I have chosen thee - Lowth renders this, ‘I have tried thee.’ The Vulgate and the Septuagint, however, render it, ‘I have chosen thee.’ The word used here (from בחר bâchar) means, according to Gesenius:

1. To prove, to try, to examine; and the primary idea, according to him, is that of rubbing with the lapis Lydius, or touchstone, or else of cutting in pieces for the purpose of examining.

2. To approve, choose, or select. This is the most common signification in the Hebrew Bible Genesis 13:11; Exodus 17:9; Joshua 24:15; Job 9:14; Job 15:5; Job 29:25.

3. To delight in Genesis 6:2; Isaiah 1:29. Probably the meaning here is, ‘I have proved or tried thee in the furnace of affliction.’ It was true, however, that God had chosen or selected their nation to be his people when they were suffering in the furnace of affliction in Egypt; and it is also true that God chooses sinners now, or converts them, as the result of heavy affliction. Possibly this may be the idea, that their affliction had prepared them to embrace his offers and to seek consolation in him; and he may design to teach that one effect of affliction is to prepare the mind to embrace the offers of mercy.

In the furnace of affliction - Referring particularly to their trials in Babylon. Afflictions are often likened to fire - from the fact that fire is used to purify or try metals, and afflictions have the same object in reference to the people of God.

Verse 11

For mine own sake - (See Isaiah 48:9). The expression here is repeated to denote emphasis. He had thrown them into the furnace of affliction on his own account, that is, in order that his own name should not be profaned by their irreligion and idolatry, and that the glory which was due to him should not be given to idols.

For how should my name be polluted? - The sense is, that it would be inconsistent with his perfections to see his name profaned without endeavoring to correct and prevent it; and in order to this, that he brought these afflictions upon them. They had profaned his name by their irreligion and hypocrisy. In order to correct this evil, and to prevent it in future, he had brought these national judgments on them, and removed them to Babylon. The doctrine here taught is, that when the conduct of God’s professed people is such as to dishonor God, and to make his name a subject of reproach with the wicked, he will visit them with heavy judgments. He cannot indulge them in a course of life which will reflect dishonor on his own name.

And I will not give my glory unto another - (See the notes at Isaiah 42:8). The sense here is this. The Jews had, as a nation, been prone to ascribe to idols that which was due to God alone. To correct this, and to make an effectual reform, he had removed them to Babylon, and doomed them to a long and painful captivity there. It may be added that the punishment was effectual, and that their long trial in Babylon served entirely to correct all their idolatrous propensities as a nation.

Verse 12

Hearken unto me - This is a solemn call on the Jews in Babylon to attend to what he was now about to say. It is the commencement of a new part of the argument, containing the assurance that he would deliver them, and utterly destroy the Chaldeans. He begins, therefore, by asserting that he is the only true God, and that he is able to accomplish all his purposes.

My called - The people whom I have chosen, or called.

I am he - I am the same; or I am the true and only God.

I am the first - (See the notes at Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6).

Verse 13

Mine hand also hath laid ... - I am the Creator of all things, and I have all power, and am abundantly able to deliver you from all your foes.

And my right hand hath spanned the heavens - Margin, ‘The palm of my right hand hath spread out.’ The sense is, that he by his right hand had spanned, or measured the heavens. The phrase is designed to show his greatness and his power (see the notes at Isaiah 40:12).

When I call unto them - (See the note at Isaiah 40:26). The sense here is, that he who had power thus to command the hosts of heaven, and to secure their perfect obedience by his word, had power also to defend his people, and to deliver them from their foes, and conduct them in safety to their own land.

Verse 14

All ye, assemble yourselves and hear - Ye Jews who are in Babylon, gather together, and listen to the assurance that God is able to protect you, and that he will certainly restore you to your own country.

Which among them - Who among the pagan?

Hath declared these things? - The things relating to the destruction of Babylon, and the rescue of his people. This is an appeal similar to that which God has often made, that he alone can predict future events. None of the astrologers, soothsayers, or diviners of Babylon had been able to foretell the expedition and the conquests of Cyrus, and the capture of the city. If they had been able to foresee the danger, they might have guarded against it, and the city might have been saved. But God had predieted it a hundred and fifty years before it occurred, and this demonstrated, therefore, that he alone was God.

The Lord hath loved him - Lowth renders this, ‘He whom Jehovah hath loved will execute his will on Babylon.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘Loving thee, I will execute thy will against Babylon.’ There can be no doubt that it refers to Cyrus, and that the meaning is, that he whom Yahweh had loved would accomplish his will on Babylon. It does not necessarily mean that Yahweh was pleased with his moral character, or that he was a pious man (compare the notes at Isaiah 41:2); but that he was so well pleased with him as an instrument to accomplish his purposes, that he chose to employ him for that end.

He will do his pleasure on Babylon - He will accomplish all his desire on that city; that is, he will take, and subdue it. The word ‘his’ here, may refer either to Cyrus or to Yahweh. Probably it means that Cyrus would do to Babylon what would be pleasing to Yahweh.

And his arm - The arm is a symbol of strength, and is the instrument by which we execute our purposes.

Verse 15

I, even I, have spoken - The word ‘I’ is repeated to give emphasis, and to furnish the utmost security that it should be certainly accomplished. It means, that Yahweh, and he alone, had declared this, and that it was entirely by his power that Cyrus had been raised up, and had been made prosperous.

Yea, I have called him - (See the note at Isaiah 41:2).

I have brought him - I have led him on his way in his conquests.

And he shall make his way prosperous - There is a change of person in this verse, from the first to the third, which is quite common in the writings of Isaiah.

Verse 16

Come ye near unto me - (see Isaiah 48:14).

I have not spoken in secret - (See the notes at Isaiah 45:19). The idea here is, that he had foretold the raising up of Cyrus, and his agency in delivering his people, in terms so plain that it could not be pretended that it was conjectured, and so clear that there was no ambiguity.

From the time that it was, there am I - From the moment when the purpose was formed, and when it began to be accomplished, I was present. The meaning is, that everything in regard to raising up Cyrus, and to the delivery of his people from Babylon, had been entirely under his direction.

And now the Lord God and his Spirit hath sent me - There is evidently a change in the speaker here. In the former part of the verse, it is God who is the speaker. But here it is he who is sent to bear the message. Or, if this should be regarded, as Lowth and many others suppose, as the Messiah who is speaking to the exiled Jews, then it is an assertion that he had been sent by the Lord God and his Spirit. There is an ambiguity in the original, which is not retained in our common translation. The Hebrew is, ‘And now the Lord Yahweh hath sent me, and his Spirit;’ and the meaning may be either, as in our version, that Yahweh and his Spirit were united in sending the person referred to; or that Yahweh had sent him, and at the same time had also sent his Spirit to accompany what he said. Grotius renders it, ‘The Lord by his Spirit bas given me these commands.’ Jerome understands the word ‘Spirit’ as in the nominative case, and as meaning that the Spirit united with Yahweh in sending the person referred to - Dominus Deus misit me, et spiritus ejus.

The Septuagint, like the Hebrew, is ambiguous - Νῦν κύριος κύριος ἀπέστειλέ με, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ Nun kurios kurios apesteile me, kai to pneuma autou. The Syriac has the same ambiguity. The Targum of Jonathan renders it, ‘And now Jehovah (יי yeyâ) God hath sent me and his word.’ It is perhaps not possible to determine, where there is such ambiguity in the form of the sentence, what is the exact meaning. As it is not common, however, in the Scriptures, to speak of the Spirit of God as sending, or commissioning his servants; and as the object of the speaker here is evidently to conciliate respect for his message as being inspired, it is probably to be regarded as meaning that he had been sent by Yahweh and was accompanied wish the influences of his Spirit. Many of the reformers, and others since their time have supposed that this refers to the Messiah, and have endeavored to derive a demonstration from this verse of the doctrine of the Trinity. The argument which it has been supposed these words furnish on that subject is, that three persons are here spoken of, the person who sends, that is, God the Father; the person who is sent, that is, the Messiah; and the Spirit, who concurs in sending him, or by whom he is endowed.

