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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 48


A.M. 3296. B.C. 708.

According to Vitringa, the fourth discourse of the fourth part of this prophecy is contained in this chapter. In which we have,

(1,) A solemn address to the Jews, reproving them for their hypocrisy, obstinacy, and especially their idolatry, notwithstanding the many convincing proofs God had given them of his true and sole divinity, Isaiah 48:1-8 .

(2,) An assurance that their deliverance would be wrought purely for the sake of God’s own name, and not for any merit of theirs, Isaiah 48:9-11 .

(3,) An encouragement given them to depend purely on God’s power and promise for their deliverance, showing that his prediction concerning the raising up of Cyrus, and many others, had been declared clearly and publicly, Isaiah 48:12-16 .

(4,) He removes from himself the charge of those evils which had happened to the nation, as they might have enjoyed his favour, and the blessings consequent thereon, if they had conducted themselves otherwise, Isaiah 48:17-19 .

(5,) Proclaims their release from Babylon, and enjoins them to declare everywhere the blessing of it, and the singular care of Providence over them in their return, Isaiah 48:20 , Isaiah 48:21 .

(6,) No peace to the wicked, Isaiah 48:22 .

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 48:1-2. Hear ye this, O house of Jacob For your conviction and humiliation; that, acknowledging God to be just, and even merciful, in what he has brought upon you, you may give glory to him, and take shame to yourselves; which are called by the name of Israel Who are Israelites in name, but not in truth; and are come out of the waters of Judah From the lineage of your progenitor, Judah, as waters flow from a fountain; which swear by the name of the Lord Who profess the true religion, one act thereof being put for all; that own him to be the true God and your God, and give glory to him as the righteous judge of all. Or, that swear to the name of the Lord, as the words may be rendered; that take an oath of allegiance to him as your king, and join yourselves to him in covenant. And make mention of the God of Israel In your prayers and praises, who often speak of, seem to glory in, and call yourselves by his name; but not in truth nor in righteousness Which are the two chief ingredients of a lawful oath, and of a sincere profession of religion. Observe, reader, our religious professions avail nothing unless they be made in truth and righteousness. If we be not sincere in them, we do but take the name of the Lord our God in vain. For Or, as the Hebrew particle often signifies, Though, they call themselves the holy city Though they glory in this, that they are citizens of Jerusalem, a city sanctified by God himself to be the only place of his true worship and gracious presence, which, as it was a great privilege, so it laid a great obligation upon them to walk more holily than they did. And stay themselves upon the God of Israel Not by a true and well-grounded faith, but by a vain and presumptuous confidence, flattering themselves, as that people commonly did, that they should enjoy peace and safety, notwithstanding all their wickedness, because they were the Lord’s people, and had his temple and ordinances among them; which disposition the prophets frequently notice, and sharply censure in them.

Verses 3-5

Isaiah 48:3-5. I have declared That is, predicted; the former things Those things which are already come to pass. These, opposed to new things, (Isaiah 48:6,) seem to intend the events foretold by Isaiah in the former part of this book, relating to the two confederate kings of Syria and Israel, (chap. 7.,) and to Sennacherib, (chap. 10,) as the new things, and things to come, (Isaiah 41:22,) respect the Babylonian captivity, and their return from thence, as figures of gospel times. They went forth out of my mouth, and I did them suddenly What my mouth foretold my hand effected, even when there was no likelihood of such events taking place, whereby I gave you full proof of my Godhead. Because I knew that thou art obstinate Therefore I gave thee the more and clearer demonstrations of my nature and providence, because I knew thou wast an unbelieving and perverse nation, that would not easily nor willingly be convinced. And thy neck an iron sinew Which would not bow down to receive my yoke. It is a metaphor taken from untamed and stubborn oxen. The sense is, I considered that thou wast unteachable and incorrigible. And thy brow brass That thou wast impudent and insolent. Before it came to pass I showed it thee, lest, &c. I foretold these things, that it might be evident that they were the effects of my counsel, and not of thine idols. “God ordained a succession of prophets to foretel the most remarkable events which should happen to the Jews, on purpose to prevent their ascribing them to their idols, which their infidelity and obstinacy might have prompted them to do.” Lowth.

Verses 6-8

Isaiah 48:6-8. Thou hast heard, see all this As thou hast heard all these things, from time to time, seriously consider them. And will not ye declare it I call you to witness: must you not be forced to acknowledge the truth of what I say? I have showed thee new things from this time And I have now given thee new predictions of secret things, such as till this time were wholly unknown to thee, concerning thy deliverance out of Babylon by Cyrus. They are created now Revealed to thee by me; brought to light, as things are by creation. The idea is elegant; for what is revealed exists by the word that proceeds from the mouth of God, which is the character of creation. And not from the beginning Hebrew, ולא מאז , not from thence, not from these ancient times when other things were revealed to thee. Even before the day Hebrew, and, or, or before this day. This day answers to now in the first clause, and seems to be added as an exposition of it; when thou heardest them not Hebrew, And thou didst not hear them, namely, before this time in which God hath revealed them to thee by my ministry. Lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them Either by thine own sagacity, or by the help of thine idols. Yea, thou knewest not The same thing is repeated, because this was so illustrious a proof of the infinite power and providence of God, and so clear and full a discovery of the vanity of idols. Yea, from that time Hebrew, from then, as in the foregoing verse; thine ear was not opened That is, thou didst not hear; I did not reveal these things unto thee: for so this phrase of opening the ear is understood, 1 Samuel 9:15. For I knew that thou wouldest deal treacherously I knew all these cautions were necessary to cure thine infidelity. And wast called Namely, justly and truly; a transgressor from the womb Thou wast indeed such from thy very origin as a people. The contents of this verse, therefore, are not only to be considered as a confirmation of what was said in the preceding verse, namely, that the Jews had no knowledge of these new things, (as they are called Isaiah 48:6,) before the revelation of them made by Isaiah; but as “containing a conviction of the inconsideration, incredulity, and prejudices of the Jewish people; who, notwithstanding the prophecies so clearly fulfilled among them, had neither duly attended to them, nor become obedient to God, which he observes was nothing strange, since, from the first time of their adoption as a people, from their deliverance out of Egypt, which was, as it were, their birth, they had been full of perfidy and transgression.” See Vitringa.

Verses 9-11

Isaiah 48:9-11. For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger Although thou dost justly deserve my hottest anger and most dreadful judgments, which also, if thou repentest not, I will in due time inflict, yet at present I will spare thee, and deliver thee out of captivity, not for thy sake, but merely for my own sake, and for the vindication of my name, that I may be praised for my power, faithfulness, and goodness. Behold, I have refined thee Although I will not cut thee off, yet I will put thee into the furnace, not to consume, but to purify thee, and purge away thy dross. Not with silver Not with such a furious heat, nor for so long a time, as is required to melt down silver; I will not deal so rigorously with thee, for then I should wholly consume thee. In judgment I will remember mercy. It must be observed, that silver is the most difficult to be refined, and requires a hotter and clearer fire than gold and other metals. I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction I have taken this method to purge thee from thy dross, and render thee a chosen people to myself. For mine own sake will I do it Namely, this great work of delivering my people out of Babylon. For how should my name be polluted If I should not deliver my people, my name would be profaned and blasphemed, as if I were either impotent, or implacable to them. I will not give my glory unto another I will not give any colour to idolaters, to ascribe the divine nature and properties to idols, as they would do if I did not rescue my people out of their hands, in spite of their idols.

Verses 12-13

Isaiah 48:12-13. Hearken unto me, Israel, my called Whom I have called out of the world to be my peculiar people, to serve, and glorify, and enjoy me; and therefore you, of all others, have least cause to forsake me, or to follow after idols. My right hand hath spanned, or doth span, the heavens Or, hath meted them out with a span, as the phrase is, Isaiah 40:12; hath stretched them out by an exact measure, as the workman sometimes metes out his work by spans. See also the margin. When I call them, they stand up together “Nothing can give us a more sublime idea of God than this passage. The idea is taken from servants, who, at the voice of their masters, instantly rise up, and stand ready to execute their commands. The whole creation, at the call of God, arises with prompt obedience, and is ready to execute his sovereign will.” Dodd.

Verses 14-15

Isaiah 48:14-15. All ye assemble yourselves and hear Ye Jews, to whom he addressed his speech, (Isaiah 48:12,) and to whom he continues to speak; which among them hath declared these things Which of the gods, whom any of you have served, or do now serve? The prophet gives a general challenge to the idols and their worshippers, to bring proof that ever such a remarkable turn of providence as that of the Jews’ restoration was foretold by any of the heathen oracles. The Lord hath loved him Namely, Cyrus; that is, he hath done him this favour, this honour, to make him an instrument of the redemption of his people, and therein a type of the great Redeemer, God’s beloved Son. He will do his pleasure on Babylon Cyrus shall execute what the Lord hath appointed for the destruction of Babylon, and the deliverance of God’s people. And his arm shall be on the Chaldeans He shall smite and subdue them. I, even I, have spoken, &c. Both the prediction and the execution of this great work are to be ascribed to me only. The idols had no hand therein. He shall make his way prosperous I will give him good success in his undertaking.

Verse 16

Isaiah 48:16. Come ye near unto me, &c. That you may the better hear me. Here, as in Isaiah 48:14, Jacob and Israel are summoned to hearken to the prophet speaking in God’s name, and as a type of the great prophet, by whom God has in these last days spoken unto us. I have not spoken in secret I have not suppressed, concealed, or kept back the counsel and word of God, or any part thereof, but have declared it openly and publicly. See note on Isaiah 45:19, where these very words are spoken by God in his own name, as they are here by the prophet in God’s name. From the beginning From the first time that I began to prophesy until now: or, if the prophet be considered as uttering God’s words, the meaning is, From the beginning of my taking you to be my people, and revealing my mind to you. From the time that it was, there am, or rather, was, I These words also, as well as the former, are the words either, 1st, Of the prophet; and so the sense is, From the time that I was first called to be a prophet, I have been there, that is, I have diligently pursued my prophetical function; I have hearkened, from time to time, to hear what God would speak to me, that I might impart it to you: or, 2d, Of God; and then the sense may be this: From the time that I first foretold it, I was there to take care to effect what I predicted. And now This is opposed to the foregoing words, from the beginning; the Lord God and his Spirit God, by his Spirit, or God, even the Spirit, namely, the Holy Ghost, to whom the sending and inspiring of God’s prophets is ascribed, 2 Peter 1:21; hath sent me Namely, the prophet, who yet was a type of Christ, and so this may have a respect to him also.

Verses 17-19

Isaiah 48:17-19. I am the Lord, which teacheth thee to profit Who from time to time has made known to thee all necessary and useful doctrines, which, if observed by thee, would have been infinitely profitable to thee, both for this life and that to come; so that it is not my fault, but thine own, if thou dost not profit: which leadeth thee, &c. Who acquainteth thee with thy duty in all the concerns of thy life, so that thou canst not pretend ignorance. O that thou hadst hearkened, &c. This failure hath not been on my part, but on thine: I gave thee my counsels and commands, but thou hast neglected and disobeyed them, and that to thy own great disadvantage. Concerning such wishes as these, when ascribed to God, see note on Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 32:29, and especially on Psalms 81:13. Then had thy peace been as a river Which runs pleasantly, strongly, plentifully, and constantly. Thou shouldst have enjoyed a series of mercies, one continually following another, as the waters of a river, which always last, and not like the waters of a land-flood, which are soon gone; and thy righteousness The fruit of thy righteousness, thy peace and prosperity; as the waves of the sea Numberless and abundant. Or the meaning may be, Thou wouldest have been as remarkable for virtue and holiness as for peace and happiness. Thy seed also had been as the sand Namely, for multitude, according to my promise made to Abraham; whereas now, for thy sins, I have greatly diminished thy numbers by invasions, captivities, and other judgments. His name The name of thy seed, or offspring, mentioned in the former clauses; should not have been cut off As now it hath been in a great measure, namely, from the land of Israel, which is either desolate, or inhabited by strangers; nor destroyed from before me Or, out of my sight, from the place of my special presence and residence.

Verses 20-21

Isaiah 48:20-21. Go ye forth of Babylon The imperative is here, as it is very frequently, put for the future, ye shall go forth, &c. For the words do not so much contain a command as a promise. This form of speaking, however, may be the rather used to intimate, that it was their duty to go forth, as well as God’s promise to carry them forth. Flee ye from the Chaldeans Not silently and sorrowfully, but with a voice of singing With joy, and songs of praise to the Lord. Declare ye, &c., even to the end of the earth Publish God’s wonderful works on your behalf to all nations. A figure this of the publishing of the gospel to all the world. And they thirsted not, &c. This is part of the matter which the Jews are here commanded to declare to all people, as they had opportunity, namely, that God took the same care of them in their return from Babylon to Canaan, which was through many dry and desolate places, as he did of their forefathers, in their march from Egypt to Canaan. They thirsted not, &c. That is, They shall not thirst. He speaks of things to come, as if they were already present or past, as the prophets commonly did. He caused the waters to flow out of the rock, &c. “If this prophecy,” says Kimchi, “relate to the return from the Babylonish captivity, as it seems to do, it is to be wondered how it comes to pass, that in the book of Ezra, in which he gives an account of their return, no mention is made, that such miracles were wrought for them; as, for instance, that God clave the rock for them in the desert.” On this strange observation of the learned rabbi, Bishop Lowth remarks as follows: “It is really much to be wondered, that one of the most learned and judicious Jewish expositors of the Old Testament, having advanced so far in a large comment on Isaiah, should appear to be totally ignorant of the prophet’s manner of writing; of the parabolic style which prevails in the writings of all the prophets, and more particularly in the prophecy of Isaiah, which abounds throughout in parabolic images, from the beginning to the end: from Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, to the worm and the fire in the last verse. And how came he to keep his wonderment to himself so long? Why did he not expect, that the historian should have related how, as they passed through the desert, cedars, pines, and olive-trees shot up at once on the side of the way to shade them; and that, instead of briers and brambles, the acacia and the myrtle sprang up under their feet, according to God’s promises, Isaiah 41:19; Isa 55:13 ? These, and a multitude of the like parabolical or poetical images, were never intended to be understood literally. All that the prophet designed in this place, and which he has executed in the most elegant manner, was an amplification and illustration of the gracious care and protection of God, vouchsafed to his people in their return from Babylon, by an allusion to the miraculous exodus from Egypt.”

Verse 22

Isaiah 48:22. There is no peace unto the wicked God having, in the foregoing verses, foretold that blessed deliverance which he would give to his servant Jacob, (Isaiah 48:20,) here adds an explication and limitation of the blessing, and declares that wicked men should not enjoy the benefit of this mercy. And by the wicked, he means the unbelieving and ungodly Jews; of whom these very words are used again, (Isaiah 57:21,) and for whom such a denunciation was very proper and necessary, because they were exceeding prone to cry, Peace, Peace, to themselves, when there was no solid ground of peace. This, therefore, was a very seasonable caution to the Jews in Babylon, to take heed to themselves, and prepare for this mercy. For those of them who should either wickedly tarry in Babylon, when God invited and required them to go out of it, and return to their own land; or who should continue in wickedness when they had returned, should not enjoy the tranquillity and comfort which they promised themselves. “There is no peace,” says Vitringa, “no serenity of mind and conscience; more desirable than all blessings, superior to all conception; there is no durable prosperity on earth, no eternal salvation or hope of salvation to hypocrites, unbelievers, and profane persons; to despisers of God and his prophetic word; to those who honour him with their lips, but in mind and affection are alienated and removed to a great distance from him, remaining in a state of impenitence. But why? Because they have no part in the righteousness and favour of God, which is not obtained without faith, reverence for the divine word, and an humble obedience to the divine commands.”

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.