1.Behold, the hand of Jehovah is not shortened. This discourse closely resembles the preceding one; for, after having torn off the mask from hypocrites, who vainly boasted of themselves, and after having shown that the punishment inflicted on them was just, he now replies to other objections. Hypocrites are wont to accuse God either of weakness or of excessive severity. He shows, therefore, that he does not want either power or will to save his people, but that he is prevented by their wickedness from exercising his kindness towards them; and therefore that they do wrong in blaming God, and in uttering those slanders against him, when they ought, on the contrary, to accuse themselves.
The word הן (hen) “behold,” is emphatic, as if the Prophet spoke of something actually present, and pointed it out with the finger, for the sake of expressing certainty, in order to cut off a handle from hypocrites, that they might no longer practice evasion. We must also supply the contrasts to the words “shortened” and “benumbed;“ as if he had said, that formerly there were abundant resources in the hand of God to render assistance to his people, and that he always was ready to be reconciled and lent a willing car to prayers, and that now he is not unlike himself, (129) as if either his hand were broken or his ears grown dull, so that he did not hear distinctly.
2.But your iniquities have made a separation. The amount of what is said is, that they cannot say that God has changed, as if he had swerved from his natural disposition, but that the whole blame lies with themselves; because by their own sins they, in some measure, prevent his kindness, and refuse to receive his assistance. Hence we infer that our sins alone deprive us of the grace of God, and cause separation between us and him; for what the Prophet testifies as to the men of his time is applicable to all ages; since he pleads the cause of God, against the slanders of wicked men. Thus God is always like himself, and is not wearied in doing good; and his power is not diminished, but we hinder the entrance of his grace.
It will be objected, that men cannot anticipate God by deserving well of him, and that consequently he must do good to those who are unworthy. I reply, this is undoubtedly true; but sometimes the frowardness of men grows to such an extent as to shut the door against God’s benefits, as if they purposely intended to drive him far away from them. And although he listens to no man without pardoning him, as we always bring before him supplication for the removal of guilt, yet he does not listen to the prayers of the wicked. We need not wonder, therefore, if the Prophet accuse the people of rejecting God’s benefits by their iniquities, and rendering him irreconcilable by their obstinacy, and, in a word, of making a divorce, which drives away or turns aside the ordinary course of grace.
3.For your hands. He now brings forward their actions, that they may not practice evasion, or call in question what are those sins which have “caused the separation.” He therefore takes away from them every excuse, by bringing forward particular instances, as if their shameful life were exhibited on an open stage. Now, he speaks in the second person, because, like an advocate, he argues and pleads the cause of God, and therefore speaks of himself as not belonging to the rank of the wicked, with whom he did not wish to be classed, though he was not entirely free from sin, but feared and served God, and enjoyed liberty of conscience. No man could be at liberty to condemn others, who was involved in the guilt of the same vices; and no man could be qualified for pleading the cause of God, who deprived himself of his right by living wickedly. We must be unlike those whom we reprove, if we do not wish to expose our doctrine to ridicule, and to be reckoned impudent; and, on the other band, when we serve God with a pure conscience, our doctrine obtains weight and authority, and holds even adversaries to be more fully convicted.
Are polluted with blood. The picture which he gives of the wicked life of the people is not superfluous; for men seek various subterfuges, and cannot be reduced to a state of obedience, unless they have previously acknowledged their sins. By mentioning blood, he does not mean that murders have been everywhere committed; but by this word he describes the cruelty, extortions, violence, and enormities, which were perpetrated by hypocrites against the poor and defenseless; for they had not to deal with robbers and assassins, but with the king and the nobles, who were highly respected and honored. He calls them manslayers, because they cruelly harassed the innocent, and seized by force and violence the property of others; and so, immediately afterwards he uses the word “iniquity” instead of “blood.”
And your fingers with iniquity. Though he appears to extend the discourse farther, yet it is a repetition, or rather, a reduplication, such as is frequently employed by Hebrew writers, accompanied by amplification; for he expresses more by “fingers” than by “hands;“ as if he had said that not even the smallest part was free from unjust violence. (130)
Your lips have uttered falsehood. Next, he takes notice of one kind of wickedness, that is, when men deceive each other by tricks, or falsehood, or perjury; for that iniquity by which we wound our neighbors is most frequently defended either by cruelty as a bodyguard, or by cheating and falsehood. Here the Prophet takes a rapid view of the second table, and, from the crimes which they commit against it, he shows that they are wicked and destitute of all fear of God; for cruelty and treachery, by which human society is infringed, proceed from contempt of God. Thus from “the hands,” that is, from extortion and violence, he descends to falsehoods and deceitful practices, to perjuries and crafty devices, by which we take advantage of our neighbors.
4.There is none that crieth for justice. He means that there is not among them any study of what is right or proper, that no man opposes the acts of injustice which are committed by the strong on the weak; and that this leads to growing licentiousness, because all wink at it, and there is none who cares about undertaking the defense of justice. It is not enough that we abstain from violence, if we do not, as far as lies in our power, hinder it from being committed by others. And, indeed, whoever permits what he is able to hinder does in some sense command it; so that silence is a sort of consent.
