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1. Now will I sing to my beloved. The subject of this chapter is different from that of the former. It was the design of the Prophet to describe the condition of the people of Israel, as it then was, in order that all might perceive their faults, and might thus be led by shame and self-loathing to sincere repentance. Here, as in a mirror, the people might behold the misery of their condition. But for this, they would have flattered themselves too much in their crimes, and would not have patiently listened to any instructions. It was therefore necessary to present a striking and lively picture of their wickedness; and in order that it might have the greater weight, he made use of this preface; for great and memorable events were usually described in verse, that they might be repeated by every one, and that a lasting record of them might be preserved. In like manner, we see that Moses wrote a song, and many other compositions, (Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 32:1,) in order that all the events might be proclaimed in this manner, both in public and in private. The instruction becomes more widely diffused than if it had been delivered in plainer language. For the same reason Isaiah composed this song, that he might present to the people a clearer view of their wickedness; and, undoubtedly, he handled this subject with magnificent and harmonious language, for the highest skill is commonly exercised in the composition of poems.
To my beloved. There can be no doubt that he means God; as if he had said that he would compose a poem in behalf of God, that he might expostulate with the people about their ingratitude; for it gave additional weight to his language to represent God as speaking. But a question arises, Why does Isaiah call God his friend? Some reply that he was a kinsman of Christ, and I acknowledge that he was a descendant of David; but this appears to be a forced interpretation. A more natural and appropriate one would be, to adopt the statement of John, that the Church is committed to the friends of the bridegroom, (John 3:29,) and to reckon prophets as belonging to that class. To them, unquestionably, this designation applies; for the ancient people were placed under their charge, that they might be kept under their leader. We need not wonder, therefore, that they were jealous and were greatly offended when the people bestowed their attachment on any other. Isaiah therefore assumes the character of the bridegroom, and, being deeply anxious about the bride entrusted to him, complains that she has broken conjugal fidelity, and deplores her treachery and ingratitude.
Hence we learn that not only Paul, but all those prophets and teachers who faithfully served God, were jealous of God’s spouse. (2 Corinthians 11:2.) And all the servants of God ought to be greatly moved and aroused by this appellation; for what does a man reckon more valuable than his wife? A well-disposed husband will value her more highly than all his treasures, and will more readily commit to any person the charge of his wealth than of his wife. He to whom one will entrust his dearly-beloved wife must be reckoned very faithful. Now to pastors and ministers the Lord commits his Church as his beloved wife. How great will be our wickedness if we betray her by sloth and negligence! Whosoever does not labor earnestly to preserve her can on no pretense be excused.
A song of my beloved. By using the word דודי, dodi, he changes the first syllable, but the meaning is the same as in the former clause. Though some render it uncle, and others cousin, I rather agree with those who consider it to contain an allusion; for greater liberties are allowed to poets than to other writers. By his arrangement of those words, and by his allusions to them, he intended that the sound and rhythm should aid the memory, and impress the minds, of his readers.
My beloved had a vineyard. The metaphor of a vineyard is frequently employed by the prophets, and it would be impossible to find a more appropriate comparison. (Psalms 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21.) There are two ways in which it points out how highly the Lord values his Church; for no possession is dearer to a man than a vineyard, and there is none that demands more constant and persevering toil. Not only, therefore, does the Lord declare that we are his beloved inheritance, but at the same time points out his care and anxiety about us.
In this song the Prophet mentions, first, the benefits which the Lord had bestowed on the Jewish people; secondly, he explains how great was the ingratitude of the people; thirdly, the punishment which must follow; fourthly, he enumerates the vices of the people; for men never acknowledge their vices till they are compelled to do so.
On a hill. He begins by saying that God had placed his people in a favorable situation, as when a person plants a vine on a pleasant and fertile hill. By the word horn or hill I understand a lofty place rising above a plain, or what we commonly call a rising-ground, ( un coustau .) It is supposed by some to refer to the situation of Jerusalem, but I consider this to be unnatural and forced. It rather belongs to the construction of the Prophet’s allegory; and as God was pleased to take this people under his care and protection, he compares this favor to the planting of a vineyard; for it is better to plant vines on hills and lofty places than on a plain. In like manner the poet says, The vine loves the open hills; the yews prefer the north wind and the cold (75) The Prophet, therefore, having alluded to the ordinary method of planting the vine, next follows out the comparison, that this place occupied no ordinary situation. When he calls it the son of oil or of fatness, (76) he means a rich and exceedingly fertile spot. This is limited by some commentators to the fertility of Judea, but that does not accord with my views, for the Prophet intended to describe metaphorically the prosperous condition of the people.
(75) Denique apertos Bacchus amat colles: Aquilonem et frigora taxi. Virg, Georg. II. 112.
(76) In a very fruitful hill. — Eng. Ver.
2. And he fenced it. The incessant care and watchfulness of God in dressing his vine are asserted by the Prophet, as if he had said, that God has neglected nothing that could be expected from the best and most careful householder. And yet we do not choose to attempt, as some commentators have done, an ingenious exposition of every clause, such as, that the Church is fenced by the protection of the Holy Spirit, so that it is safe against the attacks of the devil; that the wine-press is doctrine; and that by the stones are meant the annoyances of errors. The design of the Prophet, as I have mentioned, was more obvious, namely, that by incessant care and large expenditure God has performed the part of an excellent husbandman. Yet it was the duty of the Jews to consider how numerous and diversified were the blessings which God had conferred on them; and at the present day, when the Church is represented under the metaphor of a vineyard, we ought to view those figures as denoting God’s blessings, by which he makes known not only his love toward us, but likewise his solicitude about our salvation.
In the verb planted the order appears to be reversed, for one ought to begin with planting rather than with the fence; but my explanation is, that after having planted, he did everything else that was necessary. Justly, therefore, does he charge them with ingratitude and treachery, when the fruits that ought to have followed such laborious cultivation were not brought forth. There is reason to fear that the Lord will bring the same accusation against us; for the greater the benefits which we have received from God, the more disgraceful will be our ingratitude if we abuse them. It is not without a good reason, or to enable them to make any idle display, that the Lord blesses his people; it is, that they may yield grapes, that is, the best fruit. If he be disappointed of his expectation, the punishment which the Prophet here describes will follow. The mention of his benefits ought, therefore, to produce a powerful impression on our minds, and to excite us to gratitude.
Besides, the word vineyard, and a vineyard so carefully cultivated, suggests an implied contrast; for so much the more highly ought we to value the acts of God’s kindness, when they are not of an ordinary description, but tokens of his peculiar regard. Other blessings are indiscriminately bestowed, such as, that he
maketh the sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, (Matthew 5:45,)
and supplies them with what is necessary for food and clothing. But how much more highly ought we to esteem that covenant of grace into which he has entered with us, by which he makes the light of the Gospel to shine on us; for his own people are its peculiar objects! That care and diligence, therefore, which the Lord continually manifests in cultivating our minds deserves our most earnest consideration.
Therefore he hoped that it would bring forth grapes (77) He now complains that the nation which had enjoyed such high advantages had basely and shamefully degenerated; and he accuses them of undervaluing the kindness of God, for he says that, instead of pleasant grapes, they yielded only wild and bitter fruits. It is undoubtedly true that God, to whose eyes all things are naked and opened, (Hebrews 4:13,) is not deceived by his expectation like a mortal man. In the Song of Moses he plainly declares that he well knew from the beginning what would be the wickedness of his people.
My beloved, says he, when she fares well and becomes fat, will kick. (Deuteronomy 32:15.)
