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The promulgation of the Gospel. The preaching of John Baptist. The preaching of the apostles. The prophet, by the omnipotence of God, and by his incomparableness, comforteth the people.
Before Christ 712.
THE fourth part of the prophesies of Isaiah extends from this to the 49th chapter; the principal argument whereof is, to explain the great mystery of the manifestation of the kingdom of God and his righteousness in the world, by the Messiah, and his forerunner and apostles. Though the argument of the whole is similar, it may be proper to divide these nine chapters into four discourses; the first in ch. Isaiah 40-41; the second in ch. Isaiah 42-43; the third in ch. 44-47.; the fourth in ch. 48. The first discourse contains two sections, the former whereof, in this chapter, contains,
I. A prophetic discourse, first, concerning the manifestation of the kingdom of the Son of God in the world; wherein the pious waiters for that kingdom are admonished of its quick approach, Isaiah 40:1-2. Secondly, the subjects of this kingdom are exhorted to prepare their minds for its reception, Isaiah 40:3-5. Thirdly, the nature of this kingdom, namely, its spirituality, is explained, Isaiah 40:6-8. Fourthly, its effects and fruits, Isaiah 40:9-11.
II. This section contains doctrine and reproof, wherein the manner of founding this kingdom, as most agreeable to the supreme wisdom of God, is defended against worldly wisdom, Isaiah 40:12-17.; and the vanity of idolatry, and of the nations and princes supporting it, is shewn by a comparison from the power, truth, and majesty of God, Isaiah 40:18-26.
III. We have in this section consolation, to be given by the ministers of God, directed to the afflicted church; wherein the foregoing prediction and doctrine are applied to its complete comfort, Isaiah 40:27-31. To which is subjoined, in the following chapter, a discourse conceived in the name of God himself, as well reproving the nations, as instructing his people agreeably to the above argument; and making the fourth general part of the whole discourse. The scene of this prophesy is to be fixed at the time of the first promulgation of the Gospel, when God proclaimed to his faithful people that consolation which they had so long expected. The sacred writers apply this prophesy directly to the first preaching of the Gospel. It is generally thought that Isaiah composed this admirable part of his book after the defeat of Sennacherib.
Isaiah 40:1-2. Comfort ye, &c.— These are the words of the prophet, relating what he saw, or what he heard, in this scene of the manifestation of the kingdom of God, with its signs and concomitants. He relates, that he heard the voice of Jehovah directed to certain ministers of his, commanding them to comfort his people on account of the approaching advent of the kingdom of God. This command is from the Father by the Holy Spirit, and it is directed to those teachers of the church, whose office it is to deliver the word of God, whether it be for reproof, for doctrine, or instruction, according to the various states of the church. And in this case the first preachers of the Gospel are particularly to be understood. The message they were to deliver is this:—Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people; speak ye comfortably to the heart of Jerusalem: that is to say, to the afflicted and heavy-laden; to those who had long panted for the expected salvation: proclaim ye good tidings; things pleasing to hear, and agreeable to their desires; which may deliver them from fear and anxiety, and relieve their burdened hearts. For this is the meaning of the Hebrew phrase, to speak to the heart of any one. Compare Genesis 34:3; Gen 50:21 in the original. It is evident from the Gospel what consolation was here intended. It was that which the apostle calls everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, 2 Thessalonians 2:16. The matter of this consolation is contained in three articles. The first, in these words, Cry unto her, That her warfare is accomplished; or more properly, "That the determined time of her laborious duty or office is fulfilled." See Mark 1:15. The meaning is, that the determined time of the troublesome duty, labour, and burdensome exercise which the people of God had hitherto undergone, was now past and fulfilled; that the time of dismission into liberty, long wished and hoped for, was at length come. The prophet unquestionably alludes to the whole period of the legal oeconomy; that time which our Lord in St. Mark's gospel declares to be fulfilled, and that the kingdom of God was at hand. See Galatians 4:4. The prophet's ideas here are taken from the station and functions of the priests in the temple, who, like soldiers, had their regular times of duty and discharge from service. Hence not only this service, but almost every other kind of hardship and servitude is called warfare. See Numbers 4:23; Num 8:24-25 in the original. The second article is, that her iniquity is pardoned; which is fully explained by Luk 1:77 whence we learn, that a perfect remission of sins should be an attribute of that time of grace, to be opened by the great forerunner of the Messiah. Compare Acts 13:38. The third article is, she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins, There can be no doubt that this passage is to be taken in a good sense. The Chaldee paraphrast renders it, She hath received the cup of consolation from the face of the Lord, as if she had been doubly smitten for her sins: and Vatablus has it, "The Lord will confer upon her many benefits, instead of the punishments which she might have justly suffered for her sins." The full meaning, according to Vitringa is, that God, though he might with great justice punish the sins of his people more severely, yet at this time of grace he would cease from his severity, would forgive their sins, and would crown them with a double portion of his blessings; wherein the prophet seems to refer to that abundance of spiritual gifts with which God would enrich his evangelical church, and whereby believers would have a proof of perfect remission of sins through the great atonement, and a foundation of the most solid comfort. In various places of the New Testament, this abundance of grace and spiritual blessings is spoken of. See particularly 2 Peter 1:3-4.Romans 5:20; Romans 5:20. John 1:16.
Isaiah 40:3-5. The voice of him that crieth— It is manifest to every reader of this passage, that it exhibits to us the voice of a public herald or harbinger, who, at the approach of an illustrious king, commands the ways to be levelled, and made fit for his reception, easy and commodious for his passage. The metaphor is taken from a custom of remotest antiquity. Thus Arrian, speaking of Alexander, says, "He now marched towards the river Indus, his army going before, to prepare the way for him; for otherwise those places could not have been passed over:" nor can we have a more sublime idea of the entrance of the Messiah into the world, than these words give us. We may suppose the Messiah, the great king of the world, the glory of Jehovah, marching in awful triumph along this road prepared for him, in the desert, while all flesh, all the world collected together on either side, stand viewing, with interested and pleasing astonishment, the triumphant entrance of a king coming to redeem and to save. The evangelists have applied these words to Christ, and have thus given us the sum of them; Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The words, in the desert, belong to both parts of the sentence. The voice of one crying in the desert, prepare ye in the desert the way of the Lord. See John 1:23. The word desert may be understood both in a proper and mystical sense; for it is certain that John proclaimed this approach of the Messiah, in a desert, in the wilderness of Judaea; and thence took occasion to consider that people, among whom the kingdom of God was to be manifested, under the figure of a desert, to be levelled before the face of Jesus Christ; for the metaphorical expressions which follow refer to that preparation of mind which is necessary for the reception of Christ, (see Mal 3:5) that raising the low, that debasing the high, that refutation of all false and erroneous doctrine, and introduction of truth and righteousness, which was the consequence of the revelation of Christ. The revelation of the glory of the Lord, evidently means the revelation of Christ. Compare Luke 3:22. Joh 1:14; John 2:11. The latter clause in the 5th verse is differently understood. Some read it as in our version; and others, All flesh shall see together what the mouth of the Lord hath spoken. But the better sense seems to be, And all flesh,—all people shall see it alike; namely, the glory of Jehovah revealed for the salvation of believers; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. "That Jehovah, who is able to bring it to pass, hath authorized the delivery of this prediction." We shall have occasion to speak more fully respecting the subject of this passage, when we come to the Gospels.
Isaiah 40:6-8. The voice said, Cry— The beginning of the kingdom of God is presented to the prophet's view in extatic vision, together with its progress through various scenes, one succeeding the other. The prophet had now heard two voices of harbingers or forerunners. A third succeeds, which is finely introduced. He hears a voice, which commands with authority a new herald or preacher to promulgate something. The preacher inquires, ready to obey this high authority, what he is to promulgate: then the first voice explains the argument of the discourse, which is resolved into a proposition concerning the flesh, as grass, and its grace or goodliness, as the flower of the field; and an exposition of the proposition, wherein its sense and meaning are declared, Isaiah 40:7-8. We may suppose this the voice of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. A plain comparison is made between the flesh, Isa 40:6 and the word of God, Isaiah 40:8.; the contrary attributes whereof are marked out. And there seems no doubt that the prophet, by the flesh, intends whatever men have depended upon in external things for their justification, which are vain, and will fail them; all human wisdom, works, and merits, availing nothing in this respect before God; so that no flesh can glory in his presence, 1 Corinthians 1:29. But the word of the Gospel, delivering the true doctrine of salvation, will never fail mankind. The prophet may farther mean, when he calls the people grass, to mark out the weakness and vanity of those external ceremonies and carnal privileges wherein the Jewish people place their confidence. There are many passages in the Scripture wherein flesh is thus understood. See Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:23-29; Galatians 6:12.Philippians 3:4; Philippians 3:4. We may just observe, respecting the scope of this whole period, that it teaches us the true nature of the kingdom of Christ, and the new oeconomy; that it is a spiritual oeconomy; a spiritual and heavenly kingdom, very unlike the ancient oeconomy, carnal, perishing, fading: that there is nothing in this kingdom and oeconomy to please the flesh; that all things are internal, solid, true, and everlasting; that faith alone reigns here, fruitful in righteousness and good works. Instead of the people in the 7th verse, it should be read, this people, namely, the Jews. Vitringa understands the clause, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it, as expressive of the power of the Holy Spirit, joined with the word of the Gospel, which should change the minds of men, should bring them to the faith, and from carnal make them spiritual. See Acts 2:2.Romans 15:19; Romans 15:19.
Isaiah 40:9-11. O Zion, &c.— We have here the fourth voice, directed to the evangelists, to whom it is given in command, to promulgate the true presence of their redeeming God, and the king of his church, among all people. It is true, the words the voice said are to be understood before this period. The divine voice said, ascend into the lofty mountain, O Zion, who art the messenger or declarer of good tidings;—the Evangelist. Zion and Jerusalem are here to be understood with respect to the teachers and evangelists, who went forth thence, and diffused themselves through the whole land of Judaea. The command given to these evangelists is proposed in the 9th verse, and again more largely set forth in the 10th and 11th. They are commanded to ascend a high mountain, and in the utmost confidence, without any fear, to promulgate the good tidings concerning the presence of God their Saviour, throughout the cities of Judah. The expression of ascending a high mountain is emblematical, and the meaning in general is this; "Go, ye evangelists, throughout the land of Judaea; enter its synagogues, ascend its pulpits, throw yourselves into the assemblies of men wherever occasion allows, and from its high places, wherever you can, publish the good tidings, that their God, their deliverer, their king, their shepherd, their teacher, the great source of his people's righteousness and life, their long-expected Saviour, is come." See chap. Isa 62:11 and Acts 8:2-4. The prophet goes on more fully to explain this command. The first clause of the 10th verse should be rendered, Behold, the Lord God will come against the strong one, and his arm shall prevail over him. Mat 12:29 and 1Jn 3:8 fully explain our prophet; whose meaning is, that Christ, preparing his kingdom in the world, would destroy the empire of the strong one,—of Satan; and deprive him of all his power. See Luke 10:17-18. John 12:31. The sense of the latter clause is, that Jesus Christ, establishing his kingdom in the world, and avenging himself upon his enemies, hath in his hand a reward and recompence wherewith to repay all his ministers; all those who believe and trust in him, and who place their hopes and expectations in his mercy. See Jeremiah 31:10. The connection of the following verse is very plain, wherein the prophet opposes, to the severity wherewith God would treat his enemies, the equity, clemency, and singular indulgence with which he would rule his people under the new oeconomy. The care of God towards his church, in every age and time, has been like that of a faithful shepherd. It is so spoken of under the old dispensation; and under the new, in full completion of this prophesy, the blessed Jesus hath declared himself the good Shepherd: John 10:11. Nothing can fully exemplify these beautiful words of Isaiah, but a perusal of the Gospel, and a serious meditation on the inestimable love of Jesus Christ to his faithful people. See Boch. Hieroz. pars 1: lib. 2 cap. 30.
Isaiah 40:12-17. Who hath measured the waters, &c.— The prophet here, in the most sublime manner, celebrates the divine majesty and greatness, but particularly his wisdom. Rapt into an extacy, after he had described the beginning and the nature of the new oeconomy, he sees that there would be many men of worldly prudence, who would hesitate at the methods of the divine counsel; and that the pious themselves, considering the extent and firmness of the kingdom of Satan in the world, the obstinate prejudices of the Gentiles, and the power of idolatry, would have their fears and doubts of the effect and success of the kingdom of the Messiah; a spiritual kingdom, to be established without any external means, by the mere preaching of the word, and to oppose itself to whatever was great or strong among men. The prophet, therefore, occurs to these thoughts; teaching, that the divine counsel, though it might seem strange to carnal judgment, was yet founded in the sovereign and most perfect wisdom and knowledge of God, whereof the clearest proofs were discernible in the structure of this world; that God was wiser than men; that his counsel was maturely weighed; that it pertained to his wisdom and glory to establish and promote his kingdom in the world, rather by this method than any other; that he might put to shame all carnal wisdom both of the Jews and Gentiles; for that the foolishness of God, as it seems to carnal men, is wiser than men, and the weakness of God stronger than men (according to the apostle, whose whole discourse in 1 Corinthians 1:22; 1Co 1:31 contains a paraphrase of this period): therefore he knew that this method of establishing his kingdom would have its certain effect; that this word, this faith, would overcome the world, and subvert idolatry. This is the connection, and this the sum of the passage. The prophet discourses concerning the prudence of the divine counsel, in the verses here marked out; and concerning idolatry, from Isaiah 40:18-27. In this period he first praises the prudence and wisdom of God, in constituting the state of his kingdom such as he had above described it, Isa 40:12-14 and herein he observes, that God has shewn the same perfection of wisdom and judgment in the oeconomy of this spiritual world, as all men who have eyes to see must discern in the admirable structure of the natural world. He then particularly praises the justification of the sinner, recommended in the Gospel (wherein the kingdom of the Son of God should be founded), comparatively, and oppositely to some other righteousness or justification of Jews and Gentiles, which was esteemed as nothing in the sight of God; Isa 40:15-17 which contain an illustration of the evangelical cry in the 6th verse, All flesh is grass. The meaning of the 16th verse is this, that, though the nations might consume all their riches upon their false religion, though they might offer to God in sacrifice all the beasts on their mountains, and all the cattle of their fields; and though they might employ for this purpose all the wood of Lebanon, it would avail nothing before him: that he would admit no other righteousness, no other justification, than that recommended in the Gospel; that being the only ransom, that the only sacrifice which he would approve. What is said of the nations, the carnal Jews might apply to themselves. See a remarkable passage in Psalms 50:8. &c. to the same purpose with the present; Romans 8:6; Romans 8:39.; and Vitringa.
Isaiah 40:18-26. To whom then will ye liken God?— To whom, &c. or what resemblance will ye contrive for him? Isaiah 40:19. The workman casts an image; and the goldsmith overlays it with gold, and worketh silver chains: Isaiah 40:20. He who is thrifty in his oblation, chooses wood that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare him an image which will not start. Latter end of Isaiah 40:21. Have ye not considered the foundations of the earth? Isaiah 40:22. Him that sitteth, &c. Isaiah 40:26. Who bringeth out their host by number, calleth them all by name, through the multitude of his virtues, [or abilities,] and the strength of his power: not one faileth. The sum of the preceding period is, that human wisdom ought to yield to divine; that the mutilated Dagon should fall before the ark, and be thrust by from its seat to the threshold of the temple. Yet it might be objected, that idolatry was not only received, but also established among all nations, and that the princes of the world were extremely powerful who supported it. Such was the case; and it might seem impossible, according to human estimates, that such idolatry and superstition, thus supported, should be overthrown by such means as the Gospel professed to apply. The prophet therefore, occurring to these doubts, shews, first, the vanity of idolatry, and what folly there was in it, both from the matter and form of idols, and the manner of making them, compared with the nature, excellence, and greatness of the true Divinity, the Creator of the universe; using nearly the same arguments which the first preachers of the Gospel used: Isaiah 40:18-22. Secondly, the vanity and weakness of the princes supporting idolatry, compared with the most powerful and wise Creator and Ruler of the universe: Isaiah 40:23-26. In demonstrating the vanity of idolatry, he first sets forth the crime which was committed in forming idols, Isaiah 40:18-20. Then follows the reproof of it, Isa 40:21-22 which the prophet treats in such a manner, as if he himself was among the apostles of Jesus Christ; of whom indeed he was a true type, if you take the word in its full extent. The same spirit was in them, the same zeal: they were preachers of the same grace, promoters of the same glory of Christ; and they had the same earnest desire to bring the nations to the communion of the kingdom of God. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 40:27-31. Why sayest thou, &c.— The third, or consolatory part of this discourse begins at this verse, wherein the foregoing doctrine and prophesy are applied to the comfort of the church; who, in her various afflictions, complained that she had been neglected of the Lord. This complaint makes the basis of the consolation contained in this verse. The consolation itself follows; in the first part whereof it is shewn, that God is not faint or wearied with the care of his church; that it is not a burden to him; that his providence comprehends all things, and nothing is exempted from it; that his understanding is infinite; for this is the meaning of the last clause of Isa 40:28 which is parallel to Psalms 147:5. The second part teaches that the same God was able to supply and would supply strength, to the faint and weary; to those among his people whose faith and hope were very low; which he would support in the faithful even until the manifestation of the great salvation: that the faithful should not fail, but persevere until the time of grace, and reassume new strength with that happy period. This doctrine or promise is proposed in Isa 40:29 and is explained and illustrated by a simile, Isaiah 40:30-31. See Psalms 103:5. The spiritual sense of this passage is plain; namely, that God will never fail those who put their trust in him. In this prophetical sense it refers to those apostles and first preachers, who, with indefatigable ardour, and unwearied perseverance, ran, and were not weary, walked and fainted not, in the great business to which they were called; preaching Christ amid persecutions, perils, and martyrdom, and every where proclaiming the kingdom of God. See 1Co 4:11; 1Co 4:21 and Vitringa.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The conclusion of the prophet's message in the former chapter spoke terror and conviction; the opening of this joy and consolation; for though it be a needful severity to wound, it is the more pleasing part of our office to bind up the broken-hearted, and to preach the Gospel of peace.
It would afford the pious Jews a beam of cheering hope amid the evils that were expected, and support the fainting spirits of the poor captives, to have these great and precious promises set before them, and to be assured that, whatever they suffered, there was hope in the end. We have here,
1. The commission given: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, or, to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her. [1.] The persons addressed are my people; this is their character. [2.] The person speaking, your God, your reconciled God in Jesus Christ, in whose love his believing people are interested, and therefore may expect all that almighty power, boundless mercy, and infinite wisdom can bestow. [3.] The employment of God's ministers is, to comfort his people, who are often greatly dejected through affliction, temptation, or corruption. [4.] The order is repeated, and they are commanded not only to speak, but cry aloud; for though it be the privilege of God's people to rejoice, and his will concerning them that they should be happy in him, yet sometimes they are apt to write bitter things against themselves, and can then scarcely be persuaded to receive the blessings which God hath in store for them.
2. The mercies promised; and these are, [1.] The pardon of sin. Her iniquity is pardoned; however deep the die, and aggravated the guilt, it is pardoned freely and fully. The blood and infinite merit of Jesus have obtained the pardon for us, and there is no condemnation to them that believe. [2.] Victory over all our enemies. Her warfare is accomplished. Christ, the captain of our salvation, hath vanquished, for the faithful, sin, Satan, death, and hell; and hath entered into the land of glory, as a conqueror, to take possession. Though we have a warfare to maintain, while we are in the body, against flesh and blood, against the world and the devil; yet by his grace those who perseveringly cleave to Christ shall be more than conquerors, and see quickly all their enemies put under their feet. [3.] She hath received at the Lord's hand double for all her sins. God speaks as a tender parent, whose love makes him think the corrections he had given his dear children beyond measure: or rather the words intimate the full satisfaction which God hath taken of Christ our surety, exacting from him to the uttermost the desert of our iniquities, and in consequence pouring down upon his church superabundant grace and blessings.
2nd, The scriptures of the New Testament have not left us uncertain of the person, whose voice should cry in the wilderness. John, like the morning-star, the harbinger of day, appears to usher in the Sun of Righteousness, and to awaken, by his preaching, the souls of sinners to turn their eyes towards the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.
1. The cry is, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way for our God. Jehovah, our God, here spoken of, is the glorious Redeemer, whose eternal godhead is asserted. Our hearts are a desert, till his presence and love change the dreary scene. Where his footsteps tread, waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams of grace and consolation in the desert. The preparation for him must be from him; and he that commands must give the hearing ear, the contrite heart, and dispose us to welcome him into our souls; and then if we will open to him, he will enter in, and bless us with his presence.
2. Where Jesus comes, every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. Such will be the effects of his grace upon the souls of believers; those who were sunk into the lowest deep under the sense of guilt, shall be raised up by divine mercy and exalted: the proud, who in their own eyes before were high in conceit of their own worth and excellence, shall be brought low, and acknowledge their sin and vileness: the crooked and rough ways of men of perverse minds shall be made straight, their errors removed, their corrupt practices reformed, and their hearts renewed in holiness.
3. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, the Redeemer Jesus, the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, and all flesh shall see it together; he being the universal Saviour, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and therefore no jot or tittle of his promises shall fail.
4. A farther commission is given to the preachers and at his request he is instructed what to cry; which may refer to the weakness and impotence of the Babylonians, to detain the Jews in their captivity, when the Lord should arise to save them; or, more generally, may be applied to all men, where the word of the Gospel is preached, as an alarming motive to attend to the great and precious promises of a better world, seeing this is so frail and fading. All flesh is grass, weak and withering, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field, which, though it look more gay and beautiful, is as frail and feeble. Such are all human gifts and greatness, which, however specious, quickly fade. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; then drooping, dying, all our beauty and glory languish: health loses its bloom, our possessions fade away, and death closes the scene: or when the Spirit of Jehovah breathes upon us in conversion, our past doings and duties appear poor and wretched; and those things on which we prided ourselves we count loss, that we may win Christ. Surely the people is grass, all people of every age, rank, and degree; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, such perishing things are all merely natural excellencies; but the word of our God shall stand for ever; and therefore, when all beside perishes, and every earthly comfort or possession in death is for ever lost, they who make the great and precious promises of the Gospel their constant stay, will find, to their everlasting comfort, a portion which cannot fail them in the better world of glory.
3rdly, Great was the joy when, by the edict of Cyrus, once more the Jews were permitted to return to their own land, and loudly was it proclaimed by those who had at heart the prosperity of Zion. To this the prophesy may refer; but it was evidently designed for the days of Christ, and respects his incarnation.
1. His manifestation in the flesh is proclaimed to sinners, as their greatest happiness. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, when his ministry chiefly was exercised; or, O thou that bringest good tidings to Zion, as addressed to John the Baptist, and all the ministers of the Gospel, whose office it is to proclaim the divine, glorious, and transcendent excellence of the Redeemer, in all his offices and undertakings for the salvation of sinners; get thee up into the high mountain, to the most public places, such as the mount of the Lord's house. O Jerusalem, &c. or, O thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength: lift it up, be not afraid of the opposition and revilings of men, who would persecute the preachers of the Gospel. Say unto the cities of Judah, where Christ appeared, Behold your God incarnate, the promised Emmanuel; a man, and yet the eternal Jehovah, come with the most joyful tidings that can greet a sinner's ears, to proclaim pardon, grace, and salvation, freely and to the uttermost.
2. His power and all-sufficiency are declared. Behold, the Lord God will come; that desire of all nations, and especially the glory of his Israel; he shall come with a strong hand, mighty to save his believing people and punish his enemies: or, against the strong one, to destroy the works of the devil, and break his hateful power in the hearts of men: and his arm shall rule for him, self-sufficient, and designing his own glory: or against or over him, the great enemy of souls, who must yield to this conqueror. Behold! with joy, ye people of God, his reward is with him, to bestow eternal life on all who faithfully stay on him: and his work before him, the glorious work of redemption: he came fully acquainted with the steps necessary thereto, and perfectly able and willing for the undertaking.
3. His grace and love are tenderly displayed under the character of a watchful shepherd. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: his believing people are his sheep, and therefore with tenderest regard he feeds them in the green pastures of his ordinances; bestows on them the waters of consolation; and watches over them night and day, defending them from every danger. He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom; as when the cold is ready to kill the new-cast lamb, or it is so weak that it cannot follow the dam, the shepherd in his bosom bears and cherishes it; so does Christ the lambs of his flock, pitying their weakness, helping their infirmities, and in the bosom of his love cherishing and strengthening their souls: and shall gently lead those that are with young, whose circumstances are embarrassed, and trials difficult; he leads them gently as they are able. Let the under-shepherds learn of their chief shepherd to partake of his spirit, and tread in his steps, consulting the weakness, and ministering to the wants, of those sheep and lambs of his flock intrusted to their care.
4thly, The prophet speaks consolation to God's people, and declares the infinite power and wisdom of their God. The captives in Babylon need not fear Jehovah's ability to compass their deliverance; and faithful souls may ever be assured, that he, who in his condescension is their shepherd, suffers no diminution of his uncreated glory thereby. The description here given of our Redeemer is unutterably grand. Such his immensity, the vast abyss of waters to him are but as a few drops in the hollow of his hand; the expanded heaven to him is but a span; the ponderous globe but as a few particles of dust; and the mountains and hills, so prodigious in height and breadth, weighed in his scales, appear as grains of sand, and all nicely proportioned for the purposes they were designed to serve. In his amazing work of creation he needed no adviser; himself the fountain of wisdom, all receiving from him, none capable of adding to him. Before him the mightiest nations are but as a drop of the bucket, or the small dust of the balance; so light, as not to turn the poised scale. The isles he taketh up, or casteth away, as chaff, or the down of thistles. Were Lebanon with all its forests hewn down for fuel, and the innumerable herds which feed thereon slain for a sacrifice, utterly insufficient would they have been to expiate the sins of men: no less than the incarnate Jehovah could offer the propitiation, before whom all nations are as nothing, and, as if words were wanting to express their insignificance, they are counted less than nothing, and vanity. Note; (1.) The more we see of the Redeemer's greatness and glory, the more should our hearts be established in him. (2.) The less we are in our own eyes, and the more we see our own vanity, the more shall we admire the infinite love and condescension of our Immanuel.
5thly, The sin and folly of idolaters are here upbraided.
1. The absurdity of idolatry is here described. Mad in the pursuit of idol vanities, the founder casts the figure; and, lavish of their riches, they deck the senseless image; it is overlaid with plates of gold, or adorned with chains of silver. Yea, he that cannot afford an offering will have a god, though carved from a tree; and, choosing the wood which is most incorruptible, has it fashioned into shape, and fixed in its place. Amazing stupidity! to pay adoration to a senseless log, or expect support from that which cannot stand without being fastened. Note; (1.) The idolatry which hath prevailed so universally is a striking proof of the fall of man, and of the dreadful darkness of the human understanding. (2.) The continuance of this abominable practice in the church of Rome is among the strong proofs of her utter apostasy. (3.) Beware of spiritual idolatry: to place a confidence in gold, or set up the creature above God in our affections, is equally criminal as to bow the knee to a stock or a stone.
2. The prophet expostulates with them, Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? From the visible creation the great Author's eternal power and godhead might be clearly seen, and traditionary notices of his being were handed down from the beginning; yet they degraded him into an image made like to a corruptible man, and worshipped him not as God; so that they were without excuse. See Romans 1:20. A glorious description then follows of the great Jehovah: on the circle of the heavens he sitteth, by his power find providence upholding all things: on this terrestrial ball he looks, an atom in the vast expanse, and puny mortals appear but as grasshoppers or locusts before him. As a curtain he stretches out the firmament, and in the heavens, hid from mortal eye, spreads his radiant tabernacle. In his view earth's mightiest princes shrink into nothing; their persons, counsels, power, are all vanity. Fixed as their thrones appear, and great as they seem to worms like themselves, one breath of his displeasure blasts them as grass, and hurls them from the earth as stubble before the whirlwind.
3. He directs them whither to turn their eyes, nor more attempt to liken God, the eternal Spirit, to any corporeal form. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things; read, in the expanded volume above, the legible characters of the Creator's glory; that bringeth out their host by number, marshalled in exact order: he calleth them all by names suited to their position and influence: by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth; bound by omnipotent power, each in his several orbit performs his revolution, and uses his influence according to his Creator's will. Since then God is so infinitely above the highest creatures, and all these the works of his hands, every representation of him by them must be a debasement of his glory.
6thly, Their long captivity was ready to discourage the hearts of the Jews; and some of them, under the power of unbelief, were ready to conclude themselves forgotten and forsaken of God; for which the prophet here reproves them; and their rebuke is designed for our admonition, who, are ready to faint when we are corrected of him.
1. He exposes their impatience and unbelief. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord; he disregards my afflictions; and my judgment is passed over from my God? he hears not my appeals, nor gives me the expected redress. Note; (1.) Such questions as our impatience utters, must be silenced. Why and wherefore do we complain? God is not slack in his promises, but we are hasty in spirit. The vision is for an appointed time. (2.) It argues our folly, as well as sin, to suppose that God does not see our distress, or is not able to relieve us.
2. He reminds them of two things, which they ought to have known and considered: the infinite power, and unsearchable wisdom of God? Hast thou not known? after all the wonders displayed in behalf of his people; hast thou not heard, from the experience of past ages, as well as the oracles of truth, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? His power is never exhausted, nor his government enfeebled: he is from eternity unchangeably the same, and, as the Creator of all, must needs be able to govern the work of his own hands; and therefore, however low his church may be reduced, it is not owing to weakness or weariness that he does not appear for their relief. He will save his faithful people to the uttermost, nor can be at a loss for the means, when infinite wisdom is joined with almighty power; for there is no searching of his understanding; therefore we are bound at all times to trust him, and patiently expect the salvation of God.
3. When we do so, we are sure of being holpen. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, he increaseth strength: such as, seeing their own spiritual weakness and helplessness, apply to him, find him a very present help. When I am weak, then am I strong. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: such as trust on an arm of flesh, and, self-confident, think they are able to extricate themselves from their difficulties, or, by the strength of their own natural endeavours, to overcome the powers of their corruptions; these shall prove their insufficiency, and utterly fail: but they that wait upon the Lord, both for righteousness and strength, and in every trial cast their care upon him, sensible of their own ignorance and weakness, these shall renew their strength, be enabled to stand in the evil day, supported under the sore burden of their temptations, afflictions, and corruptions: yea, more than supported, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, so swift and strong; and their trials shall serve to strengthen their graces, and lift up their souls farther from earth, and nearer heaven: they shall run, and not be weary, in the way of God's commandments, pleased in his happy service, and accounting it perfect freedom: and they shall walk, and not faint; though long their journey, and difficult the way, the everlasting arms of Jesus's love shall bear the faithful up, and bring them safe at last to their eternal home. Hold out then, faith and patience!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 40". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter