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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Isaiah 59

 

 

Verses 1-8

b) To the complaint of the people concerning Jehovah’s inability is opposed the charge of moral corruption

Isaiah 59:1-8

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not [FN1]shortened, that it cannot save;

Neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:

2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God

And your sins [FN2]have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.

3 For your hands are defiled with blood

And your fingers with iniquity;

Your lips have spoken lies, your tongue [FN3]hath muttered perverseness.

4 None [FN4]calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth:

They trust in vanity, and speak lies;

They conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.

5 They hatch [FN5][FN6]cockatrice’ eggs

And weave the spider’s web:

He that eateth of their eggs dieth,

And [FN7]that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.

6 Their webs shall not become garments,

Neither shall they cover themselves with their works

Their works are works of iniquity,

And the act of violence is in their hands.

7 Their feet run to evil,

And they make haste to shed innocent blood:

Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;

Wasting and [FN8]destruction are in their paths.

8 The way of peace they know not;

And there is no [FN9]judgment in their [FN10]goings:

They have made them crooked paths:

Whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Ver8 מבדילים direct causative Hiph. with בֵּין־לְ as e. g., in Genesis 1:6; Ezekiel 22:26; Ezekiel 42:20.——הִסְתִּיר also direct causative Hiph.; comp. moreover, as regards the expression, Isaiah 54:8.

Ver 3 The word נְגֹאַל is found only here and Lamentations 4:14, where the words נְגֹאֲלוּ בַדָּם are evidently taken from our text. The form נְּגאַל is irregular. The prefix נ denotes a Niphal form, whereas גְֹאַל appears as a Pual or passive of Poel. The root גָּאַל (kindred to גָּעַל fastidivit) occurs again in the sense of “impurum, profanum esse,” in the Hiph. in Isaiah 63:3, on the other hand often in later writers: Zephaniah 3:1; Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12; Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64; Daniel 1:8.——Thus נְגֹאַל is bad Hebrew both materially and formally. It seems to me that the expression was purposely taken by the Prophet from popular language, in order, by the bad word, to designate the more graphically the bad thing. The root, which originally belongs more to the Aramaic dialect, only penetrated into the Hebrew Scripture language at a later date, as the passages quoted show.——one may not render תהגה “to murmur,” which would make nonsense where the same word occurs in Psalm 35:28; Psalm 71:24; Job 27:4; Proverbs 8:9. The tongue (or palate) in all these passages is personified, and treated as the inner source of what the lips outwardly express aloud. Gesenius (Thes. p364) quotes with approval the words of Gussetius, that “הָנָה non reperitur cum parte magis extrinseca, nompe שָׂפָה, et sic aliquam servat intrinsecitatem.” And that is correct. By הָנָה לָשׁוֹן the same thing is affirmed of the tongue that is elsewhere ascribed to it when it is said of it, that a high song of praise רוֹמָמ Psalm 66:17), honey and milk ( Song of Solomon 4:11), malignity ( Job 20:12), pain and wickedness ( Psalm 10:7) are under the tongue, or that pleasant doctrine is on the tongue ( Proverbs 31:26), or that wickedness is in the tongue ( Job 6:30). All these expressions must be regarded as metaphors, because in all of them the outward, irrational organ is substituted for the inward rational organ.

Ver5 הַזּוּרֶה ἅπ.λεγ., comp. זֹרוּ Isaiah 1:6,’ from זוּר “to press together;” it is a passive participial form, as e. g. סוּרָה,עוּל with the rare feminine ending ־ֶה.

Isaiah 59:8.בָּהּ the totality of the ways, comp. e. g., Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:4.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. Behold——not hear.

Vers1, 2. Ver 1 implies a double reproach which Israel lets fall beside that in Isaiah 52:2-3. In the latter they had reproached Him with injustice. Here they let it be understood that Jehovah either lacks the necessary strength of hand (קצרה יד־י׳ comp. on Isaiah 50:2) or else hearing. The expression כבדה אזן does not signify unwillingness to hear, but inability to hear, deafness, as in Genesis 48:10 “the eyes of Israel were heavy from age” signifies the physical weakness of the eyes, wherefore it is added “he could not see.” The expression כָּכֵד used of the ear occurs again only Isaiah 6:10;and in Zechariah 7:11 as a quotation from our text (comp. on Isaiah 58:6 sqq.). In ver 2 is given the real reason for Israel’s mournful fate. It is their sins that raise a partition-wall between them and their God, and make Him hide His face from them so that He does not hear.

2. For your hands——not know peace.

Vers3–8. In this section the Prophet specifies the sins of Israel, showing that it is wholly penetrated by sin, and that the outward manifestation exactly corresponds to the corrupt interior. He first points to the hands spotted with blood. Then he says that guilt, offence clings to their fingers, by which he would only express, that this blood came not on their fingers by accident, but by actual trespass. He distributes the notion ‘ ‘blood-guiltiness” to the palms and fingers according to the law of parallelism. The lips speak lies loud and audibly, while the tongue devises wickedness, which is set in operation by means of the lies. There prevails here, too, the antithesis between what is outward and what is inward. In ver 4 there underlies the same antithesis. I have no doubt that קרא בצדק designates the judicial invocatio (in jus vocare, καλεῖν ἐπὶ δίκην); so Coccejus, Gesen, Maurer, Knobel. For first, in this way the two clauses of the half of the verse most beautifully correspond. The first treats of the complainant, and the second of the fate his complaint has with the Judge. Moreover Job 13:22 seems to me to prove that the general sense “to call” may, according to the context, acquire the meaning of a forensic Acts, as that of the call proceeding from the complainant to appear at the bar of judgment and to justification. If we takeקרא in the sense of κηρύσσειν, as Delitzsch does (“no one gives public testimony with righteousness”), it would be giving too much meaning to קרא and to κηρύσσειν. If one were to take it with Stier in the sense “no one calls (appeals) to righteousness, raises his voice for it, i.e., in order to it and for it,” that would be to attach too much meaning to the prefix בְּ. I translate: there is no one that appeals with righteousness, and there is no one that is judged with faithfulness (impartially). One could, as most do, translate נשׁפט also by “who conducts his cause.” But the Niph. primarily means “to be judged” ( Psalm 9:20; Psalm 37:33; Psalm 109:7); and this meaning seems to me to suit better here, since עֹנֶה (as in Job 13:28) would better answer to קרא in the sense denoted before, and נשׁפט does not mean “to defend one’s self” but “to go to law, litigare,” and thus includes the complainant. According to our meaning the complainant’s aim at wrong is judged, but also the judges treat the cause with no fidelity or love of truth. אמונה answers here to the idea צֶדֶק as, e. g., Psalm 96:13; Proverbs 12:17; 1 Samuel 26:23 etc. Now where such things come to light, there must be something lacking within. There, instead of the living God, emptiness, vanity, nothingness must be the refuge in which trust is placed; there, too, lies must serve as indispensable aids (דכר־שׁוא see Isaiah 58:9). In general the natural law is observed: as the seed, so the fruit. What is conceived within as the germ of the עָמָל (weary trouble with the secondary notion of what is baneful, a curse, especially in Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 2:10 sqq, etc., comp. Job 5:6-7; Psalm 7:17) comes to light in an aggravated form as אָוֶן (vanum, malum in the double sense of the word). The notion און is stronger than עָמָל, since it expresses more strongly both the idea of vanity, illusiveness, as well as that of moral wickedness. Moreover both conceptions (עמל and און) are often conjoined, not only in passages that more or less literally coincide with ours ( Job 15:35; Psalm 7:15), but elsewhere also ( Psalm 10:7; Psalm 90:10; Psalm 55:11).

In vers5, 6, by a double image, the Prophet expresses the thought that the inward corruption of the people reveals itself outwardly by corresponding works. He compares the Israelites to poisonous serpents that produce poisonous eggs, and to poisonous spiders that draw out of their body a baneful web. In Isaiah 59:5 a the comparisons stand side by side in their general import. But Isaiah 59:5 b there is mentioned first a double destructive use of the basilisk’s egg. Either one eats it, and dies of it; or the broken egg divides itself as an adder, i. e., lets slip out through the crack the poisonous adder, that is dangerous to the foot of him that treads on it ( Genesis 3:15). Thus the works of the Israelites are on the one hand positively ruinous, on the other hand they appear as useless, unreliable, consequently also as indirectly ruinous. That Isaiah, so far as the Israelites are thought of as spiders that produce a web, there their products prove useless for protecting garments. Consequently the conduct of the Israelites is altogether the product of an inward corruption, and in every respect, in part useless and thus indirectly pernicious (מעשי־און), in part directly and positively ruinous (פעל חמם).

Isaiah 59:7-8 continue the effort to hold up to Israel the manifoldness of its sinful ways. It is as if the Prophet, having in Isaiah 59:6 spoken of the sinful works of the hands, would now describe the participation of the feet in these works. This he does by means of a citation. For the entire first half of Isaiah 59:7 is taken from Proverbs 1:16 (as on the other hand Paul in Romans 3:15-17 gives a free citation of our Isaiah 59:7-8 a). Also the words their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity are the more to be regarded as a reminiscence of Proverbs 6:18 since the expression מחשׁבות און occurs only in these two passages, and also the second half of Proverbs 6:18 is only a variation of the first half of Isaiah 1:16. In the last number of Isaiah 59:7 as also in Isaiah 59:8, the Prophet appears to have intended to show how Israel had by its sins polluted everything even that was called a way. Hence it is said at the close of Isaiah 59:7 that wasting and destruction ( Isaiah 51:19; Isaiah 60:18) is in their paths (מְסִלָּה the beaten road; notice the antithesis to שׁד ושׁבר); then Isaiah 59:8דרך “the way” and מעגלות “the wagon tracks, orbitae,” are described as devoid of peace and judgment, and the נתיבות “the footpaths” are made crooked by them (in their interest לָהֶם). “The way of peace” is an expression that occurs only here, and as a citation from this text in Luke 1:79 and Romans 3:17. Also in writing these clauses the Prophet had undoubtedly in mind passages in Proverbs like Proverbs 2:8-9; Proverbs 2:15. The concluding clause of Isaiah 59:8 : whosoever goeth therein,etc., corresponds to the beginning of the verse, and is a sort of recapitulation of all that was said concerning the ways of the Israelites. That Isaiah, the result is that every one that goes thereon learns not to know peace (viz. practically, Isaiah 47:8; Jeremiah 20:20).

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On Isaiah 58:2-3. There are also to-day many men that hold up their good works to God ( Luke 18:11 sqq.), and who, out aloud or silently, reproach Him for not adequately rewarding them for them. But one can distinguish here two classes: those that boast of having done works of undoubted moral worth; and such as found their pretensions essentially on works that are morally indifferent, as ceremonies of worship and the like. Of course there is a difference between these, for the former can, under some circumstances, really deserve praise; whereas the latter under all circumstances accomplish something more or less morally worthless, yea, possibly, as miserable hypocrites, directly provoke the wrath of God. But never has the creature the right to accuse God. It may be debated whether such accusation is more folly or wickedness. It is tinder all circumstances a presumptuous judgment. For, as long as we live, results are not assured, and we lack ability to see all. Only the day will make it clear what is the relation between God’s doing and ours, and that He has not let the just recompense be wanting ( Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 43:26).

2. On Isaiah 58:4 sqq. The Prophet finds fault with the fasting of the Jews in two respects. First, because they combined them with works of unrighteousness. Second, because they held the “bodily exercise” to be the chief thing. Perhaps in the Sermon on the mount our Lord had our text in mind when He said: “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance.” Matthew 6:11. He makes prominent one particular that probably hovered before our Prophet also. For it is possible that he saw in the “hanging the head” an artificial, affected, and so hypocritical expression of a piety that did not exist inwardly; although it is not absolutely necessary that this letting the head hang and making one’s bed in sand and ashes took place with hypocritical intent. But our Lord expressly demands that one do not let appear the harassed, sickly look, that was the perhaps quite natural consequence of fasting. He says ( Matthew 6:17): “but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, which is in secret.” One sees, therefore, that in the Sermon on the mount the Lord by no means rejects corporeal fasting. He only shows abhorrence of men’s hypocritically abusing fasting for the gratification of pride. But the Prophet also does not reject fasting. But he would have corporeal fasting be the faithful expression of a simultaneous moral doing of penitent self-denial and compassionating love.

3. On Isaiah 58:6-9. As the apostle James pressingly urges against dead works, that even Abraham’s faith was in itself a grand moral Acts, so here, too, the Prophet insists on right works as opposed to false works. But neither declares essentially anything concerning the true ground and origin of the works that they mean, because the context of their discourses does not call for it. We are to supply this from passages that professedly speak to this point, which they silently take for granted, according to the measure of intelligence given to them. For even Isaiah knows right well that that which satisfies and strengthens is not to be obtained by one’s own labor and effort (55).

4. On Isaiah 58:7. “Flesh denotes here in this context something more still, which J. von Mueller has remarked: “The remembrance of universal brotherhood, and how we are all exposed to like things”—as ἅνθρωποι ὁμοιοπαθεῖς. Verily flesh has need of covering. When therefore thou seest the naked, then see and feel therein the need of thine own flesh, and do not, proudly selfish, conceal or cover only thyself with thy garment that belongs to the other as also being thy flesh.” Stier.

5. On Isaiah 58:7. Concerning the expression כָּרֹם לֶחֶם see Doctrinal and Ethical on Jeremiah 16:7.

6. [On Isaiah 58:13-14. “From the closing portion of this chapter we may derive the following important inferences respecting the Sabbath. (1) It is to be of perpetual obligation. The whole chapter occurs in the midst of statements that relate to the times of the Messiah. There is no intimation that the Sabbath was to be abolished, but it is fairly implied that its observance was to be attended with most happy results in those future times.... (2) We may see the manner in which the Sabbath is to be observed. In no place in the Bible is there a more full account of the proper mode of keeping that holy day. We are to refrain from ordinary travelling and employments; we are not to engage in doing our own pleasure; we are to regard it with delight, and to esteem it a day worthy to be honored. And we are to show respect to it by not performing our own ordinary works, or pursuing pleasures, or engaging in the common topics of conversation. In this description there occurs nothing of peculiar Jewish ceremony, and nothing which indicates that it is not to be observed in this manner at all times. Under the gospel assuredly, it is as proper to celebrate the Sabbath in this way as it was in the times of Isaiah, and God doubtless intended that it should be perpetually observed in this manner. (3) Important benefits result from the right observance of the Sabbath. In the passage before us these are said to be, that they who thus observed it would find pleasure in Jehovah, and would be signally prospered and be safe. But those benefits are by no means confined to the Jewish people. It is as true now as it was then, and they who observe the Sabbath in a proper manner find happiness in the Lord—in His existence, perfections, promises, law, and in communion with Him—which is to be found no where else... And it is as true that the proper observance of the Sabbath contributes to the prosperity and safety of a nation now as it ever did among the Jewish people. It is not merely from the fact that God promises to bless the people who keep His holy day—though this is of more value to a nation than all its armies and fleets; but it is that there is in the institution itself much that tends to the welfare and prosperity of a country.... Any one may be convinced of this who will be at the pains to compare a neighborhood, a village, or a city where the Sabbath is not observed with one where it is; and the difference will convince him at once that society owes more to the Sabbath than to any single institution beside.” Barnes.]

7. On Isaiah 59:2. “Quia quotidie apud nos crescit culpa, cur non et simul crescat poena?” Augustine. “The public sins are compared to a thick cloud, that sets itself between heaven and earth, and as it were hinders prayers from passing through ( Lamentations 3:44).” Starke. “There is great power in sin, for it separates God and us from one another.” Cramer. “There are times when the hand of the Lord lies long and heavy on His children. One feels that God has withdrawn from him and hidden His countenance. But one does not sufficiently investigate the cause. One seeks it in God, and it lies in us, who, by sins unacknowledged and not repented of, make it impossible to God to turn to us in grace.” Weber.

8. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The register of sins that Isaiah here holds up to the Jews is a mirror in which many a Christian, many a nation, many a time may recognize its own image. The Prophet declares here very plainly the poison nature, the serpent origin of sin. Sin is the poison that the old serpent knew how to bring into our nature. He that has stolen a taste of a product of this poison, as Eve did of the tree of knowledge, supposing that he will thereby receive some good, will go to ruin by it. But he that would be no lover of sin, but would stand forth as its opponent, may count upon it that the reptile will press its malignant fang in his heel, as was even held in prospect to the great trampler of the serpent’s head Himself ( Genesis 3:15).

9. On Isaiah 59:9-15 a. Here is for once an honest and thorough confession of sins. Nothing is palliated here, nothing excused. It is freely confessed that Israel is itself to blame for all its wretchedness, and this guilt is acknowledged to be the consequence of the apostacy from Jehovah and of the workings of a depraved heart, whose malignant fruits have become manifest in words and works. Comp. Jeremiah 3:21 sqq.—Here therefore is given a model for all who would know wherein true repentance must consist.

10. On Isaiah 59:15 b sqq. “Si tu recordaberis peccatorum tuorum, Dominus non recordabitur.” Augustine. “God wonders that men let sin become so great and His righteousness so small.” Oetinger in Stier.—It is a divine privilege to need no helper. With God there is no difference between willing and being able. With Him the being able follows the willing ad nutum. And there is nothing to which God, when He wills, has not also the right. We men, when we have the will and the power, are often without the right, and this takes the foundation from under our feet.

Isaiah 59:17. This is the original source of the Apostle Paul’s extended description of the spiritual armor, Ephesians 6:14; Ephesians 6:17. Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 there underlies the same representation of the equipment required by Christians. On the other hand God is conceived of as an equipped warrior, e.g., Psalm 7:13-14; Psalm 35:2-3. In Exodus 15:4 He is directly called “a man of war.”

11. On Isaiah 59:18-20. Regarding the time of the fulfilment of this prophecy, the honorable and thorough confession of sin in Isaiah 59:9-15 a, assumes the conclusion of the judgments against Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles. So Paul understood our passage, who cites it, Romans 11:26, to prove that only then will the Jews partake of the salvation when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in. Therefore the Prophet distinguishes three great periods of time. The first comprehends all the stages of time in which Israel will be impenitent, and hence deprived of its theocratic rights. This period will conclude with a condition wherein Israel’s scale, as too light, hurries upwards to the highest elevation, while the scale of the Gentiles, by reason of its weight, will sink deep down. Just this situation will bring about the turning of the scale. Israel will repent; but those Gentiles and those Israelites that will not have repented will be overtaken by the judgment ( Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 59:20 שׁבי כשׁע ביעקב). For neither the “fulness of the Gentiles,” nor “all Israel” excludes there being still unconverted Gentiles and Jews. The third period is then the period of salvation, when the Goel [“Redeemer”] will come to Zion and raise up the covenant ( Isaiah 59:21).

12. On Isaiah 59:21 “Does the Spirit of God remain, then does also His word; does the word remain, then preachers also remain; do preachers remain, then also hearers do; do hearers remain, then there remain also believers, and therefore the Christian church remains also, to which ever some still will be gathered out of the Jews ( Romans 11:26).”—“Although in general God has promised that His word and Spirit shall not depart from the church of God, still no one must become so secure about that (comp. Jeremiah 18:18) as if it were impossible that this or that particular church (and even the Romish church is nothing more) could err.” Cramer.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

1. On Isaiah 58:1. Penitential Sermon. The text teaches us two things: 1) What one ought to preach on a day of repentance [fast-day]; viz., hold up to the people their sins2) How one should preach: a. boldly, b. without sparing, loud as a trumpet.

2. On Isaiah 58:2-9 This text contains the outlines of a popular theodicy. First we hear, Isaiah 58:2-3 a, the popular complaint that the divine Providence that guides the affairs of the world is unjust, and that He is not fair to the claims of reward that each individual fancies he has. Then in Isaiah 58:3 b–9, we hear the divine justification. It consists of two parts. In the first part God shows that the claims of men are unfounded in two respects. First for this reason, because they do not do good purely, but along with the good have still room in their hearts for evil, consequently imagine that they can serve two masters ( Isaiah 58:3 a., 4). Second, their claims are unfounded, because founded in the illusion that it is sufficient to fulfil the divine commands in a rude, outward manner. Thus men suppose, e.g., that they can satisfy the divine command to fast by harassing the body by hunger, and lying on sack-cloth and ashes ( Isaiah 58:5). In the second part God shows what must be the nature of the performances that would satisfy the demand of His holiness, and give a claim on His righteousness for reward. That is to say, men must first of all, by practical repentance, make restoration for all injustice done by them, and make manifest by works of mercy their love to God and their neighbor ( Isaiah 58:7). Then divine salvation and divine blessing will be constantly with them, and in every necessity their prayer for help will find certain hearing ( Isaiah 58:8-9 a).

3. [On Isaiah 58:3. “Having gone about to put a cheat on God by their external services, here they go about to pick a quarrel with God for not being pleased with their services, as if He had not done justly or fairly by them.” M. Henry.]

4. [On Isaiah 58:4. “Behold, you fast for strife and debate. When they proclaimed a fast to deprecate God’s judgments, they pretended to search for those sins that provoked God to threaten them with His judgments, and under that pretence, perhaps, particular persons were falsely accused, as Naboth in the day of Jezebel’s fast, 1 Kings 21:12. Or the contending parties among them upon those occasions were bitter and severe in their reflections one upon another, one side crying out, ‘It is owing to you,’ and the other, “It is owing to you, that our deliverance is not wrought.’ Thus, instead of judging themselves, which is the proper work of a fast-day, they condemned one another.” M. Henry.]

5. [On Isaiah 58:5; Isaiah 58:7. “Plain instructions given concerning the true nature of a religious fast. 1. In general a fast is intended: (1) For the honoring and pleasing of God ( Isaiah 58:5, a fast that I have chosen, an acceptable day to the Lord). (2) For the humbling and abasing of ourselves, Leviticus 16:29. That must be done on a fast-day which is a real affliction to the soul, as far as it is unregenerate and unsanctified, though a real pleasure and advantage to the soul as far as it is itself. II. What will be acceptable to God and afflict our corrupt nature to its mortification. (1) Negatively, what does neither of these, a. To look demure, put on a melancholy aspect and bow the head like a bulrush, Matthew 6:16. Though that were well enough so far, Luke 18:13. b. It is not enough to mortify the body a little, while the body of sin is untouched. (2) Positively, a. That we be just to those with whom we have dealt hardly ( Isaiah 58:6). b. That we be charitable to those that stand in need of charity ( Isaiah 58:7).” After M. Henry.]

6. On Isaiah 58:7. The compassionate love of the Samaritan. 1) What does it give? a. food, b. housing, c. clothing2) To whom does it give? To its flesh, i. e., to its neighbor in the sense of Luke 10:29 sqq.

7. On Isaiah 58:9. “What if the Lord were to make us priests, and if He were to give us the light and righteousness that Aaron bore on his heart as often as he went in unto the Lord, and by which the Lord gave him answer when He inquired,—if He were to give all of us that in our hearts, who are priests of the new covenant? And assuredly I believe that He will also do this. What He has already promised by the Prophets, He will much more fulfil in us: Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer thee; when thou shalt cry, He will say: here I am.” Tholuck.

8. On Isaiah 58:7-9. “O God, our great, sore, horrible blindness, that we so disregard such a glorious promise! To whom are we harsh, when we do not help poor people? Are they not our flesh and blood? As in heaven and earth there is no creature so nearly related to us, it ought to be our way: what we would that men should do to us in like case, that let us do to others. But there that detestable Satan holds our eyes, so that we withdraw from our own flesh and become tyrants and blood-hounds to our neighbors. But what do we accomplish by that? What do we enjoy? We load ourselves with God’s disfavor, curse and all misfortune, who might otherwise have temporal and eternal blessing. For he that takes on him the distress of his neighbor, his light shall break forth like the morning dawn, i.e., he shall find consolation and help in time of need. His recovery shall progress rapidly, i.e., God will again bless him, and replace what he has given away. His righteousness shall go before him, i.e., he shall not only have a good name with every one, but God will shelter him from evil, and ward off from him temporal misfortune, as one may see that God wonderfully protects His own when common punishments go about. And the glory of the Lord will take him to itself, i. e., God will interest Himself for him, [as follows Isaiah 58:9]. Lo, of such great mercy as this does greed rob us, when we do not gladly and kindly help the poor!” Veit Dietrich.

9. [On Isaiah 58:12. Thou shalt be called (and it shall be to thy honor) the repairer of the breach, the breach made by the enemy in the wall of a besieged city, which whoso has courage and dexterity to make up, or make good, gains great applause. Happy are those who make up the breach at which virtue is running out, and judgments are breaking in. M. Henry].

10. On Isaiah 59:1-2. It is often in human life as if heaven were shut up. No prayer seems to penetrate through to it. To all our cries, no answer. Then people murmur ( Isaiah 8:21 sq.; Lamentations 3:39) and accuse God, as if He were lame or deaf. But they ought rather to seek the blame in themselves. There still exists a wall of partition between them and God, a guilt unatoned for, the sight of which still continuously provokes the anger of God, and hinders the appearance of His mercy ( Isaiah 1:15 sqq.; Isaiah 64:5 sqq.; Daniel 9:5 sqq.: Proverbs 1:24 sqq.). Hence Christians must be pointed to what they must guard against in seasons of long-continued visitation and what they should strive after at such times before all things. As they would avoid great harm to soul and body, they must beware of laying any blame on God, as if He were wanting in willingness or ability. Rather, by sincere repentance, their endeavor should be that heaven may be pure and clear, that their guilt may be forgiven for Christ’s sake, and that, as children of God, with the testimony of the Holy Spirit ( Romans 8:16) in their hearts, they may have free access to the heart of their heavenly Father.

11. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The description the Prophet gives here of the depraved moral condition of Israel is also a description of human sinfulness generally. And the Apostle Paul has adopted parts of it in the portrait he gives of the condition of the natural man (comp. Isaiah 59:7 with Romans 3:15). Therefore, where one would draw the picture of the natural Prayer of Manasseh, he may make good use of this text.

12. [On Isaiah 59:13. Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. “They were words of falsehood, and yet they were said to be uttered from the heart, because though they differed from the real sentiments of the heart, and therefore were words of falsehood, yet they agreed with the malice and wickedness of the heart, and were the natural language of that; it was a double heart, Psalm 12:2.” M. Henry.]

13. On Isaiah 59:15 b–21. One may preach on this text in times of great distress and conflict for the Church. The Lord the protection of His Church. 1) The distress of the Church does not remain concealed from Him, for He sees: a. that the Church encounters injustice ( Isaiah 59:15 b), b. that no one on earth takes its part ( Isaiah 59:16) 2) He stirs Himself ( Isaiah 59:16 b; Isaiah 59:17 a, Isaiah 59:19 b): a. to judgment against the enemy ( Isaiah 59:17 b, Isaiah 59:18), b. to salvation for the Church ( Isaiah 59:17 helmet of salvation): a. with reference to its deliverance from outward distress ( Isaiah 59:20), β. with reference to inward preservation and quickening of the Church ( Isaiah 59:20 b, 21), c. to rescue the honor of His own name ( Isaiah 59:19 a), because the Church is even His kingdom, the theatre for the realization of His decrees of salvation. Comp. Homil. Hints on Isaiah 49:1-6.

14. [On Isaiah 59:16 sqq. “How sin abounded we have read, to our great amazement, in the former part of the chapter; how grace does much more abound we read in these verses. And as sin took occasion from the commandment to become more exceedingly sinful, so grace took occasion from the transgression to appear more exceedingly gracious.” M. Henry.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - too short to save, too dull to hear.

FN#2 - Or, have made him hide.

FN#3 - deviseth wickedness.

FN#4 - appeals with justice, there is no one that would judge impartially.

FN#5 - Or adders

FN#6 - basilisk.

FN#7 - Or, that which is sprinkled is as if there brake out a viper,

FN#8 - Heb. breaking.

FN#9 - Or right.

FN#10 - tracks.


Verses 9-15

2.THE TRANSITION UPWARD

a) The transition from the Mournful Present to the Blessed Future by means of the Nation’s Penitent Confession

Isaiah 59:9-15 a

9Therefore Isaiah 11judgment far from us,

Neither doth justice overtake us:

We wait for light, but behold obscurity;

For brightness, but we walk in darkness.

10 We grope for the wall like the blind,

And we grope as if we had no eyes:

We stumble at noonday as in the [FN12]night;

[FN13]We are in desolate places as dead men.

11 We roar all like bears,

And mourn sore like doves:

We look for ajudgment, but there is none;

For salvation, but it is far off from us.

12 For our transgressions are multiplied before thee,

And our sins testify against us:

For our transgressions are with us;

And as for our iniquities, we know them.

13 In transgressing and lying against the Lord,

And departing away from our God,

Speaking oppression and revolt,

Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.

14 And ajudgment is turned away backward,

And justice standeth afar off:

For truth is fallen in the street,

And equity cannot enter.

15 aYea, truth faileth;

And he that departeth from evil [FN14]maketh himself a prey.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

See List for the recurrence of the words: Isaiah 59:9. אֲכֵּלָה–נְגֹהָה Isaiah 59:10. גָשַׁשׁ, comp. מָשַׁשׁ.

Isaiah 59:10. He parag. accented the first time, the second time unaccented, seems to me to be with reference to merely rhetorical effect, corresponding only to the outward difference between עורים and אין עינים ( Isaiah 40:29).—כַּנֶּשֶׁף with the preposition omitted, comp. Isaiah 1:25; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:29; Isaiah 10:14; Isaiah 28:21.—אַשְׁמָן is an adjective form from שָׁמֵן pinguis fuit, like אֵיתָן,אַכְזָב,אַכְזָר. The Prophet could write בַּשְׁמֵנִים, but he coined a new word in order to intimate that he would have the word taken in more than the common, in an intensified sense. Judges 3:29 שָׁמֵן is used parallel with אִישׁ־חַיִל: they smote ten thousand Moabites כָּל־שָמֵן וְכָל־אִישׁ חַיִל. Also in Psalm 78:31 מִשְׁמַנִּים is placed in parallelism with בַּחוּרִים (comp, Isaiah 10:16). Since the words באשׁמנים כמ׳ as far as כָּשַׁלְנוּ stand in the same grammatical relation as בצהרים כנשׁף, and correspond to these words in parallelism, they must have an analogous sense. There lies in the former the same antithesis as in the latter. See Exeg. and Crit..

Isaiah 59:12. ענתה בנו comp. Isaiah 3:9; and as regards the singular predicate with the plural subject comp. Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 35:9.

Isaiah 59:13. נָסוֹג inf. absol. Niph. from סוּג, comp. Zephaniah 1:6.—הֹגוֹ,הֹרוֹ are inff. abss. Poel from הָרָה and הָגָה; they both occur only here. They are evidently meant for a paronomasia.

Isaiah 59:14. The discourse returns to the verb. fin.

Isaiah 59:15. משׁתולל, with reflexive-causal meaning; comp. Psalm 76:6.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. From the present, whose contemplation he begins in chap, 58, the Prophet would prepare a way for himself to behold the remote future. The sins and vices of the present, which he had to oppose to the people’s charge of injustice on God’s part, prevent the coming of the salvation to which the people had a certain right as to something promised. But these sins can be blotted out, a way to Israel’s right to salvation can be made, if Israel repents. That will come about. Hence in the present section the Prophet describes the penitent Israel. That this repentance may appear spontaneous and real, he lets Israel itself speak. He was the more moved to do this, as he comprehends together relative and absolute present, and accordingly would include himself and his own time. With על־כן, “therefore” ( Isaiah 59:9), the Israelites join on to the charge of the Prophet. They admit thereby that their sins are the cause of their sad condition, which they now proceed to describe ( Isaiah 59:9-11). To this “therefore” corresponds the causal כי, “for,” Isaiah 59:12 : what they should know as the consequence of the Prophet’s charges, that they now prove by a candid confession of sin ( Isaiah 59:12-15 a). In direct contrast, therefore, with that bold statement, Isaiah 58:2-3, that Jehovah was unjust toward His people, Israel here confesses emphatically, in a double turn of discourse intertwined like a chain, and in connection with the mirror of its sins that the Prophet holds before it, Isaiah 59:2-8, that its wretchedness is the consequence of its sin ( Isaiah 59:9-11), and its sin is the cause of its wretchedness ( Isaiah 59:12-15 a).

