1.Woe to them that go down to Egypt. He again returns to the subject which he had handled at the beginning of the former chapter; for he still cries loudly against the Jews, whose ordinary custom it was, in seasons of danger, to resort, not to the Lord, but to the Egyptians. We have formerly explained why this was so highly displeasing to God. To state the matter briefly, there are two reasons why the Prophet reproves this crime so severely. The first is, because it is impossible for us to place confidence for our salvation in creatures, and at the same time in God; for our eyes must be withdrawn from him as soon as they are directed to them. The second reason is, God had expressly forbidden them to enter into alliance with the Egyptians. (Deuteronomy 17:16.) To sinful confidence was added rebelliousness, as if they had resolved to provide for their safety by despising God, and by disobeying his will.
We must therefore look at the source of this evil, if we wish to understand fully the Prophet’s meaning. There was also a peculiar reason, as we have formerly remarked, why the Lord wished the Jews to have no intercourse with the Egyptians. It was, lest that wicked alliance should obliterate the remembrance of the redemption from Egypt, and lest they should be corrupted by the superstitions and sinful idolatry of the Egyptians. Yet these arguments were regarded by them as of no weight; and, though God had forbidden it, this did not hinder them from continually applying to them for assistance, and imagining that their assistance was a shield which defended them against the arm of God. Consequently, there are good reasons why the Prophet exclaims so earnestly against such madness. Even on the ground that God had forbidden it, their “going down into Egypt” deserved to be severely blamed; but it was still more intolerably criminal, that by false confidence they bestowed on mortal men the glory which was due to God. In order to make it still more clear that in this manner they defraud God of his right, he not only accuses them of having relied on the Egyptians, but likewise brings a charge against them, on the other hand, that
They have not looked to the Holy One of Israel. Here appears more clearly the reason why that treachery of the Jews is so sharply reproved by Isaiah; for in other respects God does not disapprove of our using lawful remedies, just as we eat bread and other kinds of food which were intended for our use. Thus if any person, placed in danger, employ means which were not forbidden, but which are customary and lawful, provided that he do not at all deny the power of God, he certainly ought not to be blamed; but if we are so strongly attached to outward means, that we do not at the same time seek God, and if, through distrust of his promises, we resort to unlawful methods, this is worthy of condemnation and abhorrence.
The word look is frequently employed in Scripture to denote this confidence; for we commonly turn our eyes towards that quarter from which we expect assistance. In a word, we are here taught that we ought to place our trust for salvation in none other than in God alone, that, relying on his promises, we may boldly ask from him whatever is desirable. He undoubtedly permits us to use all things which he intended for our use, but in such a manner that our minds must be entirely fixed on him.
When he calls God “the Holy One of Israel,” he presents in a striking light the wickedness and ingratitude of the people, who, after having been taken under God’s protection and guardianship, despised such a protector and guardian of their salvation, and ran eagerly after their own lusts. By immediately adding, neither have they sought Jehovah, he shews that neither the power, nor the goodness, nor the fatherly kindness of God, could keep them in the discharge of their duty. In the present day, since he invites us not less kindly to come to him, we offer a grievous insult to him if we look to any other, and do not resolve to trust in him alone; and everything that shall turn away and withdraw our minds from God will be to us like “Egypt.”
2.Yet he also is wise. By calling God “wise,” he does not merely bestow on him the honor of an attribute which always belongs to him, but censures the craftiness of those whom he saw to be too much delighted with their own wisdom. He said a little before, (Isaiah 29:15,) that they “dug caves for themselves,” when they thought that, by hidden plans and secret contrivances, they avoided and deceived the eyes of God. He now pours witty ridicule on this madness, by affirming that, on the other hand, wisdom belongs also to God; indirectly bringing against them the charge of believing that they could shut God’s mouth as not knowing their affairs. As if he had said, “What shall become of your wisdom?” Will the effect of it be that God shall cease to be “wise?” On the contrary, by reproving your vanity, he will give practical demonstration that “he taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” (Job 5:13;1 Corinthians 3:19.)