None that contendeth for truth. This clause is of the same import as the preceding one. Some take נשפט (nishpat) in a passive sense, and suppose the Prophet’s meaning to be, “None is rightly judged; for everything is full of corruptions, and yet nobody makes opposition.” But the active signification is more appropriate; for these two statements are closely connected with each other, that “None crieth for justice” and “None defendeth truth or uprightness.” The rendering given by some, “No man judgeth himself truly,” is rather too harsh. But because this verb in Niphal is taken, in many passages, for “to contend,” (131) the whole passage appeared to run more freely thus: that “none comes forward to protect what is right, openly and loudly to defend justice, and to plead against the wicked.” Yet it will perhaps be thought preferable to view the words “cry for justice” as referring to wretched persons who are unjustly harassed; as if he had said that they are dumb, because they would gain nothing by crying. But this would also be harsh.
If God condemns so severely those who pay no attention to the righteous causes of men, and do not aid such as are in difficulties, what shall become of us, if no zeal for defending the glory of God prompt us to rebuke iniquities? If we wink at the mockeries by which wicked men jeer at God’s sacred doctrine and profane his name; if we pay no attention to the efforts which they make to destroy the Church of God, shall not our silence be justly condemned for treachery? (132) In a word, Isaiah says that good order falls into decay through our fault, if we do not, as far as we can, resist the wicked.
They trust in vain things. He next points out that this is extreme confusion, when no one rises up in defense of justice. When he says that they “trust in vain things,” he means that they heap up perverse reliances, by means of which they bring upon themselves insensibility. This is the utmost verge of iniquity, when, by seeking flatteries on every hand, they willingly harden themselves to despise God; and by such allurements Satan caresses the reprobate, till he altogether enchants them, so that, shaking off all fear of God, they not only despise sound counsels, but become haughty and fearless mockers. Since therefore foolhardiness drives us headlong, when we place false hopes in opposition to the judgment of God, the Prophet has good reason for representing, as a mark of desperate malice, this confidence under which cunning men shelter themselves; because the disease is manifestly incurable, when men who are openly wicked do not hesitate to flatter themselves, and, relying on their obstinate wickedness, think that they are at liberty to do whatever they please.
They talk idly. He adds that their conversation tells plainly what is the nature of their dispositions and morals; as the proverb says, that “the tongue is the image of the mind.” Yet this clause may be explained in two ways; either that they speak nothing sincerely, but, by constant practice, their tongues are formed to deceive, or, that their wickedness breaks out into open boasting. For my own part, I prefer the latter of these expositions.
They conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. These are elegant metaphors, by which he compares wicked men to women, who support the child in the womb, and afterwards give birth to it. Thus he says that the wicked, while they inwardly contrive their crimes, may be said to be pregnant till they bring forth in due time; that is, when they have found occasions and opportunities. “They conceive,” he says, “purposes of mischief, that afterwards they may unjustly harass simple persons;” as if he had said, that they make preparation for their crimes by long meditation, and are always ready for any mischief; because they do not cease to search in every quarter for indirect methods of annoying those who are giving them no disturbance.
5.They hatch the eggs of the basilisk. The Prophet proceeds farther, comparing the Jews not only to women, but to venomous beasts; so as to make it more evident that everything that proceeds from them is destructive and deadly. First, then, he says, that “they hatch the eggs of the basilisk;“ because, as a viper cannot lay an egg that is not venomous, so they are so inured to wickedness, and so full of it, that they can throw out nothing but poison. (133)
And weave the webs of spiders. By “the webs of spiders” he means that they are so barren and destitute of anything good, that even by the appearance of virtues they deceive. By two marks he describes wicked men; first, that the works which they perform manifest their corrupt nature; secondly, that they are of no value whatever, and. contribute nothing towards making them kind, amiable, charitable, and faithful to those with whom they have intercourse. I am aware that it is explained ill a different manner by other commentators; namely, that the wicked, while they are contriving the destruction of others, ruin themselves, and, while they think that they are industrious, labor fruitlessly and to no purpose; that “they are snared in their own nets,” (Psalms 9:15) and “fall into the pit which they had digged.” (Psalms 7:15) But I am of opinion that the Prophet meant what I have now said; namely, that the wicked do mischief in all places, at all times, and in all transactions, and that they never do anything good; and that every person who has anything to do with them will find them to be venomous and destructive. Such is the import of what he says, that in their eggs there lurks a deadly venom, and that, if they are broken, a serpent will come out of them.
6.Their webs shall not be for clothing. He repeats and confirms the same statement, that everything that they attempt or undertake is always useless to mankind; because they purposely shrink from all acts of kindness. Now, it is an indication of a mind utterly abandoned, to devote themselves to evil deeds in such a manner, that no advantage of any kind can be expected from the life of him who desires to be barren and destitute of all justice. Others explain it, that they will toil unsuccessfully to acquire wealth and to rise to honor. But I consider the meaning to be more simple, that no man will “cover himself with their works,” because in their texture there is nothing solid or durable. (134)
By various modes of expression he inculcates the same thing, in order to demonstrate that their works yield no advantage whatever. But we were born for this end, that we should yield assistance to our neighbors, and, in our turn, contribute something to the general good. Thus they are savage beasts, and ought not to be called men, who are only skillful to do mischief, and labor with all their might to avoid doing good. he immediately adds, without a figure, that they are given up, and, as it were, devoted to iniquity.
7.Their feet run to evil. In various ways he paints to us the picture of what may be called extreme wickedness; that is, when men, having shaken off and cast away from them the fear of God, throw themselves into every kind of wickedness, and break out into all cruelty, extortion, and outrage. He says that they run, because they are eager and hasten with excessive keenness to evil actions. Having formerly spoken of the “hands” and the “tongues,” he likewise adds the feet, in order to show that they are proficients (135) in every kind of villainy, and that there is no part of their body that is entirely free from crime. Some are violent, but restrain their tongues. (136) Others resemble harpies, but are satisfied with the first prey that they meet with. But the Prophet says that his countrymen are swift of foot for committing robberies. (137)
Wasting and destruction are in their paths. He means that, wherever they go, they will resemble wild beasts, which seize and devour whatever they meet with, and leave nothing behind, so that, by their terrific onset, they drive away every kind of animals from venturing to approach to them. Pliny makes use of the same comparison, when speaking of Domitian, whose arrival was like that of a savage beast. The same thing happens with other violent men, whom all avoid as wild beasts. And in this manner their ways are rendered desolate and solitary, when none have any intercourse with them.
8.The way of peace they know not. Some give an ingenious interpretation of the word “peace” as meaning a “peaceful” conscience; because the wicked must endure continual agony. But the Prophet summons wicked men to judgment, in order to show, by the transgression of the Second Table, that they have no sincerity and no kindness, and, in a word, that they are ἀστόργους without natural affection. He says that “they know not the way of peace;“ because their cruelty deprives them of justice and equity, by which human society is maintained, the very food of which is mutual peace and kindness; for justice and integrity are nourished by peace. And if every person, with unbridled rage, rush on his neighbors and attack them, there is then open war; for harmony cannot be preserved among us, unless equity be observed by every individual. (138)
And judgment is not in their steps. What he had just before said is expressed more clearly by the word “Judgment;” as if he had said, that they excite terror wherever they go, because they lay aside all integrity.
Whosoever walketh by them. The last clause may be taken in various senses; either, “Whosoever walketh in them shall also be a stranger to peace,” or, “He who falleth into the hands of the wicked shall find them to be savage and barbarous.” Either of those meanings is admissible, and I do not think it worth while to dispute much about them. Thus, after having spoken in general terms, and after having shown that it is not God who prevents the Jews from being prosperous, the Prophet descends to particulars, by which he explains more fully the manner in which they have become estranged from God, and have rendered themselves unworthy of his favor.
Here arises a difficulty; for Paul (Romans 3:17) quotes this passage for the purpose of condemning all mankind as being sinful and corrupted, and as having nothing good; while the Prophet appears to apply it especially to the men of his own time. But the answer is easy; for, while he expressly addresses the Jews, who thought that they were holier than other men, the Gentiles must also be included along with them. If it be objected that the Gentiles, while they live uprightly, “are a law to themselves,” (Romans 2:14) and that “uncircumcision is counted as circumcision,” (Romans 2:26) I reply that the Prophet represents God as complaining of all who have not been renewed by the Spirit of God. In this manner no man can be excepted, if he be viewed in his own nature; but the Prophet speaks of himself as not belonging to their number, because he had been regenerated and was guided by the Spirit of God.
Paul’s quotation of this passage was therefore appropriate; because he intended to show what sort of men they are whom God hath forsaken, and who are under the influence of their own nature. Although the depravity of men does not always break out into gross vice, and the Prophet’s design is to rebuke a very corrupt age; yet whenever crimes become so prevalent, we may behold, as in a mirror, what a pool and how deep a pool of every evil thing is the nature of man. And yet this discourse was undoubtedly very distasteful to the Jews, who were puffed up with vain glorying of the family from which they were descended; but since even they were not spared by the Spirit of God, there is no reason why other nations, who are not less sinful by nature, should wallow in their pleasures.
9.Therefore is judgment far from us. After having described how corrupt and depraved was the condition of that people, he likewise shows that the severe chastisements inflicted on them are richly deserved, that they may not complain of being treated with greater harshness and severity than was proper. Thus he has painted, as in a picture, those vices which were publicly known, that they might more fully perceive in how many and how various ways they were guilty before God; and now he again repeats that we need not wonder if God treat such obstinate dispositions with greater severity, and render to them a just reward. He says that “Judgment is far off, because they were the most wretched of all men, and had not God for their protector as formerly.”
And justice doth not overtake us. He employs the words “judgment” and “justice” as denoting God’s guardianship, when he defends us, and shows that he takes care of us. He calls it “justice” when he defends us, and “judgment” when he revenges the injuries done to us. Here he declares that God had cast away the care of his people, and had deprived them of his countenance and aid, because they were unworthy of it; and hence we ought to observe the particle על כן (gnal ken) “therefore;” for he draws the conclusion that we ought not to blame God, as if he acted unjustly towards his people, since in so many ways they had insulted his majesty.
Of the same import is what he adds, that while they look for light, continual darkness sits down upon them; for the metaphor shows that they were almost consumed by their calamities, and that, when they promised to themselves any alleviation, they were disappointed of their hope. Light is a word very frequently employed to denote prosperity, and darkness to denote adversity. He means, therefore, that it will be vain to expect that their condition shall be changed for the better; and his object is, that the people may learn to ascribe their calamities to themselves, and may not imagine that those calamities happen by chance, or that the Lord is excessively severe; for he always endeavors to bring his people to the doctrine of repentance.
10.We grope for the wall like the blind. He explains the same thing by different forms of expression; for, in consequence of the grievous complaints which were heard among the people, he determined to omit nothing that was fitted to describe their calamities. It is perhaps by way of concession (139) that he mentions those things; as if he had said, “Our affairs are reduced to the deepest misery, but we ought chiefly to consider the cause, for we have deserved all this and far worse.” But it is not a probable interpretation, that stupid persons are aroused to think of their evil actions; for, although they are abundantly disposed to complain, yet the devil stupifies them, so that the tokens of God’s anger do not awaken them to repentance, he alludes to that metaphor which he employed in the preceding verse, when he said that the people were in darkness and obscurity, and found no escape; and. his meaning is, that they are destitute of counsel, and overwhelmed by so deep anguish that they have no solace or refuge. When a lighter evil presses upon us, we look around and hope to find some means of escape; but when we are overpowered by heavier distresses, despair takes from us all ability to see or to judge. For this reason the Prophet says that they have been thrown into a labyrinth, and are “groping.”
We stumble. The same thing is expressed, and even in a still more aggravated form, by this mode of expression, that, if they stir a foot, various stumbling blocks meet them on every hand, and, indeed, that there is no alleviation to their distresses, as if day had been changed into night.
In solitary places as dead men. By “solitary places” I understand either gulfs or ruinous and barren regions; for in this passage I willingly follow the version of Jerome, who derives the word אשמנים (ashmannim) from אשם (asham,)”to be desolate.” The Jews, who choose to derive it from שמן (shaman,) to be fat, appear to me to argue idly, and to have no solid ground for their opinion. They think that it denotes men, because שמן (shemen) denotes “ointment,” and say that this word is used for describing the Gentiles. But the true meaning of the Prophet is, that the Jews have been reduced to a wilderness, so that, shut out from the society of men, they resemble the dead, and have no hope of escape.
11.We all roar like bears. He describes two classes of those who cannot silently endure their afflictions without making them known by external signs; for some howl fiercely, and others moan like doves. This latter metaphor was employed by him in describing the groans of Hezekiah, (Isaiah 38:14;) and this happens when we endeavor to restrain our grief, and yet cannot prevent the outward signs of grief from breaking out in spite of us. The meaning is, that sometimes the violence of their grief constrained them to utter loud cries, and sometimes they complained in low and murmuring sounds, but in both cases without avail, because their condition was not changed for the better.
We looked for judgment. He again repeats that in vain they “looked for judgment and salvation,” meaning that the people were deprived of the assistance of God, which he desired above all things; and he makes use of the word salvation, in order to describe more fully and completely what he formerly denoted by the word “justice,” and now again by the word “judgment.” Thence infer that it is by our own fault that we are wretched, and grow old and waste away in our wretchedness, till we are converted to God. We may indeed moan and howl, but can obtain no alleviation of our grief without repentance. There can be no end of our afflictions, so long as we provoke the Lord’s wrath, and do not desire with the whole heart to be reconciled to him.
12.For our iniquities are multiplied before thee. He confirms what he formerly said, namely, that the people act unjustly in accusing God of cruelty, and in not understanding that they are justly punished for their iniquities, the huge mass of which towers up to heaven; and in this sense the Prophet says that they “are multiplied.” There is also much weight in the phrase “before thee;” for the Prophet descends into himself, and acknowledges the righteous judgment of God, which was hidden from men. Thus he intended to point out an implied contrast between the judgment of God and the judgment of men, who flatter themselves, and do not consider their sins; but God, who is a just judge, does not the less on that account reprove them, or pay any attention to the frivolous excuses under which they endeavor to shelter themselves. For this reason he does not reckon it enough simply to condemn the people, but says that they have “multiplied” their sins, that is, in many respects they are guilty before God. He acknowledges, therefore, that the Lord is righteous, and performs the part of an excellent judge; since nothing good or right is found among men; and therefore he adds, —
Our sins have testified against us, (or, answer (140) to us.) Witnesses are not summoned, or brought from heaven; but the Jews are rebuked and condemned by the testimony of conscience. That mode of expression ought to be carefully observed; for it shows that God does not need many proofs, since our sins hold us to be sufficiently convicted. We must not, therefore, strive with God, as if he punished us unjustly, or chastised us too severely; for our sins openly proclaim what we are, and God does not need additional proofs.
For our iniquities are with us. Instead of “with us,” some render אתנו (ittanu) ”upon us;” but I choose rather to adhere to the strict meaning of the word. (141) Men practice evasions, and assume various shapes, in order to appear righteous; but in vain, for they carry with them their iniquities, from which they cannot extricate themselves; as God, in condemning Cain, (Genesis 4:7) declares that “sin keepeth watch before the door;“ so that any one who despises the judgment of God shall in vain attempt to escape by his rebellion.
And we know our sins. When he says that the Jews “know their sins,” he does not mean that their hearts are truly affected by them, for in that case repentance follows; but he declares that, although they desire to escape the judgment of God, the testimony of their own conscience binds and holds them fast, so that it is vain for them to cavil or seek an excuse. He speaks in the first person, as if he were one of the great body of the people. This is very customary; but at the same time he shows that this evil prevails through the whole body to such an extent that not one member is whole or sound; and, although he may plead his own cause before God, yet, because iniquity is diffused through every part of the body, he acknowledges that he is one of the diseased members and is infected by the general contagion. Nor is there any contradiction in having formerly spoken of himself as not sharing the general guilt, and now laying aside all distinction, and including himself along with others.“Our sins are well known to us.” Doederlein
13.We have done wickedly. Here he enumerates certain classes of sins, in order to arouse the people more keenly to an acknowledgment of their sin. It must be regarded as monstrous, that men, who have been chastised and almost crushed by the hand of God, are still proud, and so obstinate that they cannot bend or be humbled by a conviction of their sin. The Lord endeavors to soften our obduracy by stripes and wounds; but when chastisements do us no good, our case must be given up as hopeless. Isaiah therefore labors to show how wretched is the condition of the people, who, while they endured severe hardships, yet murmured against God, and did not suffer themselves to be brought into a state of obedience. And therefore he frequently repeats this warning, and reproves sharply, in order to subdue this obstinacy of the people.
