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1. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad. Here the Prophet describes a wonderful change; for having in the former chapter described the destruction of Idumaea, and having said that it would be changed into a wilderness, he now promises, on the other hand, fertility to the wilderness, so that barren and waste lands shall become highly productive. This is God’s own work; for, as he blesses the whole earth, so he waters some parts of it more lightly, and other parts more bountifully, by his blessing, and afterwards withdraws and removes it altogether on account of the ingratitude of men.
This passage is explained in various ways. I pass by the dreams of the Jews, who apply all passages of this kind to the temporal reign of the Messiah, which they have contrived by their own imagination. Some explain it as referring to Judea, and others to the calling of the Gentiles. But let us see if it be not more proper to include the whole world along with Judea; for he predicted the destruction of the whole world in such terms as not to spare Judea, and not only so, but because “the judgment of God begins at his house or sanctuary,” (1 Peter 4:17,) the singularly melancholy desolation of the Holy Land was foretold, that it might be a remarkable example. Thus beginning appropriately and justly with Judea, he calls the whole world a wilderness, because everywhere the wrath of God abounded; and, therefore, I willingly view this passage as referring to Judea, and afterwards to the other parts of the world. As if he had said, “After the Lord shall have punished the wickedness and crimes of men, and taken vengeance on Jews and Gentiles, the wilderness shall then be changed into a habitable country, and the face of the whole earth shall be renewed.” Now this restoration is a remarkable instance of the goodness of God; for, when men have provoked him by their revolt, they deserve to perish altogether, and to be utterly destroyed, especially they whom he has adopted to be his peculiar people. Isaiah has his eye chiefly on the Jews, that in their distressful condition they may not faint.
Let us now see when this prophecy was fulfilled, or when it shall be fulfilled. The Lord began some kind of restoration when he brought his people out of Babylon; but that was only a slight foretaste, and, therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that this passage, as well as others of a similar kind, must refer to the kingdom of Christ; and in no other light could it be viewed, if we compare it to other prophecies. By “the kingdom of Christ,” I mean not only that which is begun here, but that which shall be completed at the last day, which on that account is called “the day of renovation and restoration,” (Acts 3:21;) because believers will never find perfect rest till that day arrive. And the reason why the prophets speak of the kingdom of Christ in such lofty terms is, that they look at that end when the true happiness of believers, shall be most fully restored.
After having spoken of dreadful calamities and predicted the lamentable ruin of the whole world, the Prophet comforts believers by this promise, in which he foretells that all things shall be restored. This is done by Christ, by whom alone they can be renewed and made glad; for he alone renews everything, and restores it to proper order; apart from him there can be nothing but filth and desolation, nothing but most miserable ruin both in heaven and in earth. But it ought to be carefully observed, that the world needed to be prepared by chastisements of this nature, in order that it might be fit and qualified for receiving such distinguished favor, and that the grace of Christ might be more fully manifested, which would have been concealed if everything had remained in its original state. It was therefore necessary that the proud and fierce minds of men should be east down and subdued, that they might taste the kindness of Christ, and partake of his power and strength.
2. Flourishing it shall flourish. He describes more fully how great, will be the effect of the grace of Christ, by whose power and might those places which had been overgrown with filthy and noxious weeds “flourish” exceedingly and regain their vigor. This repetition is used for the sake of amplification. The doubling of the word “flourish” may be taken in two senses; either to denote the prolongation of time in incessant vegetation; as if he had said, “It shall not flourish with a passing or fading blossom, so as to return immediately to the foul condition in which it once was, but with a continual, uninterrupted, and long-continued bloom, which can never fade or pass away;” or to denote the increase and daily or yearly progress of improvement; for Christ enriches us in such a manner as to increase his grace in us from day to day.
The glory of Lebanon, the beauty of Carmel and Sharon. These metaphors display more fully the fertility already described; for the Prophet is not satisfied with saying that where formerly there was a gloomy wilderness smiling fields will be seen, and that dry places will be clothed with the beauty of flowers, but adds that there will be such luxuriant beauty as “Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon” were celebrated for possessing. Though Carmel denotes a cultivated and fertile field, yet here it is a proper name, like the other two. We have seen in other passages (22) that these mountains were highly celebrated, and throughout the whole of Judea held the undisputed preeminence both for delightfulness and for abundance of fruits.