We may draw from this a general doctrine, that they who shelter themselves under craftiness and secret contrivances, gain nothing but to provoke still more the wrath of God. A bad conscience always flees from the judgment of God, and seeks lurking-places to conceal itself. Wicked men contrive various methods of guarding and fortifying themselves against God, and think that they are wise and circumspect, even though they be covered only with empty masks; while others, blinded by their elevated rank, despise God and his threatenings. Thus, by declaring that “God is also wise,” the Prophet wounds them painfully and sharply, that they may not lay claim to so great craftiness as to be capable of imposing on God by their delusions.
He will arise against the house of the evil-doers. As they did not deserve that he should reason with them, he threatens that they shall feel that God has his arguments at his command, for ensnaring transgressors. First, they did not think that God has sufficient foresight, because he did not, according to the ordinary practice of the world, provide for their safety amidst so great dangers, and because they considered all threatenings to be empty bugbears, as if they had it in their power by some means to guard against them. Hence arises their eagerness to make every exertion, and their hardihood to plot contrivances. He therefore threatens that God will take revenge on so gross an insult, and that he has at his command the means of executing what he has promised; and that no schemes, inventions, or craftiness can overthrow the word of God.
Of the workers of vanity. (317) He gives them this appellation, because they wished to fortify themselves against the hand of God by a useless defense; that is, by the unlawful aid of the Egyptians. Formerly, it might be thought that he silently admitted their claim to the appellation of “wise men,” by contrasting them with the wisdom of God; but now he scatters the smoke, and openly displays their shame and disgrace. This teaches us that there is nothing better than to renounce our own judgment, and to submit entirely to God; because all that earnest caution by which wicked men torture themselves has no solidity, but, on the contrary, as if on purpose, provokes the wrath of God by the deceitful contrivances of the flesh.
FT574 “Return to him against whom you have entertained deep thoughts; in the same manner as you revolted, and have still revolted, from him, return now to him.” — Jarchi. Among the commentators who belonged to the Hebrew nation, or wrote in the Hebrew language, Jarchi was probably held, on the ground of the first part of his paraphrase, to support that view which our Author condemns; but the second part of it, beginning with “in the same manner as” approaches very closely to the Reformer’s own words. — Ed
FT575 Piscator and others construe לאשר (lăăshĕr) as equivalent to אשר ממנו אליו, (ēlāiv ăshĕr mĭmmĕnnū,) “to him from whom.” Vitringa does not reject this exposition, which he acknowledges to be supported by an analogous use of מאשר, (mēăshĕr,) in Ruth 2:9; but he pronounces the rendering, “according as.” to be more elegant and probably more correct. Modern critics, however, approve of the meaning given in our common version. “The syntax may be solved either by supposing ‘to him’ to be understood, and giving לאשר (lăăshĕr) the sense of ‘with respect to whom,’ or by assuming that, as both these ideas could be expressed by this one phrase, it was put but once in order to avoid the tautology.” — Alexander. The other mode of resolving the syntax, by bringing out the sense, “to him from whom,” appears to adhere more closely to the usage of the Hebrew language. — Ed
FT576 העמיקו סרה (hĕgnĕmīkūsārāh) literally signifies, “they have deepened revolt;” and Professor Alexander justly remarks that the substitution of the second person for the third, in the ancient versions, and in Barnes, (ye have revolted), is wholly arbitrary. — Ed
FT577 “Enfans rebelles;” — “Rebellious children.”
FT578 “Et pourtant il marque la repentance par les fruits;” — “And therefore he points out repentance by the fruits.”
FT579 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 118
FT580 That is, he does not follow the ancient versions, by viewing it as an adjective, qualifying the word “hands,” — “your sinful hands.” — Ed
FT581 לא איש (lōīsh,) not of a man, that is, of one who is totally different from a man. The word לא (lō) often unites with a substantive, so as to form one word, which shall bear a quite different and even opposite meaning; as תהו לא דרך (tōhūlōdĕrĕch ‘desolation not-a-way,’ that is, ‘an impassable way.’ Psalms 107:40; and לא שם לו, (lōshēm lō,) ‘he shall have not-a-name,’ that is, ‘he shall have public disgrace.’ (Job 18:17.)” — Rosenmüller. “An Hebrew idiom; of one far different from a man, viz., an angel.” — Stock
FT582 “And his young men shall be discomfited. (Heb. for melting or tribute.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT583 “And he shall pass over to his stronghold (or, his strength) for fear, (Heb. his rock shall pass away for fear.” — Eng. Ver.
