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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 1

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 1:1. The vision of Isaiah — “It seems doubtful,” says Bishop Lowth, “whether this title belongs to the whole book, or only to the prophecy contained in this chapter. The former part of the title seems properly to belong to this particular prophecy: the latter part, which enumerates the kings of Judah, under whom Isaiah exercised his prophetical office, seems to appropriate it to the whole collection of prophecies delivered in the course of his ministry. Vitringa, to whom the world is greatly indebted for his learned labours on this prophet, has, I think, very judiciously resolved this doubt. He supposes, that the former part of this title was originally prefixed to this single prophecy; and that when the collection of all Isaiah’s prophecies was made, the enumeration of the kings of Judah was added, to make it, at the same time, a proper title to the whole book. And such it is plainly taken to be, 2 Chronicles 32:32; where the book of Isaiah is cited by this title.” Thus understood, the word vision is used collectively for visions, and the sense is, “This is the book of the visions, or prophecies, of Isaiah.” The reader must observe, the two usual ways, whereby God communicated his will to the prophets, were visions and dreams: see Numbers 12:6. In visions, the inspired persons were awake, but their external senses were bound up, and, as it were, laid asleep in a trance. Thus Balaam describes them as to himself, Numbers 24:16. They are called visions, not from any use made of corporal sight, but because of the clearness and evidence of the things revealed, and the conformity of this kind of inspiration to the information which the mind receives by the sight of the bodily eyes. Hence, also, prophets were called seers, 1 Samuel 9:9. Sometimes, however, visions were accompanied with external representations. See Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 40:2; Revelation 21:10. See notes on Isaiah, by Wm. Lowth, B.D. Which he saw — Foresaw and foretold. For he speaks, after the manner of the prophets, of things to come, as if they were either past or present. Concerning Judah — Principally, but not exclusively. For he prophesies also concerning Egypt and Babylon, and divers other countries; yet with respect to Judah. In the days of Uzziah, &c. — In the time of their reign. This, probably, was not the first vision which Isaiah had, but is placed at the beginning of his book, because, together with the four following chapters, it contains a general description of the state of the Jews, under the several judgments which God had brought upon them, and is a fit preface or introduction to the rest of his prophecy.


Verse 2

Isaiah 1:2. Hear, O heavens, &c. — “God is introduced as entering upon a solemn and public action, or pleading, before the whole world, against his disobedient people. The prophet, as herald, or officer, to proclaim the summons to the court, calls upon all created beings, celestial and terrestrial, to attend and bear witness to the truth of his plea, and the justice of his cause.” — Bishop Lowth. See the same scene more fully displayed, Psalms 50:3-4. With the like invocation Moses begins his sublime song, Deuteronomy 32:1; see also Micah 6:1-2. For the Lord hath spoken — Or, It is Jehovah that speaketh, as Bishop Lowth renders it, there seeming to be an impropriety in demanding attention to a speech already delivered. I have nourished, &c. — I first made them a people, and, until this time, I have sustained and blessed them above all other nations: God’s care over them is compared to that of parents in nursing and training up their children. And they have rebelled against me — Or, as פשׁעו ביmay be rendered, have revolted from me — Even they, peculiarly favoured as they have been, have proved deserters, nay, traitors, against my crown and dignity. This is the Lord’s plea against them, of the equity of which he is willing that all the creatures should be judges.


Verse 3

Isaiah 1:3. The ox knoweth his owner, &c. — In these words the prophet amplifies “the gross insensibility of the disobedient Jews, by comparing them with the most heavy and stupid of all animals, yet not so insensible as they. Bochart has well illustrated the comparison, and shown the peculiar force of it. ‘He sets them lower than the beasts, and even than the stupidest of all beasts; for there is scarce any more so than the ox and the ass. Yet these acknowledge their master; they know the manger of their lord; by whom they are fed, not for their own, but his good; neither are they looked upon as children, but as beasts of burden; neither are they advanced to honours, but oppressed with great and daily labours. While the Israelites, chosen by the mere favour of God, adopted as sons, promoted to the highest dignity, yet acknowledged not their Lord and their God, but despised his commandments, though in the highest degree equitable and just.’” See a comparison of Jeremiah 8:7, to the same purpose, equally elegant; but not so forcible and severe as this of Isaiah.


Verse 4

Isaiah 1:4. Ah, sinful nation — The prophet bemoans those who would not bemoan themselves; and he speaks with a holy indignation at their degeneracy, and with a dread of the consequences of it. A people laden with iniquity — Laden, not with the sense of sin, as those described Matthew 11:28, but with the guilt and bondage of sin. A seed of evil- doers — The children of wicked parents, whose guilt they inherit, and whose evil example they follow; children that are corrupted — Hebrew, משׁחיתים, that corrupt, namely, themselves, or their ways, or others, by their counsel and example: or, that destroy themselves and their land by their wickedness. They have forsaken the Lord — Not indeed in profession, but in practice, and therefore in reality, neglecting or corrupting his worship, and refusing to be subject and obedient to him. They have provoked the Holy One, &c. — They have lived as if it were their great design and business to provoke him. They are gone away backward — Instead of proceeding forward, and growing in grace, which was their duty, they are fallen from their former professions, and have become more wicked than ever.


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 1:5-6. Why should ye be stricken any more — It is to no purpose to seek to reclaim you by one chastisement after another; ye will revolt more and more — I see you are incorrigible, and turn even your afflictions into sin. The whole head is sick, &c. — The disease is mortal, as being in the most noble and vital parts, the very head and heart of the body politic, from whence the plague is derived to all the other members. “The end of God’s judgments, in this world, is men’s reformation; and when people appear to be incorrigible, there is no reason to expect that he should try any further methods of discipline with them, but consume them all at once.” From the sole of the foot, &c. — “The whole frame of the Jewish Church and state is corrupted, and their misery is as universal as their sin which caused it.” — Lowth.


Verse 7-8

Isaiah 1:7-8. Your country is desolate — “The description of the ruined and desolate state of the country, in these verses,” says Bishop Lowth, “does not suit with any part of the prosperous times of Uzziah and Jotham. It very well agrees with the time of Ahaz, when Judea was ravaged by the joint invasion of the Israelites and Syrians, and by the incursions of the Philistines and Edomites. The date of this prophecy is therefore generally fixed to the time of Ahaz.” Strangers devour it in your presence — Which your eyes see to torment you, when there is no power in your hands to deliver you. As overthrown, &c. — כמהפכת, as the overthrow; of strangers — That is, such as strangers bring upon a land which is not likely to continue in their hands, and therefore they spare no persons; and spoil and destroy all things, which is not usually done in wars between persons of the same or of a neighbouring nation. And the daughter of Zion is left — Is left solitary, all the neighbouring villages and country round about it being laid waste. As a cottage — Or, as a shed in a vineyard, as Bishop Lowth translates it, namely, “a little temporary hut, covered with boughs, straw, turf, or the like materials, for a shelter from the heat by day, and the cold and dews by night, for the watchman that kept the garden, or vineyard, during the short season while the fruit was ripening; see Job 27:18; and presently removed when it had served that purpose.” — See Harmer, Observ. 1:454.


Verse 9

Isaiah 1:9. Except the Lord had left us a remnant — If God, by his infinite power and goodness, had not restrained our enemies, and reserved some of us, we should have been as Sodom — The whole nation of us had been utterly cut off, as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were. So great was the rage and power of our enemies, and so utterly unable were we to deliver ourselves. This remnant was “a type of those few converts among the Jews, who, embracing the gospel, escaped both the temporal and eternal judgments which came upon the rest of the nation for rejecting Christ and his messengers,” Romans 9:2; Romans 11:5. — Lowth.


Verse 10

Isaiah 1:10. Hear the word of the Lord — I bring a message from your Lord and governor, to whom you owe all reverence and obedience; ye rulers of Sodom — So called for their resemblance of them in wickedness. Compare Deuteronomy 32:32; Ezekiel 16:46; Ezekiel 16:48. “The incidental mention of Sodom and Gomorrah in the preceding verse, suggested to the prophet this spirited address to the rulers and inhabitants of Jerusalem, under the character of princes of Sodom and people of Gomorrah. Two examples, of an elegant turn, of the like kind, may be observed in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans 15:4-5; Romans 15:12-13.” — Bishop Lowth. Give ear unto the law of our God — The message which I am now to deliver to you from God, your great lawgiver.


Verse 11-12

Isaiah 1:11-12. To what purpose, &c., your sacrifices unto me? — Who am a Spirit, and therefore cannot be satisfied with such carnal oblations, but expect to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and to have your hearts and lives, as well as your bodies and sacrifices, presented unto me. I delight not in the blood, &c. — He mentions the fat and blood, because these were, in a peculiar manner, reserved for God, to intimate that even the best of their sacrifices were rejected by him. The prophets often speak of the ceremonies of Moses’s law as of no value, without that inward purity, and true spiritual worship, and devotedness to God, which were signified by them. This was a very proper method to prepare the minds of the Jews for the reception of the gospel, by which those ceremonies were to be abolished. When ye come to appear before me — Upon the three solemn feasts, or upon other occasions. Who hath required this at your hand? — The thing I commanded was not only, nor chiefly, that you should offer external sacrifices, but that you should do it with true repentance, with faith in my promises, and sincere resolutions of devoting yourselves to my service.


Verse 13

Isaiah 1:13. Bring no more vain oblations — I neither desire, nor will accept of any on these terms. Incense is an abomination to me — So far is it from being a sweet savour to me, as you foolishly imagine. The new moons — Which were holy to God, and observed with great solemnity; the calling of assemblies — At all other solemn times, wherein the people were obliged to meet together. I cannot away with — Hebrew, לא אוכל, I cannot endure; it is grievous to me. It is iniquity — It is so far from pleasing me, that it is an offence to me: and, instead of reconciling me to you, which is your design, it provokes me more against you; even the solemn meeting — The most solemn day of each of the three feasts, which was the last day, which was called by this very name, עצרה, Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35, and elsewhere; although the word be used sometimes more generally of any other solemn festival day. Perhaps the great day of atonement was especially intended. Bishop Lowth renders it, the day of restraint, certain holy days, ordained by the law, being distinguished by a particular charge, that “no servile work should be done therein.” This circumstance clearly explains the reason of the name, the restraint, given to those days.


Verse 15

Isaiah 1:15. When ye spread forth your hands — When ye pray with your hands spread abroad, as the manner was; I will hide mine eyes from you — I will take no notice of your persons or requests. Your hands are full of blood — You are guilty of murder and oppression, and of other crying sins, which I abhor, and have forbidden under pain of my highest displeasure.


Verse 16-17

Isaiah 1:16-17. Wash ye, make you clean — Repent, and do works meet for repentance: cleanse your hearts and hands from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and do not content yourselves with your ceremonial washings. He refers to the charge preferred in the preceding clause, and alludes to the legal purifications commanded on several occasions: see Leviticus 14:8-9; Leviticus 14:47. Put away the evil, &c., from before mine eyes — Reform yourselves thoroughly, that you may not only approve yourselves to men, but to me, who search your hearts and try all your actions. Learn to do well — Begin, and inure yourselves, to live soberly, righteously, and godly. Seek judgment, &c. — Show your religion to God, by practising justice and mercy to men. Judge the fatherless, &c. — Deliver and defend those that are poor and helpless, and liable to be oppressed by unjust and potent adversaries.


Verses 18-20

Isaiah 1:18-20. Come now, let us reason together — The word נוכחהis properly understood of two contending parties arguing a case; or, as Bishop Lowth translates it, pleading together; but here it seems to import also the effect, or issue of such a debate, namely, the accommodating their differences. Though your sins be as scarlet — Red and bloody as theirs were, mentioned Isaiah 1:15; great and heinous; they shall be white as snow — God, upon your repentance and reformation, will pardon all that is past, and look upon you with the same grace and favour as if you had never offended, your sins being expiated by the blood of the Messiah, typified by your legal sacrifices. It is a metonymical expression, by which sins are said to be purged, as Hebrews 1:3, when men are purged from their sins, Hebrews 9:14. If ye be willing and obedient — If you be heartily willing and fully resolved to obey all my commands; ye shall eat the good of the land — Together with the pardon of your sins, you shall receive temporal and worldly blessings. But if ye refuse and rebel — If you obstinately persist in your disobedience to me, as hitherto you have done; ye shall be devoured with the sword — With the sword of your enemies, which shall be commissioned to destroy you, and with the sword of God’s justice, his wrath and vengeance, which shall be drawn against you; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it — And he will surely make it good for the maintaining of his own honour.


Verse 21

Isaiah 1:21. How is the faithful city — Jerusalem, which in the reign of former kings was faithful to God; become a harlot — Filled with idolatry, called whoredom in the Scriptures. It was full of judgment, &c. — Judgment was truly and duly executed in all its courts, and righteousness, or justice, lodged, or had its seat in it; but now murderers — Under that one gross kind, he comprehends all sorts of unrighteous men and practices.


Verse 22-23

Isaiah 1:22-23. Thy silver is become dross — Thou art wofully degenerated from thy former purity. Thy wine mixed with water — If there be any remains of religion and virtue in thee, they are mixed with many and great corruptions. Thy princes are rebellious — Against me, their sovereign Lord; and companions of thieves — Partly by giving them connivance and countenance, and partly by practising the same violence, and cruelty, and injustice that thieves used to do. Every one loveth gifts — That is, bribes given to pervert justice.


Verse 24

Isaiah 1:24. Ah, I will ease me, &c. — This is an expression borrowed from men’s passions, who find some sort of ease and rest in their minds upon venting their anger on just occasions, or in bringing offenders to condign punishment. Thus God, speaking after the manner of men, represents himself as feeling satisfaction in executing justice upon obstinate and incorrigible offenders. Compare Ezekiel 5:13; Ezekiel 16:42; Ezekiel 21:17. But let it be observed, God is never said to take pleasure in the punishment of any, but those who have filled up the measure of their iniquities.


Verse 25-26

Isaiah 1:25-26. And I will turn my hand upon thee — I will chastise thee again, and thereby reform thee: or, I will do that for the reviving of religion, which I did at first for the planting of it. And purge away thy dross — I will purge out of thee those wicked men that are incorrigible, and, as for those of you that are curable, I will by my word, and by the furnace of affliction, purge out all that corruption that yet remains in you. And I will restore thy judges, &c. — I will give thee such princes and magistrates as thou hadst in the beginning, either, 1st, Of thy commonwealth, such as Moses and Joshua: or, 2d, Of thy kingdom, such as David. And thy counsellors — Thy princes shall have, and shall hearken to, wise and faithful counsellors. Afterward thou shalt be called — Namely, justly and truly, the city of righteousness, &c. — Thou shalt be such. “The reforming of the magistracy,” says Henry, “is a good step toward the reforming of the city and country too.”


Verse 27-28

Isaiah 1:27-28. Zion shall be redeemed — Shall be delivered from all their enemies and calamities; with judgment — By the exercise of God’s strict justice in destroying the obdurate; by purging out those wicked and incorrigible Jews, who, by their sins, hindered the deliverance of the people; and by punishing and destroying their unmerciful enemies who kept them in cruel bondage; and her converts — Hebrew, ושׁביה, her returners, those of them who shall come out of captivity into their own land; with righteousness — Or, by righteousness; either by God’s faithfulness, in keeping his promise of delivering them after seventy years, or by his goodness; for both these qualities come under the name of righteousness in the Scriptures. And, or rather, but, the destruction of the transgressors, &c., shall be together — Though I will deliver my people from the Babylonish captivity, yet those of them who shall still go on in their wickedness, shall not have the benefit of that mercy, but shall be reserved for a more dreadful and total destruction.


Verse 29

Isaiah 1:29. For they shall be ashamed — He does not speak of an ingenuous and penitential shame for sin, but of an involuntary and penal shame for the disappointment of the hopes which they had placed in their idols; of the oaks which ye have desired — Which, after the manner of the heathen, you have consecrated to idolatrous uses. Of what particular kind the trees here mentioned were, cannot be determined with certainty. The Hebrew word אלה, here used, is rendered ilex by Bishop Lowth, which properly means the scarlet oak. Others think the terebinth-tree was intended. And ye shall be confounded for the gardens, &c. — In which, as well as in the groves, they practised idolatry: see Isaiah 65:3; and Isaiah 66:17. “Sacred groves,” the reader will observe, “were a very ancient and favourite appendage of idolatry. They were furnished with the temple of the god to whom they were dedicated; with altars, images, and every thing necessary for performing the various rites of worship offered there; and were the scenes of many impure ceremonies, and of much abominable superstition. They made a principal part of the religion of the old inhabitants of Canaan; and the Israelites were commanded to destroy their groves, among other monuments of their false worship. The Israelites themselves, however, became afterward very much addicted to this species of idolatry:” see Ezekiel 20:28; Hosea 4:13. Bishop Lowth.


Verse 30

Isaiah 1:30. For ye shall be as an oak, &c. — As you have sinned under the oaks and in the gardens, so you shall be like unto oaks and gardens, not when they are green and flourishing, but when they wither and decay. This verse is remarkably elegant, in which, what was the pleasure and confidence of those idolaters, is made to denote their punishment. “All the gardens in the East,” says a late writer, “have water in them, which is so absolutely necessary, that without it every thing, in summer, would be parched up. This is a circumstance which we should attend to, if we would enter into the energy of the latter clause.”


Verse 31

Isaiah 1:31. And the strong — The wisest, strongest, or richest persons among you, who think to secure themselves against the threatened danger by their wisdom, wealth, or power, and much more they that are weak and helpless; shall be as tow — Shall be as suddenly and easily consumed by God’s judgments as tow is by the fire. And the maker of it — The maker of the idol, who can neither save himself nor his workmanship; as a spark — To set it on fire: by his sin he shall bring himself to ruin. Or, as פעלו לניצוצ, may be rendered, his work shall become a spark, shall be the cause of his destruction. “The words are elegant, and the meaning of them is, that the rich, the powerful, the great, (meant by the word החסן, which we render strong,) who seemed like a lofty and well-rooted oak, shall perish with their works: for their works, their great and wicked undertakings, by which they had sought safety, like sparks, shall set them on fire and consume them like tow. They shall perish, like fools, by their own devices. The very works themselves, which they had raised for the glory and preservation of themselves and their republic, shall be turned into the very cause of their destruction. Vitringa thinks the prophet alludes to the destruction of their state and temple by the Romans.” — Dodd.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-1.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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