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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 1

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. I.

Isaiah complaineth of Judah for her rebellion: he lamenteth her judgments: he upbraideth her whole service: he exhorteth to repentance, with promises and threatenings. Bewailing her wickedness, he denounceth God's judgments: he promiseth grace, and threateneth destruction to the wicked.

Before Christ 760.


Verse 1

Isaiah 1:1. The vision of Isaiah, &c.— I divide the book of Isaiah, says Vitringa, into the title prefixed to the book, and the matter contained in it. The matter is twofold, prophetical and historical, which are interwoven together. The prophetical is divided into five parts; the first of which, from the 1st chapter to the 13th contains five prophetic sermons or harangues, immediately directed to the Jews, and also to the Ephraimites; whom the prophet variously reproves, exhorts, and consoles. The second part, from the 13th to the 24th chapter, contains eight sermons, in which the fate of other nations is declared; Babylonians, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Egyptians, Tyrians, and others. The third part, from the 24th to the 36th, explains the penal judgments denounced by God upon the disobedient Jews and enemies of the church, with the most ample promises given to the true church; and is comprehended in three sermons. The fourth part, from the 40th chapter to the 49th, sets forth in four sermons, of a consolatory kind, the manifestation of the Messiah in the flesh, with its circumstances and effects, and the signs preceding it; particularly the deliverance of the Jewish church from their exile in Babylon. The fifth part exhibits, in five sermons, from the 49th chapter, the fate and events of Jesus Christ, his person and kingdom; with which this most noble prophecy closes. The historical part relates some notable events of those times, in which God was pleased to make use of the ministry of Isaiah, and, beginning with the 36th, ends with the 39th chapter. Vitringa reads the verse, The prophecy of Isaiah—which he prophesied, &c. Vitringa also remarks, that the word Isaiah signifies the salvation of Jehovah; which he conceives to have been, in some degree, expressive of his office.


Verse 2

Isaiah 1:2. Hear, O heavens, &c.— We have observed, that this first part of the book of Isaiah is comprehended in five sermons to the Jews; the first of which is contained in this chapter, the second in the chapters ii, iii, 4: the third in chap. 5: the fourth in chap. 6: the fifth in chap. 7:—xii. The first sermon contains a judicial appeal, urged by the prophet in the name of God, against the Jews and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as covenant-breakers and hypocrites; in which he sharply reproves the vices of the Jewish church, and seriously exhorts them to true repentance, with a denunciation of the divine vengeance upon the obstinate and rebellious, and a promise of the blessings of grace with a restoration of their state to the true worship of their God. In the scene of this divine vision we may suppose God present, as the king of his people; the people as rebellious and revolting, summoned by him into court: the prophet, who discharges the offices of a herald, or cryer, summoning the witnesses and judges to attend, and of an orator pleading in a manly manner the cause of God, setting forth his justice and equity, admonishing the rebellious people of their duty, and, like a counsellor, persuading them to better things: and lastly, the witnesses, the heavens and earth, who are here represented as endowed with sense, and to whom the judgment of the whole cause is figuratively committed. See Deuteronomy 32:1 and Vitringa.


Verse 4

Isaiah 1:4. Children that are corrupters—have provoked, &c.— Or, Children that corrupt themselves—have contemptuously treated the Holy One of Israel; &c.


Verse 5-6

Isaiah 1:5-6. Why should ye be stricken, &c. From the 4th to the 6th verse the prophet describes the mortal state of the people who had apostatized from God, and continued obstinate in that apostacy; and from thence to the

10th verse, their external or natural state. The metaphors here used are in themselves sufficiently clear, as is also their application in this view. Vitringa is of opinion, that the prophet here describes the state of the people under Ahaz.


Verse 7

Isaiah 1:7. Your country, &c.— Or, Your land is become a desolation: your cities are burned with fire; your ground strangers eat up before you; and the desolation is as if it were destroyed by an inundation. See Lowth.


Verse 8

Isaiah 1:8. A lodge in a garden of cucumbers, &c.— See Job 27:18.


Verse 10

Isaiah 1:10. Hear the word of the Lord, &c.— The singular wickedness of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah was so enormous, that it was at last used as a proverbial expression, to convey the idea of the most black and incorrigible wickedness. The preceding words, which shew that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah could not now be addressed, because there were none left, shew likewise that it is the Jewish nation which is called by these names. This verse alludes to the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:32 and perhaps the prophet uses these allusions to shew that the times predicted in that song by the Jewish legislator were now come.


Verse 11

Isaiah 1:11. To what purpose, &c.— This is a strong remonstrance against the hypocritical services of the Jews; very plainly declaring to them, that all external services, administered with a bad heart, so far from pleasing, are detestable to God. See Proverbs 21:27. To whom, says Bishop Warburton, are these words addressed? to those who, besides their numerous irregularities, here reckoned up at large, delighted in groves and high places; for the denunciation is thus continued, They shall be ashamed of the oaks, &c. Isaiah 1:29. This shews that the Jews, notwithstanding their depravity, did not renounce their God when they descended to idolatry; but that their worst idolatry consisted in their mixing foreign worship with their own, or in worshipping the true God and idols together. God in these verses reproves the Jews respecting their sacrifices, their mere appearance before him, Isaiah 1:12 their gifts and incense, Isaiah 1:13 their fears and solemnities, Isaiah 1:13-14 and their prayers, Isaiah 1:15. And in the 16th and 17th verses he counsels them what to do; namely, to repent, and do works meet for repentance; setting forth in the 18th and 19th the happy effects of following that counsel, and in the 20th the bad effects of neglecting it. At the 18th verse we have the most ample declaration of the divine placability upon sincere repentance. Vitringa thinks that the words may refer in some degree to the sanguinary crimes of the Jews. See the last clause of the 15th verse.


Verse 17

Isaiah 1:17. Relieve the oppressed Or, Reform what is amiss. Bochart.


Verse 21

Isaiah 1:21. How is the faithful city become an harlot Though the Lord, in the preceding part of the chapter, had suggested to the wicked and the hypocrites a method of returning to his favour, yet he foresaw that they would not hearken. He begins, therefore, afresh, (as if he repented of having indulged them so much, speaking after the manner of men,) to deplore their calamitous state, and to shew what this corrupt people were hereafter to expect. The first part of this new discourse contains a preface, from the 21st to the 24th verse, and a prediction of future events, from the 24th to the end of the chapter. In the preface the prophet complains, first, of the corruption of the whole city in general; which was become a harlot, violating her covenant, revolting from God by idolatry, or, what seems principally intended here, transgressing the laws of the covenant made with God; for, to violate the faith of the covenant, is, in the style of Scripture, to commence harlot. The 22nd verse expresses metaphorically, what is expressed plainly at the latter end of the 21st and in the 23rd verse; namely, that the princes, the judges, and chief men of the Jews, had declined from the paths of purity and integrity. See Vitringa.


Verse 24

Isaiah 1:24. Therefore, &c.— Here begins the prediction of the events which should happen to this corrupt people. The first of these are, the evils to be inflicted by the Babylonish captivity; the second the purification of the church, Isaiah 1:25 the third the restoration of their government, Isaiah 1:26-27 the fourth the salvation of the faithful by Christ, the end of the 26th and 27th verse: the fifth the final judgment of God upon the rebellious and disobedient to the Gospel, which shall follow the salvation of the true Israelites. The reader cannot but observe how sublime and full of majesty this passage is; in which the Lord of Hosts is represented as a mighty and generous hero, rousing up himself to punish, after he had a long time borne with patience the injuries unjustly offered him, and had solicited in vain his adversaries to their duty. See Vitringa.


Verse 25

Isaiah 1:25. Purely purge away thy dross See Deuteronomy 2:3. The meaning of these words is, that God would purge the remains of Israel in banishment from the drops and dregs of hypocrites and profane men, and would restore them, thus purged, to their land; the government being entirely renewed under just judges and senators, and prudent teachers. Some suppose that this refers to the times of Christ; but Vitringa is of opinion, that the immediate reference is to that renewal which happened directly after their punishment.

Secondarily, this whole passage may refer to the future and grand redemption through Christ.


Verse 29-30

Isaiah 1:29-30. They shall be ashamed of the oaks, &c.— The prophet here manifestly alludes to the ancient mode of idolatry in sacred groves and gardens, which consisted of tall, thick, and leafy trees, among which oaks were held in great honour from all antiquity. The 30th verse is remarkably elegant, where what was the pleasure and confidence of these idolaters, is made to denote their punishment. All the gardens in the east have water in them, which is so absolutely necessary, that without it everything in the summer would be parched up. This is a circumstance to which we should attend, if we would enter into the energy of the last clause, As a garden that hath no water. See Observations, p. 409. and Spencer, de Leg. Heb. lib. ii. c. 16.


Verse 31

Isaiah 1:31. And the maker of it as a spark The prophet had explained the judgment of God upon the finally disobedient, as it principally concerned their spiritual state; he now subjoins another explanation, which chiefly respects their corporal afflictions. The words are elegant; and the meaning of them is, that the rich, the powerful, the great (meant by the word חסן chason, 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. Nay, the very works themselves which they had raised with a proud spirit to the glory, preservation, and safety of themselves and their nation, shall afford an occasion for their destruction, and be turned into the very cause of it. The prophet here alludes, according to Vitringa, to the destruction of the state and temple by the Romans. The verse might be rendered, And the powerful, or mighty one, shall be as tow, and his work as a spark. Taylor would render it, as a blaze, whose effects upon tow would be certain, while that of a spark might be doubtful. See ch. Isaiah 50:11. Malachi 4:1; Malachi 4:6 and Vitringa.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The first verse is a kind of title to the whole book. The author is Isaiah, or the salvation of the Lord: his father was Amoz, not Amos the prophet, but a different person, and of a different name. It is called his vision, as being delivered to him in this way; and, as he had himself a clear understanding of what he spoke, he delivered it very perspicuously to others. His ministry continued under four kings; but in what year of Uzziah he began his prophesies, or in which of Hezekiah he finished, is uncertain. Certain however it is, that he lived to see the best and worst of times, and under both proved himself alike faithful. They who live long may expect to see strange alterations; happy if, with the prophet, they can in all states and conditions approve their unshaken fidelity to God!

2nd, Dark and dismal is the prospect with which the prophet opens his discourse.

1. He begins with an address to the heavens and the earth, as if turning from an incorrigible people deaf to reproof, to the inanimate creation; or appealing to the hosts above, and men in general, to record God's mercies and his people's impenitence.

2. He charges them with black ingratitude. I have nourished and brought up children; or, I have magnified and exalted them; not only preserved them from their state of infancy, but distinguished them with peculiar marks of honour; and they rebelled against me; made him the basest requital for his mercy, rejecting his government, and apostatizing from his worship. Note; (1.) Ingratitude is justly reckoned among the greatest crimes. (2.) As no kindnesses can equal those which God hath shewn to the sons of men in their creation and redemption; so can no ingratitude be so great and criminal as that of the impenitent sinner.

3. He upbraids them with the more than brutish stupidity of their conduct. The dull ox appears sensible of the hand which feeds him, and knoweth his owner's voice; and the very ass the crib in which he receives his food; but more stupid Israel doth not know or acknowledge the gracious care of God, or make the least suitable returns of love; and my people doth not consider; they pay no regard to the ordinances of God's service, and, wilfully obstinate, neither know nor desire to know him. Note; (1.) When men choose dissipation, and fly from every means which would lead them to consider their ways, they cannot but be led captive by the devil at his will. (2.) Many are in profession God's people, whose practice is utterly opposite thereto, and therefore their sins are highly aggravated. (3.) Negligence about God and our souls must necessarily end in ruin.

4. He dwells upon their wretched state, either as threatening them with the consequences of their sins or lamenting the evils that he foresaw. Ah, sinful nation! what will be thine end? How grievous the prospect! universal apostacy reigned; a people laden with iniquity, sinking under its heavy load and curse; a seed of evil doers, degenerated utterly from their pious ancestors: children that are corrupters, not content with being abandoned themselves, but doing the devil's work in turning tempters to others. They have forsaken the Lord, his ways and worship; they have provoked the holy of Israel unto anger, who is justly incensed at such rebellious conduct: they are gone away backward, vile apostates from their holy profession. Note; When God comes to visit for sins, he will be minute; and every aggravation of them will be remembered.

5. They were incorrigible under every visitation, and their case, of course, was desperate. Why should ye be stricken any more? when all the past visitations produced no gracious effects. Ye will revolt more and more; become desperate and hardened by the corrections which should have led them to repentance. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint; which may respect their sufferings, that, though reaching from the highest to the lowest, produced no reformation: or their sins which had so thoroughly infected priests and people, that, like a leper, from head to foot not a found part was left; and, im-penitently obstinate, none thought of repentance, or laboured to avert the heavy judgments under which they groaned. Note; (1.) We have here a lively picture of the corruption of the human heart, universally defiled by sin, loathsome before God, and incurably desperate for aught that man can do in his own strength to help himself. (2.) Afflictions, though a bitter portion, are the means which God often employs to awaken the sinner's conscience, and restore health to his soul. (3.) When sinners refuse to answer the gracious visitations of God, instead of being humbled by them, they grow more hardened. (4.) The case of that soul is desperate indeed, concerning which God saith, Let him alone.

6. He laments the desolations of Zion which were begun, or rather foretels what would be shortly her sad condition: Your country is, or shall be, desolate; ravaged by their enemies, their cities burnt, their land devoured by strangers, while they looked on, unable to prevent their ruin; their country a desert; the holy city and temple depopulated, deserted, despicable, ruinous, as the wretched hut which the keeper of the vineyard forsakes when the vintage is gathered; and the lodge, where the gardener watched till his fruit was safe, and then is overturned by the winter's blasts: or like a besieged city, from which escape is so difficult and dangerous, and which none care to approach. This was the case, 2 Chronicles 28:17-19 under Ahaz, during whose wicked reign it is supposed this prophecy was written: or it refers to the desolations which at first the Babylonians, and afterward, more dreadfully, the Romans brought upon them. Note; They who will not be warned, must endure the rod: whether it be a nation or individual, impenitence and perdition are inseparable.

7. A few, and but a few, still remained firm to God amidst the general apostacy; and, but for these, utter extirpation must have ensued, dreadful as that which fell upon the devoted cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The apostle quotes this as applicable to his own times, and descriptive of them, Romans 9:29 when, except the few who received the Gospel, the rest of the Jewish nation persisted in unbelief and hardness of heart. Note; (1.) It is a mercy that there have been a few faithful souls in the worst of times. (2.) The fewer they are, and the more wicked the days, the greater diligence should we give to be of that few. (3.) To go with the multitude is the sure way to hell. (4.) The more we reflect upon the wonders of grace, in plucking us as brands from the burning, the more should our hearts abound in love and praise.

3rdly, We have,

1. An awful address to the rulers and people, to hear God's word. He calls them rulers of Sodom, and people of Gomorrah, because, like them, they were sinners before the Lord exceedingly, Genesis 13:13 and magistrates, priests, and people, were sunk in the deluge of iniquity. Perhaps also he has reference here in the spirit of prophecy to the Gospel, which the Jewish people were called to receive; and, for rejecting which, it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom, than for them, Matthew 11:24.

2. He rejects all their hypocritical services and sacrifices. Their most solemn assemblies, their feasts, sabbaths, incense, prayers, were an abomination. What purpose could they answer, when their hands were defiled with blood, and remaining pride, impenitence, and unbelief, made these outward ceremonies, however expensive, but a solemn mockery of God. This is especially applicable to the times of Christ, when with the greatest zeal the scribes and pharisees maintained the temple-worship, while they rejected him who was prefigured in these institutions, and exclusive of whom God never delighted in the most expensive sacrifices: and after having imbrued their hands in the Saviour's blood, though by his death an end was put to all the ritual services, yet they persisted in them, till God destroyed their city and temple together. Note; (1.) The greatest enemies to the power of godliness are often those who are the most rigid observers of the form. (2.) Whilst inward iniquity is harboured, and the heart continues estranged from God, the most liberal charities, or the largest gifts to God's altar, will be rejected with abhorrence. (3.) Many in a fright will be driven to their knees and their prayers, who are not driven from their sins, and therefore pray in vain. (4.) So far are all the outward services of religious worship from pleasing God, where the soul is unconverted and self-righteous, that he abhors the sabbaths and the solemn meeting; so that the very duties on which the formalists depend, will increase their damnation.

4thly, Since the ceremonial worship was declared ineffectual, the prophet directs them to the only sufficient means of acceptance with God.

1. By washing and making themselves clean, which all their ritual ablutions never could effect; and therefore they must come by faith under the sense of their guilt and pollution, to the fountain which should be opened in a Saviour's blood. Note; We might as soon think to wash the Ethiopian white, as to remove one spot of sin from our souls by any other method than through the atoning blood of Jesus.

2. As washed from their sins, they must amend their lives; putting away all known evil, making restitution for every act of injustice, and ceasing from sin. They must not merely rest in negative holiness, but exercise themselves unto godliness in the practice of every good word and work, under the influence of divine grace, and with a single eye to the divine glory. And he instances wherein this course of well-doing consists, under the two great points of mercy and justice, which would please the Lord better than the most costly sacrifices. Note; (1.) Where the blood of Jesus cleanses from the guilt of sin, the Spirit of Jesus will deliver from the power of it; and in vain do they hope for the one, who continue strangers to the other. (2.) A Christian has no time to be idle; much has he to learn, much to do; and all his attention and care will be little enough for the great work which is before him.

3. He silences an objection which might be raised in the minds of those, whose deep views of past guilt might discourage them from returning to God, as if their sins were beyond pardon and hope. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool: however great and aggravated their iniquities, they need not be discouraged: nay, are invited to come, yea, to come now, without delay, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though on the ground of their own deeds or duties they could not appear in any wise at God's bar, yet, when God put that prevailing argument in their mouths of the promises of full and free pardon through the blood and merits of a Redeemer, then they might come boldly to the throne, and fear no condemnation; the plea would be accepted, the sinner justified from all things. Note; That blood of Jesus which alone can cleanse from the least sin, as easily and effectually cleanses from the greatest: let no returning sinner despair.

4. He sets before them the blessing and the curse. If ye be willing to submit to this advice, to wash and be clean, and obedient to the word and ways of God, ye shall eat the good of the land, the land of Canaan, in which their abode would be sure as long as their fidelity was maintained; and a better country than this also is the portion of the faithful servants of God. But if ye refuse to hearken to these admonitions, and rebel against the government and ministers of God, and against his incarnate Word the Messiah, then their ruin was determined; the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, the sentence is fixed and irrevocable; Ye shall be devoured with the sword of the Babylonians and Romans, executing upon them God's temporal judgments, and by the sword of eternal vengeance after death pursuing them to the lowest hell. Note; (1.) If sinners perish, it will not be for want of warning; their blood will be upon their own heads. (2.) They who will not submit to God's sceptre, must suffer under his sword. (3.) When sinners persist in their rebellion, they reject their own mercies, and God's justice in their condemnation will be manifest to all.

5thly, As Jesus wept over the devoted city, the prophet, moved with a portion of his compassionate spirit, laments the wickedness that he beheld.

1. An awful change had passed on Jerusalem: the once faithful city is become an harlot, turning from the worship and service of God, and prostituting herself to all the abominations of iniquity. It was in past days famed for justice, full of judgment, her magistrates distinguished for integrity; righteousness lodged in it, as if chosen for her favoured abode. But how awful the contrast! now the habitation of murderers, who first massacred the prophets who witnessed of the just One, and then at last murdered the Son of God, Matthew 23:37. Acts 7:52. Pure once, and bright as silver, dross now only remained; their practice corrupt, and their principles depraved. Thy wine is mixed with water; the lively oracles of God adulterated and debased by false glosses and human traditions; so that it was become of no effect. Thy princes are rebellious, ringleaders in sin; and companions of thieves, conniving at their crimes; and, for the protection they afforded, sharing of the fruits of their robberies. Gifts and bribes were their known delight, and ever carried the cause at their bar; while the poor, the fatherless, and widow, who had nothing to give, were suffered to be oppressed without redress; and such was exactly the character of the Jews in our Saviour's days, See Romans 2. Note; (1.) Prostitution of justice for gain is more infamous than the prostitution of the harlot for hire. (2.) Injustice and bribery on the seat of judgment are a heavier curse on any people, than the ravages of the worst banditti: against the one we may guard, from the other there is no redress. (3.) We must not only abstain from injuring the poor; but we are criminal if we neglect to vindicate them from oppressors, and to espouse the cause of the afflicted. (4.) The former good examples of preceding magistrates, or illustrious progenitors, reflect double darkness on their degenerate successors.

2. God with indignation awakes to execute vengeance on his enemies. Ah! I will ease me of them, as a load under which the earth groaned: or, I will take comfort of them, pleased with the execution of righteous judgment upon them. And this he confirms by a recital of his glorious titles, The Lord of Hosts, the mighty One of

Israel, able to fulfil all his denunciations, and before whom every foe must fall. Terrible was the execution of this threatening in their first destruction by the Babylonians; but most fearful, when, having rejected and murdered the Lord of life, he employed the Roman sword, and commanded that these his enemies, who would not that he should reign over them, should be slain before him.

3. A part will be recovered, converted, and saved; I will turn my hand upon thee, revive the decayed state of religion, purging their dross away in the furnace of affliction, and taking away the tin, the adulterations which they had mixed in their worship, and the corruptions of their practice; restoring their judges as at the first, and their counsellors as at the beginning; and then they would recover their former credit and honour, as the city of righteousness, the faithful city, redeemed by judgment executed on their foes; and being now converted unto God, his righteousness became engaged for their recovery. And this was the case in a measure under Hezekiah's reformation, and may allude to their restoration from Babylon; but especially regards the day of Christ, when, by the powerful grace of God in the Gospel, such multitudes of Jews were converted; their sins, as dross, purged away; their self-righteousness, like tin, renounced, as false and base alloy. The apostles, as judges, were raised up to recover them from the worst enemies, sin and Satan, and to counsel and direct them in the way of truth and holiness. Being incorporated into Christ's church, they would become a praise in the earth, a people clothed with righteousness, and faithful to Christ, his Gospel and ordinances. His Zion is thus redeemed by the judgment executed on the divine Redeemer in her stead, and her converts with righteousness, in a way perfectly consistent with the holiness of God, whose righteousness eminently appears displayed in the salvation of the Gospel. Note; (1.) Every man by nature and practice is the slave of sin, that worst of slavery, till redeemed by grace. (2.) The Redeemer's sufferings unto the death of the cross are the great meritorious cause of our conversion; hereby God can be just, when he is the justifier of him that believeth on Jesus. (3.) When we recover the favour of God that we had forfeited, we shall be restored to the honour which we had lost.

4. The destruction of the enemies of Christ and his people is as sure as the salvation of the faithful. Their false confidence shall fail and confound them. Stripped as the oak in winter, they shall be left naked and bare, and withered as the garden that hath no water. The strong shall be as unable to resist, as the tow before the devouring fire; and the maker of it, the idol, or his work, all the devices of the transgressors, shall be as a spark of fire, and they shall burn together, and none shall quench them; which will eminently be fulfilled in the day of final recompense, when God shall execute judgment upon the ungodly; and the man of sin and all his followers, who have forsaken the ways of truth for lying vanities, human traditions, false doctrines and worship, and abominable idolatries, will have their portion together in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death, see Revelation 10:11.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-1.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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