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This chapter is evidently closely connected in sense with Isaiah 56:9-12. In the closing part of the last chapter the prophet had said that the land of Israel would be invaded by foreign armies, represented under the image of ravening beasts come to devour. One of the causes of this he had also stated, namely, the general licentiousness, avarice, and intemperance of the rulers of the nation. The same general subject is pursued in this chapter, which has been very improperly separated from the preceding. In this the prophet states specifically the sins of the nation at large, evidently as a reason why the calamities of the foreign invasion were coming upon them. It is probable that the chapter has primary reference to the times of Manasseh. Of the characteristics of his cruel reign, see the Introduction, Section 3. It was a time of persecution and blood. The righteous were put to death; the public service of God was profaned and desecrated; and the evils of idolatry were seen and felt, under the royal patronage, throughout the land. Yet notwithstanding this, the nation was stupid and insensible. They were not affected as they should have been by the fact that the righteous were cut off by persecution, and that idolatry was patronized throughout the land. A few, like the prophets, felt, and deeply felt. Their hearts were desponding, and their spirits drooped. To encourage them, and to rebuke the mass of the stupid and guilty nation, was the design of this chapter.
It may be regarded as divided into three parts:
I. The fact that the righteous were put to death, and yet that the nation was sunk in deep and deplorable stupidity.
1. The proof of the insensibility of the nation, visible in the fact that the just were taken away, and that they were unmoved Isaiah 57:1.
2. A statement of the comparative happy condition of the righteous, though they suffered under persecution, and were put to a violent death (Isaiah 57:1, last part, Isaiah 57:2). So far as they were concerned it was well, for
(1) they were taken away from more fearful approaching evils.
(2) they entered into rest.
II. A solemn address of Yahweh, himself sitting as judge on the tribunal, and stating the crimes and demonstrating the guilt of the nation Isaiah 57:3-14.
1. The nation summoned before him as having been apostatized - under the image so common in the prophets of their being guilty of adultery Isaiah 57:3.
2. They were guilty of falsehood and unfaithfulness to him, and of deriding his government and laws Isaiah 57:4.
3. The statement of the prevalence of idolatry in all parts of the nation, under every green tree, in every valley, in the clefts of the rocks, upon every mountain, and in every secret place Isaiah 57:5-8.
4. They bad gone and sought alliance with foreign powers; under the image of a woman unfaithful to her marriage vow Isaiah 57:9.
5. They had not feared God in the prevalence of the evil and in the corruption of the nation Isaiah 57:10-11.
6. For all this God denounces heavy judgment Isaiah 57:12-14. Their works should not profit them Isaiah 57:12; nothing on which they relied could deliver them (Isaiah 57:13, first part); but the pious who confided in God should be protected (Isaiah 57:13, last part); and the stumbling-block should be taken up out of the way of his people Isaiah 57:14.
III. Consolation and assurances of pardon, protection, and peace to those who would repent and put their trust in God. Their state contrasted with that of the wicked Isaiah 57:15-21.
1. The righteous Isaiah 57:15-19.
(1) Though God was high and great and holy, yet he dwelt with the lowly and the penitent. They were, therefore, encouraged to returnIsaiah 57:15; Isaiah 57:15.
(2) Though he had entered into controversy with his people for their sins, yet he would not continue it forever. The feeble powers of man could not long endure the expressions of his displeasure, and he therefore would withdraw the tokens of his wrath Isaiah 57:16.
(3) He had indeed punished his people for their covetousness, but he would restore comfort to those who mourned over their sins Isaiah 57:17-18.
(4) He was the author of peace, and all who were afar off, and all who were near, who would return to him, should enjoy it Isaiah 57:19.
2. The wicked. Their condition was one strongly contrasted with that of the righteous Isaiah 57:20-21.
(1) They were like the troubled sea Isaiah 57:20.
(2) They had no peaceIsaiah 57:21; Isaiah 57:21.
The righteous perisheth - This refers, as I suppose, to the time of Manasseh (see the Introduction, Section 3). Grotius supposes, that it refers to king Josiah; Vitringa, that it refers to martyrs in general. But it seems probable to me that the prophet designs to describe the state of stupidity which prevailed in his own time, and to urge as one proof of it, that the pious part of the nation was taken away by violent death, and that the nation was not affected by it. Such was the guilt of Manasseh; so violent was the persecution which he excited against the just, that it is said of him that he ‘shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another’ 2 Kings 22:16. There is evidence (see the Introduction, Section 2), that Isaiah lived to his time, and it is probable that he himself ultimately fell a victim to the race of Manasseh. Though he had, on account of his great age, retired from the public functions of the prophetic office, yet he could not be insensible to the existence of these evils, and his spirit would not suffer him to be silent even though bowed down by age, when the land was filled with abominations, and when the best blood of the nation was poured out like water. The word rendered ‘perisheth’ (אבד 'ābad) as well as the word rendered ‘taken away’ (אסף 'âsaph) denotes violence, and is indicative of the fact that they were removed by a premature death.
And no man layeth it to heart - No one is aroused by it, or is concerned about it. The sentiment of the passage is, that it is proof of great stupidity and guilt when people see the righteous die without concern. If the pious die by persecution and others are not aroused, it shows that they acquiesce in it, or have no confidence in God, and no desire that his people should be preserved; if they die in the ordinary mode and the people are unaffected, it shows their stupidity. The withdrawment of a pious man from the earth is a public calamity. His prayers, his example, his life, were among the richest blessings of the world, and people should be deeply affected when they are withdrawn; and it shows their guilt and stupidity when they see this with indifference. It increases the evidence of this guilt when, as is sometimes the case, the removal of the righteous by death is an occasion of joy. The wicked hate the secret rebuke which is furnished by a holy life, and they often feel a secret exultation when such people die.
And merciful men - Margin, ‘Men of kindness,’ or ‘godliness.’ Lowth and Noyes render it, ‘Pious men.’ The Septuagint, Ἄνδρες δίκαιοι Andres dikaioi - ‘Just men.’ The Hebrew word denotes “mercy” or “kindness” (חסד chesed). Here it probably means, ‘Men of mercy;’ that is, people who are the subjects of mercy; people who are pious, or devoted to God.
Are taken away - Hebrew, ‘Are gathered.’ That is, they are gathered to their fathers by death.
None considering - They were not anxious to know what was the design of Divine Providence in permitting it.
From the evil to come - Margin, ‘That which is evil.’ The idea here evidently is, that severe calamities were coming upon the nation. God was about to give them up to foreign invasion (Isaiah 56:9 ff); and the true reason why the just were removed was, that they may not be subject to the divine wrath which should come upon the nation; they were not to be required to contemplate the painful state of things when an enemy should fire the cities, the palaces, and the temple, and cause the sacred services of religion to cease. It was a less evil for them to be removed by death - even by the painful death of persecution - than to be compelled to participate in these coming sorrows. At the same time this passage may be regarded as inculcating a more general truth still. It is, that the pious are often removed in order that they may not be exposed to evils which they would experience should they live. There might be the pains and sorrows of persecution; there might be long and lingering disease; there might be poverty and want; there might be the prevalence of iniquity and infidelity over which their hearts would bleed; there might be long and painful conflicts with their own evil hearts, or there might be danger that they would fall into sin, and dishonor their high calling. For some or all these reasons the righteous may be withdrawn from the world; and could we see those reasons as God does, nothing more would be necessary to induce us to acquiesce entirely in the justice of his dealings.
He shall enter into peace - Lowth, ‘He shall go in peace.’ So the margin. Vulgate, ‘Peace shall come.’ Septuagint, ‘His sepulture (ἡ ταφὴ αὐτοῦ hē taphē autou) shall be in peace.’ The idea is, that by his death the righteous man shall enter into rest. He shall get away from conflict, strife, agitation, and distress. This may either refer to the peaceful rest of the grave, or to that which awaits the just in a better world. The direct meaning here intended is probably the former, since the grave is often spoken of as a place of rest. Thus Job Job 3:17, speaking of the grave, says:
There the wicked cease from troubling; And there the weary be at rest.
The connection here seems also to demand the same sense, as it is immediately added, ‘they shall rest in their beds.’ The grave is a place of peace:
Nor pain, nor grief, nor anxious fear,
Invade thy bounds; no mortal woes
Can reach the peaceful sleeper here,
While angels watch the soft repose.
At the same time it is true that the dying saint ‘goes in peace!’ He has calmness in his dying, as well as peace in his grave. He forgives all who have injured him; prays for all who have persecuted him; and peacefully and calmly dies. He lies in a peaceful grave - often represented in the Scriptures as a place of repose, where the righteous ‘sleep’ in the hope of being awakened in the morning of the resurrection. He enters into the rest of heaven - the world of perfect and eternal repose. No persecution comes there; no trial awaits him there; no calamity shall meet him there. Thus, in all respects, the righteous leave the world in peace; and thus death ceases to be a calamity, and this most dreaded of all evils is turned into the highest blessing.
They shall rest in their beds - That is, in their graves.
Each one walking in his uprightness - Margin, ‘Before him.’ The word נכח nakkoch means “straight, right,” and is used of one who walks straight forward. It here means an upright man, who is often represented as walking in a straight path in opposition to sinners, who are represented as walking in crooked ways Psalms 125:5; Proverbs 2:15; Isaiah 59:8; Philippians 2:15. The sense here is, that all who are upright shall leave the world in peace, and rest quietly in their graves.
But draw near hither - That is, come near to hear the solemn sentence which God pronounces in regard to your character and doom. This is addressed to the impenitent and unbelieving part of the nation, and is designed to set before them the greatness of their sin, and the certainty that they would be punished.
Ye sons of the sorceress - You who are addicted to sorcery and enchantments; who consult the oracles of the pagan rather than the only true God. On the meaning of the word used here, see the notes at Isaiah 2:6. The Hebrews, like other inhabitants of the East, were much addicted to this, and particularly in the time of Manasseh 2 Kings 21:6 : ‘And he made his sons pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits, and wizards.’ So much were they devoted to this in his time, that they might be called, by way of eminence, ‘the sons of the sorceress;’ as if a sorceress had been their mother, and they had grown up to walk in her steps, and to imitate her example.
The seed of the adulterer - Implying that the obligations of the marriage contract were disregarded, and that licentiousness prevailed in the nation. Amidst the other abominations which existed under the wicked and corrupt reign of Manasseh 2 Kings 21:0, there is every probability that these sins also abounded. Licentiousness had been the invariable attendant on idol-worship; and dissoluteness of manners is the usual accompaniment of all other crimes. It is observable also that the Saviour often charges the same sin on the nation in his own time (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4; John 8:1 ff.) In the language here, however, there is a reference to the fact that the nation had apostatized from God, and they were guilty of spiritual adultery - that is, of unfaithfulness to God. They fixed their affections on other objects than God, and loved the images of idol-worship more than they did their Creator.
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? - The word here rendered ‘sport’ (ענג ‛ānag) means properly “to live delicately and tenderly”; then “to rejoice, to take pleasure or delight.” Here, however, it is evidently used in the sense of to sport oneself over anyone, that is, to deride; and the idea is, probably, that they made a sport or mockery of God, and of the institutions of religion. The prophet asks, with deep indignation and emotion, against whom they did this. Were they aware of the majesty and glory of that Being whom they thus derided?
