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1. For, behold. We stated, a little before, that this is the same subject which the Prophet began to treat towards the close of the former chapter; for he warns the Jews that their wealth, however great it may be, will be of no avail to prevent the wrath of God, which, when it has once been kindled, will burn up all their defenses. Hence it follows that they are chargeable with excessive madness, when, in order to drive away their alarm, they heap up their forces, strength, and warlike accoutrements, consultations, armor, abundant supply of provisions, and other resources.
The demonstrative particle הנה, ( hinneth,) “behold,” is employed not only to denote certainty, but to express the shortness of time, as if Isaiah caused wicked men to be eye-witnesses of the event; for it frequently happens that they who do not venture openly to ridicule the judgments of God pass them by, as if they did not at all relate to them, or were still at a great distance. “What is that to us?” say they; “Or, if they shall ever happen, why should we be miserable before the time? Will it not be time enough to think of those calamities when they actually befall us?” Since, therefore, wicked men, in order to set at naught the judgments of God, dig for themselves lurking-places of this description, on this account the Prophet presses them more closely and earnestly, that they may not imagine that the hand of God is distant, or vainly expect that it will be relaxed.
The Lord Jehovah of hosts will take away from Jerusalem. This is also the reason why he calls God the Lord and Jehovah of Hosts, that the majesty of God may terrify their drowsy and sluggish minds; for God has no need of titles, but our ignorance and stupidity must be aroused by perceiving his glory. First, the Prophet threatens that the Jews will have the whole produce of the harvest taken from them, so that they will perish through famine. Immediately afterwards he speaks in the same manner about military guards, and all that relates to the good order of the state. Hence we may infer that the Jews boasted of the prosperity which they at that time enjoyed, so as to entertain a foolish belief that they were protected against every danger. But Isaiah threatens that not only the whole country, but Jerusalem herself, which was the invincible fortress of the nation, will be exposed to God’s chastisements; as if he had said, “The wrath of God will not only fall on every part of the body, but will pierce the very heart.”
The power and the strength. (49) As to the words ומשענה משען, ( mashgnen umashgnenah) which differ only in this respect, that one is in the masculine, and the other in the feminine genders, I have no doubt that the Prophet intended by this change to express more fully the certainty that supports of every kind would be broken; and therefore I have translated them the power and the strength (50) I do not agree with those interpreters who view it as referring to the persons of men, for it more appropriately denotes all supports, whatever may be their nature.
Still it is doubtful whether the Prophet limits it to food, or extends it to all other kinds of support, which he mentions immediately afterwards. But it is natural to suppose that by משען ומשענה, ( mashgnen umashgnenah) is included generally everything that is necessary to sustain the order of the city or of the people; and next that, for the sake of explanation, he enumerates some particulars. The first clause therefore means, “God will take away every help and assistance by which you think that you are upheld, so that nothing whatever may be left to support you.”
Next, he adds, what will be their want and nakedness; and he begins, as we have said, with food and nourishment, which hold the first rank in sustaining the life of men. Now there are two ways in which God takes away the strength of bread and water; either when he deprives us of victuals, or when he takes from them the power of nourishing us; for unless God impart to our food a hidden power, the greatest abundance of it that we may possess will do us no good. (Leviticus 26:26.) Hence in another passage God is said to break the staff of bread (Ezekiel 4:16,) when the bakers deliver the bread by weight, and yet it does not yield satisfaction. And this comparison ought to be carefully observed, in order to inform us that, even though the belly be will filled, we shall always be hungry, there being nothing but the secret blessing of God that can feed or support us.
Though the hunger which the Prophet threatens in this passage may be understood to mean that the fields will be unproductive, or, that God will take away from the Jews every kind of food, yet, since the Prophets are generally accustomed to borrow their forms of expression from the law, this interpretation will apply very well. For he might simply have said, “I will take away the bread and wine;” but he expresses something more secret when he speaks of the support of bread and water; as if he had said that, though the people be not reduced to famine, yet God will make them, even while they are rioting in gluttony, to pine with hunger; for when the blessing of God is withdrawn, all its usefulness will vanish away. We may sum it up in this manner, that the people will have no food to strengthen them; either because they will not have bread and water, or, if they have, will derive no advantage from them.
(49) “Heb, ‘the support masculine and the support feminine,’ that is, every kind of support, whether great or small, strong or weak. Al kenitz, wal kanitzan; the wild beast, male and female: proverbially applied both to fishing and hunting; that is, I seized the prey, great or little, good or bad. From hence, as Schultens observes, is explained Isaiah 3:1, literally, the male and female stay; that is, the strong and weak, the great and small.” Chappelow, quoted by Lowth.
(50) Calvin has imitated the Hebrew phrase by the rendering vigorem et vim ; employing two words, of which one is in the masculine and the other in the feminine gender, and both begin with the same letter, while each of them denotes strength. Our English version has imitated the alliteration by stay and the staff — Ed.
2. The strong man, and the man of war He mentions other ends which contribute to the safety and good order either of nations or of cities. Of these he threatens that the Jews will be wholly deprived, so that they will neither have wisdom or bravery at battle, nor military forces abroad. He is not careful to attend to order, but is satisfied with giving a short abridgement, and mixes one subject with another. He begins with men of war, into whose hands was committed the defense of the country. God sometimes takes them away by death, and sometimes by making them soft and effeminate. The latter is more frequent, so that posterity degenerates from the bravery of ancestors, and those who were formerly courageous become, in process of time, cowardly and unfit for war. But we see also that the former sometimes happens, in consequence of which the boldest men suddenly lose heart.
