1.Hear me, O islands! After having treated of the future deliverance of the people, he comes down to Christ, under whose guidance the people were brought out of Babylon, as they had formerly been brought out of Egypt. The former prophecy must have been confirmed by this doctrine; because they would scarcely have hoped that the Lord would deliver them, if they had not placed Christ before their eyes, by whom alone desponding souls can be comforted and strengthened; for from him they ought not only to expect eternal salvation, but ought equally to expect temporal deliverance. Besides, it is customary with the prophets, when they discourse concerning the restoration of the Church, to bring Christ into view, not only because he would be the minister of the Church, but because on him was founded the adoption of the people. The Jews also, or, at least, such of them as have any soundness of understanding, admit that this passage cannot be understood as relating to any other person than Christ. But still the train of thought which we have pointed out has not been perceived by every interpreter; for the Prophet does not, by a sudden transition, mention Christ, but interweaves this with the former subject, because in no other manner could the people entertain the hope of deliverance, since on him depended their reconciliation with God. And in order that the style might be more energetic, he introduces Christ as speaking, and addresses not only the Jews but nations that were beyond the sea, and foreign nations who were at a great distance from Judea, to whom, as we have formerly remarked, (1) he gives the name of “Islands.”
Jehovah hath called me from the womb. A question arises, What is the nature of this calling? For, seeing that we were
“chosen in Christ before the creation of the world,”
it follows that election goes before this calling; for it is the commencement and foundation of our election. Accordingly, it might be thought that Isaiah says far less than the occasion demands, when he says that he was “called from the womb;” for he had been called long before. But the answer is easy; for the subject here treated of is not eternal election, by which we are adopted to be his sons, but only the appointment or consecration by which Christ is set apart to that office, that no man may think that he intruded into it without being duly authorized. “For no man,” as the Apostle says,
“taketh this honor upon himself, but he who is called by God, as Aaron was. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he who spake to him, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (Hebrews 5:4.)
Moreover, the Prophet does not describe the commencement of the period, as if it were only from the womb that God began to call him; but it is as if he had said, “Before I came out of the womb, God had determined that I should hold this office.” In like manner Paul also says that he was “set apart from the womb,” (Galatians 1:15,) though he had been “elected before the creation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4.) To Jeremiah also it is said, “Before thou camest out of the womb, I knew thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5.) In short, the meaning is, that Christ was clothed with our flesh by the appointment of the Father, in order that he might fulfill the office of Redeemer, to which he had been appointed.
From my mother’s belly he hath had my name in remembrance. This has the same import as the former clause; for by “the remembrance of the name” is meant familiar acquaintance. He therefore distinguishes himself from the ordinary rank of men, because he was elected to an uncommon and remarkable office.
2.And he hath placed my mouth as a sharp sword, he employs a twofold comparison, that of “a sword” and of “a quiver,” in order to denote the power and energy of the doctrine; and he shews why he was called, and why he was honored by a name so excellent and illustrious, namely, that he may teach; for this is what he means by the word “mouth.” Christ hath therefore been appointed by the Father, not to rule, after the manner of princes, by the force of arms, and by surrounding himself with other external defences, to make himself an object of terror to his people; but his whole authority consists in doctrine, in the preaching of which he wishes to be sought and acknowledged; for nowhere else will he be found. He asserts the power of his “mouth,” that is, of the doctrine which proceeds from his mouth, by comparing it to “a sword;” for
“the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12.)
And hath made me as a polished arrow. He now compares his mouth to “an arrow,” because it strikes not only close at hand, but likewise at a distance, and reaches even those who appear to be far off.
In his quiver hath he hid me. After having spoken of the efficacy of doctrine, Isaiah adds, that God, by his power, protects Christ and his doctrine, so that nothing can stop his course. And this was very necessary to be added; for, as soon as the mouth of Christ is opened, that is, as soon as his Gospel is preached, adversaries rise up on all sides, and innumerable enemies league together in order to crush it; so that the efficacy which he ascribes to doctrine would not be sufficient, if there were not added his protection, in order to drive away adversaries.
Besides, the present question is not about the person of Christ, but about the whole body of the Church. We must indeed begin with the Head, but we must next come down to the members; and to all the ministers of the Word must be applied what is here affirmed concerning Christ; for to them is given such efficacy of the Word, that they may not idly beat the air with their voices, but may reach the hearts and touch them to the quick. The Lord also causes the voice of the Gospel to resound not; only in one place, but far and wide throughout the whole world. In short, because he faithfully keeps them under his protection, though they are exposed to many attacks, and are assaulted on every side by Satan and the world, yet they do not swerve from their course. We ought to have abundant knowledge of this from experience; for they would all to a man have been long ago ruined by the conspiracies and snares of adversaries, if the Lord had not defended them by his protection. And indeed, amidst so many dangers, it is almost miraculous that a single preacher of the Gospel is permitted to remain. The reason of this is, that the Lord guards them by his shadow, and “hides them as arrows in his quiver,” that they may not be laid open to the assaults of enemies and be destroyed.
3.Thou art my servant, O Israel. It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shews that the Prophet now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation; which has not been duly considered by commentators. This passage must not be limited to the person of Christ, and ought not to be referred to Israel alone; but on the present occasion we should attend to the customary language of Scripture. When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward conspicuously so as to include all the children of God. We hear what Paul says:
“The promises were given to Abraham and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16.)
He does not include the whole multitude of children who were descended from Abraham himself according to the flesh, seeing that all were not partakers of the blessing. Ishmael was rejected, Esau was a reprobate, and many others were cut off. When the people were rescued from Babylon, but a small renmant came out; for the greater part rejected God’s astonishing kindness. Where then was “the seed?” In Christ, who is the Head, and contains in himself the rest of the members; for in him is joined and bound by an indisoluble bond all the seed.
In like manner, under the name Israel, by which he means Christ, Isaiah includes the whole body of the people, as members under the Head. Nor ought this to be thought strange; for Paul also, when he speaks of the union, employs the metaphor of the human body, and then adds: “So also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12.) In that passage the name of Christ is given to Israel, that is, to the whole body of believers, who are joined to Christ, as members to the Head. In a word, the Lord honors by this name the Church, which is the spouse of Christ, just as the wife is honored by bearing the name and title of her husband. He calls “Israel his servant,” that is, he calls the Church his handmaid, because she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15;) for he hath committed his word to the care of the Church, that by her ministrations it may be published throughout the whole world.
In thee I will be glorified. At length, in the conclusion of the verse he shews what is the design of these ministrations, and for what purpose, they who preach the Gospel are called by God; namely, that they may zealously display his glory, and may likewise promote it among others, which Christ also teaches us in the Gospel,
“Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.” (John 17:1.)
This is a very high honor conferred on poor, feeble men, when the Lord appoints them, though corrupt and depraved, to promote his glory; and therefore we ought to be the more encouraged to render to him our service and obedience. Yet God intends to express something more, that, notwithstanding the efforts of Satan and all wicked men, the power of God will be victorious, so that Christ shall triumph gloriously, and the majesty of God shall shine forth in his Gospel.
4.And I said, In vain have I toiled. The Prophet here brings forward a grievous complaint in the name of the Church, yet in such a manner that, as we have formerly remarked, we must begin with the Head. Christ therefore complains along with his members, that it appears as if his labor were thrown away; for, having formerly pronounced a high and striking commendation on the power and efficacy of the word which proceedeth out of his mouth, while yet it scarcely does any good, and the glory which God demands from the ministration of it does not shine forth, he therefore introduces the Church as complaining that she spends her labor fruitlessly, because men do not repent at the preaching of heavenly doctrine.