And we have lied to Jehovah. By a variety of terms he rebukes their vices, and enumerates classes of them, after having pointed out in a general manner that corruption which everywhere prevailed.: Nor does he mention only slight faults, or those of a small number of persons, but a universal revolt. By these words he pronounces them to have been so deeply corrupted, that no sincerity, uprightness, fear, or conscience remained in them. For what is meant by “lying to God,” but to revolt treacherously from him, as if all obedience were refused? Thus he does not reproach them with one or a few transgressions of the Law, but says that, like fugitives, they have forsaken God, so that they do not follow him when he calls.
Conceiving and uttering from the heart. He now adds that they were devoted to the invention of mischief, and thoroughly imbued with falsehood; for “to utter a lie from the heart,” is far worse than to tell lies thoughtlessly, or even to deceive when an occasion presents itself. (142) Nor is there any room to doubt that those reproofs grievously offended the Jews, who, puffed up with pride, imagined that they were exceedingly holy. But it was proper to treat their hypocrisy in this manner, because mere doctrine produced little effect upon them. Taught by this example, pastors, when they see the Church of God corrupt, and men pleasing themselves and flattering their vices, ought to make strenuous opposition, accompanied by loud and sharp reproof.
14.And judgment is driven back. It is a mistake to suppose that the Prophet returns to his earliest subject, (Isaiah 1:5) and speaks of the punishments which the people had suffered at the hand of God; for he still proceeds with the preceding narrative, and explains the diseases under which the people labored, that they may see clearly that they are justly punished. But we must distinguish this verse from the ninth, in which he said that “judgment had gone back;” for there he declared that they were deprived of God’s assistance, because they did not deserve to have him as the defender of their cause; but here he says that “judgment is driven back” in a different sense, that is, because they have overthrown all justice and equity among themselves. They have therefore received a just reward, because no justice of God has shone forth to render assistance, when they have banished far from them justice and equity; for in vain do we expect from God what we have refused to others and cast away from ourselves.
In the street. That is, in a public place. He describes those places in which judicial sentences were pronounced. When he says that “truth is fallen in the street,” he means that not only some private individuals have been corrupted, but the whole condition of the people is so thoroughly depraved as to leave no part sound; for, if some vices reign among the common people, some remedy may be obtained, so long as there is room for judgment; but if judgments are overthrown or corrupted, it follows that all things are infected by a universal contagion. He describes also their unbridled licentiousness, in not being ashamed of conduct openly wicked, and in not shrinking from the light and from the eyes of men.
15.Truth faileth. Hence it clearly appears that Isaiah, in the preceding verse, did not speak of punishments; for, without interrupting the stream of his discourse, he proceeds to show that the people ought not to complain of the severity of chastisements, since they have so grievously offended and provoked God. He therefore confirms what he formerly said, that “truth hath fallen, that there is no place for equity;” and he enlarges this statement the more, by adding that he who hath withdrawn from evil hath become a prey. (143) Almost all the Jewish expositors, reading the two clauses consecutively, explain them thus: — “Truth hath failed, and, by departing from evil, hath been made a prey.” Why they adopt that meaning, I do not see.
Jerome’s exposition, which I follow, is much more correct; and appropriate; and a similar mode of expression is frequently employed in the Scriptures. Job is said to have been
“an upright and perfect man, fearing
God, and departing from evil.” (Job 1:1)
Solomon also says,
“The fool is confident, but the righteous man looketh well to himself, and departeth from evil.” (Proverbs 14:16)
The Prophet means that all uprightness was so greatly abhorred, that the true worshippers of God, if any remained, were not permitted to be safe. As if he had said, “Whoever wishes to live among men must vie with them in wickedness,” (144) according to the common proverb, “Among wolves we must howl; but he who wishes to live innocently shall be torn in pieces, as a sheep is torn by wolves.” Finally, he describes the utmost pitch of wickedness; for he shows that “truth hath failed,” so that no good man is allowed to remain among them; because every one that abstains front acts of injustice “lays himself open to be a prey.”
And Jehovah saw. This relates to the consolation of the people; for he declares that, although they have grievously offended, so that it may appear as if there were no room for pardon, still the Lord will have regard to his people, and, although he has inflicted very severe chastisements, will at length remember his covenant, so as to bring incredible relief by healing their wounds. He speaks here of a future period, and promises that one day, after calamities so numerous and diversified, the Lord will aid the people that are left; for the Jews would have lost heart, and would have been altogether discouraged, if the Lord had not brought that consolation.
Thus men commonly rush forward, and throw themselves headlong into opposite vices; for, when they are reproved, they either grow obstinate and harden themselves, or are terrified and fall into despair. We must therefore observe carefully this order which the Prophet followed. First, it was necessary to reprove the Jews, that, being affected and laid low by repentance, they might cease to find fault with God; and, secondly, a mitigation of punishments, accompanied by salvation, is promised, that they might not be discouraged, but expect assistance from the Lord, who is unwilling that his Church should perish, and punishes his people for a time, in order that he may not suffer them to be ruined and destroyed.
