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1. Who is this that cometh from Edom? This chapter has been violently distorted by Christians, as if what is said here related to Christ, whereas the Prophet speaks simply of God himself; and they have imagined that here Christ is red, because he was wet with his own blood which he shed on the cross. But the Prophet meant nothing of that sort. The obvious meaning is, that the Lord comes forth with red garments in the view of his people, that all may know that he is their protector and avenger; for when the people were weighed down by innumerable evils, and at the same time the Edomites and other enemies, as if they had been placed beyond the reach of all danger, freely indulged in wickedness, which remained unpunished, a dangerous temptation might arise, as if these things happened by chance, or as if God did not care for his people, or chastised them too severely. If the Jews were punished for despising God, much more the Edomites, and other avowed enemies of the name of God, ought to have been punished.
The Prophet meets this very serious temptation by representing God the avenger as returning from the slaughter of the Edomites, as if he were drenched with their blood. There is great liveliness and energy in a description of this sort, Who is this? for that question raises the hearts of the hearers into a state of astonishment, and strikes them more forcibly than a plain narrative. On this account the Prophet employed it, in order to arouse the hearts of the Jews from their slumbering and stupefaction.
We know that the Edomites were somewhat related to the Jews by blood; for they were descended from the same ancestors, and derived their name from Esau, who was also called Edom. (Genesis 36:1.) Having corrupted the pure worship of God, though they bore the same mark of circumcision, they persecuted the Jews with deadly hatred. They likewise inflamed the rage of other enemies against the Jews, and shewed that they took great pleasure in the ruin of that people, as is evident; from the encouraging words addressed by them to its destroyers.“
Remember, O Lord, (says the Psalmist,) the children of Edom, who, in the day of the destruction of Jerusalem, said, Raze, raze it even to the foundations.” (Psalms 137:7.)
The Prophet, therefore, threatens that judgment shall be passed on the Edomites, that none may imagine that they shall escape punishment for that savage cruelty with which they burned towards their brethren; for God will punish all wicked men and enemies of the Church in such a manner as to shew that the Church is the object of his care.
Beautiful in his raiment. Because spots of blood pollute and stain the conquerors, Isaiah affirms that God will nevertheless be “beautiful in his raiment,” after having taken vengeance on the enemies. In like manner, we have seen in other passages (Isaiah 34:6) that the slaughter of the wicked is compared to sacrifices, because the glory of God shines brightly in them; for can we conceive of any ornament more lovely than judgment? Thus, in order to impress men with reverence for God’s righteous vengeance, he pronounces the blood with which he was sprinkled, by slaying and destroying the wicked, to be highly beautiful and ornamental. As if he had said, “Think not that God will resemble a person of mean rank. Though he be drenched with blood, yet this will not prevent his glory and majesty from shining brightly.”
Marching in the greatness of his strength. Various expositions of the word צעה ( tzogneh) are given by the Jews. Some view it in a transitive sense, as referring to the people whom the Lord brought back from captivity. Others refer it to the nations whom the Lord will remove to another country, though they appear to have a settled habitation. But I consider it to he more agreeable to the context to give to it an absolute sense as a noun. The Prophet, therefore, describes God’s majestic march and heroic firmness, by which he displays vast power.
I who speak. The Lord himself replies; and this carries much more authority than if the Prophet spoke in his own person. Believers are reminded by him of former predictions, that they may know that in the judgments of God not only his justice and goodness, but likewise his faithfulness is manifested. As if he had said, “Behold, ye now see fulfilled what I have already and frequently testified to you by my servants. This effect of my promises clearly shews that I am true, and that I speak justly and sincerely, and not for the purpose of deceiving you.” The vision would have been little fitted to strike their minds, if the Jews had not remembered those promises which they formerly heard; but since the design of it was, that they should rely on God’s salvation, he at the same time claims for himself no ordinary power to save.
2. Wherefore is thy raiment red? He proceeds with the same subject; but, as it would have impaired the force of the narrative, he does not immediately explain whence came the red color of God’s garments, but continues to put questions, that he may arouse their minds to the consideration of what is strange and uncommon. He means that this sprinkling of blood is something remarkable and extraordinary. The comparison drawn from a “wine-press” is highly appropriate; for the town Bozrah, which he mentioned a little before, lay in a vine-bearing district. As if he had said, “There will be other vintages than those which are customary; for blood shall be shed instead of the juice of the grapes.”
3. Alone have I pressed the wine-press. The Prophet now explains the vision, and the reason why the Lord was stained with blood. It is because he will take vengeance on the Edomites and other enemies who treated his people cruelly. It would be absurd to say that these things relate to Christ, because he alone and without human aid redeemed us; for it means that God will punish the Edomites in such a manner that he will have no need of the assistance of men, because he will be sufficiently able to destroy them. The Jews might have objected that the Edomites are powerful, and are not harassed by any wars, but are in a flourishing and tranquil condition. The Prophet shews that this does not prevent the Lord from inflicting punishment on them whenever he shall think proper. Human means were, indeed, employed by him when he took vengeance on the Edomites, but in such a manner that it was made evident to all that it was entirely directed by his hand, and that no part of it could be ascribed to human forces or counsels. They were overwhelmed by sudden and unlooked-for destruction, of which the people ought not to have doubted that God, who had so often warned them of it, was the author.
And of the peoples there was none with me. (173) This is added in order to intimate that, although “peoples” will arise out of the earth in order to destroy the nation of Edom, yet the work of God shall be separate from them, because nothing was farther from the design of heathen nations than to inflict punishment on the Edomites for their unjust cruelty. For this reason the Lord wishes his judgment to be known and to be illustriously displayed amidst the din of arms and tempestuous commotions.
For I will tread them. I willingly retain the future tense; for the Prophet speaks of events that are future and not yet accomplished; and although the Edomites were living in prosperity and at their ease, yet God would severely punish them on account of their cruelty. Why the Prophet makes use of the metaphor of a bloody wine-press, which is a shocking and melancholy sight, we have already in part explained; but it ought likewise to be added, that the punishments and vengeance which God inflicts on enemies are appropriately called his vintage, as if he gathered them when he ruins or destroys them. In like manner, such punishment is called in another passage (Isaiah 34:6) a solemn sacrifice; that we may learn that glory ought to be ascribed to God, not less when he executes his judgments than when he exhibits tokens of compassion. (174)
And I will stain all my raiment. He nevertheless describes his amazing love toward the Jews, in deigning to sprinkle himself with the blood of enemies on their account; and that is the reason why he makes use of the word stain.
In my wrath. He shews that this is of itself sufficient for destroying the Edomites, that the Lord is angry with them; as if he had said that there will be none to rescue them, when the Lord shall be pleased to chastise, Hence we may infer that the destruction of men proceeds from nothing else than the wrath of God; as, on the other hand, on his graco alone depends our salvation. In a word, God intended here to testify that the Edomites shall not remain unpunished for having persecuted the Church of God.
(173) “Yet he punished the Moabites by means of the Assyrians. How, then, was there none with him? I reply, — 1. God distinguishes his work from the work of instruments. He says that he had quite a different end in view from what the instruments had, and therefore that he alone righteously executed this chastisement. 2. He means that this chastisement was of such a nature, so sudden and distressing, that all might see that it did not proceed merely from human counsels and secondary causes, but chiefly from God himself; and consequently that he is the first cause, and the Assyrians are the instrumental cause of the chastisement.” — Pareus.
(174) “The treading of the wine-press alone is an expression often applied in sermons, and in religious books and conversation, to our Savior’s sufferings. This application is described as customary in his own time by Vitringa, who considers it as having led to the forced exposition of the whole passage by the fathers and Cocceius as a description of Christ’s passion. While the impossibility of such a sense in the original passage cannot be too strongly stated, there is no need of denying that the figure may be happily accommodated in the way suggested; as many expressions of the Old Testament may be applied to different objects with good effect, provided we are careful to avoid confounding such accommodations with the strict and primary import of the passage.” — Alexander. It may be proper to add that “the exposition of the whole passage” is still the subject of much controversy, and that a full and candid discussion of it by some person of competent learning and ability would do incalculable good. — Ed.
4. For the day of vengeance is in my heart. In the former clause of this verse Isaiah intimates that God does not cease to discharge his office, though he does not instantly execute his judgments, but, on the contrary, delays till a seasonable time, which he knows well; and that it does not belong to us to prescribe to him when or how he ought to do this or that, but we ought to bow submissively to his decree, that he may administer all things according to his pleasure. Let us not, therefore, imagine that he is asleep, or that he is idle, when he delays.
And the year of my redeemed is come. In this latter clause he shews that all these things are done for the sake of believers. “Day” and “year” are here used by him in the same sense; but by the word “year” is denoted the long duration of the captivity, that the Jews may not despair or grow faint and weary, if the redemption be long delayed. The Lord therefore punishes and destroys wicked men for the purpose of delivering the godly and of redeeming his Church, for which he has a special regard.
Finally, by the slaughter and destruction of them he opens up a way for his grace. And this tends to our consolation, that whenever we see tokens of God’s wrath toward the wicked, we may know that the fruit of the punishment which they endure will come to us; for in this way it is clearly seen that our groans are heard, and that God, when he wishes to relieve the afflicted, is armed with strength to put to flight all the enemies of his Church. Wherefore, although the cross be heavy to us, yet by hearing patiently let us learn to lift up our minds by hope to that “year” which God hath appointed for executing his vengeance.
5. I looked, and there was none to help. Although the Jews were destitute of all assistance, and no one aided them by word or deed, yet he shews that the arm of the Lord is alone sufficient to punish enemies, and to set his people at liberty. He shews, therefore, that from God alone they ought to expect salvation, that they may not gaze around in every direction, but may have their eyes wholly fixed on God, who has no need of the assistance of others.
And I wondered. He represents God as amazed that there is none to stretch out a hand to him, when he wishes to execute his judgments, that he may impress more deeply on the minds of believers this doctrine, that God has no need of human aid, and that he is sufficient of himself for procuring salvation to his people. By this circumstance he magnifies still more the assistance which he had determined to render to his people, partly to correct their distrust, and partly to exhort them to gratitude in future; for God assumes a different character, when he says that he stood like one astonished; because this stupidity belonged literally to the Jews, who scarcely believed what could not be done by the power of men. With every assistance, therefore, he contrasts his own arm, with the invincible power of which he says that he will be satisfied, both that he may be seen to be their Savior, and that he may scatter and lay low all the wicked.
6. And I will tread down the peoples. From the preceding statement he draws the conclusion, that God’s wrath is sufficiently powerful to destroy the wicked, without calling for the assistance of others; and he does so in order that the Jews may not be deterred from cherishing favorable hopes by the strength that is arrayed against them.
And will make them drunk. The expression, “make drunk,” must here be taken in a different sense from what it formerly had in some passages. We have seen that sometimes we are made drunk, when God strikes us with fury or madness, (Isaiah 29:9,) or with a spirit of giddiness, (Isaiah 19:14,) or, in a word, “gives us up to a reprobate mind.” (Romans 1:28.) But here it means nothing else than “to fill,” and to strike even to satiety, or, as we commonly say, ( tout leur saoul ,) “to their heart’s content;” a metaphor which the prophets frequently employ.
And will cast down their strength to the earth. That is, though they think that they are invincible, yet I will cast down and destroy them. The meaning may be thus summed up. “The Jews, when they are afflicted, must not call in question their salvation, as if God hated them, and must not be amazed at the chastisements which they endure, as if they happened by chance; for other nations, by whom they are now oppressed, shall be punished, there shall be a revolution of affairs, and they shall not escape who chant a triumph before the time. He produces as an example the Edomites, because they were nearer and better known than others, and were also the most injurious.
7. I will keep in remembrance the compassions of Jehovah. Isaiah brings consolation to his people in distressed and calamitous circumstances, and by his example bids the Jews, when they were oppressed by afflictions, call to remembrance God’s ancient benefits, and betake themselves to prayer; that they may not be like hypocrites, who only in prosperity feel the goodness of God, and are so much cast down by adversity as to remember no benefit. But when the Lord chastises us, we ought to mention and celebrate his benefits, and to cherish better hopes for the future; for the Lord is always the same, and does not change his purpose or his inclination; and therefore if we leave room for his compassion, we shall never be left destitute.
Such appears to me to be the scope of the context, though others view it in a different light, namely, that the Prophet, having hitherto spoken of the destruction of the people, comforts himself by this confident hope of compassion, that God wishes to save some of them. But they are mistaken in supposing that Isaiah has hitherto spoken of the Jews, as if God punished them only, whereas he testified that he would likewise punish other nations, that they might not think that they alone were hated by God; and accordingly, he now exhorts them to celebrate the remembrance of those benefits which God had formerly bestowed on the fathers, that by their example they may know better the love of God toward them. From the context it will also appear clearly, that the Jews are joined with their fathers, that the covenant which belongs to them in common with their fathers, may encourage them to hope well.
As upon all that Jehovah hath bestowed on us. He employs the particle of comparison, As, in order to shew that in adversity we ought instantly to remember those benefits which the Lord bestowed on his people, as if they were placed before our eyes, though they appear to be buried by extreme old age; for if they do not belong to us, the remembrance of them would be idle and unprofitable.
He confirms this also by saying on us. Because the Jews were members of the same body, he justly reckons them the descendants of their grandfathers and other ancestors. Isaiah did not, indeed, experience those benefits which he mentions; but because they had been bestowed on the Church, the fruit of them came partly to himself, because he was a member of the Church. And undoubtedly that communion of saints which we profess to believe, ought to be so highly valued by us, as to lead us to think that what the Church has received from the hand of God has been given to us; for the Church of God is one, and that which now is has nothing separate from that which formerly was. (175)
In the multitude of kindness toward the house of Israel. By these words Isaiah more fully explains his meaning. Since therefore the Lord shewed himself to be kind and bountiful toward his people, we ought to hope for the same thing in the present day, because we are “fellow-citizens,” and members of the very same Church. (Ephesians 2:19.) Although we feel that God is angry with us on account of our sins, yet our hearts ought to be encouraged by hope and armed by confidence; because he cannot forsake his Church. Yet it ought to be carefully observed, that the Prophet extols and magnifies in lofty terms the mercy of God, that we may know that the foundation of our salvation and of all blessings is laid on it; for this excludes the merits of men, that nothing may in any way be ascribed to them.
That this doctrine may be better understood, we must take into account the time of which Isaiah speaks. At that time righteousness and godliness chiefly flourished; for although the people were exceedingly corrupted, yet Moses, Aaron, and other good men, gave illustrious examples of unblamable and holy lives. Yet the Prophet shews that all the blessings which the Lord. bestowed on Moses and others ought to be ascribed, not to their merits, but to the mercy of God. But what are we in comparison of Moses, that we should deserve anything from God? This repetition, therefore, of kindness, mercies, and compassions, as it raises feeble minds on high, that they may rise above stupendous and formidable temptations, ought also to remove and swallow up all thought of human merits.
(175) “Here the Prophet, in the person of a captive Jew, makes a grateful acknowledgment of the manifold mercies bestowed on their nation from the time that he first took them into favor, the thoughts of which served to keep up their spirits, and made them hope that some time or other he would be mindful of them, and redeem them, as he did their forefathers.” — White.
8. For he said, Surely they are my people. He mentions the election of the people, and represents God as speaking of it, that we may keep in view the end of our calling., that he wished to have a peculiar people, who should call upon him. And yet he accuses the people of ingratitude, in having disappointed God of his expectation; not that the Lord can be deceived, for he dearly foresaw what they would become, and also declared it (Deuteronomy 32:15) by Moses; but Scripture speaks in this manner, when it is altogether owing to the ingratitude of men that they, disappoint God, as we formerly saw,“
I looked that it should yield grapes, and it hath yielded wild grapes.” (Isaiah 5:4.)
Nor does he treat of God’s secret decree, but speaks after the manner of men about the mutual consent between God and believers, that all to whom he deigns to offer himself as their Father, may answer to God when he calls; “for the foundation standeth sure, that none of the elect shall perish, because the Lord knoweth who are truly his. (2 Timothy 2:19.)
Children that do not lie. We know that the end of our calling is, that we may lead a holy and blameless life, as the whole of Scripture testifies, and as we have often stated at former passages. (Isaiah 43:21.) Justly, therefore, does the Lord say that he elected the people, that they might be holy and true, that he might have children who were averse to falsehood and vanity. But the people did not keep their promise, and were far removed from that simplicity which they ought to have followed; for everything was full of deceit and hypocrisy. Yet nevertheless he holds out the hope of pardon, provided that they fly to God and humble themselves by sincere repentance.
Therefore he became their Savior. The Prophet shews what is the chief part of the service of God; namely, to have a pure and upright heart. Hence it follows that God forsakes us, because we are treacherous and are covenant-breakers. Seeing therefore that this people took pleasure in their vices, it was proper first to convict them of their unbelief, that being afterwards converted to God, they might find him to be their Savior.
9. In all their affliction he was afflicted. He enlarges on the goodness of God toward his people, and shews that he was kind to the fathers, so long as they permitted themselves to be governed by him, and was so careful about them that he himself bore their distresses and afflictions. By speaking in this mainner, he declares the incomparable love which God bears toward his people. In order to move us more powerfully and draw us to himself, the Lord accommodates himself to the manner of men, by attributing to himself all the affection, love, and ( συμπαθεία) compassion which a father can have. And yet in human affairs it is impossible to conceive of any sort of kindness or benevolence which he does not immeasurably surpass.
I acknowledge that לא ( lo) with א ( aleph) literally signifies not; and therefore I do not altogether reject a different interpretation, that the people in their afflictions were not afflicted, because God always applied some remedy to alleviate their sorrows. But since א, ( aleph,)in many passages, is manifestly changed into ו, ( vau,) learned commentators justly, in my opinion, view it as equivalent to the pronoun לו, ( lo,) to him. In this sense the Prophet testifies that God, in order to alleviate the distresses and afflictions of his people, himself bore their burdens; not that he can in any way endure anguish, but, by a very customary figure of speech, he assumes and applies to himself human passions. (176)
And the angel of his face saved them. Of the care which he took of them he next explains the effect, by saying that he always delivered them by the hand of his angel, whom he calls “the angel of his face,” because he was the witness of the presence of God, and, as it were, his herald to execute his commands; that we may not think that angels come forth of their own accord, or move at their own suggestion, to render assistance to us; for the Lord makes use of their agency, and makes known to us his presence by means of them. Angels can do nothing of themselves, and give no assistance, except so far as the Lord commissions them“
to be ministers of our salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14.)
Let us not, therefore, fix our whole attention on them, for they lead us straight to God.
If it be thought preferable to interpret this phrase as describing the lively image of God, because that angel, being the leader and guardian of the people, shewed the face of God as in a mirror, that meaning will be highly appropriate. And indeed I have no doubt that the office of Savior is ascribed to Christ, as we know that he was the angel of highest rank, by whose guidance, safeguard, and protection, the Church has been preserved and upheld.
In his love. He shews what was the cause of so great benefits; namely, his love and undeserved kindness, as Moses also teaches. “How came it that God adopted thy fathers, but because he loved them, and because his heart clave to them?” (Deuteronomy 4:37.) Moses wishes to set aside entirely the lofty opinion which they might entertain of themselves, because they were proud and haughty, and claimed more for themselves than they had a right to claim; and therefore he shews that there was no other cause for so great benefits than the absolute and undeserved goodness of God.
He bore them and carried them. He next makes use of the same metaphor which Moses employs in his song, when he says that God“
carried his people in the same manner as an eagle bears her young on her wings.” (Deuteronomy 32:11.)
Or perhaps some may choose to refer it to sheep, as we have seen elsewhere, “He will lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11.) Yet it is more natural to view this as a comparison to a mother, who not only carries the child in the womb, but rears it till it arrive at full strength. The meaning may be thus summed up. “The people experienced the grace of God, not only once, when they were redeemed, but during the whole course of their life, so that to him alone ought to be ascribed all the benefits which they have received.” And therefore he adds —
All the days of the age; that is, in an uninterrupted succession of many years; for God is not wearied in doing good, nor is it only to a single age that he shews his kindness; for he has never ceased to adorn and enrich his Church with various gifts.
(176) “In all their distress there was distress to him, or, as the English Version renders it, ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted.’ This explanation, with the text on which it is founded, and which is exhibited by a number of manuscripts and editions, is approved by Luther, Vitringa, Clericus, Hitzig, Ewald, Umbreit, Hendewerk, and Knobel. It is favored, not only by the strong and affecting sense which it yields but by the analogy of Jude 10:16, in one of which places the same phrase is used to denote human suffering, and in the other God is represented as sympathizing with it. The objections to it are, that it gratuitously renders necessary another anthropopathic explanation; that the natural collocation of the words, if this were the meaning, would be צר לו, (tzar lo) as in 2 Samuel 1:26; that the negative is expressed by all the ancient versions; and that the critical presumption: is in favor of the Kethib, or textual reading, as the more ancient, which the Massorites merely corrected in the margin, without venturing to change it, and which ought not to be now abandoned, if a coherent sense can be put on it, as it can in this case.” — Alexander.
10. But they were rebellious. The Prophet now comes down to the second clause, in which he states that the Lord ceased to shew kindness to his people, because they revolted, and turned aside from him. The question turns on this point: “God exercised his kindness towards our fathers for a long time; why do not we experience the same kindness? Is he unlike himself?” By no means; but we ourselves, by our rebellion, refuse and even drive away his goodness. Yet the Prophet not only accuses the men of his own age, but likewise condemns former ages. We see how, even when they had Moses for their leader, they murmured against God and rebelled. (Exodus 17:5; Numbers 11:1.)
Therefore he became an enemy to them. He shews that the effect of their rebellion was, that God, who had loved them tenderly, yet, in consequence of their obstinacy, “became an enemy to them.” Let them accuse themselves, therefore, for suffering the punishment of their transgressions; for God is by nature disposed to shew kindness, and nothing is more agreeable to him than to bestow his favors.
And they provoked his Holy Spirit. We are said to irritate “the Holy Spirit” by our wickedness; and this form of expression, after the manner of men, is intended to produce in us stronger abhorrence against sin, which provokes God’s wrath and hatred. Now, since it is the same Spirit that performs the work of our salvation, the Prophet suggests that God is alienated from us by our sins, which break asunder the bond of union. To this belongs the exhortation of Paul,“
Grieve not; the Spirit of God, by whom ye have been sealed to the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30.)
It ought also to be observed here, that we have no reason for blaming men, who hate and persecute us, seeing that the Lord makes war with us, and punishes our transgressions by their hand. We ought therefore to accuse and condemn our transgressions; for they are the cause of all the evils which we endure.
11. And he remembered the days of old. This is the design of the chastisement, that the people may be roused from their lethargy, and may call to remembrance those things which they had formerly forgotten; for we are so intoxicated by prosperity that we altogether forget God. And therefore chastisements bring back this thought, which had been defaced in us, “Where is God who bestowed so many benefits on our fathers?” For I refer these things to the past time; and therefore I have translated עולם ( gnolam) “of old.” and not “of the age,” which would be unsuitable to this passage, seeing that he mentions those times in which Moses governed the people of God. Wherefore, the true meaning is, that the Jews, being wretchedly oppressed, thought of “the times of old,” in which the Lord displayed his power for defending his people. As to the opinion of some commentators, who refer it to God, as if he contended with the wickedness of the people, because he chose rather to bestow his favors improperly on ungrateful persons, than not to complete what he had begun, it appears to be too harsh and unnatural; and therefore the Prophet rather utters the groans and complaints of a wretched people, when they have learned from chastisements how miserable it is to lose God’s protection.
With the shepherd of his flock. By “the shepherd” he means Moses, and I see no good reason for translating it in the plural rather than the singular number. (177)
That put his Holy Spirit in the midst of him. He describes also the manner; namely, that he endowed him with a remarkable grace of the Holy Spirit; for “to put the Spirit in the midst of him” means nothing else than to display the power of his Spirit. Others prefer to view it as referring to the people; and I do not object to that opinion. But when the Lord chose Moses, and appointed him to be the leader of the whole people, in him especially the Lord is said to have “put his Spirit.” Now, he gave his Spirit to him for the benefit of the whole people, that he might be a distinguished minister of his grace, and might restore them to liberty. At the same time, the power of the Spirit of God was seen in the midst of the whole people.
(177) Our author refers to a different reading, רעי, ( rogne,) the construct plural, instead of רעה, (rogneh,) the construct singular of רעה, (rogneh.) — Ed. “Nearly sixty manuscripts and forty editions read, רעי (rogne) in the plural, which may then be understood as including Aaron, (Psalms 77:20,) and, as Vitringa thinks, Miriam, (Micah 6:4,) or perhaps the seventy elders, who are probably referred to in the last clause as under a special divine influence. (See Numbers 11:17. Compare Exodus 31:3 ” — Alexander.
12. Who led them. Here he goes on to describe the miraculous deliverance of the people, who were led out of Egypt under the guidance of Moses; and he goes on to relate the complaints which might occur to the minds of the afflicted Jews. Here we see two things connected; namely, the right hand of Moses and the arm of God’s majesty. The Lord employs the labors and ministry of men in such a manner that his praise and glory must not be in any degree diminished or obscured; for, while these things are transacted under Moses as the leader, everything is ascribed to God. Just as, when the ministers of the Gospel are said to “forgive sins,” (John 20:23,) which nevertheless belongs to God alone, does this detract from his authority and majesty? Not at all; for they are only his instruments, and lend their labor to God, to whom the undivided praise ought to be rendered. And indeed, what could the hand of a single man have accomplished, if it had not been wielded by the arm of God?
Accordingly, he expressly adds the design, that God performed miracles at that time, in order that he might gain for himself an everlasting name; and if we are not at liberty to deprive him of this, it will not be lawful to transfer to man even the smallest portion of praise.
13. Who made them walk through the depths. These things are added for the purpose of setting that benefit in a stronger light. He likewise brings forward comparisons, in order to describe that extraordinary power of God: “As a horse in the desert, As a beast into a plain;” that is, he led out his people as gently as if one were leading a horse into a plain. By the word “desert” is not meant the wilderness of Paran in which the people dwelt forty years; but, in accordance with the ordinary usage of the Hebrew tongue, it denotes pasture, in which herds and flocks wander at large. This is still more evident from the following verse, —
14. As a beast into a plain. Here, instead of “desert,” he makes use of the word “plain;” and the same meaning is drawn from what he says, that “the people walked through the depths without stumbling, as horses are wont to do in the desert.” In a word, he informs them that the Red Sea was no obstacle to the people marching through the midst of the depths, as if they were walking on level ground. (178)
A glorious name. This is in the same sense that he called it a little before “an everlasting name.” The people now argue with God, that if he once wished to obtain “a glorious name,” he must not now throw away all care about it; otherwise the remembrance of the benefits which he formerly bestowed on the fathers will be entirely blotted out.
(178) “In these three verses the Prophet sets forth the care he had of his people, leading them as it were by his hand, that they might not fall and hurt themselves, dividing the Red Sea before them, and conducting them as safely through the dangerous passage, as a horse which treads on plain even ground is in no danger of falling, or as a beast heavy laden goes down a steep precipice warily, with a great deal of caution every step it takes; so the Lord led his people gently through the wilderness, and caused them at last to rest in the pleasant valleys of Canaan.” — White.
15. Look down from heaven. After having, in the name of the whole people, related the benefits of former times, he now applies this to the present subject, and entreats the Lord to pay regard to his people.
Behold from the habitation of thy holiness. By these words he means that the power of God is not diminished, though this does not always appear; for we must supply a contrast, that God at that time might be said to be concealed, and did not shew himself to them as he had shewn himself to the fathers. “Although, therefore, we do not see thee, O Lord, and although thou hast withdrawn from us as if thou wert shut up in heaven, so that thou mayest seem to have altogether ceased to care about us, yet ‘look down from heaven, and from thy habitation’ behold our distresses.” Believers must differ from unbelievers in acknowledging a powerful and kind God, even when they perceive no tokens of his power or kindness; and thus, even when he is at a great distance, they nevertheless call on him; for God never ceases to care about his people, (1 Peter 5:7,) since he governs unceasingly every part of the world.
Where is thy zeal? By these questions believers appear in some measure to reproach God, as if he were not now moved by any affection toward them, or as if his power were diminished; but the Prophet’s meaning is different; for in thus extolling those benefits, his object is, as I have already remarked, to confirm the hope of believers for the future, that they may know that God is always like himself, and will never lay aside his care about his people. This will appear more clearly from what follows.
The multitude of bowels and of compassions denotes God’s vast goodness; for God displays and opens up his bowels, so to speak, when he exercises toward us bounty and kindness, which truly is so great that we cannot praise it in adequate language. Nor is it a new thing that believers, when oppressed by grief, expostulated familiarly with God for shutting up his bowels. They do indeed hold by this principle, that God is always compassionate, because he does not change his nature; and though they impute it to their sins that they do not experience him to be compassionate, yet, that they may not sink into despair, they ask how it is possible that God should treat them with severity, and, as if he had forgotten his natural disposition, should shew nothing but tokens of absolute displeasure? (179)
(179) Luther’s version runs thus, Deine grofe herliche Barmherzigfeit halt eich hart gegen mich. “Thy great compassionate loving-kindness deals hardly with me.” — Ed.
16. Surely thou art our Father. God permits us to reveal our hearts familiarly before him; for prayer is nothing else than the opening up of our heart before God; as the greatest alleviation is, to pour our cares, distresses, and anxieties into his bosom. “Roll thy cares on the Lord,” says David. (Psalms 37:5.) After having enumerated God’s benefits, from which his goodness and power are clearly seen, so that it is evident that it is nothing else than the sins of men that hinder them from feeling it as formerly, he returns to this consideration, that the goodness of God is nevertheless so great as to exceed the wickedness of men. He calls God a Father in the name of the Church; for all cannot call him thus, but it is the peculiar privilege of the Church to address him by a father’s name. Hence it ought to be inferred that Christ, as the first-born, or rather the only-begotten Son of God, always governed his Church; for in no other way than through him can God be called Father. And here we again see that believers do not contend with God, but draw an argument from his nature, that, by conquering temptation, they may strive to cherish good hope.
Though Abraham do not know us. Here a question arises, Why does he say that the patriarch does not know the people? Jerome thinks that this is done because they were degenerated, and therefore were unworthy of so high an honor; but that interpretation appears to me to be exceedingly unnatural. The true meaning is, “Though our fathers deny us, yet God will reckon us as children, and will act toward us as a Father.”
They who say that Abraham and other believers care no more about the affairs of men, torture by excessive ingenuity the words of the Prophet. I do not speak of the fact itself, but I say that those words do not prove that the saints have no care about us. The natural and true meaning is, “O Lord, that thou art our Father will be so sure and so firmly established, that even though all parentage and all relationship should cease among men, yet thou wilt not fail to be our Father. Sooner shall the rights of nature perish than thou shalt not act toward us as a Father, or the sacred adoption shall be infringed, which was founded on thy unchangeable decree, and ratified by the death of thine only-begotten Son.” (180)
Yet we may infer from this that holy men present themselves before God, and pray to him, in such a manner as not to look at any intercessions of others; for they are commanded to pray so as to rely on God’s fatherly kindness, and to lay aside every other confidence. And if the Prophet did not instruct the Jews, in order that God might listen to them, to turn their mind to Abraham and Jacob, to whom promises so numerous and so great had been given, assuredly much less ought we to resort, to Peter, and Paul, and others; for this is not a private prayer offered by a single individual or by a few persons, but the public and universal prayer of the whole Church, as if the Prophet laid down a general form. Besides, our confidence ought to be founded on God’s favor and kindness as a Father, so as to shut our eyes on all the intercessions of men, whether living or dead. In a word, believers profess that they do not gaze around in all directions, but rely on God alone.
It comes now to a question, Why did he pass by Isaac and mention in a special manner Abraham and Jacob? The reason is, that with those two persons the covenant was more solemnly ratified. Isaac was, indeed, a partaker of the covenant, but did not receive promises so large and so numerous.
Our Redeemer. Redemption is here described as a testimony of that adoption; for by this proof God manifested himself to be the Father of the people; and therefore boldly and confidently do believers call on God as their Father, because he gave a remarkable testimony of his fatherly kindness toward them, which encouraged them to confidence. But redemption alone would, not have been enough, if a promise had not likewise been added; and therefore, as he once redeemed them, he promised that he would always be their Father.
From everlasting is thy name. By the word “everlasting” (181) is pointed out the stability and continuance of his fatherly name, for we did not deserve the name of children; but his will, by which he once adopted us to be children, is unchangeable. Since, therefore, the Lord has an eternal name, it follows that the title and favor which are connected with that eternity and flow from it, shall be durable and eternal. (182)
(180) “The meaning cannot be that Abraham and Israel are ashamed of us as unworthy and degenerate descendants, as Piscator understands it; or that Abraham and Israel cannot save us by their merits, as Cocceius understands it; or that Abraham and Israel did not deliver us from Egypt, as the Targum understands it; or that Abraham and Israel, being now dead, can do nothing for us, as Vitringa and the later writers understand it. The true sense of the verse, as it appears to me, is that the Church or chosen people, although once, for temporary reasons, co-extensive and coincident with a single race, is not essentially a national organization but a spiritual body. Its father is not Abraham or Israel, but Jehovah, who is and always has been its Redeemer, who has borne that name from everlasting.” — Alexander.
(181) “ De tout temps.” “Of all time.”
(182) “ Dureront a jamais.” “Shall endure for ever.”
17. Why didst thou cause as to wander, O Jehovah, from thy ways? Because these modes of expression appear to be rough and harsh, some think that unbelievers are here introduced as murmuring against God and uttering blasphemies, with the rage and obstinacy of men who are in a state of despair. But the connection in which these words occur does not at all admit of that interpretation; for the Prophet points out the fruit that would result from the calamities and afflictions of the Jews, because, having been subdued and tamed, they no longer are fierce or indulge in their vices. They are therefore ashamed that in time past they departed so far from the right way, and they acknowledge their own fault.
And indeed when they trace their sins to the wrath of God, they do not intend to free themselves from blame, or to set aside their guilt. But the Prophet employs a mode of expression which is of frequent occurrence; for in the Scriptures it is frequently said that God drives men into error, (2 Thessalonians 2:11;) “gives them up to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28;) and “hardens them.” (Romans 9:18.) When believers speak in this manner, they do not intend to make God the author of error or of sin, as if they were innocent, or to free themselves from blame; but they look higher, and rather acknowledge that it is by their own fault that they are estranged from God and deprived of his Spirit, and that this is the reason why they are plunged into every kind of evils.
Those who say that God leads us into error by privation, that is, by depriving us of his Spirit, do not perceive the actual design; for God himself is said to harden and to blind, when he gives up men to be blinded by Satan, who is the minister and executioner of his wrath. Without this we would be exposed to the rage of Satan; but, since he can do nothing without the command of God, to whose dominion he is subject, there will be no impropriety in saying that God is the author of blinding and hardening, as Scripture also affirms in many passages. (Romans 9:18.) And yet it cannot be said or declared that God is the author of sin, because he punishes the ingratitude of men by blinding them in this manner.
Thus believers here acknowledge that God has forsaken them, but that it is by their own fault; (183) and they acknowledge God’s righteous vengeance against them. In like manner, when Moses says that “God hath not hitherto given to the people eyes to see and a heart to understand,” (Deuteronomy 29:4,) he does not lay the blame on God, but reminds the Jews whence they should seek to obtain a remedy for that stupidity of which they had been convicted. Yet it may appear as if here they aimed at something else, by inquiring into the cause and remonstrating with God, that he ought to have acted differently towards them and treated them less harshly. But I reply, that believers always look at the goodness of God, even when they acknowledge that they suffer justly on account of their sins.
Some refer these words to the captivity; as if believers complained that God permitted them to languish so long in captivity. As if he had said, “The chief cause of their obstinacy is, that the Lord does not permit them to partake of his grace.” Believers are troubled by a dangerous temptation, when they see wicked men pursuing their career without being punished, and are almost driven by it to despair; as it is beautifiully expressed by David. (Psalms 115:3.) But I think that the Prophet’s meaning is more general; for believers acknowledge that they “wandered,” because they were not governed by the Spirit of God; and they do not; expostulate with God, but desire to have that Spirit, by whom their fathers were guided, and from whom they obtained all prosperity.
And hast caused our heart to depart from thy fear. תקשיח, ( takshiach,) is rendered by some, hast hardened; but as that would not agree with the words, “in thy fear,” I have preferred to translate it, “Hast caused to depart;” for קשח, ( kashach,) also signifies “to remove and place at a distance.”
Return on account of thy servants. Some think that these words relate to the whole people, as Scripture frequently gives the appellation of “servants of God” to all the citizens of the Church. But I think that they relate literally to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that is much more probable; not that the people relied on their intercession, but because the Lord had made a covenant with them, which they should transmit from hand to hand to their posterity. Thus they do not hold out these patriarchs as men, but as ministers and depositaries or messengers of the covenant which was the foundation of their confidence. In the same manner, in that psalm,“
Lord, remember David,” (Psalms 132:1,)
the name of the dead patriarch is mentioned to God, not because the saints thought that he would be their intercessor, but that the promise given to a single individual, as to establishing the kingdom in his family for ever, belongs to the body of the people.
The Papists eagerly seize on these words, as if they were a proof of the intercessions of the saints. But how easy it is to reply may be easily seen from the true interpretation; for the fathers are mentioned, not because they had a right to obtain anything for them, or because they now intercede, but because with them was formed a gracious covenant, which belongs not only to themselves, but to all their posterity.
To the tribes of thine inheritance. I have added the preposition To, which was understood, in order that the meaning might be more easy and obvious. It is a customary form of expression among the Hebrews, “Return the tribes,” instead of “Return to the tribes;” as if he had said, “Return to a state of friendship with thy people.” Hence it is evident that what was formerly said had no other object than that the people urged God to the exercise of mercy by representing to God their distresses and calamities. And in this manner we must come to God; that is, by recounting former benefits and laying before him our afflictions, if we desire to be delivered from them.
He employs the word Inheritance, because God hath chosen that people to be his heritage; as if he had said, “Where shall thy people be, if we perish?” Not that the Lord was bound to that people, but that he had given his promise to them. (184) Accordingly, the people venture to remind God of his promise and to offer earnest prayer, because he had laid himself under a voluntary obligation both to the fathers and to posterity. Now, since all the promises are ratified and confirmed in Christ, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) and since we possess the reality of all things, we ought to be fortified by stronger confidence; for not only was the covenant made in his hand, but it was ratified and sealed by his blood. To the ancient fathers also he was indeed the Mediator, but we have everything clearer and plainer; because they were still kept amidst the darker shadows.
(183) “ Mais leur peche en est cause.” “But their sin is the cause of it.”
(184) “ Mais d’autant qu’il leur avoit jure fidelite.” “But because he had sworn to be faithful to them.”
18. For a little time. It is wonderful that the people should call it “a little time;” for fourteen hundred years had elapsed since the people began to possess that land. But we must take into account the promise by which he said that the seed of Abraham should have it as an everlasting inheritance; and therefore that was a short time, when compared with eternity. (Genesis 17:8.) Believers, therefore, represent to God the shortness of that time; not that they accuse him of insincerity, but that he may remember the promise and covenant, and may have more regard to his own goodness than to the chastisements which they justly deserved. Thus the ancient Church complains that“
her strength was weakened in the journey, that her days were shortened, and prays that she may not be cut off in the middle of her course,” (Psalms 102:23,)
that is, because the fullness of age depended on the coming of Christ.
Our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. This was a much heavier complaint, that wicked men had profaned the land which the Lord had consecrated to himself. Undoubtedly this was far more distressing to the people than the rest of their calamities, and justly; for we ought not to care so much about ourselves as about religion and the worship of God. And this is also the end of redemption, that there may be a people that praises the name of the Lord and worships him in a right manner.
19. We have been of old. The words of the Prophet admit of two meanings. Some view this passage in such a light as if the people argued with God on this ground, that they were elected at that time when the rest of the nations were rejected, and that this covenant was ratified “from of old,” that is, for a long period. Another meaning, which I prefer, is this, that the people argue with God, and complain that they seem as if they did not differ at all from unbelievers; that is, because they receive from him no assistance or relief in adversity, which is unreasonable and improper. This statement is remarkable and worthy of notice; for, whenever we are oppressed beyond measure with adversity, we are permitted to complain to God, and to represent to him our calling, that he may render assistance, and shew how wide a difference there is between us and strangers.
On whom thy name hath not been called. This is of the same import with what goes before; for it means that the calling of God must not be made void. And indeed the Lord does not wish that we should call upon him in vain; for prayers would be unprofitable and useless, if the Lord took no care of us. Now, the Church is distinguished by this mark, that “his name is called upon her.” Unbelievers cannot call upon him; for there is no access to him but through the word, of which they have no knowledge; and therefore, wherever there is faith, there is also calling on him; and if there be no faith, it is certain that there is no hope or confidence.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29