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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Isaiah 57

Verses 1-21


Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 57:2

THE EARLY DEATH OF RIGHTEOUS MEN ACCOUNTED FOR. The Hebrews were given to expect that long life should, as a general rule, accompany righteousness (Exodus 20:12; 1 Kings 3:14; Psalms 91:16; Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:2, etc.); and under the Mosaical dispensation we must suppose that it did so. But there were exceptions to the rule. Wicked persecutors, like Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah, cut off the righteous ere they had seen half their days. So probably did Manasseh (2 Kings 24:3, 2 Kings 24:4). And God sometimes removed the righteous from earth by a natural death before they had grown old (Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:14). At the time of which Isaiah is here speaking there had been such removals; and of this he takes note, partly to rebuke those who lightly passed over the phenomenon, partly to justify God's ways to such as were perplexed by it.

Isaiah 57:1

The righteous perisheth. The word translated "perisheth" does not imply any violence; but the context implies a premature death. The righteous disappear—are taken from the earth before their natural time. Yet no man layeth it to heart; i.e. no one asks what it means—no one is disturbed, no one grieves. The general feeling was either one of indifference, or of relief at the departure of one whose life was a reproach to his neighbours. Merciful men; rather, godly men, or pious men (comp. Micah 7:2). Are taken away; literally, are gathered in. Compare the phrase so frequently used, "gathered to his fathers" (Genesis 49:29; Numbers 27:13; Jdg 2:10; 2 Kings 22:20; 2 Chronicles 34:28). From the evil; or, out of the way of the evil—in order that he may escape it, in order that he may escape the sight of the evil that was coming on Jerusalem soon after his decease.

Isaiah 57:2

He shall enter into peace. Not merely into "stillness" or "silence" (Psalms 115:17), but into "peace," or, as the word might be rendered (Cheyne), "a state of peace." There is, no doubt, primarily, "a contrast to the awful troubles which the survivors will have to encounter" (Hengstenberg); but perhaps this contrast is not all that is meant. The "peace" is positive rather than negative, or it would scarcely be a consolation to any one. They shall rest in their beds; or, upon their beds. This expression seems to imply a consciousness of rest, and so a certain enjoyment of it. Each one walking in his uprightness; rather, whosoever hath walked uprightly, or in a straight path (see Proverbs 4:25-27). The phrase is an equivalent for "the righteous" of Isaiah 57:1, and refers to the life on earth of those who have gone down into silence, not to their life after they have reached the silent shore. Of that life the evangelical prophet is not commissioned to give us any information.

Isaiah 57:3-14

ISRAEL SEVERELY REBUKED FOR IDOLATRY. Though Hezekiah had made a great reformation of religion when he ascended the throne(2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 29:3-19), and had done his best to put down idolatry, yet it was still dear to large numbers among the people, and was easily revived by Manasseh in the earlier portion of his reign (2 Chronicles 33:2-9). Isaiah now rebukes various kinds of idolatrous practices, and shows the vanity of them.

Isaiah 57:3

Draw near hither. Approach, to hear the reprimand which ye so well deserve. Ye sons of the sorceress; rather, of a sorceress. Judah herself, the nation, is the" sorceress" and "adulteress," whose individual children are summoned to draw near. She is an adulteress; for she has transgressed against the mystic marriage-tie which bound her to Jehovah (see Isaiah 54:5, and the comment ad lot.). She is also a "sorceress," since she has bewitched her children, and given herself up to magical as well as to idolatrous practices (2 Chronicles 33:6). Seed of the adulterer and the whore; rather, seed of an adulteress, and that thyself committest whoredom. The congenital tendency has broken out into act. The Israel addressed is as "adulterous," i.e. idolatrous, as the Israel of former times.

Isaiah 57:4

Against whom do ye sport yourselves? The idolatrous Israelites here addressed, no doubt, made a mock of the few righteous who were still living among them, and vexed their souls, as his fellow-towns-men did the soul of "just Lot" (2 Peter 2:7). They "made wide the mouth" at them, and "drew out the tongue" in derision (comp. Psalms 22:7; Psalms 35:21). The prophet asks, "Against whom do ye do this? Is it not rather against God, whose servants these men are, than against them?" Are ye not children of transgression? rather, are ye not, yourselves, children of apostasy? and therefore more truly objects of scorn than they? A seed of falsehood. Idols were viewed by Isaiah as "lies" (Isaiah 45:20; cf. Romans 1:25; Revelation 22:15). Idolaters were therefore "a seed of falsehood"—men who put their trust in a lie.

Isaiah 57:5

Inflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17; and see also 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6, etc.). The reference is, as Mr. Cheyne says, to the "orgiastic cults' in the sacred groves of Palestinian heathenism." The nature of these cults is well stated by Professor Dollinger: "At the spring festival, called by some the 'brand-feast,' by others that of torches, which was attended by streams of visitors from every country, huge trees were burnt, with the offerings suspended on them. Even children were sacrificed; they were put into a leathern bag, and thrown the whole height of the temple to the bottom, with the shocking expression that they were calves, and not children. In the fore-court stood two gigantic phalli. To the exciting din of drums, flutes, and inspired songs, the Galli cut themselves on the arms; and the effect of this act, and of the music accompanying it, was so strong upon mere spectators, that all their bodily and mental powers were thrown into a tumult of excitement; and they too, seized by the desire to lacerate themselves, deprived themselves of their manhood by means of potsherds lying ready for the purpose." Slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks. The sacrifice of their children to Moloch was largely practised by the Jews in the later period of the kingdom of Judah. It seems to have been originally introduced by the superstitious Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, who "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen" (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3). Suspended during the reign of Hezekiah, it was renewed under Manasseh, who followed the example of his grandfather in himself sacrificing one of his sons (2 Kings 21:6). Under the last three kings it prevailed to a very wide extent, and the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel are loud in their denunciations of it (Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 19:2-6; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 20:26; Ezekiel 23:37, etc.). Arguments have been brought forward to prove that the child was merely passed before a fire, or between two fires, and not burnt; but the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. The rite belonged especially to the worship of Chemosh and Moloch by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Kings 3:27; Micah 6:7), from whom it was adopted by the Israelites (2 Kings 17:7) and Jews. The sacrifice was supposed to be expiatory (Micah 6:7). In the later times of the Jewish kingdom the place of sacrifice was the valley of Hinnom, west and north of Jerusalem, which is overhung by rugged rocks.

Isaiah 57:6

Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion. Smooth stones, rounded by water-action, were among the objects worshipped by many Semitic peoples. Such stones were called βαίτυλοι or βαιτύλια—Bethels, or "houses of God "—and received libations of oil and wine from their worshippers. Stones of this kind, the prophet says, had now become "the portion" of Israel, instead of Jehovah (Psalms 119:57; comp. Psalms 16:5). To such objects they offered their "meat offerings" and "drink offerings." Should I receive comfort in these? Can I, Jehovah, be comforted, when my people indulge in such practices?

Isaiah 57:7

Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed. Instead of reserving thy marriage-bed for me, Jehovah (Isaiah 54:5), thou hast set it up on those "high places," with which the hill-tops of Judaea are everywhere crowned (see 1 Kings 14:23; 1Ki 16:4; 2 Chronicles 33:17; Eze 15:1-8 :16, etc.). Almost every hill-top is still, in a sense, held sacred in Palestine. Even thither wentest thou up, etc. (On the persistency of the Jews in maintaining the high-place worship, see 1 Kings 14:23; 1Ki 15:14; 1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 2Ki 14:4; 2 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 21:3, etc.) The best kings failed in their attempts to put it down

Isaiah 57:8

Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance. It has been usual to explain this of a removal from its proper place into an obscure position of the formulae which the Israelites were commanded in the Law to write on their doorposts and on their gates (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20). But, in the first place, there is no evidence that anciently these passages were understood literally, or that such inscriptions were ever set up; and secondly, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, they would have been more, rather than less, conspicuous in a new place. Probably, therefore, the "memorial" (zikkaron) of this place is some idolatrous symbol or emblem newly adopted by the Jews, and made use of as a sort of talisman. Many commentators think that it was of a phallic character (see Ezekiel 16:17). Discovered thyself; rather, uncovered thyself. Thou hast enlarged thy bed; i.e. multiplied thy idolatries. It is a feature of the idolatry of the time, that it was a mixture adopted from many quarters. It included Baal and Ashtoreth-worship from Phoenicia, Moloch-worship from Moab and Ammos, worship of the Queen of Heaven from Syria, high-place worship from the Canaanites, and stone-worship from their own remote Mesopotamian ancestors. And made thee a covenant with them; i.e. "a bargain for wages," that aid and protection should be rendered in return for worship and sacrifice. Where thou sawest it. The original is very obscure, but can scarcely have this meaning. It is certainly a distinct clause, and may perhaps be best translated, "thou sawest indecency."

Isaiah 57:9

And thou wentest to the king, Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne understand "the King of Assyria," and regard the verse as bringing forward a new subject of complaint: "Not only hast thou deserted me tot other gods, but thou trustest for aid, not to me, but to the Assyrian monarch." But there is no indication of the Jews having put any trust in Assyria after the reign of Ahaz, to which this chapter, by its position in the prophecy, cannot belong. Moreover, the King of Assyria is never called simply" the king." It is, therefore, better to regard "the king" as Moloch, whom the Jews of Isaiah's time certainly worshipped (see verse 5), and whose name was a mere dialectic variety of Melech, "king". Ointment … perfumes. Either bearing them as offerings, or herself perfumed with them, as was the practice of lewd women (Proverbs 7:17). And didst send thy messengers far off; i.e. to distant Moloch-shrines. And didst debase thyself even unto hell; i.e. "didst take on thee the yoke of a mean and grovelling superstition, which debased thee to the lowest point conceivable.'' There was nothing lower in religion than the worship of Moloch.

Isaiah 57:10

Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way. Judah had travelled far from God, seeking aid from all quarters, and might well be "wearied" with her quest; but she would not confess her weariness she would not say. There is no hope; she stirred up her remaining strength, and persisted in her course, not suffering herself to "grieve."

Isaiah 57:11

Of whom hast thou been afraid? Judah's abandonment of Jehovah and devotion to new deities was caused by fear—the fear of man, especially of Assyria. This induced them to seek for help in each new superstition that presented itself, and produced the enlarged syncretism which has been noticed in the comment on Isaiah 57:8. But how absurd to be driven by fear of man into offending God! That thou hast lied (see the last clause of Isaiah 57:4, with the comment). Have not I held my peace, etc.? i.e. "Is it not because I have for so long a time held my peace, that thou fearest me not?" God had for a long time suffered them to "go on still in their wickedness"—he had not interposed with any severe judgment; therefore they had ceased to fear him, and had feared men instead.

Isaiah 57:12

I will declare thy righteousness, etc. The Syriac Version has "my righteousness," which gives a much better sense, and is adopted by Bishop Lowth, Dr. Weir, and Mr. Cheyne. God will be silent no longer. He will" declare," or show forth, "his righteousness," by visiting Judah with some righteous punishment. Then it will be seen of what value are those things in which Judah has hitherto trusted. Her works—whether her "idols" are meant (Cheyne, Delitzsch), or her "deeds of iniquity" (Kay)—what will they profit? She will "cry" out under the rod of chastisement—cry to her false gods to save her.

Isaiah 57:13

When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee. Then, when she thus cries, let her mixture of gods (Isaiah 57:8), if they can, deliver her; they will fail utterly to do so. The wind—or rather, a breath—shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them. The idol gods shall be shown to be wholly futile, unable to save, incapable of rendering any the slightest assistance. But he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land. If, however, at that dread hour, there be any among the people who are not idolaters, but "trust in Jehovah," the crisis shall turn to their advantage. They shall "possess the land," i.e. have the promised land for their inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:33; Psalms 37:11-29, etc.); and inherit Zion, God's holy mountain.

Isaiah 57:14

And shall say; rather, and one said. The prophet hears a voice, saying, Cast ye up, cast ye up; i.e. make a highway to the holy mountain by heaping up material (Isaiah 62:10); and, having made it, remove every obstruction from the path of my (righteous) people. The voice is, probably, an angelic one.

Isaiah 57:15-21

A PROMISE OF SALVATION TO THE HUMBLE AND PENITENT, WITH A FURTHER THREAT AGAINST THE WICKED. The prophet, in this portion of his discourse, whereof "comfort" is the key-note (Isaiah 40:1), can never continue threatening long without relapsing into a tone of tenderness and pity. He now sets against his long denunciation (in Isaiah 57:3-12) an ample promise (Isaiah 57:15-19), and against his brief encouragement (in Isaiah 57:13, Isaiah 57:14) a short menace (Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21).

Isaiah 57:15

For. The ground of the promise of salvation in Isaiah 57:15 is God's combined might and mercy, which are now set forth. The high and lofty One (comp. Isaiah 6:1, where the same words are translated "high and lifted up"). In God's loftiness are included at once his exalted majesty and his almighty power. He is "high" in himself, transcending thought, and "lofty" or "lifted up" in that he is absolute Lord of his creatures, and therefore high above them. That inhabiteth eternity. So the LXX; κατοικῶν τὸν αἰῶνα But the Hebrew is less abstract, and would perhaps be best translated "that liveth eternally." I dwell in the high and holy place. Solomon's "heaven of heavens" (1 Kings 8:27), which, however, "cannot contain him;" St. Paul's "light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16); Zechariah's "holy habitation" (Zechariah 2:13). With him also that is of a contrite—literally, crushed—and humble spirit. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly "(Psalms 138:6); "He humbleth himself to consider the things that are in heaven and earth" (Psalms 113:6). He is not an Epicurean Deity, too far exalted above man to have any regard for him, or concern himself with man's welfare (see Job 22:12, Job 22:13). On the contrary, he condescends to "dwell with" man, only let man have a "humble" and "crushed," or "bruised," spirit. To revive the spirit of the humble. When God condescends to visit the contrite and humble spirit, the immediate effect is to comfort, console, revive. His presence is a well of life. springing up within the soul to everlasting life (John 4:14).

Isaiah 57:16

I will not contend for ever. God "will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever" (Psalms 103:9). If he were "extreme to mark what is done amiss," none could abide it (Psalms 130:3). He remits somewhat, therefore, from the claims of strict justice, and is content to take lower ground. Were it otherwise, man's spirit should fail before him. Man, i.e; would be utterly unable to justify himself, and would faint and fade away before the Divine fury. The souls which God has made would, one and all, perish. He, however, has not made them for this purpose, but that they should live (Deuteronomy 30:19; Ezekiel 18:31); and has therefore devised for them a way of salvation (see Isaiah 53:5-10).

