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Isaiah 44:5 . Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord. This phrase is somewhat obscure; it is not said whether they signed a covenant, or imprinted some mark on their hand. The latter sense is preferred by the critics. Vide Poli Synopsis. Slaves were branded in the hand with their master’s name; the cruel Assyrians branded their forehead. The heathen generally imprinted on their children, the mark or the sign of the god to which they were devoted. The worshippers of the antichristian beast are said to have his mark in their foreheads, which Peter Jurieu understands of their chrisms. Many christians, of early times, marked their arms with the cross, or with the name of Christ. Be the subscription what it might, it is pleasing to the Lord when we boldly profess his name before the unregenerate world; and the whole of this verse appears to contain a lively description of the nature of true religion, and especially of the conversion and accession of the gentiles to the church of God, who though they were not of the seed of Abraham, should take upon them the name of Jacob and of Israel.
This consecration of ourselves to God must be cordial, and with the whole heart, including the renunciation of every idol, and an unreserved devotedness of all to the Lord, who always had a right to our hearts, though we had sinfully given them to another. True conversion will constrain us to say, I am the Lord’s, and him only will I serve. Some of fair exterior, decent and respectable in the eyes of men, but eagerly devoted to the acquisition of wealth, and worshippers of the unrighteous mammon, have at length yielded to the love of God, and made an unreserved surrender of themselves to him. Some who have been conscious of a secret and unavowed hostility to the gospel, and to every thing spiritual and holy, to whom both family and public worship was a great burden, from which they were anxious to be delivered, have been reconciled and made nigh by the blood of the cross, and have now cheerfully subscribed with their hand to the Lord.
It is also of the nature of true religion to take a decided character, as is strikingly exemplified in this brief description of gentile conversion. The party is not represented as forming resolves and purposes, as to what is to be done in future, but as making a personal and immediate surrender of himself to God. The language is not, I will sometime or other be the Lord’s, but I am the Lord’s. I am no longer my own but his. Many remain long in a state of suspense, undecided betwixt God and the world; they have had many convictions, and want to put them off to a more convenient season. The kingdom of heaven is come nigh to them, and they themselves are not far from the kingdom; yet they have gone back to the world to see whether they cannot make something better of it than they have done, and so are still undecided. Others cleave to their own righteousness, and cannot wholly give it up, nor consent to the sacrifices which true religion requires. Genuine conversion however puts an end to all this indecision; it teaches us to make God’s cause our own, to join ourselves to him in a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten, saying as Ruth did to Naomi, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Isaiah 44:6 . Besides me there is no God, or no Elohim. The unity of the Godhead is here asserted, in opposition to idols, who are only called gods, as more largely noted in Deuteronomy 6:4. St. Paul takes the same ground. 1 Corinthians 8:5. Consequently, there is nothing here to favour the Unitarian apostasy. He only is God who foretels the future; he only is God who brings his counsels to perfection. Messiah created the heavens, as in Isaiah 48:12-19. John 1:3. The whole Divinity is here understood.
Isaiah 44:9 . They that make a graven image. Horace, it is likely, had never read Isaiah, yet he takes the same ground of satire on idols, and puts this most mortifying language into the mouth of Priapus, the most obscene of all the gods.
Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum, &c. I was formerly the trunk of an old figtree, reckoned useless wood. For sometime, the carpenter was undecided what to do with me, whether to make me into a bench, or a god. At length he preferred my being a god, so I am a god, and the very great terror of birds and thieves. The latter I frighten away with my cap of reeds, and the former with my staff, so that they dare not approach. Lib. 1. Sat. 8. See also a satire by Minutius Felix, cited in the reflections on Psalms 115:0.
Isaiah 44:24-25 . I am the Lord that maketh diviners mad. With the revival of idolatry all sorts of obah, or obee, or divinations were practised. One presumes to prophesy, another invokes Hecate, a third cries in doleful tones to Tisiphone, a fourth, like a ventriloquist, talks out of his belly to those about him. St. Paul is justified in asserting that all those prayers were addressed to devils. 1 Corinthians 10:20.
Isaiah 44:28 . Cyrus my shepherd. Homer calls Hypsënor the shepherd of his people. Iliad 13. Cyrus, as a shepherd, gathered the Hebrew flock together, and protected them from the wolves of Chaldaic and Persian governors: he led them to green pastures in Judea and Galilee. Such is the Lord Messiah to his people, as described by Ezekiel 34:0. Now Isaiah foretold this of Cyrus one hundred and fifty years, at least, before it occurred; and God prolonged Daniel’s life to show the conqueror the parchments. The Lord, as Isaiah 44:26, would confirm his word to his servants, while he made diviners frantic with mortification and shame.
Isaiah continues to console the church, greatly depressed by the evils impending on their country. He calls her by all the hallowed names borne by her fathers, in the days of her espousals to the Lord. Jacob, he calls his servant, and the Hebrews his Jeshurun. God, as is fully implied, would make her worthy of her titles, and never forsake her in the time of trouble.
The covenant in all its plenitude of grace he extends to the gentiles, the dry lands of the deserts; and to the children of Zion, throughout all generations. I will pour the reviving waters of the Spirit on the thirsty, and on the dry land. The Holy Spirit which shall become a fountain of life in every believer’s heart. John 7:37. These, and these only are the divine influences, which can turn the earth to a paradise, and fill the world with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that happy age, men are to be very bold and emulous to enrol themselves under the banners of the Lord, and to call themselves by his name. So it was when they were purged from idols and sins on their return from Babylonia, and from other countries whither they had been driven. But it was more especially true of the hundred and forty four thousand who had the name of God in their foreheads, and of the gentile church whom no man could number. Revelation 7:0. These were virgins to Christ, who went without the camp, hearing his reproach.
From the ninth verse, we have a fine satire on the process of making an idol. The apostate Hebrew having both the choice, and the making of his god, discovers his prudence in choosing a cedar, a cypress, or an oak, neither of which would rot so soon as softer wood. With the branches and chips he roasts his meat, and reserves the rest for a cheerful fire; but the trunk he consecrates, and worships as his protector.
God, calling things that are not as though they were, for his counsel is sure, says, I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions. I have redeemed thee from the Babylonian captivity. Therefore the heavens and the earth are called to rejoice, for faith in the sure mercies of God anticipates salvation and future glory. Hence the Lord’s counsel shall stand, while that of diviners shall be put to confusion. And seeing the Messiah was named from the beginning as the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; so Cyrus, prince of Persia, is designated by name to dry up the Euphrates, to destroy Babylon, and restore the temple of the Lord. Prophecy being so luminous, distinct and clear, the Jews might well be cured of idolatry; and no wonder they afterwards built so splendidly the sepulchres of the prophets whom their fathers slew. And if a sight of this prediction carried conviction to the breast of Cyrus, a heathen prince, oh forbid it that we should be slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have written.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28