It is therefore not more possible that God should be mistaken in his expectations, than that he should repent. Isaiah does not here enter into subtle reasonings about the expectations which God had formed, but describes the manner in which the people ought to have acted, that they might not lose the benefit of such excellent advantages. Thus God commands that the Gospel be proclaimed for the obedience of faith, (Romans 16:26,) not that he expects all to be obedient, but because, by the mere hearing of it, unbelievers are rendered inexcusable. Moreover, there is nothing that ought to excite us more powerfully to lead a devout and holy life, than to find that those duties which we perform towards God are compared by the Holy Spirit to fruits of exquisite flavour.
(77) And he looked that it should bring forth grapes. — Eng. Ver.
3. Now, therefore, O inhabitant of Jerusalem! Those persons with whom he contends are made judges in their own cause, as is usually done in cases so plain and undoubted that the opposite party has no means of evasion. It is, therefore, a proof of the strongest confidence in his cause, when he bids the guilty persons themselves declare if this be not the true state of the fact; for immediately afterwards we shall find him declaring that the accusation is decided against those persons to whom he now commits the decision.
4. What more ought to have been done to my vineyard? He first inquires what could have been expected from the best husbandman or householder, which he has not done to his vineyard ? Hence he concludes that they had no excuse for having basely withheld from him the fruit of his toil.
How did I expect that it would yield grapes? In this clause he appears to expostulate with himself for having expected any good or pleasant fruit from so wicked a people; just as, when the result does not answer to our expectation, we complain of ourselves, and are angry at having ill-bestowed our labor on ungrateful persons whose wickedness ought to have restrained us from doing what we did, and acknowledge that we are justly deceived, because we were too simple and easily imposed on. But a more natural interpretation will be this: “Since I discharged every part of my duty, and did more than any one could have expected in dressing my vineyard, how comes it that it yields me so poor a return, and that, instead of the fruit which was expected, it yields what is absolutely bitter?”
If it be objected that God had the remedy in his hands, if he had turned the hearts of the people, this is an idle evasion as applied to those men; for their conscience holds them fast, so that they cannot escape by laying the blame on another. Though God do not pierce the hearts of men by the power of his Spirit, so as to render them obedient to him, yet they will have no right to complain that this was wanting; for every pretense of ignorance is fully and abundantly taken away by the outward call. Besides, God does not speak here of his power, but declares that he was not under any obligation to do more than he did.
5. And now come, I will show you what I will do to my vineyard. Having held the Jews to be condemned, as it were, by their own mouth, he next adds that he will take vengeance for their contempt of his grace, so that they will not escape from being punished. The reproof would not have been sufficiently powerful to affect their minds, if he had not also threatened punishment; and therefore he now declares that the heinous offense, of having wickedly imposed on him, will not escape vengeance. Now the punishment to be inflicted on them amounts to this, that they will be deprived of the gifts which they had abused, when God shall not only withdraw his care of them, but shall give them up to be plundered by their enemies. At the same time he shows how wretched their condition will be, when God shall have ceased to bestow on them his multiplied favors.
Hence it follows that it must have been owing entirely to the extraordinary goodness of God, that the vineyard remained safe and uninjured till that time. He goes so far as to point out the various supports by which it was upheld, and the vast resources which God possesses for destroying it both within and without; for when his protection has been removed, they must become a prey to all that pass by, whether men or beasts. “When the fence has been removed,” says he, “the cattle will tread on it and lay it bare, robbers will ransack and plunder it, and thus it will become a wilderness.”
6. I will lay it waste. God will not take pains to dig and prune it, and consequently it will become barren for want of dressing; briars and thorns will spring up to choke its branches; and, what is more, by withholding rain, God will dry up its roots. Hence it is evident how manifold are the weapons with which God is supplied for punishing our ingratitude, when he sees that we despise his kindness. Isaiah is still, no doubt, proceeding with his metaphor, and, in order to obtain more eager attention, adorns his style by figures of speech. But we ought simply to conclude, that as God continually bestows on us innumerable benefits, so we ought to be earnestly on our guard lest, by withdrawing first one and then another, he punish us for despising them.
So far as relates to the government of the Church, the more numerous the kinds of assistance which she needs, the more numerous are the punishments to which she will be liable, if she wickedly corrupt what was appointed by God for her salvation. Nor ought we to wonder, if at the present day so many distresses threaten ruin and desolation; for whatever calamity befalls us, whether it be that there is a deficiency of instruction, or that the wicked abound, or that foxes and wolves creep into the Church, all this must be ascribed to our ingratitude, because we have not yielded such fruit as we ought, and have been indolent and sluggish. Whenever, therefore, we are justly deprived of those great favors which he freely bestowed on us, let us acknowledge the anger of the Lord.
7. Truly the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel. Hitherto he spoke figuratively; now he shows what is the design of this song. Formerly he had threatened judgment against the Jews; now he shows that they are not only guilty, but are also held to be convicted persons; for they could not be ignorant of the benefits which they had received from God.
Thou broughtest a vine from Egypt, says the Psalmist, and, having driven out the nations, plantedst it. (Psalms 80:8.)
Their ingratitude was plain and manifest.
Isaiah does not illustrate every part of the metaphor; nor was it necessary; for it was enough to point out what was its object. The whole nation was the vineyard; the individual men were the plants. Thus he accuses the whole body of the nation, and then every individual; so that no man could escape the universal condemnation, as if no part of the expostulation had been addressed to himself. Why the nation is called a vineyard is plain enough; for the Lord chose it, and admitted it to the covenant of grace and of eternal salvation, and bestowed on it innumerable blessings. The planting is the commencement, and the dressing of it follows. That nation was adopted, and in various respects was the object of Divine care; for the adoption would have been of no avail, if the Lord had not continually adorned and enriched it by his blessings.
The same doctrine ought to be inculcated on us at the present day. Christ affirms that he is the vine, (John 15:1,) and that, having been ingrafted into this vine, we are placed under the care of the Father; for God is pleased to perform towards us the office of a husbandman, and continually bestows those favors which he reproachfully asserts that he had granted to his ancient people. We need not wonder, therefore, if he is greatly enraged when he bestows his labor uselessly and to no purpose. Hence that threatening,
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he will cut off, and cast into the fire. (John 15:2.) (78)
He looked for judgment. He begins without a metaphor to relate how wickedly the Jews had degenerated, among whom equity and justice was despised, and every kind of injustice and violence abounded. The words contain an elegant play of language, (paronomasia,) for those which have nearly the same sound have an opposite meaning. משפט ( mishpat) denotes judgment; משפח ( mishpach) denotes conspiracy or oppression; צדקה ( tzedakah) denotes righteousness; צעקה ( tzeakah) denotes the cry and complaint of those who are oppressed by violence and injustice; sounds which are not wont to be heard where every man receives what is his own. He mentions two things which the Lord chiefly demands from his people as the genuine fruits of the fear of God; for although piety comes first in order, yet there is no inconsistency in taking the description of it from the duties of the second table. They are justly charged with having despised God, on the ground of having acted cruelly towards men; for where cruelty reigns, religion is extinguished.
Let us now understand that the same things are addressed to us; for as that nation was planted, so were we. We should call to remembrance what Paul says, that we were like wild olive-plants, but that they were the true and natural olive-tree. (Romans 11:24. (79)) since we who were strangers have been ingrafted into the true olive-tree, the Lord has cultivated and adorned us with unceasing care. But what kind of fruits do we bring forth? Assuredly they are not only useless, but even bitter. So much the greater is the ingratitude for which we ought to be condemned, for the blessings which he has bestowed and heaped on us are far more abundant. And justly does this expostulation apply to us, for violence and injustice abound everywhere. But since the general doctrine did not strike their minds so powerfully, the Prophet described chiefly these two kinds of wickedness; that he might point out with the finger, as it were, how far that nation was from the fruit which a good vineyard ought to have yielded.
(78) In our Author’s quotation the 2d and 6 th verses are inaccurately blended. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he will take away. (John 15:2.) If a man abide not in me, he shall be cast out, and wither as a branch; and men shall gather it, and cast it into the fire, and it shall be burned. (John 15:6.) We follow the Author’s version. — Ed.
(79) In the original text the reference reads: Romans 11:25 which I assume was a typographical error. — fj.
8. Woe to them that join house to house and field to field. He now reproves their insatiable avarice and covetousness, from which the acts of cheating, injustice, and violence are wont to arise. For it cannot be condemned as a thing in itself wrong, if a man add field to field and house to house; but he looked at the disposition of mind, which cannot at all be satisfied, when it is once inflamed by the desire of gain. Accordingly, he describes the feelings of those who never have enough, and whom no wealth can satisfy. So great is the keenness of covetous men that they desire to have everything possessed by themselves alone, and reckon everything that is obtained by others to be something which they want, and which has been taken from them. Hence the beautiful observation of Chrysostom, that “covetous men, if they could, would willingly take the sun from the poor,” for they envy their brethren the common elements, and would gladly swallow them up; not that they might enjoy them, but because such is the madness to which their greed carries them. All the while they do not consider that they need the assistance of others, and that a man left alone can do nothing: all their care is to scrape together as much as they can, and thus they swallow up everything by their covetousness.
He therefore accuses covetous and ambitious men of such folly that they would wish to have other men removed from the earth, that they might possess it alone; and consequently they set no limit to their desire of gain. For what madness is it to wish to have those driven away from the earth whom God has placed in it along with us, and to whom, as well as to ourselves, he has assigned it as their abode! Certainly nothing more ruinous could happen to them than to obtain their wish. Were they alone, they could not plough, or reap, or perform other offices indispensable to their subsistence, or supply themselves with the necessaries of life. For God has linked men so closely together, that they need the assistance and labor of each other; and none but a madman would disdain other men as hurtful or useless to him. Ambitious men cannot enjoy their renown but amidst a multitude. How blind are they, therefore, when they wish to drive and chase away others, that they may reign alone!
As to the size of houses, the same remark which we formerly made about fields will apply; for he points out the ambition of those who are desirous to inhabit spacious and magnificent houses. If a man who has a large family makes use of a large house, he cannot be blamed for it; but when men, swollen with ambition, make superfluous additions to their houses, only that they may live in greater luxury, and when one person alone occupies a building which might serve for the habitation of many families, this undoubtedly is empty ambition, and ought justly to be blamed. Such persons act as if they had a right to drive out other men, and to be the only persons that enjoyed a house or a roof, and as if other men ought to live in the open air, or must go somewhere else to find an abode.
9. This is in the ears of Jehovah of hosts. Here something must be supplied; for he means that the Lord sits as judge, and as taking cognizance of those things. When covetous men seize and heap up their wealth, they are blinded by their desire of gain, and do not understand that they will one day render an account. Never, certainly, were men so utterly stupid as not to ascribe some judgment to God; but they flatter themselves so far as to imagine that God does not observe them. In general, therefore, they acknowledge the judgment of God: when they come to particular cases, they take liberties, and suppose that they are not bound to proceed to that extent.
If many houses be not laid desolate. Having warned them that none of these things escape the eyes of God, lest they should imagine that it is a knowledge which does not lead to action, he immediately adds, that vengeance is close at hand. He likewise makes use of an oath; for the expression If not is a form of swearing that frequently occurs in the Scriptures. (80) In order to strike them with greater terror he breaks off the sentence with studied abruptness. (81) He might indeed have brought out this threatening with full expression, but the incomplete form is better fitted to keep the hearer in doubt and suspense, and is therefore more alarming. Besides, by this instance of reserve the Lord intended to train us to modesty, that we may not be too free in the use of oaths.
But what does he threaten? Many houses will be laid desolate. This is a just punishment, by which the Lord chastises the covetousness and ambition of men, who did not consider their own meanness, that they might be satisfied with a moderate portion. In a similar manner the poet ridicules the mad ambition of Alexander the Great, who having learned from the philosophy of Anacharsis that there were many worlds, sighed to think, that after having worn himself out by so many toils, he had not yet made himself master of one world. “One globe does not satisfy the Macedonian youth. He writhes in misery on account of the narrow limits of the world, as if he were confined to the rocks of Gyaros, or to the puny Seriphos. But when he shall enter the city framed by potters, he will be content with a tomb. Death alone acknowledges how small are the dimensions of the bodies of men.” (82)
Instances of the same kind occur every day, yet we do not observe them; for the Lord exhibits to us, as in a mirror, the absurd vanity of men, who spend a vast amount of money in building palaces that are afterwards to become the receptacles of owls and bats and other animals. These things are plainly before our eyes, and yet we do not apply our mind to the consideration of them. So sudden and various are the changes that happen, so many houses are laid desolate, so many cities are overthrown and destroyed, and, in short, there are so many other evident proofs of the judgment of God; and yet men cannot be persuaded to lay aside this mad ambition. The Lord threatens by the Prophet Amos:“
You have built houses of hewn stones, but you shall not dwell in them.” (Amos 5:11.)
He will smite the great house with breaches, and the little house with clefts.” (Amos 6:11.)
These things happen daily, and yet the lawless passions of men are not abated.
(80) The following is a striking instance: To whom I sware in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest; that is, they shall not enter into my rest. (Psalms 95:11.), — Ed.
(81) The classical reader may be reminded of a fine instance of ἀποσιώπησις, by which the effect of a speech is prodigiously heightened: Quos ego — sed motos praestat componere fluctus. — Virg. AEn. 1:135.
Unus Pellaeo juveni non sufficit orbis: AEstuat infelix angusto limite mundi, Ut Gyari clausus scopulis parvaque Seripho: Quum tamen a figulis munitam intraverit urbem, Sarcophago contentus erit. Mors sola fatetur, Quantula sint hominum corpuscula . Juven. Sat. 10:168-173.
10. Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath. He foretells that the same thing will befall their fields and vineyards; that covetous men will not obtain the desired returns, because their greed is insatiable; that, like certain animals which, by their breath, scorch the branches, and wither the corn, those men destroy the fruits of the earth by their extortion. The fields will be so barren as scarcely to yield a tenth part of the seed: the vineyards will yield very little wine.
A bath, as Josephus tells us, is a measure of liquids, and contains seventy-two sextaries; a very small measure, certainly, for ten acres, especially on a fertile soil. The cor ( κόρος) or homer, is a measure of dry substances, and, according to the same author, contains thirty-one medimni (83) An ephah is the tenth part of it, and therefore evidently contains a little more than three medimni (84)
Now, when the soil is productive, it yields not only tenfold, but thirtyfold, and in all cases goes beyond the quantity of seed, and gives back far more abundantly than it received. When the case is otherwise, it undoubtedly proceeds from the curse of God punishing the extortion of men. And yet men blame the niggardliness of the soil, as if the fault lay there, but all in vain; for we would not want abundant increase, if God did not curse the soil on account of men’s covetousness. When they are so eagerly employed in gathering and heaping up, what else are they doing than swallowing up the goodness of God by their greed? If this is not seen in all, because they want the power, still they do not want the disposition. Never was the world so much inflamed by this covetousness, and we need not wonder if God visit it with punishment.