They shall see the glory of Jehovah. What he had formerly spoken metaphorically he now explains clearly and without a figure. Till men learn to know God, they are barren and destitute of everything good; and consequently the beginning of our fertility is to be quickened by the presence of God, which cannot be without the inward perception of faith. The Prophet undoubtedly intended to raise our minds higher, that we may contemplate the abundance and copiousness of heavenly benefits; for men might be satisfied with bread and wine and other things of the same kind, and yet not acknowledge God to be the author of them, or cease to be wretched; and indeed men are often blinded and rendered more fierce by enjoying abundance. But when God makes himself visible to us, by causing us to behold his glory and beauty, we not only possess his blessings, but have the true enjoyment of them for salvation.
(22) [unclear Commentary on Isaiah, ] [unclear vol 2, pp. 330 ] [unclear and ] [unclear 420 ].
3. Strengthen ye the weak hands. We might explain this passage generally, as if he had said, “Let those who have feeble hands strengthen them, let; them whose knees tremble and totter compose and invigorate their hearts.” But the following verse shews that the whole of this passage relates to the ministers of the word; for he addresses the teachers of the Church, and enjoins them to exhort, arouse, and encourage weak men whose hearts are broken or east down, that they may be rendered more firm and cheerful. This exhortation is seasonably introduced, because he saw that so many tokens of God’s anger, of which he had spoken, could not do otherwise than fill even the strongest minds with alarm and dread; for, seeing that we are always enfeebled by adversity, when God himself proclaims what may be called open war against us on account of our sins, who would not tremble? But the Prophet commands that they who are cast down and almost lifeless shall be enlivened, and the manner of doing it is explained by him in the following verse.
4. Say to them that are faint hearted. That strength of which he spoke is breathed into our hearts by God through his word, as “by faith alone we stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24) and live; and therefore he adds the promise of grace yet to come.
Behold, your God will come. First, it ought to be observed that God does not wish that his grace should remain concealed and unknown, but rather that it should be proclaimed and imparted, that they who totter and tremble may compose and invigorate their hearts. And this is one method by which our hearts may be cheered amidst heavy distresses; for if we are not supported by the word of the Lord, we must faint and despair. This, then, is the office assigned to the teachers of the word, to raise up them that are fallen down, (23) to strengthen the feeble, to upheld the tottering.
We ought also to observe how great is the efficacy of the word in “invigorating the feeble hands and strengthening the tottering knees;” for if it had not been a powerful instrument in communicating this strength, the Prophet would never have spoken in this manner; and, indeed, if God struck only our ears by his word, and did not pierce our hearts, these words would have been spoken in vain. Since, therefore, the Lord assigns this office to the word, let us know that he also imparts this power to it, that it may not be spoken in vain, but may inwardly move our hearts, not always indeed or indiscriminately, but where it pleases God by the secret power of his Spirit to work in this manner. And hence we infer that the same word makes us disposed to obey him; for otherwise we shall be indolent and stupid; all our senses shall fail, and we shall not only waver, but shall be altogether stupified by unbelief. We, therefore, need to receive aid from the Lord, that the removal of our fear and the cure of our weakness may enable us to walk with agility.
Fear not; behold, your God will come. This warning deeply fixed in our minds will banish slothfulness. As soon as men perceive that God is near them, they either cease to fear, or at least rise superior to excessive terror.“
Be not anxious,” says Paul, “for the Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:5.)
On this subject we have spoken largely on other occasions; and the Apostle to the Hebrews appears to allude to this passage, when, after having charged them not to be wearied and faint-hearted, he quotes the words of the Prophet. (Hebrews 12:3.) Yet he directs this discourse to every believer, that they may be excited to perseverance, and because they have many struggles to maintain, may advance steadfastly in their journey. Nor is it superfluous that he adds your God; for if we do not know that he is our God, his approach will produce terror, instead of giving cause of joy. Not the majesty of God, which is fitted to humble the pride of the flesh, but his grace, which is fitted to comfort the fearful and distressed, is here exhibited; and, therefore, it is not without reason float he is represented as a guardian, to shield them by his protection.
If it be objected that he brings terror when he comes to take vengeance, I reply that this vengeance, is threatened against wicked men and enemies of the Church. To the latter, therefore, he will be a terror, but to believers he will be a consolation; and accordingly he adds that he will come to save them, because otherwise it might be objected, “What is it to us if our enemies be punished? What good does it do to us? Must we take delight in the distresses of enemies?” Thus he expressly declares that it will promote our “salvation;” for the vengeance which God takes on wicked men is connected with the salvation of the godly. In what manner the godly are delivered from anxiety and dread by the favor of God and by the expectation of his aid, has been explained at a former passage). (24) (Isaiah 7:4.) At present it ought to be observed, that God is prepared and armed with vengeance, that believers may learn to lean on his aid, and not to fancy some deity unemployed in heaven. Such is also the object of the repetition of the words, “he will come;” because distrust is not all at once banished from the hearts of men.
The end of the verse may either be rendered, God himself will come with a recompense, or He will come with the recompense of God; but as the meaning is the same, the reader may make his choice Yet if it be thought preferable to view אלהים (elohim) as in the genitive case, “of God,” then by “the recompense of God” is emphatically meant that which belongs peculiarly to God, that believers may be fully convinced that he is a “rewarder” as truly as he is God. (25)
(23) “ Fortifler ceux qui sont prests a tomber.” “To support those who are ready to fall.”
(24) Commentary on Isaiah, vol 1, p. 232.
(25) “Vengeance shall come. The meaning is the same as if he had said, ‘God will come in vengeance, or as an avenger.’ Again, the retribution of God shall come against your enemies and deliver you.” — Jarchi. “The construction of the second clause is greatly perplexed by making אלהים (elohim) the subject of יבוא (yabo.) The true construction as given by Junius, Cocceius, Vitringa, and most later writers, makes behold your God an exclamation, and vengeance the subject of the verb.” — Alexander.
5. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened. (26) He continues the promise about the restoration of the Church, in order to encourage the hearts of the godly, who must have been grievously dismayed by the frightful calamities which he foretold. Since a true restoration is accomplished by Christ, we must therefore come to him, if we wish to know the meaning of the words which Isaiah employs in this passage; and indeed it is only by his kindness that we rise again to the hope of a heavenly life. Isaiah probably alludes to a former prediction, (Isaiah 29:10,) in which he threatened against the Jews dreadful blindness, madness, and total stupefaction of the soul. He now promises that, when Christ shalt shine forth, those senses of which they were deprived for a time shall be renovated and brightened to a new life. There is weight in the adverb Then; for we ought to infer from it that, so long as we are alienated from Christ, we are dumb, blind, and lame, and, in short, that we are destitute of all ability to do what is good, but that we are renewed by the Spirit of Christ, so as to enjoy real health.
By the tongue and ears and feet he means all the faculties of our soul, which in themselves are so corrupt that nothing that is good can be obtained from them till they are restored by the kindness of Christ. The eyes cannot see what is right, and the ears cannot hear, and the feet cannot guide us in the right way, till we are united to Christ. Though the senses of men are abundantly acute wherever they are impelled by sinful passions; though the tongue is eloquent for slander, perjury, lying, and every kind of foolish speaking; though the hands are too ready for thefts, extortions, and cruelty; though the feet are swift to do injury; and, in short, though the whole of our nature is not only willing but strongly bent on doing what is evil; yet we are altogether slothful and dull to do what is good, and therefore every part of us must be created anew by the power of Christ, that it may begin to understand aright, to feel, to speak, and to perform its offices; for“
no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3.)
This renewal proceeds from the grace of Christ alone, and, therefore, sound strength is regained by those who are converted to Christ, and who formerly were in all respects useless, and resembled dead men; for, while we are separated from Christ, we either are destitute of everything that is good, or it is so greatly corrupted in us, that it cannot be applied to its proper use, but on the contrary is polluted by being abused. Christ gave abundant proofs and examples of this, when he restored speech to the dumb, eyes to the blind, and perfect strength to the feeble and lame; but what he bestowed on their bodies was only a token of the far more abundant and excellent blessings which he imparts to our souls.
(26) “That is,” says Jarchi, “who have hitherto been blind so as not to know the reverence (or fear) of me upon them.” Or, as explained by his annotator Breithaupt, “Who have hitherto shaken off the yoke of the fear of God, and have not manifested the reverence that is due to God.”
6. For waters shall be dug. He next adds other blessings with which believers shall be copiously supplied, as soon as the kingdom of Christ is set up; as if he had said, that there will be no reason to dread scarcity or want, when we have been reconciled to God through Christ, because perfect happiness flows to us from him. But he represents this happiness to us under metaphorical expressions; and, first, he says that “waters shall be dug;” because, where formerly all was barren, there the highest fertility shall be found. Now, we are poor and barren, unless God bless us through Christ; for he alone, brings with him the blessing of the Father, which he bestows upon us. Wicked men, indeed, have often a great abundance of good things, but their wealth is wretched; for they have not Christ, from whom alone proceeds a true and salutary abundance of all blessings. Death unquestionably would be more desirable than that abundance of wine and of food with which we, at the same time, swallow the curse of God. When, therefore, Christ shall gloriously arise, rivers and waters shall flow out and yield true and valuable advantage.
7. The dry place shall be changed into a pool. He confirms the former statement, that Christ will come in order to enrich his people with all abundance of blessings; for waters shall flow out of “dry places.” (27) We must keep in remembrance what we mentioned a little before, that the Prophet delineates to us what may be called a picture of a happy life; for although this change was not openly visible at the coming of Christ, yet with good reason does the Prophet affirm that, during his reign, the whole earth shall be fruitful; for he had formerly said that without Christ all things are cursed to us.
In the habitation of dragons. The whole world, therefore, shall resemble a parched wilderness, in which lions, “dragons,” and other wild beasts prowl, till the kingdom of Christ shall be set up; and, on the other hand, when he is established on his throne, the godly shall lack nothing. An instance of this was given, when the Lord delivered his people and brought them out of Babylon; but the accomplishment of this prophecy must be looked for in Christ, through whom their ruinous condition is amended and restored; for that deliverance was but a feeble representation of it. And yet the full accomplishment of this promise ought not to be expected in the present life; for as it is through hope that we are blessed, (Romans 8:24,) so our happiness, which is now in some respects concealed, must be an object of hope till the last day; and it is enough that some taste of it be enjoyed in this world, that we may more ardently long for that perfect happiness.
(27) “Instead of the general meaning put upon שרב (sharab,) by the older writers following the Septuagint ( ἄνυδρος) and the Vulgate ( quoe erat arida ) it is now agreed that the word denotes the illusive appearance caused by the unequal refraction in the lower strata of the atmosphere, and often witnessed both at sea and land, called in English, looming, in Italian, (lang. it) fata morgana , and in French, mirage In the deserts of Arabia and Africa, the appearance presented is precisely that of an extensive sheet of water, tending not only to mislead the traveler, but to aggravate his thirst by disappointment. The phenomenon is well described by Quintus Curtius, in his Life of Alexander the Great.” — Alexander. The same view is given by Vitringa, who speaks of it as held by other learned men, and illustrates it very happily. It is also maintained by Rosenmuller, who supports it by curious and instructive extracts from Arabic scholiasts, and from the Koran, and by a host of other authorities. — Ed
8. And a path shall be there. Here it is promised to the Jews that they shall be allowed to return to their native country, lest, when they were carried into Babylon, they should think that they were led into perpetual banishmerit. Yet this statement is, in my opinion, extended much farther by the Prophet; for, as he promised a little before, that there would be plenty and abundance of provisions where there had been barrenness, so now he says that those places where formerly no man dwelt shall be occupied with the.journeys and habitations of a vast multitude of men; and, in short, that the whole of Judea shall enjoy such harmony and peace with other countries, that men shall pass from the one country to the other without fear; for where there are no inhabitants, there can be no intercourse and no roads. He therefore means that the Jews will carry on intercourse and merchandise with other nations, after having been brought back and restored to their own land.
