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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 48


God, to convince the people of their foreknown obstinacy, revealeth his prophesies: he saveth believers for his own sake: he exhorteth them to obedience, because of his power and providence: he lamenteth their backwardness: he powerfully delivereth his people out of Babylon.

Before Christ 712.

THE fourth discourse of the fourth part of this prophesy, is contained in the present chapter, these may be divided into two sections. The first of these contains, first, a solemn address to the Jews of our prophet's own times, Isaiah 48:1-2; secondly, a reproof to this people respecting their idolatry, and the true divinity of the God of Israel; wherein is premised a conviction, drawn from the prophesies of the former times, delivered by Isaiah, and undeniably fulfilled; Isaiah 48:3-5. A new conviction is formed from new prophesies delivered by our prophet, Isaiah 48:6-7. The faulty disposition of the people towards these prophesies, revealed to them by God, is reproved, Isaiah 48:8. The punishment of the people for their incredulity is denounced, but with some softenings of the divine clemency, Isaiah 48:9-11. The second section, exhibiting a discourse directed by God to his faithful people in banishment, shortly to be delivered by Cyrus, contains first, an address, with a magnificent preface respecting God, Isaiah 48:12-13. Secondly, a conviction doctrinal and consolatory; wherein the Almighty claims to himself the foretelling and raising up of Cyrus, Isa 48:14-15 shews that this prediction, as well as many others, was delivered clearly and publicly; Isa 48:16 and removes from himself the charge of those evils which happened to the nation, as the people might have enjoyed his favour if they had proceeded otherwise, Isaiah 48:17-19. Thirdly, it contains the adjuncts of this conviction; first, a command to forsake Babylon, and to declare every where the benefit of this deliverance; Isaiah 48:20. Secondly, the consequence of this benefit; namely, the singular care of the divine providence towards the returning Jews, which is figuratively expressed, Isa 48:21 and thirdly, a conclusion, wherein true peace and security are denied to the impious and obstinate sinners, Isaiah 48:22.

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 48:1-2. Hear ye this, O house of Jacob These verses contain a just and solemn address to the Jewish people; who, though by their profession and external worship seeming to cultivate the true religion, to call God their God, and to depend upon him, yet were obstinately incredulous, extremely inclined to idolatry, and little regardful of those prophesies which Isaiah and other true prophets delivered to them. The meaning of the phrase, Are come forth out of the waters of Judah, is very evident from Deuteronomy 33:28. Numbers 24:6-7. Numerous nations are frequently compared in Scripture to wide extending rivers, and their progenitors sometimes to a sacred stream bursting out of a rock, and sometimes by prosopopoeia to a river, as if it were a person pouring his waters out of an urn. The attributes of the Jewish people here enumerated, are peculiarly accommodated to the prophet's main scope and design in this chapter.

Verses 3-6

Isaiah 48:3-6. I have declared the former things The proof is here again drawn from the prediction of casual future events; either because this argument is unanswerable, and adapted to every capacity, or because Isaiah, while he proves the truth of the God of Israel by this argument, at the same time establishes his own authority as a prophet. See Jeremiah 28:9. The former things, mean such events as had been predicted, and were already come to pass; see chap. Isa 42:9 and more particularly those prophesies of Isaiah respecting the Jewish state, delivered in the former part of this book. The meaning of the last clause of this period, Isa 48:6 is, "Thou hast heard, saith God, the whole of what 1 speak clearly foretold; which I would have thee diligently consider, carefully look into, and observe. Thou hast also seen the remarkable completion of these predictions. Can there be then so great a perversity of mind in thee, as to deny either of these things, or to refuse to declare and proclaim them. But if you declare and confess them, as your conscience must compel you, you cannot but give to me, and me alone, the due praise of true divinity." Our translation published in the reign of Henry VIII. reads this clause; Thou heardest, and behold, it came to pass; and shall not you yourselves confess the same? See Vitringa.

Verses 6-7

Isaiah 48:6-7. I have shewed thee new things The new things refer to the prophesies respecting the deliverance of the Jewish people by Cyrus, and the consequence of that deliverance. They are created now, says the prophet, speaking of the first revelation of these things. The idea is elegant; for what is revealed exists by the word which proceeds from the mouth of God; which is the character of creation. The next words may be rendered, And not from the beginning, nor before this day, hast thou heard them.

See commentary on Isa 48:3

Verse 8

Isaiah 48:8. Yea, thou heardest not These words may be taken in two senses; namely, as a confirmation of what is said in the preceding verse, that the Jews had no knowledge of these new things revealed to them before the revelation made by Isaiah: or, as containing a conviction of the inconsideration, incredulity, and prejudices of the Jewish people; who, notwithstanding the prophesies so clearly fulfilled among them, had neither duly attended to them, nor considered them, nor become obedient to God; which, he observes, was nothing strange, since this people, from the first time of their adoption, from their deliverance out of Egypt, which was as it were their birth, had been full of perfidy and transgression; and this, says Vitringa, appears to me to be the true sense of the passage. The words may be read, Yea, thou heardest not, yea, thou knewest not; neither did thine ear from that time open.

Verses 9-10

Isaiah 48:9-10. For my name's sake. For my name's sake will I moderate my anger, and for my praise I will refrain towards thee, &c. Isaiah 48:10. Behold, &c. I have proved, or had pity on thee in the furnace of affliction. Silver is of the most difficult refinement, and requires a hotter and clearer fire than gold and other metals. The meaning therefore of the phrase, I have refined thee, but not with silver, is, that though God had punished his people in the Babylonish captivity, he had not done so with the utmost severity: In the midst of judgment he had remembered mercy.

Verse 13

Isaiah 48:13. When I call, &c.— 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.

Verses 14-15

Isaiah 48:14-15. All ye, assemble yourselves Instead of The Lord hath loved him, &c. we should read, He whom Jehovah loveth, shall do his pleasure, &c. To confirm the faith and hope of the believers in the Jewish church, the prophet here goes on to prove, that the subversion of the Babylonish monarchy by Cyrus, and the deliverance of the Jewish people from captivity in consequence, are the work of God their Saviour, the Angel of the covenant, the Son of God: and it will throw great light on this whole period to consider these as the words and address of that divine Person. The similarity of this passage with the preceding prophesies respecting Cyrus, need not be marked out to the attentive reader.

Verse 16

Isaiah 48:16. Come ye near unto me See chap. Isaiah 45:19-20. From the time that it was, there am I, means, "From the time that this expedition of Cyrus began first to exist:" And now the Lord God hath sent me, and his Spirit: "And now, when the event is hastening to its completion, Behold, I am present, sent by Jehovah, with the Spirit of the Father, to your succour and assistance." That now refers to the immediate time of their deliverance, appears from the 20th verse, and we have often observed, that the prophets speak of future events as if present. See Vitringa, and the more spiritual interpretation in the REFLECTIONS.

Verses 20-21

Isaiah 48:20-21. Go ye forth of Babylon Hitherto the Son of God had proceeded with reproof, but the most gentle of its kind. In the mean time, the Chaldeans, in this part of the prophetic vision, are supposed to have been conquered by Cyrus; Babylon is supposed to be taken, and the time to be at hand wherein the captivity of the Jews should cease, and the edict for their deliverance be promulged; when he turns himself, by an apostrophe, to the faithful among the people, exhorting, or rather commanding them, that they should depart with all speed from Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans, and declare throughout all the world, that God had redeemed his servant Jacob, Isa 48:20 and not only so, but had performed the most singular acts of providence and care for them in their return to their country, so as to enable them to finish their journey without inconvenience, Isaiah 48:21. The ideas in this verse are taken from God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and are to be understood metaphorically, that, as God wrought wonders to procure the salvation of his people from Egyptian bondage, and by his mighty providence protected and preserved them, so would he, in like manner, take care of the captives delivered from Babylon, preserve them from dangers, and supply them with all things necessary for them. This he did by the remarkable favour wherewith he inspired Cyrus toward them. See Ezr 1:1-4 and Vitringa; who is of opinion, that the prophesy has still a further and mystical view to the deliverance of the church from spiritual Babylon by Jesus Christ, that living rock whence spiritual waters flow for the salvation of his people. See 1 Corinthians 10:4.

Verse 22

Isaiah 48:22. There is no peace, &c.— "There is no peace, no serenity of mind and conscience,—more desirable than every earthly blessing, superior to all conception;—there is no durable prosperity on earth, no eternal salvation, or hope of salvation to the hypocrites, unbelievers and profane, the despisers of God and his prophetic word, they who honour him with their lips, but in their heart are far from him: because they have no part in the favour of God, which, without faith, reverence of the divine word, and an humble obedience to the divine commands, cannot exist." The same persons are here spoken of, as in Isa 48:1-2 and chap. Isaiah 46:12. See Ezekiel 20:38. Amos 9:10.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prophet here addresses the house of Jacob, in order to bring them to a conviction of their hypocrisy and idolatry, and to engage their humble return to God, from whom they had so greatly departed.

1. He charges them with the false and hypocritical professions which they made. They valued themselves highly, as being called by the name of Israel, and boasted their lineage from Jacob; they were of the royal race of Judah, the tribe that adhered to the temple, and the successors of David, when the rest revolted; they swore by the name of the Lord, owning him as their God and king, and engaging their fidelity to him, and made mention of the God of Israel, addressing him in their prayers and exercises of religious worship: they called themselves of the holy city, as counting it an honour to have a name in the church of God; and staid themselves upon the God of Israel, at least pretended to do so, as if the Lord of Hosts was the name on which alone their dependance was fixed; but all was false and faithless, not in truth, nor in righteousness. Note; (1.) Many claim the name of Christian, who continue strangers to the power of christianity. (2.) It is mere hypocrisy when persons only draw near to God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him. (3.) We have to do with a heart-searching God; and if our souls be insincere before him, vain is all the pageantry of external profession.

2. He urges what he had done to convince and convert their souls to him as the only true God, and to preserve and reclaim them from the shameful idolatry to which they were so addicted: from the beginning he had foretold what should happen to them, their sojourning in Egypt, deliverance, conquest of Canaan; and all came to pass suddenly and certainly; God's power in the fulfilment of his prophetic word appearing as evident as his prescience in the prediction. This they might easily discern, and ought to declare to the glory of God: a new revelation also God now gave them, which they never could have known, nor could their idols have informed them of, concerning their captivity in Babylon, and their deliverance by Cyrus; with all those other prophesies more immediately relative to the Gospel dispensation: and in all these things God intended to engage them to cleave to, and depend upon, him, as the only true God, besides whom there was no other.
3. God gives the reasons of his dispensations towards them. [1.] Because he knew they were obstinate, their neck an iron sinew, and their brow brass; stubborn and hard-hearted, rigid against conviction, and impudently disposed to deny God's work, if by his prophesies foregoing he had not indisputably proved that he was the author of all their mercies. [2.] He would cut off all pretence of ascribing these events to their idols, as they would else be vainly disposed to do; it being evident, by his foretelling those things which their idol priests never could, that the work was from God alone. [3.] He would stop their boasting, who might pretend, when the event came to pass, that they had foreseen it; but now it was clear, that they had not the apprehension of what was coming till God's prophets revealed the counsels of God, hidden from the beginning, but now created and brought to light in the prophetic word. [4.] He would leave them inexcusable. Notwithstanding all he had spoken, their ear was not opened, and their hearts inattentive to the predictions which God had given: he knew them to be treacherous dealers, who had often backslidden from him, and from their first formation into a people had been transgressors; but he now left them without excuse, if they still refused to pay regard to his word, so plain, evident, and clear. Note; (1.) It is the true and humbling character of every man, that he is a transgressor from the womb. (2.) Original sin, in which we are born, is the pregnant source of all the actual evil that afterwards appears in our hearts and lives. (3.) God knows and remarks the inmost disposition of our souls, and an apostate nature is in his eyes the sin exceeding sinful. (4.) The word of God is designed to stain all human glory, and to show us how ignorant, as well as wicked, we must have been without Divine revelation. (5.) They who proudly and obstinately reject God's word, are deservedly left to perish in their native guilt and blindness.

2nd, Their guilt was a circumstance very discouraging; how could they hope for God's interposition? and their oppressors were so powerful that no prospect of human relief appeared. To support them, therefore, against their just fears,
1. God, not out of respect to them, but for his own glory, declares that he will deliver them: though they deserved to be utterly cut off, he will defer his anger; and, lest the Heathen nations might reproach him, as if he was unable to save his people, or might count their gods above him, he will refrain his arm from destroying them, and save them from their enemies. Behold, and admire the grace, I have refined thee; by these sufferings to which they had been exposed, but not with silver, or among silver; have not kept them in the furnace till all their dross was purged away, for then the spirit must fail before him, if he dealt with them in strict justice; but I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction; he made the afflictions they endured the means of calling them home to himself, and by their trials exercised and brightened their graces, and purified their souls from sin. Note; (1.) If God dealt with us according to our iniquities, then could no flesh living be saved. (2.) It is not for our deserts, but to manifest the glory of his grace, that God is pleased to spare and pardon. (3.) Affliction is often the blessed means of bringing those home to God who had before wandered far from the right way. (4.) It is a gracious sign of God's paternal affection toward us, when he is pleased in measure to correct us, and not to leave us wholly unpunished.

2. Though they could not help themselves, God will raise up a deliverer for them, who shall overthrow the kingdom of Babylon. Let Jacob hear the Divine determination, and Israel believe what he speaks, who is the self-existent, eternal, and immutable Jehovah. He whose hand laid the foundations of the earth, and stretched out the heavens with such ease as if they had been but a span's breadth, at whose word the assembled hosts of both stand up, ready to execute his high behests; he is able to accomplish their salvation; let Israel therefore attend to the prophetic word, of which none among the gods of the heathen, or the wise men, could ever inform them. Cyrus, the beloved of the Lord, is appointed for their deliverer, to execute God's pleasure on Babylon, and to lay his arm of vengeance on the Chaldeans. God hath spoken, and his word is irreversible; he will enable him for the work, bring him to the siege from a far country, and make his way prosperous, giving him victory in the battle, and success in all his enterprizes. Note; (1.) Cyrus is the type of God's beloved Son, sent down from heaven, and riding on prosperously; the conqueror of death, hell, and sin, and the glorious Redeemer of his faithful people. (2.) We may safely depend on the fulfilment of God's promises, however to human view the difficulties in the way of their accomplishment seem insurmountable. Is any thing too hard for God? (3.) They who have a Divine call, and are under Divine guidance, may be sure that their way shall be prosperous.

3rdly, We have,
1. The call of God to attend the ministry of the prophet, or rather the call peculiarly of Christ, who seems to be spoken of, to the Jews to hear and receive his Gospel, and acknowledge his Divine mission. I have not spoken in secret from the beginning, but preached publicly in the synagogues, from the time that it was, from the beginning of his ministry, there am I, openly teaching the Gospel of the kingdom; or, before the time that was, ere he was become incarnate, there was I, existing from eternity in the bosom of the Father: and now the Lord God and his Spirit hath sent me, or the Lord hath sent me, having the fullest commission for the execution of the work of redemption, and his Spirit to make that work effectual, by bringing it near to the souls of men. Note; (1.) We have here the Trinity of persons in the Godhead clearly asserted. (2.) When God sends, he will qualify us for his service. (3.) It becomes us to hear with solemn reverence and attention the words of him whom God hath sent.

2. The Lord Jesus informs them of his character and design. I am the Lord thy God, without which he could not have been the Redeemer of mankind, nor could his faithful people have been able comfortably and confidently to trust their souls in his hands, which teacheth thee to profit, or profitable things; the doctrines of truth and holiness, such as their fallen state, their guilt and danger, the grace revealed for sinners in the Gospel, the perfection of the atonement wrought out by him, and the fulness of the Spirit which resided in him, to be communicated to all believers; which leadeth thee by the way which thou shouldest go; Christ himself is the living way, his word is our guide, his grace our support, and the dispensations of his providence concur to lead his faithful ones toward their glorious rest.

3. He laments over those poor souls that sinned against their own mercies. Matthew 23:37. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! which though some did, yet we see that the generality of the Jewish people rejected Christ and his Gospel, and thereby forfeited all the mercies which had been promised to the obedient, and brought their final desolations upon them. Had they heard and believed, then their peace had been as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea, abundant and permanent. Their nation would have been increased exceedingly, and their stability secured for ever; but now, for their unbelief and impenitence, the very reverse is their case. Note; (1.) Sin robs us of all our joys. (2.) The remembrance of the mercies they have forfeited, as well as the torment they endure, will aggravate the miseries of the ungodly. (3.) It is a grief to the Saviour, to see poor souls rejecting their own mercies, and rushing on their ruin. (4.) They who perish eternally will have no blame to cast on God's mercy, but must confess that their own obstinacy and hardness of heart procured their destruction.

4. By the proclamation given to the Jews to depart from Babylon, is prefigured the great deliverance of sinners' souls from the bondage of corruption; which, through the preaching of the Gospel, should be effected in the faithful. They are called to go forth from Babylon and flee, not as by stealth, but with the voice of singing, openly exulting in their escape. With gladness they are commanded to publish their glorious redemption, wrought out for them by the power of God; and as God, in their first great deliverance from Egypt, led them through the wilderness safely, and brought water from the rock to slake their thirst, such would be still his care over them in their return from Babylon to Judaea. And this is most applicable to the state of all God's faithful people who go forth with joy from the house of their prison, and from the bonds of sin and Satan; publish to God's glory the redemption wrought out by Jesus for them; are safely led through all the dangers of this world, to them a howling wilderness; refreshed and comforted with the streams of divine grace; and brought at last to their native land, better than Canaan, even the inheritance provided for them among the saints in light.
5. The obstinately impenitent are excluded from all the promised mercies. There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked; which may refer to those who chose their abode in Babylon, preferably to a return to Judaea; or more particularly to the Jewish nation, who, after their rejection of Christ and his Gospel, became a miserable, harassed, and troubled people, and continue so to this day. Or, more generally, it includes all impenitent sinners, who have no peace with God, no solid rest in their own consciences, no comfort in death, no hope in eternity, but the wrath of God present and eternal abideth on them.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.