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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 48

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The first cycle of the Later Prophecies closes in this chapter. The victories of Cyrus and the fall of Babylon are announced with another rebuke and another word of consolation to Israel… “Former things” (Isaiah 48:3) are contemplated as fulfilled. “New things” (Isaiah 48:6) have preparation made for them by still larger fulfilment of predictions respecting the times of Messiah. Rebuke makes the first part, and encouragement the second part, in the divisions of the chapter. Rebuke chiefly applies to times from Isaiah to the return from exile; and encouragement, from the return to Messiah’s literal coming. The whole exhibits a transition from the period of prophecy to the days of the New Testament.

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Hear ye this Not something new, but already reiterated truths.

House of Jacob “Jacob” is the natural name of Isaac’s second son.

Called… Israel “Israel” is the spiritual name of the same person. See Genesis 32:2; Genesis 35:10. Both together is a circumlocution for Israelites or members of the ancient Church.

Waters of Judah After the revolt of the ten tribes there were, as the result of labours by the prophets in the kingdom of Israel, doubtless not a few there who constituted the remnant of the true Israel. (Elijah thought it was not so till it was divinely told him there were seven thousand of them. 1 Kings 19:18.) From among these, large numbers must have mingled with the people of Judah, so that in the exile the whole twelve tribes were more or less represented. Though the main body were of Judah, yet all vied with each on their comparative reform in Babylon and in countries thereto belonging.

Which swear by the name of the Lord Because this “swearing” did happen without living faith, such as represents the standard of life called for by Jehovah through his prophet, and explains the words, not in truth, nor in righteousness, herein his people deserved rebuke and warning.

Verses 3-5

3-5. I have declared Or, have announced.

Former things Former events, before they came to pass; or, as some suppose, “and they have come to pass” Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 44:7-8.

Suddenly They came to pass so unexpectedly that the prophecy could not have been fulfilled through human means; at least, human sagacity could not have foretold them. The argument runs thus: Through my prophet I announced in former times a certain prediction for example, the destruction of the Assyrian army and it suddenly took place. Isaiah 37:36. Human sagacity could not have foretold that event, nor could human means have brought it about. Not long past I predicted, not an ideal fact namely, the raising up of a deliverer, Cyrus, for my people at Babylon it shall prove an actual fact. Other instances of prediction and fulfilment could be given. No idol system is equal to this. The facts of the past cannot be disputed. Because I knew, etc. I made former predictions and fulfilled them, because I knew that thou art obstinate, unbelieving, not easily convinced, with neck stiff as if made of sinews of iron.

Thy brow brass As hard and insensible to spiritual influence as brass. The fifth verse recapitulates, in order to confirm, the argument of Isaiah 48:3.

Verses 6-7

6, 7. Thou hast heard, etc. The words are addressed to the Jews as if in Babylon. They have already heard enough from Jehovah. They have no need of more concerning the prediction of their deliverance through Cyrus.

See all this In God’s eye it is all fulfilled: see you the fact likewise. That is, believe Jehovah, the same as if its accomplishment were before your eyes.

And will not ye declare it Cause it to be known, testify to its certainty from perfect knowledge of God’s veracity? New things…

hidden things Perhaps among them Israel’s deliverances from Babylon, and their restoration to their own land and to God’s worship; not yet accomplished, but as certain as if they were.

They are created now Hence, they are the same as if already accomplished, and the Jews are to treat the prediction accordingly. The fulfilment is ideal but real. Babylon is to be destroyed, and Israel is to be delivered. Take these facts as made known by Jehovah, not by idol oracles or by human sagacity. No excuse for you to do otherwise. God’s veracity has often enough been proved to you. It is mockery of Jehovah to say, Behold, I knew them before.

Verse 8

8. Thou knewest not The phrases in this verse are each and all of them denials of the boast, “Behold, I knew them.” Tried all his life by the subtle and culpable habit of un-faith in the Jews, the prophet foresees the same habit in them when they are just on the eve of actual deliverance from Babylon. He says: I knew that thou wouldest deal… treacherously… a transgressor. All evidence possible from the doings of the Almighty God does not fully convince you. You will still be doubters.

Verses 9-11

9-11. But if so perverse, why desire to restore them to Jerusalem and Judah? The answer is, For my name’s sake. I forbear with all the world: I forbear with the Jews especially, that in them, whom I have chosen morally to train the world, my name my honour, compassion, method of severe and kindly discipline may be shown to all. They are my people, the medium I have appointed through which the Redeemer and his salvation are to come to the whole world. Israel is of no account in himself. Silver is silver, though mixed with dross, which is easily purified by fire. But Israel, having more dross in his nature, I purify in the fiery furnace of affliction. The figure is taken from the ancient refiners, who subjected bullion more or less encumbered with dross to heats of varied degrees in the furnace. ( Grotius.) The subjection of Israel to the fiercer heats was the more perfectly to purify them, for He cannot tolerate the slightest impurity in his own. He compounds not with an infinitesimal degree thereof. He is no compromiser.

Verses 12-13

12, 13. Hearken unto me Renewal of the consolation. The second and brighter part of the message begins here. The chief elements compiled from chapters xl to xlvii, are brought together in these verses, and addressed to Israel with emphasis.

My called The double-called: from Chaldean Abram, first; the spiritual offspring from Abraham, next. The promise is re-settled by the oath several times before stated in terms. See Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 43:11, etc.

Mine hand… laid the foundation The prophet urgently impresses on the people God’s eternity, omniscience, and omnipotence, as evidence the highest possible that what he predicts or announces through his prophet is entitled to confidence. The oath can be made by none higher. The greater includes the less. Ability to create certainly implies the lesser ability to foretell. No words can characterize the absurdity and stupidity of doubting divine predictions.

Verse 14

14. Assemble yourselves, and hear A call to the people most probably the heathen to convene, and to consider the subject to be brought before them.

Which among them Among the idol deities, with whom is the controversy.

Hath declared these things The “things” heretofore predicted of Jehovah the coming deliverance of Israel through Cyrus, and the destruction he should bring on Israel’s oppressors, the Babylonians.

He will do his pleasure The “he” we take to refer to Cyrus, God’s agent in this work; the “his” to God himself.

His arm That of Cyrus.

Shall be on the Chaldeans To punish and subdue them.

Verse 15

15. I, even I, have spoken… I have called The Lord is here the speaker. The thrice-repeated “I” denotes the strength of purpose the certainty of the fulfilment of the prediction.

Verse 16

16. This verse is hard to understand from ambiguity.

Come ye near unto me, hear ye this It is scarcely to be doubted that the party summoned is Israel, and that the subject to be communicated is, what follows to the latter member of the verse. But who is the speaker? Some hold it to be the prophet in behalf of Jehovah; but most of the commentators think it is Jehovah himself, summoning his nation to hear still further concerning himself. Moreover, from the interactions of personality in the Godhead of Jehovah in trinity, and from the well-settled facts as deduced from the two Testaments, that the transacting divinity, or the Jehovah of the Old Testament, is the Son of God of the New Testament, not a small number of expositors find a satisfying explanation of the verse in supposing the Second Person of the Trinity to be here the speaker. Among these may be named Basil, Augustine, Vitringa, Alexander, Henderson, Stier, Delitzsch, Birks, Nagelsbach, etc.

I have not spoken in secret The coincidence of resembling verbiage in texts known to bespoken by or applying to Christ, is taken as evidence of the truth of this theory, as in Christ’s words. John 18:20.

From the time that it was, there am I See Proverbs 8:27, and Christ’s words, “Before Abraham was, I am:” “I am hath sent me,” etc: language quite coincident in expression with passages appertaining to facts and features of Christ.

And now Antithetic to the previous “from the beginning.” From the foundation of the earth (Proverbs viii) I was present through human history, as the Wisdom of God, aiding the plan looking to man’s redemption.

And (or but) now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me The prophet is the mouthpiece in these antithetic sentences, but for whom does he speak in this? For himself, as not a few hold, or for Christ, or Messiah, yet unincarnated, as the majority of expositors hold? Evidently, from lack of the conditions required, not for the prophet. The conditions are something more than being the recorder of these statements. The prophet elsewhere (Isaiah 6:8) speaks of and for the three Persons, and most probably here for the Second Person. See, for the same reference, Exodus 23:20; Isaiah 61:1; Malachi 3:1; John 3:34; John 7:16; John 17:18; John 20:21. From these citations the clause is by most settled as meaning Christ here, and should read, for this meaning: “The Lord God hath sent me, with his Spirit.” Sent me to Israel, with the Spirit’s aid, to enlarge in Israel’s mind (now about to close his exile) the great consolation, and (as Logos, or Word) also the revelation. Christ’s mission here, then, is not the incarnation, but the signal providence of the return from Babylon. By this interpretation the predicates of the Jehovah of the Old Testament are in nowise changed, who is throughout the divine Regent, the divine Wisdom and Revealer. Co-acting with Jehovah the Father, the source of all divine counsels, and with the Spirit who inspires leadership and prophecy, He, Jehovah the Son, administers, disciplines, consoles, and instructs.

Some of the old reformed theologians have stoutly claimed, in this view of the Old Testament tenor and purport, that strong proofs of the doctrine of the Trinity can be made out. It is to be observed, however, that Calvin, the great exegete of the Reformation, was gravely conservative on this passage. He says: “This verse interpreters explain in various ways. Many refer it to Christ, but the prophet designs no such thing. Such forced and violent interpretations are to be avoided.” Barnes also says, with emphasis: “It would require more time, and toil, and ingenuity, to demonstrate that this passage had reference to Messiah, than it would to demonstrate the doctrines of the Trinity and Divinity of the Redeemer from unequivocal declarations of the New Testament.” No doubt this caution is extreme. In pursuance of a proper caution, this much may be admitted: In so far as the prophet speaks and sets in prophecy as the speaker and writer for Jehovah, who, in the New Testament, by various indications and proofs, appears in the incarnated divinity of Jesus Christ, so far only are these words to be regarded in a Messianic point of view. Further, whether the prophet himself apprehended this dogmatic view of the words is far from certain. The action of the Revealer upon the old prophetic minds in their deliverances was doubtless in proportion to their power at the time to apprehend. See Zechariah 2:7-9.

Verses 17-19

17-19. The exhortation continues.

The Lord, thy Redeemer As compared with any other, he is the right and rightful leader of Israel. He is comprehensively the Redeemer of accepted Israel, especially accompanying his deliverances first to last, from Egypt, from foes in Canaan, from Babylon, and from the powers of evil in all time. He is Redeemer and Deliverer of all God’s Israel. Did this Israel but know and act upon the knowledge that God truly is his Redeemer, present at all times for his deliverances, what peace would be his, or, as the original ( shalom) means, what prosperity, soundness, wholeness, health!

As a river Full flowing, and, like the Nile, overflowing, bringing glory of verdure in a parched land.

Righteousness The “righteousness” of Israel means its utter freedom from idolatry; its purity and holiness, and many fruits of religion as their result; and these becoming more and more in abundance and power, like the waves of the sea! What an image is this! Isaiah could know the easy use of such a figure. The Mediterranean was, as it were, in his presence. Did “the Great Unknown” of the neologists see much of the waves of the sea in Mesopotamia? The figure is that of measureless abundance of righteousness.

Thy seed Posterity. Blessings physical are of great account with the Semitic peoples. The thought here is, of a holy and enduring nation, headed by Messiah, moving forward to victory till triumph is reached in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Verses 20-22

20-22. Go ye forth of Babylon The message closes here. The exiled but redeemed ones get orders for a march to Zion. The word flee is not a note of alarm; the speed and joy of coming deliverance is the idea; or possibly Jeremiah 51:45, tallying with the idea in Revelation 18:4, may explain this part of the message. But the call is for the voice of song loud enough for the end of the earth to hear. The redemption of Jacob is the subject of the singing.

Thirsted not… the deserts The exodus memorial is called to mind afresh by this later deliverance; or, that is made the type of this, in that, wonderful as was the provision and supply of that departure across deserts, this shall be greatly more wonderful in these regards. All is spiritual; waters of salvation flowed forth from the smitten rock, and that rock was Christ, accompanying them with ever-living abundance of grace and prosperity. The section closes with a contrast.

No peace… unto the wicked No shalom no sound health, no prosperity, to the loose, irregular, undevout sons of Israel, holding adherence half with Jehovah and half with idol or world worship. No peace no joyful, solid hope is pronounced to such in this final remonstrance.

Thus the thrilling section ends. God is all, man in himself is nothing, idols are utter nothingness. With these truths divinely established this first series of the three concludes. It began with comfort ye, emphasized. No peace unto the wicked is its last word. Throughout, the struggle with idolatry and its effects has been a travail. This subject has been turned over and over, and viewed from every point with remonstrance and expostulation. It is now exhausted; it comes no more to the foreground. The prophet is also done with Babylon. Nor do we hear any more of Cyrus. From this on, the messages are of hope, not to redeemed sons of Jacob merely, but to all the world.

The Times of Messiah. CHAPTERS 49-60.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/isaiah-48.html. 1874-1909.
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