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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 26

 

 

Verses 1-4

The Song Of Deliverance And The Strong City (Isaiah 26:1-4).

The first four verses of chapter 26 with their description of the strong city of God with its walls and bulwarks of salvation, which is for the righteous who hold the truth to enter, connect back to Isaiah 25:9, and are in contrast with Isaiah 25:10-12. But they may also be contrasted with the lofty city of Isaiah 26:5, which stands proudly on its summit but will be dragged to the ground. They thus connect the previous passage with what follows, and must be seen in the light of both.

Isaiah 26:1-4

‘In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah,

We have a strong city,

He will appoint salvation,

For its walls and bulwarks.

Open the gates,

That the righteous nation which keeps truth,

May enter in.

You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on you,

Because he trusts in you.’

Trust in Yahweh for ever,

For in Yah Yahweh,

Is an everlasting rock (literally ‘a rock of ages’).

In direct contrast we are now lifted in this song from the devastated fortress of Isaiah 25:12 to the strong city of Isaiah 26:1, from the dungpit to the glory. Here the city where Yahweh is reigning (Isaiah 24:23) is described. They had waited for Him and He had saved them (Isaiah 25:9). Its walls and bulwarks are Salvation, for it is the city of salvation. The righteous (those who are true believers) enter it and will be saved (Proverbs 18:10). In that city there is no more death (Isaiah 25:8). It epitomises all that Isaiah has previously spoken of, the future ideal. All the redeemed flow to it from among all peoples (Isaiah 2:2). It will be under Yahweh’s wedding canopy and full of the presence of God Who will protect it from all harm (Isaiah 4:5-6). In New Testament terms it is Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22).

(We cannot too often reiterate that the prophets revealed heavenly truth in earthly terms. The conceptions that they presented were necessarily limited by their background and by the backgrounds of those to whom they spoke. They had no concept of life in Heaven. Thus they used picture language by which they said what they had to say. While we pride ourselves on the fact that we are above that, we too have to think in such pictures because the true reality is beyond us as well. That is why we speak of the city of gold with its pearly gates in Revelation 21. The reality is greater beyond all imagining).

‘In that day.’ This refers back to ‘in that day’ in Isaiah 25:9 and has in mind the glorious day when death will be defeated in Isaiah 25:8, and the future days of deliverance . ‘That day’ begins with the time when Jesus Christ was on earth, when the King had come, and when through His death and resurrection sin and death were vanquished once for all, and He began to feast His people on good things. They had waited for Him and He had come. Those were the beginning of the days of deliverance. From then on those who entered under the Kingly Rule of God would be like those who entered the city of salvation. They would enter into the fold of God’s protection and care. They would know that for them death had lost its sting. They would become a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). This is thus a city that can be entered now by those who come in submission to the King Messiah. But its final fulfilment will be in the new heaven and the new earth, when death is no more, and when His people live in everlasting triumph.

‘We have a strong city (literally ‘a city of strength’), He will appoint salvation for its walls and bulwarks.’ Compare Isaiah 60:18; Psalms 48:12-13. This city is in contrast with all others. Isaiah has described the ruin of the world in terms of a city. It is the city of wasteness, wasted and empty (Isaiah 24:10), a heap, a ruin, a ‘no city’ (Isaiah 25:2). Babylon will be a wasted city never to be rebuilt (Isaiah 13:19-22; Isaiah 14:23), Philistia is a city that has melted away (Isaiah 14:31) (in contrast with Zion - Isaiah 14:32), Moab’s cities are laid waste (Isaiah 15:1-2; Isaiah 25:12), the city of Damascus is a ruinous heap (Isaiah 17:1), all the glory of Kedar will fail (Isaiah 21:16), the earthly city of Jerusalem is helpless and defenceless (Isaiah 22:9), a harlot, the home of murderers (Isaiah 1:21); Tyre is a harlot city (Isaiah 23:17). Only God’s city will triumph and be perpetually strong. It will be the city of deliverance, the city of salvation. It is the hope of the world. But as salvation is ‘its walls and bulwarks’ it is clearly not too literal a city, it is the place where the redeemed are, wherever they are, God’s stronghold. From this point of view Jesus Christ is God’s city and all who are truly ‘in Him’ are saved.

