1.Cry with the throat. This chapter has been badly divided; for these words are connected with what goes before; and therefore, if we wish to understand the Prophet’s meaning, we ought to read them as if there had been no separation. The Prophet has testified that the people shall be punished in such a manner as to leave some hope of peace, and next has threatened that the wicked, who by indolent pride endeavor to escape from God, shall have continual war. He now confirms that doctrine, and informs them that God has given him this command, to “cry with the throat,” that is, to use a common expression, (a plein gosier) “at the full stretch of the voice.”
Why is this? It is to make known to the people their sins He does not speak merely of the stretch of the voice, but means by it that keenness and severity of language which hypocrites especially need, as if God were throwing thunderbolts against them from heaven; for they are delighted with their vices, if they be not severely reproved and dragged forth to the light, or rather if they be not violently thrown down.
When he adds, Spare not, it is a mode of expression very frequently employed by Hebrew writers, such as, “I cry, and am not silent.” (Psalms 22:2) It is equivalent to a common expression, (Crie sans espargner,) “Cry without sparing.” We have said that the Prophet does not speak of the mere sound of the voice, but means a severe and harsh reproof, which is very necessary to be sharply used towards hypocrites. For instance, if the prophets merely spoke of the Law of the Lord, and showed what is the rule of a good and holy life, and recommended the worship of God, and likewise reproved vices, but. without employing any vehemence of language, what impression would they produce on hypocrites, whose conscience is lulled in such a manner that they cannot be aroused but by applying spurs? And so a simple manner of teaching would not be enough, unless they were sharply attacked, and the thunderbolts of words were launched against them.
Paul also, imitating the prophets, after having condemned all mankind, breaks out with greater vehemence against those who made some profession of holiness and abused God’s patience. “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the Law, and boastest in God, and knowest his will, and approvest what is excellent, being instructed out of the Law; and trustest that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of those who are in darkness, an instructor of fools, a teacher of the ignorant, having the form of knowledge and of truth by the Law. Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou who preachest that men ought not to steal, dost thou steal? (Romans 2:17) Against such persons he threatens the judgment of God and terrible vengeance, because they have abused his goodness, and vainly boast of his name.
Thus the Prophet, in this passage, sharpens his pen expressly against the Jews, who gloried in the name of God, and yet proudly rose up against him. This is the method, therefore, that ought to be followed against hypocrites, who hold out an empty show of holiness; at least, if we wish to discharge our duty in a proper and useful manner. As the Lord exercised the prophets in this kind of combat, so we must be exercised in it at the present day; so that we must not hold our peace, or give them a slight reproof, but must exclaim against them with all our might.
It might be objected, “If the Lord commands his servants to reprove the sins of the people, to whom he promises peace, he undoubtedly intended to leave to them the hope of salvation. And yet it is certain that those words are addressed to the reprobate, against whom he had formerly declared war.” I reply, believers were at that time reduced to a small number; for there were few who embraced the peace that was offered to them. Accordingly, when Isaiah holds out the hope of approaching peace, he has his eye on that little flock; when he threatens war, his aim is to terrify the multitude, who were estranged from God and despised his warnings; for the state of the people was such, as we have formerly seen, (Isaiah 1:21) that scarcely any pure or sound morality remained.
And to the house of Jacob their iniquity. With good reason does he call them “the house of Jacob,” when the greater part of the people were corrupted. And we ought carefully to observe this distinction: that the prophets sometimes address the multitude at large, and sometimes limit their discourse to a few believers. Nor is it without witty and bitter mockery that he gives the designations of “his people” and “children of Jacob” to those who had degenerated from their stock and had basely revolted from the faith of the fathers. The concession made is therefore ironical; as if he had said that there is no privilege which hinders them from hearing what they deserve.
2.Yet they seek me daily. Here he intended to take away every ground of objection from hypocrites, who had their answers ready. “We fear, serve, and love God, and seek him with the whole heart. Why do you rebuke us as if we were irreligious persons; for we wish to regulate our life according to the injunctions of the Law.” To meet this objection, he affirms that they do nothing in a pure or sincere manner, that everything is pretended and hypocritical, and consequently is of no value before God, who demands the whole heart. (Genesis 17:1)
It is proper to observe this order which the Prophet has followed. After having threatened war against wicked men and hypocrites, he now rebukes them severely, and takes away the pretenses and disguises under which they shrouded themselves. This is the manner in which hypocrites should be treated, and dragged, as it were, out of their lurkingplaces; for otherwise doctrine could produce no good effect upon them. And not only should godly teachers observe this order, but every person ought to apply this manner of teaching for his own use, that he may not be satisfied with himself or flatter his vices; that he may not practice hypocrisy on himself, or suffer himself to be deceived by the tricks of Satan. Let him therefore bring a pure and upright heart, if he wish to profit by the doctrine of the word, and to be acceptable to God.
And wish to know my ways. Although Isaiah admits that traitors and liars have some show of holiness, yet, on the other hand, by a bitter figure of speech, he censures them, as if he had said that in their shameful boasting there was excessive wickedness. Thus it is not simple irony, but there is likewise added a complaint, that, while they apparently labor to serve God, still, if any person examine them more closely, and inquire into their whole manner of life, he will perceive that their hearts are altogether estranged from God.
They ask of me the judgments of righteousness. (118) Those who think that in these words hypocrites blame God, and rise up against him, as if they would enter into controversy with him, have not understood the Prophet’s meaning. I acknowledge that he does this soon afterwards; but before coming down to it, he tears off their mask of pretended godliness. After having said that they “seek God daily,” as if there were nothing that occupied their thoughts more earnestly than religion, he proceeds in the same strain, and says, that they “ask judgments,” that they may serve God, and observe the rule of a holy life, that is, by pretending to burn with zeal for religion. And indeed the Prophet here enumerates the most important exercises of believers, which sometimes are ostentatiously imitated by the wicked. Now, the chief point of religion is, to inquire into the will of God, that we may regulate our life by the rule which he has laid down for us, and to depend on his mouth. But the children of God, in this respect, are falsely copied by hypocrites, so that they appear to practice all that relates to the true worship of God, and sometimes to exceed the very best of men.
3.Wherefore have we fasted? He proceeds farther with the same subject, and says that feigned and perverse worshippers of God are not only blinded by their hypocrisy, but likewise swell with pride, so that they venture openly to murmur at God, and to complain when he presses hard upon them, as if he had done them a grievous injury. “Dost thou reject our services, fastings, and prayers? Why are they not acceptable to thee? Do we not vex ourselves in vain?“
He has admitted, as we have already said, that hypocrites have some outward show of holiness, by which they deceive men; but now he declares that inwardly they are also puffed up and intoxicated by pride, while they have pretended good works, by which they think that they satisfy God, and, on this pretense, they carry themselves high against the prophets, and indulge in the worst vices, such as unbelief, rebellion, and obstinacy against God, distrust, cruelty, fraud, and pillage. These are light matters in themselves, and are easily washed away by other external exercises; for the former are their preeminent merits, in which they think that the worship of God consists, and from which they hope to obtain the pardon of all their sins. Thus they “strain out a gnat, (119) and do not scruple to swallow a whole camel.” (Matthew 23:24) If such characters had been found among the Jews only, and if the world had changed its disposition, we should have needed to seek far for examples; but since we have experience of the same thing every day, there is no necessity for giving ourselves much trouble about the exposition of this passage.
This complaint may be viewed as referring both to the word and to the hand of God. In both ways God judges hypocrites; for he rebukes by the word, and punishes for their obstinate malice; and therefore those words may be viewed as referring both to the chastisements and to the preceding reproof. For my own part, I interpret it as relating to the word, and as a rebuke to hypocrites, who boasted of their fastings, and contrasted them with the censures of the prophets; as if they were the true worshippers of God, and were unjustly rebuked. I differ from those who think that the people blame God for treating them harshly during their captivity. On the contrary, it appears to me that they complain of the prophets for rebuking them with great sharpness and severity; for the Jews wished to be regarded as devout and religious persons, and could not patiently endure to be condemned for impiety and wickedness. For this reason the Prophet exposes their dispositions, and shows that they make war with God, that they may not suppose that they have to deal with him as a private individual.
Ye find pleasure and exact all your labors. In the second part of the verse he refutes, in the name of God, those virtues which hypocrites proclaim with the sound of a trumpet. It is, because they do not nevertheless lay aside the sinful dispositions of the flesh, or begin to deny themselves; for he condemns them chiefly on the ground of having been devoted to their desires, and next he enumerates particular kinds of vices. Hence we may easily infer that their heart is not moved by any anxiety to repent.
4.Behold, for strife and contention ye fast. This verse ought to be connected with the end of the preceding verse; for, having in the former clause introduced hypocrites as complaining of the violence and harshness of the prophets, he assigns, in the latter clause, the reason why the Lord loathes their fasts and their other performances. It is because they do not proceed from pure affection of heart. What the inclination of their heart is, he shows from its fruits; for he sends them back to the duties of the second table, from which it is easily seen what we are. Purity of heart is manifested by our living innocently, and abstaining from all deceit and injustice. These are the marks of pure affection, in the absence of which the Lord rejects, and even abhors, all external worship. Wherever, on the other hand, cheating, and plunder, and extortion prevail, it is very certain that there is no fear of God.
Thus he reproaches hypocrites with making their fasts to give greater encouragement to sin, and with giving a looser rein to their lusts. We have experience of this every day. Not only do many people fast in order to atone for their cheating and robberies, and to plunder more freely, but even that, during the time of the fast, they may have greater leisure for examining their accounts, perusing documents, and calculating usury, and contriving methods by which they may lay hold on the property of their debtors. On that account they frequently throw this labor on Lent and on the stated times of fasts; and, in like manner, other notable hypocrites hear many Masses every day, that they may more freely, and with less interruption, and under the pretense of religion, contrive their cheating and treachery.
Fast not, as ye do this day. At length he rejects their fasts, however highly they may value them; because in this manner the wrath of God is still more provoked. Immediately afterwards he rejects also their prayers.
That ye may make your voice to be heard on high. (120) Hence it is evident, (as we have explained fully in our exposition of Isaiah 1:11,) that God approves of no duties which are not accompanied by sincere uprightness of heart. Certainly no sacrifice is more excellent than calling upon God; and yet we see how all prayers are stained and polluted by impurity of heart. Besides, in consequence of fasting being usually joined to prayer, the Prophet takes this for granted; for it is an appendage to prayer, he therefore forbids such men to offer up solemn prayer accompanied by fasting; because they will gain nothing, except that the Lord will punish them more severely. And hence we infer (as has been already said) that the Lord pays no regard to external works, if they be not preceded by sincere fear of God.
Such fasting as was customary among the Jews is not here blamed in itself, as if it were a superstitious ceremony, but abuse of fasting, and false confidence. This ought to be carefully observed; for we would need to deal very differently with the Papists, if we blamed their fasts. They contain nothing but superstition, being tied to this or that day, or to fixed seasons, as if during the rest of the time they were at liberty to gormandize; while they think that the flesh is unclean, and yet allow every kind of indulgence to it; provided only that they do not once gormandize on a fastday, they think that they have discharged their duty admirably well. Since therefore there is nothing in them that can be approved, we may absolutely condemn them.
But the dispute on this occasion was different. That fasting which the Jews observed was laudable in itself, because God had appointed it; but a false opinion respecting it was censurable. Among the Papists, on the other hand, we must condemn both the false opinion and the institution itself; because it is wicked. The Papists have this in common with the Jews, that they think that they serve God by it, and that it is a meritorious work. Yet fasting is not the worship of God, and is not in itself commanded by him, in the same manner as those works which he enjoins in the Law; but it is an external exercise, which is auxiliary to prayer, or is useful for subduing the flesh, or testifying our humiliation, when, as guilty persons, we implore that the wrath of God may be turned away in adversity. But the reader will find the use and design of fasting more fully discussed in our Institutes. (Book 4, chapter 12:1521)
5.Is it such a fast as I have chosen? He confirms the preceding statement, and shows that fasting is neither desired nor approved by God in itself, but so far as it is directed to its true end. He did not wish that it should be altogether abolished, but the improper use of it; that is, because they believed the worship of God to consist in it, and by neglecting or even despising true godliness, thought that bodily exercise was enough; just as hypocrites always put forward external ceremonies, as if they were satisfactions to appease God.
Again, because men, through their rashness, define what is the worship of God, he expressly refers us to his own will, that we may not suppose that he approves of everything which our own judgment pronounces to be right. Although men are well pleased with themselves, and swell with astonishing haughtiness, and indulge in insolent boasting, the Lord rejects and abhors them, because he claims for himself alone the right to “choose.” Now, “to choose” a thing is of the same import as “to take pleasure in it.”
And hanging his head like a bulrush. He says that he is not delighted if a man passes a day in hunger, and then walks with a sad and downcast look. The Prophet employs all appropriate metaphor; because the bulrush, though it is straight, is easily bent. So hypocrites bend themselves, and bow down the head, as if under the influence of oppressive leanness, or display some empty appearance of humility. The Prophet therefore intended to censure superstitious attitudes, in which hypocrites imagine that there is some holiness.
And spread sackcloth and ashes. These things also were added to fasting, especially when they made solemn professions of repentance; for they clothed themselves with “sackcloth,” and threw “ashes” on their head. (Joel 1:13) Now, such an exercise was holy and approved by God; and we see that the prophets, while they exhort the people to repentance, cry aloud for “sackcloth and ashes.” But as we have said that fasting is not here condemned on its own account, so Isaiah does not condemn those outward ceremonies, but reproves hypocrites for separating them from reality.
If it be asked, Are “sackcloth” and “ashes” suitable to our time? I reply, they are indifferent matters, which may be used for edification; but in the light of the Gospel, which has brought liberty to us, we have no need of such figures. At the same time, we should attend to the difference between Eastern nations, which make use of a great abundance and variety of ceremonies, and Western nations, whose habits are far more simple. If we wished to imitate the former, it would be nothing else than to enact the part of apes, or of stageplayers. Yet there is nothing to hinder those who intend to confess their guilt, from wearing soiled and faltered garments, after the manner used by suppliants. (121)
A day acceptable to Jehovah. Hence it is evident that to solemn prayer, when a holy assembly was held, there was added fasting; for fasting, as we have already said, is an appendage to prayer; as we see that it was added to prayer by Christ himself. (Matthew 17:21) It is not appointed, therefore, for its own sake, but is directed to a different end.
6.Is not this the fast which I have chosen? The Prophet shows what are the real duties of piety, and what God chiefly recommends to us; namely, to relieve those who are wretched and pressed with a heavy burden. But the Prophet appears to abolish fasting universally, when, in place of it, he enumerates those works which are most highly acceptable to God. I reply, fasting is approved when it is accompanied by that love which we owe to our fellowmen; and therefore the Prophet directs that we shall be tried by this principle, that our consciences be entire and pure, that we exercise mutual kindness towards each other; for if this order prevail, then fasting, which shall be added to it, will be pleasing and acceptable to God. But here he does not at all mention purity of heart. I reply, it is described by works, as by its fruits, from which it is easily seen what kind of heart we have. Next, he enumerates the duties of the Second Table, under which, as we have elsewhere seen, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, he includes the whole observation of the Law; for it would not be enough to assist our neighbor by kind offices, if at the same time we despised God. But we must observe the Prophet’s design; because the love which we owe to our neighbors cannot be sincerely cultivated, unless when we love them in God. In order to make trial of our fear of God, he demands these as more immediate signs, if we live justly, inoffensively, and kindly with each other. Besides, he was not satisfied with outward appearance; and indeed the love of our neighbor does not thrive where the Spirit of God does not reign; and therefore Paul includes it in the enumeration of “the works of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22) Thus when the observation of the Law is spoken of, not only outward works, but likewise the dispositions of the heart, must be taken into the account.
To loose wicked bindings. Some explain it to mean “sinful thoughts,” by which the hearts of men are entangled. But Isaiah appears to me to have had another object in view, namely, that hypocrites are exceedingly cruel in distressing the poor, and lay heavy burdens upon them. He therefore calls them “bonds,” or “bindings,” or, as we commonly say, “oppressions.” Of the same import is what he adds, to undo the heavy burdens, under the weight of which the poor groan and are overwhelmed. he again adds, “to let the oppressed go free,” and expresses the same thing in a variety of words. Thus the Prophet does not define what is meant by “fasting,” but shows what the Lord requires in the first place and chiefly, and in what manner our obedience can be approved by him, and what ought to be the dispositions of those who endeavor to fast in a right manner.
7.Is it not to break thy bread to the hungry? He goes on to describe the duties of love of our neighbor, which he had described briefly in the preceding verse; for, having formerly said that we must abstain from every act of injustice, he now shows that we ought to exercise kindness towards the wretched, and those who need our assistance. Uprightness and righteousness are divided into two parts; first, that we should injure nobody; and secondly, that we should bestow our wealth and abundance on the poor and needy. And these two ought to be joined together; for it is not enough to abstain from acts of injustice, if thou refuse thy assistance to the needy; nor will it be of much avail to render thine aid to the needy, if at the same time thou rob some of that which thou bestowest on others. Thou must not relieve thy neighbors by plunder or theft.; and if thou hast committed any act of injustice, or cruelty, or extortion, thou must not, by a pretended compensation, call on God to receive a share of the plunder. These two parts, therefore, must be held together, provided only that we have our love of our neighbor approved and accepted by God.
By commanding them to “break bread to the hungry, (122) he intended to take away every excuse from covetous and greedy men, who allege that they have a right to keep possession of that which is their own. “This is mine, and therefore I may keep it for myself. Why should I make common property of that which God has given me?“ He replies, “It is indeed thine, but on this condition, that thou share it with the hungry and thirsty, not that thou eat it thyself alone.” And indeed this is the dictate of common sense, that the hungry are deprived of their just right, if their hunger is not relieved. That sad spectacle extorts compassion even from the cruel and barbarous. He next enumerates various kinds, which commonly bend hearts of iron to συμπάθειαν fellowfeeling or compassion; that the savage disposition of those who are not moved by feeling for a brother’s poverty and necessity may be the less excusable. At length he concludes —
And that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh. Here we ought to observe the term flesh, by which he means all men universally, not one of whom we can behold, without seeing, as in a mirror, “our own flesh.” It is therefore a proof of the greatest inhumanity, to despise those in whom we are constrained to recognize our own likeness.
8.Then shall break forth as the dawn (123) thy light. The Prophet shows that God is not too rigorous, and does not demand from us more than what is proper; and that hypocrites complain of him without cause, when they accuse him of excessive severity. When their works are condemned, they murmur, and reply that God can never be satisfied, that they do not know what they should do, or what course they should follow. He replies that he demands nothing else than a pure and honest heart, that is, an upright conscience; that if they have this, God will graciously receive them, and will bear testimony to their holiness, and will bestow every kind of blessing on those whose faults he justly chastises; and lastly, that there is no reason why they should murmur at him as excessively stern and harsh, because they will find him to be kind and bountiful when they shall lay down all hypocrisy, and devote themselves sincerely to his service.
We should observe the particle then; for it means that hypocrites, on the contrary, are very far from the true worship of God, though they wish to be reckoned very holy persons. But he holds them to be fully convicted, when he shows from their works that they neither worship nor fear God. By the word light he means prosperity, as by the word “darkness” is meant a wretched and afflicted life; and this mode of expression occurs frequently in Scripture.
And thy health. By “health” he means prosperity and safety, as we shall afterwards see in another passage, because the wounds inflicted by the hand of God on account of their sins had brought the people so low that they wasted away like a sick man under terrible disease. No kind of disease is more severe than to be pursued by God’s righteous vengeance, or consumed under his curse.
Righteousness shall go before thy face. “Righteousness” may be taken in two senses, either for the testimony of “righteousness,” or for good order; because God will put an end to the confusion, and will restore everything to its proper place. Thus the former meaning amounts to this, “When God shall be pacified towards thee, the testimony of thy righteousness shall be visible before God and men, as if some herald went before thee.” There are some who prefer to expound the word “righteousness” as meaning just government, which is the gift of God, and a token of his kindness as a Father; and we have seen that this word is sometimes used in that sense by Hebrew writers. But the latter clause which follows, And the glory of Jehovah will gather thee, leads me to prefer the former exposition, “Thy righteousness shall go forth;“ that is, “All shall acknowledge thee to be holy and righteous, though formerly thou wast guilty and convicted. So shalt thou also be adorned with the glory of the Lord, though formerly thou wast loaded with reproaches.” For we are reproached and disgraced, while we suffer the punishment of our sins.
9.Then shalt thou call. Isaiah follows out what he had formerly begun, that everything shall prosper well with the Jews, if they shall be just and inoffensive and free from doing wrong to any one, so that it shall manifest their piety and religion. He pronounces what is said by Hosea, (Hosea 6:6) and repeated by Christ, that “mercy shall be preferred to sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13) Thus after having spoken of the duties which men owe to one another, and testified that it shall be well with those who shall perform those duties, he adds, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will listen to thee.” The chief part of our happiness is, if God listen to us; and, on the other hand, nothing could be more miserable than to have him for an enemy. In order to try our faith, he attributes to our prayers what he bestows willingly and by free grace; for if he always bestowed his blessings while we were asleep, the desire to pray would become utterly cold, and indeed would cease altogether; and so the kindness of God would be an encouragement to slothfulness. Although he anticipates us by his free grace, yet he wishes that our prayers for his blessings should be offered, and therefore he adds, Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Behold, here I am. This promise likewise contains an exhortation, that we may not lie idle. When he says that he is present, this indeed is not visible to our eyes; but he gives a practical declaration that he is near and reconciled to us.
If thou shalt take away from the midst of thee the yoke. In the latter part of the verse he again repeats that God will be reconciled to the Jews if they repent. Under the word “yoke” he includes all the annoyances that are offered to the poor; as if he had said, “If thou shalt cease to annoy thy brethren, and shalt abstain from all violence and deceit, the Lord will bestow upon thee every kind of blessing.”
And the pointing of the finger. (124) This includes every kind of attack; for we are said to “point the finger,” when we threaten our neighbors, or treat them cruelly, or offer any violence.
And speech of vanity, or unprofitable speech. This is the third class of acts of injustice, by which we injure our neighbor when we impose upon him by cunning and deceitful words or flatteries; for every iniquity consists either of concealed malice and deceit, or of open violence.
Quum fortunic ipsi minaci
Mandaret ]aqueum, mediumque ostenderet unguem.
On this passage scholiasts observe, that it was an ancient custom, when any person was the object of scorn, or was treated with marked contempt or disgraceful reproach, to point at him by holding out the middle finger.” Rosenmuller.
10.If thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry. He goes on to recommend the duties of that love which we owe to one another. The sum of the whole discourse is this, that in vain do men serve God, if they only offer to him trivial and bare ceremonies; and that this is not the right and proper worship of God, who rigidly commands and enjoins us to lead an upright and innocent life with our neighbors, willingly to give ourselves and our labors to them, and to be ready to assist, them readily and cheerfully, whenever it is necessary. We should observe the two parts of this duty which the Prophet has expressly described; for in the first place, he recommends to us the feeling of mercy and kindness; and, in the second place, he exhorts us to the work itself and the effect. It would not be enough to perform acts of kindness towards men, if our disposition towards them were not warm and affectionate. “If I give all my goods to the poor,” says Paul, “and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) To “pour out the soul,” therefore, is nothing else than to bewail their distresses, and to be as much affected by their own poverty as if we ourselves endured it; as, on the other hand, all who are limited and devoted to themselves are said to have a hard and seared heart, to “shut up their bowels,” (1 John 3:17) and to restrain their feelings. (125) Another translation given by some commentators, “If thou shalt offer thy soul,” is unworthy of notice.
Thy light shall arise in darkness. Again, there follows the same promise, and under the same figure or metaphor. By “darkness” he denotes adversity, and by “light” prosperity; as if he had said to the people, “The Lord will cause all the miseries by which thou art now oppressed to cease, and sudden prosperity shall spring up.” He shows, therefore, that there is no reason why they should blame God for punishing them so severely; for they would immediately be delivered and enjoy prosperity if they sincerely worshipped and obeyed God.
11.And Jehovah will always conduct thee. He now describes more clearly what he had spoken briefly and figuratively, that God will be their guide, so that they shall be in want of nothing for a full abundance of blessings. God is said to “conduct” us, when we actually feel that he goes before us, as if he were placed before our eyes.
And will satisfy thy soul in drought. The Prophet adds that the aid promised shall not be of short duration, because God never forsakes his people in the middle of the journey, but continues his kindness towards them with unwearied regularity, and for this reason promises that they shall be satisfied amidst the deepest poverty; because God never is in want of any benefits for relieving their poverty, and his act of blessing is of more value than the most abundant rains of the whole year. And yet he does not promise to believers a rich and abundant produce of fruits, or a plentiful harvest, but that God will nourish them, though the earth yield no food. In this way he bids them depend on God’s assistance and be satisfied with it, though they be not altogether free from the distresses of famine. In this sense he adds, —
And will make fat thy bones. He does not say that they shall be fully and highly fattened, but that they shall be so lean that the “bones” shall protrude even through the skin. Thus he gives the appellation of” bones” to those who have been worn bare by hunger or famine, men who have hardly anything remaining but dry skin and “bones;” and he means that the Jews will have to contend with want of all things and with leanness, till God shall restore them.
Of the same import are the metaphors which he adds, a watered garden, and a spring of waters. Isaiah cannot satisfy himself in describing the kindness of God, which he displays towards his sincere worshippers, that men may not seek anywhere else than in themselves the causes of barrenness. It amounts to this, that this fountain of God’s kindness never dries up, but always flows, if we do not stop its course by our own fault.
12.And from thee shall be those who shall restore the deserts of the age. By “deserts” Isaiah means frightful desolation, which befell the Jews, when they were carried into captivity; for the country was reduced to a wilderness, the city was sacked, the temple was razed, and the people were brought into bondage and scattered. He calls them “deserts of the age,” (or of perpetuity,) because the temple could not be immediately repaired, and there was no hope of rebuilding it or of delivering the people. If any city has been ruined or destroyed, while its inhabitants remain, it may be speedily restored; but if none of the inhabitants survive, and if they have been carried away into a distant country, and are very far off, there can be no hope of rebuilding that city; and it will be reckoned monstrous if, after it has lain for a long time in ruins, some person shall say that the people who appear to have perished shall restore and rebuild it.
Since therefore the promise appeared to be incredible, the Prophet intended to meet the doubt; for they might have objected, “If God wishes to restore us, why does he suffer us to languish so long?” He replies that no continuance of delay prevents God from raising again to a lofty situation those who had been sunk low for a long period. Nor must this be limited to the rebuilding of the temple, which was begun by Zerubbabel, (Ezekiel 3:8) and continued by Nehemiah; but it includes the restoration of the Church, which followed after the lapse of several centuries.
The phrase “From thee,” means that from that people, though seemingly half dead, there shall arise those who shall repair the melancholy ruins, and shall be architects or workmen to rebuild Jerusalem. The verb בנו (banu) “shall build,” is translated by some in a passive sense; but as that way renders the meaning doubtful, the active signification ought to be retained. (126) A little afterwards, he appears to ascribe to the whole people what he had said of a few individuals; but the meaning is the same; for, if the question be put, “Who rebuilt Jerusalem?“ undoubtedly it was that people; but out of that vast multitude the Lord selected a small number and cut off the rest. Some suppose the meaning to be, that the cities will be insufficient for the number of inhabitants, so that they shall be constrained to rebuild other cities which had been formerly destroyed; but this appears to be too unnatural.
Thou wilt raise up the foundations of generation and generation. Some think that this clause conveys what the Prophet had formerly said, and that by “the foundations of generation and generation” are meant those which lay long in a ruinous state; because out of them must the building be immediately raised and set up; for various hinderances had arisen, by which that work was interrupted. But we may view it as referring to the time to come: “Thou wilt raise up buildings, which shall last for a very long period;” for he seems to promise that the condition of the Church shall be of long duration; as if he had said, “Other buildings do not last long, but this shall last for many ages.” Yet if any one prefer to view it as referring to the past, I am not much disposed to dispute with him.
And thou shalt be called. Here the Prophet includes both statements; namely, that the people would resemble a ruined building, and next, that they would be perfectly restored. He ascribes this to the Jews, that they shall be repairers and directors of the ways; that is, that the Lord will make use of their labors; for we ought to ascribe everything to the power of God, who is pleased to bestow upon us so high an honor as to permit our hands to be applied to his work. We have here a remarkable promise about gathering and raising up the ruins of the Church; and since the Lord is pleased to make use of our labor, let us not hesitate to be entirely devoted to it; and although the world oppose and mock at us, and account us fools, let us take courage and conquer every difficulty. Our hearts ought to cherish assured confidence, when we know that it is the work of the Lord, and that he has commanded us to execute it.
13.If thou shalt turn away thy foot from the sabbath. Some think that the Prophet alludes to the external observation of the Sabbath, because it was not lawful to perform a journey on that day. (Exodus 20:8) Though I do not reject that opinion, yet I think that the meaning is far more extensive; for by a figure of speech, ill which a part is taken for the whole, he denotes the whole course of human life; as it is very customary to employ the word “going” or “walking” to denote our life. He says, therefore, “If thou cease to advance in thy course, if thou shut up thy path, walk not according to thine own will,”’ etc. For this is to “turn away the foot from the Sabbath,” when we lay ourselves under the necessity of wandering freely and without restraint in our own sinful desires. As he formerly included under the class of fasting all ceremonies and outward masks, in which they made their holiness to consist, and showed that they were vain and unprofitable; so in this passage he points out the true observation of the Sabbath, that they may not think that it consists in external idleness but in true selfdenial, so as to abstain from every act of injustice and wickedness, and from all lusts and wicked thoughts. First, by the word “foot” he denotes actions; because the Jews, though they did not venture to perform a journey, or to cook flesh on a Sabbathday, yet did not scruple to harass their neighbors and to mock at the afflicted. Yet he immediately passes on to the will and to speeches, so as to include every part of the obedience which we owe to God.
And shalt call the Sabbath a delight This word, “delight,” must be viewed as referring to God, and not to men; because nothing can be more pleasing or acceptable to God, titan the observation of the Sabbath, and sincere worship. He carefully inculcates this, that men do wrong, if, laying aside the commandments of God, they esteem highly those things which are of no value; and he warns them that they ought to form their judgment from his will alone. Certain classes of duties are again enumerated by him, by which he shows clearly that the true observation of the Sabbath consists in selfdenial and thorough conversion. And thus he pronounces the foundation to be the will, from which proceed speeches, and next actions; for we speak what we have conceived in our heart, and by speech we make known our will, and afterwards carry it into effect. Whoever then wishes to serve God in a proper manner, must altogether renounce his flesh and his will. And hence we see the reason why God so highly recommends, in the whole Scripture, the observation of the Sabbath; for he contemplated something higher than the outward ceremony, that is, indolence and repose, in which the Jews thought that the greatest holiness consisted. On the contrary, he commanded the Jews to renounce the desires of the flesh, to give up their sinful inclinations, and to yield obedience to him; as no man can meditate on the heavenly life, unless he be dead to the world and to himself. Now, although that ceremony has been abolished, nevertheless the truth remains; because Christ died and rose again, so that we have a continual sabbath; that is, we are released from our works, that the Spirit of God may work mightily in us.
14.Then wilt thou delight in Jehovah. He appears to allude to the word delight in the preceding verse; for the verb תתעגג (tithgnanneg) which the Prophet employs, is derived from the same root as עגג (gnoneg) which he formerly used, when he said that the Lord takes the highest delight in the true observation of the Sabbath. In a word, he means that the people take no delight in God, because they provoke him, and do not obey his will; for if we framed our life in obedience to God, we should be his delight, and, on the other hand, he would be our delight. Thus he affirms that it is owing entirely to the Jews themselves that they do not, by relying on a reconciled God, lead a cheerful and joyful life. By these words he indirectly reproaches them with bringing upon themselves, by their own fault, many calamities.
And I will cause thee to ride on the high places of the earth. By these words he promises a return to their native country, and a safe habitation in it. We know that Judea was situated on a lofty place above the neighboring countries; while the situation of Babylon was much lower, so that the people trembled as if they had been shut up in a cave. He next tells more plainly what he meant by the word ride (127) for he promises the possession of that country which had been promised and given to the fathers, (128) and which they at that time enjoyed, and of which they were afterwards deprived for a time.
For the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. He added this, that they might know, beyond all controversy, that all these things were true; and this must be viewed as referring not only to those promises, but likewise to the beginning of the chapter. For he rebuked hypocrites, who thought that they were defending themselves in a just cause, and showed that they were suffering the just punishment of their sins; and that it was in vain to contend with God, and to bring forward in opposition to him their own works, which were altogether empty and worthless. On that account he brings them back to the true observation of the Sabbath, and shows that it will be well with them, if they shall worship God in a right manner. At length he concludes that they have not to deal with a mortal man, but that he who pronounces these things is God the Judge.“The whole phrase is descriptive, not of a mere return to Palestine, the highest of all lands (Kimchi), nor of more security from enenfies by being placed beyond their reach (Vitringa), but of conquest and triumphant possession, as in Deuteronomy 32:13, from which the expression is derived by all the later writers who employ it.” Alexander.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 58". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany