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1. This appears to be another discourse, in which Isaiah threatens the city of Jerusalem. He calls it “Altar,” (251) because the chief defense of the city was in the “Altar;” (252) for although the citizens relied on other bulwarks, of which they had great abundance, still they placed more reliance on the Temple (Jeremiah 7:4) and the altar than on the other defences. While they thought that they were invincible in power and resources, they considered their strongest and most invincible fortress to consist in their being defended by the protection of God. They concluded that God was with them, so long as they enjoyed the altar and the sacrifices. Some think that the temple is here called “Ariel,” from the resemblance which it bore to the shape of a lion, being broader in front and narrower behind; but I think it better to take it simply as denoting “the Altar,” since Ezekiel also (Ezekiel 43:15) gives it this name. This prediction is indeed directed against the whole city, but we must look at the design of the Prophet; for he intended to strip the Jews of their foolish confidence in imagining that God would assist them, so long as the altar and the sacrifices could remain, in which they falsely gloried, and thought that they had fully discharged their duty, though their conduct was base and detestable.
The city where David dwelt. He now proceeds to the city, which he dignifies with the commendation of its high rank, on the ground of having been formerly inhabited by David, but intending, by this admission, to scatter the smoke of their vanity. Some understand by it the lesser Jerusalem, that is, the inner city, which also was surrounded by a wall; for there was a sort of two-fold Jerusalem, because it had increased, and had extended its walls beyond where they originally stood; but I think that this passage must be understood to relate to the whole city. He mentions David, because they gloried in his name, and boasted that the blessing of God continually dwelt in his palace; for the Lord had promised that “the kingdom of David would be for ever.” (2 Samuel 7:13; Psalms 89:37.)
Hence we may infer how absurdly the Papists, in the present day, consider the Church to be bound to Peter’s chair, as if God could nowhere find a habitation in the whole world but in the See of Rome. We do not now dispute whether Peter was Bishop of the Church of Rome or not; but though we should admit that this is fully proved, was any promise made to Rome such as was made to Jerusalem? “This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.” (Psalms 132:14.) And if even this were granted, do not we see what Isaiah declares about Jerusalem? That God is driven from it, when there is no room for doctrine, when the worship of God is corrupted. What then shall be said of Rome, which has no testimony? Can she boast of anything in preference to Jerusalem? If God pronounces a curse on the most holy city, which he had chosen in an especial manner, what must we say of the rest, who have overturned his holy laws and all godly institutions.
Add year to year. This was added by the Prophet, because the Jews thought that they had escaped punishment, when any delay was granted to them. Wicked men think that God has made a truce with them, when they see no destruction close at hand; and therefore they promise to themselves unceasing prosperity, so long as the Lord permits them to enjoy peace and quietness. In opposition to this assurance of their safety the Prophet threatens that, though they continue to “offer sacrifices,” (253) and though they renew them year by year, still the Lord will execute his vengeance. We ought to learn from this, that, when the Lord delays to punish and to take vengeance, we ought not, on that account, to seize the occasion for delaying our repentance; for although he spares and bears with us for a time, our sin is not therefore blotted out, nor have we any reason to promise that we shall make a truce with him. Let us not then abuse his patience, but let us be more eager to obtain pardon.
(251) “ Il l’appelle Ariel, c’est à dire, autel de Dieu;” — “He calls it Ariel, that is, Altar of God.”
FT509 “Some, with the Chaldee, suppose it to be taken from the hearth of the great altar of burnt-offerings, which Ezekiel plainly calls by the same name; and that Jerusalem is here considered as the seat of the fire of God, la אור אל (ō r ēl,) which should issue from thence to consume his enemies. Compare chap. Isaiah 31:9. Some, according to the common derivation of the word, ארי אל (ă rīēl,) the lion of God, or the strong lion, suppose it to signify the strength of the place, by which it was enabled to resist and overcome all its enemies.” — Lowth. “Jonathan interprets it the altar of the Lord, and Ezekiel also (Ezekiel 43:15) gives it this name. It is so called, on account of the fire of God, which couched like ארי (ă rī,) a lion on the altar. Our Rabbins explain אריאל (ă rīēl) to denote the temple of Jerusalem, which was narrow behind, and broad in front.” — Jarchi. “The greater part of interpreters are agreed, that אריאל (ă rīēl) compounded of ארי (ă rī) and אל (ē l,) denotes the lion of God, or, as Castalio renders it, The Lion — God. But they differ in explaining the application of this name to Jerusalem.” — Rosenmüller. “The meaning of the Prophet, in my opinion, is, that ‘God will make Jerusalem the heart of his anger, which shall consume not only the enemies but the obstinate rebellious Jews.’ This meaning is elegant and emphatic, and agrees well with the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah. Ariel is here taken, in its true signification, not for the altar, but for the hearth of the altar, as in Ezekiel. The import of the name lies here. The hearth of the altar sustained the symbol of the most holy and pure will of God, by which all the sacrifices offered to God must be tried; and to this applies the justice of God, burning like a fire, and consuming the sinner, if no atonement be found. Jerusalem would become the theater of the divine judgments.” — Vitringa. “Isaiah foresees that the city will, in a short time, be besieged by a very numerous army of the Assyrians, and will be reduced to straits, and yet will not be vanquished by those multitudes, but, like a lion, will rise by divine power out of the severest encounters.” — Doederlein
FT510 Instead of “Let them kill sacrifices,” Vitringa’s rendering, in which he has been followed by Lowth, Stock, and Alexander, is, “Let the feasts revolve.” — Ed
FT511 Symmachus, on whom Montfaucon bestows the exaggerated commendation of having adhered closely to the Hebrew text, wherever it differed from the Septuagint, renders the clause, καὶ ἐσταὶ κατώδυνος καὶ ὀδυνωμένη, which has been closely followed by Jerome’s version, “ Et erit tristis ac moerens;” — “And she shall be sad and sorrowful.” — Ed
FT512 In both cases there are two synonyms, תאניה ואניה ( thăănīāh văănīāh,) which are derived from the same root. This peculiarity is imitated by the version of Symmachus quoted above, κατώδυνος καὶ ὀδυνωμένη, and by that of Vitringa, (“ mœstitia et mœror,”) who remarks: “It is somewhat unusual to bring together words of the same termination and derived from the same root, but in this instance it produces an agreeable echo, which convinces me that it must have been frequently employed in poetical writings.” — Ed
FT513 “ Que les ennemis feront en Jerusalem;” — “Which the enemies shall make in Jerusalem.”
FT514 “Like a circle of tents. נדור, ( kăddūr,) like a Dowar; so the Arabs call a circular village of tents, such as they still live in.” — Stock
FT515 “ Qu’ils parleront bas, et comme du creux de la terre;” — “That they will speak low, and as out of the heart of the earth.”
FT516 “And from the dust thou shalt chirp thy words, or, utter a feeble, stridulous sound, such as the vulgar supposed to be the voice of a ghost. This sound was imitated by necromancers, who had also the art of pitching their voice in such a manner as to make it appear to proceed out of the ground, or from what place they chose.” — Stock
FT517 The Septuagint renders it, καὶ ἔσται ὡς κονιορτὸς ἀπὸ τροχοὺ ὁ πλοῦτος τῶν ἀσεβῶν, “and as the small dust from the wheel shall be the multitude of the wicked.” Here it is necessary to attend to the distinction between τρόχος and τροχὸς — Ed
FT518 The military forces of Sennacherib, which shall be fuel for the fire, and shall be reduced to powder.” — Jarchi
FT519 “They shall be destroyed by the pestilential blast Simoom, whose effects are instantaneous. Thevenot describes this wind with all the circumstances here enumerated, with thunder and lightning, insufferable heat, and a whirlwind of sand. By such an ‘angel of Jehovah,’ as it is called below, (Isaiah 37:36,) was the host of Assyria destroyed.” — Stock
FT520 “As a dream, when one thinks that he sees, and yet does not in reality see, so shall be the multitude of nations; they will indeed think that they are subduing the city of Jerusalem, but they shall be disappointed of that hope, they shall not succeed in it.” — Jarchi
FT521 The comparison is elegant and beautiful in the highest degree, well wrought up, and perfectly suited to the end proposed: the image is extremely natural, but not obvious; it appeals to our inward feelings, not to our outward senses, and is applied to an event in its concomitant circumstances exactly similar, but in its nature totally different. For beauty and ingenuity it may fairly come in competition with one of the most elegant of Virgil, (greatly improved from Homer, Iliad, 22:199,) where he has applied to a different purpose, but not so happily, the same image of the ineffectual working of imagination in a dream. Virg. Æn. 12:908. Lucretius expresses the very same image with Isaiah, (iv. 1091.)” — Lowth
FT522 “Cry ye out, and cry, or, Take your pleasure and riot.” — Eng. Ver. “Turn yourselves and stare around.” — Stock. Lowth’s rendering resembles this, but is somewhat paraphrastic, “They stare with a look of stupid surprise.” Professor Alexander’s comes nearer that of Calvin, “Be merry and blind!” — Ed
FT523 “Your prophets, and your rulers (Heb. heads).” — Eng. Ver. Our translators very correctly state that the literal meaning of רשיכם ( rāshēchĕm) is, “your heads.” Calvin treats it as an adjective, “your principal seers.” — Ed
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2. But I will bring Ariel into distress. I think that ו ( vau) should here be taken for a disjunctive conjunction: “And yet I will execute my judgments and take vengeance, though, by delaying them for a time, it may seem as if I had forgiven.” He next threatens that he will give them grief and mourning, instead of the joy of the festivals. אניה (ă nīāh) is viewed by some as an adjective, (254) but improperly; for it is used in the same manner by Jeremiah. (255) (Lamentations 2:5.) He declares that the Lord will reduce that city to straits, that the Jews might know that they had to contend with God, and not with men, and that, though the war was carried on by the Assyrians, still they might perceive that God was their leader.
And it shall be to me as Ariel. This clause would not apply to the Temple alone; for he means that everything shall be made bloody by the slaughter which shall take place at Jerusalem; (256) and therefore he compares it to an “Altar,” on which victims of all kinds are slain, in the same manner as wicked men destined for slaughter are frequently compared to a sacrifice. In short, by alluding here to the word “Altar,” he says, that the whole city shall be “as Ariel,” because it shall overflow with the blood of the slain. Hence it is evident that the outward profession of worship, ceremonies, and the outward demonstrations of the favor of God, are of no avail, unless we sincerely obey him. By an ironical expression he tells hypocrites, (who with an impure heart present sacrifices of beasts to God, as if they were the offerings fitted to appease his anger,) that their labor is fruitless, and that, since they had profaned the Temple and the Altar, it was impossible to offer a proper sacrifice to God without slaying victims throughout the whole city, as if he had said, “There will be carnage in every part.” He makes use of the word “Sacrifice” figuratively, to denote the violent slaughter of those who refused to offer themselves willingly to God.
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3. And I will camp against thee round about. By the word כדור ( kāddūr) (257) he alludes to the roundness of a ball; and the expression corresponds to one commonly used, (“ Je l’environneray,”) “I shall surround it.” Thus he shews that all means of escape will be cut off.
And will lay siege against thee. This alludes to another method of invading the city; for either attacks are made at various points, or there is a regular siege. He confirms the doctrine of the former verse, and shews that this war will be carried on under God’s direction, and that the Assyrians, though they are hurried on by their passions and by the lust of power, will undertake nothing but by the command of God. He reckoned it to be of great importance to carry full conviction to the minds of the Jews, that all the evils which befell them were sent by God, that they might thus be led to enter into an examination of their crimes. As this doctrine is often found in the Scriptures, it ought to be the more carefully impressed on our minds; for it is not without good reason that it is so frequently repeated and inculcated by the Holy Spirit.
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4. Then shalt thou be laid low. He describes scornfully that arrogance which led the Jews to despise all threatenings and admonitions, so long as they enjoyed prosperity, as is customary with all hypocrites. He says therefore, that, when their pride has been laid aside, they will afterwards be more submissive; not that they will change their dispositions, but because shame will restrain that wantonness in which they formerly indulged. We ought therefore to supply here an implied contrast. He addresses those who were puffed up by ambition, carried their heads high, and despised every one, as if they had not even been subject to God; for they ventured to curse and insult God himself, and to mock at his holy word. “This pride,” says Isaiah, “shall be laid low, and this arrogance shall cease.”
And thy voice shall be out of the ground. (258) What he had formerly said he expresses more fully by a metaphor, that they will utter a low and confused noise as out of caverns. (259) The voice of those who formerly were so haughty and fierce is compared by him to the speech of soothsayers, who, in giving forth their oracles out of some deep and dark cave under ground, uttered some sort of confused muttering; for they did not speak articulately, but whispered. He declares that these boasters ( ἀλάζονες) shall resemble them. Some interpret this expression as if the Prophet meant that they will derive no benefit from the chastisement; but the words do not convey this meaning, and he afterwards says that the Jews will be brought to repentance. Yet he first strikes terror, in order to repress their insolence; for they arrogantly and rebelliously scorned all the threatenings of the Prophet. By their being “brought down,” therefore, he means nothing else than that they shall be covered with disgrace, so that they will not dare to utter, as from a lofty place, their proud and idle boastings.
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5. And as the small dust. (260) I shall first state the opinions of others, and afterwards I shall bring forward what I consider to be more probable. Almost all the commentators think that this expression denotes the enemies of the Jews; for they consider “foreigners” to mean “enemies,” and allege that the multitude of those who shall oppress the Jews shall be “like dust;” that is, it shall be innumerable. But when I examine closely the whole passage, I am more disposed to adopt a contrary opinion. I think that the Prophet speaks contemptuously of the garrisons on which the Jews foolishly relied, for they had in their pay foreign soldiers who were strong men.
The multitude of the mighty ones. Such is the interpretation which I give to עריצים ( gnărītzīm), which is also its literal meaning; and I see no reason why some of the Jews should suppose it to mean ungodly or wicked persons. Since, therefore, the Jews brought various garrisons from a distance, they thought that they were well defended, and dreaded no danger. The Prophet threatens that their subsidiary troops, though they were a vast multitude, shall in vain create a disturbance, for they shall be like “dust” or “chaff,” that is, useless refuse, for they shall produce no effect. (261) Hence we ought to infer, that our wealth and resources, however great they are, shall be reduced to nothing, as soon as the Lord shall determine to deal with us as he has a right to do. The assistance of men lasts indeed for a time; but when the Lord shall lift up his hand in earnest, their strength must crumble down, and they must become like chaff.
And it shall be in a moment suddenly. Some explain the concluding clause of this verse to mean, that the noise of the enemies’ attack shall spring up suddenly, and, as it were, in a moment. But I consider והיח, ( vĕhāyāh,) and it shall be, to relate to the time of duration, which he declares will be momentary; that is, those military aids shall not last long, but shall quickly vanish away. (262) In vain do men boast of them, for God is their enemy.
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6. From Jehovah of hosts shalt thou be visited. He next assigns the reason why all this multitude of garrisons shall be “like chaff;” and he expresses this by an opposite metaphor, for with those soldiers he contrasts the anger and “visitation of the Lord.” What is “chaff” to the flame of “a devouring fire?” What is “dust” to the force and violence of a “whirlwind?” He shews that the vengeance of God will be such as all their preparations shall be unable to resist. This meaning, in my opinion, makes the passage to flow easily, and the clauses will not be so well adjusted, if we follow a different interpretation.
Hence we learn that those who assail us can do no more than what the Lord permits them to do. If therefore the Lord determine to save us, the enemies will accomplish nothing, though they raise up the whole world against us. On the other hand, if he determine to chastise us, we shall not be able to ward off his wrath by any force or bulwarks, which shall quickly be thrown down as by a “whirlwind,” and shall even be consumed as by “a flame.”
7. As a dream of a night-vision. This verse also I interpret differently from others; for they think that the Prophet intended to bring consolation to the godly. There is undoubtedly great plausibility in this view, and it contains an excellent doctrine, namely, that the enemies of the Church resemble “dreamers” in this respect, that the Lord disappoints their hopes, even when they think that they have almost gained their object. (263) But this interpretation does not appear to me to agree well with the text. Sometimes it happens that, when a sentence is beautiful, it attracts us to it, and causes us to steal away from the true meaning, so that we do not adhere closely to the context, or spend much time in investigating the author’s meaning. Let us therefore inquire if this be the true meaning of the Prophet.
Since he afterwards proceeds again to utter threatenings, I have no doubt that here he follows out the same subject, which otherwise would be improperly broken off by the present statement. He censures the Jews, and rebukes them for their obstinacy, in boldly despising God and all his threatenings. In short, by a most appropriate metaphor, he reproves them for their false confidence and presumption, when he threatens that the enemies shall arrive suddenly and unexpectedly, while the Jews shall imagine that they are enjoying profound peace, and are very far from all danger; and that the event shall be so sudden and unexpected, that it will appear to be “a dream.” “Although then,” says he, “thou indulgest the hope of uninterrupted repose, the Lord will quickly awake thee, and will drive away thy presumption.”
The Prophet says wittily, that the Jews are “dreaming,” because, in consequence of being drowned in their pleasures, they neither see nor feel anything, but, amidst the dizzy whirl, stupidly fancy that they are happy. Hence he infers that the enemies will come, as in “a dream,” to strike terror into those who are asleep, as it frequently happens that a pleasant and delightful sleep is disturbed by frightful dreams. It follows from this, that the pleasures which have lulled them to sleep will be of no advantage to them; for, though they do not at all think of it, yet a tumult will arise suddenly. This might still have been somewhat obscure, if he had not explained the subject more fully in the following verse.
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8. It shall be therefore as when a hungry man dreameth. He compares the Jews to “hungry men,” who are indeed asleep, but whose empty stomach craves for food; for it is natural for men to dream about food and entertainments when they are in want of them. Thus, while the Jews watched, they were like “hungry men.” The Lord continually warned them by his prophets, and invited them to the divine feasts of the word; but they despised those feasts, and chose rather to take refuge wholly in their vices, and to fall asleep in them, than to partake fully of those sacred feasts. Accordingly, while they quieted their consciences, they imagined that they had abundance of all things, and that they were free from every inconvenience. Isaiah declares that they greatly resemble this “dream” and airy “vision;” for, when they have been aroused by a sudden calamity, they shall feel how empty and insubstantial those “dreams and visions” were, and how false and delusive was the opinion which they had formed that they enjoyed abundance. As “hungry men,” who have had such dreams, are rendered more feeble by them, so the people, who had been falsely persuaded that everything was going on well with them, will endure much greater uneasiness than if they had never cherished in their minds such a thought, but, on the contrary, had been aware of their poverty and nakedness.
So shall be the multitude. At first sight, the expression appears to be harsh, when he says, “The multitude of those who fight against Ariel shall be as a dream;” but it ought to be explained in this manner: — “When the Jews, through false hope, shall promise to themselves deliverance, as if the enemies would be driven far away, they shall quickly feel that they had been deceived; in the same manner as a person whom hunger leads to dream that he is feasting luxuriously, as soon as he awakes, feels that his hunger is keener than before.” I see nothing here, therefore, that is fitted to yield consolation, for the Prophet pursues the same subject, and exclaims against the scorn and rebellion of the Jews, on whom the Prophet could make no impression by exhortation or threatenings. (264)
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9. Tarry and wonder. Isaiah follows out the same subject, and attacks more keenly the gross stupidity of the people. Instead of “tarry,” some render the term, “Be amazed;” but the view which I prefer may be thus expressed: “Though they dwell much and long on this thought, yet it will end in nothing else than that, by long continued thought, their minds shall be amazed.” In short, he means that the judgment of God will so completely overwhelm their minds, that though they torture themselves by thinking and reflecting, still they will be unable to find any outlet or conclusion.
They are drunken, and not with wine. He now assigns the reason why fixed thought does not aid them in conquering their slowness of apprehension. It is, because they resemble drunkards. When, therefore, they neither see nor understand anything in the works of God, he shews that this is owing to their indolence and stupidity. A proof of this is given daily in many persons; for spiritual “drunkenness” engrosses and stupefies all their senses to such a degree, that they are blind to the plainest subjects; and, when God shews the brightest light of justice and equity, they are so completely dazzled, that their dim vision bewilders them more and more. This stupidity is a just punishment which the Lord inflicts on them on account of their unbelief.
In order that we may apply this statement of the Prophet for our own use, it is proper to observe, that these words of the Prophet must not be understood to be commands, as if he enjoined them to stop and think longer; but, on the contrary, he mocks and reproves their stupidity, as we have already said. ( Pensez y tant que vous voudrez, vous n’y entendres rien) “Think as much as you please about it, you will not at all understand it.”
They are blinded, and they blind. (265) He means, that they are destitute of judgment and understanding, and that consequently it is useless for them to contemplate these works of God; for as the brightness of the sun is of no avail to the toad, so a blinded understanding in vain does its utmost to comprehend the majestic works of God. When he says that “they are blinded,” he means that by nature we are created so as to be endued with reason and understanding for contemplating the works of God; that our being “blinded” is, so to speak, an accidental fault, and that the drunkenness does not naturally belong to us, for it is owing to the ingratitude of men, which the Lord justly censures.
They stagger. This “staggering” of the mind is contrasted by him with a calm and quiet exercise of reason; for he means that violence of the passions which agitates the mind, and causes it to waver and reel.
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10. Because Jehovah hath overpowered you with the spirit of slumber. For the purpose of shewing more clearly the source of this blindness, he attributes it to the judgment of God, who determined to punish in this manner the wickedness of the people. As it belongs to him to give eyes to see, and to enlighten minds by the spirit of judgment and understanding, so he alone deprives us of all light, when he sees that by a wicked and depraved hatred of the truth we of our own accord wish for darkness. Accordingly, when men are blind, and especially in things so plain and obvious, we perceive his righteous judgment.
Your prophets and principal seers. (266) He adds, that the people are deprived of those aids and helps which ought to have imparted light to the understanding and given direction to others. (267) Such was the office of the prophets, whom he describes by both of these names, נביאים, ( nēbīīm,) and חזים, ( chōzīm,) “prophets” and “seers.” In short, he means not only that men who are endued with reason and understanding will be deprived of common sense, but that their teachers also, whose duty it was to enlighten others, will be altogether senseless so as not to know the road, and, being covered with the darkness of ignorance, will shamefully go astray, and will be so far from directing others that they will not even be able to guide themselves.
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(267) “ Et monstrer le chemin aux autres;” — “And point out the way to others.”
11. Therefore every vision hath become to you. The Prophet expresses still more clearly what he had formerly said, that the blindness of the Jews will be so great that, though the Lord enlightens them by the clearest light of his word, they will understand nothing. Nor does he mean that this will happen to the common people alone, but even to the rulers and teachers, who ought to have been wiser than others, and to have held out an example to them. (268) In short, he means that this stupidity will pervade all ranks; for both “learned and unlearned,” he declares, will be so dull and stupid as to be altogether dazzled by the word of God, and to see no more in it than in a “sealed letter.” He makes the same statement, but in different words, which he had made in the former chapter, that the Lord will be to them as “precept upon precept, line upon line;” for they will always remain in the first rudiments, and will never arrive at solid doctrine. (Isaiah 28:13.)
In the same sense he now shews that, from the highest to the lowest, they will derive no benefit from the word of God. He does not say that doctrine will be taken away, but that, though it be in their possession, they will not have reason and understanding. In two ways the Lord punishes the wickedness of men; for sometimes he takes away entirely the use of the word, and sometimes, when he leaves it, he takes away understanding, and blinds the minds of men, so that “seeing they do not see.” (Isaiah 6:9.) First, therefore, he deprives them of reading, either by taking away the books through the tyranny of wicked men, as frequently happens, or by a false conviction of men, which leads them to think that the books were not delivered to be read universally by all. Secondly, although he allows them to handle and read the books, yet, because men abuse them, and are ungrateful, and do not look straight to the glory of God, they are blinded, and see no more than if not a single ray of the word had shone upon them. We must not boast, therefore, of the outward preaching of the word; for it will be of no avail unless it produce its fruit by enlightening our minds. It is as if he had said,“
On account of that covenant which he made with your fathers, the Lord will leave to you the tables of that covenant; but they shall be to you ‘a sealed letter,’ for you shall learn nothing from them.” (Deuteronomy 4:20.)
When we see that these things happened to the Jews, as Isaiah threatened, and when we take into view the condition of that people, which God had adopted and separated, it is impossible that we should not altogether tremble at such dreadful vengeance. Though they had been instructed both by the law and by the prophets, and had been enlightened by a light of surpassing brightness, yet they fell into frightful superstitions and shocking impiety; the worship of God was corrupted, all religion was scattered and overthrown, and they were rent and divided into various and monstrous sects. At length, when the Sadducees, the most wicked of them all, held the chief power, when all faith and all hope of a resurrection, and even of immortality, had been taken away, what, I ask, could they resemble but cattle or swine? for what is left to man if the hope of a blessed and eternal life be taken from him?
And yet the Evangelists (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8) plainly tell us that there were such persons when Christ came; for at that time these things were actually fulfilled, as they had been foretold by the Prophet, that we may know that these threatening were not thrown out at random or by chance, and that they did not fail of accomplishment, because at that time they were obstinately and rebelliously despised and scorned by wicked men. At that time, therefore, both their unbelief and their folly were clearly seen, when the true light was revealed to the whole world, that is, Christ, the only light of truth, the soul of the law, the end of all the prophets. At that time, I say, there was, in an especial manner, placed before the eyes of the Jews “that vail which was shadowed out in Moses,” (Exodus 34:30,) whom they could not look at on account of his excessive brightness; and it was actually fulfilled in Christ, to whom it belonged, as Paul tells us, to take away and destroy that vail. (2 Corinthians 3:16.) Till now, therefore, the vail lies on their hearts when they read Moses; for they reject Christ, to whom Moses ought to be viewed as related. In that passage “Moses” must be viewed as denoting the law; and if it be referred to its end, that is, to Christ, that vail will be taken away.
While we contemplate these judgments of God, let us also acknowledge, that he who was formerly the Judge is still the Judge, and that the same vengeance is prepared for those who shall refuse to lend their ear to his most holy warnings. When he expressly names the “learned and unlearned,” (269) it ought to be observed, that we do not understand spiritual doctrine, in consequence of possessing an acute understanding, or having received a superior education in the schools. Learning did not prevent them from being blinded. We ought, therefore, to embrace the word sincerely and earnestly, if we wish to escape this vengeance, which is threatened not only against the ignorant but also against the “learned.”
(268) “ Et monstrer le chemin aux autres;” — “And point out the way to others.”
(269) “The common version, I am not learned, is too comprehensive and definite. A man might read a letter without being learned, at least in the modern sense, although the word was once the opposite of illiterate or wholly ignorant. In this case it is necessary, to the full effect of the comparison, that the phrase should be distinctly understood to mean, I cannot read. ” — Alexander.
FT526 “ Par le jugement de Dieu;” — “By the judgment of God.”
FT528 “ Qui signifie enseigné;” — “Which signifies taught.”
FT529 “ Qu’on renverse tout ordre.”
FT530 “I will proceed to do. (Heb. I will add).” — Eng. Ver.
FT531 “ C’est à dire, Fonisseurs.”
FT532 This corresponds with the English version. — Ed
FT533 In almost all the ancient versions הפככם, ( hŏphchĕchĕm,) generally rendered “your turning,” is construed as the nominative to the verb “shall be.” Modern critics treat it as a separate clause, and exclamation. “Perverse as ye are!” — Lowth. “Perverseness of yours!” — Stock. “Your perversion!” — Alexander. The same meaning had been brought out by Luther, though in a paraphrastic form, Wie seyb ihr so verfehrt ! “How are you so perverse!” — Ed
FT534 This rendering is followed by Lowth and Stock. “Ere Lebanon beams like Carmel. A mashal, or proverbial saying, expressing any great revolution of things, and, when respecting two subjects, an entire reciprocal change.” — Lowth. “And Lebanon shall be turned into a Carmel. That which is now desert shall become a fruitful field, and the reverse. Or, to quit the figure, the poor and illiterate shall change conditions with the great ones and the wise of this world, with respect to happiness, when the gospel shall be promulgated.” — Stock. Jarchi, on the other hand, views “Carmel” as meaning “a fruitful field,” and Alexander regards this point as decided by the use of the article. “That הכרמל ( hăkkărmĕl) is not the proper name of the mountain, may be inferred from the article, which is not prefixed to ‘Lebanon.’” “The mention of the latter,” he adds, “no doubt suggested that of the ambiguous term Carmel, which is both a proper name and an appellative.” — Ed
FT535 “ Ceux qui n’ont point honte de commettre leurs meschancetez devant tous;” — “Those who are not ashamed to commit their acts of wickedness in presence of all.”
FT536 “ Ceux qui se levoyent de matin pour mal faire;” — “They who rose early to do evil.”
FT537 “ Il dit aussi que le juste est renversé sans raison;” — “He says also, that the righteous man is overthrown without any good reason.”
FT538 Both of the above quotations are made inaccurately. The words of Jeremiah are, “He putteth his mouth in the dust,” and of Micah, “They shall lay their hand upon their mouth.” But while the Author, quoting from memory, has altered the words, the passages are exceedingly apposite to his purpose. — Ed
FT539 “ Qu’ils peuvent savoir ce que nous faisons au monde;” — “That they can know what we are doing in the world.”
13. Therefore the Lord saith. The Prophet shews that the Lord, in acting with such severity towards his people, will proceed on the most righteous grounds; though it was a severe and dreadful chastisement that their minds should be stupefied by the hand of God. (270) Now, since men are so fool-hardy and obstinate, that they do not hesitate to contend with him, as if he were unjustly severe, the Prophet shews that God has acted the part of a righteous judge, and that the blame lies wholly on men, who have provoked him by their baseness and wickedness.
Because this people draweth near with their mouth. He shews that the people have deserved this punishment chiefly on account of their hypocrisy and superstitions. When he says that “they draw near with the mouth and the lips, ” he describes their hypocrisy. This is the interpretation which I give to נגש, ( nāgăsh,) and it appears to me to be the more probable reading, though some are of a different opinion. Some translate it, “to be compelled,” and others, “to magnify themselves;” but the word contrasted with it, to remove, (271) which he afterwards employs, shews plainly that the true reading is that which is most generally received.
And their fear toward me hath been taught by the precept of men. By these words he reproves their superstitious and idolatrous practices. These two things are almost always joined together; and not only so, but hypocrisy is never free from ungodliness or superstition; and, on the other hand, ungodliness or superstition is never free from hypocrisy. By the mouth and lips he means an outward profession, which belongs equally to the good and the bad; but they differ in this respect, that bad men have nothing but idle ostentation, and think that they have done all that is required, if they open their lips in honour of God; but good men, out of the deepest feeling of the heart, present themselves before God, and, while they yield their obedience, confess and acknowledge how far they are from a perfect discharge of their duty.
Thus he makes use of a figure of speech, very frequent in Scripture, by which one part or class denotes the whole. He has selected a class exceedingly appropriate and suitable to the present subject, for it is chiefly by the tongue and the mouth that the appearance of piety is assumed. Isaiah therefore includes, also, the other parts by which hypocrites counterfeit and deceive, for in every way they are inclined to lies and falsehood. We ought not to seek a better expositor than Christ himself, who, in speaking of the washing of the hands, which the Pharisees regarded as a manifestation of holiness, and which they blamed the disciples for neglecting, in order to convict them of hypocrisy, says,“
Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you, This people honoureth me with the lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:7.)
With the “lips” and “mouth,” therefore, the Prophet contrasts the “heart,” the sincerity of which God enjoins and demands from us. If this be wanting, all our works, whatever brilliancy they possess, are rejected by him; for “he is a Spirit,” and therefore chooses to be “worshipped” and adored by us “with the spirit” and the heart. (John 4:24.) If we do not begin with this, all that men profess by outward gestures and attitudes will be empty display. We may easily conclude from this what value ought to be set on that worship which Papists think that they render to God, when they worship God by useless ringing of bells, mumbling, wax candles, incense, splendid dresses, and a thousand trifles of the same sort; for we see that God not only rejects them, but even holds them in abhorrence.
On the second point, when God is worshipped by inventions of men, he condemns this “fear” as superstitious, though men endeavour to cloak it under a plausible pretence of religion, or devotion, or reverence. He assigns the reason, that it “hath been taught by men.” I consider מלמדה ( mĕlŭmmādāh) (272) to have a passive signification; for he means, that to make “the commandments of men,” and not the word of God, the rule of worshipping him, is a subversion of all order. (273) But it is the will of the Lord, that our “fear,” and the reverence with which we worship him, shall be regulated by the rule of his word; and he demands nothing so much as simple obedience, by which we shall conform ourselves and all our actions to the rule of the word, and not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
Hence it is sufficiently evident, that those who learn from “the inventions of men” how they should worship God, not only are manifestly foolish, but wear themselves out by destructive toil, because they do nothing else than provoke God’s anger; for he could not testify more plainly than by the tremendous severity of this chastisement, how great is the abhorrence with which he regards false worship. The flesh reckons it to be improper that God should not only reckon as worthless, but even punish severely, the efforts of those who, through ignorance and error, weary themselves in attempts to appease God; but we ought not to wonder if he thus maintains his authority. Christ himself explains this passage, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines, the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9.) Some have chosen to add a conjunction, “teaching doctrines and commandments of men,” as if the meaning had not been sufficiently clear. But he evidently means something different, namely, that we act absurdly when we follow “the commandments of men” for our doctrine and rule of life.
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14. Therefore, behold, I add to do. (274) He threatens that he will punish by blinding not only the ignorant or the ordinary ranks, but those wise men who were held in admiration by the people. From this vengeance we may easily learn how hateful a vice hypocrisy is, and how greatly it is abhorred by God, as the Prophet spoke a little before about human inventions; for what kind of punishment is more dreadful than blindness of mind and stupidity? This indeed is not commonly perceived by men, nor are they aware of the greatness of this evil; but it is the greatest and most wretched of all.
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish. He does not speak of the common herd of men, but of their very leaders, who ought to have been like eyes. The common people in themselves are blind, like the other members of the body; and when the eyes are blinded, what shall become of the rest of the body? “If the light be darkness,” as Christ says, “how great shall be the darkness!” This is added in order to place that vengeance in a more striking light.
Hence also, we may infer how vain and foolish is the boasting of the Papists, who think that they have shut the mouths of all men, when they have brought forward the name of Bishops, or other titles of the same kind, such as Doctors, or Pastors, or the Apostolic See. They have perhaps a different kind of wisdom from that which was possessed by the Jews; but whence did they derive it? They pretend that it came from God; but we see that the Prophet does not speak of the wise men of the Chaldeans or Egyptians, but of the order of priesthood which God had appointed, of the teachers, and chief rulers, and ensign bearers, of the chosen people and of the only Church; for under this term “wise men,” he includes all superior excellence and authority among the people.
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15. Woe to them that conceal themselves from Jehovah. The Prophet again exclaims against those wicked and profane despisers of God, whom he formerly called לצים, ( lētzīm,) “scorners,” who think that they have no other way of being wise than to be skilful in mocking God. They regard religion as foolish simplicity, and hide themselves in their cunning, as in a labyrinth; and on this account they mock at warnings and threatenings, and, in short, at the whole doctrine of godliness. From this verse it is sufficiently evident that the pestilence, which afterwards spread more widely, prevailed even at that time in the world, namely, that hypocrites delighted in mocking inwardly at God, and in despising prophecies. The Prophet therefore exclaims against them, and calls them מעמיקים, ( măgnămīkīm,) that is, “diggers,” (275) as if they “dug” for themselves concealment and lurking-places, that by means of them they might deceive God.
That they may hide counsel. This clause is added for the sake of exposition. Some interpret the beginning of this verse, as if the Prophet condemned that excessive curiosity by which some men, with excess of hardihood, search into the secret judgments of God. But that interpretation cannot be admitted; and the Prophet plainly shews to whom he refers, when he immediately adds the mockeries of those who thought that their wickedness was committed in a manner so secret and concealed, that they could not be detected. The “hiding of counsel” means nothing else than hardihood in wickedness, by which wicked men surround themselves with clouds, and obscure the light, that their inward baseness may not be seen. Hence arises that daring question —
Who seeth us? For, although they professed to be worshippers of God, yet they thought that, by their sophistry, they had succeeded not only in refuting the prophets, but in overturning the judgment of God; not openly, indeed, for even wicked men wish to retain some semblance of religion, that they may more effectually deceive, but in their heart they acknowledge no God but the god which they have contrived. This craftiness, therefore, in which wicked men delight and flatter themselves, is compared by Isaiah to a hiding-place, or to coverings. They think that they are covered with a veil, so that not even God himself can see and punish their wickedness. As rulers are principally chargeable with this vice, it is chiefly to them, in my opinion, that the Prophet’s reproof is directed; for they do not think that they have sufficient acuteness or dexterity, if they do not scoff at God, and despise his doctrine, and, in short, believe no more than what they choose. They do not venture to reject it altogether, or rather, they are constrained, against their will, to hold by some religion; but they do so only as far as they think that they can promote their own convenience, and are not moved by any fear of the true God.
At the present day this wickedness has been abundantly manifested, and especially since the gospel was revealed. Under Popery men found it easy to transact with God, because the Pope had contrived a god who changed himself so as to suit the disposition of every individual. Every person had a different method of washing away his sins, and many kinds of worship for appeasing his deity. Consequently, none ought to wonder that wickedness was not seen at that time, for it was concealed by coverings of that sort; and when these had been taken away, men declared openly what they had formerly been. Yet not less common in our age is the disease which Isaiah bewailed in his nation; for men think that they can conceal themselves from God, when they have interposed their ingenious contrivances, as if “all things were not naked and open to his eyes,” (Hebrews 4:13,) or as if any man could deceive or be concealed from him. For this reason he says, by way of explanation —
For their works are in darkness. He assigns this as the cause of that foolish confidence by which ungodly men are intoxicated. Though they are surrounded by light, they are so slow of perception, that when they do not see it, they endeavour to flee from the presence of God. They even promise to themselves full escape from punishment, and commit sin with as much freedom as if they had been protected and fortified on all sides against God. Such is the import of their question, Who seeth us? Not that wicked men ventured openly to utter these words, as we have said, but because they thus spoke or thus thought in their hearts, which was manifested by their presumption and vain confidence. They abandoned themselves to all wickedness, and despised all warnings, in such a manner as if there would never be a judgment of God. The Prophet, therefore, had to do with ungodly men, who in appearance and name professed to have some knowledge of God, but in reality denied him, and were very bitter enemies of pure doctrine. Now, this is nothing else than to affirm that God is not a Judge, and to cast him down from his seat and tribunal; for God cannot be acknowledged without doctrine; and where that is set aside and rejected, God himself must be set aside and rejected.
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16. Is your turning reckoned like potter’s clay! There are various ways of explaining this verse, and, indeed, there is some difficulty on account of the two particles, אם (ĭ m) and כי ( kī). אם (ĭ m) is often used in putting a question, and sometimes in making an affirmation; and therefore some translate it truly. The word הפך ( hāphăch) is considered by some to mean “turning upside down,” (276) as if he had said, “Shall your turning upside down be reckoned like clay?” Others render it “turning,” that is, the purposes which are formed in the heart. But the most generally received rendering is, “turning upside down” or “destruction.” As if he had said, “I would care no more about destroying you, than the potter would care about turning the clay; for you are like clay, because I have created you with my hand.”
But as the Prophet appears to contrast those two particles אם (ĭ m) and כי ( kī), I am more inclined to a different opinion, though I do not object to the former exposition, which contains a doctrine in other respects useful. My view of it therefore is this, “Shall your turning, that is, the purposes which you ponder in your heart, be like potter’s clay? Is it not as if the vessel said to the potter, Thou hast not formed me? Your pride is astonishing; for you act as if you had created yourselves, and as if you had everything in your own power. I had a right to appoint whatever I thought fit. When you dare to assume such power and authority, you are too little acquainted with your condition, and you do not know that you are men.” (277)
This diversity of expositions makes no difference as to the Prophet’s meaning, who had no other object in view than to confirm the doctrine taught in the preceding verse; for he still exclaims against proud men, who claim so much power to themselves that they cannot endure the authority of God, and entertain a false opinion about themselves, which leads them to despise all exhortations, as if they had been gods. Thus do they deny that God has created them; for whatever men claim for themselves, they take from God, and deprive him of the honour which is due to him.
Only in the first clause would the meaning at all differ; for those who interpret אם (ĭ m) affirmatively, consider this verse to mean, “ Truly, I will destroy you as a potter would break the pot which he had made.” But as the Prophet had to do with proud men, who sought out lurking-places in order to deceive God, I rather view it as a question, “Are you so able workmen that the revolutions of your brain can make this or that, as a potter, by turning the wheel, frames vessels at his pleasure?” Let every person adopt his own opinion: I follow that which I consider to be probable.
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17. Is it not yet a little while? The Lord now declares that he will make those wicked men to know who they are; as if he had said, “You are now asleep in your pride, but I shall speedily awake you.” Men indulge themselves, till they feel the powerful hand of God; and therefore the Prophet threatens that the judgment of God will overtake such profound indifference.
And Lebanon shall be turned into Carmel. (278) Under the names “Lebanon” and “Carmel” he intended to express a renovation of the world and a change of affairs. But as to the object of the allusion, commentators differ widely from each other. As Mount “Lebanon” was clothed with trees and forests, and “Carmel” had fruitful and fertile fields. Many think that the Jews are compared to “Carmel,” because they will be barren, and Christians to “Lebanon,” because they will yield a great abundance of fruits. That opinion is certainly plausible, as men are usually gratified by everything that is ingenious; but a parallel passage, which we shall afterwards see, (Isaiah 32:15), will shew that the Prophet here employs the comparison for the purpose of magnifying the grace of God; for, when he shall again begin to bless his people, the vast abundance of all blessings will take away from “Carmel” the celebrity which it possessed. He therefore threatens that he will turn “Lebanon” into “Carmel,” that is, a forest will become a cultivated field, and will produce corn, and the cultivated fields shall yield so great an abundance of fruits that, if their present and future conditions be compared, they may now be pronounced to be unfruitful and barren. This mode of expression will be more fully explained when we come to consider Isaiah 32:15
Others view “Carmel” as an appellative, but I prefer to regard it as a proper name; for it means that those fruitful fields may now be reckoned uncultivated and barren, in comparison of the new and unwonted fertility. Others explain it allegorically, and take “Lebanon” as denoting proud men, and “Carmel” as denoting mean and ordinary persons. This may be thought to be acute and ingenious, but I choose rather to follow that more simple interpretation which I have already stated. That the godly may not be discouraged, he passes from threatenings to proclaim grace, and declares that when, by enduring for a little the cross laid on them, they shall have given evidence of the obedience of their faith, a sudden renovation is at hand to fill them with joy. And yet, by shutting out the ungodly from this hope, he intimates that, when they are at ease, and promise to themselves peace or a truce, destruction is very near at hand; for, “when they shall say, Peace and Safety,” as Paul tells us, “then sudden destruction will overtake them.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3.)
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18. And in that day shall the deaf hear. He promises that the Church of God, as we have said, shall still be preserved amidst those calamities. Though the world be shaken by innumerable tempests, and tossed up and down, and though heaven and earth shall mingle, yet the Lord will preserve the multitude of the godly, and will raise up his Church, as it were, out of the midst of death. This ought to strengthen in no ordinary manner the faith of the godly; for it is an extraordinary miracle of God that, amidst the numerous and extensive ruins of empires and monarchies, which happen here and there, the seed of the godly is preserved, among whom the same religion, the same worship of God, the same faith, and the same method of salvation, are continued.
And the eyes of the blind shall see. But Isaiah appears here to contradict himself; for formerly he foretold that among the people of God there would be so great stupidity that nobody would understand, and now he says that even “the deaf” shall understand, and “the blind shall see.” He therefore means that the Church must first be chastised and purified, and that not in a common and ordinary way, but in a way so unusual that it will appear to have altogether perished. He therefore says, in that day, that is, after having punished the wicked and purified his Church, not only will he enrich the earth with an abundance of fruits, but, by renewing the face of it, he will at the same time restore “hearing to the deaf” and “sight to the blind,” that they may receive his doctrine. Men have no ears and no eyes, so long as this dreadful punishment lasts; the minds of all are stupefied and confounded, and do not understand anything. When the plagues and distresses shall have come to an end, the Lord will open his eyes, that they may behold and embrace his goodness and compassion.
This is the true method of restoring the Church, when it gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, which we see that Christ also did, not only to the bodies but also to the souls. (John 9:7.) We too have experienced this in our own time, when we have been brought out of the darkness of ignorance, in which we were enveloped, and have been restored to the true light; and eyes have been restored to see, and ears to hear it, which formerly were shut and closed; for the Lord “pierced them,” (Psalms 40:6,) that he might bring us to obey him. The blessing which he promised in the renovation of the earth was indeed a kind of proof of reconciliation; but far more excellent is that illumination of which he now speaks, without which all God’s benefits not only are lost, but are turned to our destruction. Justly does God claim for himself a work so glorious and excellent; because there is nothing for which there is less ground of hope than that the blind should recover sight, and that the deaf should recover hearing, by their own strength. This is evidently promised, in a peculiar manner, to the elect alone; for the greater part of men always continue in their darkness.
19. Then shall the humble again take joy in Jehovah. Such is my translation of this passage, while others render it, “They shall add,” or “continue to rejoice;” for the Prophet describes not a “joy” which is continued but rather a “joy” which is new. As if he had said, “Though they are now distressed and sorrowful, yet I will give them occasion of gladness, so that they shall again be filled with “joy.” He speaks of the “humble;” and hence it ought to be observed that our afflictions prepare us for receiving the grace of God; for the Lord casts us down and afflicts us, that he may afterwards raise us up. Thus, when the Lord corrects his people, we ought not to lose heart, but should recall to remembrance those statements, that we may always hope for better things, and may believe that, after such calamities and distresses, he will at length bring joy to his Church. Yet we again learn from it what I briefly mentioned a little before, that the grace of illumination does not belong indiscriminately to all; for, although all have been chastened together, yet not all have had their hearts subdued by affliction, so as truly to become “poor in spirit,” or “meek.” (Matthew 5:3.)
20. For the violent man is brought to nought. He states more clearly what we have already mentioned in the former verse, namely, that the restoration of the Church consists in this, that the Lord raises up those who are cast down, and has compassion on the poor. But that purification of the Church, of which we have already spoken, is first necessary; for so long as the Lord does not execute his judgment against the wicked, and the bad are mixed with the good, so as even to hold the highest place in the Church, everything is soiled and corrupted, God is not worshipped or feared, and even godliness is trampled under feet. When therefore the ungodly are removed or subdued, the Church is restored to its splendour, and the godly, freed from distresses and calamities, leap for joy.
First, he calls them עריצים, ( gnărītzīm,) “violent.” There are various interpretations of this word; but I think that the Prophet distinguishes between those who are openly wicked, and have no shame, (279) and those who have some appearance of goodness, and yet are not better than others, for they mock at God in their hearts. But perhaps by the two adjectives, “violent” and “scorners,” he describes the same persons; because, like robbers among men, they seize, oppress, treat with cruelty, and commit every kind of outrage, and yet are not withheld by any fear of God, because they regard religion as a fable.
And they who hastened early to iniquity. (280) Under this class he includes other crimes. He speaks not of the Chaldeans or Assyrians, but of those who wished to be reckoned in the number of the godly, and boasted of being the seed of Abraham.
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21. That make a man an offender for a word. We have formerly stated who were the persons with whom the Prophet had to do, namely, with hypocrites and profane scorners, who set at nought all the reproofs and threatenings of the Prophets, and who wished to frame a God according to their own fancy. Such persons, desiring to have unbounded license, that they might indulge freely in their pleasures and their crimes, bore very impatiently the keen reproofs of the prophets, and did not calmly submit to be restrained. On this account they carefully observed and watched for their words, that they might take them by surprise, or give a false construction. I have no doubt that he reproves wicked men, who complained of the liberty used by the prophets, and of the keenness of their reproofs, as if they had intended to attack the people, and the nobles, and the priests; for hence arise the calumnies and false accusations which are brought even against the faithful servants of God. Hence arise those doubtful and ensnaring questions which are spread out as snares and nets, that they may either bring a righteous man into danger of his life, or may practice some kind of deceit upon him. We see that the Pharisees and Sadducees did so to Christ himself. (Matthew 21:23; John 8:6.)
Who have laid a snare for him that reproveth in the gate. This latter clause, which is added for the sake of exposition, does not allow us to interpret the verse as referring generally to calumnies, and other arts by which cunning men entrap the unwary; for now the Prophet condemns more openly those wicked contrivances by which ungodly men endeavor to escape all censure and reproof. As it was “in the gates” that public assemblies and courts of justice were held, and great crowds assembled there, the prophets publicly reproved all, and did not spare even the judges; for at that time the government was in the hands of men whom it was necessary to admonish and reprove sharply. Instead of repenting, as they ought to have done when they were warned, they became worse, and were enraged against the prophets, and laid snares for them; for “they hated,” as Amos says, “him that reproveth in the gate, and abhorred him that speaketh uprightly.” (Amos 5:10.) This relates to all, but principally to judges, and those who hold the reins of government, who take it worse, and are more highly displeased that they should receive such reproofs; for they wish to be distinguished from the rank of other men, and to be reckoned the most excellent of all, even though they be the most wicked.
Who have laid snares. Commentators differ as to the meaning of the word! יקשון, ( yĕkōshūn;) for some render it “have reproved,” and others “have reproached,” as if the Prophet censured the obstinacy of those who resort to slanders, in order to drive reprovers far away from them. But I trust that my readers will approve of the meaning which I have followed.
And have turned aside the righteous man for nothing, that is, when there is no cause. (281) By wicked and deceitful contrivances, they endeavor to cause the righteous to be hated and abhorred by all men, and to be reckoned the most wicked of all; but, after having thus sported with the world, they will at length perish. Such is the consolation which the Lord gives, that he will not suffer the wickedness of the ungodly to pass unpunished, though they give way to mirth and wantonness for a time, but will at length restrain them. Yet “we have need of patience, that we may wait for the fulfillment of these promises.” (Hebrews 10:36.)
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22. Therefore thus saith Jehovah. This is the conclusion of the former statement; for he comforts the people, that they may not despair in that wretched and miserable condition to which they shall be reduced. We ought to observe the time to which those things must relate, that is, when the people have been brought into a state of slavery, the temple overturned, the sacrifices taken away, and when it might be thought that all religion had fallen down, and that there was no hope of deliverance. The minds of believers must therefore have been supported by this prediction, that, when they were shipwrecked, they might still have this plank left, which they might seize firmly, and by which they might be brought into the harbour. We too ought to take hold of these promises, even in the most desperate circumstances, and to rely on them with our whole heart.
To the house of Jacob. The address made to them should lead us to remark, that the power of the word of God is perpetual, and is so efficacious that it exerts its power, so long as there is a people that fears and worships him. There are always some whom the Lord reserves for himself, and he does not allow the seed of the godly to perish. Since the Lord hath spoken, if we believe his word, we shall undoubtedly derive benefit from it. His truth is firm, and therefore, if we rely on him, we shall never want consolation.
Who redeemed Abraham. Not without good reason does he add, that he who now declares that he will be kind to the children of Jacob is the same God “who redeemed Abraham.” He recalls the attention of the people to the very beginning of the Church, that they may behold the power of God, which had formerly been made known by proofs so numerous and so striking that it ought no longer to be doubted. If they gloried in the name of Abraham, they ought to consider whence it was that the Lord first delivered him, that is, from the service of idols, which both he and his fathers had worshipped. (Genesis 11:31; Joshua 24:2.) But on many other occasions he “redeemed” him; when he was in danger in Egypt on account of his wife, (Genesis 12:17,) and again in Gerar, (Genesis 20:14,) and again when he subdued kings, (Genesis 14:16,) and likewise when he received offspring after being past having children. (Genesis 21:2.) Although the Prophet has chiefly in view the adoption of God, when the Lord commanded him to leave “his father’s house,” (Genesis 12:1,) yet under the word “redeemed” he includes likewise all blessings; for we see that Abraham was “redeemed” on more than one occasion, that is, he was rescued from very great dangers and from the risk of his life.
Now, if the Lord raised up from Abraham alone, and at a time when he had no children, a Church which he should afterwards preserve, will he not protect it for ever, even when men shall think that it has perished? What happened? When Christ came, how wretched was the dispersion, and how numerous and powerful were the enemies that opposed him! Yet, in spite of them all, his kingdom was raised up and established, the Church flourished, and drew universal admiration. No one therefore ought to doubt that the Lord exerts his power whenever it is necessary, and defends his Church against enemies, and restores her.
Jacob shall not now be ashamed. He means that it often happens that good men are constrained by shame to hang down their heads, as Jeremiah declares in these words, “I will lay my mouth in the dust.” (Lamentations 3:29.) Micah also says, “It is time that wise men should hide their mouth in the dust.” (Micah 7:16.) (282) For when the Lord chastises his people so severely, good men must be “ashamed.” Now, the Prophet declares that this state of things will not always last. We ought not to despair therefore in adversity. Though wicked men jeer and cast upon us every kind of reproaches, yet the Lord will at length free us from shame and disgrace. At the same time, however, the Prophet gives warning that this favor does not belong to proud or obstinate persons who refuse to bend their neck to God’s chastisements, but only to the humble, whom shame constrains to hang down their heads, and to walk sorrowful and downcast.
It may be asked, Why does he say, “Jacob shall not be ashamed?” For “Jacob” had been long dead, and it might be thought that he ascribed feeling to the dead, and supposed them to be capable of knowing our affairs. (283) Hence also the Papists think that the dead are spectators of our actions. But the present instance is a personification, such as we frequently find in Scripture. In the same manner also Jeremiah says,“
In Ramah was heard the voice of Rachel bewailing her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not;”
for he describes the defeat of the tribe of Benjamin by the wailing of “Rachel,” who was their remote ancestor. (Jeremiah 31:15.)
Isaiah introduces Jacob as moved with shame on account of the enormous crimes of his posterity; for Solomon tells us that “a wise son is the glory of his father and a foolish son brings grief and sorrow to his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1.) Though mothers bear much, still they blush on account of the wicked actions of their children. What then shall be the case with fathers, whose affection for their children is less accompanied by foolish indulgence, and aims chiefly at training them to good and upright conduct? Do they not on that account feel keener anguish, when their children act wickedly and disgracefully? But here the Prophet intended to pierce the hearts of the people and wound them to the quick, by holding out to them their own patriarch, on whom God bestowed blessings so numerous and so great, but who is now dishonored by his posterity; so that if he had been present, he would have been compelled to blush deeply on their account. He therefore accuses the people of ingratitude, in bringing disgrace on their fathers whom they ought to have honored.
(282) Bogus footnote
(283) Bogus footnote
23. Because, when he shall see his children. The particle כי ( kī) is here used in its natural and original meaning of for or because. The Prophet assigns the reason why the disgrace of Israel shall be taken away. It is, because he will have children, and those who were thought to have perished will be still alive.
The work of my hands in the midst of him. By giving them this name, he intended, I have no doubt, to describe the astonishing work of redemption; for those whom God adopts to be his children, and receives into fellowship with himself, are made by him, as it were, new men, agreeably to that saying,“
And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.” (Psalms 102:18.)
In that passage the Psalmist describes in a similar manner the renewal of the Church; for this description, as we have repeatedly stated on former occasions, does not relate to the general creation which extends to all, but leads us to acknowledge his power, that we may not judge of the salvation of the Church by the present appearances of things. And here we ought to observe various contrasts; first, between the ruinous condition of the Church and her surpassing beauty, between her shame and her glory; secondly, between the people of God and other nations; thirdly, between “the works of God’s hands” and the works of men, (for by God’s hand alone can the Church be restored;) and fourthly, between her flourishing condition and the ruinous and desolate state to which she had formerly been reduced. By the phrase, “in the midst of him,” is meant a perfect restoration, by which the people shall be united and joined together in such a manner as to occupy not only the extremities, but the very heart and the chief places of the country.
They shall hallow my name. Last of all, he points out the end of redemption. We were all created, that the goodness of God might be celebrated among us. But as the greater part of mankind have revolted from their original condition, God hath chosen a Church in which his praises should resound and dwell, as the Psalmist says, “Praise waiteth for thee in Zion.” (Psalms 65:1.) Now, since many even of the flock have degenerated, the Prophet assigns this office to believers, whom God had miraculously preserved.
They shall fear the God of Israel. Because hypocrites, as we have formerly seen, honor God with their lips, but are far removed from him in their heart, after speaking of the ascription of praise, he next mentions fear; thus meaning that our praises are reckoned of no value, unless we honestly and sincerely obey God, and unless our whole life testify that we do not hypocritically utter the name of God.
24. Then shall the erring in spirit learn wisdom. He again repeats that promise which he formerly noticed briefly; for so long as the understandings of men shall be struck with ignorance and blindness, even though they enjoy abundance of every kind of blessings, yet they are always surrounded and besieged by ruin. In making preparation for the restoration of the Church, the Lord therefore enlightens by his word, and illuminates by the light of understanding, his own people, who formerly wandered astray in darkness. He does this by the secret influence of the Spirit; for it would be of little value to be taught by the external word, if he did not also instruct our hearts inwardly.
And the murmurers shall learn doctrine. Some commentators translate רוגנים ( rōgĕnīm) “whisperers,” and others, “wanderers.” But it means that those who formerly murmured against the prophets, and could not endure their warnings, would be obedient and submissive; and therefore I have chosen to render it murmurers. Hence we see how wonderful is the mercy of God, who brings back into the path those who were highly unworthy, and makes them partakers of so great blessings. Let us carefully ponder this subject in private. Is there any one of us that has not sometimes “murmured” against God, and despised pure doctrine? Nay, more, if God had not softened the obstinate, and brought them mildly to obey, nearly the whole human race would have perished in their madness.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28