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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Isaiah 48

Verse 1


(1) Are come forth out of the waters of Judah.—The words limit the wider terms of Jacob and Israel to the Judæan exiles. For the phrase, comp. “ye that are of the fountains of Israel” (Psalms 68:26). The ideal attributes of Israel, “swearing by the name of Jehovah . . .” are pressed in contrast with their actual state of hypocrisy and unrighteousness.

Verse 2

(2) They call themselves of the holy city . . .—The words of praise are spoken, as the preceding words show, with a touch of irony. Those who so boasted were not true citizens of Zion (Psalms 15:1; Matthew 3:9). They did not enter into all that was implied in their confession of Jehovah Sabaoth.

Verse 3

(3) I have declared . . .—Once more, for the seventh time, the prophet presses the fact of the Divine foreknowledge, not, as before, against the “no-faith” of the heathen, but against the “little faith” of Judah.

Verse 4

(4) Because I knew that thou art obstinate . . .—The point is that Jehovah foresees not only the conquests of Cyrus, but the obduracy of His own people. In Egypt (Jeremiah 44:0) and in Babylon, as of old, they were still a stiff-necked people, inclined (Isaiah 48:5), to ascribe their deliverance to another god, and to worship that god in the form of a graven image.

Verse 6

(6) Thou hast heard . . .—The appeal is to the conscience of the exiles. They had heard the prediction. They are bidden to consider it all. Should not they declare the impression it had made on them?

I have shewed thee.—Better, I shew thee, as a present incipient act.

New things.—The “new things” are those that lie in a more distant future than the conquests of Cyrus, which are referred to as “former things.”

Verse 7

(7) They are created now . . .—The verb is an unusual one, as applied to the events of history. What is meant is that the things which had been from the beginning in the mind of God are now, for the first time, manifested, through the prophet, as about to pass into act. What these are the prophet develops in the following chapters, as including the spiritual redemption and restoration of Israel. They were kept in store, as it were, to make men wonder (Romans 16:25-26).

Even before the day when . . .—Better, and before to-day thou heardest them not. . . . The reason given for what we might almost call this method of reserve and reticence, was that the people had been till now unprepared to receive the truth, and in their state it would but have increased their condemnation (John 16:12; Mark 4:33).

Verse 9

(9) For my name’s sake . . .—The thought is two-fold, in answer to the implied question why Jehovah had not punished so guilty a people: (1) after the manner of men, that had He destroyed His chosen people, the nations of the world would have thought Him changeable and capricious; (2) taking “name” as the symbol of character, that He might assert His own everlasting righteousness and love, as willing to save rather than destroy.

Verse 10

(10) I have refined thee, but not with silver . . .—The meaning is obscure, and perhaps depends on some unknown process in ancient metallurgy. Commonly the refining of silver is taken as a parable of God’s dealings with His people (Isaiah 1:25; Ezekiel 22:18-22; Malachi 3:3). Here the thought seems to be that the discipline had been less fierce than that of the refiner’s fire. Silver was “purified seven times in the fire” (Psalms 12:6); but that would have brought about the destruction of Israel, and He sought to spare them.

I have chosen thee.—Better, I have tested thee.

Verse 11

(11) Will I do it . . .—The neuter pronoun includes the whole work of redemption.

For how should my name be polluted?—The italics show that “my name” is not in the Hebrew, but the context requires its insertion as from Isaiah 48:9. or that of “my glory” from the clause that follows. The “pollution” or desecration of the name of Jehovah would follow, it is implied, on the non-completion of His redeeming work.

Verse 12

(12) Hearken unto me, O Jacob.—The prophet is drawing near to the end of the first great section of his book, and his conclusion takes the form of a condensed epitome of the great argument of Isaiah 40-47, asserting the oneness, the eternity, the omnipotence, the omniscience of Jehovah.

Verse 14

(14) All ye, assemble yourselves.—The challenge is addressed as before (Isaiah 43:9) to the worshippers of idols.

The Lord hath loved him.—Better, He whom the Lord loveth will do his pleasure. The context leaves it uncertain whether the “pleasure” and the “arm” are those of Cyrus or Jehovah. The latter seems to give a preferable meaning. There is, perhaps, an allusive reference to the idea implied in the name of the great king of Israel (David, “beloved,” or “darling”). Cyrus was to be even as a second David, beloved of the Lord.

Verse 16

(16) Come ye near unto me.—Here the address would seem to be made to Israel. At first Jehovah appears as the speaker, and as using much the same language as before. At the close the prophet appears abruptly, as speaking in his own person. Perhaps, indeed, the prophet is the speaker throughout. A paraphrase will perhaps help to explain the sequence of thought. “I have not from the beginning of my prophetic work spoken in dark, ambiguous speeches like the oracles of the heathen. From the time that the great work began to unfold itself I was present, contemplating it. Now the time of revelation has come. The Lord God hath sent me (this is the Hebrew order); and His Spirit. This gives, it is believed, an adequate explanation. By some interpreters the closing words are referred to the mysterious “Servant of the Lord,” and by others the Spirit is made the object and not the subject of the word “sent.”

Verse 17

(17) The Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit.—The words applied to the natural human, perhaps we may add, to the specially national, desire, to make a good investment. The question what was profitable? was one to which men returned very different answers. It was the work of the true Redeemer to lead men to the one true imperishable gain (comp. Matthew 16:26), to lead them in the one right way (John 14:4-6).

Verse 18

(18) Then had thy peace been as a river.—Literally, “as the river,” i.e., the Euphrates, which for the Babylonian exiles was a natural standard of comparison. “Righteousness,” as elsewhere, includes the idea of the blessedness which is its recompense. United with “peace” it implies every element of prosperity.

Verse 19

(19) Like the gravel thereof.—Literally, as the bowels thereof, i.e., as that within the bowels of the sand, the living creatures that swarm in countless myriads in the sea. The two verses utter the sigh which has come from the heart of all true teachers as they contemplate the actual state of men and compare it with what might have been. (Comp. Deuteronomy 32:29-30; Luke 19:42.)

Verse 20

(20) Go ye forth of Babylon . . .—The sorrow and sighing are past, and the prophet speaks to the remnant that shall return. They are to act without fear on the promises of God, on the decree of Cyrus, and to start at once on their homeward journey, and as they go, to proclaim what great things God hath done for them.

Verse 21

(21) He caused the waters to flow . . .—A dead prosaic literalism makes men wonder that there is no record of such wonders on the return from Babylon. A truer insight recognises that the “water out of the rock” is, as ever, the symbol of spiritual refreshment (Isaiah 41:17-19; Isaiah 43:19-20; John 4:10).

Verse 22

(22) There is no peace.—The warning was needed even for the liberated exiles. There was an implied condition as to all God’s gifts. Even the highest blessings, freedom and home, were no real blessings to those who were unworthy of them.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.