It was highly necessary that the Prophet should add this; first, that we may know that the fruit which he mentioned is not always visible to the eyes of men; for otherwise we might call in question the truth of the word, and might entertain doubts if that which is so obstinately rejected by many was the word of God. Secondly, it was necessary, that we may advance with unshaken firmness, and may commit our labor to the Lord, who will not permit it to be ultimately unproductive. The Prophet therefore intended to guard against a dangerous temptation, that we may not, on account of the obstinacy of men, lose courage in the middle of our course. And indeed Christ begins with the complaint, for the purpose of affirming that nothing shall hinder him from executing his office. The meaning of the words might be more clearly brought out in the following manner: “Though my labor be unprofitable, and though I have almost exhausted my strength without doing any good, yet it is enough that God approves of my obedience.” Such is also the import of what he adds, —
But my judgement is before Jehovah. Although we do not clearly see the fruit of our labors, yet we are enjoined to be content on this ground, that we serve God, to whom our obedience is acceptable. Christ exhorts and encourages godly teachers to strive earnestly till they rise victorious over this temptation, and, laying aside the malice of the world, to advance cheerfully in the discharge of duty, and not to allow their hearts to languish through weariness. If therefore the Lord be pleased to make trial of our faith and patience to such an extent that it shall seem as if we wearied ourselves to no purpose, yet we ought to rely on this testimony of our conscience And if we do not enjoy this consolation, at least we are not moved by pure affection, and do not serve God, but the world and our own ambition. In such temptations, therefore, we should have recourse to this sentiment.
Yet it ought to be observed, that here Christ and the Church accuse the whole world of ingratitude; for the Church complains to God in such a manner as to remonstrate with the world, because no good effect is produced on it by the doctrine of the Gospel, which in itself is efficacious and powerful. Yet the whole blame rests on the obstinacy and ingratitude of men, who reject the grace of God offered to them, and of their own accord choose to perish. Let those persons now go and accuse Christ, who say that the Gospel yields little fruit, and who defame the doctrine of the word by wicked slanders, and who throw ridicule on our labors as vain and unprofitable, and who allege that, on the contrary, they excite men to sedition, and lead them to sin with less control. Let them consider, I say, with whom they have to do, and what advantage they gain by their impudence, since men alone ought to bear the blame, who, as far as lies in their power, render the preaching of the Word unprofitable.
Godly ministers, who bitterly lament that men perish so miserably by their own fault, and who sometimes devour and waste themselves through grief, when they experience so great perversity, ought to encourage their hearts by this consolation, and not to be alarmed so as to throw away the shield and spear, though sometimes they imagine that it would be better for them to do so. Let them consider that they share with Christ in this cause; for Christ does not speak of himself alone, as we formerly mentioned, but undertakes the cause of all who faithfully serve him, and, as their advocate, brings forward an accusation in the name of all. Let them therefore rely on his protection, and allow him to defend their cause. Let them appeal, as Paul does, to the day of the Lord, (1 Corinthians 4:4,) and let them not heed the calumnies, reproaches, or slanders of their enemies; for their judgment is with the Lord, and although they be a hundred times slandered by the world, yet a faithful God will approve and vindicate the service which they render to him.
On the other hand, let wicked men, and despisers of the word, and hypocrites, tremble; for when Christ accuses, there will be no room for defense; and when he condenms, there will be none that can acquit. We must therefore beware lest the fruit which ought to proceed from the Gospel should be lost through our fault; for the Lord manifests his glory in order that we may become disciples of Christ, and may bring forth much fruit.
5.And now saith Jehovah. By this verse he confirms the former statement, and yields more abundant consolation, by repeating that calling; and the testimony of conscience, which ought to be regarded by us as a fortress; for there is nothing that gives us greater distress and anxiety, than to entertain doubts by whose authority, or by whose direction everything is undertaken by us. For this reason Isaiah reminds us of the certainty of our calling.
Who formed me from the womb to be his servant. In the first place, godly teachers, along with Christ who is their Prince, say that they have been “formed” by a divine hand; because God always enriches and adorns with necessary gifts those whom he calls to the office of teaching, who derive from the one fountain of the Spirit all the gifts in which they excel. Thus “the Father hath sealed” (John 6:27) his Only-begotten Son, and next prepares others, according to their degree, to be fit for discharging their office. At the same time, he points out the end of the calling; for to this end have Apostles and teachers of the Church been appointed, to gather the Lord’s scattered flock, that under Christ we may all be united in the same body. (Ephesians 4:11.) In the world there is miserable dispersion, but in Christ there is ἀνακεφαλαίωσις “a gathering together” of all, (Ephesians 1:10,) as the Apostle speaks; for there can be no other bond of union. As to the word “create,” or “form,” it is to no purpose that some men speculate about it as relating to Christ’s human existence, which was created; for it is clearer than noon-day, that the “forming” must be viewed as relating to office.
And though Israel be not gathered. The Jews read these words as a question: “Shall I not bring back Jacob? and shall Israel not be gathered?” and supply the particle ה (ha). But that reading is excessively unnatural, and the Jews do not consider what was the Prophet’s meaning, but, so far as lies in their power, corrupt the text, in order to conceal the disgrace of their nation. Some explain it, “Shall not be lost,” or, “Shall not perish;” for the verb אספ (asaph) sometimes denotes what we commonly call ( trousser ) to truss. Those things which are intended to be preserved are “gathered,” and likewise those things which are intended to be consumed; and accordingly, when we mean that any person has been removed out of the world, we frequently use the vulgar phrase, “he is trussed,” (2) or, “he is despatched.”
Yet I shall be glorious. To suppose the meaning to be, “I have been sent, that Israel may not perish,” would not be unsuitable; but I choose rather to follow a different interpretation, namely, “Though Israel be not gathered, yet I shall be glorious;” for it is probable that opposite things are contrasted with each other in this passage. If ministers have been set apart, for the salvation of men, it is glorious to them when many are brought to salvation; and when the contrary happens, it tends to their shame and disgrace. Paul calls those whom he had gained to Christ “his glory and crown.” (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19.) On the other hand, when men perish, we receive from it nothing but shame and disgrace; for God appears to curse our labors, and not to deign to bestow on us the high honor of advancing his kingdom by our agency. But the Prophet declares that those who have served Christ shall nevertheless be glorious; for he speaks both of the head and of the members, as we have formerly remarked. Although therefore Israel refuse to be “gathered,” yet the ministry of Christ shall retain its glory unimpaired; for it will be ascribed to the baseness and wickedness of men, that they have not been “gathered.”
In like manner, although the preachers of the Gospel be “the savor of death unto death” to the reprobate, yet Paul declares that they have a sweet and delightful odor before God, who determines that wicked men shall thus be rendered the more inexcusable. God is indeed doubly glorified if success corresponds to their wishes; but when the ministers of the word have left nothing undone, though they have good reason to lament that their labor is unprofitable, still they must not repent of having pleased God, whose approbation is here contrasted with the perverse judgments of the whole world. As if the Prophet had said, “Though men vehemently slander and load them with many reproaches, yet this ought to be calmly and patiently endured by them; because God judges differently, and bestows a crown of honor on their patience, which wicked men insolently slander.
And my God shall be my strength. When he says that it is enough that “God is their strength,” the meaning corresponds to what goes before, that they ought not to be terrified by the multitude or power of their enemies, seeing that they are persuaded that their “strength” lies in God.
6.And he said, It is a small matter. Isaiah proceeds still farther, and shews that the labor of Christ, and of the whole Church, will be glorious not only before God, but likewise before men. Although at first it appears to be vain and useless, yet the Lord will cause some fruit to spring from it contrary to the expectations of men. Already it was enough that our labor should be approved by God; but when he adds that it will not be unprofitable even in the eyes of men, this ought still more abundantly to comfort, and more vehemently to excite us. Hence it follows, that we ought to have good hopes of success, but that we ought to leave it to the disposal of God himself, that the blessing which he promises may be made manifest at the proper time, to whatever extent, and in whatever manner he shall think proper.
Therefore I have appointed thee to be a light of the Gentiles. He now adds, that this labor will be efficacious, not only among the people of Israel, but likewise among the Gentiles; and so it actually happened. Moreover, when the preaching of the Gospel produced hardly any good effect on the Jews, and when Christ was obstinately rejected by them, the Gentiles were substituted in their room. And thus Christ was
“appointed to be a light of the Gentiles, and his salvation was manifested to the very ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47.)
Now this consolation was highly necessary, both for prophets and for apostles, who experienced more and more the obstinacy of the Jews. They might doubt the truth of these promises, since they did not perceive them to yield any fruit; but when they understood that Christ was sent to the Gentiles also, it was not so difficult to animate their hearts to persevere. This was incredible, and even monstrous; but this is the manner in which the Lord commonly works, contrary to the expectation of all. Paul says that this was “a mystery bidden from ages,” and that the angels themselves did not understand it until it was actually revealed in the Church of God. (Ephesians 3:5.) Although therefore the Jews alone appeared to have discernment, they are now placed on a level with the Gentiles, and with God “there is no distinction between the Jews and the Greeks.” (Romans 10:12.)
The Jews read this verse as a question, “Is it a small thing?” As if he had said, that it is enough, and that nothing more or greater ought to be desired. But they maliciously corrupt the natural meaning of the Prophet, and imagine that they will one day be lords of the Gentiles, and will have wide and extensive dominion. The true meaning of the Prophet is, “This work in itself indeed is magnificent and glorious, to raise up and restore the tribes of Israel, which had fallen very low; for he will add the Gentiles to the Jews, that they may be united as one people, and may be acknowledged to belong to Christ.” Nor does this passage relate to the rejection of the ancient people, but to the increase of the Church, that the Gentiles may be associated with the Jews. It is true, indeed, that when the Jews revolted from the covenant, the Gentiles entered, as it were, into that place which they had left vacant; and thus their revolt was the reason why those who had formerly been aliens were admitted to be sons. But in this, as well as in other passages, Isaiah foretells that the Church will be greatly extended, when the Gentiles shall be received and united to the Jews in the unity of faith.
A light of the Gentiles. Although by the word “light” is meant happiness, or joy, yet the Prophet, I have no doubt, directly refers to the doctrine of the Gospel, which enlightens souls, and draws them out of darkness, He shews that this “light,” which Christ shall bring, will give salvation. In the same manner as Christ is called “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) because through the knowledge of the truth we obtain life, so in this passage he is called the “light” and salvation of the Gentiles, because he enlightens our minds by the doctrine of the Gospel, in order that he may lead us to salvation. Two things, therefore, ought to be remarked; first, that our eyes are opened by the doctrine of Christ; and secondly, that we who had perished are restored to life, or rather life is restored to us.
7.Thus saith Jehovah. Isaiah pursues the same subject, that the people, when they were afflicted by that terrible calamity, might cherish the hope of a better condition; and, in order to confirm it the more, he calls God, who promised these things, the Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel It will be objected that these statements are contradictory, that is, that God is called the “redeemer” of that people which he permitted to be oppressed; for where is this redemption, and where is this sanctification, if the people could reply that they were miserable and ruined? I reply, the record of ancient history is here exhibited as the ground of confidence and hope; for when the Jews were on the point of despair, the Prophet comes forward and reminds them that God, who had formerly redeemed their fathers, is still as powerful as ever; and therefore, although for a time, in order to exercise the faith of the godly, he concealed their salvation, believers are commanded to stand firm, because in his hand their redemption is certain. Yet it was proper that they should form conceptions of that which lay far beyond human senses. This is a remarkable passage, from which we learn how firmly we ought to believe God when he speaks, though he does not immediately perform what he has promised, but permits us to languish, and to be afflicted for a long time.
To the contemptible in the soul. בזה (bezo) is rendered by some commentators “contempt,” and by others “contemptible,” which I prefer. (3) It heightens the wretchedness of that nation, that “in the soul,” that is, in their own estimation, they are “contemptible.” Many are despised by others, though they either deserve honor on account of their good qualities, or do not cease to swell with pride, and to tread down the arrogance of others by still greater arrogance. But of this people the Prophet says, that they despise themselves as much as others despise them. He therefore describes deep disgrace and a very unhappy condition, and, at the same time, prostration of mind, that they may know that God’s time for rendering assistance will be fully come, when they shall be altogether humbled.
To the abhorred nation. (4) I see no reason why the plural “Nations,” is here employed by some interpreters; seeing that the singular גוי, (goi,) “nation,” is used by the Prophet, and it is certain that the discourse is specially directed to the posterity of Abraham.
To the servant of rulers. This is added, as if he had said that they are oppressed by strong tyrants; for he gives the appellation משלים (moshelim) to those whose strength and power are so great that it is not easy to escape out of their hands.
When he says that kings shall see, he speaks in lofty terms of the deliverance of his nation; but yet he permits them to be put to the test in the fumace, that he may make trial of their faith and patience; for otherwise there would be no trial of their faith, if he immediately performed what he promised, as we have already said. The word princes contains a repetition which is customary among the Hebrews. We would express it thus: “Kings and princes shall see; they shall rise up: and adore.” By the word adore, he explains what he had said, “They shall rise up;“ for we “riseup” for the purpose of shewing respect. The general meaning is, that the most exalted princes of the world shall be aroused to perceive that the restoration of the nation is an illustrious work of God, and worthy of reverence.
For faithful is the Holy One of Israel. This is the reason of the great admiration and honor which the princes shall render to God. It is because they shall perceive the “faithfulness” and constancy of the Lord in his promises. Now, the Lord wishes to be acknowledged to be true, not by a bare and naked imagination, but by actual experience, that is, by preserving the people whom he has adopted. Let us therefore learn from it, that we ougtlt not to judge of the promises of God from our condition, but from his truth; so that, when we shall see nothing before us but destruction and death, we may remember this sentiment, by which the Lord calls to himself the contemptible and abominable.
Hence also it ought to be observed, how splendid and astonishing a work of God is the deliverance of the Church, which compels kings, though proud, and deeming hardly anything so valuable as to be worthy of their notice, to behold, admire, and be amazed, and even in spite of themselves to reverence the Lord. This strange and extraordinary work, therefore, is highly commended to us. How great and how excellent it is, we may learn from ourselves; for to say nothing about ancient histories, in what manner have we been redeemed from the wretched tyranny of Antichrist? Truly we shall consider it to be “a dream,” as the Psalmist says, (Psalms 126:1,) if we ponder it carefully for a short time; so strange and incredible is the work which God hath performed in us who have possessed the name of Christ.
And who hath chosen thee. He now repeats what he had formerly glanced at, that this nation has been set apart to God. But in election we perceive the beginning of sanctification; for it was in consequence of God having deigned to elect them out of his mere good pleasure, that this nation became his peculiar inheritance. Isaiah therefore points out the secret will of God, from which sanctification proceeds; that Israel might not think that he had been selected on account of his own merits. As if he had said, “The Lord, who hath chosen thee, gives actual proof of his election, and shows it by the effect.” In the same manner, therefore, as the truth of God ought to be acknowledged in our salvation, so salvation ought to be ascribed exclusively to his election, which is of free grace. Yet they who wish to become partakers of so great a benefit, must be a part of Israel, that is, of the Church, out of which there can be neither salvation nor truth.
8.In a time of good pleasure. From this verse we again learn more clearly what we explained at the beginning of this chapter, that the Prophet, while he addresses the whole body of the Church, begins with Christ, who is the head. I have said that this ought to be carefully observed; for commentators have not attended to it, and yet there is no other way in which this chapter can be consistently expounded. This is clearly shewn by Paul, who applies this statement to the whole Church. (2 Corinthians 6:2.) And yet, what the Prophet adds, I will give thee to be a covenant, is applicable to no other than Christ.
How shall we reconcile these statements? By considering that Christ is not so much his own as ours; for he neither came, nor died, nor rose again for himself. He was sent for the salvation of the Church, and seeks nothing as his own; for he has no want of anything. Accordingly, God makes promises to the whole body of the Church. Christ, who occupies the place of Mediator, receives these promises, and does not plead on behalf of himself as an individual, but of the whole Church, for whose salvation he was sent. On this account he does not address Christ separately, but so far as he is joined and continually united to his body. It is an inconceivable honor which our heavenly Father bestows upon us, when he listens to his Son on our account, and when he even directs the discourse to the Son, while the matter relates to our salvation. Hence we see how close is the connection between us and Christ. He stands in our room, and has nothing separate from us; and the Father listens to our cause.
By the word “good pleasure,” the Prophet lays a bridle on believers, so to speak, that they may not be too eager in their desires, but may wait patiently till the time appointed by God has arrived; and in this sense Paul gives to the coming of Christ the appellation of “the time of fullness.” (Galatians 4:4.) He means, therefore, that they depend on God’s disposal, and ought therefore to endure his wrath with meekness and composure. But although the intention of the Prophet is to exhort the godly to patience, that they may learn to place their feelings in subordination to God, yet at the same time he shows that our salvation proceeds from God’s undeserved kindness. רצון (ratzon) which the Greeks translate εὐδοκία , that is, the good-will of God is the foundation of our salvation; and salvation is the effect of that grace. We are saved, because we please God, not through our worthiness or merits, but by his free grace. Secondly, he shows, at the same time, that our salvation is certain, when we have a clear proof of the grace of the Lord. All doubt ought to be removed, when the Lord testified of his “good pleasure.” This passage tends to the commendation of the word, beyond which we ought not to inquire about salvation; as Paul declares that the good pleasure of God is clearly manifested in the preaching of the Gospel, and that thus is fulfilled what is contained in this passage about “the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2.)
Thirdly, the Prophet intended to remind us, that God gives us an undoubted pledge of his favor when he sends the Gospel to us; because it is evident that he has compassion upon us, when he gently invites us to himself, that we may not look around in every direction to seek this light, which ought to be expected only from God’s gracious pleasure, or be tortured by doubt, from which God frees us. But let us remember that all this depends on God’s free purpose. When therefore the question is put, why the Lord enlightened us at this time rather than at an earlier period, the reason which ought to be assigned is this: because thus it pleased God, thus it seemed good in his sight. Such is the conclusion to which Paul comes in the passage which we quoted,
“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2.)
This passage may greatly aid us in ascertaining Isaiah’s meaning, that we may learn to connect our salvation with God’s good pleasure; a proof of which is given to us in the preaching of the Gospel. It ought also to be observed, that these predictions should not be limited to a certain age, since they belong to the whole Church in all ages. For if we begin with the deliverance from Babylon, we must go on to the redemption of Christ, of which it might be regarded as the commencement and the forerunner; and since there are still found among us many remnants of slavery, we must proceed forward to the last day, when everything shall be restored.
I have appointed thee to be a covenant. This makes it still more evident, that all that had formerly been said was promised to Christ, not for the sake of his personal advantage, but on our behalf; for he has been appointed to be the mediator of the covenant, because the Jews by their sins had revolted from God, who had made an everlasting covenant with them. The renewal of that covenant, therefore, which had been broken or dissolved, is ascribed to Christ. Yet we must likewise keep in view the saying of Paul, that
“Christ is our peace, to reconcile both them that are far off, and them that are near.” (Ephesians 2:14.)
But, Isaiah had directly in view that lamentable ruin, the remedy for which could be expected from Christ alone. Besides, it is proper to apply this grace to ourselves, because, as compared to the Jews, before the Gospel was preached, we were enemies and aliens from God, and could not in any other way be reconciled to him. Christ was therefore “given to be a covenant of the people,” because there was no other way to God but by him. At that time the Jews were a people; but in consequence of the partition-wall having been broken down, all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, have been united in one body.
That thou mayest raise up the earth, which at that time was waste and desolate; for the return of the people was, as we have elsewhere seen, a kind of new creation. Such is also the design of the words of the Prophet, that we may know that there is nothing in the world but ruin and desolation. Christ is sent in order to restore what was fallen down and decayed. If we had not been in a fallen condition, there would have been no reason why Christ should be sent to us. We ought therefore to weigh well our condition; for we are aliens from God, destitute of life, and shut out from all hope of salvation. But by Christ we are fully restored and reconciled to our Heavenly Father. Isaiah likewise adds the benefits which we obtain through Christ, after having been reconciled to God.
9.That thou mayest say to them that are bound. These words describe the change which took place at the coming of Christ. And yet the Prophet unquestionably intends to administer consolation to the Jews in their extremity, that they may not think it incredible that they shall be restored to a better condition, because they see that they are almost devoted to destruction. Still, he shows in general what is the nature of Christ’s office, and explains what is meant by restoring desolate heritages; for, before the coming of Christ, we are “bound” under a miserable yoke, and plunged in darkness. By these metaphors is meant, that so long as we are without Christ, we are overwhelmed by a load of all evils; for by darkness he excludes everything that relates to the kingdom of Christ, faith, righteousness, truth, innocence, and everything of that nature. We are therefore in “darkness,” till Christ say, Shew yourselves We are “bound,” till he say, Come forth.
The word לאמר, (lemor,) “that thou mayest say,” is highly emphatic; for it shews that the preaching of the Gospel is the means by which we are delivered. If therefore we desire liberty, if we desire the light of the kingdom of God, let us listen to Christ when he speaks; otherwise we shall be oppressed by the unceasing tyranny of Satan. Where then is the liberty of our will? Whosoever claims for himself light, or reason, or understanding, can have no share in this deliverance of Christ; for liberty is not promised to any but those who acknowledge that they are captives, and light and salvation are not promised to any but those who acknowledge that they are plunged in darkness.
On the ways they shall feed. When he promises that pastures shall be accessible to the children of God, and shall be on the tops of the mountains, by these metaphors he declares that all who shall be under the protection of Christ shall dwell safely; for he is a careful and attentive Shepherd, who supplies his flock with everything that is necessary, so that they are in want of nothing that is requisite for the highest happiness. (John 10:11.) This instruction was highly necessary at the time when the Jews were about to perform a joumey through dry and barren countries, in their return to a land which lay waste and desolate. The Prophet therefore says that God has abundant resources for supplying their wants, though earthly means should fail; and accordingly, in accordance with the ordinary custom of Scripture, he compares believers to sheep, in order that, being aware of their weakness, they may shrink themselves entirely to the care of the Shepherd.
Yet it is probable that indirectly he warns believers not to desire excessive luxury, because they will never have so great a superfluity as not to be attended by many difficulties; and likewise not to become effeminate, because they will be beset by dangers; for we know that “the ways” are exposed to the attacks of enemies and robbers, and that the tops of mountains are for the most part barren. The Church is governed by Christ in such a manner as not to be free from the attacks and insults of men, and is fed in such a manner as frequently to inhabit barren and frightful regions. But though enemies are at hand, God protects us from their violence and oppression. If we are thirsty or hungry, he is abundantly able to supply everything that is necessary for food and maintenance; and amidst perils and difficulties of this nature we perceive his care and anxiety more dearly than if we were placed beyond the reach of all danger.
10.They shall not hunger or thirst. He confirms what was said in the former verse, that there is food in the hand of God, so that the Jews shall not be in want of provisions for their joumey. Nor can it be doubted that he calls to their remembrance, that when their fathers were threatened with death in the wilderness through a scarcity of bread and of every kind of food, God gave them daily, for forty years, manna from heaven. (Exodus 16:35.) In like manner, when he immediately afterwards speaks of a shadow against the heat of the sun, he alludes to the history related by Moses about “the pillar of a cloud,” by which God protected his people from being scorched by the buming rays of the sun. (Exodus 13:21.) We have said that it is customary with the prophets to mention the departure of the people out of Egypt, whenever they intend to demonstrate the kindness of God, either publicly towards all, or privately towards any individual.
By the fountains of waters. He likewise alludes to those waters which flowed from the rock, (Exodus 17:6,) when the people had well-nigh perished from thirst; for those occurrences did not take place at the deliverance from Babylon, but, by mentioning former benefits, the Prophet magnifies the power of God in securing the safety of the Church.
11.And I will place all my mountains. Here he directly and expressly treats of the return of the people; for in vain would he have promised so great happiness to the Church, if the people were not to be restored to their former liberty. The meaning is, that he will remove every obstacle and hinderance that might prevent the return of the people; and that he will render the “mountains” passable, which appeared to be impassable; and, in short, that he will level both the mountains and the valleys, that their return to Judea may be facilitated. Thus, when the Church is about to be completely restored, no obstructions, however great and formidable, can hinder God from being finally victorious. Besides, when he calls them “my mountains,” he not only means that he has an absolute right to command them to afford a passage to his people, but declares that he will be the leader of the expedition, as if he would march along with the Jews, and accompany them in the joumey. In like manner, it is said in another passage, that he passed through Egypt and “rode on the high places of it” at the departure of his people. (Deuteronomy 32:13.) But here he describes the extraordinary love of God towards the Church, when he says that he travels along with her, and undertakes to supply all her wants, as if he were consulting his own interests when he assisted his people.
12.Behold, those from afar shall come. The opinion entertained by some, that the four quarters of the earth are here denoted, does not rest on very solid grounds; yet I do not reject it, because it not only is probable, but agrees with many other passages. Undoubtedly, he first says that they shall come from distant parts of the world, and next adds certain subdivisions or parts in order to explain this general statement.
And those from the land of Sinis. Instead of “Sinis,” some read “Sinis;” and indeed the Hebrew copies differ. (5) Jerome thinks (and this is the commonly received opinion) that a southern region is so denominated from Mount Sinai, which lay toward the south. Others think that “Syene” is meant, because it lies under the tropic of Cancer. (6) But this diversity has nothing to do with the meaning of the Prophet, which of itself is clear and easy to be understood; for the Prophet unquestionably means those who had been scattered and dispersed in various places, whether they are collected from the north or from the sea. While Isaiah promises a return from Babylon, he at the same time extends this prediction to the time of Christ, as may be easily learned from what goes before; for we must keep in remembrance what we formerly said, that the second birth of the Church is here described. Not only does he promise that the Jews shall return to Jerusalem to build the temple, but likewise that they who had formerly been aliens from the Church, shall be collected from every corner of the world.“From the north — Tartary; west, Europe; Sinim, the Chinese, in whose country a multitude of Jews he hid, if we may believe the curious account of them, published by the Jesuit Brotier, in his supplement to Tacit. Hist. 1. v.” — Stock.
13.Praise, O heavens; and rejoice, O earth. Though he exhorts and encourages all the godly to thanksgiving, yet he likewise aims at confirming the promise which might have been regarded as doubtful; for afflictions trouble our consciences, and cause them to waver in such a manner that it is not so easy to rest firmly on the promises of God. In short, men either remain in suspense, or tremble, or utterly fall and even faint. So long as they are oppressed by fear or anxiety, or grief, they scarcely accept of any consolation; and therefore they need to be confirmed in various ways. This is the reason why Isaiah describes the advantages of this deliverance in such lofty terms, in order that believers, though they beheld nothing around them but death and ruin, might sustain their heart by the hope of a better condition. Accordingly, he places the subject almost before their eye, that they may be fully convinced that they shall have the most abundant cause of rejoicing; though at that time they saw nothing but grief and sorrow.
Let us therefore remember, that whenever the Lord promises anything, we ought to add thanksgiving, that we may more powerfully affect our hearts; and next, that we ought to raise our minds to the power of God, who exercises a wide and extensive dominion over all the creatures; for as soon as he lifts his hand, “heaven and earth” are moved. If the tokens of his wonderful power are to be seen everywhere, he intends that there shall be an eminent and remarkable example of it in the salvation of the Church.
And he wilt have compassion on his poor. By this metaphor the Prophet shews that no obedience which is rendered to God by heaven and earth is more acceptable to him than to join together and lend their mutual aid to his Church. Moreover, that believers may not faint under the weight of distresses, before promising to them consolation from God, he exhorts them calmly to bear distresses; for by the word poor he means that the Church, in this world, is liable to many calamities. In order, therefore, that we may partake of the compassion of God, let us learn, under the cross and amidst many annoyances, to strive after it with sighs and tears.
14.But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me. In order to magnify his grace the more, God complains that the hearts of the Jews were so narrow and close, that the road was almost shut against him, if he had not overcome their wicked thoughts by his great goodness. Yet at the same time he endeavors to correct this fault, that the deliverance which is offered, and, as it were, set before them, may be received by them with open hearts, and that, as he is willing to assist them, so they, on the other hand, may be prepared to cherish favorable hopes. Now, to us also this doctrine belongs; because almost all of us, when God delays his assistance, are fearfully distressed and tormented; for we think that he has forsaken and rejected us. Thus despair quickly creeps in, which must be opposed, that we may not be deprived of the grace of God. And indeed amidst these doubts our unbelief is manifested and exposed, by our not relying on the promises of God, so as to bear patiently either the chastisements by which God urges us to repentance, or the trials of faith by which he trains us to patience, or any afflictions by which he humbles us. Justly therefore does God remonstrate with the Jews for rejecting by wicked distrust the salvation offered to them, and not permitting themselves to receive assistance. Nor does he limit this accusation to a small number, but includes nearly the whole Church, in order to shew that he will be kind and bountiful toward the Jews beyond the measure of their faith, and that he even strives with them, that by his salvation he may break through all the hinderances by which they opposed him. Let each of us therefore beware of indulging or flattering ourselves in this matter; for the Lord contends with the whole Church, for uttering speeches of this kind, which proceed from the fountain of distrust.
15.Shall a woman forget her child! In order to correct that distrust, he adds to the remonstrance an exhortation full of the sweetest consolation. By an appropriate comparison, he shews how strong is his anxiety about his people, comparing himself to a mother, whose love toward her offspring is so strong and ardent, as to leave far behind it a father’s love. Thus he did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, (which on other occasions he very frequently employs,) but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls them not merely “children,” but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection. What amazing affection does a mother feel toward her offspring, which she cherishes in her bosom, suckles on her breast, and watches over with tender care, so that she passes sleepless nights, wears herself out by continued anxiety, and forgets herself! And this carefulness is manifested, not only among men, but even among savage beasts, which, though they are by nature cruel, yet in this respect are gentle.
Even if they shall forget. Since it does sometimes happen that mothers degenerate into such monsters as to exceed in cruelty the wild beasts and forget “the fruit of their womb,” the Lord next declares that, even though this should happen, still he will never forget his people. The affection which he bears toward us is far stronger and warmer than the love of all mothers. We ought also to bear in mind the saying of Christ,
“If ye, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more your heavenly Father?” (Matthew 7:11.)
Men, though by nature depraved and addicted to self-love, are anxious about their children. What shall God do, who is goodness itself? Will it be possible for him to lay aside a father’s love? Certainly not. Although therefore it should happen that mothers (which is a monstrous thing) should forsake their own offspring, yet God, whose love toward his people is constant and unremitting, will never forsake them. In a word, the Prophet here describes to us the inconceivable carefulness with which God unceasingly watches over our salvation, that we may be fully convinced that he will never forsake us, though we may be afflicted with great and numerous calamities.
16.Behold, on the palms of my hands. By another cormparison he describes that inconceivable carefulness which the Lord exercises toward us. It is a common proverb, that “we have it on our fingers’ ends,” when we have anything fully and deeply fixed on our memory. And Moses when he recommends constant meditation on the Law, says, “Thou shalt bind them for a sign on thy hand;” that is, that they should always have the commandments of God placed before their eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8.) He now makes use of the same comparison; as if he had said, “I cannot look at my hands without beholding thee in them; I carry thee engraved on my heart, so that no forgetfulness can efface thee; in a word, I cannot forget thee without forgetting myself.” True, indeed, God has neither hands nor bodily shape; but Scripture accommodates itself to our weak capacity so as to express the strength of God’s love toward us.
Thy walls are continually before me. As the Church is frequently called the “habitation” or “city of God,” (and hence also the metaphor of “building” (Psalms 102:16; Jeremiah 24:6; Matthew 16:18) is frequently employed in Scripture,) so he makes use of the figurative term “walls,” by which he denotes the peace and prosperity of the Church; as if he had said that he would take care that Jerusalem should thrive and flourish. Yet it ought to be observed that the term “walls” denotes proper order of policy and discipline, of which God declares that he will be the ceaseless and unwearied guardian. Let us remember that this prophecy was accomplished during that frightful desolation, when the “walls” of Jerusalem, which were a lively image of the Church, had been cast down, the temple overthrown, and government overtumed, and, in a word, when everything had been destroyed and nearly razed to the foundation; for immediately afterwards he promises that they shall all be restored.
17.Thy builders hasten. He affirms what had been briefly stated in the former verse; for it might have been thought that there was no ground for what he had now asserted about the unceasing care which God takes of his Church and of her walls, which he permits to be razed to their foundations, and therefore he adds the explanation, that it will indeed be thrown down, but will afterwards be built anew. Builders. From this word we may learn what is the true method of restoring the Church, namely, if the Lord send “builders, (7) to rear it, and next if he drive far away the destroyers who demolish it. Though God could, by himself, and without the aid of men, rebuild the Church, yet he deigns to employ their hands; and although he alone, by the secret influence of his Spirit, completes this whole building, yet he blesses their labor, that it may not be useless. From him, therefore, we ought to ask and look for builders; for it belongs to him to render them “sufficient,” as Paul also informs us, (2 Corinthians 3:5,) and to assign to each his department.
We ought also to pray not only that he may “send forth laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:38,) but that he may recruit their strength and efficaciously direct them, so that they may not labor in vain; for, when the doctrine of the Gospel is preached with any advantage, it arises from his extraordinary goodness. But even this would not be enough, if he did not “drive destroyers far away;” for Satan, by innumerable arts, invades and assails the Church, and is in no want of servants and attendants, who direct their whole energy to destroy, or spoil, or hinder the Lord’s building. We ought, therefore, constantly to entreat that he would ward off their attacks; and if the result be not entirely according to our expectations, let us blame our own sins and ingratitude; for the Lord was ready to bestow those blessings abundantly upon us.
18.Lift up thine eyes round about. He arouses the Church to survey this magnificent work, as if it were actually before her eyes, and to behold the multitudes of men who shall flock into it from every quarter. Now, as this assemblage must have encouraged godly hearts during the dispersion, so they who were eye-witnesses must have been excited to gratitude. This shews clearly that this prediction was useful at both periods, not only while the event was still concealed by hope, but when it had been actually accomplished. Though he speaks to the whole Church at large, yet this discourse relates also to individuals, that all with one accord, and each person separately, may embrace these promises.
When he bids them “lift up their eyes,” he means that the reason why we are so much cast down is, that we do not examine the Lord’s work with due attention, but have a vail placed, as it were, before our eyes, to hinder us from seeing what lies at our feet. In consequence of this, we do not cherish any confidence, but in adversity are almost overwhelmed by despair. And if these things are said to the whole Church, let every man consider in his own heart how far he is chargeable with this vice, and let him forthwith arouse and awaken himself to behold the works of the Lord, that he may rely with all his heart on his promises.
All are gathered together. When he says that the elect of the Church are “gathered together,” he means that, in order to their becoming one body under Christ, and, as it were, “one fold under one shepherd,” (John 10:16,) they must be, if we may so express it, “gathered” into one bosom. Christ reckons and treats as his followers none but those who are joined in one body by unity of faith. Whoever then shall choose to be regarded as belonging to the number of the children of God, let him be a son of the Church; for all who are separated from it will be aliens from God.
Thou shalt be clothed as with an ornament. The Prophet shews what is the true ornament of the Church, namely, to have a great number of children, who are brought to her by faith and guided by the Spirit of God. This is true splendor; this is the glory of the Church, which must be filthy and ugly, ragged and dishevelled, if she have not these ornaments. Hence we see how well the Papists understand what is the true manner in which the Church ought to be adorned; for their whole attention is given to painted tables, to statues, to fine buildings, to gold, precious stones, and costly garments; that is, they give their whole attention to puppets, like children. But the true dignity of the Church is internal, so far as it consists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and of progressive faith and piety. Hence it follows, that she is richly provided with her ornaments, when the people, joined together by faith, are gathered into her bosom, to worship God in a proper manner.
I live, saith Jehovah. (8) In order that this promise may be more certain, the Lord employs an oath, which is intended to warn us against distrust, and that, when we shall consider that her end is near, we may be certain that she shall be fully restored. And if this doctrine was ever necessary, it is especially necessary at the present time; for, wherever we tum our eyes, we meet with nothing but frightful desolation.
What then must we do, but, relying on this oath of God, struggle against despair, and not be terrified by our being inconsiderable in number, which makes us despised by the world, and not doubt that there are many of the elect, now wandering and scattered, whom God will at length assemble into his Church? And therefore we ought to encourage our hearts, and to lift up our eyes by faith, that we may extend our hope not only to a single age, but to the most distant period.
19.For thy desolate places, he confirms by other words what we have already seen, that the change which he promised is in the hand of God, that the Church, which was for a long time waste and desolate, may speedily have many inhabitants; so that the place may be too narrow to contain them all. He employs the metaphor of a ruinous city, whose walls and houses are rebuilt, to which the citizens return in such vast numbers that its circumference must be enlarged, because its former extent cannot contain them all. Thus he means not only the return of the people from Babylon, but the restoration which was effected through Christ; that is, when the Church was spread far and wide, not only throughout Judea, but throughout the whole world.
And thy destroyers shall remove far away. He adds that a garrison will be provided, if any enemies shall molest her; yea, that she shall be secure against their attacks and molestation, because God will “drive them far away.” Not that the Church shall ever enjoy perfect peace, and be secured against all the attacks of enemies; but yet God, bearing with the weakness of his people, defended them from wicked men, and restrained or warded off their attacks, so that at least the kingdom of Satan might not grow out of the ruins of the Church.
20.Shall again say in thine ears. Isaiah continues the same subject, and, under a different metaphor, promises the restoration of the Church. He compares her to a widowed or rather a barren mother, in order to describe her wretched and distressful condition; for she was overwhelmed by so many distresses, that the remembrance of the nation appeared to have wholly perished. Mingled with the Babylonians,who held her captive, she had almost passed into another body. We need not wonder, therefore, if he compares her to a barren mother; for she brought forth no more children. Formerly the Jews had enjoyed high prosperity; but the kingdom was ruined, and all their strength was decayed, and, in short, their name was almost extinguished, when they were led into captivity. He therefore promises that the Church shall be purified from her filthiness, and that she who is now solitary shall regain that condition which she formerly held. And this is included in the word Again, that they may not doubt that it is in the power of God to restore what he formerly gave, though it was withdrawn for a time.
The children of thy bereavement. (9) By “the children of bereavement” some suppose that orphan children are meant; but I cannot agree with this, for “bereavement” and “barrenness” refer rather to the person of the Church, and accordingly it is for the sake of amplification that he describes them to be those who, contrary to expectation, had been given to her who was bereaved and barren.
Make room for me; that is, “withdraw for my benefit.” Not that it is proper for the godly to shut out their brethren or drive them from their place; but the Prophet has borrowed from familiar language a mode of expression fitted to declare that no inconvenience shall hinder many from desiring to be admitted and to have room made for them. Now, this happened, when the Lord collected innumerable persons out of the whole world; for suddenly, and contrary to the expectation of men, the Church, which had formerly been empty, was filled; its boundaries were enlarged and extended far and wide.“A city deprived of its inhabitants is compared to a mother bereft of her children.” —Rosenmuller.
21.And thou shalt say in thy heart. By these words he declares that the restoration of the Church, of which he now speaks, will be wonderful; and therefore he represents her as wondering and amazed on account of having been restored in a strange and unexpected manner. And truly a description of this sort is not superfluous; for, as a new offspring grows up among men every day, by which the human race is propagated, so the children of God and of the Church are born, who, “not from flesh and blood,” (John 1:13,) but by the secret power of God, are formed again to be new creatures. By nature we have no share in the kingdom of God; (10) and therefore, if any man contemplate this new and uncommon work, and in what manner the Church is increased and maintained, he will be constrained to wonder.
Who hath begotten me these? He shews that this astonishment will not be pretended, like expressions of this kind which frequently proceed from flatterers, but that it will come from “the heart;” for there will be good ground for wondering, that the Lord has preserved the Church amidst so great dangers, and has multiplied it by a new and unexpected offspring. Who would have thought that, at the time when the Jews were held in the greatest contempt, and were overwhelmed by every kind of reproaches and distresses, there would be any of the Gentiles who of their own accord desired to be associated with them? It was also in the highest degree improbable that the dispositions of men should be so suddenly changed as to adopt a religion which they had detested. Besides, the partition-wall which had been erected between them hindered all foreigners and uncircumcised persons from entering.
For I was bereaved (or barren) and solitary. She now explains what was the chief ground of that astonishment; namely, that formerly she brought forth no children, and was altogether destitute. Doctrine, which is the seed of spiritual life, by which the children of the Church are begotten, (1 Peter 1:23,) had ceased; even the worship enjoined by the Law had been broken off; and, in short, everything that usually contributes to upholding the order of government had been taken away. Now, the Church is called bereaved or barren, not because God hath forsaken her, but because his presence is not always visible. We ourselves saw an image of that barrenness, when the Lord, in order to punish the ingratitude of men, took away his doctrine, and allowed them to wander in darkness. The Church might truly be said to be “bereaved” and “barren,” when none of her children were seen. Hence we ought to conclude how foolish the Papists are, who wish that Christ would always govern his Church so that it may never be “bereaved” or “barren;” seeing that the Lord, thougit he does not forsake the Church, yet very frequently, on account of the ingratitude of men, withdraws the tokens of his presence.
Who then hath brought up those? It is no easy matter for those who are led into captivity, and who often change their place and habitation, to “bring up” children; and when the law and the doctrine of piety no longer resounded in the temple, spiritual nourishment had almost entirely failed. But the Lord, who has no need of human aid, begets his children in an extraordinary manner, and by the astonishing power of his Spirit, and “brings them up” wherever he thinks proper; and in the fulfillment of this prediction, the Lord supplied them with nurses contrary to the expectation of all, so that it is not without reason that the Church wonders how they were reared. When we read this prophecy we are reminded that we ought not to be distressed beyond measure, if at any time we see the Church resemble a “bereaved” woman, and that we ought not to doubt that he can suddenly, or in a moment, raise up and restore her, though we perceive no means by which she can be restored.
22.Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. Isaiah confirms what he had said a little before, that the Lord would cause his Church, though for a very long time she had been “barren” and “bereaved,” to have an exceedingly numerous offspring, and to be constrained to wonder at her own fruitfulness; and he does so, in order to remove all doubt which might have found its way into their hearts.
I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles. He declares that he will give children to the Church, not only from among the Jews, as formerly, but likewise from among “the Gentiles.” And yet he indirectly asserts that this generation shall be spiritual through the grace of adoption; for the metaphor of a banner was intended to lead believers to expect a new kind of generation, and different from that which is seen in the ordinary course of nature. The Lord must therefore set up a sign, and display his secret power through the Gospel, (11) that, out of nations who differed so widely from each other both in customs and in language, he might bring children to the Church, who should be united in the same faith, as brethren meet in their mother’s bosom.
Those who think that, by the figurative terms Hand and Banner, nothing more than the preaching of the Gospel is meant, and who set aside the power of the Spirit, are mistaken; for both ought to be united, and the efficacy of the Spirit ought not to be separated from the preaching of the Gospel, as Paul clearly shews. (2 Corinthians 3:6.) To this “hand” of God, therefore, to this “banner” we must betake ourselves, when we see that the Church is oppressed by the tyranny of wicked men. Though every effort be made to overthrow and destroy it, the “hand” of God is higher, and in vain do men oppose him. He will at length subdue and crush their obstinacy, that the Church may obtain some repose in spite of all their exertions.
When he promises that the sons of the Church shall be brought in her arms and on her shoulders, the language is metaphorical, and means that God will find no difficulty, when he shall wish to gather the Church out of her dispersion; for all the Gentiles will assist him. Although this refers, in the first instance, to the Jews who had been banished and scattered, yet it undoubtedly ought to be extended to all the elect of God, who have become partakers of the same grace.
23.And kings shall be thy nursing fathers. After having spoken of the obedience of the Gentiles, he shews that this relates not to the common people only, but to “kings” also. He compares “kings” to hired men who bring up the children of others, and “queens” to “nurses,” who give out their labor for hire. Why so? Because “kings” and “queens” shall supply everything that is necessary for nourishing the offspring of the Church. Having formerly driven out Christ from their dominions, they shall henceforth acknowledge him to be the supreme King: and shall render to him all honor, obedience, and worship. This took place when the Lord revealed himself to the whole world by the Gospel; for mighty kings and princes not only submitted to the yoke of Christ, but likewise contributed their riches to raise up and maintain the Church of Christ, so as to be her guardians and defenders.
Hence it ought to be observed that something remarkable is here demanded from princes, besides an ordinary profession of faith; for the Lord has bestowed on them authority and power to defend the Church and to promote the glory of God. This is indeed the duty of all; but kings, in proportion as their power is greater, ought to devote themselves to it more earnestly, and to labor in it more diligently. And this is the reason why David expressly addresses and exhorts them to “be wise, and serve the Lord, and kiss his Son.” (Psalms 2:10.)
This shews how mad are the dreams of those who assert that kings cannot be Christians without laying aside that office; for those things were accomplished under Christ, when kings, who had been converted to God by the preaching of the Gospel, obtained this highest pinnacle of rank, which surpasses dominion and principality of every sort, to be “nursing-fathers” and guardians of the Church. The Papists have no other idea of kings being “nursing-fathers” of the Church than that they have left to their priests and monks very large revenues, rich possessions and prebends, on which they might fatten, like hogs in a sty. But that “nursing” aims at an object quite different from filling up those insatiable gulls. Nothing is said here about enriching the houses of those who, under false pretences, hold themselves out to be ministers of the Church, (which was nothing else than to corrupt the Church of God and to destroy it by deadly poison,) but about removing superstitions and putting an end to all wicked idolatry, about advancing the kingdom of Christ and maintaining purity of doctrine, about purging scandals and cleansing from the filth that corrupts piety and impairs the lustre of the Divine majesty.
Undoubtedly, while kings bestow careful attention on these things, they at the same time supply the pastors and ministers of the Word with all that is necessary for food and maintenance, provide for the poor and guard the Church against the disgrace of pauperism; erect schools, and appoint salaries for the teachers and board for the students; build poor-houses and hospitals, and make every other arrangement that belongs to the protection and defense of the Church. But those unnecessary and extravagant expenses for Anniversaries and Masses, for golden vessels and costly robes, which swell the pride and insolence of papists, serve only to uphold pomp and ambition, and corrupt the pure and simple “nursing” of the Church, and even choke and extinguish the seed of God, by which alone the Church lives. When we see that matters are now very different, and that “kings” are not the “nursing-fathers,” but the executioners of the Church; when, in consequence of taking away the doctrine of piety and banishing its true ministers, idle bellies, insatiable whirlpools, and messengers of Satan, are fattened, (for such are the persons to whom the princes cheerfully distribute their wealth, that is, the moisture and blood which they have sucked out of the people;) when even princes otherwise godly have less strength and firmness for defending the Word and upholding the Church; let us acknowledge that this is the reward due to our sins, and let us confess that we do not deserve to have good “nursing-fathers.” But yet, after this frightfully ruinous condition, we ought to hope for a restoration of the Church, and such a conversion of kings that they shall shew themselves to be “nursing-fathers” and protectors of believers, and shall bravely defend the doctrine of the Word.
And shall lick the dust of thy feet. This passage is also tortured by the Papists in order to uphold the tyranny of their idol, as if kings and princes had no other way of proving themselves to be sincere and lawful worshippers of God than by adoring that masked prince of the Church instead of God. Thus they consider the obedience of piety to consist in kissing the Pope’s feet with deep reverence. What they ought to think of such barbarous and idolatrous worship, let them learn, first, from Peter, whose seat they boast of occupying, who would not permit such honor to be rendered to him by the centurion. (Acts 10:6.) Let them, next, learn from Paul, who tore his garments, and rejected such worship with the utmost abhorrence. (Acts 14:14.) What could be more absurd than to imagine that the Son of God appointed, instead of a minister of the Gospel, an object of abhorrence, some king dazzling in Persian luxury and splendor? But let us remember that the Church, so long as she is a pilgrim in this world, is subjected to the cross, that she may be humble and may be conformed to her Head; that if her foes make any cessation of their hostility, still her highest ornament and lustre is modesty. Hence it follows, that she has laid aside her own attire, when she is clothed with irreligious pride.
Here the Prophet means nothing else than the adoration by which princes bow down before God, and the obedience which they render to his Word in the Church. What we have already said must be carefully observed, that, when we speak of rendering honor to the Church, she must never be separated from the Head; for this honor and worship belongs to Christ, and, when it is bestowed on the Church, it still continues to belong undivided to him alone. By the obedience of piety kings do not profess submission, so as to bear the yoke of men, but to yield to the doctrine of Christ. Whosoever therefore rejects the ministry of the Church, and refuses to bear the yoke which God wishes to lay with his own hand on all his people, can neither have any fellowship with Christ nor be a child of God.
For they shall not be ashamed. I consider אשר (asher) to be a conjunction signifying For; (12) and the clause to which it belongs is closely connected with what goes before, and has been improperly disjoined from it by some commentators. By this argument he proves that it is highly proper for princes to submit cheerfully to the government of God, and not hesitate to humble themselves before the Church; because God will not suffer those who hope in him to “be ashamed.” As if he had said, “This is a pleasant and delightful submission.”
I am Jehovah. He connects his own truth with our salvation; as if he had said, that he does not wish men to acknowledge him to be true or to be God, unless he actually fulfill what he has promised. And hence we obtain inestimable advantage; for, as it is impossible that God should not continue to be the same, so the stability of our salvation, which the Prophet infers from God’s own stability, must remain unshaken.
24.Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? Having solved, in the former verse, an objection which might occur to the mind of believers, he now confirms that solution still more; for it might have been thought incredible that the Jews should be rescued out of the hands of so powerful an enemy, by whom they had been taken in fair battle and reduced to slavery, He therefore adds this question as uttered by the whole of the common people, among whom it probably flew universally from mouth to mouth; and he immediately replies, as we shall sec.
Shall the captivity of the righteous (or,the righteous captivity) be delivered? And we ought, first, to observe this metaphor, that the Church is called “the prey of the mighty” and “the captivity of the righteous,” that is, lawful captivity. He is said to be the “righteous” possessor who is the lawful possessor; just as the prey, when the war has been righteous, passes into the hands of a righteous possessor. (13) Such was the condition of the ancient people, after having been driven into captivity; for, along with their native country, they had lost their liberty, and were entirely in the power, and at the disposal, of the conqueror. And yet we ought carefully to observe this metaphor, that the Church is oppressed by the tyranny of princes, and exposed to the jaws of wolves, and nevertheless is supposed to be their “just” prey. This is, indeed, shamefully wicked; but thus were our fathers treated, and we are not more virtuous or more excellent than our fathers.
25.The prey of the tyrant shall be delivered. However they may boast of having a right to govern, and glory in an empty title, the Lord declares that they are most wicked robbers, when he threatens that he will be an avenger and will snatch their prey from them. God does not overturn just dominion; and hence it follows that the dominion which they usurped over the people of God is mere robbery and wicked tyranny. Neither their arms, nor their forces, nor their warlike preparations, shall hinder the Lord from taking out of their hands an unjust possession.
Nor does this promise relate only to outward enemies and tyrants, but also to the tyranny of Satan, from which we are rescued by the wonderful power of God. True indeed, he possesses vast power, but God is far more powerful, takes away his arms and demolishes his fortresses, that he may set us at liberty. (Matthew 12:29; Luke 11:22.) If therefore we have had experience of the power of God in this respect, so much the stronger reason have we for trusting that he will undoubtedly be our deliverer, whenever our enemies shall lay us under their feet and oppress us with cruel bondage.
I will contend with him that contendeth with thee. When he threatens that He will “contend” on our account, first, he reminds us to consider his power, that we may not regard the matter by human reason or by the power of men. We ought not therefore to look at what we can do or what resources we possess, but it is our duty to commit the whole matter to the disposal of God alone, who is graciously pleased to protect and defend us. Secondly, he affirms that he will be a powerful advocate, to reply to the slanders of enemies. We said, a little before, that wicked men not only are hurried along by violence and cruelty against the Church, but load her with false and calumnious charges, as if they had a right to treat her with cruelty; and therefore this consolation is highly necessary, that God will be the defender of our innocence, to scatter by his defense all the idle pretences which strengthen the audacity and fierceness of wicked men. Accordingly he again repeats, —
I will save thy children. We derive great consolation from knowing that we are united with him by so close a bond that he sets himself in opposition to all who contend with us, “blesses those who bless us, and, on the other hand, curses those who curse us,” and, in short, declares that he is the enemy of our enemies. (Genesis 12:3.) Hence also it ought to be observed, that, when we are restored to liberty and life, when we are not oppressed by enemies, and, in short, when we are saved, it is not a work of man; that no one may ascribe to his own industry what God commands us to expect as an extraordinary blessing from himself alone.
26.And I will feed thy oppressors with their own flesh. First, he declares what is the nature of that end which awaits the enemies of the Church, and threatens that they shall not only be inflamed with mutual hatred, but shall likewise slay each other by mutual slaughter. And indeed it is God who drives them headlong, and rouses them to rage, so that they tum against themselves that strength which they formerly exerted against the Church, fight with each other, as the Midianites did, and bring destruction on themselves. (Jude 7:22.) The meaning amounts to this, that there will be no need of outward aid or of any preparations, when God shall determine to overtum and destroy the reprobate; because, having been struck by him with giddiness, they shall wear themselves out in mutual conflict by the insatiable rage with which they shall attack each other.
And all flesh shall know. He repeats that statement which we have formerly seen, namely, that he will be acknowledged by all to be the God of Israel and the true and only God, when he shall have delivered his people from destruction; for he intended it to be a demonstration of his Divinity, that he openly manifested himself to be the Redeemer and Savior of his people.
The Mighty One of Jacob. Some read the word Jacob in the vocative case: “O mighty Jacob;” but I read it in the genitive case, “of Jacob.” The Lord testifies that he is the Savior, Redeemer, and Mighty One of Israel, that they may rely with their whole heart on his defense and protection.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany