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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 57

 

 

Verse 1-2

Isaiah 57:1-2. These two verses “contain a kind of prelude to the distressful scene which is opened immediately after: for the prophet, designing to describe the melancholy state of the adulterous church, to be chastised by the severe judgments of God, beholds, as it were in an ecstasy, the few pious and good men yet remaining in the church gradually falling off, and taken away, either by an immature or violent death: while there were but few who laid this matter to heart, and observed it as a presage of the judgment threatening the church. This stupidity he sadly deplores; immediately subjoining, however: an alleviation, to show that this complaint pertained not to the deceased, as having attained a happier lot, and as blessed in this respect, that they were taken away from the evils and calamities of their times.” — Vitringa. The following short paraphrase on the words will render their sense more apparent. The righteous perisheth — Just and holy men, who are the pillars of the place and state in which they live. And no man layeth it to heart — Few or none of the people are duly affected with this severe stroke and sign of God’s displeasure. Thus he shows that the corruption was general in the people no less than in the priests. And merciful men — Hebrew, אנשׁי חסד, men of benignity, or beneficence, the same whom he before called righteous: those whose practice it was, not only to exercise piety and justice, but also mercy and kindness; none considering — None reflecting within himself, and laying it to heart; that the righteous is taken away from the evil — That dreadful calamities are coming on the church and nation, and that the righteous are taken away before they come. He shall enter into peace — The righteous man shall be received into rest and safety, where he shall be out of the reach of the approaching miseries. They — The merciful men; shall rest in their beds — In their graves, not unfitly called their beds, or sleeping- places, death being commonly called sleep in Scripture; each one walking in his uprightness — That walked, that is, lived, in a sincere and faithful discharge of his duties to God and men. Vitringa thinks “the completion of this prophecy is to be sought in the latter end of the ninth, and in the following centuries; when the papal power greatly prevailed, and the corruption of the church was as great as the persecutions and troubles of the pious were many.”


Verse 3-4

Isaiah 57:3-4. But draw near hither, &c. — “The prophet proceeds to exhibit the church, totally corrupt as it was, the good men being extinct or dispersed; so that they who remained of the pure seed of the church lay hid in solitary places, while the body of the church appeared like a dead carcass; not the true, but the idolatrous church.” Thus Vitringa, who understands this paragraph as describing the state of the church in the dark ages of popery. It seems, however, by many of the expressions which the prophet uses, that he is rather giving a description of the corrupt state of the Jewish Church, before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. Draw near hither — To God’s tribunal, to receive your sentence; ye sons of the sorceress — Not by propagation, but by imitation, those being frequently called men’s sons that follow their example: the seed of the adulterer, &c. — Not the genuine children of Abraham, as you pretend and boast yourselves to be; your dispositions being far more suitable to a spurious brood than to Abraham’s seed. Against whom do you sport yourselves? — Consider who it is that you mock and scoff at when you deride God’s prophets, (see Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22,) and know that it is not so much men that you insult, as God, whose cause they plead, and in whose name they speak. Are ye not a seed of falsehood — A generation of liars, whose practices contradict your professions, who deal deceitfully both with God and man?


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 57:5-6. Inflaming yourselves with idols — Hebrew, הנחמים, being inflamed, or growing hot, after idols, as Dr. Waterland renders it. Lusting after them, and mad upon them, as the phrase is, Jeremiah 50:38. Fervent, both in making and in worshipping them, as was observed Isaiah 44:12. Under every green tree — Wherever you see an idol erected, which was commonly done in groves, or under great and shady trees, which defended the worshippers from the heat of the sun, and were supposed to strike them with a kind of sacred awe and reverence. Slaying the children — In the way of sacrifice to your idols, after the manner of the barbarous heathen; in the valleys — Or, beside the brooks which run in the valleys; which was most commodious for such bloody work. He seems to allude to the valley of Hinnom, in which these cruelties were practised, Jeremiah 7:31. Under the clefts of the rocks — Which they choose for shade, or those dark vaults in rocks, which were convenient for idolatrous uses. Among the smooth stones, &c, is thy portion — Thou hast chosen for thy portion those idols, which were either made of those smooth stones, or were worshipped by the sides of brooks or rivers, where such smooth stones commonly lie. They are thy lot — Thou hast forsaken me, and chosen idols. Thou hast offered a meat-offering — For the devil is God’s ape, and idolaters use the same rites and offerings in the worship of idols, which God prescribed in his own worship. Should I receive comfort in these — Should I be pleased with such a people, and with such actions? “The Jews were extremely addicted to the practice of many superstitious and idolatrous rites, which the prophet here inveighs against. Of the worship of huge stones consecrated, there are many testimonies of the ancients. They were called βαιτυλοι and βαιτυλια, probably from the stone which Jacob erected at Beth-el, pouring oil upon the top of it. The practice was very common in different ages and places.” — Bishop Lowth, who mentions divers instances of this foolish superstition.


Verse 7-8

Isaiah 57:7-8. Upon a lofty and high mountain — In high places, which were much used for religious worship, both by the Israelites and heathen: hast thou set thy bed — Thine altar, as appears from the sacrifice mentioned in the next clause, where thou didst commit spiritual whoredom with idols. Behind the doors also and the posts — Behind the posts of the doors of thy house; hast thou set up thy remembrance — That is, the images of their tutelary gods, or some monuments or tokens, placed there as memorials of them, in direct opposition to the law of God, which commanded them to write upon the door-posts of their houses, and upon their gates, the words of his law, Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20. If they chose for them such a situation as more private, it was in defiance of a particular curse denounced in the law against the man who should make a graven or a molten image, and put it in a secret place, Deuteronomy 27:15. For thou hast discovered thyself, &c. — “The prophet describes their idolatry under the metaphor of a woman’s being false to her husband’s bed, Isaiah 57:3. So he tells them that they had committed spiritual adultery, when they went up to the high places to sacrifice, Isaiah 57:7. That they had multiplied their idolatries, as an unchaste woman does her lovers; that they had broken their covenant with God, whom they had acknowledged to be their lord and husband, and made a new contract with idols to serve them.” — Lowth. Thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it — No sooner didst thou see the heathen idols, but thou wast enamoured with them, and didst fall down and worship them, like a lewd woman, who is inflamed with lust toward almost every man she sees.


Verse 9

Isaiah 57:9. Thou wentest to the king, &c. — That is, the king of Assyria or Egypt, to whom the Israelites were very prone to seek, and trust, and send presents. Hosea reproaches the Israelites for the same practice: They make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt, Hosea 12:1. Thus the prophet passes from their idolatry to another sin, even to their carnal confidence in heathen princes, for which they are often severely reproved. These two sins indeed were commonly joined together; for they easily received idolatry from those kings whose help they desired. With ointment — With precious ointment, particularly with balm, which was of great price, was a commodity peculiar to those parts, and sometimes sent as a present, Genesis 13:11. And didst increase thy perfumes — Didst send great quantities thereof to them, to procure their aid. Didst send thy messengers far off — Into Assyria, which was far from Judea, or into Egypt. And didst debase thyself, &c. — Thou wast willing to submit to the basest terms to procure their aid. “It is well known, that in all parts of the East, whoever visits a great person must carry him a present. ‘It is accounted uncivil,’ says Maundrell, p. 26, ‘to visit in this country without an offering in hand. All great men expect it, as a tribute due to their character and authority; and look upon themselves as affronted, and indeed defrauded, when the compliment is omitted.’” — Bishop Lowth. According to the interpretation of this part of the prophecy, adopted by Vitringa, the king, in this verse, must mean the head of mystical Babylon, the pope, to whom indeed the particulars here very aptly pertain, as they who are acquainted with the history of that antichristian ruler will easily discern. See Revelation 18:13.


Verse 10

Isaiah 57:10. Thou art wearied with the greatness of thy way — Thou hast not eased, or relieved, but only tired thyself with all thy tedious journeys and laborious endeavours. Yet sayest thou not, There is no hope — And yet thou didst not perceive that thy labour was lost, and that thy case was not mended, but made more desperate by these practices. Thou hast found the life of thy hand — Thou hast sometimes found success in these ways; or, thou falsely supposest that thy hand is strengthened thereby. Therefore thou wast not grieved — Therefore thou didst not repent of thy sin and folly herein, but didst persist and applaud thyself in such courses.


Verses 11-14

Isaiah 57:11-14. Of whom hast thou been afraid, &c. — And what, or who are they, the fear of whom drives thee to these wicked and desperate practices? Are they not weak and mortal creatures, such as wholly depend upon me, and can do nothing without me? The fear of my displeasure ought, in all reason, to outweigh all thy other fears and apprehensions, and deter thee from breaking that covenant whereby thou art engaged to me. That thou hast lied — That thou hast dealt thus perfidiously with me, and sought for such foreign assistances contrary to my command. And hast not remembered me — Hast forgotten all those great things which I have done for thee, and all those promises which I have made to thee. Nor laid it to thy heart — Or, nor set me upon thy heart: hast not seriously and affectionately considered what I am, how all-sufficient, faithful, and gracious: for then thou wouldest not have distrusted or disobeyed me. Have I not held my peace, &c. — The Bishops’ Bible, published under Queen Elizabeth, translates the clause thus: Is it not because I held my peace, and that of a long time, therefore thou fearest me not? Sinners take encouragement to continue in sin, from God’s patience and long-suffering. I will declare thy righteousness — I will no longer be silent, but “will show thee thy deserts, and give thee a view of thy deeds, which then will appear quite of another sort than what thy own self-conceit makes thee believe them to be.” For they shall not profit thee — These actions shall be of no real advantage, but quite the contrary. When those criest — Namely, unto me for deliverance; let thy companies deliver thee — Expect it, not from me, whom thou hast forsaken and despised, but from those foreign troops, to which thou hast sought and trusted for succour. But the wind shall carry them all away — They shall be so far from saving thee, that they shall not be able to deliver themselves; but shall be carried away suddenly and violently by the blast of mine anger. Vanity shall take them — Their endeavours to help thee shall be vain and fruitless. But he that putteth his trust in me — Those that still depend upon me, and make use of none of those indirect means to preserve themselves; shall possess the land

Shall be preserved in, or restored to, their own land, or shall have temporal blessings as far as will be good for them; and shall inherit my holy mountain — Shall enjoy my favour and presence in my temple: shall be blessed with the privileges of the church on earth, and brought at length to the joys of heaven. And shall say — Hebrew, and he shall say: or, and one shall say: God shall raise up one who shall say, with authority and efficacy, Cast ye up, &c. — Make causeways, where it is needful, for the safe and easy passage of my people, and remove all things which may hinder them in their return.


Verse 15-16

Isaiah 57:15-16. For thus saith the high and lofty One — The omnipotent and supreme Ruler of the universe; that inhabiteth eternity — Who is from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning of days, or end of life, or change of time; who only hath immortality, hath it of himself, and that constantly; who inhabits it, and cannot be dispossessed of it; whose name is Holy — Who is perfectly and essentially holy in his nature, his works, his words, and his ways; and therefore both can and will deliver his church and people, as he has promised to do. I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also, &c. — Although my throne is in the highest heavens, where nothing impure can have place, yet I do not disdain graciously to visit, and familiarly converse with, those sinners of mankind, whose spirits are broken by affliction, and humbled under a sense of their sins, for which they were afflicted; which doubtless was the case with many of the Jews in the Babylonish captivity: whom, therefore, he here implies, that God would pity and deliver out of their distresses, as also all others in similar circumstances. To revive the spirit of the humble — To support and comfort them amidst their afflictions and troubles, of whatever kind. For I will not contend for ever — I will not proceed to the utmost severity with sinful men. For the spirit should fail before me — For then their spirits would sink and die under my stroke, and I should do nothing else but destroy the work of my own hands: therefore I consider their infirmity, and spare them. See Psalms 78:38-39; and Psalms 103:9-14; which passages Bishop Lowth thinks contain the best and easiest explication of this clause.


Verse 17

Isaiah 57:17. For the iniquity of his covetousness — The covetousness of the Jewish people, (here addressed as one man,) who were eminently guilty of this sin before the Babylonish captivity, as is expressly affirmed, Jeremiah 6:13; and Jeremiah 8:10; and they were still more addicted to it in the time of Christ, and previous to the destruction of their city by the Romans; Christ himself testifying, that the greatest professors of sanctity among them devoured widows’ houses, and, for a pretence, made long prayers. But this sin is not mentioned exclusively of others, but so as to comprehend all those sins for which God was wroth, and smote them: covetousness, however, joined with a froward going on in the way of their own hearts, has been the characteristic sin of that people, in all ages, since the overturning of their commonwealth by the Romans. If Vitringa’s exposition of this chapter be adopted, this verse must be understood of the avarice of the Church of Rome, manifested by her enormous exactions, and her infamous traffic in indulgences, dispensations, and a variety of equally abominable practices, which, for many ages, have disgraced that church in the view of all intelligent and pious Christians. I hid me, and was wroth

I withdrew my favour and help from him, and left him in great calamities. And he went on frowardly — Yet he was not reformed by corrections, but in his distresses trespassed more and more, and obstinately persisted in those sinful courses which were most pleasing to the lusts of his own corrupt heart.


Verse 18

Isaiah 57:18. I have seen his ways — I have taken notice of those evil ways in which he seems resolved to walk, and that he is neither reformed by mercies nor judgments; and will heal him — Or rather, yet I will heal him: although I might justly destroy him, and leave him to perish in his own ways, yet, of my mere mercy, and for my own name’s sake, I will pity this people, turn them from their sins, and bring them out of their troubles. Which promise was partly fulfilled when God restored them from Babylon, and will be more perfectly and evidently accomplished, when he shall convert them to the Christian faith in the latter days. And restore comforts unto him — Comforts as great as his troubles had been; and — Or rather, to wit; to his mourners — To those who are humbled under God’s hand, and that mourn in Zion for their own and other people’s sins, Isaiah 61:2-3; and Ezekiel 9:4; and for the calamities of God’s church and people, Isaiah 66:10. The mourners here spoken of, Vitringa thinks, mean those true penitents, who lamented the scandals and offences of professing Christians in their times, under whom they grievously suffered, such as the Waldenses, the Lollards, and others who, by the mercy of God, were rescued from the errors and corruptions of the fallen church, when the light of the Reformation began to dawn.


Verses 19-21

Isaiah 57:19-21. I create — I will, by my almighty power, in a wonderful manner produce; the fruit of the lips — Praise and thanksgiving, termed the fruit of the lips, Hosea 14:2; Hebrews 13:15. God creates this fruit of the lips, by giving new subjects and causes of thanksgiving, by his mercies conferred on those among his people, who acknowledge and bewail their transgressions, and return to him. Peace, peace, &c. — Here we have the great subject of thanksgiving, reconciliation with God, pardon and peace offered to them that are nigh, and to them that are afar off; not only to the Jew, but also to the Gentile, as St. Paul more than once applies those terms, Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:17. See also Acts 2:39. The doubling of the word signifies the certainty and excellence of this peace. But though this peace be freely offered to all without exception, yet all will not partake of it, for the wicked are like the troubled sea, &c. — Their minds are restless, being perpetually hurried with their own lusts and passions, and with guilt, and the dread of divine vengeance. There is no peace to the wicked — Though they may have as great a share of outward prosperity as the best men have, yet they have no share in this inward, spiritual, and everlasting peace. The forty-eighth chapter ends with the same declaration; to express the exclusion of the impenitent and unbelieving from the benefit of the foregoing promises.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 57:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-57.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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