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1. Behold my servant. The Prophet appears to break off abruptly to speak of Christ, but we ought to remember what we mentioned formerly (150) in expounding another passage, (Isaiah 7:14,) that the prophets, when they promise anything hard to be believed, are wont immediately afterwards to mention Christ; for in him are ratified all the promises which would otherwise have been doubtful and uncertain. “In Christ,” says Paul, “is Yea and Amen.” (2 Corinthians 1:20.) For what intercourse can we have with God, unless the Mediator come between us? We undoubtedly are too far alienated from his majesty, and therefore could not be partakers either of salvation or of any other blessing, but through the kindness of Christ.
Besides, when the Lord promised deliverance to the Jews, he wished to raise their minds higher, that they might look for greater and more valuable gifts than bodily freedom and a return to Judea; for those blessings were only the foretaste of that redemption which they at length obtained through Christ, and which we now enjoy. The grace of God in the return of his people would indeed have been imperfect, if he had not, at that time revealed himself as the perpetual Redeemer of his Church. But, as we have already said, the end of the captivity in Babylon included the full restoration of the Church; and consequently we need not wonder if the prophets interweave that commencement of grace with the reign of Christ, for that succession of events is mentioned in ninny passages. We must therefore come to Christ, without whom God cannot be reconciled to us; that is, unless we be received into the number of God’s children by being ingrafted, into his body. It will be evident from what follows, that the Prophet now speaks of Christ as the First-born and the Head, for to no other person could the following statements be applied, and the Evangelists place the matter beyond all controversy. (Matthew 12:17.)
He calls Christ his Servant, ( κατ ἐξοχήν,) by way of eminence; for this name belongs to all the godly, because God has adopted them on the condition of directing themselves and their whole life to obedience to him; and godly teachers, and those who hold a public office in the Church, are in a peculiar manner denominated the servants of God. But there is something still more extraordinary, on account of which this name belongs especially to Christ, for he is called a “Servant,” because God the Father not only enjoined him to teach or to do some particular thing, but called him to a singular and incomparable work which has nothing in common with other works.
Though this name is ascribed to the person, yet it belongs to human nature; for since his divine nature is eternal, and since he has always possessed in it a glory equal and perfectly similar to that of the Father, it was necessary that he should assume flesh in order that he might submit to obedience. Hence also Paul says,“
Though he was in the form of God, he accounted it not robbery to make himself equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,” etc. (Philippians 2:6.)
That he was a servant was a voluntary act, so that we must not think that it detracted anything from his rank. The ancient writers of the Church expressed this by the word “Dispensation,” by which it was brought about, they tell us, that he was subject to all our infirmities. It was by a voluntary determination that he subjected himself to God, and subjected himself in such a manner as to become also of service to us; and yet that exceedingly low condition does not hinder him from still continuing to possess supreme majesty. Hence also the Apostle says that he was “exalted above every name.” (Philippians 2:9.) he employs the demonstrative particle Behold, in order to lead the Jews to regard the event as having actually taken place; for the objects which were before their eyes might have led them to despair, and therefore he bids them turn away their eyes from the actual condition of things and look to Christ.
I will lean upon, him, or, I will uphold him. (151) אתמך (ethmoch) is interpreted by some in an active, and by others in a passive sense. If it be taken in a passive sense, the meaning will be, that God will “lean on” his Anointed in such a manner as to lay the whole charge upon him, as masters commonly do to their faithful servants; and it is a proof of extraordinary fidelity, that God the Father will deliver all things to him, and will put into his hand his own power and authority. (John 13:3.) Yet I do not object to the active signification, “I will raise him up,” or, “I will exalt him,” or, “I will support him in his rank;” for what immediately follows, I will put my Spirit in him, is a repetition of the same sentiment. In the former clause, therefore, he says, I will uphold him, and afterwards describes the manner of “upholding,” that he will direct him by his Spirit, meaning by this phrase that he will assist Christ in all things, and will not permit him to be overcome by any difficulties. Now, it was necessary that Christ should he endued with the Spirit of God, in order to execute that divine office, and be the Mediator between God and men; for so great a work could not be performed by human power.
My elect. In this passage the word Elect denotes “excellent,” as in many other passages; for they who are in the very flower of their age are called chosen youths. (1 Samuel 26:2, and 2 Samuel 6:1.) Jehovah therefore calls him “an excellent servant,” because he bears the message of reconciliation, and because all his actions are directed by God. At the same time he demonstrates his undeserved love, by which he embraced us all in his only-begotten Son, that in his person we may behold an illustrious display of that election by which we have been adopted into the hope of eternal life. Now, since heavenly power dwells in the human nature of Christ, when we hear him speak, let us not look at flesh and blood, but raise our minds higher, so as to know that all that he does is divine.
In whom my soul is well pleased. From this passage we learn that Christ is not only beloved by the Father, (Matthew 3:17,) but is alone beloved and accepted by him, so that there is no way of obtaining favor from God but through the intercession of Christ. In this sense the Evangelists quote this passage, (Matthew 12:18,) as Paul also declares that we are reconciled “in the beloved” in such a manner as to be beloved on his account. (Ephesians 1:6.) The Prophet afterwards shews that Christ will be endued with the power of the Spirit, not solely on his own account, but in order to spread it far and wide.
He will exhibit judgment to the Gentiles. By the word judgment the Prophet means a well-regulated government, and not a sentence which is pronounced by a judge on the bench; for to judge means, among the Hebrew writers, “to command, to rule, to govern,” and he adds that this judgment will be not only in Judea, but throughout the whole world. This promise was exceedingly new and strange; for it was only in Judea that God was known, (Psalms 76:2,) and the Gentiles were shut out from all confidence in his favor. (Ephesians 2:12.)
These clear proofs were therefore exceedingly needful for us, that we might be certain of our calling; for otherwise we might think that these promises did not at all belong to us. Christ was sent in order to bring the whole world under the authority of God and obedience to him; and this shows that without him everything is confused and disordered. Before he comes to us, there can be no proper government amongst us; and therefore we must learn to submit to him, if we desire to be well and justly governed. Now, we ought to judge of this government from the nature of his kingdom, which is not external, but belongs to the inner man; for it consists of a good conscience and uprightness of life, not what is so reckoned before men, but what is so reckoned before God. The doctrine may be thus summed up: “Because the whole life of men has been perverted since we were corrupted in every respect by the fall of Adam, Christ came with the heavenly power of his Spirit, that he might change our disposition, and thus form us again to ‘newness of life.’” (Romans 6:4.)
(150) Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 246.
(151) The former is found in the text of our author’s version, and the latter in his marginal reading. — Ed.