But the evidence that this refers to the Messiah is too slight to lay the foundation for such an argument; and nothing is gained to the cause of truth by such forced interpretations. “It would require more time, and toil, and ingenuity to demonstrate that this passage had reference to the Messiah, than it would to demontstrate the doctrine of the Trinity, and the divinity of the Redeemer, from the unequivocal declarations of the New Testament.” The remark of Calvin on this verse, and on this mode of interpretation, is full of good sense: ‘This verse interpreters explain in different ways. Many refer it to Christ, but the prophet designs no such thing. Cavendoe autem sunt nobis violentoe et coactoe interpretations - (such forced and violent interpretations are to be avoided).’ The scope of the passage demands, as it seems to me, that it should be referred to the prophet himself. His object is, to state that he had not come at his own instance, or without being commissioned. He had been sent by God, and was attended by the Spirit of inspiration. He foretold events which the Spirit of God alone could make known to mankind. It is, therefore, a strong asseveration that his words demanded their attention, and that they had every ground of consolation, and every possible evidence that they would be rescued from their bondage. It is a full claim to divine inspiration, and is one of the many assertions which are found in the Scriptures where the sacred writers claim to have been sent by God, and taught by his Spirit.

Verse 17

Thy Redeemer - (see the notes at Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1).

Which teacheth thee to profit - Teaching you what things will most conduce to your welfare. The reference hero is chiefly to the afflictions which they suffered in Babylon.

Which leadeth thee - I am thy conductor and guide. God taught them, as he does his people now, by his Providence, his revealed word, and his Spirit, the way in which they ought to go. It is one of his characteristics that he is the guide and director of his people.

Verse 18

O that thou hadst heardened to my commandments! - This expresses the earnest wish and desire of God. He would greatly have preferred that they should have kept his law. He had no wish that they should sin, and that these judgments should come upon them. The doctrine taught here is, that God greatly prefers that people should keep his laws. He does not desire that they should be sinners, or that they should be punished. It was so with regard to the Jews; and it is so with regard to all. In all cases, at all times, and with reference to all his creatures, he prefers holiness to sin; he sincerely desires that there should be perfect obedience to his commandments. It is to be remarked also that this is not merely prospective, or a declaration in the abstract. It relates to sin which had been actually committed, and proves that even in regard to that, God would have preferred that it had not been committed. A declaration remarkably similar to this, occurs in Psalms 81:13-16 :

O that my people had hearkened unto me,

And Israel had walked in my ways;

I should soon have subdued their’ enemies,

And turned their hand against their adversaries

The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him:

But their time should have endured forever.

He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat;

And with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.

Compare Deuteronomy 22:29; Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 18:23-32; Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:21.

Then had thy peace been as a river - The word ‘peace’ here (שׁלום shâlôm) means properly wholeness, soundness, and then health, welfare, prosperity, good of every kind. It then denotes peace, as opposed to war, and also concord and friendship. Here it evidently denotes prosperity in general, as opposed to the calamities which actually came upon them.

As a river - That is, abundant - like a full, flowing river that fills the banks, and that conveys fertility and blessedness through a land. ‘The pagan, in order to represent the Universal power and beneficence of Jupiter, used the symbol of a river flowing from his throne; and to this the Sycophant in Plautus alludes (Trium. Act iv. Sc. 2, v. 98), in his saying that he had been at the head of that river:

Ad caput amuis, quod de coelo exoritur, sub solio Jovis.

