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God comforteth the church with his promise. The vanity of idols, and folly of idol-makers: the prophet exhorteth to praise God for his redemption and omnipotency.
Before Christ 712.
Isaiah 44:1-2. Yet now hear— The prophet throughout this discourse alternately mixes reproofs and threats with consolations, because he had a two-fold subject before him; a church within a church; the true believers among the carnal Jews; each of them called by the name of Jacob and Israel. The church of the spiritual Israel is here addressed: which should remain among the Jews after God had executed the judgment just mentioned; that is to say, the people of God, who were to be brought back from exile, and to be preserved in Canaan, till God should fulfil the promises of grace which he had given to the seed of Abraham.
Isaiah 44:3-5. For I will pour water— A general promise of help and protection appearing less efficacious, God promises something more great and sublime to his church: for when that church might appear to apprehend nothing but destruction amid so many calamities, the Almighty promises to it, both a remarkable enlargement of its body, that is, the mystical body of Christ, and also the spiritual blessings of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, to be poured forth abundantly upon the enlarged church. This promise is two-fold: In the third verse we have, first, the spiritual blessing to be imparted to the seed of the church; and secondly, the fruit of that blessing, in the wonderful increase of the church; which consists of two articles; the former of which describes this increase of the spiritual state of believers metaphorically, Isa 44:4 and the latter literally, without any figure, Isaiah 44:5. See on chap. xllii. 7. Every one must clearly discern the completion of this prophesy in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the wonderful effusion of the Spirit upon the first believers, with its reference particularly to that covenant in baptism, when the baptized in effect subscribe with their hand unto the Lord, and surname themselves with the name of Christian. But the prophesy probably includes also the great out-pouring of the Spirit in the latter days. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 44:6.— Vitringa begins the third discourse of the fourth book of this prophesy at this verse, extends it to the 48th chapter, and divides it into four sections; the first section, continuing the thread of the preceding disputation and conviction, from the deliverance of the church to be procured by Cyrus, clearly foretold by Isaiah and subsequent prophets, describes the madness of idolatry, and ascribes this great work, as if it were now present, to God alone. Chap. Isaiah 44:6-28. The second, after an apostrophe to Cyrus, pursues the same conviction, and largely sets forth the use and consequence of the blessing, namely, the calling and salvation of the Gentiles, chap. 45: The third foretels the destruction of the Babylonish empire, and demonstrates the vanity of every other false religion, from the vanity of the Babylonish idolatry; chap. 46: and in the fourth, the prophet more largely foretels the fall of Babylon, and the catastrophe of the Babylonish empire: chap. 47: The first section is three-fold; the first part is redargutory, wherein the Jewish people, who had revolted from God by idolatry, are convinced, first, of the true divinity of the God of Israel, from the illustrious effects of his providence, clearly foretold by him, and proved by the event; Isa 44:6-8 where we have a magnificent preface, containing the exordium of the reproof, Isa 44:6 and the reproof itself, Isaiah 44:7-8. Secondly, they are convinced of the vanity and folly of idolatry and idolaters; Isaiah 44:9-20. The second part is exhortatory, encouraging the Jewish people to true repentance, as well from this conviction, as from the promises of grace, and the effects of those promises, Isaiah 44:21-22. The third part is consolatory, wherein the deliverance of the people from the Babylonish captivity is described as if present, and as a wonderful effect of divine providence and grace; and particularly celebrated from its principal cause: wherein we have, first, the proposition, by way of apostrophe, to heaven, earth, and all the creatures, inciting them to praise God for this singular blessing to his people. Secondly, a declaration of this blessing with respect to its causes; GOD the principal one, Isaiah 44:24-27. Cyrus the instrumental, Isaiah 44:28.
Thus saith the Lord— You perceive that the discourse again departs from the immediately preceding subject, which is wholly evangelical, and that with a preface the prophet renews the conviction of idolaters, particularly the Jews, who were to be carried captive to Babylon, and for whose seed God would perform those promises which the prophet had just foretold. God would begin to fulfil those promises with the deliverance of the Jewish nation from Babylon: this should be the first sign of his reconciliation with his people. But the people could not partake of these benefits without a true conversion to God, and a renunciation of all idolatry and false religion. To which therefore, as to a condition absolutely necessary, the prophet here invites the people; and this is the foundation of the whole discourse. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 44:7. And who, as I, shall call, &c.— The meaning is, "Who, of the strange gods, like me, by an efficacious command of his will, orders all causes and events of things to exist according to his good pleasure?" Who sets it in order for me? Who hath been of my counsel, to order and dispose these events? From the time that I appointed, or chose the ancient people, that is to say, "from the time that I called Abraham, to whom and his posterity I gave the tables of covenant."
Isaiah 44:8. Fear ye not, &c.— The meaning is, "Fear ye not, nor be terrified at the motions of the Medes and Persians rising up against the Babylonish empire, since those motions shall be for your advantage: For have not I clearly foretold that this should come to pass, from the time in which Isaiah and the subsequent prophets have prophesied among you? And are not their prophesies in your hands? So that I can here desire no other witnesses than yourselves." Vitringa renders the next clause very properly, Is there a god besides me? Is there a rock? I know not any.
Isaiah 44:9. They that make a graven image— They that form the graven image are all of them vanity; and their most curious works shall not profit. Yea, their works themselves bear witness to them, that they see not and that they understand not: Isa 44:10 that every one may be ashamed, that he hath formed a god, &c. Lowth. The prophet (still making God the speaker) passes to the other part of his reproof; wherein he sets forth at large the folly and madness of idolatry. His discourse may be divided into a proposition, Isa 44:9-11 and the enarration of that proposition, Isaiah 44:12-20. The whole is elegant, and easy to be understood. It should only be remembered, for the better comprehending its general meaning, that the prophet here refers particularly to the graven images and idols of Babylon; and indeed the whole scene of the discourse should be placed in Babylon; as appears from the context, the 25th verse of this chapter, chap. Isa 45:20 and Isaiah 46:1, &c. The 11th verse may be read, Behold, all that apply, or adhere to it, shall be ashamed, &c.
Isaiah 44:12. The smith with the tongs, &c.— From this verse to the 20th the folly of idolatry is set forth in the most lively colours, and the whole scheme of idol worshippers exposed in an elegant strain of refined irony. There is no need of any exposition. The prophet here describes the instruments necessary for the carpenter to form the image. The 14th verse may be rendered, He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the teil or the pine-tree, and the oak, which he reareth up for himself, &c. He planteth a pine, &c. Isaiah 44:18. They have not known, nor understood, because their eyes were so closed up, that, &c. Isaiah 44:19. Nor doth he at all reflect in mind; nor has he the consideration or the sense to say, &c. Isaiah 44:20. He feeds upon ashes; his deluded heart, &c. The meaning of the phrase, He feeds upon ashes, is, "He depends on a thing which has no power to help him; barren, dry, and lifeless:" Or possibly the expression may allude to the curse of the serpent, and be an oblique hint, that idolatry is the greatest degradation which the dignity of the human species can suffer: such a degradation as brings man to a level with the reptiles, the lowest and most abominable of brute creatures. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 44:21-22. Remember these— This whole exhortation, which is subjoined to the preceding reproof, is founded on this presumption, that, according to the prediction of Moses and the prophets, the Jewish and Israelitish nation, when carried into captivity, would turn themselves to God; namely, the faithful of that nation, the seed of the future church, after God had punished the contumacious transgressors of his law. These are the persons here addressed, and the address, together with the epithets here used, are also reasons urged by God to persuade them to the principal subject of this exhortation, subjoined to the 22nd verse; Return unto me. The first argument for their conversion is taken from the preceding detection of the folly of idolatry: Remember these; the folly and madness of this idolatry and superstition. The second, from their relation to, and covenant with God: Thou, who art Jacob and Israel. The third, from their calling to God's immediate service; Thou art my servant. The fourth, from God's formation of them to be his peculiar people; I have formed thee. We have a sentence in chap. Isa 43:25 very similar to that in the 22nd verse. There is great beauty in the metaphor made use of in this verse: For, as the sun arising disperses the clouds, so God, arising for the salvation of his believing people, with the light of his grace causes their sins to disappear, as the thickest clouds are dispersed before the rays of the sun. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 44:23. Sing, O ye heavens— 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.
Isaiah 44:24-27. Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, &c.— The prophet here continues the discourse of God, after having called upon the whole creation, in the preceding verse, to praise him for the blessing of that great redemption from Babylon, concerning which he treats in these verses; and therefore he prefixes to this period a new and solemn preface, Thus saith the Lord, &c. The false prophets and diviners, mentioned in Isa 44:25 are those astrologers, with whom Chaldea particularly abounded; though, in a secondary sense, and, referring to the Gospel, the wise men of this world, of whom the apostle speaks, 1Co 1:20 may be meant. The word of his servant and messengers, Isa 44:26 means, the word of Isaiah particularly, and the subsequent prophets who declared this great event. In the 27th verse there is an historical and a mystical sense; the historical refers to the drying up of the Euphrates by Cyrus; (see ch. Isaiah 14:22-23.) in a mystical sense, by the deep, and rivers of Babylon, are to be understood the great wealth and affluence wherewith that kingdom abounded. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 44:28. That saith of Cyrus— Here at length the prophet clearly discovers the grand scope of his discourse. He speaks of Cyrus by name, as foreknown and decreed by the divine counsel, for the performance of the great work designed by providence, at least 170 years before the event. This is one of the most remarkable prophesies in Scripture; of the same kind with that 1 Kings 13:1-2. He is called God's shepherd, as he was to be the instrument of gathering God's people together, and leading them home as a shepherd does his flock. Xenophon tells us, that Cyrus used to compare kings in general, and himself in particular, to a shepherd. See Cyropoed. lib. 8.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Amid the threatened judgments which closed the former chapter, a multitude of faithful souls remain to God, to whom he addresses himself for their comfort and encouragement.
1. Their character and relation to him are mentioned. They bear the honourable title of his servants, whom he will protect; they are his chosen, whom with peculiar regard he watches over; they are called ישׂרון Jesurun, upright, such being their temper; or seeing ones, to whom the glory of God in the Gospel of his Son hath been manifested; they are God's creation, his spiritual people, whom he will help, and therefore, whatever troubles fall on others, they need not fear. Happy are the people that are in such a case, so near and dear to the blessed God.
2. God promises to do great things for them. I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; the soul that, under a sense of sin, as the parched ground, thirsts for pardon, grace, and consolation, shall be replenished abundantly out of God's fulness. I will pour my Spirit, that best of gifts, upon thy seed, the spiritual seed of Christ, and my blessing upon thine offspring; the blessed effect of which will be, that they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses; numerous, flourishing, and increasing in all the gifts of grace, and fruits of holiness. Note; The soul is then truly happy, when watered by the divine Spirit, it daily grows in grace, and in the knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. They shall make open and public profession of their adherence to the Lord Christ; and not only the Jews, but the Gentiles, called to the knowledge of the Gospel, shall rank themselves among the Israel of God, join in communion and worship with them, and become one fold under one shepherd. Note; (1.) It is the duty and delight of every true believer to surrender up himself into the arms of Jesus; and he is then happy when he can say, I am the Lord's, my beloved is mine, and I am his. (2.) An Israelite indeed is a greater name, and more to be envied, than that of the highest monarchs of the earth.
2nd, Never was controversy so unequal as that recorded in this chapter between the living Jehovah and dead idols.
1. God displays his own greatness and glory, eternal and omniscient; let his Israel hear and believe. He is their King, their Redeemer, and in that peculiar relation to them demands their love and fidelity. He is also the Lord of Hosts, the universal Sovereign, the first and the last, from eternity to eternity; and besides him, there is no God. No other can foresee and declare, as he hath done, the events of futurity, or give an exact account of his works from the days of old, since he appointed the ancient people, the first inhabitants of the earth: even of the nearest occurrences which should happen; the idol gods could not inform them, therefore they neither need fear them, nor ought to serve them, but be witnesses for God and his truth; besides whom, there is no other that can at all pretend to claim their notice, or deserve their worship.
2. He exposes the folly and stupidity of idolaters, as a warning to his people not to follow their abominable ways, and especially to guard them in Babylon, the city of idols, from joining in that worship so hateful to him, and so absurd in itself. The makers of the idols are all vanity, prove themselves empty and foolish; they call their idols delectable things, but they are unprofitable and vain; can neither know nor see the wants of their votaries, who seem equally blind in paying worship to the senseless stock, and witness to their own folly, for how wretched must be thy god, of which man himself is the maker, and well may they be ashamed of the work! The description of it alone is sufficient to expose both the maker and the idol to ridicule. The smith labours at the forge to prepare the iron-work, and the carpenter with his tools fashions and planes the tree into shape and form; and, when made, fastens it in its place. He gets a log of durable wood, or an ash of his own planting; and whilst one part of the loppings are employed to the uses of his kitchen, to dress his victuals, or warm him, the residue is made a god, and, with senseless stupidity he falls down to worship it; never reflecting on the ignoble use to which the remainder of the tree was applied, and that his own folly only made the difference between the log he worshipped, and the coals on his hearth; and all proceeds from the darkness of a deceived heart; the Devil, the god of this world, having blinded the eyes of idolaters, that they cannot see the lie that is in their right hand. Note; (1.) When once the human heart is abandoned to itself, there is nothing so brutish and absurd that it may not be brought to do. (2.) The pains that idolaters take to honour and worship their idols, is a just reproof of those who are negligent in the worship of the living and true God. (3.) They who place their affections on worldly things, are in fact idolaters; and will find, to their everlasting disappointment, a lie in their right hand. (4.) The serious consideration of the evil of our ways, is the first step towards our recovery.
3rdly, God, having exposed the folly of idolatry, addresses himself to his own people.
1. He bids them remember these things; and in the land whither they were about to be carried captive, beware of these abominations to which they would be tempted; and to which also, to their shame, in time past, they had been so prone. Note; It becomes us to remember our own evil ways, that we may loath and abhor ourselves for them.
2. He gives them the most endearing promises, claiming them as his own, and assuring them of his kind and constant remembrances; and, as that was among the most eminent of all mercies, he particularly promises them the pardon of all their great and numerous transgressions, to blot them out as a cloud, and as a thick cloud to disperse them. Note; (1.) Our sins, like the dark cloud, intercept the beams of God's favour, and expose us to the storm of divine wrath. (2.) When God speaks the pardoning word, the clouds pass away, and the Sun of righteousness arises with healing in his wings. (3.) It is matter of transporting joy to the soul when this blessed change is effected, and when in Jesus we, who were in darkness and the shadow of death, behold the light of life.
3. He exhorts them in the view of these great and precious promises to return unto him without delay. They had greatly departed from him, and deserved his wrath and indignation; but he again shews himself as their Redeemer, and therefore invites them to the arms of his mercy. Note; (1.) The promise of pardoning grace is the great argument and inducement for the miserable sinner to return to God. (2.) Whenever he does he will find redemption prepared for him and applied to his soul, both from the guilt and power of sin, and, if faithful, from the inbeing of sin, and from death and hell, and all their consequences.
4. A triumphant song is put in the mouth of the faithful redeemed, not merely of the Jews delivered from Babylon, but of all the Israel of God, who, through Jesus Christ, have obtained victory over the powers of sin and Satan. The joy is great; the heavens are called upon to join in the song, and angels on their golden harps to speak the wonders of redeeming love; whilst earth, with all its inhabitants, from every forest and mountain echoes back the grateful sound of thanksgiving to the God of their mercies. Note; (1.) Praise is the bounden tribute due from every redeemed soul. (2.) There is joy in heaven over every soul recovered by divine grace from the bondage of corruption.
5. The Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, encourages them to trust in his promises, which, as the Almighty Creator and Governor of all, he was fully able to accomplish; particularly he engages to confound the wise men and diviners of Babylon, who saw for it lying visions of peace, and would be mad with vexation when the event corresponded so little with their prophesies, while his own word should receive the fullest accomplishment in the deliverance of his people. The cities of Zion would shortly be desolate indeed, without inhabitants; but their desolations should not continue, God will restore her decayed palaces, and rear again the temple from its ruins: Cyrus by name is appointed as his shepherd, the great instrument which the Lord meant to employ; first, to destroy Babylon, the oppressor of his people, which Cyrus did by turning the course of the river which ran through the place, and thereby entered the city; and then to proclaim deliverance to the captive Jews, and restore their civil and ecclesiastical polity; giving them leave to rebuild their city and temple, and fixing them again in their own land. Note; (1.) When God hath designs to fulfil, he cannot want the means; difficulties before him are nothing; the mountain becomes a plain, the river dry. (2.) The character of a good king is, to be God's shepherd, to protect and provide for his people, and be a nursing father to his church. (3.) Whatever the greatest conquerors propose to themselves, they are raised up purely to fulfil God's pleasure, and perform his purposes.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29