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1. And now thus saith Jehovah. It is hard to say whether this is a different discourse or the same with the former; for the Prophets, whose writings have come down to us, did not separate their discourses into distinct chapters, so as to enable us to know what they spoke each day. For my own part, I think it is probable that this doctrine is connected with the preceding; for, having formerly spoken severely against the Jews, and threatened destruction to them, he wished to moderate that severity. The Lord always cares for the godly; and wickedness never abounds to such an extent that he does not at the same time preserve his people, and provide for their safety, that they may not be involved in similar destruction. I think, therefore, that the copulative ו (vau) should be viewed as disjunctive, “ And yet the Lord will leave some consolation to the godly who shall remain.”
This passage ought to be carefully observed; for, although it may appear as if all had leagued for our destruction, although the anger of the Lord burn fiercely, and we think that we are very near destruction; yet, if but two or three godly persons are left, we ought not to despair; for Jehovah addresses them in this manner, Fear not. The adverb Now, which is here used, has great weight; for it means a present or immediate calamity, and, in short, a time when it appeared as if all were lost and ruined; because at that very time God does not cease to comfort his people, and gently to soothe their sorrows, that amidst the utmost despair they may preserve their hope firm and unshaken.
Such is the purport of the preface, thy Creator and Maker; for otherwise the door would have been shut against the execution of these predictions. Besides, from other passages we may conclude, that the Lord does not here speak of universal creation, such as we share with the rest of men, and by which we are born mortal, but of regeneration to the hope of a heavenly life, on account of which we are also called new creatures. This is the sense in which Paul calls us “the workmanship of God,” (Ephesians 2:10,) as on former occasions we have fully explained. (162) In this sense also he calls himself the Maker; as if he had said, that God did not “make” his Church, in which the brightness of his glory shone conspicuously, in order to undo so excellent a work. Hence we ought to observe, that the Church has nothing that is properly her own, but everything in which she excels ought to be ascribed to the gift of God.
For I have redeemed thee. This is added as the reason of the former statement, and may appropriately be viewed as referring both to the future and to the past; for the first deliverance from Egypt gave hope of another deliverance to come. Although he describes a future deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, yet the past tense is not inapplicable; for God hath redeemed us to himself before the effect of redemption reaches us; and therefore when he wishes to testify what he has decreed, namely, to redeem his Church, which appeared to have perished, he uses with propriety the past tense.
I have called thee by thy name. To “call by one’s name” means here, to admit into close relationship, as when we are adopted by God to be his children. The reason of this mode of expression is, that God rejects the reprobate in such a manner that he appears to have forgotten them. Hence, also, the Scripture says, that “he knoweth them not.” (Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27.) From a contrast of this sort we learn more fully what is meant by being “called by God.” It is when he passes by others, and deigns to bestow on us a peculiar honor, and, from being strangers, to make us members of his household, and next takes us under his care and guardianship, so as to direct us and all our affairs. For the same reason he adds, Thou art mine, that believers may know that there will always be left a Church among the elect people, because God refuses to be deprived of his rightful possession. In short, he declares that they are his dear inheritance, of which he will never suffer himself to be robbed.
(162) See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 2, pages 83 and 264, and page 132 of the present volume.
2 When thou shalt pass through the waters. This is an anticipation by which he declares that they who rely on God’s immediate assistance have no reason for sinking under adversity. That is stated more fully than in the preceding verse, because while he shews that the Church will not be exempt from calamities and afflictions, but must maintain a constant warfare, he encourages to patience and courage; as if he had said, “The Lord hath not redeemed thee that thou mightest enjoy pleasures and luxuries, or that thou mightest abandon thyself to ease and indolence, but rather that thou shouldest be prepared for enduring every kind of evils.”
By fire and water he means every kind of miseries to which we are liable in this life; for we must contend not with calamities of one kind only, but with infinitely diversified calamities. At one time we must “pass through wares” and at another “through fire.” (Psalms 66:12.) In like manner the Apostle James exhorts believers not to faint when they “fall into various temptations.” (James 1:2.) And, indeed, faith needs to be put to the trial in many ways; for it often happens that he who has been victorious in one combat has been baffled by another kind of temptation. We are therefore tried by afflictions, but are at length delivered; we are baffled by the billows, but are not swallowed up; we are even scorched by the flames, but are not consumed. We have, indeed, the same feeling of pain as other men, but we are supported by the grace of God, and fortified by the spirit of patience, that we may not faint; and at length he will stretch out his hand and lift us up on high. (163)
(163) “ Jusqu’ ace qu’il nons esleve en haut a soy.” “Till he raise us on high to himself.”
3. For I am Jehovah thy God. He confirms the preceding statement by the experience of the past; for the Lord had formerly assisted his people in such a manner that it was reasonable and proper that believers should safely rely on his grace. We must always remember what we had in the former verse, — “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I am thy Lord.” These ought to be read unitedly and in immediate connection, because they have the same object; for if the Lord is our God, it follows that he is on our side, and therefore we shall find that he is our Savior. But if we wish to know by experience that he is our Savior, we must be a part of Israel, not in name only, but so as to give true evidences of godliness during the whole course of our life. This is therefore the foundation of our confidence, that “Jehovah is our God;” and hence it follows that they who do not acknowledge God to be their Father, and who do not rely on his kindness, are wretched, and tremble continually. Wicked men, indeed, indulge in mirth, and even act disdainfully towards God; but their indifference is intoxication and madness of mind, by which they are the more rapidly carried headlong to their destruction. To believers alone this brings the assurance, that he who hath chosen them wishes to be continually their God, and to preserve them; and therefore hath separated them to be his inheritance.
In this sense he calls himself The Holy One of Israel, because while the whole human race is by nature estranged from him, he hath chosen his people that he might set them apart to be his own. Now, though external separation is of little moment, unless God sanctify the elect by the power of his Spirit, yet, because Israel had. openly polluted himself, God declares that still his covenant shall not be made void, because he is always like himself. Besides, it is well known that the word holy is used in an active sense for “him who sanctifies;” and therefore if we wish to be certain of God’s love towards us, let us always remember the testimony of our adoption, by which we are confirmed in our hearts, as by a sure pledge, and let us with all earnestness ask it from God.
I have given the price of thy redemption. I make no remarks on those repetitions which are frequently used by the Prophet, and are customary in the Hebrew language; for the two phrases in this verse, I have given the price, and I have given instead of thee, are used by him in the same sense. We have said that the Prophet confirms believers by bringing forward earlier proofs of the grace of God; as if he had said, “You have already known by experience that God cares for your salvation; for how could it have happened that Sennacherib turned his forces against Egypt, Ethiopia, and other nations, but because the Lord spared you, and directed the attack of your enemy to another quarter? Since therefore he has hitherto manifested so great anxiety on your behalf, you have no need to be anxious about the future.” Thus if at any time doubts arise in our minds about the providence of God, or about his promises, we ought to bring to remembrance the benefits which he has already bestowed upon us; for we shall be chargeable with extreme ingratitude if, after having received from God so many benefits, we doubt of his kindness for the future.
But a question arises. In what sense does he call “Egypt and Ethiopia the price of the redemption” of the Church? for heathen men are not of so high value as to redeem the children of God. But the Prophet borrowed this mode of expression from the ordinary language of men; as if he had said, “The Egyptians, the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans came in thy room, and, as if an exchange had been made, were constrained to suffer the destruction to which thou wast exposed; for, in order to preserve thee, I destroyed them, and delivered them instead of thee into the hand of the enemy.” But we must attend to the history. While Sennacherib was rushing on with his whole might against Judea, the Lord, by throwing over him a bridle, suddenly checked him, and entangled him by other wars, so that he was constrained to withdraw his army; and thus the Egyptians and Ethiopians were signally defeated, while the people of God were allowed to breathe. (Genesis 19:28; Isaiah 37:8.)
We too may readily acknowledge, if we are not worse than stupid, that the same providence and infinite mercy of God have been manifested toward us, when tyrants who would have wished to destroy us, and who joined in opening their mouths with eagerness to devour us, are made by him to engage in wars against each other, and when the rage with which they burned against us is directed by him to another quarter; for by doing so he preserves us, so as to give them as the price of our redemption. When we see irreligious men, amidst the uproar and confusion of mutual wars, pause in their efforts to destroy us, while it is manifest that they do not pause of their own accord, let us lift up our eyes to heaven, and learn that God, in order to spare us, miraculously substitutes others in our room; for we were “like sheep appointed for slaughter,” (Psalms 44:22;) swords were drawn on every hand, if he had not snatched them from the hands of wicked men, or given them a different direction.
Hence we ought to draw a general doctrine, that the Lord takes such care of all believers (1 Peter 5:7) that he values them more highly than the whole world. Although, therefore, we are of no value, yet let us rejoice in this, that the Lord sets so high a value upon us, and prefers us to the whole world, rescues us from dangers, and thus preserves us in the midst of death. If everything were at peace with us, and if we had no troubles, we should not see this grace of God; for when a thousand deaths appear to hang over us, and when there appears no way of escape, and when he suddenly drives back the tyrants, or turns them in another direction, we then know by experience what the Prophet says, and perceive his invaluable kindness toward us.
4. Because thou wast precious. Others interpret it “Thou wast honorable, because I raised thee to honor;” but I think that God assigns the reason why he gave up Egypt and Ethiopia to the enemies in their room. It was because he loved them, and because they were dear to him. It ought to be explained thus, — “Because I loved thee, therefore I gave a man for thee.” By these words he excludes all personal worth on the part of the people, that they may not boast of having obtained anything by their own merit; and, indeed, the cause of salvation, and of all the blessings which we receive, is the undeserved love of God; it is also the cause of all our excellence; for, if he judge of us according to our own qualifications, he will not value us a straw. We must therefore set aside every idea of merit, or of personal worth, of which we have none, and must ascribe everything to the grace of God alone. He means that this love is not of an ordinary kind when he says that we are “precious;” and for the same reason he calls us “his first-born,” (Exodus 4:22,) and “his friends.” (John 15:15.)
I will give a man. Here he adds nothing new, but rather explains the preceding statement, and employs the word “man” collectively for “men;” as if he had said, “There will be no man whom God will not take away and destroy, in order to preserve his people; for he sets a higher value on a single believer than on the whole world.” At the same time he reminds believers that they are redeemed at the expense of those who do not at all differ from them in origin or in nature.
5. Fear not. When Isaiah frequently repeats this exhortation, we ought not to look upon it as superfluous; for we know and feel how prone we are by nature to distrust. Scarcely any words can express the greatness of the alarm by which the Church was at that time shaken. As soon as we begin to call in question the promises of God, our minds are distracted by various thoughts; we are alarmed and continually tormented by the greatness and diversity of the dangers, till at length we are stupified, and have no perception of the grace of God. Accordingly, before despair seize our hearts, it is not without good reason that he so frequently repeats I am with thee, in order that he may either destroy altogether or partially mitigate the fear which is seated in our hearts; for, when it has taken root, there is no method of curing it. This should lead us also to remark, that we ought not to place our safety in anything else than in the presence of God; for if he be absent, we shall either shudder with fear, or become stupid, or run headlong like drunkards. And yet it is not the will of God that we shall be so devoid of fear as to give ourselves up to slothfulness and indifference; but when we are informed that he is at hand and will assist us, cheerful confidence ought to be victorious in the midst of fears.
I will bring thy seed from the east. This passage is evidently taken front the writings of Moses, as we said at the beginning of this commentary, (164) that the prophets are his interpreters, and draw their doctrine from his books; and therefore the Prophet applies this passage to that particular event which he had in view in the present discourse. Moses had thus foretold,“
The Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and will have compassion on thee, and will turn and gather thee out of all the nations into which thy God hath scattered thee. Even if thou shalt be driven to the utmost parts of heaven, thence will thy God gather thee, and thence will he take thee.” (Deuteronomy 30:3.)
What Moses spoke in general terms the Prophet here confirms in a particular instance, and again declares with a slight change of the words. The amount of what is stated is, that it is as difficult to gather a people that is not only scattered, but driven to the most distant countries of the world, as it is to gather ashes that have been scattered here and there; but that God, by his wonderful power, will cause those dislocated members to unite again in one body.
(164) Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1, p. 26.
6. I will say to the north. Under these four parts he includes the whole world, which is very customary in all languages. But Isaiah speaks in somewhat loftier language than Moses, because he wished the people to view the event as if it had actually occurred; and, to such a purpose those lively descriptions which may be said to place it before our eyes, are admirably adapted. He might, indeed, have said it in a single word, but this manner of address is far more forcible; for he represents God as commanding, with supreme authority, all the creatures, and every part of the world, to set his people free.
Bring my sons. He means that not all Israel shall be gathered, but only that which is the true Israel; for not all who are the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh are true Israelites, but very many of them are bastards. (Romans 9:6.) These belong to the true and lawful seed; for that vast multitude of people was not saved, but only “a remnant,” as we saw in a former chapter. (Isaiah 10:21.) There was a vast number of people who were carried away into captivity, but there were few who were brought back. Among them was preserved a seed; and the Lord would not suffer that seed to perish, or the covenant which he had made with their fathers to be broken. These things were very hard to be believed by the Jews, who were despised by all, and were exposed not only to the hatred but to the curses of almost the whole world, and were scarcely reckoned to belong to the number of men; and therefore they must have depended solely on the promises. They knew that Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1) would come, but who he was they were not yet able to conceive, for he had not yet been born; and therefore they needed to be armed with very excellent and steadfast faith, in order to wait for the Lord with unshaken confidence, while many reckoned these predictions to be fables. Let us learn also flora this example to look to God alone, so as not to doubt that he will assist us and will abide by his promises at the proper time.
7. All called. Such is my interpretation of this clause, for the Prophet has made use of the singular number instead of the plural. Interpreters have mistaken the import of this mode of expression; for they explain it thus, “Whosoever have been called by my name, I have formed them to my glory.” But I understand it thus, “All called,” that is, “All shall be called by my name;” as he says in other passages, “My name shall be called upon them.” (Genesis 48:16; Deuteronomy 28:10; Isaiah 4:1.) Why so? “Because I have created them, I have formed them, I have made them for my glory.” He pursues the subject which he formerly handled about gathering the people into one body, though they have been scattered into various and distant parts of the world; as if he had said, “If this work appears to be incredible, you ought not to judge of it by the ordinary course of nature, but you ought to look to his power.”
By my name; that is, “under my direction;” as we have also said, in expounding another passage, (Isaiah 41:25,) that God is reconciled to us, because by the right of adoption we are accounted his people. Now, because the Jews were to be brought back under his guidance and command, and not by the power or assistance of men, he declares that his name will be rendered illustrious in this deliverance, in order that men may learn not to form their judgments from the views of the flesh or from natural means.
For my glory. The Prophet adds the reason, which contains strong ground of confirmation; that is, that he wishes his glory to be manifested in them. He therefore testifies that the salvation of his people concerns himself, that he can no more throw away the care of his people than he can expose his name to reproach and disgrace, which he will never do, and, in a word, that his glow, of which he is the continual defender, is intimately connected with the salvation of his people.
I have formed him, yea, I have made him. For the sake of amplification he repeats the same thing in many forms of language, that they may be more fully convinced that he wishes to conduct to the end the work which he has begun. Such is the force of the particle אף, (aph,) which means “likewise,” or “even,” and sometimes, as we say, “for this time.” Accordingly, the meaning is generally supposed to be, “In like manner, as I have created and formed that people, so I desire to elevate them to a new rank, and to restore them to their ancient freedom.” It may also be rendered and so, and, as I have said, I prefer this rendering, so as to mean not only that the people have nothing but from his grace, but that he is deeply concerned about their salvation, because he cannot despise his own work, a work so remarkable and excellent. This passage, therefore, recommends to us the extraordinary grace of God, by which we are not only born to be men, but likewise formed anew after his image.
8. That I may bring out. The brevity of the words makes the meaning somewhat obscure. Some translate it thus, “I will bring out the blind, and him who hath eyes,” that is, both the blind and them that see, both the deaf and them that hear. Some explain blind to mean those who have indeed eyes, but so dim that they cannot perceive the secrets of heavenly wisdom. But when I take a careful survey of the whole, I prefer to interpret those phrases separately. “I will bring out the blind, so as to restore sight to them; I will bring out the deaf, so that they shall recover their hearing.” And thus the meaning of the words is, “To bring out the blind, and they shall have eyes; and to bring out the deaf, and they shall have ears.” The people are first delivered, and then eyes and ears are restored to them.
The Lord did this when he brought his people out of Babylon; but undoubtedly the Prophet looks farther, that is, to the kingdom of Christ; for at that time believers were gathered not only out of Babylon, but out of all places of the earth. This was seen openly and singularly at Peter’s first sermon, when many persons from various countries united in the same confession of faith. (Acts 2:41.) But afterwards others, who appeared to be altogether strangers, united in the same body, and shewed that they were children of Abraham. If, therefore, we wish to find the full truth of this prophecy, we must come to Christ, by whom alone we are rescued from the bondage of the devil and restored to liberty. (John 8:36.) It is he who restores to us eyes and ears, though formerly we were by nature both blind and deaf. Yet it is proper to remember what I have repeatedly stated on former occasious, that the return of the people is closely connected with the renewal of the Church, which was accomplished by Christ; for what God began by bringing his people out of captivity he continued till Christ, and then brought to perfection; and so it is one and the same redemption. Hence it follows that the blessings which are here mentioned ought not to be limited to a short time.
9. Let all the nations be gathered together. Here the Prophet, as on former occasions, speaks in the person of God, and bids defiance to all idols. It is highly necessary, and was at that time especially necessary, to distinguish between the true God and false gods. It is easy indeed to ascribe to God the glory of divinity, but it is very difficult to claim it for him so exclusively, that all false gods shall be reduced to nothing; and at that time the error regarding them had received greater confirmation, for at the ruin of the nation unbelievers applauded the gods as if they had vanquished the true God. The Prophet therefore suggests to believers the reply which they should make to the jeers of their enemies, and, although they should sally forth in crowds to defend their errors, enjoins the small number to stand firm against all their forces.
Who is there among them to declare this? We formerly said that foreknowledge and power belong to God alone; for he has all things under his eye, and governs all things according to his pleasure; and, accordingly, by these two arguments he formerly proved against all the false gods the charge of vanity, lie now repeats the same charge, not to reclaim from this error the Gentiles, who did not read those prophecies, but to confirm the faith of the Jews, who were assured that they alone knew the true God. At present, indeed, this doctrine belongs both to Gentiles and to Jews; and not only so, but when the Jews shewed themselves to be unworthy, (Acts 13:46,) their privileges were extended to the Gentiles; but at that time Isaiah chiefly addressed the Jews, that, although they saw the Gentiles succeeding in everything to their wish, still they might abhor their idols and superstitions.
Let them produce their witnesses. After haying summoned unbelievers to plead the cause of their gods, or rather, after having held it to be acknowledged that it was to no purpose that they spent their time in the worship of idols, because they had no power of predicting future events, he adds that there will be no witnesses to testify with truth that any prediction ever proceeded from false gods, and consequently that their cause is destitute of lawful defense. There never was a time, indeed, when there were not many fables told about idols, as we constantly hear of innumerable fables of that kind which are widely circulated, and the silliness with which unbelievers pour forth their lies is equalled by the obstinacy with which they defend them; but if we come to examine them, we shall find them to be supported by no proof, but to be absolute tricks and foolish inventions. On this account the Prophet willingly yields the victory, if they shall bring forward competent and trustworthy “witnesses.” To God alone, therefore, this glory belongs; for he has “witnessess,”
But let them hear. At length, as if the matter had been fully proved, he rises more confidently, and commands the vanquished to keep silence. When he bids them hear, he means that the only obstacle to their acknowledgment of the truth is, that they are prejudiced by their error, and refuse to hear God; for this contempt causes them not to repent, but, on the contrary, to defend their error with stubbornness. Now, the Lord was ready to teach if they had only been willing to hear him with candor; and a better teacher could not be desired, but pride and haughtiness will not suffer them to see the truth or to listen to God. They are, therefore, without excuse; for they disdainfully reject his public instructions, and do not assent to his doctrine. Isaiah justly declares that, if they gave due attention, they would be constrained to acknowledge it to be true; (165) and indeed all who shall shew themselves to be obedient will readily acknowledge that the truth of God is founded on a firm and solid judgment, and not on an uncertain and doubtful opinion.
(165) “ Qu’ils seroyent constrains de signer leur condamnation.” “That they would be constrained to sign their condemnation.”
10. Ye are my witnesses. After having summoned the Gentiles to a contest, and after having proved that the stories which they circulated concerning their idols were false and unfounded, God now separates himself from the multitude of them, and produces his “witnesses,” that he may not be thought to be of the same class with them. He justly boasts, therefore, that they are his witnesses, and that he has true witnesses; for the Jews had been instructed by heavenly oracles, as far as was necessary for attaining perfect certainty. Yet he indirectly reproaches them with ingratitude, if they do not openly declare that they know everything that is necessary for maintaining the glory of God; and, indeed, he calls them to bear witness, and adjures them not to cover with silence those predictions by which the true religion might be proved, because that would be unjustly to defraud a good cause of their support.
And my servant. By the word “servant” some think that Isaiah is meant, but I prefer to take it collectively, for all the prophets; for there is a change of number. Now, this name was peculiarly bestowed on the prophets, whom the Lord chose for the purpose of maintaining his truth; and yet, in making use of the singular number, there can be no doubt that he looked chiefly to Christ, in whom all the prophecies are contained and accomplished. (John 1:45; Acts 3:24, and 10:43; Romans 1:2; Hebrews 1:1.) It is also certain that by him chiefly, as the highest witness, all men are convinced. Yet we ought to observe God’s design, which I formerly mentioned, to call the Jews to be witnesses, that he might accuse them of ingratitude, if they did not freely utter what is demanded by the faith of those who, after having received proofs so numerous and so remarkable, could not be ignorant of the power and goodness of God, or call them in question without the greatest treachery. At the same time, he shows in general that the Lord hath chosen the Church, in order to bear testimony to his truth; and on that ground Paul calls the Church“
the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15.)
It is therefore the duty of the Church to defend and publish the truth, that it may be honored by posterity from age to age; not that the Lord needs this assistance, but because in this way he wishes to prove and establish its truth among men. Here Isaiah includes all believers, for this office of bearing testimony is binding on all, but especially on ministers, who ought to be standard-bearers, and to set an example before others. For this reason also they are particularly mentioned; but in general no man ought to be accounted a believer, who conceals the knowledge of God within his own heart, and never makes an open confession of the truth.
Therefore ye shall know. That it may not be thought that the Lord asks them to bear witness about what is unknown, he adds, “Ye shall know, ye shall believe, ye shall understand;” and by this order of the words he shews that faith goes before confession. If, therefore, confession proceed from the top of the lips, and not from the heart, it is vain and useless, and is not such as the Lord demands or approves. Yet there is still some difficulty in the order of those words, “to know, to believe, to understand;” for we do not say that all who know believe, and, in the ordinary manner of speaking, where there is knowledge, there may not be faith. Besides, it is doubtful what is meant by “understanding,” which is mentioned after faith, as if it differed from knowledge.
But in this passage the Prophet shows that there is a kind of preparation for faith, by which God procures reverence for his word, when he sees that it needs such assistance. The beginning of faith, indeed, is humility, by which we yield our senses as captives to God; but because we do not embrace the doctrine offered to us with such certainty as is needful, God confirms us by proofs, that we may fully believe. Thus John relates that he and Peter “believed the Scriptures,” (John 20:8,) when they beheld in the grave the tokens of Christ’s resurrection; and in another passage he says that “the disciples believed in Christ,” when that which they had heard from his mouth was accomplished. (John 2:22.)
We may therefore sum it up in this manner. “The Jews shall actually feel it, when their faith shall have been aided by signs to worship the true God.” At the same time, a distinction is made between true faith and that credulity which lightly carries away fickle men; and God always bestows on his elect knowledge and judgment, that they may distinguish truth from falsehood. Next follows faith and firm certainty, so that they embrace without hesitation all that the Lord hath spoken; and afterwards faith kindles in our hearts more and more the light of understanding, and even in proportion to the progress which we make in it, our knowledge grows and becomes brighter. But these things are not done by our own judgment, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, so far as we are enlightened by him.
That I am he. He means here that it is requisite, in order to faith, that we know who is our God, and that it is he whom we worship, and no other; that our minds may not foolishly waver, and go astray, and admit everything that shall be supported by the opinion of men. Thus, faith is not that which frames anything according to its own fancy, or thoughtlessly assents to any assertion, or doubts and hesitates, but that which rests on firm certainty, so that, yielding obedience to the one true God, it surveys as from a lofty position, and despises all false gods, and frees and delivers their minds from the dread of error.
Hence we see what we ought to think of the perplexed faith of Papists; for they think that men who are stupid and void of understanding, who can scarcely utter a syllable about God, whom they know not, or of whom they are uncertain, are believers, provided that they profess that they believe what their holy mother, the Church, believes. But the Lord does not approve of a thing so trivial, but has united faith with understanding, that we may not imagine that the one can be separated from the other. Besides, there is no faith, unless you believe that it is God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who spoke by the prophets and apostles; for it will not be faith, but a vain and wandering imagination, if we do not believe in that God.
Before me there was no God formed. In order to confirm still more what he lately said, that he is the only God, he again adds that “there was no other God before him.” Yet לא נוצר (lo notzar) may be taken in a passive sense, so as to convey a different meaning, that of a “creature,” or “workmanship,” or “work” (166) of God; but as that appears to be a forced sense, I willingly concur with the ordinary opinion, that “no other God had been formed before him.” This contains a kind of irony, as if it had been said, that there was no other god that had not been made and formed by mortals, and consequently, that none can be compared with the eternal God.
And after me there shalt not be. He adds that “there shall be none afterwards,” because God always preserves his dominion entire and unimpaired, and does not fail through old age or length of days. His object is to shew that, until we rely on him, there is no faith in us. They who know that there is some deity, but do not understand what it is, continually hesitate, and entangle themselves in strange labyrinths. Let us, therefore, believe that he alone is God, and for that reason cannot permit any one to be equal to him, or to share with him in his majesty.
(166) The translation which Calvin mentions, but rejects, appears to be, “There was no creature of God.” — Ed. “Various attempts have been made to explain away the singular expression, there was no god formed before me, as a solecism, or at least an inaccuracy of expression; whereas nothing else could have conveyed the writer’s meaning, in a form at once sarcastic, argumentative, and graphic. Instead of saying, in a bald prosaic form, ‘All other gods are the work of men’s hands, but I am uncreated and exist from all eternity,’ he condenses all into the pregnant declaration, ‘There was no god manufactured before me,’ that is, ‘All other gods were made, but none of them was made before I had a being.’” — Alexander.
11. I, I (167) am Jehovah. Here the Lord employs lofty language, as having obtained the victory. Already he had sufficiently explained in what manner he must be known, and had shewn that there is no God except himself; and now, in order to confirm this doctrine, he exclaims, “I alone am Jehovah, there is none besides me.” This shews how dangerous it is to contrive anything about God out of our own fancy; for when we make any kind of graven image, we produce an idol instead of God. We ought, therefore, to embrace nothing but what has proceeded from God, so as not to allow ourselves any liberty on this subject. After God has revealed himself to us, we ought to make progress in the knowledge of him, and to grow and be strengthened every day; for this is the meaning of the repetition, I, I. (168)
And there is no Savior besides me. That we may not suppose that his eternal essence only is here exhibited, but also his power and goodness, which he constantly exercises towards us, and by which he is fully revealed, he adds an epithet as a distinguishing mark, that “he is the only Savior.” The world falls into the mistake of giving a naked and empty name to God, and at the same time conveying his authority to another, as in Popery God is indeed mentioned, but is robbed of his honor, when one part of it is given to St. Peter, and another to St. Paul, and another to St. William, and another to St. George; that is, his offices are distributed into so many parts, that hardly anything is left to him but a naked and empty name. They boast, indeed, of worshipping God alone; but when we come to what it belongs to God to do, they make as many gods as they have creatures, and distribute among them his power and authority. But the Lord has determined that these shall remain entire and uninfringed, and they cannot be conveyed to another without shocking blasphemy; for he alone does good to men, he alone defends and preserves them. The last clause of the verse expresses that knowledge which is derived from experience, that we may not seek salvation in any other than in him who its the only author of it. Hence we learn that the chief part of the worship of God consists in faith, when he is acknowledged to be the beginning and the end of life, when we bestow on him the title of Savior, and do not convey to another what he declares to belong to himself and to reside in him alone.
(167) “ Ce suis-je, ce suis-je.” “It is I, it is I.”
(168) “ Ce suis-je, ce suis-je.” “It is I, it is I.”
12. I have told and have saved. This verse is a sort of recapitulation ( ἀνακεφαλαίωσις) of the preceding; for Jehovah again relates that he foretold future events, and that he had actually accomplished what he foretold. To tell relates to foreknowledge, and to save relates to power and goodness. In a word, he means that he alone is God, who both knows and does all things. Although these things were spoken to the Jews, yet let us know that they belong to us also; for all the predictions that have come down to us ought to be regarded by us as so many proofs both of the knowledge and of the power of God, that we may rely on him alone.
And there is no strange god among you. That superstitions may be banished, and that he may be elevated to the throne of his heavenly doctrine, he again mentions that he displayed his power, and gave tokens of his grace, without being aided by any one; and hence it follows, that they who shall not be satisfied with him alone, will be excessively ungrateful and wicked. “At the time,” says he, “when ye worshipped no strange god, I openly and publicly displayed my power; and therefore it is unlawful to bestow on false gods what belongs to me.” And yet in these words he does not so much commend the piety or religion of the people, as he excludes all foreign aid; as if he had said, that while the Jews knew no other God, the miracles wrought by him were so numerous and so great, that it was perfectly evident that none but he is God. At the same time Isaiah remarks that our unbelief hinders God from displaying his power amongst us. Away, then, with all errors and all wavering and doubtful opinions about God, if we wish to have experience of his power! for if we turn our minds to superstitions or idols, we shall undoubtedfly render ourselves unworthy of his assistance and kindness.
Ye are therefore my witnesses. At length he again summons them as witnesses, accusing them of base and shameful ingratitude, if they conceal what he had abundantly made known to them; for the greater and more numerous the testimonies by which he has manifested to us his power and might, so much the more are we bound to declare them to others.
13. Even before the day was. He now speaks of the eternity of God; but we must attend to the Prophet’s design; for he who has a beginning and is not from himself, cannot rule by his dominion, or govern according to his pleasure, what he has not created. When, therefore, God declares that he is eternal, he reminds us that the world is his workmanship; for this order of nature did not spring up by chance, but proceeded from the wonderful purpose and. wisdom of God. (Genesis 1:1.) In this sense he afterwards adds, —
There is none to deliver out of my hand. Hence we shall clearly see that his supreme and infinite power is proved from his eternity; for if he were not eternal, he could neither exercise authority over all things, nor be the defender of his people, nor dispose of the creatures according to his pleasure; but since he is eternal, all things must be subject to his authority. To the same purpose is what he says, that no obstacle can prevent what he hath decreed to do, that the Jews may not be alarmed or dispirited by the forces or number of the enemies.
14. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet shews that Cyrus will be but a hired soldier, to render his services to the Lord for delivering his people. He does not indeed name Cyrus, but speaks of the army which he has under his command for subduing the Babylonians. ‘We know that this was accomplished by Cyrus and Darius, and that under the direction of God, who had foretold it long before. And not only does he speak to those who beheld the accomplishment of these things, but to all others whom the Lord wished to comfort by this hope of deliverance, of which they could not have formed the smallest conception. He addresses captives, who, having been oppressed by the cruel tyranny of the Babylonians, appeared to be beyond all hope of obtaining deliverance, and who might be apt to regard those promises as absurd, because in the opinion of men there was no visible hope of redemption. But we should yield this honor to the word, to believe what is otherwise incredible, that we may be encouraged to “hope against hope.” (Romans 4:18.) Such is the power of faith, that it must not be limited to the view of external objects, but rise above the heavens, and reach even to God himself.
For your sake I have sent to Babylon. This is highly emphatic; for, while Cyrus was instigated by ambition and by an insatiable desire of power, and while there were many causes of the war, nothing was further from being generally believed, than that the destruction of that monarchy would shake the world, so that the Jews who were at that time most despicable in the eyes of men, would return to their native land. But God testifies that he will grant easy victories to the Persians, so that they shall subdue the East, because he will be reconciled to his Church.
For the same reason he begins by saying, that he is the Redeemer of his people, and the Holy One, to shew more clearly that he holds dear and precious those whom he has chosen to be his peculiar people. (Exodus 19:6.) But this appears to be inconsistent with what we have formerly seen,“
We to thee who plunderest, for thou shalt be exposed to plunder,” (Isaiah 33:1;)
for the Lord declared that he would punish the cruelty of the Babylonians, and repay to them what they had deserved; but now he affirms that he sends the Persians to deliver his people. But these statements may easily be reconciled. Though the Lord punished the Babylonians, yet he had also a care of his people; for, as the providence of God extends throughout the whole world, so he takes a peculiar care of his Church, and, as the elect are the object of his special love, so he directs all things for their salvation. It is not without good reason, therefore, that he says that he sent, and that he was induced by undeserved favor to send, because he wished to be the Savior of his people.
And I made them come down. For the same reason as before, he now adds that they shall come down at his command, because, although the Persians and Medes will have another object in view, yet their march shall be guided by heavenly impulse; and in this manner he wished to give an early testimony of his grace to the elect people, that they might not faint under many very distressing calamities. This promise ought therefore to have brought vast consolation to believers, that, although they were despised, and hated, and even abhorred by all, still they were dear to God; because he would at length assist them, and on their account would destroy the kingdom of the Babylonians.
They are all fugitives. (169) By saying that “they shall be fugitives,” he shews that he will give to Cyrus such success, that the Babylonians shall tremble at his arrival, and in terror shall throw down their arms, and betake themselves to flight. It often happens that a very powerful prince, abundantly supplied with military preparations, undertakes a war, but conducts it unsuccessfully; and therefore it was not enough that Cyrus should be sent with a powerful army, if he were not also crowned with success.
And a cry of the Babylonians in the ships. To describe more fully the sudden flight, he adds that there shall be “a cry or noise in the ships;” for they were unable to escape by land. They had, indeed, a very convenient river, the Euphrates, which united with the river Tigris, by which they might easily have escaped. Yet even in this respect their expectation was disappointed on account of the bed of the river being dried up.
(169) “All their nobles, (Heb., bars.)” — Eng. Ver. “From the earliest times ברחים (barichim) has received a twofold explanation, namely, that of Fugitives, as in the Septuagint, and that of Bars, as in the Vulgate. The same question arises in the exposition of chap. 15:5.” — Alexander.
15. I Jehovah. This verse contains no statement, and only shews who it is that speaks, how great is his power and majesty, and, in a word, how warmly he loves the elect people, so as to give greater weight to the former promise. In short, it may be viewed as the seal of the preceding statement, more powerfully confirming what was formerly said, that it is God who makes these promises. But what God?
Your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. He is called Holy, because he has chosen and separated a people, that he might consecrate them to himself; for by this title he reminds them of the adoption by which he united them to himself in a peculiar manner, that they may understand that he will be their Father and Savior. And for the same reason we ought now to acknowledge him as our Holy One, because he has set us apart to be members of the Church, of which we are assured by our calling. The name Creator must not be viewed as referring to universal creation, by which unbelievers also are created, but to the new creation, on account of which we are also called (Ephesians 2:10) “his workmanship,” ( τὸ ποίημα) as we have formerly stated, while expounding other passages.
Your King. This might indeed be thought to be absurd; for not even the semblance of a kingdom was visible, and nothing was to be seen among the Jews but what was covered with shame and disgrace, in consequence of their having been deprived of all aid and relief. Yet there was room for the exercise of faith, that they might hope for the restoration of the kingdom, though apparently ruined and almost extinguished, and might acknowledge God to be their King.
16. Thus saith Jehovah. He again repeats and confirms what was otherwise incredible; and, in order that this confirmation may have greater weight, he personates God himself.
Who maketh a way in the sea. He reminds them of former benefits, that, having experienced his power and kindness, they may believe that he will not be less gracious for the future, nor less powerful to deliver them. As if he had said, “The Lord who speaks will actually shew how vast is the greatness of his power. Your fathers experienced it, and you will not experience it the less.” Now, we are ungrateful to God, if former benefits do not lead us to entertain hope for the future; and especially when he intended to give a sure and striking proof of continual favor towards us. He brought the Jews out of Egypt on the express condition, that the deliverance which was accomplished should never be forgotten. (Exodus 13:9.)
The Prophet therefore represents God as actually present, and declares that he is the same God who surmounted every obstacle by his power, that he might be the Redeemer of his people. At that time he opened up a way through the sea, (Exodus 14:21,) and afterwards through the mighty waters, that is, through Jordan, which the Lord dried up, though it was running very rapidly. (Joshua 3:16.) And these prodigious miracles he expressly relates, because they might think that their return to Judea was closed up, and that all that was promised concerning it was fabulous.
17. When he bringeth out. He shows that no power or forces shall hinder him from delivering his people, whenever he shall think proper. The sea which lay between them could not prevent God from “bringing out” his people; but he divided its waters in the midst, and drowned the pursuing enemies, with their horses and chariots. (Exodus 14:28.) This is therefore an amplification; as if he had said, “Though the whole world be leagued for your destruction, and attempt, to hinder the deliverance of my Church, yet it will gain nothing; for not only will the Lord find out a way through whirlpools, when he thinks proper, but he will overthrow and scatter all opposing efforts, and will crush them so that they shall never again raise their head.”
They are quenched like flax. It is possible that he who was vanquished in one battle may renew his strength in another, and at length be victorious; but here the Lord promises a continual victory, for he declares that the enemies shall be subdued in such a manner that they shall be completely extinguished. By the metaphor of flax, he expresses more vividly the sudden destruction of the enemies; for flax may indeed burn and give light, but is immediately consumed.
18. Remember not former things. Hitherto the Prophet shewed how great was the power of God in delivering the people. He now declares that all the miracles which God wrought in that first redemption were of little importance as compared with the more remarkable miracle which should soon be wrought; that is, that the glory of this second deliverance shall be so great as to throw the former into the shade. Yet he does not mean that the Jews should forget so great a benefit, which he had commanded them to publish in every age, and to inscribe on permanent records; for in his preface to the Law he begins in this manner,“
I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2.)
He even enjoined parents to repeat it frequently to their children, and from hand to hand to deliver it to their grandchildren and to posterity. This must therefore be understood to be by comparison, like that saying’ of Jeremiah,“
Behold the days come,” saith the Lord, “that it shall no longer be said, The Lord liveth, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, who led and brought out the seed of the house of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries into which I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their land.” (Jeremiah 23:7.)
In short, he shews that this latter redemption, when compared with the former, shall be far more illustrious. Hence it follows, that it is improper to limit this prediction to a small number of years; for the Prophet does not separate between its commencement and its progress, but extends the blessed consequences of their return till Christ, who, by his coming, actually set up the priesthood and the kingdom.
19. Behold, I do a new thing. This shews more clearly what the Prophet meant in the preceding verse, for he declares that there shall be “a new work,” that is, a work unheard of and uncommon, and which, on account of its greatness and excellence, shall throw into the shade the reputation of all other works; in the same manner as the brightness of the sun, when it fills heaven and earth, causes the stars to disappear.
Now it shall arise. He means that the time shall not be long. Yet these things were not so speedily accomplished; but, if we look to God, four hundred or even a thousand years are counted as a moment before him; how much less ought a delay of seventy years to wear out and discourage them? When he adds, Shall ye not know it? this question is more forcible and impressive than a bare affirmation, and this form of question is more frequently employed by Hebrew writers than in the Greek and Latin languages. When he promises a way in the wilderness, he alludes to that wilderness which lay between Judea and Babylon; for he speaks of the return of the people. Accordingly to the way he adds rivers; for in travelling through a dry country they might have been parched and died of thirst. On this account, the Lord says that he will supply them with water and everything that is necessary for the journey; as if he had said, “I will furnish you with provisions, so that under my guidance you shall return to your native land.”
But it may be thought that the Prophet is excessive, and that his language is altogether hyperbolical, when he extols this deliverance in such lofty terms; for we read that rivers were turned into blood, (Exodus 7:20,) the air was covered with darkness, (Exodus 10:22,) the first-born were slain, (Exodus 12:29,) insects were sent forth to destroy the whole country, (Exodus 10:15,) and that other prodigies of the same kind happened in Egypt, while nothing of this sort was done in Babylon. What then is meant by this new redemption? This consideration has compelled almost all Christian commentators to interpret this passage as referring absolutely to the coming of Christ, in which they are undoubtedly mistaken; and the Jews are also in the wrong, when they limit it to the redemption from Babylon. Accordingly, as I have frequently remarked, we ought here to include the whole period which followed the redemption from Babylon, down to the coming of Christ.
The redemption from Egypt may be regarded as having been the first birth of the Church; because the people were gathered into a body, and the Church was established, of which formerly there was not the semblance; but that deliverance is not limited to the time when the people went out of Egypt, but is continued down to the possession of the land of Canaan, which was delivered to the people, when the kings had been driven out. (Joshua 11:23.) We ought to take the same view of this new birth, ( περὶ ταύτης παλιγγενεσίας,) by which the people were rescued from Babylon, and brought back to their native land; for that restoration must not be limited to the departure from Babylon, but must be extended to Christ, during the whole of which period great and wonderful events undoubtedly happened. Was it not astonishing that a captive people, whom all despised as some contemptible slave, and who were even held to be accursed, should receive freedom and liberty to return from heathen kings; and not only so, but should be furnished with provisions, and with everything else that was necessary both for the journey and for settling at home, for rearing the city and for rebuilding the Temple? (Ezra 1:2.)
But far greater events followed, when but a few persons were willing to return, and the greater part were so discouraged as to prefer wretched bondage to blessed freedom. When, in comparison of that vast multitude which had been carried away, a few persons returned to Judea, still greater obstacles arose. Conspiracies were formed, the people formerly abhorred became the objects of keener resentments, the work was interrupted, and every method was tried for putting a full stop to the design. (Ezra 4:0.) Thus it appeared as if in vain the Lord had brought them back, for they were exposed to dangers much greater than before. When the temple had been built, they did not enjoy greater peace; for they were hedged in on all sides by very cruel and deadly enemies, from whom they often sustained great hardships. They were afterwards afflicted by distresses, and calamities, and various persecutions, so that they were supposed to be struck down and overwhelmed, and utterly ruined. And yet, in the midst of fire and sword, God wonderfully preserved them; and if we consider their wretched and miserable condition, and the grievous persecutions of tyrants, we shall wonder that even a single individual of them could survive.
In order that we may understand how great was the excellence of this latter redemption, and how far it excelled the former, we must: continue and bring it down to the time of Christ, who at length gave an immense addition to the former benefits. Thus, beyond all question, the second redemption leaves the first far behind. There is nothing forced in this interpretation, and it corresponds to the ordinary language of the prophets, who always have the Messiah for their end, and keep him constantly in their eye. But this will appear more clearly from what is related by Haggai; for, when the Temple began to be rebuilt, the old men, who had seen the glory of the ancient temple, mourned, and were not far from thinking that God had forsaken them, and that his promises had failed. But Haggai, in order to comfort them and to prove that the glory of this second would be greater than the glory of the first, though the structure of the building was far inferior, leads them to the Redeemer.“
Thus saith the Lord of hosts,” says he, “Yet once, and within a short time, I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the continent, and all the nations; and the Desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former.” (Haggai 2:6.)
Thus, as Haggai brings the restoration of the Temple down to Christ, and refers to him its true glory; so this deliverance (for the two things are connected, or rather they are the same) extended even to Christ. Consequently, we need not wonder if it surpassed the Egyptian deliverance in every respect.
20. The beast of the field shall honor me. He adorns the preceding statement; for, amidst such a desperate condition of affairs, it was proper that magnificent language should be employed in extolling the power of God, that words might supply what seemed to be wanting in the reality. The meaning is, that the power of God will be so visible and manifest, that the very beasts, impressed with the feeling of it, shall acknowledge and worship God. This prediction corresponds to the song,“
The sea saw and fled, Jordan was driven back. The mountains leaped like rams, and the hills like lambs. At the face of the Lord the earth trembled.” (Psalms 114:3.)
Isaiah here ascribes the same feeling to brute animals, because by a secret impulse they shall be constrained to retire, so as to allow his people to pass safely. And yet the cause assigned is more extensive, that they will stand still, as if in astonishment, when they see the miracles. In a word, God declares that he will not suffer his people, in their journey homeward, to be destitute of the means of subsistence, but describes in exaggerated language his love toward the Jews, that by the height of their hope they may rise above the world. When we hear these statements, let us also not measure the power of God by the nature of things, but let us be exalted by faith above all that can be seen or known.
My people, my chosen. That these wretched exiles may not be driven from the hope of heavenly grace and assistance, he reminds them of their adoption; as if he had said, that amidst this ruinous and melancholy condition they still continued to be the people of God, because he who once chose them does not change his purpose. Accordingly, whenever we need to be excited to cherish favorable hope, let us remember God’s calling; for, although we are unworthy, still it ought to be reckoned enough that the Lord has deigned to bestow on us so great an honor.
21. This people have I created for myself. The Prophet means that the Lord will necessarily do what he formerly said, because it concerns his glory to preserve the people whom he has chosen for himself; and therefore these words are intended for the consolation of the people. “Do you think that I will suffer my glory to fall to the ground? It is connected with your salvation, and therefore your salvation shall be the object of my care. In a word, know that you shall be saved, because you cannot perish, unless my glory likewise perish. Ye shall therefore survive, because I wish that you may continually proclaim my glory.”
When he says that he has created the people, let us learn that it proceeds from supernatural grace that we are the people of God; for we must remember that principle of which we have formerly spoken, that he does not now speak of the ordinary nature of men, but of spiritual regeneration, or of the adoption by which he separates the Church from the rest of the world, and that with everything that belongs to it. Let no one therefore ascribe his regeneration to himself or to any human merits; but let us acknowledge that it is entirely to the mercy of God that we owe so great a favor.
They shall declare my praise. Though it is the design of the Prophet to shew what I have said, that his people shall be saved because it concerns the glory of God, yet we also learn from it, that the end of our election is, that we may shew forth the glory of God in every possible way. (Exodus 14:4.) The reprobate are, indeed, the instruments of the glory of God, but it is said to shine in us in a very different manner; for “he hath chosen us,” says Paul, “that we might be holy and without blame before him through love, who predestinated us that he might adopt us to be his children through Jesus Christ, in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace by which he hath made us accepted through the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4.) Such also is the import of the words of Peter when he says, that we were brought out of darkness into the wonderful kingdom of God, that we may declare his perfections, (1 Peter 2:9;) and likewise the words of Zacharias,“
That, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74.)
This, then, is the end of our calling, that, being consecrated to God, we may praise and honor him during our whole life.
22. And thou hast not called on me. He confirms by an indirect reproof what he said in the preceding verse, that it was not by any merits of his people that he was induced to act so kindly towards them. This deliverance, therefore, ought to be ascribed to no other cause than to the goodness of God. In order to prove this, he says, “Thou hast not called on me.” Calling on the name of God includes the whole of the worship of God, the chief part of which is “calling upon him;” and, therefore, following the ordinary manner of Scripture, he has put a part for the whole. But in other passages the Lord plainly shews that calling upon him is the chief part of his worship; for, after having said that he despises sacrifices and outward ceremonies, he adds,“
Call upon me in the day of trouble.” (Psalms 50:15.)
Hence also Scripture, when it speaks of the worship of God, chiefly mentions “calling on him;” for when Moses states that the worship of God had been restored, he says, “Then began men to call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:26.)
But thou hast been wearied of me. In this second clause I consider the particle כי ( ki) to be disjunctive, “But rather thou hast been wearied of me.” Others render it “Because thou hast wearied;” as if he had said, “Thou hast received with dislike what was enjoined on thee;” which amounts to nearly the same thing. As the Lord demands obedience, so he wishes all that worship him to be ready and cheerful; as Paul testifies, that “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 9:7,) and they who obey reluctantly cannot be called, and are not reckoned by him, true and sincere worshippers. Thus, in order to show that the Jews have not worshipped him as they ought to have done, he says that they did it reluctantly. If any one choose rather to view it as assigning the reason, and render it thus, — “Thou hast not called on me, for thou hast rendered to me no worship without regret, and what may be said to have been extorted from thee by violence,” as it makes little difference in the meaning, I do not greatly object; but the translation which I have given appears to convey more clearly what the Prophet intends. Besides, the contrast contains within itself the assigning of a reason; and therefore, if we wish that God should accept of our service, let us obey him with a cheerful disposition.
23. Theft hast not brought to me. A question arises, “Why does the Prophet bring this reproach against the Jews, who, it is evident, were very careful to offer sacrifices according to the injunction of the Law?” Some refer this to the time of the captivity, when they could not have offered sacrifices to God though they had been willing to do so; for it was not lawful for them to offer sacrifices in any other place than Jerusalem, and therefore they could not appease God by sacrifices. (Deuteronomy 12:13.) But I rather think that it is a general reproach; for at the very time when the people were sacrificing, they could not boast of their merits or personal worth, as if they had laid God under obligations in this manner; for they were wanting in the sacrifices which God chiefly approves, that is, faith and obedience, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. There was no integrity of heart, “their hands were full of blood,” (Isaiah 1:15;) everything was filled with fraud and robbery, and there was no room for justice or equity. Although, therefore, they daily brought beasts to the temple, and sacrificed them, yet he justly affirms that they offered nothing to him. Sacrifices could not be accepted by God when they were separated kern truth, and were offered to another rather than to God; for he did not demand them in themselves, but so far as the people treated them as exercises of faith and obedience, Hence we infer that the Prophet says nothing new, but continues to exhibit the same doctrine, namely, that God rejects all services that are rendered in a slavish spirit, or in any other respect are defective.
24. Thou hast not bought cane for me. He means the cane or calamus of which the precious ointment was composed, as we are informed, (Exodus 30:23;) for the high priests, the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, together with its vessels, were anointed with it he says, therefore, “Although thou buy cane for me with money, yet thou oughtest not to reckon that to be expense bestowed on me, as if I approved of it.” They lost their pains in all those ceremonies, because they did not look to the proper end, since they did not exercise faith, or worship God with a pure conscience.
And thou hast not made me drunk. This corresponds to a mode of expression employed in the law, in which God testifies that sacrifices are pleasant and delightful feasts to him; not that he took pleasure in the slaughter of animals, but that by these exercises he wished to lead his people to true obedience. He means that here, on the contrary, the people did not offer sacrifices in a proper manner, because they polluted everything with impiety; and, consequently, that he might be said to be hungry and faint, because they offered nothing in a right manner, but everything was corrupted and was without savor.
But thou hast made me to serve with thy sins. The Prophet now aggravates the heinousness of that offense, by saying that the people not only were deficient in their duty, and did not submit to God, but that they even endeavored to make God submit to them, and “to serve” their will, or rather their lust. They who explain this passage as referring to Christ torture the Prophet’s meaning, and therefore I consider this interpretation to be more natural. The Lord complains that men compelled him to carry a heavy burden, instead of submitting to him with reverence, as they ought to have done; for when we rise up against God, we treat him as a slave by our rebellion and insolence. He explains this more fully when he says, Ye have wearied me; that is, that God suffered much uneasiness on account of the wickedness of his people; for in some respects we wound and “pierce him,” as the Prophet says, (Zechariah 12:10,) when we reject his voice, and do not suffer ourselves to be governed by him. Apparently he alludes to what he had formerly said about the weariness or uneasiness of the people in worshipping God; for God declares, on the contrary, that the people have given him great distress.
25. I, I am he. (170) He concludes the former statement by this exclamation, as if he had said, that he may boast of his right, that he blots out the iniquities of his people, and restores them to freedom; for they have no merits by which they could obtain it, since they deserve the severest punishment, and even destruction. The same word is twice repeated by him, that he may more sharply rebuke the ingratitude of men who are wont to rob him of that honor which belongs to him alone, or in some way to throw it into the shade.
He that blotteth out thy iniquities. הוא ( hu) is the demonstrative pronoun He, used instead of a noun, as in many other passages. It is but a poor and feeble meaning that is attached to the words of the Prophet by those who think that God claims for himself the privilege and authority of pardoning sins, for he rather contrasts his mercy with all other causes, as if he declared that he is not induced by anything else to pardon sins, but is satisfied with his mere goodness, and, consequently, that it is wrong to ascribe either to merits or to any sacrifices the redemption of which he is the Author by free grace. The meaning may be summed up by saying, that the people ought to hope for their return for no other reason than because God will freely pardon their sins, and, being of his own accord appeased by his mercy, will stretch out his fatherly hand.
The present subject is the pardon of sins; we must see on what occasion it has been introduced. Undoubtedly the Prophet means that there will be a freely bestowed redemption, and therefore he mentions forgiveness rather than redemption, because, since they had received a severe punishment for their sins, they must have been pardoned before they were delivered. The cause of the disease must be taken away, if we wish to cure the disease itself; and so long as the Lord’s anger lasts, his chastisements will also last; and consequently his anger must be appeased, and we must be reconciled to God, before we are freed from punishments. And this form of expression ought to be carefully observed in opposition to the childish distinction of the Sophists, who say that God does indeed pardon guilt, but that we must make satisfaction by penances. Hence proceeded satisfactions, indulgences, purgatory, and innumerable other contrivances.
The Prophet does not only speak of guilt, but speaks expressly of punishment which is remitted, because sins have been freely pardoned. This is still more clearly expressed by the addition of the phrase for mine own sake. It is certain that this limitation is contrasted with all merits, that is, that God pays no regard to us, or to anything that is in us, in pardoning our sins, but that he is prompted to it solely by his goodness; for if he had regard to us, he would be in some respects our debtor, and forgiveness would not be of free grace. Accordingly, Ezekiel explains the contrast,“
Not for your sakes will I do this, O house of Jacob, but for mine own sake.” (Ezekiel 36:22.)
Hence it follows that God is his own adviser, and is freely inclined to pardon sins, for he does not find any cause in men.
Therefore I will not remember thy sins. The Prophet added this for the consolation of the godly, who, oppressed by the consciousness of their transgressions, might otherwise have fallen into despair. On this account he encourages them to cherish good hope, and confirms them in that confidence by saying, that although they are unworthy, yet he will pardon their sins, and will thus deliver them. Hence we ought to draw a useful doctrine, that no one can be certain of obtaining pardon, unless he rely on the absolute goodness of God. They who look to their works must continually hesitate, and at length despair, because, if they are not deceived by gross hypocrisy, they will always have before their eyes their own unworthiness, which will constrain them to remain in doubt as to the love of God.
When it is said that ministers also forgive sins, (John 20:23,) there is no inconsistency with this passage, for they are witnesses of this freely bestowed forgiveness. The ordinary distinction is that God forgives sins by his power, and ministers by their office; but as this distinction does not explain the Prophet’s meaning, we must keep by what I have stated, that God not only forgives sins in the exercise of his authority, but that all the blessings for which we ought to hope flow from the fountain of his absolute bounty. Thus the Lord adorned the preaching of the gospel, and its ministers, in such a manner as to reserve the full authority for himself.
(170) “ Ce suis-je, ce suis-je.” “It is I, it is I.”
26. Bring to my remembrance. Because the pride of men cannot be easily corrected, the Lord pursues this argument, and dwells much upon it, in order to lead the Jews to throw away all confidence in their works, and to make them more humble, he gives them liberty to say and argue whatever they please, in order to support their cause, if they do not acknowledge that they are vanquished. By a sort of admission in their favor, he bids them call to his remembrance; as if he had said, “If thou thinkest me to be forgetful, tell it thyself; remind me, if thou canst allege anything good; speak in thy turn, I shall be silent.” By this form of expression he taunts men more than if he had stated in the usual way how the matter stood. He shews that it is exceedingly foolish in men to claim anything for themselves; for, though he gives them liberty of boasting, they will be found utterly unable to plead, and will have nothing to say in defense of their cause.
That thou mayest be justified, that is, “In order that thou mayest gain thy cause, and carry off the victory, I allow thee to say whatever thou pleasest.” This is vehement mockery, which shuts the mouths of men more completely than if he pronounced the sentence in his own person and with the authority of a judge. Yet we must also observe the design of the Prophet; for he found it necessary to strip the Jews of the mask of personal worth, that they might humbly and meekly receive the grace of God.
27. Thy first father sinned. This passage is almost universally understood to refer to the “first parent” Adam. (Genesis 3:6.) Some prefer to interpret it as relating to Abraham; as if he had said,“
You have not alone sinned, but your father Abraham himself sinned, though he was a man of eminent holiness.” (171) (Joshua 24:2.)
By the teachers are understood to be meant Moses and Aaron, who were men of extraordinary holiness, and yet sinned: “how much more you who are far inferior to theme” (Numbers 20:12.) That would be an argument from the greater to the less. But I view the matter differently; for under the word Father he includes not one or a few of their ancestors, but many. It is an interchange of the singular and plural number, which is very frequently employed by Hebrew writers. This reproof occurs very frequently in the prophets and in the Psalms; for, knowing that God reckoned them to be “a holy people,” (Exodus 19:6,) as if this honor had been due to the excellence or merits of the fathers, they rose fiercely against God himself, and swelled with pride on account of their hereditary privilege. On this account the prophets in every age expose the crimes of the fathers; and Stephen, who followed them, says, that “they always resisted the Holy Spirit;” (Acts 7:51;) as if he had said, “You do not now for the first time begin to be wicked; long ago your fathers were base and infamous. From a bad crow has come a bad egg. But you are far worse, and exceed your fathers in wickedness; so that if I had looked at you alone, you would long ago have been destroyed and completely ruined.”
And thy teachers. (172) He now adds the teachers, in order to shew that the blame did not lie with the people alone; for they who ought to have been the guides of others, that is, the priests and the prophets, were the first to stumble, and led others into error. In a word, he shews that no class was free from vices and corruptions. “Let them now go and boast of their virtues, and let them produce the very smallest reason why I ought to protect them, except my own goodness.” If it be objected that there is no reason why the sins of their fathers should be brought as an accusation against them, because it is written,“
The soul that hath sinned shall die, and the children shall not be punished instead of the fathers,” (Ezekiel 18:20,)
the answer will be easy. The Lord makes the children to bear the punishment of the sins of the fathers, when they resemble their fathers; and yet they are not punished for other men’s sins, for they themselves have sinned; and when the Lord chastises the whole body, he puts the fathers and the children together, so as to involve all in the same condemnation.
(171) Jarchi adopts this view, and paraphrases the clause thus; “‘Thy first father sinned,’ that is, when he said, ‘How shall I know that I shall inherit it?’” (Genesis 15:8.) This passage was not likely to have occurred to modern readers as the most striking fact in Abraham’s history for proving that that eminently holy man was not absolutely perfect; and the selection of it is a curious specimen of Jewish interpretation. — Ed.
(172) “Thy teachers. Hebrews Interpreters.” — (Eng. Ver.) “Interpreters, or organs of communication, is a title given elsewhere to ambassadors, (2 Chronicles 32:31,) and to an interceding angel. (Job 33:23.) It here denotes all those who, under the theocracy, acted as organs of communication between God and the people, whether prophets, priests, or rulers.” — Alexander.
28. Therefore I will pollute. The copulative ו (vau) here means therefore, and the preterite tense, I have polluted, ought to have a future signification, though it may also be rendered in the past tense; but I have preferred the future, in order to apply it to the time of the captivity; for he directly addresses those who were to live under the captivity. If it be thought preferable to extend it to various calamities, by which God had covered his people with disgrace, and at the same time to connect with it their exile in Babylon, there will be no impropriety; and indeed it will be more appropriate to view it as a description of what frequently happened to them in former times, that they may be warned for the future, that they have no privilege which can defend them from receiving again with the deepest disgrace the punishment of their ingratitude, tie shews, therefore, the cause of this destruction. It was because the transgressions of the fathers and of the children must be punished, that is, when there was no end of sinning, but when they daily kindled the wrath of God against them, till he at length punished them.
The Lord is said to “pollute” or “profane” his Church, when he despises and throws it aside as a thing of no value. In this sense the word is used in Psalms 89:39, and in many other passages. Having been set apart and sanctified by him, we dwell under his protection and guardianship, so long as we are holy; and in like manner when we are deprived of it, we are said to be “profaned,” because we cease to be sacred, and are rendered unworthy of his protection; and he exposes as a prey to enemies those whom he formerly called “his anointed,” and forbade men to “touch.” (Psalms 105:15.) But it may be thought strange that the priests, who were Christ’s representatives, should be “profaned;” and the reason is, that they transgressed, while they ought to have been “teachers” of others.
And I will make Jacob a curse. The Hebrew word הרם, (herem,) which we have translated a curse, signifies “destruction,” but likewise signifies “a curse;” and I have thought that the latter meaning is more appropriate to this passage, for it afterwards follows, a reproach. These statements are borrowed by the Prophet from Moses, whose description he follows so closely, that it is easy to perceive the style of Moses in these words, and to see that the prophets bring forward nothing that is new or strange. The words of Moses are:“
And thou shalt be an astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word among all the nations to which the Lord shall lead thee.” (Deuteronomy 28:37.)
He therefore threatens that he will afflict the people in such a manner as to make them “accursed” by all; so that whoever shall wish to pronounce a “curse” may take it for an example, and that it may be a form of “cursing;” that he will expose them to the ridicule of men, so that they shall serve as a proverb in the mouth of all who wish to utter scorn; just as at the present day we see that the name of a Jew, though in itself honorable, is in the highest degree ignominious and disgraceful. The Lord pronounced those dreadful threatenings by Isaiah, that they might know that a punishment sufficiently severe, as compared with the enormity of their transgressions, could not be inflicted; that when the Lord should chastise them, they might not complain that the punishments which they endured were too severe, or think that the Prophet’s reproofs were too sharp.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29