Isaiah 44:1-2. Yet now hear, O Jacob — Although I have chastised thee for thy sins, and had just cause utterly to destroy thee, yet in judgment I will remember mercy, and will still own thee for my servant and chosen people. Thus saith the Lord, that formed thee from the womb — “He speaks of the Jewish people under the character of a single person; and as God sometimes designed certain persons for particular offices, from their birth, or conception, so he set apart the posterity of Abraham to be his people from the very original of the family;” and formed and fashioned them for himself, by laws, ordinances, teachers, promises, threatenings, corrections, and many other ways. Jesurun is another name for Jacob or Israel, given to them by Moses, Deuteronomy 32:15, (where see the note.) and 33:5, 26.
Isaiah 44:3-5. I will pour water — My Spirit, as it is expounded in the latter part of the verse, frequently compared to water in the Scriptures; upon him that is thirsty — That is destitute of it, and that sincerely and earnestly desires it; and my blessing upon thine offspring — All the blessings of my covenant, especially those of a spiritual nature. This promise seems to have been made with a design to raise the minds and hearts of the Jews from carnal and worldly things, to which they were too much addicted, to spiritual and heavenly blessings, and thereby to prepare them for the reception of the gospel. And they shall spring up, &c. — They shall increase and flourish like grass, and those herbs and plants which grow up in the midst of it. One shall say, I am the Lord’s, &c. — This verse seems to relate to the increase of the church by the accession of the Gentiles: as if he had said, The blessing of God upon the Jews shall be so remarkable that many of the Gentiles shall join themselves unto them, and accept Jehovah for their God, and own themselves for his people.
Isaiah 44:6-8. Thus saith the Lord, &c. — Here God renews his contest with idols, which he insists an so often, and so much, because his own people were exceeding prone to idolatry. And who — Which of all the heathen gods; shall call, and shall declare it — Shall, by his powerful call, cause a future event to be, and, by his infinite foreknowledge, declare that it shall be. And set it in order for me — Orderly relate all future events in the same manner as they shall happen. Since I appointed the ancient people — αφ’ ου εποιησα ανθρωπον. Since I first made man upon the earth: so the LXX. And the things that are coming, &c. — Such things as are near at hand, and such as are to come hereafter. Have not I told thee? — Thee, O Israel, whom he bids not to fear. The sense is, I call you Israelites to bear me witness, whether I have not, from time to time, acquainted you with things to come; from that time — When I appointed the ancient people, (Isaiah 44:7,) from the first ages of the world. And have declared it — Have published it to the world in my sacred records. Ye are even my witnesses — Both of my predictions, and of the exact agreeableness of events to them.
Isaiah 44:9-11. They that make a graven image are vanity — Hereby discover themselves to be vain, empty, and foolish men. And their delectable things shall not profit — Their idols, in which they take so much pleasure. They are their own witnesses — They that make them are witnesses against themselves and against their idols, because they know they are not gods, but the work of their own hands. They see not, nor know — Have neither sense nor understanding, therefore they have just cause to be ashamed of their folly in worshipping such senseless things. Who hath formed a god, &c. — What man in his wits would do it? Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed — The workmen who, in this work, are partners with him, by whose cost and command the work is done; or those who any way assist in this work, and join with him in worshipping the image which he makes. They are of men — They are of mankind, and therefore cannot possibly make a god. They shall be ashamed together — Though all combine together, they shall be filled with fear and confusion when God shall plead his cause against them.
Isaiah 44:12-17. The smith, &c. — “The sacred writers,” says Bishop Lowth, “are generally large and eloquent upon the subject of idolatry: they treat it with great severity, and set forth the absurdity of it in the strongest light. But this passage of Isaiah far exceeds any thing that ever was written upon the subject, in force of argument, energy of expression, and elegance of composition. One or two of the apocryphal writers have attempted to imitate the prophet, but with very ill success: Wisdom of Solomon 13:11-19; Wisdom of Solomon 15:7, &c.; Baruk, chap. 6.; especially the latter, who, injudiciously dilating his matter, and introducing a number of minute circumstances, has very much weakened the force and effect of his invective. On the contrary, a heathen author, in the ludicrous way, has, in a line or two, given idolatry one of the severest strokes it ever received:
“Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum;
Cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum, Maluit esse Deum.”
“I was of old the trunk of a fig-tree, a useless block;
when the carpenter, uncertain whether to make a bench or a
Priapus, chose that I should be a god.” — Hor., lib. 1. sat. 8.
He maketh it after the figure of a man, &c. — In the same comely shape and proportions which are in a living man; that it may remain in the house — In the dwelling-house of him that made it. He heweth him down cedars and the oak — Which afford the best and most durable timber; which he strengtheneth for himself — He plants, and with care and diligence improves those trees, that he or his posterity may thence have materials for their images, and those things which belong to them. He maketh an image, and falleth down thereto — Having related the practices of idolaters, he now discovers the vanity and folly of them, that they make their fire and their god of the same materials, distinguished only by the art of man, and roast their meat with the article which they worship.
Isaiah 44:18-20. They have not known, &c. — They want common discretion, and have not the understanding of a rational being in them. For what an absurdity is it for a man to dress his meat and make his god with the same piece of wood! Or to think that a log of timber hath any more divinity in it than it had before, because of the form man can give it, or any thing he can do to it! “When,” says Minutius Felix, “does it become a god! Behold, it is cast, fashioned, and carved! It is not yet a god. It is soldered, put together, and set up. Neither is it yet a god. Behold, it is adorned, consecrated, and prayed to! Then at length it is a god when men have chosen and dedicated it.” He hath shut their eyes — God hath. Not as if God made men wicked; he only permits them so to be, and orders and overrules their wickedness to his own glorious ends. And none considereth in his heart — By which the prophet implies, that the true cause of this, as well as of other absurd and brutish practices of sinners, is the neglect of serious and impartial consideration. He feedeth on ashes — An unprofitable and pernicious food, and no less unsatisfying and mischievous is the worship of idols. A deceived heart — A mind corrupted and deceived by deep prejudice, gross error, and especially by his own lusts; hath turned him aside — From the way of truth, from the knowledge and worship of the true God, unto this irrational and foolish idolatry; that he cannot deliver his soul — From this error, and the vengeance that will follow upon it; nor say, Is there not a lie, &c. — Is not this idol which I honour and trust to a mere fiction and delusion which will deceive me?
Isaiah 44:21-23. Remember these — These things, the deep ignorance and stupidity of idolaters. O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten — I will not forget nor forsake thee; therefore thou shalt have no need of idols. I have blotted out as a cloud, &c. — As the sun arising disperses the clouds, and causes them to vanish and disappear, so have I, arising for thy salvation, with the light and influence of my grace, scattered and removed thy transgressions, that there is no remnant or appearance of them left: a beautiful and expressive metaphor. Return unto me — From thine idolatry, and other sinful practices. For 1 have redeemed thee — Therefore thou art mine, and obliged to return and adhere to me. Sing, O ye heavens, &c. — “The prophet here, by an elegant apostrophe, calls upon all creatures to glorify God for his singular blessing to his people in delivering them from their captivity in Babylon; which also has a further respect to the great and spiritual deliverance of mankind by the Messiah;” a mercy so transcendent, that, as he intimates, it is sufficient, were it possible, to make even the stones break forth in praises to God.
Isaiah 44:24-27. I am the Lord that maketh all things — And therefore I can save thee without the help of any other gods, or any creature; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars — Of the magicians and astrologers, who were numerous and greatly esteemed in Babylon, and who had foretold the long continuance and prosperity of the Chaldean empire. And maketh the diviners mad — With grief for the disappointment of their predictions, and their disgrace which followed it. That turneth wise men backward — Stopping their way, and blasting their designs. That confirmeth the word of his servants — The prophets, as appears from the next clause, namely, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, whom God sent to foretel the destruction of Babylon, and the redemption of his people. The connection of this with Isaiah 44:25, is, As God discovers the folly and madness of such false prophets, so he punctually fulfils the predictions of his own prophets. That saith to the deep, Be dry — That with a word can dry up the sea and rivers, and remove all impediments. “Cyrus took Babylon by laying the bed of the Euphrates dry, and leading his army into the city by night, through the empty channel of the river. This remarkable circumstance, in which the event so exactly corresponded with the prophecy, was also noted by Jeremiah. A drought shall be upon her waters, and they shall be dried up: I will lay her sea dry; and I will scorch up her springs, Jeremiah 50:38; Jeremiah 51:36. It is proper here to give some account of the method by which the stratagem of Cyrus was effected. The Euphrates, in the middle of summer, from the melting of the snows on the mountains of Armenia, like the Nile, overflows the country. In order to diminish the inundation, and carry off the waters, two canals were made by Nebuchadnezzar a hundred miles above the city; the first on the eastern side, called Naharmalca, or the Royal river, by which the Euphrates was let into the Tigris; the other on the western side, called Pallacopas, or Naharaga, (Hebrew, נהר אגם, the river of the pool,) by which the redundant waters were carried into a vast lake, forty miles square, contrived, not only to lessen the inundation, but for a reservoir, with sluices to water the barren country on the Arabian side. Cyrus, by turning the whole river into the latter lake, laid the channel, where it ran through the city, almost dry; so that his army entered it both above and below by the bed of the river, the water not reaching above the middle of the thigh. By the great quantity of water let into the lake, the sluices and dams were destroyed; and being never repaired afterward, the waters spread over the whole country below, and reduced it into a morass, in which the river is lost.” — Bishop Lowth.
Isaiah 44:28. That saith of Cyrus — Whom God here mentions by his proper name, two hundred years before he was born, that this might be an undeniable evidence of the exactness of God’s foreknowledge, and a convincing argument to conclude this dispute between God and idols. He is my shepherd — Him will I set up to be the shepherd of my people, to rescue them from wolves or tyrants, to gather them together, to rule them gently, and to provide comfortably for them. Xenophon tells us, that Cyrus used to compare kings in general, and himself in particular, to a shepherd. — Cyropæd., lib. 8. And shall perform all my pleasure — All that I command him to do, especially to give leave and order for the rebuilding of the city and temple of Jerusalem, as it here follows. This prophecy, which thus speaks of Cyrus by name, as foreknown and appointed by the divine counsel for the performance of the great work designed by providence, is one of the most remarkable contained in Scripture, of the same kind with that 1 Kings 13:1-2.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany