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(1) To his anointed . . .—The name is none other than the Messiah, the Christ, with which we are familiar, here and here only applied to a heathen king. It has to be remembered that the words had not yet received the special application given to it in Daniel 9:26, and had been used of the theocratic kings, of Saul (1 Samuel 26:9; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 26:16), of the house of David (2 Samuel 22:51; 2 Samuel 23:1), and of the patriarch Abraham (Psalms 105:15). What is meant, therefore, is that Cyrus, the future deliverer, would be as truly a king “by the grace of God” as David had been, not only, like Nebuchadnezzar, “a servant of Jehovah” (Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10), but “fulfilling all his pleasure,” whom He grasps by the right hand and guides.
I will loose the loins.—Literally, I will ungird, either as a general symbol of weakening, or specifically for disarming, the sword being suspended from the girdle. The “two-leaved gates” are those of kingly palaces; the “gates,” those of cities, which will have to open to him. The words here, and in the next verse, may have been used with a special reference to the “hundred brazen gates” of Babylon (Herod. i. 179).
(2) Make the crooked places straight.—Better, make the dwelling-places smooth—i.e., remove all obstacles (comp. 40:4, 42:16).
(3) The treasures of darkness . . .—The heaped-up wealth of “gold-abounding” Babylon. The capture of Sardis, with all the riches of Crœsus, must have been almost as fruitful in plunder. (Herod. i. 84). The conqueror was to see in his victories the token of the protection of Jehovah, and so accept his vocation as the redeemer of His people.
(4) For Jacob my servant . . .—The words “servant” and “elect” show that the prophet speaks of the ideal Israel, the true Ecclesia, rather than of the nation as such outwardly, though this also, as including the other, shared in the outward blessings of the election. Essentially, the words declare that the world’s history is ordered with a view to the true Eeclesia.
Called thee by thy name.—Either as predicting the actual name of Koresh, or as giving the titles of “Messiah” and “shepherd.” The surname clearly refers to these.
Though thou hast not known me.—Better, when thou didst not know me, either as referring to a time prior to the recognition by Cyrus of Jehovah as the God of heaven (Ezra 1:1-2), or, possibly, prior to his birth (comp. Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5).
(5) There is no God beside me.—Commonly, the formula is used in antithesis to polytheism. Possibly we may think of it here as in contrast with the dualism of Persia, or, if that be assigned to a later date, of Babylonia.
I girded thee.—The opposite of the “loosing,” or “ungirding,” of Isaiah 45:1, and so implying the idea of giving strength.
(7) I make peace, and create evil . . .—The words have no bearing on the insoluble problem of what we call the origin of evil. “Evil,” as opposed to “peace” or prosperity, is suffering, but not sin; normally, in the Divine counsels, at once the consequence and corrective of moral evil (comp. Isaiah 47:11; Isaiah 57:1.)
(8) Let the skies pour down righteousness . . .—The vision is that of a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness is at once as the rain that falls from the one, and as the product of the other.
(9) Woe unto him that striveth . . .—The sequence of thought is not at first apparent. Were those who strove, the heathen nations who resisted Cyrus, or Israelites who desired some other deliverer, say a prince of the house of David? The latter seems more probable. In either case men were guilty of the folly of criticising the Almighty.
Let the potsherd strive . . .—The sentence, as the italics show, is abrupt, but is better taken without inserting the verbs, and in apposition with the pronoun—Woe unto him . . . a potsherd among the potsherds; a frail mortal like all his fellows.
Shall the clay say . . .—The potsherd suggests the potter, not without an allusive reference to the history of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7. As in Jeremiah 18:1-10; Romans 9:20-21, the thought pressed is that of absolute sovereignty, the belief in the wisdom and equity of that sovereignty being kept in the background, as a reserve force. The two clauses represent different aspects of presumption—the first questions, the other arrogantly condemns. The potter’s vessel says that the potter “has no hands,” is without creative power or skill.
(10) Woe unto him . . .—The implied argument is that men accept the accident of birth without questioning father or mother as to that which lay beyond the control of either. Should they not a fortiori accept what God orders for nations and individual men?
(11) Ask me of things to come . . .—As it stands, the verse calls men to consult the Holy One of Israel, and not the oracles of the heathen, about the future, to leave His works to His own control, and this falls in with Isaiah 44:25-26. A slight alteration of the text gives a meaning much more coherent with the immediate context: Will ye question me concerning things to come, concerning my sons . . . will ye command me! This was what they were practically doing when they murmured against the providence of God.
(12) I have made . . .—The Creator is also the Ruler, supreme in history as in nature.
(13) I have raised him up in righteousness . . .—This was the answer to the murmurers. It would be seen by the results, the city rebuilt, the exiles restored to their home, that the conquests of Cyrus had been ordered by the loving righteousness of Jehovah; and he would do this, not through the greed and ambition of other conquerors, but because the spirit of the Lord stirred him (2 Chronicles 36:22).
(14) Thus saith the Lord . . .—A new section opens. In Isaiah 43:3, Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba, had been given to Cyrus, as a reward, or ransom, for the deliverance of Israel. Here the prophet goes a step farther, and contemplates them as coming, in the spirit of a voluntary surrender, as proselytes to the faith of Israel, in self-imposed bondage, offering to Israel, as one with God, the “supplication” which, elsewhere, is offered to Jehovah. The promise reminds us of Psalms 68:31; Psalms 72:10, and yet more of Isaiah 19:23; Isaiah 9:5-7. A partial fulfilment may have been found in the command given by Cyrus, that these and other nations should assist in the work of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 1:4). Egypt and Ethiopia send the products of their labour. The Sabæans (sc. the people of Meroe), strong, but not wealthy, come freely to offer their own labour.
(15) Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself . . .—The words have been variously taken: (1) as continuing the wondering homage of the heathen; (2) as spoken by the prophet as he surveys the unsearchable ways of God. (Comp. Romans 11:33.) Through the long years of exile He had seemed to hide Himself, to be negligent of His people (Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 54:8; Psalms 55:1) or unable to help them. Now it would be seen that He had all along been as the Strong one (El) working for their deliverance.
(17) World without end.—Literally, for the ages, or œons on œons in Psalms 77:5.
(18) He hath established it . . .—i.e., prepared it (see Deuteronomy 32:6; Genesis 42:16) for human habitation. It was not a tohu or chaos (Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 24:10), but the scene of human action. We note the grandeur of the prophet’s thoughts of creation.
(19) I have not spoken in secret.—The words are in marked contrast to the thought expressed in Isaiah 45:15. God had been all along revealing Himself, not like the oracles of the heathen, in the gloom of caves and darkened shrines (Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 65:4; Isaiah 29:4), but in the broad daylight of history and in the law written on men’s hearts. He had bidden men seek Him not in chaos, but in a world of order, and to recognise His utterances by their righteousness.
(20) Ye that are escaped of the nations.—Primarily, the words point to the survivors of the conquests of Cyrus, who are contemplated as acknowledging the God of Israel. Ultimately the words find their fulfilment in the conversion of the heathen to the true anointed of Jehovah, of whom Cyrus was a type. They will bear witness from their experience to the vanity of idols. They will learn that it does not avail to set up (or carry) their idols in religious processions (Jeremiah 10:5; Amos 5:26; 1 Samuel 4:4).
(21) Tell ye, and bring them near.—Yet another challenge to the idols and their worshippers.
A just God and a Saviour.—Stress is laid on the union of the two attributes which in human actions are often thought incompatible. (Comp. Psalms 85:10.) In virtue of that union the invitation of Isaiah 45:22 is addressed to all the ends of the world. The offer of salvation is universal.
(23) I have sworn by myself.—The highest conceivable form of asseveration (Genesis 22:16; Jeremiah 22:5; Hebrews 6:13).
Unto me every knee shall bow.—The faith of Israel becomes the religion of mankind, though, from the prophet’s standpoint, Israel does not lose its distinctive nationality. We note the application of the words to the Christ in Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11.
(24) Surely, shall one say.—The prophet hears that confession as uttered in the far-off time.
(25) In the Lord.—We note the germ of the New Testament thought of the mystic union of man with God, in the phrases “in the Lord,” “in the Holy Spirit,” “in Christ,” which embody that thought. Jehovah is the sphere, or region, in which men “live and move and have their being.” The seed of Israel, as interpreted by Isaiah 45:23, includes all who have joined themselves to the true Israel of God.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 45". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany