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l. The burden of Egypt. The Prophet here prophesies against Egypt, because it was a kind of refuge to the Jews, whenever they saw any danger approaching them; for when they had forsaken God, to whom they ought to have had recourse, they thought that they had no help left to them but in the Egyptians. It was therefore necessary that that kingdom should be overthrown, that its wealth or its forces might no longer deceive the Jews; for so long as Egypt was prosperous, the Jews thought that, on account of its being exceedingly populous and highly fortified, they were far removed from danger, and therefore despised God, or at least paid scarcely any regard to his promises. This led to evil consequences in two respects; first, because when they ought to have relied on God alone, they were puffed up with that vain confidence in Egypt; and secondly, because whenever the Lord punished them, they defended themselves against his chastisements by the power of the Egyptians, as if by human resources they could make void his judgments, when they ought to have been turned to God altogether. On this subject Isaiah speaks more fully in a later portion of this book. (Isaiah 30:2.)
Behold, the Lord rideth on a swift cloud. This mode of expression is found also in other passages of Scripture, but in a general form. (Psalms 104:3.) The Prophet applies it to this prediction, because the Egyptians thought that they were so well fortified on all sides, that there was no way by which God could approach them. He therefore ridicules their foolish confidence, and exhibits the exalted power of God, when he rideth on a swift cloud, by which he will easily make a descent upon them, and neither walls nor bulwarks shall hinder his progress. Again, because in addition to earthly aid the Jews were likewise bewitched by a false religion, on this ground also the Prophet ridicules their madness, because God will dash to the ground all the assistance which they expected to obtain from idols. I pass by the foolish notion which many have entertained, as to the idols which Christ overthrew in Egypt, when he was carried thither in infancy; for it does not deserve a refutation. (Matthew 2:14.) This passage has been perverted to prove it, and to prove many conjectures of the same kind. But the Prophet’s meaning is totally different; for he speaks of the defeat of the Egyptians by the Assyrians, and shews that it ought to be ascribed to God, and not, as irreligious men commonly do, to fortune. He shews it to be a judgment of God, by whose hand all things are governed.
And the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence. He declares that the idols shall fall; that is, that they shall be of no avail to the Egyptians, though they rely on their assistance, and think that they are under their protection. No nation ever was so much addicted to superstitions; for they worshipped cats, and oxen, and crocodiles, and even onions, and plants of every sort, and there was nothing to which they did not ascribe some kind of divinity. He means that the power of all those false gods, whom the Egyptians had taken for their protectors, will be overthrown. Having declared that the Egyptians rely in vain on their superstitions, he likewise casts down the pride which they cherished as to their earthly resources.
And the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of her. By the word heart he means the courage which sometimes fails even the bravest men, so that they do not attempt any action, even when their strength and forces are abundant, and in this manner he declares that they will be at war with God, who will melt their hearts within them, before they are called to contend with their enemies. Not only does he threaten that they will be terrified, but he likewise adds in the midst of the whole kingdom, where they had an exceedingly safe and peaceful dwelling, because they were far removed from every attack. It was the duty of all believers to consider this, when war was waged against the Egyptians; and we also ought to behold the same thing exemplified in all revolutions of kingdoms, which proceed solely from the hand of God. If the heart melts, if the strength fails, in men who are usually brave, and who had formerly displayed great courage, this ought to be ascribed to the vengeance of God.
2. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians. Here he describes more particularly the calamity which the Lord had determined to bring on Egypt. By the expression, I will set, he means the internal struggles, in which those who ought to be mutual defenders cut down one another; and no evil can be more destructive than this to a state or a people. It was of importance also to convince the Jews that God, in whose hands are the hearts of men, (Proverbs 21:1,) could by his unseen influence inflame the Jews to mutual animosities, that they might slay each other, though they were victorious over foreign enemies. Hence we learn that nations never rise in a seditious manner, unless the Lord set them against each other, as when one brings forward gladiators to the place of combat. He inflames their minds for battle, and prompts them to slay each other by mutual wounds; and therefore, as we ought to reckon it an evidence of God’s favor, when friendship is cherished among citizens, so we ought to ascribe it to his vengeance, when they rage against and slay and injure one another.
And they shall fight every one against his brother. For the sake of heightening the picture, he adds what was still more monstrous, that those who were related to them by blood would take up arms to destroy each other; for if men are worse than beasts when, forgetting their common nature, they engage in battle, how much more shocking is it to nature that brethren or allies should fight with each other! But the more monstrous it is, the more ought we to acknowledge the judgment of God and his terrible vengeance.
City against city, and kingdom against kingdom. Isaiah appears to advance by degrees; for he mentions, first, a brother; secondly, a neighbor; thirdly, cities; and, fourthly, kingdoms By kingdoms he means provinces, into which Egypt was divided, which the Greeks called νομοἰ, the term by which the Greek translators have rendered it in this passage. (26)
(26) Καὶ νομὸς ἐπὶ νομόν. The reader will observe the distinction between the paroxytone νόμος, a law, and the oxytone νομός, a field or a dwelling; for it is the latter that is employed by Herodotus to denote a district or province. Herod. 2:164. — Ed.
FT284 “And the spirit of Egypt shall fail. Heb. shall be emptied. ” — Eng. Ver.
FT285 “And the Egyptians will I give over, or, shut up. ” — Eng. Ver. “And I will shut up Egypt in the hand of cruel lords.” — Stock.
FT286 “A fierce king.” — Eng. Ver.
FT287 See vol. 1 p. 266
FT288 “ Embanked canals. Rivi aggerum, as the Vulgate has it. The canals by which the waters of the Nile were distributed were fortified by mounds or banks. מצור, ( mātzōr,) which word Rosenmüller vainly endeavors to shew to be another name for Egypt or Mizraim.” — Stock.
FT289 See vol. 1 p. 492
FT290 “And ashamed (disappointed or confounded) are the workers of combed (or hatchelled) flax, and the weavers of white (stuffs.) The older writers supposed the class of persons here described to be the manufacturers of nets for fishing, and took הורי, ( hōrai,) in the sense of perforated open work or net-work. The moderns understand the verse as having reference to the working of flax and manufacture of linen. Knobel supposes הורי, ( hōrai,) to mean cotton, as being white by nature, and before it is wrought. Some of the older writers identified שריקות, ( sĕrīkōth,) with sericum , the Latin word for silk. Calvin supposes an allusion in the last clause to the diaphanous garments of luxurious women.” — Professor Alexander.
FT291 Our author is puzzled about this word. In his version he follows the old rendering, “all that make a net,” but his marginal reading is “all that make gain,” and to the latter he adheres in his commentary. Bishops Lowth and Stock render it, “all that make a gain,” and Professor Alexander, “all laborers for hire.” — Ed.
FT292 קרם, ( kĕdĕm,) has two meanings, “antiquity” and “the east;” and accordingly Bishop Stock renders this clause, “the son of the kings of the east,” adding the following note: — “ Kings of the east. A synonyme for wise men, μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν, the quarter of the world where the arts of divination originated, and to whose sovereigns Egyptian sages pretended kindred. Hence the magi, that came to worship Christ, are often denominated the three kings. ” — Ed.
FT293 “Zoan, the Tanis of the Greeks, was one of the most ancient cities of Lower Egypt, (Numbers 13:22,) and a royal residence. The name is of Egyptian origin, and signifies low situation. Noph is the Memphis of the Greek geographers, called Moph, (Hosea 9:6.) It was one of the chief cities of ancient Egypt, the royal seat of Psammetichus.” — Alexander.
FT294 “The stay (Heb., corners) of the tribes thereof.” — Eng. Ver.
FT295 Instead of פנת, ( pinnăth,) the construct singular, Grotius, Lowth, and others, prefer the conjectural reading, פנות ( pinnōth,) corners. But Rosenmüller removes the difficulty of the Syntax by remarking, that פנה, ( pinnāh,) a collective noun, and agreeably to the frequent usage of the Hebrew tongue, fitly agrees with a plural verb; and he quotes 2 Samuel 19:41, as a parallel instance. — Ed.
