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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 1

 

 

Verses 1-31

Isaiah 1:1. The vision. What the prophet saw with the eyes of his mind, concerning the state of Judah and Jerusalem, his ministry being chiefly confined to the kingdom of Judea.

Isaiah, the son of Amos, not the prophet Amos, but a nobleman of Judah, who had married the sister of king Amaziah, as is recorded in Zeder ôlam, a Hebrew book. He was therefore first cousin of king Azariah, whom he calls Uzziah, chap. 6. He prophesied in the reign of the four kings, Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, which extended to a period of more than sixty years. The Jews have a tradition, that he lived to the beginning of the reign of Manasseh, when the wicked and apostate rulers, who had utterly corrupted the young king, put him to death for opposing their idolatries. They did it under a cloke of religion, as Jezebel in procuring the death of Naboth. They charged him with blasphemy, for saying, Isaiah 6:1, “I saw the Lord;” alleging against him the words of the Lord to Moses.

“Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live.” Exodus 33:20. He was therefore sawn asunder with a wooden saw. It is probable that others about the same time suffered in like manner, for the apostle speaks of those martyrs in the plural number. Hebrews 11:37.

This tradition is noticed as undisputed by the christian fathers, Tertullian, Basil, and Hayman. It is also stated by Jerome, in his preface to Isaiah, who must have received the crown of martyrdom when near the hundredth year of his age.

As a prophet, his fame lives through every age of the church. He saved Jerusalem twice when the enemies had invaded the land. He saw the Messiah enthroned in the temple, and spake of his sufferings, of his glory and his kingdom, with light above all others; and on that account he is called the evangelical prophet.—His political views of providence corresponded with those of grace. He saw the wicked and bloody nations which surrounded his country melt away like the snow before the warmer sun. In vision he saw Cyrus, and called him by name; he saw the Lord drying up before him the waters of Babylon, and giving him the hidden treasures of darkness. In a word (Daniel having lived to show the king the parchments) he saw Cyrus emancipate the Jews with largesses, adding, “the Lord God hath commanded me to build him a temple in Jerusalem.”

Isaiah left many writings whose loss is much regretted by the rabbins. He wrote a chronicle of all the occurrences in the long reign of king Uzziah. 2 Chronicles 26:22. He wrote a biography of celebrated men, a work often cited by Origen. The ascension of Isaiah is named by Jerome and Epiphanius; and also another book, called the vision or apocalypse of Isaiah.

What was the time, and what the occasion, when the prophecies in the five first chapters of this book were delivered? It is replied, in the time when the young and ill-advised Ahaz had so discovered his weakness and superstition that Retzin king of Syria, and Pekah king of Samaria, united their armies to cut off the house of David, and to divide the kingdom. They slaughtered a hundred and twenty thousand of Ahaz’s army in one day, and led captive two hundred thousand women and children, which the prophet Oded persuaded them to return. Thus at a stroke, that… Ahaz lost all the growing glory of the reign of Uzziah and of Jotham. In this tremendous crisis, when the city was full of refugees, Isaiah was in every place preaching and prophesying like a flame of fire.

Isaiah 1:2. Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, oh earth. Ye heavens that have witnessed the perfidy of this guilty people; and thou, oh earth, that has nourished them with harvests and wine. The like addresses to inanimate nature are used by Moses. Deuteronomy 4:29. By David, Psalms 50:4. The prophet’s mind, full of his subject, bursts at once in effusions the most sublime.

Isaiah 1:3. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. What, must the learned priests, doctors, and princes be reproved and instructed by the ox and the ass! Have beasts sagacity enough to abide in safe cribs and green pastures, while the Israelites leave Jehovah’s altar for the barren hills of Baal! See the like arguments in Hosea 11:4. Jeremiah 8:7.

Isaiah 1:4. Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity. The moment Ahaz ascended the throne, the idolater made a wide mouth, and shot out the tongue for joy: Isaiah 57:4. All the bad propensities of the heart were let loose, and degeneracy of morals pervaded all ranks of the nation. What proofs of original sin! The sour grapes, ate by the fathers, set the children’s teeth on edge; the degenerate vine bears degenerate fruit.

Isaiah 1:5. Why should ye be stricken any more? Wars, pestilence, famine, locusts, captivity, and ills which cannot be counted, have come upon you; yet you are the same people. The whole head is sick; the palace, the altar, the populace are all diseased. The works of the flesh, countless in number, Galatians 5:19, are breaking out in loathsome ulcers. The nation is lost, the disease is incurable; nothing but the unveiled treasures of mercy can save you from ruin and destruction. The whole heart is faint; you are astounded with guilt, and lifeless with fear.

Isaiah 1:7. Your country is desolate. The people are slain, or fled, or taken captive. The cities smoke, the mountains mourn, the vallies weep. Invaders and destroyers are alone to be seen.— “Oh my country, my country,” said a great statesman, in his last moments. Oh my country! Think of this, ye christians dwelling at ease.

Isaiah 1:8. The daughter of Zion is left as a cottage. A metropolis without a country; the whole land, once beautiful as the garden of the Lord, is now reduced to a solitary lodge.

Isaiah 1:10. Ye rulers of Sodom. The batch of prisoners put to the bar must hear the judge; the nuncio of a king must be bold to declare his master’s pleasure. A similarity in moral character to Sodom, justified a similarity in appellatives. The burning of cities was already begun.

Isaiah 1:11. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? Will heaven make bargains with the wicked? Will the Lord receive a gift from impure hands? Your hands are full of blood:— yesterday you were offering children to Moloch.

Isaiah 1:14. Your new moons—my soul hateth. The zodiac divided the seasons into twelve; the new moon announced fresh sacrifices the moment it was seen, with peace-offerings and music at home; festivals of sin, instead of piety. Numbers 28:11.

Isaiah 1:18. Come now, and let us reason. Let us argue. Lowth. ונוכחה venivookah. Nos increpemus, Let us rebuke ourselves. Montanus. Corrigamus, Let us correct ourselves. Castellio. The two last translators express the word better than Lowth, as calling on a guilty people to own the justice of their punishment for sin, deep as the dyes of scarlet and crimson.

The vivid colours of crimson and scarlet instruct us in the deepest stains of sin, which no frail efforts of reform can discharge. The dyes were anciently twice or oftener dipped, though now raised at once; but not in all cases. Our scarlet skins are stained first with a crimson tint by a dye of cochineal; then when dried, a solution of tin is poured over the leather, which gives the scarlet blaze. It is the same with cotton; on the second dip a solution of tin is poured into the vat. Surely then nothing but the altar of Calvary can discharge the stains of a conscience dipped in sin a thousand times. “The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth from all sin.” But grace does more than heal; when God takes away sin, he confers all the adornings of grace, and the beauty of holiness. He creates and cleanses, and makes the conscience white as wool.

Isaiah 1:19. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall recover from this tremendous stroke of invasion, and see golden harvests wave in the fields, and the purple clusters of grapes hang on the rocky hills. All your glory as in former days shall be restored.

Isaiah 1:21. How is the faithful city become a harlot, by idolatry. In the time of David, of Solomon, and Uzziah, it was full of judgment; righteousness dwelt in it, but now murderers.

Isaiah 1:27. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment. The second member of the metaboles of Hebrew poetry, when a doubt occurs, often determines the sense of the first. The righteousness which should redeem and restore Zion to glory was the practice of judgment, mercy, and truth; the ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well, as in Isaiah 1:26. Then thou shalt be called the city of righteousness. On the contrary, as in the verses following, the apostates to idolatry fade as the leaf, and burn as the tow with a spark.

REFLECTIONS.

What a tremendous chapter is this we have just read! What a flood of vices had suddenly inundated the land, and was followed by a reflux of divine visitations. We see a prophet fully enlightened with all the views of Jehovah, and deeply moved with pity for his bleeding country. But he sanctifies before he consoles. He runs like a flame of fire into all parts of the city; and while the people were weeping for their calamities, he directs all his energies to bring them to weep for their sins. He heals not slightly the wounds of Judah.

Minister—reader, fix your eye on this prophet. See his lips touched with a live coal from the atoning altar: Isaiah 6:6. See him emulous to convert a nation, though God had intimated that the effort was hopeless. Filled with the divine impetus as the special minister of God, he cries with a high voice, Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, oh earth. Being animated with the spirit of the venerable Moses, he addressed his country in the words of his song, which foretold their present misery. Deuteronomy 32. The whole body from the princes to the priests being corrupt, to whom could the Lord complain but to the heavens which had witnessed the crimes, and to the earth which had nourished the guilty. And who would be impartial judges but the angels who had watched, and the gentiles who had noticed the apostasy. The Lord as a father was pierced and grieved with the sin; for he had nourished and brought them up as his own children, and they had rebelled against his gracious covenant and gentle yoke. The sins of professors of religion are peculiarly provoking to God.

Israel, boasting of wisdom, and the revival of literature by Solomon, are reproached with brutish ignorance. Animals formed for labour can be trained to duty, and birds of passage know the seasons; but Israel could not discern the visitations of God in the calamities of their country. It was all chance and accident, if we may speak like the infidels of the present age; nor could they discern that God required purity of heart.

Israel is addressed as a nation totally infected with moral disease, and laden with iniquities. Ignorance and the want of piety are connected with every crime. Drunkenness and dissipation, swearing and infidelity, avarice and oppression, are all consequent on the loss of religion. When the heart is corrupted with vice, the judgment is perverted with error. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. Habits of sin corrode the heart, and the wounds remain unwashed, and unmollified with the oil of grace.

The infection was hereditary. They were a seed of evil doers. The children inherited the natural depravity of their fathers, and became still more and more corrupt by practice. The haughty father destroys his children by false maxims, and trains them by example to revolt against God.

They were incorrigible; past judgments had no effect. Many of their cities were burnt by the invader, others were forsaken through fear; and Isaiah saw yet greater visitations approach. Yet there were no real repentance, no seeking of God by fasting and prayer, and no public spirit to meet the invader. Jerusalem remained as a cottage; the worshippers through want of piety and fear, came not up to keep the feasts. Had it not been therefore for the praying remnant, they had been swallowed up as Sodom and Gomorrah, having resembled those cities in wickedness.

The case being desperate the prophet applies a severe remedy, that the keen caustic might consume the corruption and touch the heart. He addresses them in the revolting appellatives of the rulers of Sodom, and people of Gomorrah. What are sinners at the bar of God; and how can habits so depraved be reformed by lenient words? He declares that their festivals, their well-fed beasts, and their devotion even in solemn assemblies, were altogether odious to the Lord, because of the impurity of their hearts, and of the hands that offered. Hence we learn, that every sinner must put away his wickedness before he presumes to approach the Lord; and that the devotion of a contrite heart is more to him than if he offered the richest of exterior gifts.

The rebukes he gives to their excesses of devotion are among the keenest strokes of his ministry. How could the offerings of men be acceptable to God, whose heart in all its exercises, and whose life in all its habits, were wholly devoted to sin. What could the import of their prayers and tears be, but solicitations for grace that they might return to their errors with the greater zest. What a portrait for our contemplation!

The Lord next endeavours by gracious promises to excite them to reformation and spiritual worship. Wash ye, make you clean; make you a new heart. Here we have the harmony of grace and will; for God will give a new heart to those who properly use his grace. And as guilt is always inclined to shun the light, and shrink from God’s tribunal, he invites them to come and reason with him; yea, even to impeach him, if they thought he had failed in his promises. He invites them to lift up their hands for pardon. Oh mercy unutterable: grace which language cannot describe! The sinner’s guilt of blood may be purged with the innocent and availing blood of Christ. Oh what riches of mercy did this prophet preach to the misguided sinners of his age; and what riches of grace did he predict to the more hardened sinners in our Saviour’s time, who brought upon themselves the blood of the Holy and Just One. Oh amazing love, burning as a victim on Calvary. May my heart melt in a flame, and return, oh my Saviour, to the arms of thy compassion, with a love stronger than death, a love which cannot offend. Lord, may I live for thee alone; for the man who refuses this grace, and rebels against thy love shall be cut off. After pardon, purity must follow, otherwise the gospel would be licentious.—”I will restore thy judges, &c.” These being prophecies of the latter-day glory, we may consider them at large at the end of the book.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/isaiah-1.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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