See also Wemyss’ Key to the Symbolical Language of Scripture, Art. River. Rivers are often used by the sacred writers, and particularly by Isaiah, as symbolic of plenty and prosperity Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 43:19.

And thy righteousness - The holiness and purity of the nation. Religion, with all its inestimable benefits, would have abounded to the utmost extent. Instead of the prevailing idolatry and corruption, the hypocrisy and insincerity which had abounded, and which made it necessary for God to remote them, they would have been distinguished for sincerity, purity, love, and holy living. And this proves that God would have preferred the prevalence of holiness.

As the waves of the sea - What can be a more beautiful or sublime image than this? What can more strikingly represent the abundance of the blessings which religion would have conferred on the land? The waves of the sea are an emblem of plenty. They seem to be boundless. They are constantly rolling. And so their righteousness would have been without a limit; and would have rolled unceasingly its rich blessings over the land. Who can doubt that this would have been a better state, a condition to have been preferred to that which actually existed?

Verse 19

Thy seed also - Instead of being reduced to a small number by the calamities incident to war, and being comparatively a small and powerless people sighing in captivity, you would have been a numerous and mighty nation. This is another of the blessings which would have followed from obedience to the commands of God; and it proves that a people who are virtuous and pious will become numerous and mighty. Vice, and the diseases, the wars, and the divine judgments consequent on vice, tend to depopulate a nation, and to make it feeble.

As the sand - This is often used to denote a great and indefinite number (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12; Genesis 41:49; Joshua 11:4; Jdg 7:12; 1 Samuel 13:5; 2 Samuel 17:11; 1 Kings 4:20-29; Job 29:18; Psalms 139:18; the note at Isaiah 10:22; Hosea 1:10; Revelation 20:8).

And the offspring of thy bowels - On the meaning of the word used here, see the note at Isaiah 22:24.

Like the gravel thereof - literally, ‘and the offspring of thy bowels shall be like its bowels,’ that is, like the offspring of the sea. The phrase refers probably rather to the fish of the sea, or the innumerable multitudes of animals that swim in the sea, than to the gravel. There is no place where the word means gravel. Jerome, however, renders it, Ut lapili ejus - ‘As its pebbles.’ The Septuagint Ὡς ὁ χοῦς τῆς γῆς hōs ho chous tēs gēs - ‘As the dust of the earth.’ The Chaldee also renders it, ‘As the stones of the sea;’ and the Syriac also. The sense is essentially the same that the number of the people of the nation would have been vast.

His name should not have been out off - This does not imply of necessity that they had ceased to be a nation when they were in Babylon, but the meaning is, that if they had been, and would continue to be, obedient, their national existence would have been perpetuated to the end of time. When they ceased to be a distinct nation, and their name was blotted out among the kingdoms of the earth, it was for national crime and unbelief Romans 11:20.

Verse 20

Go ye forth of Babylon - The prophet now directly addresses those who were in exile in Babylon, and commands them to depart from it. The design of this is, to furnish the assurance that they should be delivered, and to show them the duty of leaving the place of their long captivity when the opportunity of doing it should occur. It is also designed to show that when it should occur, it would be attended with great joy and rejoicing.

Flee ye from the Chaldeans with a voice of singing - With the utmost exultation and joy. They should rejoice that their captivity was ended; they should exult at the prospect of being restored again to their own land.

Utter it even to the end of the earth - It is an event so great and wonderful that all the nations should be made acquainted with it.

The Lord hath redeemed ... - Yahweh has rescued from captivity his people (see the notes at Isaiah 43:1).

Verse 21

And they thirsted not - This is a part of that for which they would be called to celebrate his name. It was not merely that he had redeemed them, but that he had abundantly provided for their needs in the desert, and guided them safe through the pathless wilderness to their own land (see the notes at Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 41:17-18).

He caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them - The allusion here is undoubtedly to the fact that God caused the waters to flow out of the rock that Moses smote in the wilderness Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11. This is not to be regarded as literally true that God would, in like manner, smite the rocks and cause waters to flow by miracle on their return from Babylon. There is no record that any such event took place, and it is not necessary so to understand this passage. It is a part of the triumphant song which they are represented as singing after their return to their own land. In that song, they celebrate his gracious interposition in language that was familiar to them, and by illustrations that were well known. They therefore speak of his mercy to them as if he had smitten the rock in the desert on their return, and caused the waters to flow; and the sense is, that his mercy to them then was similar to his goodness to their fathers when he led them to the land of promise. He met all their necessities; and his gracious interposition was experienced all the way as really as though he had smitten the rock, or caused cool and refreshing fountains to break out in the desert.

Verse 22

There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked - This verse contains a sentiment whose truth no one can doubt. To the transgressor of the laws of God there can be no permanent peace, enjoyment, or prosperity. The word peace is used in the Scriptures in all these senses (see the note at Isaiah 48:18). There may be the appearance of joy, and there may be temporary prosperity. But there is no abiding, substantial, permanent happiness, such as is enjoyed by those who fear and love God. This sentiment occurs not unfrequently in Isaiah. It is repeated in Isaiah 57:21; and in Isaiah 57:20, he says that ‘the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.’ Of the truth of the declaration here there can be no doubt; but it is not perfectly apparent why it is introduced here. It is probably a part of the song with which they would celebrate their return; and it may have been used for one of the following reasons:

1. As a general maxim, expressed in view of the joy which they had in their return to their own land. They had elevated peace and triumph and joy. This was produced by the fact that they had evidence that they were the objects of the divine favor and protection. How natural was it in view of these blessings to say, that the wicked had no such comfort, and in general, that there was no peace to them of any kind, or from any quarter. Or,

2. It may have been uttered in view of the fact that many of their countrymen may have chosen to remain in Babylon when they returned to their own land. They probably formed connections there, amassed wealth, and refused to attend those who returned to Judea to rebuild the temple. And the meaning may be, that they, amidst all the wealth which they might have gained, and amidst the idolatries which prevailed in Babylon, could never enjoy the peace which they now had in their return to the land of their fathers.

Whatever was the reason why it was used here, it contains a most important truth which demands the attention of all people. The wicked, as a matter of sober truth and verity, have no permanent and substantial peace and joy. They have none:

1. In the act of wickedness. Sin may be attended with the gratifications of bad passions, but in the act of sinning, as such, there can be no substantial happiness.

2. They have no solid, substantial, elevated peace in the business or the pleasures of life. This world can furnish no such joys as are derived from the hope of a life to come. Pleasures ‘pall upon the sense,’ riches take wings; disappointment comes; and the highest earthly and sensual pleasure leaves a sad sense of want - a feeling that there is something in the capacities and needs of the undying mind which has not been filled.

3. They have no peace of conscience; no deep and abiding conviction that they are right. They are often troubled; and there is nothing which this world can furnish which will give peace to a bosom that is agitated with a sense of the guilt of sin.

4. They have no peace on a deathbed. There may be stupidity, callousness, insensibility, freedom from much pain or alarm. But that is not peace, anymore than sterility is fruitfulness; or than death is life; or than the frost of winter is the verdure of spring; or than a desert is a fruitful field.

5. There is often in these circumstances the reverse of peace. There is not only no positive peace, but there is the opposite. There is often disappointment, care, anxiety, distress, deep alarm, and the awful apprehension of eternal wrath. There is no situation in life or death, where the sinner can certainly calculate on peace, or where he will be sure to find it. There is every probability that his mind will be often filled with alarm, and that his deathbed will be one of despair.

6. There is no peace to the wicked beyond the grave. “A sinner can have no peace at the judgment bar of God; he can have no peace in hell.” In all the future world there is no place where he can find repose; and whatever this life may be, even if it be a life of prosperity and external comfort, yet to him there will be no prosperity in the future world, and no external or internal peace there.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/isaiah-48.html. 1870.
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