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1. Hear this, O house of Jacob. He now addresses his discourse to the Jews; whom also he had chiefly in his eye, in the whole of the preceding chapter; for he was not sent to the Babylonians, but addresses them in such a manner as to wish that the Jews, to whom he had been especially appointed, should hear him. Accordingly, he foretold the destruction of the Babylonians, that the Jews might calmly wait for deliverance, and at the same time might not be terrified by the greatness and power of their enemies, (234) and that, relying on these promises, they might stand unmoved against all temptations. But because the Jews were obstinate, and did not believe those promises, and because Isaiah foresaw how great would be their hard-heartedness and obstinacy during their captivity, for that reason he reproves them with greater severity. Ezekiel shews still more clearly how inveterate was their unbelief, when they murmured against God, and cast away all confidence, and cared no more about the promises of God than about empty fables. It was not without reason, therefore, that Isaiah made use of such vehement language, in order to shew that they offered the highest insult to God by refusing to rely on his grace.
Who are called by the name of Israel. He addresses “Israel,” but that which was actually spurious, and which at that time had nothing more than the name of “Israel;” for he does not employ this honorable name for the sake of mentioning them in a respectful manner, but rather in order to put to shame their false boasting, because they had no riglit to glory in this empty title, from the truth of which they were widely estranged. Why did God honor Jacob with this name, but because he proved himself to be courageous and invincible in adversity? This appeared from that wrestling in which he contended with God; for when the Lord tries by various afflictions, he enters, as it were, into debate with us. (Genesis 32:25.) How, then, did this name apply to his posterity, if they were cast down and threw away all hope in adversity?
Who have come out from the.waters of Judah. He next reproaches them with being descended from the holy fathers, and yet being utterly unlike them. By “the waters of Judah,” he means metaphorically the source and fountain from which the Jews proceeded; for I do not approve of the childish attempt of the Jewish writers to explain the metaphor, which is borrowed in a highly natural manner from waters which flow from a distant place.
Who swear by the name of Jehovah. Having censured them for being the degenerate and wicked children of holy fathers, he adds that they falsely pretend to the worship of God, and to a semblance of piety from which they are widely distant. Now, as “swearing” is a kind of worship of God, he here puts one department for the whole class, by a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole. As idolaters offer an insult to God, when they swear by their idols, in like manner do the sincere worshippers of God render honor to God, by employing his name in oaths; for they acknowledge that they have one God, in whose name they glory. But here he attacks hypocrites who, with open mouth, loudly boasted of the name of God, and frequently mentioned his name, and yet in their hearts were greatly opposed to him. On this account he says, not in truth nor in righteousness, he employs the word “righteousness,” to denote integrity and sincerity of heart, without which nothing can be acceptable to God; or rather “righteousness” and “truth” are synonymous terms; as if he had said, that it was mere pretense and hypocrisy to profess that they were the people of the true God, because their treachery openly proclaimed their falsehood.
(234) “ De leurs ennemis.”
2. For from the holy city they are called. He continues the same subject, and by different words exposes their false boasting; for they falsely boasted that they were the citizens of “the holy city,” which they defiled by their vices and crimes. Jerusalem ought to have been “holy,” for God had consecrated her to himself; but she had prostrated herself to iniquities, so great and so numerous, that she scarcely retained any holiness. We see in Psalms 15:2, what the true citizens of Jerusalem ought to be; but because the Jews were not ashamed of mocking God, they reckoned it enough to be protected by the shadow of the Temple.
And rely on the God of Israel. When he says that they “rely on Jehovah,” he does not speak of sincere belief, but of empty confidence; for, as good men rely on God, and trust him with their whole heart, so hypocrites falsely make pretensions to his name, and are intoxicated by unfounded belief, and fearlessly despise everything, and even boast confidently of these words, “God will assist us, he will not cast off his people;” as if God wished to encourage their wickedness. In a word, by trampling him under their feet, they loudly declare that they rely on themselves for safety; but, lest they should think that they will not be punished for this mockery, the Prophet assures them that God loses nothing of his authority, when he is thus misrepresented by hypocrites; for, when he calls him Jehovah of hosts, he adds this by way of threatening, that they might know that God, under whose name they falsely sheltered themselves, was strong enough to punish them, and at length would not permit them to make him the subject of mockery.
3. Long ago have I declared the former things. He accuses the Jews of ingratitude, because they distrust God, who has given every possible proof of his goodness, in order to establish them in sincere confidence; and therefore he takes away from them every excuse, by saying, that “he declared the former things.” He appears to speak not of their deliverance from Babylon, but of other benefits which the Lord had bestowed on that nation; as if he had said that God began, long before this, to foretell to his people what would happen, and never promised anything which he did not perform, and yet that his people, after having received so many proofs, did not place confidence in his certain and infallible truth.
It may also be said, that the Prophet did not merely address those who lived at that time, but those who should afterwards live during the captivity, in order that, when this certainty arrived, they might consider that it had been already foretold. God intended that this prediction should be widely known, in order that, during their captivity, they might know that these things did not happen by chance, and that they might obtain some consolation. Isaiah therefore rebukes them, because, after having learned the truth of this matter from the event itself, still they cannot acknowledge the work of God, or place confidence in him.
And justly does he severely reprove and accuse them of obstinacy; for they resisted God, who stretched out his hand to them, and rejected his grace; they did not believe that they would have liberty to return to Judea, and, when the way was opened up, there were very few who had courage to return. Some thought that it would be better to remain in Babylon than to undergo the annoyances and dangers of the joumey. Others suspected that Cyrus had made a crafty proclamation of liberty to return, in order that, having ascertained their dispositions, he might oppress them or treat them with severity; and they did not take into account that God had foretold these things, and that they must unavoidably happen, and that no power of men could prevent them. Accordingly, I understand those predictions of which the Prophet speaks so as to include, indeed, the ancient prophecies by which God foretold to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) that his seed would be held captive, and would afterwards be restored to their former freedom, but that afterwards, in their due order, other predictions are added, which also followed at different times; for this also was frequently fulfilled, partly at one time, and partly at another. He shews, therefore, that the Lord predicted nothing which was not justified by the event.
4. For I knew that thou art obstinate. Literally it is, “On account of my knowing,” or, “From nay knowing.” Here the Lord solemnly declares by the Prophet, that it was on account of the hard-heartedness of the people that he spake of future events; as if he had said that he acted more liberally towards them than he ought to have done. Not that this was the only end which he aimed at; for we know that the chief use of doctrine belongs to believers, who gently submit themselves and cheerfully obey; but Isaiah, who had to deal with obstinate men, justly says that, if their depravity had not been incurable, God made use of an excellent remedy, by uttering many successive predictions for the purpose of ratifying his Law. Thus as he had foretold future events to the fathers, so he shews that he follows the same course, in order to conquer or soften the obstinacy and hard-heartedness of the people.
And thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy forehead is of brass. He calls their neck “an iron sinew,” because it cannot be bent. “Sinews” are indeed hard, but still they are capable of being bent; here, he says, there is no bending, because they are untameable. He next mentions “a brazen forehead,” to denote their impudence. There are two ways by which we may be kept in the path of duty; first, if we are submissive and obey good instructions or holy commandments; and secondly, if, after having fallen into any sin, we are moved by sincere shame to repent of what we have done. When these are wanting, it is a sign of desperate wickedness. These are two proofs, therefore, which he has brought forward to shew that the nation was abandoned to everything that was sinful; they were refractory, and they were impudent. And yet, when the Lord cannot cure us in any other way, he treats even our perversity with such forbearance, that he is pleased to give us warning of future events. Thus he assumes, as it were, every possible shape, in order to recall us to himself, and bring us back into the right path.
5. I foretold to thee long ago. He again repeats the same statement, that the people, when they had been delivered from Babylon, might acknowledge the kindness of God, and might not ascribe this deliverance to idols or to fortune. If it be asked “Why does the Prophet mention idols, seeing that the Jews professed the worship of one God?” I reply, They had been corrupted by associating with the Gentiles, and had degenerated into superstitions, to such an extent, that they had entirely forgotten God. Ezekiel complains of this, that, in the vision in which he appeared to be carried to Jerusalem, he beheld the sanctuary of God polluted by various idols. (Ezekiel 8:3.) Not without reason, therefore, does he recall them to God as the only author of these events, that they may acknowledge that he has redeemed them.
Lest, perhaps, thou shouldest say. He means that the Jews will be inexcusable, if they do not acknowledge the kindness of God, when they shall have been emancipated from slavery; for what had been long ago foretold would not have happened by chance. God’s foreknowledge is therefore connected by the Prophet with his power; and he declares that he not only foresaw, but likewise accomplished these events. Here then, as in a mirror, we behold the wicked exercise of our understanding, which always contrives in what way it shall rob God of the praise which is due to him. Whenever he either assists us, or in any way is kind to us, he may be said to stretch out his hand and invite us to himself.
Yet the world, as if it purposely designed to make resistance, ascribes to others what has proceeded from God; as we see that in Popery all God’s benefits are attributed to dead saints, in such a manner as if God were sleeping a deep sleep. It is therefore necessary that the lamp of doctrine should shine, in order to regulate our judgment; for, in considering the works of God, we shall always go astray, if he do not go before and enlighten us by his word. But even now we find in many persons what Isaiah deplores in his nation, that, even after having been warned, they do not cease to make idols for themselves, which they clothe with the spoils taken from God. Peter and John loudly declared (Acts 3:12) that it was not by their own merits or excellence that they performed their miracles; but we see how the Papists load them with miracles against their will, and in spiteof their resistance. Although God does not now foretell the events which shall happen, yet the doctrine of the Law and of the Gospel will tend as powerfully to condemn our ingratitude as if the prophecies had attested those works of which God there declares himself to be the author.
6. Thou hast heard. This makes it still more clear that the Prophet speaks of a future captivity, and of the redemption by which it should be followed; thus intending to make provision for the advantage both of the men of his own time and of posterity, that, if they who then lived received no benefit, at least posterity might take warning and repent. It frequentlyhappens, that the doctrine of the prophets produces little effect on those who see and hear, and sometimes is even treated by them with contempt, while posterity receive it with better dispositions.
See all. When he bids them see, some think that the Prophet exhibits the event in such a manner as if he had said, that God had spoken nothing which had not been made evident to be true. But I give a different interpretation of this word חזה, (chazeh,) see, in this manner: “Seeing that the Lord hath spoken, it is thy duty to examine the words, and to give attention.” Hence we ought to observe, that it is owing to our sluggishness or indolence that we immediately lose those things which proceed from the mouth of God, and that in vain do many persons hold out the pretext of ignorance; because the Lord reveals clearly enough all that is necessary to be known, if they who hear would examine it carefully, and with due attention.
And will ye not declare it? The Lord next demands something more from his people than to understand and consider his word; that is, that they may be a herald and witness of the miracles which they have known by experience. And, indeed, he instructs his people on this condition, that they shall afterwards lead others to the same confession of faith. Even now have I made thee to hear As if he had said, “Observe this day, on which the Lord foretells to thee, by my mouth, those things which thou didst not know; for these things cannot be perceived or foreseen by human conjecture.”