3.And surely the Egyptian is a man, and not God. It may be thought that Isaiah here brings forward nothing but what is common and beyond all doubt; for who ever imagined that the Egyptians were not “men,” and must be put in the place of “God?” There is indeed no debate on this point, and it is openly acknowledged; but when it is found necessary to reduce it to practice, men are altogether dull of apprehension, or remain uncertain about that which they formerly appeared to know and firmly to believe. They exalt themselves as highly, and claim as much for themselves, as if they did not believe that they are men, and did not think that they ought to obey God. This is the reason why Scripture so frequently warns
“not to trust in men, than whom nothing can be more vain.” (Psalms 146:3.)
“Cursed is he who trusteth in man, and relieth on an arm of flesh.” (Jeremiah 17:5.)
Yet we see both princes and men of ordinary rank contrive and resolve in such a manner as if they could establish for a hundred years all that they contrived, and could subject heaven, sea, and earth, and could regulate and dispose everything according to their will. When we perceive in men such pride and arrogance, we need not wonder that the Prophet exclaims that “the Egyptians are men, and not God;” for the Jews ascribed to them what ought to be ascribed to God, the defense and preservation of the Church, which God claims for himself alone, and does not allow to be given to another. Isaiah therefore indirectly censures that contempt of God and wicked confidence by which they are swelled with pride.
Here we see how great a difference there is between God and men; for men have no power in themselves but what God has granted to them. If we were reasoning about the nature and excellence of man, we might bring forward the singular gifts which he has received from God; but when he is contrasted with God, he must be reduced to nothing; for nothing can be ascribed to man without taking it from God. And this is the reason why we cannot agree with the Papists, when we argue about the cause of salvation, freewill, the value of works, and merits; for since on this subject God is contrasted with man, we must take from God whatever is attributed to man. But they make a division between man and God, so as to assign one part to God, and another part to man; while we say, that the whole and undivided cause of salvation must be ascribed to God, and that no part of it can be attributed to another without detestable sacrilege. In a word, let us learn that in such a contrast nothing worthy of praise can be left for man.
And their horses are flesh and not spirit. By the word flesh he means weakness and frailty; for what is there in “flesh” but corruption? He speaks of “horses,” but to the Egyptians also belongs a weakness of the same or of a kindred nature; as if he had said that they, and all their forces, have nothing that is solid or permanent. Although the Egyptians had a soul as well as a body, yet, so far as they were creatures, and dwelt in a frail tabernacle, they must hold an inferior rank; as if he had said, that they do not possess heavenly or spiritual power; as it is said also in the Psalm,
“Do not trust in princes; for their breath shall go out, and they shall return to their earth.”
So far as relates to “horses,” the word “flesh” applies to them with greater propriety; but it is not wonderful that men are sent to learn from rottenness how frail they are.
As soon as Jehovah shall stretch out his arm. From this threatening we may draw a universal doctrine, that this wickedness shall not pass unpunished; for the Lord will not suffer men with impunity to give to creatures the honor due to him, or to rely on the assistance of men with that confidence which ought to be placed on him alone. He therefore threatens those who shall yield assistance and give occasion to false confidence, as well as those who shall make use of their assistance and rely on it for their safety. And if the Lord cannot endure this wicked confidence, where nothing more than temporal safety is concerned, how much less will he endure those who, in order to obtain eternal salvation, contrive various aids according to their own fancy, and thus elevate the power of men, so as to ascribe to it the place and authority of God.
4.For thus hath Jehovah said to me. The Prophet adds this verse, that it may not be thought that the Lord leaves us destitute of necessary means; for if, while he forbids us to place our confidence in creatures, he did not promise us any assistance, we might complain that he gave ground for despair, and not for consolation; as we saw, a little before, that men are more careful and attentive than they ought to be, because they think that they will be deficient in thoughtfulness, if they rest satisfied with God alone, and abstain from forbidden means. He therefore takes away every excuse, when he promises that he will be a faithful guardian to us; for what pretense can be left, if we despise the salvation which he offers to us of his own accord? It is therefore as if he had said, “The Lord assists, and will assist; he forbids you to ask assistance from the Egyptians.” By comparing himself to a lion, a very powerful animal and keenly bent on prey, he employs a very appropriate comparison, to shew that he is in the highest degree both able and willing to defend us.
In the second part of the comparison, the Prophet dwells largely on the great eagerness with which the Lord takes hold of his people, keeps them near himself, preserves them from being carried off, and defends them against all dangers; while he also points out that strength and power which no arms and no forces can resist. Now, it is impossible that comparisons should hold on every point, nor is it necessary, but they ought to be suitable to the subject which is handled. Since therefore we know that the Lord loves us so much and takes such care of us, must we not be worse than mad if we despise him, and seek other aids, which will not only be useless but destructive to us?
5.As birds that fly. This is the second comparison, by which the Prophet shews how great care the Lord takes of us, and how earnestly he is bent on making us happy. It is taken from birds, which are prompted by astonishing eagerness to preserve their young; for they almost kill themselves with hunger, and shrink from no danger, that they may defend and preserve their young. Moses makes use of the same comparison when, reproaching the people for their ingratitude, he compares the Lord to an eagle
“laying her nest, spreading her wings, and fluttering over her young.” (Deuteronomy 32:11.)
Christ also remonstrates with Jerusalem,
“How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not!”
The sum of this passage is, that the Lord will be sufficiently powerful to defend his people, for whom he has a special love and a peculiar care. What Moses relates that God did, Isaiah promises that he will always do; for he will never forsake those whom he has once received into his favor. Lest any one therefore should imagine that this statement related only to the men of a single age, he expressly declares that God will spread his wings to defend Jerusalem. Nor is it unnecessarily that he mentions not only Mount Zion but its hill; for on that “hill” was built the temple in which God desired that men should call upon him. Wherever therefore the worship of God is pure, let us know that salvation will be certain; for men cannot call upon him in vain.
“Let us be his people, and, on the other hand, he will be our God.” (Leviticus 26:12.)
6.Return. This verse is explained in various ways; for the Hebrew commentators explain it thus, “Return to the Lord, for you have multiplied revolts.” But, in my opinion, the meaning is more simple: “Return according as you have made a deep revolt; (318) for לאשר (lăăshĕr) is, I think, employed in the same sense as כאשר (kăăshĕr), “according as.” (319) He means that the aggravated nature of their wickedness does not shut the door against them from returning to God, if they repent; that, although they have been sunk into the deepest wickedness, still God will pardon them. Yet, at the same time, he makes use of this spur to stimulate them to earnest grief and hatred of their sins, that they may not carelessly and lightly, as frequently happens, aim at a half repentance. He therefore bids them consider attentively with what fearful destruction they have cast themselves down to hell, that they may abhor themselves on account of their aggravated transgressions.
It ought first to be observed, that the Prophet does not lessen the guilt of the people. They who need to be brought back to the Lord must first be made to have a deep and painful conviction of their guilt; for they who flatter themselves in their iniquities are very far from obtaining pardon, and therefore there is nothing better than to lay open the alarming nature of the disease, when a remedy must be applied. Yet, that their hearts may not be led to despair, they must be encouraged and comforted by holding out to them the mercy of God; for Satan aims at nothing else than to cut us off from all hope of pardon. Accordingly, Isaiah declares that, although by their wickedness they have sunk down to hell, God is ready to forgive; for not in vain does the Lord invite us to repentance, but he likewise offers pardon. Hence also, to such exhortations the Scripture always adds promises of grace, that, whenever we are called to repentance, we may know that the hope of pardon is also held out to us.