The judge and the prophet. We know that, in the Hebrew language, the word judge stands for every kind of governors; and it is certain that by prophets are meant every kind of teachers. Accordingly, he threatens that the civil government will be set aside, and that instruction will be at an end, and that thus the Jews will be destroyed; and, indeed magistrates and teachers hold the same place in the commonwealth that the two eyes do in the human body.
Aged diviners and old men (51) I consider the same rank as before to be denoted by old men, who are more fit for governing, because age brings along with it prudence, wisdom, and gravity. As to the word diviner, though it is used in a bad sense in Scripture, yet here it appears to be used in a good sense, when Isaiah enumerates those things which contribute to preserve the good order of a city and of a kingdoms. The term might, therefore, be applied to a soothsayer, who divines or penetrates into dark matters, not by omens or superstitious arts, but by extraordinary acuteness and skill. But as God forbade them to consult magicians, soothsayers, and diviners, (Deuteronomy 18:20,) and as Balaam himself declares that there is no divination against Israel, (Numbers 23:23,) I do not quarrel with those who would prefer to use the word diviner as denoting magical divinations; nor will there be any absurdity in enumerating among the punishments of the nation, that it would be deprived also of those aids which were sinful and criminal; for along with the altar and sacrifices Hosea mentions teraphim. (52) (Hosea 3:4.)
The captain of fifty. He employs this term agreeably to the custom which then prevailed; for as the Romans had centurions, or captains of hundreds, so the Jews had captains, or rulers of fifties, which the Greeks call πεντηκοντάρχους, but as that custom did not exist among the Latins, so the name was unknown among them. By persons of venerable aspect (53) he means those whose reputation for bravery gave then influence among the people.
The senator. (54) The word יועף ( yognetz,) for which I have put senator, may be applied to men in private life who are eminent for prudence; but as it is strictly applicable to counsellors, who discharge a public office, I resolved not to depart from the common opinion.
The sinful artificer. Because the mechanical arts are not less advantageous for upholding the prosperity of a nation, and for the support of animal life, Isaiah likewise mentions that, through the want of them, the destruction of the Jews is at hand.
And the eloquent. (55) he word which is placed last in the enumeration has been variously explained by commentators. Literally it means, “skilled in muttering, or in a subdued tone of speech. “Now since the heathen oracles give out their replies by whisperings or in mutterings, some think that the word denotes enchantments. A better exposition is given by those who interpret לחש ( lahash) to mean secret designs; but as a style which is both mysterious and weighty may be not inappropriately denoted by this word, I had no hesitation in rendering it by the word eloquent. Yet if it be thought preferable to view it as denoting wise and cautious men, who, though not qualified for public speaking, give private advices of what may profitably be done, I have no objection.
We must attend to this comprehensive description of a well-regulated state. For Isaiah has placed first corn and other things necessary for bodily support; secondly, military forces; thirdly, skill in governing a nation and the various parts of civil government; fourthly, the prophetical office; and fifthly, the mechanical arts. With these ornaments does God adorn the nations which he intends to render safe and sound; and, on the other hand, he takes them from those nations which he intends utterly to destroy. Let us, therefore, know that everything which we find to be profitable for the support of life flows from the undeserved goodness of God. Hence also there follows another instruction, namely, that we ought to beware lest, by our ingratitude, we deprive ourselves of those excellent gifts of God.
(51) And the prudent and the ancient. — Eng. Ver
(52) “The Prophet,” says Calvin, “seems to speak here of idols, for he afterwards adds teraphim; and teraphim were no doubt images, (Genesis 31:19) which the superstitious used while worshipping their fictitious gods, as we read in many places. The King of Babylon is said to have consulted the teraphim; and it is said that Rachel stole the teraphim, and shortly after Laban calls the teraphim his gods.” Com. on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol 1, p. 130.
(53) The honourable man. — Eng. Ver
(54) The counsellor. — Eng. Ver.
(55) In a marginal reading of the text our author renders this phrase by skilled in mysterious discourse. “The powerful in persuasion.” — Lowth. “The expert dealer in charms.” — Bishop Stock. “ לחש is to whisper or mutter certain words, by which jugglers pretended to charm noxious creatures, and to deprive them of their power of hurting.” — Parkhurst.
4. And I will appoint children to be their princes (56) That the vengeance of God may be more manifest, he now describes how sad and wretched will be the change, when competent and faithful rulers shall be taken from among them and God shall put cowardly and worthless persons in their room. By children are meant not only those who are so by age, but also by mind and conduct, such as delicate and effeminate persons, who are destitute of courage and cannot wield the sword entrusted to them. He does not here carry out the contrast, clause by clause; for he thought it enough to point out one way in which a commonwealth is speedily ruined; that is, when its rulers are weak and foolish men like children, who have no gravity or wisdom. But it must be laid down as a principle, that no man is qualified for governing a commonwealth unless he have been appointed to it by God, and be endued with uncommon excellence. Plato, too, understood this matter well: for though, being a heathen, he had no true knowledge of this kind, yet his quick sagacity enabled him to perceive that no man is fit and qualified for public government which has not been prepared for it by God in an extraordinary measure; for public government proceeds from God alone, and in like manner every part of it must be upheld by him. Besides, they whom the Lord does not govern have nothing left for them but to be children, or rather to be twice children, that is, destitute of all skill and of all wisdom.
Now the Lord executes this vengeance in two ways; because it frequently happens, that when we appear to have those who are grave and skillful in business, no sooner do they come to action than they stumble like blind men, and have no more wisdom than children; for the Lord deprives them of that remarkable ability which they had formerly received from him, and stuns them, as if he had struck them with a thunderbolt. But sometimes the Lord proceeds more gently, and gradually removes men of extraordinary ability, who were fit for ruling, and commits the reins of government to those who were unable to govern a family, or even a single child liken these things happen, it is very certain that destruction is not far off.