(83) A medimnus, or Greek bushel, is reckoned to contain six Roman bushels, a Roman bushel ( modius ) being about an English peck. — Ed.
(84) “For the actual size of these measures,” says Dr. Kitto, “we must refer to Josephus, of whom Theodoret ( in Exod. 29.) says: πιστευτέον δὲ ἐν τούτοις τῷ Ἰωσήπῳ ἀκριβῶς τοῦ ἔθνους τὰ μέτρα ἐπισταμένῳ, — ‘follow in these things Josephus, who well understood the measures of the nation.’ (Comp. Antiq. 8:3, 8.) To the homer or cor Josephus ascribes ( Antic. 15:9, 2) twelve Attic medimni, where the reading should be metretae. Bath and Ephah are the same. Josephus ( Antiq. 8:2, 9) determines each at seventy-two xestae, and makes them equal to an Attic metretes. The Attic metretes, which corresponded with the Hebrew bath and ephah, contains 739,800 Parisian grains of rain-water, which would fill a space of about 1985 Parisian cubic inches.” — Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, Art. Weights and Measures
11. Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning to follow strong drink The Prophet does not aim at an enumeration of all the vices which then prevailed, but only points out some particular kinds of them, to which they were peculiarly addicted. After having handled the general doctrine, he found it necessary to come to particular vices; and the enumeration of those was more urgently needed, for there would have been no end of going through them all one by one. Having reproved covetousness, he now attacks drunkenness, which undoubtedly was also a prevailing vice; for the kinds of vices which he selects are not those which were found in one person or another, but those which universally prevailed; and indeed the vices are of such a kind as infect the whole body by their contagion.
To rise early means to be earnestly employed in doing anything; as when Solomon says,
Woe to the nation whose princes eat in the morning, (Ecclesiastes 10:16;)
that is, whose chief care is to fill their belly and enjoy delicacies. This is contrary to the order of nature; for man, as David says,“
riseth that he may go to his work, and may be engaged in business till the evening.” (Psalms 104:23.)
Now, if he lay aside his labors, and rise to partake of luxuries, and to follow drunkenness, this is monstrous. He adds —
And who continue till night. The meaning is, that from the dawn of the morning to the twilight of the evening they continue their drunken carousals, and are never weary of drinking. Abundance and luxury are closely joined together; for when men enjoy abundance, they become luxurious, and abuse it by intemperance.
12. And the harp. He adds the instruments of pleasures by which men addicted to intemperance provoke their appetite. These might be different from ours, but they belonged to music. Now, Isaiah does not blame music, for it is a science which ought not to be despised; but he describes a nation swimming in every kind of luxury, and too much disposed to indulge in pleasures. This is sufficiently evident from what follows.
And they regard not the work of the Lord As if he had said, “They are as constant in luxurious indulgence, and as much devoted to it, as if this had been the purpose for which they were born and reared; and they do not consider why the Lord supplies them with what is necessary.” Men were not born to eat and drink, and wallow in luxury, but to obey God, to worship him devoutly, to acknowledge his goodness, and to endeavor to do what is pleasing in his sight. But when they give themselves up to luxury, when they dance, and sing, and have no other object in view than to spend their life in the highest mirth, they are worse than beasts: for they do not consider for what end God created them, in what manner he governs this world by his providence, and to what end all the actions of our life ought to be directed.
Having stated this meaning, which appears to me to be natural, I consider nothing more to be necessary; for I cannot adopt the ingenious expositions of some authors, such as, when they explain the work of God to mean the law; nor did I intend to state every opinion which others have maintained. It is enough to know that all who are addicted to gormandizing are here subjected by the Prophet to the reproach of voluntarily becoming like brute beasts, when they do not direct their minds to God, who is the author of life.
13. Therefore my people are gone into captivity. I do not approve of the interpretation given by some commentators, that in consequence of the teachers having failed to perform their duty, the people, through ignorance and error, fell into many vices, which at length became the cause of their destruction. On the contrary, he charges them with gross and voluntary ignorance, as if he had said that, by their madness, they brought down destruction on themselves. The meaning therefore is, that the people perished because they despised instruction; whereas they might have been preserved if they had listened to good counsels: and therefore he expressly says, My people; that is, the nation which enjoyed the extraordinary privilege of being separated from the rest of the nations, that by relying on the guidance and direction of God, they might have a fixed rule of life. Thus it is said,“
What nation is so eminent and so distinguished as to have gods nigh to it, as thy God draws near to thee this day? This shall therefore be your knowledge and understanding above all nations, to hear your God.” (Deuteronomy 4:6.)
This baseness heightens the criminality of the people, that they shut their eyes in the midst of so much light. It was therefore a very severe accusation, that a people which God had undertaken to govern possessed no knowledge: for the law might have given them abundant direction for the whole conduct of life; it was a light shining before them amidst the general darkness of the world; and therefore it was monstrous that the nation should refuse to follow that path which had been pointed out to them, and, on the contrary, should shut their eyes, and rush forward to destruction.
Have gone into captivity. Some consider the word captivity to be used here in a metaphorical sense; but this is a forced interpretation; for the Prophet here describes the punishments which God had in part inflicted, and in part intended to inflict, so as to make it evident that the people were wretched through their own fault, as if they wished to draw down upon themselves the curses of God. When this discourse was delivered, some tribes of Israel had already been banished, and the destruction of both kingdoms was at hand. The Prophet accordingly speaks as if all had already been led into captivity
And their glory are men famished (85) and their multitude are dried up with thirst. He now adds another punishment, namely, that they are wasted with hunger and famine, and not only common men, but some persons of the highest rank, in whom the vengeance of God is more clearly seen; for it was shocking to see wealthy men and nobles, on whom the respectability of the whole nation rested, wandering about and famished. And yet the severity of God’s vengeance did not exceed proper bounds; for we must always take into account that ignorance was the cause; that is, the Jews were rebellious, and obstinately rejected the light of heavenly doctrine; yea, shut their ears against God when he was willing to perform the part of a master in instructing them. Hence we draw a useful doctrine; namely, that the source of all our calamities is, that we do not allow ourselves to be taught by the word of God, and this is what the Prophet chiefly intended that we should observe.
It may be asked, Is ignorance the cause of all calamities? Many persons appear to sin not so much through ignorance as through obstinacy; for they see what is right, but refuse to follow it, and the consequence is that they sin willingly, and not merely through inadvertency. I answer, ignorance is sometimes the near, and sometimes the remote cause; or, to use the common expressions, the one is immediate, and the other is mediate. It is the near cause, when men deceive themselves under any pretense, and intentionally blind their understanding. Again, it is the remoter cause, when men reject the principles from which they ought to frame the rule of their life; for it was their duty to look to God, and to attend to his will. When they disregard his will, they are indeed rebellious and obstinate; but they are ignorant because they refuse to learn, and on this rock they split: and yet ignorance does not excuse them, for of their own accord they bring it on themselves when they reject such a Teacher. So then it is a true statement, that the reason why the people endure such a variety of afflictions is, that they are ignorant of God, and will not allow themselves to be taught by him.
(85) And their honourable men are famished. — Eng. Ver.
14. Therefore hell hath enlarged his soul (86) In this verse the Prophet intended to heighten the alarm of men who were at their ease, and not yet sufficiently affected by the threatenings which had been held out to them. Though it was shocking to behold captivity, and also famine, yet the slowness and insensibility of the people was so great that they did not give earnest heed to these tokens of God’s anger. Accordingly the Prophet threatens something still more dreadful, that hell has opened his belly to swallow them all up.
I said a little ago, that what is here stated in the past tense refers partly to the future. Nor is it without good reason that the Prophet speaks of the events as plain and manifest; for he intended to bring them immediately before the people, that they might behold with their eyes what they could not be persuaded to believe. Again, when he compares hell or the grave to an insatiable beast, by the soul he means the belly into which the food is thrown. The general meaning is, that the grave is like a wide and vast gulf, which, at the command of God, yawns to devour men who are condemned to die. This personification carries greater emphasis than if he had said that all are condemned to the grave.
And her glory hath descended, and her multitude. He joins together the nobles and men of low rank, that none may flatter themselves with the hope of escape: as if he had said, “ Death will carry you away, and all that you possess, your delicacies, wealth, pleasures, and everything else in which you place your confidence.” It is therefore a confirmation of the former statement, and we ought always to attend to the particle לכן ( laken,) therefore; for the people ascribed their calamities to fortune, or in some other way hardened themselves against the Lord’s chastisements. On this account Isaiah says that these things do not happen by chance. Besides, men are wont to argue with God, and are so daring and presumptuous that they do not hesitate to call him to account. In order, therefore, to restrain that pride, he shows that the punishments with which they are visited are just, and that it is owing entirely to their own folly that they are miserable in every respect.
(86) Therefore hell hath enlarged herself. — Eng. Ver.
15. And the mighty man shall be bowed down. This may be called the summing up, for it points out the end and result of those chastisements, that all may be cast down, and that the Lord alone may be exalted. We have formerly met with a similar statement, (Isaiah 2:11,) and on that occasion we explained what was the Prophet’s meaning; (87) which is, that he shows the design of the chastisements which God inflicts on us. Adversity is so hateful to us, that we can perceive nothing good in it. When he speaks of punishments, we detest and abhor them, because we do not perceive the justice of God. But the prophets remind us of another consideration, that so long as men go on in their sins regardlessly, the justice of God is in some degree smothered, and never shines so brightly as when he punishes our sins. This fruit is indeed very great, and ought to be preferred to the salvation of all men; for the glory of God, which shines in his righteousness, ought to be more highly esteemed than all things else.
There is, therefore, no reason why we should so greatly dread the chastisements which God inflicts upon us, but we ought to embrace with reverence what the prophets declare concerning them. In this way, however, the Prophet has severely chastised arrogant hypocrites. who become the more insolent when they are not punished; as if he had said, “Do you imagine that, when God has endured you so long, you will at last be able to tread him under your feet? Assuredly he will arise, and will be exalted in your destruction.”
As the Prophet has employed, first, the word אדם ( adam) and next איש ( ish), it is supposed that this denotes both the noble and the mean; as if he had said, “Not only will the common people perish, but likewise those who are eminent for riches, honor, and high rank.” I cheerfully adopt this opinion; for איש ( ish) is derived from strength and אדם ( adam) from earth. But if any one prefer a more simple interpretation, I leave it to his judgment. However this may be, the Prophet includes all men, both the highest and the lowest.
(87) See p. 116 of this volume.
16. But Jehovah of hosts shall be exalted in judgment. He expresses the manner, or, as it is commonly called, the formal cause, of the excellence of which he has spoken; as if he had said, “The God of hosts, whom ungodly men insolently tread under their feet, will be raised on high, when he shall show himself to be the judge of the world.” In this manner he ridicules the foolish confidence with which the ungodly vaunted; for if judgment and righteousness must at length come forth, it follows that they shall be cast down, since the only way in which those men rise is by overturning the order of nature. And it ought to be carefully observed, that it is not more possible for wicked men to continue in prosperity than for God to permit his glory to be set aside. Though judgment is not at all different from righteousness, still the repetition is not superfluous.
And God, who is holy, shall be sanctified in righteousness. The language becomes more vehement, that wicked men may not, by a false imagination, assure themselves of uninterrupted happiness, which they cannot have, unless by setting aside the holiness of God. But since God is holy by nature, he must be sanctified. Hence it follows that destruction hangs over the wicked, that their obstinacy and rebellion may be subdued, for God cannot deny himself.
17. And the lambs shall feed after their manner. Some render it according to their measure, or, in proportion to their capacity, but it means in the usual manner. There are various ways of explaining this verse; but we ought first of all to observe that the Prophet intended to bring consolation to the godly, who trembled at hearing the dreadful judgments of God; for the more powerfully a man is under the influence of religion, the more does he feel the presence of the hand of God, and the more is he impressed by the apprehension of his judgment. In short, fear and reverence for God cause us to be deeply moved by everything that is presented to us in his name.
Accordingly, after having heard such dreadful threatenings, they must have fainted, if this consolation had not been added as a seasoning, to give them a taste of the mercy of God. It is customary with the prophets always to pay attention to the godly, and to support their minds. “Although, therefore,” says Isaiah, “it may seem as if God were about to destroy the whole nation, still he will show himself to be a faithful shepherd to his lambs, and will feed them in his usual manner.”
This is one object; but it was also the intention of the Prophet to repress the haughtiness of the nobles, who oppressed with unjust tyranny the godly and poor, and yet boasted that they were the Church of God. He reminds them, therefore, that it is an idle and false boasting, when they assume the designation of God’s flock; for they are goats, not lambs. Not only will God have it in his power to feed his flock, when the goats have been cut off, but it will never fare well with the lambs till they have been separated from the goats.
And the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat. There is a still greater diversity here among commentators; but I consider the true meaning to be, that the children of God, banished and treated as foreigners for a time, will regain their lost rights, and will then obtain those places which have been laid waste, or reduced to desolation by the fat ones, that is, by the proud and cruel men who had seized their property. For he calls the children of God strangers who would be exiles for a time, and by waste places, or forsaken places, he means those possessions which they had relinquished, and which others had seized. He refers to a custom well known and exceedingly common, which is, that if any one possess fields or houses, he keeps his hand, as it were, stretched over them, so that no one will venture to touch a clod; but if he forsake them they are seized. The people, therefore, had forsaken the possessions from which they had been expelled, so far as to despair of being ever able to regain them; so that they might justly be called forsaken places, with respect to themselves, and forsaken places of the fat ones, because they had been possessed by the mighty and powerful. We may, indeed, view the expression more simply as denoting forsaken fat places, but it is more probable that by the fat ones are meant tyrants.
18. Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity! After having inserted a short consolation for the purpose of allaying the bitterness of punishments as regards the godly, he returns to threatenings, and proceeds to launch those thunderbolts of words which are fitted to awaken some degree of alarm. By cords he means nothing else than the allurements by which men suffer themselves to be deceived, and harden their heart in crimes; for either they ridicule the judgment of God, or they contrive vain excuses, and allege the plea of necessity. Any concealment, therefore, which they employ, he calls cords; for whenever men are prompted to sin by the lust of the flesh, they at first pause, and feel that something within restrains them, which would certainly keep them back, if they did not rush forward with opposing violence, and break through all opposition. When any man is tempted to do what is sinful, his conscience secretly asks him, What are you doing? And sin never advances so freely as not to feel this check; for God intended in this manner to provide for the good of mankind, lest all should break out into unbridled licentiousness.
How comes it, then, that men are so obstinate in doing what is sinful? Assuredly they permit themselves to be deceived by allurements, and stupify their minds, that they may despise the judgment of God, and may thus have some freedom to commit sin. They flatter themselves by imagining that what is sin is not sin, or by some excuse or idle pretense they lessen its enormity. These, then, are cords, wicked ropes, by which they draw iniquity. Hence it is evident that the Lord has good reason for threatening them; for they sin, not only of their own accord, but perversely and obstinately, and, in short, they bind themselves to sin, so that they are without excuse.
