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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 60

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-22



Isaiah 60:1-22

THE deliverance from Babylon has long been certain, since chapter 48; all doubts in the way of Return have been removed, Isaiah 49:1-26 through Isaiah 52:12; the means for the spiritual Restoration of the people have been sufficiently found, chapter 53 and preceding chapters on the Servant: Zion has been hailed from afar, chapter 54; last calls to leave Babylon have been uttered, chapter 55; last councils and comforts, Isaiah 56:1-8; and the civic conscience has been rekindled; Isaiah 56:9 through Isaiah 59:1-21. There remains now only to take possession of the City herself; to rehearse the vocation of the restored people; and to realise all the hopes, fears, hindrances, and practical problems of the future. These duties occupy the rest of our prophecy, chapters 60-66

Chapter 60 is a prophecy as complete in itself as chapter 54. The City, which in 54 was hailed and comforted from afar, is in chapter 60 bidden rise and enjoy the glory that has at last reached her. Her splendours, hinted at in chapter 54, are seen in full and evident display. In chapters 61-62 her prophet, her genius and representative, rehearses to her his duties, and sets forth her place among the peoples. And in Isaiah 63:1-7 we have another of those theophanies or appearances of the Sole Divine Author of His people’s salvation, which, -abrupt and separate as if to heighten the sense of the solitariness of their subject-occur at intervals throughout our prophecy, -for instance, in Isaiah 42:10-17, and in Isaiah 59:16-19. These three sections, chapter 60, chapters 61-62, and Isaiah 63:1-7, we will take together in this chapter of our volume.


(Chapter 60)

The sixtieth chapter of Isaiah is the spiritual counterpart of a typical Eastern day, with the dust laid and the darts taken out of the sunbeams, -a typical Eastern day in the sudden splendour of its dawn, the completeness and apparent permanence of its noon, the spaciousness it reveals on sea and land, and the barbaric profusion of life, which its strong light is sufficient to flood with glory.

Under such a day we see Jerusalem. In the first five verses of the chapter, she is addressed, as in chapter 54, as a crushed and desolate woman. But her lonely night is over, and from some prophet at the head of her returning children the cry peals, "Arise, shine, for come hath thy light, and the glory of Jehovah hath risen upon thee." In the East the sun does not rise; the word is weak for an arrival almost too sudden for twilight. In the East the sun leaps above the horizon. You do not feel that he is coming, but that he is come. This first verse is suggested by the swiftness with which he bursts upon an Eastern city, and the shrouded form does not, as in our twilight, slowly unwrap itself, but "shines" at once, all plates and points of glory. Then the figure yields: for Jerusalem is not merely one radiant point in a world equally lighted by the sun, but is herself Jehovah’s unique luminary. "For behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples, but upon thee shall Jehovah arise, and His glory upon thee shall be seen. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." In the next two verses it is again a woman who is addressed. "Lift up" thine eyes "round about and see, all of them have gathered, have come to thee: thy sons from afar are coming, and thy daughters are carried in the arms." Then follows the fairest verse in the chapter. "Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall throb and grow large; for there shall be turned upon thee the sea’s flood-tide, and the wealth of the nations shall come to thee." The word which the Authorised English version translated "shall flow together," and our Revised Version "lightened," means both of these. It is liquid light, -light that ripples and sparkles and runs across the face; as it best appears in that beautiful passage of the thirty-fourth Psalm, "they looked to Him and their faces were lightened." Here it suggests the light which a face catches from sparkling water. The prophet’s figure has changed. The stately mother of her people stands not among the ruins of her city, but upon some great beach, with the sea in front, -the sea that casts up all heaven’s light upon her face and drifts all earth’s wealth to her feet, and her eyes are upon the horizon with the hope of her who watches for the return of children.

The next verses are simply the expansion of these two clauses, -about the sea’s flood and the wealth of the Nations. Isaiah 60:6-9 look first landward and then seaward, as from Jerusalem’s own wonderful position on the high ridge between Asia and the sea: between the gates of the East and the gates of the West. On the one side, the city’s horizon is the range of Moab and Edom, that barrier, in Jewish imagination, of the hidden and golden East across which pour the caravans here pictured. "Profusion of camels shall cover thee, young camels of Midian and Ephah; all of them from Sheba shall come: gold and frankincense shall they bring, and the praises of Jehovah shall they publish. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to thee: they shall come up with acceptance on Mine altar, and the house of My glory will I glorify." These were just what surged over Jordan from the far countries beyond, of which the Jews knew little more than the names here given, -tawny droves of camels upon the greenness of Palestine like a spate of the desert from which they poured; rivers of sheep brimming up the narrow drove-roads to Jerusalem:-conceive it all under that blazing Eastern sun. But then turning to Judah’s other horizon, marked by the yellow fringe of sand and the blue haze of the sea beyond, the prophet cries for Jehovah: "Who are these like a cloud that fly, and like doves to their windows? Surely towards Me the Isles are stretching, and ships of Tarshish in the van, to bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, to the Name of Jehovah of Hosts and to the Holy of Israel, for He hath glorified thee." The poetry of the Old Testament has been said to be deficient in its treatment of the sea; and certainly it dwells more frequently, as was natural for the imagination of an inland and a highland people to do, upon the hills. But in what literature will you find passages of equal length more suggestive of the sea than those short pieces in which the Hebrew prophet sought to render the futile rage of the world, as it dashed on the steadfast will of God, by the roar and crash of the ocean on the beach; (Isaiah 14:1-32; "Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 2:1-22; Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 4:1-6; Isaiah 5:1-30; Isaiah 6:1-13; Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 8:1-22; Isaiah 9:1-21; Isaiah 10:1-34; Isaiah 11:1-16; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 13:1-22; Isaiah 14:1-32; Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 21:1-17; Isaiah 22:1-25; Isaiah 23:1-18; Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 25:1-12; Isaiah 26:1-21; Isaiah 27:1-13; Isaiah 28:1-29; Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-20; Isaiah 33:1-24; Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8") or painted a nation’s prosperity as the waves of a summer sea; Isaiah 48:18. or described the long coastlands as stretching out to God, and the white-sailed ships coming up the horizon like doves to their windows!

The rest of the chapter, from Isaiah 60:10 onwards, is occupied with the rebuilding and adornment of Jerusalem, and with the establishment of the people in righteousness and peace. There is a very obvious mingling of the material and the moral. The Gentiles are to become subject to the Jew, but it is to be a voluntary submission before the evidence of Jerusalem’s spiritual superiority. Nothing is said of a Messiah or a King. Jerusalem is to be a commonwealth; and, while her "magistracy shall be Peace and her overseers Righteousness," God Himself, in evident presence, is to be her light and glory. Thus the chapter ends with God and the People, and nothing else. God for an everlasting light around, and the people in their land, righteous, secure, and growing very large. "The least shall become a thousand, and the smallest a strong nation: I Jehovah will hasten it in its time."

This chapter has been put through many interpretations to many practical uses:-to describe the ingathering of the Gentiles to the Church (in the Christian year it is the Lesson for Epiphany), to prove the doctrine that the Church should live by the endowment of the kingdoms of this world, and to enforce the duty of costliness and magnificence in the public worship of God. "The glory of the Lebanon shall come unto thee, fir-tree, plane-tree and sherbin together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary, and I will make the place of My feet glorious."

The last of these duties we may extend and qualify. If the coming in of the Gentiles is here represented as bringing wealth to the Church, we cannot help remembering that the going out to the Gentiles, in order to bring them in, means for us the spending of our wealth on things other than the adornment of temples; and that, besides the heathen, there are poor and suffering ones for whom God asks men’s gold, as He asked it in olden days for the temple, that He may be glorified. Take that last phrase:-"And" - with all that material wealth which has flown in from Lebanon, from Midian, from Sheba-"I will make the place of My feet glorious." When this singular name was first uttered it was limited to the dwelling-place of the Ark and Presence of God, visible only on Mount Zion. But when God became man, and did indeed tread with human feet this world of ours, what were then the "places of His feet?" Sometimes, it is true, the Temple, but only sometimes; far more often where the sick lay, and the bereaved were weeping, -the pool of Bethesda, the death-room of Jairus’ daughter, the way to the centurion’s sick servant, the city gateways where the beggars stood, the lanes where the village folk had gathered, against His coming, their deaf and dumb, their palsied and lunatic. These were "the places of His feet, who Himself bare our sicknesses and carried our infirmities"; and these are what He would seek our wealth to make glorious. They say that the reverence of men builds now no cathedrals as of old; nay, but the love of man, that Christ taught, builds far more of those refuges and houses of healing, scatters far more widely those medicines for the body, those instruments of teaching, those means of grace, in which God is as much glorified as in Jewish Temple or Christian Cathedral.

Nevertheless He, who set "the place of His feet," which He would have us to glorify, among the poor and the sick, was He, who also did not for Himself refuse that alabaster box and that precious ointment, which might have been sold for much and given to the poor. The worship of God, if we read Scripture aright, ought to be more than merely grave and comely. There should be heartiness and lavishness about it, -profusion and brilliance. Not of material gifts alone or chiefly, gold, incense, or rare wood, but of human faculties, graces, and feeling; of joy and music and the sense of beauty. Take this chapter. It is wonderful, not so much for the material wealth which it devotes to the service of God’s house, and which is all that many eyes ever see in it, as for the glorious imagination and heart for the beautiful, the joy in light and space and splendour, the poetry and the music, which use those material things simply as the light uses the wick, or as music uses the lyre, to express and reveal itself. What a call this chapter is to let out the natural wonder and poetry of the heart, its feeling and music and exultation, -"all that is within us," as the Psalmist says, -in the Service of God. Why do we not do so? The answer is very simple. Because, unlike this prophet, we do not realise how present and full our salvation is; because unlike him, we do not realise that "our light has come," and so we will not "arise and shine."


(Chapters 61-62)

The speaker in chapter 61 is not introduced by name. Therefore he may be the Prophet himself, or he may be the Servant. The present expositor, while feeling that the evidence is not conclusive against either of these, and that the uncertainty is as great as in Isaiah 48:16, inclines to think that there is, on the whole, less objection to its being the prophet who speaks than to its being the Servant. But it is not a very important question which is intended, for the Servant was representative of prophecy; and if it be the prophet who speaks here, he also speaks with the conscience of the whole function and aim of the prophetic order. That Jesus Christ fulfilled this programme does not decide the question one way or the other; for a prophet so representative was as much the antetype and foreshadowing of Christ as the Servant himself was. On the whole, then, we must be content to feel about this passage, what we must have already felt about many others in our prophecy, that the writer is more anxious to place before us the whole range and ideal of the prophetic gift than to make clear in whom this ideal is realised; and for the rest Jesus of Nazareth so plainly fulfilled it, that it becomes, indeed, a very minor question to ask whom the writer may have intended as its first application.

If chapter 60 showed us the external glory of God’s people, chapter 61 opens with the programme of their inner mission. There we had the building and adornment of the Temple, that "Jehovah might glorify His people": here we have the binding of broken hearts and the beautifying of soiled lives, that "Jehovah may be glorified." But this inner mission also issues in external splendour, in a righteousness which is like the adornment of a bride and like the beauty of spring.

The commission of the prophet is mainly to duties we have already studied in preceding passages, both on himself and on the Servant. It will be enough to point out its special characteristics. "The Spirit of my Lord Jehovah is upon me, for that Jehovah hath anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim to the captive liberty, and to the prisoners open ways; to proclaim an acceptable year for Jehovah, and a day of vengeance for our God; to comfort all that mourn; to offer to the mourners of Zion, to give unto them a crest for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of dimness; so that men may call them Oaks-of-Righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that He may break into glory."

There are heard here all the keynotes of our prophet, and clear, too, is that usual and favourite direction of his thoughts from the inner and spiritual influences to the outward splendour and evidence, the passage from the comfort and healing of the heart to the rich garment, the renown, and his own dearest vision of great forest trees, -in short, Jehovah Himself breaking into glory. But one point needs special attention.

The prophet begins his commission by these words, "to bring good tidings to the afflicted," and again says, "to proclaim to the captive." "The afflicted," or "the poor," as it is mostly rendered, is the classical name for God’s people in Exile. We have sufficiently moved among this people to know for what reason the "bringing of good tidings" should here be reckoned as the first and most indispensable service that prophecy could render them. Why, in the life of every nation, there are hours, when the factors of destiny, that loom largest at other times, are dwarfed and dwindled before the momentousness of a piece of news, -hours, when the nation’s attitude in a great moral issue, or her whole freedom and destiny, are determined by telegrams from the seat of war. The simultaneous news of Grant’s capture of Vicksburg and Meade’s defeat of Lee, news that finally turned English opinion, so long shamefully debating and wavering, to the side of God and the slave; the telegrams from the army, for which silent crowds waited in the Berlin squares through the autumn nights of 1870, conscious that the unity and birthright of Germany hung upon the tidings, -are instances of the vital and paramount influence in a nation’s history of a piece of news. The force of a great debate in Parliament, the expression of public opinion through all its organs, the voice of a people in a general election, things in their time as ominous as the Fates, all yield at certain supreme moments to the meaning of a simple message from Providence. Now it was for news from God that Israel waited in Exile; for good tidings and the proclamation of fact. They had with them a Divine Law, but no mere exposition of it could satisfy men who were captives and waited for the command of their freedom. They had with them Psalms, but no beauty of music could console them: "How should we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?" They had Prophecy, with its assurance of the love and the power of their God; and much as there was in it to help them to patience and to hope, general statements were not enough for them. They needed the testimony of a fact. Freedom and Restoration had been promised them: they waited for the proclamation that it was coming, for the good news that it had arrived. Now our prophecy is mainly this proclamation and good news of fact. The prophet uses before all other words two, -to call or proclaim, kara, and to tell good tidings, bisser. We found them in his opening chapter: we find them again here when he sums up his mission. A third goes along with them, "to comfort," Naham, but it is the accompaniment, and they are the burden, of his prophecy.

But "good tidings" and the "proclamation" meant so much more than the mere political deliverance of Israel-meant the fact of their pardon, the tale of their God’s love, of His provision for them, and of His wonderful passion and triumph of salvation on their behalf-that it is no wonder that these two words came to be ever afterwards the classical terms for all speech and prophecy from God to man. We actually owe the Greek words of the New Testament for "gospel" and "preaching" to this time of Israel’s history. The Greek term, from which we have "evangel," "evangelist," and "evangelise," originally meant good news, but was first employed in a religious sense in the Greek translation of our prophecy. And our word "preach" is the heir, though not the lineal descendant, through the Latin prcedicare and the Greek khrussein, of the word, which is translated in chapter 60 of our prophet to proclaim, but in chapter 40 to call or cry. It is to the Exile that we trace the establishment among God’s people of regular preaching side by side with sacramental and liturgical worship; for it was in the Exile that the Synagogue arose, whose pulpit was to become as much the centre of Israel’s life as was the altar of the Temple. And it was from the pulpit of a synagogue centuries after, when the preaching had become dry exposition or hard lawgiving, that Jesus re-read our prophecy and affirmed again the "good news" of God.

What is true of nations is true of individuals. We indeed support our life by principles; we develop it by argument; -we cannot lay too heavy stress upon philosophy and law. But there is something of far greater concern than either argument or the abstract principles from which it is developed; something that our reason cannot find of itself, that our conscience but increases our longing for. It is, whether certain things are facts or not; whether, for instance, the Supreme Power of the Universe is on the side of the individual combatant for righteousness; whether God is love; whether Sin has been forgiven; whether Sin and Death have ever been conquered; whether the summer has come in which humanity may put forth their shoots conscious that all the influence of heaven is on their side, or whether, there being no heavenly favours, man must train his virtue and coax his happiness to ripen behind shelters and in conservatories of his own construction. Now Christ comes to us with the good news of God that it is so. The supreme force in the Universe is on man’s side, and for man has won victory and achieved freedom. God has proclaimed pardon. A Saviour has overcome sin and death. We are free to break from evil. The struggle after holiness is not the struggle of a weakly plant in an alien soil and beneath a wintry sky, counting only upon the precarious aids of human cultivation; but summer has come, the acceptable year of the Lord has begun, and all the favour of the Almighty is on His people’s side. These are the "good tidings" and "proclamation" of God, and to every man who believes them they must make an incalculable difference in life.

As we have said, the prophet passes in the rest of this prophecy from the spiritual influences of his mission to its outward effects. The people’s righteousness is described in the external fashion, which we have already studied in chapter 14; Zion’s espousals to Jehovah are celebrated, but into that we have also gone thoroughly; the restoration of prophecy in Jerusalem is described, {Isaiah 62:6-9} as in Isaiah 52:8; and another call is given to depart from Babylon and every foreign city and come to Zion. This call coming now, so long after the last, and when we might think that the prophet had wholly left Babylon behind, need not surprise us. For even though some Jews had actually arrived at Zion, which is not certain, others were hanging back in Babylon; and, indeed, such a call as this might fitly be renewed for the next century or two: so many of God’s people continued to forget that their citizenship was in Zion.


{Isaiah 63:1-7}

Once again the prophet turns to hail, in his periodic transport, the Solitary Divine Hero and Saviour of His people.

That the writer of this piece is the main author of "Second Isaiah" is probable, both because it is the custom of the latter to describe at intervals the passion and effort of Israel’s Mighty One, and because several of his well-known phrases meet us in this piece. The "speaker in righteousness mighty to save" recalls Isaiah 45:19-24; and "the day of vengeance and year of my redeemed" recalls Isaiah 61:2; and "I looked, and there was no helper, and I gazed, and there was none to uphold," recalls Isaiah 59:16. The prophet is looking out from Jerusalem towards Edom, -a direction in which the watchmen upon Zion had often in her history looked for the return of her armies from the punishment of Israel’s congenital and perpetual foe. The prophet, however, sees the prospect filled up, not by the flashing van of a great army, but by a solitary figure, without ally, without chariot, Without weapons, "swaying on in the wealth of his strength." The keynote of the piece is the loneliness of this Hero. A figure is used, which, where battle would only have suggested complexity, enthrals us with the spectacle of solitary effort, -the figure of trampling through some vast winevat alone. The Avenging Saviour of Israel has a fierce joy in being alone: it is his new nerve to effort and victory, -"therefore mine own right arm, it brought salvation to me." We see One great form in the strength of one great emotion. "My fury, it upheld me."

The interpretation of this chapter by Christians has been very varied, and often very perverse. To use the words of Calvin, "Violenter torserunt hoc caput Christiani." But, as he sees very rightly, it is not the Messiah nor the Servant of Jehovah, who is here pictured, but Jehovah Himself. This Solitary is the Divine Saviour of Israel, as in Isaiah 42:7 f. and in Isaiah 59:16. In chapter 8 of Book II we spoke so fully of the Passion of God that we may now refer to that chapter for the essential truth which underlies our prophet’s anthropomorphism, and claims our worship where a short sight might only turn the heart away in scorn at the savage and blood-stained surface. One or two other points, however, demand our attention before we give the translation.

Why does the prophet look in the direction of Edom for the return of his God? Partly, it is to be presumed, because Edom was as good a representative as he could choose of the enemies of Israel other than Babylon. (See Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 2:1-22; Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 4:1-6; Isaiah 5:1-30; Isaiah 6:1-13; Isaiah 7:1-25; Isaiah 8:1-22; Isaiah 9:1-21; Isaiah 10:1-34; Isaiah 11:1-16; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 13:1-22; Isaiah 14:1-32; Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14; Isaiah 17:1-14; Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 19:1-25; Isaiah 20:1-6; Isaiah 21:1-17; Isaiah 22:1-25; Isaiah 23:1-18; Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 25:1-12; Isaiah 26:1-21; Isaiah 27:1-13; Isaiah 28:1-29; Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9; Isaiah 32:1-20; Isaiah 33:1-24; Isaiah 34:1-17; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8) But also partly, perhaps, because of the names which match the red colours of his piece, -the wine and the blood. Edom means red, and Bossrah is assonant to Bosser, a vinedresser. Fitter background and scenery the prophet, therefore, could not have for his drama of Divine Vengeance. But we must take care, as Dillmann properly remarks, not to imagine that any definite, historical invasion of Edom by Israel, or other chastening instrument of Jehovah, is here intended. It is a vision which the prophet sees of Jehovah Himself: it illustrates the passion, the agony, the unshared and unaided effort which the Divine Saviour passes through for His people.

Further, it is only necessary to point out, that the term in Isaiah 63:1 given as "splendid" by the Authorised Version, which I have rendered "sweeping," is literally "swelling," and is, perhaps, best rendered by "sailing on" or "swinging on." The other verb which the Revised Version renders "marching" means "swaying," or moving the head or body from one side to another, in the pride and fulness of strength. In Isaiah 63:2 "like a wine-treader" is literally "like him that treadeth in the pressing-house"-Geth (the first syllable of Gethsemane, the oil-press): But Isaiah 63:3 is the "pressing trough."

Who is this coming from Edom,

Raw-red his garments from Bossrah!

This sweeping on in his raiment,

Swaying in the wealth of his strength?

I that do speak in righteousness,

Mighty to save!

Wherefore is red on thy raiment,

And thy garments like to a wine-treader’s?

A trough I have trodden alone,

Of the peoples no man was with me.

So I trod them down in my wrath,

And trampled them down in my fury;

Their life-blood sprinkled my garments

And all my raiment I stained.

For the day of revenge in my heart,

And the year of my redeemed has come.

And I looked, and no helper;

I gazed, and none to uphold!

So my righteousness won me salvation;

And my fury, it hath upheld me.

So I stamp on the peoples in my wrath,

And make them drunk with my fury,

And bring down to earth their life-blood.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 60". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/isaiah-60.html.
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