And it shall be called, The holy way. Not without reason does the Prophet add that “the way shall be holy;” for wherever there is a great multitude of men, innumerable vices and corruptions abound. What else is done by a crowd of men than to pollute the land by infecting each other with mutual contagion? The Prophet therefore means that not only the earth, but also the minds of men are renewed by the kindness of Christ, so that they sanctify the earth which they formerly were wont to corrupt by their pollution. Yet what I stated briefly ought to be remembered, that the Jews, to whom the way shall be consecrated, will return to their native country, that they may worship their Redeemer in it in a holy manner; as if he had said that the land will be cleansed from the disgraceful rabble of a wicked people, that it may be inhabited by the true worshippers of God.
The unclean person shall not pass through it. He now adds a more full explanation; for polluted persons shall not tread the land which God hath set apart for his children; as if he had said, that the Lord will separate believers in such a manner that they shall not be mingled with the reprobate. This ought, unquestionably, to be reckoned among the most valuable blessings of the Church; but it is not fulfilled in this life; for both despisers of God and hypocrites rush indiscriminately into the Church and hold a place there. Yet some evidence of this grace becomes visible, whenever God, by various methods, cleanses his Church; but the full cleansing of it must be expected at the last day. Even the worshippers of God, whom he has regenerated by his Spirit, are attended by much uncleanness. Though they have been sanctified by God, yet their holiness cannot be perfect; their flesh is not wholly dead, but subdued and restrained so as to obey the Spirit. Now, it is because the Lord reigns in them, and subdues their natural dispositions, that, on account of that part of them which is the most important, they are called Saints.
And he shall be to them one that walketh in the way. This clause has been tortured in various ways by commentators. Some render it “This shall be their road; they who have been used to the road, and they who are unacquainted with it, shall not go astray.” Others render it, “This shall be the road for the children of Israel, and they who walk shall not go astray, though they be unacquainted with it.” But the demonstrative pronoun הוא, (hu,) he, is more correctly, in my opinion, viewed as referring to God; as if he had said, that God will go before them to lead and direct the way. And the context absolutely demands it; for it would not be enough to have the way opened up, if God did not go before to guide his people. The Prophet therefore extols this inestimable kindness, when he represents God as journeying along with his people; for, if he do not point out the road, our feet will always lead us astray, for we are wholly inclined to vanity. Besides, though the road be at hand, and though it be plain before our eyes, yet we shall not be able to distinguish it from the wrong road, and if we begin to walk in it, our folly will quickly lead us off on the right hand or on the left. But the Prophet shews that we shall be in no danger of going astray, when we shall follow God as the leader of the way; for he condescends to perform this office; and he probably alludes to the history of the first redemption, for at that time God directed his people“
by means of a cloud by day, and of a pillar of fire by night.” (Exodus 13:21.)
At the same time he points out how necessary it is that God should govern us, in directly laying folly to our charge, when he adds —
Fools shall not go astray; for they who are wise in their own eyes, and who rely on their own guidance, will be permitted by God to wander in uncertain courses; and therefore, if we wish that he should walk along with us, let us know that we need his guidance. Yet he offers us this most excellent reward, that they who follow him, even though they did not formerly possess any wisdom, shall be in no danger of going astray. Yet the Prophet does not mean that believers, after the Lord has taken them by the hand, will be ignorant; but he shews what they are before the Lord becomes their leader.
9. There shall not be there a lion. He adds another favor of God, that the people, though they travel through a wilderness, will be protected against every hostile attack. Formerly he mentioned it (Isaiah 34:14) as one of the curses of God, that wild beasts would meet the Jews wherever they went; but now he declares that, when they have been received into favor, no lions and no beasts of prey shall attack them; because the Lord will ward them off, so as to open up a way for his people free from all danger and from all fear. For although they had received liberty to return, yet they might have met with many obstacles; and therefore he says that the Lord will remove every annoyance and obstruction.
We may draw from this a profitable doctrine, namely, that God not only begins, but conducts to the end, the work of our salvation, that his grace in us may not be useless and unprofitable. As he opens up the way, so he paves it, and removes obstacles of every description, and is himself the leader during the whole journey. In short, he continues his grace towards us in such a manner that he at length brings it to perfection. And this ought to be applied to the whole course of our life. Here we walk as on a road, moving forward to that blessed inheritance. Satan presents numerous obstructions, and dangers surround us on every side; but the Lord, who goes before and leads us by the hand, will not leave us in the midst of the journey, but at length will perfectly finish what he has begun in us by his Spirit. (Philippians 1:6.) Yet it ought to be observed that the very beasts, through God’s kindness, shall be tamed, so as not to direct their rage and cruelty against us, as it is said,“
I will make a covenant for you with the fowls of heaven, and with the beasts of prey.” (Hosea 2:18.)
10. Therefore the redeemed of Jehovah shall return. The Prophet confirms the former doctrine, that God hath determined to redeem his people, and therefore that nothing can resist his decree. He calls them “the redeemed of God,” that they may consider his power, and may not estimate by human means the promise which he has made about their return. He says also, that they will come to Zion, because God does not in vain wish to bring them out of Babylon, and to leave them when they have commenced their journey. At the same time, it ought to be observed, that we have no means of entering the Church but by the redemption of God; for under the example of the ancient people, a general representation is placed before our eyes, that we may know that no man is rescued from the tyranny of the devil, to which we are all subject, till the grace of God go before; for no man will redeem himself. Now, since this redemption is a gift peculiar to the kingdom of Christ, it follows that he is our only deliverer, as is also attested by the declaration,“
If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36.)
Yet it is not enough that we have once been redeemed; for the design is, that we should dwell in the Church of God, and make progress from day to day. Since therefore we have been delivered by Christ, we ought to labor with all our might, and continually to strive to gain that end. If it be said that we do not need to perform a long journey, in order to be admitted into the Church of God, (for we are received into it by baptism,) I reply, that here the Prophet discourses metaphorically about the whole course of life; because the time when” the redeemed of God” shall actually “come to Zion,” is when the course of life is closed, and they pass into a blessed life. And it ought also to be observed, that the greater the progress which we make in the grace of God, and the more close our alliance to the Church, the nearer do we approach to Zion.
And they shall obtain joy and gladness. By the words “joy and gladness,” he means that there will be so great happiness under the reign of Christ, that we shall have abundant reason to rejoice. And indeed the true and only ground of rejoicing is, to know that we are reconciled to God, whose favor is sufficient for our perfect happiness, “so that we may glory even in tribulation,” (Romans 5:3;) and, on the other hand, when Christ does not enlighten us, we must, be darkened by sorrow. Besides, it is certain that the godly do not rejoice in a proper manner without also expressing grafftude to God; and therefore this spiritual joy must be distinguished from that ordinary joy in which irreligious men indulge; for the reprobate also rejoice, but their end at length shews how pernicious is the wantonness of the flesh, which leads them to take delight in despising God. This kind of “joy” Paul justly (Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22) calls spiritual; for it does not depend on fading things, such as honor, property, riches, and other things of that nature which quickly perish; but this joy is secret and has its seat in the hearts, from which it cannot be shaken or torn away in any manner, though Satan endeavors by every method to disturb and afflict us; and therefore the Prophet justly adds —
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The joy is everlasting, and all “sadness flees away;” for although many bitter griefs are daily endured by the children of God, yet so great is the power and strength of their consolation, that it swallows up all sorrow. “We glory,” says Paul, “in our tribulations,” (Romans 5:3;) and this glorying cannot be without joy. The Apostles“
departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy of suffering dishonor for the name of Jesus.” (Acts 5:41.)
Yet the godly often suffer heavy distresses, and are not exempt from grief. This is undoubtedly true, but they are not overwhelmed; for they look straight towards God, by whose power they become victorious, just as if a person, elevated on a lofty mountain, looking at the sun, and enjoying his brightness, beheld others in a low valley, surrounded by clouds and darkness, whom that brightness could not reach.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 35". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28