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1. In the year that king Uzziah died. This is usually the beginning of the sixth chapter; but some think that it is the beginning of the book itself, and that in collecting the prophecies of Isaiah an error was committed. The reason which they assign is, that the Prophet here declines the office of a teacher, which he would not have refused if he had hitherto discharged it; that he appears to be a mere novice as yet unacquainted with his calling; and besides, that he declares that he has now seen the Lord, and that he has not seen him, before. But such arguments I consider, as I have already noticed, to be too feeble and unsatisfactory; and I reply that it ought not to be thought strange that he was so completely overpowered by this extraordinary vision as to forget that he was a prophet. For there was no feeling in him which was not overpowered by the presence of God, so that, like one who had lost his senses, he willingly plunged himself in darkness, or rather, like one who despaired of life, he of his own accord chose to die. And it is necessary that the godly should be affected in this manner, when the Lord gives them tokens of his presence, that they may be brought low and utterly confounded. Besides, in the person of his servant God intended to strike his rebellious people with alarm; and therefore we need not wonder if he offers an apology for himself under the overwhelming influence of fear, and likewise because he had not felt the weight of his office, as he now felt it, after having beheld an illustrious display of the majesty of God.
But why was not this vision exhibited to him at the beginning? I answer, it was necessary in regard to the time, that he might be more and more confirmed in the discharge of his office. We have an instance of this in the Apostles themselves; for at first they were sent out with an injunction not to pass beyond the limits of Judea, (Matthew 10:5;) but after that Christ had risen, he again set them apart in a new and solemn manner, breathed on them, bidding them receive the Holy Ghost, (John 20:21;) and not only so, but sending his Spirit from heaven in the forms of tongues of fire, invested them with extraordinary power. (Acts 2:3.) Thus, on account of the various changes of times and of kings, it was necessary that Isaiah should be encouraged and again attested by a new vision; that he might be excited to perseverance, and might afterwards proceed with greater cheerfulness in his course; and also that the Jews might perceive his ministry to be supported by heavenly authority.
This appears to me to be a sufficient reason why this vision was not exhibited to him at the very beginning, but after that he had for some time discharged the office of a teacher. That this was not the beginning of the prophecy is evident enough from the consideration that the preface, which we have already examined, is much better adapted for the commencement, and more appropriate than what is contained in this chapter; and every approach having been shut up by the hard-hearted obstinacy of the people, it was proper that he should burst forth in this vehement manner. Besides, it is probable that he had long performed the office of a teacher under King Uzziah, who, I think, was dead before this prediction was published. In short, the Prophet means that it was not till he had commenced his course that God appeared to him.
Some think that death here means leprosy, which undoubtedly was a civil death, when the king was compelled to withdraw from the society of men, and to lay down the reins of government, (Genesis 15:5;) but I choose rather to take death in its literal sense. So then, I think that Isaiah uttered the former predictions during the reign of Uzziah, even after he had been struck with leprosy; and that when he had died, and Jotham had succeeded him, this vision was presented to Isaiah. We know what various commotions are produced by a change of kings, so that we need not wonder that Isaiah had his calling again sealed. But the prophecy itself, which follows, will sufficiently show that he had been a public teacher for some time before he saw the Lord; for it relates that the blinding of the people, whose obstinacy he had experienced to such an extent that he might have been induced to cease from his undertaking, for he saw that he was doing no good. The Lord, therefore, confirms him by this vision, that the opposition may not prevent him from boldly discharging his office, and performing what he undertook at the commandment of God.
I saw the Lord It is asked, How could Isaiah see God who is a Spirit, (John 4:24,) and, therefore, cannot be seen with bodily eyes? Nay, more, since the understandings of men cannot rise to his boundless height, how can he be seen in a visible shape? But we ought to be aware that, when God exhibited himself to the view of the Fathers, he never appeared such as he actually is, but such as the capacity of men could receive. Though men may be said to creep on the ground, or at least dwell far below the heavens, there is no absurdity in supposing that God comes down to them in such a manner as to cause some kind of mirror to reflect the rays of his glory. There was, therefore, exhibited to Isaiah such a form as enabled him, according to his capacity, to perceive the inconceivable majesty of God; and thus he attributes to God a throne, a robe, and a bodily appearance.
Hence we learn a profitable doctrine, that whenever God grants any token of his presence, he is undoubtedly present with us, for he does not amuse us by unmeaning shapes, as men wickedly disfigure him by their contrivances. since, therefore, that exhibition was no deceitful representation of the presence of God, Isaiah justly declares that he saw him. In like manner, when it is said that John
saw the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove, (John 1:32)
the name of the Holy Spirit is applied to the outward sign, because in the representation there was no deception; and yet he did not see the essence of the Spirit, but had a clear and undoubted proof, so that he could not doubt that the Spirit of God rested on Christ.
Secondly, it is asked, Who was that Lord? John tells us that it was Christ, (John 12:41,) and justly, for God never revealed himself to the Fathers but in his eternal Word and only begotten Son. Yet it is wrong, I think, to limit this, as some do, to the person of Christ; for it is indefinitely, on the contrary, that the Prophet calls him God. Nor do their views derive any support from the word אדוני, ( adonai,) which seems particularly to apply to Christ; for it is often applied to God in an absolute and unrestricted manner. In this passage, therefore, God is mentioned indefinitely, and yet it is correctly said that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ, for at that very time he was the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15.)
Sitting upon a throne. He could not have given a better description of God, in regard to place, than in the person of a Judge, that his majesty might strike greater terror into the Jews; for we shall afterwards see the dreadful judgment which the Lord pronounced from his judgment-seat. But lest we should suppose that the Prophet contrived the manner in which he would paint God, we ought to know that he faithfully describes the very form in which God was represented and exhibited to him. It may be questioned whether the Prophet was conducted into the temple, or saw this vision while he was asleep. Though many things are frequently adduced on both sides, which are fitted to leave the matter in doubt, yet it may be conjectured with some probability, that even if he had not been within the temple, this vision might have been presented to him, either in his own house or on a field, in the same manner as to other prophets.
And his remotest parts filled the temple. (92) Almost all the commentators understand by this the fringes of his robe, though it may be understood to refer to the extremities of the judgment-seat, giving us to understand that its dimensions were so vast as to extend to every part of the temple. He intends to ascribe to God a venerable aspect, and far beyond any human form. There is great weight in the circumstance that he appeared in the temple; for he had promised that he would meet with his people there, and the people expected his answers from that place, as Solomon had expressly stated at the dedication of it. (Genesis 8:30.) In order, therefore, that the people might understand that those things came from God, on whom they called every day, and on whom they relied with a vain confidence which puffed them up, this vision was exhibited to the Prophet in the temple. To the certainty of what was said it contributed not a little, that he openly proclaimed that the discourse was not pronounced to him by any mortal man, but was a heavenly oracle, uttered by that God whose name they were accustomed disdainfully to hold out as a pretense, whenever they wished to make any extravagant claims; for otherwise this prophecy would have been harsh and repulsive, and needed great confirmation. It was also not uncommon with the Prophets to say that the Lord spake to them from his temple, or from his sanctuary
(92) And his train filled the temple. [ Or, the skirts thereof. ] — Eng. Ver. And the train of his robe filled the temple. — Lowth. And his flowing train filled the temple. — Stock. That author adds in a note: “I add the epithet flowing, to distinguish the train of a robe from what the English word equally imports, a train of attendants; and שול is from של to loosen, to flow loosely.” — Ed
2. And the seraphim stood upon it. Having declared that God appeared to him full of majesty and of glory, he adds, that God was attended by angels, whom the Prophet calls seraphim on account of their fervor. Though the etymology of this word is well known, yet various reasons are adduced. Some think that they are called seraphim because they burn with the love of God; others, because they are swift like fire; others, because they are bright. However that may be, this description holds out to us, as in sunbeams, the brightness of God’s infinite majesty, that we may learn by it to behold and adore his wonderful and overwhelming glory.
Many think that there were two seraphim, as there were two cherubim that encompassed the ark of the testimony. This opinion I willingly adopt, though I do not venture to make any assertion where Scripture is silent. As it is customary with the sacred writers to accommodate their descriptions of God to those outward signs which were commonly used and familiarly known among the godly, it is possible that the Prophet saw a representation of this kind. While I hold this to be a probable conjecture, I leave room for other interpretations which some may be disposed to prefer; for Daniel saw not two angels only, but thousands of thousands of angels. (Daniel 7:10.)
Each one had six wings. This representation is instructive; for those wings thus arranged contained some mystery which it was the will of the Lord should not remain wholly unknown. The two wings with which the angels fly mean nothing else than their ready and cheerful performance of the commandments of God. On this point the resemblance is so clear and manifest, that it will be at once admitted by all who do not take delight in controversy. The two wings with which they cover their face show plainly enough that even angels cannot endure God’s brightness, and that they are dazzled by it in the same manner as when we attempt to gaze upon the radiance of the sun. And if angels are overwhelmed by the majesty of God, how great will be the rashness of men if they venture to intrude so far! Let us, therefore, learn that our inquiries concerning God ought never to go beyond what is proper and lawful, that our knowledge may soberly and modestly taste what is far above our capacity. And yet the angels do not cover their face in such a manner as not to be favored with beholding God in some degree; for their flight is not at random. In like manner we too ought to look at God, but only so far as our capacity shall enable us.
As to the remaining two wings, which were placed lower, the difficulty is somewhat greater. Some think that the angels covered their feet, that they might not touch the earth, and contract any defilement from it, as human beings like ourselves are wont to do; for in walking we gather filth and dust, and accordingly, so long as we dwell on earth, we are always tainted by some kind of contagion. This reminds believers that they will have no intercourse with angels till they raise themselves high, and are no longer fastened to the earth.
Such is the interpretation given by some expositors. But I rather agree with those who think that the use of those wings was opposite to that of the upper wings; for, as by the upper wings they cover their face, that they may not be overpowered by God’s brightness, so they have also lower wings to conceal them from our view. Now, if it be true that we cannot behold the small and feeble rays of the Divine brightness without being altogether overpowered, how could we gaze upon that unspeakably bright and glorious majesty which lays prostrate all our faculties? Let men learn, therefore, that they are far distant from a perfect knowledge of God, since they cannot even reach to the angels. The latter appears to me to be the more correct exposition, but I do not disapprove of the former.
3. And they cried one to another. It was necessary that all these things should be presented to the Prophet in vision, in order to produce a stronger impression on the people, and on Isaiah himself; for the vision was not less necessary to him than to the whole nation, because sharp and painful struggles awaited him, and he could not have boldly announced those events if he had not been previously confirmed. The people also, being warned by this vision how great and how dreadful was the majesty of God, by whom this condemnation was pronounced, had good reason for being alarmed. He who now came forth to public view is God, at the sight of whom the very angels tremble, whose praises they continually and loudly utter, and whom, in a word, they serve and obey; but men, whom he had been pleased to adopt as his children, obstinately and rebelliously opposed him.
Now, when we are informed that the angels are employed in uttering the glory of God, let us know that their example is set before us for imitation; for the most holy service that we can render to him is, to be employed in praising his name. When he associates us with angels, it is in order that, while we sojourn on earth, we may resemble and be joined to the inhabitants of heaven. That the harmony between us and the angels may be in every respect complete, we must take care not only that the praises of God may be sounded by our tongues, but likewise that all the actions of our life may correspond to our professions; and this will only be done if the chief aim of our actions be the glory of God.
Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts. The ancients quoted this passage when they wished to prove that there are three persons in one essence of the Godhead. I do not disagree with their opinion; but if I had to contend with heretics, I would rather choose to employ stronger proofs; for they become more obstinate, and assume an air of triumph, when inconclusive arguments are brought against them; and they might easily and readily maintain that, in this passage, as in other parts of Scripture, the number “three” denotes perfection. Although, therefore, I have no doubt that the angels here describe One God in Three Persons, (and, indeed, it is impossible to praise God without also uttering the praises of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit,) yet I think that it would be better to employ more conclusive passages, lest, in proving an article of our faith, we should expose ourselves to the scorn of heretics. And, indeed, this repetition rather points out unwearied perseverance, as if the Prophet had said, that the angels never cease from their melody in singing the praises of God, as the holiness of God supplies us with inexhaustible reasons for them.
The whole earth is full of his glory. Literally it is, the fullness of the whole earth, which might be understood to refer to the fruits, and animals, and manifold riches with which God has enriched the earth, and might convey this meaning, that in the ornaments and great variety of furniture of the world the glory of God shines, because they are so many proofs of a father’s love. But the more simple and natural interpretation is, that the glory of God fills the whole world, or is spread through every region of the earth. There is also, I think, an implied contrast, by which he puts down the foolish boasting of the Jews, who thought that the glory of God was nowhere to be seen but among themselves, and wished to have it shut up within their own temple. But Isaiah shows that it is so far from being confined to so narrow limits, that it fills the whole earth. And to this agrees the prophecy which immediately follows, (verse 10,) about the blinding of the Jews, which opened up for the Gentiles admission into the Church of God; for they occupied that place which the Jews had forsaken and left empty.
4. And the lintels of the posts were moved. This noise was an indication that it was not a human voice which the Prophet had heard; for no mortal man has a voice so powerful as to be capable of making the lintels and posts shake. Now, the Lord intended not only to establish the authority of his voice over the Prophet, but to confirm it to posterity in all ages, that it might never be forgotten. Let us, therefore, know that this noise confirms at this day the voice of God, that we may tremble whenever he speaks; for if inanimate and dumb creatures are moved, what ought we to do, who feel, smell, taste, and understand, for no other purpose than that we may obey his word in a holy and reverent manner?
And the house was filled with smoke. This was the common and ordinary sign which the Lord employed with his ancient people; for we read that, whenever Moses entered into the tabernacle, smoke was wont to be diffused through it in such a manner that the people could not see either Moses or the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9.) The smoke, therefore, which Isaiah describes was not an unusual occurrence; but in the ordinary way God intended to demonstrate that he would display his power in executing judgment on the people.
But it may be asked, Why did God manifest his presence by this sign rather than by any other? This question may be answered in two ways. First, it was always the will of God to repress the insolence of men, in pushing their inquiries about his majesty beyond what is proper; for on this point almost all men are too rash and daring. They wish to rise above the clouds, and to penetrate into the secrets of God, while they do not see what lies at their feet. Hence arises a labyrinth of errors, and when the minds of men have been entangled in it, they adopt false and pretended modes of worship; for when men allow themselves to adopt any false notions about God, there is nothing which they will not venture to attempt against him. It was not without good reason, therefore, that he made use of smoke, in order to remind men of their weakness; and yet he did not intend that they should be blind or stupid, that is, that they should have the stupidity and error which the papists disguise under the name of simplicity; but he forbids us to inquire or search beyond what he has revealed to us in his word; for, as Augustine says, “that is a learned ignorance.” Whenever, therefore, smoke of this kind is mentioned, let us know that it lays a restraint upon us from indulging curiosity in our researches into the purpose of God.
Secondly, this smoke ought to strike terror, as David, when describing an angry and terrible God, says that clouds and darkness are round about him. (Psalms 97:2.) This also agrees well with the present passage; for he pronounces a dreadful judgment, namely, the blinding of the Jews. Others think that it indicated the burning by which he consumed the temple; but the view which I have given is more probable.
5. Wo to me! for I am undone. The Prophet now relates how powerfully he was affected by that vision; namely that he was so terrified by seeing God; that he expected immediate destruction. He assigns the reason for believing that it is all over with him; because, says he, I am a man of unclean lips
I wonder why Jerome renders it, because I was silent; seeing that there is no ambiguity in the expression. דמה ( damah) does indeed signify to be silent, but here the undoubted mark of a passive verb is added. This passage may likewise be rendered, Wo to me! for I have been reduced to silence. In the Scriptures silence is often taken for death and those who have been buried are said to have been reduced to silence. But as the meaning is the same, I will not dispute much about the translation.
The Prophet therefore means, that he was so terrified as to resemble a dead man. And certainly we need not wonder at this; for the whole man, so far as relates to the flesh, must be reduced to nothing, that it may be renewed according to God. Whence comes it that men live, that is, imagine that they live, and are swelled with vain confidence in their wisdom or strength, but because they know not God? Accordingly, until God reveal himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God; and therefore on this point the present and similar passages ought to be carefully studied.
It was customary with the godly fathers, whenever they saw God, to break out into these words:
I am gone; I am utterly undone. (Jude 13:22.)
Our life, therefore, until our minds earnestly draw near to God, is a vain delusion; we walk in darkness, and can with difficulty distinguish truth from falsehood; but when we come into the light it is easy to perceive the difference. So when God draws near to us, he brings light with him, that we may perceive our worthlessness, which we could not formerly see, while we entertained a false opinion of ourselves.
And yet mine eyes have seen the king, Jehovah of hosts. (93) But does the sight of God bring death to men? For it appears strange that the sight of God or approach to him should take away life, of which he is the source and giver. I reply that this is an accidental result; for it takes place through our fault, and not on account of the nature of God. Death is within us; but we do not perceive it, unless when it is compared with the life of God. This is unquestionably what the Prophet means; for he does not merely say that he is dead, but assigns the reason, because he has unclean lips.
But why does he confine the pollution to the lips ? Was he pure in understanding, or in the other parts of the body? I answer: the Prophet mentions that which he regarded as the most valuable, his tongue, which was consecrated to God; for God had appointed him to be a Prophet. Even though he was in other respects a sinner, yet because the office which he held was holy, this part of his body was sacred; and as it does not correspond to the divine holiness, he confesses that, even in that part which in itself is more holy, he is polluted. Such appears to me to be the true and natural meaning of this passage, in the explanation of which commentators have hitherto been unsuccessful.
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. This is added by way of explanation; for he includes himself as an individual in the number of the common people, tainted with that pollution which extends to the whole body, and forgets the purity which he had received from God, because it cannot dwell in his presence. Hence it is evident that they are mistaken who imagine that the Prophet spoke under erroneous views; as the common people are wont to contrive a variety of false notions concerning God. For, as I have said, the presence of God and approach to him is the destruction of our flesh; because it shows that we are nothing in ourselves. When he who is conscious of his wretchedness sees God, what can he expect but destruction? For God is our judge, to whom, we know, nothing is concealed or unknown, in whose sight our purity is impure. And if this happened to the Prophet, what ought we to think of ourselves? For what are we in comparison of him? Even if the LORD hath begun to cleanse us, yet we ought to acknowledge our pollution, the remains of which always continue in our flesh. Hence also we ought to draw a universal doctrine, that the lips of all men are impure and polluted, till the Lord has cleansed them; from which it also follows, that human doctrines have an uncleanness which betrays them, and that there is nothing pure but what has come from God.
(93) For mine eyes have seen the king, the LORD of hosts. — Eng. Ver.
6. Then flew one of the seraphim to me. The Prophet shows what kind of relief was brought to him, when he was so terrified as to think that he was a dead man; and this confirms what we have already said, that purity of lips comes from God alone; for men can produce nothing of themselves but what is filthy and abominable. If it be objected that it is absurd to say that the Lord now cleansed him, as if his tongue had formerly been impure and profane, though it had been the instrument employed by the Holy Spirit, I have already replied sufficiently to that objection. The Lord had already cleansed him, but according to his degree. The cleansing which is now added is greater; for it has its enlargements and additions, which no man can obtain all at once.
We must not conclude, therefore, that Isaiah’s lips were impure, because they are now cleansed; but we ought to inquire why it is done. It was because the Lord intended to enlarge and extend his favor towards him, and to raise him to higher dignity, that he might have greater influence over the people; and this was rendered necessary by the character of the times, and the change which had taken place in the state.
The fire was taken from the altar, to intimate that it was divine or heavenly; for the law forbade any strange fire to be brought to it, (Leviticus 10:1,) because in sacred things every human mixture is absolute profanation. By this figure, therefore, Isaiah was taught that all purity flows from God alone.
7. And applying it to my mouth. (94) We see how God condescends to meet the weakness of human sense. He puts the tongs into the hand of a seraph, that by means of it he may take a coal from the altar and apply it to the Prophet’s mouth. This was, no doubt, done in vision; but by the aid of the outward sign God assisted the Prophet’s understanding. There is no reason to believe that the coal possessed any virtue, as superstitious persons imagine that in the magical arts there is some hidden power. Nothing of this sort is to be found here; for it is God alone who can cleanse our pollution, in whatever part it exists.
Here the angel administered the cleansing, but was not the author of it; so that we must not ascribe to another what belongs to God alone. This is expressly stated by the angel himself, who claims nothing as his own, but bringing forward the sacred pledge which he had received from God, laid it as a sacrament on the lips of the Prophet; not that he could not be cleansed without the coal, but because the visible sign was useful for the confirmation and proof of the fact. And such is the use of sacraments, to strengthen us in proportion to our ignorance; for we are not angels, that can behold the mysteries of God without any assistance, and therefore he raises us to himself by gradual advances.
Lo, this hath touched thy lips. He shows that the confirmation which was obtained by the sign was not without effect, but that the blessing signified by it was at the same time bestowed, so that Isaiah knew that he had not been deceived. Hence we may infer, that in the sacraments the reality is given to us along with the sign; for when the Lord holds out a sacrament, he does not feed our eyes with an empty and unmeaning figure, but joins the truth with it, so as to testify that by means of them he acts upon us efficaciously. And this ought to be the more carefully observed, because there are few persons in the present day who understand the true use of sacraments, and because many godly and learned men are engaged in frequent disputes respecting them.
First of all, we ought to believe that the truth must never be separated from the signs, though it ought to be distinguished from them. We perceive and feel a sign, such as the bread which is put into our hands by the minister in the Lord’s Supper; and because we ought to seek Christ in heaven, our thoughts ought to be carried thither. By the hand of the minister he presents to us his body, that it may be actually enjoyed by the godly, who rise by faith to fellowship with him. He bestows it, therefore, on the godly, who raise their thoughts to him by faith; for he cannot deceive.
Unbelievers indeed receive the sign; but because they linger in the world, and do not arrive at Christ’s heavenly kingdom, they have no experience of the truth; for he who has not faith cannot raise his thoughts to God, and therefore cannot partake of Christ. Faith alone opens for us the gate of the kingdom of God; and therefore, whoever wishes to eat the flesh of Christ must be carried by faith to heaven beyond human conception. In short, it is the Spirit of God alone who can make us partakers of that fellowship. And yet it does not follow that the unbelief of men takes anything away from the truth of the sacrament, since God always presents to us a spiritual matter, but wicked men treat it with scorn; just as the grace of God is offered by the gospel, but all do not receive it, though they actually hear it, and are compelled to yield assent to the truth.
Besides, we learn from this passage that the sacraments are never separated from the word. The angel does not here act the part of a dumb man, but, after having given the sign, immediately adds the doctrine, in order to show what was intended by it; for it would have been no sacrament, if doctrine had not been added, from which Isaiah could learn for what purpose the coal was applied to his mouth. Let us therefore learn that the chief part of the sacraments consists in the word, and that without it they are absolute corruptions, such as we see every day in popery, in which the sacraments are turned into stage-plays. The amount of the whole is, that there is nothing to prevent Isaiah, who has been perfectly cleansed, and is free from all pollution, from appearing as God’s representative.
(94) And he laid it upon (marg., caused it to touch) my mouth. — Eng. Ver.
8. Afterwards I heard the voice of the Lord. The Prophet now begins to discourse about the design of this vision, why God appeared to him with such glorious majesty, in order to ordain him anew as a prophet. It was because he was called to deliver an incredible message about blinding the Jews. On this revolting occasion, therefore, he is more fully assured of his calling, that he may lay aside fear and obey the command of God; for nothing gives greater confidence to pious minds than to know that they obey God. He had also another proof, namely, that the Lord had cleansed him; and this was sufficient to lead him to undertake any task, however difficult.
Whom shall I send? The Prophet represents the Lord as speaking, as if he could not find a man qualified for such a message. Some think that this is intended to reprove the ignorance of the priests and prophets; because, though they are very numerous, still not one of them was qualified to teach. This reason carries some probability, but I would rather view it as referring to the certainty of Isaiah’s calling, as implying that it was not at random, but from choice, that the Lord appointed him. There is here, therefore, a weighty deliberation whom the Lord will be pleased to send; not that he hesitates, but such modes of expression are used on our account, just as these words, I will go down and see. (Genesis 18:21.) For God, to whom all things are known, has no need to make any inquiry; but, lest men should think that he acts with precipitation, he thus accommodates himself to the ordinary modes of speaking among men. In like manner, when he asks whom he shall send, the meaning is, that he needs not an ordinary person, but a teacher of uncommon excellence on a subject of the greatest importance. Hence we infer that the authority of Isaiah was confirmed, so that he was reckoned to be not only a prophet, but eminent among the prophets.
Who will go for us? I am rather favorable to the opinion that this passage points to Three Persons in the Godhead, just as we elsewhere read,
Let us create man in our likeness. (Genesis 1:26.)
For God talks with himself, and in the plural number; and unquestionably he now holds a consultation with his eternal Wisdom and his eternal Power, that is, with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Here am I. So ready a reply shows how great is that cheerfulness which springs from faith; for he who but lately lay like a dead man dreads no difficulty. Hence we see that the amazement of which we have formerly spoken did not spring from rebellion, in wishing to flee from God, or to refuse the charge which had been laid upon him; but because he needed new grace, that he might know that he would be able to endure the burden. On this account it ought to be observed, that we cannot undertake anything in a proper manner without the evidence of our calling; otherwise we shall pause and hesitate at every step.
Besides, it is a powerful aid to our confidence, when we know that we are not destitute of the necessary gifts, but that God has bestowed them on us, in order that we may be better enabled to discharge our office. Now, this remarkable instance of obedience ought to produce such an effect on our minds that we shall readily and cheerfully undertake any task which he may be pleased to enjoin, and shall never refuse any task, however difficult we may imagine it to be. When the Prophet says, Here am I, the meaning is, that he is ready to obey the commands of God; for this mode of expression is frequently employed in Scripture to denote obedience.
9. Then he said, Go, and tell that people. (95) This shows still more clearly how necessary the vision was, that Isaiah might not all at once fail in his course. It was a grievous stumblingblock, that he must endure such obstinacy and rebellion in the people of God, and that not only for a year or two, but for more than sixty years. On this account he needed to be fortified, that he might be like a brazen wall against such stubbornness. The Lord, therefore, merely forewarns Isaiah that he will have to do with obstinate men, on whom he will produce little effect; but that so unusual an occurrence must not lead him to take offense, and lose courage, or yield to the rebellion of men; that, on the contrary, he must proceed with unshaken firmness, and rise superior to temptations of this nature. For God gives him due warning beforehand as to the result; as if he had said, “You will indeed teach without any good effect; but do not regret your teaching, for I enjoin it upon you; and do not refrain from teaching, because it yields no advantage; only obey me, and leave to my disposal all the consequences of your labors. I give you all this information in good time, that the event may not terrify you, as if it had been strange and unexpected.” Besides, he is commanded openly to reprove their blind obstinacy, as if he purposely taunted them.“
My labors will do no good; but it matters not to me: it is enough that what I do obtains the approbation of God, to whom my preaching will be a sweet smell, though it bring death to you.” (2 Corinthians 2:15.)
(95) And he said, Go, and tell this people. — Eng. Ver.
10. Harden the heart of this people. (96) Here the former statement is more fully expressed; for God informs Isaiah beforehand, not only that his labor in teaching will be fruitless, but that by his instruction he will also blind the people, so as to be the occasion of producing greater insensibility and stubbornness, and to end in their destruction. He declares that the people, bereft of reason and understanding, will perish, and there will be no means of obtaining relief; and yet he at the same time affirms that the labors of the Prophet, though they bring death and ruin on the Jews, will be to him an acceptable sacrifice.
This is a truly remarkable declaration; not only because Isaiah here foretold what was afterwards fulfilled under the reign of Christ, but also because it contains a most useful doctrine, which will be of perpetual use in the Church of God; for all who shall labor faithfully in the ministry of the word will be laid under the necessity of meeting with the same result. We too have experienced it more than we could have wished; but it has been shared by all the servants of Christ, and therefore we ought to endure it with greater patience, though it is a very grievous stumbling-block to those who serve God with a pure conscience. Not only does it give great offense, but Satan powerfully excites his followers to raise a dislike of instruction on the pretense of its being not merely useless, but even injurious; that it renders men more obstinate, and leads to their destruction. At the present day, those who have no other reproach to bring against the doctrine of the gospel maintain that the only effect produced by the preaching of it has been, that the world has become worse.
But whatever may be the result, still God assures us that our ministrations are acceptable to him, because we obey his command; and although our labor appear to be fruitless, and men rush forward to their destruction, and become more rebellious, we must go forward; for we do nothing at our own suggestion, and ought to be satisfied with having the approbation of God. We ought, indeed, to be deeply grieved when success does not attend our exertions; and we ought to pray to God to give efficacy to his word. A part of the blame we ought even to lay on ourselves, when the fruits are so scanty; and yet we must not abandon our office, or throw away our weapons. The truth must always be heard from our lips, even though there be no ears to receive it, and though the world have neither sight nor feeling; for it is enough for us that we labor faithfully for the glory of God, and that our services are acceptable to him; and the sound of our voice is not ineffectual, when it renders the world without excuse.
Hence arises a most excellent and altogether invaluable consolation to godly teachers, for supporting their minds against those grievous offenses which daily spring from the obstinacy of men, that, instead of being retarded by it, they may persevere in their duty with unshaken firmness. As it is also a general offense, that the lively word of God, at the hearing of which the whole world ought to tremble, strikes their ears to no purpose, and without any advantage, let weak men learn to fortify themselves by this declaration. We wonder how it is possible that the greater part of men can furiously oppose God; and hence also arises a doubt if it be the heavenly truth of God which is rejected without bringing punishment; for it can hardly be believed that God addresses men for the purpose of exciting their scorn. That our faith may not fail, we ought to employ this support, that the office of teaching was enjoined on Isaiah, on the condition that, in scattering the seed of life, it should yield nothing but death; and that this is not merely a narrative of what once happened, but a prediction of the future kingdom of Christ, as we shall find to be stated shortly afterwards.
We ought also to attend to this circumstance, that Isaiah was not sent to men indiscriminately, but to the Jews. Accordingly, the demonstrative particle הנה, ( hinneh,) behold, is emphatic, and implies that the people whom the Lord had peculiarly chosen for himself do not hear the word, and shut their eyes amidst the clearest light. Let us not wonder, therefore, if we appear to be like persons talking to the deaf, when we address those who boast of the name of God. It is undoubtedly a harsh saying, that God sends a prophet to close the ears, stop up the eyes, and harden the heart of the people; because it appears as if these things were inconsistent with the nature of God, and therefore contradicted his word. But we ought not to think it strange if God punishes the wickedness of men by blinding them in the highest degree. Yet the Prophet shows, a little before, that the blame of this blindness lies with the people; for when he bids them hear, he bears witness that the doctrine is fitted for instructing the people, if they choose to submit to it; that light is given to guide them, if they will but open their eyes. The whole blame of the evil is laid on the people for rejecting the amazing kindness of God; and hence is obtained a more complete solution of that difficulty to which we formerly adverted.
At first sight it seems unreasonable that the Prophets should be represented as making men’s hearts more hardened. They carry in their mouth the word of God, by which, as by a lamp, the steps of men ought to be guided; for this encomium, we know, has been pronounced on it by David. (Psalms 119:105.) It is not the duty of the Prophets, therefore, to blind the eyes, but rather to open them. Again, it is called perfect wisdom, (Psalms 19:9;) how then does it stupify men and take away their reason? Those hearts which formerly were of brass or iron ought to be softened by it; how then is it possible that it can harden them, as I have already observed? Such blinding and hardening influence does not arise out of the nature of the word, but is accidental, and must be ascribed exclusively to the depravity of man. As dim-sighted people cannot blame the sun for dazzling their eyes with its brightness; and those whose hearing is weak cannot complain of a clear and loud voice which the defect of their ears hinders them from hearing; and, lastly, a man of weak intellect cannot find fault with the difficulty of a subject which he is unable to understand; so ungodly men have no right to blame the word for making them worse after having heard it. The whole blame lies on themselves in altogether refusing it admission; and we need not wonder if that which ought to have led them to salvation become the cause of their destruction. It is right that the treachery and unbelief of men should be punished by meeting death where they might have received life, darkness where they might have had light; and, in short, evils as numerous as the blessings of salvation which they might have obtained. This ought to be carefully observed; for nothing is more customary with men than to abuse the gifts of God, and then not only to maintain that they are innocent, but even to be proud of appearing in borrowed feathers. But they are doubly wicked when they not only do not apply to their proper use, but wickedly corrupt and profane, those gifts which God had bestowed on them.
John quotes this passage as a clear demonstration of the stubbornness of the Jews. He does not indeed absolutely give the very words, but he states the meaning clearly enough.
Therefore, says he, they could not believe, because Isaiah said, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. (John 12:39 (97))
True, this prediction was not the cause of their unbelief, but the Lord foretold it, because he foresaw that they would be such as they are here described. The Evangelist applies to the Gospel what had already taken place under the law, and at the same time shows that the Jews were deprived of reason and understanding, because they were rebels against God. Yet if you inquire into the first cause, we must come to the predestination of God. But as that purpose is hidden from us, we must not too eagerly search into it; for the everlasting scheme of the divine purpose is beyond our reach, but we ought to consider the cause which lies plainly before our eyes, namely, the rebellion by which they rendered themselves unworthy of blessings so numerous and so great.
Paul, too, shows from this passage, on more than one occasion, (Acts 28:27; Romans 11:8,) that the whole blame of blindness rests with themselves. They have shut their ears, says he, and closed their eyes. What Isaiah here ascribes to doctrine, Paul traces to the wicked disposition of the nation, which was the cause of their own blindness; and accordingly, I have stated that this was an accidental and not a natural result of the doctrine. In that passage Paul introduces the Spirit as speaking, (Acts 28:25;) but John says that Isaiah spake thus of Christ, when he had beheld his glory. (John 12:41.) From this it is evident, as we formerly said, that Christ was that God who filled the whole earth with his majesty. Now, Christ is not separate from his Spirit, and therefore Paul had good reason for applying this passage to the Holy Spirit; for although God exhibited to the Prophet the lively image of himself in Christ, still it is certain that whatever he communicated was wholly breathed into him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, however ungodly men may bark against us with their reproaches, that our doctrine ought to bear the blame, because the world is made worse by the preaching of it, they gain nothing at all, and take nothing away from the authority of the doctrine; for they must at the same time condemn God himself and the whole of his doctrine. But their calumnies will not hinder his justice from being displayed, or hinder him from vindicating itself, and at the same time vindicating us.
And when they shall be converted (98) Here he expressly declares that he did not send the Prophet because he intended to save the people; but, on the contrary, because he intended to destroy them. But the word of God brings salvation; at least some benefit must arise from the preaching of it, that it may do good to some, though many are deprived of the advantage by their own unbelief. I answer, the subject treated of is the whole body, which had already been condemned and devoted to destruction; for there were always some whom the Lord exempted from the general ruin; to them the word brought salvation, and on them it actually produced its proper effect; but the great body of the people were cut off and perished through obstinate unbelief and rebellion. So, then, we perceive that the word of God is never so destructive that there are not a few who perceive that it brings salvation to them, and feel that it does so in reality.
They shall be healed. We ought also to observe from the order and connection of the words, that the first step of healing is repentance. But in the first place, we must understand what he means by the word healing; for he uses it in reference to the chastisements which had been inflicted on the people on account of their sins. Now, the cause of all the evils which we endure is our rebellion against God. When we repent, he is reconciled to us, and the rods with which he chastised us are no longer employed. This is our healing. And this order ought to be carefully observed, from which it is evident what object the Lord has in view in inviting us to himself, and what is the design of the heavenly doctrine, namely, that we may be converted
This is another part of the Gospel, Repent ye. (Matthew 3:2.) Then, offering reconciliation he holds out remedies for all diseases, not only of the body but of the soul. And such being the eminent advantage derived from the word of God, if we are not reconciled to God as soon as his word sounds in our ears, we have no right to lay the blame on any other, for it rests wholly with ourselves. Indeed, the Prophet here speaks of it as unnatural and monstrous, that, by the doctrine of the word, the native tendency of which is to heal and soften, men should become insolent and obstinate and altogether incurable. It is undoubtedly true, that when we are drawn inwardly, (John 6:44,) it is an extraordinary gift of God, and that the arm of God is not revealed to all, (Isaiah 53:1;) but by this dreadful punishment of obstinate malice, Isaiah intended to teach, that we ought earnestly to beware of despising when God calls.
(96) Make the heart of this people fat. — Eng. Ver.
(97) In the original text the reference reads: John 12:39 I added the next verse to include the quoted text. — fj.
(98) And convert. — Eng. Ver.
11. And I said, How long, O LORD? Although the Prophets are severe in denouncing the wrath of God against men, yet they do not lay aside human feelings. It is therefore necessary that they sustain a twofold character; for they must proclaim the judgment of God with high and unshaken courage, so that they would rather choose that the world should be destroyed and utterly ruined than that any part of His glory should be taken away. And yet they are not devoid of feeling, so as to be unmoved by compassion for their brethren, whose destruction their office lays them under the necessity of foretelling. These two feelings, though they appear to be inconsistent, are in full harmony, as appears from the instance of Jeremiah, who at first complains of the hard task assigned him of proclaiming destruction to the people, but afterwards revives his courage, and proceeds boldly in discharging the duties of his office (Jeremiah 1:6.) Such was also the state of Isaiah’s mind; for, being desirous to obey God, he earnestly proclaimed His judgments; and yet he had some regard to the people, which led him to entreat, that if this blindness must come upon them, it might not be permanent. There can be no doubt, that when he thus prayed to God, he was moved with compassion, and desired that so dreadful a punishment should be mitigated.
Natural affections, ( στοργαὶ φυσικαὶ,) therefore, ought not to prevent us from performing what is our duty. For instance, there is the natural affection of a husband to a wife, and of a father to a son; but it ought to be checked and restrained, so that we may chiefly consider what is suitable to our calling, and what the Lord commands. This ought to be carefully observed; for when we wish to give loose reins to ourselves, we commonly plead this excuse, that we are willing and ready to do what God requires, but are overpowered by natural affection. But those feelings ought to be restrained in such a manner as not to obstruct our calling; just as they did not hinder the Prophet from proceeding in the discharge of his duty; for to such an extent ought we to acknowledge the authority of the Lord over us, that when he orders and commands, we should forget ourselves and all that belongs to us.
But although the godly anxiety of Isaiah about the salvation of the people is here expressed, still the severity of the punishment is likewise stated, that wicked men may not, as they are wont to do, indulge the hope of some mitigation. Nor can it be doubted that the Prophet was led by a secret impulse from God to ask this, that the stern and dreadful reply which immediately follows might be more fully brought out; from which it is evident what kind of destruction awaits unbelievers, that they will receive no light or moderate punishment, but will be utterly destroyed and cut off.
Until the houses be without man, and the land become a desolation. This is an additional aggravation; for it is possible that countries might be wasted, and yet that one city might remain; that even cities might be stormed and laid desolate, and yet very many houses be left. But here the slaughter, he tells us, will be so great, that not only the cities, but even the very houses will be thrown down, and the whole land will be reduced to frightful and lamentable desolation; though even amidst the heaviest calamities some remnant is still left. Though Isaiah said this but once, yet let us understand that it is also spoken to us; for this punishment has been pronounced against all who obstinately disobey God, or who with a stiff neck struggle against his yoke. The more violent their opposition, the more resolutely will the Lord pursue them till they are utterly destroyed.
12. Till the Lord have removed men far away. These words contain nothing new, but merely an explanation of the former verse, and a description by other words of the ruin that shall overtake Judea; namely, that God will send the inhabitants far away. He asserts that those who shall survive the war will not be exempted from punishment, for they will be led into captivity. And next he adds a general clause about the desolation of the land; as if he had said that it would be desolate and bereft of inhabitants, because some would flee away, others would be driven into banishment, and others would perish by the sword. Such is the reward prepared for obstinate and rebellious persons, who add crime to crime, till the indignation of God rise to such a height that it cannot be appeased.
13. Till there shall be in it a tenth (99) There is some obscurity in the words; but let us first ascertain the meaning, and then we shall easily find out what is the signification of the words. There are two ways of explaining this passage. Some explain עשיריה ( asiriyah) to mean decimation; others make it to mean a tenth part, and consider it to be a collective noun. Undoubtedly, the Hebrew word עשירית, ( asirith,) and not עשיריה, ( asiriyah,) denotes a tenth part, though the difference between them is not great. Those who render it decimation think that a truce is promised to the people, because from the reign of Uzziah to the destruction of Jerusalem there would be ten kings; and undoubtedly that is the number of kings, reckoning from Uzziah to Zedekiah. His prophetical doctrine would derive no small support from the circumstance, that he could tell the number of kings who should reign even after his death, and that he described not only the fact itself, but likewise the time, and the day.
Yet I know not if another meaning be not somewhat more appropriate; for the Prophet appears to hold out to the people this consolation, that they will retain some hidden vigor, and will be capable of sprouting out, though they may appear for a time to be entirely dead; just as, when the winter is past, the trees renew their foliage. But as the former exposition carries sufficient probability, I shall therefore explain the whole verse according to the opinion of those who think that mention is here made of ten kings, so as to mean that, when the ten kings shall have completed their reign, the people will be carried into captivity, and then, as by a conflagration, the whole land will be consumed.
At the same time, the reader ought to be aware that whether עשיריה ( asiriyah) be rendered a tenth part, or decimation, it may with the utmost propriety be viewed as referring to the people; and then the meaning will be, Till the people be diminished to a tenth part. He had formerly spoken of a remnant, and a very small remnant, (Isaiah 1:9,) and afterwards he will speak of it again, (Isaiah 10:22;) for it was a very small number that remained. It might therefore be naturally viewed as meaning, that out of a thousand there would be left a hundred; out of a hundred, ten; and out of ten, one.
And shall return. That is, a change will take place for the better: the Jews will return from captivity to their native country, and the land will assume a new aspect. But this may be thought to be somewhat at variance with what follows; for the Prophet immediately adds, It shall be destruction. How cold comfort will it yield to the people to be restored, if shortly afterwards they shall be again destroyed! Some commentators solve this difficulty, by supposing that Isaiah spoke about the final destruction of the people. But in my opinion he rather means that the destruction will not be complete, but such as happens to trees, when their leaves fall off in the winter, and nothing appears but dead timber; but when spring returns, they bud forth anew: and so also will this people.
לבער ( lebaer) means to burn, (100) and therefore it means here that they will be consumed by a conflagration: but we ought to read it in connection with the metaphor which immediately follows; for Isaiah does not barely mean that it will be consumed, but that it will be consumed like the teil-tree, that is, with the hope of immediate recovery. When Jerome rendered it for exhibition, I know not on what he supposed that opinion to be founded, if it were not that he made a free translation, looking rather to the meaning than to the etymology of the word; for when trees blossom or put forth leaves, their life is again brought forth and displayed; and this meaning will be very appropriate.
As a teil-tree and an oak. It appears that Isaiah did not select at random those two kinds of trees; for one of them puts forth its leaves, and likewise sheds them, sooner than the other. So it happened to the tribe of Judah; for first the ten tribes, with the half tribe of Benjamin, were carried into captivity; and thus they who were the first to blossom were likewise the first to decay. This tribe was the latest of all in decaying, not without high expectation of blossoming again; for here the hope of deliverance is held out, and this was different from the captivity of the Israelites. There appears, therefore, to be some appropriateness in this metaphor of the trees; but I would not choose to press it very far.
When they cast their leaves. By the phrase, casting of leaves, must be understood that throwing of them down which takes place when trees are stripped of their leaves as of their garment; for trees, in that state of nakedness, appear to be dry and withered; though there remains in them a hidden vigor, through which they are at length quickened by the returning mildness of the season.
So in it shall be substance. This is the application of the metaphor, which is exceedingly forcible; for when we see the spiritual grace of God in the very order of nature, we are strongly confirmed. As Paul holds out a likeness of the resurrection in the sowing of corn, which is a daily occurrence, (1 Corinthians 15:36,) so in like manner Isaiah in this passage describes the restoration of the Church, by taking a metaphor from trees, which wither at the end of autumn, but again blossom at the return of spring, and put forth new leaves; which could not happen, did they not retain some vigor during the winter, though to outward appearance they are dead. He foretells that a similar event will happen to this people; so that, although during their hard and oppressive captivity they resemble dry timber, and it may be thought that they can never be delivered, still there will always be preserved in them some vigor, by which they shall be supported amidst those calamities, and shall at length come forth and blossom.
This doctrine, we have said, is not peculiar to a single age, and therefore it ought to be carefully observed; for it frequently happens that the Church, amidst the numerous afflictions which she endures, appears to have no strength, and is supposed to be utterly ruined. Whenever this takes place, let us fully believe that, notwithstanding these appearances, there is still some concealed energy, which, though it be not immediately manifest to our eyes, will at length yield its fruit. That energy lies hidden in the word of the Lord, by which alone the Church is sustained.
The holy seed. He shows what is that substance, that it consists of a small number of the godly, whom he calls the holy seed; for he means the elect, who would be preserved by the free mercy of God, and thus would survive that captivity. That banishment might be regarded as a cleansing of the Church, by which the Lord took away the ungodly; and when they had been cut off, he collected a people, small in number, but truly consecrated to himself. Some commentators consider this phrase to refer to Christ; but the interpretation appears to be too far-fetched, and it will be more consistent to extend it to all the godly; for the holy seed is the substance of the Church.
(99) But yet in it shall be a tenth. — Eng. Ver.
(100) Bishop Lowth’s rendering is, And though there be a tenth part remaining in it, even this shall undergo repeated destruction; which accords with Calvin’s view, that the substance of the tree will be left. Bishop Stock renders it for pasture: But yet in it shall be left a tenth, and it shall recover, and serve for pasture. He reasons thus: “The verb בער may either signify to eat grass, or to eat it down. The question is, in which sense it is to be understood here? whether the land is again to yield food to its inhabitants, or to be laid bare and waste? That the former is the true meaning I think very evident, as well from the tendency of the ensuing simile of the oak, which is of the consolatory kind, as because it is the almost constant practice of Isaiah to subjoin to denunciations of divine vengeance a prediction of final reconcilement and happiness.” Jarchi, as interpreted by Breithaupt, renders the word, et erunt in combustionem ( sive depastionem,) and they shall be for destruction, ( or for pasture;) leaving it doubtful which of the above renderings ought to be preferred. — Ed
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 6". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29