Against whom make yea wide mouth? - That is, in derision or contempt Psalms 35:21 : ‘Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me.’
And draw out the tongue? - Lowth, ‘Loll the tongue;’ or, as we would say, ‘run out the tongue.’ Perhaps it was done with a rapid motion, as in mockery of the true prophets when they delivered the message of God (compare 2 Chronicles 36:16). Contempt was sometimes shown also by protruding the lips Psalms 22:7 : ‘They shoot out the lip;’ and also by gaping upon a person Psalms 22:13; ‘They gaped upon me with their mouths.’
Are ye not children of transgression? - That is, in view of the fact that you make a sport of sacred things, and deride the laws and the prophets of God.
A seed of false-hood - A generation that is unfaithful to God and to his cause.
Inflaming yourselves - Burning, that is, with lust. The whole language here is derived from adulterous intercourse. The sense is, that they were greatly addicted to idolatry, and that they used every means to increase and extend the practice of it. The Vulgate, however, renders this, ‘Who console yourselves.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘Invoking (παρακαλοῦντες parakalountes) idols.’ But the proper meaning of the Hebrew word חמם châmam is, “to become warm; to be inflamed, or to burn as with lust.”
With idols - Margin, ‘Among the oaks.’ Hebrew, באלים bā'ēlı̂ym. Vulgate, In diis - ‘With the gods.’ Septuagint, Εἴδωλα Eidōla - ‘Idols.’ So the Chaldee and Syriac. The Hebrew may denote ‘with gods,’ that is, with idol-gods; or it may denote, as in the margin, ‘among the oaks,’ or the terebinth groves, from איל 'ēyl, plural אילים 'ēylı̂ym, or אלים 'ēlym (the terebinth). See the word explained in the note at Isaiah 1:29. Kimchi and Jarchi here render it by ‘the terebinth tree.’ Lowth renders it, ‘Burning with the lust of idols;’ and probably this is the correct interpretation, for, if it had meant oaks or the terebinth tree, the phrase would have been “under” (תחת tachath) instead of “in” or “with” (ב b).
Under every green tree - (See the notes at Isaiah 1:29; compare Deuteronomy 22:2; 2 Kings 17:10; 2 Chronicles 28:4).
Slaying the children - That is, sacrificing them to the idol-gods. This was commonly done by burning them, as when they were offered to Moloch, though it is not improbable that they were sometimes sacrificed in other ways. It was a common custom among the worshippers of Moloch. Thus it is said of Ahaz 2 Chronicles 28:3, that he ‘burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire.’ The same thing is said of Manasseh, to whose time the prophet most probably refers. ‘And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom’ (2 Chronicles 33:6; compare Jeremiah 7:31). The same thing was practiced in the countries of the Babylonian empire 2 Kings 17:31, and from Deuteronomy 12:31, it is evident that it was commonly practiced by pagan nations. The Phenicians, according to Eusebius (Praep. Evan. iv. 16), and the Carthagenians, according to Diodorus Siculus (xx. 14), practiced it.
In the valleys - The place where these abominations were practiced by the Jews was the valley of the son of Hinnom (see the references above); that is, the valley of Jehoshaphat, lying to the south and the southeast of Jerusalem. A large hollow, brass statue was erected, and the fire was enkindled within it, and the child was placed in his heated arms, and thus put to death. The cries of the child were drowned by the music of the תף tôph, or kettle-drums (see the notes at Isaiah 5:12, where this instrument is fully described), and hence, the name of the valley was Tophet.
Under the clefts of the rocks - Dark and shady groves, and deep and sombre caverns were the places where the abominable rites of the pagan superstitions were practiced (compare the notes at Isaiah 11:1).
Among the smooth stones of the streams - In the original here, there is a paronomasia, which cannot be fully retained in our English version. There has been also considerable diversity of opinion in regard to the sense of the passage, from the ambiguity of the words in the original. Jerome (the Vulgate) renders it, In partibus torrentis pars tua - ‘Thy portion is in the parts of the torrent.’ The Septuagint translates it ‘This is thy portion; this is thy lot. The word rendered in our version, ‘smooth stones’ (חלק chēleq), means properly smoothness, hence, barrenness or bare place; and supposes that the idea is, their lot was in the bare places of the valley, that is, in the open (not wooded) places where they worshipped idols - an interpretation not very consistent with the fact that groves were commonly selected as the place where they worshipped idols. It seems to me, therefore, that the idea of smoothness here, whether of the valley or of the stones, is not the idea intended. Indeed, in no place, it is believed, does the word mean ‘smooth stones;’ and it is difficult to conceive what was the exact idea which our translators intended to convey, or why they supposed that such worship was celebrated among the smooth or much-worn stones of the running stream. The true idea can probably be obtained by reverting to the primitive sense of the word as derived from the verb. The verb חלק châlaq means:
1. To smooth.
2. To divide, to distribute, to appropriate - as the dividing of spoil, etc.
Hence, the noun also means dividing, or portion, as that which is divided - whether an inheritance, or whether the dividings of spoil after battle. Retaining this idea, the literal sense, as I conceive, would be this in which also something of the paronomasia will be retained: ‘Among the dividings of the valley is thy dividing,’ that is, thy portion In the places where the valley divides, is thy lot. Thy lot is there instead of the place which God appointed. There you worship; there you pour out your libations to the false gods; and there you must partake of the protection and favor which the gods whom you worship can give. You have chosen that as your inheritance, and by the results of that you must abide.
