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1. The burden of the valley of vision. Isaiah again prophesies against Judea, which he calls the valley of vision. He gives this appellation to the whole of Judea rather than to Jerusalem, of which he afterwards speaks; but now in the preface he includes the whole of Judea. He appropriately calls it a “valley,” for it was surrounded on all sides by mountains. It is a harsher view of the metaphor, which is adopted by some, that Jerusalem is called “a valley,” because it was thrown down from its loftiness. The reason why he adds the words, of vision, is plain enough. The Lord enlightened the whole of Judea by his word; the prophets were continually employed in it, and that was the reason why they called them seers. (1 Samuel 9:9.) There is also an implied contrast here, for valleys have less light than open plains, because the height of the mountains intercepts the light of the sun. Now, this valley, he tells us, is more highly enlightened than those countries which were exposed on all sides to the sun. It was by the extraordinary goodness of God that this happened; for he means, that it was enlightened, not by the rays of the sun, but by the word of God.
Besides, the Prophet unquestionably intended to beat down that foolish confidence with which the Jews were puffed up, because God had distinguished them above others by remarkable gifts. They abused his word and prophecies, as if by means of them they had been protected against all danger, though they were disobedient and rebellious against God. He therefore declares that visions will not prevent God from punishing their ingratitude; and he even aggravates their guilt by this mark of ingratitude, that amidst such splendor of heavenly doctrine they still continued to stumble like the blind.
What hast thou here? or, What hast thou now? He now addresses Jerusalem; not that this defeat affects Jerusalem alone, but because the whole country thought it safe to take refuge under the shadow of the sanctuary which then existed, and to lead the Jews to reflect, since this befell a fortified city, what would become of other cities which had no means of defense. He asks in astonishment, “What does it mean that every person leaves his house and flies to the house-top for the purpose of saving his life?” Among the Jews the form of house-tops was different from what is now customary with us, and hence arose that saying of Christ,“
What you have heard in the ear proclaim on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27.)
When the inhabitants of Jerusalem fled to the house-tops, they left their houses open to be a prey to enemies, and this was a proof that they were exceedingly afraid. It is likewise possible that they went up to the house-tops for the purpose of throwing down javelins and other weapons against the enemies, whose arrival not only terrified them, but made them flee in consternation, and yet they did not escape danger.
2. Thou that art full of noises. He means that it was exceedingly populous; for where great multitudes of people are brought together, noise abounds; and therefore, amidst so crowded a population, there was less cause of fear. In order to make the representation still more striking, Isaiah has therefore added this circumstance, that instead of being, as they ought to have been, walls and bulwarks to defend the city, when there was no scarcity of men, they ignominiously turned their backs on the enemies, and fled to the tops of their houses. By these words he urges the Jews more strongly to consider the judgment of God; for when such overwhelming fear has seized the hearts of men, it is certain that God has struck them with trembling; as if he had said, “How comes it that you have not greater firmness to resist? It is because God pursues and chases you.”
These statements are taken from the writings of Moses, from which, as we have frequently remarked, the prophets borrow their instructions, but with this difference, that what Moses spoke in general terms they apply to the matter in hand.“
The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies; thou shalt go out one way against them, and shalt flee seven ways before them. The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.” (Deuteronomy 28:25.)
He reproaches the Jews for their distressed condition, and with good reason; for it was proper to press the accusation more closely home, that they might learn to ascribe to their sins and transgressions all the afflictions and sufferings that they endured. The Lord had promised that he would continually assist them; and when they are now left destitute, let them acknowledge that they do not deserve such assistance, and that God has cast them off on account of their rebelliousness. The Lord does not deceive or make false promises, but by their own fault those wretched persons have shut themselves out from his aid and favor; and this is still more strongly expressed by the question, What hast thou here? It means that God gave practical evidence that Jerusalem had been deprived of her protector and guardian; for this mode of expression denotes something strange and extraordinary.
Thy slain men are not slain by the sword. To exhibit still more clearly the vengeance of God, he affirms that they who were slain there did not die bravely in battle. Thus he shews that all that they wanted was manly courage; for a timid and cowardly heart was a sure proof that they had all been forsaken by the Lord, by whose assistance they would have bravely and manfully resisted. He therefore does not mean that the defeat would be accompanied by shame and disgrace, but ascribes it to the wrath of God that they had not courage to resist; and unquestionably by this circumstance he beats down their foolish pride.
3. All thy rulers are fled together. This verse has been interpreted in various ways. The fact is abundantly plain, but there is some difficulty about the words. As מ ( mem) signifies before and more than, some explain מרחוק ( mĕrāchōk) (77) to mean, “They fled before others, though they were situated in the most distant parts of the country, and were in greater danger.” Others render it, “Although they were at a great distance from Jerusalem, still they did not cease to flee like men who are seized with terror, and never stop in their flight, because they continually think that the enemy is at their heels.”
But a more natural interpretation appears to me to be. They have fled from afar; that is, “they who have resorted to Jerusalem as a safe retreat will be seized by enemies and vanquished;” for Jerusalem might be regarded as the general protection of the whole of Judea, and therefore, when a war broke out, the inhabitants rushed to it from every quarter. While they looked upon their habitation in Jerusalem as safe, they were taken prisoners. Others suppose it to refer to the siege of Sennacherib. (Genesis 18:13; 2 Chronicles 32:1.) But I cannot be persuaded to expound the passage in this manner, for he speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem. When it was besieged by Sennacherib, the Lord immediately delivered it; none were taken or made prisoners, and there was no slaughter of men. These events therefore happened long after the death of the Prophet, and sacred history relates them, and informs us that in that destruction even the rulers betook themselves to flight; but they derived no advantage from their flight, nor did Jerusalem afford them any defense, for they fell into the hands of their enemies.
When he expressly mentions the rulers, this shews more strongly the shamefulness of the transaction, for they ought to have been the first to expose their persons for the safety of the people. They might be viewed as the shields which ought to have guarded and defended the common people. So long as Jerusalem kept its ground and was in a prosperous condition, these statements might be thought incredible, for it was a very strong and powerfully fortified city. But they chiefly boasted of the protection of God, for they thought that in some way God was bound to his “Temple;” and their pride swelled them with the confident hope that, though all should be leagued against it, no power and no armies could bring it down. (Jeremiah 7:4.) This prophecy might therefore be thought very strange, that they would have no courage, that they would betake themselves to flight, and that even in that manner they could not escape.
(77) Rendered in the English version, “from afar.”
FT335 “I will weep bitterly. (Heb. I will be bitter in weeping.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT336 “My soul is wearied because of murderers.” — Eng. Ver. See our Author’s view of that passage in his Commentary on Jeremiah, vol. 1 p. 249
FT337 “To the mountains.” — Eng. Ver.
FT338 “ La plaine du Jordain;” — “The plain of the Jordan.”
FT339 “And Kir uncovered (Heb. made naked) the shield.” — Eng. Ver.