2. He shall not cry aloud. The Prophet shews of what nature the coming of Christ will be; that is, without pomp or splendor, such as commonly attends earthly kings, at whose arrival there are uttered various noises and loud cries, as if heaven and earth were about to mingle. But Isaiah says that Christ will come without any noise or cry; and that not only for the sake of applauding his modesty, but, first, that we may not form any earthly conception of him; secondly, that, having known his kindness by which he draws us to him, we may cheerfully hasten to meet him; and, lastly, that our faith may not languish, though his condition be mean and despicable.
He shall not lift up his voice; that is, he shall create no disturbance; as we commonly say of a quiet and peaceable man, “He makes no great noise.” (152) And indeed he did not boast of himself to the people, but frequently forbade them to publish his miracles, that all might learn that his power and authority was widely different from that which kings or princes obtain, by causing themselves to be loudly spoken of in order to gain the applause of the multitude. (Matthew 8:4; Mark 5:43; Luke 8:56.)
(152) “ Il ne fait pas grand bruit.”
3. A bruised reed he shall not break. After having declared in general that Christ will be unlike earthly princes, he next mentions his mildness in this respect, that he will support the weak and feeble. This is what he means by the metaphor of “the bruised reed,” that he does not wish to break off and altogether crush those who are half-broken, but, on the contrary, to lift up and support them, so as to maintain and strengthen all that is good in them.
Nor will he quench the smoking flax. This metaphor is of the same import with the former, and is borrowed from the wicks of lamps, which may displease us by not burning clearly or by giving out smoke, and yet we do not extinguish but trim and brighten them. Isaiah ascribes to Christ that forbearance by which he bears with our weakness, which we find to be actually fulfilled by him; for wherever any spark of piety is seen, he strengthens and kindles it, and if he were to act towards us with the utmost rigor, we should be reduced to nothing. Although men therefore totter and stumble, although they are even shaken or out of joint, yet he does not at once cast them off as utterly useless, but bears long, till he makes them stronger and more steadfast.
God gave a manifestation of this meekness when he appointed Christ to begin the discharge of his office as ambassador; for the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven in the shape of a dove, which was a token of nothing but mildness and gentleness. (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32.) And indeed the sign perfectly agrees with the reality; for he makes no great noise, and does not render himself an object of terror, as earthly kings commonly do, and does not wish to harass or oppress his people beyond measure, but, on the contrary, to soothe and comfort them. Not only did he act in this manner when he was manifested to the world, but this is what he daily shows himself to be by the gospel. Following this example, the ministers of the gospel, who are his deputies, ought to shew themselves to be meek, and to support the weak, and gently to lead them in the way, so as not to extinguish in them the feeblest sparks of piety, but, on the contrary, to kindle them with all their might. But that we may not suppose that this meekness holds out encouragement to vices and corruptions, he adds —
He shall bring forth judgment in truth. Although Christ soothes and upholds the weak, yet he is very far from using the flatteries which encourage vices; and therefore we ought to correct vices without flattery, which is in the highest degree inconsistent with that meekness. We ought therefore to guard diligently against extremes; that is, we must neither crush the minds of the weak by excessive severity, nor encourage by our smooth language anything that is evil.
That we may better understand who those persons are towards whom, following the example of Christ, we ought to exercise this mildness, we ought to weigh carefully the Prophet’s words. He calls them “a bruised reed” and “smoking wick.” These words do not apply to those who boldly and obstinately resist, nor to those who are fierce and headstrong; for such persons do not deserve this forbearance, but rather must be broken and crushed, as by the strokes of a hammer, by the severity of the word. While he praises meekness, he at the same time shews to whom it is adapted, and at what time and in what manner it ought to be employed; for it is not suitable to hardened and rebellious persons, or to those whose rage sends forth flames, but to those who are submissive, and who cheerfully yield to the yoke of Christ.
The word smoking shews that he maintains and cherishes not darkness, but sparks, though feeble and hardly perceptible. Wherever then there is impiety and stubbornness, there we must act with the utmost severity, and exercise no forbearance; but, on the other hand, where there are vices that have not gone beyond endurance, yet by gentleness of this nature, instead of encouraging, we must correct and reform them; for we must always pay regard chiefly to truth, of which he speaks, that vices may not be concealed, and thus acquire a secret corruption, but that the weak may be gradually trained to sincerity and uprightness. These words, therefore, relate to those persons who, amidst many deficiencies, have integrity of mind, and earnestly desire to follow true religion, or, at least, in whom we see some good beginning. It is clearly shewn by many passages (Matthew 12:39) how severely Christ deals with despisers; for he is constrained to employ “a rod of iron” to crush those who do not submit to be governed by his shepherd’s crook. As he justly declares that “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light,” (Matthew 11:30,) to willing disciples, so with good reason does David arm him with “a scepter of iron” (Psalms 2:9) to break his enemies in pieces, and declare that he will be wet with their blood. (Psalms 110:6.)
4. He shall not faint, nor be discouraged. The Prophet alludes to the preceding verse, and confirms what he formerly said, that Christ will indeed be mild and gentle towards the weak, but that he will have no softness or effeminacy; for he will manfully execute the commission which he has received from the Father. This is what he means when he says that “he shall not faint;” and in this verb יכהה (yichheh) there is an allusion to a former verse, in which he spoke of “smoking flax.” Now, he shews what is the true moderation of meekness, not to turn aside to excessive indulgence; for we ought to use it in such a manner as not to swerve from our duty. Many persons wish to profit by the name of gentleness, so as to gain the applause and esteem of the world, but at the same time betray truth in a base and shameful manner.
I remember that there were in a populous city two preachers, one of whom boldly and loudly reproved vices, while the other endeavored to gain the favor of the people by flatteries. This fawning preacher, who was expounding the Prophet Jeremiah, lighted on a passage full of the mildest consolation, and having found, as he imagined, a fit opportunity, began to declaim against those harsh and severe reprovers who are wont to terrify men by thunderbolts of words. But on the following day, when the Prophet changed his subject and sharply rebuked wicked men with his peculiar vehemence of style, the wretched flatterer was constrained to encounter bitter scorn by retracting the words which were fresh in the recollection of all his hearers. Thus the temporary favor which he had gained speedily vanished, when he revealed his own disposition, and made himself abhorred by the good and the bad.
We must therefore distinguish between the submissive and the obstinate, that we may not abuse that mildness by using it on every occasion. Yet Isaiah declares that Christ’s fortitude will be unshaken, so that it shall surmount every obstacle; for by these words, Till he put judgment, he means that the ministry of Christ will be so efficacious that the fruit of his doctrine shall be manifested. He does not merely say, “Till he shall have made known the will of his Father,” but “Till he establish judgment,” that is, as we formerly said, the proper exercise of government. Christ’s ministry, therefore, he testifies, will not be unfruitful, but will have such efficacy that men shall be reformed by it.