Besides, it deserves our notice, as I lately mentioned, that a well-regulated commonwealth is a singular gift of God, when the various orders of judges and senators, soldiers, captains, artificers, and teachers, aid each other by mutual intercourse, and join in promoting the general safety of the whole people. For when the Prophet threatens, and pronounces it to be a very severe punishment, that these things shall be taken away, he plainly shows that those eminent and uncommon gifts of God are necessary for the safety of nations. Accordingly, he here commends the office of magistrates, and captains, and soldiers, and likewise the office of teachers. This deserves our notice in opposition to fanatics, who endeavor to banish from the world the power of using the sword, together with all civil government and order. But the Prophet declares that these things are not taken away or removed unless when God is angry. It follows, therefore, that they who oppose, and, as far as lies in their power, set aside or destroy such benefits, are wicked men and enemies of the public safety.
He likewise commends instruction, without which a commonwealth cannot stand; for, as Solomon says,
where prophecy is not, the nation must be ruined. (Proverbs 29:18.)
At the same time, he commends the mechanical arts, agriculture, manual occupations of every description, architecture, and such like, which we cannot dispense with; for all artisans of every kind, who contribute what is useful to men, are the servants of God, and have the same end in view with those who were formerly mentioned, namely, the preservation of mankind
The same thing must be said about war; for, although lawful, war ought to be nothing else than an attempt to obtain peace; yet sometimes an engagement is unavoidable, that they who have the power of the sword may use it, and defend themselves and their followers by arms. War, therefore, is not in itself to be condemned; for it is the means of preserving the commonwealth. But neither must eloquence be despised; for it is often needed, both in public and in private life, that something may be clearly and fully explained and demonstrated to be true. This is also reckoned among the gifts and important blessings of God, when a state abounds in wise and eloquent men,
who can contend with the adversaries in the gate. (Psalms 127:5.)
This passage may be thus summed up, “When God takes away those gifts, and alters the condition of a people, in whatever way this takes place, either by changing the form of government, or by taking away the rulers, the anger of God ought to be acknowledged;” for, as Hosea says,
He Taketh Away Kings In His Wrath, And Appointeth Them In His Indignation. (Hosea 13:11.)
Let us not, therefore, ascribe these changes to chance or other causes.
(56) And I will give children to be their princes. — Eng. Ver.
5. The people will oppress every man his neighbor He describes the utmost confusion, which was about to overtake the Jews, when order was destroyed or relaxed; and this will happen to all nations, as soon as government is removed or falls to the ground. We know how great is the wantonness of the human mind, when every man is hurried along by ambition and, in short, how furious the lawless passions are when they are laid under no restraint. There is no reason, therefore, to wonder if, when the judgment-seats have been laid low, every man insults his neighbor, cruelty abounds, and licentiousness rages without control. If we considered this wisely, we would set a higher value on the kindness of God, when he preserves us in any tolerable condition, and does not allow us to be lamentably ruined. Hence it is evident that they who direct or apply their minds to sap the foundations of civil government are the open enemies of mankind, or rather, they are in no respect different from wild beasts.
But this confusion described by the Prophet is most disgraceful, that a child shall dare to insult an old man, that the dregs of a low and despised multitude shall rise up against nobles and men of high reputation; for it is the most preposterous of all things that modesty shall be thrown away, so that they who were worthy of veneration shall be treated with contempt. And yet this spectacle, so shameful and revolting, must unavoidably be exhibited when civil government has been overthrown. As to my rendering of the verb נגש ( niggash) in an active sense, to oppress, I was forced to adopt it, for otherwise the meaning of the passage would have been imperfect.
6. When every man shall take hold of his brother As this verse is closely connected with the former, and proceeds without interruption as far as the phrase he shall swear, the particle כי ( ki) is evidently taken for an adverb of time. For Isaiah, intending to express the extreme wretchedness of the people, says that there will be no man who will undertake to govern them, though he were requested to do so. To such an extent unquestionably does ambition prevail among men, that many are always eager to contend for power, and endeavor to obtain it even at the hazard of their lives. In every age the whole world has been convulsed by the desire of obtaining kingly power; and there is not a villain so inconsiderable as not to contain men who willingly undertake to become rulers; and all this proves that man is an animal desirous of honor. Hence it follows that everything is in a deplorable condition, when that dignity is not only despised but obstinately rejected; for the mournful calamity has reached its lowest depth, when that which men naturally desire with the greatest ardor is universally disclaimed.
Isaiah mentions other circumstances of an aggravating nature, tending to show that the Jews will rather lay aside every feeling of humanity and compassion than undertake the office of rulers. If one shall refuse to rule foreign nations, it will not perhaps be thought so wonderful; but when the preservation of brethren is in question, it is excessively unkind to decline the honorable office. It is therefore a proof that matters are utterly desperate, when the office of ruler is disdainfully rejected by that man to whom his kinsmen appeal, by entreating his support and throwing themselves on his protection. Now, since princes are commonly selected on account of their wealth, or, at least, kingly power is not usually bestowed on any who have not a moderate share of riches, lest poverty should lay them open to contempt and reproach, or drive them to unworthy means of gain, he likewise adds this circumstance, that though they are able to bear the burden, still they will not accept of it; as if he had said, “Not only the common people, but also the nobles and the wealthy, decline the task of government.”
The phrase take hold is likewise emphatic, for it means to “lay hands” on a person; as if Isaiah had said that those who shall wish to obtain a prince will not employ flatteries and entreaties, but will proceed with disorder and violence to seize on some person, and endeavor to compel him to occupy the throne.
Let this ruin be under thy hand. This last circumstance is not less weighty. The meaning is, “At least if you have any compassion or humanity, do not fail to aid us in our extreme wretchedness.” For when a multitude of men, like a scattered flock, bewailing with tears their ruinous condition, implore the protection of a shepherd, he who will not stretch out a helping hand must have a heart as hard as iron. Some translate it as if, by a figure of speech, (hypallage,) one word had been put for another, Let thy hand be under this ruin; that is, for the sake of upholding it.
7. In that day shall he swear. The word swear expresses an absolute and vehement refusal; for frequently he who at first excuses himself, or declares that he will not do it, at length yields to entreaty; but he who, in refusing, employs an oath, shuts out all hope, because he gives them to understand that his purpose is firm and decided. Perhaps, too, the phrase in that day, means “ immediately, without any delay, and without long consultation;” but as it may also be viewed demonstratively, ( δεικτικῶς,) as pointing out more fully the time of the calamity, I do not express a strong opinion. The general meaning is obvious, that their ruinous condition will be past remedy.
As to the word חבש, ( chobesh,) though commentators differ in their interpretation of it, yet I cheerfully concur with those who think that the metaphor is here borrowed from surgeons; (57) for nothing can more fully meet the case. It is as if one, to whom application had been made to heal a sick man, should declare that he has no skill in the art of healing, or that the disease is too inveterate to admit of being cured.
The next copulative ו, ( vau,) means for; as if he had said, “And undoubtedly I have not ability to do so.” (58) His meaning therefore is, that the state of affairs will be so desperate, that no man, even when matters are at the worst, will venture to take measures for their defense.
(57) חבש ( chabash) literally signifies to bind I will not be a binder; that is, “I will not be one who binds up your wounds.” Jarchi renders it, “ I will not be a binder, that is, I will not be one of those who bind up.” His annotator, Breithaupt, explains it thus: “that is, who employ any remedy, or apply a plaster, teaching in the school or synagogue what should be done, and what should be avoided.” This accords with the rendering, healer, as in the English version, which is supported by that of Lowth, “I will not be a healer of thy breaches.” — Ed
(58) ובביתי ( ubebethi,) and in my house; that is, for in my house is neither bread nor clothing. — Ed
8. For Jerusalem is ruined. Lest it should be thought that God is excessively cruel, when he punishes his people with such severity, the Prophet here explains briefly the reason of the calamity; as if he had said that the destruction of that ungodly people is righteous, because in so many ways they have persisted in provoking God. And thus he cuts off all ground of complaint; for we know with what insolent fury the world breaks out, when it is chastised with more than ordinary severity. He says that they were ready, both by words and by actions, to commit every kind of crimes. In speaking of their destruction, he employs such language as if it had already taken place; though the past may be taken for the future, as in many other passages.
To provoke the eyes of his glory. This mode of expression aggravates the crime, as denotes that they had intentionally resolved to insult God; for those things which are done before our eyes, if they are displeasing to us, are the more offensive. It is true that wicked men mock God, as if they were able to deceive him; but as nothing, however it may be concealed, escapes his view, Isaiah brings it as a reproach against them, that they openly and shamelessly, in his very presence, indulged in the commission of crimes. The word glory also deserves our attention; for it is a proof of extraordinary madness, if we have no feeling of reverence, when the majesty of God is presented to our view. If God had so illustriously displayed his glory before the nation of Israel, that they ought justly to have been humbled, if they had any remains of shame or of modesty. Whatever, then, may be the murmurings of wicked men against God, or their complaints of his severity, the cause of all the calamities which they endure will be found to be in their own hands.
9. The proof of their countenance will answer in them, or, will answer against them (59) As the Prophet had to do with impudent and brazen-faced hypocrites, who impudently boasted that they were good men; so he says that their countenance testifies what kind of persons they are, and that it will not be necessary to bring witnesses from a distance, in order to prove their wickedness; for to answer means “to bear testimony,” or “to confess.” Although, therefore, they disguise their face and countenance, so that they frequently deceive others, yet God compels them to show and prove what they are; so that, in spite of themselves they carry, as it were, in their forehead a mark of their deceit and hypocrisy.
Some explain it, that their crimes are so manifest that they cannot avoid seeing, as in a mirror, the baseness which they desire to conceal But the former meaning is confirmed by what immediately follows, that they declared their sin in the same manner as the inhabitants of Sodom. By these words he intimates that they devoted themselves to iniquity in such a manner, that they boasted of their transgressions without any shame; as if it had been honorable and praiseworthy in them to trample on every distinction between right and wrong, and not to indulge in every kind of wickedness. On this account he compares them to the inhabitants of Sodom, (Genesis 18:20,) who were so much blinded by their lusts, that they rushed, with brutish stupidity, to everything base. So, then, this is the answer of the countenance, which he mentioned a little before, that they carry about with them plain tokens of impiety, which are abundantly sufficient to prove their guilt.
Woe unto their soul! Here he declares what was formerly mentioned, that the whole cause of their calamities is to be found in themselves; for by their sins and iniquities they provoked the Lord; and consequently that they have no means of evasion, that it is useless to contrive idle pretenses, because the evil itself dwells in their bones; as if he had said, “God cannot be accused, as if he punished you unjustly. Acknowledge that it has been done by yourselves; give glory to a righteous judge and lay the whole blame on yourselves.”
(59) See p. 122.
10. Say, it shall be well with the righteous Before quoting the opinions of others, I shall point out the true meaning As punishments so severe commonly present to pious minds an exceedingly sharp temptation, and especially since hardly any public calamities occur which do not involve good men along with the bad; so the Prophet — at least, in my opinion — reminds them of the providence of God, which never confounds anything, but even, when there is apparent confusion, never ceases to distinguish between good and bad men.
But there are various ways in which this passage is explained; for some render it, “Say to the righteous man, because he is good, therefore he shall eat the fruit of his hands.” From that interpretation this meaning is obtained: “I wish and command the godly to be of good cheer; for with whatever severity I may punish the crimes of the nation, still it shall be well with the godly.” But a more suitable meaning is this: Say; that is, hold it to be a settled point; for in Scripture to say often means to think, and to be convinced; as David writes, I said, I will take heed to thy ways, (Psalms 39:1,) and in a thousand instances of the same kind; so that he does not bid them tell the righteous man, but he bids every man be fully convinced, that happy will be the condition of the righteous man, though he may only appear to be unhappy.
Besides, I consider טוב, ( tob,) to mean a happy and prosperous condition; as in the former verse he employed the word רעה, ( ragnah) with which טוב is now contrasted; and thus I do not think that רעה, ( ragnah,) means wickedness, but a miserable condition. Now since it literally runs, Say to the righteous man, כי טוב : (ki tob,) that it shall be well either the particle כי, ( ki,) has an affirmative sense, as in many other passages, or it appears to be superfluous, though the probability is, that it is intended for confirmation. Surely it shall be well with the righteous man; that is, let every ground of doubt be removed, and let us be fully convinced, that the condition of the righteous man will be most excellent and prosperous. It is difficult to believe this, and therefore it is added, he shall eat the fruit of his doings; that is, he shall not be defrauded of the reward of his good conduct. Others consider to say as meaning to exhort, and render the two words, כי טוב ( ki tob,) that he will do well; but I reject it as a forced interpretation.
11. Woe unto the wicked! It shall be ill with him. He brings forward this clause as a contrast to the former one; from which it may be easily inferred what was the design of the Prophet, namely, to comfort the godly, and to terrify the wicked by the judgment of God. For when an uncommonly severe calamity occurs, which attacks all without discrimination, we doubt whether it be by the providence of God, or, on the contrary, by blind chance, that the world is governed. On this account godly men fear and dread that the same destruction which overtakes the wicked will ruin them also. Others think that it is of no importance whether a man be good or bad, when they see both classes visited by pestilence, war, famine and other calamities. And hence arises the wicked thought, that there is no difference between the rewards of the good and of the bad; and in the midst of these gloomy thoughts carnal appetites lead many to despair.
Accordingly, the Prophet shows that the judgment of God is right, that men may continue to fear God, and may be aware that those who, in the expectation of escape of punishment, provoke God, will not pass unpunished. He likewise exhorts them to ascribe to God the praise of justice; as if he had said, “Think not that blind chance rules in the world, or that God punishes with blind violence, and without any regard to justice, but hold it as a principle fully settled in your minds, that it shall be well with the righteous man; for God will repay him what he hath promised, and will not disappoint him of his hope. On the other hand, believe that the condition of the wicked man will be most wretched, for he brings on himself the evil which must at length fall on his head.”
By these words the Prophet, at the same time, charges the people with stupidity in not perceiving the judgment of God; for they suffered the punishments of their crimes, and yet hardened themselves under them, as if they had been altogether devoid of feeling. Now there cannot befall us anything worse than that we should be hardened against chastisements, and not perceive that God chastiseth us. When we labor under such stupidity, our case is almost hopeless.
12. The oppressors of any people are children (60) Here also is reproved the madness and sottishness of the people, because they shut their eyes at noon-day. There is nothing which men are more reluctant to allow than to have a yoke laid on them; nor do they willingly submit to be governed by nobles. Feeble and cowardly, therefore, must be the minds of those who obey delicate and effeminate men, and permit themselves to be oppressed by them; nor can it be doubted that God has struck with a spirit of cowardice those who offer their shoulders, like asses, to bear burdens. The power of a tyrant must indeed be endured, even by men of courage; but the reproach which Isaiah brings against the Jews is, that while they obstinately shake off the yoke of God, they are ready to yield abject submission to men, and to perform any services, however shameful or degrading.
For the Jews could not complain that they were compelled by violence, when of their own accord they obeyed those whose authority they would gladly have declined. Hence it is evident that they were struck by the hand of God, and were shaken with terror, so that they had no strength either of body or of mind.
This is also the vengeance which God had formerly threatened by Moses; for the general doctrine of Moses, as we have already said, is continually alluded to by the prophets. (61) or how was it possible that men who had the power of resistance should of their own accord undergo a slavery from which they would willingly have escaped, had not God deprived them of understanding and forethought that he might in this manner take vengeance on their crimes? Whenever, therefore, anything of this kind shall befall us; let us not imagine that it came by chance. On the contrary, whenever it shall happen that we are governed by men who are of no estimation, and which are more insignificant than children, let us acknowledge the wrath of the Lord, if we do not choose that the Prophet shall charge us with the grossest stupidity.
They who govern thee (62) He continues to teach the same doctrine, that when God lets loose the reins against the wicked, so as to disturb everything, he shows that he is highly offended at the Jews; for if they had enjoyed his favor, there was reason to hope that his government would be most holy and blessed. At the same time it is probable that the common herd of men were so foolishly devoted to their rulers, that they revered as oracles both their injunctions and their conduct; and hence arose all the corruption that everywhere prevailed. Since, therefore, the contagion was spreading farther without being perceived by the people, Isaiah cries aloud that they ought to guard against the governors themselves, who corrupt and destroy the people.
Others explain it, they who bless thee; but as the participle which he employs may be taken from ישר, ( yashar,) which signifies to rule, I shall rather adopt that interpretation, for it is more agreeable to the context. (63) I do acknowledge that the false prophets flattered the people, but I see no reason why their flatteries should be mentioned here. But it applies very well to the rulers and heads, that they were the cause of the destruction; for as princes are raised to their office for the sake of the public safety, so no plague is more destructive than when they are bad men, and rule according to their own caprice. He says, therefore, that they who rule are the causes of the evils, and that they corrupt everything, since it was their duty to correct other men, and to point out the way by their own example.
(60) As for my people, children are their oppressors. — Eng. Ver
(61) Our author appears to have particularly in his eye, Leviticus 26:36, And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth. — Ed.
(62) They which lead thee. — (Eng. Ver.) The marginal reading is, they which call thee blessed. — Ed.
(63) The reading of the Septuagint is, οἱ μακαρίζοντες ὑμᾶς, they who bless you. Undoubtedly מאשרים comes from אשר, and not from ישר, which in the corresponding participle gives מישרים. From the Kal of אשר, to go, the Pihel, taking a Hiphil meaning, denotes to cause to go, or to lead. Not improbably our Author meant that the one verb borrows one of its meanings from the other; but this would need proof. — Ed
13. Jehovah standeth up to plead So long as wickedness rages without control, and the Lord sends no relief from on high, we think that he is idle and has forgotten his duty. More especially, when the nobles themselves are spared, he appears to grant them liberty to commit sin, as if they were most sacred persons that must not be touched. Accordingly, after having complained of the princes, he adds that the Lord will do what his authority demands, and will not permit such flagrant crimes to pass unpunished. For there is hardly any conduct more offensive, or more fitted to disturb our minds, than when the worst examples of every sort are publicly exhibited by magistrates, while no man utters a syllable against them, but almost all give their approbation. We then ask, Where is God, whose glory, a great part of which, consisting in authority, is taken away, ought to have been illustriously displayed by men of that rank? Isaiah meets this difficulty by saying, “Though the nation is wicked, yet because the princes themselves are very greatly corrupted, and even pollute the whole nation by their vices, God sits as judge in heaven, and will at length call them to account, and assign to every one his reward.” Although he does not exempt the multitude from guilt, yet that the sources of the evils may be known, he particularly attacks the rulers, and threatens them with the punishment which they deserved.
14. The Lord will enter into judgement with the ancients of his people. Formerly he had erected for God a throne from which he might plead. Now he says that he will enter into judgment. How? with the ancients. There might have been a slight allusion to lawful assemblies, in which older men sit as God’s deputies; but I assent to the opinion more commonly entertained, that God contends against the ancients of his people. This passage, therefore, corresponds to the saying of David,
God will stand in the assembly of the gods (Psalms 82:1; (64))
that is, though it may now be thought that princes do everything with impunity, and though there be no one to restrain their caprice and their lawless passions, yet one day they will feel that God is above them, and will render an account to him of all their actions
These reproofs, undoubtedly, the judges of that time were very unwilling to hear. They have no wish, and do not think that it is right, that any one should treat them with such sharpness and severity; for they wish that everything should be at their disposal, that their will should be held as a law, and that they should be allowed to do whatever they choose; that all men ought to flatter and applaud them, and to approve of their very worst actions. They think that no man is a judge of their actions, and do not yield subjection to God himself. Since, therefore, they are so unbridled that they neither endure any advices nor any threatening the Prophet summons them to the judgment seat of God.
And with their princes They are honorably described, by way of acknowledgment, as the chosen princes of the people. This also deserves attention; for they thought that, on account of their rank, they enjoyed a kind of privilege which set them free from the restraints of law, and that though heathen kings and princes might give an account of their actions, they, on the contrary, were sacred persons. They thought, therefore, that they were beyond the reach of all reproof, and ought not to be addressed, like heathen men, by threats and terrors. On this account Isaiah expressly declares, that the Lord will not only call to account every kind of princes, but especially the proud hypocrites to whose care he had committed his people.
And you have destroyed the vineyard (65) The metaphor of a vine is very common, where a nation, and especially the nation of Israel, is the subject. (Psalms 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21.) And by this word the Prophet now shows their crime to be double, because they paid no more regard to the people whom God had loved with extraordinary affection that if they had ruled over a heathen nation. The pronoun you is likewise emphatic; for he addresses the vine-dressers themselves, who, instead of devoting themselves, as they ought to have done, to the cultivation of the vine, devoured it like wild beasts. Accordingly, he represents this to be a great aggravation of their cruelty; for how treacherous was it to destroy what they ought to have preserved and protected? By this comparison the Lord shows how great care he takes of his own people, and how warmly he loves them; not only because the Church is called his vine and inheritance, but by declaring that he will not endure the treachery and wickedness of those who have ruled over it tyrannically.
The spoil of the poor is in your houses. He adds one circumstance, by which the other parts of their life might be known, that they had in their houses the prey and spoil of the poor. Now the palace of princes ought to resemble a sanctuary: for they occupy the dwelling place of God, which ought to be sacred to all. It is, therefore, the grossest sacrilege to turn a sanctuary into a den of thieves. He represents still more strongly their criminality by adding of the poor; for it is the most wicked of all acts of cruelty to plunder a poor and needy man, who cannot defend himself, and who ought rather to have been protected.
(64) Like some other quotations of our Author, this is made from memory, and is not quite accurate. — Ed.
(65) Ye have consumed my vineyard. — Lowth Ye have eaten bare my vineyard. — Stock ̔Υμεῖς δὲ τί ἐνεπυρίσατε τὸν ἀμπελῶνά μου; And why did you burn up my vineyard ? — Sept. “ בער ( bagnar,) in its usual acceptation of burnin g, does not agree with the sense of a passage, which represents people making a profit of what they consume. Understand it, therefore, of clearing away the productions of the soil, as cattle do when they eat down the grass.” — Rosenmuller
15. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces? He mentions also other particulars, from which it is evident that they ruled in a haughty, cruel and oppressive manner. It was not necessary that the Prophet should describe minutely everything deserving reproof in the princes; for from these few circumstances it is evident with what injustice and cruelty and tyranny they ruled. But to whom shall the poor betake themselves but to the magistrate, who ought to be the father of his country and the protector of the wretched? On this account he employs a vehement interrogation, What? as if he had said, “What effrontery is this! What cruelty and barbarity, to abuse the mean condition of the poor, so as to have no compassion on them!” By two comparisons he describes their cruel oppression mingled with pride.
Saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts. That the reproof may have all the weight that it ought to have, he brings forward God as speaking; for there is an implied contrast that these things should not be viewed as coming from the mouth of men, but that the accusation proceeds from God himself, and that he pursues those who are guilty of such injustice, and will at length take vengeance on them. Because those who have been exalted to any kind of honor conduct themselves so haughtily as to disdain every direction and advice, he therefore meets their pride by bringing forward the majesty of God, that they may not venture to despise his earnest and severe threatenings. Yet let us remember that this passage ought not to be understood as if the Prophet were speaking only about the mercy of God; for after having threatened vengeance indiscriminately on all, he particularly mentions those who are their heads, in order to show that no man can escape the arm of God: and here he employs what is called the argument from the greater to the less.” How would the Lord spare the lowest of the people, when he punishes even the princes themselves, because they have destroyed the vineyard?”
16. Because the daughters of Zion are haughty. Next follows another threatening against the ambition, luxury, and pride of women. On these points the Prophet has not followed an exact order, but reproves sometimes one vice and sometimes another, as the subject appears to require, and afterwards sums up what he has said in a few words, as he did in the seventh verse of the first chapter. He therefore pronounces censure on gorgeous robes and superfluous ornaments, which were undoubted proofs of vanity and ostentation. Wherever dress and splendor are carried to excess, there is evidence of ambition, and many vices are usually connected with it; for whence comes luxury in men and women but from pride?
And walk with stretched forth neck. First, then, he justly declares pride to be the source of the evil, and points it out by the sign, that is, by their gait; that the women walk with stretched-forth neck For as it is a sign of modesty to have a down-cast look, (as even heathen writers have declared,) so to have excessively holy looks is a sign of insolence; and when a woman lifts up her head it can betoken nothing but pride. The Prophet certainly acts wisely in beginning at the very fountain; for if he had begun by mentioning signs, such as dress, gait, and matters of that sort, it might have been easy to reply that still the mind was pure and upright; and that if their dress was somewhat too elegant and splendid, that was not a sufficient reason for approaching them with such bitter language, and summoning them to the judgement seat of God. Accordingly, in order to meet their unfounded accusations, he lays open the inward disease, which is manifested in the whole of their outward dress.
And wandering eyes. (66) What he adds about wandering eyes denotes shameless lust, which for the most part is expressed by the eyes; for unchaste eyes are the heralds of an unchaste heart; but the eyes of chaste women are sedate, and not wandering or unsteady.
And make a tinkling with their feet This is a part of the indecent gesture by which wantonness is discovered. But it is not easy to say whether the women wore on their sandals some tinkling ornaments which made a noise as they walked, or whether they imitated the dancing women by a measured step; for the form of dresses since that time has been greatly changed. Yet I readily adopt the interpretation that they made a noise in walking, for this is very plainly expressed by the word employed.
(66) Wanton eyes. Heb. Deceiving with their eyes. — Eng. Ver. “ Leering with their eyes — Nictitantes oculis : from סקר, Chald., oculis vagari . This is Abarbanel’s interpretation, approved of by Parkhurst and Rosenmuller. Bishop Lowth derives משקרות from שקר, to falsify, and translates it, falsely setting of their eyes with paint, according to the eastern fashion of tinting the eyelids, on the inside, black with stibium, called by the natives al-cahol. But the object of the poet in this place is to describe, not ornaments, but affected motions of the body.” — Bishop Stock
17. Therefore will the Lord make bald (67) the crown of the head Here the particle ו, (vau,) which signifies and, is put for therefore; for he threatens that, since neither gentle advices nor any words can reform them, the Lord will deal with them in a very different manner, and will not only employ sharp and severe language, but will advance in dreadful array, with an armed band, to take vengeance. Accordingly, as they had manifested their obstinacy from head to foot, so he declares that the Lord will exhibit the marks of his vengeance in every part of their body. He therefore begins with the head, where ornament is chiefly bestowed, and afterwards takes notice of the other parts.
It is worthy of notice that the Prophet had good reason for reproving, with so great earnestness and vehemence, the luxury of women; for while they are chargeable with many vices, they are most of all inflamed with mad eagerness to have fine clothes. Covetous as they naturally are, still they spare no expense for dressing in a showy manner, and even use spare diet, and deprive themselves of what nature requires, that their clothes may be more costly and elegant. So grievously are they corrupted by this vice, that it goes beyond every other.
History tells us what vast crowds the women brought together on account of the Oppian Law (68) which some wished to maintain, and others to repeal; and that transaction was not conducted with any gravity or moderation in consequence of the crowds of women. But we need not go far to find examples; for they are innumerable in almost every nation, and it is a vice which has been very common in every age. As we are dexterous and sharp-sighted in contriving apologies for defending our luxury and extravagance, the Prophet, on that account, has pointed his finger at the source of all the evils, namely, that mad ambition by which men are hurried along to obtain public notice, and to arrive at eminence above others; for, in order that they may be better known, they wish to outshine their neighbors by the elegance of their dress, that they may draw the eyes of others upon them.
Having pointed to the source of the evil, the Prophet descends to many particulars for the purpose of bringing to public view the fooleries of women, and enumerates a long catalogue of them, to show that, in gathering them together, nothing can exceed the curiosity which dwells in woman. Indeed there is no end to those contrivances; and it was not without reason that the ancients called the collection of a woman’s ornaments a world; (69) for if they were collected into one heap, they would be almost as numerous as the parts of the world. On this account the Prophet appears to search the women’s chests, and to bring into public view the gaudy trifles which they have treasured up in them, that their extravagant delight and boasting of these things may render their idleness and folly more evident to all. There is no superfluity, therefore, in this enumeration, though spread out in many words, by which their lawless desires are proved to be insatiable.
As to the particulars, I shall not stay to explain them, especially as the best Hebrew scholars have doubts about some of them, and cannot distinguish with certainty the forms of those ornaments. It is enough if we understand the general import and design of the Prophet; namely, that he heaps up and enumerates these trifles in order that the prodigious variety of them may disclose their luxury and ambition, so as to leave them without any excuse. It would be the height of impudence to allege that the contrivances made by the childish vanity of women, beyond what nature requires, are necessary for protecting the body. How many things are here enumerated which are not demanded by nature or necessity or propriety! What is the use of chains, bracelets, earrings and other things of the same sort? Hence it is plain enough that a superfluous collection of such ornaments admits of no excuse; that it gives evidence of excessive luxury which ought to be suppressed or restrained; and that frequently they are unchaste contrivances for weakening the mind and exciting lust. We need not wonder, therefore, that the Prophet speaks so sharply, and threatens severe punishments, against this vice.
(67) Smite with a scab. — Eng. Ver.
(68) “The Oppian Law,” so called from the tribune, Caius Oppius, who proposed it, was enacted during the disastrous wars with Hannibal, about 213 years before the Christian era. It was to this effect, “That no woman should wear on her person more than half an ounce of gold, or use garments of variegated colors, or ride in a carriage in any city or town, or within a mile’s distance of one, unless when she was going to observe the public festivals.” This law, though extorted by the hard necessities of the state, was all along regarded by many persons as harsh and tyrannical, and, after producing extraordinary commotions, was overwhelmed by the tide of public opinion. Livy informs us (34:1) that “ladies, not restrained either by modesty or by the authority of their husbands,” and neglecting the privacy which belonged to the customs of that age, assembled in a tumultuous manner, and publicly solicited the votes of the consuls and praetors, and other persons in office, for the repeal of the law. Ultimately their chief opponent was Cato, who spoke with all his ability and eloquence, but with a sternness peculiar to his character, and increased by the nature of the question under discussion. He was overmatched by the tact and resources of Valerius, who brought to his aid a considerable amount of historical information, placed the popular arguments in an advantageous light, and succeeded in obtaining an almost unanimous repeal of the law, when it had been twenty years in force. Our Author immediately afterwards refers to the arguments employed on that occasion. — Ed
(69) In the speech already mentioned, Valerius wittily alludes to this antiquated use of the Latin word mundus ( a world.) “Our ancestors,” he says, “gave to it the appellation of a woman’s world. ” Hunc mundum muliebrem appellarunt majores nostra — Ed.
24. Instead of a sweet smell there shall be stink. It is evident that the country here described abounds in aromatic herbs; and there is no reason to doubt that in pleasant smells, as well as in other matters, they were luxurious. We see that those nations which are farthest removed from the east are not prevented either by distance or by expense from indulging in that kind of luxury. What may be expected to happen in those places where they are abundant? That they will excite lust and promote luxury is beyond all doubt He means, therefore, that ointments and sweet smells were abused by them in a variety of ways; for the sinful desires of men are ingenious in their contrivances, and can never be satisfied.
Instead of a girdle a rent. Others have rendered it a falling off; because the Lord will ungird them. He intends to contrast things which are exceedingly opposite to each other; that as the women formerly were most carefully girt and adorned when they walked, they shall henceforth be torn and naked. He likewise contrasts baldness with curls; because they arranged their hair not in a modest but an extravagant fashion. Again, a belt is contrasted with sackcloth. Whether it was a belt, or some other kind of binding, it is certain that the Prophet meant a girdle, which was held in high estimation. Again, burning is contrasted with beauty; because fashionable ladies hardly venture to expose themselves to the sun’s rays, for fear of being sunburned; and he tells us that this will happen to them. In short, both men and women are instructed to make a sober use of the gifts of Goal, both in food and in clothing, and in the whole conduct of life. For the Lord cannot endure extravagance, and absolutely must inflict severe punishment on account of it; for it cannot be restrained by a lighter chastisement.
25. Thy men shall fall by the sword. He directs his discourse to Jerusalem and to the whole kingdom of Judah; for, after having demonstrated that the whole body is infected with a plague, and that no part of it is free from disease, and after leaving not even spared the women, he returns to the general doctrine. It would be improper that more than one husband should be assigned to one woman. Besides, what immediately follows applies exclusively to this nation. He particularly describes the punishment, that God will bring down by wars the whole strength of the people.
26. Her gates shall mourn and lament. Hence arises the mourning of the gates, which, he threatens, will take place when they have met with their calamities; for he means, that where there were great crowds and multitudes, nothing but a dismal solitude will be found. We know that at that time public meetings were held at the gates; and, therefore, as the gates sometimes rejoice at the multitude of citizens, so they are said to mourn on account of their frightful desolation. And yet I do not deny that he compares Jerusalem to a woman who is sad, and who bewails her widowhood; for it was customary with mourners to sit on the ground, as that nation was in the habit of using ceremonies and outward signs to a greater degree than would be consistent with our customs. But the sum of the matter is that the city will have lost her inhabitants.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29