Of the stream - The word rendered here ‘stream’ (נחל nachal), means either a stream, or a rivulet of water Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4-47; or it means a valley with a brook or torrent; a low place with water. Here it means evidently the latter - as it cannot be supposed they would worship in a stream, though they undoubtedly worshipped in a vale or low place where there was occasionally a rivulet of water. This entire description is strikingly applicable to the valley of Jehoshaphat - a low vale, broken by chasms and by projecting and overhanging rocks, and along the center of which flowed a small brook, much swelled occasionally by the waters that fell from the adjacent hills. At some seasons of the year, however, the valley was entirely dry. The idea here is, that they had chosen their portion in the dividings of that valley instead of the adjacent hills on which the worship of God was celebrated. That valley became afterward the emblem of punishment: and may it not be implied in this passage that they were to inherit whatever would descend on that valley; that is, that they were to participate in the punishment which would be the just expression of the divine displeasure?
Even to them hast thou poured out - That is, to these idols erected in the valleys.
A drink-offering - A libation, or drink-offering was usually poured out in the worship of pagan gods Jeremiah 7:18. It was common also in the worship of the true God (see Genesis 35:14). Among the Hebrews it consisted of wine and oil Exodus 29:40; Numbers 15:5-7; Leviticus 23:13.
Thou hast offered a meat-offering - On the word used here (מנחה minchāh) see the notes at Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 43:23. The word ‘meat’ formerly denoted in the English language food in general, and was not confined as it is now to animal food. Hence, the word ‘meat-offering’ is so often used in the Scriptures when a sacrifice is intended which was not a bloody sacrifice. The mincha was in fact an offering of meal, fine flour, etc., mingled with oil Leviticus 14:10; Numbers 7:13, and was distinguished expressly from the bloody sacrifice. The word ‘meal-offering’ would much more appropriately express the sense of the original than ‘meat-offering.’ This was a common offering made to idols as well as to the true God, and was designed as an expression of thankfulness.
Should I receive comfort in these? - It is implied that God could not behold them but with displeasure, and that for them he would punish them. The Vulgate and the Septuagint express it well as: ‘On account of these things shall I not be enraged?’
Upon a lofty and high mountain - The design of this verse and the following, is, to show the extent, the prevalence, the publicity, and the grossness of their idolatry. The language is that which would appropriately express adulterous intercourse, and is designed to show the abhorrence in which God held their conduct. The language is easy to be understood, and it would not be proper to go into an extended explanation of the phrases used. It is common in the Scriptures to compare idolatry among the people of God, with unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. The declaration that they had placed their bed on a high mountain, means, that in the rites of idolatrous worship, there was no concealment. It was public and shameless.
Behind the doors - In every part of their habitations - behind the doors and posts and beams of their houses, they had erected the memorials of idolatrous worship.
Hast thou set up thy remembrance - That is, they had filled their houses with the images of tutelary gods, or with something dedicated to them. The Greeks and Romans had their Lares and Penates - their household or domestic gods - the images of which were in every family. The same was true of the apostate Hebrews. They had filled their houses with the memorials of idol-worship, and there was no part of their dwellings in which such memorials were not to be found. When a people forget God, the memorials of their apostasy will be found in every part of their habitations. The shrines of idol-gods may not be there; the beautiful images of the Greek and Roman mythology, or the clumsy devices of less refined pagans, may not be there; but the furniture, the style of living, will reveal from ‘behind every door and the posts’ of the house that God is forgotten, and that they are influenced by other principles than a regard to his name. The sofa, the carpet, the chandelier, the center-table, the instruments of music, the splendid mirror, may be of such workmanship as to show, as clearly as the image of a pagan god, that Yahweh is not honored in the dwelling, and that his law does not control the domestic arrangements. It may be added here that this custom of the Hebrews of placing the images of idols in their dwellings, was in direct violation of the law of Moses. They were expressly directed to write the laws of God on the posts of the house and on the gates Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20; and a curse was denounced against the man who made a graven or molten image and put it in a secret place Deuteronomy 27:15.
For thou hast discovered thyself - This language is taken from adulterous intercourse, and is designed to show the love which they had for idolatrous worship, and the extent of their unfaithfulness to God.
And made thee a covenant with them - Margin, ‘Hewed it for thyself larger than theirs. The true sense is, that they had made an agreement with idolaters, or had entered into a covenant with them.
Thou lovedst their bed - Margin, ‘Thou providest room.’ Literally, ‘Thou lovest their bed; thou hast provided a place for it.’ The word יד yâd, rendered here ‘where,’ means literally a hand; then a side, a place (see the notes at Isaiah 56:5). The passage means, that they had delighted in the temples, altars, groves, and sacrifices of idolatry, and had provided a place for them in their own land.
And thou wentest to the king - Margin, ‘Respectedst.’ Jerome renders this, ‘Thou hast adorned thyself with royal ointment, and hast multiplied thy painting; and evidently understands it as a continuance of the sentiment in the previous verses as referring to the kind of decoration which harlots used. The Septuagint renders it, ‘Thou hast multiplied thy fornication with them, and hast done it with many who are far from thee.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘When thou didst keep the law thou wert prosperous in the kingdom; and when thou didst abound in good works, then thine armies were multiplied.’ Lowth supposes that the king of Egypt or Assyria is intended, and that the prophet refers to the fact, that the Hebrews had sought an alliance with them, and in order to secure it, had carried a present of valuable unguents, after the manner of the East. Rosenmuller supposes, that by the king an idol was intended, and that the sense is, that they had anointed themselves with oil, and prepared perfumes, in order to be acceptable to the idol; that is, had decorated themselves as harlots did.