This must not be limited to the person of Christ, but extends to the whole course of the gospel; for he not only discharged the embassy committed to him for three years, but continues to discharge the same embassy every day by means of his servants. Yet we are reminded that it is impossible for us to discharge that office without being laid under the necessity of suffering many annoyances, and sustaining contests so severe and dangerous, that we shall be almost overwhelmed and ready to abandon everything. Still we must not desist, but persevere constantly in our duty, and run to the very end; and therefore the Prophet testifies that Christ will be so steadfast that he will pursue his calling to the end; and, following his example, we ought boldly to persevere.
And the isles shall wait for his law. Here he employs the word Law to mean “doctrine,” as the Hebrew word for “law” is derived from a verb which signifies to teach; (153) and thus the prophets are accustomed to speak of the gospel, in order to shew that it will not be new or contrary to what was taught by Moses.
The isles. We have formerly shewn that the Hebrew writers give the name of isles to countries beyond the sea.
The Prophet confirms the former statement, by which it was declared that Christ had been appointed not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, though they had nothing in common with the Jewish commonwealth. In short, that promise relates to all nations, that the advantages of this restoration and reformation may be shared by every part of the world.
By the word wait, he means that the elect will eagerly embrace the gospel offered to them; for the Lord displays in it the power of his election, when “they who wandered in darkness,” (Matthew 4:16,) as soon as they hear the voice of the gospel, embrace it with the utmost eagerness, and although they formerly wandered, like scattered and lost sheep, yet hear immediately the voice of the shepherd, and cheerfully submit to him, as Christ himself has also spoken. (John 10:16.) Hence we learn that the saying of Augustine is exceedingly true, “that many sheep wander out of the folds, while wolves frequently dwell within the folds.” This attention is the work of God, when men who thought that they were wise give up their own judgment, and have to learn the gospel of Christ, so as to depend entirely on this teacher.
(153) That is, תורה (torah), “a law,” is derived from ירה ( yarah), which in the Hiphil conjugation, הורה ( horah), signifies “he taught.” — Ed.
5. Thus saith Jehovah. He confirms what he said in the beginning of the chapter about the reign of Christ, that he will renew and restore all things; and as this might be thought to be incredible, he has here added a magnificent description of the power of God, by which our faith ought to be confirmed, especially when the outward aspect of things is directly contrary. On this account he brings forward clear proofs of the power of God, that all may be aroused by the mention of them, and may be convinced that he who created all things out of nothing, who spread out the heavens, who produced vegetation, who gave life to animals, and who upholds and defends all things by his power, will easily perform what he promises concerning the reign of Christ. These forms of expression remind us that we ought always to consider the power of God, that we may be fully convinced of the authority and undoubted certainty of his word; for it is not without reason that Isaiah makes this preface, but in order to remove every doubt, because nothing is too hard for God, who keeps the whole world in subjection to his authority; and in the following chapters he will employ similar modes of expression.
האל ( hael) is rendered by some “powerful,” and by others “God;” but it is of little consequence, for the meaning is the same; because he exhibits his power and majesty, and adorns him with this variety of titles, that we may know that he will easily restore all that is fallen and laid low.
6. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness. He again repeats the name of God, in which we ought to supply what he stated in the former verse about his power. It is generally thought that this points out the end of Christ’s calling, that he was sent by the Father to establish “justice” among men, who are destitute of it so long as they have not Christ, and, being given up to all the corruptions of crimes and vices, are held captive under the tyranny of Satan. But because the word “righteousness” has a more extensive signification, I pass by that ingenious distinction; for it is not even said that he shall be called “to righteousness,” but this phraseology ought to be viewed as equivalent to the adverbial expression, “righteously,” or “in a holy manner.” I rather suppose the meaning to be, that Christ was “called in righteousness,” because his calling is lawful, and therefore shall be firm and secure. We know that what is not done in a proper and regular manner cannot be of long duration. Or perhaps it will be thought preferable to view it thus, that God, in appointing Christ to restore the Church, seeks no reason but from himself and his own righteousness; but it is certain that this word denotes stability, as if he had said, “faithfully.”
And will hold thee by thy hand. By “the holding of the hand” he means the immediate assistance of God; as if he had said, “I will direct and establish thee in the calling to which I have appointed thee. In a word, as thy calling is righteous, so I will defend and uphold thee, as if by taking hold of thy hand I were thy leader.”
I will keep thee. This word “keep” plainly shews what is the meaning of holding by the hand, namely, that Christ will be directed by the Father in such a manner that he shall have him as his protector and guardian, shall enjoy his assistance, and, in short, shall feel his presence in all things.
And will place thee for a covenant. He now states the reason why God promises that he will be a guardian to Christ. Besides, the Prophet spoke of the Jews and the Gentiles separately; not that they differ by nature, or that the one is more excellent than the other, (for all need the grace of God, (Romans 3:23,) and Christ has brought salvation to all indiscriminately,) but because the Lord assigned the first rank to the Jews, (Matthew 10:6,) it was therefore proper that they should be distinguished from the others. Accordingly, before “the partition-wall” (Ephesians 2:14) was thrown down, they excelled, not by their merit, but by the favor of God, because with them in the first instance the covenant of grace was made.
It may be objected, “Why is Christ appointed to a covenant which was ratified long before? for, more than two thousand years before, God had adopted Abraham, and thus the origin of the distinction was long previous to the coming of Christ.” I reply, the covenant which was made with Abraham and his posterity had its foundation in Christ; for the words of the covenant are these, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18.) And the covenant was ratified in no other manner than in the seed of Abraham, that is, in Christ, by whose coming, though it had been previously made, it was confirmed and actually sanctioned. Hence also Paul says, “that the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ,” (2 Corinthians 1:20,) and in another passage calls Christ “the minister of circumcision, to fulfill the promises which were given to the fathers.” (Romans 15:8.) Still more clearly does he declare that Christ is “the peace” of all, so that they who were formerly separated are united in him, and both they who were far off and they who were near are thus reconciled to God. (Ephesians 2:17.) Hence also it is evident that Christ was promised, not only to the Jews, but to the whole world.
For a light of the Gentiles. We have here another clear proof of the calling of the Gentiles, since he expressly states that Christ was appointed to be “a light” to them. He calls him a light, because the Gentiles were plunged in the deepest and thickest darkness, at the time when the Lord illuminated none but the Jews. Now, then, the blame lies solely with ourselves, if we do not become partakers of this salvation; for he calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illuminated by him. Let us only open our eyes, he alone will dispel the darkness, and illuminate our minds by the “light” of truth.
7. That thou mayest open the eyes of the blind. Here he explains more fully for what end Christ shall be sent by the Father, that we may see more clearly what advantage he yields us, and how much we need his assistance. He reminds all men of their “blindness,” that they may acknowledge it, if they wish to be illuminated by Christ. In short, under these metaphors he declares what is the condition of men, till Christ shine upon them as their Redeemer; that is, that they are most wretched, empty, and destitute of all blessings, and surrounded and overwhelmed by innumerable distresses, till they are delivered by Christ.