FT340 “Kir is now agreed to be identical with Κύρος, the name of a river rising in the Caucasus, and emptying into the Caspian Sea, from which Georgia (Girgistan) is supposed to derive its name. Kir was subject to Assyria in the time of Isaiah, as appears from the fact that it was one of the regions to which the exiles of the ten tribes were transported. It may here be put for Media, as Elam is for Persia.” — Alexander
FT341 “Thy choicest valleys, (Heb. the choice of thy valleys.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT342 “The name of ‘the house of the forest’ was given to it, because it was constructed of ‘cedars’ taken from the forest of Lebanon, and because it rested on four rows of fifteen large pillars of cedar. When the inhabitants of Jerusalem heard of the invasion by the Assyrian army, they looked to this armory to draw from it arms for defending the city.” — Rosenmüller. “It was built by Solomon within the city as a cool retreat; and here he laid up his choicest armory. Genesis 7:2. See Nehemiah 3:19.” — Stock
FT343 “ Le sac et l’arrachement des cheveux;” — “Sackcloth and pulling out the hair.”
FT344 “ En sac ou cendre;” — “In sackcloth or ashes.”
FT345 Rosenmüller, who is followed in this instance by Stock and Alexander, renders this clause, “Jehovah was revealed in my ears,” remarking that נגלה ( niglah) must here be taken for a reflective verb, and quoting as parallel passages, 1 Samuel 2:27, in the former of which instead of the literal rendering, “Revealing was I revealed?” our translators say, “Did I plainly appear?” while in the latter they make נגלה ( niglah) a reflective verb, “The Lord revealed himself.” — Ed
FT346 “ C’est à dire, des enfans de Dieu;” — “That is, of the children of God.”
FT347 “ Tellement qu’ils n’ont pas mesme un pied de terre pour estre interrez;” — “So that they have not even a foot of earth for a grave.”
FT348 “He will surely violently turn.” — Eng. Ver.
FT349 “As the robe and the baldric, mentioned in the preceding verse, were the ensigns of power and authority, so likewise was the key the mark of office, either sacred or civil.” — Lowth
FT350 “To comprehend how the key could be borne on the shoulder, it will be necessary to say somewhat of the form of it; but, without entering into a long disquisition, and a great deal of obscure learning, concerning the locks and keys of the ancients, it will be sufficient to observe, that one sort of keys, and that probably the most ancient, was of considerable magnitude, and, as to the shape, very much bent and crooked. Homer, Odyss. 21:6, describes the key of Ulysses’s store-house as εὐκαμπὴς, of a large curvature; which Eustathius explains by saying it was δρεπανοειδὴς, in shape like a reap-hook. The curve part was introduced into the key-hole, and, being properly directed by the handle, took hold of the bolts within, and moved them from their places. We may easily collect from this account, that such a key would lie very well upon the shoulder; that it must be of some considerable size and weight, and could hardly be commodiously carried otherwise. Ulysses’s key was of brass, and the handle of ivory; but this was a royal key; the more common ones were probably of wood.” — Lowth
FT351 “ Ce mot est deduit de verité, laquelle est tousjours accompagnee de fermeté et asseurance;” — “This word is derived from truth, which is always accompanied by firmness and certainty.”
FT352 “In ancient times, and in the eastern countries, as the way of life, so the houses were much more simple than ours at present. They had not that quantity and variety of furniture, nor those accommodations of all sorts with which we abound. It was convenient and even necessary for them, and it made an essential part in the building of a house, to furnish the inside of the several apartments with sets of spikes, nails, or large pegs, upon which to dispose of, and hang up, the several moveables and utensils in common use, and proper to the apartment. These spikes they worked into the walls at the first erection of them — the walls being of such materials that they could not bear their being driven in afterwards; and they were contrived so as to strengthen the walls, by binding the parts together, as well as to serve for convenience. Sir John Chardin’s account of this matter is this, ‘They do not drive with a hammer the nails that are put into the eastern walls; the walls are too hard, being of brick; or if they are of clay, too mouldering; but they fix them in the brick-work as they are building. They are large nails with square heads like dice, well-made, the ends being so bent as to make them cramp-irons. They commonly place them at the windows and doors, in order to hang upon them, when they like, veils and curtains.’ (Harmer, Obser. 1 p. 191.) And we may add, that they were put in other places too, in order to hang up other things of various kinds; as it appears from this place of Isaiah, and from Ezekiel 15:3, who speaks of a pin, or nail, to hang any vessel thereon.” — Lowth
FT353 “The offspring and the issue.” — Eng. Ver.
FT354 “ Mais s’estendra jusqu’ a ceux qui viendront long temps apres;” “But will extend to those who shall live long afterwards.”
FT355 “Here follow the names of utensils hung up in an eastern house, concerning which we must needs be uncertain. The meaning of the whole figure is, Eliakim shall be the support of all ranks in the state, of the meanest people as well as the highest.” — Stock
FT356 “Even to all the vessels of flagons, (or, instruments of violins.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT357 “The old interpretation of נבלים ( nĕbūlīm) as denoting musical instruments,” says Professor Alexander, “though justified by usage, is forbidden by the context.”
4. Therefore I said. Here the Prophet, in order to affect more deeply the hearts of the Jews, assumes the character of a mourner, and not only so, but bitterly bewails the distressed condition of the Church of God. This passage must not be explained in the same manner as some former passages, in which he described the grief and sorrow of foreign nations; but he speaks of the fallen condition of the Church of which he is a member, and therefore he sincerely bewails it, and invites others by his example to join in the lamentation. What has befallen the Church ought to affect us in the same manner as if it had befallen each of us individually; for otherwise what would become of that passage? “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” (Psalms 69:9.)
I will be bitter in my weeping. (78) He does not mourn in secret, or without witnesses; first, because he wishes, as I have already said, to excite others by his example to lamentation, and not to lamentation only, but much more to repentance, that they may ward off the dreadful judgment of God against them, which was close at hand, and henceforth may refrain from provoking his displeasure; and secondly, because it was proper that the herald of God’s wrath should actually make evident that what he utters is not mockery.
Because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people. That he expresses the feelings of his own heart may be inferred from what he now declares, that he is bitterly grieved “on account of the daughter of his people.” Being one of the family of Abraham, he thought that this distress affected his own condition, and intimates that he has good grounds for lamentation. By a customary mode of expression he calls the assembly of his people a daughter. Hence it ought to be observed, that whenever the Church is afflicted, the example of the Prophet ought to move us to be touched ( συμπαθείᾳ) with compassion, if we are not harder than iron; for we are altogether unworthy of being reckoned in the number of the children of God, and added to the holy Church, if we do not dedicate ourselves, and all that we have, to the Church, in such a manner that we are not separate from it in any respect. Thus, when in the present day the Church is afflicted by so many and so various calamities, and innumerable souls are perishing, which Christ redeemed with his own blood, we must be barbarous and savage if we are not touched with any grief. And especially the ministers of the word ought to be moved by this feeling of grief, because, being appointed to keep watch and to look at a distance, they ought also to groan when they perceive the tokens of approaching ruin.
The circumstance of his weeping publicly tended, as we have said, to soften the hearts of the people; for he had to deal with obstinate men, who could not easily be induced to lament. There is a passage that closely resembles it in Jeremiah, who bewails the miserable and wasted condition of the people, and says, that through grief “his heart fainteth,” (79) (Jeremiah 4:31;) and in another passage, “O that my head were full of waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might bewail the slain of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1.) When the prophets saw that they labored in vain to subdue the obstinacy of the people, they could not avoid being altogether overwhelmed by grief and sorrow. They therefore endeavored, by their moving addresses, to soften hard hearts, that they might bend them, if it were at all possible, and bring them back to the right path.