Grotius supposes that it means that they had imitated foreign kings, and copied the customs of other nations, and refers to the example of Ahaz 2 Kings 16:10. Others suppose that the word ‘king’ is to be taken collectively, and that it means that they had sought the alliance, and imitated the customs of foreign nations in general. It is probable that the prophet refers to some such fact. On former occasions, they had sought the alliance of the king of Assyria (see Isaiah 7:1); and on one occasion, at least, they had meditated an alliance with the king of Egypt (Isaiah 30:2 ff.) The essential idea is, that they had proved unfaithful to Yahweh. This idea is presented here under the image of a female unfaithful to her husband, who had decorated and perfumed herself that she might allure others. Thus the Jews had forsaken God, and had endeavored to make themselves agreeable in the sight of other nations, and had courted their friendship and alliance. The word I ‘king,’ according to this, refers not to idols, but to foreign princes, whose assistance had been sought.
And didst increase thy perfumes - That is, for the purpose of rendering thyself agreeable, after the manner of a licentious female (see Proverbs 7:17). The custom of perfuming the person was common in the East, and is still practiced there.
And didst send thy messengers - That is, to distant nations, for the purpose of securing their alliance.
And didst debase thyself even unto hell - On the meaning of the word ‘hell,’ see the notes at Isaiah 5:14. The idea is, that they had sunk to the deepest possible debasement. In forsaking Yahweh; in seeking foreign alliances; in their anxiety to secure their aid when Yahweh was abundantly able and willing to protect them, they had sunk to the lowest degradation of character and condition. The sentiment is, that people degrade themselves when they do not put confidence in God, and when, distrusting his ability, they put reliance on any other aid than his. If people have God for their protector, why should they court the friendship of earthly princes and kings?
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way - That is, in the length of thy journeys in order to procure foreign aid. Thou hast traveled to distant nations for this purpose, and in doing it, hast become weary without securing the object in view.
Yet saidst thou not, There is no hope - ‘Thou didst not say it is to be despaired of (נואשׁ nô'âsh), or it is vain. Though repulsed in one place, you applied to another; though weary, you did not give it up. Instead of returning to God and seeking his aid, you still sought human alliances, and supposed you would find assistance from the help of people.’ This is a striking illustration of the conduct of people in seeking happiness away from God. They wander from object to object; they become weary in the pursuit, yet they do not abandon it; they still cling to hope though often repulsed - and though the world gives them no permanent comfort - though wealth, ambition, gaiety, and vice all fail in imparting the happiness which they sought, yet they do not give it up in despair. They still feel that it is to be found in some other way than by the disagreeable necessity of returning to God, and they wander from object to object, and from land to land, and become exhausted in the pursuit, and still are not ready to say, ‘there is no hope, we give it up in despair, and we will now seek happiness in God.’
Thou hast found the life of thine hand - Margin, ‘Living.’ Lowth, ‘Thou hast found the support of thy life by thy labor.’ Noyes, ‘Thou yet findest life in thy hand. Much diversity of opinion has prevailed in regard to the interpretation of this passage. Vitringa interprets the whole passage of their devotion to idols, and supposes that this means that they had borne all the expense and difficulty and toil attending it because it gratified their hearts, and because they found a pleasure in it which sustained them. Calvin supposes that it is to be understood ironically. ‘Why didst thou not repent and turn to me? Why didst thou not see and acknowledge thy madness? It was because thou didst find thy life in thy hand. All things prospered and succeeded according to thy desire, and conferred happiness.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘Because in full strength (ἐνισχύουσα enischuousa) thou hast done this; therefore thou shouldst not supplicate me.’ Jerome explains it to mean, ‘because they have done the things referred to in the previous verses, therefore they had not supplicated the Lord, trusting more in their own virtues than in God.’ The Syriac renders it, ‘The guilt of thy hand has contracted rust for thee, therefore thou hast not offered supplication.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘Thou hast amassed wealth, therefore thou didst not repent.’ Kimchi explains it to mean, ‘Thou hast found something which is as pleasant to thee as the food is which is the life of man.’ The phrase ‘life of thy hand’ occurs nowhere else.
The hand is the instrument by which we execute our purposes; and by the life of the hand here, there seems to be meant that which will give full and continued employment. They had found in these things that which effectually prevented them from repenting and returning to God. ‘They had relied on their own plans rather than on God; they had sought the aid of foreign powers; they had obtained that which kept them from absolute despair, and from feeling their need of the assistance of God. Or, if it refers to their idol-worship, as Vitringa supposes, then it means that, not withstanding all the trouble, toil, and expense which they had experienced, they had found so much to gratify them that they continued to serve them, and were unwilling to return to God.
Therefore thou wast not grieved - Lowth, ‘Thou hast not utterly fainted.’ The word used here (חלה châlâh) means “to be polished”; then to be worn down in strength; to be weak or exhausted Judges 16:7; then to be sick, diseased, made weak. Here it means, that either by the aid Which they had obtained by foreign alliances, or by the gratification experienced in the service of idols, they had found so much to uphold them that they had not been in utter despair. And the passage may teach the general truth, that not withstanding all the trials and disappointments of life, still sinners find so much comfort in the ways of sin, that they are not utterly overwhelmed in despair. They still find the ‘life of their hand in them.’ If a plan fails, they repeat it, or they try another. In the pursuits of ambition, of wealth, and of fashion, notwithstanding all the expense, and irksomeness, and disappointment, they find a kind of pleasure which sustains them, and enough success to keep them from returning to God. It is this imperfect pleasure and success which the world gives amidst all its disappointments, and this hope of less diminished joys and more ample success. in schemes of gain, and pleasure, and ambition, that sustains the votaries of this world in their career, and keeps them from seeking the pure and unmingled pleasures of religion. When the world becomes all gloom, and disappointment, and care, then there is felt the necessity of a better portion, and the mind is turned to God. Or when, as is more common, the mind becomes convinced that all the joys which the world can give - allowing the utmost limit to what is said by its friends of its powers - are poor and trifling compared with the joys which flow from the eternal friendship of God, then the blessings of salvation are sought with a full heart; and then man comes and consecrates the fullness of his energies and his immortal vigor to the service of the God that made him.
And of whom hast thou been afraid - The sense of this verse is exceedingly obscure. The design is evidently to reprove the Jews for the course which they had been pursuing in practicing idolatry, and in seeking the alliance of foreign powers. The main scope of the passage seems to be, to state that all this was proof that they did not fear God. Their conduct did not originate from any reverence for him, or any respect to his commands. And the question, ‘of whom hast thou been afraid?’ seems to mean that they had not been afraid of God. If they had had any reverence for any being or object that had led to the course which they had pursued, it was not for God.
That thou hast lied - That thou hast been false and unfaithful to God. The image is here kept up of unfaithfulness to the marriage vow Isaiah 57:6-8.
And hast not remembered me - The proof of this was, that they had fallen into idolatry, and had sought the alliance and friendship of foreign powers.
Have not I held my peace - The idea here seems to be, that God had been silent a long time, and they had, therefore, been emboldened to sin. He had, as it were, connived at their apostasy and infidelity; and they had thus cast off the fear of him, and given themselves wholly to idolatry. Compare Ecclesiastes 8:11.
I will declare thy righteousness - This is evidently spoken ironically. The sense is, ‘you have devoted yourselves to idols, and you have sought the aid of foreigners. I will now announce to you the true nature of the deliverance which they can bring to you.’ This is done in the following verse.
When thou criest - That is, when you are in trouble, and feel your need of help.
Let thy companies deliver thee - The word used here (קבוּץ qibûts) means, properly, “a gathering; a throng; a collection.” Here it refers either to the throngs of the idols which they had collected. and on which they relied; or to the collection of foreigners which they had summoned to their assistance. The idea is, that if people trust to other objects for aid than the arm of God, they will be left in the day of trial to such assistance as they can render them.
But the wind shall carry - They shall be like the protection which the wind sweeps away. The Saviour expresses a similar sentiment in Matthew 7:26-27.
Vanity shall take them - Lowth and Noyes, ‘A breath shall take them off.’ The word הבל hebel, properly means a breath; and probably denotes here a gentle breeze, the slightest breath of air, denoting the entire instability of the objects on which they trusted, when they could be so easily swept off.
Shall possess the land - The assurances of the favor and friendship of God are usually expressed in this way (compare the notes at Isaiah 49:8). See Psalms 37:11; ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’ Compare Psalms 69:35-36; Matthew 5:5.
And shall inherit my holy mountain - In Jerusalem. That is, they shall be admitted to elevated spiritual privileges and joys - as great as if they had possession of a portion of the mount on which the temple was built, and were permitted to dwell there.
And shall say - Lowth, ‘Then will I say.’ Noyes, ‘Men will say.’ The word אמר 'âmar seems to be used here impersonally, and to mean, ‘One shall say;’ that is it shall be said. The Septuagint and the Syriac render it, ‘They shall say.’ The idea is, that the obstacles would be removed from the path of those who put their trust in God. The language is derived from the return from the exile, as if persons should go before them and should cry, ‘Cast ye up;’ or as if the cry of the people all along their journey should be, ‘Remove the obstacles to their return.’
Cast ye up, cast ye up - That is, remove the obstacles; level the hills; take up any obstruction out of the way (compare the notes at Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 40:3-4). This cry is often heard before the coming of a distinguished prince or conqueror in the East. Joseph Wolff stated, in a lecture in Philadelphia (Sept. 18, 1837), that, on entering Jerusalem from the west, in the direction of Gaza, the road, for a considerable distance from Jerusalem, was so full of stones, that it was impracticable to ride, and those who were entering the city were obliged to dismount. When the Pasha (Ibrahim, son of Mehemet Ali) approached Jerusalem, it was customary for a considerable number of laborers to go before him, and remove the stones from the way. This was done amidst a constant cry, ‘Cast up, cast up the way; remove the stones, remove the stones.’ And on a placard, or standard, it was written, ‘the Pasha is coming;’ and everywhere the cry was heard, ‘the Pasha is coming, the Pasha is coming; cast up the way, remove the stones.’
For thus saith - The design of this verse is, to furnish the assurance that the promise made to the people of God would certainly be accomplished. It was not to be presumed that he was so high and lofty, that he did not condescend to notice the affairs of people; but though he, in fact, dwelt in eternity, yet he also had his abode in the human heart. Many of the ancient pagans supposed that God was so lofty that be did not condescend to notice human affairs. This was the view of the Epicureans (see the notes at Acts 17:18); and the belief extensively prevailed in the Oriental world, that God had committed the management of the affairs of people to inferior beings which he had created. This was the basis of the Gnostic philosophy. According to this, God reposed far in the distant heavens, and was regardless of the affairs and plans of mortals, and personally unconcerned in the government of this lower world. But the Bible reveals him as a very different being. True, he is vast and illimitable in his existence and perfections; but, at the same time, he is the most condescending of all beings. He dwells with people, and he delights in making his home with the penitent and the contrite.
The high and lofty One - One manuscript reads ‘Yahweh,’ before ‘saith;’ and Lowth has adopted the reading; but the authority is not sufficient. The sense is, that he who is here spoken of is, by way of eminence, The high and holy One; the most high and the most exalted being in the universe. He is so far above all creatures of all ranks that it is not needful to specify his name in order to designate him. No one can be compared with him; no one so nearly approaches him that there can be any danger of confounding him with other beings.
That inhabiteth eternity - (Compare the notes at Isaiah 9:6). The word ‘eternity’ here evidently stands in contrast with the ‘contrite and humble spirit;’ and it seems to be used to denote the elevated place of an eternal dwelling or heaven. He dwells not only among human beings, but he dwells in eternity - where time is unknown - in a world where succession is not marked - and long before the interminable duration was broken in upon by the revolutions of years and days.
Whose name is Holy - (See the notes at Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 30:11; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3, Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 47:4). “I dwell in the high and holy place.” In heaven - uniformly represented as far exalted above the earth, and as the special home or dwelling-place of God. Thus, in Isaiah 63:15, heaven is called the habitation of the holiness and glory of Yahweh.
With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit - The word ‘contrite’ (דכא dakkâ') means properly that which is broken, crushed, beaten small, trodden down. Here it denotes a soul that is borne down with a sense of sin and unworthiness; a heart that is, as it were, crushed under a superincumbent weight of guilt (see Psalms 34:18; Psalms 138:6).
To revive the spirit - literally, ‘to make alive.’ The sense is, he imparts spiritual life and comfort. He is to them what refreshing rains and genial suns and dews are to a drooping plant.
For I will not contend for ever - I will not be angry with my people forever, nor always refuse to pardon and comfort them (see Psalms 103:9). This is to be regarded as having been primarily addressed to the Jews in their long and painful exile in Babylon. It is, however, couched in general language; and the idea is, that although God would punish his people for their sins, yet his wrath would not be perpetual. If they were his children, he would visit them again in mercy, and would restore to them his favor.
For the spirit should fail before me - Critics have taken a great deal of pains on this part of the verse, which they suppose to be very obscure. The simple meaning seems to be, that if God should continue in anger against people they would be consumed. The human soul could not endure a long-continued controversy with God. Its powers would fail; its strength decay; it must sink to destruction. As God did not intend this in regard to his own people; as he meant that his chastisements should not be for their destruction, but for their salvation; and as he knew how much they could bear, and how much they needed, he would lighten the burden, and restore them to his favor. And the truth taught here is, that if we are his children, we are safe. We may suffer much and long. We may suffer so much that it seems scarcely possible that we should endure more. But he knows how much we can bear; and he will remove the lead, so that we shall not be utterly crushed. A similar sentiment is found in the two following elegant passages of the Psalms, which are evidently parallel to this, and express the same idea:
But he being full of compassion,
Forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not;
Yea many a time burned he his anger away,
And did not stir up all his wrath.
For he remembered that they were but flesh;
A wind that passeth away and returneth not again.
He will not always chide;
Neither will he keep his anger forever.
Like as a father pitieth his children,
So the Lord pitieth them that fear him.
For he knoweth our frame;
He remembereth that we are dust.
Psalms 103:9, Psalms 103:13-14
The Hebrew word which is rendered here ‘should fail’ (עטף ‛âṭaph), means properly to cover, as with a garment; or to envelope with anything, as darkness. Then it is used in the sense of having the mind covered or muffled up with sorrow; and means to languish, to be faint or feeble, to fail. Thus it is used in Psalms 61:2; Psalms 107:5; Psalms 142:3; Lamentations 2:11-12, Lamentations 2:19; Jonah 2:7. Other interpretations of this verse may be seen in Rosenmuller; but the above seems to be the true sense. According to this, it furnishes ground of encouragement and comfort to all the children of God who are afflicted. No sorrow will be sent which they will not be able to endure, no calamity which will not be finally for their own good. At the same time, it is a passage full of alarm to the sinner. How can he contend forever with God? How can he struggle always with the Almighty? And what must be the state in that dreadful world, where God shall contend for ever with the soul, and where all its powers shall be crushed beneath the vengeance of his eternal arm!
For the iniquity of his covetousness - The guilt of his avarice; that is, of the Jewish people. The word rendered here ‘covetousness’ (בצע betsa‛) means “plunder, rapine, prey”; then unjust gains, or lucre from bribes 1 Samuel 7:3; Isaiah 33:15; or by any other means. Here the sense is, that one of the prevailing sins of the Jewish people which drew upon them the divine vengeance, was avarice, or the love of gain. Probably this was especially manifest in the readiness with which those who dispensed justice received bribes (compare Isaiah 2:7). See also Jeremiah 6:13 : ‘For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness.’
And smote him - That is, I brought heavy judgments on the Jewish people.
I hid me - I withdrew the evidences of my presence and the tokens of my favor, and left them to themselves.
And he went on frowardly - Margin, ‘Turning away.’ That is, abandoned by me, the Jewish people declined from my service and sunk deeper into sin. The idea here is, that if God withdraws from his people, such is their tendency to depravity, that they will wander away from him, and sink deeper in guilt a truth which is manifest in the experience of individuals, as well as of communities and churches.
I have seen his ways - That is, either his ways of sin, or of repentance most probably it means the former; and the idea is, that God had seen how prone his people were to sin, and that he would now interpose and correct their proneness to sin against him, and remove from them the judgments which had been brought upon them in consequence of their crimes.
And will heal him - That is, I will pardon and restore him. Sin, in the Scriptures, is often represented as a disease, and pardon and salvation as a healing of the disease (2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 41:4; Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 17:4; Jeremiah 32:6; Hosea 14:4; see the notes at Isaiah 6:10).
And to his mourners - To the pious portion that mourned over their sin; or to the nation which would sigh in their long and painful captivity in Babylon.
I create the fruit of the lips - The Chaldee and Syriac render this, ‘The words of the lips.’ The ‘fruit’ of the lips is that which the lips produce, that is, words; and the reference here is doubtless to offerings of praise and thanksgiving. See Hebrews 13:15; where the phrase, ‘fruit of the lips’ (καρπὸς χειλέων karpos cheileōn), is explained to mean praise. Compare Hosea 14:2, where the expression, ‘we will render the calves of the lips,’ means that they would offer praise. The sense here is, that God bestowed such blessings as made thanksgiving proper, and thus, he ‘created the fruit of the lips.’
Peace, peace - The great subject of the thanksgiving would be peace. The peace here referred to probably had a primary reference to the cessation of the calamities which would soon overwhelm the Jewish nation, and their restoration again to their own land. But the whole strain of the passage also shows that the prophet had a more general truth in his view, and that he refers to that peace which would diffuse joy among all who were far off, and those who were near. Paul evidently alludes to this passage in Ephesians 2:14-17. Thus understood, the more general reference is to the peace. which the Messiah would introduce, and which would lay the foundation for universal rejoicing and praise (compare the notes at Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 9:5).
To him that is far off - Applied by the apostle Paul to the Gentiles, who are represented as having been far off from God, or as aliens or strangers to him Ephesians 2:17.
And to him that is near - That is, to the Jewish people Ephesians 2:17, represented as having been comparatively near to God in the enjoyment of religious privileges.
But the wicked - All who are transgressors of the law and who remain unpardoned. The design of this is to contrast their condition with that of those who should enjoy peace. The proposition is, therefore, of the most general character. All the wicked are like the troubled sea. Whether prosperous or otherwise; rich or poor; bond or free; old or young; whether in Christian, in civilized, or in barbarous lands; whether living in palaces, in caves, or in tents; whether in the splendor of cities, or in the solitude of deserts; All are like the troubled sea.
Are like the troubled sea - The agitated (נגרשׁ nigrâsh), ever-moving and restless sea. The sea is always in motion, and never entirely calm. Often also it lashes into foam, and heaves with wild commotion.
When it cannot rest - Lowth renders this, ‘For it never can be at rest.’ The Hebrew is stronger than our translation. It means that there is no possibility of its being at rest; it is unable to be still (יוּכל לא השׁקט כי kı̂y hasheqēṭ lo' yûkal). The Septuagint renders it, ‘But the wicked are tossed like waves (κλυδωνισθήσονται kludōnisthēsontai), and are not able to be at rest.’ The idea, as it seems to me, is not exactly that which seems to be conveyed by our translation, that the wicked are like the sea, occasionally agitated by a storm and driven by wild commotion, but that, like the ocean, there is never any peace, as there is no peace to the restless waters of the mighty deep.
Whose waters - They who have stood on the shores of the ocean and seen the waves - especially in a storm - foam, and roll, and dash on the beach, will be able to appreciate the force of this beautiful figure, and cannot but have a vivid image before them of the unsettled and agitated bosoms of the guilty. The figure which is used here to denote the want of peace in the bosom of a wicked man, is likewise beautifully employed by Ovid:
Cumque sit hibernis agitatum fluctibus aequor,
Pectora sunt ipso turbidiora mari.
Trist. i. x. 33
The agitation and commotion of the sinner here referred to, relates to such things as the following:
1. There is no permanent happiness or enjoyment. There is no calmness of soul in the contemplation of the divine perfections, and of the glories of the future world. There is no substantial and permanent peace furnished by wealth, business, pleasure; by the pride, pomp, and flattery of the world. All leave the soul unsatisfied, or dissatisfied; all leave is unprotected against the rebukes of conscience, and the fear of hell.
2. Raging passions. The sinner is under their influence. and they may be compared to the wild and tumultuous waves of the ocean. Thus the bosoms of the wicked are agitated with the conflicting passions of pride, envy, malice, lust, ambition, and revenge. These leave no peace in the soul; they make peace impossible. People may learn in some degree to control them by the influence of philosophy; or a pride of character and respect to their reputation may enable them in some degree to restrain them; but they are like the smothered fires of the volcano, or like the momentary calm of the ocean that a gust of wind may soon lash into foam. To restrain them is not to subdue them, for no man can tell how soon he may be excited by anger, or how soon the smothered fires of lus may burn.
3. Conscience. Nothing more resembles an agitated ocean casting up mire and dirt, than a soul agitated by the recollections of past guilt. A deep dark cloud in a tempest overhangs the deep; the lightnings play and the thunder rolls along the sky, and the waves heave with wild commotion. So it is with the bosom of the sinner. Though there may be a temporary suspension of the rebukes of conscience, yet there is no permanent peace. The soul cannot rest; and in some way or other the recollections of guilt will be excited, and the bosom thrown into turbid and wild agitation.
4. The fear of judgment and of hell. Many a sinner has no rest, day or night, from the fear of future wrath. His troubled mind looks onward, and he sees nothing to anticipate but the wrath of God, and the horrors of an eternal hell. How invaluable then is religion! All these commotions are stilled by the voice of pardoning mercy, as the billows of the deep were hushed by the voice of Jesus. How much do we owe to religion! Had it not been for this, there had been no peace in this world. Every bosom would have been agitated with tumultuous passion; every heart would have quailed with the fear of hell. How diligently should we seek the influence of religion! We all have raging passions to be subdued. We all have consciences that may be troubled with the recollections of past guilt. We are all traveling to the bar of God, and have reason to apprehend the storms of vengeance. We all must soon lie down on beds of death, and in all these scenes there is nothing that can give permanent and solid peace but the religion of the Redeemer. Oh! that stills all the agitation of a troubled soul; lays every billow of tumultuous passion to rest; calms the conflicts of a guilty bosom; reveals God reconciled through a Redeemer to our souls, and removes all the anticipated terrors of a bed of death and of the approach to the judgment bar. Peacefully the Christian can die - not as the troubled sinner, who leaves the world with a bosom agitated like the stormy ocean but as peacefully as the gentle ripple dies away on the beach.
How blest the righteous when they die,
When holy souls retire to rest I
How mildly beams the closing eye,
How gently heaves the expiring breast!
So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o’er;
So gently shuts the eve of day;
So dies a wave along the shore.
There is no peace - (see the note at Isaiah 48:22).
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 57". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13