Now, though the Prophet addresses Christ himself, yet he has in his eye believers, that they may know that in him they ought to trust, and may not doubt that a remedy will be provided for all their distresses, if they implore his aid. God does not here enjoin Christ what he shall do, as if he needed to be taught or to receive commandments; but he addresses him for our sake, that we may know why the Father sent him; as he says also, (Psalms 2:7,) “I will make known the decree; ask of me, I will give thee the Gentiles;” for in that passage the rank and authority of Christ are declared, that we may know that the Father has bestowed on him the highest authority, in order that we may more securely place all our hope and confidence in him.
8. I am Jehovah. Hence infer what is the nature and extent of the disease of unbelief, since the Lord can hardly satisfy himself with any words to express the cure of it. By nature we are prone to distrust, and do not believe God when he speaks, till he entirely subdue our stubbornness. Besides, we continually fall back into the same fault through our levity, unless he employ many bridles to restrain us. Again, therefore, he returns to that confirmation of which we have spoken formerly, that his promises may remain unshaken.
This is my name. הוא ( hu) is sometimes taken for a substantive, so as to be a proper name of God; (154) but I explain it in a more simple manner, “It is my name,” that is, “Jehovah is my own name, and cannot lawfully be given to any other.” In a word, by this expression he seals all that was said about the office of Christ, and adds as it were a seal to the promise: “He who declareth these things testifieth that he alone is God, and that this name dwelleth in him alone.”
And I will not give my glory to another; that is, “I will not suffer my glory to be diminished, which it would be, if I were found to be false or fickle in my promises.” He therefore declares that he will abide by his promises, because he wishes to vindicate his glory and preserve it entire, that it may not be in any respect diminished.
This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the glory of God is chiefly visible in his fulfillment of what he has promised. And hence we obtain a singular confirmation of our faith, that the Lord never deceives, never swerves from his promises, and nothing can hinder what he has once determined. But since Satan, by amazing arts, endeavors to obscure this glory of God, and to bestow it on men and on false gods, he therefore testifies that he will not permit himself to be regarded as fickle or deceitful in his promises.
Nor my praise to graven images. A contrast is drawn between the only God and idols with reference to time; for, had not God been the Redeemer of his people, unbelievers would have boasted as if true religion had been false and useless. God therefore declares that he will not permit wicked men to triumph by oppressing the Church; and, beyond all doubt, God has hitherto spared us, and still deals so gently with us, in order that he may not expose his Gospel to the blasphemous reproaches of the Papists. We ought to draw from this a universal doctrine, namely, that the Lord wishes that his glory may remain unimpaired; for he defends and maintains it everywhere with the utmost zeal, in order to shew that he is exceedingly jealous of it, (Exodus 20:5,) and does not permit the smallest part of it to be given to another.
(154) “There is no sufficient ground for the opinion that the pronoun הוא (ha) is ever used as a divine name, cognate and equivalent to Jehovah. In this case the obvious and usual construction is entirely satisfactory.” — Alexander.
9. The former things. He now recalls to remembrance the former predictions, by the fulfillment of which he shews that confidence ought to be placed in him for the future; for what we have known by actual experience ought to tend greatly to confirm our belief. It is as if he had said, “I have spoken so frequently to your fathers, and you have found me to be true in all things; and yet you cannot place confidence in me about future events: the experience of past transactions produces no effect upon you, and does not excite you to do better.” God’s favors, therefore, ought to be mentioned by us in such a manner that, whenever our salvation lies concealed in hope, we may rest on the word of God, and be confirmed by it during the whole course of our life.
Behold! they came. (155) By the adverb behold, he points out, as with the finger, that they had learned by experience, that God is not false, and did not; speak in vain by the prophets; because clear proofs openly testified and proclaimed the truth of God.
Before they spring forth. (156) He distinguishes God from idols by this mark, that he alone knows and predicts future events, but idols do not; know them. As to the greater part of the responses which were given by the gods of the Gentiles, we have formerly seen that they were either false or ambiguous; for they who relied on them were often shamefully deceived, and this is the reward which they richly deserved. And if at first sight the event corresponded, this plunged them deeper in eternal perdition; and by the righteous judgment of God it was brought about that Satan imposed upon them by such delusions. Far otherwise was it with the sacred oracles, by which the Church, for her own advantage and salvation, was at one time brought to repentance, and at another time encouraged to entertain favorable hope, that she might not sink under the burden of punishments. It remains a settled principle, that all that God has foretold is verified by the event; for he rules and directs all things by his providence.
(155) “By the former things he means those things which had been done in order to protect and deliver the Hebrew nation from the power of barbarians; and those things which Jehovah had foretold by his prophets came, that is, they happened.” — Rosenmiiller.
(156) “That is, before they took place, as in Isaiah 43:12. The metaphor is taken from plants, which put forth the buds and flowers before their fruits are visible. (Genesis 2:5; Exodus 10:5.) The meaning is, that God does not foretell those things which have already begun to be accomplished, and which sagacious men may conjecture to be future; but before anything has happened, from which a conjecture may be formed as to future events.” — Rosenmuller.
10. Sing to Jehovah. He now exhorts the people to gratitude; for God’s favors ought always to excite us, by the remembrance of them, to give thanks and to celebrate his praises. Besides, by that exhortation he calls believers to behold the prophecy as actually accomplished, and confirms those promises of which he spoke. We ought to observe this as the design of the Prophet, that there is no reason why believers, though they are severely oppressed, should give way to sorrow, but that good hope ought to encourage them to gladness, that they may now prepare to render thanksgiving.
The subject of this song is, that Christ has been revealed to the world, and sent by the Father, in order to relieve the miseries of his Church, and to restore her to perfect order, and indeed, as it were, to renew the whole world. As it was difficult to believe this, the Prophet wished to remove every doubt, in order to fix these predictions more deeply in their hearts. Nor ought we to wonder that the Prophet labors so hard to arouse them when they were reduced to the greatest straits, and had no longer any hope of safety. The mere aspect of things might shake their faith, and even produce suspicion that all that the prophets had foretold was unfounded and absurd. The object, of this exhortation therefore is, that when affairs are utterly desperate, they should be cheerful and rely on these promises.
A new song. By new he means an excellent, beautiful, and elegant song, not one that is ordinary or common, but a song which may arouse men to admiration, as relating to the extraordinary grace of God, of which there had never been so remarkable an example. In this sense it is also used in Psalms 33:3, and Psalms 96:1 New is here contrasted with what is Ordinary, and thus he extols the infinite mercy of God, which was to be revealed in Christ, and which ought therefore to be celebrated and sung with the highest praises. Hence we infer that each of us ought to be the more zealous in proclaiming the praises of God, in proportion to the greater number of favors which we have received. It is indeed the duty of all men to sing praise to God, for there is no person who is not bound to it by the strongest obligations; but more lofty praises ought to proceed from those on whom more valuable gifts have been bestowed. Now, since God has laid open the fountain of all blessings in Christ, and has displayed all spiritual riches, we need not wonder if he demand that we offer to him an unwonted and excellent sacrifice of praise.
It ought to be observed that this song cannot be sung but by renewed men; for it ought to proceed from the deepest feeling of the heart, and therefore we need the direction and influence of the Spirit, that we may sing those praises in a proper manner. Besides, he does not exhort one or a few nations to do this, but all the nations in the world; for to all of them Christ was sent.
11. Let the desert and it’s cities cry aloud. While the Prophet includes all the parts of the world, he mentions particularly those which were better known to the Jews; for on the west Judea had the sea, and on the east the desert and Arabia. When he speaks of the tents of Kedar, the desert, and the rocks, he means Arabia; but it is a figure of speech by which a part is taken for the whole, for it includes the whole of the east. It is as if he had said, that from the rising to the setting of the sun these praises shall be heard; for God shall be worshipped everywhere, though formerly he was worshipped in Judea alone; and thus the state of affairs shall be changed, and that praise shall be beard in the most distant parts of the earth. (157)
The towns where Kedar dwells. He mentions Kedar, because the Scenite (158) Arabians, as is well known, dwelt in tents. But he employs the word towns, while he is speaking of a desert; and therefore it ought to be remarked, that desert denotes not only the vast wilderness which lay between Judea and Arabia, but the more distant countries which were commonly designated from that part which was adjoining to them, as some people give the name of “mountainous” to those plains which lie beyond the mountains; for the common people have their attention so much directed to what they see close at hand, that they suppose them to resemble other places that are more distant. Yet the Prophet here exalts and magnifies the greatness of the grace of God, in reaching even rude and barbarous nations, whose savage cruelty was well known.
(157) “If these are not all parts of the same great picture, it is impossible to frame one. If they are, it is absurd to take the first and last parts in their widest sense as an extravagant hyperbole, and that which is between them in its strictest sense as a literal description. The only consistent supposition is, that sea, islands, deserts, mountains, towns, and camps, are put together as poetical ingredients of the general conception, that the earth in all its parts shall have reason to rejoice.” — Alexander.
(158) The name is derived from σκηνὴ (skene), “a tent,” because they dwelt in tents. Their modern name is Saracens. — Ed
12. Let them give glory to Jehovah. He explains what the nature of that shouting will be, that is, to celebrate the praises of God; for his goodness and mercy shall be everywhere seen; and therefore he enjoins them to celebrate this redemption with a cheerful voice, because the blessed consequences of it shall be shared by all the nations. And thus we are reminded to cry aloud in the present day with the greatest earnestness when we proclaim the praises of God, that we ourselves may be inflamed, and may excite others by our example to act in the same manner; for to be lukewarm, or to mutter, or to sing, as the saying is, to themselves and to the muses, is impossible for those who have actually tasted the grace of God.
13. Jehovah like a giant. What Isaiah now adds is intended to surmount the temptations of believers. He ascribes to God strength and power, that they may know that they shall find in him a sure defense; for in adversity we are perplexed, because we doubt whether or not God will be able to render us assistance, especially when by delaying he appears in some measure to reject our prayers; and therefore the Prophet loudly extols the power of God, that all may learn to rely and place their confidence in him.
Will go forth. The going forth that is here mentioned must be taken metaphorically; for God seemed to be concealed at the time when he permitted his people to be affiicted and oppressed without any appearance of aid; and therefore the word means “to come forth publicly for the sake of giving assistance.” This is confirmed by what follows.
And as a warrior. When he attributes to God burning indignation, with which he rushes forth “like a warrior” against his enemies, the comparisons are drawn from human feelings, and declare to us the powerful assistance of God, which would not otherwise make a sufficiently powerful impression on our minds. He therefore accommodates himself to our capacity, as we have often said, that we may know how ardently he desires to preserve us, and how much he is distressed by the affliction and oppression of believers, and likewise how terrible is his anger, whenever he girds himself for battle.
We ought always to observe that peculiar season which the Prophet had in his eye, to which these predictions must be applied; for while the enemies were becoming more and more fierce, and were taunting a wretched people, it was the duty of believers to look at something quite different from what they beheld with their eyes, and to believe that God is sufficiently powerful to subdue their enemies, and rescue them out of their hands. Nor was it only during the captivity that it was of importance for them to have their sorrow alleviated by this promise, but almost till the coming of Christ; for they were continually and painfully constrained to encounter severe distresses, as is evident from history.
14. I have kept silence. The Prophet meets the temptations which commonly give us great uneasiness, when God delays his aid. We are tempted by impatience, and dread that his promises are false. We reckon it unreasonable that God should be silent, and fall asleep, so to speak, while the wicked carry themselves high; that he should be cool, while they burn with eagerness to do mischief; and that he should wink at their crimes, while they keenly pursue every kind of cruelty. When their minds were distressed and almost overwhelmed, the Prophet wished to comfort them, that they might not think that God had forsaken them, though everything appeared to be desperate.
For a long time. He expressly mentions “the great length of time,” that their hearts might not languish through the tedious delay; for when they had been broken down by almost incessant calamities since the death of Jehoshaphat, it was very hard and distressing to spend seventy years in captivity. Nor was even this the end of their afflictions, and therefore they needed to be carefully admonished, that although God do not immediately send relief, still believers will suffer nothing by the delay, provided that they wait with patience. By these words he also rebukes unbelievers, who, trusting to his forbearance, freely indulged in every kind of wickedness; and therefore God declares that, although he has refrained and been a silent spectator, he is not on that account deprived of his power.
Like a woman in labor. By this metaphor he expresses astonishing warmth of love and tenderness of affection; for he compares himself to a mother who singularly loves her child, though she brought him forth with extreme pain. It may be thought that these things are not applicable to God; but in no other way than by such figures of speech can his ardent love towards us be expressed. He must therefore borrow comparisons from known objects, in order to enable us to understand those which are unknown to us; for God loves very differently from men, that is, more fully and perfectly, and, although he surpasses all human affections, yet nothing that is disorderly belongs to him.
Besides, he intended also to intimate that the redemption of his people would be a kind of birth, that the Jews might know that the grave would serve them for a womb, and that thus, in the midst of corruption, they might entertain the hope of salvation. Although he produced a new Church for himself without pain or effort, yet, in order to exhibit more fully the excellence of his grace in this new birth, he not inappropriately attributes to himself the cry of “a woman in labor.”
I will destroy and swallow at once. Because that comparison of a travailing woman might somewhat degrade the majesty and power of God, the Prophet determined to add here a different feeling. So far then as relates to love, he says that God resembles a mother; so far as relates to power, he says that he resembles a lion or a giant.