(78) Bogus footnote
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5. It is a day of trouble. He again declares that the Lord is the author of this calamity, and that the Jews may not gaze around in all directions, or wonder that their enemies prevail against them, he pronounces that they are fighting against God. Though this doctrine is frequently taught in Scripture, still it is not superfluous, and cannot be so earnestly inculcated as not to be forgotten when we come to practice. The consequence is, that we are not humbled in the presence of our Judge, and that we direct our eyes to outward remedies rather than to God, who alone could cure our distresses. He employs the word day, as is usual in Scripture, to signify an appointed time; for when God winks at the transgressions of men, he appears to make some abatement of the claims of his rank, which, however, he may be said to receive back again at the proper and appointed time.
In the valley of vision. It is not without good reason that he again calls it “the valley of vision,” for the Jews believed that they would be protected against every calamitous event, because the Lord shone on them by the word. But having ungratefully rejected his instruction, they vainly trusted that it would be of avail to them; and indeed the Lord punishes the unbelief of men, not only out of the Church, but within the Church itself; and not only so, but he begins his chastisement at the Church, so that we must not abuse the gifts of God, or vainly glory in his name. (1 Peter 4:17.)
And crying to the mountain. (80) This may refer either to God or to the Babylonians, or even to the exiles themselves. Conquerors raise a cry for the sake of increasing terror, and the vanquished either utter what is fitted to awaken compassion, or give vent to their grief by lamentation. The singular number may be taken for the plural, or rather it denotes that part of the city in which the temple was situated. Both meanings will agree well with the context, and it makes little difference whether we say that the enemies cried to Mount Zion, in order to encourage each other, or that, while they were destroying and plundering the city, a cry was heard in the neighboring mountains, or that the citizens themselves caused their lamentations to resound to the mountains which surrounded the plain of Judea. (81)
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6. But Elam carrying the quiver. Here commentators think that the discourse proceeds without any interruption, and that he makes known to the Jews the same judgment which he formerly proclaimed. But when I examine the whole matter more closely, I am constrained to differ from them. I think that the Prophet reproaches the Jews for their obstinacy and rebellion, because, though the Lord had chastised them, they did not repent, and that he relates the history of a past transaction, in order to remind them how utterly they had failed to derive advantage from the Lord’s chastisements. Such then is the manner in which these statements ought to be separated from what came before. First, he foretold those things which would come on the Jews, and now he shews how justly they are punished, and how richly they deserve those sharp chastisements which the Lord inflicts on them; for the Lord had formerly called them to repentance, not only by words, but by deeds, and yet no reformation of life followed, though their riches were exhausted, and the kingdom weakened, but they obstinately persisted in their wickedness. Nothing therefore remained but that the Lord should miserably destroy them, since they were obstinate and refractory.
The copulative ו ( vau) I have translated But, which is the meaning that it frequently bears. Those who think that the Prophet threatens for a future period, preserve its ordinary meaning, as if the Prophet, after having mentioned God, named the executioners of his vengeance. But I have already given the exposition which I prefer, and the context will make it still more clear, that I had good reasons for being of that opinion.
When he speaks of the “Elamites” and the “Cyrenaeans,” this applies better, I think, to the Assyrians than to the Babylonians; for although those nations had never make war against the Jews by troops under their own command, yet it is probable that they were in the pay of the Assyrian king, and that they formed part of his army while he was besieging Jerusalem. We have already remarked that, taking a part for the whole, by the “Elamites” are meant the eastern nations.
And Kir making bare the shield (82) By Kir he undoubtedly means the inhabitants of Cyrenaica. (83) Because they were ( πελτασταὶ) shieldsmen, he says that they “laid bare the shield;” for when they enter the field of battle, they draw the shields out of their sheaths.
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7. And the choice of the valleys (84) was full of chariots. I do not find fault with the translation given by some interpreters, “in a chariot of horsemen,” but I have chosen rather to translate literally the words of the Prophet; for I think that he means “a military chariot.” At that time they made use of two kinds of chariots, one for carrying baggage, and another for the field of battle. Here he means those chariots in which the horsemen rode.
Had it been a threatening, it would have been proper to translate it in the future tense, “And it shall be;” but as the words which immediately follow are in the past tense, and as there is reason to believe that the Prophet is relating events which have already taken place, I have not hesitated to make this beginning agree with what follows. “The choice of the valleys” means “the choicest valleys.” He reminds the Jews of those straits to which they were reduced when the enemies were at their gates. They ought at that time to have sought help from God; but those wretched people became more strongly alienated from God, and more shamefully manifested their rebellion, which shewed them to be men utterly abandoned, and therefore he reproaches them with this hardened obstinacy.
(84) Bogus footnote
8. And he took away the covering of Judah. He shews in what distress of mind the Jews were when they were so closely besieged. Some refer this verb to God, and others to the enemy; but I rather think it ought to be taken indefinitely, for by a mode of expression frequently used in the Hebrew language, “he took away,” means that “the covering of Judah was taken away.” By the word covering almost all think that either the Temple or God himself is meant, in whose name the Jews falsely boasted. But I interpret it more simply as denoting the armory, in which, as a secret place, they kept the instruments of war. He calls it a “covering,” because they were not exposed to public view, but were concealed in a more sacred place. In short, he describes what commonly happens in a season of great alarm, because at such a time men run to arms, and the instruments of war, which had been formerly concealed, are brought forward.
And thou didst look in that day to the armory of the house of the forest. This latter clause agrees with what has been remarked, that they sought out, on such an occasion, every place which contained the means of arming themselves for a case of extreme urgency, the instruments of war having lain long concealed during peace. Sacred history informs us, that this “house of the forest” was built by Solomon, in order to contain the armory of the whole kingdom. (85) (Genesis 7:2.) The change of person, thou didst look, does not obscure the meaning, but rather confirms what I have already remarked, that the Prophet relates how eagerly the Jews at that time made every preparation for defending the city.
(85) Bogus footnote
9. And you have seen the breaches. He proceeds with his narrative, for during prosperity and peace no one cares about bulwarks or instruments of war. It is necessity alone that arouses men and makes them active; peace and quietness make us indolent and cowardly. So long as they thought that they were far from danger, they disregarded the breaches of the wall; but when a report of war arose, they began to be anxious about them, and to make arrangements for preventing the entrance of the enemy.
Of the city of David. By “the city of David,” he means the interior part of the city; for, like many other cities which we see, the city was divided into two parts. The whole of Jerusalem was surrounded by walls and ramparts; but the interior part was more strongly fortified, and was called “the city of David.” The Temple was afterwards fortified, in consequence of which the city might be said to consist of three parts. Isaiah means that the Jews had nearly despaired as to the safety of the whole city, when they withdrew to the inmost and best fortified part of it; and indeed it is evident from sacred history, that everything was in a desperate condition. Hence also we may infer, that the prophecies were not collected in a regular order, and that those who drew them up in one volume paid no attention to the arrangement of dates.
The waters of the lower pool. He adds, that water was collected for necessary purposes, that the besieged might not be in want of it, and that the pool served for cisterns.
10. And you numbered the houses of Jerusalem. He means that the city was closely examined on all sides, that there might not be a house or building which was not defended. Others think that the houses were numbered, that they might have a supply of watchmen. But the former interpretation is preferable, and is confirmed by what the Prophet afterwards adds, that the houses were thrown down for the purpose of rebuilding the walls of the city. This is commonly neglected in the time of peace, and the houses of private individuals are often built on the very walls, and, on that account, must be thrown down in the time of war, to supply the means of fighting and of repelling the enemy, and also lest, by means of houses so near the wall, secret communications with the enemy should be maintained.
11. You made also a ditch. The first clause of this verse relates to the former subjects; for he means that they were reduced to the last necessity, and that the great approaching danger struck them with terror, so that they adopted every method in their power for defending themselves against the enemy.
And you have not looked to its maker. This second clause reproves them for carelessness, because they had given their whole attention to earthly assistance, and had neglected that which is of the greatest importance. Instead of resorting first of all to God, as they ought to have done, they forgot and despised him, and directed their attention to ramparts, and ditches, and walls, and other preparations of war; but their highest defense was in God. What I said at first is now more evident, that the Prophet does not foretell the destruction of the Jews, but declares what they have experienced, in order to shew how justly the Lord was angry with them, because they could not be amended or reformed by any chastisement. The alarming dangers to which they were exposed ought to have warned them against their impiety and contempt of God; but those dangers have made them still more obstinate. Though there is hardly any person so obstinate as not to be induced by adversity, and especially by imminent dangers, to bethink himself, and to consider if they have justly befallen him, if he has offended God and provoked his wrath against himself; yet the Prophet says, that there was not one of the Jews who remembered God in the midst of such distresses, and that therefore God justly ceased to take any concern about them.
Hence infer that it is a token of extreme and desperate wickedness, when men, after having received chastisements or afflictions, are not made better. We ought, first, to follow God and to render to him cheerful obedience; and secondly, when we have been practically warned and chastised, we ought to repent. And if stripes do us no good, what remains but that the Lord shall increase and double the strokes, and cause us to feel them heavier and heavier till we are hurled down to destruction? For it is vain to apply remedies to a desperate and incurable disease. This doctrine is highly applicable to our own times, in which so many strokes and afflictions urge us to repentance. Since there is no repentance, what remains but that the Lord shall try to the very utmost what can be done until he destroy us altogether?
To its maker. By these words he indirectly acknowledges that God does not blame our eagerness to repel the enemy and to guard against dangers; but that he blames the vain confidence which we place in outward defences. We ought to have begun with God; and when we disregard him, and resort to swords and spears, to bulwarks and fortifications, our excessive eagerness is justly condemned as treason. Let us therefore learn to flee to God in imminent dangers, and to betake ourselves, with our whole heart, to the sure refuge of his name. (Proverbs 18:10.) When this has been done, it will be lawful for us to use the remedies which he puts into our hand; but all will end in our ruin if we do not first commit our safety to his protection.
He calls God the maker and fashioner of Jerusalem, because there he had his dwelling, and wished that men should call upon him. (Genesis 9:3.) As Jerusalem was a lively image of the Church, this title belongs also to us, for in a peculiar manner God is called the Builder of the Church. (Psalms 132:13.) Though this may relate to the creation of the whole world, yet the second creation, by which he raises up from death, (Ephesians 2:1,) regenerates, and sanctifies us, (Psalms 110:3,) is peculiar to the elect, the rest have no share in it. This title does not express a sudden but a continual act, for the Church was not at once created that it might afterwards be forsaken, but the Lord preserves and defends it to the last. “Thou wilt not despise the work of thy hands,” says the Psalmist. (Psalms 138:8.) And Paul says,“
He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:6.)
This title contains astonishing consolation, for if God is the maker, we have no reason to fear if we depend on his power and goodness. But we cannot look to him unless we are endued with true humility and confidence, so that, being divested of all haughtiness and reduced to nothing, we ascribe the glory to him alone. This cannot be, unless we can also trust that our salvation is in his hand, and are fully convinced that we shall never perish, even though we be surrounded by a thousand deaths. It was an aggravation of their baseness, that the Lord’s election of that city, which had been established by so many proofs, could not arouse the Jews to rely on the protection of God. As if he had said, What madness is it to think of defending the city when you despise him who made it!
From a distance, or long ago. The Hebrew word denotes either distance of place or length of time. If we refer it to place, the meaning will be, that the Jews are doubly ungrateful, because they have not beheld the Lord even at a distance. Here it ought to be observed, that we ought to look to God not only when he is near, but also when he appears to be at a very great distance from us. Now, we think that he is absent, when we do not perceive his present aid, and when he does not instantly supply our wants. In short, he shews what is the nature of true hope; for it is a carnal and gross looking at God, when we do not perceive his providence unless by visible favor, since we ought to ascend above the heavens themselves. Strictly and truly, no doubt, the Lord is always present, but he is said to be distant and absent with respect to us. This must be understood therefore to refer to our senses, and not to the fact itself; and therefore, although he appear to be at a distance during those calamities which the Church endures, still we ought to elevate our minds towards him, and arouse our hearts, and shake off our indolence, that we may call on him.
But the other meaning is equally admissible, that they did not look to God who created his Church, not yesterday or lately, but long ago, and who had proved himself to be her Maker during many ages. He is therefore called the ancient Maker of his Church, because if the Jews will apply their thoughts and careful search to the long succession of ages, they will perceive that he is the perpetual preserver of his workmanship; and this makes their ingratitude the less excusable.
12. And the Lord of hosts called. The wicked obstinacy of the people is exhibited by the Prophet with additional aggravations. What left them altogether without excuse was the fact, that while they were exposed to so great dangers, they despised the godly remonstrances of the prophets, and rejected the grace of God, when he wished to heal and restore them. It is a proof of consummate depravity, when men have so completely laid aside all feeling that they fearlessly despise both instruction and chastisements, and obstinately “kick against the pricks,” (Acts 9:5,) and this makes it evident that they have been “given over to a reprobate mind.” (Romans 1:28.)
When he says, that “the Lord called” them, this may be explained in two ways; for although the Lord does not speak, still he calls loudly enough by stripes and chastisements. Let it be supposed that we are destitute of all Scripture, of prophets, teachers, and advisers, still he instructs us by distresses and afflictions, so that we may state, in a few words, that every chastisement is a call to repentance. But, unquestionably, the Prophet intended to express something more, namely, that in despising godly warnings, they did not scruple to treat with scorn God’s fatherly invitation.
In that day. There is great weight also in mentioning the day of affliction, when danger threatened them, for they were admonished at the same time by the word and by strokes. The signs of God’s anger were visible, the prophets uttered incessant cries, and still they became no better.
To baldness and girding with sackcloth. When he mentions sackcloth and baldness, (86) he employs the signs themselves to describe repentance; for repentance does not consist in sackcloth or haircloth, (87) or anything outward, but has its place in the heart. Those who sincerely repent are displeased with themselves, hate sin, and are affected with such a deep feeling of grief, that they abhor themselves and their past life; but as this cannot be done without, at the same time, making itself known by confession before men, on this account he describes the outward signs by which we give evidence of our conversion. Now, these things were at that time cast away among the Jews, when they made public declarations of repentance. The Prophet therefore means that they were called to repentance, to humble themselves before God, and to exhibit the evidences of repentance before men. Of themselves, indeed, the signs would not be sufficient, for repentance begins at the heart; and Joel gives warning to that effect,“
Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13.)
Not that he wished signs to be laid aside, but he shewed that they are not sufficient, and that of themselves they are not acceptable to God.
Hence infer what is our duty, when the tokens of God’s anger are visible to us. We ought to declare publicly our repentance, not only before God, but also before men. The outward ceremonies, indeed, are of little consequence, and we are not commanded to wear sackcloth or to pull out our hair; but we must practice honestly and sincerely what is actually meant by these signs, disapprobation and confession of our guilt, humility of the heart, and reformation of the life. If we do not confess that we are guilty, and that we deserve punishment, we shall not return to a state of favor with God. In short, as culprits allow their beards to grow, and wear tattered clothes, in order to affect the hearts of the judges, so we ought to betake ourselves as suppliants to the mercy of God, and make a public declaration of our repentance.
But here we ought also to observe the usefulness of outward signs of repentance; for they serve as spurs to prompt us more to know and abhor sin. In this way, so far as they are spurs, they may be called causes of repentance; and so far as they are evidences, they may be called effects. They are causes, because the marks of our guilt, which we carry about us, excite us the more to acknowledge ourselves to be sinners and guilty; and they are effects, because, if they were not preceded by repentance, we would never be induced to perform them sincerely.
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13. And, behold, joy and gladness. The Prophet does not here find fault with joy viewed in itself; for we see that Paul exhorts the godly to true joy, the “joy” which is “in the Lord,” (Philippians 4:4;) but now he censures the joy which is opposite to that sadness which commonly springs from repentance, of which Paul also speaks. (2 Corinthians 7:10.) No man can be under the influence of repentance and of a sincere feeling of the wrath of God, without being led, by the grief which accompanies it, willingly to afflict himself. The joy which is opposite to this grief is therefore sinful, because it proceeds from brutish indifference, and is justly blamed, since the Lord curses it. (Luke 6:25.)
Slaying oxen and killing sheep. From what has been said, it is easy to see the reason why he censures them for “slaying oxen and killing sheep.” These things are not in themselves sinful, and are not displeasing to God; but as fasting is a part of a solemn declaration of repentance, which we make before men, so to slay cattle for feasting, when we ought to fast, is a proof of obstinacy and contempt of God; for in this way men despise God’s threatenings, and encourage themselves in their crimes.
Such is the statement which Isaiah intended to make in general terms. But it is absurd in the Papists to think of drawing from it an approbation of abstinence from eating flesh. Why do they not also include what the Apostle adds about wine? They are so far from abstaining from the use of wine, that they freely indulge in drinking it, as a compensation for the want of flesh. But let us pass over these absurdities. Isaiah does not absolutely condemn the use of flesh or the drinking of wine, but he condemns the luxury and wantonness by which men are hardened in such a manner that they obstinately set aside God’s threatenings, and treat as false all that the prophets tell them.
This ought to be carefully observed, for we do not always wear sackcloth and ashes; but we cannot have true repentance without making it manifest by the fruits which it must unavoidably produce. In short, as he had described repentance by its signs, so he marks out obstinacy by its signs; for as by fasting and other outward acts we testify our repentance, so by feasting and luxury we give proofs of an obstinate heart, and thus provoke more the wrath of God, in a similar manner to what we read about the days of Noah. (Genesis 6:5; Matthew 24:38; Luke 17:27.) After having described intemperance and luxury in general terms, he particularly mentions eating and drinking, in which the Jews indulged to such an extent as if they had been able, in some measure, to combat the wrath of God, and to obliterate the remembrance of his threatening.
For to-morrow we shall die. This clause shews plainly enough why the Prophet complained so loudly about eating flesh and drinking wine. It was because all the threatenings uttered by the prophets were turned by them into a subject of jesting and laughter. It is supposed that Paul quotes this passage, when, in writing to the Corinthians, he uses nearly the same words. (1 Corinthians 15:32.) But I am of a different opinion; for he quotes the opinion of the Epicureans, who lived for the passing day, and gave themselves no concern about eternal life, and therefore thought that they should follow their natural disposition, and enjoy pleasures as long as life lasted. Isaiah, on the other hand, relates here the speeches of wicked men, who obstinately ridiculed the threatenings of the prophets, and could not patiently endure to be told about chastisements, banishment, slaughter, and ruin. They employed the words of the prophets, and in the midst of their feasting and revelry, turned them into ridicule, saying, in a boasting strain, “ To-morrow we shall die. If the prophets tell us that our destruction is at hand, let us pass the present day, at least, in cheerfulness and mirth.”
Thus, obstinate minds cannot be struck with any terror, but, on the contrary, mock at God and the prophets, and give themselves up more freely to licentiousness. It certainly was frightful madness when, through indignation and wrath, they quoted with bitter irony the words which not only ought to have affected their minds, but ought to have shaken heaven and earth. Would that there were not instances of the same kind in the present day! For whenever God threatens, the greater part of men either vomit out their bitterness, or sneeringly ridicule everything that has proceeded from God’s holy mouth.
14. This is revealed. (88) As if he had said, “Do you think that you can escape punishment for your wantonness, when God calls you to repentance?” It might be thought that here the Prophet says nothing that is new; for undoubtedly all things are known to God. But he adds this for the purpose of shaking off the indolence of men, who never would rise so fiercely against God, if they did not think that they could deceive him; for whosoever knows that God is his witness, must also acknowledge that God is his judge. Hence it follows that wicked men, in their wantonness, rob God of his power; and therefore it is not without reason that they are summoned to his tribunal, that they may know that they must render an account to him.
If this iniquity shall be forgiven you till you die. He adds a dreadful threatening, that this wickedness shall never be forgiven. In the Hebrew language, the conditional particle, if, contains a denial, as if the Lord had said, “Do not think that I am true, or that I have any divine perfections, if I do not take vengeance on so great wickedness.” The reason why the Jews, in their oaths, reserve something which is not expressed, is to accustom us to deeper reverence in this matter; for we entreat God to be our Judge and avenger if we speak falsely, and therefore we ought to restrain ourselves, so as not to make oaths at random. Here Isaiah states generally, that nothing is so displeasing to God as impenitence, by which, as Paul says, (Romans 2:5,) we “heap up for ourselves the treasures of God’s wrath,” and shut out all hope of pardon.
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15. Thus saith the Lord. This is a special prediction against a single individual; for, having spoken of the whole nation, he turns to Shebna, whom he will afterwards mention. (Isaiah 37:2.) To this person the Prophet gives two titles, that of “scribe” or “chancellor,” and that of “steward of the house,” for while in this passage he calls him “steward,” in the thirty-seventh chapter he calls him “scribe.” This has led some to think that, at the time of this prediction, he had resigned his office as steward, and that Eliakim was put in his room. But this is uncertain, though the words of the Prophet, in reference to Shebna himself, lead us to conclude that he cherished wicked envy, which led him to attempt to degrade Eliakim from his rank. Nor is it improbable that this prediction was uttered, when Sennacherib’s army was discomfited, and Jerusalem was saved in a miraculous manner. (Genesis 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) During the interval, many things might have happened which are now unknown to us; and it is not improbable that this treacherous scoundrel, having obtained the highest authority, made an unjust use of it to the injury of Eliakim. It is evident, from the history of the Book of Kings, that Shebna was a “scribe” or “secretary,” and one of high rank, such as we now call chancellor.
There is greater difficulty about the word סכן, ( sōchēn.) Some think that it means “treasurer,” because סכן ( sāchăn) signifies to store up; but, as he elsewhere calls him “chancellor,” I think it is not probable that he was treasurer. Besides, the Prophet shews plainly enough that his office as governor was such as allowed others to have scarcely any share of authority along with him. Such a rank could not belong to a treasurer, and therefore I think that the Prophet means something else. As סכן ( sāchăn) sometimes signifies “to abet,” and “to foment,” סכן ( sōchēn) may here mean “an abettor,” or, as we commonly say, “an accomplice.” It is certain that this Shebna had communications with the enemy, and was a cunning and deceitful person; for he cherished a concealed friendship with the Egyptians and Assyrians, and held treacherous communications with them, so as to provide for his own safety in any event that might arise, and to maintain his authority.
Others think that סכן ( sōchēn) is a word denoting the country to which he belonged, and that he was called a Sochnite from the city of which he was a native; for he is said to have been an Egyptian. I certainly do not reject that opinion, but I prefer the former; for he abetted both sides, and thought that, by his cunning, he would be preserved, even though everything should be turned upside down.
The particle הזה, ( hăzzēh,) this, is evidently added in contempt. It is as if he had said, “ That cunning man, ready for all shifts, ( πανοῧργος,) who abets various parties, who curries favor on all sides.” In this sense סכן ( sōchēn) is used (Genesis 1:2) when it relates to a maid who was about to be brought to the aged king in order to cherish him. Yet, if it be thought preferable to understand it as meaning a hurtful and injurious person, I do not object, for the word signifies also “to impoverish.”
16. What hast thou here? Shebna had built a sepulcher at Jerusalem, as if he were to live there continually, and to die there. The Prophet therefore asks why he built a splendid and costly sepulcher in a lofty and conspicuous place, as is commonly done by those who wish to perpetuate the memory of their name in the world. He appears to glance at the ambition of a foreigner and a stranger in longing to be so magnificently buried out of his country, and yet eagerly joining with enemies for the destruction of Judea. What could have been more foolish than to erect a monument in that country for whose ruin he was plotting? And therefore he adds —
17. Behold, the Lord will carry thee away. As if he had said, “Thou shalt be cast out of that place into a distant country, where thou shalt die ignominiously.” גבר ( gĕbĕr) is commonly translated as in the genitive case; that is, “with the casting out of a man thou shalt be cast out.” Again, גבר ( gĕbĕr) denotes not an ordinary man, but a strong and brave man, and thus it comes to mean, “with a mighty and powerful casting out.” Others render it in the vocative case, “O man!” as if he were addressing Shebna in mockery, “O illustrious man, who so proudly vauntest of thy greatness, who thinkest that thou art some hero!” But the former reading will be more appropriate. Yet here also commentators disagree; for, besides the exposition which I have mentioned, another is brought forward, that men will be carried to a greater distance than women. But I rather think that he alludes to the pride of Shebna, who had built so splendid a sepulcher, in order that his memory, like that of some distinguished man, might be handed down to posterity. “Thou wishest to be renowned after thy death: I will ennoble thee in a different manner. By a remarkable transportation will I remove thee to a foreign and distant country, where thou shalt be buried in an extraordinary manner.”
First, on the word סכן ( sōchēn) it is proper to remark how much God is displeased with a false and deceitful heart; for there is nothing which God more earnestly recommends to us than simplicity. He is called a ruler, because, being placed above others, he was likely to be dazzled by the luster of his present greatness, as happens to those who, elated and puffed up by their success, dread no adversity, as if they had been placed beyond the reach of all danger. The Lord threatens that he will be the judge of such persons. Here it also deserves notice, that Isaiah could not, without making himself the object of strong dislike, utter this prediction, especially when addressed to a man of such an elevated station and so haughty; and yet he must not refuse this office, but must approach and threaten this man, as God had commanded him.
As to the sepulcher, we know that solicitude about burying the dead is not wholly condemned; for although “the want of burial,” as one remarks, “is of little importance, yet the desire of being buried is natural to man, and ought not to be entirely disregarded.” He does not blame him, therefore, for wishing to be buried, but for his ambition in building a tomb, by which he shewed his eagerness to obtain vain and empty renown. But there is another circumstance connected with Shebna that must be observed; for, having wished to deliver the city into the hands of the Assyrians by treachery, he thought that he would reign permanently. He hoped that the Assyrians, if they were successful, would bestow on him the government of the kingdom as the reward of his treachery, and that, if they were defeated, he would permanently retain his rank and authority.
But this will appear more clearly from the words themselves, What hast thou here? He was a foreigner, and as such he could honestly become united to the people of God; but, being a traitor and a foreigner, he had no right to that city or country which the Lord had specially assigned to his own people. Isaiah therefore asks, “Of what country art thou? Though thou hast no connection with the people of God by blood or relationship, dost thou wish not only to reign in this country during thy life, but to procure for thyself a settled abode in it after thou art dead? Wilt thou betray us to the Assyrians, and drive out the actual possessors, that thou, who art a foreigner, mayest enjoy that country, of which not even an inch belongs to thee?”
Hence infer that God is highly displeased with that ambition by which men endeavor to obtain undying renown in the world, instead of being satisfied with those honors which they enjoy during their life. They wish to be applauded after death, and in some measure to live in the mouth of men; and although death sets aside everything, they foolishly hope that their name will last through all ages. But God punishes their haughtiness and presumption, and causes those things which they wished to be the records of their glory to become their disgrace and shame. Either their memory is abhorred, so that men cannot see or hear anything connected with them without utter loathing, or he does not even permit them to be laid in their graves, but sends them to gibbets and to ravens, of which we read many instances in history, (Esther 7:10,) and we have seen not a few in our own times.
Whenever I read this passage, I am forcibly reminded of a similar instance, resembling it indeed more closely than any other, that of Thomas More, who held the same office as Shebna; for it is well known that he was Lord Chancellor to the king of England. Having been a very bitter enemy of the gospel, and having persecuted good men by fire and sword, he wished that on this account his reputation should be extensive, and his wickedness and cruelty permanently recorded. He therefore ordered the praises of his virtue to be inscribed on a tomb which he had caused to be built with great cost and splendor, and sent his epitaph, which he had drawn up, to Basle, to Erasmus, along with a palfrey which he gave him as a present, to get it printed. He was so desirous of renown, that he wished to obtain during his life the reputation and praises which he hoped to enjoy after his death. Among other applauses the most conspicuous was, that he had been a very great persecutor of the Lutherans, that is, of the godly. (89) What happened? He was accused of treason, condemned, and beheaded; and thus he had a gibbet for his tomb. Do we ask more manifest judgments of God, by which he punishes the pride, the unbounded eagerness for renown, and the blasphemous vaunting, of wicked men? In this inveterate enemy of the people of God, not less than in Shebna, we ought undoubtedly to acknowledge and adore God’s overruling providence.
Another circumstance worthy of notice is, that this Shebna was a foreigner. Thus, all the tyrants and enemies of the people of God, though they be foreigners, would wish to cast out the actual lords of the soil, that they alone might possess the land; but at length the Lord drives them out, and strips them of all possession, so that they do not even continue to have a tomb. (90) There are innumerable instances in history. True, this does not always happen; but the instances which the Lord holds out to us, ought to lead our thoughts farther to consider his judgments against tyrants and wicked men, who wished to be applauded and celebrated, but are distinguished by some remarkable kind of death, so that their infamy becomes universally known. Thus, the renown of that sepulcher which Shebna had built is indirectly contrasted with the ignominy which quickly followed it.
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18. Turning he will turn thee. (91) Isaiah continues the same discourse, in which he ridiculed the pride of Shebna, who had bestowed so much cost on building a sepulcher. This statement is connected with the first clause of the former verse; for, as he formerly said “He will remove thee by an extraordinary removal,” so he now says, “He will toss thee as a ball into an open plain.” By this comparison he means that nothing will prevent the Lord from casting him out into a distant country, though he thinks that his power is firmly established; and since he had been so careful about his sepulcher, and had given orders about it, as if he had been certain as to his death, Isaiah declares that he will not die in Jerusalem, but in a foreign country, to which he shall be banished.
The chariot of thy glory. Under the word chariot he includes all the fame and rank of Shebna; as if he had said that disgrace would be his reputation among foreigners. Thus, the Lord ridicules the mad ambition of those who look at nothing but the world, and who judge of their happiness by the glory of fading and transitory objects.
The shame of thy lord’s house. He calls it “the shame of” the royal “house,” either because he had polluted that holy place which might be regarded as the sanctuary of the Lord, or because Hezekiah had judged ill in elevating him to that station. That the mask of his high rank might not screen him from this prediction, the Prophet expressly states, that the office which he holds aggravates his guilt and renders him more detestable. Let princes, therefore, if they do not wish to expose themselves and their houses to reproaches, learn to act with judgment in appointing men to hold office.
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19. And I will cast thee out. He says nothing new, but concludes the former prediction. Though in the next verse he will again mention Shebna, yet now he gives a brief summary of what has been already said. Shebna thought that he had a fixed abode in Jerusalem, so that, whatever might happen, he thought that he could not be driven or removed from it. But the Lord threatens that he will cast him out, and will banish him to a distant country. Thus, the Lord frequently overturns the thoughts of the wicked, (Psalms 33:10,) who, relying on their cunning and dexterity, toss about public affairs according to their own pleasure. The change of person shews that the Prophet speaks sometimes in his own name, and sometimes in the name of God.
20. And it shall come to pass in that day. It is uncertain at what time Eliakim was substituted in the room of Shebna; for we shall see, in the thirty-seventh chapter, that Eliakim was steward of the king’s house when Shebna was chancellor. Whether or not any change took place during the interval cannot with certainty be affirmed; yet it is probable, as I lately hinted, that through the stratagems of this wicked man, Eliakim was afterwards driven from his office, and that Shebna, after having triumphed, was punished for his frauds which had been detected, and, having been driven or banished from Judea, fled to the Assyrians, and there received the reward of his treachery. In like manner does it frequently happen to traitors, who, when they cannot fulfill their engagements, are hated and abhorred by those whom they have deceived; for, having been bold and rash in promising, they must be discovered to be false and treacherous.
The Jews allege that at last he was torn in pieces on account of his treachery, but no history supports that statement. Leaving that matter doubtful, it is certain that he was cast out or banished, and that he ended his days in a foreign country, and not at Jerusalem. It is probable that, after his banishment, Eliakim was again placed in his room.
I will call. It is certain that all princes and magistrates are called by the Lord, even though they be wicked and ungodly; for “all authority is from God,” as Paul affirms. (Romans 13:1.) But here the Prophet speaks of a peculiar calling, by which the Lord manifests his goodness towards his people, when he appoints such persons to be his servants, that it may be known that God governs by them; and they, on the other hand, are well aware of the purpose for which they have been appointed by God, and faithfully discharge the office assigned to them. Shebna had indeed been called for a time, but it was that he might be God’s scourge; for nothing was farther from his thoughts than to obey God. Eliakim was a different kind of person; for he acknowledged himself to be a servant of God, and obeyed the holy calling.
I will call, means, therefore, “I will give a sign to my servant, that he may know that it is I who have raised him to that honorable rank.” There is in this case a peculiar relation between the master and the servant, which does not apply to ungodly men when they obey their own inclination and wicked passions; but this man acknowledged the Lord and sincerely obeyed him. Lastly, this mark distinguishes the true servant of God from a wicked and hypocritical person, who had risen to honor by wicked practices.
21. And I will clothe him. He now explains more fully what he had briefly noticed in the former verse, that it was only by the purpose of God that Shebna was deposed, in order that Eliakim might succeed him. It is true, indeed, that all the changes that happen in the world are directed by the providence of God; for he “girds kings with a girdle,” as we are told in the book of Job, “and ungirds them, according to his pleasure.” (Job 12:18.) A witty saying was at one time current about the Roman emperors, “that they were theatrical kings;” because, as players, who perform their parts in the theater, no sooner have laid aside the rank of a king, than they presently become poor mechanics; so the emperors, after having been thrown down from their lofty station, were speedily hurried to a disgraceful punishment. And yet it is certain that those insurrections did not take place by chance, or merely through the designs of men, or by military forces, but by the purpose of God, which directed the whole. But the Prophet declares, that there is this peculiarity in the case of Shebna, that his deposition will be a clear proof of the vengeance of God, and that the restoration of Eliakim will be regarded as a lawful form of government.
With thy robes and with thy girdle. By the robes and girdle are meant the badges of the magistrates’ office. The girdle was an emblem of royalty, and the chief magistrates undoubtedly wore it as an honorable distinction. At Rome, also, the prætors wore this badge. Job says, that God ungirds kings when he deprives them of their royal rank. (Job 12:18.) These things were foretold by the Prophet, that all might not only see clearly in this instance the providence of God, and acknowledge his purpose, but might perceive that this wicked man, who had raised himself improperly and by unlawful methods, was justly deposed.
He shall be Father. Wicked magistrates are indeed appointed by God, but it is in his anger, and because we do not deserve to be placed under his government. He gives a loose rein to tyrants and wicked men, in order to punish our ingratitude, as if he had forsaken or ceased to govern us. But when good magistrates rule, we see God, as it were, near us, and governing us by means of those whom he hath appointed. The Prophet means that Eliakim will perform the part of a father, because he has been endued with the Spirit of God. At the same time he reminds all godly persons that they will have good reasons for wishing the government of Eliakim, because it tends to the general advantage of the Church.
By the appellation father, he shews what is the duty of a good magistrate. The same thing has been taught by heathen writers, that “a good king holds the place of a father;” and when they wished to flatter those who crushed the commonwealth by the exercise of tyranny, nature suggested to them to call the tyrants by the honorable title of “fathers of their country.” In like manner, philosophers, when they say that a family is the picture of a kingdom, shew that a king ought to hold the place of a father. This is also proved by the ancient titles given to kings, such as “Abimelech,” (Genesis 20:2,) that is, “my father the king,” and others of the same kind, which shew that royal authority cannot be separated from the feelings of a father. Those who wish to be regarded as lawful princes, and to prove that they are God’s servants, must therefore shew that they are fathers to their people.
22. And the key of the house of David. (92) This expression is metaphorical, and we need not spend much time, as some do, in drawing from it an allegorical meaning; for it is taken from an ordinary custom of men. The keys of the house are delivered to those who are appointed to be stewards, that they may have the full power of opening and shutting according to their own pleasure. By “the house of David” is meant “the royal house.” This mode of expression was customary among the people, because it had been promised to David that his kingdom would be for ever. (2 Samuel 7:13; Psalms 132:11.) That is the reason why the kingdom was commonly called “the house of David.”
The key is put in the singular number for keys. Though “keys” are usually carried in the hands, yet he says that they are laid on the shoulders, (93) because he is describing an important charge. Yet nothing more is meant than that the charge and the whole government of the house are committed to him, that he may regulate everything according to his pleasure; and we know that the delivering of keys is commonly regarded as a token of possession.
Some commentators have viewed this passage as referring to Christ, but improperly; for the Prophet draws a comparison between two men, Shebna and Eliakim. Shebna shall be deprived of his office, and Eliakim shall succeed him. What has this to do with Christ? For Eliakim was not a type of Christ, and the Prophet does not here describe any hidden mystery, but borrows a comparison from the ordinary practice of men, as if the keys were delivered to one who has been appointed to be steward, as has been already said. For the same reason Christ calls the office of teaching the word, (Matthew 16:19,) “the keys of the kingdom of heaven;” so that it is idle and foolish to spend much time in endeavoring to find a hidden reason, when the matter is plain, and needs no ingenuity. The reason is, that ministers, by the preaching of the word, open the entrance into heaven, and lead to Christ, who alone is “the way.” (John 14:6.) By the keys, therefore, he means here the government of the king’s house, because the principal charge of it would be delivered to Eliakim at the proper time.
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23. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place. The particle of comparison must here be supplied, and therefore I have inserted in the text the word as. By נאמן, ( nĕĕmān,) faithful, he means what is “firm and sure.” The original idea of the word is “truth;” for where “truth” is, there firmness and certainty are found; (94) and therefore Hebrew writers employ the word “truth” to denote what is firm and certain. Isaiah employs an elegant metaphor, from which godly magistrates, who are few in number, ought to draw large consolation. They may conclude that not only has God raised them to that honorable rank, but they are confirmed and established, as if they had been fixed by his hand. And indeed, where the fear of the Lord dwells, there the stability, and power, and authority of kings, as Solomon says, are established by justice and judgment. (Proverbs 16:12.)
This consolation ought to be of advantage to princes, not only that they may meet all danger courageously, but likewise that they may firmly and resolutely proceed in their office, and not turn aside on any account, or shrink from any danger. But there are very few who can actually relish this doctrine. Almost all are like Jeroboam, (Genesis 12:28,) and think that religion should yield to them, and, so far as they imagine, that it will be of service to them, follow it, or rather bend and change it for their own convenience. Their last thought is about God and religion; and we need not wonder if they are always in doubt about their own affairs, and are scarcely ever at rest; for they do not direct their thoughts to him from whom all authority proceeds. (Romans 13:1.) Hence springs treachery, hence springs cruelty, covetousness, violence, and frauds and wrongs of every kind, in which the princes of the present day indulge with less restraint and with greater impudence than all others. Yet there are some in whom we see what is here said of Eliakim. The Lord guards and upholds them, and blesses that regard to equity and justice which he had bestowed upon them. If the Lord permits even tyrants for a time, because they have some appearance of regular government, what shall happen when a prince shall endeavor, to the utmost of his power, to defend justice and judgment, and the true worship of God? Will he not be still more confirmed and established by him who is the continual guardian of righteousness?
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24. And they shall hang upon him. It is as if he had said that Eliakim would be fully qualified for discharging his duties, and would not be indolent in his office. Hence we infer that God does not exalt princes to honor, in order that they may live in indolence or gratify their own passions. The office of a prince is very labourious, if he discharges it properly, and if he do not copy the unmeaning countenances of those who imagine that they have been raised to that honor, that they may live in splendor and may freely indulge in every kind of luxury. If a prince wish to discharge his office in a proper manner, he must endure much toil. It must not be thought that the comparison of a nail is inapplicable to princely government, since it denotes an office full of activity and cares; and we know that metaphors do not apply at all points, but we ought to observe the purpose for which they are introduced.
All the glory of his father’s house, (95) the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (96) The expression, “his father’s house,” leaves no room to doubt that Eliakim was of royal blood; and therefore by his successors I understand not only those who were nearly related to him, but the whole family of David. He will have the charge of all that shall be in the king’s house. By adding grandchildren, he likewise shews that this princely government will be of long duration, that it will not only last during the life of one individual, but will also extend to his successors. (97) For good princes are useful not only to their own age, but also to posterity, to whom they leave good laws, salutary regulations, and the traces of good government; so that their successors, even though they be wicked men, are ashamed to give themselves up all at once to abandoned wickedness, and, even against their will, are compelled through shame to retain something that is good. He shews that this will be the case with Eliakim, whose government will be so righteous that even posterity shall reap advantage from it.
The smaller vessels. (98) Metaphorically it denotes that there will be uniform justice, or equal laws, as the phrase is; and it is as if he had said, “He will not only support the nobles, but will likewise attend to the interests of the lowest rank.” The more rarely this is found in a prince, so much higher praise does he deserve than if he favored none but the rich and powerful; for these can guard and protect themselves, but the poor and feeble lie open as a prey to the attacks of others, and there is hardly any one that pleads their cause.
To all vessels of music. (99) By vessels the Hebrew writers denote instruments of all kinds, and the meaning is very extensive. When he speaks of musical (100) vessels, he follows out what he had said in a single word; for it serves to explain the word קטן, ( kātān,) little; as if he had said that there would be nothing so small, or minute, or insignificant, that he would not take charge of it.
(95) Bogus footnote
(96) Bogus footnote
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25. In that day. It might be thought that this is inconsistent with what he had formerly said; but he no longer speaks of Eliakim, for he returns to Shebna, who was about to be cast down from his rank, as Isaiah had said. But for this, it might have been thought that there was no way by which Eliakim could arrive at that honor, but by the deposition of Shebna, who had arranged his matters so well, that no person thought it possible that he could be driven from his position. Yet though he has fortified himself by many defences, and thinks that he is at a great distance from all danger, still he shall be deprived of his office, and Eliakim shall be placed in his room.
In a sure place. When he calls it “a sure place,” this must be understood with respect to men; for men judge that what is defended on all sides will be of long duration; but God casts it down with the smallest breath. It was only by way of concession that he called it “a sure place.” Hence it ought to be inferred how foolishly men boast, and rely on their greatness, when they have been exalted to a high rank of honor; for in a very short time they may be cast down and deprived of all honor.
And the burden that was upon it shall be cut off. When wicked men are ruined, all who relied on their authority must also be ruined; and indeed it is in the highest degree reasonable that they who were united by the same bond of crimes, and who aided this wicked man as far as lay in their power, should share in the same punishment. It is difficult for those who place themselves under the protection of wicked men, and employ all their influence in behalf of them, not to be also partakers of their crimes; and if they were guiltless of crime, (which seldom, or rather, we may say, never happens,) still they are justly punished on this ground, that they have placed their trust on them as a very sure defense, and have depended wholly on their will and authority.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 22". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28