Yet if any one prefer to limit this dislike or displeasure of God to the “judgment,” because he had good reason for abhorring a wicked people, I have no objection; as if he had said that God saw nothing in that people but what was ground of hatred. Hence it follows, that there was no other motive that prompted him to yield assistance, than because their affairs were utterly desperate.
16.He saw that there was no man. Isaiah continues the same subject, but expresses more, and relates more fully what he had briefly noticed; for what he said in the preceding verse, that “it displeased the Lord that there was no judgment,” might have been obscure. In this passage he repeats that the Lord saw that “there was no man” (145) to render assistance to the Church, and that he wondered. He makes use of the verb ישתומם (yishtomem) in the Hithpahel conjugation, (146) for the purpose of denoting that the Lord was the cause of his own astonishment; as if he had said, “He made himself astonished.”
He wondered that none came forward. Some think that מפגיע (maphgiang) means an intercessor; but I think that the meaning is this, that there was none who endeavored to relieve their affliction, that there was no physician who applied his hand to this wound, and that for this reason God “wondered.” The reason why he attributes to God this astonishment may be easily understood. By this rebuke he intended to put the Jews to shame, that they might not, according to their custom, resort to hypocritical pretenses for concealing their sins; and, because it was incredible and monstrous that there was not found in a holy and elect people any one that opposed injustice, he represents God as astonished at such a novelty, that the Jews may at length be ashamed and repent. Was it possible that there could be greater obstinacy of which they ought to be ashamed, since by their wickedness they moved God to astonishment?
At the same time he rebukes their hypocrisy, if they pretend to have eminent piety and holiness, when God, after a diligent search, did not find even one upright man. He likewise praises and magnifies the unspeakable mercy of God, in condescending to rescue, as if from the depths of hell, a people whose condition was so desperate; for the Jews were undoubtedly reminded by these words in what manner they ought to hope for redemption; namely, because God is pleased to rise up miraculously to save what was lost. Besides, by the word “wonder” he describes also God’s fatherly care. It is certain that God is not liable to those passions, so as to wonder at anything as new or uncommon; but he accommodates himself to us, in order that, being deeply moved by a conviction of our evils, we may view our condition with horror. Thus, when he says that “the Lord saw,” he means that there is no help in our own industry; when he says that the Lord “wonders,” he means that we are excessively dull and stupid, because we neither perceive nor care for the evils of our condition; and yet that our indifference does not prevent the Lord from rendering assistance to his Church.
Therefore his arm brought (or, made) salvation to him. By these words he means that we ought not to despair, although we receive no assistance from men. Yet, reducing to nothing every other assistance, he pronounces the salvation of his own nation, and consequently of all mankind, to be owing, from first to last, to God’s undeserved goodness and absolute power. Thus, in like manner as, by asserting that God is abundantly sufficient for himself, and has power and strength sufficient to redeem the Jews, he stretches out his hand to the feeble; so, by saying that men can do nothing to promote their salvation, he abases all pride, that, being stripped of confidence in their works, they may approach to God. And we must observe this design of the Prophet; for, in reading the Prophets and Apostles, we must not merely consider what they say, but for what purpose, and with what design. Here, therefore, we ought chiefly to observe the design of the Prophet, that in God alone is there sufficient power for accomplishing our salvation, that we may not look hither and thither; for we are too much disposed to lean on external aids; but that we ought to place the hope of salvation nowhere else than on the arm of God, and that the true foundation of the Church is in his righteousness, and that they do wrong who depend on anything else; since God has borrowed nothing from any but himself.
The usefulness of this doctrine is still more extensive; for, although all remedies often fail us, yet the Lord will find sufficient assistance in his own arm. Whenever, therefore, we are destitute of men’s assistance, and are overwhelmed by calamities of every kind, and see nothing before us but ruin, let us betake ourselves to this doctrine, and let us rest assured that God is sufficiently powerful to defend us; and, since he has no need of the assistance of others, let us learn to rely firmly and confidently on his aid.
Yet we must keep in remembrance the universal doctrine, namely, that the redemption of the Church is a wonderful blessing bestowed by God alone, that we may not ascribe anything to the strength or industry of men. With abhorrence we ought to regard the pride of those who claim for themselves any part of that praise which belongs to God, since in him alone is found both the cause and the effect of our salvation.
And his righteousness, it upheld him. Here arm denotes power and strength, and righteousness denotes the integrity which he displays in procuring the salvation of his people, when he is their protector, and delivers them from destruction. (147) When he says that “the arm of God brought to him salvation,” this must not be limited to God, and ought not to be taken passively, as if God saved himself, but, actively; so that this salvation refers to the Church, which he has delivered from the bands of enemies.“Rosenmuller, Umbrett, and others, follow Jarchi in supposing איש (ish) to be emphatic and to signify a man of the right sort, a man equal to the occasion. This explanation derives some color from the analogy of Jeremiah 5:1; but even there, and still more here, the strength of the expression is increased rather than diminished by taking this phrase in the simple sense of nobody. What was wanted was not merely a qualified man, but any man whatever, to maintain the cause of Israel and Jehovah.” Alexander
17.And he put on righteousness as a coat of mail. Here he equips God with his armor, for the purpose both of confirming more and more the confidence of believers, and of stripping all men of all confidence in their own strength. The meaning of the verse amounts to this, that God is in want of nothing for discomfiting his enemies and gaining the victory; because from his righteousness, power, and grace, and from his ardent love of his people, he will make for himself πανοπλίαν complete armor. And this is again worthy of remark; for, although we acknowledge that God is sufficiently powerful, yet we are not satisfied with it, but at. the same time seek other help. Thus our minds are always inclined to unbelief, so that they fasten on inferior means, and are greatly entangled by them.
