Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 61

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . .—We have obviously a new poem in the form of a soliloquy, and we ask, “Who is the speaker.?” The Jewish Targum and many modern critics hear only the voice of Isaiah. Guided by Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 1:4-9, we recognise here, as there, the utterance of the ideal Servant of Jehovah. That view, it needs scarcely be said, is the one suggested to all Christian minds by our Lord’s application of the passage to His own work in Luke 4:16-22. The opening words repeat what had been said by Jehovah of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1. The “anointing,” as it stands, might be that of king (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1), or priest (Exodus 29:2; Leviticus 7:36), or prophet (1 Kings 19:16). As interpreted by its fulfilment, it may be held to include all three.

To preach good tidings . . .—Comp. Note on Isaiah 40:9. To this passage, more than any other, even than Isaiah 40:9, we may trace the use of the word “gospel” (“evangel,” “good tidings”) in our Lord’s teaching and that of the Apostles. Claiming the promise as fulfilled in Himself, He became the great evangelist, and all who followed Him were called to the same office.

To bind up the broken-hearted . . .—The primary thought is that of a healing bandage applied to the heart’s wounds. (Comp. 1:6), The Servant of Jehovah is the great physician as well as the evangelist.

To proclaim liberty.—Phrase and thought are taken from the law of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10; Ezekiel 46:17; Jeremiah 34:8).

The opening of the prison.—The LXX., adopted in Luke 4:18, gives “recovery of sight to the blind;” and as the verb is never used for the opening of a room or door, and is used in Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7, for the opening of the eyes, that is probably its meaning here.

Verse 2

(2) To proclaim the acceptable year . . .—The Year of Jubilee is still, perhaps, in the prophet’s thoughts; but the chief point of the promise is the contrast between the “year” of favour and the single “day” of vengeance, reminding us of the like contrast in Exodus 20:5-6.

Verse 3

(3) To appoint unto them that mourn . . .—The verb (literally, to set) has no object either in the Hebrew or English, and it would seem as if the prophet corrected himself in the act of writing or dictating, and substituted for a word which would have applied only to the coronet one which was better fitted for the whole context.

Beauty for ashes.—Literally, a diadem, or coronet, which is to take the place of the ashes that had been sprinkled on the head of the mourners or penitents (2 Samuel 1:2; 2 Samuel 13:19; Joshua 7:6). The assonance of the two Hebrew words, ’epher, paer, deserves notice.

Oil of joy.—Same phrase as in Psalms 45:7.

The spirit of heaviness . . .—The second noun is that used for the “smoking” or “dimly burning” flax in Isaiah 42:3, and in its figurative sense in Isaiah 42:4; Ezekiel 21:7.

That they might be called trees of righteousness . . .—Strictly, terebinths, or oaks, as the symbols of perennial verdure—the “righteousness” being thought of as the gift of the Spirit of Jehovah,. and, therefore, life-giving and enduring—and in their beauty and strength manifesting His glory.

Verse 4

(4) They shall build the old wastes . . .—Literally the waste places of olden time: i.e., not merely the cities that had fallen into ruins during the exile, but those that had been lying waste for generations. The words are parallel with those of Isaiah 58:12. By some commentators strangers is supplied from Isaiah 61:5 as the implied subject, as in Isaiah 60:10. Here, however, it would seem as if the prophet looked on the rebuilding as being Israel’s own work, while service of another kind was assigned to the aliens.

Verse 5

(5) Strangers shall stand . . .—i.e., like servants waiting for their master’s orders. The implied thought of the whole passage is, as in the next verse, that all Israel is raised to the dignity of a priestly caste, leaving the rough work of the world to be done by foreigners, who stood on a lower level. (Comp. Sir. 38:31-34.)

Verse 6

(6) But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord . . .—This had been the original ideal of the nation’s life (Exodus 19:6), forfeited for a time through the sins of the people (Exodus 28:1), to be fulfilled at last in the citizens of the new Jerusalem. (Comp. 1 Peter 2:9.) The thought implies, it may be noted, that as Israel has succeeded to the position of the sons of Aaron, so mankind at large is to occupy the position of Israel, as chosen and redeemed. Even the heathen Gentiles shall speak of the new Israel as “Ministers of our God.”

Ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles . . .—St. Paul seems to see a partial fulfilment of the promise in the collection made among the Gentiles for the Church at Jerusalem (Romans 15:27). On the other hand, the phrase that the conversion of the Jews shall be the riches of the Gentiles (Romans 11:12), affords an illustration of the varying aspects of prophetic imagery.

Verse 7

(7) For your shame ye shall have double . . .i.e., double compensation for the suffering of years (comp. Zechariah 9:12), the general idea passing in the next clause into a double inheritance of territory. See Note on Isaiah 40:2.

Verse 8

(8) I hate robbery for burnt offering.—The Authorised Version follows the Vulg, and Luther, but the words, commonly applied as condemning the formal sacrifices of the wicked, do not fit in with the context, and it is better to take the rendering of the LXX. and the Targum, I hate robbery with violence, as referring to the spoliation which Israel had suffered at the hands of the Chaldæans.

I will direct their work in truth.—Better—the word for “work” standing, as in Leviticus 19:13, Ezekiel 29:20, for its reward—I will appoint their recompense in faithfulness.

Verse 9

(9) Their seed shall be known—i.e., as in Proverbs 31:23, shall be “renowned,” or “honourably recognised,” even by the heathen, as the people whom Jehovah hath blessed. (Comp. Isaiah 65:23.)

Verse 10

(10) I will greatly rejoice . . .—The speaker is again, as in Isaiah 61:1, the ideal Servant of Jehovah, who identifies himself with the people and slaves. The Targum, it may be noted, makes Jerusalem the speaker.

The garments of salvation . . .—The imagery is the same as that of Isaiah 59:17 and Isaiah 61:3, its entirely spiritual significance being, perhaps, still more strongly accentuated.

As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments.—Literally, wears a turban (or mitre), as a priest. It would appear from Song Song of Solomon 3:11 that bridegrooms wore a special head-dress on the day of their espousal, and this is here compared to the priestly “bonnet,” or “mitre” (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 39:28; Ezekiel 44:18). On the special occasion which may have suggested the image, see Note on Isaiah 62:4.

Verse 11

(11) As the earth bringeth forth her bud . . .—The passage is memorable as at least suggesting the leading thought of the parable of the sower, and the appropriation of that title to Himself by the Son of Man (Matthew 13:3-23; Matthew 13:37; Mark 4:26-29).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.