As you have made a deep revolt. Instead of this rendering, the word עמק, (gnāmăk,) which signifies to be deep, is explained by some as meaning to multiply and the metaphor is supposed to be borrowed from heaps, “As you have heaped up your sins, so return now.” But I prefer the former exposition. סרה (sārāh) signifies “revolt.” Others explain it to mean here “depravity,” but the word “revolt” is more appropriate. The Prophet therefore invites them to return to the Lord. (320)
O children of Israel. In calling them by this name, he does not intend to shew them respect, but reproaches them for their ingratitude; for they were degenerate sons (321) who had revolted from the faith and obedience of their fathers, and therefore this title contains an indirect reproach. Yet he means that the Lord had not forgotten the covenant which he made with their fathers, though they had departed widely from him by their treachery; for he declares, that he will acknowledge them to be “the children of Israel,” and will fulfill all that he promised to Abraham and the other patriarchs, if they return to him with all their heart.
7.For in that day. He continues the subject which he began in the former verse. Yet there is this difference, that in the former verse he exhorted to repentance, but now he points out the fruits of repentance, which, we know, is the customary way of teaching in Scripture; for, since repentance is concealed within us, and has its root in the heart, it must be made known by the practical result, and by works, as “a tree shews by its fruits” (Matthew 7:17) its inherent goodness; and therefore he points out repentance by works which are the fruit of it. (322)
Shall cast away the idols. When he speaks of “idols” only, it is by a figure of speech frequently employed in Scripture, in which a part is taken for the whole; for the Prophet undoubtedly intended to speak of the whole of man’s conversion, but, as it would have been tedious to enumerate all the kinds, under one of them he includes all the rest. Now, the beginning of repentance is the change of the heart; and next we must come to outward fruits, that is, to works. Above all, we must observe the object which the Prophet had in view in discoursing about repentance. It was because the Lord had promised salvation near at hand; and, that they might be capable of it, he exhorts them to repentance. Hence it ought to be observed that, when we persevere in being wicked, we resist God by our wickedness, and thus restrain his grace from assisting us; and, therefore, that the way may be open for God’s assistance, he demands that we shall repent.
He calls them The idols of his silver and the idols of his gold, because, as we have formerly seen, (323) they who sincerely repent are affected by deep grief for their sin, so that the traces of their superstitions, which are stamped with the highest dishonor of God, cannot be beheld by them without the greatest horror. On this account they abhor them, and do not dread the loss of “gold or silver,” to testify their conversion and their faith; for he who has sincerely renounced superstitions does not spare any expense in order to possess the pure worship of God. This is what the Prophet intended to express by calling them “gold and silver” rather than wood and stone. However excellent anything may be, the loss of it is a happy event when we are cleansed from such base and abominable pollutions. Those who retain them, though they profess to be Christians, shew that they are still involved in the remains of superstition; and hence it is evident that their hearts are not truly or completely reformed. In this matter we must listen to none of the excuses which we frequently hear from the lips of hypocrites, who cannot absolutely renounce idolatry, “What could I do? How could I live? I am aware that this revenue, this ‘gold,’ is detestable in the sight of God, because it arises from idolatry; but in some way or other my life must be supported.” Away with such fooleries! say I for where the conversion of the heart is real, that which cannot be retained without insulting or dishonoring God is instantly thrown away.
Which your own hands have made. The Prophet urges them to make a more full acknowledgment of their sin; for, when men are accused, they generally throw the blame on some other person, and do not willingly allow it to fall on themselves, or acknowledge that it is chargeable upon them; in like manner as the common people willingly accuse the priests, but no man is willing to acknowledge his own guilt. The Prophet therefore bids them look to “their own hands,” that they may know that they have committed so great a crime. He reminds them, at the same time, how grossly they have been deceived by their unbelief in making gods to themselves; and hence we ought to conclude that God rejects everything that is of our contrivance, and that he cannot accept as good that worship which has originated with ourselves.
I consider חאט, (chēt,) sin, to be a noun; (324) as if he had said, “Whenever you behold idols, behold your guilt; acknowledge the proofs of your treachery and revolt; and if you are truly converted to God, shew it practically, that is, by throwing away idols and bidding adieu to superstitions; for this is the true fruit of conversion.”