‘Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth may enter in.’ Compare Psalms 118:19; Revelation 22:14. The city has been prepared by God. Man has had no part in it. But now the gates are flung open so that ‘the righteous nation that keeps truth’ may enter in. None can enter who are unrighteous, none can enter who do not hold to the truth, there will in no wise enter in anything that defiles (Revelation 21:27). But the redeemed can enter, for they have been ‘put in the right’ by God (2 Corinthians 5:21). They have been vindicated. They have been accounted righteous because of the sacrifice of their representative, the Servant of God (Isaiah 53:11). The ‘righteous nation’ represents the holy seed (Isaiah 6:13), purified and refined (Isaiah 4:3-4), but it also incorporates God’s own people from all nations, for they too can enter in (Isaiah 2:2-3). This is the ‘ideal’, the spiritual, the heavenly Jerusalem, entered now by those who come under the Kingly Rule of God, and which one day they will enjoy in its perfection everlastingly. And for them death will have been swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 35:8).

‘You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ It is a city entered by faith. All who truly respond to God march in. They are transferred from the ‘powerful rule of darkness’ to being under ‘the Kingly Rule of His Beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13). And those who dwell in that city have their minds stayed on God, their trust is fully in Him, and thus they enjoy perfect peace while they are in such a state, because God Himself will keep them in it. If we do not enjoy perfect peace we must look to what our hearts are stayed on, and to what we trust in. For if our hearts are stayed on Him we will enjoy perfect peace, whatever the world throws at us, the ‘peace which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7).

When the troops of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem Isaiah could afford to laugh and rejoice. For he knew that they could never enter it. God had made it a temporary ‘city of deliverance’. But many in that city were terror-stricken and distraught. They were just as safe as Isaiah was, but because they did not believe it they walked in fear. If you are a Christian and remember that your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:4) you too will be able to rejoice in the face of the Enemy. For there he cannot touch you. All he can do is yell at you over the wall and sink your spirits. So your peace and your strength will depend on whether you trust God.

‘Trust in Yahweh for ever, for in Yah Yahweh, is an everlasting rock.’ His people are now urged to trust Yahweh for ever because He is an everlasting, unfailing rock, He is a firm foundation on which to build, and firm and strong in the day of trouble. The city with walls and bulwarks of salvation is founded on the everlasting rock.

The picture of the ‘rock of ages’ might also remind Israel of how God had twice provided them with water from a rock in the wilderness (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Thus the rock also spoke to them of a source of life-giving water (Isaiah 48:21; Psalms 78:15-16; Psalms 78:20; Psalms 78:35; Psalms 105:41).

But here the symbol of the rock primarily indicates firm dependability (Deuteronomy 32:4), strength (Isaiah 17:10; Psalms 31:2-3; Psalms 62:7), shelter (Isaiah 32:2) and permanence (it is a ‘rock of ages’). It is an idea regularly used of God elsewhere (Deuteronomy 32:15-31; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2-3; 2 Samuel 22:32; 2 Samuel 22:47; 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 18:31; Psalms 18:46; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 42:9; Psalms 62:6; Psalms 71:3; Psalms 89:26; Psalms 92:15; Psalms 94:22; Psalms 95:1) although rarely by the prophets other than Isaiah.

Note again the use of Yah Yahweh, emphasising that He is their covenant God. The repetition stresses the significance of the name. He will be everything to His people.


Verses 5-10

The Contrast Between The Lofty City and The Way of the Righteous (Isaiah 26:5-10).

Those in the lofty city have no time for righteousness. Even if shown favour or set in a land of uprightness they will behave wickedly and ignore God’s majesty. In contrast the truly righteous seek Him with their whole heart.

Analysis.

a For He has brought down those who dwell on high, the lofty city. He lays it low, He lays it low even to the ground, He brings it even to the dust (Isaiah 26:5).

b The foot will tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy (Isaiah 26:6).

c The way of the righteous is uprightness (altogether right), you (singular) who are upright weigh up the path of the righteous (Isaiah 26:7).

d Yes, in the way of your judgments, O Yahweh, have we waited for you. To your name and to your renown (memorial, what is remembered) is the desire of our inner self (Isaiah 26:8).

d With my very life (nephesh) have I desired you in the night, yes, with my spirit within me will I seek you early (Isaiah 26:9 a).

c For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9 b).

b Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness. In the land of uprightness he will deal wrongfully, and will not behold the majesty of Yahweh (Isaiah 26:10 a).

a Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries (Isaiah 26:10 b).

In ‘a’ we have the lofty city, which is in contrast with the city of salvation, and has to be brought low, and in the parallel it is because when His hand is lifted up its inhabitants do not see, but they will be made to see when Yahweh in zeal for His people sends fire to devour them. In ‘b’ the toppled city will be trodden on by the poor and needy, God’s righteous ones, while in the parallel the judgment on the city’s inhabitants is that even when favour is shown to them in their unrighteousness they will not learn righteousness or behold the righteousness of Yahweh. In ‘c’ the way of the righteous is uprightness and the upright are called on to judge the path of the righteous, and in the parallel passage when Yahweh’s judgments are in the earth its inhabitants learn righteousness. In ‘d’ the desire of the inner self of the righteous is to Yahweh’s name memory, and in the parallel they desire Him in the night and seek Him early. Note the repetition of ‘yes’.

The Lofty City Destroyed (Isaiah 26:5-6).

Isaiah 26:5-6

‘For he has brought down those who dwell on high,

The lofty city.

He lays it low,

He lays it low even to the ground,

He brings it even to the dust.

The foot will tread it down,

Even the feet of the poor,

And the steps of the needy.’

In contrast to the strong city is the city of pride, the lofty city, the city that represents the world that has rejected God, perched on its height and seeming to be secure until Yahweh brings it down (see Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 25:12). But bring it down He does, it is brought to the dust, for it despises righteousness (Isaiah 26:10). It is in direct contrast with the heavenly city of God. The poor and the needy will trample on it, (again a sign that we must not take the pictures too literally).

The idea is that the poor and the needy, those who trust in Yahweh, will come out as the victors while the lofty city will be no more. The poor and needy possess it because its inhabitants had not responded to God’s attempts to introduce them to righteousness (Isaiah 26:10). But the victory is gained by Yahweh as the description of the victors especially brings out.

Note that the ‘for’ connects it with what has gone before. The lofty city is in contrast to the strong city. The downfall of the one confirms and ensures the strength of the other. This picture of two cities is descriptive. For so long it was the world city that seemed to triumph and prosper, and the city of God seemed to be as nothing. The world city (whether Nineveh, or Babylon, or Rome, or whoever) stood proudly on its lofty peak and held the world in its sway, but now it is finally brought down, it is humbled, it is brought to the dust, while the humble city of God is seen to be the one whose walls are truly protective, and which finally triumphs. Compare Revelation 17-18 with 21.

Isaiah may, of course, have especially in mind here the city that exalted itself, Babylon in all its pride, even in his own time (Isaiah 13:19), but only because that is in his eyes the epitome of the pride of all great cities.


Verses 5-21

The Righteous and the Unrighteous (Isaiah 26:5-21)

The ways of the righteous and of the unrighteous are now compared, and their destinies contrasted. For the unrighteous the grave with its shadowy half-existence, for the righteous, resurrection to new hope. It ends with the warning that meanwhile God’s anger will finally be revealed in the world, from which the righteous must hide themselves.


Verses 7-11

The Way of The Righteous And Judgments on the Unrighteous (Isaiah 26:7-11).

Isaiah 26:7

‘The way of the righteous is uprightness (altogether right),

You (singular) who are upright weigh up the path of the righteous.’

This makes clear that the lofty city was not upright, for this is in contrast to it. It is those who are righteous before God, accepted by God within and through His covenant, and reconciled to Him, who are upright, and walk in uprightness. They are altogether right. And their path is weighed up by the Upright One. He ponders it and directs it. This does not mean that it is made easy, but that it is made traversable.

Isaiah 26:8

‘Yes, in the way of your judgments, O Yahweh, have we waited for you. To your name and to your renown (memorial, what is remembered) is the desire of our inner self.’

From this point until Isaiah 26:18 is expressing himself in a prayer to God as his thoughts have been turned upwards. The ‘yes’ shows that Isaiah is here amplifying the previous words. This suggests that ‘judgments’ here means the laws that He has revealed, what He has judged to be and expressed as right (Deuteronomy 4:45), rather than the judgments that He carries out, although both are possible. The thought would seem therefore to be that they have chosen to walk in the ways that He has laid out, waiting constantly on Him. This is because their wholehearted desire is towards His Name, what He essentially is revealed to be, and towards His Renown, what they remember of His goodness and power in the past.

But the thought might be that while His judgments have been abroad in the earth they have waited patiently in quiet trust on God. This might be seen as tying in better with the next verse, but there may in fact be a deliberate passing from the one meaning to the other, for the judgments that He reveals to His own result in His judgments on those who reject them.

Waiting is a word often used of the attitude of God’s people towards God. It is an admission that there is nothing that they can do at that moment for themselves to achieve their longings. Yet such waiting is the first requirement for spiritual blessing, for until men have admitted that they cannot save themselves, and have looked to Him in confident trust, God cannot save them. This message indeed lies at the bottom of all that Isaiah is saying in this first half of his book.

Isaiah 26:9-10

‘With my very life (nephesh) have I desired you in the night,

Yes, with my spirit within me will I seek you early,

For when your judgments are in the earth,

The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

Let favour be shown to the wicked,

Yet will he not learn righteousness.

In the land of uprightness he will deal wrongfully,

And will not behold the majesty of Yahweh.’

Note the gradual personalisation that is taking place. ‘The way of the just (impersonal)--wehave waited for you (we all) - withmyinner life have I (I myself) desired you.’ As Isaiah writes he cannot but come down to his own wonderful experience of God. What he is writing about comes from the very depths of his own experience. This must be so for each one of us. Theology is fine, but it must become personalised in our own experience or it is dead. Note also that Isaiah is conscious of the spirit and inner self within him. He is not trying to define man’s nature, but he is very conscious of his own inner spiritual nature, and the spiritual nature of man.

So as Isaiah considers the way of the righteous, and as he ponders the response of God’s own people to Him and His revealed instruction, it comes home personally to him, and he seeks God night and morning. He desires God in the night, and he seeks Him early in the day.

And this is because God’s judgments are in the earth, so that through them the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness. Here the emphasis of ‘judgments’ must be seen as on God’s activity as a result of man’s behaviour, for it is immediately contrasted with the fact that if favour is shown to the wicked he will not learn righteousness. So among other things it is the judgments of God taking place in the world which turn Isaiah’s heart towards God. Through them he too is learning righteousness.

This reminds us that we often learn more through the hard times than we ever do when the way is easy, for tribulation produces patient endurance, and patient endurance produces experience, and experience produces hope (Romans 5:3-4) and always for His own it results in the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to them (Romans 5:5).

It also reminds us that God has a purpose in His judgments, even for those who are not His own. Their purpose is that men might consider their ways, might face up to right and wrong, might be forced to face up to God. When all is going well spiritual lethargy results, but when things go wrong men begin to think again.

But sadly when favour is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness from it. Rather he complacently goes on his way, and even in the land of uprightness he deals wrongfully. His nature reveals itself, whatever his environment might be. God’s favour does not move his heart, nor does he through it behold the majesty of Yahweh. Rather it is hidden from him. He regards neither goodness nor God.

But let God’s judgments come in the world and then the same men do begin to think. They begin, however formally, to seek God. They begin to consider their ways. They begin to consider Him. It may not last long beyond the worst of the judgments, it may quickly die away when things begin to improve, but at least it has given them an opportunity to consider the truth about Him, and even to come to know Him if they would. And thankfully some do, even though the majority quickly slip back to their sinful and complacent ways once the judgment is over, forgetting that one day there will also be a final judgment (Isaiah 26:11).


Verses 11-15

What Yahweh Has Done For His People And the End of Their Enemies (Isaiah 26:11-15).

As in Isaiah 25:1-5, Isaiah 26:8-19 is a prayer as Isaiah has turned his face upwards towards God. And he now delights in Yahweh’s activity on behalf of His people. He bewails the fact that although God has been in action the world has not seen it. But he is confident that they will be made to see it because of what God does for His people. While the nations and their gods will decrease, God will increase His own people who have in the past shamefully submitted themselves to other lords because of their unbelief. He will act on their behalf to bring them peace, a peace that they will enjoy because of what He is doing for them and because of their confidence of what He is doing on their behalf

Analysis.

a Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries. Yahweh, you will ordain peace for us, for you have also wrought all our works for us (Isaiah 26:11-12).

b O Yahweh our God, other lord’s besides you have had dominion over us, but by you only will we make mention of your name (Isaiah 26:13).

c They are dead, they will not live (Isaiah 26:14 a).

c They are shades, they will not rise (Isaiah 26:14 b).

b Therefore you have visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish (Isaiah 26:14 c).

a You have increased the nation, O Yahweh, you have increased the nation. You are glorified. You have enlarged all the borders of the land (Isaiah 26:15).

In ‘a’ Yahweh has revealed His zeal for His people and has ordained peace for them and wrought all their works on their behalf, and in the parallel He has caused both their numbers and their borders to expand so that He is glorified. In ‘b’ they had had other lords whom they had acknowledged, although now they had turned from them, and in the parallel Yahweh had visited those lords and destroyed them and made their memories perish. In ‘c’ and parallel those other lords are now dead meat.

Isaiah 26:11

‘Yahweh, your hand is lifted up, yet they do not see. But they will see your zeal for your people and be put to shame, yes, fire will devour your adversaries.’

Speaking to Yahweh he reminds Him that even though His hand is lifted up in judgment and they have to consider His ways, the world fails to see the truth. They do not see His majesty, His glory, or His holiness, they do not see their own sinfulness before Him. They are blind to the truth. They do not learn (Isaiah 26:10), they continue in wrongdoing (deal wrongfully - Isaiah 26:10), they do not see. Their hearts are set in their own ways. They are too ‘lofty’.

But in the end there is something that they will have to see, although it will be too late. They will see what Yahweh does for His people. This may mean that they will see how protective He has been towards them, how zealous towards them (see Isaiah 26:15), and will be ashamed, but it undoubtedly includes the fact that they will see the zeal on behalf of His people which has resulted in their own fiery destruction. Their sense of shame will then be because of the fate that they have suffered. At the back of these latter phrases there may be in mind the idea of the casting out of the bodies of lawbreakers onto the permanent fires outside Jerusalem as a mark of shame (Isaiah 66:24).

Isaiah 26:12

‘Yahweh, you will ordain peace for us, for you have also wrought all our works for us.’

Looking back on the past His true people can, in contrast with those in Isaiah 26:11 a, be confident about their future, because of His zeal on their behalf (Isaiah 26:11 b). They recognise that the past reveals that God has worked for them in total sovereignty. All that has been done in the past, all that has been accomplished, all that has been worthwhile, has been the result of His sovereign acts. Therefore they are confident that He will do the same in the future. He will establish them in peace (Isaiah 26:3). For they will be in His strong city of peace (Isaiah 26:3). He will determine and guarantee for them a future of peace in the kingdom of peace (Isaiah 11:6-9) under the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). They are in His hands. They are confident therefore that His benefits to them will continue to increase, as they have done already (Isaiah 26:15).

This is the divine side of salvation. It is God Who is at work within us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and it is He Who, because He is faithful, will confirm us to the end that we may be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Isaiah 26:13-14

‘O Yahweh our God,

Other lord’s besides you have had dominion over us,

But by you only will we make mention of your name.

They are dead, they will not live,

They are shades, they will not rise.

Therefore you have visited and destroyed them,

And made all their memory to perish.’

He confirms to Yahweh that they are deeply aware that in the past they have been subservient to other lords, both the human lords, and the divinities they represented. Their history was full of the fact, from Pharaoh onwards. It should not have been. It need not have been. But they had failed to trust in Yahweh, and so it was. And they had been instructed by some of those lords that in their public worship they must recognise that subservience to their other lord, by worshipping his gods. Every conqueror required that his own gods take pride of place in the place of worship. And some of these gods had been set up in the Temple, so that even when they had worshipped Yahweh it had been under the shadow of other gods. It had been deeply distressing and humiliating

But now that will be no more (as he prays he is seeing the future as already certain). From now on their worship of Yahweh will be pure. Other lords and gods will be excluded. Yet it is only ‘by Him’, by His activity, and because He has wrought on their behalf, that this has become possible. It is because He has graciously delivered them, that mention will be made of His name. Had He not held them in His hand, had He not wrought for them, they would have had no hope. But He has delivered them by His sovereign power and that is why they can now call on Him and His name. They are in this position simply because He, and He alone, has saved them.

Indeed the frailty and unworthiness for worship of these other lords has been made abundantly clear in that they are now dead. They have become but ‘shades’, they are but shadows in the grave of what they were. They will not live again. They will not rise from their graves. They are permanently gone. Yahweh has visited and destroyed them. See especially Isaiah 14:15-20 of the king of Babylon; Ezekiel 32:18-30 of Egypt and many nations. And their gods have gone with them. Even the memory of them has perished. They are no more.

Isaiah 26:15

‘You have increased the nation, O Yahweh,

You have increased the nation. You are glorified.

You have enlarged all the borders of the land.’

In contrast, because of Yahweh’s intervention on their behalf, because of His zeal shown on their behalf (Isaiah 26:11), whereas their adversaries have been destroyed, their own nation will be increased, for Yahweh will do it, and He will gradually extend their borders. He had done it in the past and He will do it again. They were especially conscious at this time of how small their land had become under Assyrian lordship as a result of their rebellions (at one stage probably less than twenty square kilometres). But that would all be changed again when Yahweh acted. The borders of the land would be enlarged, Israel would be restored, Yahweh would be glorified.

That it so happened to some extent in history, history itself reveals. The people did continually increase from small beginnings and the land was gradually enlarged in the inter-testamental period. But the picture here goes beyond that. For in this chapter we are considering final consequences. So the picture here is more of Yahweh’s triumph than of an emphasis on the land, and goes well beyond history. It includes the fact that the numbers of the people of God would be multiplied and their land extended when the Gospel went out to the nations, but that was just a picture of the greater glory yet to come. For His people will finally prosper and flourish to the glory of Yahweh in a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 66:22) in the everlasting kingdom when they will be numerous indeed, a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7:9), and when the land will truly be enlarged. This was what Abraham and his descendants were really looking for (Hebrews 11:10-16). Indeed as we shall shortly see (Isaiah 26:19) Isaiah has in mind the resurrection from the dead of God’s people which will marvellously increase the nation. So this can only finally refer to the everlasting kingdom, when death has been swallowed up (Isaiah 25:8).


Verses 16-21

For In Contrast To The Leaders of the Nations God’s People Will Live and Rise Again While before This The World Must Face Its Judgment (Isaiah 26:16-21).

Isaiah now makes the context of what he is saying quite clear. He is referring to the time of the consummation of all things when all who are His will be resurrected, when death will be no more (Isaiah 25:7-8), and when God will have triumphed over all. But it is not yet. His people having suffered must wait a little while more for the troubles to pass and for God to carry out His judgments before they enter into their own (Isaiah 26:20).

These words must have come as a wonderful new revelation to his hearers. We have had revealed to us so much about the resurrection that we cannot even begin to conceive of what the impact of Isaiah’s words must have been. For while there had been hints about the possibility in the Psalms, never before had the idea of a future life for all those who had died faithful to God been so clearly proclaimed. And yet as with all prophecy at this time it was in terms of a resurrection to life on earth. Any other portrayal would have been to involve people’s thoughts in the mythical world of the gods.

Analysis.

a O Yahweh, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a whisper (choked plea?) when your chastening was on them. Just as a woman with child, who draws near the time of her delivery, is in pain and cries out in her agonies, so have we been before you, O Yahweh. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were produced wind. We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’

b Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust.

b For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.

a Come, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your doors about you. Hide yourself for a little moment until the indignation is gone by. For behold Yahweh comes forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also will disclose her blood, and will not cover her slain

In ‘a’ God’s people have been through a great time of trouble and pain but are aware that they have produced nothing and have accomplished nothing. They have not been able to deliver themselves, nor to bring down the inhabitants of the inhabited world. In the parallel they must hide themselves for Yahweh will now do what they have failed to do. The inhabitants of the earth will now be punished for their iniquity, with the spilling of their blood being clear for all to see. Meanwhile in ‘b’ His people have the assurance that those of them who have died faithful to Him will live again. They will arise and sing for joy. And in the parallel the dew that will fall on them will be a shining light, and the earth will cast them forth (to live again).

Isaiah 26:16-18

‘Yahweh, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a whisper (choked plea?) when your chastening was on them. Just as a woman with child, who draws near the time of her delivery, is in pain and cries out in her agonies, so have we been before you, O Yahweh. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were produced wind. We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’

Isaiah has no false illusions about his people. Any such illusions had been removed in chapter 6. But he looks back at their history and feels their pain. The ‘they’ (in contrast with ‘we’) has in mind the people of the past. Possibly he has especially in mind Exodus 2:23 and the book of Judges (see Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Judges 4:3; Judges 6:6) when again and again His people had cried to Him in their bondage and pleaded for deliverance, and when He had had to chasten them again and again for forgetting Him and seeking other gods. Then they had truly suffered like a woman in childbirth, and they had ‘visited’ Him. The verb ‘visited’ is appropriate. It was not a permanent seeking, but a temporary one. Each time it was only a visit, not a long stay. That was the problem. And that was why they had never got to the point of producing anything worthwhile.

The word for ‘whisper’ is an unusual one, usually used of whispering enchantments. Perhaps Isaiah was trying to convey his view of the unspiritual nature of their cries. They treated God as though He was merely a magical response to their needs. Or perhaps it was to bring out the strangled nature of their prayers. Compare Isaiah 29:4.

But the same situation is still true. The people now are just like the people then, and Isaiah reverts to ‘we’. The picture is vivid. They have suffered as in childbirth, but they have only produced wind. It has been a phantom pregnancy. They have not accomplished anything. They have wrought no deliverance for themselves, and none of the inhabitants of the world have fallen. They have failed in Yahweh’s purposes. They are still enduring pain and anxiety without any fruit. Their condition is hopeless. No wonder he had described them as a people of unclean lips, for they had broken His covenant (Isaiah 6:5). So if God enlarges the nation it will not be because they have somehow deserved it. And yet, remarkably He will do so. It will be all of His undeserved favour, His grace.

‘Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.’ The root for the word ‘fallen’ is elsewhere used in the form of a noun (nephel) to indicate a miscarriage, and ‘untimely birth’ (Job 3:16; Ecclesiastes 6:3). Thus ‘to fall’ may well indicate childbirth, which would admirably fit the context of birthpangs. This would then be a confession that they had produced none of the fruit among the inhabitants of the world that they should have. They had not brought any of them to spiritual birth.

But more likely the thought is simply that Israel’s rise could only result from the ‘fall’ of their adversaries into the grave, and they have failed in that too. They have been powerless to deliver themselves or inflict injury on their enemies.

We can compare for this use of ‘fallen’ how the king of Babylon is described as having fallen into the grave (Isaiah 14:11-12; Isaiah 14:15; Isaiah 14:19), and Babylon is described forcibly as having ‘fallen’ along with her gods, broken into the ground (Isaiah 21:9), and thus becoming dust, a dual contrast to the next verse.

Isaiah 26:19

‘Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust. For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.’

Yahweh gives His reply to Isaiah’s confession of the people’s guilt and unworthiness. And what a reply. They may have failed, but their God will not fail. Like a bolt from the blue comes the promise of the bodily resurrection of the true people of God. This is in direct contrast with Isaiah 26:14 where the dead leaders of the nations would not live, and would not rise, but would remain in the grave, something which is stressed. It cannot therefore be seen as anything but literal, and a literal meaning is in fact required. Here the earth casts forth ‘the shades’ of His people because the dew of light has fallen on them. Such shades cannot be held back in the grave.

A figurative ‘national resurrection’ simply meaning that Israel came back to God and were restored would be a poor contrast to Isaiah 26:14, which did not simply mean that the lords of the nations would subside into anonymity. There the great stress was on the fact that they had literally died and would not live again. Life had been taken from them. Here therefore in startling contrast is the opposite situation. Physical death is contrasted with physical life. God’s people truly will live again.

This stark contrast is in line with Isaiah’s emphasis on such stark contrasts. The mountain of Yahweh would attract many nations and would result in worldwide peace (Isaiah 2:2-4), while the day of Yahweh would come with dreadful intensity and result in terror and the shaking of the earth (Isaiah 2:10-21). Ahaz had refused a miraculous and marvellous sign, and so God would give him an even more miraculous and marvellous sign (chapter Isaiah 7:11-14). The strong city would arise and prosper permanently, the city of wastedness would fall into the dust (Isaiah 26:1; Isaiah 26:5). Thus here there is the contrast that the leaders of the nations would die and would not live or rise again, but that God’s people will live and rise again, receiving new life.

Previously Isaiah had spoken of victory over death (Isaiah 25:8) in preparation for this, but that could have referred to those living, with the suggestion that they would no more die. Here, however, the promise is unequivocally that the faithful who are already dead will live bodily, for ‘the earth will cast forth the shades’. And it was contextually necessary, otherwise the counter-argument could have been that the dead people of God had also permanently become shades. The force of the whole passage comes from the fact that they did not do so.

So the failure of His people will be countermanded. In spite of their failure they will be raised from the dead. Even while they admitted that they were totally undeserving, God breaks in with the promise of their resurrection. For this was not something that they could deserve. It would be all of God’s mercy.

It was only because it was so stupendous a thought that it had never risen before. Psalmists could not believe that death was the end for those who truly knew God, but they never articulated it in detail (see Psalms 16:10-11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6; etc). Enoch and Elijah were also seen as men who had never died, but they were not seen as rising from the dead. This is different. It builds on those examples but with new significance. All the righteous will live again.

‘Your dead will live, my dead bodies will arise.’ This is in direct contrast with ‘dead they will not live, shades they will not arise’ (Isaiah 26:14). There they were shades, but here in the parallel phrases they are not described as shades but as dead bodies. There is a reality about them that survives. So these dead will live. They are awaiting the resurrection. ‘Your’ refers to Isaiah and Israel, ‘my’ refers to God. The dead belong to Israel, but their dead bodies are His, He retains control over them. Those who belong to Him, but only those who are His, will arise.

‘Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust.’ The lofty city was brought down to the dust (Isaiah 26:5), but those brought down to the dust in death as a result of the activities of those from the lofty city will be raised from the dust. Their enemies could gloat in the fact that they had become just dust, no more to have any meaningful existence, but instead they can awake and sing, for new life is to be theirs. The original warning to man was that he was dust and because of his sin he would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). Thus for these who will rise again the curse has been removed.

‘For your dew is as the dew of lights, and the earth will cast forth the shades.’ Note the contrast between ‘lights’ and ‘shades’. Where light comes there can be no more shade. So just as the falling dew brings life to the earth, so does the dew of God’s light fall to bring life to His dead bodies, so that the earth casts them out. There is no place for that which is alive in the grave, or for shining lights among the shades. It wants nothing to do with life or light. The grave is for the shades of what men were.

‘The dew of lights’. The plural is probably a plural of intensity referring to intense light and divine light (compare Psalms 104:2). Thus we may see this as signifying ‘divine dew’, the dew of God’s pure light. Or it may especially refer to the light of life seen as dew (Job 3:16; Psalms 56:13). The Psalmist said that those who are dead will not see light (Psalms 49:19), but that is not true in this case, for the dew of God’s intense light will ensure that these men live again. Alternately there may be in mind the idea of the dew of morning (lights) as connected with the lifegiving manna (Exodus 16:14), but the former seems more likely as a contrast to the shades. However whichever way we take it the central thought is of lifegiving dew falling on the deceased chosen of God, as on dead vegetation, so that they live again (compare Hosea 14:5).

As we consider this marvellous revelation we soon see that from the context it was required. Yahweh was calling His own to a great feast, where He would swallow up death for ever (Isaiah 25:6-8), resulting in entry into the strong city (Isaiah 26:1-2). But of what benefit the strong city for those who had died in God? Had they not gone the way of the leaders of the nations without hope (Isaiah 26:13-14)? Were they not lost to it? No, replies Isaiah, for they will rise again. It had to be. It was the final triumph. It was a doctrine waiting to happen.

The Coming Indignation (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Yahweh’s people have suffered pain and anxiety and failure. They admit to having achieved nothing. Now they have been promised resurrection. But it can only be when God has fulfilled His purposes. Thus now for a little while they are to hide themselves away while Yahweh does what they have been unable to do and finalises His work and judgment on the inhabited earth. What their pain has not achieved, Yahweh will now accomplish, the establishment of justice.

We must not just transfer this warning to what we see as ‘the end of the age’ some time in the future. It was a word spoken to the faithful remnant in Isaiah’s day. It is a word spoken to Christians whenever they find themselves in a position where God’s judgments are being revealed in the world. Always His protecting hand will be with them. It is a reminder that as the world again and again faces its judgments God will be watching over His own. And each judgment and series of judgments will be ‘for a little while’. We can compare here Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:17. ‘Our light affliction which is but for a moment works for us more and more abundantly an eternal weight of glory’. ‘For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be rvealed towards us’ (Romans 8:18). And yet it will apply even more as the end approaches.

Isaiah 26:20-21

‘Come, my people, enter into your chambers and shut your doors about you. Hide yourself for a little moment until the indignation is gone by. For behold Yahweh comes forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth also will disclose her blood, and will not cover her slain.’

His people must hide themselves whenever His judgments are in the world, because what He will bring on the world in judgments because of His anger against sin is not for them. The glorious resurrection is coming, but before that final resurrection takes place the world must experience judgment. For ‘the wrath of God is continually revealed from Heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth by unrighteousness’ (Romans 1:18). Thus the resurrection of the righteous cannot come until the time of indignation is over, before God’s anger has been sufficiently revealed in His judgment on the world. Because His people have not brought home to the world His power and His judgment, He will do it Himself. And in the light of this God’s people are to enter their rooms and close the doors. They are to keep out of it. They are not to race into testing but to be prudent and sensible. There is no thought of cultivating martyrdom. For these will be times when God ‘comes from His place’ and punishes the world for their sinfulness and their evil behaviour, and God’s people have no part in it. No murder, whether judicial or private, will go unpunished. The earth that has received the blood of the murder victims will no longer hide it, nor cover up the murders. Rather it will disclose them. As with Abel the blood will cry to God for vengeance from the ground (see Genesis 4:8-12), and the earth itself will cooperate in drawing attention to the crimes. We can be sure that men’s sins will find them out. For when the holy Creator and judge of all men approaches, creation itself is ashamed of the sinfulness of man, and gladly plays its part in making it known. ‘Iniquity’ is the inward sinfulness of a man, the blood shed is the outward evidence of it.

‘Shut your doors.’ Compare here ‘open the gates’ (Isaiah 26:2). There is a time for opening and a time for shutting, a time for marching and a time for hiding. There may be a hint here of Noah entering the Ark to hide from the indignation of the flood, when God shut them in.

This is specifically not a time of tribulation for the people of God, for they are to take cover from it. It is a time when God’s wrath is poured out on the world. The Bible constantly anticipates tribulation for the world right up to the time of the end. Each generation experiences in one way or another the judgments of God, and each generation of Christians receives His protection. And it will so continue to the end. And once Yahweh has punished the world sufficiently for its iniquity, and given it sufficient time to repent (2 Peter 3:9), the resurrection can take place.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 26:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-26.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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