FT296 Professor Alexander prefers the literal rendering, “from before the shaking of the hand,” and thus explains the passage: “ מפני, ( mippĕnē,) may be rendered, on account of, which idea is certainly included, but the true force of the original expression is best retained by a literal translation. תנופת יד, ( tĕnūphăth yăd,) is not the act of beckoning for the enemy, but that of threatening or preparing to strike. The reference is not to the slaughter of Sennacherib’s army, but more generally to the indications of Divine displeasure.”
FT297 The only passage which occurs to my remembrance as likely to be in the author’s eye is, “And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a bye-word, among all the nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.” (Deuteronomy 28:37.) — Ed.
FT298 Heliopolis is a Greek word, and signifies “the city of the sun.” It is the name of a famous city of Lower Egypt, in which there was a temple dedicated to the sun. — Ed.
FT299 “ Pillar. ” — Eng. Ver.
FT300 The name “Philomētor,” which means “loving his mother,” was ironically given to him on account of his known hatred of his mother Cleopatra. — Ed
FT301 “ Sous ceste pedagogie de la Loy.”
FT302 “ Les signes et sacramens.”
FT303 Of one clause in this verse, rendered by our translators “and a great one,” Calvin takes no notice. Rosenmüller considers רב ( rāb) to be the participle Kal of רוב, ( rūb,) and assigns to Cocceius the honor of having discovered that the punctuation, which the Masoretic annotators have set aside, in the parallel passage of Deuteronomy, as a peculiarity for which they could not account, was the key to the true interpretation. Almost all the commentators, Cocceius excepted, render רב ( rāb) “a great one,” some of them supposing that Ptolemy the Great, the son of Lagus, and others that Alexander the Great, was meant. But Cocceius was the first to perceive that the signification “Great” does not agree with the context, and has justly remarked that the word רב ( rāb) with a Kametz, ought not to be confounded with רב ( rāb,) with a Pathach, but that its meaning should be sought from the verb רוב ( rūb) or ריב ( rīb,) “to contend, to argue, to defend one’s cause in a court of justice;” and he quotes a parallel passage, in which Moses, while he blesses Judah, speaking of God, says, ידיו רב לו ( yādaiv rāb lō) “his hands shall be his protector.” (Deuteronomy 33:7.) See Robertson’s Clavis Pentateuchi, p. 561. The ancients appear to have taken a similar view. The Septuagint renders it thus. Καὶ ἀποστελεῖ αὐτοῖς ἄνθρωπον ὃς σώσει αὐτοὺς, κρίνων σώσει αὐτούς. The Chaldee and Syriac render it, “a deliverer and a judge,” and Jerome’s rendering is, propuqnatorem , “a defender or champion”. Rosenmüller Scholia. “A Savior and a vindicator”. Lowth. “An advocate”. Stock. “The explanation of רב, ( rab) as a participle,” says Professor Alexander, “is found in all the ancient versions, and is adopted by most modern writers.” — Ed.
FT304 The words of the Apostle are, “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? ” But Calvin’s remark, which immediately follows, vindicates the appropriateness, though not the verbal accuracy, of the quotation. — Ed.
FT305 “ La doctrine de salut;” “The doctrine of salvation.”
FT306 “ Ce sera un preparatif pour les amener à repentance;” — “It will be a preparation to lead them to repentance.”
FT307 “ Pourvenu que notre repentance ne soit hypocritique;” — “Provided that our repentance be not hypocritical.”
FT308 “ D’où viennent les chastimens, si non de nos pechez? S’ils sont pardonnez, aussi le sont les chastimens meritez a cause d’iceux. “ — “Whence come chastisements but from our sins? If they are remitted, so are also the chastisements deserved on account of them.”
FT309 See vol. 1 p. 101
FT310 This is the Author’s version. See p. 48
FT311 The particle את (ĕ th) does not decide the question, for it may either be the sign of the accusative case, or a preposition signifying with. Professor Alexander adopts the latter view, and argues powerfully in favor of the rendering, “they shall serve God,” in which he concurs with Lowth, “And the Egyptian shall worship with the Assyrian,” and with Stock, “And Egypt shall serve [God] with Assyria.” — Ed.
FT312 “ De la crainte de Dieu,” — “from the fear of God.”
FT313 “Jacob is the lot (Heb. cord) of his inheritance.” — Eng. Ver.
FT314 “The meaning obviously is,” says Professor Alexander, “that Israel should be one of three, or a party to a triple union.” By an analagous idiom of the Greek language, Peter calls Noah ὄγδοον, “the eighth,” that is, “one of eight persons.” (2 Peter 2:5.) From classical writers other instances might be given, such as εἰς οἰκίαν δωδέκατος “he went to his house the twelfth,” or, “one of twelve,” that is, “along with eleven other persons.” — Ed.
FT315 “Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless.” — Eng. Ver.
FT316 Our Author perhaps refers to his expository remarks on Ephesians 2:10, Isaiah 17:7, Isaiah 64:7, See p. 26
3. And the spirit of Egypt shall be emptied. (27) As Isaiah had, a little before, deprived the Egyptians of courage, so he now takes away their understanding, both of which are exceedingly necessary for the defense of kingdoms; for when these have been taken away, there is no possibility of transacting national affairs. Now, the Egyptians had so high an opinion of their own wisdom, that they reckoned themselves superior to other nations; and it is well known that they haughtily despised all other nations as barbarians, as if there had been no civilization, refinement, learning, or skill, but in Egypt alone. They boasted that they were the inventors of learning, that philosophy and astronomy came from them, and, in short, that Egypt was the workshop of all the liberal arts; and therefore they would never have thought it possible that they should fail in wisdom and prudence, and unquestionably, if this prediction had come to their knowledge, they would have laughed at it in disdain, and would have thought, that sooner would the waters of the sea be dried up, and everything be overturned, than this should befall those who imagined that prudence was their birthright. But Isaiah declares it boldly, for he did not speak from himself.
Again, since he had predicted that they would be deprived of courage, in which they excelled, the context requires us to understand the meaning to be, that they would be struck with blindness; for both faculties of the soul depend entirely on the favor of God. Consequently, רוח ( rūăch) means here understanding and sagacity, which ought to be carefully observed, for many are mistaken as to the meaning of this word. When he immediately adds, I will destroy the counsel thereof, this is a stronger expression of the former statement; for it shews what is the cause of that emptiness, namely, that God will take and carry away their counsel.
Even though they seek it. This is spoken by anticipation, for he meets the objections of the Egyptians, who might have said, “Have we not gods whom we can consult? Have we not magicians, diviners, and soothsayers? Do you reckon those to be of no value?” He threatens that all these things will be of no avail to them, to whatever extent they may rely on them, and be puffed up with the empty name of wisdom. I shall not spend much time on these names, though it is probable that Isaiah’s enumeration proceeds by gradual advancement. First, he mentions gods, next magicians, and afterwards diviners and fortune-tellers They had their oracles, in which they placed the highest confidence. Next after them came the magicians, though these too had great influence. In matters of smaller moment they consulted the soothsayers. Superstitious men are so restless that nothing can satisfy them; for they are fickle and unsteady, and sometimes resort to one remedy and sometimes to another; and indeed Satan deceives them in such a manner, that at first he holds out to them the appearance of peace and quietness, which they think that they have fully obtained, but afterwards shews them that they have not reached it, and distresses and harasses them more and more, and compels them to seek new grounds of confidence. Thus our minds cannot obtain rest and peace but in God alone. And undoubtedly the Prophet condemns those arts as contrary to reason; for God has revealed all that is necessary to be known by means of the arts and sciences, which he intended to be used, and of which he approves. If any man shall wish to be wise in any other manner, he must have Satan for his teacher.
(27) Bogus footnote
4. And I will deliver the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel master. (28) He now shews what will happen to the Egyptians, after having lost courage and been deprived of understanding. Nothing will be left for them but to be reduced to slavery; for a nation destitute of these must fall of its own accord, even though it were not violently attacked by any enemy. Of such aids, therefore, God deprives those on whom he determines to take vengeance, and shuts them out from every method of upholding their liberty. Yet the Prophet threatens what is still more shocking, that not only will the empire of which the Egyptians proudly vaunted fall down, but the inhabitants also will undergo hard bondage. Though the adjective קשה, ( kāshĕh,) cruel, is in the singular number, yet he says in the plural number, that they shall be subject to lords, which is harder to endure than if there had been but one lord to whom they were subject.
And a powerful king (29) shall rule over them. He means that the power of the tyrant to whom he will subject them shall be so great, that it will not be easy to restore them to liberty. Historians shew that various changes occurred in many countries, which they who subdued them were unable to hold and retain; for to keep what has been obtained is often more difficult than to conquer. But the Prophet intimates that this condition will not be easily changed, and that the bondage of the Egyptians shall be of long duration, because no one will dare to enter the lists with an exceedingly powerful conqueror. We may also understand the meaning to be, that the princes of smaller nations will deal more gently with their people than more powerful monarchs, who, relying on their greatness, allow themselves to do whatever they please; for, reckoning their power to be unlimited, they set no bounds to their freedom of action, and rush forward, without restraint, wherever their passions drive them. Whether the one view or the other be adopted, it will amount to this, that the Egyptians, who consider themselves to be the highest and most distinguished of all men, shall fall under the power of another, and shall be oppressed by hard bondage, that is, by the bondage of a powerful king, whom no one will dare to oppose. Hence we see how great is the folly of men who are desirous to have a powerful and wealthy king reigning over them, and how justly they are punished for their ambition, though it cannot be corrected by the experience of every day, which is everywhere to be seen in the world. France and Spain, at the present day, boast that they are governed by mighty princes, but feel to their cost how little advantage they derive from that which dazzles them by a false pretense of honor. But on this subject we have spoken formerly in another place. (30) (Isaiah 8:6.)
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5. Then the waters shall fail from the sea. He follows out the subject which he had already begun, that the fortifications, by which the Egyptians thought that they were admirably defended, will be of no avail to them. They reckoned themselves to be invincible, because they were surrounded by the sea, and by the Nile, and by fortifications; and historians tell us that it was difficult to gain entrance to them, because the Nile had no mouth, by which they could not easily prevent ships from landing. They therefore boasted that their situation was excellent, and that they were strongly fortified by nature, in like manner as the inhabitants of Venice, at the present day, think that, in consequence of being surrounded by deep ditches, they are impregnable; but fortresses are useless, when God has determined to punish us.
6. And the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up. (31) What he adds about fortifications is to the same purpose with what he had stated immediately before. He alludes to the embankments, which not only restrained the overflowing of the Nile, but protected the whole country; as if he had said that the embankments will not be needed, because the Nile will be dried up. Now, it is certain that the Nile was not laid dry, and yet the Prophet did not foretell what was not accomplished. We must therefore call to remembrance what we have already said, that on account of our stupidity those calamities are represented to us in a lively manner, which places them as it were before our eyes; for we need to have a representation made to us which is fitted to impress our minds, and to arouse us to consider the judgments of God, which otherwise we despise. We ought to observe the haughtiness of the Egyptians, whose resources were so various and abundant, and who thought that it was impossible for them to be overtaken by such a calamity.
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7. And the reed and the rush shall wither. He mentions the reed and the rush, because they had abundance of them, and employed them for various purposes; or, it may be thought to mean that the marshes will be dried up.
By the mouth of the brooks. Some render it embankments, but it rather means the fountain itself, which seldom is dried up, though torrents or rivers fail. By the mouth, therefore, he means the source of the river which shall be dried up in such a manner that no part of the country can be watered. Though the source of the Nile was at a great distance, yet not without reason did the Prophet threaten that that river, on whose waters the fertility almost of the whole land depended, shall be dried up at its very source; for in that country rain seldom falls, but its place is supplied every year by the Nile. If that river overflow but scantily, it threatens scarcity and famine; and therefore, when the Prophet threatens that it will be dried up, he means that the whole country will be barren. For this reason he says also, that, even at its very mouth, from which the waters spring up, there will be a lack of waters, so that in that place the herbs will be withered.
8. And the fishers shall mourn. Isaiah still keeps in his eye the condition of Egypt. We have formerly mentioned (32) that the prophets made use of those figures of speech by which, when any country is mentioned, they chiefly name those things which abound in that country, and for which it is celebrated. Thus, when a vinebearing country is spoken of, they mention vines; if it abound in gold, they speak of gold; and if it abound in silver, they speak of silver. Accordingly, when he speaks of Egypt, which was well watered, and contained abundance of streams, he mentions fishing.
They who spread a net on the face of the waters shall languish. Some translate the word אמללו, (ă mlālū,) “they shall be cut off,” but the more correct rendering is, “they shall be weakened;” for this corresponds to the mourning and lamentation which was formerly mentioned. Now, we know that in that country there was a great number of fishers, and that these formed a great part of the wealth of Egypt. When fishers were taken away, of whom there were vast numbers among the Egyptians, and of whom their wealth chiefly consisted, they must have been weakened. Now, if the nation be deprived of that which is its ordinary food, great poverty will follow. He therefore describes an astonishing change that shall pass on the whole country.
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9. And they who work in the finest flax. As he spoke of mourning, so he now speaks of shame; for they who formerly earned an abundant livelihood by this trade will have no gains. Now, the two occupations are closely connected, to weave nets and to fish. Yet it is doubtful if he speaks of those only who manufactured nets; for if we understand שריקות, ( sĕrīkōth) to mean certain very fine linens, it is probable that the latter clause relates to other productions of the loom, manufactured out of small fine thread, and of the most elegant workmanship. We know that linens of very great value were woven in Egypt, and there may be good reason for interpreting the phrase white nets, or, as we have rendered it, “perforated,” to mean also linen garments, which were more costly in proportion to the greater delicacy of their texture.
It will thus be a metaphorical expression, by which the Prophet indirectly taunts them with their unbecoming luxury, alleging that the Egyptians cover themselves with linen garments in the same manner as if they clothed themselves with a net. If this meaning be adopted, it will agree with the following verse; and indeed I do not see how such exquisite skill in weaving can be applied to fishing. But if it be thought better to understand the whole as relating to fishes, the meaning will be, that they who had been much employed in fishing, and had found it to be a profitable occupation, will be overwhelmed with sorrow. (33)
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10. And all that make ponds. As to the word שכר, ( secher,) there is no absolute necessity, in my opinion, for translating it a net; for the derivation shews it, on the contrary, to denote a lucrative occupation. (34)
Where fishes are very abundant, they are also preserved in pools and ponds; because the fishers would otherwise be constrained to sell them at a very low price. Besides, when they throw a net, they are not always successful. He therefore follows out the same subject, “It will not be possible either to take or to preserve fishes. Pools will be of no use.”
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11. Surely the princes of Zoan are fools. Here he joins wisdom with folly, and not without reason; for it is impossible to take away from men a conviction of their wisdom, which leads them to believe, in opposition to God himself, that they are wise. It is therefore a kind of acknowledgment, when he calls those persons wise whom he at the same time accuses of folly or stupidity. Though the Hebrew particle אך, (ă ch,) sometimes means but, yet as the Prophet appears to attack the Egyptians, I choose rather to render it “surely,” or “truly,” or “now at least;” for he scoffs at the counselors of Pharaoh for wishing to be regarded, and believing themselves to be, exceeding wise, though they are the most foolish of all men. Thus it is an exclamation: “Where is that wisdom of Egypt? Where are the counselors who held all men in contempt? Why do they not preserve their kingdom?” Now, at least, it is evident what kind of wisdom they had. This tends to confirm and seal the prophecy, in which the Prophet obviously does not speak of things unknown, but has before his eyes, as it were, the destruction of Egypt. “Armed therefore with the authority of God, I venture to pronounce all those princes to be fools, though they think that they are wise.”
Finally, the Prophet shews that vain is the glory of men who, without God, claim for themselves even a spark of wisdom; because their folly is at length exposed, and when the actual trial comes, they shew that they are children. The Lord permits them, indeed, to achieve many exploits, that they may obtain reputation among men, but in the end he infatuates them, so that, notwithstanding their sagacity and long experience, they act more foolishly than children. Let us therefore learn to seek from the Lord the spirit of wisdom and counsel, and if he shall bestow it upon us, let us use it with propriety and moderation; for God opposes the wisdom of men when they claim more than they have a right to claim, and those who are too ambitious to exalt themselves, must be punished for their folly; and therefore he often puts them to shame, that it may be made manifest that their wisdom is nothing but empty smoke. There is no wisdom but that which is founded on the fear of God, which Solomon also declares to be the chief part of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7.)
How say ye to Pharaoh, I am the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings? He reproves the counsellors of Pharaoh for flattering him, as courtiers are wont to flatter princes; for they utter nothing but what is intended to soothe and gratify the ears of princes, because this is the way by which they succeed and obtain favor. Thus, amidst many flatteries and lies, there is no room for truth. Though this vice is commonly found in the courts of great princes, yet at that time it abounded chiefly among the Egyptians. They boasted that they were the most ancient of all nations, and that they were the inventors of the arts, and of all liberal education; and if such a conviction existed even among the common people, how much stronger must it have been in the kings themselves?
The boasting related to two points, antiquity and knowledge; and Isaiah reproves both, or at least says that they will be of no value. Pharaoh boasted both of the antiquity and of the wisdom of his nation; and indeed this was common among the whole people; but he speaks chiefly of the king as the head, in whom this haughtiness was more conspicuous than among ordinary persons. Now, we ought not to boast of the wisdom of our ancestors, as if it belonged to us by hereditary right, but we must look to heaven and ask it from its Author. So far as relates to antiquity, it is a foolish and idle boast; and yet princes are so deeply infected by this vice, that they would willingly seek their birth and descent out of the world, and cannot easily be drawn away from that vanity. This madness is heightened by flatterers, who have contrived, as we perceive, many things about the genealogy of certain princes. No song is more delightful to them than when they are separated from the common herd of men, like demigods or heroes. But it frequently happens, that when they carry their curiosity to excess in inquiring about their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, they lay themselves open to ridicule, because it is found that they are descended from one of the common people.
I have heard an amusing anecdote, related by persons worthy of credit, about the Emperor Maximilian, who was very eager to inquire into his descent, and was induced by a silly trifler to believe that he had traced his lineage to Noah’s ark. This subject made so powerful an impression on his mind, that he left off all business, applied himself earnestly to this single investigation, and would allow no one to draw him away from it, not even the ambassadors who came to treat with him about important matters. All were astonished at this folly, and silently blamed him for it, but no one had power or courage to suggest a remedy. At length his cook, who was likewise his jester, and often entertained him with his sayings, asked leave to speak, and, as one who was desirous to uphold the Emperor’s dignity, told him that this eagerness to trace his descent would neither be useful nor honorable; for, said he, at present I revere your majesty, and worship you as a god; but if we must come to Noah’s ark, there we shall all be cousins, for we are all descended from it. Maximilian was so deeply affected by this saying of the jester, that he became ashamed of his undertaking, though formerly neither friends, nor counsellors, nor business could dissuade him from it; for he perceived that his name which he wished to render more illustrious by inquiring into his remote ancestors, would be altogether degraded if they came to its earliest source, from which princes and peasants, nobles and artisans, are descended.
What is blamed even by jesters and fools must be great madness; and yet it is not a vice which has lately sprung up, but is deeply rooted in the minds of almost all men. In order to avoid it, let us learn to depend on God alone, and let us prefer the blessedness of adoption to all riches, and lineage, and nobility. So far as relates to the kings of Egypt being descended from very ancient kings, who had kept possession of the throne for many ages, they were as proud as if wisdom had been born with them. (35)
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12. Where are thy wise men? that they may tell thee. Though literally it runs thus, “ And they shall tell thee, and shall know,” yet the word ought to be regarded as meaning, “that they may tell thee, and even that at length they may know;” for this mode of expression is frequently employed by the Hebrews. The Egyptians had their diviners from whom they thought that nothing, however secret, was concealed; for they consulted them about the smallest and greatest affairs, and held their replies to be oracles. The Prophet, mocking that vanity, says, “How shall they tell what they do not know? Have they been admitted to the counsel of God?” It is also probable that he condemns the art which they used in divination, because it was not only unlawful, but also made use of absolute tricks and deceptions.
There are three ways in which we may foresee or know what is future. The first and chief way is, by the revelation of the Spirit, which alone can make us certain, as by the gift of prophecy, which is rare and uncommon. The second is, by astronomy. The third is, by a comparison of past events, from which prudence is commonly obtained
As to a knowledge of the stars, from their position and conjunction, some things may occasionally be learned, such as famine, scarcity, pestilence, abundant harvests, and things of that sort; but even these cannot be certain, for they rest on mere conjecture. Now, we ought always to consider what relation the stars bear to these lower regions; for the actions of men are not regulated by them, as idle and false astrologers imagine, a vast number of whom, at the present day, endeavor to insinuate themselves into the minds of princes and subjects, as if they possessed a knowledge of everything, both present and future. Such men resemble the impostors of whom the Prophet speaks, who deceive men by their jugglery. Yet princes lend an attentive ear to such persons, and receive them as gods; and indeed they deserve to be thus imposed upon, and are justly punished for their curiosity.
They likewise boast of magic, in which those Egyptian diviners were skilled. But they add many things which are worse, and more abominable, exorcisms and calling on devils, than which nothing more destructive can be expressed or conceived. The Lord pronounces a curse on such conjectures and arts of divination, and the issue of them cannot but be disastrous and wretched. And if they were formerly condemned in the Egyptians, how much more do they deserve condemnation in those who use the name of God as a pretext? It is wonderful that men otherwise acute and sagacious should be so childishly deceived by such jugglery, so that they appear to be deprived of understanding and judgment; but it is the Lord’s righteous vengeance, who punishes the wickedness of men.
Again, when from past events we calculate what is future, and judge by experience and observation what is most proper to be done, that cannot in itself be blamed; but neither can we by these means learn with certainty what is future, for the matter always lies in conjecture. Yet Isaiah directly attacks that sagacity which is universally applauded as something highly excellent, not because it is in itself sinful, but because we can scarcely find an acute or ingenious person who does not confidently believe that his skill places within his reach all that deserves or is necessary to be known. In this manner they despise the secret providence of God, as if nothing were hidden from them.
What the Lord of hosts hath decreed. There is still another vice, that craftiness and sleight of hand are preferred by them to true wisdom. But Isaiah expressly censures that pride which led men endued with great abilities to measure events by their own judgment, as if the government of the world were not in the hand of God; and therefore with their divination he contrasts the heavenly decree. And hence learn how skillfully Isocrates says,“
Κράτιστον εἶναι παρὰ μὲν θεοῦ εὐτυχίαν, παρὰ δὲ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν εὐβουλίαν, “that the best gift of God is success, and the best gift from ourselves is prudence.”
At first sight, this maxim of the elegant orator appears beautiful; but since he robs God of the spirit of prudence and bestows it on mortals, the distribution is both wicked and foolish, to ascribe to men sound counsel, and to leave nothing to God but prosperous fortune. Now, if any one neglect the methods by which God teaches us, and resort to Satan’s impostures, he richly deserves to be deceived and involved in the greatest disgrace; for he seeks remedies that are nowhere to be found, and despises those which were offered by God.
13. The princes of Zoan are become infatuated, the princes of Noph are deceived. Zoan was one of the chief cities of Egypt; Noph also was highly celebrated; (36) but what cities they were we cannot with certainty determine. Some think that one of them was Alexandria, the antiquity and wealth of which may be inferred from many passages of Scripture, which serve also to refute the notion of those who think that it was founded by Alexander the Great; for although it had been frequently destroyed, yet he did not build it anew, but only repaired it. That at one time it was an independent state, and allied to the Egyptians, and that it was one of the most flourishing cities in the whole world, is evident from Nahum 3:8. The Prophet justly represents the stupidity of the princes to be the forerunner of its destruction; because the chief strength of any commonwealth or kingdom consists in wisdom and prudence, without which neither great riches nor a numerous population can be of any avail.
A corner of its tribes have deceived Egypt. (37) I consider the word corner to be here used metaphorically for the chief part of a building on which the whole weight rests; and I choose rather to view it in the nominative than in the accusative case. (38) It ought, I think, to be viewed as referring to those wise men by whom the Egyptians supposed themselves to be so powerfully defended that no evil could befall them. But Isaiah says that this is too feeble a support, because, having been deceived in their counsels, they ruined Egypt; and therefore he holds up to mockery that pretended wisdom which, when it is not accompanied by the fear of God, ought to be called vanity and folly, and not wisdom. Not only do men abuse an excellent gift of God, but they are puffed up with vain ambition, and are more delighted with cunning than with real prudence. To this is added a devilish fury, which leads them to disregard the providence of God, and to bring down all events to the level of their own capacity. This is the reason why Scripture so frequently attacks wise men of that description, and declares that they are fools. They usurp what belongs to God, and claim it for themselves; which is shocking and intolerable sacrilege. We need not wonder if the Lord make fearful displays against such wise men, so that with all their great acuteness and ingenuity they stumble and fall in the smallest matters, and run into great dangers which any peasant or artisan would have foreseen. Let these things be a warning to us, that we may not be elated or lay claim to the praise of wisdom. If we have any abilities or prudence, we ought to ascribe it wholly to God, and conform ourselves to the rule of sobriety and modesty; for if our wisdom rest on God he will truly be a steadfast corner-stone, which no one shall shake or overthrow.
(36) Bogus footnote
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14. The Lord hath mingled a spirit of perverseness. Because it was a thing unexpected and incredible that the leaders of a sagacious and prudent nation would destroy the country by their stupidity, the Prophet therefore ascribes it to the judgment of God, that the Jews may not shut their eyes against an example so striking and remarkable, as irreligious men usually attribute the judgments of God to chance when anything new or unexpected has happened. The expression is metaphorical, as if one were to mix wine in a cup, that the Lord thus intoxicates the wise men of this world so that they are stunned and amazed, and can neither think nor act aright. The consequence is, that they deceive Egypt, because, first, they were themselves deceived. That the Egyptians suffer themselves to be imposed on, and cannot guard against the deception, is the judgment of the Lord.
And yet Isaiah does not represent God to be the Author of this folly in such a manner that the Egyptians could impute blame to him, but we ought to view the matter in this light: “Men have in themselves no understanding or judgment, for whence comes wisdom but from the Spirit of God, who is the only fountain of light, understanding, and truth? Now, if the Lord withhold his Spirit from us, what right have we to dispute with him? He is under no obligations to us, and all that he bestows is actually a free gift.” Yet when he strikes the minds of men with a spirit of giddiness, he does it always for good reasons, though they are sometimes concealed from us. But very frequently he punishes with blindness those wicked men who have risen up against him, as happened to those Egyptians who, puffed up with a conviction of their wisdom, swelled with pride and despised all other men. It is therefore superfluous to dispute here about predestination, for the Lord punishes them for open vice; and, accordingly, when God blinds men or gives them over to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28,) he cannot be accused of cruelty; for it is the just punishment of their wickedness and licentiousness, and he who acts justly in punishing transgressions cannot be called the Author of sin.
Let us now attend to the manner of punishing. He delivers them up to Satan to be punished; for he it is, strictly speaking, that mingles the spirit of giddiness and perverseness; but as he does nothing but by the command of God, it is therefore said that God does what Satan does. The statement commonly made, that it is done by God’s permission, is an excessively frivolous evasion; for the Prophet has expressed more than this, namely, that this punishment was inflicted by God, because he is a righteous judge. God therefore acts by means of Satan, as a judge by means of an executioner, and inflicts righteous punishment on those who have offended him. Thus in the book of Kings we read that Satan presented himself before God, and asked leave to deceive Ahab’s prophets; and having obtained it, he then obeyed the command of God, for he could have done nothing by himself. It is unnecessary to produce a multitude of quotations in a matter so obvious.
And they have misled Egypt in all her work. When he adds that her counsellors deceived her, he points out a second judgment of God; for it might have happened that the princes were deprived of understanding, and resembled drunkards, and yet the common people continued to possess some judgment; but here he says, that the impostors obtained also the power of leading astray so as to deceive the people. This is a two-fold vengeance of God, both on them that lead astray, and on those who are led astray by them.
As a drunken man staggereth in his vomit. By a vomit He means shameful drunkenness. This is added ( πρὸς αὔξησιν) by way of amplification, in order to shew that they were not ordinary drunkards, who have still some understanding left, but that they resembled swine.
15. Neither shall Egypt have any work to do. This is the conclusion of the former statement, for it means that all the Egyptians shall be stupefied to such a degree that whatever they undertake shall be fruitless. This must happen where there is no counsel, and it is the righteous punishment of our pride and rashness. He therefore intended to describe the result and effect, so as to shew that it will be unhappy and miserable.
Head or tail, branch or rush. When he threatens both the head and the tail, he means, that all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, all without exception, shall be deprived of counsel, so that they will not succeed in anything. Or perhaps it will be thought rather to mean the order which they observe in their actions. Hence we learn, that both the beginning and the end of everything depend on God; for we ought to ask from him counsel, and prudence, and success, if we do not wish that the same thing should happen to us which happened to the Egyptians.
16. In that day shall Egypt be like women. He again repeats what he had formerly said, that the Egyptians will have nothing that is manly. Some think that he alludes to an effeminate custom, on account of which the ancient historians censured the Egyptians, namely, that, by inverting the order of things, women appeared in public and transacted the affairs of state, and men performed the occupations of women. It is possible that the Prophet may have had this in his eye, but when I take a more careful view of the whole passage, this conjecture cannot be admitted; for here he threatens a judgment of God, which will hold up men to astonishment. If he were speaking of an ordinary custom, this would not apply to the matter in hand, for he does not charge the hearts of the Egyptians with being effeminate, but, on the contrary, threatens that they shall be struck with such dread that in no respect will they differ from women. The Egyptians not only thought that they were able to maintain war, but attacked without provocation, and gave aid to other nations. We see that heathen writers relate many of the exploits of the Egyptians, and expatiate largely on their praises; and, therefore, although the Egyptians were feeble and effeminate in comparison with other nations, yet they wished to retain the praise and renown of warlike men.
Because of the shaking of the hand of Jehovah of hosts. (39) The sudden change which is now effected is a striking display of the judgment of heaven, and therefore he adds, that the shaking of the hand of God will be the cause of the terror. By these words he shews that this war will be entirely carried on by the Lord, and therefore that the Egyptians cannot stand against it, because they have not to do with men. What Isaiah declares concerning Egypt ought to be likewise applied to other nations; for if wars arise and insurrections spring up, we ought to acknowledge it to be a judgment of God when men lose courage and are overwhelmed with terror. We see how the most warlike nations give way, and shew themselves to be less courageous than women, and are vanquished without any preparations of war, whenever the Lord strikes their minds with dread.
(39) Bogus footnote
17. And the land of Judah shall be a terror to the Egyptians. Some explain it simply to mean, that the land of Judah will be an astonishment to the Egyptians as well as to other nations, and compare this passage with the saying which has formerly come under our observation, “You shall be an astonishment.” (40) But I think that the meaning of the Prophet here is different, for he intended to point out the reason why the Lord would make such a display against the Egyptians. It was because they had brought destruction on the Jews, for they had turned them aside from the confidence which they ought to have placed in God, as princes frequently solicit their neighbors, and offer them their aid, that they may afterwards make use of them for their own advantage. Now the Lord had forbidden them (Deuteronomy 17:16) to resort to the Egyptians for the purpose of asking assistance from them; but those wretched people, instead of obeying God, listened to the solicitation of unbelievers who made offers to them, and on this account they were justly punished.
But the Egyptians also, who had given occasion to their unbelief and distrust, did not pass unpunished, for they were so sharply chastised that whenever they remembered the Jews they were overwhelmed with terror. Hence we ought to draw a profitable doctrine, that they who have turned aside the Church from obeying and trusting in God, and who, by fear, or counsel, or any enticements, have given occasion for offense, will be severely punished. The meaning of the Prophet’s words is as if we should say, that the look of a woman will bring a blush on him who has seduced her, when the disgrace of the uncleanness shall have been laid open, and when God shall come forth as the avenger of conjugal fidelity.
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18. In that day there shall be five cities. After having threatened the Egyptians, and at the same time explained the reason of the divine judgment, he comforts them, and promises the mercy of God. He declares that they will be in part restored, and will regain a prosperous and flourishing condition; for he says that out of six cities five will be saved, and only one will perish. He had already foretold a frightful destruction to the whole kingdom, so that no one who examines the former prediction can think of anything else than a condition that is past remedy. He therefore promises that this restoration will be accomplished by the extraordinary kindness of God, so that it will be a kind of addition to the redemption of the Church, or a large measure of the grace of God, when the Redeemer shall be sent.
The manner of expression is somewhat obscure, but if we observe it carefully, there is no difficulty about the meaning; for the Prophet means that on1y the sixth part of the cities will be destroyed, and that the rest will be saved. The difficulty lies in the word ההרס, ( hăhĕrĕs.) Some read it החרס, ( hăchĕrĕs,) that is, of the sun, but they have mistaken the letter ה ( he) for ח ( cheth,) which resembles it. Those who explain it “of the sun,” think that the Prophet spoke of Heliopolis; (41) but this does not agree with the context; and he does not merely promise that five cities would be restored, (for how inconsiderable would such a restoration have been!) but generally, that five cities out of six would be saved. We know that the cities in Egypt were very numerous. I do not mention the fables of the ancients, and those who have assigned to them twenty thousand cities. But still, there must have been a vast number of cities in a country so highly celebrated, in a kingdom so flourishing and populous, with a climate so mild and temperate. Let us then suppose that there were a thousand cities in it, or somewhat more. He says that only the sixth part will perish, that the rest will be restored, so that but few will be destroyed. From what follows it is evident that this restoration must be understood to relate to the worship.
Speaking with the lip of Canaan. By the word lip he means the tongue, ( συνεκδοχικῶς,) taking a part for the whole. He expresses their agreement with the people of God, and the faith by which they will make profession of the name of God; for by the tongue he metaphorically describes confession. Since there was but one language which acknowledged and professed the true God, that is, the language of that nation which inhabited the land of Canaan, it is evident that by such a language must be meant agreement in religion. It is customary enough to employ these modes of expression, “to speak the same language,” or, “to speak a different language,” when we intend to describe agreement or diversity of opinion. But at the same time it must be remembered that it is not every kind of agreement that is sufficient, as if men were to form a conspiracy about the worship which they preferred, but if they agree in the truth which was revealed to the fathers. He does not merely say that the Egyptians will speak the same language, but that they will speak the language of Canaan. They must have changed their language, and adopted that which God had sanctified; not that the dialect was more holy, but it is commended on account of its containing the doctrine of truth.
This ought to be carefully observed, that we may understand what is the true method of agreement. We must by all means seek harmony, but we must see on what conditions we obtain it; for we must not seek any middle course, as is done by those who overturn religion, and yet who wish to be regarded as peace-makers. Away with such fickle and changeful tongues! Let the truth itself be preserved, which cannot be contained but in the word. Whosoever shall determine to agree to it, let him talk with us, but away with every one who shall corrupt it, choose what language he may. Let us abide firmly by this. It will therefore be impossible for the Egyptians to speak the language of Canaan till they have first relinquished their own language, that is, till they have relinquished all superstitions. Some refer this to the age of Ptolemy, but it is absurd, and we may infer from what follows that the Prophet speaks of piety and of the true worship of God.
And swearing by Jehovah of hosts. First, employing a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, he shews that their conversation will be holy, by exhibiting a single class of them, for in swearing they will make profession that they worship the true God. It may also be read, swearing to the Lord, or, by the Lord, for ל ( lamed) often signifies by. If we read, “to the Lord,” the meaning will be, that they will promise obedience to him, and that by a solemn oath, as when any nation promises fidelity to its prince; as if he had said, “They will acknowledge the authority of God, and submit to his government.” But since another reading has been more generally approved, I willingly adopt it; for since one part of the worship of God is swearing, by taking a part for the whole, as I have said, it fitly describes the whole of the worship of God. Again, to “swear by the Lord” often means to testify that he is the true God. (Deuteronomy 6:13.) In a word, it denotes a perfect agreement with the Church of God.
Hence we ought to learn that outward confession is a necessary part of the true worship of God; for if any person wish to keep his faith shut up in his heart, he will have but a cold regard for it. (Romans 10:9.) True faith breaks out into confession, and kindles us to such a degree that we actually profess what we inwardly feel. “To me,” says the Lord in another passage, “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.” (Isaiah 45:23.) Accordingly, there ought to be an outward worship and outward profession wherever faith dwells. It ought also to be observed, that those things which belong to the worship of God ought not to be applied to any other purpose, and therefore it is a profanation of an oath if we swear by any other. It is written, “Thou shalt swear by my name.” (Deuteronomy 6:13.) Accordingly, he is insulted and robbed of his honor, if the name of saints, or of any creature, be employed in an oath. Let it likewise be observed with what solemnity oaths should be made; for if by swearing we profess to worship God, we ought never to engage in it but with fear and reverence.
One shall be called the city of desolation. When he devotes to destruction every sixth city, he means that all who are not converted to God, so as to worship him, perish without hope of salvation; for he contrasts the cities of Egypt which shall begin to acknowledge God with those which are destined to destruction. Where the worship of God is wanting, nothing but destruction can remain behind. הרס ( hĕrĕs) denotes execration and curse, which is followed by ruin and eternal death.
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19. In that day shall there be an altar in the midst of the land of Egypt. He continues what he had said in the former verse, and states more clearly that the aspect of Egypt will be renewed, because there true religion will flourish, the pure worship of God will be set up, and all superstitions will fall to the ground. He employs the word altar to denote, as by a sign, the worship of God; for sacrifices and oblations were the outward acts of piety. By the midst of Egypt he means the chief part of the whole kingdom, as if he had said, “in the very metropolis,” or, “in the very heart of the kingdom.”
And a statue (42) to the Lord. Let it not be supposed that by statue are meant images which carry the resemblance of men or of saints; but memorials ( μνημόσυνα) of piety; for he means that they will be marks similar to those which point out the boundaries of kingdoms, and that in this manner signs will be evident, to make known to all men that God rules over this nation. And indeed it usually happens that a nation truly converted to God, after having laid aside idols and superstitions, openly sets up signs of the true religion, that all may know that the worship of God is purely observed in it.
Josephus relates (Ant. 13. 3. 1,) that Onias perverted this passage, when he fled to Ptolemy Philometor, (43) whom he persuaded that it would be advantageous to erect an altar there, on which the Jews who dwelt in that country might sacrifice; and he brought forward this passage, alleging that what the Prophet had foretold ought to be accomplished. The wicked and ambitious priest persuaded the king to do this, though it was openly opposed by the Jews; for the king looked to his own advantage, and that scoundrel, who had been deprived of his rank, sought to obtain additional honor and advancement; so that no entreaty could prevent the execution of that wicked counsel. But Isaiah simply describes the pure worship of God under the figure of signs which were then in use; for he has his eye upon his own age and the men with whom he had to do. This passage, therefore, was wickedly and maliciously perverted by Onias.
But not less impudently do the Popish doctors of the present day torture a passage in Malachi to defend the sacrifice of the Mass. When he says that “a pure oblation will everywhere be offered to God,” (Malachi 1:11,) they infer that it is some sacrifice different from the ancient sacrifices, because oxen and sheep must no longer be sacrificed, and therefore that it is the Mass. A witty and ingenious argument truly! Now, it is evident that under the legal figure Malachi describes nothing else than the pure worship of God, as Isaiah does here; and we ought carefully to observe such forms of expression, which are frequently employed by the prophets.
This will be clearly explained by a passage in Joel, which we shall quote as an example. “Your sons and your daughters,” says he, “shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28.) Peter shews (Acts 2:16) that this prediction was fulfilled, when the apostles spoke various languages through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Having formerly been uneducated men, they began to be qualified for declaring the mysteries of God. On that occasion we perceive no “dreams,” so that it might be thought that Peter quoted that passage inappropriately; but it is evident that Joel there describes nothing else than prophecy, and for the purpose of adorning it, he mentioned “visions and dreams,” by means of which the Lord anciently held communication with the prophets. (Numbers 12:6.) He kept in view the ordinary custom of that age; for otherwise the Jews would have found it difficult to comprehend the gifts of the Spirit which at that time were unknown. Having been reared under that preparatory instruction of the Law, (44) they could rise no higher than where they were conducted by sacrifices, ceremonies, sacraments, and signs. (45) So then the prophets addressed them as children, who ought to have nothing set before them beyond what they can learn in a homely style ( παχυμερέστερον) by custom and experience.
This doctrine will unfold to us various passages, the obscurity of which might lead to much hesitation. It is plain that the Prophet speaks of the kingdom of Christ, and that these things were not fulfilled before his coming. We must therefore take away the shadows and look at the reality of things, in order that by the altar we may understand a true and sincere calling on God. But by these signs the Prophet likewise shews that the worship of God cannot be maintained without external acts of devotion, though we have no right to lay down rules for them. Away with the inventions of men, that we may listen to God alone on this subject.
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20. And he will send them a Savior. We cannot serve God unless he first bestow his grace upon us; for no one will dedicate himself to God, till he be drawn by his goodness, and embrace him with all his heart. He must therefore call us to him before we call upon him; we can have no access till he first invite us. Formerly he shewed that they must be subdued by various afflictions in order that they may submit to God, and now he repeats the same thing; for men never deny themselves and forsake idle follies any farther than the scourge compels them to yield obedience. But he likewise adds another kind of invitation, that, having experienced the kindness of God, they will freely approach to Him.
They will cry unto the Lord. The cry of which he speaks proceeds from faith, for they would never resort to this refuge till they had been allured and delighted by the goodness of God. When the Lord promises that he will send a Savior, by whose hand the Egyptians will be delivered, this can mean no other than Christ; for Egypt was not delivered from its distresses before the doctrine of Christ reached it. We read of various changes which that country suffered for four hundred years, foreign and civil wars by which it was wasted and almost destroyed; but when we would be ready to think that it is utterly ruined, lo! it is converted to the Lord, and is rescued from the hand of enemies and tyrants. Thus Christ delivered that country, when it had begun to know him. In like manner, we must be brought to the knowledge and worship of God, that, where we have suffered various afflictions, we may learn that salvation is found in him alone. Would that the world would now learn this lesson, having suffered so many calamities that it appears to be on the brink of ruin! For what can be the issue but that it shall either perish or by repentance acknowledge that it has been justly punished for so great wickedness?
That he may deliver them. When he adds these words, we ought to draw from them a profitable doctrine, that God assists us through Christ, by whose agency he gave deliverance to his own people from the beginning. He has always been the Mediator, by whose intercession all blessings were obtained from God the Father; and now that he has been revealed, let us learn that nothing can be obtained from God but through him. (46)
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21. And the Lord shall be known by the Egyptians. Isaiah now adds what was most important; for we cannot worship the Lord, or call upon him, till we have first acknowledged him to be our Father. “How,” says Paul, “shall they call on him whom they know not?” (47) (Romans 10:14.) We cannot be partakers of the gifts of God for our salvation without previously having true knowledge, which is by faith. He therefore properly adds, the knowledge of God, as the foundation of all religion, or the key that opens to us the gate of the heavenly kingdom. Now, there cannot be knowledge without doctrine; and hence infer, that God disapproves of all kinds of false worship; for he cannot approve of anything that is not guided by knowledge, which springs from hearing true and pure doctrine. Whatever contrivance therefore men may make out of their own minds, they will never attain by it the true worship of God. We ought carefully to observe passages like this, in which the Spirit of God shews what is the true worship and calling of God, that, having abandoned the inventions to which men are too obstinately attached, we may allow ourselves to be taught by the pure word of God, and, relying on his authority, may freely and boldly condemn all that the world applauds and admires.
The Egyptians shall know. It is not without good reason that he twice mentions this knowledge. A matter of so great importance ought not to be slightly passed by; for it holds the chief place, and without it there is nothing that can properly be called worship.
And shall make sacrifice and oblation. This passage must be explained in the same manner as the former, in which he mentioned an altar. What would have been the use of sacrifices after the manifestation of Christ? He therefore describes metaphorically confession of faith and calling on God, which followed the preaching of the gospel. Here he includes everything that was offered to God — slain beasts, bread, fruits of every description, and all that was fitted to express gratitude. But we must attend to the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and under the shadows of ceremonies we must understand to be meant that “reasonable worship” of which Paul speaks. (Romans 12:1.)
And shall vow vows to the Lord and perform them. What he adds about vows is likewise a part of the worship of God. The Jews were accustomed to express their gratitude to God by vows, and especially they rendered thanksgiving by a solemn vow, when they had received from God any extraordinary blessing. Of their own accord also, when any one chose to do so, they made vows on various occasions. (Deuteronomy 12:6.) And yet every person was not at liberty to make this or that vow according to his own pleasure; but a rule was laid down. (Numbers 30:3.) Whatever may be in that respect, it is evident that by the word vows the Prophet means nothing else than the worship of God, to which the Egyptians devoted themselves after having learned it from the word of God; but he mentions the acts of devotion by which the Jews made profession of the true worship and religion.
Hence the Papists draw an argument to prove, that whatever we vow to God ought to be performed; but since they make vows at random, and without any exercise of judgment, this passage lends no aid to defend their error. Isaiah foretells what the Egyptians will do, after having embraced and followed the instruction given by God. (48) In like manner, when David exhorts the people to vow and to perform their vows, (Psalms 76:11,) they think that he is on their side; but be does not therefore exhort them to make unlawful and rash vows. (Ecclesiastes 5:2.) There always remains in force the law of vows, which we are not at liberty to transgress, namely, the word of God, by which we learn what he requires from us, and what he wishes us to vow and perform. We never received permission to vow whatever we please, because we are too much disposed to go to excess, and to take every kind of liberty with regard to God, and because we act more imprudently towards him than if we had to deal with men. It was therefore necessary that men should be laid under some restraint to prevent them from taking so great liberties in the worship of God and religion.
This being the case, it is evident that God permits nothing but what is agreeable to his law, and that he rejects everything else as unacceptable and superstitious. What a man has vowed of his own accord, and without the support of the word, cannot be binding. If he perform it, he offends doubly; first, in vowing rashly, as if he were sporting with God; and secondly, in executing his resolutions wickedly and rashly, when he ought rather to have set them aside and repented. So far, therefore, is any man from being bound by vows, that he ought, on the contrary, to turn back and acknowledge his sinful rashness.
Now, if any one inquire about the vows of Papists, it will be easy to shew that they derive no support from the word of God. If those things which they highly applaud and reckon to be lawful, such as the vows of monks, are unlawful and wicked, what opinion must we form of the rest? They vow perpetual celibacy, as if it were indiscriminately permitted to all; but we know that the gift of continence is not an ordinary gift, and is not promised to every one, not even to those who in other respects are endued with extraordinary graces. Abraham was eminent for faith, steadfastness, meekness, and holiness, and yet he did not possess this gift. (Genesis 11:29.) Christ himself, when the apostles loudly commended this state of celibacy, testified that it is not given to all. (Matthew 19:11.) Paul states the same thing. (1 Corinthians 7:7.) Whosoever, therefore, does not possess this gift of continence, if he vow it, does wrong, and will be justly punished for his rashness. Hence have arisen dreadful instances of want of chastity, by which God has justly punished Popery for this presumption.
They likewise vow poverty, as if they would have nothing of their own, though they have abundance of everything beyond other men. Is not this an open mockery of God? The obedience which they vow is full of deceit; for they shake off the yoke of Christ, that they may become the slaves of men. Others vow pilgrimages, to abstain from eating flesh, to observe days, and other things full of superstition. Others promise to God toys and trinkets, as if they were dealing with a child. We would be ashamed to act thus, or to pursue such a line of conduct towards men, among whom nothing is settled till it has been agreed to on both sides by mutual consent. Much less is it lawful to attempt anything in the worship of God but what has been declared by his word. What kind of worship will it be, if the judgment of God has no weight with us, and if we yield only to the will of men? Will it be possible that it can please God? Will it not be ( ἐθελοθρησκεία) “will-worship,” which Paul so severely censures? (Colossians 2:23.) In vain, therefore, do they who make such vows boast that they serve God; and in vain do they endeavor to find support in this passage; for the Lord abhors that kind of worship.
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22. Therefore Jehovah will smite Egypt. From what has been already said the Prophet draws the conclusion, that the chastisement which he has mentioned will be advantageous to the Egyptians, because it will be a preparation for their conversion; (49) as if he had said, that it will be for the good of Egypt that the Lord will punish her. Those who translate the words, “he will strike with a wound that may be healed,” misinterpret this passage, and greatly weaken the Prophet’s meaning; for it means that the wounds will be advantageous to them, and that by means of these wounds the Lord will bring them back. Hence we ought to conclude, that we must not refuse to be chastised by God, for it is done for our benefit. (Proverbs 3:11; Hebrews 12:5.) Exemption from punishment would cherish a disposition to sin with less control. As men are exceedingly prone to give way to their own inclinations, whenever God spares them for a little, it is necessary on this account that the Lord should prevent this danger, which he does by chastisements and stripes, which excite and arouse us to repentance. A remarkable instance of this is here exhibited in Egypt, which abounded in superstitions and wickedness, and went beyond all nations in idolatry, and yet experienced the mercy of God.
For they shall be turned to Jehovah. We must attend to the manner of its accomplishment, which is, their conversion to God. It is the explanation of the former clause; as if he had said, “God will heal the Egyptians, because they shall be converted.” The copulative ו ( vau) signifies for. Hence we infer that conversion may be said to be a resurrection from eternal death. We are utterly ruined so long as we are turned away from God; but when we are converted, we return to his favor, and are delivered from death; not that we deserve the favor of God by our repentance, but because in this manner God raises us up, as it were, from death to life. To repentance is added a promise, from which we conclude, that when we sincerely repent, (50) we do not in vain implore forgiveness. Now, when the Prophet says that the Lord will be gracious and reconciled to the Egyptians, he at the same time shews, that as soon as they have been converted, they will obtain forgiveness. It will therefore be a true conversion when it is followed by a calling on God. But without faith (Romans 10:14) it is impossible to call on God; for even the ungodly may acknowledge sin; but no man will have recourse to the mercy of God, or obtain reconciliation, till he be moved by a true feeling of repentance, which is likewise accompanied by faith.
And will heal them. He does not repeat what he had said, that God strikes in order to heal; but he promises healing in another sense, that is, that God will cease to inflict punishments. The former healing, which he mentioned a little before, was internal; but the latter relates to stripes and wounds. In short, he means that it will be a speedy remedy for all their distresses. After having been reconciled to God, there is nothing in us that calls for punishment; for whence comes punishment but on account of guilt? and when guilt is pardoned, exemption from punishment will quickly follow. (51) And if we be chastised, it is an evidence that we are not yet sufficiently prepared for repentance.
In a word, let us remember this order, which the Prophet points out to us; first, that stripes prepare men for repentance; secondly, that they are healed, because they are delivered from eternal destruction; thirdly, that when they have been brought to the knowledge of their guilt, they obtain pardon; fourthly, that God is gracious and reconciled to them; fifthly, that chastisements cease after they have obtained pardon from God. There is no man who ought not to acknowledge in himself what Isaiah here declares concerning the Egyptians, in whom the Lord holds out an example to the whole world.
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23. In that day. The Prophet now foretells that the Lord will diffuse his goodness throughout the whole world; as if he had said, “It will not be shut up in a corner, or exclusively known, as it formerly was, by a single nation.” Here he speaks of two nations that were the most inveterate enemies of the Church, and that appeared to be farther removed than any other from the kingdom of God; for much more might have been expected from distant nations, because the nations here mentioned openly made war with God and persecuted his Church. And if the Lord is so gracious to the deadly enemies of the Church, that he pardons and adopts them to be his children, what shall be the case with other nations? This prophecy thus includes the calling of all nations.
There shall be a highway. Now, when he says that, in consequence of a highway having been opened up, there will be mutual access that they may visit each other, he describes brotherly intercourse. We know that the Egyptians carried on almost incessant wars with the Assyrians, and cherished an inveterate hatred towards each other. He now foretells that the Lord will change their dispositions, and will reconcile them to each other, so that they will have mutual communications, mutual coming in and going out, in consequence of laying open the highways which were formerly shut. Here we ought to observe what we formerly remarked at the fourth verse of the second chapter, (52) namely, that when men have been reconciled to God, it is likewise proper that they should cherish brotherly kindness towards each other. Strife, quarreling, disputes, hatred, and malice, ought to cease when God has been pacified. We need not wonder, therefore, that he says that a highway to Egypt is opened up for the Assyrians; but this ought undoubtedly to be referred to the reign of Christ, for we do not read that the Egyptians were on a friendly footing with the Assyrians till after they had known Christ.
And the Egyptians shall serve the Assyrians, (or, with the Assyrians.) (53) This clause may be rendered, “shall serve God;” but as the name of God is not expressed here, it may refer to the Assyrians, which is also pointed out by the particle את (ĕ th.) (54) It may therefore be explained thus. They who formerly burned with a desire to injure one another will be changed in their dispositions, and will desire to shew kindness. In short, the fruit of true repentance will be made evident, for they who formerly distressed each other in mutual wars will lend mutual aid. And this opinion will agree very well with those words of the Prophet with which they stand connected. Yet I do not set aside another interpretation which is almost universally adopted, namely, “They who formerly worshipped other gods will henceforth acknowledge one God, and will assent to the same confession of faith.” I leave every one to adopt that interpretation which he thinks best. If the latter interpretation be preferred, the Prophet makes brotherly love to flow from godliness, (55) as from its source.
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24. In that day shall Israel. Isaiah concludes the promise which he had briefly glanced at, that the Egyptians and Assyrians, as well as Israel, shall be blessed. Formerly the grace of God was in some measure confined to Israel, because with that nation only had the Lord entered into covenant. The Lord had stretched out “his cord” over Jacob, (Deuteronomy 32:9,) as Moses speaks; (56) and David says,“
He hath not done so to any nation, and hath not made known to them his judgments.” (Psalms 147:20.)
In a word, the blessing of God dwelt solely in Judea, but he says that it will be shared with the Egyptians and Assyrians, under whose name he includes also the rest of the nations. He does not mention them for the purpose of shewing respect, but because they were the constant enemies of God, and appeared to be more estranged from him and farther removed from the hope of favor than all others. Accordingly, though he had formerly adopted none but the children of Abraham, he now wished to be called, without distinction, “The father of all nations.” (Genesis 17:7; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6.)
Israel shall be the third blessing. Some render it, Israel shall be the third (57) I do not approve of that rendering; for the adjective being in the feminine gender, ought to be construed with the noun ברכה, ( berachah,) blessing, and blessing means here a form or pattern of blessing.
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25. Because the Lord of hosts will bless him. (58) He assigns a reason, and explains the former statement; for he shews that, through the undeserved goodness of God, the Assyrians and Egyptians shall be admitted to fellowship with the chosen people of God. As if he had said, “Though these titles belonged exclusively to Israel, they shall likewise be conferred on other nations, which the Lord hath adopted to be his own.” There is a mutual relation between God and his people, so that they who are called by his mouth “a holy people,” (Exodus 19:6,) may justly, in return, call him their God. Yet this designation is bestowed indiscriminately on Egyptians and Assyrians.
Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands. Though the Prophet intended to describe foreign nations as associated with the Jews who had belonged to God’s household, yet he employs most appropriate marks to describe the degrees. By calling the Egyptians “the people of God,” he means that they will share in the honor which God deigned to bestow in a peculiar manner on the Jews alone. When he calls Assyrians the work of his hands, he distinguishes them by the title peculiar to his Church. We have elsewhere remarked (59) that the Church is called “the workmanship” ( τὸ ποίημα) of God, (Ephesians 2:10,) because by the spirit of regeneration believers are created anew, so as to bear the image of God. Thus, he means that we are “the work of God’s hands,” not so far as we are created to be men, but so far as they who are separated from the world, and become new creatures, are created anew to a new life. Hence we acknowledge that in “newness of life” nothing ought to be claimed as our own, for we are wholly “the work of God.”
And Israel my inheritance. When he comes to Israel, he invests him with his prerogative, which is, that he is the inheritance of God, so that among the new brethren he still holds the rank and honor of the first-born. The word inheritance suggests the idea of some kind of superiority; and indeed that covenant which the Lord first made with them, bestowed on them the privilege which cannot be made void by their ingratitude; for “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” as Paul declares, (Romans 11:29,) who shews that in the house of God they are the first-born. (Ephesians 2:12.) Although therefore the grace of God is now more widely spread, yet they still hold the highest rank, not by their own merit, but by the firmness of the promises.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 19". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29