8.Then the Assyrian. The copulative ו (vau) is better translated as an adverb of time: “Then the Assyrian shall fall down;” that is, “When you shall have turned to the Lord, and when your life shall testify a sincere repentance, then the enemy shall fall down;” for, as the Lord raised up the Assyrian to punish the Jews for their crimes, and especially for idolatry, so he promises that the Assyrians shall be brought down, when they shall have ceased to sin and worship idols. Hence he informs us, that our obstinacy is the reason why the Lord adds evil to evil, and doubles his strokes, and pursues us more and more; for we continually supply fresh materials to inflame his vengeance against us more and more. If therefore we wish that God’s chastisements should be less severe, if we wish that the enemies should fall to the ground and perish, let us endeavor to be reconciled to him by repentance; for he will speedily put an end to the chastisement, and will take away from enemies strength and power to injure us.
By the sword not of a man. (325) The Prophet means that the deliverance of the Church is God’s own work, that the Jews may know that, although no earthly power is visible, God’s secret power is sufficient to deliver them. If therefore enemies are subdued, if their rage is restrained, let us know that it proceedeth from the Lord. By various methods, indeed, he represses the force and violence of wicked men, but by his own hand alone he delivers his Church; for, while the Lord makes use of human means, he preserves his own people miraculously and by extraordinary methods, which may be seen to have happened since the beginning of the world, and which we may even now behold, if we are not blind. And yet this does not hinder the Lord from employing his servants to deliver the Church; but he employs them in such a manner that his own hand is peculiarly and illustriously displayed in it.
We know that this prediction of Isaiah was fulfilled when the Assyrian army was destroyed, and Sennacherib was put to flight; for “not by the arm of man” was he destroyed, but the Lord displayed his power, that it might be known that he alone is the deliverer of his Church. (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) By delivering Jerusalem at that time from the siege, God thus exhibited, as in a picture, spiritual redemption. He alone, therefore, will destroy our spiritual enemies. In vain shall we resort to other aids or remedies, or rely on our own strength, which is nothing; but let us have the direction and assistance of God, and we shall come off victorious.
And his young men shall melt away. (326) He means that the power of the Lord displayed against the Assyrians will be so great that the hearts of young men, who in other circumstances are wont to be fierce, shall be altogether softened and melt like wax; for young men, having less experience than old men, are on that account more fierce and impetuous. God will easily restrain such fierceness, when he shall determine to deliver his people from the hands of their enemies. For this reason Isaiah has especially mentioned “young men;” as if he had said, “the very flower or strength.”
9.He shall pass to his stronghold for fear. (327) He now speaks of Sennacherib himself, who, trembling, shall betake himself in base and shameful flight to his “stronghold” or fortress, Nineveh, as to his nest. (2 Kings 19:36.) The Prophet adds that “his princes,” or military officers, whose duty it is to encourage the rest of the soldiers, will be so timid that they shall not venture to join the ranks or await the battle, but shall “flee away from the standard.”
Saith Jehovah, who hath a fire in Zion. At length he declares that he is God’s herald in making this proclamation, that the Jews may not, as they are accustomed to do, dispute or hesitate as to the accomplishment of it, or afterwards forget so great a blessing, and ascribe it to fortune. If we read, as some do, Whose fire is in Zion, the meaning will be, that God has abundance of fiery power to consume his enemies. But I think that the relative אשר (ăshĕr) is redundant, or that it should be rendered in the nominative case, “Who shall be to him a fire;” for God is justly called “a fire,” in reference to the Assyrians, whom he will consume.
When the Prophet calls him “a fire,” some consider it to refer to sacrifices; but such an interpretation appears to me to be feeble and unnatural. I have no doubt that he says either that “the Lord has a fire” to consume the Assyrian, or that “God himself is a fire,” and that he thus makes an implied comparison of the Assyrian to straw or chaff. He says that this “fire” is kindled and kept alive “in Zion and Jerusalem,” that is, in the midst of his people, in order to intimate that the persecution of the Church of God by wicked men shall not pass unpunished; for they shall one day feel that he is their Judge, and shall know by experience that he assists his people, who thought that they had been left without all assistance.
In a word, against wicked men, who have maintained unceasing hostility against the Church, vengeance is prepared; and the Lord will not only avenge himself, but will also avenge his people. Let us therefore enjoy this consolation; and though it may appear as if we were defenceless and exposed to every danger, yet let us be fully convinced that the Lord will be “a fire” to our adversaries.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany