Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 59

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The reproach of God’s sinning people, which was opened in chap. 58, is here still more directly exposed.

Verses 1-2

1, 2. Behold An ellipsis, as if omitting a short parley. And the prophet impliedly answers with emphasis, “No! Far from it.”

The Lord’s hand is not shortened… ear heavy The shortening the hand is here a figure indicative of the loss of vital energy, as heaviness of the ear is of lessening in quickness of mental perception. Neither of these can apply to “the Lord,” who is the same “yesterday, to-day, and forever,” in the perfection of all his attributes. The fault, if any, must therefore be elsewhere. Your iniquities… your sins, have made it impossible for Jehovah to save you.

Verses 3-4

3, 4. Hands… fingers… lips The sins of Israel are sins of deed and word, by which accusation is to be found in every organ.

Verses 5-6

5, 6. Cockatrice’s eggs Hatched into basilisks, (see Isaiah 11:8;) a fabulous reptile its gaze supposed to be fatal, its eggs, as food, certainly poisonous. The reference is to a popular, not a scientific, conception of a certain not well-known reptile, and is employed to characterize strongly the people’s evil works. So of the next figure.

The spider’s web An emblem of the people’s acts of enticing and ruining others. The further point of the figure is, that the “spider’s web” is too gauzy as a covering to conceal wicked plans against others. Flimsy sophistry cannot hide pretended righteousness.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. Before this, depravity had involved hands, fingers, lips, tongue; now the feet are added.

Make haste Running and making “haste” to do evil. To indicate further degrees in depravity, citations are made from Proverbs 1:16; and in both verses Paul (Romans 3:15-17) finds a fitting citation for utter depravity. Not only things they touch and speak of are polluted, but their ways are made crooked for working greater lengths of destruction. Corresponding retribution follows.

Way of peace they know not No peace do they have; no judgment, or, better, no sense of right, is in their goings; that is, along their whole pathway of life.

Verse 9

9. Therefore As the consequence of the foregoing.

Is judgment Or, real vindication.

Far from us We as a people are utterly undeserving.

Neither doth justice overtake us The meaning is, God doth not interpose for us. Note here, that the verbs are all of the Hebrew future-present, indicating prospective continuance of action.

We wait for light For divine favour.

Behold, obscurity No guiding relief comes. Same meaning in parallel member.

Verses 9-14

9-14. In these six verses the prophet includes himself, as he makes confession for the people, as Jeremiah does in Isaiah 14:19-20 of his book.

Verses 10-11

10, 11. We grope for the wall Like the blind we feel our way. And the same or similar course of figures continues to Isaiah 59:15, each illustrating some comprehensive phase in this confession which the people are openly and freely making, but which, in chap. lviii, it was boasted there was no need to make. Self-righteousness was uppermost in that chapter. Now it is confessed, “Moral blindness and darkness is our lot. Light and peace belong to the lot of the good, but to us it is the same as if we were dead.” In Isaiah 59:11 the figure is changed to indicate still the same bad state of the heart. With the insolence of a bear we growl; with hopeless sadness we moan like the turtledove.

For judgment That is, for vindication, (see Isaiah 59:9,) for apology for our condition, but in vain.

For salvation For deliverance from this state; but it fails to appear.

Verses 12-13

12, 13. Our sins testify against us Every page of our life history is a record against us.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. The section from Isaiah 59:9-14, including first part of Isaiah 59:15, culminates in a confession of a state of things fearfully bad in Jewish society at several periods of its history, but especially in the days of John the Baptist, of our Saviour Christ, and onward to the final breaking up of the nation, A.D. 70.

Judgment Equity set at naught. No magistrate could really avail.

Verses 15-17

15-17. The Lord saw it Dramatic for the statement that he accepts the confession as he promised. Isaiah 58:8-14.

It displeased Literally, It was evil in his eyes.

No judgment That there was no just judgment (always so dear to him, Isaiah 61:8) among the Jewish people.

Saw that… no man No man who executed justice and sought truth.

Wondered Amazed. He sees with dismay that no one is there to interfere or to intercede.

Therefore Upon knowledge of what was wanting. This passage is strongly dramatic, figuring God as a human supervision.

His arm Symbol of omnipotence. “His right hand and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory.” Psalms 98:1. His own equity came to the rescue.

Verse 18

18. According… deeds… he will repay Dealing fury, terrible retribution, but only to the incorrigible.

To the islands See chap. Isaiah 41:1. To the western heathen world-power, Rome, embracing the world now or soon to be in complicity with apostate Israel in throwing down all righteous equity and judgment.

He The Eternal Jehovah. Review the course of thought thus far in the chapter. The points are: Keen self-reproach on account of sins; dark descriptions of characters on this head, followed by sorrowful confession and admissions of apostasy on the part of the great mass of Israel; the crucible of judgment is employed; worthless dross is rejected; genuine material is preserved.

Verses 19-20

19, 20. The interposing Saviour is on his redeeming career. Hitherto, that is in Isaiah 59:16-19, in view of Israel’s having fallen morally so inextricably deep, and because no one appeared as a helper, an intercessor, Jehovah enters at once into service for his recovery; his own arm is laid bare; he puts on armour for Israel’s defence and upbringing, namely, righteousness as a breastplate, a protecting helmet for the safety of his head, and garments of vengeance for the onslaught in general against what it had belonged to all the appointed agencies in Israel’s history to do, namely, to train the nation into the virtues of justice, mercy, truth, righteousness, etc. just such as were essential to qualify them to be a holy nation. At the discovery of this condition of his people, he was struck with dismay “that there was no man” at hand: (Isaiah 59:16:) “man,” in the sense of a whole man, a hero, an “intercessor,” who, as in duty bound, should have wrought to the attainment of the character required among his people. The right man was wanting. True priest and prophet were long past, and Jehovah himself now undertakes the cause of Israel. Isaiah 59:17-18. In Isaiah 59:19 there begin to appear some results of his interposition. The Hebrew (in Isaiah 59:18) is complicated and difficult, but we obtain this sense that, armed as he is with justice and salvation, vengeance and zeal, he carries out a general retributive judgment upon all adversaries, whether of distant “isles” or of inimical Israel with the former especially, and brings them to capitulate, and they become friends.

So shall they fear the name of the Lord Spoken of those who were at enmity with “the Lord,” and with his true Israel. “Fear” of God’s “name” is the suitable recognition of his claims and the reverence due to his authority.

From the west They of the west all Gentiles.

His glory The “name” and “glory” of Jehovah are here not only parallels, but synonymes, as we learn from other places where the two terms are jointly and severally used to signify the manifested excellence or glorious presence of Jehovah. Alexander. Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 42:12.

From the rising of the sun From the east as well as from the west. It is curious, at least, that the local directions are here reversed. Usually the order is from the east to the west. (See Isaiah 43:5; Malachi 1:11.) This is the only note of time (if it be this) where the great events here indicated have their occurrence. Logically, and from the context, this term begins at the advent of Christ, and continues to what is technically called the millennial period. During this interval immense results moral, spiritual, intellectual travel from west to east.

When the enemy All adversaries to the true religion.

Shall come in like a flood As not unfrequently is the case during a long period in Messiah’s dispensation.

The Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him The Hebrew, here, has had abundant interpretations varying from our English Version, but with little approval from the best critics. “The Spirit,” otherwise rendered “the Wind of Jehovah” a driving wind “shall dam up a straitened river.” The words, in Hebrew, are of that peculiar form which may be rendered either way. But the general sense or tenor of the context seems to call for a turning off from strict literalness (and that in the way of our Version) in order to preserve a consistent suitableness throughout.

Verse 20

20. Redeemer… to Zion The apostle Paul refers to this text as proof that when the Gentiles throughout the world shall have come into acceptance of the Christian religion, then apostate Israel shall also be converted thereto. Romans 11:25.

Verse 21

21. As for me… saith the Lord Of late the prophet has been, but now Jehovah reappears as, the speaker; probably because he personates the “Redeemer” of the preceding verse.

This is my covenant Namely, the covenant of the Gospel, with all its spiritual benefits, which is to run on till the world ends.

My Spirit… upon thee First, on Messiah without measure; (John 3:36;) then, on his people, the devoted ones of Israel, the true Israel, they of the “west” and they of regions where is “the rising of the sun.” From these, that is, the true Israel, (Isaiah 49:3,)

“righteousness will now overflow to the whole people.” They will be raised to their high calling as God’s royal priesthood; and the oath to Abraham and the truth to Jacob will be fulfilled through successive generations, as it had been sworn to the fathers from the days of old. ( Birks.)

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.