7. Now for the first time have they been created. The Prophet shews that he is not reasoning about things that are known, or that have been learned by actual experience; and his object is, not merely to correct that haughtiness which is natural to all men, (for they claim for themselves what belongeth to God alone,) but likewise that no part of this event may be ascribed to fortune or to any other cause. In various ways do men rob God of the glory that is due to him, and direct all their faculties towards distributing among the creatures that which belongs to Him alone, so as to leave Him nothing but a bare and empty name. That the people might not think that they had been vanquished by the power of the Babylonians, or that it was by human strength or by chance that they were afterwards restored to liberty, on this account he so frequently repeats and reiterates, that this is the work of God.
Thou hadst not heard those things. When he affirms that “they had not heard them,” some explain this to mean that the people rejected God’s warnings, and did not listen to good counsels. But I think that the Prophet’s meaning was different, namely, that what could not be known by human sagacity, and what had been unknown to the Jews, has been revealed in such a manner that they cannot defraud the Holy Spirit of the praise which is due to him; and this is very evident from the context.
8. I knew that by transgressing thou wouldest transgress. By these words the Lord means that it is not without good reason that he so earnestly persuades and entreats the people to acknowledge that it was by him that they were chastised and afterwards delivered from so great distresses. The rebelliousness of that people might have prompted them to complain that it was useless to repeat this so often, and to press it on their attention. The Prophet replies, that men need not wonder at it, because he has to deal with obstinate men; and thus he confirms by different words what he said a little before about “the iron sinew of their neck.” (Ver. 4.) The meaning amounts to this, that the forwardness of that nation was well known to God, and that consequently he left nothing undone which was fitted to retain those who were attached to his service; and that, having received abundant evidence from undoubted proofs, they were so much the more inexcusable.
Therefore have I called thee a rebel from the womb. After having torn off the mask from this nation, which, as we formerly saw, falsely boasted of the name of Israel, he gives them a new name, and calls them “rebels.” By the “womb” I understand to be meant, not their first origin when they began to be reckoned a nation, but the time when they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt; for that deliverance might be regarded as a sort of nativity of the Church. (Exodus 12:51.) But the people, though they had experienced the infinite goodness of God, did not cease to act treacherously towards him, and transgressed more and more, so that he justly calls them “rebels and transgressors.”
9. For my name’s sake. After having reproached the people with that malice which was natural to their fathers from the beginning, and which had passed down to children and grandchildren, he now reminds them that it is owing to his mercy that they survive, but that otherwise they would have deserved a thousand times to perish. This warning served two purposes; first, believers needed to be supported, that during their captivity they might not lose courage; and secondly, when they had received permission to return, it was not of less importance that they should be humbled, that they might acknowledge that they were indebted for their deliverance to nothing else than God’s undeserved goodness.
So as not to cut thee off. Hence we see that the object of the preceding remonstrance was, that the people might know that it is not owing to their merit that the Lord stretches out his hand to bring them out of the grave of Babylon; for they deserved to be utterly ruined. Consequently, that the Lord now spares us also, that he mitigates or remits punishment, and, in a word, that he pays any attention to us, all this is entirely the result of his grace; so that we ought not to ascribe it to any merits or satisfactions of men. And thus, as we have formerly explained at other passages, the distinction made by the Sophists falls to the ground, as to the remission of punishment which they refuse to admit to be undeserved, because satisfaction is made to the justice of God. But here Isaiah declares that remission is made by free grace “for God’s name’s sake;” for he speaks of punishment which he might justly have inflicted on the Jews. He had the justest cause for destroying this nation, if he had not determined to defend his glory
10. Lo, I have tried thee. The Lord shews that he exercises such moderation in chastising his people, that he makes provision for their salvation. Formerly he had said that he had spared or would spare them, because he had regard to his glory. He now declares that he does indeed lay stripes upon them, but of such a nature as to be serviceable to them; for it is for the purpose of “proving and trying” that he chastises them, and we “prove” that which we do not wish to be lost. Since therefore he has this end in view, it follows that he makes provision for our salvation. Besides, it is by way of anticipation that he mentions the “trial,” lest any one should object that God’s forbearance did not, at all appear amidst such severe afflictions. The Prophet therefore comes forward early to meet this objection, and points out that, although God does not permit his people altogether to go free, yet he deals gently with them.
And not like silver. He adds that he does not “try us like silver,” because we should be altogether consumed; for “silver” contains something that is pure, but in us nothing will be found but chaff; and even if God did not make us “silver,” we should be reduced, like chaff or stubble, to ashes and to nothing. Chastisement itself would undoubtedly bring out nothing that is pure. Accordingly, in the very “trial” the Lord considers what we can endure, so as not to proceed beyond measure; and, at the same time, by the secret influence of his Spirit, he makes those punishments to be profitable to us which would otherwise have been destruction.
I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. To “choose” means here to “distinguish.” We “choose” that which we desire to preserve and defend, as he formerly said in the same sense,“
to choose the good and refuse the bad.” (Isaiah 7:15.)
By this word, therefore, he shews how wide is the difference between the punishment which is inflicted on good men and that which wicked men endure, and which ends in their destruction. We, on the other hand, though the Lord bums and pierces us, are accepted by him; and he retains his kindness toward us in the midst of afflictions, and even causes us to come out of them more fully tried, and to be to him a sacrifice of good savor. In a word, he means that God, even when he appears to abandon his people to destruction, is still gracious to them.
11. For my own sake. He repeats the same statement which he had formerly made, but adds a question, such as Hebrew writers are wont to employ, when they speak of what is absurd, “Is it possible that my name should be profaned?”
And I will not give my glory to another. This second clause is added for the purpose of exposition; and therefore Isaiah, by multiplying the forms of expression, now adorns that which he had formerly expressed in a few words, and elevates his style. Nor is it a mere explanation of the former statement, but rather an adornment in order to confirm it the more. By these words he means that men do all that lies in their power to “profane the name of God,” and to convey “his glory to another,” but that the Lord, by his wonderful providence, meets this evil, and causes his glory to remain unabated. Although, therefore, by our fault we abandon the glory of God, yet he will preserve it, while he shall be our protector. Hence we derive wonderful consolation, that God connects our salvation with his own glory, as we have already pointed out on other passages.
I will not give. That is, “I will not suffer my glory to be taken from me.” This would have happened, if the God of Israel had been mocked on account of the ruin and destruction of the people; as wicked men, when the people of God were oppressed, were wont to taunt them with blasphemies of this sort, “Where is their God?” (Psalms 79:10.) Moses also assigned a familar reason why the Lord was unwilling to destroy the whole nation. “Lest perhaps,” says he, “their enemies should claim it for themselves, and say, It is our lofty hand, and not the Lord, that hath done all this.” (Deuteronomy 32:27.) And indeed, when the Lord, by exhibiting tokens of his anger, strikes terror into believers, there remains no refuge but this, that he will remember his adoption, so as not to expose his sacred name to the curses of wicked men. Nor did the Prophet, by these words, merely exhort his people to gratitude, that they might acknowledge that it was exclusively through the grace of God that they were preserved; but he held out to believers a ground of supplication, and a shield by which they might resist despair. (235)
(235) “ Mais pareillement a mis une priere en la bouche, et un bouclier au bras des fideles pour resister a la tentation.” “But at the same time put a prayer into the mouth, and a shield on the arms, of believers, for resisting temptation.”
12. Hearken to me, O Jacob. We have formerly explained the reason why the Lord declares his eternity. It is, that we may know that he is always like himself, and that we may not measure him by our capacity. He bids us “hearken to him;” because we are led into errors and are carried away by false opinions, in consequence of refusing to lend our ears to him.
And Israel, my called. When he says that “Israel has been called by him,” he indirectly contrasts this statement with the reprobation mentioned by him at the beginning of the chapter; for he shewed that the Jews falsely assumed this name, and idly gloried in it, inasmuch as they did not prove themselves to be true Israelites. Here, on the contrary, he affirms that “Israel is his called.” Just as if a father, in rebuking his son, should call him a bastard, and yet should afterwards acknowledge him to be his son, so the Lord shews that the Jews are so greatly degenerated that he might justly reject them, but that, although they do not deserve so high an honor as to belong to his family, still he pays regard to his calling, which no ingratitude or wickedness of men can set aside.
I, even I. In this passage the particle אף ( aph,) even, denotes continuance; for he lays down nothing else than that God is always like himself, and does not, like men, undergo change or alter his counsel. (Romans 3:3.) On this account he says that he is the first and the last. (236) But here it ought also to be observed, that Isaiah does not speak of God’s eternal essence, but applies this doctrine to our use, that we may know that he will be to us the same that he has always been, and next, that we may remember to distinguish him from idols, lest our understandings, led away by extravagant inventions, should fall off from the fear of him.
(236) That is, his nature is eternal, he depends on none, he is the beginning and end of all things, as in Isaiah 41:4.” — Rosenmuller.
13. Surely my hand hath founded the earth. Here the Prophet explains more clearly what he meant in the preceding verse. After having spoken of God’s constant and unvarying will toward us, he likewise praises God’s power as manifested by the works which we daily behold. In these works the Lord may be said to present himself to our view; and, coming forth from his sanctuary, he approaches to us by means of them.
And my right hand hath measured, or, hath upheld the heavens. Whether we translate טפחה (tippechah,) “Hath measured,” or, “Hath upheld,” the meaning will be the same; and we need not give ourselves much trouble about the interpretation of the word. By the word “measure” is denoted God’s amazing wisdom in having adjusted on all sides, with such exact proportion, the vast extent of the heavens, so that it is neither nearer to the earth nor farther from it than is advantageous for preserving order, and that in this prodigious expanse there is nothing jarring or unseemly. If we prefer the word “uphold,” this also is an extraordinary commendation of the wisdom and power of God, in “upholding” the huge mass of the heavens in continual motion, so that it neither totters nor leans more to one side than to another.
When I call them, they stand up, or, shall stand up together. This latter clause, in which he says that all things are ready at, his command, is attended by some greater difficulty; for it may refer either to the first creation or to the continual government of the world. If we refer it to the first creation, the future יעמדו (yagnamdu,) they shall stand, will be put for a preterite. “As soon as the Lord commanded them to appear, they instantly obeyed;” as the Psalmist says, “He spake, and they were done.” (Psalms 33:9.) But if we adopt this meaning, the word equally, which he adds, may appear not to agree well with the history of the creation as related by Moses; for heaven and earth were not created and beautified at one moment, but at first everything was shapeless and confused, and afterwards the Lord reduced them to order. (Genesis 1:2.) The answer is easy; for the Prophet means nothing more than that the Lord, by the mere expression of his will, created all things, and gave to heaven and earth their form, so that they immediately obeyed his command.
Yet I willingly extend it to the continual government of the world; as if he had said, “Heaven and earth yield to the authority of the Lord and obey his voice, and those bodies which are at the greatest distance from each other move of their own accord with astonishing harmony, as if they were carried about by the same motion of a wheel. Though heaven is separated from the earth by a wide space, yet the voice of the Lord is everywhere heard, he needs no messengers to convey his will, but by the slightest expression he executes everything at the very moment.” Is there any prince who has his servants everywhere rendering to him instant obedience? Certainly not. Thus, the power of God is infinite, is diffused far and wide, and extends to every part of the world, as Scripture declares, (Psalms 47:2,) and as we learn by the instructions of faith.
