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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the Bible

Isaiah 56

Isaiah 56:0


Rewards For Obedience To GodSalvation For the GentilesA Blessing On All Who Keep the SabbathGod's People Will Include All NationsPromises To Foreigners
Isaiah 56:1-5(1-5)Isaiah 56:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 56:1(1)Isaiah 56:1-2Isaiah 56:1-7(1-7)
Isaiah 56:2(2)
Isaiah 56:3a
Isaiah 56:3-5(3-5)Isaiah 56:3-5(3-5)Isaiah 56:3-5
Isaiah 56:6-8(6-8)Isaiah 56:6-8(6-8)Isaiah 56:6-8(6-8)Isaiah 56:6-7
Isaiah 56:8Isaiah 56:8-9(8-9)
Israel's Irresponsible LeadersAgainst Corrupt LeadersIsrael's Leaders Are Condemned
Isaiah 56:9-12(9-12)Isaiah 56:9-12(9-12)Isaiah 56:9-12(9-12)Isaiah 56:9-12The Unworthiness of the Nations' Leaders
Isaiah 56:10-2

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


There is a change from Isaiah's message to the returnees from Mesopotamian exile (Isa. 40-55) to faithless, covenant people in Palestine (Isa. 56-66).

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 56:1-5 1Thus says the LORD, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed. 2How blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.” 3Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people.” Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4For thus says the LORD, “To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.”

Isaiah 56:1 This chapter starts out with two commands related to an appropriate life of faith (cf. Isaiah 55:7).

1. preserve justice - Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 1036, KB 1581, cf. Isaiah 1:17); for “justice,” see Special Topic: Judge, Judgment, Justice

2. do righteousness - Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 793, KB 889); for “righteousness,” see Special Topic: Righteousness

The reason for the life of faith is

1. My salvation is about to come - Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 97, KB 112, cf. Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5; Psalms 85:9)

2. My righteousness to be revealed - Niphal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 162, KB 191, see same first two references as #1)

Believers must live every day as if the Lord was coming today! This attitude and lifestyle keeps us close to God (cf. Psalms 85:9).

Isaiah 56:2 Notice the first two lines are parallel. Also the “blessed man” (cf. Psalms 1:1-3; Psalms 112:1; Psalms 119:1-2; Psalms 128:1) is the one who obeys/observes God's law.

The second two lines describe two specific things that “the blessed man” will not do. See Special Topic: Blessing.

1. profane the sabbath (cf. Exodus 20:8-11)

2. do any evil (summary phrase)

The VERB “keep” (BDB 1036, KB 1581) occurs four times in this chapter (Isaiah 56:2 [twice],4,6). Lifestyle faith and obedience are vital and crucial aspects of a personal relationship with YHWH. See Special Topic: Keep.

Isaiah 56:3 This verse assures those who were normally excluded from Israel's God that they would be included.

1. the physically damaged person (cf. Isaiah 56:6-8, Deuteronomy 23:1-8)

2. the non-Israelite worshiper (cf. Isaiah 56:4-5)

The word “says,” which is repeated twice (foreigner, eunuch) is a Qal IMPERFECT (BDB 55, KB 65) used in a JUSSIVE sense.

“surely separate” This is a Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Hiphil IMPERFECT from the same root (BDB 95, KB 110) used for emphasis. However, the great emphasis is that this statement is not true!

“the eunuch” This refers to a person

1. with damaged testicles

2. a castrated person

The account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:0 being fully accepted into the people of God by faith in Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, is a great example of this type of persons' inclusion!

Isaiah 56:5 Eunuchs could have no natural children so YHWH will give the faithful eunuchs a memorial in His house. He will give them “an everlasting name” (i.e., Hebrew idiom for descendants).

NASB, REB“memorial” NRSV, LXX, PESHITTA“a place” NJB, JPSOA“monument”

The Hebrew term is literally “hand” (BDB 388, #4) but used idiomatically for memorial (cf. 1 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 18:18).

Verses 6-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 56:6-8 6”Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; 7Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 8The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:6 Notice how the faithful foreigners are characterized.

1. join themselves to the LORD - Niphal PARTICIPLE (BDB 530, KB 522)

2. minister to Him - Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 1058, KB 1661)

3. love the name of the LORD - Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 12, KB 17)

4. be His servants - Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 224, KB 243)

5. keep from profaning the sabbath - Qal PARTICIPLE (BDB 1036, KB 1581, cf. vv Isaiah 56:2, Isaiah 56:4) and a Piel INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT (BDB 320, KB 319)

6. holds fast My covenant - Hiphil PARTICIPLE (BDB 304, KB 302)

YHWH's true followers are known by their lifestyle faith (cf. Matthew 5-7, esp. Matthew 7:15-23, Matthew 7:24-27).

Isaiah 56:7-8 As Isaiah 56:6 described the faithful foreigners' actions, so Isaiah 56:7-8 describe what the faithful God will do for them.

1. I will bring to My holy mountain (i.e., temple)

2. I will make them joyful in My house of prayer

3. I will accept their sacrifices on My altar

4. I will gather them and others

Isaiah 56:7 “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” This was the stated purpose of Solomon's temple (cf. 1 Kings 8:41-43). Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46 as He cleansed the temple of the animal sellers and money changers. For a complete listing of this universal element in Isaiah see Isaiah 45:22.

Isaiah 56:8

NASB“Yet others I will gather to them” NKJV“Yet I will gather to him others besides” NRSV, PESHITTA“I will gather others to them” TEV“has promised that he will bring still other people to join them” NJB“there are others I shall gather”

There are two possibilities.

1. YHWH will gather even more of the exiled descendants of Abraham (JPSOA)

2. YHWH will gather other outcasts (i.e., foreigners, eunuchs)

Jesus' use of this text (cf. Mark 11:17 following the LXX) shows its wider intended scope.

Verses 9-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 56:9-12 9All you beasts of the field, All you beasts in the forest, Come to eat. 10His watchmen are blind, All of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; 11And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one. 12”Come,” they say, “let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; And tomorrow will be like today, only more so.”

Isaiah 56:9 This is a parody of the invitation to the Divine supper (cf. Isaiah 56:12; Isaiah 55:1-2), but here in the context of judgment (Isaiah 56:10-12) it is a command (“come” - Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). This will be a banquet of judgment!

There is an interpretive question related to Isaiah 56:9-12, as to when this occurs.

1. pre-exilic

2. exilic

3. post-exilic

The issue is to which period of Israel's history do these verses refer? Possibly it relates to some in each period. There were always faithless leaders and people.

Isaiah 56:10-12 These verses are in sharp contrast to the faithful outcasts of Isaiah 56:1-8. These describe Israel's spiritual condition (mostly her leaders).

1. the watchmen are blind

2. all of them know nothing

3. all of them are dumb dogs

4. dream/rave (from Arabic root or “pant” [KB 243], referring to “dogs” of Isaiah 56:10c)

5. love to sleep

6. greedy

7. never satisfied

8. shepherds without understanding

9. all tuned to their own ways

10. each one turned to unjust gain

Wow! What a terrible description of the covenant people. Their leaders are corrupt and the proverb is true, like leader, like people! God's revelation, temple, and godly leaders had made no difference. Their fruit is obvious (i.e., self)!

Isaiah 56:10 “His watchmen are blind” The MT scholars noted a problem in the Hebrew text. It reads a Qal PERFECT (BDB 859, KB 1044), but they suggest a Qal PARTICIPLE. Either one does not change the sense of the text.

Isaiah 56:12 “Come” This IMPERATIVE (Qal, BDB 87, KB 102) matches the one in Isaiah 56:9c! The humans come to get drunk and ignore God (Isaiah 56:12b), so now the animals are invited by God to devour His covenant people (cf. Isaiah 18:6; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 12:9; Jeremiah 15:3; Jeremiah 34:20).

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Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 56". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.