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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 56

Introduction

Sec. 4. WOE ON IDOLATERS, Isaiah 56:1 to Isaiah 57:21.

This section of prophecy reaches to the end of chapter 59. The earlier prophecies concerned Isaiah’s times from Uzziah’s last years until Hezekiah’s recovery, when the prophet apparently retires from public action, and surrenders himself to the study of the prospects of the great future. His discourses on future times concern different sections of the future, though their scope of subjects extends vaguely to the latest cycles of time. These, however, are outlooks, sometimes for the occasion indefinite, but oftener limited, and developed in detail. The outlook of the preceding chapter advanced far into the gospel ages, covering generally the whole Messianic future. The prophet here (in chap. lvi) resumes an earlier section with a starting-point, as it were, in the age of John the Baptist, and specifically enjoins internal preparation for the gospel kingdom now opening.

Verse 1

1. Keep… judgment Apply due criticism on yourselves till conscience shall be the only ruling authority. Advice and comfort are here administered.

Do justice Let the same authority rule in all relations toward others. In other words, insist on thoroughly ethical lives. This is the first requisite to a preparation for the blessed Messianic kingdom now at hand. There were many in John Baptist’s time, silent and unseen, exemplifying this character; but the influential classes were sadly lacking.

Verse 2

2. Blessed is the man… the son of man Terms meaning the same thing, used merely for the parallelism. The pronouncement of this blessing is for the consolation of those who “keep judgment and do justice.” Sabbath observance is claimed on grounds ethical and physical. It is a perpetual obligation. Priceless blessings attend sabbath keeping and conscientious right doing in all things.

Verse 3

3. Son of… stranger Any foreigner, or one not born of the race of Israel, yet desiring to embrace the true religion.

Neither… eunuch In Deuteronomy 23:1, the “eunuch” heads the list of those who are excluded from the congregation of the Lord. Why this? Because mutilation was in early ideas, essential disqualification. So was the proverbial dry tree, or childlessness, a condition to the oriental helplessly reproachful. Of course, for the new era now opening, such a system of ethics was worn-out narrowness, and required revision. The gospel age shuts off none who desire salvation.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. A name better than of sons The same subject is continued, and is especially emphasized. If any are to be excluded from true Messianic blessings, it is to be the proud, aristocratic Israelite. Outcasts of the worst type, if duly humbled, are preferred to such. Matthew 21:31.

Verses 6-7

6, 7. Stranger Again, Gentiles throughout the world are more than urged and invited they are made welcome with outstretched arms, if seen coming, even before invitation, “to the mountain of the Lord’s house.” Only a sense of penitence and spiritual want could influence their steps thitherward.

Verse 8

8. Outcasts Equality thus declared, alike to Gentile and Jew, is no afterthought; not a new purpose sprung up from new exigencies in the course of history. It is found in the terms of the original covenant “all the nations… shall be blessed in him.” Genesis 18:18-19. Pursuant to this covenant Christ also said, (John 10:16,) “Other sheep I have,” referring to the original purpose that salvation shall be provided for all.

Verse 9

9. An abrupt change of the current of thought here occurs. The prophet’s bright prospect is checked, and he turns to things as they are in his own times. In the reign of Abaz, idolatry prevailed. Hezekiah, at the time of the great reform, caused the temple, which had been closed, (2 Chronicles 29:3-36,) to be opened, when an outward improvement among the people followed. But to the prophet’s eye evil continues; beginning with Manasseh, idolatry and national infidelity return with fearful power. There are other views held of this verse and what follows, founded on the Masoretic text, (one of which, that sustained by Birks, is exceeding fanciful;) but the majority of commentators agree on what is above stated.

Beasts of the field Some regard these expressions as denoting outside nations invited to make invasions on unfaithful Judah. More probably, they denote unspiritual teachers, irreligious guides, who, (excepting during the reign of Josiah,) disturbed Judah as long as its government lasted.

Forest This term is used simply to balance “field,” in the parallelism.

Come to devour Equivalent to, Ye beasts meaning, the false prophets do “come to devour” this is your purpose, your mission ye wolves in sheep’s clothing embrace every opportunity to devour the flock or people of the land. John, chap. 10, borrows its illustration hence.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. His watchmen The people’s teachers.

Are blind Can see nothing with a spiritual eye.

Dumb dogs An image from shepherds’ bad watchdogs, which fail to give notice of danger.

Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber An exact description of the miserable, outcast curs to be observed, even to this day, in every Eastern town or city. They are nobody’s dogs, allowed to lounge about and greedily devour garbage thrown into the street. What a comparison! Such are the shepherds which the worldly and irreligious are willing to tolerate. Each of these “blind,” “ignorant,” “dumb” watchmen looks to worldly gain, careless as to results on the character of his flock.

Verse 12

12. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine The canine figure is dropped, but the same sensual character in the religious teachers is kept up. Drunkenness is now the vice charged.

Strong drink On this, see note on Isaiah 5:11. The disgrace attending this vice among the clergy of this day and of this land is its rightful punishment. Any man who makes a beast of himself by habits of indulgence in intoxicating drinks, becomes a moral outcast in all good circles of society; but much more the religious teacher when caught in this vice. As respects such inebriates, it would seem from Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:0; and Zechariah 11:0, that about the same estimate was anciently held respecting these characters as now. Objects of pity they are indeed, but of moral respectability, not at all. They are, however, worthy of all aid to secure their rescue.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 56". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/isaiah-56.html. 1874-1909.