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1. Where is that bill of divorcement? There are various interpretations of this passage, but very few of the commentators have understood the Prophet’s meaning. In order to have a general understanding of it, we must observe that union by which the Lord everywhere testifies that his people are bound to him; that is, that he occupies the place of a husband, and that we occupy the place of a wife. It is a spiritual marriage, which has been consecrated by his eternal doctrine and sealed by the blood of Christ. In the same manner, therefore, as he takes us under his protection as a early beloved wife, on condition that we preserve our fidelity to him by chastity; so when we have been false to him, he rejects us; and then he is said to issue a lawful divorce against us, as when a husband banished from his house an adulterous wife.
Thus, when the Jews were oppressed by calamities so many and so great, that it was easy to conclude that God had rejected and divorced them, the cause of the divorce came to be the subject of inquiry. Now, as men are usually eloquent in apologizing for themselves, and endeavor to throw back the blame on God, the Jews also complained at that time about their condition, as if the Lord had done wrong in divorcing them; because they were far from thinking that the promises had been made void, and the covenant annulled, by their crimes. They even laid the blame on their ancestors, as if they were punished for the sins of others. Hence those taunts and complaints which Ezekiel relates.“
Our fathers ate a sour grape, and our teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:2.)
Speeches of this kind being universally current among them, the Lord demands that they shall produce the “bill of divorcement,” by means of which they may prove that they are free from blame and have been rejected without cause.
Now, a “bill of divorcement” was granted to wives who were unjustly divorced; for by it the husband was constrained to testify that his wife had lived chastely and honorably, so that it was evident that there was no other ground for the divorce than that she did not please the husband. Thus the woman was at liberty to go away, and the blame rested solely on the husband, to whose sullenness and bad temper was ascribed the cause of the divorce. (Deuteronomy 24:1.) This law of divorcement, as Ezekiel shews, (Matthew 19:8,) was given by Moses on account of the hard-heartedness of that nation. By a highly appropriate metaphor, therefore, the Lord shews that he is not the author of the divorce, but that the people went away by their own fault, and followed their lusts, so that they had utterly broken the bond of marriage. This is the reason why he asks where is “that bill” of which they boasted; for there is emphasis in the demonstrative pronoun, זה (zeh), that, by which he intended to expose their idle excuses; as if he had said, that they throw off the accusation, and lay blame on God, as if they had been provided with a defense, whereas they had violated the bond of marriage, and could produce nothing to make the divorce lawful.
Or who is the creditor to whom I sold you? By another metaphor he demonstrates the same thing. When a man was overwhelmed by debt, so that he could not satisfy his creditors, he was compelled to give his children in payment. The Lord therefore asks, “Has he been constrained to do this? Has he sold them, or given them in payment to another creditor? Is he like spendthrifts or bad managers, who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by debt?” As if he had said, “You cannot bring this reproach against me; and therefore it is evident that, on account of your transgressions, you have been sold and reduced to slavery.”
Lo, for your iniquities ye have been sold. Thus the Lord defends his majesty from all slanders, and refutes them by this second clause, in which he declares that it is by their own fault that the Jews have been divorced and “sold.” The same mode of expression is employed by Paul, when he says that we are “sold under sin,” (Romans 7:14,) but in a different sense; in the same manner as the Hebrew writers are wont to speak of abandoned men, whose wickedness is desperate. But here the Prophet intended merely to charge the Jews with guilt, because, by their own transgressions, they had brought upon themselves all the evils that they endured.
If it be asked, “Did the Lord divorce his heritage? Did he make void the covenant?” Certainly not; but the Lord is said to “divorce,” as he is elsewhere said to profane, his heritage, (Psalms 89:39; Ezekiel 24:21,) because no other conclusion can be drawn from present appearances; for, when he did not bestow upon them his wonted favor, it was a kind of divorce or rejection. In a word, we ought to attend to these two contrasts, that the wife is divorced, either by the husband’s fault, or because she is unchaste and adulterous; and likewise that children are sold, either for their father’s poverty or by their own fault. And thus the course of argument in this passage will be manifest.
2. Why did I come? This might be a reason assigned, that the people have not only brought upon themselves all immense mass of evils by provoking God’s anger, but have likewise, by their obstinacy, cut off the hope of obtaining pardon and salvation. But I think that God proceeds still further. After having explained that he had good reason for divorcing the people, because they had of their own accord given themselves up to bondage, when they might have been free, he adds that still it is not he who prevents them from being immediately set at liberty. As he shewed, in the former verse, that the whole blame rests with the Jews, so now he declares that it arises from their own fault that they grow old and rot in their distresses; for the Lord was ready to assist them, if they had not rejected his grace and kindness. In a word, he shows that both the beginning and the progress of the evil arise from the fault of the people, in order that he may free God from all blame, and may shew that the Jews act wickedly in accusing him as the author of evil, or in complaining that he will not assist them.
First, then, the Lord says that he “came;” and why, but that he might stretch out his hand to the Jews? Whence it follows that they are justly deprived; for they would not receive his grace. Now, the Lord is said to “come,” when he gives any token of his presence. He approaches by the preaching of the Word, and he approaches also by various benefits which he bestows on us, and by the tokens which he employs for manifesting his fatherly kindness toward us.“
Was there ever any people,” as Moses says, “that saw so many signs, and heard the voice of God speaking, like this people?” (Deuteronomy 4:33.)
Constant invitation having been of no advantage to them, when he held out the hope of pardon and exhorted them to repentance, it is with good reason that he speaks of it as a monstrous thing, and asks why there was no man to meet him. They are therefore held to be convicted of ingratitude, because, while they ought to have sought God, they did not even choose to meet him when he came; for it is an instance of extreme ingratitude to refuse to accept the grace of God which is freely offered.
Why did I call, and no one answered? In the word call there is a repetition of the same statement in different words. When God “calls,” we ought to be ready and submissive; for this is the “answer” which, he complains, was refused to him; that is, we ought to yield implicitly to his word. But this expression applies strictly to the matter now in hand; because God, when he offered a termination to their distresses, was obstinately despised, as if he had spoken to the deaf and dumb. Hence he infers that on themselves lies the blame of not having been sooner delivered; and he supports this by former proofs, because he had formerly shewn to the fathers that he possessed abundance of power to assist them. Again, that they may not cavil and excuse themselves by saying that they had not obtained salvation, though they heartily desired it, he maintains, on the other hand, that the cause of the change ought to be sought somewhere else than in him, (for his power was not at all diminished,) and therefore that he would not have delayed to stretch out his hand to them in distress, if they had not wickedly refused his aid.
By shortening hath my hand been shortened? By this interrogation he expresses greater boldness, as if he were affirming what could not be called in question; for who would venture to plead against God that his power was diminished? He therefore relates how powerfully he rescued his people out of Egypt, that they may not now imagine that he is less powerful, but may acknowledge that their sins were the hinderance. (14) He says that by his reproof he “dried up the sea,” as if he had struck terror by a threatening word; for by his authority, and at his command, the seas were divided, so that a passage was opened up, (Exodus 14:21,) and Jordan was driven back. (Joshua 3:16.) The consequence was, that “the fishes,” being deprived of water, died and putrified.
(14) “ Ains recognoissent que leurs vices empeschent que ceste puissance ne se monstre;” “But may acknowledge that their sins hinder that power from being manifested.”
3. I clothe the heavens with blackness. He mentions also that thick darkness which was spread over all Egypt during the space of three days. (Exodus 10:22.) At that time the heaven was clothed as with a mouming dress; for, as fine weather has a gladdening influence, so blackness and darkness produce melancholy; and therefore he says, that the heavens were covered as with sackcloth or with a mouming dress, as if they had been tokens and expressions of mouming, (15) If any one prefer to view them as general statements, let him enjoy his opinion; but I think it probable that he glances at the history of the deliverance from Egypt, (16) front which it might easily be inferred that God, who had so miraculously assisted the fathers, was prevented by their ingratitude from granting relief to the miseries which now oppressed them.
(15) “This gives a great idea of God’s power. Though the sun shines so bright that no mortal eye can steadily behold its lustre, I can at pleasure send a thick cloud and intercept its rays, and make the heavens appear as if they had put on mourning.” — White.
(16) “ A l’histoire de la deliverance d’Egypte.”
4. The Lord Jehovah. After having twice convicted them of guilt, he adds a consolation in his usual manner; for when the Lord covers us with shame, he intends immediately to free us from shame. Although, therefore, he shewed that the people had been rejected for the best possible reasons, and had perished by their own fault, because they proved themselves to be even unworthy of deliverance, yet he promises assistance to them. Again, because in a matter so difficult to be believed there needed more than ordinary proof, he begins by saying that God has sent and instructed him to execute his commands. This passage is commonly explained so as to relate to Christ, as if it had not been applicable to the Prophet, because he afterwards says, that he had been beaten with rods, which we nowhere read was done to Isaiah. But there is no great force in this argument; for David complains that his garments were divided, (Psalms 22:18,) which applies literally to Christ, (Matthew 27:35; John 19:24,) and yet it does not follow that this did not happen to David himself. For my own part, I have no doubt, that Isaiah comes forward as one who represents all the servants of God, not only those who were from the beginning, but those who should come afterwards.
Hath given me the tongue of the learned. He says that the Lord hath given him a “tongue,” that the promises bywhieh he cheers the people may have greater weight. Our faith wavers, if we suspect that a man speaks from himself; and the condition of that people was so wretched that no human arguments could induce them to entertain the hope of deliverance. It amounts to this, that the message of approaching salvation is brought to them from heaven; and if any person do not receive it, he must prove himself to be rebellious and disobedient. Although these words are literally intended by the Prophet to secure the belief of his statements, yet we may infer from them generally, that no man is fit to teach who has not first been qualified by God. This reminds all godly teachers to ask from the Spirit of God what otherwise they could not at all possess. They must indeed study diligently, so as not to ascend the pulpit till they have been fully prepared; but they must hold by this principle, that all things necessary for discharging their office are gifts of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, if they were not organs of the Holy Spirit, it would be extreme rashness to come forth publicly in the name of God.
That I may know a word in season to the weary. Some verb must be supplied here, such as, “to administer” or “to utter.” The word “know” includes wisdom and skill, which a pastor ought to possess, that the word of God may be faithfully and profitably administered by him; as if he had said that he has been well instructed in the school of God, and thus knows well what is suitable to those who are wretched and who groan under a burden. (17) The term “weary” is applied to those who are overwhelmed by many afflictions; as we have formerly seen, “who giveth strength to the weary.” (Isaiah 40:29.) Thus also Christ speaks, “Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.” (Matthew 11:28.) He therefore means that God has been his teacher and instructor, that he may be able to soothe wretched men by appropriate consolation, that by means of it their dejected hearts may be encouraged by feeling the mercy of God.
Hence we infer that the most important duty of the ministers of the word is, to comfort wretched men, who are oppressed by afflictions, or who bend under their weight, and, in short, to point out what is true rest and serenity of mind, as we have formerly seen. (Isaiah 33:20.) We are likewise taught what each of us ought chiefly to seek in the Scriptures, namely, that we may be fumished with doctrine appropriate and suitable for relieving our distresses, He who, by seasonable consolation, in afflictive or even desperate affairs, can cheer and support his heart, ought to know that he has made good proficiency in the Gospel. I acknowledge that doctrine has indeed various uses; for not only is it useful for comforting the afflicted and feeble, but it likewise contains severe reproofs and threatenings against the obstinate. (2 Timothy 3:16.) But Isaiah shews that the chief duty incumbent on him is, to bring some consolation to the Jews who, in the present distress, are ready to faint.
He will waken in the morning. The Prophet here testifies that the Lord is so careful about wretched and oppressed persons that he aids them “in the morning,” that is, seasonably. I do acknowledge that we are often destitute of consolation; but, although God often permits us to languish, yet he knows every moment that is suitable for seasonably meeting the necessity by his aid. Besides, if his assistance be somewhat late, this happens through our own fault; for not only by our indolence, but likewise by rebellion, we withdraw ourselves from his grace. However that may be, he always watches carefully and runs to give aid; and even when we fly and resist, he calls us to him, that we may be refreshed by tasting his grace and kindness.
He twice repeats the phrase, “in the morning,” by which he expresses continuance and earnestness, that we may not think that he is liable to sudden impulses like men, to cast off or quickly forget those whom he has once undertaken to guard, whom he continues, on the contrary, to make the objects of his grace till the end, and never leaves destitute of consolation.
That I may hear as the learned. He means that his ear has not only been pulled or twitched, as for sluggish and indolent persons, but has been formed and trained. Yet by his example he shews that God efficaciously teaches all whose ministry he intends to employ for the salvation of his Church; for it would have been a small matter to be instructed after the manner of men, if they had not within them the Spirit of God as their instructor. This makes still more evident the truth of what we have formerly said, that none are good teachers but those who have been good scholars. He calls them “learned’and “well-instructed;” for they who do not deign to learn, because they think that they are wise enough, are doubly fools; since they alone, in the judgment of God, are reckoned to be “well-instructed” and “learned,” who permit themselves to be taught before discharging the office of teachers, that they may have clear knowledge of those things which they communicate to others, and may publicly bring forward nothing but what they can testify to have proceeded from God; and, in a word, they alone are “learned,” (18) who, by continually learning, do not refuse to make constant progress. Some read the word in the accusative, meaning, “that I may hear as (hearing) the learned;” but that is harsh and at variance with the true meaning.
(17) “ Qui gemissent sous le fardeau de leurs pechez;” “Who groan under the burden of their sins.”
(18) “ Ceux-la sont doctes.”
5. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear. He again repeats what he had formerly said, and here includes everything that belongs to the office of a teacher; for the “opening of the ear” must be understood to refer not only to doctrine, but to the whole calling; that is, when he takes one to be his servant, and intbrms of his duty him whom he has determined to send, when he gives commands, and enjoins him to execute what he commands. But the Lord “opens the ear,” not only when he declares what is his will, but when he powerfully affects a man’s heart and moves him to render obedience, as it is said,“
Thou hast bored mine ear.” (Psalms 40:6.)
And Christ says,“
Whosoever hath heard and learned from the Father cometh to me.” (John 6:45.)
Such is also the import of the second clause, And I was not rebellious, the meaning of which may be thus summed up: “He undertakes nothing at random, but, being fully convinced of God’s calling, he discharges the office of a teacher, though it is laborious and difficult, because he is ready to obey.”
6. I exposed my body to the smiters. With the reproaches, jeers, and insolence of wicked men, he contrasts the unshaken courage which he possesses; as if he had said that, “whatever resistancemay be attempted by the despisers of God, yet he will baffle all their insults, so that he will never repent of the labors which he has undertaken.” Yet this passage plainly shows that the ministers of the word cannot perform their office faithfully without being exposed to a contest with the world, and even without being fiercely assailed on all sides; for as soon as Isaiah says that he has obeyed the command of God, he likewise adds that “He has exposed his body to the smiters.” The faithful servants of God, when they administer the doctrine of the word, cannot escape from this condition, but must endure fights, reproaches, hatred, slanders, and various attacks from adversaries, who loathe that liberty of advising and reproving which it is necessary for them to use. Let them, therefore, arm themselves with steadfastness and faith; for a dreadful battle is prepared for them. And not only does he describe the persecutions of wicked men, but the reproach of the world; because wicked men desire to be thought to have good cause for opposing the ministers of the word and persecuting their doctrine, and wish that those ministers should be regarded as criminals and malefactors, and held up to universal hatred and abhorrence. For these reasons they lead them with various slanders, and do not refrain from any kind of reproach, as we know well enough by experience in the present day, when our adversaries call us heretics, deceivers, seditious persons, and assail us with other slanders, which were also directed against Christ and the Apostles. (Matthew 27:63; John 7:12; Acts 16:20.)
My face I did not hide from shame and spitting. He not only says that open and outward foes spat and inflicted blows on him, but glances at the slanders which he is compelled to bear from foes who are within and belong to the household; for out of the very bosom of the Church there always spring up wicked men and despisers of God, who insolently attack the prophets. They who wish to serve God must be prepared to endure all these things calmly, that they may walk through evil report and through good report, (2 Corinthians 6:8,) and may despise not only banishment, stripes, imprisonment, and death, but likewise reproaches and disgrace, though they may sometimes appear harder to endure than death itself. While this doctrine belongs to all believers, it belongs especially to the teachers of the word, who ought to go before others, and to be, as it were, standard-bearers.
7. For the Lord Jehovah will help me. The Prophet declares whence comes so great courage, which he and the other servants of God need to possess, in order to withstand courageously the attacks of every one. It comes from God’s assistance, by relying on whom he declares that he is fortified against all the attacks of the world. After having, with lofty fortitude, looked down contemptuously on all that was opposed to him, he exhorts others also to maintain the same firmness, and gives what may be called a picture of the condition of all the ministers of the word; that, by tuming aside from the world, they may tum wholly to God and have their eyes entirely fixed upon him. There never will be a contest so arduous that they shall not gain the victory by trusting to such a leader.
Therefore I have set my face as a flint. By the metaphor of “a flint” he shews that, whatever may happen, he will not be afraid; for terror or alarm, like other passions, makes itself visible in the face. The countenance itself speaks, and shews what are our feelings. The servants of God, being so shamefully treated, must inevitably have sunk under such attacks, had they not withstood them with a forehead of stone or of iron. In this sense of the term, Jeremiah also is said to have been “set for a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall, against the kings of Judah, and the princes, and the people,” (Jeremiah 1:18;) and to Ezekiel is said to have been given “a strong forehead, and even one of adamant, and harder than that, that he might not be dismayed at the obstinacy of the people.” (Ezekiel 3:9.)
Therefore I was not ashamed. The word “ashamed” is twice used in this verse, but in different senses; for in the former clause it relates to the feeling, and in the latter to the thing itself or the effect. Accordingly, in the beginning of the verse, where he boasts that he is not confounded with shame, because God is on his side, he means that it is not enough that God is willing to help us, if we do not also feel it; for of what advantage to us will the promises of God be, if we distrust him? Confidence, therefore, is demanded, that we may be supported by it, and may assuredly know that we enjoy God’s favor.
I shall not be confounded. In the conclusion of the verse he boldly declares his conviction that the end will be prosperous. Thus “to be confounded” means “to be disappointed;” for they who had entertained a vain and deceitful hope are liable to be mocked. Here we see that some special assistance is promised to godly teachers and ministers of the word; so that the fiercer the attacks of Satan, and the stronger the hostility of the world, so much the more does the Lord defend and guard them by extraordinary protection. And hence we ought to conclude, that all those who, when they come to the contest, tremble and lose courage, have never been duly qualified for discharging their office; for he who knows not how to strive knows not how to serve God and the Church, and is not fitted for administering the doctrine of the word.
8. He is near that justifieth me. We ought always to keep in remembrance that the Prophet mentions nothing that is peculiar to himself, but testifies what the Lord chooses to be, and will always be, towards faithful ministers, that whosoever has this testimony, that God has sent him, and knows that he discharges his office faithfully, may boldly despise all adversaries, and may not be moved by their reproaches, for he is “justified” by the Lord; and, in like manner, the Lord always is, and will be, near to defend and maintain his truth. Besides, that any one may be able to make this protestation, it is necessary that his conscience be pure; for, if any man thrust himself rashly into the office, and have no testimony of his calling, or bring forward his dreams publicly, in vain will he boast of this promise, which belongs only to those who have been called by God, and who sincerely and uprightly perform their duty. Now, although either hypocrites or despisers never cease to annoy the servants of God, yet Isaiah advances to meet them, as if none would venture to pick a quarrel or utter a slander; not that he can keep them in check, (19) but because they will gain nothing by all their attempts. He therefore declares, that he looks down with utter contempt on the false accusations which the enemies of sound doctrine pour out against its teachers. There is no crime with which they do not upbraid them; but their efforts are fruitless; for the Judge, by whom their integrity is maintained, is not far off. They may, therefore, as Paul did, boldly appeal from the wicked and unjust judgments of men to “the day of the Lord,” by whom their innocence will be made manifest. (1 Corinthians 4:4.)
Let us stand together. Godly teachers ought to have so great confidence as not to hesitate to give a bold defiance to adversaries. Satan, with his agents, does not always venture to attack openly, especially when he fights by falsehoods, but by ambuscade, and by burrowing under ground, endeavors to take them by surprise; but the servants of God are not afraid to “stand up” openly, and enter into contest with the enemy, and contend by arguments, provided that adversaries are willing to enter into the lists. So great is the force of truth that it does not dread the light of day, as we say that Isaiah here attacks boldly those whom he perceives to be plotting against him; and therefore he repeats, —
Let him draw near to me. Godly ministers ought to be ready to assign a reason for their doctrine. But where is the man that is willing to hear them patiently, and to consider what is the nature of that doctrine which they publicly declare? True indeed, adversaries will approach, but it is to draw their swords to slay them; to sharpen their tongues, that by every kind of slander they may tear them in pieces. In short, their whole defense consists in arms or deceitful stratagems; for they do not venture to contend by scriptural arguments. Relying, therefore, on the justice of our cause, we may freely defy them to the conflict. Though they condemn us without listening to our vindication, and though they have many that support the sentence which they have pronounced, we have no reason to be afraid; for God, whose cause we plead, is our Judge, and will at length acquit us.
(19) “ Non pas qu’il puisse tenir les meschans en bride;” “Not that he can keep wicked men in check.”
9. Who is he that condemmeth me? Paul appears to allude to this passage, in his Epistle to the Romans, when he says, “It is God that justifieth; who shall condemn?” (Romans 8:33.) We may safely have recourse to the judgment-seat of God, when we are well assured that we have obtained his righteousness by free grace through Christ. But here Isaiah handles a different subject; for he does not speak of the universal salvation of men, but of the ministry of the Word, which the Lord will defend against the attacks of wicked men, and will not suffer his people to be overwhelmed by their fraud or violence.
Lo, they shall all wax old as a garment. He now shews more clearly that it is not in the shade or at case that he boasts of his courage, as if none were giving him any disturbance; but he declares that, though he is assailed by deadly foes, still he boldly maintains his position; because all who fight with the Word of God shall fall and vanish away through their own frailty. In order to place the matter before their own eyes, he employs a demonstrative particle, “Behold, like garments shall they perish, being consumed by worms.” The Psalmist makes use of the same metaphor, when he compares the men of this world to the children of God. (Psalms 49:14.) The former, though they make a show and shine like dazzling garments, shall perish; but believers, who now are covered with filth, shall at length obtain new brightness and shine brilliantly like the stars. Here he speaks literally of fierce dogs that attack and bark at godly teachers. Though such persons are held in high estimation by men, and possess very high authority among them, yet their lustre shall perish and fade away, like that of garments which are eaten by worms.
10. Who is among you that feareth the Lord? After having spoken of God’s invincible aid, by which all prophets are protected, he directs his discourse to believers, that they may suffer themselves to be guided by the Word of God, and may become obedient. Hence we may infer how far a holy boasting raised him above his slanderers; for, in consequence of wicked men, through their vast numbers, possessing at that time great influence among the Jews, there was a risk of overwhelming the faith of the small minority. (20) When he asks, “Where are they that fear God?” he points out that their number is small. Yet he addresses them separately, that they may detach themselves from the mixed crowd, and not take part in counsels which are wicked, and which God has condemned. In like manner we have formerly met with these words, “Say ye not, A confederacy.” (Isaiah 8:12.) Although therefore the enemies of God are so numerous as to constitute a vast army, yet Isaiah does not hesitate to say that there are some left who shall profit by his doctrine.
He speaks to those who “fear God;” for, wherever there is no religion and no fear of God, there can be also no entrance for doctrine. We see how audaciously doctrine is rejected by those who, in other respects, wish to be reckoned acute and sagacious; for, in consequence of being swelled with pride, they detest modesty and humility, and are exceedingly stupid in this wisdom of God. It is not without good reason, therefore, that he lays this foundation, namely, the fear of God, that his Word may be attentively and diligently heard. Hence also it is evident that true fear of God is nowhere to be found, unless where men listen to his Word; for hypocrites do proudly and haughtily boast of piety and the fear of God, but they manifest rebellious contempt, when they reject the doctrine of the Gospel and all godly exhortations. The clear proof of such persons is, that the mask which they desire to wear is torn off.
Let him hear the voice of his servant. He might have simply said, “the voice of God,” but he expressly says, “of his servant;” for God does not wish to be heard but by the voice of his ministers, whom he employs to instruct us. Isaiah speaks first of himself, and next of all others who have been invested with the same office; and there is an implied contrast between that “hearing” which he demands and that wicked eagerness to despise doctrine in which irreligious men indulge, while they also, by their insolence, encourage many idle and foolish persons to practice similar contempt.
He who hath walked in darkness. Believers might have brought it as an objection, that the fruit of their piety was not visible, but that they were miserably afflicted, as if they had lived a life of abandoned wickedness; and therefore the Prophet anticipates and sets aside this complaint, by affirming that believers, though hitherto they have been harshly treated, yet do not in vain obey God and his Word; for, if they “have walked in darkness,” they shall at length enjoy the light of the Lord. By “darkness” the Prophet here means not the ignorance or blindness of the human understanding, but the afflictions by which the children of God are almost always overwhelmed. And this is the consolation which he formerly mentioned, when he declared that “the tongue of the learned had been given to him, that he might speak a word to one who was faint.” (Ver. 4.) Thus he promises that they who have hitherto been discouraged and almost overwhelmed by so many distresses shall receive consolation.
(20) “ Le danger estoit qu’ils n’ estaignissent la foy d’une petite troupe de fideles;” “The danger was that they would extinguish the faith of a small body of believers.”
11. Lo, all of you kindle a fire. He upbraids the Jews with choosing to kindle for themselves their own light, instead of drawing near to the light of God. This passage has been badly expounded; and if we wish to understand its true meaning, we must attend to the contrast between the light of God and the light of men; that is, between the consolation which is brought to us by the Word of God and the empty words of comfort uttered by men, when by idle and useless things they attempt and toil to alleviate their distresses. Having formerly spoken of “light” and “darkness,” and having promised light to believers, who hear the voice of the Lord, he shews that the Jews had rejected this light, in order to kindle another light for themselves, and threatens that ultimately they shall be consumed by this light, as by a conflagration. Thus Christ upbraids the Jews with “rejoicing in John’s light,” (John 5:35,) because they made a wrong use of his official character, in order to obscure or rather to extinguish the glory of Christ. To bring forward John’s official character, in order to cover with darkness the glory of Christ, was nothing else than to extinguish the light of God shining in a mortal man, in order to kindle another light for themselves, not that it might guide them by pointing out the road, but that, by foolishly rejoicing in it, they might be driven about in every direction.
When he says that they are surrounded by sparks, he glances at their various thoughts, by which they were agitated and carried about in uncertainty sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another; and in this way he mocks at their folly, because they willingly and eagerly ran wheresoever their foolish pleasures drew them.
Walk in the light of your fire. As if he had said, “You shall know by experience how useless and transitory is your light, when your unwarranted hopes shall have deceived you.” The ironical permission denotes disappointment. Others explain it, that wicked men kindle against themselves the fire of God’s wrath; but the Prophet looked higher, and that sentiment appears not to agree with this passage.
From my hand. Because wicked men, being intoxicated by false confidence, think that they are placed beyond the reach of all danger, and, viewing the future with reckless disregard, trust to “their own light,” that is, to the means of defense with which they imagine themselves to be very abundantly provided; the Lord declares, that they shall lie down in sorrow, and that this shall proceed “from his hand;” and, in a word, that men who have forsaken the light of the Word, and who seek consolation from some other quarter, shall miserably perish.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29