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1. In that day shall a song be sung. Here the Prophet begins again to shew that, after the return of the people from captivity, they will be defended by God’s power and guardianship, and that under his protection Jerusalem will be as safe as if she had been surrounded by bulwarks, ramparts, a ditch, and a double wall, so that no enemy could find entrance.
It is proper to observe the time when “this song was sung.” The Prophet had foretold the calamity that would befall the Church, which was not yet so near at hand, but happened a short time after his death. When the people were led into captivity, they would undoubtedly have despaired, if they had not been encouraged by such promises. That the Jews might cherish a hope that they would be delivered, and might behold life in the midst of death, the Prophet composed for them this song, even before the calamity occurred, that they might be better prepared for enduring it, and might hope for better things. I do not think that it was composed solely that, when they had been delivered, they might give thanks to God, but that even during their captivity, though they were like dead men, (Ezekiel 37:1,) they might strengthen their hearts with this confidence, and might also train up their children in this expectation, and hand down these promises, as it were, to posterity.
We have formerly (154) seen the reason why these and other promises were put by Isaiah into the form of verse. It was, that, having been frequently sung, they might make a deeper impression on their memory. Though they mourned in Babylon, and were almost overwhelmed with sorrow, (hence these sounds, (Psalms 137:4,) “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”) yet they must have hoped that at a future period, when they should have returned to Judea, they would give thanks to the Lord and sing his praises; and therefore the Prophet shews to them at a distance the day of deliverance, that they may take courage from the expectation of it.
We have a city of strength. By these words a full restoration of Jerusalem and of the people is promised, because God will not only deliver the captives and gather those that are scattered, but will also preserve them safe, after having brought them back to their country. But not long afterwards believers saw that Jerusalem was destroyed, (Genesis 25:9,) and the Temple thrown down, (2 Chronicles 36:19,) and after their return nothing could meet their eye but hideous ruins; and all this Isaiah had previously foretold. It was therefore necessary that they should behold from the lofty watch-tower of faith this restoration of Jerusalem.
He hath made salvation to be walls and a bulwark. He now defines what will be “the strength of the city;” for the “salvation” of God will supply the place of a “wall,” towers, ditches, and mounds. As if he had said, “Let other cities rely on their fortifications, God alone will be to us instead of all bulwarks.” Some allege that the words may be read, “He hath set a wall and bulwark for salvation;” and I do not set aside that rendering. But as a more valuable doctrine is contained in the Prophet’s words, when nothing is supplied, it serves no good purpose to go far for a forced interpretation; especially since the true and natural interpretation readily presents itself to the mind, which is, that God’s protection is more valuable than all ditches and walls. In like manner, it is also said in the psalm, “Thy mercy is better than life,” (Psalms 63:3;) for as David there boasts of enjoying, under God’s shadow, greater safety and freedom from care than if he had been fortified by every kind of earthly defense, so Isaiah here says, that there will be good reason for laying aside fear, when God shall have undertaken to guard his people. Now, since this promise extends to the whole course of redemption, we ought to believe that at the present day God is still the guardian of his Church, and therefore, that his power is of more avail than if it had been defended by every kind of military force. Accordingly, if we wish to dwell in safety, we must remain in the Church. Though we have no outward defences, yet let us learn to be satisfied with the Lord’s protection, and with his sure salvation, which is better than all bulwarks.
(154) See vol. 1 p. 162.
FT412 See Calvin on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 384
FT413 “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace (Heb. peace, peace) whose mind (or, thought, or, imagination) is stayed on thee.” — Eng. Ver.
FT414 “For in the Lord Jehovah is (Heb. the Rock of ages) everlasting strength.” — Eng. Ver.
FT415 “For he bringeth down them that dwell on high.” — Eng. Ver.
FT416 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 407
FT417 It will be observed, that this accords very nearly with our English version. — Ed
FT418 Bishop Stock’s rendering is, “The road of the just is the direct road; rightly the path of the just dost thou make even;” and he makes the following annotations: — “ The direct road to happiness, the object of all human pursuit. ‘Rightly,’ or with reason, ‘the path of the just dost thou make even,’ smooth before him, till he reaches his journey’s end. ‘The straight road is the short one,’ says the divine as well as the geometrician.” — Ed
FT419 “ A se fier en Dieu;” — “To trust in God.”
FT420 “ Encor que les choses soyent du tout hors d’espoir;” — “Even when matters are altogether beyond hope.”
FT421 “ Tous les desirs et travaux des hommes.”
FT422 “Early.” — (Eng. Ver.) In the marginal reading of the Author’s version, he renders it “earnestly.” — Ed
FT423 “ Que les hommes sont enseignez à eraindre Dieu par les verges dont il les frappe;” — “That men are taught to fear God by the scourges with which he strikes them.”
FT424 “Let favour be shewed to the wicked.” — Eng. Ver.
FT425 “ Et se retiennent en bride de crainte qu’ils ont d’estre fouettez;” — “And are kept in check through fear of being chastised.”
FT426 Accordingly, our English version, instead of “upright actions,” uses the term “uprightness,” which corresponds to the Author’s French version, “ la terre de droiture,” “the land of uprightness.” — Ed
FT427 “ La terre de droiture;” — “The land of uprightness.”
FT428 The Author refers to his exposition of Isaiah 5:12. See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 176
FT429 Μετωνυμία, or metonymy, denotes that figure of rhetoric by which one word is exchanged for another on account of a connection of idea, such as, “Moses and the prophets,” for their works, or, as in this passage, the “hand” for the works performed by it. — Ed
FT430 “(They are) dead, they shall not live.” — Eng. Ver.
FT431 “ Des fideles et des infideles;” — “Of believers and unbelievers.”
FT432 “(They are) deceased, they shall not rise.” — Eng. Ver.
FT433 Professor Alexander renders רפאים ( rĕphāīm) ghosts and remarks, “It is here a poetical equivalent to מתים ( mēthīm,) and may be variously rendered shades, shadows, spirits, or the like. The common version ( deceased) leaves too entirely out of view the figurative character of the expression. Giants, on the contrary, is too strong, and could only be employed in this connection in the sense of gigantic shades, or shadows.”
FT434 As if the reading had been not rĕphāīm, but rōphĕīm, the Seventy render it ἰατροὶ οὐ μὴ ἀναστήσουσι, “ physicians shall not rise again.” — Ed
FT435 “ Faisoyent que la demeurance estiot plus estroite et moins libre;” — “Made habitation to be narrower and less free.”
FT436 “ Que nous avons traduit Prière;” — “Which we have translated Prayer.”
FT437 “ Pour une prière articulee;” — “For an articulated prayer.”
FT438 “An obvious phrase for inanity. See below, Isaiah 33:11 They who think of a female disorder, termed empneumatosis, should remember that it is an uncommon disorder, and that metaphors are not drawn from objects or events of rare occurrence.” — Stock
FT439 “We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth.” — Eng. Ver.
FT440 “ Esperant avoir part de leur resurrection;” — “Hoping to share in their resurrection.”
FT441 “ En ceste vie.”
FT442 Bishop Lowth’s rendering is, “For thy dew is as the dew of the dawn.” Bishop Stock follows him very closely: “For as the dew of day-light is thy dew,” and remarks: — “ A dew of rays, that is, as I conceive, a dew able to abide the solar rays, or a steady dew, in oppostion ‘to the early dew that passeth away’ of Hosea 6:4; which the Prophet there parallels with ‘the morning cloud.’ The comparison of Isaiah intimates that the refreshing of Israel should not be transient, but lasting.” Professor Alexander, with his usual learning and judgment, produces a formidable array of conflicting authorities, but vindicates the usual rendering. “There are,” he says, “two interpretations of ארות, (ō rōth,) both ancient, and supported by high modern authorities. The first gives the word the usual sense of איר, (ō r,) light; the other, that of plants, which it has in Genesis 4:39. To the former it may be objected, that it leaves the plural form unexplained, that it arbitrarily makes light mean life, and that it departs from the acknowledged meaning of ארות (ō rōth) in the only other place where it occurs. The second interpretation, on the other hand, assumes but one sense of the word, allows the plural form its proper force, and supposes an obvious and natural allusion to the influence of dew upon the growth of plants. In either case, the reference to the dew is intended to illustrate the vivifying power of God.” — Ed
FT443 As to the interpretation of רפאים ( rĕphāīm) by giants, See page 231, note 3
FT444 “ Que ces tourbillons et orages passent, et sont de petite duree;” — “That these whirlwinds and storms pass away, and are of short duration.”
FT445 “Her blood (Heb. bloods).” — Eng. Ver.
2. Open ye the gates. This “song” was undoubtedly despised by many, when it was published by Isaiah; for during his life, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were wicked and ungodly, and the number of good men was exceedingly small. But after his death, when they had been punished for their wickedness, it was in some measure perceived that this prediction had not been uttered in vain. So long as wicked men enjoy prosperity, they have no fear, and do not imagine that they can be brought low. Thus the Jews thought that they would never be driven out of Judea, and carried into captivity, and hoped that they would continue to dwell there. It was therefore necessary to take away from them every pretense for being haughty and insolent; and such is the import of the Prophet’s words:
And a righteous nation, which keepeth the truth, shall enter in. “The inhabitants of the restored city shall be unlike the former; for they will maintain righteousness and truth. But at that time this promise also might appear to have failed of its accomplishment; for when they had been driven out of the country and led into captivity, no consolation remained. Accordingly, when the Temple had been destroyed, the city sacked, and all order and government overthrown and destroyed, they might have objected, “Where are those ‘gates’ which he bids us ‘open?’ Where are the people who shall ‘enter?’” Yet we see that these things were fulfilled, and that nothing was ever foretold which the Lord did not accomplish. We ought, therefore, to keep before our minds those ancient histories, that we may be fortified by their example, and, amidst the deepest adversity to which the Church is reduced, may hope that the Lord will yet raise her up again.
When the Prophet calls the nation “righteous and truthful,” he not only, as I mentioned a little before, describes the persons to whom this promise relates, but shews the fruit of the chastisement; for when its pollution shall have been washed away, the holiness and righteousness of the Church shall shine more brightly. At that time wicked men were the majority, good men were very few, and were overpowered by the multitude of those who were of an opposite character. It was therefore necessary that that multitude, which had no fear of God, and no religion, should be taken away, that God might gather his remnant. Thus, it was a compensation for the destruction, that Jerusalem, which had been polluted by the wickedness of her citizens, again was actually devoted to God; for it would not have been enough to regain prosperity, if newness of life had not shone forth in holiness and righteousness.
Now, as the Prophet foretells the grace of God, so he also exhorts the redeemed people to maintain uprightness of life. In short, he threatens that these promises will be of no avail to hypocrites, and that the gates of the city will not be opened for them, but only for the righteous and holy. It is certain that the Church was always like a barn, (Matthew 3:12,) in which the chaff is mingled with the wheat, or rather, the wheat is overpowered by the chaff; but when the Jews had been brought back into their country, the Church was unquestionably purer than before. Those who returned must have been animated by a good disposition, to undertake a journey so long, and beset by so many annoyances, embarrassments, and dangers; and many others chose rather to remain in captivity than to return, thinking that to dwell in Babylon was a safer and more peaceful condition than to return to Judea. Such persons must have had a seed of piety, which led them to take possession of those promises which were granted to the fathers. Now, though the Church even at that time was stained by many imperfections, still this description was comparatively true; for a large portion of the filth had been swept away, and those who remained had profited in some degree under God’s chastisements.
A righteous nation, which keepeth the truth. Some distinguish these terms in this manner, “A nation righteous before God, and upright before men.” But I take the meaning to be more simple; that, after having called the nation “righteous,” he shews in what righteousness consists; that is, where there is uprightness of heart, which has nothing feigned or hypocritical, for nothing is more opposite to righteousness than hypocrisy. And though no man ever existed who advanced so far that he could receive the commendation of being perfectly righteous, yet the children of God, who with their whole heart aim at this “truth,” may be said to be keepers of it. But perhaps it will rather be thought that, by a figure of speech, one part is taken for the whole, to describe what is true righteousness; that is, when all deceit and all wicked practices have been laid aside, and men act towards each other with sincerity and truth.
If any man wish to make use of this passage for upholding the merits of men, the answer is easy; for the Prophet does not here describe the cause of salvation, or what men are by nature, but what God makes them by his grace, and what kind of persons he wishes to be members of his Church. Out of wolves he makes sheep, as we have formerly seen. (155) So long as we live here, we are always at a great distance from perfection, and are in continual progress towards it; but the Lord judges of us according to that which he has begun in us, and, having once led us into the way of righteousness, reckons us to be righteous. As soon as he begins to check and reform our hypocrisy, he at once calls us true and upright.
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3. The thought is fixed; thou wilt keep peace, peace. (156) As the Hebrew word יצר ( Yĕtzĕr) signifies both “imagination” or “creature,” and “thought,” some render it, “By a settled foundation thou wilt keep peace;” as if the Prophet meant, that when men, amidst the convulsions of the world, continue to rest firmly on God, they will always be safe. Others render it, “For the fixed thought thou wilt keep peace;” which amounts to nearly the same thing, that they who have fixed their minds on God alone will at length be happy; for in no other way does God promise that he will be the guardian of his people than when they rely on his grace with settled thoughts, and without change or wavering. Since, however, the sign of the dative case is not added, but the Prophet in a concise manner of expression says, “Fixed or steadfast thought,” let my readers judge if it be not more appropriate to view it as referring to God, so as to make the meaning to be, that the peace of the Church is founded on his eternal and unchangeable purpose; for, in order to prevent godly minds from continual wavering, it is of the highest importance to look to the heavenly decree.
It is undoubtedly true that we ought constantly to hope in God, that we may perceive his continual faithfulness in defending us; and believers are always enjoined not to be driven about by any doubt, or uncertainty, or wavering, but firmly to rely on God alone. Yet the meaning which is more easily obtained from this passage, and comes more naturally from the words of the Prophet, is, that it is a fixed and unchangeable decree of God, that all who hope in him shall enjoy eternal peace; for if fixed thought means the certainty and steadfastness of the godly, it would be superfluous to assign the reason, which is —
Because he hath trusted in thee. In short, both modes of expression would have been harsh, that “continual peace is prepared for imagination,” or “for thought.” But it is perfectly appropriate to say that, when we trust in God, he never disappoints our hope, because he has determined to guard us for ever. Hence it follows, that, since the safety of the Church does not depend on the state of the world, it is not moved or shaken by the various changes which happen daily; but that, having been founded on the purpose of God, it stands with steady and unshakable firmness, so that it can never fall.
There is also, I think, an implied contrast between God’s fixed thought and our wandering imaginations; for at almost every moment there springs up something new which drives our thoughts hither and thither, and there is no change, however slight, that does not produce some doubt. We ought therefore to hold this principle, that we do wrong if we judge of God’s unshaken purpose by our fickle imaginations; as we shall elsewhere see,“
As far as the heavens are from the earth, so far are my thoughts from your thoughts, O house of Israel.” (Isaiah 55:9.)
We ought therefore above all to hold it certain, that our salvation is not liable to change; because the purpose of God is unchangeable.
Thou wilt keep peace, peace. What has now been stated explains the reason of the repetition of the word peace; for it denotes uninterrupted continuance for ever. By the word peace I understand not only serenity of mind, but every kind of happiness; as if he had said, that the grace of God alone can enable us to live prosperously and happily.
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4. Trust ye in Jehovah for ever. As to the words, some read in the second clause, “Trust in God, the strong Jehovah of ages;” but as צור ( tzūr) is not always an adjective, but signifies strength, I reject that meaning as forced, besides that it has little relation to the subject, as will immediately appear. There is also little ground for the ingenuity of those who infer from this passage the divinity of Christ, as if the Prophet said, that “Jehovah is in Jah;” for the twofold name of God is given for the express purpose of magnifying his power.
He now exhorts the people to rest safely on God, and therefore, after the preceding doctrine, there is now room for exhortation. Besides, it would have been vain to say that our peace is in the hand of God, and that he is our faithful guardian, if we had not been taught and instructed on this subject, and at the same time urged by exhortations. Yet he exhorts us not only to earnest hope, but to perseverance; and this discourse applies properly to believers, who have already learned what it is to trust in the Lord, and who need to be strengthened, because they are still weak, and may often fall, in consequence of the various motives to distrust with which they are called to struggle. He therefore does not enjoin them merely to trust in the Lord, but to remain steadfastly in trust and confidence to the end.
For in Jah Jehovah is the strength of ages. (157) We ought to attend to the reason which is here assigned, namely, that as the power of God, which is the object of faith, is perpetual, so faith ought to be extended so as to be equally perpetual. When the Prophet speaks of the strength and power of God, he does not mean power which is unemployed, but power active and energetic, which is actually exerted on us, and which conducts to the end what he had begun. And this doctrine has a wider application, for it bids us truly believe that we ought to contemplate the nature of God; for, as soon as we turn aside from beholding it, nothing is seen but what is fleeting, and then we immediately faint. Thus ought faith to rise above the world by continual advances; for neither the truth, nor the justice, nor the goodness of God, is temporary and fading, but God continues always to be like himself.
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5. For he will bring down the inhabitants of loftiness. (158) He now explains more fully what is that power of God of which he spoke. It is that which we ourselves feel, and which is exerted for our benefit. The two clauses are therefore closely connected, that “the proud are laid low by the power of God,” and that “the lowly and despised are placed in their room;” for it would not have yielded full consolation to tell us, in the first place, that “the proud will be laid low,” if he had not likewise added, that “the lowly will be exalted,” so as to hold dominion over the proud. We therefore acknowledge, that in our own experience God works powerfully for our salvation, and this yields to us a ground of hope.
Under the word loftiness he includes not only bulwarks and fortifications of every kind, (for the ancients were wont to build their cities in lofty places,) but also wealth and magnificence. He therefore means, that no defense can prevent God from casting down the wicked, and laying them low. Towers and bulwarks, indeed, are not displeasing to God; but as it rarely happens that they who are strong and powerful are not proud, so loftiness frequently denotes pride. Unquestionably he speaks of the wicked, who have abundance of arms, forces, and money, and imagine that they are protected against God himself. He likewise comforts the Jews, as we have formerly said, (159) because the invincible power of Babylon might have terrified them and thrown them into despair, if the Lord had not supported them by this promise: “You have no reason for being terrified at the greatness or strength of Babylon; for she will quickly fall, and will not stand before the power of the Lord.”
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7. Straightnesses are the way of the righteous man. He does not praise the righteousness of the godly, as some have falsely supposed, but shews that, through the blessing of God, they are prosperous and successful during the whole course of their life. Having only stated briefly in the beginning of the verse, that “their ways are plain and smooth,” he explains more fully in the second clause, ascribing it to the grace of God that in an open plain, as it were, the righteous proceed in their course, till they reach the goal.
Thou wilt weigh the straight path of the righteous. The word weigh contains a metaphor, that God, by applying a balance, as it were, brings to an equal measure those things which in themselves were unequal. The Hebrew word ישר ( yāshār) is ambiguous, for it may refer either to God or to the path. Accordingly some render it, Thou, who art upright, will direct the path of the righteous; (160) and in other passages God is called upright. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 25:8.) There would also be propriety in the allusion, that the straightness of which he spoke proceed from God, for he alone is straight or upright. But the other version appears to be more natural. (161)
He promises in general, that God will take care of the righteous, so as to lead them, as it were, by his hand. When the wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed, everything in this world appears to be moved by chance; and although Scripture frequently declares and affirms that God takes care of them, (Psalms 37:5; 1 Peter 5:7,) yet we can scarcely remain steadfast, but waver, when everything that happens to them is unfavourable. Yet it is true that the ways of the righteous are made plain by God’s balance, however rough and uneven they may appear to be; and not only so, but he has committed them to the guardianship of his angels, “lest they should be injured, or dash their foot against a stone.” (Psalms 91:11.) But for this, they would easily fall or give way through exhaustion, and would hardly ever make way amidst so many thorns and briers, steep roads, intricate windings, and rough places, did not the Lord lead out and deliver them.
Let us therefore learn to commit ourselves to God, and to follow him as our leader, and we shall be guided in safety. Though snares and artifices, the stratagems of the devil and wicked men, and innumerable dangers, may surround us, we shall always be enabled to escape. We shall feel what the Prophet says here, that our ways, even amidst deep chasms, are made plain, so that there is no obstacle to hinder our progress. And, indeed, experience shews, that if we are not led by God’s guidance, we shall not be able to push our way through rugged roads; for so great is our weakness that we shall scarcely advance a single step without stumbling at the smallest stone that comes in our way. Satan and wicked men not only entangle and delay us by many perplexities, and not only present to us slight difficulties, but cause us to encounter sometimes high mounds and sometimes deep pits, which even the whole world would be unable to avoid.
It is therefore proper for us to acknowledge how much we need heavenly direction, and to confess with Jeremiah, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23.) Let us not be puffed up with vain confidence, as if the result were placed in our own power. Let us not boast, as James warns us, that “we shall do this or that.” (James 4:15.) Such is the manner of rash men, who act as if they could do everything at their own pleasure; while it is not in our power, as Solomon tells us, to direct our tongue so as to give a proper answer. (Proverbs 16:1.) In vain, therefore, do men form plans, and deliberate, and decide about their ways, if God do not stretch out his hand. But he holds it out to the righteous, and takes peculiar care of them; for, while the providence of God extends to all, and while he supplies the wants of young ravens (Psalms 147:9) and sparrows, (Matthew 10:29,) and of the smallest animals, yet he has a fatherly kindness towards the godly, and delivers them out of dangers and difficulties.
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8. Yea, in the way of thy judgments. This verse contains a very beautiful doctrine, without which it might have been thought that the former statements were without foundation. Since he said that God will be our guide during the whole of life, so that we shall neither wander nor stumble, and while, on the other hand, we are pressed by so many straits, we might conclude that those promises have not been actually fulfilled. Accordingly, when he tries our patience, we ought to strive, and yet to trust in him. Here the Prophet gives us this instruction, that, though our eyes are not gratified by an easy and delightful path, and though the road is not made smooth under our feet, but we must toil through many hard passages, still there is room for hope and patience.
By the way of judgments he means adversity, and the word judgment often has this meaning in Scripture. But here is a mark which distinguishes the godly from hypocrites; for in prosperity hypocrites bless God, and speak highly of him; but in adversity they murmur, and curse God himself, and plainly shew that they had no confidence in him, and thus judge of God according as their prosperity lasts. The godly, on the other hand, when they are tried by afflictions and calamities, are more and more excited to place confidence. (162)
The particle אף, (ă ph,) Even, is inserted for the sake of emphasis, as if the Prophet had said, that believers are earnest in the worship of God, not only so long as he treats them with gentleness, but that, if he deal harshly with them, still they do not faint, because they are supported by hope. It is therefore the true test of sincere godliness, when not only while God bestows his kindness upon us, but while he withdraws his face, and afflicts us, and gives every sign of severity and displeasure, we place our hope and confidence in him. Let us learn to apply this doctrine to our own use, whenever we are hard pressed by the calamities of the present life; and let us not cease to trust in him, even when our affairs are in the most desperate condition. (163) “Though He slay me,” says Job, “I will trust in Him;” and David says that: “though he walk amidst the shadow of death, he will trust and not be afraid, because he knows that God is with him.” (Job 13:15; Psalms 23:4.)
To thy name. The Prophet aims at shewing what is the source of that uwearied earnestness which prevents the godly from sinking under the greatest calamities. It is because they are free from wicked desires and from excessive solicitude, and in their aspirations boldly rise to God. For, in consequence of our disorderly passions and cares holding us bound, as it were, to the earth, our hearts either wander astray, or sink into indolence, so that they do not freely rise to God; and as the essence of God is hidden from us, this makes us more sluggish in seeking him. From his hidden and incomprehensible essence, therefore, the Prophet draws our attention to the name of God, as if he enjoined us to rest satisfied with that manifestation of it which is found in the word; because there God declares to us, as far as is necessary, his justice, wisdom, and goodness, that is, himself.
And to the remembrance of thee. It is not without good reason also that he has added the word remembrance; for it means that the first perception or thought is not enough, but that continual meditation is enjoined; because without its aid all the light of doctrine would immediately vanish away. And indeed the true and sincere knowledge of God inflames us to desire him, and not only so, but also prompts us to desire to make progress, whenever the “remembrance” of it occurs to our minds. The knowledge of God, therefore, comes first; and next, we must be employed in frequent “remembrance;” for it is not enough that we have once obtained knowledge, if love and desire do not grow through constant meditation. Hence, also, we perceive that the knowledge of God is not a dead imagination.
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9. My soul hath desired thee. This is a stronger expression of the former statement; for, having previously spoken in the person of believers, he had said that the desire of their soul was towards God. He now adds, with regard to himself, My soul hath desired; as if he had said, “I have all the faculties of my soul directed towards seeking thy name.” The word נפש ( nēphĕsh) frequently denotes the vital Soul; but as the Prophet here employs two words, I distinguish them so as to make נפש ( nephesh) mean the desire or will, and רוח ( rūăch) the intellectual parts; for we know that these are the chief parts of the human soul, namely, the Understanding and the Will, both of which God justly claims for himself. Such is also the import of that passage, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37.) The Prophet therefore shews, that all the faculties of his soul are directed to this point, to seek God and embrace him.
Others take רוח, ( rūăch,) the Spirit, to mean the regenerated part; and so by נפש ( nĕphĕsh) they understand the natural soul, and by רוח, ( rūăch,) the Spirit, they understand the grace of God, which is supernatural. But this cannot be admitted; for the sensual man ( ψυχικός) never seeks God; and we perceive how strongly we are opposed by our feelings when we rise to God, and with what difficulty we conquer that aversion. It is unnecessary, therefore, to refute this interpretation, for it is directly contrary to Scripture; and from many similar passages it is sufficiently plain that the Spirit and Soul mean the understanding and the heart.
In the night. By the night Scripture often means adversity, which is compared to darkness and gloominess. But I interpret it somewhat differently, as if the Prophet had said, “There is no time so improper or unreasonable that I may not call upon thee or pray to thee.” That interpretation differs little from the former, but is rather more general; for night is supposed to be set apart for rest, and at that time all the desires and labors of men (164) cease; and, in short, there is little difference between a sleeping and a dead man. He says, therefore, that at the time which is devoted to rest and repose he rises to seek God, so that no occasion turns him aside; — not that those who are asleep have any active thought, but that sleep itself, if we turn to God, is a part of our course; and although we slumber and are silent, still we praise him by hope and confidence.
In the morning (165) will I seek thee. By the night the Prophet does not literally mean sleep; and this is perfectly evident from the present clause, in which night is contrasted with morning, which denotes continuance.
The inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness. We must observe the reason assigned, when he says that “the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness from the judgments of God,” meaning that by chastisements men are taught to fear God. (166) In prosperity they forget him, and their eyes are as it were blinded by fatness; they grow wanton and petulant, and do not submit to be under authority; and therefore the Lord restrains their insolence, and teaches them to obey. In short, the Prophet confesses that he and others were trained, by God’s chastisements, to yield submission to his authority, and to intrust themselves to his guardianship; because if God do not, with uplifted arm, claim his right to rule, no man of his own accord yields obedience.
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10. The wicked man will obtain favour. (167) Isaiah contrasts this statement with the former. He had said that the godly, even when they are afflicted, or see others afflicted, still rely on the love of God, and trust in him. But now he declares, on the other hand, that the wicked cannot be brought in any way to love God, though he endeavor, by every sort of kindness, to draw and gain them over; and that, whatever aspect the Lord assume towards them, they do not become better.
This verse appears, at first view, to contradict the former, in which the Prophet said, that the justice of God is acknowledged in the earth, when he executes his judgments, and shews that he is the Judge, and punishes the transgressions of men; while he says here that the wicked cannot in any way be led or persuaded to worship God, and that they are so far from being made better by the chastisements, that even acts of kindness make them worse. The good effect of chastisements certainly does not appear in all; for wicked men do not at all profit by them, as we see in Pharaoh, whom chastisements and scourges rendered more obstinate. (Exodus 7:13.) But although he spoke indiscriminately about “the inhabitants of the earth,” yet he strictly included none but God’s elect, with whom indeed even some hypocrites share the profit that is gained; for sometimes, though reluctantly, they are moved by reverence for God, and are restrained by the dread of punishments. (168) But as the Prophet here describes sincere repentance, by “the inhabitants of the earth” he means only the children of God.
Some view it as a question, “Shall favor be shewn to the wicked?” or, “Why should the wicked man obtain favor?” as if the Prophet insinuated that they do not deserve that God should deal gently with them. But I choose rather to explain it thus, “Whatever may be the acts of kindness by which God draws the wicked, they will never learn to act uprightly.” The Prophet therefore has limited the statement made in the former verse.
In the land of upright actions he will deal unjustly. This is added in order to shew more strongly the baseness of this ingratitude. It was a sufficiently heinous offense that they abused the acts of God’s kindness, and by means of them became more rebellious; but it is their crowning wickedness, that “they deal wickedly in the land” which the Lord had consecrated to himself. What he now says relates to Judea, but may be extended also to other countries in which God is now worshipped; but at that time there was no other country on which Isaiah could bestow that title, for in no other was there any knowledge of God. (Psalms 76:2.)
Thus he calls Judea “the land of upright actions.” I give this interpretation, because, since the Prophet employs נכחות ( nekōchōth) in the feminine gender, the word upright cannot apply to men. (169) He therefore bestows this title, because the law was there in full force, (Psalms 76:1.) and that nation had been peculiarly chosen by God; and it was added, as I have already said, in order to exhibit more strongly the ingratitude of the nation. Some extend it indiscriminately to the whole world, because, wherever we live, God supports us on the condition of our maintaining uprightness. This is too far-fetched; but, since God has now spread abroad his kingdom in every direction, wheresoever men call on his name, that is “the land of upright actions;” (170) so that we are worthy of double condemnation, if, after having been stimulated by benefits so numerous and so great, we do not testify our gratitude by the practice of godliness and by good works.
When he adds, that the reprobate will not behold the majesty of the Lord, this does not in any degree palliate, but rather doubles their criminality; because it is base and shameful indolence not to observe the glory of God which is openly manifested before our eyes. The wicked are thus rendered the more inexcusable, because, how numerous soever may be the methods by which the Lord makes known his name, still they are blind amidst the clearest light. There is never any lack of testimonies by which the Lord openly manifests his majesty and glory, but, as we have formerly seen, (171) few consider them. God manifests his glory not only by the ordinary works of nature, but likewise by some astonishing miracles and demonstrations, by means of which he gives us abundant instruction about his goodness, wisdom, and justice. Wicked men shut their eyes, and do not observe them, though in trifling matters they are very clear-sighted; and the Prophet now censures them severely for this wickedness.
Others think that it is a threatening against the reprobate, they shall not behold the majesty of the Lord, as if they did not deserve to obtain this view of the works of God. Though this is true, yet, as this clause is closely connected with the former, the Prophet continues to censure the indolence of those who do not direct their minds to the works of God, but, on the contrary, become stupid. On this account, we ought to think it the less wonderful that so few repent, though very many demonstrations of the righteousness of God are openly made; for infidelity is always blind to behold the works of God.
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11. O Jehovah, though thy hand is lifted up. This is an explanation of the former statement; for he brings forward nothing that is new, but shews more clearly what he had formerly stated in a few words. He had already said that the wicked “will not behold the majesty of the Lord;” and now he explains that “majesty” to be that which is visible in the works of God. He does not send us to that hidden majesty which is concealed from us, but leads us to the works, which he denotes figuratively ( μετωνυμικῶς) (172) by the hand. Here he again censures the wicked, and shews that they cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance; for, though they perceive nothing, still the hand of God is openly visible; and it is nothing but their blind ingratitude, or rather their voluntary indolence, that hinders them from perceiving it. Some might plead ignorance, and allege that they did not see these works; but the Prophet says that God’s hand is “lifted up,” and not merely exerted, so that it is not only visible to a few persons, but shines conspicuously.
They shall see and be ashamed. He shews plainly that this “beholding” is different from that of which he formerly spoke, when he said that the wicked “do not see the glory of the Lord;” for they do see, but do not observe or take any notice of it; but at length “they shall see,” but too late, and to their great hurt. After having long abused the patience of God, and proved that they were obstinate and rebellious, they will at length be constrained to acknowledge the judgments of God. Thus Cain, (Genesis 4:13,) Esau, (Genesis 27:38,) and others like them, who too late repented of their crimes, (Hebrews 12:17,) though they fled from the face of God, yet were constrained to see that he was their Judge. Thus, in those who despise him, God frequently produces a feeling of remorse, that he may display his power; but such knowledge is of no avail to them.
In this manner, therefore, the Prophet threatens wicked men, after having accused them of blindness, in order to shew that they have no plea of ignorance; and he forewarns them that the time will come when they shall know with whom they have to do, and that they will then feel that they ought not to despise that heavenly name which they now treat as fabulous, and scorn. They shut their eyes, and act without restraint, and make us a laughing-stock, and do not think that God will be their Judge, but rather turn into ridicule our distresses and afflictions. Thus they look down on us as from a lofty place, and grow more and more hardened; but at length they will understand that the true worshippers of God have not lost their labor.
And shall be ashamed. In order to shew that this beholding of the glory of God is not only of no advantage, but hurtful to them, he says that they shall behold with shame the blessing of God towards believers, in which they will have no share.
Through their envy of the people. This tends to shew more strongly the severity of the punishment, that not only will they burn with “envy,” when they shall see that the children of God have been delivered from those distresses, and have been exalted to glory, but there will likewise be added another evil, that they will be consumed by the fire of the enemy. By “the envy of the people,” therefore, is here meant the indignation which wicked men feel when they compare the lot of godly men with their own.
Yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them. By the fire of the enemies, he means that “fire” with which God consumes his “enemies.” He employs the word “fire” to denote God’s vengeance; for here it must not be taken for visible “fire” with which we are burned, nor even for the thunderbolt alone, but is a metaphorical expression for dreadful anguish, as we find that in many other passages Scripture denotes by this term, God’s severest vengeance. (Deuteronomy 32:22.) No language indeed can sufficiently express this anguish. Yet I do not object to the suggestion, that the Prophet alludes to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19:24.)
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12. O Jehovah, thou wilt ordain peace for us. This statement tends to the consolation of the godly, as if he had said, “We shall see what will be the end of the wicked; for thou wilt prevent them from sharing with thy children, and wilt take them away as enemies by fire, but we shall be happy.” The Hebrew verb שפת, ( shāphăth,) which signifies “to ordain,” has the same import as the word “establish;” as if he had said, “Thou wilt prepare peace for us in uninterrupted succession:” for the wicked also enjoy peace, but not of long duration; but our peace is fixed on the Lord, and has a firm foundation, and never comes to an end. By the word peace he means perfect happiness. Hence infer, that the children of God alone, who rest on him, are happy; for the life of the wicked, to whatever extent it may abound in pleasures and luxuries, when everything proceeds to their wish, is most miserable. There is therefore no solid foundation for peace but in God’s fatherly love.
All our works. By works he means all the blessings which the Lord bestows on those who believe in him; as if he had said, “Transactions, business, actions,” and everything included in the French phrase nos affaires , or in the corresponding English phrase our affairs. Accordingly, those who have quoted this passage for the purpose of overturning free-will have not understood the Prophet’s meaning. It is undoubtedly true that God alone does what is good in us, and that all the good actions which men perform are from his Spirit. But here the Prophet merely shews that we have obtained from the hand of God all the good things which we enjoy; and hence he infers that his kindness will not cease till we shall have obtained perfect happiness. Now, since God is the author of all good things, we ought chiefly to consider those which hold the first and highest place; for if we ought to acknowledge that we have received from God those things by which we support this life, much more those which belong to the salvation of the soul. If, therefore, we ought to acknowledge his kindness in small matters, how much more ought we to acknowledge it in matters of the greatest importance and value? But there is no reason why we should bring forward this passage against the Papists; for they might easily evade it, and we have a great number of other passages exceedingly conclusive.
In this passage, therefore, the Prophet appears to exhort the godly to testify their gratitude; for he bids them declare the acts of God’s kindness, so as to acknowledge that they are indebted to him for everything which they possess; and this contains a profitable doctrine, namely, that from past events and benefits received, the godly reason even as to God’s future kindness, and infer that he will also take care of them for the future. Having therefore experienced God’s kindness, let us also learn to hope for the future; and since he hath shewn himself to be so kind and bountiful, let us steadfastly fix our hearts in the hope of future assistance.
This example has been followed by all the saints, and in this way they have strengthened their faith. Thus David says, “Thou wilt not despise the work of thy hands.” (Psalms 138:8.) Paul says, “He who hath begun in us a good work will perform it.” (Philippians 1:6.) Jacob also says, “I am less than the compassions and the truth which thou hast shewn to thy servant; but thou saidst, I will surely do thee good.” (Genesis 32:10.) God is not like men, to be capable of being wearied by doing good, or exhausted by giving largely; and therefore the more numerous the benefits with which he has loaded us, so much the more ought our faith to be strengthened and increased.
13. O Lord our God. This verse contains a complaint of the saints, that they were oppressed by the tyranny of the wicked. This song was composed in order to refresh the hearts of believers, who were to be cruelly banished from that land which was a figure of eternal happiness, that, having been deprived of sacrifices and holy assemblies, and almost of every consolation, crushed by the heavy yoke of the Babylonians, banished from their country, loaded with reproach and sore afflictions, they might direct their groanings to God, in order to seek relief. He speaks, therefore, in the name of believers, who to outward appearance had been rejected by God, and yet did not cease to testify that they were the people of God, and to put their trust in him.
Other lords besides thee have had dominion over us. Not without cause do they complain that they are placed under a different dominion from that of God, for he had received them under his sole guardianship. Hence it follows that, if they had not been estranged from him, they would not have endured so hard a lot as to be exposed to the tyranny and caprice of enemies. It may be thought that the government of all princes is “besides God,” or different from that of God, even though they govern in his name. But the Prophet does not speak of those who govern for our benefit, but of those who are opposed to true worship and to holy doctrine. David was indeed a ruler who exercised dominion separate from that of God, but at the same time he was a genuine servant of God for the general advantage of the whole people; and therefore he maintained the true religion, which those rulers wished altogether to overthrow. Most justly did it befall the Jews, that, in consequence of having refused to obey God, who treated them with the greatest kindness, they were subjected to the tyranny of wicked men.
There is an implied contrast between God and the pious kings who governed the people in his name and by his authority, and the tyrants who oppressed them by governing with most unjust laws. This will be made more evident by a similar passage in Ezekiel, “I gave them,” says God, “good laws, by which they might live; but because they did not execute my judgments, and despised my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths, and cast their eyes upon the idols of their fathers, for this reason I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live.” (Ezekiel 20:11.) Since they might formerly, through the blessing of God, have been prosperous and happy, if they had obeyed his word, the prophet Ezekiel threatens that they will be subjected to tyrants who will compel them to obey their cruel enactments, and that without profit or reward. Isaiah now deplores a similar calamity. “When the Lord ruled over us, we could not be satisfied with our lot, and now we are compelled to endure severe tyranny, and suffer the just punishment of our wickedness.” The same complaint may be made by believers who live under the Papacy, or who in any way are compelled, by unjust laws, to observe superstition; for they are subject to a government which is “besides God,” or different from that of God, and endure bondage worse than barbarous, which not only fetters their bodies, but conducts their souls to torture and slaughter.
In thee only. This clause appears to be contrasted with the former to this effect, “Although irreligious men wish to withdraw from thy dominion, yet we will continue under it; for we are fully convinced that we are thine.” But we may draw from it more abundant instruction, that, although the feeling of the flesh pronounces that those who are cruelly oppressed by enemies have been forsaken by God, and laid open to be a prey, yet the Jews do not cease to boast in God when they do not perceive that he is near them; for the mere remembrance of his name supports them, and gently cherishes their hope. There is thus a very emphatic contrast between “the remembrance of the name of God” and the immediate experience of his grace; for steadfastly to embrace God, even though he is absent, is a proof of uncommon excellence.
Others render it, In thee and in thy name; but the word and is not in the passage. There is here exhibited to us consolation, which is great and highly necessary in these times, when the base ingratitude of men, by shaking off the yoke of God, has brought down upon itself a most cruel tyranny; and we need not wonder if we already see it abound in many places in which men call on the name of God. Yet the godly ought not to faint on this account, provided that they support themselves by this consolation, that God never entirely forsakes those who find abundant consolation in the remembrance of his name. But at the same time it is necessary to testify this faith, so as to choose to die a thousand times rather than depart from God by profaning his name; for when any one goes astray through the fear of men, it is certain that he never has truly tasted the sweetness of the name of God. So long, therefore, as we freely enjoy the word, let us be diligently employed in it, so that, when necessity shall demand it, we may be armed, and that it may not appear that we have indulged at our ease in idle speculation.
14. The dead shall not live. (173) The Prophet again speaks of the unhappy end of the wicked, whose prosperity often agitates and vexes us, as we read in the Psalms of David. (Psalms 37:1.) That our eyes may not be dazzled by the present appearances of things, he foretells that their end will be very miserable. Others interpret this passage as relating to believers, who appear to die without any hope of a resurrection; but unquestionably he speaks of the reprobate, and this will be still more evident from an opposite statement which he makes at the nineteenth verse. There is a contrast between the resurrection of good men and wicked men, (174) between whom there would be little difference, were it not evident that the latter are sentenced to eternal death, and that the former will receive a blessed and everlasting life: and not only does eternal death await the wicked, but all the sufferings which they endure in this world are the commencement of everlasting destruction; for they cannot be soothed by any consolation, and they feel that God is their enemy.
The slain shall not rise again. (175) The word which we render slain is rendered by others giants; (176) but as in many passages of Scripture רפאים (177) ( rĕphāīm) denotes slain, so also in this passage it will be more appropriate, for otherwise there would be no contrast. (Psalms 88:11.)
Therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them. This is added for the sake of explanation; for it assigns the reason why the reprobate perish without hope, namely, because it is the purpose of God to destroy them. In the wrath of God they have nothing to look for but death and ruin.
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15. Thou hast added to the nation. This verse is explained in various ways. Some think that the Prophet here declares that the godly are not merely oppressed by one kind of affliction, but are plunged, as it were, into the lowest misery, and that they see no end of their distresses. Others explain it simply to mean, “O Lord, thou hast bestowed on thy nation various blessings,” and think that the Prophet mentions the blessings which God bestowed on his people in various ways, as if he had said, “The people have experienced, not only in one instance, but in innumerable ways, the Lord’s kindness and bounty.”
But when I attend to what follows, Thou hast enlarged, that is, “Thou hast extended thy kingdom, which formerly was confined within narrow limits,” I choose rather to view the two statements as closely connected; for the latter clause is an interpretation of the former. Besides, it agrees well with what follows, that God is glorified; for we know that in nothing does the glory of God shine more conspicuously than in the increase of the Church. It is as if he had said, “Thou hadst formerly a small people, but thou hast multiplied and increased it;” for the Gentiles were admitted and joined to the Jews on condition that they should be united into one people. Thus the Lord added a vast multitude, for the children of Abraham were called out of all nations.
We must therefore supply, not “Thou hast added blessings,” but “Thou hast added a greater number;” and the meaning is, “O Lord, thou wast not satisfied with that small number, and hast gathered for thyself out of all nations an innumerable people.” This relates to the kingdom of Christ, which has been spread through the whole world by the preaching of the gospel; and in this passage the Prophet speaks highly of this wide extension, and expresses it by the phrase, Thou hast enlarged. This mode of expression is not at variance with the ordinary way of speaking, when an enlargement of a kingdom or of territories is expressed. And yet the Prophet does not mean that the land was enlarged, but that, by spreading the worship of God on all sides, mutual intercourse produced larger space and greater freedom of habitation; for contentions had the effect of narrowing it. (178) We have here a promise of the calling of the Gentiles, which must have greatly comforted godly men during that banishment and miserable dispersion of the Church, so that, although they saw it to be amazingly weakened and diminished, still they were convinced that it would be increased in such a manner that not only would they become innumerable, but foreign and distant nations would be added to them.
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16. O Jehovah, in tribulation they have visited thee. This might be explained as relating to hypocrites, who never flee to God but when they have been constrained by distresses and afflictions. But since the Lord instructs believers also by chastisements, as the Prophet formerly shewed, (Isaiah 26:8,) I choose rather to refer it simply to them, that not only they may know that God has justly punished them, but that the bitterness of the afflictions may likewise be sweetened by the good result of the chastisement, and that they may be better instructed in the fear of the Lord, and may profit more and more every day. Isaiah therefore speaks in the person of the Church, that whenever godly men read this statement, they might acknowledge that amidst their distresses and afflictions they were nearer to God than when they enjoyed prosperity, by means of which almost always (such is the depravity of our nature) we become excessively proud and insolent. On this account we must be curbed and tamed by chastisements; and this thought will soften the harshness of punishments, and make us less ready to shrink from them if we think that they are profitable to us.
They poured out a prayer. The Hebrew word לחש ( lăchăsh) (179) signifies a muttering. This word therefore must not be taken for a prayer pronounced in words, (180) but for that which indicates that the heart is wrung with sore pains, as those who are tortured by extreme anguish can hardly speak or express the feelings of their hearts. It therefore denotes, that calling upon God which is sincere and free from all hypocrisy; such as men will aim at when in sore affliction they utter groans as expressive of intense pain. In prosperity men speak with open mouths; but when they are cast down by adversity, they hardly venture to mutter, and express their feelings with the heart rather than with the tongue. Hence arise those unutterable groans of which Paul speaks. (Romans 8:26.) It is in reference to the godly, therefore, that Paul makes this declaration, and to them must this doctrine be limited; for wicked men, although some lamentations are extorted from them by pain, become more hardened and more and more obstinate and rebellious.
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17. As a woman with child. Here two things ought chiefly to be remarked. First, he compares believers to women in labor, who, we know, endure exquisite pain; and, accordingly, he says that their anguish breaks out into loud and violent cries. Hence we infer that the Prophet does not only speak of that sorrow which arises from outward distresses and annoyances, but rather describes that dreadful anguish by which the hearts of the godly are sorely and dreadfully tormented, when they perceive that God is angry with them, and when their consciences reprove them. There is no bodily pain so acute that it can be compared to that anguish, and this is plainly expressed by the phrase in thy sight
18. We have as it were brought forth wind. The second thing to be remarked is, that he goes beyond the limit of the metaphor; for when there is no end to their distresses, the condition of the godly is worse than that of women in labor, who, as soon as they are free from their pains, break out into joy at the sight of what they have brought forth, (John 16:21,) and forget all their sorrows. The godly, on the other hand, he tells us, are continually bringing forth; for new troubles and anxieties constantly await them, and when they think that the birth is at hand, they bring forth nothing but anguish. That is what he means by wind, (181) namely, that there is no removal or abatement of pain; and immediately afterwards he thus explains it, Salvations have not been wrought for the land, (182) that is, we have not beheld any deliverance.
And the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. יפלו ובל (ū băl yĭppĕlū,) that is, have not fallen; for נפל ( nāphăl) signifies “to fall.” Others explain it “to dwell.” If we take it in that sense, the meaning will be, “The Jews shall not dwell,” that is, they shall not return to their own land; the inhabitants who possess it shall not perish. But if we follow the ordinary interpretation, we must view it as referring to the wicked. “The inhabitants of the world annoy us and do not fall; everything goes on prosperously with them.”
So long as the wicked flourish, the children of God must be unhappy, and become like women in labor; and this condition must be quietly endured by us, if we wish to have a place in the Church of God. It is, indeed, the common lot of all to endure numerous and endless afflictions; and hence comes the old proverb, “It is happy not to be born, or, when born, immediately to depart out of life.” But we see that the godly are visited with sore anguish and very heavy afflictions beyond others; for in this manner God wishes to try their faith, that, after having laid aside their desires and forsaken the world, they may serve him. Since, therefore, the Lord has a peculiar care of them, he must chastise them, while he permits wicked men to indulge in unbounded licentiousness.
Here we are also reminded that we must endure not merely one or another calamity, and must not imagine that, when we have endured some afflictions, there are none in reserve for us; for we ought always to be prepared to endure new ones. When God begins to chastise his people, he does not immediately cease. We shall “bring forth wind” when we think that the birth is at hand; other calamities will break out, and we shall be continually attacked by additional sorrows. We must therefore maintain this warfare so long as it shall please God to employ us in it. Accordingly, we shall follow the ordinary interpretation, have not fallen; for, as the Lord cheers his people, when he manifests to them his salvation and punishes the wicked, so he gives them occasion to groan, so long as they behold their enemies placed in a lofty position and exercising high authority. And if the Lord in this manner tried his Church in former times, we need not wonder that we experience the same thing in the present day.
By the inhabitants of the world he means heathens and irreligious men; for he contrasts the rest of the world with Judea, which he formerly called, by way of eminence, ( κατ ᾿ ἐξοχὴν,) the land, and mentions its inhabitants apart.
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19. Thy dead men shall live. Isaiah continues the same consolation, and addresses his discourse to God, thus shewing that there is nothing better for us than to bring our thoughts to meet in God, whenever we must struggle with temptations; for there is nothing more dangerous than to wander in our thoughts, and to give way to them, since they can do nothing else than toss us up and down and drive us into error. Nothing therefore is safer for us than to betake ourselves to God, on whom alone our hearts can rest; for otherwise we shall meet with many things that tend to shake our faith. The general meaning is, that as God guards believers, though they are like “dead men,” yet they “shall live” amidst death itself, or shall rise again after their decease.
But it may be asked, of what time does Isaiah speak? For many interpret this passage as relating to the last resurrection. The Jews refer it to Messiah’s kingdom, but they are mistaken in thinking that it is immediately fulfilled by the Messiah’s first coming. Christians are also mistaken in limiting it to the last judgment; for the Prophet includes the whole reign of Christ from the beginning to the end, since the hope of living, as we shall immediately see, goes beyond this world. Now, in order to understand more fully the whole of the Prophet’s meaning, we ought first to consider that life is promised, not indiscriminately, but only to “God’s dead men;” and he speaks of believers who die in the Lord, and whom he protects by his power. We know that “God is the God of the living, and not of the dead.” (Matthew 22:32.) Accordingly, if we are God’s people, we shall undoubtedly live; but in the meantime we must differ in no respect from dead men, for “our life is hidden,” (Colossians 3:3,) and we do not yet see those things for which we hope. (Romans 8:23.)
So then he speaks simply of the dead, that is, of the condition of believers, who lie in the shadow of death on account of various afflictions which they must continually endure. Hence it is evident, that this must not be limited to the last resurrection; for, on the contrary, we say that the reprobate, even while they live, are dead, because they do not taste God’s fatherly kindness, in which life consists, and therefore perish in their brutal stupidity. But believers, by fleeing to God, obtain life in the midst of afflictions, and even in death itself; but because they have in prospect that day of the resurrection, they are not said literally to live till that day when they shall be free from all pain and corruption, and shall obtain perfect life; and, indeed, Paul justly argues, that it would be a subversion of order, were they to enjoy life till the appearance of Christ, who is the source of their life. (Colossians 3:3.)
Thus we have said that Isaiah includes the whole reign of Christ; for, although we begin to receive the fruit of this consolation when we are admitted into the Church, yet we shall not enjoy it fully till that last day of the resurrection is come, when all things shall be most completely restored; and on this account also it is called “the day of restitution.” (Acts 3:21.) The only remedy for soothing the grief of the godly is, to cast their eyes on the result, by which God distinguishes them from the reprobate. As death naturally destroys all the children of Adam, so all the miseries to which they are liable are forerunners of death, and therefore their life is nothing else than mortality. But because the curse of God, through the kindness of Christ, is abolished, both in the beginning and in the end of death, all who are engrafted into Christ are justly said to live in dying; for to them all that is evil is the instrument of good. (Romans 8:28.) Hence it follows, that out of the depths of death they always come forth conquerors till they are perfectly united to their Head; and therefore, in order that we may be reckoned among “God’s dead men,” whose life he faithfully guards, we must rise above nature. This is more fully expressed by the word נבלה, ( nĕbēlāh,) or dead body
My dead body, they shall arise. As if he had said, “The long-continued putrefaction, by which they appear to be consumed, will not hinder the power of God from causing them to rise again entire.” So far as relates to the phrase, some render it, “With my dead body.” Others explain it, “Who are my dead body.” Others supply the particle of comparison, “Like as my dead body;” but as the meaning is most fully brought out if, without adding or changing anything, we take up simply what the words mean, I choose to view them as standing in immediate connection. At least, this word is inserted for the express purpose that the Prophet may join himself to the whole Church, and thus may reckon himself in the number of “God’s dead men” in the hope of the resurrection. (183)
As to his mentioning himself in particular, he does so for the sake of more fully confirming this doctrine; for thus he testifies his sincerity, and shews that this confession is the result of faith, according to that saying, “I believed, therefore I spake.” (Psalms 116:10; 2 Corinthians 4:13.) But for this, irreligious men might discourse concerning the mercy of God and eternal life, though they had no sincere belief of them; for even Balaam knew that he spoke what was true, and yet he derived no benefit from his predictions. (Numbers 23:19.) Very differently does the Prophet speak in this passage; for he professes to belong to the number of those who shall obtain life, and then declares that he willingly endures all the troubles and calamities by which the Lord humbles and slays him, and that he chooses rather to endure them than to flourish along with the wicked. In this manner he testifies, that he does not speak of things unknown, or in which he has no concern, but of those things which he has learned by actual experience; and shews that his confidence is so great that he willingly ranks himself in the number of those “dead bodies” which, he firmly believes, will be restored to life, and therefore chooses to be a dead body, and to be so reckoned, provided that he be accounted a member of the Church, rather than to enjoy life in a state of separation from the Church.
This gives greater force to his doctrine, and he contrasts it with the statement which he formerly made ( verse 14) about wicked men, they shall not live; for the hope of rising again is taken from them. If it be objected, that resurrection will be common not only to believers but also to the reprobate, the answer is easy; for Isaiah does not speak merely of the resurrection, but of the happiness which believers will enjoy. Wicked men will indeed rise again, but it will be to eternal destruction; and therefore the resurrection will bring ruin to them, while it will bring salvation and glory to believers.
Awake and sing, ye inhabitants of the dust. He gives the name, inhabitants of the dust, to believers, who are humbled under the cross and afflictions, and who even during their life keep death constantly before their eyes. It is true that they enjoy God’s blessings in this life; (184) but by this metaphor Isaiah declares that their condition is miserable, because they bear the image of death; for “the outward man” must be subdued and weakened, till it utterly decay, “that the inward man may be renewed.” (2 Corinthians 4:16.) We must therefore be willing to be humbled, and to lie down in the dust, if we wish to share in this consolation.
Accordingly, he bids the dead men “awake and sing,” which appears to be very inconsistent with their condition; for among them there is nothing but mournful silence. (Psalms 6:5.) He thus draws a clear distinction between God’s elect, whom the corruption of the grave and the “habitation in the dust” will not deprive of that heavenly vigor by which they shall rise again, and the reprobate, who, separated from God the source of life, and from Christ, fade away even while they live, till they are wholly swallowed up by death.
For thy dew is the dew of herbs. (185) He now promises “the dew of herbs,” and thus illustrates this doctrine by an elegant and appropriate comparison. We know that herbs, and especially those of the meadows, are dried up in winter, so that they appear to be wholly dead, and, to outward appearance, no other judgment could be formed respecting them; yet the roots are concealed beneath, which, when they have imbibed the dew at the return of spring, put forth their vigor, so that herbs which formerly were dry and withered, grow green again. In this manner will the nation regain its former vigor after having been plentifully watered with the dew of the grace of God, though formerly it appeared to be altogether withered and decayed.
Such comparisons, drawn from well-known objects, have great influence in producing conviction. If “herbs” watered by “dew” revive, why shall not we also revive when watered by the grace of God? Why shall not our bodies, though dead and rotten, revive? Does not God take more care of us than of herbs? And is not the power of the Spirit greater than that of “dew?” Paul employs a similar argument in writing to the Corinthians, when he treats of the resurrection; but as he applies his comparison to a different purpose, I think it better to leave it for the present, lest we should confound the two passages. It is enough if we understand the plain meaning of the Prophet.
And the earth shall cast out the dead. Others render the clause in the second person, “Thou wilt lay low the land of giants,” (186) or “Thou wilt lay low the giants on the earth.” I do not disapprove of this interpretation, for the words admit of that meaning; but the former appears to agree better with the scope of the passage, though it makes little difference as to the substance of the doctrine. These words must relate to that consolation of which we have formerly spoken.
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20. Come, my people. In this verse he exhorts the children of God to exercise patience, to shut themselves up, and to bear with moderation their troubles and afflictions, and to stand unmoved in opposition to the fierce tempests which seemed likely to overwhelm them. This exhortation was highly necessary; for the lamentable state to which the nation was afterwards reduced was, to outward appearance, very inconsistent with that promise. The Prophet, therefore, when the people are distressed and know not where to go, takes them, as it were, by the hand, and conducts them to some retired spot, where they may hide themselves in safety till the storms and tempests are abated. When he calls them “his own people,” he speaks in the name of God, and not in his own.
Enter into thy chamber. By chamber he means calmness and composure of mind, by which we encourage and strengthen our hearts with firm belief, and calmly wait for the Lord, as Habakkuk, after having foretold the calamities which were about to fall on the Jews, says that he will go up “to his watch-tower,” that is, to a place of safety, in which he may patiently and silently await the result. (Habakkuk 2:1.) Isaiah gives a similar injunction in this passage, that the godly, when they see that they are attacked by various storms which they are unable to resist, should shut themselves up in a “chamber,” or some place of retirement.
Shut thy doors behind thee. As it would not be enough that we should once be fortified against the fierce attacks of tempests, he bids us also “shut the doors.” This relates to steadfastness; as if he enjoined us to take good heed not to leave any chink open for the devil; for he will easily break through and penetrate into our hearts, if the smallest entrance be allowed him.
Hide thyself for a little moment. When he bids them “hide” or “conceal” themselves, he means that it will be a very safe refuge for believers, if they are courageous and patiently wait for the Lord; for though we must boldly and valiantly maintain the contest, yet since the power of God is displayed in our weakness, (2 Corinthians 12:9,) there is nothing better for us than to take refuge, with all humility, under God’s wings, that they who tremble may be placed by him in perfect safety.
Again, because we are naturally rash, and hurried away by impatience, when we do not see that the Lord’s assistance is immediate, on this account he says that these storms are “momentary.” (187) True, we must continually struggle with afflictions, and, so long as we live, must not hope to see an end of them; and, consequently, the afflictions are, in our opinion, of very long duration. But if we compare them with that eternity, in which we shall possess immortal joys, it will be but “a very little moment.” In like manner, Paul also shews that the light and momentary afflictions which we endure in this life, ought not to be compared to that weight of eternal glory which we expect to receive. (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18.)
Till the indignation pass over. By adding this he intends to remove all doubt from believers, as if he promised that they would quickly be delivered. I interpret “indignation” as meaning simply the affliction which proceeds from the Lord’s anger. Others refer it to enemies; and I do not object to that interpretation, but prefer the former; for we see that the prophets earnestly teach that no evil happens to us that does not come from the hand of God, who does not inflict them on us without good reason, but when he has been provoked by our iniquities and transgressions. (Amos 3:6.) We are thus reminded that God’s wrath against the Church will not last always, but that, like storms and tempests, it will come to an end, and on this account believers endure it more patiently. Hence it is said elsewhere, (Micah 7:9,) “I will bear the Lord’s wrath;” for they know that he chastises them for their salvation. He introduces the Lord speaking, as I mentioned a little before, that his exhortation may have greater authority.
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21. For, behold, Jehovah cometh out of his place. It is a very grievous temptation to the godly, when they see that the wicked exercise their rage without being punished, and that God does not restrain them; for they look upon themselves as forsaken by him. Isaiah therefore meets this temptation, and shews that the Lord, though he keep himself out of view for a time, will in due season gird himself for yielding assistance, and for revenging the injuries which his people have received.
By the word cometh out, he describes God stretching out his hand to his people in such a manner as if it had formerly been concealed, because the saints did not perceive his aid. For this reason he says, that the Lord “cometh out,” and that he appears in public to yield assistance and exercise judgment, as if he had formerly dwelt like a private person at home. But perhaps there is an allusion to the sanctuary; and this mode of expression occurs frequently in the prophets. (Micah 1:3; Habakkuk 3:13; Zechariah 14:3.) Though heathen nations despised the ark of the covenant which was laid up in a place little renowned, yet believers knew, by communications of power and grace which they quickly obtained, that it was not in vain or to no purpose that they called on God in that holy place. Yet this principle always holds good, that, though unbelievers ridicule the temple as some mean hut, still God will “come forth” from it at his own time, that the whole world may know that he is the protector of his people
This meaning is more appropriate than if we were to interpret God’s place to mean heaven, from which he “cometh forth;” for Isaiah intended to express something more. When the prophets mention heaven, they exhibit to us the majesty and glory of God; but here he refers to our senses, that is, when we see that God, who formerly appeared to remain concealed and to be at rest, gives us assistance. He employs the demonstrative particle הנה, ( hinnēh,) behold, and the participle of the present tense יצא, ( yōtzē,) coming forth, in order to express certainty, and that believers may not be displeased at bridling their feelings till his coming.
To visit the iniquity. This is to the same purport with what goes before; for it would have been inconsistent with the nature of God, who is the judge of the world, to allow the wicked freely to indulge in sin without being punished. The word visit contains a well-known metaphor; because, so long as God delays or suspends his judgments, we think that he sees nothing, or that he has turned away his eyes. There is emphasis, also, in the phrase עליו, ( gnālāiv,) upon him; as it is frequently said that the wicked are taken in “the snares which they have laid,” (Psalms 9:16,) or “in the pit which they have digged.” (Psalms 57:6.) The meaning therefore is, that all the injuries inflicted will fall on the heads of those who were the authors of them.
The earth also shall disclose her blood. (188) This also is highly emphatic. When innocent blood is shed and trodden under foot by wicked men, the earth drinks it up, and as it were receives it into her bosom; and, in the meantime, the death of the godly appears to be forgotten, and to be blotted out for ever from remembrance, so that it shall never come to be beheld even by God himself. Men indeed think so, but God makes a widely different declaration; for he declares, that those murderers will one day be “disclosed” and brought into judgment.
On this account he calls it “the blood, or bloods, of the earth,” which the earth has drunk up; and in like manner it is said, that “the earth opened her mouth” when the blood of Abel was shed. (Genesis 4:11.) In that passage the Lord represents in strong terms the aggravation of that guilt, by saying, that the earth was polluted with that blood, and therefore he shews how “precious in his sight is the death of the saints,” (Psalms 116:15,) how great is the care which he takes of them, and that at length he will not permit their death to pass unpunished. The earth itself will take up arms to avenge the murders and cruelties which the godly have endured from tyrants and enemies of the truth; and not a drop of blood has been shed of which they will not have to render an account. We ought therefore to call to remembrance this consolation, and to keep it constantly before our eyes, when the wicked slay, mock, and ridicule us, and inflict upon us every kind of outrage and cruelty. God will at length make known that the cry of innocent blood has not been uttered in vain; for he never can forget his own people. (Luke 18:7.)
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 26". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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