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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 59

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-21

Isaiah 59:1 . Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save. The failure of your fast is not with the Lord; he sees, and he can hear. Neither is the fault in the promises announced by his prophets; for you have not obeyed their voice. Your hands are defiled with blood; the nation is loaded with all its sins, and all its unrelenting cruelty to the poor.

Isaiah 59:3 . Your hands are defiled with blood. This expression is of great importance in determining the time of this prophecy. It was delivered unquestionably in the early part of Manasseh’s reign, when unoffending infants were sacrificed to Tophet and Moloch; and when much innocent blood was shed in Jerusalem by a factious administration of justice. Among the rest, Isaiah’s hallowed blood sprinkled the dust of his country.

Isaiah 59:5 . They hatch cockatrice eggs. See Proverbs 23:32. These eggs and figures designate the fertile wickedness of the human heart, and that all its pleas for vice are futile and weak as the spider’s web.

Isaiah 59:7 . They make haste to shed innocent blood, So much blood was shed in the beginning of Manasseh’s reign, that it cannot be doubted but those dark shades of character refer to that time, when Isaiah must have been more than ninety years of age. See Romans 3:10-18, where a view of those times was in the mind of Paul.

Isaiah 59:14 . Judgment is turned away backward. The cardinal virtues are here personified, but the wicked citizens drove them from the bench. Justice, on seeing this, stood afar off, expecting no better treatment. Truth was trodden down of the populace in the streets, for they covered their crimes with falsehoods. Equity was so appalled at those proceedings that she durst not enter the city. The health of the public body was so far vitiated as to baffle the aids of medicine.

Isaiah 59:15 . He that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey. He is discarded from the parties, he loses his caste, and is regarded as a traitor, a deserter from the ranks. Now is the moral test of the state of the heart; whether he will go to hell for the sake of company, or be a decided character for religion; for no man can serve two masters. This crime of ridiculing revelation, and persecuting the saints, fills up the measure of iniquity.

Isaiah 59:16 . The Lord saw that there was no intercessor therefore his arm brought salvation. This prophecy cannot therefore, with truth and justice, be restricted to Isaiah’s time; for there were then many intercessors. He himself prophesied in four reigns, and was contemporary with several of the great prophets; yet there was no salvation in his time. Neither can this text be applied to the time when God delivered the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity, for Daniel was then one of the most eminent intercessors, having fasted and prayed for twenty three days; and Cyrus was their great patron. This text must therefore be understood of our redemption by Christ, and of the ultimate deliverance of the church from the antichristian dominion. St. Paul thus applied the twentieth verse: the Redeemer, or deliverer, shall come to Zion. Romans 9:26, Isaiah 63:1, is understood in the same manner.

Isaiah 59:19 . When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. So it has often happened. When a hundred thousand Midianites invaded the land, the Spirit of the Lord moved Gideon to blow with his trumpets. The holy apostles likewise, moved by the divine impetus, resisted the overspreading of idolatry and wickedness. Constantine displayed the banner of the cross, and drove all his enemies before him. In this way the Lord has moved the hearts of good men in every age, to lift up their banners in his name. The humblest christian may therefore do great things in the strength of the Lord; and even the day of small and feeble things shall not be despised.


This chapter, like the cloud at the Red sea, has a double aspect; a dark side with regard to the Jews, and a bright one with regard to Zion, or the new- testament church, in the glory of the latter day, when the nations from the rising of the sun shall fear the Lord; and when his covenant shall no more depart out of their mouth, nor out of the mouth of their seed. The prophet, in a style of great sublimity and strength, here continues his efforts to save his country from destruction, after having made the most awakening appeals in several of the preseding chapters. His object was glorious, and his zeal and ministry were worthy of the cause. If the people could be brought to genuine repentance, notwithstanding the growing power of Babylon, whose armies were about to take Manasseh as a prisoner, he declares that the Lord’s arm was not shortened. He could still save as at the Red sea, as at Mizpeh, and as he overthrew the bloody Assyrians. The miseries of the Israelites originated in themselves. Their heart was as the viper’s nest, brooding venom and mischief. Their sins and iniquities formed the barrier of separation between them and the salvation which had been promised. The catalogue of their sins is a criminal calendar of the foulest enormities. It exhibits a total loss of morals and religion; public justice was sacrificed to bribery, interest, and faction. It exhibits a portrait of a people totally and religiously profligate, who instead of seeking help in God, were forming plots of wickedness, as the hatching of the viper’s eggs. Haste, haste then, ye Babylonians: fly with eagles’ wings, for the carcase is carrion, and ready to be devoured. In Britain also we have infidels, we have drunkards, and learned seducers; yea, hypocrites in religion, who would soon make our morals like those of the Hebrews in the last stage of corruption. What a mercy that justice is impartially administered in our courts, that benevolence distinguishes our nation, and that there is yet a seed to serve the Lord!

The few in Israel who had light, did most heartily bewail the morals of their country. Judgment, said they, is far from us. We roar like bears, we mourn sore like doves. Here is the true spirit of piety; but alas, the salt was not sufficient to preserve the body from putrefaction. Their prayers however came up into the ears of the Lord, and their faith embraced the promises of personal deliverance, while it imperceptibly launched forth into the redemption of Christ, and into the present and final destruction of the wicked.

The only hope and refuge of the church is to fly into the arms of the Redeemer, who shall come to Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And as there was no man to deliver the oppressed, when they cried out of wrong, so neither was there man or angel to help a fallen world; for no man was found worthy to unloose the seals of God’s counsel, of vengeance and of love. Jesus had indeed three disciples in the garden; but they slept instead of comforting their master. So his own arm brought salvation and glory to his people.

In this great work of vengeance, after the rejection of grace, his righteousness sustained him, for he put it on as a breastplate, pouring fury on his adversaries, and recompense on his enemies. This refers to the destruction of the last enemies of the church, as described in Isaiah 63:3. Ezekiel 38, 39. Revelation 19:0. The Redeemer shall ultimately come to Zion, and crown her for ever with the glory of righteousness; a glory which shall never be obscured by any future fall, but remain from father to son, as the prophet next describes.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/isaiah-59.html. 1835.
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