Isaiah 57:17

For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth. Among the sins that angered God most against the Jews of the later kingdom of Judah was their covetousness—that desire of unjust gain which led them continually to oppress their weaker brethren, to remove their neighbours' landmarks, to harass them with lawsuits, to obtain from the courts corrupt judgments against them, and so to strip them of their inheritances (see Isaiah 1:15-23; Isaiah 3:5, Isaiah 3:14, Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 5:8, Isaiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:13; Ezekiel 33:31, etc.). This was far from being their only sin; but it was their besetting sin, and it led on to a number of others. It would seem even to have been the principal cause of those judicial murders with which they are so constantly taxed by the prophets (Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:21 : Isaiah 33:15; Isaiah 59:3; Jeremiah 2:34; Jeremiah 19:4; Ezekiel 7:23; Ezekiel 11:6; Hosea 4:2; Micah 3:10; Micah 7:2, etc.). Isaiah selects the sin of covetousness here, as typical or representative of the entire class of Judah's besetting sins—the most striking indication of that alienation of their hearts from God, which constituted their real guilt, and was the true cause of their punishment. And smote him. The form of the verb marks repeated action. God gave Judah many warning's before the final catastrophe. He punished Judah by the hand of Sargon, by that of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14-16), by that of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11), by that of Pharaoh-Necho (2 Chronicles 35:20-24), by that of the Syrians, the Moabites and the Ammonites (2 Kings 24:2), and others, during the hundred and forty years which intervened between the accession of Hezekiah and the completion of the Captivity. I hid me (comp. Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 54:8).

Isaiah 57:18

I have seen his ways, and will heal him. God had seen the wanderings of his people in perverse ways, and his heart had been touched with pity thereat. The good Shepherd follows and recalls the wanderers of the flock. When they have suffered hurt he "heals" them. He is willing to "lead" them also—to go before them, and show them the way that they should walk in (Isaiah 49:10; Ezekiel 34:11-16), and "restore comforts" to them, especially to such of them as have begun to "mourn" over their perversity.

Isaiah 57:19

I create the fruit of the lips; literally, creating the fruit of the lips. The clause is best attached to the preceding verse. By his tender treatment of the wanderers, God brings forth fruit from their lips in the shape of praise and thanksgiving. Peace, peace; or, perfect peace, as in Isaiah 26:3. Judah's prophets were apt to say to her, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Ezekiel 13:10). Isaiah is now commissioned to give the promise from the mouth of God (comp. John 14:27; John 20:21, John 20:26). To him that is far off, and to him that is near; i.e. either "to both the Gentiles and the Jews," or "to both the scattered members of the Jewish body" (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 43:5, Isaiah 43:6) "and the collected nation in Canaan."

Isaiah 57:20

The wicked are like the troubled sea. A striking metaphor, but one which occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and once only in the New (Jude 1:13). The sea's restless action well expresses the unquiet of the wicked; and the mud and mire that it casts up resembles their evil thoughts and evil deeds. "There is no peace" for such persons, either bodily or spiritual, either in this world or the world to come.

Isaiah 57:21

Comp. Isaiah 48:22, where the prophet ends another section of this part of his work with almost the same words.


Isaiah 57:14

The ministry of angels.

Without intruding it on the reader's attention, Isaiah is continually implying the interest which angels take in all God's dealings with his Church, and the assistance which they render. Voices fill the heavenly sphere around him and about him, which can only be angelic utterances, and from time to time he records the sayings. Sometimes he records them openly as angelic; e.g. the seraph's words, when he took the live coal from the altar in the court of heaven, and therewith touched the prophet's lips (Isaiah 6:7). But more often he names no speaker, but simply gives the words or introduces them impersonally with the phrase, "and one said" (see Isaiah 21:11; Isaiah 26:2; Isaiah 40:6, etc.). It is sometimes said that the Jews first learnt to believe in the existence of angels from the Babylonians. But Isaiah's writings furnish a proof, if proof were needed, that this was not so. Isaiah shows us angels—

1. AS MINISTRANT TO GOD IS HEAVEN. Above the throne of God in heaven were seen by Isaiah, in vision, a number of seraphim, or winged creatures of the angelic class, attendant upon the great King, and ready at each moment to do his pleasure (Isaiah 6:2). They "stood," to show respect and reverence; they had two of their wings outspread, to show readiness to fly at once whithersoever God should send them; they had two others veiling their faces, to indicate a sense of their unworthiness to look on the face of the Almighty. As they stood, they praised God, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3). The scene drawn reminds us of St. John's vision in Patmos (Revelation 4:1-11), and also, to some extent, of the vision of Miciah the son of Imlah, in the First Book of Kings (1 Kings 22:19-22). The teaching of all these passages is consentient. God has always attendant upon him, in the courts of heaven, angelic beings of varied powers and capacities, who stand before him in adoration, and at the same time are eager to go whithersoever he may send them, and carry into effect his purposes.

II. AS DOING SERVICE TO MEN ON EARTH. Angels are represented by Isaiah as interested in the life of God's faithful ones, as watching God's dealings with them, and occasionally showing their sympathy. Christians are expressly taught that all angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Isaiah seems to have divined their functions in this respect. He "sees indeed through a glass darkly," and not yet "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12); but still he not obscurely intimates from time to time their close relationship to man.. God places them upon the wails of the new Jerusalem to watch (Isaiah 62:6). They stand there, and "take no rest." They are Jehovah's "remembrancers," not reminding him of human sin or human shortcomings, but of his promises to his people, and of their need that he should give them succour (see Mr. Cheyne on Isaiah 62:6). It is, perhaps, a cry of the angels that rings out in the "splendid apostrophe," "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old" (Isaiah 51:9). Angels exchange "cries" when the promise of Christ's coming is given (Isaiah 40:6-8). Angels are interested in a path being made by which the faithful ones may reach God's holy city (Isaiah 57:14). Angels call on their fellows to open to the saints the gates of heaven (Isaiah 26:2). The dwellers in the empyrean are joined with the believers on earth in the bonds of charity and love, and form with them one community in the city of the living God (Isaiah 62:6; comp. Hebrews 12:22-24).

Isaiah 57:15

The humility of God.

An ancient Jewish writer says, "Wherever the Scripture bears witness to the Divine mightiness, it brings out side by side with it the Divine humbleness" ('Megilla,' 31, a); and this is nowhere more strikingly manifested than m the present passage. God "dwells in the high and holy place"—in the most exalted sphere to which human thought can possibly mount; and yet at the same time he dwells with the human spirit that is humble and crushed. As Delitzsch says, "The heaven of heavens is not too great for him, and a human heart is not too small for him, to dwell in." He who sits upon the cherubim, and hears the seraphim praise him with ceaseless voice, does not scorn also to "dwell among the sighs of a poor human soul." Note, in connection with this theme—

I. THAT ALL GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL DEALINGS WITH THE THINGS THAT HE HAS CREATED ARE A CONDESCENSION. It is necessary that he should "humble himself" even to "behold the things which are in heaven and earth" (Psalms 113:5). He is infinitely above these things—their "goodness extendeth not to him" (Psalms 16:2). All contact with them is contact of the higher with the lower, and involves necessarily the higher stooping from his high estate. The distance between him and the highest of the angels is an infinite distance. His condescending to accept the praises of the angels is an infinite condescension.

II. THAT IT IS A GREATER CONDESCENSION FOR GOD TO HAVE DEALINGS WITH MEN THAN WITH ANGELS. Angels are pure, at any rate, from the taint of sin. God may "tax them with folly" (Job 4:12), but he does not tax them with sin. There is no barrier of iniquity or impurity between God and the lowest angel. But with man the case is different. Man is "very far gone from original righteousness." He has corrupted his way before God. The best man "has sinned, and come short of God's glory" (Romans 3:23). "What then is man, that God should be mindful of him? or the son of man, that he should visit him?" (Psalms 8:4). It is an extraordinary condescension and humility that God should bring himself down to the level of man, hold communion with him, "dwell" with him, "heal" him. Yet he does this. Although his throne is in heaven, "yet his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men" (Psalms 11:4). He "looks down from heaven upon them" (Psalms 14:2). "From the place of his habitation he beholdeth all the dwellers on the earth" (Psalms 33:14). The gratitude of men should correspond to the condescension of God.


Isaiah 57:3-10

Pictures of idolatry.

The idolaters are summoned to hear the judgment upon them. They are characterized as "sons of a sorceress, seed of an adulterer." The source of all idolatry is unfaithfulness to God regarded as the Husband of his people (Ezekiel 16:44, Ezekiel 16:45). Yet, in their pride, these idolaters make sport of and scoff at the true servants of God.

I. THE RITES OF IDOLATRY. There were enthusiastic orgies in the sacred groves of oak and in the gardens (Isaiah 1:29; Ezekiel 6:13; Hosea 4:13). There were sacrifices of children to Moloch. There were fetish-stones, which were anointed with oil, and these continued to be devoted to heathen uses. And Israel, having by covenant a "portion," or property, so to speak, in God, has exchanged this for the senseless stones; and to these food-offerings are made. The pictures of Phoenician, Israelitish, and Greek superstitions are in this respect much the same. Jehovah, in that jealousy which is the expression of a holy love, is deeply grieved by these things.

II. THE PROFLIGACY OF IDOLATRY. On the high hills shrines were erected, and tombs are still seen upon them, overshadowed by the tree on which votive offerings hang. Saints or prophets have replaced the old gods. Here idolatrous symbols were set up. And idolatry polluting politics, the people negotiated and coquetted with heathen powers, and humbled themselves to the lowest servility. And yet these negotiations and journeys had been in vain. For all that, the attempts had been renewed. "It is a striking illustration of men seeking happiness away from God. They wander from object to object; become weary in the pursuit, yet do not renounce it; still cling to hope, though often repulsed; though the world gives them no permanent comfort, though wealth, ambition, and gaiety, all fail of imparting happiness,—yet they do not give up the pursuit in despair. The world is still pursued with just as little success, with continually augmenting evidence that it cannot satisfy the desires of the immortal soul, with just as much reluctance to seek permanent bliss in God."

III. DIVINE REMONSTRANCE. The tone is one of gentleness and softness. "Who is there so strong and so terrible as to justify thee in thy infidelity to Jehovah? None." Yet there may be some excuse for them in his long silence. Passed over again and again, it might seem that God had forgotten to be gracious—that they were hidden from him. But now he will draw near again: "The speech of mingled mercy and judgment shall work more effectually on the heart" (cf Isaiah 46:13; Psalms 22:31; Psalms 98:2). Or the words may be taken ironically—it depends on whether we read "my righteousness" or "thy righteousness." In the coming trial, no help but Jehovah's will avail thee. "Her medley of gods" will not deliver her—the Pantheon of various divinations set up by her (cf. Micah 1:7). The wind shall carry them off like all dwellings and defences of merely human structure (cf. Matthew 7:26, Matthew 7:27).

IV. ETERNAL ASSURANCE. "To take refuge in Jehovah," in the Eternal, is the only safety, the only guarantee of stability and possession, amidst the flux and change of things. To say that they shall "possess the land" is to say, according to the manner of the Hebrew, everything that denotes favour for this life (Isaiah 49:8; Psalms 37:11, Psalms 37:29; cf. Matthew 5:5; Psalms 69:35, Psalms 69:36). And to "inherit the holy mountain" is to enter upon all spiritual privileges and joys—"as great as if they had possession of a portion of the mount on which the temple was built, and were permitted to dwell there." And then mysterious voices are heard, hinting that all obstacles shall be removed from the path of those who trust in God. The language is suitable to the return from exile, as if persons should go before them, crying, "Cast up!" So before a pacha the labourers go and remove stones out of the way, with the cry," Cast up the way; remove the stones!" (cf. Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 62:10). He who places obstacles in the path (Jeremiah 6:21) is he who gives command in his own time for their removal. War and peace, welfare and hindrances to welfare, are from the same hand.—J.

Isaiah 57:15-21

The character of Jehovah

I. HIS EXALTATION. "High and holy:" high because holy, exalted far above the meanness of human thoughts and the impurity of human ways. Far above creatures of all species and all ranks, it is needless further to designate him. He is the Incomparable One. He dwells in eternity (cf. Isaiah 9:6). His Name is "the Holy One" (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 30:11; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3, Isaiah 43:8; Isaiah 47:4); his place the high and holy place, or temple (Isaiah 6:1).

II. HIS CONDESCENSION "Wherever the Scripture bears witness to the Divine mightiness, it brings out side by side with it the Divine humbleness (Deuteronomy 10:17, Deuteronomy 10:18; Isaiah 57:15; Psalms 68:4, Psalms 68:5). It is not an Epicurean view of God (Acts 17:18), nor the Gnostic view that God had left the world to the management of inferior beings, by himself created. Though illimitable and unapproachable, he delights to make his abode with men. "He cannot direct the affairs of his people from without. He desires to be enthroned in their hearts." He is with them that are of a contrite, or crushed, spirit—souls bowed down with a sense of sin and unworthiness (Psalms 34:18; Psalms 138:6), to make alive their spirit, to impart strength and comfort, even as genial rains and dews fall upon the drooping plant. Such a lowly state of mind can only have been produced by affliction (Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 65:14;Isaiah 66:2; Psalms 34:18; Psalms 147:2, Psalms 147:3).

III. HIS FAITHFULNESS AND LOVE. He will not be angry with his people for ever (Psalms 103:9). The soul could not hold out in a prolonged contention with its Maker. Its power must fail; it must sink into destruction. "If we are God's children, we are safe. We may suffer much and long. We may suffer so much, it may seem scarce possible we should endure more. But he knows how much we can bear, and will lighten the burden and remove the load" (Psa 128:1-6 :38, 39). Why has he smitten them at all? It is because of their sin. Unjust gain is put for sin in general (cf. Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 5:1; Ezekiel 33:31; Psalms 119:36), even, as in other places, the shedding of blood, He has seen their ways, both of sin and aberration, of suffering and amendment. Having hidden himself, he will now interpose to heal their wounds, and to guide them by a clearer path (Isaiah 58:11). (For sin as disease, and pardon as healing, cf. Jeremiah 33:6; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 41:4; Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 17:4; 53: Jeremiah 14:4.) And as the result of all this, he creates the "fruit of the lips" (cf. Hosea 14:2), i.e. praise and thanksgiving; of which the subject would be peace (cf. Ephesians 2:14-17) to the near and remote, Jew and Gentile, or with reference to the holy city; no degree of remoteness was to disqualify true Israelites from the enjoyment of the promise.

IV. THE CONTRAST. The impure and the unpardoned alone shall know no peace. Those who are in a state of alienation from Jehovah shall be, on the contrary, like the restless, ever-shifting sea (Jude 1:13; cf. Ovid, 'Tristia,' 1.10. 33). They have no fixed happiness, no substantial peace; a rage of passion ever ferments within them; past guilt casts up its mire in memory; feat's of the future torment. How different from the scene where "the good man meets his fate, quite in the verge of heaven"!

So fades a summer cloud away;

So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;

So gently shuts the eye of day;

So dies a wave along the shore.



Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 57:2

Three pictures of the human.

Our attention is called to—

I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN GOODNESS. A good man is represented as "the righteous," as "the merciful," as one who "walketh in uprightness." These characterizations include:

1. The fear of God—reverence for his Name, the worship of his Divine Spirit, the recognition of his righteous claims, a supreme regard for his holy will.

2. The love of man—a practical acknowledgment of his claims on our sympathy and our succour, a hearty and practical desire to promote his well-being.

3. The regulation of daily life, in all stations and spheres, by the laws of truth, purity, honesty, sobriety. A righteous, merciful, and upright man is one who will be making an honest and earnest endeavour to realize all this in his character and his career. Nothing less will satisfy his aspiration.

II. A PICTURE OF HUMAN THOUGHTLESSNESS. "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart." When a community—nation or Church—has not been living and walking in the light of the Lord, it becomes dull of apprehension, spiritually blind, incapable of estimating the true character of events.

1. It fails to appreciate the worth of one good man's life. What an incalculable blessing a single true, pure, and holy life may be, and indeed must be! and what a fountain of good is dried up when one who leads such a life is taken away! It is a bad time, indicative of evil and prophetic of decline and death, when human worth is disregarded.

2. It fails to feel the injury and wrong done by arbitrary violence; it ought to resent it with keenest indignation, and to take vigorous steps to arrest and remove it.

3. It fails to recognize a valuable mitigation: "None considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come." It is natural enough for men to wish to go on into the future, that they may see what is coming, and that they may help to shape the event; but the wise and thoughtful will consider that there may be a future impending from which they would earnestly pray God to save them. It was not a threat, but a promise, sent to Josiah, "I will gather thee to thy fathers … neither shall thine eyes see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" (2 Kings 22:20). Many are they who have outlived the period of prosperity and peace, to whom an earlier death would have been a happier lot. We cannot be sure that a sudden and even (what we call)a premature death may not be a most merciful removal from intolerable pain, or from overwhelming temptation, or from grievous burdens and sorrows. We sing, "Our times are in thy hand," and we do well to continue, "O God, we wish them there."

III. A PICTURE OF HUMAN REPOSE. "He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds." From the tumult and the strain, from the battle and the burden of life, even the rest of the grave is welcome. But how much more welcome to the weary spirit is that rest which Jesus Christ has revealed, and which remaineth for the people of God!—rest in the home, in the likeness, in the glory, in the untiring service of the ascended Saviour.—C.

Isaiah 57:10

Weariness in sinful error.

Whether the guilty error of Israel consisted in its departure into idolatry, or in its having recourse to the arm of flesh instead of to the power of its Divine Redeemer, we reach the same conclusion, viz.—

I. THAT SIN GOES TO TEDIOUS LENGTHS IN ITS WANDERING FROM GOD. It is "wearied in the greatness of its way." Whatever may be the particular course which iniquity may take—whether it moves in the direction of disbelief, or of covetousness, or of any one of the vices, or of worldliness—it goes far enough to find that the path of sinful error is a long and tedious road, that it is one in which the soul finds no lasting satisfaction, that there continually recurs a sense of want and spiritual craving, a hungering of the heart for that which is not supplied. Their name is legion who find their own chosen course of sin a weary round, an unsatisfying pursuit.

II. THAT, SPITE OF ITS OWN WEARINESS, ST PERSISTS IN' ITS UNHALLOWED PATH. It is weary enough, yet it "says not, There is no hope." It finds just enough to maintain some kind of existence—"the life of thine hand"—to go on without being altogether changed and restored. Are there not multitudes of men who are dragging on a weary life, profoundly dissatisfied with what they are in themselves and what they are accomplishing, and yet allowing themselves to continue in their guilty course? The path of sin is a very pitiable one; it is no wonder—

III. THAT IT CALLS DOWN A STRONG DIVINE REPROACH. (Isaiah 57:11.) God reproaches his erring children:

1. That they have given themselves up to that which is utterly unworthy of their devotion: "Whom hast thou feared?"

2. That they have neglected the strong claims he has on their worship and service—he who has laid them under such deep obligations and has held out to them such glorious prospects; "Hast not remembered me." Nor must it be forgotten—

IV. THAT GOD'S SILENCE, AS WELL AS HIS SPEECH, IS AN ARGUMENT FOR RETURN. "Have not 1 held my peace … and thou fearest me not?"

1. God's silence is strangely and grievously misinterpreted (Psalm l. 21).

2. Instead of making it an encouragement to sin, it ought to be employed as an opportunity for repentance. It is a Divine pause, in order that, while it lasts, the guilty may reconsider and return.

3. God's silence is temporary; it is imposed on himself by a strong and merciful restraint. But it cannot be very long continued; the interests of righteousness demand that it shall be broken. Let not the impenitent presume—

"For tho' mercy be kind and its patience endure,
To the path of repentance it seeks to allure,
And they who are deaf to its voice may be sure

That God will not always be silent.

Oh, Time brings the hour—we shall soon all be there—
When the Judge on his judgment-throne shall appear,
And his sentence of mercy or wrath shall declare,

And then win no longer be silent."


Isaiah 57:12, Isaiah 57:13

The fate of folly and the reward of wisdom.

The Divine One whom Israel has so grievously wronged (Isaiah 57:4-9) intimates (Isaiah 57:12) that he will make known to his people the results of their apostasy from him; he will tell them "how unprofitable are their works," how suicidal is their policy; he will tell them also how great is the reward of the wise—of those who abide in his service.

I. THE BITTER FATE OF THE UNGODLY. Departing from God, they have no resort but that which they find in their own poor divinities, in those "heaps of idols" whose power is blown away with the first breath of adversity; they may cry to these wretched images, but they will meet with no response. This will prove the portion of the ungodly. in every age: the powers to which, in God's absence, they have recourse will fail them utterly in their time of need; they may be numerous, they may be "companies," they may be highly esteemed, but they will certainly tail when the hour of trial arrives. Worldly wealth, a great reputation, troops of friends, high social position, varied attainments, strength of bodily constitution,—any one or all of these, or other resources besides these, may be possessed, but they will ignominiously fail in the hour of supreme necessity; they will not, for they cannot, deliver a human soul in its deepest troubles, in its darkest hours; they will be as impotent as "the chaff which the wind driveth away." "Vain things for safety" are they all. The soul of man has wants which strike deeper and which rise higher than any of them can reach.

II. THE BLESSED HERITAGE OF THE GODLY. "He that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land." To him may come, will come, hours of darkness, of loss, of trial; but he has a stay and a resource in God his Father, in Jesus Christ his unfailing Friend, which will make him blessed at every point of his pilgrimage, in every stage of his career. For him will be:

1. The rest of heart which comes with a consciousness of spiritual integrity.

2. Growth in all that is good and wise.

3. The happiness of heart which is found in the worship of God: "He shall inherit my holy mountain."

4. The joy of sacred service, of rendering succour, of imparting strength to the weak and comfort to the sad, of rescuing and reinstating the fallen and despairing.

5. The hope of the heavenly inheritance.—C.

Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 57:16

The greatness of God and the hope of the humble.

The prophet presents us with a most noble contrast as he draws for us the surpassing greatness of the infinite God, and then pictures him to us as resident in a humble human soul—

I. THE EXCEEDING GREATNESS OF GOD. And this whether we have regard to

(1) the duration of his existence,—the fact that he "inhabits eternity," that he is "from everlasting to everlasting;" or to

(2) his position in the universe,he is the "high and lofty One," King of kings, Lord of lords, immeasurably removed in his majesty and authority above the highest and mightiest of his creatures; or to

(3) his character,"his Name is Holy." This name of holiness is indicative of all moral excellence, and reminds us that God is he in whom all goodness of every kind whatsoever has its residence and its source. So surpassingly great, in all respects, is he whom we worship, with whom we have everything to do.

II. THE HOPE OF THE HUMBLE IN REGARD TO HIM. We naturally ask—What hope is there that finite and guilty men can ever be brought into a close relationship with this infinite and holy God? what chance is there of anything like happy fellowship with him? Our text provides the answer.

1. The conclusion to which our philosophy and our experience point us—this is to a hopeless separation from him. Our human thought (see Isaiah 55:8) would lead, has continually led, to the conclusion that God would dwell apart from man in some remote, select region of illimitable space, not concerning himself with creatures so small and insignificant as we are. Our experience of guilt would lead us to the conclusion that we are hopelessly barred from his presence, and that those who have grieved and wronged him, as we have done, must be content to be banished for ever from his royal presence. But against this reasoning and this instinctive dread we have to place:

2. The fact which Divine revelation establishes; "with him also [does God dwell] who is of a contrite and humble spirit." It is a well-established fact, built on sure premises, on words which are stronger than the hills and the skies (Matthew 24:35), that God abides with all penitent souls, manifesting himself to them as their Father and their Friend, inviting their trust, their love, their joy in himself and in his near presence (see text; Isaiah 66:2; Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17; Psalms 138:6; Matthew 5:3; Matthew 18:4; 1 Peter 5:5).

3. The explanation of this fact lies in two Divine attributes:

(1) His mercy. The merciful Father desires to restore and "to revive" the heart that has been crushed under a weight of sin. He wounds, but it is in order that he may heal. He desires to see, and he promotes both by word and action, the contrition of spirit which appropriately follows a sinful deed or a guilty course; then the gracious and pitiful Lord extends his Divine mercy, and he heals the broken heart, restoring to it "the joy of his salvation," the blessedness of "the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."

(2) His considerateness. "I will not contend for ever … for the spirit should fail before me," etc. We have to do with a considerate Father, who "knows our frame, and who remembers that we are dust;" with a considerate Saviour, who remembers that the spirit is willing though the flesh be weak; with One who has a gracious forbearance in his chiding, lest too severe a sentence should crush the spirit he only means to bend and bless. We can hardly take too humble a view of ourselves, of the heinousness of our guilt and of the imperfection of our service; but our hope is this—we have to deal with a merciful and considerate Lord, and his friendliness toward us may be measured by the lowliness of the view we are taking of ourselves. Well may the proud of heart be afraid, for the heaviest penalties impend above their head; but let the humble-hearted be full of hope, for God is with them, and he will dwell in them, making their hearts his home.—C.

Isaiah 57:17-21

The course of the soul.

These words of Isaiah indicate the course which the human spirit often takes in its downward and upward path. We have—

I. THE ESSENCE OF INIQUITYTHIS IS SELFISHNESS. "The iniquity of his selfishness," as it may be rendered. Whether it takes the specific form of rapacity, of unholy ambition, of self-indulgence or of any other special sin, you may trace iniquity home to the evil spirit of selfishness—the withholding from God, for self, of that which is due to him. Those who are transgressing none of the ten commandments in the letter, but are yet living to themselves, are living in iniquity.

II. DIVINE DISPLEASURE AND REBUKE. "I was wroth and smote him: I hid me." Our wilful departure from God and refusal of our hearts and lives excite his profound displeasure, his sacred grief—call forth his parental wrath and displeasure. In a very solemn sense "God is angry with the wicked;" they abide under his "wrath." He is compelled to withhold from them the light of his countenance; he rebukes them; he sends the penalty which is due to sin, and Which is appropriate to the particular sin which is being committed. He hides his face; he withdraws his blessing; he causes pain, disappointment, sorrow, to visit the doer, to afflict the heart.

III. HUMAN RESENTMENT AND INCREASED REBELLIOUSNESS OF SPIRIT. "He went on frowardly in the way of his heart." That which is intended to draw near, sometimes drives away. Godly sorrow works repentance; but sorrow, taken ill and treated wrongly, works death. If the heat does not melt, it hardens.

IV. THE VICTORY OF DIVINE LOVE. Still, in spite of a growing waywardness, the pity of God pursues the wandering soul. And though deceived and led astray, man travels far and wanders long, God "sees his ways;" he stretches forth the hand of power and grace, and he "heals him;" he leads him home and comforts him with the priceless blessings which are under the Father's roof. These blessings are:

1. Reconciliation: the being spiritually healed, being restored to God after the saddest of all separations—spiritual distance from God.

2. Peace: peace offered and granted to those who were more distant and also to those less far removed from truth and righteousness and purity—the peace of conscious acceptance.

3. Praise: "the fruit of the lips," joyful ascription unto him that redeemed and restored; the daily song of gratitude that wells up from a heart filled with gratitude and love.

V. A POWERFUL INCENTIVE TO RETURN. Perhaps it may be taken as one "fruit of the lips" that the healed and restored soul now speaks for God to men; now becomes his spokesman; now teaches transgressors his way (Psalms 51:12, Psalms 51:13). And one convincing and impressive truth which a home-brought wanderer can enforce better than an unfallen angel is the hardness of the transgressor's road, the weariness of the way to him who is leaving God for the far country, the restlessness of a heart that is separated from its Divine Source and Friend; the truth that the mirth of unhallowed enjoyment is very shallow and short-lived, that fast on the heels of guilty pleasure come pursuing pain of body and misery of soul; the fact that there is no peace to the wicked, no lasting joy to any one who has abandoned the fountain of living waters for the broken cisterns of earth and time. The plaintive cry which comes from the aching hearts and troubled lives of guilt is answered by one voice alone—by that of him who stands before all generations of men, and says, in the accents of sweet and sovereign pity "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."—C.


Isaiah 57:1

Mercy and wrath in the death of the righteous.

Possibly the good king -Josiah is here prophetically referred to. His untimely death seems a strange dispensation of Providence even to us now. Josiah's case may be taken as illustrating the general truth which is thus stated by Bishop Wordsworth: "Good and merciful men, who are taken away in the midst of their efforts to do good in their generation, and whose endeavours appear to be disowned by God, and to be blighted and withered by him, may perhaps seem to men to be cut off by a violent stroke of Divine indignation, and may be mourned by some as having died an untimely death; but the truth is—which these Scriptures reveal—they are gently gathered by God in love, and are in peace." The terms used have precise significations. The "righteous" means "those who walk straight, and stand upright." An honoured pastor lay upon his dying bed, and a member of his congregation stood beside it, whose business ways were known to be somewhat shifty. Beckoning him to bend down close to him, the pastor solemnly said these few, but searching, words, "William, go straight!" "Merciful men" are men of kindness; gracious men, who, having themselves felt the loving-kindness of God, deal kindly with their fellow-men.

I. MERCY IS SHOWN IN SPARING THE RIGHTEOUS FROM COMING CALAMITIES. We have often to notice how graciously the death of our friends is timed. At first we wonder why they were taken just then, but the lapse of a few months satisfies us that they were taken "from the evil to come." The widow is removed before her little estate is wrecked by some inefficient or unfaithful trustee. The honorable business man is gathered in before some wrong-doer brings disgrace on his firm which would have broken his heart. Methuselah died the year before the Flood; Augustine a little before the sacking of Hippo. Pareus just before the taking of Heidelberg; Luther a little before the wars broke out in Germany. We have known beloved ones who all their life long prayed that they might not be spared to become troublesome to anybody, and mercy called them away almost suddenly, ere bodily powers began to decay. Most graciously the time, the place, the manner, of our exit from earth are divinely arranged; and in this matter too we may perfectly trust.

II. WRATH IS SHOWN IN REMOVING THE BARRIERS TO ONCOMING JUDGMENTS. This is one point which the prophet would enforce. The death of good men should be regarded as a sign that calamity is at hand. Righteousness can held back judgment, as is seen in Abraham's pleading for Sodom. Prayers and intercessions can hold back judgment. Then the removal of the righteous men and the intercessors removes barriers and lets free the flood.—R.T.

Isaiah 57:4

Insult of good men is insult of God.

"The righteous dies, and is at rest; but ye, what will ye make at last of your derision of the righteous, and of the follies and idolatries wherein ye trust? Nothing." Matthew Henry says, "Mocking the messengers of the Lord was Jerusalem's measure-filling sin; for what was done to them God took as done to himself. When they were reproved for their sins, and threatened with the judgments of God, they ridiculed the Word of God with the rudest and most indecent gestures and expressions of disdain. They sported themselves and made themselves merry with that which should have made them serious, and under which they should have humbled themselves. They made wry mouths at the prophets, and drew out the tongue, contrary to all the laws of good breeding; nor did they treat God's servants with the common civility with which they would have treated a gentleman's servant that had been sent to them on an errand." Illustrations may be found in the treatment of Isaiah (see Isaiah 28:7-15); of Jeremiah; and, above all, by the insults offered to the Lord Jesus by the men of Jerusalem. The "wide mouth" and the "drawn-out tongue," are the natural symbols of derision (see Psalms 35:21). We may note some of the conditions under which the messengers of God are likely to be insulted and misunderstood.

I. WHEN THEY DO NOT COME IN THE REGULAR AND RECOGNIZED ORDER. God has his order of ministrants in every age, and his ordinary messages to men may be expected to come through them: patriarchs in one age, priests in another, prophets in yet another, clergy in still another. And all due honour should be put on the Divine order for the particular time. But God has always held the right of sending messengers outside the order, as he sends comets into our solar system, and there is as real a law for the sending of seemingly erratic messengers as of the seemingly erratic comets. But there is always the disposition in those who belong to the order, and the attaches of the order, to reject the outside man. Compare our Lord's disciples saying to the Master," We found one teaching in thy Name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us." The questions concerning any apparent messenger from God, which we ought to ask, are these—Will his work bear the test of God's revealed Word? And does God seal his work with his Divine benediction? To reject any man's work which can stand this dual test is to insult God, whose messenger he certainly is.

II. WHEN THERE ARE ODDITIES IN THE MAN HIMSELF OR IN THE MANNER OF DELIVERING HIS MESSAGE. Just as we have established the notion that there must be an "order" through whom Divine messages alone can come, so we have convinced ourselves that there are particular styles and methods in which alone Divine messages do come. So if a message is not to pattern, we think we are right in rejecting it. The personal peculiarities of a messenger may touch the humorous faculty, and so close men's minds and hearts against the reception of the message. But this is to insult the messenger, and in him the God who chose him and sent him with the message. We have not to ask what a man is; but we have to ask—Is he of God? If he is, we must hear him.

III. WHEN THE MESSENGER MAKES SEVERE DEMANDS. Illustrate from Jonah at Nineveh. No doubt there were many who scorned him on this ground. Also see the demand of Savonarola which led to the great burning in the market-place of Florence. Many of the wilder spirits of Florence did jeer at him. Men in every age have preferred the prophets who prophesied smooth and soft things; and they have always been disposed to reject the prophets who had to do the nobler and more necessary work of prophesying rough things and hard things. Exactly what our over-civilized generation needs is some prophet of God, who will tell us strongly, plainly, sternly, what God would have us do. But of this we may be quite sure, even in this enlightened nineteenth century, such a prophet and teacher would have a hard time of it.

IV. WHEN THE MESSAGE GOES AGAINST THE FASHION OF THE AGE. For there are fashions in thinking and religion, as well as in manners and dress. And none of us like to be out of the thinking or religious fashion. But Fashions may become slavery to us, and degrade us as slavery always does. Let a man of God come and show us the evils into which fashions—mental and religious—have brought us, and we hate the man; we cry out against him, we are all alarm, because we have deluded ourselves with the notion that fashion is synonymous with truth. Urge that we are bound to test every public witness, and decide for ourselves whether he is of God. If he is, then to neglect his message is to sin against God, and to insult him is to insult God.—R.T.

Isaiah 57:6

The worship of stones.

"In the smooth stones of the valley is thy portion … even to them hast thou poured out drink offerings." A good deal of information is at command on this subject, Illustrative matter will be found in Kitto's 'Daily Bible Illustrations,' vol. 'Isaiah,' p. 209. Matthew Arnold sums up the matter in the following note: "The worship of stones is a very early form of idolatry, and originated, probably, in the veneration paid to meteoric stones—stones which, as the people said, 'fell down from heaven.' But the worship extended to other stones also. Traces of this worship occur in Genesis, in Jacob's consecration of the stones in his passage by Bethel (Genesis 28:18). The Greeks, too, had this stone-worship. 'In the earlier times,' says the Greek traveller Pausanias, 'all the Greeks worshipped, in place of images of the gods, undressed stones.' We find the name Baetylia given to these stones, and it has even been conjectured that this name comes from Bethel." Smooth stones (named salagrams), chiefly from the river Gandaki, are treated as sacred objects by the Vaishnavas all over North India. Dr. Turner writes, "I have several' smooth stones of the stream' from the New Hebrides, which were used as idols, and have heard of precisely similar stones being used in other parts of the Pacific." At Inniskea, off the coast of Mayo, a stone, carefully kept wrapped up in flannel, used to be brought out at certain periods to be adored; and when a storm arises, this god is supplicated to send a wreck on their coast! It is narrated that there is a stone set up to the south of St. Columba's Church, in the island of Eriska, about eight feet high and two feet broad. It is called by the natives the bowing-stone; for when the inhabitants had the first sight of the church, they set up this stone, and then bowed, and said the Lord's Prayer. Three points may be illustrated.

I. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE PUT IN PLACE OF HIM. This is the coarser form of idolatry. Material things are superstitiously invested with powers, and become actual idols.

II. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE USED TO REPRESENT HIM. This is the refined form of idolatry which some thinking and educated persons approve. The thing—stone or figure—becomes for them a material representation of the invisible God. This is offensive because of the limitations it puts on men's conceptions of the Divine Being.

III. GOD IS OFFENDED WHEN THINGS ARE MADE THE MEDIUM FOR GETTING TO HIM. This is one phase of modern idolatry. It is an offence because the essence of the last, the Christian, revelation is that each individual soul can have direct and immediate access to God. There is no place for idol-mediators.—R.T.

Isaiah 57:10

The weariness of sinful ways.

Cheyne thinks the first reference of this verse is to the ceaseless quest of the nation, in this its troublous time, for help and protection, including, of course, embassies to foreign kings, and also every other specimen of untheocratic policy. "Nothing could convince these idolatrous Jews of the folly of their misplaced trust and vain confidence." Barnes given the following suggestive note on the general application of the passage: "This is a striking illustration of the conduct of men in seeking happiness away from God. They wander from object to object; they become weary in the pursuit, yet they do not abandon it; they still cling to hope though often repulsed, and though the world gives them no permanent comfort, though wealth, ambition, gaiety, and vice all fail in imparting the happiness which they sought, yet they do not give it up in despair. They still feel that it is to be found in some other way than by the disagreeable necessity of returning to God, and they wander from object to object, and from land to land, and become exhausted in the pursuit, and still are not ready to say, ' There is no hope; we give it up in despair, and we will now seek happiness in God.'" Matthew Henry keenly, if somewhat quaintly, says, "Prosperity in sin is a great bar to conversion from sin." Henderson puts in a good sentence the immediate and local association of the verse: "The idolatrous Jews wearied themselves with their unhallowed practices; but finding that they had not entirely exhausted their strength, they would not give up their pursuits as hopeless, but rather emboldened themselves in wickedness."

I. IT IS A FACTSINFUL WAYS DO WEARY US. Illustrate the pursuit of pleasure by means of self-indulgence. Or the "quest of the chief good" on purely human lines (illustrate this from the Book of Ecclesiastes). Or the mastery of evil by effort of serf-will. Or the effort to get eternal life by our own doings and strivings. In every case we are soon left wearied out and sick at heart.

II. THIS FACT MEN ARE SLOW TO RECOGNIZE. They will not say, "There is no hope." By all kinds of delusions men persuade themselves to try once again. The last thing men will give up is hope in themselves and their own self-schemes.

III. MAN'S CHANCE COMES ONLY WHEN HE IS HUMBLE ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE THIS FACT. He must he willing to say, "Myself I cannot save." Then, turning to God, he will say, "Thou canst save, and thou alone."—R.T.

Isaiah 57:11

Wrong thoughts of God keep men from repentance.

God pleads, saying, "Who filled thee with dread, or of whom wast thou afraid, when thou provedst false, and didst not remember me?" Some mental creation of God, or some false teaching concerning God, occupied the thought and the heart, and kept the men of Israel from feeling all those persuasions to repentance which come from the full and the worthy knowledge of him. Compare the expressions, "Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance;" "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Some think that the allusion is to the helpless idols in whose aid the people vainly trusted. Matthew Arnold paraphrases thus: "How could thy calamities, and the fear of thy Babylonian tyrant, make thee so superstitious and forgetful?" Illustrating the earlier method of interpreting the verse, it may be shown how wrong and imperfect thoughts of God are still the great hindrances in men's way. These wrong thoughts come either as—

I. CREATIONS OF MEN'S OWN FEARS. God too often is not to men what he really is, but what he seems to be when seen through their fears and conscience of sin. So a revelation was needed which could assure men of God's pitying mercy and forgiving love. When men, conscious of transgression and fearing judgment, try to paint God, we cannot wonder that their picture should be untrue and unworthy The thing of which it is so difficult to persuade sinners is that there is forgiveness with God, and that he delighteth in mercy.

II. MISCONCEPTIONS OF THEOLOGICAL TEACHINGS. There is always the danger to be guarded against that the exigencies of a system make us fashion a suitable God, rather than try to recognize in all simplicity the God who has been revealed. Therefore, in our day, so many resist the teachings that are known as Calvinistic. The hard, legal Deity of that system is felt to represent most imperfectly and unworthily the Father of Jesus, and Saviour of the world. But we must understand that the false representations are more often found in the statements of those who attempt to expound a system than in the system itself.

III. AS ONE-SIDED VISIONS OF TRUTH WHICH NEEDS TO BE SEEN AS A WHOLE. This mistake is often pointed out in connection with the two attributes of "mercy" and "justice." The modern tendency to dwell on the milder features of the Divine nature, and to exclude the sterner ones, is perilously keeping men from that repentance which is the only open highway to the eternal life.—R.T.

Isaiah 57:15

The new test of religion.

"I dwell … also in him that is contrite, and of a lowly spirit." The earlier test of religion had been formal, and precise obedience to all the claims and conditions of the Jehovah-covenant; the exact keeping of every ritual, social, and national requirement. St. Paul states the old test thus: "The man that doeth them shall live in them." It was the work of the prophets to introduce the new moral test, and prepare the way for the higher spiritual test of Christianity. The later prophets even venture to be severe on mere ritual obedience, as if, in the sight of God, it had become quite worthless. They intimate that God searches hearts, looks for right motives, asks not for what a man has, save as the man can, through his gifts, give himself to God. The "broken and contrite heart" are especially presented because this stands in most severe contrast with the self-satisfaction and self-will of unregenerate man. If a man is humble, sensible of sin and sorrow for sin, God knows he is such a man as can be made a monument of Divine grace. (Another treatment of this theme will be found under Isaiah 66:2.) It has been said, "God has three sorts of dwellings: first, in the highest; second, in the sanctuary; third, in humble hearts. The first dwelling is the universalis praesentia, the universal presence, by which he fills all (verse 23:24); but there he is too high and incomprehensible for us. The second is gratiosa, the gracious presence, by which he lets himself be found in the Word and sacraments, and also comes finally to us, and makes his dwelling in our hearts." And the test is whether our hearts are such as he can make his dwelling in. The three tests are—

I. DOES A MAN STRICTLY OBEY AND KEEP ALL RITUAL AND SOCIAL INJUNCTIONS? That test may suffice for children, and child-ages of the world; for we must begin moral education by requiring obedience to formal commands.

II. IS A MAN IN A RIGHT STATE OF MIND AND HEART? Such a state must include reverence before a God so great; thankfulness to a God so kind; humbleness through a sense of shortcoming before a God who makes such claims; and penitence through conviction of sin against a God so holy.

III. DOES A MAN ACCEPT GOD'S GIFT OF PARDON AND LIFE IN HIS SON CHRIST JESUS? "He that believeth on the Son hath life: he that believeth not on the Son of God hath not life." We cannot be tested only by the two first tests; the third searches, and perhaps condemns us.—R.T.

Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21

The unrest of the wicked.

"But the wicked are like the sea that is tossed up, for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and mud" (Cheyne). Comp. Jud Isaiah 1:13 for the figure. It is curious to note the marked contrast between our ideas and sentiments concerning the sea, and those of ancient times and Eastern lands. To us it is the beautiful shining sea, and many of us feel that we must see it at least once a year. To us it is the most soothing and calming of Nature's influences, and we. sympathize with Bonar as he sings—

"Summer ocean, how I'll miss thee,

Miss the thunder of thy roar,

Miss the music of thy ripple,

Miss thy sorrow-soothing shore.

Summer ocean, how I'll miss thee,

When 'the sea shall be no more'!"

But to Eastern people generally in ancient times, and to Israelites in particular, the sea was a great dread. It was the separator, the engulpher of life, the restless storm-darkened, storm-tossed, wailing sea; suggestive only of foulness, unrest, and peril. So it was a type of the wicked man in ways, and with applications, which we find it most difficult to realize. But the unresting character of the sea does impress us. There is no peace to the heaving, swirling, wind-driven, tide-drawn sea.

I. THERE IS NO PEACE TO THE WICKED BECAUSE, IN HIS WAY, HE CAN NEVER GET IT. His way is breaking up the Divine order: rest can never come that way. His way is striving with everything that makes fair promises, apart from God: rest can never come that way. His way is to seek for rest in things that he can possess, not in the character which he can be: rest can never come that way. God's world was made for good men, and it will yield its best treasures to, and satisfy, nobody but the good.

II. THERE IS NO PEACE TO THE WICKED BECAUSE, ON HIS CONDITIONS, GOD WILL NEVER GIVE IT. And peace for man is the gift of God. So, speaking for God, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." The wicked want to buy it. God does not sell it. The wicked would consume it on their lusts if they obtained it. God will never allow his gifts to be abused. The wicked are not prepared to ear that peace which God calls peace; so he will wait until they come to a right mind. Show, in contrast, that we have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"—a heart-peace that works itself out into all sacred testings of life and relationship.—R.T.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 57". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.