2. Therefore—far off from us, Isaiah 59:9-11. With therefore begins a great and important turn in the discourse. Israel no longer boasts of its righteousness and innocence, as in Isaiah 58:2-3, but confesses that the Prophet was entirely right in his accusations, Isaiah 59:2-8; it confesses that on account of these sins its right is far from it. But what strange confession of sin is this when Israel says: On account of my sins I rightly do not receive my right; right is done me that I suffer wrong. Evidently there is implied here a double right. On the one hand there exists for Israel an absolute right, that is founded on its election to be a peculiar people, and on the promise given to the fathers and often repeated afterwards. This is the right (משׁכּט) and the righteousness (צדקה) spoken of in Isaiah 59:9; Isaiah 59:11. By virtue of this right a wrong seems to have happened to Israel when it has been conquered, oppressed, carried off captive by the heathen. But such times of distress are only obscurations of right, i.e. transitory veilings of that right that stands immovable as the sun, occasioned by Israel’s sin for the time being, that makes necessary the manifestations of God’s relative right, i.e. transitory moments and periods of punishment. In Isaiah 59:9 now, the people confess that the present obscuration of its (absolute) right is not an absolute, but only a relative injustice, i. e. in relation to its present misbehaviour a well founded right. That Israel itself speaks, and that it is not solely the Prophet that declares of Israel that it has come to a right view, is evidently intended, so that Israel’s confession of repentance may be heard from its own mouth, thus from the most reliable source, and also as a voluntary one.—The expression לא תשׂיגנו צדקה recalls the בְּרָכוֹת or קְלָלוֹת הִשִׂיגֻךָ of Deuteronomy 28:2; Deuteronomy 28:15. Comp. also Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11. From Isaiah 59:9 b and on, this condition of Israel devoid of its right is described in figures. The people compare it to the situation of those that in darkness hope for light, and yet never see the hope fulfilled. Next they compare themselves in their helplessness and want of counsel to blind men that grope along by touching the wall. Further they compare themselves to the blind that stumble at midday as in the twilight; then to the dead, i.e. to the shades of the dead that move among the living, strengthless and without support, with tottering gait (comp. the ἀμενηνὰ κάρηνα or φῦλα ἀνθ ρώπωνFr. V. Naegelsbach,Homer. Theol. VII, § 25). The word אשׁמנים, which occurs only here, can, in my opinion, only mean “the fat,” i.e. those in vigorous life, in contrast with the unsubstantial shades. So also Delitzsch, Seinecke, Rohling, etc. See Text. and Gram. The light of midday does not help the blind; he stumbles any way. It does not help the shade of a dead man to move about in the environment of men rejoicing in life; he totters and is unsteady just the same. One might say that then it ought to read כמתים באשׁנים. But the intention of making the last member of the parallelism like the first prevails. The explanations: “as the dead in darkness, or in desolate places, or in fat regions,” partly do not correspond to the parallelism, partly are ungrammatical. But one must now distinguish the substance from the image. What would the Prophet say by this figure? I am surprised that even Delitzsch here follows in the steps of Knobel, and thinks he must find the Prophet’s point of view in the last decade of the Exile, and that the meaning is: When, after his conquest over Croesus, Cyrus hesitated to march against Babylon, hope and fear unceasingly alternated in the souls of the Exiles. Verily, the Prophet’s standpoint is one much higher, his circuit of vision a much broader one. He would here even pave the way to the distant views of chapters60. sqq. The thing that hinders the appearance of the deeds of salvation there promised, is Israel’s sin. Let the partition wall of sin be cleared away by knowledge of it and proper fruits of repentance, then can the Lord arise to put Israel in possession of its right. Wherever and whenever Israel truly recognizes its misery and the cause of it, it must so speak as is here represented. For there it must measure its situation by the measure of God’s promises, and must ask itself: Am I what, as the people of God, I ought to be? Then it must see the imperfection and uncertainty of its situations—now high up, then deep down; at one time unrighteously dominated over, at another unrighteously dominating—and confess that Israel can only find its eternal, inalienable right in and with its God.

Isaiah 59:11. Israel compares itself to bears growling for hunger (illustrative passages from the classics find in Bochart, Hieroz. II, p134), and to doves that for like reason plaintively coo and sigh (ibid. II, p539 sq.). הָמָה and הָגָה are nearly related in sound and meaning. The first is used of the dove, Ezekiel 7:16; the latter is used also of the lion ( Isaiah 27:8; Isaiah 31:4). We had it for the sighing of the dove already, Isaiah 38:14. By comparing themselves to the growling of the bear and to the sighing of the dove, the Israelites let it be understood that both the strong and the weak, each in his way, make audible complaint concerning the prevailing distress.

3. For our transgressions—himself a prey, Isaiah 59:12-15 a. As already remarked, the כִּי, “for,” that begins Isaiah 59:12, corresponds to the “therefore” that begins Isaiah 59:9. It is the same chain-like succession as that of e. g. Isaiah 51:12-13; Isaiah 53:4-5; Isaiah 53:12. “The people strike up the Widduj (the confession) that is marked by the rhyming inflexions anu and enu” (Delitzsch).—The second כי “for,” in Isaiah 59:12 is not co-ordinate with the first, but subordinate. For Israel would not have been able to say: Our sins stand before thee and testify against us, had it not before owned to having such sins. The consciousness of its sinfulness betrayed in Isaiah 59:12 b was alone able to determine it to the declaration of Isaiah 59:12 a. In Isaiah 59:13 follows a specification of the sins of which Israel is conscious. The first and chief is apostacy from Jehovah, idolatry. It is characterized in a three fold way. We may understand פשׁע to denote the inward revolt against the Lord,כחשׁ the denial of Him practised in words (בַּיהוה is to be referred to both, comp. Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 43:27; then Hosea 9:2; Jeremiah 5:12), נסוג וגו׳, the outward actual falling away by exchanging the worship of Jehovah for heathen worship. One may say that Isaiah 59:13 a treats of transgressions against the first table of the law, Isaiah 59:13 b of transgressions against the second. For Isaiah 59:13 b speaks of violations of the duties we owe our neighbors. דבר עשׁק וסרה is to carry on discourse (conversation, agreement) that aims at oppression of others and departure from the law. The expression דַּבֶּר־סָרָה, wherever else it occurs ( Deuteronomy 13:6; Jeremiah 28:16; Jeremiah 29:32), is used only of the false doctrine of the false prophets. Thus here Isaiah would have principally in mind the seductive discourses of false prophets. In antithesis to הָרָה, concepit, הָנָה can here only mean “breathing forth,” the proferre by means of speech.

Isaiah 59:14, At first sight and by comparison with Isaiah 59:9, one is tempted to understand14a (with Hitzig and others) to refer again to the hindrance in the way of Israel having the right belonging to it in the theocratic sense (see above). But Isaiah 59:14 b conflicts with that; for there the fides publica is evidently spoken of that must underlie the administering of justice and all trade and conduct. Where fidelity wavers, and no one can any more believe and trust another; where all propriety and decorousness, all honestum is formally held aloof, excluded, put under the ban, there can be no mention of right and justice in the market (ברחוב, in foro); of course there fidelity must gradually be wholly missing ( Isaiah 34:16; Isaiah 40:26), while if any one only does not join in, would let the wickedness alone, he incurs the danger of being singled out for plunder.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On Isaiah 58:2-3. There are also to-day many men that hold up their good works to God ( Luke 18:11 sqq.), and who, out aloud or silently, reproach Him for not adequately rewarding them for them. But one can distinguish here two classes: those that boast of having done works of undoubted moral worth; and such as found their pretensions essentially on works that are morally indifferent, as ceremonies of worship and the like. Of course there is a difference between these, for the former can, under some circumstances, really deserve praise; whereas the latter under all circumstances accomplish something more or less morally worthless, yea, possibly, as miserable hypocrites, directly provoke the wrath of God. But never has the creature the right to accuse God. It may be debated whether such accusation is more folly or wickedness. It is tinder all circumstances a presumptuous judgment. For, as long as we live, results are not assured, and we lack ability to see all. Only the day will make it clear what is the relation between God’s doing and ours, and that He has not let the just recompense be wanting ( Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 43:26).

2. On Isaiah 58:4 sqq. The Prophet finds fault with the fasting of the Jews in two respects. First, because they combined them with works of unrighteousness. Second, because they held the “bodily exercise” to be the chief thing. Perhaps in the Sermon on the mount our Lord had our text in mind when He said: “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance.” Matthew 6:11. He makes prominent one particular that probably hovered before our Prophet also. For it is possible that he saw in the “hanging the head” an artificial, affected, and so hypocritical expression of a piety that did not exist inwardly; although it is not absolutely necessary that this letting the head hang and making one’s bed in sand and ashes took place with hypocritical intent. But our Lord expressly demands that one do not let appear the harassed, sickly look, that was the perhaps quite natural consequence of fasting. He says ( Matthew 6:17): “but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, which is in secret.” One sees, therefore, that in the Sermon on the mount the Lord by no means rejects corporeal fasting. He only shows abhorrence of men’s hypocritically abusing fasting for the gratification of pride. But the Prophet also does not reject fasting. But he would have corporeal fasting be the faithful expression of a simultaneous moral doing of penitent self-denial and compassionating love.

3. On Isaiah 58:6-9. As the apostle James pressingly urges against dead works, that even Abraham’s faith was in itself a grand moral Acts, so here, too, the Prophet insists on right works as opposed to false works. But neither declares essentially anything concerning the true ground and origin of the works that they mean, because the context of their discourses does not call for it. We are to supply this from passages that professedly speak to this point, which they silently take for granted, according to the measure of intelligence given to them. For even Isaiah knows right well that that which satisfies and strengthens is not to be obtained by one’s own labor and effort (55).

4. On Isaiah 58:7. “Flesh denotes here in this context something more still, which J. von Mueller has remarked: “The remembrance of universal brotherhood, and how we are all exposed to like things”—as ἅνθρωποι ὁμοιοπαθεῖς. Verily flesh has need of covering. When therefore thou seest the naked, then see and feel therein the need of thine own flesh, and do not, proudly selfish, conceal or cover only thyself with thy garment that belongs to the other as also being thy flesh.” Stier.

5. On Isaiah 58:7. Concerning the expression כָּרֹם לֶחֶם see Doctrinal and Ethical on Jeremiah 16:7.

6. [On Isaiah 58:13-14. “From the closing portion of this chapter we may derive the following important inferences respecting the Sabbath. (1) It is to be of perpetual obligation. The whole chapter occurs in the midst of statements that relate to the times of the Messiah. There is no intimation that the Sabbath was to be abolished, but it is fairly implied that its observance was to be attended with most happy results in those future times.... (2) We may see the manner in which the Sabbath is to be observed. In no place in the Bible is there a more full account of the proper mode of keeping that holy day. We are to refrain from ordinary travelling and employments; we are not to engage in doing our own pleasure; we are to regard it with delight, and to esteem it a day worthy to be honored. And we are to show respect to it by not performing our own ordinary works, or pursuing pleasures, or engaging in the common topics of conversation. In this description there occurs nothing of peculiar Jewish ceremony, and nothing which indicates that it is not to be observed in this manner at all times. Under the gospel assuredly, it is as proper to celebrate the Sabbath in this way as it was in the times of Isaiah, and God doubtless intended that it should be perpetually observed in this manner. (3) Important benefits result from the right observance of the Sabbath. In the passage before us these are said to be, that they who thus observed it would find pleasure in Jehovah, and would be signally prospered and be safe. But those benefits are by no means confined to the Jewish people. It is as true now as it was then, and they who observe the Sabbath in a proper manner find happiness in the Lord—in His existence, perfections, promises, law, and in communion with Him—which is to be found no where else... And it is as true that the proper observance of the Sabbath contributes to the prosperity and safety of a nation now as it ever did among the Jewish people. It is not merely from the fact that God promises to bless the people who keep His holy day—though this is of more value to a nation than all its armies and fleets; but it is that there is in the institution itself much that tends to the welfare and prosperity of a country.... Any one may be convinced of this who will be at the pains to compare a neighborhood, a village, or a city where the Sabbath is not observed with one where it is; and the difference will convince him at once that society owes more to the Sabbath than to any single institution beside.” Barnes.]

7. On Isaiah 59:2. “Quia quotidie apud nos crescit culpa, cur non et simul crescat poena?” Augustine. “The public sins are compared to a thick cloud, that sets itself between heaven and earth, and as it were hinders prayers from passing through ( Lamentations 3:44).” Starke. “There is great power in sin, for it separates God and us from one another.” Cramer. “There are times when the hand of the Lord lies long and heavy on His children. One feels that God has withdrawn from him and hidden His countenance. But one does not sufficiently investigate the cause. One seeks it in God, and it lies in us, who, by sins unacknowledged and not repented of, make it impossible to God to turn to us in grace.” Weber.

8. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The register of sins that Isaiah here holds up to the Jews is a mirror in which many a Christian, many a nation, many a time may recognize its own image. The Prophet declares here very plainly the poison nature, the serpent origin of sin. Sin is the poison that the old serpent knew how to bring into our nature. He that has stolen a taste of a product of this poison, as Eve did of the tree of knowledge, supposing that he will thereby receive some good, will go to ruin by it. But he that would be no lover of sin, but would stand forth as its opponent, may count upon it that the reptile will press its malignant fang in his heel, as was even held in prospect to the great trampler of the serpent’s head Himself ( Genesis 3:15).

9. On Isaiah 59:9-15 a. Here is for once an honest and thorough confession of sins. Nothing is palliated here, nothing excused. It is freely confessed that Israel is itself to blame for all its wretchedness, and this guilt is acknowledged to be the consequence of the apostacy from Jehovah and of the workings of a depraved heart, whose malignant fruits have become manifest in words and works. Comp. Jeremiah 3:21 sqq.—Here therefore is given a model for all who would know wherein true repentance must consist.

10. On Isaiah 59:15 b sqq. “Si tu recordaberis peccatorum tuorum, Dominus non recordabitur.” Augustine. “God wonders that men let sin become so great and His righteousness so small.” Oetinger in Stier.—It is a divine privilege to need no helper. With God there is no difference between willing and being able. With Him the being able follows the willing ad nutum. And there is nothing to which God, when He wills, has not also the right. We men, when we have the will and the power, are often without the right, and this takes the foundation from under our feet.

Isaiah 59:17. This is the original source of the Apostle Paul’s extended description of the spiritual armor, Ephesians 6:14; Ephesians 6:17. Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 there underlies the same representation of the equipment required by Christians. On the other hand God is conceived of as an equipped warrior, e.g., Psalm 7:13-14; Psalm 35:2-3. In Exodus 15:4 He is directly called “a man of war.”

11. On Isaiah 59:18-20. Regarding the time of the fulfilment of this prophecy, the honorable and thorough confession of sin in Isaiah 59:9-15 a, assumes the conclusion of the judgments against Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles. So Paul understood our passage, who cites it, Romans 11:26, to prove that only then will the Jews partake of the salvation when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in. Therefore the Prophet distinguishes three great periods of time. The first comprehends all the stages of time in which Israel will be impenitent, and hence deprived of its theocratic rights. This period will conclude with a condition wherein Israel’s scale, as too light, hurries upwards to the highest elevation, while the scale of the Gentiles, by reason of its weight, will sink deep down. Just this situation will bring about the turning of the scale. Israel will repent; but those Gentiles and those Israelites that will not have repented will be overtaken by the judgment ( Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 59:20 שׁבי כשׁע ביעקב). For neither the “fulness of the Gentiles,” nor “all Israel” excludes there being still unconverted Gentiles and Jews. The third period is then the period of salvation, when the Goel [“Redeemer”] will come to Zion and raise up the covenant ( Isaiah 59:21).

12. On Isaiah 59:21 “Does the Spirit of God remain, then does also His word; does the word remain, then preachers also remain; do preachers remain, then also hearers do; do hearers remain, then there remain also believers, and therefore the Christian church remains also, to which ever some still will be gathered out of the Jews ( Romans 11:26).”—“Although in general God has promised that His word and Spirit shall not depart from the church of God, still no one must become so secure about that (comp. Jeremiah 18:18) as if it were impossible that this or that particular church (and even the Romish church is nothing more) could err.” Cramer.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

1. On Isaiah 58:1. Penitential Sermon. The text teaches us two things: 1) What one ought to preach on a day of repentance [fast-day]; viz., hold up to the people their sins2) How one should preach: a. boldly, b. without sparing, loud as a trumpet.

2. On Isaiah 58:2-9 This text contains the outlines of a popular theodicy. First we hear, Isaiah 58:2-3 a, the popular complaint that the divine Providence that guides the affairs of the world is unjust, and that He is not fair to the claims of reward that each individual fancies he has. Then in Isaiah 58:3 b–9, we hear the divine justification. It consists of two parts. In the first part God shows that the claims of men are unfounded in two respects. First for this reason, because they do not do good purely, but along with the good have still room in their hearts for evil, consequently imagine that they can serve two masters ( Isaiah 58:3 a., 4). Second, their claims are unfounded, because founded in the illusion that it is sufficient to fulfil the divine commands in a rude, outward manner. Thus men suppose, e.g., that they can satisfy the divine command to fast by harassing the body by hunger, and lying on sack-cloth and ashes ( Isaiah 58:5). In the second part God shows what must be the nature of the performances that would satisfy the demand of His holiness, and give a claim on His righteousness for reward. That is to say, men must first of all, by practical repentance, make restoration for all injustice done by them, and make manifest by works of mercy their love to God and their neighbor ( Isaiah 58:7). Then divine salvation and divine blessing will be constantly with them, and in every necessity their prayer for help will find certain hearing ( Isaiah 58:8-9 a).

3. [On Isaiah 58:3. “Having gone about to put a cheat on God by their external services, here they go about to pick a quarrel with God for not being pleased with their services, as if He had not done justly or fairly by them.” M. Henry.]

4. [On Isaiah 58:4. “Behold, you fast for strife and debate. When they proclaimed a fast to deprecate God’s judgments, they pretended to search for those sins that provoked God to threaten them with His judgments, and under that pretence, perhaps, particular persons were falsely accused, as Naboth in the day of Jezebel’s fast, 1 Kings 21:12. Or the contending parties among them upon those occasions were bitter and severe in their reflections one upon another, one side crying out, ‘It is owing to you,’ and the other, “It is owing to you, that our deliverance is not wrought.’ Thus, instead of judging themselves, which is the proper work of a fast-day, they condemned one another.” M. Henry.]

5. [On Isaiah 58:5; Isaiah 58:7. “Plain instructions given concerning the true nature of a religious fast. 1. In general a fast is intended: (1) For the honoring and pleasing of God ( Isaiah 58:5, a fast that I have chosen, an acceptable day to the Lord). (2) For the humbling and abasing of ourselves, Leviticus 16:29. That must be done on a fast-day which is a real affliction to the soul, as far as it is unregenerate and unsanctified, though a real pleasure and advantage to the soul as far as it is itself. II. What will be acceptable to God and afflict our corrupt nature to its mortification. (1) Negatively, what does neither of these, a. To look demure, put on a melancholy aspect and bow the head like a bulrush, Matthew 6:16. Though that were well enough so far, Luke 18:13. b. It is not enough to mortify the body a little, while the body of sin is untouched. (2) Positively, a. That we be just to those with whom we have dealt hardly ( Isaiah 58:6). b. That we be charitable to those that stand in need of charity ( Isaiah 58:7).” After M. Henry.]

6. On Isaiah 58:7. The compassionate love of the Samaritan. 1) What does it give? a. food, b. housing, c. clothing2) To whom does it give? To its flesh, i. e., to its neighbor in the sense of Luke 10:29 sqq.

7. On Isaiah 58:9. “What if the Lord were to make us priests, and if He were to give us the light and righteousness that Aaron bore on his heart as often as he went in unto the Lord, and by which the Lord gave him answer when He inquired,—if He were to give all of us that in our hearts, who are priests of the new covenant? And assuredly I believe that He will also do this. What He has already promised by the Prophets, He will much more fulfil in us: Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer thee; when thou shalt cry, He will say: here I am.” Tholuck.

8. On Isaiah 58:7-9. “O God, our great, sore, horrible blindness, that we so disregard such a glorious promise! To whom are we harsh, when we do not help poor people? Are they not our flesh and blood? As in heaven and earth there is no creature so nearly related to us, it ought to be our way: what we would that men should do to us in like case, that let us do to others. But there that detestable Satan holds our eyes, so that we withdraw from our own flesh and become tyrants and blood-hounds to our neighbors. But what do we accomplish by that? What do we enjoy? We load ourselves with God’s disfavor, curse and all misfortune, who might otherwise have temporal and eternal blessing. For he that takes on him the distress of his neighbor, his light shall break forth like the morning dawn, i.e., he shall find consolation and help in time of need. His recovery shall progress rapidly, i.e., God will again bless him, and replace what he has given away. His righteousness shall go before him, i.e., he shall not only have a good name with every one, but God will shelter him from evil, and ward off from him temporal misfortune, as one may see that God wonderfully protects His own when common punishments go about. And the glory of the Lord will take him to itself, i. e., God will interest Himself for him, [as follows Isaiah 58:9]. Lo, of such great mercy as this does greed rob us, when we do not gladly and kindly help the poor!” Veit Dietrich.

9. [On Isaiah 58:12. Thou shalt be called (and it shall be to thy honor) the repairer of the breach, the breach made by the enemy in the wall of a besieged city, which whoso has courage and dexterity to make up, or make good, gains great applause. Happy are those who make up the breach at which virtue is running out, and judgments are breaking in. M. Henry].

10. On Isaiah 59:1-2. It is often in human life as if heaven were shut up. No prayer seems to penetrate through to it. To all our cries, no answer. Then people murmur ( Isaiah 8:21 sq.; Lamentations 3:39) and accuse God, as if He were lame or deaf. But they ought rather to seek the blame in themselves. There still exists a wall of partition between them and God, a guilt unatoned for, the sight of which still continuously provokes the anger of God, and hinders the appearance of His mercy ( Isaiah 1:15 sqq.; Isaiah 64:5 sqq.; Daniel 9:5 sqq.: Proverbs 1:24 sqq.). Hence Christians must be pointed to what they must guard against in seasons of long-continued visitation and what they should strive after at such times before all things. As they would avoid great harm to soul and body, they must beware of laying any blame on God, as if He were wanting in willingness or ability. Rather, by sincere repentance, their endeavor should be that heaven may be pure and clear, that their guilt may be forgiven for Christ’s sake, and that, as children of God, with the testimony of the Holy Spirit ( Romans 8:16) in their hearts, they may have free access to the heart of their heavenly Father.

11. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The description the Prophet gives here of the depraved moral condition of Israel is also a description of human sinfulness generally. And the Apostle Paul has adopted parts of it in the portrait he gives of the condition of the natural man (comp. Isaiah 59:7 with Romans 3:15). Therefore, where one would draw the picture of the natural Prayer of Manasseh, he may make good use of this text.