In order to correct this vice, Isaiah presents this lively description; as if he had said, “Know ye that God has in his hand all the safeguards of your salvation, and will be in want of nothing to deliver you in spite of enemies and bring you back to your native country; and therefore there is no reason why you should tremble.” Besides, there is nothing to which we are more prone than to imagine that we bestow something on God, and thus to claim for ourselves some part of the praise which ought to remain undivided with him.
When he clothes God with vengeance, and with indignation as a cloak, this relates to enemies, against whom God is said to be enraged for the sake of his people; and thus, the more that Satan labors and makes every effort against us, so much the more does God kindle with zeal, and so much the more powerfully does he rise up, to render assistance to us. Although, therefore, Satan and all the reprobate do not rest, but raise up obstacles of every kind to prevent our salvation, and even exert themselves furiously to destroy us, yet, by his power alone, God will defeat all their efforts.
18.As if on account of recompenses. He confirms the statement of the preceding verse; for he shows what will be the nature of that vengeance with which he had clothed the Lord; namely, that he is prepared to render recompense to his enemies. We must attend to the reason why the Prophet describes the Lord as thus armed, indignant, and ready for vengeance. It is, because the salvation of the Church is connected with the destruction of the wicked; and therefore God must be armed against the enemies who wish to destroy us.
Hence we see God’s infinite love toward us, who loves us so ardently that he bears hostility to our enemies, and declares that he will render recompense to them. So strong is his affection to his little flock, that he sets a higher value on them than on the whole world. This is the reason why he says that he will render recompense to the islands, that is, to countries beyond the sea and far off; for, in order to deliver his people, he overthrew monarchies that were powerful, and that appeared to be invincible. But, although here he mentions none but mortal men, still we must begin with Satan, who is their head.
19.Therefore they shall fear the name of Jehovah. He now testifies that this work of redemption shall be so splendid and illustrious, that the whole world shall wonder, behold, praise, and celebrate, and, struck with fear, shall render glory to God. It is uncertain whether he means the conversion of the Gentiles, or the terror with which God dismays his enemies. For my own part, I am more inclined to the former opinion, that, even to the utmost boundaries of the earth, the name of God shall be revered and honored, so that the Gentiles shall not only tremble, but shall serve and adore him with true repentance.
For (148) the enemy shall come as a river. As to the reason now assigned, commentators differ. But the true meaning, in my opinion, is, that the attack of the enemy shall be so furious that, like a rapid and impetuous torrent, it shall appear to sweep away and destroy everything, but that the Lord shall cause it instantly to subside and disappear. It is therefore intended to heighten the description of the divine power, by which the vast strength and dreadful fury of the enemies are repelled, receive a different direction, and fall to pieces.
A question now arises, “What redemption does the Prophet mean?” I reply, as I have already suggested on another passage, that these promises ought not to be limited, as is commonly done, to a single redemption; for the Jews refer it, exclusively to the deliverance from Babylon, while Christians refer it to Christ alone. For my part, I join both, so as to include the whole period after the return of the people along with that which followed down to the coming of Christ; for this prophecy was not fulfilled but in Christ, and what is said here cannot apply to any other. Never was the glory of God revealed to the whole world, nor were his enemies put to flight so as not to recover their strength, till Christ achieved a conquest and illustrious triumph over Satan, sin, and death.
20.And a Redeemer shall come to Zion. He again confirms what he formerly said, that the people shall be delivered, and that God will be the author of this blessing. He bids the people, therefore, be of good cheer in their captivity, which shall not be perpetual; and next, he exhorts them to place the hope of redemption in God alone, that they may fix their minds solely on his promises. By the name Zion he denotes here, as in other passages, captives and exiles; for however far they had been banished from their country, still they must have carried the temple in their hearts.
And to them who have turned away from iniquity. That the bastard children of Abraham may not apply indiscriminately to themselves what he has just now said, he proceeds to show to whom the redemption shall come, namely, to those only who have been truly consecrated to the Lord. It is certain that many returned from Babylon, who were not moved by any feeling of repentance, and yet who became partakers of the same blessing. But the Prophet speaks of the complete redemption which the elect alone enjoy; for, although the fruit of external redemption extends also to hypocrites, yet they have not embraced the blessing of God for salvation. The design of the Prophet is, to show that the punishment; of banishment will be advantageous, that God may gather his Church, after having purified it from filth and pollution; for we must always bear in remembrance what we saw elsewhere as to the diminution of the people.
In this way the Prophet exhorts the elect to the fear of God, that they may profit by his chastisements. Hence infer, that we cannot be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, unless we first repent of our sins; not that salvation, which is founded on the pardon of sins, depends on our repentance; but repentance is joined to it in such a manner that it cannot be separated. They whom the Lord receives into favor are renewed by his Spirit in such a manner as to abhor their vices and change their manner of life.
Papists overturn the whole doctrine of salvation, by mingling and confounding pardon of sin with repentance; and not only they, but others also who wish to be thought more acute. (149) They acknowledge that a man is justified by free grace through Christ, but add, that it is because we are renewed by him. Thus they make our justification to depend partly on the pardon of sins and partly on repentance. But in this way our consciences will never be pacified; for we are very far from being perfectly renewed. These things must, therefore, be distinguished, so as to be neither separated nor confounded; and thus our salvation will rest; on a solid foundation.
Paul quotes this passage, (Romans 11:26) in order to show that there is still some remaining hope among the Jews; although from their unconquerable obstinacy it might be inferred that they were altogether cast off and doomed to eternal death. But because God is continually mindful of his covenant, and “his gifts and calling are without repentance,” (Romans 11:29) Paul justly concludes that it is impossible that there shall not at length be some remnant that come to Christ, and obtain that salvation which he has procured. Thus the Jews must at length be collected along with the Gentiles, that out of both “there may be one fold” under Christ. (John 10:16) It is of the deliverance from Babylon, however, that the Prophet treats. This is undoubtedly true; but we have said that he likewise includes the kingdom of Christ, and spiritual redemption, to which this prediction relates. Hence we have said that Paul infers that he could not be the redeemer of the world, without belonging to some Jews, whose fathers he had chosen, and to whom this promise was directly addressed.
Saith Jehovah. By these words, in the conclusion of the verse, he sets a seal to the excellent sentiment which he has expressed.
21.And I make this my covenant with them. Because it was difficult to believe what the Prophet has hitherto declared, therefore he endeavors, in various ways, to confirm the Jews, that they may rely with unshaken confidence on this promise of salvation, and may ascribe to God so much honor as to trust in his word. And we ought carefully to observe the word covenant, by which the Prophet points out the greatness and excellence of this promise; for the promises are more extensive, and may be regarded as the stones of the building, while the foundation of it is the covenant, which upholds the whole mass. He makes use of this word, therefore, that they might not think that it contained some matter of ordinary occurrence, and adds these confirmations, that, although the Lord did not immediately perform this, they might nevertheless expect it with firm and unshaken hope; and there appears to be an implied contrast, that believers may cheerfully look forward to the new covenant, which was to be established in the hand of Christ.
My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words. What is now added may be thought to be feeble and trivial, when he enjoins the Church to be satisfied with the “word” and “Spirit;“ as if this were a great happiness, to hang in suspense on nothing but God’s promises. Yet although the Prophet commends the value and excellence of doctrine, I have no doubt that still it is not separated from its effect. But because God regulates and dispenses his grace in such a manner, that, as long as believers remain in this world, he always trains them to patience, and does not in every instance answer their prayers, therefore he brings them back to doctrine; as if he had said, “Thou wilt indeed find that I am kind to thee in various ways; but. there is no happiness which will be of greater importance to thee, or which thou oughtest to desire more earnestly, than to feel that I am present by ‘the word’ and ‘the Spirit.’” Hence we infer that this is a most valuable treasure of the Church, that he has chosen for himself a habitation in it, to dwell in the hearts of believers by his Spirit, and next to preserve among them the doctrine of his gospel.
Shall not depart out of thy mouth. Finally, he foretells that the Lord will never forsake his people, but will always be present with them by “his Spirit” and by “the word.” The “Spirit” is joined with the word, because, without the efficacy of the Spirit, the preaching of the gospel would avail nothing, but would remain unfruitful. In like manner, “the word” must not be separated from “the Spirit,” as fanatics imagine, who, despising the word, glory in the name of the Spirit, and swell with vain confidence in their own imaginations. It is the spirit of Satan that is separated from the word, to which the Spirit of God is continually joined. Now, when he quickens outward doctrine, so that it strikes root in our hearts, our condition is happy even amidst many afflictions; and I have no doubt that the Prophet expressly declares that, although God deals kindly with his Church, still its life and salvation shall be laid up in faith. Thus the new people is distinguished from the ancient people; for, as the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, so, since he has risen from the dead, believing souls must be raised up along with him. But now he promises that the Church will never be deprived of this invaluable blessing, but will be guided by the Holy Spirit and sustained by heavenly doctrine; for it would be of little avail that the gospel should once be offered to us, and that the Spirit should be given to us, if he did not dwell with us.
Which I have put in thy mouth. The Prophet shows that God addresses us in such a manner that he chooses to employ the ministry and agency of men. He might indeed speak from heaven or send angels; but he has consulted our advantage the more by addressing and exhorting us through men like ourselves, that, by their voice and word, he may more gently draw us to himself. This order has therefore been established by him in the Church, that it is vain for those who reject his ministers to boast that they are willing to obey God; and therefore he commands us to seek the word and doctrine from the mouth of prophets and teachers, who teach in his name and by his authority, that we may not foolishly hunt after new revelations.
My words shall not depart. The phrase, “shall not depart,” is rendered by some in the imperative mood, for which it is well known that the future tense is sometimes used. But here a command or exhortation is not appropriate; for the Prophet promises that which God intends to fulfill. An exhortation may indeed be drawn from it, but the priority is due to the promise, which is to this effect, that the Lord will assist his Church, and will take care of it, so as never to allow it to be deprived of doctrine. To this, therefore, we ought always to look, when we are tempted by adversity, and when everything does not succeed according to our wish; for we must be supported and upheld by the word and the Spirit, of which the Lord declares that we shall never be left destitute.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany