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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 57

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. LVII.

The blessed death of the righteous. God reproveth the Jews for their whorish idolatry: he giveth evangelical promises to the penitent.

Before Christ 699.

THE sixth section, contained in this chapter, may be divided into three parts: The first part contains an exclamation of a prophet, or a prophetic company, deploring the carnal security and uncommon stupidity of the men of that time, wherein the corrupt church was to be judged by God; giving first, as a proof of this security, that they saw good men taken away from them without any regard, Isaiah 57:1. Secondly, a mitigation hereof with respect to the just themselves, Isaiah 57:2. The second part contains a conviction of the adulterous church, for the grievous crimes committed by her, and her shameful revolt from God; wherein first is the conviction itself, with an enumeration of her faults, as contempt, derision, and persecution of good men: Isaiah 57:3-4. A most shameful kind of idolatry and superstition, joined with the murder of the innocent, and that both private and public, Isaiah 57:5-8. A veneration of a certain king, substituted as it were in the place of God, as if the salvation and defence of the people depended upon his favour; Isaiah 57:9 and an obstinate perseverance in this proceeding, Isaiah 57:10-11. Secondly, a denunciation of the divine judgment, Isaiah 57:12-13. The third part is consolatory, with respect to the remains of the faithful, and of such as shall truly repent: wherein we have, first, the prophetic company, in the name of God, foretelling the reformation of the church, and arousing the teachers appointed by God for this work, Isaiah 57:14. Secondly, the consolation of the penitent and contrite, who should turn from their vices to God, and intreat his grace, Isaiah 57:15-18. Thirdly, a declaration of the manner and means whereby God would effect this great work, together with the success of it, Isaiah 57:19. Fourthly, a limitation of the grace with respect to the wicked, who should obstinately persevere in their evil purposes, Isaiah 57:20-21.


Verse 1-2

Isaiah 57:1-2. The righteous perisheth, &c.— These words 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, he beholds the few pious and good men yet remaining in the church, gradually falling off and taken away, either by an immature or a 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 shew (Isaiah 57:2.) that this complaint pertained not to the deceased, as having attained a happier lot, and as blessed in this respect, that they were taken from the evils and calamities of their times. The completion of this prophesy, according to Vitringa, 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 persecution and troubles of the pious were many. Revelation 6:9.


Verse 3

Isaiah 57:3. 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 faithful lay hid in solitary places; while the body of the church appeared like a dead carcase; not the true, but the adulterous church. This church is summoned before the judgment-seat of God, first to be convinced, and afterwards to be condemned for her crimes; which crimes are spoken of under the ideas common to the idolatry of the ancient church, though they refer to the spiritual idolatry of the Christian church. There is a remarkable poem of William of Malmesbury, who lived in the 12th century, setting forth the corrupt state of the church in his time, which serves abundantly to shew how exactly this prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled in those times.


Verse 5

Isaiah 57:5. Slaying the children, &c.— It is generally agreed, that the prophet in these words alludes to some detestable superstitious rite made use of in his times in the worship of idols, which some refer particularly to the sacrifices offered to Moloch, for which the valley of Hinnom was remarkably infamous. But, whatever the reference be, the passage must be understood metaphorically of the superstition and cruelties practised in the period of the Christian church referred to.


Verse 6

Isaiah 57:6. Among the smooth stones, &c.— Among the smooth stones of the valley is thy portion; these, these are thy lot: Even to these hast thou poured out thy libation, hast thou presented thine offering. Can I see these things with acquiescence? Vitringa thinks that the meaning of the first clause is, "They shall be thrown into the deep and low valleys, where they perform the execrable rites above-mentioned, and shall there perish."


Verse 8

Isaiah 57:8. Behind the doors, &c.— Thy remembrance, or memorial, signifies, thy idol. "thy tutelar image, which at going in and out thou mayest adore." The reader will continue to bear in mind, that the ideas are here all taken from the expression of ancient times. See Revelation 2:14-20.


Verse 9

Isaiah 57:9. And thou wentest to the king with ointment According to the interpretation which we have heretofore given, the king of mystical Babylon, or the Pope, must be meant, to whom the particulars in this verse very aptly pertain, as they who are acquainted with the history of that anti-christian monarch will easily discern. See Revelation 18:13; Revelation 18:24.


Verse 10

Isaiah 57:10. Thou hast found the life of thine hand, &c.— That is to say, "Thou hast found thy delight in that troublesome superstition; wherefore, though thou mayest labour grievously, yet thou sustainest all the trouble of it, because this superstition satisfies thy desire." Kimchi has it, The life of thy strength, for the hand is in man the instrument of labour, which is employed in superstition. See Vitringa.


Verse 14

Isaiah 57:14. And shalt say, &c.— And he said, or, And a voice says, &c. These are the words of the prophetic chorus, relating that a voice had gone forth, or a command of God, to prepare the way, and to remove all stumbling-blocks from it; that is to say, to reform the church from that state of corruption which is described in the preceding verses; a work of as great difficulty as importance, and the prediction whereof well deserved to be introduced in the sublime manner that we here find it. The reformation of the church from Popish error and superstition is an event too well known, and too highly valued, to need speaking of in this place. As an instance of the stumbling-blocks removed from the church, the reader may consult the hundred grievances proposed to Pope Adrian by the princes of Germany in the year 1523; when the faith was purged from errors, and the light of the Gospel restored to the Christian world. See Vitringa.


Verse 15

Isaiah 57:15. For thus saith the high and lofty One This exquisite sentence is not difficult to be understood, though it is not easy to comprehend its whole force and energy. It may be connected either with what precedes, or with what follows after. If with the former, a reason is given why God brought in a reformation after so long a delay; namely, that he might not seem wholly to have neglected the pious, and such as sincerely lamented the offences and evils of their times; when, on the contrary, he held them most dear, and was willing to comfort them, as being those alone whom he would truly inhabit and acknowledge for his people. If it be connected with the latter, it teaches that God, in his severity, might justly punish the corrupted church for the abuse of his word and grace; and destroy it by his judgments, as adulterous, and having broken his covenant. But as abounding in grace and mercy, and knowing that many remained in it who were drawn imprudently into error, and who, being admonished of their error, would by the grace of his spirit return to him in true repentance and godly sorrow, he had determined to have regard to these, as it is peculiar to his nature to shew mercy and favour, and to revive these humble and contrite ones, by his comforts, and the hope of grace. The latter seems the preferable interpretation.


Verse 17-18

Isaiah 57:17-18. For the iniquity of his covetousness In order to reclaim a wandering and carnal people, we are here told that God had applied the rod of his chastising judgments, which yet however had produced no good effect, for that the people had still turned backward from God, and departed more and more from him: so that now they were either to be wholly forsaken and given up to the severity of judgment, or to be succoured by the offers of extraordinary grace; and the latter is that which God in great mercy chooses. The mourners here spoken of, mean those true believers, who lamented the scandals and offences of the church in their times, under which they grievously suffered; such as the Waldenses, the Lollards, &c.


Verse 19

Isaiah 57:19. I create the fruit of the lips, &c.— The meaning is, "that God would raise up at this time, by his grace, preachers of the pure and genuine Gospel;" who, after the example of the apostolic times, should powerfully preach that genuine and evangelical truth, which brings peace and tranquillity to troubled consciences, reconciliation of God with the believing sinner, through the blood of Jesus Christ; and is therefore emphatically called, the Gospel of peace. This preaching of theirs should extend far and wide, and should pertain to all people and nations without distinction; and by this means the church should be truly healed and restored. See Ephesians 2:17; Ephesians 6:15.


Verse 20-21

Isaiah 57:20-21. But the wicked, &c.— Hence we learn, that the church at this time should be divided into two parties: besides the humble and penitent, confessors of truth, there should be the wicked; those who were void of true righteousness; and, rejecting the righteousness of justification offered to them by the Gospel, obstinately persisting in their old superstition and idolatry, laboured to the utmost of their power to extinguish the rising light of the reformation; and who, while animated by the most vehement and diabolic affections, would night and day be employed in a restless search after counsels and devices to effect this end; unhappily enough for themselves, as being thus deprived of all true peace and consolation of mind. See Psalms 10:8-10 and Vitringa.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, If the watchmen were blind and careless, no wonder the people were stupid and negligent, and disregarded the notices of Divine Providence.

1. The righteous perisheth, and merciful men are taken away. Death delivered them from their burdens, and God in mercy took them away from a wicked world. Note; Piety is no protection from death; nay, in times of persecution the righteous are most exposed. The first man that died, died a martyr.

2. It was a mark of great hardness of heart, and inattention to the calls of God, that no man laid it to heart, nor considered it. The removal of the righteous is a grievous loss to the church, and to the nation; a mark of God's displeasure, and a warning of approaching judgments; and they who hear not the rod and repent, will quickly feel its smart, and perish under the stroke.

3. The blessedness of the righteous in their removal is great; to them, to die is gain. They are taken away from the evil to come, as Noah into the ark, before the deluge rises: they see not the evil which is coming on a wicked world, but take their happy flight to the mansions prepared for them in glory. He shall enter into peace, or, go in peace; no fears dismay his dying hour; having seen the salvation of God, he departs with joy to the full possession of it, to enter that blest abode where sin, sorrow, and sufferings, shall never more disturb his report. They shall rest in their beds: no bed so welcome to the weary, as that bed of dust, where the saints sweetly sleep in Jesus, and wait a joyful resurrection, each one walking in his uprightness; either such was their conduct upon earth, or such is now the state of their departed souls, delivered from the burden of the flesh, and joined to the spirits of just men made perfect; or, before him, admitted to the beatific vision and fruition of the blessed God.

2nd, We have a strong character drawn of the wicked above mentioned, who were well-pleased to be rid of the righteous that troubled them: and this may belong either to the Jews under their latter monarchs, especially Ahaz, in whose reign Isaiah lived; or to the apostate church of Rome, where all the idolatries of the heathen are revived, and, with the name of Christian, paganism is in a measure re-established.

1. They are summoned to God's bar. Draw near hither, to hear your fearful doom; and the title given them marks their character; ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore, or who commit whoredom, children of transgression, a seed of falsehood; the whore of Babylon, the sons of that idolatrous church, committing whoredom with her, given up to iniquity, embracing false doctrines, and propagating them. Note; The practice of sin is spiritually sorcery and adultery; it is a virtual contract with the Devil, and an open breach of our baptismal engagements.

2. The crimes alleged against them are produced, and they are many and aggravated.

[1.] Contempt of God and his warnings, in the persons of his ministers. They ridiculed the preachers, treated them with derision and scorn, and shewed them such insult and ill-manners, as themselves would have counted a flagrant injury, if done to the meanest of their servants whom they had sent with a message. Note; (1.) They who deliver faithfully God's message to a wicked world, may expect often to meet insult and reproach. (2.) When religion is in the case, they, who on other occasions pique themselves on their behaviour as gentlemen, here count ill-manners laudable, and esteem the ministers of God as excluded from the common right of civility. (3.) They who thus insolently treat God's servants, need well consider against whom they sport themselves: their matter is not thus to be mocked with impunity.

[2.] Idolatry. They were mad upon their idols, and, as is the nature of vile affections, the more they are indulged, the more they are inflamed, and hurry men on to greater excesses. Under every green tree they had their images; and so besotted were they, that even their own children were not too dear to offer to them; for when a man is given up to his heart's lust, he becomes unnatural even to his own flesh and blood, and, to gratify his raging appetites, cares not what sufferings his children and family undergo. Innumerable were their idols: if they found in the streams of the valley a smooth stone, they set it up for worship, and valued it as their portion and inheritance; as the Papists do in respect to the images of their saints. Should I receive comfort in these? says God; no; they are his utter abhorrence. On the hills they have set up their bed, their idolatrous altars, and thither went up to offer sacrifice to their idols: alluding, it may be, to the city of Rome, the seat of idolatry, situate on seven hills; or to their high altars, where they celebrate their masses, yea, every house has its tutelar saint, as the heathen Lares and Penates. Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance; their images, crucifixes, and superstitious pictures; for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, or from me; apostate from God's true worship, and prostituted to idolatry: and art gone up, openly and publicly without blushing, to these unhallowed altars. Thou hast enlarged thy bed, their idol temples; and made thee a covenant with them; joined in league with others like them, see Revelation 13:15-17. Thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it; didst take delight in the places and altars for idolatrous worship, as Ahaz, 2 Kings 16:10 or, where thou sawest a statue, didst fall down and worship it.

[3.] Their zeal to make proselytes to their idolatry. Thou wentest to the king with ointment, &c. Some refer this to the trust which the Jews reposed in the foreign assistance they courted; but it may be applied to Rome the mother of harlots, who, decking herself with all the pomp and splendor of outward devotion and gaudy worship, invites the kings of the earth to commit fornication with her; and didst increase thy perfumes, to make herself appear amiable; pretending to antiquity, infallibility, the power of miracles, and authority to bestow plenary indulgences for sin: and didst send thy messengers far off; nuncios and legates to courts of her kings, to establish her authority, and missionaries and emissaries to promote her interests, and spread her false religion: and didst debase thyself even unto hell; making pretences to the deepest humility, in order to ensnare the unwary; or, didst bring low even to hell; making her converts seven-fold more the children of hell than before, and destroying the souls of those whom she pretended to save.

[4.] Their obstinate perseverance in those ways of wickedness. Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way, or, the multiplicity of thy ways, the many stratagems and the vast pains taken to compass the subjection of kingdoms, and all churches to the church of Rome, which were enough to have wearied out invention and patience, before they could be brought to take effect. Yet saidst thou not, There is no hope; no disappointments deterred the Roman see from persevering in her ambitious designs, till at last they prevailed. Thou hast found the life of thine hand, the dominion over men's consciences, and over all other churches, which they sought, with all the wealth that thence accrued: therefore thou wast not grieved, or sick; not sorry for the pains bestowed, or sick of the undertaking, whence they hoped at last all their pains would be recompensed. And this may be applied to sinners in general: [1.] The happiness that they seek in creature-comforts wearies them in the pursuit, and ever disappoints their expectations. [2.] Though experience should teach him, by repeated disappointment, the vanity of the creature, so infatuated is the sinner, that he still entertains hopes, that in time he shall find the joy he pursues. [3.] Sometimes he flatters himself that he has attained his point, and says to his soul, Take thine ease; but most fatally is he then deluded, when most securely he cries, Peace, peace.

[5.] Long impunity had bred confidence of its continuance, notwithstanding the repeated provocations given. Of whom hast thou been afraid or feared? intimating, either that she had cast off all fear of God, or that it was through fear of losing her influence over her votaries; that thou hast lied, stopped at no fraud and falsehood to carry her point: and hast not remembered me; paid no regard to God, nor shewed any apprehension of his judgments. Have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not? or, therefore thou fearest not; emboldened to sin by the patience that God had shown in bearing her provocations. Note; (1.) Fear of men often leads to the sin of lying. (2.) They can have no fear of God, who dare tell a deliberate lie. (3.) Because vengeance is not speedily executed on evil workers, presumptuous sinners harden themselves in their iniquities.

3. God threatens to bring them to an awful reckoning, to detect their hypocrisy, and visit them for their sins. I will declare thy righteousness; for this the Jews boasted of, and went about to establish; as the church of Rome also vaunts her purity, teaching the meritoriousness of men's duties with God, and even pretends to works of supererogation: but these pretences shall quickly be confuted and confounded, either by the preaching of the pure Gospel, as at the reformation, and hereafter, when the Romish hierarchy shall be destroyed; or at God's bar of judgment; for then it will appear how vain is their plea; they shall not profit thee, cannot justify them before God, nor in any measure secure them from his wrath, which shall be revealed from heaven against all such false pretenders to merit and human claims before God. Note; (1.) No delusion is more fatal than the conceit of our own righteousness for acceptance before God. (2.) The doctrine of the merit of works is the grand pillar of popery: would to God the leaven were not still deeply spread in many a Protestant's heart!

3rdly, We have,

1. The vanity of idols in the day of calamity. When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but utterly unable will they be found to help. The sinner's confidences will then fail him; the wind, or lightest breath of air, shall carry them all away; the works of the self-righteous will all prove at the bar of God altogether lighter than vanity itself.

2. The insufficiency of idols and creature-confidences serves to magnify the all-sufficiency of God, which will never disappoint those who make him their rock alone. He that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain; which refers either to the restoration of the Jews to their own land from Babylon, or, spiritually, contains a promise of blessing to all the faithful, who shall inherit the heavenly Canaan, and come to the eternal mount of God in glory. Note; Abiding faith in God is the surest way to secure a blessed portion in time and eternity.

3. Proclamation is made to prepare the way for the return of the captive Jews; or this may be considered as the call of God by his ministers to his people, to come out of Babylon mystical; or, more generally, to depart from all the ways of sin. He shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, that it may be plain and straight, for such is God's way; a highway, a way of holiness; the way-faring men, though fools, shall not err therein; and to this way it is the business of the spiritual guide to conduct men's souls. Take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people: labour to point out the difficulties that are in the way of God's people, and to extricate them out of all their troubles by the best advice which can be drawn from the oracles of God.

4. The humble and contrite shall find the power and love of God engaged for them. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, in the contemplation of whose transcendent perfections, greatness and glory, our thoughts are lost in wonder and adoration, whose name is Holy, essentially so in himself, the source of holiness to all his creatures, and whose works and ways are so ordered, as most eminently to display this adorable perfection; I dwell in the high and holy place; heaven is his throne, where he is pleased to make the brightest manifestations of his presence, and whither we are taught to look up to him: yet, not confined to the skies, he fills heaven and earth, and condescends to take up his favoured abode with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit; cheering and comforting the soul of the sinner abased with the views of guilt, and healing with his precious grace the heart broken under a sense of sin; supporting his afflicted ones oppressed and persecuted of men; and, as their tribulations abound, making their consolations abound also: to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones, that they may not sink under their burdens, or faint in despair, but by faith and patience bear up under their trials, and cheerfully and steadily hold on their heavenly way. Vitringa particularly applies this to the sufferings of the Waldenses and Bohemians, so cruelly persecuted by the Pope and his adherents; and others, to the latter days, when the anti-christian powers prevail. Note; (1.) An humble and contrite spirit is among the best gifts of God. (2.) There is an endeared communion to be enjoyed with God, which only they can tell, in whose hearts he is pleased to manifest himself as he does not unto the world. (3.) Where God dwells, no evil can approach, no real good be absent.

5. Though God in merciful correction visits his people, he will quickly remove the rod, when in humiliation the soul bows down before it. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wrath, as the broken heart is ready to fear; but his anger is only for a moment towards them who lie at the footstool of his throne in true contrition; like a tender father, whose bowels yearn even when he chastises his child, so doth the Lord haste to end his controversy with his humbled contrite people, ready to pardon them instantly at their sincere cry, and to support them under, or save them out of, all their troubles: for the spirit should fail before me, or be overwhelmed, and the souls which I have made; which God gives as a reason for his compassions: he knows our weakness, and, if we humbly depend upon him, will not lay upon us more than we can bear. Note; Our souls are God's, not merely by creation, but much more by redemption and regeneration.

4thly, We have reproofs, promises, and warnings, according to the several states of the people to whom the prophecy is addressed; and they are levelled either against the Jews of that day, or those sad declensions among Christians, for which God for a while in anger suffers the man of sin to prevail against them.

1. Their covetousness was among their crying sins; spiritual as well as corporal idolatry defiled them: they prized gold more than God, and gain than godliness; therefore God was wroth, sold them into the hands of the Chaldeans, and seemed for a while utterly to turn away from them. And this is remarkably the prominent sin of too many ministers in protestant churches, who, while they are only seeking their own advantage and preferment, are losing the souls of their people, seduced by the emissaries of popery; and for this God hath a controversy against them. Note; (1.) Covetousness, though covered with many a specious guile, is a sin which God peculiarly abhors, and in ministers of the Gospel is most peculiarly criminal. (2.) God's wrath, however little feared, will be proved terrible where it falls.

2. Their hearts were obstinate, and, instead of being reformed by their afflictions, they went on frowardly; fretting against the Lord, instead of falling low at his footstool; and persisting in the way of their covetousness, instead of returning from it. Note; The wicked heart of man is often made more furious by restraint; and the severest afflictions are ineffectual to humble him.

3. God's mercy triumphs over their perverseness. We might well have expected to have heard him say, I have seen thy ways, and will destroy thee: but lo! the very reverse; I have seen his ways and will heal him, all who will penitently return to him. We cannot help ourselves by our natural powers; our nature is utterly corrupt; unless divine grace interpose, we are undone for ever. This God sees and knows; therefore he offers a free pardon, and is willing, by the powerful influences of his Spirit, to convert our souls, heal their inveterate diseases, and draw us powerfully that we may follow him. I will lead him also, all who thus follow him, in the paths of righteousness for my name's sake, and hold up his goings in the way; and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners, brought to a deep and humbling sense of their guilt, and, though once hardened, now by divine grace melted down with sorrow and shame: God will therefore bind up their bleeding wounds, speak comfortably to their souls, and wipe every tear from their eyes. Note; (1.) It is a blessed symptom for good, when the soul begins to mourn over sin. (2.) We must ascribe the glory to God, that our stubborn souls are ever brought to see and lament the evil of our ways. (3.) They who sow in tears, are sure to reap in joy.

4. The comfort that God will restore arises especially from a sense of the peace and reconciliation made between him and the sinner. I create the fruit of the lips; God gives both the cause for thanksgiving to those who earnestly seek him, and opens the heart and lips to speak his praise. Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; peace with God, peace of conscience, peace from all enemies, peace present and eternal to every faithful soul: and to this the apostle seems to refer, Ephesians 2:17 and applies it to the preaching of the apostles, when not only the Jews, but the distant Gentile lands, heard the Gospel of peace, found pardon through the blood of the cross, and were joined in one body, holding the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace: and I will heal him; recovering them from all their sins and backslidings, restoring them to a state of purity, and healing all their divisions. Note; (1.) None can speak peace to the troubled soul, till God create that fruit of the lips, and make the word of Gospel-grace in the mouth of his servants effectual to the sincere mourner. (2.) All who are restored to peace with God, from that moment begin to experience the sanctifying influences of his grace.

5. The impenitently wicked will finally perish. They are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest; agitated by the winds of raging passion, tossed to and fro with the struggles of vile affections and jarring corruptions, and frequently restless under the terrifying apprehensions of the wrath which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men: whose waters cast up mire and dirt; foaming out their own shame, polluting and defiling in their conversation, and all their comforts rendered bitter and loathsome by the curse of God which mingles with them. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked; no peace with God, no true peace of conscience, no peace in death, no peace in eternity; but the wrath of God abideth on them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 57:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-57.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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