19. Who say, Let him make speed. He specifies one class of sins, by means of which he shows that they draw sins as by ropes. When men not only lay aside all thought of the Divine judgment, but despise and treat as fabulous all that is said about it, nothing can be worse than this. He intended to say that the utmost contempt is manifested when men, to whom the judgment of God has been declared, say that it would give them joy to see it, and treat it with ridicule as a silly alarm; which is denoted by these words full of contempt and of wicked confidence: Let him come, let him make speed.
Work, is here put, by way of eminence, ( κατ ἐξοχὴν,) for judgment; for God appears to be doing nothing when he does not punish the crimes of the ungodly; but when he rises up to execute judgment, and inflicts punishment, his work is then seen, and becomes visible (as is commonly said) by action; because from the very fact we learn that the world is governed by his authority and power. Work, therefore, is taken specially for judgment; because by means of it we see that God is by no means unemployed, but performs his office. Now, ungodly men speak of him with reproach and contempt, and at this very day we have abundant instances of such wickedness and rebellion; and the same war which was formerly waged by the prophets is that which we also are called to maintain.
The ungodly think that God does nothing, and cares not about the affairs of men; as Epicurus thought that God’s highest happiness consisted in his being free from all occupation. Though they imagine that there is some God, yet they do not at all acknowledge his judgment; and in the meantime they bid themselves be of good cheer, and resolve that they will not wear themselves out by such thoughts. “Let these prophets and ministers cry, and bawl, and hold out terrors and threatenings; we will wait without any concern for what they tell us, and in the meantime we will enjoy our mirth.” In this way the Prophet relates the speeches of the ungodly, by which they expressed ridicule and contempt of the word. Not only do they say, Let his work come, but, Let him hasten, Let him make speed; for when he delays, they conclude that everything which God does not execute as soon as he has spoken it is idle talk. Thus Peter represents the ungodly as saying,“
Since the world was created, the course of nature has been uniform; and, therefore, after so many ages, it is idle to expect a day of judgment.” (2 Peter 3:4.)
In the meantime, they purposely, as it were, provoke God to exert his power immediately, if he has any.
Let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come. To work is added counsel, as if they had said, “Why does God deliberate so long, or say what he intends to do? Let him rather show that what he has decreed is accomplished.” It is a great aggravation of their crime, that they wickedly dared to set aside the doctrine which was well known to them. They were more wicked than the heathen Gentiles in this respect, that they despised the doctrine by which he had adopted them to be his peculiar people.
That we may see it. These are proofs of infidelity; for ungodly men will not acknowledge God, unless they have immediate evidence of his presence, and they refuse to believe his words. Now, if the Holy Spirit, by means of this mark, holds up ungodly men to detestation, we ought to testify our faith and piety by the opposite sign, that is, by relying on the word of God, though the effect does not immediately appear; for it is the peculiar excellence of faith to hold us dependent on the mouth of God. True, we next derive confirmation from works, but we must not begin at them; for this is the distinction between the elect and the reprobate, that the elect simply rely on the word, but do not disregard works, while ungodly men scorn and disdain the word, though God speak a hundred times; and yet they continually and eagerly call upon him for works. And when the judgment of God is declared, they say, “Where is it?” They cannot endure the mention of it, unless it be immediately made known by action. When men are so immoderate, it follows that they have no faith, but rather obstinate rebelliousness, Which more and more withdraws and estranges man from God.
20. Wo to them that call evil good. Though some limit this statement to judges, yet if it be carefully examined, we shall easily learn from the whole context that it is general; for, having a little before reproved those who cannot listen to any warnings, he now proceeds with the same reproof. It is evident that men of this sort have always some excuse to plead, and some way of imposing on themselves; and, therefore, there is no end to their reproachful language, when their crimes are brought to light. But here he particularly reproves the insolence of those who endeavor to overthrow all distinction between good and evil
The preposition ל ( lamed), prefixed to the words good and evil, is equivalent to Of; and therefore the meaning is, They who say of evil, It is good, and of good, It is evil; that is, they who by vain hypocrisy conceal, excuse, and disguise wicked actions, as if they would change the nature of everything by their sophistical arguments, but who, on the contrary deface good actions by their calumnies. These things are almost always joined together, for every one in whom the fear of God dwells is restrained both by conscience and by modesty from venturing to apologize for his sins, or to condemn what is good and right; but they who have not this fear do not hesitate with the same impudence to commend what is bad and to condemn what is good; which is a proof of desperate wickedness.
This statement may be applied to various cases; for if a wo is here pronounced even on private individuals, when they say of evil that it is good, and of good that it is evil, how much more on those who have been raised to any elevated rank, and discharge a public office, whose duty it is to defend what is right and honorable! But he addresses a general reproof to all who flatter themselves in what is evil, and who, through the hatred which they bear to virtue, condemn what is done aright; and not only so, but who, by the subterfuges which they employ for the sake of concealing their own enormities, harden themselves in wickedness. Such persons, the Prophet tells us, act as if they would change light into darkness, and sweet into bitter; by which he means that their folly is monstrous, for it would tend to confound and destroy all the principles of nature.
21. Wo to them that are wise in their own eyes! Here he proceeds to rebuke those on whom no instruction can produce a good effect, and who do not allow any wise counsels or godly warnings to gain admission. In short, he pronounces a curse on obstinate scorners, who set up either the lusts of the flesh or a preposterous confidence in their wisdom, in opposition to God’s instruction and warnings. And not only does he rebuke those who are puffed up with a false conviction of their wisdom, and are ashamed to learn from others, but he likewise pronounces a general condemnation on all who, through prejudices in their own favor, refuse to hear God speaking, and to listen to his holy warnings.
This fault has been too common in all ages, and we see it in very many persons at the present day, who, though they would shrink from openly rejecting the doctrine of godliness, are yet so far from being truly obedient and teachable, that they haughtily reject everything that does not please them. They acknowledge that they need some bridle, but, on the other hand, are so much blinded by their presumption, that, when God points out the way, they immediately rebel; and not only so, but break out into violent indignation at the censure passed on their proceedings. Nay, where is the man who renounces his own judgment, and is ready to learn only from the mouth of God? But nothing is more destructive than this deceitful show of wisdom; for the beginning of piety is willingness to be taught, when we have renounced our own judgment and follow wherever God calls.
Nor is this false belief condemned solely on the ground of its rendering men disobedient to God, and thus being the cause of their ruin, but also on the ground of being in itself what God cannot endure. We must become fools if we desire to be God’s disciples. But it is also certain that mad rebellion reigns wherever there is not found that modesty and humility which leads a man willingly to yield subjection, In their own eyes means what we say in French, a leur semblant , that is, in their own conceit
22. Wo to them that are mighty to drink wine! Isaiah now censures another vice, namely, drunkenness and excess in eating, of which he had spoken before; so that probably this chapter is collected from various sermons, and the leading topics only are briefly touched; for when the Prophet saw no repentance, he was forced to repeat and frequently inculcate the same instructions. He therefore returns to the same reproofs which he had previously noticed; for he again discourses about drunkenness, luxury, covetousness, and other corruptions. Hence we ought to conclude, that when warnings produce no good effect, we ought to employ greater earnestness in addressing the obstinate and disobedient, and that we must not be afraid of giving offense by our eagerness, but must frequently repeat the reproofs, until they either yield or manifest incurable malice.
By calling them strong or powerful to drink, he wittily accuses them of wasting their strength in bacchanalian warfare. It is disgraceful and beastly ambition, when a man of vigorous health makes a display of his strength by drinking largely. Employing a figure of speech ( synecdoche) which is frequent in the Prophets, and indeed in the whole of Scripture, he takes a part for the whole; as if he had said, “Wo to gluttony; Wo to intemperance.” But he purposely mentioned that which was disgraceful in the highest degree, in order to render that vice generally hated and abhorred; for, as we have said, nothing is more base or disgraceful than for a man to make trial of his strength in swallowing food or in guzzling wine, and thus struggling with himself so as to cram down as much as his belly can hold. Such men keep by no rule of life, and do not know why God gives them nourishment; for we eat and drink to support the body, and not to destroy it. We live that we may yield worship and obedience to God, and that we may render assistance to our neighbors. When men act so as not to maintain their strength, but to destroy it by trying how much food and wine they can bear, most certainly they are worse than beasts.
23. Who justify the wicked for a reward. He censures a corruption which at that time abounded in judgment-seats, and points out the reason why there is no room for justice in these places, namely, that they are under the influence of gifts. For covetousness blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth all regard to what is good and just, even among those who would otherwise be disposed to follow what is right. (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19.)
It may be objected that there are other methods, and that it is not by gifts only that judgments are perverted; for favor, hatred, friendship, and other sinful passions, often blind the understanding. This is undoubtedly true; but the Prophet had in his eye what happens for the most part, ( ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ,) and at the same time did not intend to spare those vices which he did not express by name. Following this example, godly teachers ought to be wise and careful in observing and correcting the vices which most extensively abound among the people, and most of all to oppose everything which appears to be sanctioned by wicked custom.
Now this corruption which is mentioned is that which most frequently of all is to be found in judgment-seats; and, therefore, it ought to be most carefully avoided by those judges who wish to form an upright judgment. Nor ought we to listen to what is affirmed by many, that gifts are not bestowed on them for that purpose, or that, after having accepted them, they are as free as ever to give a just decision; for where gifts are allowed, the regard to what is just and right must be corrupted, and it is impossible for your mind not to be favourably disposed towards him from whom you received them. In short, we should hear the Lord, who declares that the understanding of the wisest man is corrupted, and the disposition of the most upright man is perverted, unless we choose to be thought wiser than God.
24. Therefore as the flame of fire devoureth the stubble. Lest it should be thought that he has so frequently cried out without good reason, he again shows what grievous and dreadful punishment awaits the nation, and threatens utter destruction to the stubborn, because they did not permit themselves to be brought back to the right path, but obstinately resisted instruction. He employs metaphors exceedingly well adapted to express his meaning, and better fitted to affect their hearts than if he had spoken plainly and without a figure. He begins with a comparison, but immediately slides into a metaphor, attributing a root and branch to the nation as to a tree. Under those two words he includes all the strength, either hidden or visible, that belongs to the nation, and says that the whole will be destroyed; for when the root, which alone gives strength and nourishment to the tree, becomes rotten, it is all over with the tree; and in like manner he threatens that it is all over with the nation, and that its whole strength is wasted and consumed.
Because they have rejected the law of Jehovah of hosts. He does not now enumerate, as formerly, the particular kinds of crime by which they had provoked the wrath of God, but assigns a general cause, namely, contempt of the law of God; for this, as all men know, is the source of everything bad. And it is no small aggravation of their crime that, when the will of God had been made known to them in his law, it was not through ignorance or mistake, but through inveterate malice, that they shook of the yoke of God, and abandoned themselves to every kind of licentiousness; which was nothing else than to reject so kind a Father, and to give themselves up to be the slaves of the devil. Besides, he accuses them of open revolt; as if he had said that it was not in one or a few instances that they were rebellious, but that they might be regarded as treacherous apostates, and had altogether forsaken God.
And loathed the word of the Holy One of Israel. He complains that they not only despised the word of God, but — what is far more shocking — turned away from it, or threw it away in wicked disdain. But if contempt for the law of God is the source, head, and accumulation of all that is evil, there is nothing against which we ought more carefully to guard than that Satan should take away our reverence for it; and if there are any faults to which we are liable, we ought, at least, to allow a remedy to be applied to them, if we do not choose, by wickedly rejecting it, to draw down upon ourselves everlasting destruction.
25. Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled. In this verse the Prophet relates the former punishments which the Jews had already endured, and shows that they are not near an end; but that, on the contrary, heavier judgments await them, if they do not return to the right path. I readily acknowledge that the past tense is frequently employed instead of the future, but the meaning which I have stated will best agree with the context; for there are two things quite distinct from each other, which he lays down, on account of the resolute obstinacy of the people. First, how God perceives their crimes. Secondly, since there are no signs of repentance, he has other scourges within his reach for chastising the people. Thirdly, he describes what those scourges are, and forewarns them that the Assyrians will come at the bidding of the Lord, as soon as he shall express it by merely hissing to them, (verse. 26.)
Such is the connection of what the Prophet states; and hence it ought to be observed that the great body of men, as soon as they have escaped any calamity, forget their chastisements, and no longer regard them as the judgments of God; and that, though experience be the instructor of fools, still they grow hardened by strokes. This insensibility Isaiah sharply rebukes; as if he had said, “Have you so quickly forgotten the calamities under which you lately groaned? Whence came the distressful casting out of dead bodies, but because God had raised his arm against you? And if God has discharged the office of a judge, why do not those recent chastisements induce you to fear him, and to refrain from drawing down a succession of chastisements by new crimes?”
Accordingly, he repeats the term על כן, ( gnal ken,) therefore; as if he had said that those distresses are not accidental, but are manifest tokens of God’s vengeance; and so he expressly says that God was angry with his people; for if the Jews had not fallen from their own rank, their condition would have been happier than that of any other nation. When God’s chosen people, therefore, are treated by him with so much sharpness and severity, it is beyond all doubt that he has been provoked by heinous crimes. At the same time he refutes the false boasting by which the Jews were wont to vaunt and exalt themselves, as if they ought to be exempt from chastisements on the ground of their being God’s peculiar people.
And the mountains trembled. By this comparison the dreadful nature of those punishments to which they were insensible is described in such a manner as to prove more clearly the stupidity of the people. They were more stupid than inanimate objects, if they did not perceive the wrath of God, and the dreadful vengeance which had been inflicted on the kingdom of Israel.
For all these things. He threatens heavier chastisements in future, as we have already said; for although wicked men acknowledge that the Lord has punished them, still they think that they have no right to expect anything more than one or two chastisements. As if therefore nothing worse could befall them, and as if God’s power to punish them had been exhausted, they wrap themselves up in blind indifference. This is the reason why he exclaims that the wrath of God is not yet appeased, and that, although it has inflicted on them many calamities, still it has within its stores many weapons from which they have reason to dread innumerable wounds.
The copulative ו ( vau) may be taken as a disjunctive, so as to mean, but, on the contrary, his hand is stretched out still. He refers to what he had formerly said, that the hand of God is stretched out. He tells them that it is not yet drawn back, and that it may yet pursue them, and inflict plagues of the same kind, or even of greater severity. We ought diligently to meditate on these statements, in order to shake off that drowsiness to which the greater part of men are frequently liable, even after having received chastisements.
26. And he will lift up an ensign to the nations. In this and the following verses he describes the nature of the punishment which the Lord would inflict on his people; namely, that they were about to suffer from the Assyrians a similar, or even a heavier calamity, than that which their brethren the Israelites had lately endured. Many distresses had indeed been suffered by themselves from the Assyrians, though the kingdom of Judah was not yet overturned. Besides, what had befallen the kingdom of Israel might be viewed as a mirror in which they could behold God’s wrath and righteous chastisement.
And yet this prediction, though it was accompanied by clear proofs, must undoubtedly have appeared to be incredible; for at that time they enjoyed repose, and the slightest truce of any kind easily laid them asleep. He says, therefore, that this calamity will come to them from distant nations, from whom nothing of this kind was expected; and he sounds an alarm as if the enemy were already at hand. It is not for the sake of soothing their fear that he uses those words, from afar, and from the end of the earth; but, on the contrary, he speaks in this manner for the express purpose of informing them that they ought not to judge of the anger of God from what meets the eye, for we are wont to judge of dangers from the outward appearance of things. Now, if the enemies are not so near, or if other circumstances hinder them from giving us immediate annoyance, we give ourselves no concern. Thus the people were lulled into a profound sleep, as if there were no danger to be dreaded. But Isaiah says that this will not hinder the Lord from erecting a banner, and instantly commissioning the Assyrians to slaughter them. The expression is metaphorical; for when a banner is displayed it is customary for soldiers, at the bidding of their general, to advance in hostile array and rush into the battle.
He will hiss to it. (88) Though a change of number frequently occurs in Scripture, yet it is on solid grounds that the Prophet, by changing the number, makes many nations to be but one nation. The meaning is, that when it shall please God to assemble various nations, and form them into one body, it will not be a confused multitude, but will resemble a body which has a visible head that rules and guides. He chose to employ the word hiss rather than a word of weightier import, such as sound a trumpet, or anything of that sort; in order to show that God does not need to sound a trumpet in order to call the enemies to battle, and that he has no difficulty in inflicting punishment when the time for taking vengeance is fully at hand, for by a mere nod he can accomplish the whole. (89)
And lo, it will come speedy and swift. This confirms still more what I have already observed, that we ought not to judge of the anger of the Lord from the present appearance of things; for although everything appears to give assurances of peace, yet suddenly war will break out from a quarter from which we do not expect it. Even though we think that we are defended on all sides by friends, yet God will stir up enemies from the farthest corners of the earth, who will break through every obstruction, and overtake us with ease, as if the way were plain and smooth. This ought to be carefully observed, that we may not suffer ourselves to be blinded by vain presumption and foolish confidence.
We ought also to observe that wars are not kindled accidentally, or by an arrangement of men, but by the command of God, as if he assembled the soldiers by the sound of a trumpet. Whether, therefore, we are afflicted by battle, or by famine, or by pestilence, let us know that all this comes from the hand of God, for all things obey him and follow his direction. And yet it was not the intention of the Chaldeans to obey God, for they were hurried on by their eagerness to obtain wealth and power, while he has quite another object in view: but God employs their agency for executing his judgments. Hence arises a remarkable and illustrious display of the power of God, which is not limited by the will of men, or dependent on their decisions, but leads them, though contrary to their wish, or without their knowledge, to obey him. And yet it is no excuse for the ungodly that they are drawn contrary to the disposition of their mind, and do not willingly serve God, for they aim at nothing else than fraud, cruelty, and violence; and by their cruelty God punishes the transgressions and crimes of his people.
(88) Sibilabit ad eam . In the version prefixed to the Commentary on this chapter, our Author has likewise observed here the singular number, sibilabit genti , he will hiss to the nation. Bishop Stock, following Bishop Lowth, renders ושקר לו, ( veshakar lo,) he will hiss to every one of them. — Ed
(89) “The metaphor is taken from the practice of those that keep bees, who draw them out of their hives into the fields, and lead them back again, συρίσμασι, by a hiss or a whistle;” Cyril on the place: and to the same purpose Theodoret, ibid. In Isaiah 7:18, the metaphor is more apparent by being carried further, where the hostile armies are expressed by the fly and the bee: —“
Jehovah shall hist the fly, That is in the utmost parts of Egypt; And the bee, that is in the land of Assyria.”
On which place see Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12. — Lowth.
27. None shall be weary, nor stumble among them. The meaning is, that everything will be prepared and arranged in such a manner that there shall be no delay or obstruction to their march; as if a prince, having recruited the ranks of his soldiers, immediately gave orders that the roads should be cleared, provisions obtained, and everything necessary provided. He therefore shows that they will be fleet and swift, and that there will be nothing to hinder their rapid march.
None shall slumber nor sleep. He expresses their vast activity by saying that they will not be drowsy. In these words, they shall not slumber nor sleep, the natural order is inverted, He ought rather to have said, They shall not sleep nor slumber; for it is a smaller matter to slumber than to sleep. But that phrase ought to be explained in this manner: They shall not slumber nor even sleep; that is, they will be so far from sleeping, that they will not even slumber. You have an instance of this in these words:
Lo, he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalms 121:4.)
It is a Hebrew phrase, with which neither the Greek nor the Latin idiom agrees.
28. Their arrows will be sharp. He means that they will be provided with necessary weapons. The custom alluded to is that which existed among the Assyrians and other eastern nations, who frequently made use of bows and arrows in battle, as Englishmen of the present day enter into the battlefield with a loaded quiver. (90) Under this class he includes every kind of weapons of war. But as the way was long, and the journey difficult, the Jew might think that many things would occur to interrupt the march of the enemy. He therefore says, that the hoofs of the horses will be like flint; by which he means that they will suffer no molestation, and will at length arrive in Judea without weariness. For a similar reason he compares their wheels to a whirlwind. The ancients were wont to employ chariots in going to war, and therefore he mentions not only horses, but wheels. All these circumstances must be understood to relate to the haste and rapidity with which they would proceed; or, in other words, that no length of journey would prevent the Lord from carrying forward the enemies without delay for the destruction of the Jews.
(90) More than three hundred years have elapsed since Calvin wrote these words, and Englishmen of the present day do not carry bows and arrows into the field of battle. On the whole subject of war the opinions of Englishmen are underdoing an important revolution. Many of them entertain a confident hope that ere long the bullet as well as the arrow, the cannon as well as the bow, will be laid aside; that the revolting spectacle of human beings drawn up in companies, for the purpose of wholesale murder, will disappear from the earth; and that men will beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. — Ed.
29. His roaring shall be like that of a lion. This denotes fierceness and cruelty, for he compares the Chaldeans to lions, which, we know, are frightful to behold, and savage by nature; as if he had said that they would not be men who were moved by any feeling of compassion or tenderness, but rather that they would be savage beasts. He adds, that they will likewise possess great strength, so that none will venture to approach for rescuing their prey. He means that the Jews will have no defense for warding off their attacks, because the dread of their cruelty will keep all at a distance from them. It was God who employed their agency in punishing the Jews, and therefore it was necessary that they should be armed with formidable power, that this wayward people might at length acknowledge that they had to do not with men but with
God, into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall. (Hebrews 10:31.)
30. He shall roar against him. (91) The Prophet adds this, that the Jews may understand that the fierce attack of the Chaldeans is not accidental, but that they have been appointed by God and are guided by his hand. By the roaring of the sea he means an attack so violent that it will look like a deluge, by which the whole of Judea will suffer shipwreck. He likewise cuts off all hope by foretelling that the punishment will have no alleviation and no end. “The Jews,” he says, “will do what is usually done in a season of perplexity, will cast their eyes up and down to discover the means of escape; but in whatever direction they look, whether to heaven or to earth, they will find no relief whatever; for on all sides distresses and calamities will overwhelm them.” This mode of expression has come to be frequently employed even by the common people, when misery and ruin appear on all sides, and no escape or relief can be found. This must unavoidably happen when the Lord pursues us, so that his uplifted arm meets our eyes on every side, and, wherever we turn, we behold his creatures armed against us to execute his judgments; for we may sometimes escape the hand of men, but how can we escape the hand of God?
(91) And in that day they shall roar against them. — Eng. Ver.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29