14. Assemble, all of you, and hear. There can be no doubt that the Prophet addresses the Jews, though here he utters nothing that ought not to be acknowledged by all. But because unbelieving and irreligious men have no ears, on this account he does not invite them to “hear.” We know that the Jews enjoyed this privilege above other nations, that God revealed himself to them. (Psalms 147:19; Romans 3:2.) “God is known in Judea,” says the Psalmist,: his name is great in Israel.” (Psalms 126:1.) So much the less excusable was either their slothfulness or their obstinacy, in paying scarcely any regard to their own prosperity. Whence arose their great levity or proneness to revolt, but from their undervaluing or despising the inestimable treasure of heavenly doctrine? They therefore deserved to be sharply and severely rebuked by the Prophet, who now exclaims against them, indirectly remarking that they wickedly and perversely agree among themselves to cast into the shade the grace of God.
Who among them foretelleth those things? Here God appears to permit the Jews to bring forward publicly any objection which they can make, as those who trust to the goodness of their cause venture to taunt their adversaries: “Produce thy arguments; if thou possessest any acuteness, shew it.” Of his own accord, therefore, he makes an attack upon them, and gives them permission to shew, if they can find any argument to that effect, that such things were foretold by the gods of the Gentiles. We may also extend it to the diviners and augurs, who claimed for themselves the knowledge of future events, and who could not at all foresee such things. With the same view he will repeat what follows in the next verse, “It is I, it is I who have spoken.” The object of the whole is to shew that the Jews waver, and even fall away, in consequence of not estimating sufficiently how extraordinary a blessing it is to learn from the sacred mouth of God all that is necessary for their salvation.
Jehovah hath loved him, and he shall execute his pleasure on Babylon. He points out a single instance, that God had now deigned to foretell to them the end of their captivity in Babylon. Cyrus is not named by him as the dispenser of this favor, but, as if he were speaking of a man who was known and ascertained, he says, without mentioning the name, that God has chosen him to take Babylon by force. The word loved is not employed in an absolute sense, but πρὸς τὶ; with reference to a particular object; and therefore it is limited to the successful result of the expedition. In like manner Saul, with reference to a particular object, was dear to God, so that he reigned for a time, and was even endued with the gift of prophecy. (1 Samuel 10:10.) The case is different with believers, whom God has embraced with an unchangeable love, and whom he never permits to fall away from him. He intimates that Cyrus will take Babylon by force, in consequence of having undertaken this work by God’s appointment and direction, not indeed intentionally on his part, but in such a manner as God makes even the ignorant and blind to go where he pleases, or compels them against their will to yield obedience; for the Prophet does not applaud Cyrus for voluntary obedience, but rather magnifies the providence of God, by which he leads all men to execute his counsel.
And his arm. (237) Some read the word “arm” in the nominative, and others in the accusative case; but it makes little difference as to the meaning. Arm may here be taken for “work,” and in a metaphorical sense; and thus the passage will read more smoothly. “He will execute his counsel on Babylon, his work on the Babylonians;” for we know that it is a distinguishing peculiarity in the style of the prophets to join together “the work of the Lord” and his “counsel.” Indirectly he reproaches the Jews with their ingratitude in refusing to believe the promises of God, though he points out the event, as it were, with the finger, and speaks in a very different manner from that in which either diviners or false gods are accustomed to speak. In a word, he wishes to convince the Jews that, the taking of Babylon by storm shall be “the work of the Lord,” under whose direction Cyrus shall execute it, in order that the Church may at length be delivered.
(237) “‘And his arm shall be seen (or shall be visible) in the land of the Babylonians.’ Here he speaks of Cyrus.” — Jarchi. “Others, without supplying ב, (beth,) suppose that this phrase contains an aposiopesis, and read the words thus: ‘And his arm the Babylonians,’ that is, ‘And his arm (shall strike or shall make war upon) the Babylonians.’ Koeher, thinking that in the words וזרועו כשדים (uzerogno kassedim) there is no ellipsis, explains them to mean, ‘And the Babylonians his arm,’ that is, they shall be his supporters. ‘For,’ adds he, ‘their aid was of no small consequence, if what Xenophon (Cyroped. 4:24; 5:11) has recorded about Gobryas and Gadates, who were Babylonians, be true. Thus, allies, friends, and any one that assists another, are accounted to be his arm.’” — Rosenmuller.
15. Therefore he shall prosper in his way. He again reminds the Jews of the predictions, and claims for God this honor, that, by foretelling the event in due time, he has removed all doubt; and next he adds, that all that had been foretold shall be accomplished. Accordingly, in the repetition of the pronoun, It is I, it is I who have spoken, there is a double emphasis; first, tlmt none but the God of Israel hath spoken about future and hidden events, and secondly, that, because he is faithful and never deceives, all the events which he has foretold shall undoubtedly take place. Accordingly, in the last clause of the verse I consider the copulative ו (vau) to mean therefore. Here Isaiah has two objects in view; first, that the captive Jews may expect deliverance, and secondly, that, after having been delivered, they may acknowledge God to be the author of so valuable a blessing, and may not imagine that it took place either by the assistance of men or by chance.
Surely I have called him, I have conducted him. He declares that everything shall go prosperously with Cyrus, because Jehovah “hath called him;” not that he deserved so high a favor, or obtained it by his own industry or power, but because the Lord was pleased to employ the agency of Cyrus in delivering his people. As to his calling him beloved in the preceding verse, and now saying that he has been “called and conducted,” I explained a little before that this cannot refer to the love of God, by which he adopts us to be his children and calls us to himself; for in this sense Cyrus was not “beloved” or “called.” Though he was endowed with great virtues, yet he was stained by very great vices, ambition and the lust of power, avarice, cruelty, and other vices; and his lamentable end shewed what kind of person he was. The Prophet therefore means that God was favorable to Cyrus, so as to bestow upon him an external blessing, but not so as to adopt him, and to impart to him that grace which he bestows on the elect. We must consider the reason why he calls him by these names. It is because he makes use of the agency of Cyrus for delivering the Church, as we have already explained.
16. Draw near to me, hear this. He again addresses the Jews, and, by bidding them draw near, goes out, as it were, to meet them, and to receive them kindly. Yet at the same time he indirectly glances at their revolt, shewing that they would not be capable of receiving sound doctrine, if they did not withdraw from error. It was no small crime that they were so far removed from God, to whom they ought to have been united in a friendly manner. They were at a great distance from him, not as to space, but as to the agreement of the heart. The “drawing near,” therefore, means that we should lay aside our natural dispositions and be ready to hear him. And this must proceed from his grace; for we can never be prepared to do this, if he do not lead us to himself.
Not from the beginning have I spoken in secret. Commentators explain this passage in various ways. Many apply it to Christ, though the Prophet meant no such thing; but we ought to guard against violent and forced interpretations. Others explain it as relating to the Prophet himself, but that is not more suitable; for this discourse would not be applicable to a man. I think, therefore, that Isaiah introduces God as speaking, in order to reproach the people with ingratitude, because “from the beginning,” that is, from the time that he began to reveal himself to their fathers, he did not speak obscurely or secretly. Hence it follows, that all the ignorance that was in them ought to be ascribed to their depravity, because of their own accord they forsook the light.
From the time that it was done, I was there. When he says that he was present at the time that the event occurred, the meaning is, that what he had uttered with his mouth was carried into execution by his strength and by his power. Justly, therefore, does he affirm that he gave tokens of his presence, when, by accomplishing all things, he not only proved the truth of the predictions by the event itself, but shewed that those things which are supposed to be accidental are governed by his authority. In a word, he mentions the ancient promises of God and the fulfillment of them, in order to shew that God will always be like himself. Those who say that Isaiah will be present in spirit, when the Lord shall bring back his people, torture the Prophet’s words, and produce nothing that agrees with his meaning.
And now Jehovah hath sent me. Isaiah now begins to speak of himself, and applies this statement to the preceding doctrine, and testifies that that God, who hath spoken from the beginning, now speaketh by him, and consequently that we ought to believe those things which God now speaketh by him, in the same manner as if he were visibly present. Hence we ought to draw a useful doctrine, namely, that all the miracles which the Lord has performed ought to be brought to our remembrance, that we may confirm his truth in our hearts. It is no slight argument, that the Lord had from the beginning a distinct people, whom he taught, to whom he made sure promises, and to whom he performed those promises, and whom he never deceived, even in the smallest matter; for all things were performed and fulfilled in due time. Whenever, therefore, any doubt arises, we ought to betake ourselves to these examples, “God hath always assisted his people; not now, for the first time, hath he spoken to them, and he did not deceive his people by words which were dark or ambiguous, but spoke plainly and clearly.” Thus the Prophet declares that he brings forward nothing of his own, but that he was sent by God, who has proved himself to be faithful.
And his Spirit. He mentions “the Spirit,” not as if he meant something different from God, because he is of the same essence with him; for in one essence of God we acknowledge Three Persons; but he names “The Spirit,” because He is the only teacher and director of all the prophets. Paul says, that “no man can say that Jesus is Christ, but by the Spirit,” and a little after he says that “the gifts of God are various, but that it is one and the same Spirit who worketh all things in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:3.) This passage is also a clear proof of the divinity of the Spirit, since the prophets are sent by him; for it belongs to God alone to send them, as it is by the authority of the prince alone that ambassadors are sent; and since the Spirit does this, — since he directs them, and gives to them power and efficacy, unquestionably he is God.
From this passage we learn also, that they who have not this direction of the Spirit, though they boast of having been sent by God, ought to be rejected; such as those Popish bands of wolves which glory in the name of pastors and teachers, and impudently boast of their mission, though they are altogether opposed to the Spirit of God, and to his doctrine. In vain do they boast of having been sent or authorized by God, when they are not adorned with the gifts of the Spirit, which are necessary for the execution of such an office. To pretend to having the inspiration of the Spirit, while they are entirely destitute of faith, and have not even the slightest spark of doctrine, is excessively disgusting. Let us suppose an assembly of mitred bishops, the greater part of whom are known to be ignorant, and among three hundred of whom there shall scarcely be found ten who have a moderate share of the rudiments of piety; what could be more foolish than for such an assembly to boast of being governed by “the Spirit?“
17. Thus saith Jehovah. I connect this verse with the four following verses, because they relate to the same subject, and because in them the Lord promises deliverance to his people, but in such a manner as first to shew that it was through their own fault that they were reduced to slavery; that is, that the people might not murmur and object that it would have been better to be kept in their native country, if the Lord wished to assist them, than to be carried away and brought back; for physicians who cure a disease which they might have prevented, are held to be less entitled to thanks. The Prophet therefore meets this, and says that this befell the people through their own fault, and that they might have escaped this destruction, if they had attended to the commandments of the Lord. He shews, therefore, that this was a just reward of the wickedness of the people; for it was not the Lord who had formerly prevented the people from enjoying prosperity, but they had rejected his grace. And yet he declares that the Lord will go beyond this wickedness by his goodness, because he will not suffer his people to perish, though he afflict them for a time.
Teaching thee profitably. He means that God’s “teaching” is such that it might keep the people safe and sound, if they would only rest upon it. Now, the Lord “teaches,” not for his own sake, but in order to promote our salvation; for what profit could we yield to him? It is therefore by “teaching” that he makes provision for the advantage of each of us, that, having been instructed by it, we may enjoy prosperity. But since, through our ingratitude, we reject the benefit that is freely offered to us, what remains but that we shall miserably perish? Justly, therefore, does Isaiah reproach the Jews that, if they had not defrauded themselves of the benefit of teaching, nothing that was profitable for their salvation would have been hidden from them. And if these things were said of the Law, that the Lord, by means of it, “taught his people profitably,” what shall we say of the Gospel, in which everything that is profitable for us is very fully explained? (238)
Hence, also, it is manifest, how shocking is the blasphemy of the Papists who say that the reading of the Holy Scripture is dangerous and hurtful, in order to terrify unlearned persons (239) from reading it. Shall they then accuse God of falsehood, who declares, by the mouth of the Prophet, that it is “profitable?” Do they wish us to believe them rather than God? Though they impudently vomit out their blasphemies, we certainly ought not to be dissuaded from the study of it; for we shall learn by actual experience with what truthfulness Isaiah spoke, if we treat the Holy Scriptures with piety and reverence.
Leading thee. These words shew more clearly the profitableness which was mentioned a little before. He means that the way of salvation is pointed out to us, if we hearken to God when he speaks; for he is ready to become our guide during the whole course of our life, if we will only obey him. In this manner Moses testifies that he “set before the people life and death.” (Deuteronomy 30:19.) Again, it is said, (Isaiah 30:21,) “This is the way, walk ye in it;” for the rule of a holy life is contained in the Law, which cannot deceive. “I command thee,” says Moses, “that thou love the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways, and keep his commandments and statutes and judgments, that thou mayest live and be multiplied, and that the Lord may bless thee in the land which thou goest to possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:16.) In a word, they who submissively yield obedience are not destitute either of counsel or of the light of understanding.
(238) “When God the Redeemer says here that he ‘teacheth his people, להועיל (lehognil) to profit,’ and that he provides for their true interests, there can be no doubt that he makes this declaration concerning himself, κατ᾿ ἀντίθεσιν by way of contrast with Idols, false gods, the worship of which not only did no good, but even did harm, and brought great hurt and damage to their worshippers. (Compare Isaiah 44:10, and Isaiah 45:19.) Hence also God says by, Jeremiah 2:11, ‘Is there any nation that changeth its gods, though they are not gods? But my people have changed their glory בלא יועיל (belo yognil) for that from which they derive no advantage;’ or rather, from which they suffer the greatest loss and damage.” — Vitringa.
(239) “ Afin de destourner les idiots (qu’ils appellent) de lira dedans.” “In order to dissuade idiots (as they call them) from reading it.”
18. O if thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! As the people might complain of being carried into captivity, the Prophet, intending to meet those murmurs, points out the cause, which was, that they did not submit to the doctrine of salvation, and did not allow themselves to derive any advantage from it. He undoubtedly alludes to the song of Moses, in which very nearly the same form of expression occurs, “O that they were wise, and that they understood!” (Deuteronomy 32:29.) לוא (lu) denotes a wish, O if! or, Would that!
Not only does the Lord expostulate with the Jews for having disregarded the advantage, or “profitableness,” (verse 17,) which was offered to them, but like a father, he deplores the wretchedness of his children; for he takes no pleasure in our distresses, and is not severe, unless when we constrain him by our wickedness. This is therefore a figurative appropriation of human affections, by which God compassionates the ruin of those who chose rather to perish of their own accord than to be saved; for he was ready to bestow blessings of every kind, if we did not drive him away by our obstinacy. Yet it would be foolish to attempt to penetrate into his secret counsel, and to inquire why he did not add the efficacy of the Spirit to the external word; for nothing is said here about his power, but there is only a reproof of the hard-heartedness of men, that they may be rendered inexcusable. Certainly, whenever God invites us to himself, there is clearly laid before us, in his word, complete happiness, which we wickedly reject.
Then would thy peace have been as a river. The word peace, as we have formerly explained, (240) denotes all prosperous events. It is as if he had said, “The richest plenty of spiritual blessings would have flowed to thee abundantly, and thou wouldst have had no occasion to dread any change; because the blessing of God upon believers is never dried up.
And thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. We might explain righteousness, which he connects with peace, to mean what is expressed by the familiar phrase ( ton bon droict ) “thy right.” But I choose rather to understand by the word “Righteousness” a well regulated commonwealth, in which everything is administered in a regular and orderly manner; as if he had said, “Thou wouldest have had everything well conducted at home, and wouldest have had plenty and abundance of all things.” And properly does he connect this condition with “peace;” for when government is overtumed, everything goes wrong and is out of order, and it is utterly impossible that we shall enjoy “peace,” if there be not “righteousness,” that is, a just and equitable administration of affairs. If, therefore, we are desirous of “peace,” let us likewise wish to have that blessed condition on which the Lord bestows his blessing. Here some commentators speculate about spiritual “righteousness,” and the forgiveness of sins; but they wander far from the Prophet’s meaning, which is plain and obvious.
(240) See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1, p 312; vol. 2, pp. 214, 227.
19. Thy seed would have been as the sand. This also relates to a happy life, when progeny is multiplied, by whose aid the labors of the old are alleviated, and which “resists the adversaries in the gate.” The Psalmist compares such children to “arrows shot by a strong hand,” and pronounces him to be “blessed who hath his quiver full of them;” that is, who has a large number of such children. (Psalms 127:4.)
When he mentions sand, he appears to allude to the promise which was made to Abraham,“
I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea-shore.” (Genesis 22:17.)
And he repeats the same sentiment in various words; according to the usage of the Hebrew writings, substituting children for “seed,” and small stones for “sand.” In a word, he shews that the people prevented God from causing them to enjoy the fruit of that promise.
His name would not have been cut off. Coming down to the interruption of this favor, he next reproaches them in more direct terms with having sought for dispersion, after having been miraculously collected by the hand of God; for by the word name he means the lawful condition of the people, which would always have flourished, if the blessing had not been tumed aside front its course. What he says about the people having been “cut off,” must be understood to refer to the land of Canaan, from which the people of God had been cast out, and thus appeared to have been thrust out of their Father’s house; for the Temple, of which they were deprived, was a symbol of God’s presence, and the land itself was a pledge or earnest of a blessed inheritance. Being driven into captivity, therefore, the people appeared to have been cut off and banished from the presence of God, and had no token of the divine assistance, if the Lord had not soothed their affliction by those promises. Now, we ought carefully to observe this distress, that, when they had been banished into a distant country, they had no temple, or sacrifices, or religious assemblies; for they who in the present day have no form of a Church, (241) no use of sacraments, and no administration of the word, ought to look upon themselves as being in some measure cast out from the presence of God, and should learn to desire, and continually to ask by earnest prayer, the restoration of the Church.
(241) “ Nulle forme d’Eglise.”
20. Go out of Babylon. This is the second clause of this remonstrance, in which the Lord solemnly declares that he will be the Redeemer of his people, though they have been unworthy and ungrateful. After having declared that he performed the office of a good teacher, but that the people refused to hearken to him, so that by their own fault they drew down on themselves the punishment of captivity, he now declares his unwearied forbearance, by adding that he will still assist them, in order to bring them out of slavery. He therefore commands them to go out of the land of Babylon, in which they were captives. Hence we see that God, in his unspeakable goodness, though he has just cause to remonstrate with us, yet relieves our afflictions, and assists those who had been unworthy, and even who had insolently rejected his grace.
With the voice ofrejoicing. This relates to the confirmation of the deliverance, for he intended to give assurance to a promise which was altogether incredible. In order, therefore, to remove all doubt, he employed lofty language in extolling this blessing.
Tell it. He describes the strength of that confidence by which he wished to encourage the Jews; for we are wont to utter loudly and boldly those things of which we are certain, and, if we have any doubt, we scarcely venture to speak, and are dumb. Isaiah speaks of a future event as if it had actually arrived, that the people might cherish in their hearts greater and stronger confidence He makes use of the imperative mood, which is much more forcible, and produces a more powerful impression on our minds, than if he had expressed his meaning in plain terms.
21. Therefore they thirsted not. Because the Jews did not see the way opened up for their return, and because great and dangerous wildernesses intervened, the Prophet asserts the power of God, and brings forward examples of it, that they may not be terrified by any difficulty. He therefore bids them consider whether or not God had sufficient power to rescue their fathers from the slavery of Egypt, and to lead them through desolate wildernesses, in which he supplied them with food and water and everything that was necessary for them. (Exodus 16:1.) Here the Jews, according to their custom, contrive absurd fables, and invent miracles which were never performed; and they do this, not through ignorance, but through presumption, by which anything that is plausible, though there be no ground whatever for it, easily gains their support.
The design of the Prophet was to recall to their remembrance the former departure from Egypt, and the miracles which the Lord performed at that time, which we have already remarked to be customary with the Prophets, when they wish to extol in lofty terms the works of God. Thus David, when he was celebrating the victories which he had obtained, says that“
the mountains trembled and flowed down, that the air was cleft asunder, and that the Lord was seen from heaven,” (Psalms 18:7,)
though nothing of this kind ever happened to him; but he imitates the description of the deliverance from Egypt, in order to shew that God, who was the author of it, had also been his supporter and leader in conquering his enemies, and that the power of God ought not to be less acknowledged in his victory than in those signs and wonders.
In like manner the Prophet wishes that the people should now contemplate those miracles, in order to correct their unbelief, and that they may not be tempted by any distrust. The holy servants of God were always accustomed to cast their eyes on that deliverance, in order that, by the remembrance of so great a benefit, they might strengthen the hearts of all in hope and confidence; as we have formerly said that it was the duty of believers in every age to expect the fruit of this redemption, that the Lord, by uninterrupted progress, might be the guardian of a redeemed people. Thus Isaiah means that the Lord will easily surmount every obstacle, will open up a way which is shut, and will supply them abundantly with water, so that they shall not die of thirst, in the same manner as he formerly brought water out of rock by an extraordinary miracle, when the people thought that their condition was hopeless; and consequently, that there is no reason why they should despair of their return, if they wish to contemplate, and cordially to believe, that power of God which they have already experienced.
22. There is no peace, saith Jehovah to the wicked. These words, “saith the Lord,” are included by some commentators in a parenthesis; but we view them as having this connection with what goes before, that the Lord denies to wicked men that “peace” of which they are unworthy. (242) And this is expressly added, that hypocrites might not, according to their custom, cherish false confidence in these promises; for he declares that the promises do not belong to them, in order to shut them out altogether from the hope of salvation. But Isaiah appears also to have had his eye on something else; for, since the greater part of the people, under the influence of impiety, rejected this blessing, many weak and feeble persons might hesitate and might be terrified by the opinion of the multitude; (243) as in our own day we see feeble consciences disturbed, when they see the greater part of men despise the doctrine of salvation. Beholding many persons placed in danger, he tums away their minds from such a temptation, that they may not be troubled by the multitude of wicked and unbelieving men, who reject the grace of God and this prosperous condition, but that, without paying any regard to those men, they may embrace and enjoy this benefit.
(242) Our author means that, instead of reading the words thus, “There is no peace to the wicked, saith Jehovah,” he prefers to read them, “Jehovah saith to the wicked, There is no peace.” — Ed.
(243) “These words relate to those Jews who, being obstinately devoted to idolatry, and having settled down in Babylon, chose to remain there rather than to return to their native country and the religious worship of Jehovah. He declares, therefore, that such persons shall not have the happiness that is promised to those who shall return to their native habitations.” — Rosenmuller.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29