15. I will reduce mountains and hills to a wilderness. The Prophet means that all the defences and military forces on which the wicked plume themselves shall not prevent God from setting his people at liberty. It was necessary that this should be added to the former statements; for when we see enemies exceedingly powerful, and almost invincible, we tremble, and do not look for God’s assistance, which would be necessary to keep our faith strong. On this point, therefore, the Prophet dwells, in order to shew that no power or army whatsoever can resist the Lord when he wishes to deliver his people. In short, he shews that there shall be such a revolution, that they who formerly were most powerful shall be crushed, and shall gain nothing by all their attempts against him.
Such appears to me to be the plain meaning of this passage, and there is no necessity for entering into ingenious speculations, as some have done, who, in an allegorical interpretation of these words, pronounce that by “mountains and hills” are meant cities, and by herbage the men who inhabit them. But there is no necessity for pursuing such refinements; for he simply declares that God is sufficiently powerful to fulfill his promises and deliver his Church, because he will easily surmount all the difficulties which present themselves to our eyes. This statement corresponds also to other predictions which we have formerly seen, in which the Prophet taught that as soon as God has determined to assist his people, his power is not limited to natural means, but miraculously breaks through every obstruction that appears to hinder his passage.
16. And I will lead the blind. After having shewn that the strength of the enemies cannot prevent God from delivering his people, he proceeds with that consolation to which he had formerly adverted. He describes by the word blind those whose affairs are so difficult, and intricate, and disordered, that they know not to what hand to turn, or in what direction to flee, and, in short, who see no means of escape, but deep gulfs on every hand. When our affairs proceed smoothly enough, a plain and easy path is placed before our eyes; and, in like manner, when our affairs are painful and distressing, and especially when they hold out no hope of relief, but threaten destruction to us, and are covered with deep and melancholy darkness, we are blinded. When we have thus no means of escape, the Prophet tells us that at that very time we ought, especially to hope and to look for assistance from the Lord.
It is often advantageous to us also to have no way open to us, to be straitened and hemmed in on every hand, and even to be blinded, that we may learn to depend solely on God’s assistance and to rely on him; for, so long as a plank is left on which we think that we can seize, we turn to it with our whole heart. While we are driven about in all directions, the consequence is, that the remembrance of heavenly grace fades from our memory. If, therefore, we desire that God should assist us and relieve our adversity, we must be blind, we must turn away our eyes from the present condition of things, and restrain our judgment, that we may entirely rely on his promises. Although this blindness is far from being pleasant, and shews the weakness of our mind, yet, if we judge from the good effects which it produces, we ought not greatly to shun it; for it is better to be “blind” persons guided by the hand of God, than, by excessive sagacity, to form labyrinths for ourselves.
And will turn darkness before them into light. When he promises that he will give “light” instead of “darkness,” he confirms what has been already said; and therefore, although we see not even a ray of light in adversity, yet we ought not to despair of God’s assistance, but at that very time we ought especially to embrace his promises; for the Lord will easily change darkness into light, make straight the crooked windings, and lead us into the path, that we may walk with safety. Yet let us perceive that these things are promised to believers alone, who intrust themselves to God, and allow themselves to be governed by him; and, in short, who have known their blindness, and willingly follow him as their leader, and amidst the darkness of afflictions patiently wait for the dawn of grace. To those only who abide by his promises does he stretch out his hand, and not to the wise men (159) who wish to see in spite of him, or who are carried headlong by unlawful schemes.
(159) “ Non pas a ces sages mondains.” “Not to these worldly wise men.”
17. They shall be driven back. This enables us to see more clearly to whom the former doctrine relates, for it distinguishes between the worshippers of God and the worshippers of idols. The Lord will be a leader to his own people, but, on the other hand, they who worship idols shall be ashamed As if he had said, that here the Lord gives us a choice, either to be saved by his grace, or to perish miserably; for all that place their hope of salvation in idols shall perish, but they who trust in the word of God are certain of salvation; because, though they often are heavily afflicted, yet he will not allow their hope to be put to shame in the end, but by the result will prove that he did not in vain lay down this distinction.
And say to a molten image, Ye are our gods. It is certain that by these two marks are described all idolaters who place their hope in any one else than in God alone; for, although idolaters do not bow down before their idols, yet, by attaching divinity to them, they offer blasphemy to the only and true God; for the chief part of the worship of God consists in faith and calling upon him, both of which the Prophet here describes. It may be asked, Were they so stupid as to say to an image, “Thou art my god?” for all superstitious persons confessed that God is in heaven, and did not openly ascribe divinity to wood or stone. I reply, all idolaters ascribe to images the power of God, though they acknowledge that he is in heaven; for, when they flee to statues and images, when they make and perform vows to them, they undoubtedly ascribe to them what belongs to God. It is in vain for them, therefore, to cloak their ignorance under plausible excuses, for they reckon wood and stone to be gods, and offer the highest insult to God; and consequently, the Prophet did not employ exaggerated language, or falsely accuse them of being idolaters; for it is plainly testified by their words and speeches, when they call their idols and images gods. Even though they did not utter a word, their madness is openly manifested by their imagining that they cannot reach the hand or the ear of God without bowing down before images to utter their prayers. The object of these statements is, that all may understand that no man will be saved but, he who trusts in God alone.
18. O ye deaf, hear, and ye blind. He now employs these words, “blind” and “deaf,” in a sense different from that in which he formerly employed them, (verse 16,) when he metaphorically described those who had no understanding, and who were overwhelmed by such a mass of afflictions that they were blinded by their sorrow; for here he gives the name of blind to those who shut their eyes in the midst of light, and do not behold the works of God; and the name of deaf to those who refuse to hear him, and sink down into stupidity and slothfulness amidst the dregs of their ignorance. He therefore condemns the Jews for “blindness,” or rather, in my own opinion, he condemns all men; for, while he directly reproaches the Jews because “in hearing they do not hear, and in seeing they do not see,” (Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:13,) yet this applies in some measure to the Gentiles, to whom God revealed himself by his creatures, on whose hearts and consciences also he impressed the knowledge of him, and to whom he had made and would still make known his wonderful works. By demanding attention, he pronounces that there is nothing that hinders them from comprehending the truth and power of God, except that they are “deaf and blind.” Nor is this unaccompanied by malice and ingratitude; for he openly instructs them concerning his power, and gives them very striking proofs of it; but no one gives attention to his doctrine or to his wonderful actions, and the consequence is, that they are willingly “blind.” Thus the Prophet shews that the fault lies wholly with men in not perceiving the power of God.
19. Who is blind but my servant? There are some who interpret this verse as if the Prophet were describing the reproaches which wicked men are accustomed to throw out against the prophets; for they retort on the Lord’s servants those reproofs and accusations which they cannot endure. “Whom dost thou accuse of blindness? Whom dost thou call deaf? Take that to thyself. Who is blind but thou?” They think, therefore, that it is as if the Lord expostulated with the Jews in this manner; “I see that you reckon my prophets to be blind and deaf.” But we shall immediately see that this interpretation does not agree with the context, for the Prophet afterwards explains (verse 20) why he calls them “blind.” It is because, while they see many things, they pay no attention to them. Indeed, this does not at all apply to the prophets, and therefore let us follow the plain and natural meaning.
Isaiah had accused all men of blindness, but especially the Jews, because they ought to have seen more clearly than all the rest; for they had not only some ordinary light and understanding, but enjoyed the word, by which the Lord abundantly revealed himself to them. Although, therefore, all the rest were blind, yet the Jews ought to have seen and known God, seeing that they were illuminated by his Law and doctrine, as by a very bright lamp. Besides, Isaiah afterwards addresses the Jews in this manner,“
Arise, O Jerusalem, and be illuminated; for darkness shall be on all the earth, but the Lord shall shine on thee.” (Isaiah 60:1.)
Because the Jews shut their eyes amidst such clear light, that is the reason why he addresses to them this special reproof. As if he had said, “In vain do I debate with those who are alienated from me, and it is not so wonderful that they are blind; but it is monstrous that this should have happened to my servants (before whose eyes light has been placed) to be deaf to the doctrine which sounds continually in their ears. For these things are so clear that the blind might see them, and so loud that the deaf might hear them; but in vain do I speak to them, for nothing can be more dull or stupid; and, instead of seeing and hearing better than all others, as they ought to have done, none can be found either more deaf or more blind.”
My messenger whom I send. From the human race universally the Prophet gradually descends to the Jews, and next to the priests, who were leading persons, and might be regarded as occupying the highest rank. It belonged to their once to interpret the Law, and to set a good example before others, and, in short, to point out the way of salvation. It was from “the priest’s mouth” that they were commanded to “seek the Law.” (Malachi 2:7.) The Prophet complains, therefore, that they who ought to have led the way to others were themselves blind.
Some view the word servant as relating to Isaiah, and others to Christ, and think that he, as well as Isaiah, is accused of blindness; but this has nothing to do with the Prophet’s meaning. Thus, he magnifies by comparison the complaint which he lately made about the slothfulness of the Jews; for they were more deeply in fault than others, but the heaviest blame lay on the priests who were their leaders. Let us therefore learn, that the nearer we approach to God, and the higher the rank to which we are elevated, we shall be the less excusable. For the same reason he applies the term perfect to those who ought to have been perfect; for he mentions reproachfully that perfection from which they had fallen by wicked revolt, and thus had basely profaned a most excellent gift of God. Having possessed a “perfect” rule of righteousness, it lay with themselves alone to follow it.
20. Seeing many things. The Prophet himself explains what is the nature of this blindness of which he spoke, and shews that it is double; and this shews clearly that he spoke of the Jews, who by wicked contempt had quenched God’s light. Our guilt will be double when we shall come to the judgment-seat of God, if we shut our eyes when he exhibits the light, and shut our ears when he teaches by his word. The heathen nations will indeed be without excuse; but the Jews and others to whom the Lord revealed himself in so many ways, will deserve double condemnation for having refused to see or hear God. We, therefore, who have so many and so illustrious examples set before us at the present day, ought to dread this judgment; for in many persons there will now be found not less blindness or obduracy than formerly existed among the Jews, and not more excusable.
21. The Lord is well pleased. In order to aggravate still more the guilt of the Jews, he now shews that it was not God who prevented them from leading a prosperous and happy life. He had already said that the distresses and afflictions which they endure are the punishment of their blindness, which they have voluntarily brought upon themselves; and now he brings forward as an addition and crowning point of the accusation, that by their obstinacy they reject all relief.
This passage is interpreted in various ways. Some render it, “The Lord hath so willed it;” others, “He is merciful;” but, for my own part, I have translated it, “The Lord is willing,” that is, disposed and inclined to deliver his people, and that for the purpose of magnifying his Law and extolling his righteousness. Thus God assigns the reason why he is ready to aid those who are unworthy, that he wishes to spread his glory in their salvation, that in this manner his righteousness may be illustriously displayed, and that his Law may prevail and flourish. As to the heavy calamities that have come on the Jews, the reason is, that of their own accord they have resolved to be blind, and to bring afflictions on themselves, instead of obeying God; for otherwise the Lord would have wished to enrich and exalt them. Others view it thus, “The Lord wishes to magnify his Law, because he wishes to appear to be faithful in punishing the Jews, as he had threatened them by his Law;” and thus they consider “righteousness” to denote the punishment and vengeance which God inflicts on a wicked people.
Others render it, “For his righteous one,” and refer it to Christ; but they mistake the meaning of the word צדקו, (tzidko,) and unquestionably he speaks of righteousness, and means that the Lord would willingly have displayed the magnificence of his promises:, and would have given proofs of his righteousness in preserving his people, if they had not shewn themselves to be ungrateful and unworthy. Some think that the Lord here offers an excuse for himself, because, when the people whom he had adopted were exposed to so many evils, it appeared as if his truth were shaken, and that the Prophet intended to meet this calumny, for they were seized and became a prey, not because the Lord delights in their miseries, but because he prefers his righteousness to everything else.
For my own part, I explain it simply to mean, “The Lord, for the sake of doing honor to his Law, was inclined to do good to his people, in order that his glory and righteousness might shine forth in it; but his people shewed themselves to be unworthy of so great a favor; and, therefore, by their own obduracy they made their wounds incurable.” Besides, we ought to learn from this passage the reason why the Lord bestows so many favors on his Church. It is, that he may promote his Law, that is, that he may bring men to honor his majesty, and that his truth may shine more and more. When he says that the Lord is willing and inclined; he shews plainly that he is not induced to it by any one else than by himself; but he expresses it more fully, when he adds, on account of his righteousness; for he excludes everything that men could bring. Nor is the Lord prompted by any other consideration to do good, than because he is righteous; for no merit or worth will be found among men. But this reason applied especially to the Jews, whom alone he deigned to adopt.
22. But this people. Isaiah now declares that it is through their own fault that the people are miserable and appointed to destruction, because they reject God, who would otherwise have been inclined to do good to them, and because they deliberately set aside all remedies, and wish for death, as is commonly the case with men who are past hope. Thus he excuses God in such a manner as to bring a heavy accusation against the people, because they have rejected him by their ingratitude, and have abused his fatherly kindness. Yet, as I remarked a little before, he mentions these things, not so much for the sake of excusing God, as of bringing a bitter complaint, that his countrymen have leagued to their destruction; because, as if on set purpose, they have precipitated themselves into many calamities. If, then, we see the Church, at the present day, in a ruinous and revolting condition, we ought to ascribe it to our iniquities and transgressions, by which we do not suffer God to do good to us.
The copulative ו (vau) is rendered by some therefore; but I have preferred to translate it but; for it states a contrast to that desire by which the Lord declared that he was prompted to defend his people, if they had permitted it. I choose to interpret הפח (hapheach) as a gerundial participle, about to be snared; for he speaks of a nation which was about to be led into captivity. As to בהורים, ( bahurim,) I think that two words, instead of one, are here used to signify in dens; for to translate the word young men, appears to me to be at variance with the context.
They shall be made a spoil. They who interpret this as relating to the whole human race, who have no Savior but Christ, (John 8:36,) adduce nothing that corresponds to the Prophet’s meaning; for he simply declares that the people shall perish without hope of deliverance, because they rejected the grace of God. Let us infer from this what must befall us, if we do not in due time embrace the grace of God offered to us. We shall certainly deserve to be deprived of all aid, to be exposed as a prey and a spoil, and utterly to perish.
23. Who is there among you? Isaiah continues the same subject; for he means that the Jews are and will be so stupid, that they will not see, even when they are warned; and he expressly addresses them, because, while they ought to have been better educated and taught than others, yet they understood nothing, and did not observe the judgments of God, even though they were exceedingly manifest.
Who shall hearken for the time to come? That is, who, being at length subdued by afflictions, repents, though it be late. We see, then, how this astonishment aggravates the criminality of their madness, because they will always refuse to be taught. Yet let us learn what is the use of threatenings and punishments; for God does not reprove our crimes, or punish us for them, as if he delighted in taking vengeance, or demanded some recompense, but that we may be on our guard “for the time to come.”
24. Who gave Jacob for a prey? These are the matters which Isaiah complains that the Jews did not observe; for they thought either that the sufferings which they endured happened by chance, or that they had not the same strength to resist as their fathers had, and that this was the reason why they were conquered by their enemies. In short, having their minds fully occupied with external causes, they did not at the same time observe the threatenings which had been so frequently denounced by the prophets, nor attend to the judgments of God; and therefore the Prophet drags them before the heavenly throne, by declaring that God is the author of these judgments.
Hath not Jehovah? They could not believe that the calamities which they suffered proceeded from God, as the just punishment of their sins; and we know that there is nothing which men can now be with more difficulty persuaded to believe. Everybody acknowledges that God is the author of all things, but if you ask whether or not all adverse events are God’s chastisements, they will be ashamed to confess it; for men are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and, being prejudiced by their opinion of fortune, turn their minds and hearts to this or that cause rather than to God.
Because we have sinned against him. Isaiah next points out the cause of so grievous destruction, the sins of the people, which the Lord justly punished. In like manner, Moses had also shewn,“
How would a thousand flee from the face of one? Doth not the Lord pursue you, and shut you up in the hands of the enemy?” (Deuteronomy 32:30.)
We wonder every day at many things which happen contrary to our expectation, and yet we do not acknowledge that the cause lies with ourselves. It is therefore necessary that we be hard pressed and constrained by violence to confess our fault, and consequently this doctrine must be often stated and repeated.
That men may not accuse God of cruelty, the Prophet adds, that he does it for a just cause; for he does not rush forward (160) to inflict punishment, if he be not constrained by necessity, and he takes no pleasure in our afflictions; and, therefore, we must here observe two separate things. First, no evil happens to us, but from the Lord, so that we must not think that anything happens either by chance or by any external cause. Secondly, we suffer no evil whatever, but for a just cause, because we have sinned against God. In vain, therefore, do men accuse God of cruelty; for we ought to acknowledge his righteous judgments in the chastisements which he deservedly inflicts.
And they would not walk in his ways. Here the Prophet aggravates the guilt of the Jews, but changes the person, because he formerly included himself along with others, as being a member of that body, and confessed his guilt. Not that he resembled the great body of the people, or approved of their crimes; but because, amidst such a huge mass of vices, he could not be free from being in some degree infected by the contagion, like other parts of the body. Because he was widely different from the great body of the people, he changes the person, and adds, “They would not;” by which he declares that such deep-rooted obduracy is offensive to him, so that he cannot in any way either conceal it or express his approbation of it; for the subject now in hand is not ordinary vices, but contempt and rejection of God, manifested by fiercely and haughtily shaking off his yoke. This is the reason why Isaiah excludes himself from their number.
If these things justly befell the Jews, let us know that the same punishment hangs over us and the whole world, if we do not take warning and repent. We see how kindly the Lord invites us to himself, in how many ways he expresses his good-will towards us, how graciously he testifies that he will be reconciled, though he has been offended. Having now been so often and so kindly invited by God, and having experienced his mercy, if we refuse to listen to him, we shall undoubtedly feel that the ruin which they experienced belongs equally to all rebels.
(160) “ Car il n’ empoigne la verge soudainement.” “For he does not seize the rod suddenly.”
25. Therefore he hath poured upon him. Because the chastisements by which the Lord had begun, and would afterwards continue, to punish the Jews, were very severe, the Prophet employs metaphorical language to express their vehemence. He says that the Lord poureth out his fury, as if a thunderbolt were discharged with violence, or as if waters burst forth, to spread devastation far and wide on the surrounding country; just as, at the deluge, when“
the flood-gates of the deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened,” (Genesis 7:11,)
the waters burst forth with prodigious force and violence.
And the strength of war. He next employs a different figure, that God assembles his forces to make war, that he may attack the people with unrelenting hostility. If this be supposed to mean the enemies whom the Lord raised up against the Jews, I do not greatly object to the interpretation; for it is certain that they were raised up by the judgment of God. What else was Nebuchadnezzar than God’s scourge? (Jeremiah 51:20.) But, for my own part, I think that this also ought to be viewed as metaphorical language, meaning that “God rushes forth violently, like an armed enemy, and pours out his fury on the people.” He has various ways of making war; for he chastises his people sometimes by famine, sometimes by war, and sometimes by pestilence; and therefore I think that he includes here scourges of every kind by which the Lord strikes his people. If we sometimes think that they are too harsh and severe, let us consider how heinous our sins are; for we shall not find that he is immoderate or excessively severe in inflicting punishment.
And he gave no heed to it. Again the Prophet exclaims against that gross stupidity with which the Jews were struck, so that they did not perceive their affliction, nor raise their eyes to heaven, so as to acknowledge that the Lord was the avenger and author of it. (161)
And he laid it not to heart. To “lay a thing to heart” is to consider attentively and diligently; for if this thought came into our minds, and were deeply engraven on our hearts, “God is judge, and hath justly punished us,” we should immediately repent. At present the whole world is oppressed by so many calamities, that there is scarcely a spot that is free from the wrath of God; yet no person gives heed to it, but all fiercely and rebelliously contend with him; and therefore we need not wonder that he inflicts on men such dreadful punishment, and pours out his wrath on all sides, when the world opposes him with inveterate rebellion.
(161) “ Pour recognoistre Dieu, qui les chastioit si rudement.” “To acknowledge God, who chastise them so severely.”
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13