12. [On Isaiah 59:13. Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. “They were words of falsehood, and yet they were said to be uttered from the heart, because though they differed from the real sentiments of the heart, and therefore were words of falsehood, yet they agreed with the malice and wickedness of the heart, and were the natural language of that; it was a double heart, Psalm 12:2.” M. Henry.]

13. On Isaiah 59:15 b–21. One may preach on this text in times of great distress and conflict for the Church. The Lord the protection of His Church. 1) The distress of the Church does not remain concealed from Him, for He sees: a. that the Church encounters injustice ( Isaiah 59:15 b), b. that no one on earth takes its part ( Isaiah 59:16) 2) He stirs Himself ( Isaiah 59:16 b; Isaiah 59:17 a, Isaiah 59:19 b): a. to judgment against the enemy ( Isaiah 59:17 b, Isaiah 59:18), b. to salvation for the Church ( Isaiah 59:17 helmet of salvation): a. with reference to its deliverance from outward distress ( Isaiah 59:20), β. with reference to inward preservation and quickening of the Church ( Isaiah 59:20 b, 21), c. to rescue the honor of His own name ( Isaiah 59:19 a), because the Church is even His kingdom, the theatre for the realization of His decrees of salvation. Comp. Homil. Hints on Isaiah 49:1-6.

14. [On Isaiah 59:16 sqq. “How sin abounded we have read, to our great amazement, in the former part of the chapter; how grace does much more abound we read in these verses. And as sin took occasion from the commandment to become more exceedingly sinful, so grace took occasion from the transgression to appear more exceedingly gracious.” M. Henry.]

Footnotes:

FN#11 - right.

FN#12 - twilight.

FN#13 - Among the flourishing (with life) as the dead.

FN#14 - Or, is accounted mad.


Verses 16-21

b) The Prophet promises Jehovah’s intervention and is encouraged to further announcements of salvation

Isaiah 59:15-21

15b And the Lord saw it,

And [FN15]it displeased him that there was no judgment.

16 And he saw that there was no Prayer of Manasseh,

And [FN16]wondered that there was no intercessor:

Therefore his arm brought salvation unto him;

And his righteousness, it sustained him.

17 For he put on righteousness as a [FN17]breastplate,

And an helmet of salvation upon his head;

And he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,

And was clad with zeal as a cloak.

18 According to their [FN18]deeds, accordingly he will repay,

Fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies;

To the islands he will repay recompence.

19 So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west,

And his glory from the rising of the sun.

[FN19]When the enemy shall come in like a flood,

The spirit of the Lord shall [FN20]lift up a standard against him.

20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion,

And unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.

21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord;

My spirit that is upon thee,

And my words which I have put in thy mouth,

Shall not depart out of thy mouth,

Nor out of the mouth of thy seed,

Nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord,

From henceforth and forever.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

Isaiah 59:18. כְּעל...כְּעַל (comp. Isaiah 63:7) is a mixture of preposition and adverb, and in the context a confusio duarum constructionum. That is to say, the two modes of expression are mixed up, viz., כִּגְמֻלוֹת כֵּן יְשַׁלֵּם (instead of כִּגְמֻלוֹת כְּשִׁלֻם, because, may be, the substantives from שָׁלֵם that mean retributio, שִׁלּוּמָה,שִׁלֻּם,שׁלֵּם,שֶׁאֶם are all of them very rarely used) and עַל־גְמֻלוֹת יְשׁלֵּם.

Isaiah 59:19. יִ‍ֽרְאוּ and not יִרְאוּ as Knobel would have. For although the latter = videbunt would also give a good meaning, still the former is the critically approved reading. See Delitzsch.—The words רוח י׳ נוססה נו recall Isaiah 40:7, where it reads רוח י׳ נשׁבה בו. Evidently these words hovered before the Prophet. Bat there vegetation is spoken of, which the breath of the Lord (conceived of as a hot wind) dries up. Here it speaks of a stream which the breath of the Lord does not dry up, but can only drive onwards. Hence the Prophet must choose another word than נשׁבה. But he would choose one of like sound, for which נוססה offered. This Pilel from נוּם does not elsewhere occur, indeed. But neither does the would-be Poel formed from נֵם occur. There is only a Hithp. הִתְנוֹסֵם ( Zechariah 9:16; Psalm 60:6, passages that themselves present great difficulty). But this Prophet, so mighty in language, could and dared to form a Pilel נוֹסֵם and in taking it in a causative sense (=to produce flight, haste), and making בוֹ dependent on it, he proceeds quite in the spirit of the Hebrew language.—It seems to me beyond doubt that צַר (in pause צָר) is to be taken as=coarctatus. But it is not to be derived from צוּר (“onpressing stream,” Ewald, Knobel, Seinecke, Rohling) but from צָרַר. There are in Hebrew many verbs in which the transitive and intransitive force are still together unseparated. צרר is one of them. Comp. צַר לִי Psalm 31:10. etc.; מָקוֹם צַר Numbers 22:26; Isaiah 49:20 : כֹּחַ צַר Proverbs 24:10, etc.—Against the explanation of כַּנָּהָר צַר that, with Gesenius, Maurer, Umbreit, Delitzsch, I hold to be correct, it may be objected from a grammatical point of view, that the disjunctive Pashta on נָהָר calls for a substantive meaning for צַר, and that צר as an attribute of הנהר must also have the article. But the accent is only the Masoretic construction, and the omission of the article forms no very rare exception, which appears to me to be prompted in cases where the subject is rendered definite already by the comparison (comp, e.g., Isaiah 11:9).

Isaiah 59:21. The use of אוֹתָם for אִתָּם, which we find in Jeremiah very much developed, is in Isaiah still in its beginnings. For in him both forms occur harshly together: Isaiah 54:15.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. The Lord can only reply to Israel’s sincere confession of sin by the assurance of His grace. Therefore the Prophet declares that the Lord recognizes the complaint, that its right ( Isaiah 59:9) has escaped from it, to be well founded (ver15b, 16a), and that He has prepared to help them to it. Therefore recompense will be given to the enemies of Israel ( Isaiah 59:18). East and west shall be witnesses of the mighty displays of Jehovah’s power, when He will come on like a stream that bursts its dams and is driven by a tempest beside, in order to bring deliverance to penitent Israel ( Isaiah 59:19-20). This promise of outward manifestation of salvation is followed by another more inward, and also comforting and encouraging for the Prophet himself, that the covenant of the Lord with Israel will be realized by the spirit that the Lord has laid on the Prophet continuing to operate forever in Israel.( Isaiah 59:21).

2. And the Lord saw it—saith the Lord.

Isaiah 59:15 b–20. According to the prospect the Prophet held out, Isaiah 58:9, so it comes to pass. There it says: if Israel will bring proper fruits of repentance, then it will call and the Lord will answer it; it will cry, and the Lord will say: here am I. In Isaiah 59:12-15 a Israel has made so hearty a confession, that the fruits of repentance demanded, Isaiah 58:6 sqq, are to be expected with certainty. Instantly the Lord hears, and now also actually answers. He investigates the situation and owns with displeasure (ירע בע׳, comp. Genesis 21:11, etc., only here in Isa.) that Israel really has not its theocratic right. משׁפט Isaiah 59:15 b is thus to be construed as in Isaiah 59:9. Moreover, the Lord sees with dismay (ישׁתומם, comp. Isaiah 63:5) that no one is there. To the expression, אין אישׁ, corresponds in parallism אין מפניע. The former must therefore have a meaning analogous to and preparatory for the latter. We must therefore supply after אישׁ the thought: “who is able to mediate such a thing, to bring it to rights”. Comp. Isaiah 41:28; Isaiah 63:5. מפניע is intercessor, comp. Isaiah 53:12; Isaiah 47:3.

Upon the knowledge of what is wanting follows instantly the actual intervention. It is successful, for the arm of the LORD (symbol of His omnipotence, Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 48:14, see List) affords him help, and the sure support of His purpose is the righteousness of his cause and of His will. Isaiah 59:16 b is related to what follows. as a summary statement of the contents. Isaiah 59:17 follows with specification in figurative expressions. Here Jehovah is portrayed arousing the several attributes and activities He needs in order to help His people to their right; and the awaking of the powers resident in Him is represented by the figure of His laying on the several pieces of military equipment. Comp. the application of our passage in Ephesians 6:14; Ephesians 6:17, and the Doct. and Eth., p644, § 10. Thus the righteousness just designated as the guaranty of success is compared to the coat of mail from which all darts of the enemy rebound. שִׁרְיָן only here in lsa.; comp. 1 Kings 22:34; 2 Chronicles 18:33. The helmet, the defensive armor, that protects the head, the noblest and most prominent part of the body, guarantees therefore very properly the chief concern: deliverance, salvation, victory (יְשׁוּעַה, comp. Habakkuk 3:8). The garments must denote that He means vengeance, and the מְעִיל (the long, woolen under garment, comp. Isaiah 61:10) must represent the deep earnestness, the glowing zeal that animates Him. Isaiah 59:18. Thus equipped, the Lord advances to the conflict. The object of it is righteous recompense to the enemies of Israel. The rage with which they have oppressed Israel, in general all that they have done to it (גְּמוּל, vocab. anceps, comp. Isaiah 3:11; Isaiah 66:6) shall be recompensed to them, especially to “the isles”, the representatives of the heathen world. But they will fear the name of the LORD,i.e., His appearance, Revelation, in the west and his glory in the east. מִן before מערב and מזרח of course designates to the Hebrew way of speaking the terminus a quo, whereas we must, in our manner of representing it, substitute the term. in quo. For the Hebrew would not say that they will fear the Lord from east and west hither, as if the appearance of the Lord were to be regarded as standing in the middle between east and west. But the Prophet stands in the middle, and he would only say that both those that present themselves to him from the east and those that meet his gaze from the west, from whatever side they come, will fear the Lord. On this well-known Hebrew mode of expression comp. Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 22:3; Isaiah 40:15, etc. The expression, “fear the name of the Lord,” is found, Deuteronomy 28:58, and on the ground of that passage in Psalm 86:11; Nehemiah 1:11; probably also Micah 6:5, where יִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ is to be read, instead of יִרְאֶה שׁ׳; then, too, Psalm 102:16, which is evidently a citation of our text, and confirms the reading יִ‍ֽרְאוּ; and Psalm 61:6; Malachi 3:20.—And how should not the heathen fear the name of the Lord, seeing He comes as a compressed river! (On צר see Text and Gram). What better image could the Prophet use to signify Jehovah’s might, that for a time restrained itself to the point of apparent injustice toward Israel, only to break forth with the greater energy? He compares it to a stream which the dikes for a while crowd together, but which, when it makes a crevasse in the dikes, breaks away with so much the greater power, and irresistibly carries all before it, especially when its own weight is augmented by a driving wind. In this he expresses the thought that also underlies Isaiah 40:7, that the Spirit of the Lord, that also in the wind has one of its forms of manifestation, will exercise the activity suited to it, at the destruction of the world, as it did at the creation ( Genesis 1:2; comp. Isaiah 4:4; Isaiah 28:6).—In Isaiah 59:20 the distinction between “Zion” and “the converted in Jacob” is due to the parallelism, and therefore we must not attach to this merely rhetorical distinction the weight of a logical distinction. On שׁבי כּשׁע comp. Isaiah 1:7; Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 5:13; Isaiah 28:1.

3. As for me—forever, Isaiah 59:21. When we compare chap, 58. with60, we find in the former a very prosaic, practical, severe homily, which can only have been made for a (relative or absolute) present occasion. But in chap60. we again find the Prophet in a lofty flight, announcing the remote future. Chap59. forms the bridge to this in the manner designated above (comp. also in Doct. and Ethic., p644, § 11) When now59. concludes with a declaration that promises to the Prophet the continuance of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit heretofore imparted to him, we will be right in regarding this declaration of our verse as the direct transition to the loftier style of prophecy that again begins in chap60. Still, of course, Isaiah 59:21 cannot be referred only to this assurance given to the Prophet; for the sound of the words of the verse shows that the Lord at the game time would crown the promise given to the people Israel from Isaiah 59:15 a and on. Thus this verse has a double character. This appears from the plural suffix in אוֹתָם on the one hand, and on the other from the address to the Prophet. At the same time it is to be remarked, that Isaiah 59:21, in relation to what precedes, has a positive and inward character. Positive, because nothing more is said of the evil to be done to the enemies, but only the good to be to Israel is spoken of; inward, because what is said is not concerning victory and outward salvation, but concerning inward impartation of the Spirit. ואני is not=but I. For nothing is said before of what another would have done. Therefore it means “and I,” but the emphasis is on the “I,” and this is made prominent because something is to be promised that only God can do. At the same time there is in these words a reminder of the words spoken to Abraham, Genesis 17:4 : “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee.” But the covenant that the Lord here holds up to view is no longer one that promises great increase by means of a numerous posterity, as in that covenant with Abraham. This new covenant refers to the spiritual life, to a new spiritual communion with the Lord, to the worship of God in spirit and in truth.

One would not comprehend in what follows why the Lord does not say directly: I will put my Spirit upon them, etc., but says: My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth ( Isaiah 51:16), shall not depart out of thy mouth, etc., if there were not just that double object indicated above. But would the Lord have promised to the Prophet so numerous a posterity, would he have declared the prophetic gift to be a matter of inheritance in his family? Certainly not. In contrast with Genesis 17:4 sqq, that also has much to say of “a seed after thee,” but only in the sense of a numerous corporeal posterity, it is here promised to the Prophet that he should have many spiritual descendants; that therefore Israel, to the remotest generations, shall be a people filled with the Spirit, and people of God in the most exalted sense. The spirit-replenished posterity of the Prophet, and of the people Israel, generally merge together in one. From chap60. onwards it is evidenced at once that the Prophet has become no mere preacher of repentance, as might seem to be the case from chapts52, 53, 591–8, but that the high prophetic gift is still in him that is able to behold with enraptured eye the glory of the remote future, and to proclaim it with eloquent tongue.

[On Isaiah 59:21Delitzsch says: “The following prophecy is addressed to Israel, the ‘servant of Jehovah,’ which has been hitherto partially faithful and partially unfaithful, but which has now returned to fidelity, viz., the ‘remnant of Israel,’ which has been rescued through the medium of a general judgment upon the nations, and to which the great body of all who fear God, from east to west, attach themselves.” Clark’sFor. Th.L. J. A. Alexander interprets it in the same way. He says: “The only natural antecedent of the pronoun them is the converts of apostacy in Jacob, to whom the promise in Isaiah 59:20 is limited. These, then, are suddenly addressed, or rather the discourse is turned to Israel himself as the progenitor, or as the ideal representative of his descendants, not considered merely as a nation, but as a church, and therefore including proselytes as well as natives, Gentiles as well as Jews, nay, believing Gentiles to the exclusion of the unbelieving Jews. This idea of the Israel of God, and of the prophecies, is too clearly stated in the Epistle to the Romans to be misapprehended or denied by any who admit the authority of the apostle. This interpretation is moreover not a mere incidental application of Old Testament expressions to another subject, but a protracted and repeated exposition of the mutual relations of the old and new economy, and of the natural and spiritual Israel. To this great body, considered as the Israel of God, the promise now before us is addressed, a promise of continued spiritual influence, exerted through the word and giving it effect. The phrase upon thee, here as elsewhere, implies influence from above, and has respect to the figure of the Spirit’s descending and abiding on the object. The particular mention of the mouth cannot be explained as having reference merely to the reception of the word, in which case the ear would have been more appropriate. The true explanation seems to be that Israel is here, as in many other parts of this great prophecy, regarded not merely as a receiver, but as a dispenser of the truth.” The Author’s effort to include a personal address to the Prophet as well as to the spiritual Israel seems to have no more valuable effect than to prepare a transition to the lofty prophetic flight that begins with chap60. We can better dispense with the transition than accept the ideas brought in by that interpretation.—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#15 - Heb. it was evil in his eyes.

FN#16 - was horrified.

FN#17 - coat of mail.

FN#18 - Heb. recompences.

FN#19 - For he will come asapent up stream, which the breath of Jehovah drives.

FN#20 - Or, put him to flight.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On Isaiah 58:2-3. There are also to-day many men that hold up their good works to God ( Luke 18:11 sqq.), and who, out aloud or silently, reproach Him for not adequately rewarding them for them. But one can distinguish here two classes: those that boast of having done works of undoubted moral worth; and such as found their pretensions essentially on works that are morally indifferent, as ceremonies of worship and the like. Of course there is a difference between these, for the former can, under some circumstances, really deserve praise; whereas the latter under all circumstances accomplish something more or less morally worthless, yea, possibly, as miserable hypocrites, directly provoke the wrath of God. But never has the creature the right to accuse God. It may be debated whether such accusation is more folly or wickedness. It is tinder all circumstances a presumptuous judgment. For, as long as we live, results are not assured, and we lack ability to see all. Only the day will make it clear what is the relation between God’s doing and ours, and that He has not let the just recompense be wanting ( Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 43:26).

2. On Isaiah 58:4 sqq. The Prophet finds fault with the fasting of the Jews in two respects. First, because they combined them with works of unrighteousness. Second, because they held the “bodily exercise” to be the chief thing. Perhaps in the Sermon on the mount our Lord had our text in mind when He said: “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance.” Matthew 6:11. He makes prominent one particular that probably hovered before our Prophet also. For it is possible that he saw in the “hanging the head” an artificial, affected, and so hypocritical expression of a piety that did not exist inwardly; although it is not absolutely necessary that this letting the head hang and making one’s bed in sand and ashes took place with hypocritical intent. But our Lord expressly demands that one do not let appear the harassed, sickly look, that was the perhaps quite natural consequence of fasting. He says ( Matthew 6:17): “but thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, which is in secret.” One sees, therefore, that in the Sermon on the mount the Lord by no means rejects corporeal fasting. He only shows abhorrence of men’s hypocritically abusing fasting for the gratification of pride. But the Prophet also does not reject fasting. But he would have corporeal fasting be the faithful expression of a simultaneous moral doing of penitent self-denial and compassionating love.

3. On Isaiah 58:6-9. As the apostle James pressingly urges against dead works, that even Abraham’s faith was in itself a grand moral Acts, so here, too, the Prophet insists on right works as opposed to false works. But neither declares essentially anything concerning the true ground and origin of the works that they mean, because the context of their discourses does not call for it. We are to supply this from passages that professedly speak to this point, which they silently take for granted, according to the measure of intelligence given to them. For even Isaiah knows right well that that which satisfies and strengthens is not to be obtained by one’s own labor and effort (55).

4. On Isaiah 58:7. “Flesh denotes here in this context something more still, which J. von Mueller has remarked: “The remembrance of universal brotherhood, and how we are all exposed to like things”—as ἅνθρωποι ὁμοιοπαθεῖς. Verily flesh has need of covering. When therefore thou seest the naked, then see and feel therein the need of thine own flesh, and do not, proudly selfish, conceal or cover only thyself with thy garment that belongs to the other as also being thy flesh.” Stier.

5. On Isaiah 58:7. Concerning the expression כָּרֹם לֶחֶם see Doctrinal and Ethical on Jeremiah 16:7.

6. [On Isaiah 58:13-14. “From the closing portion of this chapter we may derive the following important inferences respecting the Sabbath. (1) It is to be of perpetual obligation. The whole chapter occurs in the midst of statements that relate to the times of the Messiah. There is no intimation that the Sabbath was to be abolished, but it is fairly implied that its observance was to be attended with most happy results in those future times.... (2) We may see the manner in which the Sabbath is to be observed. In no place in the Bible is there a more full account of the proper mode of keeping that holy day. We are to refrain from ordinary travelling and employments; we are not to engage in doing our own pleasure; we are to regard it with delight, and to esteem it a day worthy to be honored. And we are to show respect to it by not performing our own ordinary works, or pursuing pleasures, or engaging in the common topics of conversation. In this description there occurs nothing of peculiar Jewish ceremony, and nothing which indicates that it is not to be observed in this manner at all times. Under the gospel assuredly, it is as proper to celebrate the Sabbath in this way as it was in the times of Isaiah, and God doubtless intended that it should be perpetually observed in this manner. (3) Important benefits result from the right observance of the Sabbath. In the passage before us these are said to be, that they who thus observed it would find pleasure in Jehovah, and would be signally prospered and be safe. But those benefits are by no means confined to the Jewish people. It is as true now as it was then, and they who observe the Sabbath in a proper manner find happiness in the Lord—in His existence, perfections, promises, law, and in communion with Him—which is to be found no where else... And it is as true that the proper observance of the Sabbath contributes to the prosperity and safety of a nation now as it ever did among the Jewish people. It is not merely from the fact that God promises to bless the people who keep His holy day—though this is of more value to a nation than all its armies and fleets; but it is that there is in the institution itself much that tends to the welfare and prosperity of a country.... Any one may be convinced of this who will be at the pains to compare a neighborhood, a village, or a city where the Sabbath is not observed with one where it is; and the difference will convince him at once that society owes more to the Sabbath than to any single institution beside.” Barnes.]

7. On Isaiah 59:2. “Quia quotidie apud nos crescit culpa, cur non et simul crescat poena?” Augustine. “The public sins are compared to a thick cloud, that sets itself between heaven and earth, and as it were hinders prayers from passing through ( Lamentations 3:44).” Starke. “There is great power in sin, for it separates God and us from one another.” Cramer. “There are times when the hand of the Lord lies long and heavy on His children. One feels that God has withdrawn from him and hidden His countenance. But one does not sufficiently investigate the cause. One seeks it in God, and it lies in us, who, by sins unacknowledged and not repented of, make it impossible to God to turn to us in grace.” Weber.

8. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The register of sins that Isaiah here holds up to the Jews is a mirror in which many a Christian, many a nation, many a time may recognize its own image. The Prophet declares here very plainly the poison nature, the serpent origin of sin. Sin is the poison that the old serpent knew how to bring into our nature. He that has stolen a taste of a product of this poison, as Eve did of the tree of knowledge, supposing that he will thereby receive some good, will go to ruin by it. But he that would be no lover of sin, but would stand forth as its opponent, may count upon it that the reptile will press its malignant fang in his heel, as was even held in prospect to the great trampler of the serpent’s head Himself ( Genesis 3:15).

9. On Isaiah 59:9-15 a. Here is for once an honest and thorough confession of sins. Nothing is palliated here, nothing excused. It is freely confessed that Israel is itself to blame for all its wretchedness, and this guilt is acknowledged to be the consequence of the apostacy from Jehovah and of the workings of a depraved heart, whose malignant fruits have become manifest in words and works. Comp. Jeremiah 3:21 sqq.—Here therefore is given a model for all who would know wherein true repentance must consist.

10. On Isaiah 59:15 b sqq. “Si tu recordaberis peccatorum tuorum, Dominus non recordabitur.” Augustine. “God wonders that men let sin become so great and His righteousness so small.” Oetinger in Stier.—It is a divine privilege to need no helper. With God there is no difference between willing and being able. With Him the being able follows the willing ad nutum. And there is nothing to which God, when He wills, has not also the right. We men, when we have the will and the power, are often without the right, and this takes the foundation from under our feet.

Isaiah 59:17. This is the original source of the Apostle Paul’s extended description of the spiritual armor, Ephesians 6:14; Ephesians 6:17. Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 there underlies the same representation of the equipment required by Christians. On the other hand God is conceived of as an equipped warrior, e.g., Psalm 7:13-14; Psalm 35:2-3. In Exodus 15:4 He is directly called “a man of war.”

11. On Isaiah 59:18-20. Regarding the time of the fulfilment of this prophecy, the honorable and thorough confession of sin in Isaiah 59:9-15 a, assumes the conclusion of the judgments against Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles. So Paul understood our passage, who cites it, Romans 11:26, to prove that only then will the Jews partake of the salvation when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in. Therefore the Prophet distinguishes three great periods of time. The first comprehends all the stages of time in which Israel will be impenitent, and hence deprived of its theocratic rights. This period will conclude with a condition wherein Israel’s scale, as too light, hurries upwards to the highest elevation, while the scale of the Gentiles, by reason of its weight, will sink deep down. Just this situation will bring about the turning of the scale. Israel will repent; but those Gentiles and those Israelites that will not have repented will be overtaken by the judgment ( Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 59:20 שׁבי כשׁע ביעקב). For neither the “fulness of the Gentiles,” nor “all Israel” excludes there being still unconverted Gentiles and Jews. The third period is then the period of salvation, when the Goel [“Redeemer”] will come to Zion and raise up the covenant ( Isaiah 59:21).

12. On Isaiah 59:21 “Does the Spirit of God remain, then does also His word; does the word remain, then preachers also remain; do preachers remain, then also hearers do; do hearers remain, then there remain also believers, and therefore the Christian church remains also, to which ever some still will be gathered out of the Jews ( Romans 11:26).”—“Although in general God has promised that His word and Spirit shall not depart from the church of God, still no one must become so secure about that (comp. Jeremiah 18:18) as if it were impossible that this or that particular church (and even the Romish church is nothing more) could err.” Cramer.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

1. On Isaiah 58:1. Penitential Sermon. The text teaches us two things: 1) What one ought to preach on a day of repentance [fast-day]; viz., hold up to the people their sins2) How one should preach: a. boldly, b. without sparing, loud as a trumpet.

2. On Isaiah 58:2-9 This text contains the outlines of a popular theodicy. First we hear, Isaiah 58:2-3 a, the popular complaint that the divine Providence that guides the affairs of the world is unjust, and that He is not fair to the claims of reward that each individual fancies he has. Then in Isaiah 58:3 b–9, we hear the divine justification. It consists of two parts. In the first part God shows that the claims of men are unfounded in two respects. First for this reason, because they do not do good purely, but along with the good have still room in their hearts for evil, consequently imagine that they can serve two masters ( Isaiah 58:3 a., 4). Second, their claims are unfounded, because founded in the illusion that it is sufficient to fulfil the divine commands in a rude, outward manner. Thus men suppose, e.g., that they can satisfy the divine command to fast by harassing the body by hunger, and lying on sack-cloth and ashes ( Isaiah 58:5). In the second part God shows what must be the nature of the performances that would satisfy the demand of His holiness, and give a claim on His righteousness for reward. That is to say, men must first of all, by practical repentance, make restoration for all injustice done by them, and make manifest by works of mercy their love to God and their neighbor ( Isaiah 58:7). Then divine salvation and divine blessing will be constantly with them, and in every necessity their prayer for help will find certain hearing ( Isaiah 58:8-9 a).

3. [On Isaiah 58:3. “Having gone about to put a cheat on God by their external services, here they go about to pick a quarrel with God for not being pleased with their services, as if He had not done justly or fairly by them.” M. Henry.]

4. [On Isaiah 58:4. “Behold, you fast for strife and debate. When they proclaimed a fast to deprecate God’s judgments, they pretended to search for those sins that provoked God to threaten them with His judgments, and under that pretence, perhaps, particular persons were falsely accused, as Naboth in the day of Jezebel’s fast, 1 Kings 21:12. Or the contending parties among them upon those occasions were bitter and severe in their reflections one upon another, one side crying out, ‘It is owing to you,’ and the other, “It is owing to you, that our deliverance is not wrought.’ Thus, instead of judging themselves, which is the proper work of a fast-day, they condemned one another.” M. Henry.]

5. [On Isaiah 58:5; Isaiah 58:7. “Plain instructions given concerning the true nature of a religious fast. 1. In general a fast is intended: (1) For the honoring and pleasing of God ( Isaiah 58:5, a fast that I have chosen, an acceptable day to the Lord). (2) For the humbling and abasing of ourselves, Leviticus 16:29. That must be done on a fast-day which is a real affliction to the soul, as far as it is unregenerate and unsanctified, though a real pleasure and advantage to the soul as far as it is itself. II. What will be acceptable to God and afflict our corrupt nature to its mortification. (1) Negatively, what does neither of these, a. To look demure, put on a melancholy aspect and bow the head like a bulrush, Matthew 6:16. Though that were well enough so far, Luke 18:13. b. It is not enough to mortify the body a little, while the body of sin is untouched. (2) Positively, a. That we be just to those with whom we have dealt hardly ( Isaiah 58:6). b. That we be charitable to those that stand in need of charity ( Isaiah 58:7).” After M. Henry.]

6. On Isaiah 58:7. The compassionate love of the Samaritan. 1) What does it give? a. food, b. housing, c. clothing2) To whom does it give? To its flesh, i. e., to its neighbor in the sense of Luke 10:29 sqq.

7. On Isaiah 58:9. “What if the Lord were to make us priests, and if He were to give us the light and righteousness that Aaron bore on his heart as often as he went in unto the Lord, and by which the Lord gave him answer when He inquired,—if He were to give all of us that in our hearts, who are priests of the new covenant? And assuredly I believe that He will also do this. What He has already promised by the Prophets, He will much more fulfil in us: Thou shalt call, and the Lord shall answer thee; when thou shalt cry, He will say: here I am.” Tholuck.

8. On Isaiah 58:7-9. “O God, our great, sore, horrible blindness, that we so disregard such a glorious promise! To whom are we harsh, when we do not help poor people? Are they not our flesh and blood? As in heaven and earth there is no creature so nearly related to us, it ought to be our way: what we would that men should do to us in like case, that let us do to others. But there that detestable Satan holds our eyes, so that we withdraw from our own flesh and become tyrants and blood-hounds to our neighbors. But what do we accomplish by that? What do we enjoy? We load ourselves with God’s disfavor, curse and all misfortune, who might otherwise have temporal and eternal blessing. For he that takes on him the distress of his neighbor, his light shall break forth like the morning dawn, i.e., he shall find consolation and help in time of need. His recovery shall progress rapidly, i.e., God will again bless him, and replace what he has given away. His righteousness shall go before him, i.e., he shall not only have a good name with every one, but God will shelter him from evil, and ward off from him temporal misfortune, as one may see that God wonderfully protects His own when common punishments go about. And the glory of the Lord will take him to itself, i. e., God will interest Himself for him, [as follows Isaiah 58:9]. Lo, of such great mercy as this does greed rob us, when we do not gladly and kindly help the poor!” Veit Dietrich.

9. [On Isaiah 58:12. Thou shalt be called (and it shall be to thy honor) the repairer of the breach, the breach made by the enemy in the wall of a besieged city, which whoso has courage and dexterity to make up, or make good, gains great applause. Happy are those who make up the breach at which virtue is running out, and judgments are breaking in. M. Henry].

10. On Isaiah 59:1-2. It is often in human life as if heaven were shut up. No prayer seems to penetrate through to it. To all our cries, no answer. Then people murmur ( Isaiah 8:21 sq.; Lamentations 3:39) and accuse God, as if He were lame or deaf. But they ought rather to seek the blame in themselves. There still exists a wall of partition between them and God, a guilt unatoned for, the sight of which still continuously provokes the anger of God, and hinders the appearance of His mercy ( Isaiah 1:15 sqq.; Isaiah 64:5 sqq.; Daniel 9:5 sqq.: Proverbs 1:24 sqq.). Hence Christians must be pointed to what they must guard against in seasons of long-continued visitation and what they should strive after at such times before all things. As they would avoid great harm to soul and body, they must beware of laying any blame on God, as if He were wanting in willingness or ability. Rather, by sincere repentance, their endeavor should be that heaven may be pure and clear, that their guilt may be forgiven for Christ’s sake, and that, as children of God, with the testimony of the Holy Spirit ( Romans 8:16) in their hearts, they may have free access to the heart of their heavenly Father.

11. On Isaiah 59:3-8. The description the Prophet gives here of the depraved moral condition of Israel is also a description of human sinfulness generally. And the Apostle Paul has adopted parts of it in the portrait he gives of the condition of the natural man (comp. Isaiah 59:7 with Romans 3:15). Therefore, where one would draw the picture of the natural Prayer of Manasseh, he may make good use of this text.

12. [On Isaiah 59:13. Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. “They were words of falsehood, and yet they were said to be uttered from the heart, because though they differed from the real sentiments of the heart, and therefore were words of falsehood, yet they agreed with the malice and wickedness of the heart, and were the natural language of that; it was a double heart, Psalm 12:2.” M. Henry.]

13. On Isaiah 59:15 b–21. One may preach on this text in times of great distress and conflict for the Church. The Lord the protection of His Church. 1) The distress of the Church does not remain concealed from Him, for He sees: a. that the Church encounters injustice ( Isaiah 59:15 b), b. that no one on earth takes its part ( Isaiah 59:16) 2) He stirs Himself ( Isaiah 59:16 b; Isaiah 59:17 a, Isaiah 59:19 b): a. to judgment against the enemy ( Isaiah 59:17 b, Isaiah 59:18), b. to salvation for the Church ( Isaiah 59:17 helmet of salvation): a. with reference to its deliverance from outward distress ( Isaiah 59:20), β. with reference to inward preservation and quickening of the Church ( Isaiah 59:20 b, 21), c. to rescue the honor of His own name ( Isaiah 59:19 a), because the Church is even His kingdom, the theatre for the realization of His decrees of salvation. Comp. Homil. Hints on Isaiah 49:1-6.

14. [On Isaiah 59:16 sqq. “How sin abounded we have read, to our great amazement, in the former part of the chapter; how grace does much more abound we read in these verses. And as sin took occasion from the commandment to become more exceedingly sinful, so grace took occasion from the transgression to appear more exceedingly gracious.” M. Henry.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 59:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/isaiah-59.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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