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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Isaiah 56

Verses 1-12


Isaiah 56:1-8

AN EXHORTATION TO OBSERVE THE LAW, ESPECIALLY THE LAW OF THE SABBATH, COMBINED WITH PROMISES. There was much of the Law which it was impossible to observe during the Captivity. Sacrifice had ceased, the temple was destroyed, almost all the ceremonial law must have been suspended; even the command to do no work on the sabbath day cannot have been kept by a nation of slaves, whose masters would certainly not have permitted them to be idle one day in seven. Still, the spirit of the ordinance might be kept by devoting the day, so far as was possible, to religious observance, as to prayer and to meditation upon holy things. This is now enjoined on the captive Jews, with the promise of a blessing—a blessing in which even the most despised part of the nation, the proselytes and the eunuchs, might participate.

Isaiah 56:1

Keep ye judgment, and do justice; rather, keep ye Law, and observe righteousness. The exhortation is general, and has no special bearing on trials or law-courts. It is a call on the Jews, in their captivity, to keep, so far as was possible, the whole Law given on Sinai. My salvation is near to come. The nearer the time of deliverance approaches, the more faithful and exact ought Israel to be in life and conduct. God's "salvation" and his "righteousness" go hand-in-hand. It is as his righteous people, "a holy seed" (Isaiah 6:10), that he is about to vindicate and rescue them. If they are no holier than others, why should he do more for them than for those others?

Isaiah 56:2

That doeth this … that layeth hold on it; i.e. that doeth according to the exhortation in Isaiah 56:1. That keepeth the sabbath. The prominent place assigned to this duty by the evangelical prophet is remarkable. We may observe, however,

(1) that the spirit of obedience is better tested by a positive than by a moral ordinance; and

(2) that as, probably, there could be little outward keeping of the sabbath by the captives, it would have had to be kept inwardly by spiritual exercises, by silent prayer and praise, together with prolonged meditation upon holy things. In the absence of all the ordinary aids to devotion, the religious condition of the people must have depended very much on their keeping up the recollection of the sabbath, and hallowing it so far as was possible; e.g. doing no work for themselves, neither buying nor selling, making their devotions longer, and keeping God in their thoughts throughout the day.

Isaiah 56:3

The son of the stranger; i.e. the foreigner, who has become a proselyte. During the depression of the Captivity these are not likely to have been many. Still, there were doubtless some; and these, who had embraced Judaism under such unfavourable circumstances, were entitled to special consideration. As Messianic hopes prevailed, and the time of restoration to Palestine drew near (Isaiah 56:1), they might naturally be afraid that they would not be looked upon as equals by the native Israelites, but would be made into a lower grade, if not even excluded. The Lord hath utterly separated me; rather, the Lord will utterly separate me. They do not suppose it done, but think it will be done. The eunuch. Isaiah had prophesied to Hezekiah that a certain number of his seed should serve as eunuchs in the royal palace of the King of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were such persons (Daniel 1:3-6), and there may have been others. By the letter of the Law (Deuteronomy 23:1), they were cut off from the congregation, but practically it would seem that during the Captivity they were on a par with other Israelites. These persons feared, with more reason than the foreign proselytes, that, on the return of Israel to their own land, a stricter practice would be established than had prevailed during the Captivity, and the letter of the Law would be enforced against them. I am a dry tree. Therefore useless, and entitled to no consideration at all.

Isaiah 56:4

The eunuchs that … take hold of my covenant. The law of Deuteronomy 23:1 shall be abrogated under the new condition of things, for such as "take hold of God's covenant."

Isaiah 56:5

In mine house; i.e. "in my Church". Within my walls. Within the walls of my "holy city" (see above, Isaiah 54:11, Isaiah 54:12; Isa 50:1-11 :14; Isaiah 42:12). A place and a name; or, a memorial and a name; i.e. honourable mention, like that promised to the woman who anointed Christ for his burial (Matthew 26:13). Such mention is found in Matthew 19:12; Acts 8:27-39.

Isaiah 56:6

Also the sons of the stranger (comp. Isaiah 56:3). The proselytes shall not be treated as they fear. On the contrary, God will treat them in exactly the same way as his original people—will conduct them to Palestine, settle them in his "holy mountain,'' admit them to the temple services, accept their burnt offerings and their sacrifices. All this will be a foretaste of their position in the Christian Church, where there will be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but a community where all are brethren and all have equal privileges.

Isaiah 56:7

My house of prayer. In Solomon's address to God at the dedication of the temple, its character, as a house of prayer, is abundantly laid down (1 Kings 8:29-53). And no doubt it was used for the purpose of prayer, as well as for the purpose of sacrifice, from its first erection to its final destruction. But the purpose of sacrifice so far predominated, in fact, over the other, that the expression, "my house of prayer," comes upon us in this place to some extent as a surprise. The prophet seems to anticipate the time when the temple should be emphatically a προσευχή the legal sacrifices having received their fulfilment (Isaiah 53:10), and being thenceforth superfluous and out of place. For all people; rather, for all the peoples. All the ends of the earth were to see the salvation of God (Psalms 98:3); "All nations were to fall down before him; all people to do him service" (Psalms 72:11).

Isaiah 56:8

The Lord God; rather, the Lord Jehovah—Adonai Jehovah. An unusual phrase. Which gathereth together the outcasts of Israel; i.e. the Lord who has pledged himself to bring back Israel from captivity, and to gather together Israel's outcasts from all regions (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 27:12, Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 43:5, Isaiah 43:6, etc.). This same Lord now promises something further: "He will gather others also to Israel, besides his own gathered ones." Introduced with such emphasis and formality, this was probably, when delivered, a new revelation. In the present arrangement of the prophecies, however, it announces no novelty. The addition of Gentile members to the Israelite community has been declared frequently (see Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 55:5, etc.).

Isaiah 56:9-12


THE BLIND GUIDES OF ISRAEL REBUKED. A sudden change of style marks the introduction of an entirely new prophecy. The eye of the prophet, apparently, goes back from the period of the exile, which he has been so long contemplating, to his own day, or at any rate to the pre-exile period, and rests upon Israel in their own land. He sees them misled by their teachers (Isaiah 56:10-12), given to idolatry (Isaiah 57:3-9), and offering themselves a ready prey to their enemies (Isaiah 56:9). Many modern critics regard the passage as the composition of an unknown prophet belonging to the time of Manasseh. But there is no sufficient evidence of this. The prophecy has many Isaiah characteristics.

Isaiah 56:9

Beasts of the field … beasts in the forest; i.e. "all wild beasts of whatever kind"—all the enemies of God's flock (see Jeremiah 12:9; Ezekiel 34:8). Come to devour. Make haste, now is your opportunity. The people have none to protect them, and will be an easy prey. Come, set to work; devour.

Isaiah 56:10

His watchmen are blind. Israel's "watchmen" are his guides and teachers, the prophets (Isaiah 6:1-17; Ezekiel 3:17; Habakkuk 2:1, etc.). At the time of which Isaiah speaks, they are "blind" (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 42:18, Isaiah 42:19; Isaiah 43:8, etc.), or without knowledge—like the "blind guides" of the Gospel (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39, etc.). They have not the spiritual discernment which would enable them to lead the people aright. Further, they are dumb dogs. Instead of acting as faithful watch-dogs, who give warning of the approach of danger by their barking, they remain apathetic, and utter no warning at all. It is as if they passed their lives in sleep.

Isaiah 56:11

Yea, they are greedy dogs. Another defect is noted. Not only do they fail in the way of neglect of duty, but they are actively culpable. Being worldly and not spiritually minded, they are "greedy" after gain. Anciently, the taking of a gift, or fee, from those who came to consult them was regarded as no dishonour to the prophetic office (Numbers 22:7; 1 Samuel 9:7; 1 Kings 14:3); but the nobler class of prophets declined to make a profit of their spiritual powers, and would receive no fee (2 Kings 5:16; Matthew 10:8; Acts 8:20). In Ezekiel and Micah the taking of gifts by prophets is regarded as discreditable (Ezekiel 13:19; Ezekiel 22:25; Micah 3:3). From his quarter; rather, to the uttermost (Kay), or every one, without exception (Cheyne).

Isaiah 56:12

Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine. Here we have mention of a third defect. The prophets of the time are not only negligent of their duty, and covetous, but they are given to excess in wine and to long revels, such as even the heathen considered to be disgraceful (comp. Isaiah 28:7, where both priests and prophets are taxed with habitual drunkenness). To-morrow shall be as this day; i.e. the drinking shall continue—we will have a two days' bout of it. And much more abundant; rather, very exceedingly abundant. There is no comparison of one day with the other; but simply a promise that on both days the drinking shall be without stint.


Isaiah 56:3-7

Outward defects and defilements no hindrance to full communion in the Church of God.

In the infancy of humanity, and with a people so carnal as the Israelites, it was necessary to teach the great doctrines of purity and holiness by a material symbolism. Hence the multitude of regulations in the Law concerning defects, blemishes, sources of outward defilement, methods of removing defilements, clean and unclean meats, and the like. God strove to train his people by these out ward shows to the recognition of the eternal distinction between inward purity and impurity, and to a proper sense of the fact that impurity is an utter disqualification for communion with him and with his Church. But these distinctions were never intended to be lasting." Our Lord himself declared to his disciples, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man" (Matthew 15:11-20). It was long before the Jews could fully understand this doctrine, or believe that the Levitical Law on all points of external defilement was absolutely done away (see Acts 10:9-35; Acts 11:3-18; Acts 15:5-20; 1 Corinthians 8:4-13). There was at first a great objection to receive any Gentiles into the Christian Church, and many miracles had to be wrought to overcome it. There was, after this, a line of separation drawn, and a claim set up by those of the favoured nation to form a higher grade than the Gentile Christians, with whom they refused to eat (Galatians 2:11-14). So persistent is the spirit of formalism, that, notwithstanding our Lord's teaching and that of his apostles, it was centuries before the Church was wholly freed from dissension and difficulty in this matter.

Isaiah 56:9-12

When their spiritual guides go astray, the flock of Christ suffers

Spiritual guides are bound to watch for the flock, as "they that must give account" (Hebrews 13:17). It is ill for the flock when they are even negligent in their duties—still worse when they engage actively in evil courses. Israel's guides at this time were open to both charges, and are blamed on both accounts. Isaiah taxes them with being—

I. BLIND GUIDES, destitute of spiritual wisdom and spiritual discernment. "The priest's lips should keep knowledge" (Malachi 2:7). It is the office of priests and ministers to guide aright the souls committed to their charge, and for this purpose they require a large fund of "the wisdom which is from above," a large experience of human life and of the human heart, and a deep acquaintance with the written Word, wherein treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid away. "Blind guides" constitute a terrible danger. "If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into the pit?" (Matthew 15:14). What havoc may not be wrought by a "blind guide," who undertakes to be the director of thousands or even hundreds of souls! And yet how lightly do young men, after no more than a year or two of experience, seek to obtain "sole charges"! "Sole charges" should be reserved for those who have been thoroughly tried and tested, and have shown themselves able ministers of the Word and wise directors of men's consciences.

II. DUMB DOGS. If we are without knowledge, it is better to be "dumb" than to speak. But to have knowledge, to be able to direct and improve others, and, having undertaken the ministerial office, then to draw back and remain silent, through sloth and laziness, because we would fain "lie down, and dream, and slumber," and pass our life without care, or anxiety, or trouble,—this is a most "dangerous downfall," a shirking of our responsibilities, a "drawing back unto perdition of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39). There are ministers even now, in this latter part of the nineteenth century, whose object in their ministerial life seems to be to do as little as possible, who preach little, visit less, reprove and rebuke vice least of all, whose desire seems to he always for "a little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep" (Proverbs 6:10). Such persons will one day experience a terrible awakening!

III. GREEDY DOGS. Ministers are bound to be patterns to the flock. If they preach the doctrines of the gospel—self-sacrifice, spirituality, unworldliness—and are themselves greedy of gain, conspicuous examples of the worldly and covetous spirit which they denounce, what possible effect for good can their preaching have? Such men do more harm than infidels. They dishonour their Master, bring scorn and contempt upon religion, do their best to create the impression that Christianity is a sham, a make-believe, a device for bolstering up a rotten state of society and repressing revolutionary effort. "The labourer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7), and they that preach the gospel are entitled to "live of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14); but a hard, grasping, or even niggardly spirit in a Christian minister is a disgrace to his profession, a scandal to the Church whereto he belongs, and a danger to society. Such as "look to their own way," and seek their own gain, "to the uttermost," as did the pseudo-prophets of Isaiah's day, are wholly unfit to bear the message of him who, "though rich, for man's sake became poor" (2 Corinthians 8:9), and chose "the poor of this world" for his ministers (James 2:5).

IV. WINE-BIBBERS. Intemperate habits are, if possible, more unbecoming to the minister of Christ than even covetousness. Covetousness may be secret, and escape detection; intemperance is a public scandal. The man of intemperate habits can scarcely have the face to rebuke any vice in others, seeing that his own vice is so open and patent to all. He is thus utterly disqualified for the ministerial office, which he degrades and disgraces so long as he bears it. Fortunately, at the present day, intemperance is recognized as incompatible with the cure of souls; and the intemperate minister, in modern Churches, can scarcely remain a minister for many months.


Isaiah 56:1-8

The true observance of the sabbath.

Foreign converts are commended for their observance of the sabbath, and promised an appropriate reward. The day was more strictly observed during the Babylonian and Persian periods (Jeremiah 17:19-27; Ezekiel 20:11-21; Ezekiel 22:8, Ezekiel 22:26; Nehemiah 13:15-22; cf. 2 Kings 11:11-16 with 1 Macc. 2:32-38). Its estimation rose with the estimation of prayer (Cheyne).

I. THE DUTY OF OBEDIENCE. The Law is "the objective rule of life, the Law of Jehovah." Or, with others, "equity, justice." And the "practice of righteousness" is ever a necessity with him. The more so as every serious crisis draws on. My salvation is near—the kingdom of heaven is at hand. A crisis means a time of sifting and separation. "God's salvation is not indiscriminate. And the grounds on which he distinguishes his people from his enemies are not external, but internal. It is the Israel within Israel, the spiritual circumcision, the holy seed, that he acknowledges, vindicates, rescues, glorifies" (Cheyne).

II. SABBATH-KEEPING AS AN EXPRESSION OF OBEDIENCE. How significant the sabbath in the institutions of Judaism! True, the seventh day belonged also to Babylonian religion, but we know its beauty and its blessing through the Jews. It was a sign of the great standing covenant between God and the nation (Exodus 31:13-17). By this the Jews were marked as a nation. Narrow notions, Puritan superstitions, have gathered about the sabbath; still, the idea of it is very beautiful. Ewald brings it under the idea of sacrifice of time. It is the representative of the duties of the first table (Ezekiel 20:11-21). But mere sabbath-keeping avails not without the honest heart and the upright life—the man must "keep his hand from evil."

III. THE BLESSINGS OF OBEDIENCE UNIVERSAL. The prophet would remove a misunderstanding. The beatitude is universally applicable to those who keep God's commandments. The foreigner might be anxious about his position in the spiritual commonwealth. For there were exclusive injunctions directed against him (Deuteronomy 23:4-7). During the Captivity probably an exclusive spirit was growing; it may be observed in the restored exiles (Nehemiah 13:1-31.). They are here assured that they shall be admitted to the spiritual commonwealth on an equal footing with the Jews. National barriers are broken down before the new expansive spirit of love. There was also a law against eunuchs (Deuteronomy 23:2). But this disability is also to be removed. This class of men may stand for the outcast and degraded in general. They are to be admitted to communion, and are to receive some "trophy and monument'' (1 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 18:18) in the temple itself—provided they have been faithful to the commands and covenant of Jehovah. Probably a spiritual and everlasting memorial is meant (cf. Revelation 3:12; Matthew 26:13). Then the foreign proselytes who should

(1) join them to the Lord,

(2) with intent to serve him,

(3) and who should love the Name of the Lord,

(4) who should be his servants,

(5) who should keep his sabbaths,

(6) and take hold of his covenant, were to be admitted to all the privileges of the chosen people.

The same terms of salvation were to be applicable to all. In 1 Kings 8:41-43 Solomon prays that God should do "according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for." In Psalms 135:19, Psalms 135:20 the proselytes are called to bless Jehovah, after the house of Israel, of Aaron, of Levi.

IV. THE BLESSINGS OF THE HOUSE OF PRAYER. All shall be brought to God's holy mountain—shall be admitted to the one sacred fellowship. They shall be made joyful by the revelation of the Shechinah—the presence of the Eternal in his power and mercy. Their offerings (those of the proselytes) shall be accepted on his altar. There should be no invidious distinctions. The house should be a "house of prayer to all peoples" (cf. Matthew 21:13). Moreover, other nations, not now of Israel, would be united to the one spiritual stock. The exiles in distant lands would be gathered; also other Gentiles of whom the proselytes are the firstfruits—"other sheep not of this flock" (John 10:16)—and they will become fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). The race—"on a level with respect to moral character, all having sinned and come short of the glory of God—is on a level with respect to redemption; the same Saviour died for all, the same Spirit is ready to sanctify all. The wide world may be saved, and there is not one of the human race so degraded in human estimation by rank, or colour, or ignorance, who may not be admitted to the same heaven with Abraham and the prophets, and whose prayers and praises may not be as acceptable to God as those of the most magnificent monarch who ever wore a crown."—J.

Verses 56:9-57:2

The neglectful shepherds.

Here in a series of powerful pictures religious indifference on the part of pastors is described.

I. THE BLIND WATCHMAN. Nothing can be more beautiful than the idea of the shepherd as descriptive of the true teacher and minister to souls; tenderness, watchfulness, self-denial, all are his. So, on the other hand, nothing can more hold up the faithless pastor to scorn than the character of the faithless shepherd (John 10:1-42.). As the flock becomes a prey to the wild beasts when there is no shepherd, or when he neglects his care, so Israel, bereft of her natural defenders, lies at the mercy of the great heathen empire (cf. Ezekiel 13:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 39:4; Jeremiah 12:9; Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:18). Especially the prophets are referred to (cf. Ezekiel 3:17; Isaiah 21:11). These "dumb dogs" are opposed to the faithful shepherd dogs (Job 30:1). "We must suppose that the prophets referred to were no better than the ancient soothsayers, who gave oracles respecting the difficulties of everyday life, but were silent on the great moral questions" (Cheyne). Immersed, perhaps, in sin themselves, they were blind to the national sins. "God requires knowledge in his ambassadors. Ignorance of the truth; of the nature, existence, and pollution of sin; of the claims of God and of the way of pardon,—is an effectual disqualification for the office."

II. THEIR SLUGGISHNESS AND GREED. They are like those who rave in sleep, moving among idle phantasms rather than serious realities. The false teacher not only does not know the truth, he falls into some species of delusion, and leads his flock along with him. He "loves to slumber." "Alas! that this should be too true of multitudes who bear the sacred office, and are appointed to warn their fellow-men of danger! Some are afraid of giving offence; some have no deep sense of the importance of religious truth; some embrace false opinions; some engage in worldly projects, and fill up their time with the cares and plans of this life; and some are invincibly indolent. An inactive and unfaithful ministry suffers the great enemy to come and bear away the soul to death, as an unfaithful mastiff would suffer a thief to approach the dwelling without warning the inmates. Instinct prompts the faithful animal to act the part God intends; but alas! there are men whom neither conscience, reason, hope, fear, nor love will rouse to put forth efforts to save a soul from hell! Their greed. They "keep up the old custom, rejected by the higher prophets as an abuse, of taking fees" (see references in Cheyne). Each and all are bent upon private interest and gain, and upon selfish enjoyment. One of them is represented as inviting another to a carouse of two days.

III. THE CONTRASTED FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS. They "perish"—prematurely cut off; a contradiction peculiarly great from an Old Testament point of view (Ecclesiastes 7:15). It seemed as if this premature departure were an ill reward for faithful service; but it was dictated by mercy. The godly were delivered from sights of horror which might have vexed their souls.

"O Brettinoro! wherefore tarriest still,
Since forth of thee thy family hath gone,
And many, hating evil, join'd their steps?"

Moreover, they were spared from the coming retribution; so Abraham goes to his fathers in peace, and Isaiah is not to see all the evil which God will bring upon the place. "His soul is pleasing to God; therefore he hastens with him out of the evil life" (Wis. 4:14). Here was a warning to the wicked; great must be the evil doomed to be so punished. A few remaining righteous might have saved the city (Genesis 18:23-32). Sorer punishment was therefore at hand. The departure of a good man is a public calamity. His example and his influence are among the richest blessings of the world. If men are not deeply affected by the withdrawal of them, it is a proof of guilt and stupidity. Who knows, asked a heathen poet, if dying be not life, and life dying? On the hither side of the grave the wicked remain steeped in sin and sloth; on the further side there is rest and peace. "Let them rave, thou art quiet in thy grave." "Who does not envy those who have seen to an end their manful endeavour? Who that sees the meanness of our public life, but in]y congratulates the pure statesman or teacher that he is long wrapped in his shroud, and for ever safe; laid sweet in his grave, the hope of humanity not subjugated in him? Who does not sometimes envy the good and brave, who are no more to suffer from the tumults of the natural world, and await with curious complacency the speedy term of his own conversation with finite nature? Yet the love that will be annihilated sooner than treacherous, has already made death impossible, and affirms itself no mortal, but nature of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable being" (Emerson).—J.


Isaiah 56:6


"The sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him," etc. This word is often degraded in human speech. "Service" is con-sidereal humiliating, and only mastership is glorious. But "the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." We are all of us "debtors" to others; we owe them much, and we owe Christ all.


1. Their unselfishness.

2. Their heroism.

3. Their patience.


1. Think of the world's great leaders.

2. Think of the Church's sufferers and martyrs.

III. SERVICE IS EMBODIED IN MANY FORMS. There is a service of gift; a service of speech; a service of submission.

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

All God's universe is alive with blest activity. The idler is out of harmony with the entire creation of God.—W.M.S.


Isaiah 56:1

The attitude of holy expectation.

God evidently requires of us that, when we are anticipating any special manifestation on his part, there should be special purity on our part. We look at—

I. OUR CONDITION. This is one of complete dependence on God. We need the action of the Divine power to give efficacy to all our labour; nothing that we do, of any kind whatever, is effectual without the energizing touch of his hand. We need also the manifestation of this Divine power for deliverance from danger and trouble. Salvation from any evil, temporal or spiritual, can come only from God. "All our springs are in him."

II. OUR EXPECTATION. We hope for great things of God. He has taught us to hope from the beginning (Psalms 22:9). It is with a true instinct that the farmer looks up to God for his annual harvest; that the soldier trusts for victory in the favour and the aid of the God of battles; that the sailor cries to Heaven for help when his ship is tossing on the waves in the overwhelming storm; that the faithful witness of Jesus Christ appeals to his Divine Lord when the persecutor is on his track or has him in his cruel grasp. We hope in God, for we know

(1) the benignity of his Spirit, his desire to bless his children, and his compassion for them in their distresses;

(2) the faithfulness of his word, and that he has said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee" (Psalms 50:15).

III. THE RIGHT ATTITUDE OF EXPECTATION. It is that of special purity or righteousness; separating ourselves from all that is offensive in the sight of God. To expect any unusual manifestation of Divine power or grace when we are holding any iniquity to our heart, is only to delude ourselves, and to be the heirs of disillusion and disappointment.

1. When God manifested himself at Sinai he required that the people should be sanctified in readiness for his coming (Exodus 19:10).

2. When the Lord of hosts would give victory to the armies of Israel he required that they sanctified themselves, not only by religious rite, but by cleansing themselves of their sin (Joshua 3:5; Joshua 5:1-15; Joshua 7:1-26.).

3. When the children of Israel were delivered from the land of captivity they fasted and prayed that the hand of God. might be upon them (Ezra 8:21-23).

4. When the kingdom of God was announced there was a solemn summons to repent (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17).

5. When we seek Divine mercy and eternal life in Jesus Christ we must put away evil from our heart and life; repentance never has been and never can be dissociated from a living and saving faith (Acts 20:21).

6. When we draw near to God in worship we must come to him with clean hands and a pure heart (Psa 15:1-5 :24;Psalms 66:18; Isaiah 33:15, Isaiah 33:16; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Timothy 2:8).

7. When we look for a manifestation of God's power in the renewal of a Church, or the regeneration of a community, we must appear before him in purity of heart and integrity of life; or his "salvation ' will not "come," his "righteousness" will not "be revealed."—C.

Isaiah 56:3-8

The open gate.

The temple or house of God (Isaiah 56:7) stands for his kingdom of righteousness; and in exalted vision the prophet foresees the time when it shall stand open to every man—to the stranger or heathen, and even to those physically debarred. It is to be called "a house of prayer for all people." It is worthy of note that it should be called a house of prayer; the truth is intimated that, in the kingdom of God, sacrifice performed by the few on behalf of the many will yield to the spiritual approach by all to the Father of souls; that one principal purpose of worship is that of coming into close, holy, personal fellowship with the living God. But the main truth of the passage is found in the thought of—

I. THE OPEN GATE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. When God's full purpose should be revealed, there would be a kingdom or Church which should be open to every child of man, irrespective of his nationality or his physical peculiarities; the time should come when there would be neither Greek nor Jew, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. The gracious purpose of God is fulfilled only in the gospel of his Son. There we find "the common salvation," broad as the race of man.

1. It is adapted to all men everywhere, however apart and afar they may be from the scene of its birth. Judaism, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, have local features; they are peculiarly adapted to men living in certain latitudes and longitudes, with certain surroundings and national habits and wants; they have their limitations. But into the gospel of Jesus Christ limitation or partiality does not enter; it is as perfectly suited to men of one clime as to those of another; we cannot think of men under any earthly conditions whatever for whose elevation and happiness it is not thoroughly fitted.

2. It is intended for, and is powerful over, those furthest removed from the knowledge and the likeness of God. It purified the corrupt Corinthian; it softened the hard Roman; it sobered and solemnized the flippant Athenian; it has civilized the most savage barbarian; it has rescued and transformed the most degraded citizens of our modern civilization; it has proved itself the power of God to redeem and regenerate the very worst that have defaced the human image and disgraced the human name.

3. It is needed by those who are nearest the sources of truth; for it convicts even the best of unworthiness and guilt, and it finds for them a Saviour and a reconciliation.

II. THE CONDITIONS OF CITIZENSHIP. The gate is open into the blessed kingdom, but it is a kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy (Romans 14:17). Only they can be accounted citizens who fulfil certain spiritual conditions. These are indicated here. They are:

1. Drawing nigh to God through the appointed means—the sabbath day, the house of prayer, etc.

2. Accepting God's method of reconciliation; i.e. by faith in his Son, our Saviour; "taking hold of his covenant" (see —Philippians 3:7-9).

3. Conforming the life to God's holy will; "choosing the things that please haul," rather than those which please ourselves or others; engaging in his service (Isaiah 56:6).—C.

Isaiah 56:9-12

Unfaithful ministry.

Three truths appear as we consider these strong words.

I. THAT GOD HAS PLACED THE WELFARE OF THE MANY IN THE CHARGE OF THE FEW. Practically, the moral and material condition of the country in the course of the next twenty years depends greatly on the character of those of its citizens who are parents. The fathers and mothers in the land are determining its future to a large extent by their parental wisdom or folly. But we may narrow the issue considerably; we may say that what the next generation will be, in respect of conviction and conduct, depends on the character of the ministry it is receiving at the hands of its religious teachers. If these are loyal to their Lord, and do faithfully the work committed to their care, the community will know the truth and do the will of God. And so long as the nation walks in the light of the Lord it will be prosperous and strong; its worst enemies will not prevail against it; it will grow in wisdom, in honour, in power.

II. THAT MEN MAY PROVE UTTERLY UNWORTHY OF THE HIGH POSITION TO WHICH THEY ARE CALLED. It may be said that no one has a right to take a step which may result in the responsibilities of parentage, unless he or she is prepared to teach and train children in the knowledge and fear of God. It must certainly be said that no one has a right to take on himself the functions of a Christian minister unless he is qualified to teach Christ's truth and to commend his gospel to the minds and the hearts of men. It is the grave misfortune of the Church and the world that so many have incurred responsibility without any such qualifications. They have failed either in doctrine, having been as "dumb dogs," not warning sinners of the perils besetting them, wilfully and culpably silent; or in understandably, being "blind" and "ignorant," never having understood the truth, or having become insensible to its excellence by reason of their unfaithfulness; or in consistency of life, failing into the sin of idleness (Isaiah 56:10), or that of covetousness and consequent rapacity (Isaiah 56:11), or that of bodily indulgence (Isaiah 56:12). And sin is never so ugly a garment as when it clothes the person of a minister of Jesus Christ.

III. THAT AN UNWORTHY MINISTRY SEALS THE FATE OF THE UNFORTUNATE COUNTRY ON WHICH IT IS IMPOSED. There is little hope for a land cursed with an unfaithful and an ungodly ministry. Not only is the truth of God withheld from men, but it is made positively distasteful and repugnant to the more spiritual by being associated with such professors. Its power is reduced to the very lowest possible point; the people are abandoned to error and to folly. It will soon be time for the enemy to appear at the gates—for the destroying beast to ravage the flock (Isaiah 56:9).

1. Let all but those whom God has fitted for it shrink with holy diffidence from the sacred office.

2. Let the Church of Christ take the greatest care whom it invites to be "over it in the Lord."—C.


Isaiah 56:1

God's nearness a plea.

"My salvation is near to come;" therefore "keep ye judgment, and do justice." Isaiah announced God's delivering and redeeming from Babylon as close at hand, and used this fact as a plea by which to urge immediate moral preparation. "When God is coming to us in a way of mercy we must go forth to meet him in a way of duty." Illustration may be found in Psalms 50:23; Malachi 4:4 Malachi 4:6. John the Baptist had a similar commission to this of Isaiah. He was to call to repentance on the ground of the fact that the "kingdom of heaven was at hand." Further illustration may be found in the preparing of roads for a coming Eastern king, and the preparations made in our towns when the sovereign is about to visit them. The general subject suggested is the call to be ready for every display of Divine grace. Our getting the blessing of any near coming of God to us depends on our preparedness for the manifestation. We may note two points.

I. PREPARATIONS FOR GOD'S COMING ARE SPIRITUAL. They are right states of mind and feeling. They are cleansings of thought and heart. They are humiliations on account of sin and shortcoming. They are the putting away of doubts, and the nourishing of trust. They are cherishings of all reverent sentiments. They are earnest efforts to gain an open and receptive mood of soul. Sabbath worship and sacramental seasons are times of special nearness of God, and they are dependent on the spiritual moods with which we approach them. Fitting moods are gained by times of meditation and prayer. A point of importance to impress is that spiritual preparations are quite as necessary in view of God's mercies, benedictions, and prosperities, as in view of his chastisements and judgments. So easily we miss observing the necessity for spiritual readiness to receive Divine bestowals and blessings. See St. Paul's teaching concerning self-examination before partaking of the sacramental feast (1 Corinthians 11:28).

II. SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FINDS EXPRESSION IN ALTERED CONDUCT. On this the prophet dwells. Because God's salvation is near, men ought to readjust their conduct and rearrange their relations. They should keep judgment and do justice; or love the right and try to do it, remembering always that the "right" includes the "kind." Just as, if a visitor is expected at a house, all kinds of house-preparations are made, but the heart-welcome is the chief thing, so when God would come to us, we must fit up the house of conduct for him, but take good heed that this only expresses the hearty welcome of our souls. In conclusion, show how these two mutually help each other. Soul-culture aids in mastery of life and conduct. The wise ordering of life brings good opportunity for soul-culture. Jesus came to save from sin; but there was little preparation for him. He came as a babe, and there was no room for him in the inn.—R.T.

Isaiah 56:2

The sabbath a test of obedience.

It is singular to find Isaiah now making so much of the sabbath when, in the earlier part of his prophecy, he had, in the name of God, spoken of it so scornfully (see Isaiah 1:13, "The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with"). Matthew Arnold refers to this contrast, and says, "That related to a time when the kingdom of Judah yet stood, when the service of the temple was in full course, the whole exterior part of the Jews' religion splendid and prominent. At such a time a prophet might naturally undervalue the whole of this exterior part in comparison with the inward part. But during the exile in Babylon all the services and sacrifices of the temple had ceased, and the one testimony of faithfulness to their religion which the Jews among an idolatrous people could give, was the observance of their sabbath; their sabbath was the one outward thing which brought their religion to their mind. Hence its observance acquired quite a special value." Inquire what signs of their allegiance to Jehovah, and their obedience to his commands, pious Jews in Babylon could give to those around them. None could be so important or so effective as to show themselves a nation of sabbath-keepers, because Jehovah, their God, had commanded sabbath-keeping.

I. SABBATH-KEEPING A FORMAL ACT. As such it is of comparatively small importance. It bears good relation, indeed, to the physical health and the social order of a community, providing seasons of rest and change, and reminding of the claims of soul as well as body. But if sabbath-keeping be the mere formal act, with no deeper meaning in it, then it may be judged as a matter of expediency, and valued as a wise and excellent Mosaic arrangement, mere or less wisely imitated by other rulers.

II. SABBATH-KEEPING A MORAL STATE. Souls must keep sabbath, or it is not really kept. Souls must keep sabbath

(1) as an act of obedience to God;

(2) as an expression of love for worship;

(3) as a sign of loyalty and affection for God.

There is never any difficulty about the proper ordering of the day when the soul is full of the sabbath-spirit.

III. SABBATH-KEEPING THE FORMAL ACT WHICH EXHIBITS THE MORAL STATE. Man cannot test the soul-conditions of his fellow-man save by observing the expressions of that condition in his conduct. God can read soul-states, but, for purposes of revelation and teaching, he treats us as we treat each other, and asks for signs in the life of what may be in the soul. Therefore he still looks for careful and faithful sabbath-keeping.—R.T.

Isaiah 56:4-6

Disabled ones sharing Divine blessings.

From the points of view of the earlier Judaism, eunuchs and strangers were persons placed under special disability. Neither could take full share in national or sanctuary privileges (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). To understand the feeling towards eunuchs we must remember the two prevailing ideas among the Jews, which made offspring seem so desirable.

1. A man found a sort of quasi-immortality in the feeling that he would live over again in his children.

2. It was possible to any Jewish parents that they might be progenitors of the promised Messiah. Eunuchs were persons who, either by reason of physical infirmity or cruel custom, could not have children born to them. They were despised because of their infirmity. The prophet assures such that the new spiritual kingdom of Messiah would have room for them, and gather them, as well as the foreigners and strangers, into its embrace, and even put special honour on them if they were found men of faith. "The prophet's whole conception of the Gentiles in relation to the religion of Israel is unexampled in the Old Testament for its admirable width, depth, and grandeur." The term "dry tree" is still a phrase used in the East of a person of either sex who has no children. Roberts, writing of Hindoo customs, says, "People without posterity, of both sexes, are called dry trees; which, strictly speaking, means they are dead, having neither sap, nor leaves, nor fruit." Matthew Arnold says, "It must be remembered that, attached to a great Eastern court like that of Babylon, were a multitude of eunuchs, some of whom had perhaps adopted the religion of Israel. It is probable, also, that some of the Jewish youths were taken for the court service as eunuchs, and their countrymen would afterwards have been likely to abhor them on that account." These considerations will enable us the better to feel the exquisite tenderness and mercifulness of this passage. The general topic suggested is the gracious way in which the gospel kingdom embraces all the disabled. This may be illustrated from—






Christ's salvation is for man as man. In his kingdom there are found black and white, bond and free. Its gate is open to whosoever will.—R.T.

Isaiah 56:7

God's house of prayer for everybody.

"Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people." These words were quoted by the Lord Jesus when he drove out the shopkeepers who defiled the temple (see Matthew 21:13). The prophet declares that the "prayers and praises (those spiritual sacrifices) of devout Gentiles shall be as pleasing to God as those of the pious Jews, and no difference shall be made between them; for, though they are Gentiles by birth, yet through grace they shall be looked upon as the believing seed of faithful Abraham, and the praying seed of wrestling Jacob, for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision." God's house, the old temple, had been thought of as a place of sacrifices. The new temple, and above all the spiritual temple, the Christian temple, must be thought of as a place of prayer. This contrast gives the following topics.

I. THE OLD IDEA OF GOD'S HOUSE WAS A HOUSE OF SACRIFICE. The old worship was one of multiplied and varied rites and ceremonies. It was a round of bodily services; it was honouring God by the devotion to him of the things that men possessed. It had its deeper spiritual meanings, but the prominent things were exact obediences, minute services, gorgeous and impressive spectacles. The "shadow of good things to come."

II. THE NEW IDEA OF GOD'S HOUSE IS A HOUSE OF PRAYER. Prayer comprehensively indicates all forms of spiritual worship, of communion with the Divine Being. Illustrate by the essential differences between the Jewish temple and the Christian Church. Even the Jewish worship, when a synagogue could not be built, was held in a ðñïóåõîçå̔̀, or place of prayer. It was the work of the prophets to lift men's minds away from the more formal to the more spiritual associations of God's house. Explain the senses in which prayer may stand for the whole of Christian worship.

III. THE OLD IDEA FITTED GOD'S HOUSE FOR A LIMITED FEW. Just those to whom his particular directions about ritual and sacrifice had been given. If God has to be served by formal acts, they must be such as he requires and has duly explained to us. So God's house was of old exclusively for Jews.

IV. THE NEW IDEA FITS GOD'S HOUSE FOR EVERYBODY. Because prayer is just the great human commonplace. Man has been satirically, yet truthfully, called "a praying animal." Prayer is characteristic of him. He has uplooking eyes and a yearning heart. When men know the unutterable value of prayer, "then shall the nations from the east and from the west build the last great temple of all—the temple of an eternal religion—whose foundations shall be wide as the whole nature of man, and whose dome, reaching up to heaven, shall shelter and overshadow the world."—R.T.

Isaiah 56:10-12

Worthless shepherds.

"Dumb dogs;" "Greedy dogs;" "Shepherds that cannot understand." The prophet's messages are in the main addressed to the pious and believing among the exiles. But he knows well how many of them were living in self-indulgence and sin, and were not in the least likely to heed his words, and prepare themselves for the coming deliverance. The evils were especially manifest in the leading people, who ought to have been leaders in goodness to the people. Instead of this, they were neglecting their duty, and presenting a debasing example of self-indulgence, and even of covetousness. The term "watchmen' is used for chief men, princes, priests, prophets. These were utterly unable to comprehend or to meet the spiritual wants of the nation at this time, when God was so near, for carrying out his redeeming purpose. "The language here employed strikingly depicts the feelings of the voluptuous in every age."

I. THE HELPLESSNESS OF THE LEADERS AND TEACHERS OF THAT AGE. Observe the blending of figures suitable to the shepherd and to the shepherd's dog. Such a blending of figures is common in poetry and in Scripture. Inefficiency and sinful neglect are suggested in the terms

(1) blind;

(2) ignorant;

(3) dumb;

(4) loving to slumber;

(5) greedy;

(6) void of understanding;

(7) drunken.

II. THE REAL SECRET OF THEIR HELPLESSNESS. They thought of self. They did not live for their charge, but for themselves. "They all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter." And this is the root of evil in all who are placed in positions of responsibility, authority, and influence—all who are in any sense leaders and teachers. They must serve others, not get for self. Therefore the Apostle Paul pleads, saying, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Compare the plea of the noble Samuel, on giving up his life-ministry, "Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith?" (1 Samuel 12:3). In this way St. Paul counsels the young teacher Timothy, "Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." And a bishop is thus described, "Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous" (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:3). St. Paul complains of the teachers of his time, "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" (Philippians 2:21).—R.T.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 56". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.