By The Rev. William Pringle,



Go To Isaiah 38:1-22

1. In those days. The Prophet now relates that the pious king was violently assailed by a different kind of temptation, namely, that he was seized with a mortal disease and despaired of life; and not only so, but likewise that he suffered dreadful agony, in consequence of having received from God a warning of his death, as if in a hostile manner God had thundered on his head from heaven. At what time that happened, whether after the siege, or during the siege, is not very evident; but it is unnecessary to give ourselves much trouble on that subject. It may be easily inferred from the sacred history, that this event happened about the fourteenth year of his reign, either while he was invaded by the Assyrian, or after he was delivered, for he reigned twenty-nine years, (<121802>2 Kings 18:2;) in the fourteenth year of his reign the Assyrian attacked Judea, (<121813>2 Kings 18:13,) and fifteen years were added by the promise which is here related by the Prophet, (<122006>2 Kings 20:6,) and this makes up twenty-nine years. Hence it appears that it must have been about the fourteenth year of his reign that Hezekiah was afflicted by this disease.

The only doubtful point is, whether it was during the time of the siege, or afterwards, that he was sick. For my own part, I look upon it as a more probable conjecture, that he was attacked by this disease after the siege had been raised; for if he had been sick during the time of the siege, that circumstance would not have been left out by the Prophet, who, on the other hand, has related that Hezekiah sent messengers, went into the temple, spread a letter before the Lord, and sent for the Prophet. These circumstances do not at all apply to a man who was suffering heavy sickness; and if disease had been added to so many distresses, that circumstance would not have been omitted. In doubtful matters, therefore, let us follow what is more probable, namely, that the pious king, having been delivered from the enemy, is attacked by disease and is in great danger.

Yet it is not without reason that our attention is also directed to an almost uninterrupted succession of events, that we may know that he scarcely had leisure to breathe, but, after having scarcely reached the shore from one ship-wreck, suddenly fell into another equally dangerous. Let us therefore remember that believers must endure various temptations, so that they are assailed sometimes by wars, sometimes by diseases, sometimes by other calamities, and sometimes one calamity follows another in unbroken succession, and they are laid under the necessity of maintaining uninterrupted warfare during their whole life; so that, when they have escaped from one danger, they are on the eve of enduring another. They ought to be prepared in such a manner, that when the Lord shall be pleased to add sorrow to sorrow, they may bear it patiently, and may not be discouraged by any calamity. If any respite be allowed, F673 let them know that this is granted for their weakness, but let not a short truce lead them to form a false imagination of a lengthened peace; let them make additional exertions, till, having finished the course of their earthly life, they arrive at the peaceful harbor.

Even unto death. The severity of the disease might be very distressing to the good man. First, mortal disease brings along with it sharp pains, especially when it is attended by an inflammatory boil. But the most distressing of all was, that he might think that God opposed and hated him, because, as soon as he had been rescued from so great a calamity, he was immediately dragged to death, as if he had been unworthy of reigning. Besides, at that time he had no children; and there was reason to believe that his death would be followed by a great disorder of public affairs. (<122101>2 Kings 21:1.) This dread of the wrath of God occasions far more bitter anguish to the consciences of believers than any bodily disease; and if they lose their perception of the favor of God, it is impossible that they should not be immediately grieved. But God, as if he expressly intended to add oil to the flame, absolutely threatens death, and, in order to affect him more deeply, takes away all hope of life.

For; thou shalt die, and shalt not live. The clause, thou shalt not live, is not superfluous, but is added for the purpose of giving intensity or confirmation, as if it had been said that there will be no hope of remedy. Men practice evasion, even though death is at hand, and eagerly seek the means of escape; and, therefore, that Hezekiah may not look around him as if he were uncertain, he is twice informed that he must die.

Give charge concerning thy house, F674 or, to thy house. F675 In order that he may bid adieu to the world, the Prophet enjoins him speedily to order what he wishes to be done after his death; as if he had said, “If thou dost not wish that death shall seize thee, give immediate orders about thy domestic affairs.” Here we see in passing, that the Lord approves of a practice which has been always customary among men, namely, that when they are about to die, they give orders to their neighbors or servants, and arrange the affairs of their family.

Jonathan renders it, “Give up thy house to another;” but the construction conveys a different meaning. Every person, when he must depart from this life, ought to testify that he pays regard to his duty, and that he provides even for the future interests of his family. But his chief care ought to be, not about testaments and heirs, but about promoting the salvation of those whom the Lord has committed to his charge.

2. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall. He now relates the manner in which Hezekiah was affected when he received this message, that we may see his piety and faith. He does not break out into rage or indignation like unbelievers, but bears this affliction patiently. He does not debate with God, as if he had already endured enough of distresses from enemies, and ought not to be again chastised so severely by a new kind of afflictions. And this is true patience, not merely in a single instance to endure patiently any distress, but to persevere to the end, and always to be prepared for enduring new troubles, but, above all, to bow to the judgments of God in calm silence, and not to murmur at his severity, though it appear to be great; as David acknowledges that “he was dumb, because he saw that he had to deal with God.” (<193909>Psalm 39:9.)

And such is the import of “turning the face to the wall;” for, in consequence of being overwhelmed by shame and grief, as if he shunned the face of men, he summons up his energy, and turns wholly to God, so as to rely entirely upon him. The mere attitude, indeed, is immaterial; but it is of very great importance to us, that nothing should be presented to our eyes or senses which would drag us away from prayer, that we may pour out our desires more freely before God. We are naturally unsteady, and easily drawn aside; and therefore we cannot be too diligent in fixing our attention. If we must pray in public, we are restrained by shame, lest, if we manifest excessive vehemence, we should be thought to do so for the sake of ostentation; or we are afraid of falling into improper attitudes; and therefore we ought to remove everything that would lead us aside.

Hezekiah, therefore, does not turn away his face, as if he were overwhelmed, or as if he bitterly and obstinately rejected the message that had been brought to him, but in this manner sharpens his eagerness for prayer. That he does not present his prayers openly, as when he formerly went up into the temple, followed by the rest of the multitude, (<233714>Isaiah 37:14,) is an indication of the deepest anxiety, as if grief had seized his whole frame. Yet it is a remarkable pattern of piety, that, when he has received the sentence of death, he does not cease to call upon God.

These words, Thou shalt die, and shalt not live, tended not only to startle him, but deeply to wound and pierce his heart, as if God were rushing upon him in a hostile manner to destroy him. It was an alarming token of wrath to be thrown headlong out of life in the very flower of his age, and to be cast out of the world, as if he were unworthy of the society of men; and therefore he had to contend not only with death, but with hell itself and with frightful torments.

Hence it follows that he attached to the Prophet’s words more meaning than they actually conveyed; for, although he could not all at once disentangle himself, yet the Holy Spirit suggested to his dark and confused heart “groanings that could not be uttered.” (<450826>Romans 8:26) And indeed it would have been a foolish message if God had not supported him by secret influence, when he appeared to have been slain by the external voice of his servant. But since he would never have aimed at repentance if he had been seized with despair, the slaying came first, and was next followed by that secret energy which dedicated the dead man to God.

3. And said, I beseech thee, Jehovah. He appears here to expostulate with God, and to remonstrate with him about his own past life, as if he were undeservedly distressed; but the case is far otherwise. On the contrary, he strengthens and fortifies himself against a heavy and dangerous temptation, which might otherwise have been suggested. For the great severity with which the Lord chastised him might lead him to think that the Lord had cast off, forsaken, and disapproved him, and had rejected all that he had formerly done. On this account he strengthens and encourages himself, and declares that whatever he did was done by him with a good conscience. In short, he concludes that, although he must die, still his services have not been displeasing to God, that he may thus open up for himself a path to prayer and good hopes.

Remember now that I have walked before thee in truth. He does not plead his merits against God, or remonstrate with him in any respect, as if he were unjustly punished, but fortifies himself against a sore temptation, that he may not think that God is angry with him for correcting the vices and removing the corruptions which prevailed throughout the whole of his kingdom, and especially in regard to religion. Yet the Lord permits his people even to glory, in some degree, on account of their good actions, not that they may boast of their merits before him, but that they may acknowledge his benefits, and may be affected by the remembrance of them in such a manner as to be prepared for enduring everything patiently. But sometimes the unreasonable conduct of their enemies constrains them to holy boasting: that they may commend their good cause to their judge and avenger; as David boldly meets the wicked slanders of enemies by pleading his innocence before the judgment-seat of God. (<190708>Psalm 7:8; and 17:2.) But here Hezekiah intended to meet the craftiness of Satan, which believers feel, when, under the pretense of humility, he overwhelms them with despair; and therefore we ought earnestly to beware lest our hearts be swallowed up by grief.

With a perfect heart. We learn from his words what is the true rule of a pious life; and that is, when integrity of heart holds the first place, for nothing is more abhorred by God than when we endeavor to deceive either him or men by our hypocrisy. Although the eyes of men are dazzled by the splendor of worlds, yet pretended holiness, which is as it were a profanation of his name, provokes his anger; and, because “he is a Spirit,” (<430424>John 4:24,) he justly demands spiritual obedience, and declares that he abhors “a double heart.” (<191202>Psalm 12:2.) Most properly, therefore, does Hezekiah begin with sincerity of heart. The Hebrew word l, (shalem,) which is translated perfect, means nothing else than integrity as contrasted with hypocrisy, which is also evident from the use of the word truth; as Paul affirms that

“the end of the law is brotherly love, out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith.” (<540105>1 Timothy 1:5.)

And have done what is good in thine eyes. He brings forward also the fruits which spring from an upright heart as from a root, not only to confirm himself, but likewise to confirm others, in reference to those things which might have given any occasion of offense. Hezekiah therefore did not hesitate or waver, but wished to take away what might have given offense to many persons. But again, it ought to be observed in what manner we must regulate our life, if we desire that God shall approve of our conduct. We must do nothing but what is agreeable to his command; for, as he rejects and condemns all the pageantry of which hypocrites boast, so he likewise reckons of no value all the false worship in which foolish men weary themselves in vain, while they labor to obtain his favor by disregarding his word. Accordingly, Hezekiah, who knew that “obedience is of greater value than sacrifice,” (<091522>1 Samuel 15:22,) says not only that he ran, (which is often done in a disorderly manner,) but that he regulated his life in obedience to God, who alone is competent to judge. Hence we may conclude how great was his earnestness in prayer; for though he sees on every hand nothing but the tokens of God’s anger, yet he does not cease to fly to him, and to exercise faith, which all believers ought earnestly and diligently to do amidst the heaviest afflictions.

4. Then came the word of Jehovah. Isaiah had departed, leaving the sting, as the saying is, in the wound, reckoning as abandoned him on whom he had pronounced sentence in the name of God himself. Yet with what trembling uneasiness he was tormented, and even with what terror he was seized, may be partly learned from the song. What interval of time elapsed between the Prophet’s departure and return we know not, but it is certain that the glad tidings of life were not brought until, after long and severe struggles, he perceived that he was utterly’ ruined; for it was a severe trial of faith that he should be kept plunged in darkness by the hiding of God’s face. We have said that, while the doctrine of consolation was taken away, still the faith of the good king was not extinguished so as not to emit some sparks, because, by the secret influence of the Spirit, “groans that could not be uttered” (<450826>Romans 8:26) arose to God out of the gulf of sorrow. Hence also we conclude that, while “in the day of trouble” (<190101>Psalm 1:15) God heareth believers, yet the favor of God does not all at once shine on them, but is purposely delayed till they are sincerely humbled. And if a king so eminent in piety needed almost to suffer anguish, that he might be more powerfully excited to seek the favor of God, and, being almost wasted by grief, might groan from hell to God; let us not wonder if he sometimes permits us for a time to be agitated by fears and perplexities, and delays longer to bestow consolation in answer to our prayers.

But it may be thought strange that God, having uttered a sentence, should soon afterwards be moved, as it were, by repentance to reverse it; for nothing is more at variance with his nature than a change of purpose. I reply, while death was threatened against Hezekiah, still God had not decreed it, but determined in this manner to put to the test the faith of Hezekiah. We must, therefore, suppose a condition to be implied in that threatening; for otherwise Hezekiah would not have altered, by repentance or prayer, the irreversible decree of God. But the Lord threatened him in the same manner as he threatened Gerar for carrying off Sarah, (<012003>Genesis 20:3,) and as he threatened the Ninevites. (<320102>Jonah 1:2; and 3:4.)

Again, it will be objected, that it appears to be inconsistent with the nature of God to threaten what he does not intend to execute, and that it takes away from the authority of the word, and causes the promises and threatenings to have less weight. But what we have already said as to the sentence must likewise be maintained as to the form of the words. God threatened the death of Hezekiah, because he was unwilling that Hezekiah should die; and, indeed, it would have been unnecessary and even useless to predict it, if a remedy had not been provided. Now, as it was the purpose of God to humble his servant by fear and terror, that he might voluntarily condemn himself, and might thus escape punishment through prayer; so by harsh language and an absolute threatening of death, he intended to slay him, that, rising like a dead man out of the grave, he might feel that life had been restored to him. And thus we must suppose an implied condition to have been understood, which Hezekiah, if he did not immediately perceive it, yet afterwards in good time knew to have been added. Nor are we at liberty to infer from it that God used dissimulation by accommodating his discourse to the capacity and attainments of man; for it is no new thing if he “kill before he make alive.” (<053239>Deuteronomy 32:39; <090206>1 Samuel 2:6.) In order to prepare Hezekiah by a spiritual resemblance of death, and gradually form him to a new life, he keeps back a part of the discourse.

5. Thus saith Jehovah the God of David thy father. At first, when he struck terror alone, he reckoned it enough to mention the bare and simple name of God, to whose heavenly judgmentseat he summoned him as a criminal; but now, when he brings consolation, he distinguishes God by a peculiar and honorable title in order to point out the cause and origin of grace; as if he had said that, from a regard to his covenant which he made with David, he is inclined to mercy, so that he does not deal rigorously with Hezekiah. (<100712>2 Samuel 7:12.) We know that nothing is more difficult than for hearts that have been greatly alarmed by the conviction of God’s anger to be encouraged to entertain favorable hope, so as to perceive that God is reconciled to them. That confirmation was therefore necessary, that the pious king, who in himself was ruined, might know that he could be again raised up to that life from which he had fallen; for the prophecy concerning the eternity of that kingdom could not fail. Since, therefore, he fainted when he thought that he had no hope of living, in order that he may breathe again, he is reminded of a promise, which at that time was universally known, that kings of the seed and posterity of David would always reign over the elect people,

“as long as the sun and moon should shine in the heavens.”
(<198936>Psalm 89:36, 37.)

That was the plank which he seized, and by which he escaped shipwreck.

David is not mentioned in this passage as a private individual, but as an eternal king, to whom had been committed the promise which might support Hezekiah; eternal, I say, not in himself, but in his blessed seed. Now, since that eternity was at length to be manifested in Christ, of whom Hezekiah along with other kings was a type, it must have been a solid ground of favorable hope that he was a son of David. F676 Whenever, therefore, we feel that our own sins hinder us from drawing near to God, in order that we may obtain his favor, let us think of this preface, that, although we have been estranged from him by our own fault, still he is the Father of Christ, who is our head, and

“in whom our salvation always remains hidden.”
(<510303>Colossians 3:3.)

In a word, God had lately spoken in the character of a judge, but now he is reconciled, and points out a Mediator who comes forth to appease him.

I have heard thy prayer. Having opened the door of hope, he tells Hezekiah that God “has heard his prayers.” This ought greatly to encourage us to earnestness in prayer; for, although God of his own accord takes a deep interest in our salvation, and anticipates us by his kindness, not only while we are asleep, but “before we were born,” (<450911>Romans 9:11,) yet, when he testifies that all the benefits which he bestows are granted in answer to our prayers, our negligence is altogether inexcusable, if, after having received such large invitations, we neglect to perform the duty of prayer, F677 And yet we must not imagine that prayers, to which God so graciously listens, are meritorious; but, in giving freely what he freely promised, he adds this as the crowning excellence of his kindness, in order more strongly to stimulate our faith. It is no ordinary privilege to be able to approach to him freely, and in a familiar manner to lay our cares in his bosom. If Hezekiah had not prayed, God would undoubtedly have secured that, in one way or another, some government of the kingdom should be preserved in the posterity of David; but what he would do from a regard to his truth, he says that he will give in answer to the prayers of Hezekiah, that he may acknowledge that he has obtained very abundant fruit from his faith which he exercised in prayer.

And I have seen thy tears. He mentions tears as a sign of repentance, and likewise of warmth and earnestness; not that in themselves tears procure favor, or have any power of appeasing God, but because they distinguish sincere prayers from those which are offered in a careless manner.

Behold, I add to thy days fifteen years. At length he adds that God has prolonged the life of Hezekiah to the extent of “fifteen years.” This might, indeed, at first sight, appear to be absurd; for we were created on the condition of not being able to pass, by a single moment, the limit marked out for us; as Job also says, “Thou hast appointed his bounds which he cannot pass.” (<181405>Job 14:5.) But the solution is easy. What is said about an extended period must be understood to refer to the views of Hezekiah, who had been excluded from the hope of life, and, therefore, must; have justly reckoned to be gain what was afterwards added, as if he had been raised up from the grave to a second life.

6. And I will deliver thee. Those who think that Hezekiah was sick during the time of the siege found an argument on this, that otherwise this promise would appear to be superfluous. But there is little force in that reasoning; for the Assyrian might have recruited his forces, and mustered a fresh army, at a later period, for the purpose of again invading Judea and attacking Jerusalem. The very defeat of which we have now read might have been a provocation to his rage and cruelty, so that the Jews had good reason for being continually alarmed at any reports which they heard. F678 That promise, therefore, is far from being superfluous, because along with life it promises protection from the enemy, against whom he would not otherwise have been secured, and may be regarded as an enlargement and increase of that blessing which the Lord promised to Hezekiah; as in the former chapter he promised abundance of fruits to accompany the deliverance. (<233730>Isaiah 37:30.)

7. And this shall be a sign to thee. The sacred history relates in the proper order that Hezekiah asked a sign from the Lord, (<122008>2 Kings 20:8,) and that it was granted to him; which the Prophet will likewise mention at the end of this chapter. But it is no new thing for Hebrew writers to reverse the order of the narrative. God gives some signs of his own accord, without being asked; and he grants other signs to his people who ask them. Signs being generally intended to aid our weakness, God does not for the most part wait till we have prayed for them; but at first he appointed those which he knew to be profitable to his Church. If at any time, therefore, believers wished to have their faith confirmed by a sign, this circumstance, being rare, ought not to be produced as an example. Thus, to Gideon, whom he called from the sheepfold to govern Israel, he gave one sign and then another, when he asked them, (<070617>Judges 6:17, 37, 39,) that he might be more fully convinced of his calling. He commonly gave, as we have said, other signs, in accommodation to the weakness of men; as to Adam the tree of life, (<010209>Genesis 2:9,) to Noah the bow in heaven, (<010912>Genesis 9:12,) and next the cloud and pillar of fire, (<021321>Exodus 13:21,) and the serpent of brass in the wilderness. (<042108>Numbers 21:8.) The same remarks apply to the passover, (<021208>Exodus 12:8,) and to all the sacraments, both those which were formerly observed, and those which have now been appointed by Christ, F679 and which no one asked from God.

But it may be thought that Hezekiah insults God, by refusing credit to his word, when he asks a sign. I reply, we must not accuse him of unbelief, because his faith was weak; for we shall not find. any person who ever had faith which was perfect and complete in every respect. In seeking some assistance to support his weakness, he cannot, be blamed on that account; for, having embraced the promise made to him by the Prophet, he shews his confidence in God by seeking a remedy for distrust. And if there had been no weakness in man, he would not have needed any signs; and consequently we need not wonder that he asks a sign, since on other occasions the Lord freely offers them.

Yet it is proper also to observe, that believers never rushed forward at random to ask signs, but were guided by a secret and peculiar influence of the Spirit. The same thing might be said about miracles. If Elijah prayed to God for rain and for drought, (<590517>James 5:17, 18,) it does not follow that others are at liberty to do the same. We must, therefore, see what God permits to us, lest, by disregarding his word, we bargain with him according to the foolish desires of our flesh.

8. Lo, I bring back the shadow of degrees. The sign which is here given to Hezekiah is the going back of the shadow on the sundial, along with the sun, ten degrees by which it had already gone up, F680 that is, had advanced above the horizon. And this sign bears a resemblance to the event itself, as all other signs generally do; for it is as if he had said, “As it is in my power to change the hours of the day, and to make the sun go backwards, so it is in my power to lengthen thy life.” As to the shadow not going back as many degrees as there were years added to his life, that was impossible, because there were not more than twelve degrees on the sundial; for the day was divided by them into twelve hours, either longer or shorter, according to the change of the season. We need not, therefore, give ourselves any uneasiness about the number; it is enough that there is a manifest correspondence and resemblance.

On the sundial of Ahaz. F681 Here the Jews make fables according to their custom, and contrive a story, that the day on which Ahaz died was shorter than ten hours, and that what God had justly inflicted on him as a punishment for his sins was reversed for the benefit of Hezekiah; because the shortening of one day was the lengthening of another. But there is no history of this, and it is entirely destitute not only of evidence but of probability; nor is there anything said here about the death of Ahaz, or about the change which took place when he died, but about the sundial which he had made.

9. The writing of Hezekiah. Though sacred history gives no account of this writing, yet it deserves to be recorded, and is highly worthy of observation; for we see that Hezekiah was unwilling to pass in silence, or to bury in forgetfulness, so remarkable a blessing which he had received from God. By his example he shews what all believers ought to do, when God miraculously and in an unusual manner exerts his power on their behalf. They ought to make known their gratitude, not only to their contemporaries, but also to posterity; as we see that Hezekiah did by this song, which may be regarded as a public record. We see that David composed many psalms on this subject, when he had been delivered from very great dangers, so that he took care to celebrate till the end of the world what was worthy of being remembered by all ages. (<191802>Psalm 18:2, and 27:l.) Especially, the more eminent any man is, and the higher the station which he occupies, the more is he bound to consider himself as placed by God on a theater, and enjoined to perform this duty. F682 Yet all men, whether they be of ordinary rank or nobles and great men, ought to beware of ambition, lest, while they profess to imitate Hezekiah and David, they magnify their own name more than the name of God. F683

10. I said in the cutting off of my days. This is a very melancholy song; for it contains complaints rather than prayers. Hence it is evident that he was oppressed by so great perplexity, that he was weary with groaning, and sunk in lamentations, and did not venture to rise up freely to form a prayer. Murmuring thus within himself, he expresses the cause and intensity of his grief.

As to the cause, it might be thought strange that he had so strong an attachment, and so ardent a longing for this fading life, and that he so much dreaded death. The tendency of the first elements of heavenly doctrine is, that we may learn to sojourn in this world, and to advance swiftly towards the heavenly life. Hezekiah appears to be as warmly devoted to the earth as if he had never had the smallest particle of piety; he shuns and abhors death, as much as if he had never heard a word about heavenly doctrine. Now, what purpose did it serve to commit to writing those stormy passions which would rather prompt readers to the same excess than induce them to obey God? For we are too prone to rebellion, though there be no additional excitements of any kind.

But when it shall be minutely, and wisely, and carefully examined, we shall find that nothing could have been more advantageous to us than to have this picture of a man overwhelmed with grief painted to the life. It was not the object of the good king, in proclaiming his virtues, to hunt for the applause of the world. His prayer was undoubtedly a proof both of faith and of obedience; but, as if he had been overcome by fear, and dread, and sorrow, he leaves off prayer, and feebly utters complaints. He unquestionably intended to make known his weakness, and thus to give a lesson of humility to all the children of God, and at the same time to magnify the grace of God, which had brought out of the lowest depths of death a ruined man.

As to the manner in which he deplores his lot, when he is near death, as if he placed his existence on the earth, and thought that death reduced men to nothing, we must attend to the special reason. For while death is not desirable on its own account, yet believers ought to “groan continually,” (<450823>Romans 8:23,) because sin holds them bound in the prison of the flesh. They are forbidden also to “mourn as unbelievers usually mourn,” (<520413>1 Thessalonians 4:13,) and are even commanded to “lift up their heads,” when they are about to depart from the world, because they are received into a happier life. (<422128>Luke 21:28.) Nor was the ancient Church under the Law destitute of this consolation; and, although the knowledge of a blessed resurrection was less clear, yet it must have been sufficient for mitigating sorrow. F684 If that impostor Balaam was forced to exclaim, “Let my soul die the death of the righteous,” (<042310>Numbers 23:10,) what joy must have filled the hearts of believers, in whose ears resounded that voice, “I am the God of Abraham!” (<020306>Exodus 3:6.)

But although with steady and assured hope they looked forward to the heavenly life, still we need not wonder to see in Hezekiah what David confesses as to himself, (<193009>Psalm 30:9,) who yet, when his time was come, full of days, calmly left the world. (<110210>1 Kings 2:10.) It is therefore evident that both of them were not assailed by the mere dread of death, but that they prayed with tears to be delivered from death, because they saw in it manifest tokens of God’s anger. We ought to remember that the Prophet came as a herald, to announce the death of Hezekiah in the name of God. This messenger might naturally have plunged all the senses of Hezekiah into a frightful deluge of grief, so that, thinking of nothing but God’s wrath and curse, he would struggle with despair.

Thus the piety of Hezekiah already begins to shew itself, when, placing himself before the tribunal of his judge, he applies his mind to meditation on his guilt. And, first, there might occur to him that thought by which David confesses that he was tempted: “What did God mean by treating his servants with cruel severity and sparing profane despisers? (<197303>Psalm 73:3.) Next, he saw that he was exposed to the jeers of the wicked, by whom true religion also was basely reviled. He saw that it was scarcely possible that his death should not shake the minds of all good men; but especially, he was oppressed by God’s wrath, as if he had been already condemned to hell and to the eternal curse. In a word, because our true and perfect happiness consists in having fellowship with God, Hezekiah, perceiving that he was in some measure alienated from him, had good reason for being so greatly alarmed; for that word, “Thou shalt die, and shalt not live,” had seized his mind so completely, that he believed that he must die. F685 This is expressed by the phrase I said; for in Hebrew it does not mean merely to speak, or to pronounce a word, but to be persuaded or convinced in one’s own mind. Even though hypocrites receive a hundred threatenings from God, still they look around them on all sides, so that if they see any opening by which they think that they can escape, they may mock God, and give themselves up to luxury and indifference. But Hezekiah, being a sincere worshipper of God, did not resort to subterfuges; but, on the contrary, believing the words of the Prophet, he concluded that he must prepare for dying, because it was God’s good pleasure.

In this sense he speaks of the cutting off of his days, because he believed that an angry and offended God had broken off the course of his life; for he does not merely say in the ordinary manner that his life is cut short by a violent disease, but recognises that undoubted judgment of God as the cause of “the cutting off.” Now, life is “cut off,” whether we die at the entrance of life, or in middle life, or in old age; but they who are hurried away in the very flower of their age are said to be “cut off” from life, because they appear to die too soon, and before they have finished their course. The case was different with Hezekiah; for he perceived that the remaining part of life was “cut off” by the sword of God, because he had provoked God’s wrath by his offenses. Thus he complains that, as if he had been unworthy of enjoying it, God suddenly deprives him of life, which otherwise would have lasted longer. Such is the import of the phrase, “the residue of the years;” for although, being born mortal, we have reason to expect death every moment, yet since it was threatened as a punishment, he has good reason for saying that those years had been taken from him which he might have lived, if it had been the good pleasure of God.

11. I said, I shall not see God. Amidst such earnest longing for an earthly life, Hezekiah would have gone beyond bounds, if his grief had not been aggravated by the conviction of God’s wrath. Since, therefore, he is violently dragged away by his own fault, as if he were unworthy of enjoying the ordinary light of the sun, he exclaims that he is miserable, because henceforth he shall never see either God or man. Among believers the statement would have been regarded as liable to this exception, that, so long as we dwell on the earth, we wander and are distant from God, but that, when the entanglements of the flesh shall have been laid aside, we shall more closely “see God.”

In the land of the living. These words are indeed added as a, limitation; but in this way Hezekiah appears to limit “the seeing of God” to the present life, as if death extinguished all the light of understanding. We must therefore keep in view what I formerly remarked, that when he received the message of God’s vengeance, it affected him in such. a manner as if he had been deprived of God’s fatherly love; for if he was unworthy of beholding the sun, how could he hope for what was of higher value? Not that hope was altogether effaced from his mind, but because, having his attention fixed on the curse of God, he cannot so soon or so quickly rise to heaven, to soothe present grief by the delightfulness of a better life.

Thus it sometimes happens that godly minds are overclouded, so that they do not always receive consolation, which for a time is suppressed, but still remains in their minds, and afterwards manifests itself. Yet it is an evidence of piety, that, by the proper and lawful object of life, he shews how grievous and distressing it is to be deprived of it. Even to cattle it gives uneasiness to die, but they have almost no use for their life except to feed and eat to the full; while we have a far more excellent object, for we were created and born on the express condition, that we should devote ourselves to the knowledge of God. And because this is the chief reason why we live, he twice repeats the name of God, and thus expresses the strength of his feelings; “I shall not see God, God in the land of the living.” F686

If it be objected that here we do not “see God,” the answer is easy, that he is visible in his works; because “through the visible workmanship of the world,” as Paul says, “his eternal power and Godhead are known.” (<450120>Romans 1:20.) Hence also the Apostle calls this world a mirror of invisible things. (<581103>Hebrews 11:3.) The more nearly he manifests himself to be known by believers, the more highly did Hezekiah value that spiritual beholding; as David also says that they see the face of God who confirm their faith by the exercises of piety in the sanctuary. (<194202>Psalm 42:2; 63:2.) So far as relates to men, he grieves that he is withdrawn from their society, because we were born for the purpose of performing mutual kind offices to each other.

12. My dwelling is departed. He proceeds in his complaints, by painting his life under a beautiful metaphor; for he compares it to a shepherd’s tent. Such indeed is the condition of human life in general; but he does not relate so much what happens to all universally as what has befallen himself as an individual. The use of tents is more common in those countries than in ours, and shepherds often change their residence, while they drive their flock from one place to another. He does not therefore say absolutely that men dwell in a frail lodginghouse, while they pass through the world, but that, after he had dwelt at ease in a royal palace, his lot was changed, just as if “a shepherd’s tent” were pitched for two days in one field and afterwards removed to another.

I have cut off, as a weaver, my life. It is worthy of observation, that he indiscriminately ascribes the cause of his death, sometimes to himself, and sometimes to God, but at the same time explains the grounds; for when he speaks of himself as the author, he does not complain of God, or remonstrate that God has robbed him of his life, but accuses himself, and acknowledges deep blame. His words are equivalent to the proverbial saying, “I have cut this thread for myself, so that I alone am the cause of my death.” And yet it is not without reason that he soon afterwards ascribes to God what he had acknowledged to have proceeded from himself; for although we give to God grounds for dealing severely with us, yet he is the judge who inflicts punishment. In our afflictions, therefore, we ought always to praise his judgment; because he performs his office when he chastises us as we deserve.

From lifting up he will cut me off. Some translate hldm (middallah) “through leanness,” or “through sickness,” and others translate it “by taking away.” The former derive this noun from lld (dalal) which means “to diminish,” and the latter from hld (dalah) which means “to carry off by lifting up.” But let my readers consider if the word “lifting up” be not more appropriate; for Hezekiah appears to complain that his life, while it tended to advance farther, was suddenly east down; just as if God should cause the sun to set, while it was still ascending in the sky.

From day even to night. He now adds that in a short space of time he was brought down; and by this circumstance again expresses the severity of God’s wrath; because he consumes men by the breath of a moment; for to be laid low in a single day means that men die very rapidly.

13. I reckoned till the dawn. Others translate it “I determined,” or “I laid down.” Here it means what we express by the ordinary phrase, (Je fasoye mon compte,)” I laid my account.” From this verse it may be inferred that Hezekiah labored two days at least under the disease; for in the preceding verse he pronounced its severity to be so great that he expected immediate death. And now, when one day was past, he still waited till the dawn, and again, from day even to night, so that he said that he would die every moment. The meaning therefore is, that though he reached “the dawn,” still through constant tossings he was hastening to death, because, having been struck by a terrible judgment of God, he cared nothing about his life; and as the Greeks, when they intended to say that nothing is more vain than man, said that he was (ejfh>meron) “an ephemeral animal,” that is, “the creature of a day,” so Hezekiah means by “the life of a day” that which is fading and has no duration.

As a lion, so hath he broken my bones. The comparison of God to a lion ought not to be reckoned strange, though God is naturally “gracious, merciful, and kind.” (<023406>Exodus 34:6.) Nothing certainly can more truly belong to God than these attributes; but we cannot be aware of that gentleness, when we have provoked him by our crimes and urged him to severity by our wickedness. Besides, there is no cruelty and fierceness in wild beasts that is fitted to strike such terror as we feel from the bare mention of the name of God, and justly; for the Lord’s chastisements must have sufficient power to humble and cast us down to hell itself, so that we shall be almost destitute of consolation and regard everything as full of horror. In like manner also, we see that David has described these terrors, when he says that “his bones are numbered, his couch is moistened with tears, his soul is troubled, and hell is opened.” (<190603>Psalm 6:36; 22:17; 38:6.) Thus must the godly be sometimes terrified by the judgment of God, that they may be more powerfully excited to desire his favor.

14. As a crane, or a swallow. Hezekiah cannot satisfy himself in explaining the severity of his anguish. He now says that he was reduced so low that he could not utter an articulate voice, but muttered some confused sound, like persons who are almost at the point of death. Hence it is evident that his distress was excruciating; for the severity of the pain took away his voice, and his voice, he says, stuck in his throat; nothing was heard but indistinct groans.

Such is the import of these metaphors of “the crane and the swallow,” which the Prophet employs. Still it is certain that this indistinct sound of the voice is nevertheless heard by God; though all our senses are oppressed by pain, and our throat is choked by grief, still God beholds our hearts and listens to godly sighs, F687 which will be even more powerful than plain and direct words, provided that the Spirit is present, who produces in us those “groanings that cannot be uttered,” of which Paul speaks. (<450826>Romans 8:26.) There is no believer who does not feel that in prayer, when his heart is oppressed by any heavy sorrow, he either stammers or is almost dumb.

My eyes were lifted up on high. These words are translated by some, “My eyes are weakened;” but that would not agree with the phrase, “on high.” F688 On this account we must adopt a simpler meaning, that, although Hezekiah’s eyes were nearly worn out with weakness, so that he almost fainted, yet. he did not cease to lift up his eyes to heaven; and that he never was stupified to such a degree as not to know that he ought to ask assistance from God. Let us therefore learn by the example of Hezekiah to lift up our eyes to heaven, when our hearts are afflicted and troubled; and let us know that God does not demand from us great eloquence.

O Lord, it hath oppressed me; F689 comfort me. He confirms the sentiment already expressed, by immediately directing his discourse to God and imploring his aid. Being oppressed by the violence of disease, he desires that God would be present to assist him. Some render the words, “Be surety for me;” F690 and the verb br[ (gnarab) is often used in this sense; but it is more appropriate to say, “Comfort me,” or “Cheer me.” Or perhaps it will be thought preferable to translate, as some have done, “Cause me to rest.” Undoubtedly he asks comfort from God, that he may not sink under the violence of disease; and we ought to be assured of this, that the greater the weight of afflictions that oppresses us, the more will God be ready to give us assistance.

15. What shall I say? This is generally supposed to be an exclamation, such as frequently bursts forth in a season of joy, as if he congratulated himself on having already obtained his wish. But I think differently. Hezekiah appears to proceed in his complaints; for he speaks as men commonly do when they are overcome by grief; “What shall I say? for he who said it hath also done it;” that is, “life and death are in his hand; it is useless for me to argue or contend with him; it is useless for me to complain.” In the book of Job also words and sayings of this sort are often found. (<180704>Job 7:4.) I think that this is the true meaning; for Hezekiah previously looked around on all sides to see if any assistance appeared, and now, when he sees that he is about to die, and that God has threatened it, he concludes that he ought no longer to resist but to obey.

Yet we ought to mark the emphatic statement, that God hath actually fulfilled what he had threatened by his word. They who explain it to mean simply, “what God said to me by the Prophet he hath fulfilled,” express a part of the truth, but. not the whole; for Hezekiah does not coldly relate that he has perceived the effect of the word, but, by bringing forward the power of God, he cuts off every occasion to murmur or complain. Thus also David says, “I am dumb, because thou hast done it.” (<193909>Psalm 39:9.) We never cease to complain until we are restrained by the fear of the power of God. Thus also Job, considering that he has to deal with God, says, “I will lay my finger on my mouth,” (<184004>Job 40:4,) and “I will humbly make supplication to my judge.” (<180915>Job 9:15.) Hezekiah, therefore, enjoins silence on himself on this ground, that it is useless to contend with God.

At the same time, he means that he has no hope of life, because the Lord gives actual demonstration that it was a serious threatening; and hence he infers that he gains nothing, because there are no means of evasion. This sentiment, it is true, proceeds from despair; because in this manner, thinking that God is his enemy, he shuts the door against his prayers. But that in very severe distresses words of this kind should escape our lips, which deter us from confidence in prayer, is neither new nor strange, provided that, on the other hand, we rely on that calling upon God which the views of the flesh pronounce to be of no avail. There is reason to believe that the pious king labored under such perplexity that he fainted through weakness; but that he chiefly considered what I have said, that there was nothing preferable to silence, because that it would serve no purpose to dispute with God, will appear more clearly from what immediately follows.

I shall walk trembling  F691 all my life. Hence we may infer that he now holds out to his view the dreadful power of God, in order to dispose himself to true humility. As hdd (dadah) sometimes signifies “to move,” and sometimes “to walk softly,” hdda (eddaddeh) is translated by some commentators, “I shall be moved,” or “I shall be troubled,” and by others, “I shall walk softly.” For my own part, I have no doubt that it denotes a trembling and feeble step; for Hezekiah had been reduced to so great weakness that he despaired of ever afterwards recovering his former strength. This trembling must be attributed to fear, for it immediately follows, in bitterness; which means, that the sorrow which he had endured was so deeply rooted in his heart, that it could never be removed. Hence arose that weakness which he mentioned.

hdda (eddaddeh) is translated by the Vulgate, “I will call to remembrance,” on which account this passage has been tortured by Papists to support auricular confession, but so absurdly that even old wives can laugh at it. But the plain meaning is, that Hezekiah does not speak of calling to remembrance, but of that agitation and trembling with which he says that he will be struck during the whole period of his life.

16. O Lord, even to all who shall live after them. The concise style of the Prophet has given rise to various interpretations. The interpretation most commonly received is “O Lord, they shall live beyond those years, F692” that is, “they shall lengthen their life.” This is equivalent to saying, “When thou shalt have lengthened my life, thou wilt grant that others also shall enjoy the same favor.” But that meaning does not agree with the text, and I look upon it as forced. I rather think that Hezekiah’s meaning was thisO Lord, whosoever shall live beyond those years, to them also will the life of my spirit be known.” We must therefore supply the relative ra, (asher,) who, as the Hebrew writers frequently do, and there will be nothing forced in this interpretation; for there can be no doubt, and nobody denies it, that he speaks of the years which the Lord had lengthened out to him. Thus he means that, this favor will be acknowledged not only by the men of that age, but also by posterity.

And didst cause me to sleep, and didst make me alive. In this way he magnifies the greatness of the favor, because it will also be well known to a future age, and will continue to be engraven on the remembrance of all, even when Hezekiah himself is dead, and not only so, but will be reckoned to be a kind of resurrection. By the word sleep he means death, as the Scriptures frequently do. (<461130>1 Corinthians 11:30; <520414>1 Thessalonians 4:14; <610304>2 Peter 3:4.) Thus he compares this mortal disease to death; for he was so near death that he utterly despaired of life.

17. Lo, in peace ray bitterness was bitter. F693 Again, another circumstance aggravates the severity of the distress; for sudden and unexpected calamities disturb us more than those which come upon us in a gradual manner. The grievousness of the disease was the more insupportable, because it seized him suddenly while he enjoyed ease and quietness; for nothing was farther from his thoughts than that he was about to depart from this life. We know also that the saints sometimes rely too much on prosperity, and promise to themselves unvarying success, which David too acknowledges to have happened to himself, “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved; but thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” (<193006>Psalm 30:6, 7.)

Nothing more distressing, therefore, could happen to Hezekiah than to be taken out of life, especially when the discomfiture and ruin of his enemy left him in the enjoyment of peace; for I think that Hezekiah fell into this disease after the defeat of Sennacherib, as has been already said. Amidst that joy and peace which smiled upon him, lo, a heavy sickness by which Hezekiah is fearfully distressed and tormented. This warns us that, since nothing is solid or lasting in this life, and since all that delights us may be speedily taken away, we ought not to grow sluggish in prosperity, but, even while we enjoy peace, we ought to think of war, and adversity, and afflictions, and, above all, to seek that peace which rests on God’s fatherly kindness, on which our consciences may safely repose.

And thou hast been pleased (to rescue) my soul from the pit. This part of the verse admits of two meanings. Since the verb qj (chashak) signifies sometimes “to love,” and sometimes “to wish,” that meaning would not be unsuitable, “It hath pleased thee to deliver my soul.” But if nothing be understood, the style will be equally complete, and will flow not less agreeably, “Thou, O God, didst embrace my soul with favor and kindness, while it was lying in the grave.” F694 It is well known that “soul” means “life;” but here the goodness of God is proclaimed, in not ceasing to love Hezekiah, even when he might be regarded as dead. In this way the copulative particle must be translated But.

For thou hast cast behind thy back all my sins. By assigning the reason, he now leads us to the fountain itself, and points out the method of that cure; for otherwise it might have been thought that hitherto he had spoken of nothing else than the cure of the body, but now he shews that he looks at something higher, namely, that he had been guilty before God, but by his grace had been forgiven. He affirms, indeed, that life has been restored to him, but reckons it of higher value that he has been reconciled to God than a hundred or a thousand lives. And, indeed,

“it would have been better for us never to have been born” (<402624>Matthew 26:24)

than by living a long life to add continually new offenses, and thus to bring down on ourselves a heavier judgment. He therefore congratulates himself chiefly on this ground, that the face of God smiles cheerfully upon him; for to enjoy his favor is the highest happiness.

At the same time he declares that all the distresses which God inflicts upon us ought to be attributed to our sins, so that they who accuse God of excessive severity do nothing else than double their’ guilt; and he does not only condemn himself for one sin, but confesses that he was laden with many sins, so that he needed more than one pardon. If, then, we sincerely seek alleviation of our distresses, we must begin here; because when God is appeased, it is impossible that it can be ill with us; for he takes no pleasure in our distresses. It often happens with us as with foolish and thoughtless persons, when they are sick; for they fix their attention on nothing but (sumptw>mata) symptoms or accidental circumstances, and the pains which they feel, and overlook the disease itself. But we ought rather to imitate skillful physicians, who examine the causes of disease, and give their whole attention to eradicate those causes. They know that outward remedies are useless, and even hurtful, if the inward cause be unknown; for such remedies drive the whole force of the disease inward, and promote and increase it, so that there is no hope of cure.

Hezekiah therefore perceived the cause of his distress, that is, his sins; and when he had received the forgiveness of them, he knew that punishment also ceased and was remitted. Hence we see how absurd is the distinction of the Papists, who wish to separate the remission of punishment from the remission of guilt. But Hezekiah here testifies that punishment has been remitted to him, because guilt has been remitted.

We ought carefully to observe the form of expression which Isaiah employs, thou hast cast behind thy back; for it means that the remembrance of them is altogether effaced. In like manner, a Prophet elsewhere says that God

“casteth them into the depths of the sea.” (<330719>Micah 7:19.)

It is likewise said in another passage, that he casteth them away

“as far as the east is distant from the west.”
(<19A312>Psalm 103:12.)

By these modes of expression God assures us that he will not impute to us the sins which he has pardoned; and if, notwithstanding of this, he chastise us, he does it not as a judge, but as a father, to train his children and keep them in the discharge of their duty. Papists are mistaken in dreaming that punishments contain some kind of satisfaction, F695as if God exacted vengeance, because he would not bestow a free pardon. But when God chastises his people, he promotes their future advantage.

18. For hell shall not confess thee. F696 When he says that he would not have celebrated the praises of God, if his life had been taken away, he promises that he will be thankful and will keep it in remembrance, and at the same time declares that the highest and most desirable advantage that life can yield to him is, that he will praise God. But although it is a sign of true piety to desire life for no other reason than to spend it in the unceasing praises of God, yet Hezekiah appears to employ language which is too exclusive; for the death of believers declares the glory. of God not less than their life, and, being after death perfectly united to God, they do not cease to proclaim his praises along with the angels. Again, another question arises, “Why was Hezekiah so eager to avoid death and so earnestly desirous of an earthly life?” And though even this second question were answered, still the reader will likewise call to remembrance, that this terror was not produced by death alone, for the same Hezekiah, when his life was ended, did not resist, but willingly yielded to God; but that the pious king, when he had been struck by God’s wrath, grieved only on this account, that by his sins he had excluded himself from life, as if he would never afterwards enjoy any favor or blessing.

On this also depends the answer to the first question; for we need not wonder if the pious king, not only supposing that he must depart out of life, but thinking that death is the punishment of sins and the vengeance of God, groan and weep that he is condemned as unworthy of devoting himself to the advancement of the glory of God. All who have been struck by this thunderbolt are unable, either living or dead, to celebrate the praises of God, but, being overwhelmed with despair, must be dumb. In the same sense also David says,

“In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall praise thee?” (<190605>Psalm 6:5.)

And the whole Church says,

“The dead shall not praise thee, nor those that go down into silence.” (<19B517>Psalm 115:17.)

The reason is, that they who are ruined and lost will have no ground of thanksgiving.

Yet it ought likewise to be observed that the saints, when they spoke in this manner, did not consider what kind of condition awaited them after death, but, under the influence of the pain which they now felt, looked only at the end for which they were created and preserved in the world. The chief object of life, as we said a little before, is that men should be employed in the service of God; and with the same design God protects his Church in the world, because it is his will that his name shall be celebrated. Now, he who sees himself cast down, because he does not deserve to be reckoned, or to hold a place, among the worshippers of God, does not calmly and attentively, consider what he shall do after death, but, under the darkening influence of grief, as if after death all the exercise of piety would cease, takes from the dead the power of praising God, because the glory of God appears to be buried along with the witnesses of it.

19. The living, the living, he shall confess thee. He does not include all men without exception; for many live, who yet extinguish the glory of God by their ingratitude, as far as lies in their power, and undoubtedly have nothing farther from their thoughts than that they were born to praise God. But he simply declares that men, so long as God supports them in this life, may justly be regarded as the lawful heralds of his glory, when he invites them, by his kindness, to the discharge of that office. And this contrast shews that the statement which he made a little before, that “in death or in the grave there is no remembrance of God,” is a general declaration, that they who would willingly be employed in praising God are deprived of this favor, when they are driven out of the world.

As I do this day. He solemnly declares that he will be one of the witnesses of the glory of God, and thus gives a manifest indication of gratitude towards God; for he declares that he will not be forgetful, but will continually give thanks to God, and will make known the favor which he has received; and that not only to the men of his own age, but also to posterity, that they too may celebrate those praises and adore the author of so great a favor.

The father shall make known to the sons thy truth. Hence we ought to learn a useful lesson, that children are given to men on the express condition, that every man, by instructing his children, shall endeavor, to the utmost of his power, to transmit the name of God to posterity; and, therefore, the fathers of families are chiefly enjoined to be careful in this respect, that they shall diligently mention the benefits which God has bestowed on them. By the word truth he means that faithfulness which God exercises towards his people, and all the testimonies of his grace by which he proves that he is true.

20. Jehovah to save me. F697 He acknowledges that he was delivered, not by the aid or industry of men, but solely by the kindness of God. The rendering given by some, “It belongs to the Lord to save me,” does not express enough, and appears to be more remote from the literal meaning; for he praises not only the power of God, but also the work by which he hath given an evident proof of it. In a word, he contrasts God’s keeping with the death to which he had been sentenced; because, having formerly dreaded him as a severe judge, he now avows him as his deliverer, and leaps with joy. F698

And we will sing our songs. For the reason now stated, he not only prepares himself for singing in token of gratitude, but also calls on others to join and accompany him in this duty, and on this account mentions the Temple, in which the assemblies of religious men were held. Had be been a private individual and one of the common people, still it would have been his duty to offer a public sacrifice to God, that he might encourage others by his example. Much more then was the king bound to take care that he should bring others to unite with him in thanksgiving; especially because in his person God had provided for the advantage of the whole Church.

All the days of our life. He declares that he will do his endeavor that this favor of God may be known to all, and that the remembrance of it may be preserved, not only for one day or for one year, but as long as he shall live. And indeed at any time it would have been exceedingly base to allow a blessing of God so remarkable as this to pass away or be forgot, ten; but, being forgetful, we continually need spurs to arouse us. At the same time, he takes a passing notice of the reason why God appointed holy assemblies. It was, that all as with one mouth might praise him, and might excite each other to the practice of godliness.

21. And Isaiah said Isaiah now relates what was the remedy which he prescribed to Hezekiah. Some think that it was not a remedy, becausefigs are dangerous and hurtful to boils; but that the pious king was warned and clearly taught by this sign that the cure proceeded from nothing else than from the favor of God alone. As the bow in the sky, F699 by which God was pleased to testify that mankind would never be destroyed by a flood, (<010913>Genesis 9:13,) appears to denote what is absolutely contrary to this; (for it makes its appearance, when very thick clouds are gathering, and ready to fall as if they would deluge the whole world;) so they think that a plaster, which was not at all fitted for curing the disease, was purposely applied by the Prophet, in order to testify openly that God cured Hezekiah without medicines. But since figs are employed even by our own physicians for maturing a pustule, it is possible that the Lord, who had given a promise, gave also a medicine, as we see done on many other occasions; for although the Lord does not need secondary means, as they are called, yet he makes use of them whenever he thinks proper. And the value of the promise is not lessened by this medicine, which without the word would have been vain and useless; because he had received another supernatural sign, by which he had plainly learned that he had received front God alone that life of which he despaired.

22. Now, Hezekiah had said. Some explain this verse as if this also had been a sign given to Hezekiah, and therefore, view it as connected with the preceding verse, and look upon it as an exclamation of astonishment. But it is more probable that in this passage the order has been reversed, as frequently takes place with Hebrew writers, and that what. was spoken last is related first. Isaiah did not at the beginning say that Hezekiah had asked a sign, though the sacred history (<122008>2 Kings 20:8) attests it; and therefore he adds what he had left out at the proper place.

That I shall go up. He means that it will be his chief object throughout his whole life to celebrate the name of God; for he did not desire life for the sake of living at ease and enjoying pleasure, but in order to defend the honor of God and the purity of his worship. Let us therefore remember that God prolongs our life, not that we may follow the bent of our natural disposition, or give ourselves up to luxury, but that we may cultivate piety, perform kind offices to each other, and frequently take part in the assembly of the godly and the public exercises of religion, that we may proclaim the truth and goodness of God.


Go To Isaiah 39:1-8

1. At that time. Some think that this was the first king of the Chaldee nation; for his father, Baladin, had held the government over the Babylonians without the title of king. This Merodach, therefore, after having reigned twelve years, subdued the Assyrians, and made them tributaries to the Chaldeans; for it is a mistake to suppose that the war was begun by Nebuchadnezzar. It is indeed possible that he completed the subjugation of them; but it is probable that already they were half subdued, so that nothing else remained than to establish the royal power gained by the victory of his predecessor.

Sent letters and a present to Hezekiah. Although the Prophet simply relates that messengers were sent, yet it is of importance to observe that this was done craftily by the Babylonian, in order to flatter and cajole Hezekiah. He was at this time threatening the Assyrians, whom he knew to be justly disliked by the Jews on account of their continual wars; and therefore, in order to obtain Hezekiah as an ally and partisan in the war which was now waging against him, endeavors to obtain his friendship by indirect methods. The mind of the good king was corrupted by ambition, so that he too eagerly accepted the false blandishments of the tyrant, and swallowed the bait.

The pretence was, to congratulate Hezekiah on having recovered from his disease. And yet sacred history appears to assign another reason, which was, that Merodach was induced by a miracle. (<143231>2 Chronicles 32:31.) There is certainly no doubt that the report of that prodigy, which took place when the sun went back, was yew widely spread; and it might have produced an impression on many nations. Yet it can hardly be believed that a heathen had any other object in view than to draw Hezekiah into his net; but since, by a remarkable sign, God had shewn that he cared for the safety of Hezekiah, and since wicked men commonly apply to a base purpose all the proofs of God’s favor, Merodach thought that, if he could obtain the alliance of Hezekiah, he would carry on war under the protection and favor of heaven. f700

The consequence was, that he sent messengers to Hezekiah with presents, for the sake of expressing his good-will; for he wished to obtain his favor, believing that his friendship would be useful and advantageous to him; and his intention was, to make use of him afterwards against the Assyrians, to whom he knew well that the Jews entertained a deadly hatred. Such are the designs of kings and princes, to transact their affairs by fraud and craftiness, and bysome means to gain as many allies as possible, that they may employ their exertions against their enemies

2. And Hezekiah was glad. The Prophet performs the part of the historian; for he merely relates what Hezekiah did, and will afterwards explain why he did it; that is, that Hezekiah, blinded by ambition, made an ostentatious display to the messengers; while he censures an improper kind of joy, which afterwards gave rise to an eager desire of treating them in a friendly manner.

Any person who shall barely read this history will con-elude that Hezekiah did nothing wrong; for it was an act of humanity to give a cheerful and hospitable reception to the messengers, and to shew them every proof of good-will; and it would have been the act of a barbarian to disdain those who had come to him on a friendly visit, and to spurn the friendship of so powerful a king. But still there lurked in his heart a desire of vain ostentation; for he wished to make a favorable display of himself, that the Babylonian might be led to understand that this alliance would not be without advantage to him, and might ascertain this from his wealth, and forces, and weapons of war. He deserved to be reproved on another ground, that he directed his mind to foreign and unlawful aid, and to that extent denied honor to God, whom he had recently known to be his deliverer on two occasions; for otherwise the Prophet would not have censured this act so severely.

This is a remarkable example; and it teaches us that nothing’ is more dangerous than to be blinded by prosperity. It proves also the truth of the old proverb, that “it is more difficult to bear prosperity than adversity ;” for when everything goes on to our wish, we grow wanton and insolent, and cannot be kept in the path of duty by any advices or threatenings. When this happened to Hezekiah, on whom the Prophet had bestowed the high commendation, that “the fear of God was his treasure,” (<233306>Isaiah 33:6,) we ought to be very much afraid of falling into the same dangers. He is carried away by idle boasting, and does not remember that formerly he was half-dead, and that God rescued him from death by an extraordinary miracle. Formerly he made a solemn promise that he would continually celebrate the praises of God in the assembly of the godly, (<233820>Isaiah 38:20,) and now, when he sees that his friendship is sought, and that a powerful monarch sends to salute him, he forgets God and the benefits which he had received from him. When we see that this good king’ so quickly falls and is carried away by ambition, let us learn to lay upon ourselves the restraint of modesty, which will keep us constantly and diligently in the fear of God.

3. Then came Isaiah the Prophet. He continues the same narrative, but likewise adds doctrine. Although he does not say that God had sent him, yet it is certain that he did this by the influence of the Holy Spirit and by the command of God; and, therefore, he bestows on himself the designation of the Prophet, by which he intimates that he did not come as a private individual, but to perform an office which God had enjoined on him, that Hezekiah might clearly see that he had not to deal with a mortal man.

Now, when he says that he came, we ought to infer that he was not sent for, but was allowed to remain quietly at home, while Hezekiah was making’ a boastful display of his treasures; for prophets are not usually invited to consultations of this sort. But formerly, while he was weighed down by extreme distress, while Rabshakeh insulted him so fiercely, and uttered such daring’ blasphemies against God, he sent, to Isaiah, and requested him to intercede with God, and to soothe his anguish by some consolation. (<233702>Isaiah 37:2, 3, 4.) Thus in adversity and distress the prophets are sought, but in prosperity are disregarded or even despised; because they disturb our mirth by their admonitions, and appear to give occasion of grief. But Isaiah came, though he was not invited; and in this we ought to observe and praise his steadfastness, and are taught by his example that we ought not to wait till we are sent for by men who need the discharge of our duty, when they flatter themselves amidst the heaviest distresses, and bring danger on themselves either by levity, or by ignorance, or even by malice; for it is our duty to gather the wandering sheep, and we ought to do this diligently, even though we be not requested by any person.

Though Hezekiah may be justly blamed for having been corrupted by the flatteries of the king of Babylon so as not to ask counsel of God, yet it is a manifestation of no ordinary modesty, that he does not drive away or despise the Prophet, as if he had found fault without reason, but replies gently, and at length receives calmly and mildly a very severe reproof. It would have been better that he had, from the beginning’, inquired at the mouth of God, as it is said in the psalm,

“Thy commandments are the men of my counsel,”
(<19B924>Psalm 119:24;)

but, having committed a mistake, it was his next duty to receive submissively the remedy for the fault.

What did those men say? The Prophet does not immediately inflict on him the pain of a severe reproof, but wounds him gently, so as to lead him to a confession of his sin; for Hezekiah flattered himself, and thought that all was going well with him, and, therefore, needed to be gradually aroused from his slothfulness. Still these words gave a sharp wound; as if he had said, “What have you to do with those men? Ought you not to keep at the greatest distance from a plague so contagious?” He likewise inquires about the contents of the message, in order to make Hezekiah ashamed of not having perceived the deceit that was practiced on him; for there is reason to believe that he would not have censured the congratulation, if there had not been some poison mingled with it, but he points out those snares in which the Babylonians wished to entangle him.

And yet it is evident from the reply, that Hezekiah was not yet struck by that gentle reproof; for he is still on good terms with himself, and boasts that those men came from a distant country, from Babylon. There is reason to believe that Isaiah was not ignorant of that country, so that Hezekiah did not need to express the distance in such magnificent language; but he boasts in this manner, because he was under the influence of ambition. It was therefore necessary that he should be more keenly pressed, and that sharper spurs should be applied.

4. Then he said. Isaiah proceeds in his indirect admonition, to see if Hezekiah shall be moved by it and displeased with himself. But still he does not succeed, though it can hardly be believed that the king was so stupid as not to feel the punctures of the spur; for he knew that the Prophet had not come, as persons addicted to curiosity are wont to do, for the purpose of hunting out news; and he knew also that the Prophet had not come to jest with him, but to state something of importance. However that may be, we ought to put a favorable construction on his mild reply; for he does not break out against the Prophet, but modestly confesses the state of the fact, though he does not yet acknowledge that he has sinned, or at least is not brought to repentance; for he does not judge of his sin from that concealed disposition. Ambition deludes men so much, that by its sweetness it not only intoxicates but drives them mad, so that, even when they have been admonished, they do not immediately repent. When, therefore, we see the godly Hezekiah struck with such stupidity as not to perceive that he is reproved, or at least not to be stung by it so as to know himself, we ought carefully to guard against so dangerous a disease.

5. Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah. From this judgment of’ God we perceive that the sin of Hezekiah was not small, though common sense judges differently; for since God always observes the highest moderation in chastising men, we may infer from the severity of the punishment that it was no ordinary fault, but a highly aggravated crime. Hence also we are reminded that men judge amiss of words or actions, but that God alone is the competent judge of them. Hezekiah shewed his treasures. Had they been heaped up, that they might always lie hidden in the earth? He received the messengers kindly. Should he have driven them away? He lent an ear to their instructions. But that was when the rival of the Assyrian voluntarily desired his friendship. Ought he to have rejected so valuable an advantage? In a word, so far as appearances go, we shall find nothing for which an apology may not be offered.

But God, from whom nothing is hidden, observes in Hezekiah’s joy, first, ingratitude; because he is unmindful of the distresses which lately pressed him down, and, in some respects, substitutes the Chaldeans in the room of God himself, to whom he ought to have dedicated his own person and all that he possessed. Next, he observes pride; because Hezekiah attempts too eagerly to gain reputation by magnificence and riches He observes a sinful desire to enter into an alliance which would have been destructive to the whole nation. But the chief fault was ambition, which almost entirely banishes the fear of God from the hearts of men. Hence Augustine justly exclaims, “How great and how pernicious is the poison of pride, which cannot be cured but by poison!” For he has his eye on that passage in one of Paul’s Epistles, in which he says that “a messenger of Satan had been given to buffet him, that he might not be puffed up by the greatness of revelations.” (<471207>2 Corinthians 12:7.) Hezekiah was unshaken, when all was nearly ruined; but he is vanquished by these flatteries, and does not resist vain ambition. Let us, therefore, attentively and diligently consider what a destructive evil this is, and let us be so much the more careful to avoid it.

Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts. Being about to be the bearer of a harsh sentence, he begins by saying that he is God’s herald, and a little afterwards, he again repeats that God has commanded him to do this, not merely for the purpose of protecting himself against hatred, f701 but in order to make a deep impression on the heart of the king’. Here again we see his steadfastness and heroic courage. He does not dread the face of the king, or fear to make known his disease, and to announce to him the judgment of God; for although, at that time as well as now, kings had delicate ears, yet, being fully aware that God had enjoined this duty upon him, he boldly executes his commission, however much it might be disliked. Prophets were, indeed, subject to kings, and claimed nothing for themselves, unless when it was their duty to speak in the name of God; and in such cases there is nothing so lofty that it ought not to be abased before the majesty of God. And if his object had been to gain the good graces of his prince, he would have been silent like other flatterers; but he has regard to his office, and endeavors to discharge it most faithfully.

6. And nothing shall be left. It is proper to observe the kind of punishment which the Lord inflicts on Hezekiah; for he takes from his successors those things of which he vaunted so loudly, in order that they may have no ground for boasting of them. Thus the Lord punishes the ambition and pride of men, so that their name or kingdom, which they hoped would last for ever, is blotted out, and they are treated with contempt, and the remembrance of them is accursed. In a word, he overthrows their foolish thoughts, so that they find by experience the very opposite of those inventions by which they deceive themselves.

If it be objected that it is unreasonable, that the sacking of a city and the captivity of a nation should be attributed to the fault of a single man, while the Holy Spirit everywhere declares (<143614>2 Chronicles 36:14-17) that general obstinacy was the reason why God delivered up the city and the country to be pillaged by the Babylonians; I answer, that there is no absurdity in God’s punishing the sin of a single man, and at the same time the crimes of a whole nation. For when the wrath of the Lord overspread the whole country, it was the duty of all to unite in confessing their guilt., and of every person to consider individually what he had deserved; that no man might throw the blame on others, but that every man might lay it on himself. Besides, since the Jews were already in many ways liable to the judgment of God, he justly permitted Hezekiah to fail in his duty to the injury of all, that he might hasten the more his own wrath, and open up a way for the execution of his judgment. In like manner we see that it happened to David; for Scripture declares that it was not an accidental occurrence that David numbered the people, but that it took place by the fault of the nation itself, whom the Lord determined to punish in this manner.

“The anger of the Lord was kindled against the nation, and he put it into the heart of David to number the people.” (<102401>2 Samuel 24:1.)

Thus in this passage also punishment is threatened against Hezekiah; but his sin, by which he provoked God’s anger, was also the vengeance of God against the whole nation.

7. Of thy sons. It might be thought that this was far more distressing to Hezekiah, and therefore it is put last for the sake of heightening the picture. Even though any calamity spread widely in a nation, it is commonly thought that kings and their families will be exempted, as if they were not placed in the same rank with other men. When he understood, therefore, that his sons would be made captives and slaves, this must have appeared to him to be exceedingly severe. Hence again we may learn how much God was displeased with Hezekiah for seeking aid from earthly wealth, and boasting of it in the presence of wicked men, when God by a dreadful example punishes it as an unpardonable crime, that Hezekiah made an ambitious display of his wealth in presence of unbelievers.

8. Good is the word of Jehovah. From this reply we learn, that Hezekiah was not a stubborn or obstinately haughty man, since he listened patiently to the Prophet’s reproof, though he was little moved by it at the commencement. When he is informed that the Lord is angry, he unhesitatingly acknowledges his guilt, and confesses that he is justly punished. Having heard the judgment of God, he does not argue or contend with the Prophet, but conducts himself with gentleness and modesty, and thus holds out to us an example of genuine submissiveness and obedience.

Let us therefore learn by the example of the pious king’ to listen with calmness to the Lord, not only when he exhorts or admonishes, but even when he condemns and terrifies by threatening just punishment. When he says that “the word of God is good,” he not only gives him the praise of justice, but patiently acquiesces in that which might have been unwelcome on account of its harshness; for even the reprobate have sometimes been compelled to confess their guilt; while their rebellion was not subdued so as to refrain from murmuring against their Judge. In order, therefore, that God’s threatenings may be softened to us, we must entertain some hope of mercy, otherwise our hearts will always pour forth unavailing bitterness; but he who shall be convinced that God, when he punishes, does not in any degree lay aside the feeling of a father’s affection, will not only confess that God is just, but will calmly and mildly bear his temporary severity. In a word, when we shall have a powerful conviction of the grace of God, so as to believe that he is our Father, it will not be hard or disagreeable to us to stand and fall according to his pleasure; for faith will assure us that nothing is more advantageous to us than his fatherly chastisement.

Thus David, having been very severely reproved by Nathan, humbly replies, “It is the Lord, let him do whatever is right in his eyes;” f702 for undoubtedly the reason why he is dumb is, not only because it would be of no use to murmur, but because he willingly submits to the judgment of God. Such is also the character of Saul’s silence, when he is informed that the kingdom shall be taken from him. (<092820>1 Samuel 28:20.) But because it is only punishment that terrifies him, and he is not moved by repentance for his sin, we need not wonder if he be full of cruelty within, though apparently he acquiesces, because he cannot resist, which otherwise he would willingly do, like malefactors who, while they are held bound by chains or fetters, are submissive to their judges, whom they would willingly drag down from the place of authority and trample under their feet. But while David and Hezekiah are “humbled under the mighty hand of God,” (<600506>1 Peter 5:6,) still they do not lose the hope of pardon, and therefore choose rather to submit to the punishment which he inflicts than to withdraw from his authority.

Which thou hast spoken. It is worthy of notice that he acknowledges not only that the sentence which God has pronounced is just, but that the word which Isaiah has spoken is good; for there is great weight in this clause, since he does not hesitate to receive the word with reverence, though it is spoken by a mortal man, because he looks to its principal Author. The freedom used by Isaiah might undoubtedly be harsh and unpleasant to the king; but acknowledging him to be the servant of God, he allows himself to be brought to obedience. So much the more insufferable is the delicacy of those who are offended at being’ admonished or reproved, and scornfully reply to teachers and ministers of the word, “Are not you men as well as we?” As if it were not our duty to obey God, unless he sent angels from heaven, or came down himself.

Hence also we learn what opinion we ought to form concerning fanatics, who, while they pretend to adore God, reject the doctrine of the prophets; for if they were ready to obey God, they would listen to him when he spoke by his prophets, not less than when he thundered from heaven. I admit that we ought to distinguish between true and false prophets, between “the voice of the shepherd (<431003>John 10:3, 5) and the voice of the stranger ;” but we must not reject all without distinction, if we do not wish to reject God himself; and we ought to listen to them, not only when they exhort or reprove, but also when they condemn, and when they threaten, by the command of God, the just punishment of our sins.

At least f703 there shall be peace. The particle yk (ki) sometimes expresses opposition, but, here it denotes an exception, and therefore I have translated it at least; for Hezekiah adds something new, that is, he gives thanks to God for mitigating the punishment which he had deserved; as if he had said, “The Lord might have suddenly raised up enemies, to drive me out of my kingdom; but he now spares me, and, by delaying, moderates the punishment which might justly have been inflicted on me.” Yet this clause may be explained as a prayer, f704 expressing Hezekiah’s desire that the punishment should be delayed till a future age. But it is more probable that what the Prophet had said about the days that were to come, Hezekiah applied for soothing his grief, to encourage himself to patience, because sudden vengeance would have alarmed him still more. This exception, therefore, is highly fitted to induce meekness of spirit, “At least God will spare our age.” But if any person prefer to view it as assigning a reason, “For there shall be peace,”  F705him enjoy his opinion.

Peace and Truth. Some think that tma, (emeth,) Truth, denotes the worship of God and pure religion, as if he were thanking God that, when he died, he would leave the doctrine of godliness unimpaired. But I consider it to denote “permanency,” or a peaceful condition of the kingdom; if it be not thought preferable to view it as denoting, by the substitution of one word for another, that there will be certain and long-continued prosperity.

But it may be thought that Hezekiah was cruel in taking no care about posterity, and not giving himself much trouble about what should happen afterwards. Such sayings as, (ejmou~ qano>ntov gai~a micqh>tw puri>,) “When I am dead, let the earth be committed to the flames,” that is, “When I am dead, all are dead;” and other sayings of the same kind, which are now in the mouths of many swine and Epieureans, are profane and shocking. But Hezekiah’s meaning was quite different; for, while he wished well to those who should live after him, yet it would have been undutiful to disregard that token of forbearance which God gave by delaying his vengeance; for he might have been led by it to hope that this mercy would, in some degree, be extended to posterity.

Some reply that he rejoiced at the delay, because

“we ought not to be anxious about to-morrow, seeing that sufficient for the day is its own affliction.” (<400634>Matthew 6:34.)

But this does not apply to the present passage; for Hezekiah does not disregard posterity, but, perceiving that God moderates the punishment by forbearance, he gives thanks to God, as we have already said; for although this punishment awaited a future age, still it was his duty to acknowledge the present favor. And indeed we ought to labor most for our own age, and to pay our chief regard to it. The future ought not to be overlooked; but what is present and immediate has stronger claims on our services; for we who live at the same time are bound by God with a stronger tie, in order that, by mutual intercourse, we may assist each other, as far as shall be in our power. It ought likewise to be observed that, while the Lord had formerly promised a lengthened life to hezekiah, when he was very near death, there was now strong reason to fear that he would again cut short his life on account of that sin. When he is informed that the promise is ratified, he gives thanks to God, and bears more patiently the calamity which was to come, though he felt it to be grievous and distressing.


Go To Isaiah 40:1-31

1. Comfort ye. The Prophet introduces a new subject; for, leaving the people on whom no favorable impression was made either by threatenings or by admonitions, on account of their desperate wickedness, he turns to posterity, in order to declare that the people who shall be humbled under the cross will experience no want of consolation even amidst the severest distresses. And it is probable that he wrote this prophecy when the time of the captivity was at hand, that he might not at his departure from life leave the Church of God overwhehned by very grievous calamities, without the hope of restoration. Though he formerly mingled his predictions with threatenings and terrors for this purpose, yet he appears to have contemplated chiefly the benefit of those who lived at that time. What will afterwards follow will relate to the future Church, the revival of which was effected long after his death; for he will next lay down a perpetual doctrine, which must not be limited to a single period, and especially when he treats of the commencement and progress of the reign of Christ. And this prophecy must be of so much the greater importance to us, because it addresses us in direct terms; for, although it may be a spiritual application of what goes before, so as to be doctrine that is common both to the Jews and to us, yet, as he leaves the Jews of that age, and addresses posterity down to the end of the world, it appears to belong more especially to us.

By this exhortation, therefore, the Lord intended to stir up the hearts of the godly, that they might not faint, amidst heavy calamities. First, he addresses the Jews, who were soon after to be carried into that hard captivity in which they should have neither sacrifices nor prophets, and would have been destitute of all consolation, had not the Lord relieved their miseries by these predictions. Next, he addresses all the godly that should live afterwards, or that shall yet live, to encourage their heart, even when they shall appear to be reduced very low and to be utterly ruined.

That this discourse might have greater weight, and might mere powerfully affect their minds, he represents God as raising up new prophets, whom he enjoins to soothe the sorrows of the people by friendly consolation. The general meaning is, that, when he shall have appeared to have forsaken for a time the wretched captives, the testimony of his grace will again burst forth from the darkness, and that, when gladdening prophecies shall have ceased, their proper time will come round. In order to exhibit more strongly the ground of joy, he makes use of the plural number, Comfort ye; by which he intimates that he will send not one or another, but a vast multitude of prophets; and this he actually accomplished, by which we see more clearly his infinite goodness and mercy.

Will say. First, it ought to be observed that the verb is in the future tense; and those commentators who render it in the present or past tense both change the words and spoil the meaning. Indircetly he points out an intermediate period, during which the people would be heavily afflicted, as if God had been silent. F706 Though even at that time God did not cease to hold out the hope of salvation by some prophets, yet, having for a long period cast them off, when they were wretchedly distressed and almost ruined, the consolation was less abundant, till it was pointed out, as it were with the finger, that they were at liberty to return. On this account the word comfort must be viewed as relating to a present favor; and the repetition of the word not only confirms the certainty of the prediction, but applauds its power and success, as if he had said, that in this message there will be abundant, full, and unceasing cause of joy.

Above all, we must hold by the future tense of this verb, because there is an implied contrast between that melancholy silence of which I have spoken, and the doctrine of consolation which afterwards followed. And with this prediction agrees the complaint of the Church,

“We do not see our signs; there is no longer among us a prophet or any one that knows how long.” (<197409>Psalm 74:9.)

We see how she laments that she has been deprived of the best kind of comfort, because no promise is brought forward for soothing her distresses. It is as if the Prophet bad said, “The Lord will not suffer you to be deprived of prophets, to comfort you amidst your severest distresses. At that time he will raise up men by whom he will send to you the message that had been long desired, and at that time also he will show that he takes care of you.”

I consider the future tense, will say, as relating not only to the captivity in Babylon, but to the whole period of deliverance, which includes the reign of Christ. F707 To the verb will say, we must supply “to the prophets,” whom he will appoint for that purpose; for in vain would they have spoken, if the Lord had not told them, and even put into their mouth what they should make known to others. Thus there is a mutual relation between God and the prophets,” whom he will appoint for that purpose; for in vain would they have spoken, if the Lord had not told them and even put into their mouth what they should make known to others. Thus there is a mutual relation between God and the prophets. In a word, the Lord promises that the hope of salvation will be left, although the ingratitude of men deserves that this voice shall be perpetually silenced and altogether extinguished.

These words, I have said, ought not to be limited to the captivity in Babylon; for they have a very extensive meaning, and include the doctrine of the gospel, in which chiefly lies the power of “comforting.” To the gospel it belongs to comfort those who are distressed and cast down, to quicken those who are slain and actually dead, to cheer the mourners, and, in short, to bring all joy and gladness; and this is also the reason why it is called “the Gospel,” that is, good news, F708 Nor did it begin at the time when Christ appeared in the world, but long before, since the time when God’s favor was clearly revealed, and Daniel might be said to have first raised his banner, that believers might hold themselves in readiness for returning. (<270902>Daniel 9:2.) Afterwards, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Nehemiah, Ezra, and others, down to the coming of Christ, exhorted believers to cherish better and better hopes. Malachi, the last of them that wrote, knowing that there would be few prophets, sends the people to the law of Moses, to learn from it the will of God and its threatenings and promises. (<390404>Malachi 4:4.)

Your God. From this passage we learn what we ought chiefly to seek in the prophets, namely, to encourage the hopes of godly persons by exhibiting the sweetness of divine grace, that they may not faint under the weight of afflictions, but may boldly persevere in calling on God. But since it was difficult to be believed, he reminds them of the covenant; as if he had said that it was impossible for God ever to forget what he formerly promised to Abraham. (<011707>Genesis 17:7.) Although, therefore, the Jews by their sins had fallen from grace, yet he affirms that he is their God, and that they are his peculiar people, both of which depended on election; but, as even in that nation there were many reprobates, the statement implies that to believers only is this discourse strictly directed; because he silently permits unbelievers, through constant languishment, to be utterly wasted and destroyed. But to believers there is held out an invaluable comfort, that, although for a time they are oppressed by grief and mourning, yet because they hope in God, who is the Father of consolation, they shall know by experience that the promises of grace, like a hidden treasure, are laid up for them, to cheer their hearts at the proper time. This is also a very high commendation of the prophetic office, that it supports believers in adversity, that they may not faint or be discouraged; and, on the other hand, this passage shews that it is a very terrible display of God’s vengeance when there are no faithful teachers, from whose mouth may be heard in the Church of God the consolation that is fitted to raise up those who are cast down, and to strengthen the feeble.

2. Speak ye according to the heart of Jerusalem. Here God commands his servants the prophets, and lays down the message which he wishes them to deliver publicly, when believers shall be called to change their strain from mourning to joy. And yet he does not exhort and encourage them to the cheerful and courageous discharge of their office, so much as he conveys to the minds of believers an assured hope that they may patiently endure the irksomeness of delay, till the prophets appear with this glad and delightful message. To speak to the heart  F709 is nothing else than “to speak according to the wish or sentiment of the mind;” for our heart abhors or recoils if any sad intelligence is communicated, but eagerly receives, or rather runs to meet, whatever is agreeable. Now, in consequence of the people having been apparently rejected, nothing could be more agreeable than a reconciliation F710 which should blot out all offenses. By a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, Jerusalem, as is well known, denotes the Church.

And cry to her. The word cry means that the promise of this grace will be open and manifest, so as to resound in the ears of all and be understood; for if prophets only muttered or spoke indistinctly, the belief of this consolation would be doubtful or weak, but now that they publish it boldly and with open mouth, all doubts are removed.

That her warfare is accomplished. This is the desirable message, that the Lord determines to put an end to the warfare of his people. I consider yk (ki) to be used for introducing an explanation. Some think that habx, (tzebaahh,) which we have translated “her warfare,” simply denotes “time,” as if it had been said, “her time is accomplished.” F711 Others think that it expresses the time of visitation, but this is incorrect; for among the Hebrews it literally denotes a time previously appointed and set apart for lawful work or labor. (<040423>Numbers 4:23.) But here unquestionably the metaphor is taken from the discharge of soldiers; for it means that the end and issue of their vexations is at hand, and that God does not wish to harass his people continually, but to set a limit to their afflictions. He therefore compares the time of the captivity in Babylon to a righteous warfare, at the end of which the soldiers, having obtained an honorable discharge, will return home to enjoy peace and quietness.

That her iniquity is pardoned. This means that God is so gracious to them that he is unwilling to treat them with the utmost severity. These words, therefore, assign a reason; for, as physicians, in curing diseases, first remove the causes from which diseases arise, so does the Lord deal with us. The scourges by which he chastises us proceed from our sins; and therefore, that he may cease to strike, he must first pardon us; and consequently, he says that there will be an end of punishments, because he no longer imputes sin. Others think that hnw[ (gnavonahh) means “her misery,” and that it denotes that her misery is ended. This meaning also is highly appropriate, and thus the Prophet will make the same announcement in two ways; for to finish her warfare, and to put an end to her miseries, mean the same thing. Yet we must hold this principle, that God ceases from inflicting punishment when he is appeased, so that pardon and the forgiveness of sins always come first in order, as the cause. But the word hxrn (nirtzah) demands, in my opinion, the former meaning; as if he had said, that God has been appeased in such a manner that, having pardoned and forgiven their sins, he is ready to enter again into a state of favor with his people.

Double for all her sins. This passage is explained in two ways. Some say that the people, having deserved a double punishment, have obtained a double favor; and others, that they have received enough of punishment, because God is unwilling to exact more. The former interpretation, though it contains an excellent and profitable doctrine, does not agree with the text, and must therefore be set aside; and it is evident that the Prophet means nothing else than that God is abundantly satisfied with the miseries which have befallen his Church. I could have wished, therefore, that they who have attacked Jerome and other supporters of this interpretation, had been more moderate; for the natural meaning belongs to this interpretation, and not to the more ingenious one, that the Lord repays double favor for their sins. The general meaning is, that God is unwilling to inflict more severe or more lengthened punishment on his people, because, through his fatherly kindness, he is in some sense displeased with the severity.

Here the word double denotes “large and abundant.” It must not be imagined that the punishments were greater than the offenses, or equal to them; for we ought to abhor the blasphemy of those who accuse God of cruelty, as if he inflicted on men excessively severe punishment; for what punishment could be inflicted that was sufficiently severe even for the smallest offense? This must therefore relate to the mercy of God, who, by setting a limit to the chastisements, testifies that he is unwilling to punish them any more or longer, as if he were abundantly satisfied with what had gone before, though that nation deserved far severer chastisements. God sustains the character of a Father who, while he compassionates his children, is led, not without reluctance, to exercise severity, and thus willingly bends his mind to grant forgiveness.

3. A voice crying in the wilderness. He follows out the subject which he had begun, and declares more explicitly that he will send to the people, though apparently ruined, ministers of consolation. At the same time he anticipates an objection which might have been brought forward. “You do indeed promise consolation, but where are the prophets? For we shall be ‘in a wilderness,’ and whence shall this consolation come to us?” He therefore testifies that “the wilderness” shall not hinder them from enjoying that consolation.

The wilderness is employed to denote metaphorically that desolation which then existed; though I do not deny that the Prophet alludes to the intermediate journey; F712 for the roughness of the wilderness seemed to forbid their return. He promises, therefore, that although every road were shut up, and not a chink were open, the Lord will easily cleave a path through the most impassable tracts for himself and his people.

Prepare the way of Jehovah. Some connect the words “in the wilderness” with this clause, and explain it thus, “Prepare the way of Jehovah in the wilderness.” But the Prophet appears rather to represent a voice which shall gather together those who had wandered and had, as it were, been banished from the habitable globe. “Though you behold nothing but a frightful desert, yet this voice of consolation shall be heard from the mouth of the prophets.” These words relate to the hard bondage which they should undergo in Babylon.

But to whom is that voice addressed? Is it to believers? No, but to Cyrus, to the Persians, and to the Medes, who held that people in captivity. Having been alienated from obedience to God, they are constrained to deliver the people; and therefore they are enjoined to “prepare and pave the way,” that the people of God may be brought back to Judea; as if he had said:, “Make passable what was impassable.” The power and efficacy of this prediction is thus held up for our applause; for when God invests his servants with authority to command men who were cruel and addicted to plunder, and who at that time were the conquerors of Babylon, to “prepare the way” for the return of his people, he means that nothing shall hinder the fulfillment of his promise, because he will employ them all as hired servants. Hence we obtain an excellent consolation, when we see that God makes use of irreligious men for our salvation, and employs all the creatures, when the case demands it, for that end.

A highway for our God. When it, is said that the way shall be prepared not for the Jews, but for God himself, we have here a remarkable proof of his love towards us; for he applies to himself what related to the salvation of his chosen people. The Lord had nothing to do with walking, and had no need of a road; but he shews that we are so closely united to him that what is done on our account he reckons to be done to himself. This mode of expression is frequently employed elsewhere, as when it is said that God “went forth into battle with his anointed,” (<350313>Habakkuk 3:13,) and that “he rode through the midst of Egypt,” (<021104>Exodus 11:4,) and that he lifted up his standard and led his people through the wilderness. (<236313>Isaiah 63:13.)

This passage is quoted by the Evangelists, (<400303>Matthew 3:3; <410103>Mark 1:3; <420304>Luke 3:4,) and applied to John the Baptist, as if these things had been foretold concerning him, and not unjustly; for he held the highest rank among the messengers and heralds of our redemption, of which the deliverance from Babylon was only a type. And, indeed, at the time when the Church arose out of her wretched and miserable condition, her mean appearance bore a stronger resemblance than the Babylonish captivity to a “wilderness;” but God wished that they should see plainly, in the wilderness in which John taught, the image and likeness of that miserably ruinous condition by which the whole beauty of the Church was injured and almost destroyed. What is here described metaphorically by the Prophet was at that time actually fulfilled; for at an exceedingly disordered and ruinous crisis John lifted up the banner of joy. True, indeed, the same voice had been previously uttered by Daniel, Zechariah, and others; but the nearer the redemption approached, the more impressively could it be proclaimed by John, who also pointed out Christ with the finger. (<430129>John 1:29.) But because, in the midst of a nation which was ignorant and almost sunk in stupidity, there were few that sincerely grieved for their ruinous condition, John sought a wilderness, that the very sight of the place might arouse careless persons to hope and desire the promised deliverance. As to his denying that he was a Prophet, (<430121>John 1:21,) this depends on the end of his calling and the substance of his doctrine; for he was not sent to discharge apart any continued office, but, as a herald, to gain an audience for Christ his Master and Lord. What is here said about removing obstructions, he applies skilfully to individuals, on this ground, that the depravity of our nature, the windings of a crooked mind, and obstinacy of heart, shut up the way of the Lord, and hinder them from preparing, by true self-denial, to yield obedience.

4. Every valley shall be exalted. He confirms and asserts the preceding statement; for he shews that no difficulties can prevent the Lord from delivering and restoring his Church whenever he shall think fit. These words might with propriety be rendered in the imperative mood, “Let every valley be exalted,” F713 so as to be placed in immediate connection with the command which God gives by his prophets to prepare and level the way for himself; but it makes hardly any difference in the meaning. Let us be satisfied with understanding the Prophet’s design, “that, although many and formidable difficulties are started to hinder the salvation of the Church, still the hand of God will be victorious and will prevail.”

And every mountain and hill shall be laid low. It ought to be observed that many obstructions always arise whenever God makes provision for our deliverance, or wishes to aid the afflicted; and although his glory is more fully displayed by these obstructions, yet we suffer no loss; for we behold more clearly his wonderful power when no strength, or efforts, or contrivances of men can prevent him from gaining his object. He conducts his people through “mountains” and steep places in such a manner as if the road were perfectly level; and by the words mountains and hills, the Prophet undoubtedly intends to denote metaphorically obstructions of every kind; for Satan attempts in every way to hinder our salvation. When we come, therefore, to spiritual redemption, these words undoubtedly include both internal and external obstacles, — lusts and wicked desires, ambition, foolish confidence, and impatience, which retard us wonderfully, but the Lord will break them all down; for when he stretches out his hand, nothing can restrain or drive him back.

5. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed. He means that this work of redemption will be splendid, so that the Lord will shew that he is the Author of it, and will illustriously display his majesty and power. This, indeed, is very openly manifested in all places and in all events, but he promises that he will do this especially in protecting and delivering his Church, and not without good reason; for the deliverance of the Church, from its commencement down to the coming of Christ, might be called a renewal of the world. F714 And because the power of God, which he had formerly been accustomed to display, was almost extinguished, so that scarcely the slightest traces were discernible, as it is said in the Psalm, “We do not see our signs,” (<197409>Psalm 74:9;) this was a very seasonable warning, that a new and striking demonstration is promised, by which they may perceive that God has in his power various methods of giving relief, even when he conceals them for a time.

And all flesh shall see. He now heightens the miracle by an additional circumstance, that it will be known not only in Judea, but in foreign and distant countries; for by these words “All flesh shall see,” he means that there will be no nations that do not see clearly that the return of the people is a heavenly work, and that God did not speak in vain by the Prophet. Thus he censures the unbelief of men, who never rely on the promises of God, and who treat as fables whatever is said by the prophets, till by beholding the actual fact they are constrained to yield.

That the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken. Here we are taught what is the true method of correcting our unbelief; that is, to be employed in meditating on the promises of God, and to have our faith strengthened by all the proofs of them which he exhibits. Thus it is proper to join doctrine with experience; for since the sight of God’s works would produce little impression on us, he first enlightens us by the torch of his word, and next seals the truth of it by the actual accomplishment.

6. The voice said, Cry. He now describes a different “voice” from that of which he formerly spoke; for hitherto he had spoken about the “voice” of the prophets, but now he means the “voice” of God himself commanding the prophets to cry. Although the voice of the prophets is also the voice of God, whose instruments they are, (for they do not speak of themselves,) (<610120>2 Peter 1:20, 21,) yet this distinction is necessary, that we may know when the Lord commands, and when the prophets and ministers execute his commandments. There is also a beautiful comparison between the two “voices,” that we may receive with as much reverence what the prophets utter as if God himself thundered from heaven; for they speak only by his mouth, and repeat as ambassadors what he has commissioned them to declare. Besides, this preface gives notice that the Prophet is about to speak of something highly important; for, although he everywhere testifies that he faithfully delivers from hand to hand what he has received from God, yet, in order to obtain closer attention, he states that the voice of God has expressly enjoined the mode of speaking which he shall employ. Such is also the import of the word Cry, as if he had said that he must proclaim this commandment in a clear and loud voice, that it may make the deeper impression.

And I said, What shall I cry? The addition of this question has great weight; for the Prophet means that he does not break forth at random, and boast of what he appeared to have heard in a confused manner; but that he received clear and undoubted instruction, after having waited for it with composure. Besides, from the fact itself we may learn that there is nothing here that is superfluous, because two chief points of heavenly doctrine were to be briefly handled; that, although man is smoke and vanity, and all his excellence is deceitful and fading, yet believers have the best reason for glorying, because they seek salvation not from themselves; and that, although they are strangers on the earth, (<581113>Hebrews 11:13,) yet they possess heavenly happiness, because God unites himself to them by his word; for by renouncing ourselves we are led to desire the grace of God. The Prophet knew, indeed, what he ought to say; but by this question he intended to make a stronger impression on their minds, in order to shew that he and all the other servants of God are constrained by necessity to utter this sentiment, and that they cannot begin to teach in any other manner, though they should put a hundred questions and inquiries; as indeed they will gain nothing by choosing to adopt any other method.

As to the word Cry, I have no objection to view it as denoting both boldness and clearness; because prophets ought not to mutter in an obscure manner, but to pronounce their message with a distinct voice, and to utter boldly and with open mouth whatever they have been commanded to declare. Let every one, therefore, who is called to this office constantly remember and believe, that he ought to meet difficulties of every sort with unshaken boldness, such as was always manifested both by prophets and by apostles.

“Wo to me,” says Paul, “if I do not preach the gospel; for necessity is laid on me.” (<460916>1 Corinthians 9:16.)

All flesh is grass. First, it ought to be observed, that he does not speak merely of the frailty of human life, but extends the discourse farther, so as to reduce to nothing all the excellence which men think that they possess. David indeed compares this life to grass, (<19A315>Psalm 103:15,) because it is fading and transitory; but the context shews that the Prophet does not speak only of the outward man, but includes the gifts of the mind, of which men are exceedingly proud, such as prudence, courage, acuteness, judgment, skill in the transactions of business, in which they think that they excel other animals; and this is more fully expressed by that which immediately follows —

All the grace of it. Some translate wdsj (chasdo) “his glory;” others, “his kindness;” but I have preferred the word “grace,” by which I mean everything that procures honor and esteem to men. Yet a passive signification may also be admitted; as if the Prophet had said, that all that is excellent and worthy of applause among men is the absolute kindness of God. Thus David calls God “the God of his kindness,” (<195910>Psalm 59:10, 17,) because he acknowledges him to be the author of all blessings, and ascribes it to his grace that he has obtained them so largely and abundantly. It is indeed certain that dsj (chesed) here denotes all that is naturally most highly valued among men, and that the Prophet condemns it for vanity, because there is an implied contrast between the ordinary nature of mankind and the grace of regeneration.

Some commentators refer this to the Assyrians, as if the Prophet, by extenuating their power and wealth, and industry and exertions, or rather by treating these as they had no existence, freed the minds of the Jews from terror. They bring out the meaning in this manner, “If you are terrified at the strength of men, remember that they are flesh, which quickly gives way through its own weakness. But their error is soon afterwards refuted by the context, in which the Prophet expressly applies it to the Jews themselves. We ought carefully to observe that man, with his faculties, on account of which he is accustomed to value himself so highly, is wholly compared to a flower. All men are fully convinced of the frailty of human life, and on this subject heathen writers have argued at great length; but it is far more difficult to root out the confidence which men entertain through a false opinion of their wisdom; for, if they imagine that they have either knowledge or industry beyond others, they think that they have a right to glory in them. But he shews that in man there is nothing so excellent as not to fade quickly and perish.

As the flower of the field. The Prophet seems, as if in mockery, to add a sort of correction; for a flower is something more than grass. It is, therefore, an acknowledgment, that, although men have some shining qualities, like flowers in the fields, yet the beauty and lustre quickly vanish and pass away, so that it is useless for them to flatter or applaud themselves on account of this idle and deceitful splendor.

7. The grass is withered. This might be understood to relate to the beauty of the fields, which is spoiled by a single gust of wind, as it is said, (<19A316>Psalm 103:16,) “As soon as the wind passeth over it, it is gone;” for we know that the wind is called “the Spirit of God” in other passages. But I am more inclined to think that the metaphor is adapted to the present subject; for otherwise the application of it would be somewhat obscure. The Prophet therefore explains what object he has in view, by saying that men, with all their glory, are nothing else than grass; theft is, because the Spirit of God will quickly carry them away by a single breath.

Because the Spirit of Jehovah hath blown upon it. The meaning may be thus explained, “However illustrious are the gifts with which men are endowed, yet as soon as the Spirit of God shall blow upon them, they shall fed that they are nothing.” For the false confidence with which they intoxicate themselves springs from this source, that they do not appear before God, but, in order to indulge freely in flattering themselves, creep into places of concealment. That they may no longer deceive themselves by a foolish delight in falsehood, the Prophet drags them into the presence of God, and admits that apparently they flourish, when they have been withdrawn from God; but as soon as the Lord has breathed upon them, all their strength and beauty perish and decay.

But it may be thought that he assigns to “the Spirit of God” an office which is greatly at variance with his nature; for it belongs to him “to renew by his power the face of the earth.” (<19A430>Psalm 104:30.) On the other hand, if the Lord withdraw his Spirit, all is reduced to nothing. Here Isaiah asserts what is exceedingly different, and appears to contradict David. But there is no absurdity in saying that all things are renewed by the power of the Spirit, and again, that what formerly appeared to be something is reduced to nothing; for we are nothing but in God, and, in order that we may begin to be something in him, we must first be convinced, and made thoroughly to know, that we are vanity. Therefore does the Lord breathe upon us, that we may know that of ourselves we are nothing.

Surely the people is grass. The Prophet added this, that all might know that he was not speaking of foreigners, but of that people which gloried in the name of God; for the Jews might have thought that they were more excellent, and held a higher rank than other men, and that on this account they ought to be exempted from the common lot. He therefore addresses theta expressly and by name, that they may not claim anything for themselves above others; as if he had said, that they would act wisely if, through a conviction of their poverty, they should cast away all confidence in themselves. In a word, the Prophet, after having mentioned consolation, shews in what way men must be prepared to receive it; for they are not capable of it till they have formerly been reduced to nothing. Our hardness must therefore be softened, our haughtiness must be east down and laid low, our boasting must be put to shame, and our hearts must be subdued and humbled, if we wish to receive with any advantage the consolations which the prophets bring to us by the command of God.

8. The grass withereth. This repetition is again added for the purpose of bringing to nought the glory of the flesh, but at the same time contains within itself a highly valuable consolation, that God, when he has cast down his people, immediately raises up and restores them. The context therefore runs thus: “The grass indeed withereth and perisheth, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” After having learned how empty and destitute we are of all blessings, how transitory and fading is the glory of the flesh, the only consolation left for us, that we may be raised up by the word of the Lord, as by an outstretched hand, is, that we are frail and fading, but that the word of the Lord is durable and eternal, and, in a word, that the life which we need is offered to us from another quarter.

But the word of our God shall stand for ever. This passage comprehends the whole Gospel in few words; for it consists of an acknowledgment of our misery, poverty, and emptiness, that, being sincerely humbled, we may fly to God, by whom alone we shall be perfectly restored. Let not men therefore faint or be discouraged by the knowledge of their nakedness and emptiness; for the eternal word is exhibited to them by which they may be abundantly supported and upheld. We are likewise taught that we ought not to seek consolation from any other source than from eternity, which ought not to be sought anywhere else than in God; since nothing that is firm or durable will be found on the earth. Nothing is more foolish than to rest satisfied with the present state, which we see to be fleeting; and every man is mistaken who hopes to be able to obtain perfect happiness till he has ascended to God, whom the Scripture calls eternal, in order that we may know that life flows to us from him; and indeed he adopts us to be his children on this condition, to make us partakers of his immortality.

But this would be of no avail, if the manner of seeking him were not pointed out; and therefore he exhibits the word, from which we must not in any respect turn aside; for if we make the smallest departure from it, we shall be involved in strange labyrinths, and shall find no way of extricating ourselves. Now, the word is called eternal, not merely in itself, but in us; and this ought to be particularly observed, because otherwise we could obtain no consolation. And thus Peter, a faithful expounder of this passage, applies it to us, when he says that “we are regenerated by this incorruptible seed, that is,” says he, “by the word which is preached.” (<600123>1 Peter 1:23, 25.) Hence we infer, what I mentioned a little before, that life is prepared for the dead who shall come thirsting to the fountain that is exhibited to them; for the power which is hid in God is revealed to us by the word.

9. Ascend on the high mountain. He proceeds with the same subject; for the Lord, having formerly promised that he would give prophets who should soothe the grief and fear of the people by promises, now commands that this consolation shall be more widely spread; because it is his pleasure to diffuse his grace throughout the whole of Judea.

Lift up thy voice aloud, O Jerusalem. Formerly he had given to Jerusalem, and Zion the hope of this joyful message; now he commands that the same voice shall be spread and shall be heard through other cities, and, for this reason, gives orders that the loud voice shall be lifted up, and proclaimed from a lofty place. Although by the words “Zion” and “Jerusalem” he means the same thing, yet the repetition is emphatic; for he shews that one city excels all other cities, for no other reason than because God hath chosen it to be his sanctuary.

That bringest tidings. He gives to the city this appellation, because there the priests and Levites were instructed according to the injunctions of the Law, that they might be the teachers of the whole people, and by their labors might spread the doctrine of salvation. (<390207>Malachi 2:7.) Yet we ought carefully to observe this commendation which God bestows on his Church, that it may not be without a clear mark of distinction; for an assembly in which the preaching of heavenly doctrine is not heard does not deserve to be reckoned a Church. In this sense also, Paul calls it (<540315>1 Timothy 3:15) “the pillar and foundation of the truth;” for although God might have governed us by himself, and without the agency of men, yet he has assigned this office to his Church, and has committed to it the invaluable treasure of his Word. For the same reason it will be called in another passage, “the mother of all believers.” (<235401>Isaiah 54:1; <480426>Galatians 4:26.) Hence it follows that nothing is more absurd and wicked than for dumb idols to boast of the name of the Church, as is done in Popery.

We are likewise taught, that the Church has not been instructed by God, in order that she may keep her knowledge hidden within herself, but that she may publish what she has learned. Besides, he commands that grace shall be freely and boldly proclaimed, that prophets and teachers may not speak with timidity, as if it were a doubtful matter, but may shew that they are fully convinced of the certainty of those things which they promise, because they know well that “God, who cannot lie,” (<560102>Titus 1:2,) is the Author of them. He enjoins the witnesses of his grace to proceed from Zion, that they may fill with joy the whole of Judea.

Behold your God! This expression includes the sum of our happiness, which consists solely in the presence of God. It brings along with it an abundance of all blessings; and if we are destitute of it, we must be utterly miserable and wretched; and although blessings of every kind are richly enjoyed by us, yet if we are estranged from God, everything must tend to our destruction. From this circumstance it ought also to be remarked, that nothing is more opposite to faith than to estimate by the present appearances of things what God declares by his prophets, who at that time must ha:re been struck dumb, had they not raised their views above the world, and thus, through the power of unshaken boldness and perseverance, dared to draw others along with them, that they might cherish good hopes when matters were at the worst. And indeed when wicked men and wickedness prevail, the greater the terror that is spread all around, and the greater the seeming wretchedness of the Church, the more ought we to extol the grace of God, and to point out his presence to believers. F715

10. Behold, the Lord Jehovah. He adorns this short sentence by many words, because some explanation was needed; and he again uses the word Behold for the sake of certainty, in order to impart greater confidence to the hearts of good men. Thus he shews more clearly how great advantage they derive from the presence of God. And first, he says, that he will come with strength, and that strength not unemployed, but accompanied by such an effect as we shall perceive.

And his arm shall be powerful to him. F716 wl (lo), which we have translated to him, is translated by others of himself; or, perhaps, it will be thought preferable to translate it, “He is powerful, or reigns for himself.” The meaning is, that God is sufficient for himself, and does not need the assistance of any one.

Behold, his reward is with him, and his work before his face. By the repetition of the words “reward” and “work,” he states more clearly what has been already expressed; for it is very customary with Hebrew writers to express the same thing in two different ways. “Reward” does not here denote what is due to merits, but the justice of God, by which he testifies that he is a rewarder to all who truly and sincerely call upon him. (<581106>Hebrews 11:6.) That this is the signification of the word rk (sachar) is known to all who are moderately acquainted with the Hebrew language. The meaning may be thus summed up: “God will not come to be beheld by us as unemployed, but to display his power, and to make us feel it;” and thus, instead of the word “work,” the word “effect” would not be inapplicable. Many persons attempt an ingenious exposition of these words, and enter into childish discussion about the words “work” and “reward,” as if the “work” were a merit on which a “reward” is bestowed. But nothing was farther from the view of the Prophet; for he repeats the same thing, as we have already said, and declares the result of the coming of the Lord, from which believers will derive the highest advantage.

11. As a shepherd. In this verse he declares what is the nature of that work of the Lord; for since he works in various and, indeed, in innumerable ways, the hearer might have been kept in suspense as to the work which God intended to accomplish; and thus the general doctrine would have been less efficacious in exciting hope. Though he does not describe every part, yet he states in a few words that God has determined to protect and guard his Church. On this account he compares him to “a shepherd;” and under this designation he expresses his infinite love towards us, when he does not refuse to stoop so low as to perform towards us the office of “a shepherd.” In other passages, and even a little before, (<233402>Isaiah 34:2, etc.,) he described himself as armed with terrible power for the defense of his people, and a little after this he repeats the same statement; but here he ascribes to him a more amiable character, that believers may sweetly repose under his protection.

He will feed his flock. Now, although by the word “flock” he describes an elect people, whom he had undertaken to govern, yet we are reminded that God will be a shepherd to none but to those who, in modesty and gentleness, shall imitate the sheep and lambs. For this reason we ought to observe the character of the flock; for he does not choose to feed savage beasts, but lambs. We must therefore lay aside our fierceness, and permit ourselves to be tamed, if we wish to be gathered into the fold of which God promises that he will be the guardian.

He will carry them in his bosom. These words describe God’s wonderful condescension; for not only is he actuated by a general feeling of regard to his whole flock, but, in proportion to the weakness of any one sheep, he shews his carefulness in watching, his gentleness in handling, and his patience in leading it. Here he leaves out nothing that belongs to the office of a good shepherd; for the shepherd ought to observe every sheep, so as to treat it according to its capacity; and especially they ought to be supported, if they are exceedingly weak. In a word, God will be mild, kind, gentle, and compassionate, so that he will not drive the weak harder than they are able to bear.

12. Who hath measured? After having spoken of God’s friendly care in defending his people, he now proclaims his power, and bestows upon it all possible commendations, which, however, would produce less impression upon us, if we did not attend to the Prophet’s design. At first sight, ignorant readers would think that the Prophet crowds together unfinished sentences, which would be absurd. But if we look at his object, he adorns the power of God by a seasonable and elegant discourse, which is a true support of our faith, that we may not hesitate to believe that he will do what he has promised. Not without reason does Paul say that Abraham did not hesitate, because he believed that God who had promised was able to perform what he had said. (<450420>Romans 4:20, 21.) In the same sense also he testifies of himself in another passage,

“I know whom I have believed; God is able to keep what I have committed to him.” (<550112>2 Timothy 1:12.)

Such is also the import of those words of Christ,

“My Father who gave you to me is greater than all.”
(<431029>John 10:29.)

Since, therefore, we ought continually to strive against distrust, and since Satan attacks us by various contrivances, it is of great importance that the promises of God should be believed by us, to give to his power the praise which it deserves. Now, because the restoration of the people was beyond belief, it was necessary that godly minds should he raised above the world, that they might not view the grace of God as limited to human means.

We see that the Prophet does not merely teach that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, but applies to the present subject all that he relates concerning God’s infinite power; and in like manner it is fitted for our guidance. When any adversity befalls us, our salvation is hidden, and, as if a cloud had come between, the power of God is concealed; we are held in astonishment, as if the Lord had forsaken and overlooked us. Let us not, therefore, think that the Prophet speaks of some ordinary matter; for if this conviction of the power of God were deeply seated in our hearts, we would not be so much alarmed, and would not be disturbed by any calamity whatever. On this power, as we have said, Abraham leaned, that he might cordially embrace what was otherwise incredible; and, accordingly, Paul affirms (<450418>Romans 4:18) that “he hoped against hope;” for he believed that God was able to do what he had said, and did not waver or stagger in his mind. We are thus taught to raise our eyes above this world, that we may not judge by outward appearances, but may believe that what God hath spoken will come to pass; because all things are at his disposal.

While this conviction is necessary for all, I have said that the Jews had very great need of it; for they were pressed hard by very powerful enemies, they had no means of escape and no hope of freedom, and nothing was to be seen on every hand but a large and frightful wilderness. In vain, therefore, would consolation have been offered to them, had they not, at the suggestion of the Prophet, raised their minds to heaven, and, disregarding the appearances of things, fixed their whole heart on the power of God.

When he names “measures,” which are used by men in very small matters, he accommodates himself to our ignorance; for thus does the Lord often prattle with us, and borrow comparisons from matters that are familiar to us, when he speaks of his majesty; that our ignorant and limited minds may better understand his greatness and excellence. Away, then, with all gross conceptions of God; for his greatness far exceeds all creatures, so that heaven, and earth, and sea, and all that they contain, however vast may be their extent, yet in comparison of him are nothing.

13. Who instructed the Spirit of Jehovah? What the Prophet had formerly taught concerning the Lord’s goodness and power he now adds concerning his wisdom. And we ought to observe the connection; for, us carnal sense wickedly limits the power of God to human means, so it improperly subjects his inscrutable counsel to human reasonings. Till God be exalted above all creatures, many difficulties present themselves to interrupt the course of his works; and, therefore, if we form a judgment according to our own opinion, various scruples will immediately arise. Thus, whenever we do not see how God will do this or that, we doubt if it will take place; because what surpasses our reason appears to be impossible. Consequently, as we ought to contrast, the power of God with our weakness, so our insolence ought to be repressed by his incomparable, wisdom.

By inquiring, who guided or directed the Spirit of God, he means that God had no need of a teacher, to go before and inform him about things unknown. Spirit here denotes reason, judgment, or understanding; for he borrows a comparison from the nature of men, that he may more fully accommodate himself to them; and I do not think that this ought to be understood as denoting the essential Spirit of God.

14. From whom took he counsel? The Prophet expresses the same thing in many ways; that we may know that nothing is more foolish than man, F717 when he ventures to lift himself up into heaven, to examine or judge by his own ability the works of God. In these words, therefore, Isaiah intended to repress more and more the insolence and rashness of men. Paul quotes this proof for the same purpose, to deter us from judging of the unsearchable counsel of God; for God does not wish us to inquire concerning his wisdom but in a sober and becoming manner. (<451134>Romans 11:34.) There is one difference, that Paul affirms that the spiritual mystery of the gospel cannot be fathomed by the human understanding, while the Prophet pronounces a commendation, in general terms, on the providence of God. But on both points we ought to learn humility, and to bring all our senses captive to obedience. All the reason or understanding that we have is mere darkness, till we have been enlightened by Christ.

15. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket. If we wish to understand the Prophet’s meaning, and to read these words with advantage, we must (as I remarked a little before) understand his design. He does not celebrate the greatness of God in a detached manner, but extols it with the utmost. possible adaptation to the present subject, that Israelites may know that this shield alone is sufficient to protect them, and that they will have no reason to dread the efforts, or rage, or violence of the world, if God be reconciled to them, and that they may thus learn to betake themselves to God’s protection; for if they were not fully convinced of this, there would arise at every moment various causes of despair. Isaiah thus continues the subject, when he says that all nations and peoples are nothing when compared with God; for, by simply breathing on them, he will scatter like small dust all the inhabitants of the earth. In consequence of our being excessively prone and foolishly ingenious in devising reasons of distrust, we imagine that everything that Satan does for the purpose of hindering our salvation blocks up the path of God. For the purpose of correcting this error, the Prophet declares that all the creatures are nothing before God, and that all the nations resemble small and inconsiderable drops of water. Hence we infer that nothing can be more contrary to reason than to exalt creatures for the sake of diminishing the power of God, which is high above all, and ought to be so acknowledged.

16. And Lebanon would not be sufficient. That is, “If we must sacrifice to God according to what he deserves, neither the whole of Lebanon, nor the beasts that graze upon it, would be sufficient for a sacrifice.” By various forms of expression he dwells largely on this power of God, that men, being’ convinced of it, may care nothing about creatures and all their might. Yet the Prophet appears to speak expressly of the worship of God, in order to lead readers to cherish deeper reverence for him; as if he had said, “Will you dare to measure by your own judgment the power of God, whom you will not be prepared, for worshipping aright, even though you should amass all the beasts and all the wood that are on Lebanon?” Hence some infer that no man can entitle himself to the favor of God by sacrifices. This, indeed, is true; but we ought, as has been already said, to consider the design of the Prophet, who, for the purpose of encouraging the Jews to cherish stronger confidence, shews that in comparison of God all things are nothing.

17. All nations. He repeats what he had said, that it is in the power and at the disposal of God to destroy “all nations,” whenever he shall think proper; and that, even while they remain in their present condition, they are reckoned as nothing before him. But it may be thought absurd for him to say, that “the nations are nothing,” since God created them, that they might be something. I reply, this is said by comparison; for the depravity of the human mind is such that it obscures the divine majesty, and places above it those things which ought to have been subject to God; and, therefore, when we come to that contest, we may boldly declare that everything that is compared with God is worthless. Nor does Isaiah speak merely about the nature of men, such as it was created by God; but his aim is to abase and restrain their pride, when they venture to exalt themselves against God. We know that we cannot subsist but in God, in whom alone, as Paul declares, “we live, and move, and are.” (<441728>Acts 17:28.) Nothing is more vain than man; and, as David says,

“If he be laid in the balance with vanity, he will be found to be even lighter than vanity.” (<196209>Psalm 62:9.)

In the same manner does Isaiah affirm that “the nations” are not only “nothing,” but “less than nothing.” in order to exhibit more fully their feebleness and vanity. F718

18. To whom then have ye likened God? The Jews were in great danger from another temptation; for there was reason to believe that the Assyrians and Babylonians would not have obtained so many victories without their assistance; and hence they might naturally conclude, “Of what avail is it to us to have a peculiar manner of worshipping God which differs from other nations; for our enemies fight under the favor and protection of heaven, while we are not cheered by any assistance from the God whom we worship?” Neither can there be any doubt, that the captives were taunted by unbelievers, as is evident from other passages. (<19D703>Psalm 137:3; <250215>Lamentations 2:15.) That true religion may not be ruined among the Jews on account of the calamity which they had sustained, God rises up, and proclaims that a grievous injury is done to him, if believers, discouraged by adversity, turn aside to the idols and superstitions of the Gentiles. Thus he confirms them in the faith of the promises, that they may not sink under the weight of the punishments which they endure.

The Prophet, as we formerly suggested, does not address merely the men of his own age, but posterity, who would have a still severer contest with the mockeries of the nations whose captives they were, and likewise with bad examples and customs; for when, in consequence of being mingled with heathen nations, they daily beheld many corruptions of piety, it was more difficult for them steadily to persevere. That they might not entertain any foolish notion that high prosperity attended the worshippers of false gods, the Prophet meets this error, and reminds them that God, whom they and their fathers worshipped, ought not to be compared with the gods of the Gentiles; for these were made by men, and were composed of gold or silver, wood or stone; but God created all things; and therefore that the highest injury is done to God, not only by comparing his majesty with things of no value, but even by not, placing him far above all the angels and everything that is reckoned divine.

When Paul employs this passage (<441729>Acts 17:29) as a proof against idolaters, or at least quotes the words of the Prophet, he does not wrest them from their true meaning. He infers, indeed, from them that to frame any image of God is exceedingly wicked, while the Prophet, in guarding the Jews against distrust, at the same time condemns the superstitions of the Gentiles, and declares that it is inconsistent with the nature of God to be represented by painting or by any kind of likeness. This shews clearly that Paul’s doctrine fully agrees with it; for the Prophet, after having shewn that the power of God is infinite, since he holds all things in his fist, at length concludes, To whom then will ye liken me? for no image that is formed will have any likeness or resemblance to me.”

Or ,what resemblance will you appoint to him? This is a useful doctrine, and worthy of observation; for were there nothing more than this single passage, it would be perfectly sufficient for refuting the inventions by which Papists deceive themselves, when they think that they have a right to represent God by outward figures. The Prophet declares that it is impossible to frame out of dead matter an image which shall have any resemblance to the glory of God. He openly rejects idols, and does not even speak of the worship of them, but affirms that to manufacture and set them up before God is wicked and abominable. The Scripture is full of such proofs. Moses warned a people prone to this vice,

“Thou sawest no image or shape in the mountain, thou only heardest a voice. See then and beware that thou be not led astray so as to frame for thyself any image.” (<050412>Deuteronomy 4:12, 15.)

In order to know God, therefore, we must not frame a likeness of him according to our own fancy, but we must betake ourselves to the Word, in which his lively image is exhibited to us. Satisfied with that communication, let us not attempt anything else of our own. Other ways and methods, such as idols and images, teach us vanity and falsehood, and not truth, as Jeremiah beautifully says, “The wood is the instruction of vanities,” (<241008>Jeremiah 10:8,) and Habakkuk, “His graven image is falsehood.” (<350218>Habakkuk 2:18.) When the Lord sometimes compares himself to a lion, a bear, a man, or other objects, this has nothing to do with images, as the Papists imagine, but by those metaphors either the kindness and mercy of God, or his wroth and displeasure, and other things of the same nature, are expressed; for God cannot reveal himself to us in any other way than by a comparison with things which we know. In short, if it were lawful to frame or set up an image of God, that would be a point of resemblance to the gods of the Gentiles, and this declaration of the Prophet could not be maintained.

19. The carver prepares a graven image. As public opinion has great force, and everything that pleases the multitude passes for a law, the Prophet fortifies believers against this error. These words therefore convey an anticipation, that the Jews may not be terrified when they see the Gentiles laboring with all their might to make idols, for in this way they deceive and ensnare each other. But he attacks the madness of the whole world, F719 on this ground, that all are impelled by such outrageous zeal to the practice of superstition, and every man is his own instructor in the formation of idols.

20. The poor chooseth for his offering wood that will not rot. He concludes that no class of men is free from that crime, that the rich and poor alike are guilty and condemned; for the rich make their gods of gold or silver, and the poor of wood which they had selected. Hence he shews that all men are carried away by strange madness, and that even though they have not the means, still they desire to have something excellent for the worship of their gods. Men wish to enjoy the presence of God, and this is the beginning and source of idolatry; for God is not present with us by an idol, but by his word and by the power of his Spirit; and although he holds out to us in the sacraments an image both of his grace and of spiritual blessings, yet this is done with no other intention than to lead us upwards to himself. Yet the Prophet censures the folly of men, who are so blind as to labor with excessive industry and ingenuity in highly adorning their idols.

21. Do ye not know? After having ridiculed the stupidity and madness of the Gentiles, the Prophet turns to the Jews; for we are all prone to superstition, and thus we easily fall into it when any example is placed before our eyes. In consequence of mixing with the Babylonians during their captivity, the Jews were constrained to behold daily the basest examples of idolatry, and might be led away to wicked imitation. Isaiah therefore anticipates this at an early period, and warns them not to be carried away by the sight of such things.

He asks, “Have they not been taught, and have they not learned who is God?” The greater part of commentators think that all the questions here put are a repetition of the same truth, namely, that the creation of the world shews clearly that nothing can be more inconsistent than to seek God in wood and stone, silver and gold. But we may infer from the context that there are two clauses. Had he proceeded in his expostulation with the Gentiles, he would have brought forward no other witnesses than heaven and earth. But because he addresses the Jews who had been plainly taught by the Law, he brings forward direct arguments to refute them, drawn both from the order of nature and from the voice of God. And, first, he puts the question in general terms, “Do ye not know?” Next, he adds two methods by which they ought to have distinguished between the true God and the false gods. The former is drawn from the hearing of the Word, and therefore he expressly says, “Hath it not been told you? Have ye not heard?”

The latter method is borrowed from that magnificent theatre F720 in which the glory of God shines above and below. If the discourse had been addressed to foreigners and heathens, he would have been satisfied with this second demonstration, as we see that Paul also was; for, having to do with the inhabitants of Lystra, to whom no knowledge of heavenly doctrine had been conveyed, he employs none but natural arguments, that “God, by giving rain and sunshine, did not leave himself (ajma>rturon)without witness.” (<441417>Acts 14:17.) But when the Prophet spoke to the Jews about true godliness, it would have been improper for him to pass by the Law, which rendered them doubly inexcusable if, by neglecting it, they profaned themselves with unbelievers; for they had been convinced not only by the sight of their eyes, but also by the hearing of their cars, which God beat incessantly by the preaching of his Law. Since, therefore, from their mother’s womb they had sucked along with the milk the true knowledge of God, and had been taught by their fathers through a long succession of generations, the Prophet justly argues that they will be exceedingly ungrateful and wicked, if such assistance produce no good effect upon them.

Hath it not been told you from the beginning? The phrase, from the beginning, or “long ago,” conveys the idea that not only had they been educated from childhood in the pure worship of God, but during a succession of ages there had been largely enjoyed by that nation a doctrine which would not suffer them to go astray, provided that they were attentive; as if he had said, “Ye have not any new God, but the same God who revealed himself from the beginning to Abraham, Moses, and the rest of the fathers.” And indeed it yields no small confirmation, that the doctrine which had been continued among believers during so many ages must have been ancient. Not that antiquity alone is sufficient for establishing the certainty of faith, (for, on the contrary, the Gentiles might easily have objected, that their superstitions were not less ancient,) but since “from the beginning” the authority of the Law had been abundantly ratified, and God had testified that it came from him, long experience added no small confirmation, when they knew that their ancestors had delivered to posterity a form of religion which they could not throw away without receiving the stamp of base apostasy. Such a commencement, therefore, and such progress quickly remove all doubt. It is one and the same faith that has been held by us and by our fathers, for they and we have acknowledged the same God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same word, the same promises, and the same end, have been exhibited to all believers.

From the foundations of the earth. This is figurative language, in which a part is taken for the whole; for a part of the world is put; for the whole world. God has exhibited this world as a mirror to men, that by beholding it they may acknowledge his majesty, so that it is a lively image of invisible things, as Paul explains at great length in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Their ignorance is therefore “without excuse;” for they cannot allege that they do not know God who has revealed himself in so many ways. (<450120>Romans 1:20.) And indeed men sin more through insolence and pride than through ignorance; for they despise God who manifests himself openly and speaks plainly, and their attention is occupied with creatures, and with the most trifling matters. Has such contempt any title to be excused? Do they not deserve to be blinded, and to adore their own inventions instead of God, which we see has happened to almost all? Such punishment is unquestionably just and due to so great pride. And if to that knowledge which we obtain through the creatures there be likewise added the doctrine of the word, we are much less excusable. Isaiah has therefore joined both kinds of knowledge, in order to shew that the Jews ought to be doubly condemned, if they did not place confidence in God, after having received instruction concerning his power and goodness.

22. It is he that sitteth. He pursues the same subject, though in a different manner, and extols the glory and power of God. Why he does so we have already in some measure explained. It is because we are so prone to distrust, that the very smallest occasion makes us waver; and therefore the Prophet is constrained to repeat the same thing in many ways, that he may keep our weak and inconstant hearts in the exercise of confidence in God. Formerly he spoke of the creation of the world, but now he comes to the continual government of it; for God did not only for a single moment exert his power for creating the world, but he manifests his power not less efficaciously in preserving it. And this is worthy of observation; for our minds would be little impressed by knowing that God is the creator of the world, if his hand were not continually stretched out for upholding it in existence. By the word sitteth the Prophet means, that the earth does not remain firmly and permanently in its place any further than as it is upheld by the power of God; for “sitting” is a metaphorical term which denotes “government.”

The inhabitants of which are as locusts. By comparing the inhabitants of the earth to locusts, he reminds us that God cannot be confined within such narrow boundaries, because “even the heavens (<110827>1 Kings 8:27)do not contain him;” that we may learn, whenever we mention God, to conceive nothing earthly or human as belonging to his incomprehensible glory. Besides, this metaphor shews how ridiculous is the blindness of men when they claim anything for themselves; for they gain by their boastings just as much as if some small creatures, such as locusts, would elevate themselves by leaping; but they must immediately fall back on the earth.

Spreadeth it out as a tent. David also employs the same form of expression, (<19A402>Psalm 104:2,) and both speak of the aspect and spreading out of the heavens with respect to us; for they do not mean that God spreads out the heavens, that he may dwell in them, but rather that there may be given to us a place of habitation under them; for while the earth sustains, the heavens cover us, so that we have a dwelling close and covered on all sides.

But it may be thought that these metaphors detract greatly from the dignity of the subject of which the Prophet discourses, while his object is to commend and exalt it to the utmost of his power. What is a curtain? What is a tent? I reply, these metaphors tend nevertheless to exalt the subject; for it is as if he had said, “that it is as easy for God to spread out heaven, as for a man to spread out a curtain.” And he leaves to every person to consider how great is the difference between heaven and a curtain, and what is their size, which any person may easily understand. Lastly, there is an implied contrast between tabernacles or houses F721 which men are long, and laboriously, and at great expense employed in building, and yet which hardly rise to a hundred feet, and the immeasurable height of the heavens spread out by an instantaneous act of the will of God, which makes abundantly manifest how great and how excellent a workman he is.

23. He bringeth the mighty to nothing. He proceeds in extolling the providence of God, by which he governs the whole world, but more especially mankind. Already and but a little ago he had begun to remark that God did not create the world, so as afterwards to allow it to be governed by chance, but that he undertakes the preservation of it, and keeps it under his power and authority; but as he deigns to look more closely at mankind, so the Prophet selects this department, that by means of it he may extol God’s providence. The sum of what he says is, that God’s government extends far and wide, so that he directs and governs everything according to his pleasure; but he shews, (what was also highly advantageous to be known,) that even in the life of men striking proofs of the immediate exercise of the power of God are visible, and, not even satisfied with the general doctrine, he brings forward one class which ought still more to arouse our attention.

The governors of the earth as if they were not. F722 Anything that happens to the undistinguished mass of common people is despised and passed by as unworthy of being observed; but when kingdoms and monarchies, or men of high rank, fall from their elevation, it. seems as if the earth had been shaken; and the Prophet skilfully avails himself of such proofs to arouse us. It might, indeed, be supposed that princes and magistrates are exempted from the common lot, and are not subject to the ordinary miseries of men; for by their splendor they dazzle the eyes and understandings of all men. But their lustre is entirely dimmed; and therefore the Prophet especially mentions them, and declares that the Lord “bringeth them to nothing.” And if the hand of God is so powerful against nobles and princes, what must we think of the common people? Will he not also treat the ordinary crowd according to his pleasure, and drive them wherever he thinks fit? Will he not either give or take away from them, whenever he pleases, both strength and courage?

24. It is as if they had not been planted. Though the particle a (aph) signifies also, yet in this passage it may be more appropriately rendered “so that;” and thus the plain meaning will be, “So that you may say that they were not planted or sown.” It is an amplification of what he had formerly said, for he shews that the princes are totally destroyed and rooted out, so that no trace of them is left, any more than if they had never existed. So long as they remain in prosperity, they appear to be so strong as to be beyond the possibility of being thrown down by any adverse event. F723 but such changes happen as blot out their name and remembrance, so that you would say that they had never existed; and we see that this has happened not only to men but even to very flourishing kingdoms.

Since, therefore, great downfalls are so many tokens of God’s dreadful power, let us learn not to lean on earthly and deceitful supports, but, whatever may be the amount of our riches or strength, let us depend on him. God does not, as heathen men babble, turn about this world like a ball, as if he took pleasure in this game; but whenever any person is highly elevated, he never ceases from insolent boasting till he is thrown down headlong, so that the judgments of God are always manifest. We are also reminded by it, that it is wrong to ascribe to fortune or to any other cause the various events that happen; for God was not an instantaneous Creator, that would immediately abandon the charge of his work, but incessantly applies his hand, so that nothing is done but by his will and pleasure. Seeing that various changes thus happen in the world, seeing that those things which were thought to be firm and stable are transitory and fading, let us turn our minds to that supreme providence of God.

Even while he bloweth on them. Hence he shows how light and trivial before God are those things which commonly dazzle our eyes and fill us with amazement; for we cannot think of any great king without being perfectly alarmed and stupified. But he shows that kings and princes are like stubble before God, by whose breath they are driven, as by a whirlwind, at any instant that he pleases. We are therefore taught that we ought never to be overwhelmed by the sight of any creature, so as not to render to God the honor and glory that are due to him. This ought to have been carefully considered by the Jews, who would have thought that that monarchy of the Babylonians, whose captives they were, would never be destroyed, and that they could not be rescued out of their hands, if they had not called to remembrance this doctrine, that nothing in this world is so durable that it may not be dissolved by the breath of God. That they may not despair of their salvation, the Prophet reminds them that God, as soon as he shall be pleased to thunder from heaven, will crush all that strength in their enemies that terrifies them, so that it shall vanish away.

25. And to whom will ye liken me? He repeats the former statement, (verse 18,) by which he said that the Lord would not suffer himself to be likened to idols; that the Jews might not in any degree detract, from his power, on account of their having been so long held captive in the hand of unbelievers, or think that idols are anything on account of the prosperity of their worshippers, whom they were compelled to serve; for, by reasoning in this manner about the power of the true God and of idols, they would have compared him with idols. On this account he repeats, as it were in indignation, “To whom will ye liken me?” as if he had said, “Will you rob me of my majesty by your comparisons?” For although men have various thoughts of God, and transform him according to their fancy, yet he continues to be like himself, for he does not change his nature on account of the inventions of men.

Saith the Holy One. He appropriately applies to God the term Holy, by which title he indirectly blames or accuses the Jews of base ingratitude, if, as they have been set apart by him, they do not sanctify him in return. No holiness will be found in the gods of the Gentiles; they are the mere inventions of men. A grievous injury therefore is done to God, and he is basely degraded from his rank, when idols are brought into collision with him, and when it becomes a subject of debate if they can do more than God himself.

26. Lift up your eyes on high. The Prophet appears to linger too long on this subject, more especially because it presents no obscurity; for he repeats by many statements what is acknowledged by all, that God’s wonderful power and wisdom may be known from the beautiful order of the world. But we ought to observe what I have already said, that we are so wicked and ungrateful judges of the divine power, that we often imagine God to be inferior to some feeble man. We are more terrified frequently by the empty mask of a single man F724 than we are strengthened by all the promises of God. Not in vain, therefore, does the Prophet repeat that God is defrauded of his honor, if his power do not lead us to warm admiration of him; nor does he spend his labor in what is superfluous, for we are so dull and sluggish that we need to be continually aroused and excited.

Men see every day the heavens and the stars; but who is there that thinks about their Author? By nature men are formed in such a manner as to make it evident that they were born to contemplate the heavens, and thus to learn their Author; for while God formed other animals to look downwards for pasture, he made man alone erect, and bade him look at what may be regarded as his own habitation.

This is also described beautifully by a poet: F725 “While other animals look downwards towards the earth, he gave to man a lofty face, and bade him look at heaven, and lift up his countenance erect towards the stars.” F726 The Prophet therefore points out the wickedness of men who do not acknowledge what is openly placed before their eyes concerning God, but, like cattle, fix their snout in the earth; for, whenever we raise our eyes upwards, with any degree of attention, it is impossible for our senses not to be struck with the majesty of God.

And see who hath created them. By mentioning the stars, he states more clearly that the wonderful order which shines brightly in the face of the heavens preaches loudly that there is one God and Creator of the world; and all who shall observe, that amidst the vast number and variety of the stars, so regular an order and course is so well maintained, will be constrained to make this acknowledgment. For it is not by chance that each of the stars has had its place assigned to it, nor is it at random that they advance uniformly with so great rapidity, and amidst numerous windings move straight forwards, so that they do not deviate a hairbreadth from the path which God has marked out for them. Thus does their wonderful arrangement shew that God is the Author and worker, so that men cannot open their eyes without being constrained to behold the majesty of God in his works.

Bringing out by number their army. Under the word army he, includes two things; their almost infinite number, and their admirable arrangement; for a small number of persons do not constitute an army, and not even a considerable number, if there be not also numerous companies. Besides, it is not called an “army,” when men are collected together at random, and without any selection, and in a confused manner, or when they wander about in a disorderly state, but where there are various classes of officers, who have the charge of ten, or a hundred, or a thousand men, F727 and where the ranks are drawn up and arranged on a fixed plan. Thus the wonderful arrangement of the stars, and their certain courses, may justly be called an “army.”

By the word number he means that God always has this “army” at his command. In an army the soldiers may wander, and may not be immediately collected or brought back to their ranks by the general, though the trumpet sound. But it is otherwise with God. He always has his soldiers in readiness, and that “by number;” that is, he keeps a reckoning of them, so that not one of them is absent.

He will call to all of them by name. The same expression occurs, (<19E704>Psalm 147:4,) and in the same sense. Some explain it to mean that God knows the number of the stars, which is unknown to us. But David and Isaiah meant a different thing, that is, that God makes use of the stars according to his pleasure; as if one should command a servant, calling him to him by name; and the same thing will afterwards be said of Cyrus, whose labors and service the Lord employed in delivering his people. (<234501>Isaiah 45:1.) In a word, it denotes the utmost submission and obedience, when he who is called instantly answers to his name.

By the greatness of his strength. Those who explain the preceding clause to mean that the Lord knows the number of the stars, are also mistaken in supposing that by giving them their names is meant their power and office. Others explain it, that there is not a star that has not its own power and energy, because the Lord gave to them those qualities they would always possess. But others connect these words with arqy, (yikra,) “he shall call;” as if he had said, “The Lord is so powerful that all the stars listen to his commands.” But a meaning which appears to me to be more appropriate is, that God is so powerful, that, as soon as he has issued an order, all the armies of the stars are ready to yield obedience. In this we have an extraordinary proof of his power, when those highly excellent, creatures unhesitatingly submit to him, and by executing his orders testify that they acknowledge him to be their Author.

Not one shall be wanting. The word ya (ish) is applied by Hebrew writers not only to men and women, but also to other animals, and even to inanimate objects, as in a former passage, (<233416>Isaiah 34:16,) when, speaking of the birds that should occupy those splendid abodes, he said that “not one should be wanting,” he used the word ya(ish). F728 These words commend to us the power of God, that we may know that there is nothing in heaven or in earth that does not depend on his will and pleasure. Nothing, therefore, can be more shameful or unreasonable than to compare him to idols, which are as worthless as anything can possibly be. F729

27. Why wilt thou say? The Prophet now expostulates either with the Jews, because they were almost overcome by despair, and did not look to the promises of God, by which they ought, to have supported their minds; or he makes provision for posterity, that they may not sink under any distresses however long continued. The verbs are in the future sense, which might also be explained by the subjunctive mood, Why wouldst thou say? For Isaiah justly infers front the preceding statement, that the chosen people, whatever may happen, ought to wait patiently for God, till he give assistance in due time. He argues from the less to the greater: “Since God keeps every part of the world under his authority, it is impossible that he shall forsake his Church.” Yet it is probable that at that time there were heard among the people complaints, by which they murmured against God, as if he did not care about their salvation, or were slow in rendering assistance, or even shut his eyes and did not see their distresses. The fault which is now corrected is, that they thought that God did not care about them; as usually happens in afflictions, in which we think that God has forsaken us, and exposed us for a prey, and that he takes no concern about the affairs of this world. F730

O Jacob and Israel! By these names he calls to their remembrance the Lord’s covenant, which had been ratified by promises so numerous and so diversified; as if he had said, “Dost thou not think that thou art that people which God hath chosen peculiarly for himself? Why dost thou imagine that he who cannot deceive does not attend to thy cause?”

My way is hidden from Jehovah. He employs the word way for “condition” and ‘cause,” and hidden, for “disregarded” or “unknown;” for if God delay his assistance for a short time, we think that his care does not extend to us. Some explain it differently, that is, that the people are here reproved for thinking that they would not be punished for sinning, and they think that this sentiment resembles such as, “The wicked man hath said in his heart, There is no God.” (<191401>Psalm 14:1.) But the Prophets meaning unquestionably was, “Thinkest thou, O Israel, that the Lord taketh no concern about thine affairs?” For he exclaims against the distrust of the people, and chides them sharply, that he may afterwards comfort them, and may show that the Lord will continually assist his people whom he hath undertaken to defend.

And my judgment passeth away from my God. The word judgment confirms our interpretation of the preceding clause; for “judgment” is implored in affliction, when we are unjustly oppressed, or when any one does us wrong; and God is said to favor and undertake “judgment,” or “our right,” when, after having known our cause, he defends and guards us; and he is said to pass by it, when he overlooks us, and permits us to be devoured by our enemies. It is as if he had said, that the Jews act unjustly in complaining that God has disregarded their cause and forsaken them; and by that reproof he prepares them for receiving consolation, for they could not receive it while their minds were occupied with wicked or foolish thoughts. It was therefore necessary first to remove obstructions, and to open up the way for consolation.

28. Hast thou not known? He repeats the same statement which he had formerly made, that the people who had been carefully taught in the school of God were inexcusable for their slothfulness, and chides them sharply for not having profited more by the doctrine of the Law, and by the other means which God had bestowed in addition to that knowledge which they possessed in common with the Gentiles. The word know, which is more general, is put first; because by many miracles and other proofs God had manifested his glory. Next, he asks, Hast thou not heard? As if he had said, “If thou hast profited nothing by being taught by actions and by word that God is never unemployed, it is evident that thou are excessively unteachable.”

That Jehovah is the God of eternity. The Prophet calls him “eternal,” and thus distinguishes him from all idols, which endure but for a time, and were made by men; and truly, if this were deeply seated in our hearts, there would no longer be any room for distrust; for if God is eternal, he never changes or decays, eternity being uniformly attended by this quality, that it is never liable to change, but always remains the same. Since the Jews did not sufficiently believe these things, though they had often “heard” them, the Prophet intended to arouse them by this reproof, in order to shew that they will be doubly guilty before God, if, after having been taught both by his numerous benefits, and by the word, they do not render the honor and glory which are due to him.

And is not wearied by weariness, and there is no searching of his understanding. Here the Prophet makes two statements; first, that God is not wearied in doing good; and, secondly, that no man can explore his wisdom. In the former clause he shews that, nothing will hinder God from continuing to exercise his kindness; for he is not like men whose resources are exhausted by giving frequently, or who are wearied by continually bestowing new favors, or who repent of their generosity. His kindness is never exhausted; if he was kind to the fathers, he will be not less kind and bountiful to posterity. As to the allegation, that God very often acts differently from what we think to be best for us, the Prophet meets it by saying that his purpose is incomprehensible, and warns us that we ought not to murmur, though he does not all at once comply with our wishes; because nothing is better adapted to cherish our hope than this sobriety, which leads us to consider how marvellously God works in preserving us, and thus to submit to his secret counsel.

29. He giveth power to the faint. The Prophet now applies to the present subject the general statements which he made; for we have said that his intention was to give warmer encouragement to the people, and to lead them to cherish better hope. Because the Jews were at that time weakened and destitute of all strength, he shews that on this account it belongs to God to give assistance to those who were thus exhausted and weakened. He therefore magnifies the power of God on this ground, that they may conclude and believe that they ought not to doubt of their salvation so long as they enjoy his favor. It was indeed to the people who were held captive in Babylon that the Prophet looked; but we ought also to apply this doctrine to ourselves, that whenever our strength shall fail, and we shall be almost laid low, we may call to remembrance that the Lord stretches out his hand ‘to the faint,” who are sinking through the want of all help. But first, we must feel our faintness and poverty, that the saying of Paul, “The power of God is made perfect in our weakness,” (<471209>2 Corinthians 12:9,) may be fulfilled; for if our hearts are not deeply moved by a conviction of our weakness, we cannot receive seasonable assistance from God.

30. The youths are wearied and faint. By this comparison the Prophet illustrates more powerfully what he had formerly said, that the strength which God imparts to his elect is invincible and unwearied; for men’s strength easily fails, but God’s strength never fails. It is indeed certain that all the vigor which naturally dwells in us proceeds from God; but since men claim as their own what God has bestowed generally on all, the Prophet thus distinguishes between the strength of men which appears to be born with them, and that strength by which God peculiarly supports his elect; for God’s kindness, which is diffused throughout all nature, is not sufficiently perceived. And thus by “men’s strength” he means that which is generally possessed by mankind, and by “God’s assistance,” he means that by which he peculiarly assists us after our strength has failed; for the Prophet speaks of the grace of God which is cormmonly called supernatural, and says that it is perpetual, while men can have nothing in themselves but what is fading and transitory; that by this mark he may distinguish between the Church of God and the rest of the world, and between spiritual grace and earthly prosperity.

And the young men by falling fall. In the former clause he made use of the word yr[n, (negnarim,) youths, but now he adds yrjb, (bachurim,) which means not only that they were “young men,” but also that they had been selected. F731 The repetition of the same statement may be supposed to refer particularly to age, though he means that they were persons of the choicest vigor and in the prime of life. With this design he recommends that excellent privilege which God bestows on his children in preference to other men; that they may be satisfied with their lot, and may bear no envy to earthly men, F732 for that strength of which they boast. In a word, he shews that men are greatly deceived if they are puffed up by confidence in their own strength, for they immediately sink and faint.

He appears to allude to what happens every day, that the stronger any person is, the more boldly does he attempt what is exceedingly difficult, and the consequence is, that they who are naturally more robust seldom live to be old men. They think nothing too hard or difficult, they attempt everything, and rashly encounter all dangers; but they give way in the middle of their course, and suffer the punishment of their rashness. The same thing befalls those who are proud of any gift which God has bestowed on them, and are full of confidence in themselves; for all that they have received from God is reduced to nothing, or rather turns to their ruin and destruction; and thus they are justly punished for their insolence.

31. But they that wait for Jehovah. Hebrew writers employ the phrase, “exchanging strength,” F733 to denote “gathering new strength,” and thus “being restored.” The Prophet therefore shews, that godly persons, who shall hope in God, will not be deficient in strength; and he confirms what he formerly said,

“In rest and silence shall be your strength.” (<233015>Isaiah 30:15.)

We must not become agitated, or throw ourselves forward rashly, but “wait” patiently. In this passage, therefore, waiting means nothing else than patience. Violent men dash themselves to pieces by their own eagerness, but the vigor of godly men, though it has less display, and often appears to lie buried while they calmly “wait for” God’s assistance, is refreshed and renewed. We must therefore return to the saying of Paul, that

“the power of God is made perfect in our weakness.”
(<471209>2 Corinthians 12:9.)

We must, therefore be fully convinced of our weakness, that we may yield to the power of God. The Jews, who were oppressed by that cruel captivity, had great need of this doctrine; but for us also, during this wretchedly ruinous condition of the Church, it is exceedingly needful.

They shall raise their wings as eagles. It is generally believed that the Prophet uses this phrase in the same sense that the Psalmist says,

“Thy youth shall be renewed like that of the eagle.”
(<19A305>Psalm 103:5.)

It is certain that the “eagle” is very long-lived as compared with other birds.

Aristotle and Pliny affirm that it never dies of old age, but of hunger; that is, that when the upper part of the beak becomes too large, it cannot take food into its mouth, and for a long time subsists entirely on what it drinks. One Zaadias, as all Jews are audacious in constructing fables, pretends that the eagle flies upward into the region that is near the sun, and approaches the sun so closely, that its old wings are burned, and other new ones grow in their place; but this is utterly absurd and fabulous. The Prophet means that they who trust in the Lord will be vigorous, like eagles, till the most advanced old age. But seeing that eagles fly higher than other birds, by which they shew remarkable swiftness, which has also given rise to the proverb, “An eagle among the clouds,” this passage may be understood to denote not only long life, but also strength and agility; so that Isaiah, after having shewn that their strength is recruited, adds that they are more vigorous, and ascend to a great height. Such is also the import of what follows, —

They shall run and shall not be weary. It is as if he had said, that the Lord will assist them, so that they shall pursue their course without any molestation. It is a figurative expression, by which he intimates that believers F734 will always be ready to perform their duty with cheerfulness. But it will be said, “There are so many troubles which we must endure in this life; how then does he say that we shall be exempt from weariness?” I reply, believers are indeed distressed and wearied, but they are at length delivered from their distresses, and feel that they have been restored by the power of God; for it happens to them according to the saying of Paul,

“While we are troubled on every side, we are not overwhelmed; we are perplexed, but are not in despair; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but are not destroyed.”
(<470408>2 Corinthians 4:8, 9.)

Let us therefore learn to flee to the Lord, who, after we have encountered many storms, will at length conduct us to the harbor; for he who hath opened up a path, and hath commanded us to advance in that course in which he hath placed us, does not intend to assist us only for a single day, and to forsake us in the middle of our course, (<500106>Philippians 1:6,) but will conduct us to the goal.


Go To Isaiah 41:1-29

1. Be silent to me, F735 O islands. Though the Prophet’s discourse appears to be different from the former, yet he pursues the same subject; for, in order to put the Jews to shame, he says that he would have been successful, if he had been called to plead with unbelievers and blind persons. Thus he reproves not only the sluggishness, but the stupidity of that nation, “to whom God had been so nigh” and so intimately known by his Law. (<050407>Deuteronomy 4:7.) Yet we need not wonder that the people, overtaken by many terrors, trembled so that they scarcely received solid consolation; for we have abundant experience how much we are alarmed by adversity, because amidst; this depravity and corruption of our nature, every man labors under two diseases. In prosperity, he exalts himself extravagantly, and shakes off the restraint; of humility and moderation; but, in adversity, he either rages, or lies in a lifeless condition, and scarcely has the smallest perception of the goodness of God. We need not wonder, therefore, that the Prophet dwells so largely on this subject, and that he pursues it in many ways.

He gives the name of islands to the countries beyond the sea; for the Jews, having no intercourse with them, gave to all that lay beyond the sea the name of “islands;” and therefore he addresses not only the nations which were at hand, but likewise those which were more distant, and requires them “to keep silence before him.” But of what nature is this silence? Isaiah describes a kind of judicial pleading which the Lord is not unwilling to enter into with all nations. He demands only that he shall be heard in his own cause, and that there shall be no confusion or disorder in the proceedings, which would be altogether at variance with a court of justice. On this account he commands the Gentiles to keep silence, that, when this has been done, he may openly plead his cause; for the order of a court of justice demands that every person shall speak in his turn; for, if all should cry aloud together, there must be strange confusion. F736

This reminds us, that the reason why we do not think with so much reverence as we ought concerning the power and goodness and wisdom and other attributes of God, is, that we do not listen to him when he speaks. Men roar and murmur against God; some, swelling with their pride, openly despise his word; while others, through some kind of slothfulness, disregard him, and, in consequence of being buried in earthly delights, take no concern about aspiring to the heavenly kingdom. Even now we perceive with what insolence and rebellion many persons speak against God. How comes it that Papists are so obstinate and headstrong in their errors, but because they refuse to listen to God? for if they would listen to him in silence, the truth would speedily convince them. In a word, the Lord shews by these words that he will be victorious, if men listen to him attentively. He does not wish that they shall listen to him in a careless manner, as unjust and corrupt judges, having already determined what sentence they shall pronounce, are wont to do; but that they shall examine and weigh his arguments, in which they will find nothing but what is perfectly just.

It may be asked, “Does the Prophet now exhort the Gentiles to hear?” I reply, these things relate chiefly to the Jews; for it would be long before this prophecy would reach the Gentiles. But this discourse would be fitted more powerfully to remove the obstinacy of the Jews, when he shows that the Gentiles, though they were estranged from him, would speedily acknowledge his power, provided only that they chose to listen to him in silence. There is greater weight and force in these words addressed directly to the “islands” themselves than if he had spoken of them in the third person.

And let the people collect their strength. The Lord defies all the Gentiles to the contest, and in a contemptuous manner, as is commonly done by those who are more powerful, or who, relying on the goodness of their cause, have no doubt about the result. “Let them collect their strength and league against me; they will gain nothing, but I shall at length be victorious.” As we commonly say, “I disdain them, (Je les despite.) Even though they bend all their strength both of mind and of body, still they shall be conquered; all I ask is, that they give me a hearing.” By these words he declares that truth possesses such power that it easily puts down all falsehoods, provided that men give attention to it; and, therefore, although all men rise up to overwhelm the truth, still it will prevail. Consequently, if we are led astray from God, we must not throw the blame on others, but ought rather to accuse ourselves of not having been sufficiently attentive and diligent when he spoke to us; for falsehoods would not have power over us, nor would we be carried away by any cunning attempt of Satan to deceive us, or by the force of any attack, if we were well disposed to listen to God.

As to his assuming the character of a guilty person, in order that he may appear and plead his cause before a court of justice, it may be asked, “Who among men will be competent. to judge in so hard and difficult a cause?” I reply, there is nothing said here about choosing judges; the Lord means only, that he would be successful, if impartial judges were allowed to try this cause. He cannot submit either to men or to angels, so as to render an account to them; but, for the purpose of taking away every excuse, he declares that victory is in his power, even though he were constrained to plead his cause; and, consequently, that it is highly unreasonable to dispute among ourselves, and not to yield to him absolute obedience; that we are ungrateful and rebellious, in not listening to him, and in not considering how just are his demands. And, indeed, though nothing can be more unreasonable than for mortals to judge of God, yet it is still more shocking and monstrous, when, by our blind murmuring, we condemn him before he has been heard in his own defense.

2. Who shall raise up righteousness from the east? This shews plainly what is the design of the Prophet; for he intends to assure the Jews that they will be in no danger of going astray, if they choose to follow the path which he points out to them. And this is the reason why he mentions Abraham; for he might have enumerated other works of God, but selected an example appropriate to his subject; for, having been descended from Abraham, whom God had brought out of Chaldea amidst so many dangers, they ought also to have hoped that he would equally assist them; since his power was not diminished, and he is not wearied by acts of kindness. F737 Because it was difficult for captives and exiles, while they were at a great distance from their native country, to hope for a return:, he exhorts them by a similar example to cherish favorable hopes. Having been scattered throughout Chaldea and the neighboring countries, they thought that the road which led homeward was shut up against them on account of numerous obstructions. But from the same place Abraham their father had traveled into Judea. (<011131>Genesis 11:31, and 12:1.) Could not he who conducted one poor, solitary man, with his father, his nephew, and his wife, safe and sound amidst so ninny dangers, be the leader of his people in the journey? Since, therefore, God had called Abraham out of his native country, and delivered him from all distresses, this fact drawn from the family history ought to have made a deeper impression on his children, that the departure of their father Abraham might be a pledge or mirror of their future deliverance from Babylon.

When he calls Abraham righteousness, he does so, not for the purpose of extolling the man, but of shewing that God had assigned to him a character which belonged to the whole condition of the Church; for he was not called as a private individual, but the demonstration of God’s eternal justice which was given in his calling is common to all believers; as if he had said, that in his person the Church had once been delivered, in order that he might confidently believe that his salvation and the justice of God would be alike eternal. And indeed in a single individual we behold the calling of believers, and a sort of model of the Church, and the beginning and end of our salvation. In short, Abraham may be regarded as a mirror of the justice of God, so far as it shines in the affairs of this world. This word is used for the sake of amplification, (pro<v au]xhsin); for to “raise up righteousness from the east,” where everything had been corrupted and polluted by the most abominable superstitions, was an astonishing work of God. If, therefore, such a display of God’s goodness and power had once been given, why ought; they not to expect the same or a similar display in future?

Called him to his foot. F738 Some interpret this as meaning that Abraham, wherever he went, called on the name of the Lord; for as soon as he came into any country, he erected an altar to God, that he might offer sacrifice upon it. (<011207>Genesis 12:7, and 13:18.) This is indeed true, but I interpret it differently, that the Lord was the leader in the journey to Abraham, who followed him step by step; for when he was commanded to depart, no particular country was pointed out to which he should go; and thus when he set out he knew not either how far, or in what direction he should travel, but God kept him in suspense till he entered into the land. of Canaan. (<011201>Genesis 12:1; <440703>Acts 7:3.) When Abraham had been called, he immediately appeared, and though he was uncertain as to his journey, he listened to the mouth of God, and was satisfied with having God for his leader. On this account the expression is appropriate, that he followed him “to his foot,” because he surrendered himself to God to be a footman, like obedient and submissive servants who follow the footsteps of their master, though they are uncertain whither he is leading them.

Gave nations before him. This means that although the good man might be afflicted and tormented every moment by many anxieties, yet God removed every obstruction that could annoy him. Moses does not enumerate all the difficulties which Abraham encountered at his departure, but any person may conclude that this journey could not be free from very great annoyances; for it was impossible for him, when he set out, not to draw upon himself the hatred of the nation, and to be universally condemned as a madman for leaving his native land, and relations, and friends, and wandering to an unknown country. After having come into the land of Canaan, he had to do with wicked and cruel men, with whom he could not be agreed, because he was entirely opposed to their superstitions. What Moses relates Shews plainly enough that Abraham was never at rest, and yet that wicked men durst not attempt to do anything against him; so that when he wished to purchase a sepulcher from the children of Herb, they offered it to him freely and for nothing, and acknowledged him to be a man of God and a prince. (<012306>Genesis 23:6.)

And subdued kings. The Prophet illustrates the grace of God, by shewing that he did not spare even kings, so as to make it evident that he was a faithful protector of his servant or vassal Abraham. The history of the four kings whom he vanquished and routed is well known, (<011414>Genesis 14:14, 15,) and might be extended to Pharaoh, (<011217>Genesis 12:17,) and Abimelech, (<012003>Genesis 20:3,) who are also mentioned in <19A514>Psalm 105:14, where this subject is handled; for they were chastised because they dared to “touch the Lord’s Anointed.” (<19A515>Psalm 105:15.) But strictly it denotes that victory which he obtained over four kings, (<011414>Genesis 14:14, 15,) who had carried off his nephew Lot, with all that belonged to him; for it is very evident from the context that the Prophet does not speak of kings or nations that had been soothed, but of armed enemies that had been violently made to pass under the yoke.

As dust to his sword. Lastly, he magnifies the ease with which that victory was gained, and thus expresses the highest contempt by comparing those kings to dust and stubble; for he subdued them without exposing himself to danger. At the same time he reminds us that this ought not to be ascribed to the power of man, but to the assistance of God; because it is not by human power that victory can be so easily gained.

3. He pursued them. The Prophet again commends, by the greatness of the victory, the extraordinary kindness of God. It is of the highest importance that he obtained it in a country which was unknown to him; for it is difficult and hazardous to pursue enemies in unknown countries; and how great is the value of a knowledge of places is plainly shewn by history, and daily experienced by those who carry on war. That was no obstacle to Abraham; and hence it is still more evident, that he was led and assisted by the hand of God to conduct his followers courageously.

4. Who hath appointed? Although Isaiah has exhibited in this passage nothing more than the example of Abraham, yet he undoubtedly intended to remind the people of all the benefits which the fathers had received in ancient times; as if he had said, “Call to remembrance what is your origin, whence I raised up your father Abraham, by what path I led him; and yet this was not the termination of my favors, for since that time I have never ceased to enrich you with every kind of blessings.” When he asks therefore who he is, he does not speak merely of a single performance, but adds other benefits, which followed at various times, and which the people ought also to remember.

Calling the nations from the beginning. This must relate to the constant succession of ages. In the Hebrew language rwd (dor) means not only “an age,” or the duration of human life, but the men who lived at that time. Thus one generation is distinguished from another, as fathers from their children, and grandchildren from their grandfathers; for posterity will call us the former generation, and will call our ancestors a generation more remote and ancient. Again, because any one age would consume mankind, if it were not renewed by offspring, the Prophet shows that God multiplies men by an uninterrupted course, so that they succeed each other. Hence it follows, that he presides over all ages, that we may not think that this world is governed by chance, while the providence of God is clearly seen in the succession of ages. But because, in consequence of various changes, the world appears to revolve by blind impulse, the Prophet declares by these words that those manifold events were known “from the beginning”’ of the world, which amounts to this, that amidst that variety which time brings, God reigns, and accomplishes by a uniform course what he decreed from the beginning.

I Jehovah. At length he asserts more plainly that God is the author of these blessings, that Abraham conquered enemies, (<011416>Genesis 14:16,) that he lived among wicked men without suffering harm, that he put kings to flight, (<19A514>Psalm 105:14,) that the Lord avenged him, when Abimelech (<012018>Genesis 20:18) and also Pharaoh (<011217>Genesis 12:17) had violently seized his wife. Besides, he shows that it ought to be ascribed to him, that other blessings of various kinds had been bestowed on every generation; for his power had been manifested not only to the race of Abraham, but to the whole world.

Am the first, and likewise with the last. This relates not only to the eternity of essence, but to the government which he exercises on earth; as if he had said, that God does not grow old by any length of time, and never will surrender his authority; for he does not sit unemployed in heaven, but from his throne, on the contrary, he regulates the affairs of this world. But although the world put in his place an innumerable crowd of gods, yet he declares that he sustains no loss, because he will always continue to be like himself.

5. The isles saw, and feared. He now shows the excessive ingratitude of the world, which, after having perceived the works of God, still continued in the same blindness to which it had been formerly abandoned. A little before, he had said that he would easily gain a victory, if they would only listen to him; and now he adds, that the Gentiles knew his power, and yet were rebellious and obstinate. The consequence is, that they are altogether inexcusable; because the majesty of God was abundantly revealed, if they had not chosen to shut their eyes of their own accord. F739 In order, therefore, to take away the excuse of ignorance even from the most distant nations, he says that they trembled at the sight of his works, and yet returned immediately to their natural dispositions, so as to be entangled by many errors and superstitions. There is an elegant allusion in the two verbs waryyw war, (rau veyirau) which cannot be expressed in the Latin language; but the general meaning is, that they not only were eyewitnesses, but also were so deeply convinced, that fear was awakened in them by what they knew.

The farthest boundaries of the earth trembled. It might be objected, that the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham could not be celebrated throughout the whole world, so as to be known to foreign nations. But, as we have said, although Abraham alone was mentioned by him, yet he intended also to bring to remembrance other instances of his kindness which their fathers experienced, that these might lead them to entertain better hope; for not only did he bring Abraham out of Chaldea, but he rescued all his posterity from the bondage of Egypt, (<021316>Exodus 13:16,) and put them in possession of the land of Canaan. He says therefore, that the Gentiles had experience of his power when he delivered and preserved his people, that they might know that he is the only true God; for amidst so many miracles his power was clearly and manifestly displayed. In short, he declares that the Gentiles were terrified by the wonderful power of God, when he delivered his people; for wicked men, when they hear something of that power, are every day terrified and filled with amazement, because they perceive that God is their enemy.

Drew near and came. This expression, drew near, is interpreted by some to mean, that unbelievers observed more closely the works of God; for, when we wish to perceive anything more accurately, we approach nearer. Others refer it to the king of Sodom,” who went out to meet Abraham.” (<011417>Genesis 14:17.) But those interpretations are unsuitable, and indeed have nothing to do with the subject.

6. Every one brought assistance to his neighbor. What now follows agrees well with what goes before, if you connect this verse with the last clause of the former verse, “They drew near, they were assembled, every one assisted his neighbor;” so that the meaning is, “Although the islands saw and knew my works, so that they trembled at them, yet they assembled in crowds to make a league among themselves.” Why? That they might encourage each other to frame new gods, and might confirm each other more and more in their blindness. He therefore aggravates the guilt of the Gentiles by saying, that “every one assisted his neighbor;” and indeed whoever shall make careful inquiry will find that this is the source of all superstitions, that men by mutual consent darken the light brought to them from heaven. But although the Lord here expostulates with idolaters, yet he does it for the sake of the Jews, that they may not fall into the impiety of the Gentiles, or permit themselves to be turned aside from God and from sincere faith. F740 On this account he brings forward the ingratitude of the Gentiles, that the Jews may not imitate it, but may remain steadfast in the true worship of God.

And said to his neighbor, Be courageous. Here we see, as in a mirror, how great is the wickedness of men, who profit nothing by considering the works of God, and are even rendered more rebellious, and harden themselves more and more; for they choose of their own accord to be blind, and to shut their eyes against the clearest light, rather than to behold God who manifests himself before their eyes. To blindness is added rage, in consequence of which they risc up against God, and. do not hesitate to wage war with him for defending their superstitions; so that this vice is not idol worship but idol madness. Isaiah describes this madness by saying, “Be bold, act courageously;” for he means that men have entered into a base conspiracy, by which they naturally encourage and inflame each other to the worship of idols, and to drive away the fear of God which his power might have led them to entertain.

7. The workmen encouraged the founder. This verse is explained in various ways, and indeed is somewhat obscure; and even the Jewish writers are not agreed as to the meaning of the words. I see no reason why rj (cherish) should be here understood to mean simply a carpenter, for it means any kind of workman. F741 The word qylhm, (mahalik,) which means one that strikes, is generally rendered in the accusative case; I prefer to render it, in the nominative case. [p (pagnam)  F742 is generally translated anvil, and by others a smaller hammer; but; as it sometimes signifies by turns, that interpretation appears to agree best with the context; for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.

From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mumm persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a riffling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.

8. But thou, Israel, art my servant. He now shews how unreasonable it is to confound the people of Israel with the heathen nations, though all have lifted up a standard and agree in error, and though the whole world be abandoned to impostures; for, since by a calling of free grace God had chosen and set them apart, they ought not to have given themselves up to the same rage. This is a remarkable passage, and teaches us that we ought to be satisfied with our calling, so as to be restrained from the pollution of this world. Though corruptions abound, and though we indulge freely in every kind of iniquity, yet we ought to be restrained by this consideration, that we are God’s elect, and therefore we are not at liberty to go beyond bounds like Gentiles, and ungodly men. “Such were some of you,” says Paul,

“but now you have been washed, now you have been sanctified by the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
(<460611>1 Corinthians 6:11.)

Indeed, nothing is more unreasonable than that we should wander like blind men in darkness, when the sun of righteousness hath shined upon us. We ought therefore to consider our calling, that we may follow it with all zeal and industry, and, “walking as becomes the children of light,” (<490508>Ephesians 5:8,) may shun that manner of life to which we were formerly habituated. For this reason he calls Israel his servant; not that the Israelites deserved anything on account of their obedience, but because he had set them apart for himself; and accordingly, for the same reason he adds —

Jacob, whom I have chosen. This is a remarkable commendation of undeserved favor; as if he had said, “You are indeed my servants, not through your own merit, but through my bounty; for by my election I have prepared and formed you to be my peculiar people.” In short, he reminds them that it was not by their own industry that they obtained the honor of being called God’s servants, and that they did not differ from others so as to. excel them in any respect, but that it was because it so pleased God, who has a right to select this or that person according to his pleasure. Yet at the same time he explains what is the design of our election, namely, that we may serve God. “He hath chosen us,” as Paul says, “that we may be holy and unreprovable before him.” (<490104>Ephesians 1:4.) The object to be gained by election is, that they who were the slaves of Satan may submit and devote themselves unreservedly to God.

The seed of Abraham. This is added in the third place, in order to inform us that election depends on the promise of God; not that the promise goes before the election, which is from eternity, but because the Lord has bestowed his kindness from a regard to the promise; for he said to Abraham,

“I am thy God and the God of thy seed.” (<011707>Genesis 17:7.)

This favor has therefore been continued to posterity, and on account of the promise the Lord took peculiar care of that people, as Paul also declares that “to them belonged the testament, the promise, and the giving of the Law.” (<450904>Romans 9:4.) Hence also they were called “that holy nation,” (<021906>Exodus 19:6,)

“God’s sacred inheritance, and a priestly kingdom.”
(<600209>1 Peter 2:9.)

My friend. It was an extraordinary honor which the Lord bestowed on Abraham, when he called him his friend. To be called “the servant of God” is high and honorable; for if it be reckoned a distinguished favor to be admitted into the family of a king or a prince, how much more highly should we esteem it, when God accounts us as his servants and members of his family? But, not satisfied with that, he bestows on him even a higher honor, and adorns him with the name of “friend.” What is here said about Abraham relates to all believers; and Christ declared more plainly, “Now I call you not servants, but ye are my friends; for servants know not their Lord’s will, but to you have been revealed secret and divine mysteries, and hence you may know my friendly and kind disposition towards you.” (<431515>John 15:15.) Having therefore obtained from God so great an honor, we ought to remember our duty, that the more abundantly he has testified his kindness towards us, we may the more earnestly and with deeper reverence worship him continually. But we ought always to remember that Abraham was God’s friend on no other ground than that of adoption; as Moses also says that the Jews enjoyed their high rank merely through the good pleasure of God, “because God loved their fathers.” (<050437>Deuteronomy 4:37, and 7:6-8.)

9. For I have taken thee from the end of the earth. Isaiah continues the same subject; for we know by experience how necessary it is that consolations be repeated when adversity presses upon us; so that it is not wonderful that the Prophet dwells so largely on this subject. But from one person, Abraham, he passes to the whole nation, mentioning the benefits which all of them have received from God. The relative ra (asher)  F743 appears to me to be here put for an illative particle; for he assigns the reason why the people ought to be courageous amidst adversity. It is because they have formerly experienced his kindness, and consequently ought to cherish equally favorable expectations for the future. “The ends of the earth” may be understood in two ways; either that the people were brought from a distant country, of which Abraham was a native, or that God, who embraces within his dominion the utmost boundaries of the world, deigned to stretch forth his hand to none but a single people.

From its eminences have I called thee. ylyxa (atzilim) has been generally translated “eminences.” Others prefer to take it in the masculine gender, as meaning “princes” or “nobles,” in a sense not very different from the other; for the Prophet extols the grace of God, because, passing by very illustrious nations, he has adopted to himself a mean and obscure people. Others refer it to the kingdom of Egypt, from which the Jews were brought out; for we know how great was the renown of that people, and how far superior to other nations they reckoned themselves to be in learning, antiquity, nobility, and many other accomplishments.

But I interpret it differently; for I refer it to the election of the people, who were chosen out of the midst of other nations far superior to them; and therefore I consider m (mem) to mean “from,” or “more than,” so that there is a comparison between the Jews and other nations. In like manner also, Moses shews that they were not elected,

“because they were more or better than other nations, (for they were far fewer,) but because the Lord loved them, and determined to keep the covenant which he had sworn to their fathers.” (<050707>Deuteronomy 7:7, 8.)

Again, he says,

“Not for thy righteousness, or the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou come to possess the land.” (<050905>Deuteronomy 9:5.)

Thus, while they were far less than other nations, still they were elected; and this shews the greatness of the love of God, and that there was no reason why, after having received blessings so numerous and so great, they should afterwards distrust so kind a Father. Besides, he adds, that a proof of this favor was given to the people in the Law; as if he had said that it was not hidden, but, on the contrary, was engraven on public tables, when God made a covenant with them by giving them the Law; for God did not wish that they whom he had taken to be his own people should wander hither and thither, but bound them to himself by a promise of salvation.

And have not cast thee off. This last expression might be thought superfluous, and even unseasonable, if Jewish writers had not frequently employed this form of speech, which is very emphatic; for it denotes the firmness of election, as if he had said, “After having once adopted thee, I did not desert or forsake thee, though I had various occasions for casting thee off.” So great had been the ingratitude of the Jews, that he might justly have rejected them if he had not resolved to continue to be like himself.

What is said about them relates also to us; for the saying of Paul holds good, that “the gifts of God are without repentance.” (<451129>Romans 11:29.) Though he cut off the greatest part of men on account of their unbelief, yet he reserves some seed of adoption, that the calling may continue in some furrows; for the wickedness of men cannot change the election of God. Let us therefore remember that we have been elected by God on this condition, that we shall continue in his family, though we might justly have been abandoned.

10. Fear not. The former doctrine having had for its aim that the people should rely on God, the Prophet concludes from the numerous blessings by which the Lord manifested his love, that the people ought not to be afraid. And we ought carefully to observe the reason which he assigns —

For I am with thee. This is a solid foundation of confidence, and if it be fixed in our minds, we shall be able to stand firm and unshaken against temptations of every kind. In like manner, when we think that God is absent, or doubt whether or not he will be willing to assist us, we are agitated by fear, and tossed about amidst many storms of distrust. But if we stand firm on this foundation, we shall not be overwhelmed by any assaults or tempests. And yet the Prophet does not mean that believers stand so boldly as to be altogether free and void of all fear; but though they are distressed in mind, and in various ways are tempted to distrust, they resist with such steadfastness as to secure the victory. By nature we are timid and full of distrust, but we must correct that vice by this reflection, “God is present with us, and takes care of our salvation.”

Yet I will assist thee. ˚ytrz[ a (aph gnazarticha) is rendered by some in the past tense, “Yet I have assisted thee;” but I render it in the future tense, “I will assist thee.” I translate a (aph) yet, as it is usually translated in many other passages. Yet it is not inappropriate to translate it even, and accordingly my readers are at liberty to make their choice. If the past tense of the verb be preferred, it will mean “moreover” or “also.”

With the right hand of my righteousness. Under the word “righteousness,” Scripture includes not only equity, but that fidelity which the Lord manifests in preserving his people; for he gives a display of his righteousness when he faithfully defends his people against the contrivances and various attacks of wicked men. He therefore gives the appellation of “the right hand of righteousness” to that by which he shews that he is faithful and just. Hence we ought to draw a remarkable consolation; for if God has determined to protect and defend his servants, we ought not to have any terror; because “God cannot deny himself” (<550213>2 Timothy 2:13) or lay aside his righteousness.

11. Lo, all shall be ashamed and blush. Here the Prophet expressly promises assistance to the Jews against their enemies; for if he had merely promised safety, without making any mention of enemies, various thoughts and anxieties might have arisen in their minds. God indeed promises that we shall be saved, but yet our adversaries prevail, and treat us with the utmost scorn and cruelty; where then is that salvation which was so freely and abundantly promised? To the general promise, therefore, there is likewise added this circumstance: “Though the enemies flourish, yet they shall at length be driven back, covered with shame and disgrace.” Salvation is therefore promised on this condition, that we must, in the meantime, encounter enemies and maintain various contests with them, that we may not promise to ourselves external peace, for we must incessantly carry on war.

12. Thou shalt seek them. That is, if thou seek them; for enemies are not sought, when they have been put to flight; and therefore I think that this future ought to be rendered as a subjunctive, “If thou seek them, thou shalt not find them; for they shall be destroyed and reduced to nothing.” Here it ought to be observed that he describes two kinds of enemies, one, of those who attack us by open violence, the other, of those who attack us by words, that is, who tear us by slanders, curses, and reproaches, and who, as if they were defending a righteous cause, carry on various controversies with us, and summon us to courts of justice, and often accuse us of those crimes of which they have been guilty. But these are the stratagems of Satan, and we need not wonder that they who are his servants imitate their lord and master. The Prophet therefore mentions armed enemies who violently fight against the Church, and next brings forward wranglers, who annoy the Church by deceit and slander, and by false pretense of justice. We need not wonder, therefore, that such accusations are directed against us, and we ought not to think it strange, if many unprincipled men in the present day sell themselves to Antichrist to slander us; for the same thing happened formerly to prophets and other servants of God.

13. For I am Jehovah thy God. The Prophet had already shewn where the hope of salvation ought to be placed, so as to hold out against every attack; that is, when we are convinced that God is our God, and is on our side. He now lays down the same doctrine, but in different words; and yet the repetition is not superfluous, for we know how easily this doctrine slips out of our minds, even though it be frequently repeated; and it was impossible to bestow excessive commendation on this promise, which it is so difficult to root in our hearts. Let us therefore know that we shall have a prosperous issue of all our contests, for the Lord is present with us; and whenever we are attacked by any severe contest, let us learn to look to Him; for if we hesitate and look hither and thither, we shall never enjoy peace of mind. When he calls himself our God, he not only mentions his power, but gives proof of his goodness, which he intends to exercise towards us; for it would not be enough to be convinced of the power of God, if we were not equally certain of his love; and even when we are terrified by the mention of his power alone, his goodness is well fitted to give us peace.

Taking hold of thy right hand, and saying to thee. He now speaks about “taking hold of the hand,” and about his voice; for it is of great importance to us to believe the signs which God has given us of his love, and to connect with them the doctrine which assures us of his eternal favor. The word saying is therefore highly emphatic; for we must remain in suspense till the Lord speak, whose voice alone can remove fear and bring peace. If, then, we desire to have composure of mind, and to conquer the vexations which come upon us from various quarters, we must pay close attention to his voice, so as never to withdraw our mind from it; for they who refuse to hear this voice of God, or do not hear it attentively, must be miserably tormented by continual doubt and uncertainty.

14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, ye dead Israel. He appears to speak of the Jews very disrespectfully when he calls them “a worm,” and afterwards “dead;” but this comparison agrees better with the distresses of the people, and is more adapted to console them than if he had called them an elect nation, a royal priesthood, a holy tree from a holy root, and adorned them with other titles of that kind. It would even have been absurd to call them by those high-sounding names while they were oppressed by the deepest wretchedness. Accordingly, by the word worm he may be viewed as bewailing the disgraceful condition of the people, and encouraging them to cherish better hope; for he shews that he keeps his eye upon them, though they are mean and despised. It is as if he had said, “Although thou art nobody, yet I will assist thee, and, by restoring thee to thy former freedom, will cause thee to come out of thy filth and pollution.”

Some translate ytm (methim) men, which does not at all agree with the context. We are therefore constrained by obvious argument to translate it dead, for it is an exposition of the former word by repetition, which is very customary among Jewish writers. On this account I agree with Jerome, who translates it in that manner, and attaches no importance to the circumstance that the first syllable of ytm (methim) is here written with Scheva (:) instead of Tzere ( .. ); for points so closely allied might easily have been interchanged. F744 The subject ought also to be considered; for nothing could be more foolish than to put “men” instead of “worms,” unless perhaps it be thought preferable to render it “mortals.”

But, undoubtedly, God intended that this voice should be heard by persons most deeply afflicted, so as to reach even to the grave; for he promises, on the contrary, that he will be a Redeemer of “dead men.” Besides, while the Prophet had in view his own age, he extended this doctrine to all the ages of the world. Whenever, therefore, we shall see the Church oppressed by the cruelty of wicked men, it will be our duty to bring these things to remembrance, that we may believe that the children of God, who are trodden under foot by the pride of the world, and are not only reckoned contemptible, but oppressed by every kind of cruelty and reproaches so that they are scarcely allowed to breathe, are held by God in the highest honor and esteem, so that they will soon lift up their head; and let every one of us apply this to himself, so that we may not be terrified by reproaches, nor by our wretchedness, nor by anguish, nor by death itself. Though we resemble dead. men, and though all hope of salvation has been taken from us, yet the Lord will be present with us, and will at length raise up his Church even from the grave.

The Holy One of Israel. By adding these words, the Prophet again reminds believers, as he did a little before, of that covenant by which Israel had been separated to be God’s sacred heritage; and thus he imparts courage, that they may not faint or give way on account of their wretched condition, when they look upon themselves as “worms” and “dead men.”

15. Lo, I have made thee. The Prophet still speaks of the restoration of the Church, and promises that she will be so victorious over her enemies as to crush and reduce them to powder; and he declares this by a highly appropriate metaphor. The Jews, whom he addresses, were nearly crushed, but he declares that, on the contrary, they shall crush their enemies, so that, after having been delivered, they shall render to them what had been done to themselves. It was necessary that this should be added, for, if they had not regained new strength, they would always have been exposed to the unlawful passions of their enemies; and therefore they needed that God. should give them strength to repel the attacks which were made upon them. Yet Isaiah at the same time declares that they shall be executioners of the vengeance of God.

But it may be thought that in this way he inflames the Jews to be desirous of taking revenge. Now, this is quite contrary to the nature of the Spirit of God; and, while we are too much inclined to this disease, the Lord is so far from treating with forbearance these purposes of revenge, that in many passages he commands us to repress them; for he exhorts us rather to pray for our enemies, and not to take delight in their distresses and afflictions. (<400544>Matthew 5:44.) I reply, the Prophet here shews what will happen, but neither commands nor exhorts us to desire the destruction of our enemies. If it be again objected that we ought not only to expect but even to desire what the Lord promises, when it tends to his glory and our salvation; I acknowledge that this consolation tends greatly to alleviate our sorrows, when he promises that he will one day inflict punishment on enemies who have cruelly distressed us, and will render to them the measure which they have meted out. (<400702>Matthew 7:2.) Yet this is not inconsistent: with the command of God, that we should be kind-hearted, and should pity them on account of the evils which they bring upon themselves, and bewail their wretched condition, instead of being led by cruel dispositions to rejoice in their destruction. (<400544>Matthew 5:44.)

If we embrace this promise with that faith which we ought to cherish, we shall bring into subjection all the violence of the flesh, and consequently shall first be disposed to endure, and afterwards with moderate zeal shall desire the judgment of God. Accordingly, it ought to be our first aim to repress and lay aside every violent emotion of the flesh, and thus to await with an honest and sincere heart the fit season of the divine judgment; and that not so much from a regard to our private advantage as that due praise may be given to the justice of God. To the same purpose David wrote —

“The righteous shall rejoice when they shall see the vengeance; they shall wash their feet in the blood of wicked men.”
(<195810>Psalm 58:10.)

Not that they delight in their distresses, but because, as he afterwards adds, the righteous man receives his reward, and the righteous judgments of God are made known in the earth when the wicked are punished for their transgressions.

The Jews, being by nature cruel and eager of bloodshed, seize on these promises after the manner of wild and savage beasts, which eagerly devour the prey that is offered to them, and, as soon as they smell it, are mad with rage. But the Lord does not wish his people to forget that kindness which he recommends above all things; for we cannot be his, if we are not guided by the same spirit, that is, by the spirit of mildness and gentleness. In a word, by this metaphor of “a harrow having teeth,” he means nothing else than the wretched destruction of the wicked, whom the Lord will put to flight by the hand of the godly; and that for the purpose of comforting the godly, and not of inflaming them with eagerness for shedding blood.

16. Thou shalt winnow them. The meaning is the same as in the former verse, but by a different metaphor; for he compares the Church to a sieve, and wicked men to the chaff which is driven away by the sieve and scattered in every direction. As if he had said, “Though for a time the Gentiles bruise and winnow you, yet a severer judgment awaits them; for by their destruction they shall be bruised and driven away like chaff.” But we ought to observe the difference, because here believers are bruised for their good, for they suffer themselves to be subdued and placed under the authority of God; while others, who obstinately resist and do not suffer themselves to be brought into subjection, are scattered by the wind like chaff or stubble, as the Prophet tells us. Thus God had struck them with his flails, had bruised and trodden them, had winnowed and tossed them about, in order that, when the wheat had been well cleansed, he might gather them to himself; but the heathen nations he assigns as chaff to the dunghill.

To this is added, that the victorious Church bruises some unbelievers, so that, being purified from their pollution, they obtain a place in God’s barn; and thus was this prediction fulfilled, whenever by the agency of believers some of the Gentiles were subdued, so as to yield obedience to the authority of Christ; for they were never invested with any earthly power, so as to rule over all his enemies, but on the contrary they found it necessary to “possess their souls in patience.” (<422119>Luke 21:19.) But the Lord raised them up like palm-trees bent down by so many burdens, so that they not only were safe and sound, but also, with unshaken firmness of mind, trod their enemies under their feet.

It ought also to be observed, that Scripture is frequently accustomed to apply to the Church what strictly belongs to God alone. Since, therefore, God afflicted the ungodly Gentiles for the sake of his Church, he is said to have given them to be trodden under the feet of believers, who reaped the advantage. Whenever we read those prophecies, our minds ought to be raised to the kingdom of Christ, that, free from every wicked disposition, we may observe becoming moderation, and may not desire that this bruising should take place before the proper time; for it ought to be abundantly sufficient for us, if our Head shall at length prostrate his enemies under his feet, that we may share in the triumph of his victory.

But thou shalt rejoice in Jehovah. When he adds that the Jews will have cause to rejoice in the Lord, though by this confidence he intends to alleviate their grief, yet at the same time he admonishes the godly to be modest, that they may not exult with fierceness of mind, if at any time it happen that they are raised up by the hand of God, and exalted in such a manner as to reduce their enemies under their power; for there is nothing to which men are more prone than to become proud and insolent when everything happens to their wish. They forget that they are men, and blot out the remembrance of God, whom they ought to have acknowledged as the author of all blessings. In order, therefore, to restrain that immoderate exultation in which the flesh always indulges, and by which we often suffer ourselves to be carried away, the Prophet adds, “in the Lord,” because on him all our glory and all our joy ought to rest. In a word, the Prophet exhorts to gratitude, that, the more highly God exalts us, the more carefully ought we to repress all the vanity of ambition, and rejoice and glory in him alone.

17. The needy and poor shall seek water. Here he follows out the subject which he had begun to handle at the beginning of the fortieth chapter; for he describes the wretched and afflicted condition in which the Jews should be in Babylon, till at length God should have compassion on them and render assistance. He therefore prepares them for enduring extreme poverty, by saying that they will be thirsty; for this figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole, is better adapted to express the severity of the affliction. We know that nothing gives men greater distress than the want of water when they are “thirsty.”

I Jehovah will listen to them. God declares that he will relieve them, when they are brought to this necessitous condition; and hence we ought to learn to whom this promise belongs, namely, to those who, having been reduced to extremity, are as it were, parched with thirst and almost fainting. Hence also we see that the Church does not always possess an abundance of all blessings, but sometimes feels the pressure of great poverty, that she may be driven by these spurs to call upon God; for we commonly fall into slothfulness, when everything moves on according to our wish. It is therefore advantageous to us to thirst and hunger, that we may learn to flee to the Lord with our whole heart. In a word, we need to be deeply affected with a conviction of our poverty, that we may feel the Lord’s assistance. The Prophet unquestionably intended, by this circumstance, partly to illustrate the greatness of the favor, and partly to advise the people not to lose heart on account of their poverty.

The needy and poor. We ought to observe the names by which the Prophet here denominates the people of God. When he calls them “afflicted and poor,” he does not speak of strangers, but of those whom the Lord had adopted and chosen to be his heritage, and whom he forewarns that they must patiently endure some severe hardships. Hence we ought not to wonder if the Lord sometimes permit us almost to languish through hunger and thirst, since he dealt not less severely with our fathers.

When he says that waters are nowhere to be seen, let us learn that the Lord, in order to try our patience and faith, withdraws from us every assistance, that we may lean on him alone. Thus, when we look around on every side, and see no relief, let us know that still the Lord will assist. By the expression, I will listen, he means that God does not assist every kind of persons, but those who pray to him; for if we are so slothful as to disregard his aid, it is right that we should be altogether deprived of it, and, on account of our unworthiness, should fed no alleviation.

18. and 19. I will open rivers. He illustrates the former doctrine in a different manner, namely, that God has no need of outward and natural means for aiding his Church, but has at his command secret, and wonderful methods, by which he can relieve their necessities, contrary to all hope and outward appearance. When no means of relief are seen, we quickly fall into despair, and scarcely venture to entertain any hope, but so far as outward aids are presented to our eyes. Deprived of these, we cannot rest on the Lord. But the Prophet states that at that time especially they ought to trust, because at that time the Lord has more abundant opportunities of displaying his power, when men perceive no ways or methods, and everything appears to be utterly desperate. Contrary, then, to the hope and belief of all men, the Lord will assist his people, that we may not suffer ourselves to be driven hither and thither by doubt and hesitation.

On lofty mountain tops. In order to confirm his statement more fully, he promises that he will perform miracles contrary to the nature and order of things, that we may not imagine that we should think and judge of these things according to human capacity, or limit the power and promises of God to these inferior means. F745 The Lord has sufficient power in himself, and needs not to borrow from any other, and is not confined to the order of nature, which he can easily change, whenever he thinks fit; for when he says that he will make waters to flow on the tops of mountains, and fountains in valleys, and pools in deserts, we know that all this is contrary to the order of nature. The reason why he promised these things is abundantly evident. It was that the Jews might not think that they were prevented from returning to Judea by that vast desert in which travelers are scorched by the heat of the sun, and deprived of all the necessaries of life. The Lord therefore promises that he will supply them with water, and with everything else that is necessary for the journey. Now, these things were fulfilled when the Lord brought his people out of Babylon, but much more abundantly when he converted the whole world to himself by Christ the Redeemer, from whom flow in great abundance throughout the whole world waters to quench the thirst of poor sinners. F746 At that time such a change took place as could never have entered into the imaginations of men.

20. Therefore let them see and know. While God leads us by all his works to adore him, yet when the restoration of his Church is the matter in question, his wonderful power is manifested, so as to constrain all to admire him. As we have seen elsewhere, and as he will afterwards repeat frequently, when he brought back his people from banishment, he gave a proof fitted for being remembered in all ages, as he declares in this passage that he will do. But because we are either sluggish or careless in considering his works, and because they quickly pass away from our view in consequence of our giving so little attention to them, he repeats the same statement in many forms. We give our attention to vain and useless matters, instead of admiring these works of God; and if at any time they excite our admiration, yet we quickly forget them, because we are speedily led aside to different and very unimportant matters. The Prophet therefore arouses us, in order to shake off our slothfulness, and to quicken and direct all our senses to understand the power of God. On this account he places in the first rank looking, which produces certain knowledge, and next adds thought, which more fully and abundantly confirms the knowledge.

It is uncertain whether the Prophet speaks of the Jews, who were the citizens of the Church, or of foreigners; but in my opinion we may view it as having a general meaning, that in the restoration of the Church the hand of God will be visible even to very remote Gentiles, so that all shall be constrained to admire the work of God. Yet it is certain that the Persians and Medes, after having conquered the Jews, were singularly astonished when they heard those passages from the prophets:, and especially when they beheld the accomplishment of them before their eyes; for they knew that such things could not be performed by men, though they were not converted to God.

21. Plead your cause. There was also a necessity that this should be added to the former doctrine; for when we associate with wicked men, they pour ridicule on our hope and charge us with folly, as if we were too simple-minded and credulous. Our faith is attacked and frequently shaken by jeers such as the following, “These people hang on the clouds, and believe things that are impossible and contrary to all reason.” Since, therefore, the Jews, in their captivity, would hear such mockeries, it was of importance that they should be fortified by these warnings of the Prophet; and in order to give greater weight to this address, he comes forth of his own accord, for the sake of inspiring confidence, and challenges the Gentiles themselves, charging them to bring forward everything that could support their cause, as is usually done in courts of justice.

Saith the king of Jacob. When he calls himself “the king of Jacob,” he defies all idols, and shews that he undertakes the cause of his people, so as to be at length acknowledged to have vindicated his glory by delivering those who were unjustly oppressed. And yet the godly needed to possess a strong faith; for what was the aspect of the kingdom, when they were captives and so severely oppressed? This was also the reason why he formerly (verse 14) called them “the worm Jacob” and “dead men.” But they comforted their hearts by that promise by which he formerly said that their root was concealed under ground, when he compared the people to a tree that had been cut down.

“A branch shall spring from the stock of Jesse, and a sprout from his roots shall yield fruit.” (<231101>Isaiah 11:1.)

They beheld by the eyes of faith that kingly power which lay concealed; for it could not be seen by the bodily eyes or comprehended by the human understanding.

22. Let them bring them forth. Not only does he attack idolaters, but he bids them bring forward the gods themselves along with them; as if he had said, “Whatever may be their ingenuity, they will not be advocates able to defend so bad a cause.” Here we see God sustaining the character of an advocate, and speaking in the name of the whole nation; for he does not wish to be separated from his Church, which he therefore confirms and fortifies against the mockeries of wicked men, and other contrivances by which they attack our faith. We ought therefore to be of good cheer, when God undertakes our cause, and comes forth publicly against idolaters, and, armed with his invincible truth, rises up against the idols and puts to silence their vanity.

In this manner he shews, that by his word he has most abundantly armed his elect for certain victory, so that they ought not to hesitate to attack and join battle with all unbelievers; and indeed whoever has profited, as he ought, by heavenly doctrine, will easily repel all the tricks of Satan by steadfast and victorious faith. It is true, indeed, that our faith begins with obedience; but submissiveness, by which we place our senses in obedience to God, goes before understanding, in such a manner that it illuminates our minds by certain knowledge. And by this mark the true religion is distinguished from superstitions, for it is regulated by a rule which is not doubtful and cannot deceive. Idolaters are indeed exceedingly proud of their errors, but all their obstinacy proceeds from stupidity, madness, or fanatical violence; for if they would soberly and calmly attend to sound doctrine, that pride by which they obscure the light of truth would speedily give way.

It is far otherwise with the godly, whose faith is indeed founded on humility, but is not rashly led away by foolish and inconsiderate zeal, for it has for its guide and teacher the Spirit of God, that it may not go astray from the sure light of the word. Accordingly, when there is no rule to distinguish, as the Prophet declares, it is absolute superstition. Now, since nothing ought to be rejected at random, believers say, “Bring them forth, and we will give our heart to them;” not that they whom God has taught ought still to be ready to turn to either side, but because superstitious persons can bring forward no argument but what is ridiculous. Again, therefore, he points out the distinction between stupid obstinacy and true faith, which has its foundation in the word of God, so that it can never fail.

And let them tell us what is to come. We must now inquire by what arguments the Prophet maintains the majesty of God; for God claims for himself Almighty power and foreknowledge of all things, in such a manner that they cannot be ascribed to another without the most shocking blasphemy. Hence it is concluded that these things are peculiar to the Godhead, so that whoever it be that knows all things and can do all things, is justly believed to be God. In this manner, therefore, the Prophet now argues, “If the idols which you worship be gods, they must know all things, and be able to do all things; but they can do nothing either in prosperity or in adversity, and they know nothing that is past or that is future; and therefore they are not gods.”

Here arises a difficult question. In the writings of heathen authors we find many predictions which they received from the oracles of their gods, which might lead us to believe that Apollo, Jupiter, and others, foreknew future events, and consequently were gods. I reply, first, if we consider what was the nature of those oracles which are reported to have been uttered by idols, we shall find that they were all obscure and doubtful, like that which was given to Pyrrhus, F747

“Aio to AEacida Romanos vincere posse,”
or that to Croesus, —
“Croesus Halym penetrans magnam pervertet opum vim.” F748

By embarrassing ambiguities of this sort did Satan torture the minds of men; so as to send away in uncertainty those who were the victims of that imposture.

But we must also believe what Paul teaches, that Satan has received power of giving effect to error, that he may deceive all the ungodly men who willingly give themselves up to his delusions. (<530211>2 Thessalonians 2:11.) Thus, when they consulted Satan, “the father of falsehood,” (<430844>John 8:44,) it was not wonderful that they should be deceived under the pretense of truth; but it was a most righteous reward of their ingratitude. We see that Satan was freely permitted to increase, by means of the false prophets, the blindness of Ahab, who took pleasure in such delusions. (<112222>1 Kings 22:22.) Equally just was it that heathen nations, having alienated themselves from the true God, should be caught by idle snares, and even drawn to destruction. And here it is superfluous to pursue the argument on which Augustine bestows so much toil and pains, how far the devils approach to the heavenly angels in foreknowledge; for the cause must be sought in something else than in their nature. Thus, in ancient times, by giving to wicked teachers the opportunity of practising deception, God revenged the crimes of his people, not that they excelled in the gift of understanding, but so far as they were adapted to this purpose, they freely exercised the permission which was granted to them.

So far as relates to God himself, though his foreknowledge is concealed, and is even a deep abyss, yet he plainly enough revealed it to the elect people, so as to distinguish himself from the multitude of false gods. Not that he foretold everything by his prophets; for the curiosity of men is insatiable, and it is not advantageous to them to know everything; but because he concealed nothing that is profitable to be known, and by many remarkable predictions shewed, as far as was necessary, that he takes a peculiar care of the Church; as Amos says,

“Shall there be any secret that God doth not reveal to his servants the prophets?” (<300307>Amos 3:7.)

This privilege was wickedly and shamefully abused by the Jews, who universally made traffic of their trivial predictions among the Gentiles. But the truth always shone so brightly in the heavenly oracles, that all who guarded against snares clearly perceived by means of it that the God of Israel, and he alone, is God. So far were the idols from demonstrating their foreknowledge, that believers, who had been taught in the school of God, could no more be deceived by them, than a person who had the proper use of his eyes could be made to mistake black for white at noon-day. Much less could they ascribe power to the idols, since it was evident from the predictions which were daily uttered, that God alone directs both prosperity and adversity. The Assyrian conqueror rendered thanks to his idols; but God had previously forewarned the Jews what would happen, and had even shewed plainly that he armed that wicked man for the purpose of executing his vengeance.

23. Do good, or do evil. It must not be supposed that to do evil denotes, in this passage, to commit injustice, which is contrary to the nature of God; but it means to inflict punishment, and to send adversity, which ought to be ascribed to the providence of God, and not to idols or fortune. In this sense it is very frequently found in Scripture.

“Is there evil in a city which the Lord hath not done?”
(<300306>Amos 3:6.)

In like manner Jeremiah accuses the people of not acknowledging God to be “the author of good and of evil.” (<250338>Lamentations 3:38) By “evils” of that kind, therefore, such as wars, pestilence, famine, poverty, disease, and others of the same kind, the Lord punishes the sins of the people, and wishes to be acknowledged as the author of them all. Now, Isaiah does not bring forward all the examples and arguments by which God could be distinguished from idols, for that would have required a very long discourse; but he is at present satisfied with those which would give a short and yet clear demonstration; for he has not yet concluded his argument.

24. Lo, ye are of nothing. He now mocks at idols, in order to confirm the godly in the belief and worship of one God, when by the comparison they see that those who worship idols are miserably deceived and blind.

And your work is of nothing. Work must here be taken in a passive sense, as if he had said that it is a vain imagination, a contrivance of no value. But it may be thought that Isaiah speaks inaccurately, when he says that idols are of nothing, for they are composed of gold, or silver, or brass, or stone, or other materials. The solution is easy, for Isaiah did not look at the material, but at the quality, that is, the notion of divinity which men erroneously attribute to them. Superstitious people do not adore wood, or brass, or metal, viewed in themselves, but the majesty which they foolishly attach to the idol; F749 and this undoubtedly is nothing else than a vain imagination, Hence also Paul, in like manner, declares that “an idol is nothing;” for what reality can be ascribed, or what name can be given, to a mere image (<460804>1 Corinthians 8:4.)

He hath chosen abomination in you. Some translate abomination in the nominative case, and suppose the meaning to be, that the men who choose the idols are abominable; but I think that the meaning is different. The verb hath chosen, appears to me to be used indefinitely, as the grammarians call it, and in that manner it is often used in other passages of Scripture; for when the Prophets speak of the generality of men:, and relate any common or ordinary occurrence, they do not employ a substantive. I consider the meaning therefore to be, that men cannot frame idols without at the same time framing abomination. This is a remarkable passage for abhorring idols and the presumption of men who make them, which they cannot do without offering the highest insult to God. Some men think that it is amusement, but the Prophet declares it to be “abomination,” which God cannot endure, and will not permit to be unpunished. The word choose points out, as with the finger, the origin of idol-worship; for pure religion would never have been contaminated by so many corruptions, if they had not dared to make gods for themselves according to their own caprice; and therefore it ought to be remarked, that all kinds of worship that are the result of “choice” are at variance with true godliness.

25. I have raised him from the north. He again returns to that argument; which he had briefly handled, respecting the foreknowledge and power of God, and shews that to him alone in whom these are found, the name of God belongs; and therefore that they are empty idols, which neither know nor can do anything. When he says that he “raised him from the north,” some explain this as relating to Cyrus, and others as relating to Christ. But I think that here the Prophet denotes two things; for when he says “from the north,” he means the Babylonians, and when he says “from the east,” he means the Medes and Persians; as if he had said, “Two changes shall happen that are worthy of remembrance; for I will raise up the Babylonians, whose empire I will exalt on high, and next shall come the Persians, who shall become their masters.”

Though these events happened afterwards, and after a long interval, he shews that they were already well known to him, and appointed by his decree, so that the accomplishment of them is a clear proof of his divinity. Yet, in the former clause, he threatens punishment for the purpose of terrifying the Jews; in the latter he commends his mercy; because he testifies that both the captivity and the deliverance of the people will be his work, so that it is evident that both foreknowledge and power belong to him. Heathens make a division of various offices among their gods: Apollo foretells what is to come, Jupiter executes it, and another god does something else. But it belongs to God, not only to foretell or declare what shall happen, but to arrange everything according to his pleasure; for every divine attribute belongs to God alone, and cannot be ascribed to another; and this is the reason why he claims for himself foreknowledge and execution as inseparable.

When he says that he calls him “from the north,” as I suggested a little before, he predicts the future captivity of which at that time there was no expectation, because the Jews were friends and allies of the Chaldeans, and at the same time he prophesies concerning the restoration of the people who were permitted by Cyrus to return into their native land. Who would have thought, when matters were in that state, that such things could be believed? Especially since it was after a long interval that they followed; for they happened two hundred years after having been predicted by the Prophet. The Lord testifies that he is the author of these events, that all may know that the Babylonians did not attack them by chance, but that the Lord raised them up as scourges for chastising the Jews, and that the Persians and Medes did not subdue the Babylonians by their own power, but because they were led and prompted by the hand of God. In these words, therefore, he describes the greatness and power of God, and so much the more plainly by declaring that kings and princes, with respect to him, are clay. Hence we see more clearly that the Prophet had regard not only to his own age, but to posterity; for these things could not be known to the men who lived at that time, but posterity, who had actual experience of their accomplishment, understood them better; so that none could doubt that it is God alone “to whom all things are naked and open,” (<580413>Hebrews 4:13,) and who directs everything according to his pleasure.

This is a remarkable passage for establishing the full and perfect certainty of the oracles of God; for the Jews did not forge these predictions while they were captive in Babylon, but long after the predictions had been delivered to their fathers, they at length recognised the righteous judgment of God, by whom they had been warned in due time, and then embraced his mercy, having learned that they would be at length delivered by the Lord, who wished to preserve his Church, and whom they had found to be faithful to his promises. Hence, therefore, we may conclude with certainty, that Isaiah did not speak at his own suggestion, but that his tongue was moved and guided by the Spirit of God.

And he has come. F750 When he says that “he has come,” the meaning is, that all that has been foretold by the command of God will infallibly be accomplished. He speaks of a future event, and thus illustrates the foreknowledge of God; and when he says that God is the author of these events, this relates to his power and might.

He shall call on my name. To call “on the name of God” means nothing else than to undertake anything in obedience to his authority. It is true, indeed, that nothing was farther kern the intention of Cyrus than to be employed in the service of the God of Israel, or to follow him as a leader; but the event shewed that God, in a secret manner, led the way, so as to conduct him by successive and incredible victories to Babylon.

And as a potter he shall tread the clay. This comparison is added, because the power of the Babylonians was so vast that it was universally believed that it could not be assailed, and they looked upon themselves as invincible. Since therefore the Babylonians, trusting to their resources, despised all their adversaries, and were elated with pride, the Prophet says, that not only they, but many others shall be subdued and “trodden down like the clay.” In short, he means that the wealth of the Babylonians shall not prevent this change from being made, or the Medes and Persians from becoming masters of the empire; and, indeed, the propriety of this metaphor was clearly proved by the event, when Cyrus, after having conquered so many nations, and gained so many brilliant victories, within a short period subdued the whole of the East.

26. Who hath declared from the beginning? Again the Lord attacks idols, after having maintained his divinity; for he asks if idolaters can produce anything of a similar nature to support their worship; that is, if they can bring forward any such instance of foreknowledge or power. And because beyond all controversy he could claim this prerogative for himself alone, he tauntingly says, “We will acknowledge that he by whom such things shall be done is the true God.”

We will say he is righteous. This is the literal rendering, but the word “righteous” has an extensive meaning, and sometimes denotes “true and approved;” hence the saying, “Wisdom is justified,” that is, approved, “by her children.” (<401119>Matthew 11:19.) These are then clear proofs of the divine majesty, which demonstrate the vanity of idols, because by the disposal of God alone all things are governed, and by the slightest expression of his will the mightiest monarchies are overthrown. The Lord speaks in the plural number, in order to shew that he does not defend his own cause, but the cause of the whole nation. He is, indeed, satisfied with his own eternity; but as we are weak, it is therefore necessary that it should be proved to us that he is God, that our minds may not go astray, or wander in uncertainty, but may rest entirely upon him; and therefore to the word is added experimental knowledge, that it may more fully support our faith, if it should still be liable to waver.

There is none that heareth your words. He says that the idols are dumb, and leave their worshippers in suspense, while he kindles the torch of his word, to enlighten his elect people, and lead them forward to righteous judgment.

27. The first to Zion. F751 In this verse God states more clearly that he predicts future events to the Jews, in order to encourage them to believe; because if prophecies had not their end and use, it would not in itself be of very great advantage to know future events. God therefore testifies that prophecies are intended by him to promote the faith and edification of the Church. It was necessary that this should be added to the former statements, that the people might know that those examples were exhibited, not only in order to magnify the power of God, but that all believers might reap advantage from it; for all the instances of the power and foreknowledge of God ought to be viewed by us in such a light as will enable us to know that he takes care of us, (<600507>1 Peter 5:7,) and that he does everything for promoting our salvation. Zion is therefore commanded to acknowledge him as the true and only God, not merely because he has punished their crimes, but because they are restored from captivity, and thus learn that God is reconciled to them.

Behold! Behold! Here we must regard Mount Zion as desolate and uninhabited, and Jerusalem as reduced to a wilderness. Hence also Jeremiah represents Jerusalem as speaking in the manner that is usual with afflicted and distressed women. (<250120>Lamentations 1:20.) Thus the Lord now exhibits her as a widow and forsaken. Isaiah will afterwards arouse her to rejoice as a woman who had formerly been barren, and to whom the Lord had given new fertility for bearing offspring. (<235401>Isaiah 54:1.) At the same time he now declares that he will comfort Jerusalem, at a time when nothing was to be seen but what was melancholy and revolting in her hideous ruins. Now, the present message is, either that she shall give birth to children, though she was long a widow and desolate, or that they who had been scattered in distant captivity will return to her in vast numbers. With that desolation, therefore, we must contrast the restoration which was effected through Cyrus, when it is said, “Behold, they come;” and by the word “first,” is denoted not only the eternal essence of God, but likewise the antiquity of the prediction.

And I will send a messenger to Jerusalem. He now describes the manner in which God informs believers about future events, that is by the agency and ministry of the prophets. Rbm (mebashsher) is translated by Jerome “Evangelist,” or “a bringer of good tidings;” but it literally means a “messenger.” This makes little difference, however, as to the meaning; for it denotes the prophets who should bring the glad and cheering message of this deliverance, as God had formerly promised by Moses, that he would raise up, in uninterrupted succession, faithful ministers who should surpass all the magicians, and soothsayers, and diviners. (<051815>Deuteronomy 18:15.) For this reason also he formerly bestowed on the Church a remarkable appellation, calling her “a bearer of tidings,” (<234009>Isaiah 40:9,) because in the Church the word of God ought to sound aloud.

This tends greatly to the commendation of preaching; for the Lord does not descend from heaven to instruct us, but employs the ministry of his servants, and declares that he speaks to us by their mouth; and this distinguished blessing of God ought to be embraced with our whole heart. He had promised in the Law, as I mentioned a little before,

“I will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you.” (<051815>Deuteronomy 18:15.)

He now confirms that promise, by saying that there shall never be wanting “messengers” to soothe the people amidst their griefs, and to comfort them amidst their severest afflictions. Hence also we ought to conclude, that there is no condition of the Church in which prophecies cease; that is, in which the word of God brings no alleviation of our distresses.

28. I looked, and there was none. After having spoken of himself, the Lord returns to idols; for these are continued contrasts by which a comparison is drawn between God and idols. As if he had said, “I do these things, but idols cannot do them; they have no counsel, or wisdom, or understanding; they cannot give an answer to those that ask them, and cannot yield any alleviation to the wretched.” In this comparison we ought to observe that he plainly shews himself to be God, first, by the prophets and by their doctrine, and, secondly, by his works in a similar manner; and that nothing of this kind is found in idols; from which it follows, that they are not gods, and that we ought to rely on him alone. Besides, the eyes of men are darkened by slothfulness; because they neither inquire, nor consider, nor observe. Thus they are stupified by idols, for they are willingly deceived; because they would immediately perceive the emptiness of idols, if they carefully applied their minds to examine them. This shews that idolaters cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance, for they choose to be blind and to wander in darkness, rather than to see the light and embrace the truth.

29. Behold, they are all vanity. After having spoken of idols, he makes the same statement as to their worshippers; as it is also said,

“They who make them, and all that trust in them, are like them.” (<19B508>Psalm 115:8.)

Thus he shews that all superstitious persons are full of “vanity,” and have no judgment or reason. They cannot, indeed, believe this; for, inflated with pride, they look upon themselves as men of the highest ability, and despise us as stupid and ignorant of the affairs of men, when compared with themselves. With what pride do the Papists and their learned doctors scorn us! With what haughtiness did the Romans in ancient times despise the Jews! But we need not spend time on such pride, for in this passage God condemns them all for “vanity.”

Their works are a failure. He gives the name of “works” both to the images which superstitious men make for themselves, and to all false worship, which has no end or measure, and in which every person desires to be a master and teacher of religion. He pronounces all of them to be a “failure,” that is, of no value. He declares this still more plainly, when he says, that they are wind and chaos, that is, confusion; for I explain wht (tohu) in the same sense that it has in the first chapter of Genesis, where Moses says that

“the earth was at first shapeless and confused.”
(<010102>Genesis 1:2.)

This passage against idolaters ought to be carefully studied; for they think that images were appointed to preserve religion, and that minds are kindled by the sight of them, as by the visible presence of God. They think that they are the books of the ignorant and unlearned, who cannot be instructed by the reading of the Scriptures. But the Spirit of God here declares that it is a confused and shapeless thing, that is, because it disturbs and retains in superstition the minds of men; and indeed all true knowledge that exists among men is choked and quenched by this worship of idols. In short, he teaches that all images, and the homage that is paid to them, and they who have made and follow them, are mere vanity, and that we may safely condemn them.


Go To Isaiah 42:1-25

1. Behold my servant. The Prophet appears to break off abruptly to speak of Christ, but we ought to remember what we mentioned formerly F752 in expounding another passage, (<230714>Isaiah 7:14,) that the prophets, when they promise anything hard to be believed, are wont immediately afterwards to mention Christ; for in him are ratified all the promises which would otherwise have been doubtful and uncertain. “In Christ,” says Paul, “is Yea and Amen.” (<470120>2 Corinthians 1:20.) For what intercourse can we have with God, unless the Mediator come between us? We undoubtedly are too far alienated from his majesty, and therefore could not be partakers either of salvation or of any other blessing, but through the kindness of Christ.

Besides, when the Lord promised deliverance to the Jews, he wished to raise their minds higher, that they might look for greater and more valuable gifts than bodily freedom and a return to Judea; for those blessings were only the foretaste of that redemption which they at length obtained through Christ, and which we now enjoy. The grace of God in the return of his people would indeed have been imperfect, if he had not, at that time revealed himself as the perpetual Redeemer of his Church. But, as we have already said, the end of the captivity in Babylon included the full restoration of the Church; and consequently we need not wonder if the prophets interweave that commencement of grace with the reign of Christ, for that succession of events is mentioned in ninny passages. We must therefore come to Christ, without whom God cannot be reconciled to us; that is, unless we be received into the number of God’s children by being ingrafted, into his body. It will be evident from what follows, that the Prophet now speaks of Christ as the First-born and the Head, for to no other person could the following statements be applied, and the Evangelists place the matter beyond all controversy. (<401217>Matthew 12:17-21.)

He calls Christ his Servant, (kat ejxoch>n,) by way of eminence; for this name belongs to all the godly, because God has adopted them on the condition of directing themselves and their whole life to obedience to him; and godly teachers, and those who hold a public office in the Church, are in a peculiar manner denominated the servants of God. But there is something still more extraordinary, on account of which this name belongs especially to Christ, for he is called a “Servant,” because God the Father not only enjoined him to teach or to do some particular thing, but called him to a singular and incomparable work which has nothing in common with other works.

Though this name is ascribed to the person, yet it belongs to human nature; for since his divine nature is eternal, and since he has always possessed in it a glory equal and perfectly similar to that of the Father, it was necessary that he should assume flesh in order that he might submit to obedience. Hence also Paul says,

“Though he was in the form of God, he accounted it not robbery to make himself equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,” etc. (<501706>Philippians 2:6.)

That he was a servant was a voluntary act, so that we must not think that it detracted anything from his rank. The ancient writers of the Church expressed this by the word “Dispensation,” by which it was brought about, they tell us, that he was subject to all our infirmities. It was by a voluntary determination that he subjected himself to God, and subjected himself in such a manner as to become also of service to us; and yet that exceedingly low condition does not hinder him from still continuing to possess supreme majesty. Hence also the Apostle says that he was “exalted above every name.” (<502609>Philippians 2:9.) he employs the demonstrative particle Behold, in order to lead the Jews to regard the event as having actually taken place; for the objects which were before their eyes might have led them to despair, and therefore he bids them turn away their eyes from the actual condition of things and look to Christ.

I will lean upon, him, or, I will uphold him. F753 ˚mta (ethmoch) is interpreted by some in an active, and by others in a passive sense. If it be taken in a passive sense, the meaning will be, that God will “lean on” his Anointed in such a manner as to lay the whole charge upon him, as masters commonly do to their faithful servants; and it is a proof of extraordinary fidelity, that God the Father will deliver all things to him, and will put into his hand his own power and authority. (<431303>John 13:3, and 17:10.) Yet I do not object to the active signification, “I will raise him up,” or, “I will exalt him,” or, “I will support him in his rank;” for what immediately follows, I will put my Spirit in him, is a repetition of the same sentiment. In the former clause, therefore, he says, I will uphold him, and afterwards describes the manner of “upholding,” that he will direct him by his Spirit, meaning by this phrase that he will assist Christ in all things, and will not permit him to be overcome by any difficulties. Now, it was necessary that Christ should he endued with the Spirit of God, in order to execute that divine office, and be the Mediator between God and men; for so great a work could not be performed by human power.

My elect. In this passage the word Elect denotes “excellent,” as in many other passages; for they who are in the very flower of their age are called chosen youths. (<092602>1 Samuel 26:2, and <100601>2 Samuel 6:1.) Jehovah therefore calls him “an excellent servant,” because he bears the message of reconciliation, and because all his actions are directed by God. At the same time he demonstrates his undeserved love, by which he embraced us all in his only-begotten Son, that in his person we may behold an illustrious display of that election by which we have been adopted into the hope of eternal life. Now, since heavenly power dwells in the human nature of Christ, when we hear him speak, let us not look at flesh and blood, but raise our minds higher, so as to know that all that he does is divine.

In whom my soul is well pleased. From this passage we learn that Christ is not only beloved by the Father, (<400317>Matthew 3:17,) but is alone beloved and accepted by him, so that there is no way of obtaining favor from God but through the intercession of Christ. In this sense the Evangelists quote this passage, (<401218>Matthew 12:18,) as Paul also declares that we are reconciled “in the beloved” in such a manner as to be beloved on his account. (<490106>Ephesians 1:6.) The Prophet afterwards shews that Christ will be endued with the power of the Spirit, not solely on his own account, but in order to spread it far and wide.

He will exhibit judgment to the Gentiles. By the word judgment the Prophet means a well-regulated government, and not a sentence which is pronounced by a judge on the bench; for to judge means, among the Hebrew writers, “to command, to rule, to govern,” and he adds that this judgment will be not only in Judea, but throughout the whole world. This promise was exceedingly new and strange; for it was only in Judea that God was known, (<197602>Psalm 76:2,) and the Gentiles were shut out from all confidence in his favor. (<490212>Ephesians 2:12.)

These clear proofs were therefore exceedingly needful for us, that we might be certain of our calling; for otherwise we might think that these promises did not at all belong to us. Christ was sent in order to bring the whole world under the authority of God and obedience to him; and this shows that without him everything is confused and disordered. Before he comes to us, there can be no proper government amongst us; and therefore we must learn to submit to him, if we desire to be well and justly governed. Now, we ought to judge of this government from the nature of his kingdom, which is not external, but belongs to the inner man; for it consists of a good conscience and uprightness of life, not what is so reckoned before men, but what is so reckoned before God. The doctrine may be thus summed up: “Because the whole life of men has been perverted since we were corrupted in every respect by the fall of Adam, Christ came with the heavenly power of his Spirit, that he might change our disposition, and thus form us again to ‘newness of life.’” (<450604>Romans 6:4.)

2. He shall not cry aloud. The Prophet shews of what nature the coming of Christ will be; that is, without pomp or splendor, such as commonly attends earthly kings, at whose arrival there are uttered various noises and loud cries, as if heaven and earth were about to mingle. But Isaiah says that Christ will come without any noise or cry; and that not only for the sake of applauding his modesty, but, first, that we may not form any earthly conception of him; secondly, that, having known his kindness by which he draws us to him, we may cheerfully hasten to meet him; and, lastly, that our faith may not languish, though his condition be mean and despicable.

He shall not lift up his voice; that is, he shall create no disturbance; as we commonly say of a quiet and peaceable man, “He makes no great noise.” F754 And indeed he did not boast of himself to the people, but frequently forbade them to publish his miracles, that all might learn that his power and authority was widely different from that which kings or princes obtain, by causing themselves to be loudly spoken of in order to gain the applause of the multitude. (<400804>Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16; <410543>Mark 5:43; <420856>Luke 8:56.)

3. A bruised reed he shall not break. After having declared in general that Christ will be unlike earthly princes, he next mentions his mildness in this respect, that he will support the weak and feeble. This is what he means by the metaphor of “the bruised reed,” that he does not wish to break off and altogether crush those who are half-broken, but, on the contrary, to lift up and support them, so as to maintain and strengthen all that is good in them.

Nor will he quench the smoking flax. This metaphor is of the same import with the former, and is borrowed from the wicks of lamps, which may displease us by not burning clearly or by giving out smoke, and yet we do not extinguish but trim and brighten them. Isaiah ascribes to Christ that forbearance by which he bears with our weakness, which we find to be actually fulfilled by him; for wherever any spark of piety is seen, he strengthens and kindles it, and if he were to act towards us with the utmost rigor, we should be reduced to nothing. Although men therefore totter and stumble, although they are even shaken or out of joint, yet he does not at once cast them off as utterly useless, but bears long, till he makes them stronger and more steadfast.

God gave a manifestation of this meekness when he appointed Christ to begin the discharge of his office as ambassador; for the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven in the shape of a dove, which was a token of nothing but mildness and gentleness. (<400316>Matthew 3:16; <410110>Mark 1:10; <420322>Luke 3:22; <430132>John 1:32.) And indeed the sign perfectly agrees with the reality; for he makes no great noise, and does not render himself an object of terror, as earthly kings commonly do, and does not wish to harass or oppress his people beyond measure, but, on the contrary, to soothe and comfort them. Not only did he act in this manner when he was manifested to the world, but this is what he daily shows himself to be by the gospel. Following this example, the ministers of the gospel, who are his deputies, ought to shew themselves to be meek, and to support the weak, and gently to lead them in the way, so as not to extinguish in them the feeblest sparks of piety, but, on the contrary, to kindle them with all their might. But that we may not suppose that this meekness holds out encouragement to vices and corruptions, he adds —

He shall bring forth judgment in truth. Although Christ soothes and upholds the weak, yet he is very far from using the flatteries which encourage vices; and therefore we ought to correct vices without flattery, which is in the highest degree inconsistent with that meekness. We ought therefore to guard diligently against extremes; that is, we must neither crush the minds of the weak by excessive severity, nor encourage by our smooth language anything that is evil.

That we may better understand who those persons are towards whom, following the example of Christ, we ought to exercise this mildness, we ought to weigh carefully the Prophet’s words. He calls them “a bruised reed” and “smoking wick.” These words do not apply to those who boldly and obstinately resist, nor to those who are fierce and headstrong; for such persons do not deserve this forbearance, but rather must be broken and crushed, as by the strokes of a hammer, by the severity of the word. While he praises meekness, he at the same time shews to whom it is adapted, and at what time and in what manner it ought to be employed; for it is not suitable to hardened and rebellious persons, or to those whose rage sends forth flames, but to those who are submissive, and who cheerfully yield to the yoke of Christ.

The word smoking shews that he maintains and cherishes not darkness, but sparks, though feeble and hardly perceptible. Wherever then there is impiety and stubbornness, there we must act with the utmost severity, and exercise no forbearance; but, on the other hand, where there are vices that have not gone beyond endurance, yet by gentleness of this nature, instead of encouraging, we must correct and reform them; for we must always pay regard chiefly to truth, of which he speaks, that vices may not be concealed, and thus acquire a secret corruption, but that the weak may be gradually trained to sincerity and uprightness. These words, therefore, relate to those persons who, amidst many deficiencies, have integrity of mind, and earnestly desire to follow true religion, or, at least, in whom we see some good beginning. It is dearly shewn by mary passages (<401239>Matthew 12:39; 22:18; 23:13) how severely Christ deals with despisers; for he is constrained to employ “a rod of iron” to crush those who do not submit to be governed by his shepherd’s crook. As he justly declares that “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light,” (<401130>Matthew 11:30,) to willing disciples, so with good reason does David arm him with “a scepter of iron” (<190209>Psalm 2:9) to break his enemies in pieces, and declare that he will be wet with their blood. (<19B006>Psalm 110:6, 7.)

4. He shall not faint, nor be discouraged. The Prophet alludes to the preceding verse, and confirms what he formerly said, that Christ will indeed be mild and gentle towards the weak, but that he will have no softness or effeminacy; for he will manfully execute the commission which he has received from the Father. This is what he means when he says that “he shall not faint;” and in this verb hhky (yichheh) there is an allusion to a former verse, in which he spoke of “smoking flax.” Now, he shews what is the true moderation of meekness, not to turn aside to excessive indulgence; for we ought to use it in such a manner as not to swerve from our duty. Many persons wish to profit by the name of gentleness, so as to gain the applause and esteem of the world, but at the same time betray truth in a base and shameful manner.

I remember that there were in a populous city two preachers, one of whom boldly and loudly reproved vices, while the other endeavored to gain the favor of the people by flatteries. This fawning preacher, who was expounding the Prophet Jeremiah, lighted on a passage full of the mildest consolation, and having found, as he imagined, a fit opportunity, began to declaim against those harsh and severe reprovers who are wont to terrify men by thunderbolts of words. But on the following day, when the Prophet changed his subject and sharply rebuked wicked men with his peculiar vehemence of style, the wretched flatterer was constrained to encounter bitter scorn by retracting the words which were fresh in the recollection of all his hearers. Thus the temporary favor which he had gained speedily vanished, when he revealed his own disposition, and made himself abhorred by the good and the bad.

We must therefore distinguish between the submissive and the obstinate, that we may not abuse that mildness by using it on every occasion. Yet Isaiah declares that Christ’s fortitude will be unshaken, so that it shall surmount every obstacle; for by these words, Till he put judgment, he means that the ministry of Christ will be so efficacious that the fruit of his doctrine shall be manifested. He does not merely say, “Till he shall have made known the will of his Father,” but “Till he establish judgment,” that is, as we formerly said, the proper exercise of government. Christ’s ministry, therefore, he testifies, will not be unfruitful, but will have such efficacy that men shall be reformed by it.

This must not be limited to the person of Christ, but extends to the whole course of the gospel; for he not only discharged the embassy committed to him for three years, but continues to discharge the same embassy every day by means of his servants. Yet we are reminded that it is impossible for us to discharge that office without being laid under the necessity of suffering many annoyances, and sustaining contests so severe and dangerous, that we shall be almost overwhelmed and ready to abandon everything. Still we must not desist, but persevere constantly in our duty, and run to the very end; and therefore the Prophet testifies that Christ will be so steadfast that he will pursue his calling to the end; and, following his example, we ought boldly to persevere.

And the isles shall wait for his law. Here he employs the word Law to mean “doctrine,” as the Hebrew word for “law” is derived from a verb which signifies to teach; F755 and thus the prophets are accustomed to speak of the gospel, in order to shew that it will not be new or contrary to what was taught by Moses.

The isles. We have formerly shewn that the Hebrew writers give the name of isles to countries beyond the sea.

The Prophet confirms the former statement, by which it was declared that Christ had been appointed not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, though they had nothing in common with the Jewish commonwealth. In short, that promise relates to all nations, that the advantages of this restoration and reformation may be shared by every part of the world.

By the word wait, he means that the elect will eagerly embrace the gospel offered to them; for the Lord displays in it the power of his election, when “they who wandered in darkness,” (<400416>Matthew 4:16,) as soon as they hear the voice of the gospel, embrace it with the utmost eagerness, and although they formerly wandered, like scattered and lost sheep, yet hear immediately the voice of the shepherd, and cheerfully submit to him, as Christ himself has also spoken. (<431016>John 10:16.) Hence we learn that the saying of Augustine is exceedingly true, “that many sheep wander out of the folds, while wolves frequently dwell within the folds.” This attention is the work of God, when men who thought that they were wise give up their own judgment, and have to learn the gospel of Christ, so as to depend entirely on this teacher.

5. Thus saith Jehovah. He confirms what he said in the beginning of the chapter about the reign of Christ, that he will renew and restore all things; and as this might be thought to be incredible, he has here added a magnificent description of the power of God, by which our faith ought to be confirmed, especially when the outward aspect of things is directly contrary. On this account he brings forward clear proofs of the power of God, that all may be aroused by the mention of them, and may be convinced that he who created all things out of nothing, who spread out the heavens, who produced vegetation, who gave life to animals, and who upholds and defends all things by his power, will easily perform what he promises concerning the reign of Christ. These forms of expression remind us that we ought always to consider the power of God, that we may be fully convinced of the authority and undoubted certainty of his word; for it is not without reason that Isaiah makes this preface, but in order to remove every doubt, because nothing is too hard for God, who keeps the whole world in subjection to his authority; and in the following chapters he will employ similar modes of expression.

lah (hael) is rendered by some “powerful,” and by others “God;” but it is of little consequence, for the meaning is the same; because he exhibits his power and majesty, and adorns him with this variety of titles, that we may know that he will easily restore all that is fallen and laid low.

6. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness. He again repeats the name of God, in which we ought to supply what he stated in the former verse about his power. It is generally thought that this points out the end of Christ’s calling, that he was sent by the Father to establish “justice” among men, who are destitute of it so long as they have not Christ, and, being given up to all the corruptions of crimes and vices, are held captive under the tyranny of Satan. But because the word “righteousness” has a more extensive signification, I pass by that ingenious distinction; for it is not even said that he shall be called “to righteousness,” but this phraseology ought to be viewed as equivalent to the adverbial expression, “righteously,” or “in a holy manner.” I rather suppose the meaning to be, that Christ was “called in righteousness,” because his calling is lawful, and therefore shall be firm and secure. We know that what is not done in a proper and regular manner cannot be of long duration. Or perhaps it will be thought preferable to view it thus, that God, in appointing Christ to restore the Church, seeks no reason but from himself and his own righteousness; but it is certain that this word denotes stability, as if he had said, “faithfully.”

And will hold thee by thy hand. By “the holding of the hand” he means the immediate assistance of God; as if he had said, “I will direct and establish thee in the calling to which I have appointed thee. In a word, as thy calling is righteous, so I will defend and uphold thee, as if by taking hold of thy hand I were thy leader.”

I will keep thee. This word “keep” plainly shews what is the meaning of holding by the hand, namely, that Christ will be directed by the Father in such a manner that he shall have him as his protector and guardian, shall enjoy his assistance, and, in short, shall feel his presence in all things.

And will place thee for a covenant. He now states the reason why God promises that he will be a guardian to Christ. Besides, the Prophet spoke of the Jews and the Gentiles separately; not that they differ by nature, or that the one is more excellent than the other, (for all need the grace of God, (<450323>Romans 3:23,) and Christ has brought salvation to all indiscriminately,) but because the Lord assigned the first rank to the Jews, (<401006>Matthew 10:6,) it was therefore proper that they should be distinguished from the others. Accordingly, before “the partition-wall” (<490214>Ephesians 2:14) was thrown down, they excelled, not by their merit, but by the favor of God, because with them in the first instance the covenant of grace was made.

It may be objected, “Why is Christ appointed to a covenant which was ratified long before? for, more than two thousand years before, God had adopted Abraham, and thus the origin of the distinction was long previous to the coming of Christ.” I reply, the covenant which was made with Abraham and his posterity had its foundation in Christ; for the words of the covenant are these, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” (<012218>Genesis 22:18.) And the covenant was ratified in no other manner than in the seed of Abraham, that is, in Christ, by whose coming, though it had been previously made, it was confirmed and actually sanctioned. Hence also Paul says, “that the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ,” (<470120>2 Corinthians 1:20,) and in another passage calls Christ “the minister of circumcision, to fulfill the promises which were given to the fathers.” (<451508>Romans 15:8.) Still more clearly does he declare that Christ is “the peace” of all, so that they who were formerly separated are united in him, and both they who were far off and they who were near are thus reconciled to God. (<490217>Ephesians 2:17.) Hence also it is evident that Christ was promised, not only to the Jews, but to the whole world.

For a light of the Gentiles. We have here another clear proof of the calling of the Gentiles, since he expressly states that Christ was appointed to be “a light” to them. He calls him a light, because the Gentiles were plunged in the deepest and thickest darkness, at the time when the Lord illuminated none but the Jews. Now, then, the blame lies solely with ourselves, if we do not become partakers of this salvation; for he calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illuminated by him. Let us only open our eyes, he alone will dispel the darkness, and illuminate our minds by the “light” of truth.

7. That thou mayest open the eyes of the blind. Here he explains more fully for what end Christ shall be sent by the Father, that we may see more clearly what advantage he yields us, and how much we need his assistance. He reminds all men of their “blindness,” that they may acknowledge it, if they wish to be illuminated by Christ. In short, under these metaphors he declares what is the condition of men, till Christ shine upon them as their Redeemer; that is, that they are most wretched, empty, and destitute of all blessings, and surrounded and overwhelmed by innumerable distresses, till they are delivered by Christ.

Now, though the Prophet addresses Christ himself, yet he has in his eye believers, that they may know that in him they ought to trust, and may not doubt that a remedy will be provided for all their distresses, if they implore his aid. God does not here enjoin Christ what he shall do, as if he needed to be taught or to receive commandments; but he addresses him for our sake, that we may know why the Father sent him; as he says also, (<190207>Psalm 2:7, 8,) “I will make known the decree; ask of me, I will give thee the Gentiles;” for in that passage the rank and authority of Christ are declared, that we may know that the Father has bestowed on him the highest authority, in order that we may more securely place all our hope and confidence in him.

8. I am Jehovah. Hence infer what is the nature and extent of the disease of unbelief, since the Lord can hardly satisfy himself with any words to express the cure of it. By nature we are prone to distrust, and do not believe God when he speaks, till he entirely subdue our stubbornness. Besides, we continually fall back into the same fault through our levity, unless he employ many bridles to restrain us. Again, therefore, he returns to that confirmation of which we have spoken formerly, that his promises may remain unshaken.

This is my name. awh (hu) is sometimes taken for a substantive, so as to be a proper name of God; F756 but I explain it in a more simple manner, “It is my name,” that is, “Jehovah is my own name, and cannot lawfully be given to any other.” In a word, by this expression he seals all that was said about the office of Christ, and adds as it were a seal to the promise: “He who declareth these things testifieth that he alone is God, and that this name dwelleth in him alone.”

And I will not give my glory to another; that is, “I will not suffer my glory to be diminished, which it would be, if I were found to be false or fickle in my promises.” He therefore declares that he will abide by his promises, because he wishes to vindicate his glory and preserve it entire, that it may not be in any respect diminished.

This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the glory of God is chiefly visible in his fulfillment of what he has promised. And hence we obtain a singular confirmation of our faith, that the Lord never deceives, never swerves from his promises, and nothing can hinder what he has once determined. But since Satan, by amazing arts, endeavors to obscure this glory of God, and to bestow it on men and on false gods, he therefore testifies that he will not permit himself to be regarded as fickle or deceitful in his promises.

Nor my praise to graven images. A contrast is drawn between the only God and idols with reference to time; for, had not God been the Redeemer of his people, unbelievers would have boasted as if true religion had been false and useless. God therefore declares that he will not permit wicked men to triumph by oppressing the Church; and, beyond all doubt, God has hitherto spared us, and still deals so gently with us, in order that he may not expose his Gospel to the blasphemous reproaches of the Papists. We ought to draw from this a universal doctrine, namely, that the Lord wishes that his glory may remain unimpaired; for he defends and maintains it everywhere with the utmost zeal, in order to shew that he is exceedingly jealous of it, (<022005>Exodus 20:5,) and does not permit the smallest part of it to be given to another.

9. The former things. He now recalls to remembrance the former predictions, by the fulfillment of which he shews that confidence ought to be placed in him for the future; for what we have known by actual experience ought to tend greatly to confirm our belief. It is as if he had said, “I have spoken so frequently to your fathers, and you have found me to be true in all things; and yet you cannot place confidence in me about future events: the experience of past transactions produces no effect upon you, and does not excite you to do better.” God’s favors, therefore, ought to be mentioned by us in such a manner that, whenever our salvation lies concealed in hope, we may rest on the word of God, and be confirmed by it during the whole course of our life.

Behold! they came. F757 By the adverb behold, he points out, as with the finger, that they had learned by experience, that God is not false, and did not; speak in vain by the prophets; because clear proofs openly testified and proclaimed the truth of God.

Before they spring forth. F758 He distinguishes God from idols by this mark, that he alone knows and predicts future events, but idols do not; know them. As to the greater part of the responses which were given by the gods of the Gentiles, we have formerly seen that they were either false or ambiguous; for they who relied on them were often shamefully deceived, and this is the reward which they richly deserved. And if at first sight the event corresponded, this plunged them deeper in eternal perdition; and by the righteous judgment of God it was brought about that Satan imposed upon them by such delusions. Far otherwise was it with the sacred oracles, by which the Church, for her own advantage and salvation, was at one time brought to repentance, and at another time encouraged to entertain favorable hope, that she might not sink under the burden of punishments. It remains a settled principle, that all that God has foretold is verified by the event; for he rules and directs all things by his providence.

10. Sing to Jehovah. He now exhorts the people to gratitude; for God’s favors ought always to excite us, by the remembrance of them, to give thanks and to celebrate his praises. Besides, by that exhortation he calls believers to behold the prophecy as actually accomplished, and confirms those promises of which he spoke. We ought to observe this as the design of the Prophet, that there is no reason why believers, though they are severely oppressed, should give way to sorrow, but that good hope ought to encourage them to gladness, that they may now prepare to render thanksgiving.

The subject of this song is, that Christ has been revealed to the world, and sent by the Father, in order to relieve the miseries of his Church, and to restore her to perfect order, and indeed, as it were, to renew the whole world. As it was difficult to believe this, the Prophet wished to remove every doubt, in order to fix these predictions more deeply in their hearts. Nor ought we to wonder that the Prophet labors so hard to arouse them when they were reduced to the greatest straits, and had no longer any hope of safety. The mere aspect of things might shake their faith, and even produce suspicion that all that the prophets had foretold was unfounded and absurd. The object, of this exhortation therefore is, that when affairs are utterly desperate, they should be cheerful and rely on these promises.

A new song. By new he means an excellent, beautiful, and elegant song, not one that is ordinary or common, but a song which may arouse men to admiration, as relating to the extraordinary grace of God, of which there had never been so remarkable an example. In this sense it is also used in <193303>Psalm 33:3, and <199601>96:1. New is here contrasted with what is Ordinary, and thus he extols the infinite mercy of God, which was to be revealed in Christ, and which ought therefore to be celebrated and sung with the highest praises. Hence we infer that each of us ought to be the more zealous in proclaiming the praises of God, in proportion to the greater number of favors which we have received. It is indeed the duty of all men to sing praise to God, for there is no person who is not bound to it by the strongest obligations; but more lofty praises ought to proceed from those on whom more valuable gifts have been bestowed. Now, since God has laid open the fountain of all blessings in Christ, and has displayed all spiritual riches, we need not wonder if he demand that we offer to him an unwonted and excellent sacrifice of praise.

It ought to be observed that this song cannot be sung but by renewed men; for it ought to proceed from the deepest feeling of the heart, and therefore we need the direction and influence of the Spirit, that we may sing those praises in a proper manner. Besides, he does not exhort one or a few nations to do this, but all the nations in the world; for to all of them Christ was sent.

11. Let the desert and it’s cities cry aloud. While the Prophet includes all the parts of the world, he mentions particularly those which were better known to the Jews; for on the west Judea had the sea, and on the east the desert and Arabia. When he speaks of the tents of Kedar, the desert, and the rocks, he means Arabia; but it is a figure of speech by which a part is taken for the whole, for it includes the whole of the east. It is as if he had said, that from the rising to the setting of the sun these praises shall be heard; for God shall be worshipped everywhere, though formerly he was worshipped in Judea alone; and thus the state of affairs shall be changed, and that praise shall be beard in the most distant parts of the earth. F759

The towns where Kedar dwells. He mentions Kedar, because the Scenite F760 Arabians, as is well known, dwelt in tents. But he employs the word towns, while he is speaking of a desert; and therefore it ought to be remarked, that desert denotes not only the vast wilderness which lay between Judea and Arabia, but the more distant countries which were commonly designated from that part which was adjoining to them, as some people give the name of “mountainous” to those plains which lie beyond the mountains; for the common people have their attention so much directed to what they see close at hand, that they suppose them to resemble other places that are more distant. Yet the Prophet here exalts and magnifies the greatness of the grace of God, in reaching even rude and barbarous nations, whose savage cruelty was well known.

12. Let them give glory to Jehovah. He explains what the nature of that shouting will be, that is, to celebrate the praises of God; for his goodness and mercy shall be everywhere seen; and therefore he enjoins them to celebrate this redemption with a cheerful voice, because the blessed consequences of it shall be shared by all the nations. And thus we are reminded to cry aloud in the present day with the greatest earnestness when we proclaim the praises of God, that we ourselves may be inflamed, and may excite others by our example to act in the same manner; for to be lukewarm, or to mutter, or to sing, as the saying is, to themselves and to the muses, is impossible for those who have actually tasted the grace of God.

13. Jehovah like a giant. What Isaiah now adds is intended to surmount the temptations of believers. He ascribes to God strength and power, that they may know that they shall find in him a sure defense; for in adversity we are perplexed, because we doubt whether or not God will be able to render us assistance, especially when by delaying he appears in some measure to reject our prayers; and therefore the Prophet loudly extols the power of God, that all may learn to rely and place their confidence in him.

Will go forth. The going forth that is here mentioned must be taken metaphorically; for God seemed to be concealed at the time when he permitted his people to be affiicted and oppressed without any appearance of aid; and therefore the word means “to come forth publicly for the sake of giving assistance.” This is confirmed by what follows.

And as a warrior. When he attributes to God burning indignation, with which he rushes forth “like a warrior” against his enemies, the comparisons are drawn from human feelings, and declare to us the powerful assistance of God, which would not otherwise make a sufficiently powerful impression on our minds. He therefore accommodates himself to our capacity, as we have often said, that we may know how ardently he desires to preserve us, and how much he is distressed by the affliction and oppression of believers, and likewise how terrible is his anger, whenever he girds himself for battle.

We ought always to observe that peculiar season which the Prophet had in his eye, to which these predictions must be applied; for while the enemies were becoming more and more fierce, and were taunting a wretched people, it was the duty of believers to look at something quite different from what they beheld with their eyes, and to believe that God is sufficiently powerful to subdue their enemies, and rescue them out of their hands. Nor was it only during the captivity that it was of importance for them to have their sorrow alleviated by this promise, but almost till the coming of Christ; for they were continually and painfully constrained to encounter severe distresses, as is evident from history.

14. I have kept silence. The Prophet meets the temptations which commonly give us great uneasiness, when God delays his aid. We are tempted by impatience, and dread that his promises are false. We reckon it unreasonable that God should be silent, and fall asleep, so to speak, while the wicked carry themselves high; that he should be cool, while they burn with eagerness to do mischief; and that he should wink at their crimes, while they keenly pursue every kind of cruelty. When their minds were distressed and almost overwhelmed, the Prophet wished to comfort them, that they might not think that God had forsaken them, though everything appeared to be desperate.

For a long time. He expressly mentions “the great length of time,” that their hearts might not languish through the tedious delay; for when they had been broken down by almost incessant calamities since the death of Jehoshaphat, it was very hard and distressing to spend seventy years in captivity. Nor was even this the end of their afflictions, and therefore they needed to be carefully admonished, that although God do not immediately send relief, still believers will suffer nothing by the delay, provided that they wait with patience. By these words he also rebukes unbelievers, who, trusting to his forbearance, freely indulged in every kind of wickedness; and therefore God declares that, although he has refrained and been a silent spectator, he is not on that account deprived of his power.

Like a woman in labor. By this metaphor he expresses astonishing warmth of love and tenderness of affection; for he compares himself to a mother who singularly loves her child, though she brought him forth with extreme pain. It may be thought that these things are not applicable to God; but in no other way than by such figures of speech can his ardent love towards us be expressed. He must therefore borrow comparisons from known objects, in order to enable us to understand those which are unknown to us; for God loves very differently from men, that is, more fully and perfectly, and, although he surpasses all human affections, yet nothing that is disorderly belongs to him.

Besides, he intended also to intimate that the redemption of his people would be a kind of birth, that the Jews might know that the grave would serve them for a womb, and that thus, in the midst of corruption, they might entertain the hope of salvation. Although he produced a new Church for himself without pain or effort, yet, in order to exhibit more fully the excellence of his grace in this new birth, he not inappropriately attributes to himself the cry of “a woman in labor.”

I will destroy and swallow at once. Because that comparison of a travailing woman might somewhat degrade the majesty and power of God, the Prophet determined to add here a different feeling. So far then as relates to love, he says that God resembles a mother; so far as relates to power, he says that he resembles a lion or a giant.

15. I will reduce mountains and hills to a wilderness. The Prophet means that all the defences and military forces on which the wicked plume themselves shall not prevent God from setting his people at liberty. It was necessary that this should be added to the former statements; for when we see enemies exceedingly powerful, and almost invincible, we tremble, and do not look for God’s assistance, which would be necessary to keep our faith strong. On this point, therefore, the Prophet dwells, in order to shew that no power or army whatsoever can resist the Lord when he wishes to deliver his people. In short, he shews that there shall be such a revolution, that they who formerly were most powerful shall be crushed, and shall gain nothing by all their attempts against him.

Such appears to me to be the plain meaning of this passage, and there is no necessity for entering into ingenious speculations, as some have done, who, in an allegorical interpretation of these words, pronounce that by “mountains and hills” are meant cities, and by herbage the men who inhabit them. But there is no necessity for pursuing such refinements; for he simply declares that God is sufficiently powerful to fulfill his promises and deliver his Church, because he will easily surmount all the difficulties which present themselves to our eyes. This statement corresponds also to other predictions which we have formerly seen, in which the Prophet taught that as soon as God has determined to assist his people, his power is not limited to natural means, but miraculously breaks through every obstruction that appears to hinder his passage.

16. And I will lead the blind. After having shewn that the strength of the enemies cannot prevent God from delivering his people, he proceeds with that consolation to which he had formerly adverted. He describes by the word blind those whose affairs are so difficult, and intricate, and disordered, that they know not to what hand to turn, or in what direction to flee, and, in short, who see no means of escape, but deep gulfs on every hand. When our affairs proceed smoothly enough, a plain and easy path is placed before our eyes; and, in like manner, when our affairs are painful and distressing, and especially when they hold out no hope of relief, but threaten destruction to us, and are covered with deep and melancholy darkness, we are blinded. When we have thus no means of escape, the Prophet tells us that at that very time we ought, especially to hope and to look for assistance from the Lord.

It is often advantageous to us also to have no way open to us, to be straitened and hemmed in on every hand, and even to be blinded, that we may learn to depend solely on God’s assistance and to rely on him; for, so long as a plank is left on which we think that we can seize, we turn to it with our whole heart. While we are driven about in all directions, the consequence is, that the remembrance of heavenly grace fades from our memory. If, therefore, we desire that God should assist us and relieve our adversity, we must be blind, we must turn away our eyes from the present condition of things, and restrain our judgment, that we may entirely rely on his promises. Although this blindness is far from being pleasant, and shews the weakness of our mind, yet, if we judge from the good effects which it produces, we ought not greatly to shun it; for it is better to be “blind” persons guided by the hand of God, than, by excessive sagacity, to form labyrinths for ourselves.

And will turn darkness before them into light. When he promises that he will give “light” instead of “darkness,” he confirms what has been already said; and therefore, although we see not even a ray of light in adversity, yet we ought not to despair of God’s assistance, but at that very time we ought especially to embrace his promises; for the Lord will easily change darkness into light, make straight the crooked windings, and lead us into the path, that we may walk with safety. Yet let us perceive that these things are promised to believers alone, who intrust themselves to God, and allow themselves to be governed by him; and, in short, who have known their blindness, and willingly follow him as their leader, and amidst the darkness of afflictions patiently wait for the dawn of grace. To those only who abide by his promises does he stretch out his hand, and not to the wise men F761 who wish to see in spite of him, or who are carried headlong by unlawful schemes.

17. They shall be driven back. This enables us to see more clearly to whom the former doctrine relates, for it distinguishes between the worshippers of God and the worshippers of idols. The Lord will be a leader to his own people, but, on the other hand, they who worship idols shall be ashamed. As if he had said, that here the Lord gives us a choice, either to be saved by his grace, or to perish miserably; for all that place their hope of salvation in idols shall perish, but they who trust in the word of God are certain of salvation; because, though they often are heavily afflicted, yet he will not allow their hope to be put to shame in the end, but by the result will prove that he did not in vain lay down this distinction.

And say to a molten image, Ye are our gods. It is certain that by these two marks are described all idolaters who place their hope in any one else than in God alone; for, although idolaters do not bow down before their idols, yet, by attaching divinity to them, they offer blasphemy to the only and true God; for the chief part of the worship of God consists in faith and calling upon him, both of which the Prophet here describes. It may be asked, Were they so stupid as to say to an image, “Thou art my god?” for all superstitious persons confessed that God is in heaven, and did not openly ascribe divinity to wood or stone. I reply, all idolaters ascribe to images the power of God, though they acknowledge that he is in heaven; for, when they flee to statues and images, when they make and perform vows to them, they undoubtedly ascribe to them what belongs to God. It is in vain for them, therefore, to cloak their ignorance under plausible excuses, for they reckon wood and stone to be gods, and offer the highest insult to God; and consequently, the Prophet did not employ exaggerated language, or falsely accuse them of being idolaters; for it is plainly testified by their words and speeches, when they call their idols and images gods. Even though they did not utter a word, their madness is openly manifested by their imagining that they cannot reach the hand or the ear of God without bowing down before images to utter their prayers. The object of these statements is, that all may understand that no man will be saved but, he who trusts in God alone.

18. O ye deaf, hear, and ye blind. He now employs these words, “blind” and “deaf,” in a sense different from that in which he formerly employed them, (verse 16,) when he metaphorically described those who had no understanding, and who were overwhelmed by such a mass of afflictions that they were blinded by their sorrow; for here he gives the name of blind to those who shut their eyes in the midst of light, and do not behold the works of God; and the name of deaf to those who refuse to hear him, and sink down into stupidity and slothfulness amidst the dregs of their ignorance. He therefore condemns the Jews for “blindness,” or rather, in my own opinion, he condemns all men; for, while he directly reproaches the Jews because “in hearing they do not hear, and in seeing they do not see,” (<230609>Isaiah 6:9; <401313>Matthew 13:13,) yet this applies in some measure to the Gentiles, to whom God revealed himself by his creatures, on whose hearts and consciences also he impressed the knowledge of him, and to whom he had made and would still make known his wonderful works. By demanding attention, he pronounces that there is nothing that hinders them from comprehending the truth and power of God, except that they are “deaf and blind.” Nor is this unaccompanied by malice and ingratitude; for he openly instructs them concerning his power, and gives them very striking proofs of it; but no one gives attention to his doctrine or to his wonderful actions, and the consequence is, that they are willingly “blind.” Thus the Prophet shews that the fault lies wholly with men in not perceiving the power of God.

19. Who is blind but my servant? There are some who interpret this verse as if the Prophet were describing the reproaches which wicked men are accustomed to throw out against the prophets; for they retort on the Lord’s servants those reproofs and accusations which they cannot endure. “Whom dost thou accuse of blindness? Whom dost thou call deaf? Take that to thyself. Who is blind but thou?” They think, therefore, that it is as if the Lord expostulated with the Jews in this manner; “I see that you reckon my prophets to be blind and deaf.” But we shall immediately see that this interpretation does not agree with the context, for the Prophet afterwards explains (verse 20) why he calls them “blind.” It is because, while they see many things, they pay no attention to them. Indeed, this does not at all apply to the prophets, and therefore let us follow the plain and natural meaning.

Isaiah had accused all men of blindness, but especially the Jews, because they ought to have seen more clearly than all the rest; for they had not only some ordinary light and understanding, but enjoyed the word, by which the Lord abundantly revealed himself to them. Although, therefore, all the rest were blind, yet the Jews ought to have seen and known God, seeing that they were illuminated by his Law and doctrine, as by a very bright lamp. Besides, Isaiah afterwards addresses the Jews in this manner,

“Arise, O Jerusalem, and be illuminated; for darkness shall be on all the earth, but the Lord shall shine on thee.” (<236001>Isaiah 60:1, 2.)

Because the Jews shut their eyes amidst such clear light, that is the reason why he addresses to them this special reproof. As if he had said, “In vain do I debate with those who are alienated from me, and it is not so wonderful that they are blind; but it is monstrous that this should have happened to my servants (before whose eyes light has been placed) to be deaf to the doctrine which sounds continually in their ears. For these things are so clear that the blind might see them, and so loud that the deaf might hear them; but in vain do I speak to them, for nothing can be more dull or stupid; and, instead of seeing and hearing better than all others, as they ought to have done, none can be found either more deaf or more blind.”

My messenger whom I send. From the human race universally the Prophet gradually descends to the Jews, and next to the priests, who were leading persons, and might be regarded as occupying the highest rank. It belonged to their once to interpret the Law, and to set a good example before others, and, in short, to point out the way of salvation. It was from “the priest’s mouth” that they were commanded to “seek the Law.” (<390207>Malachi 2:7.) The Prophet complains, therefore, that they who ought to have led the way to others were themselves blind.

Some view the word servant as relating to Isaiah, and others to Christ, and think that he, as well as Isaiah, is accused of blindness; but this has nothing to do with the Prophet’s meaning. Thus, he magnifies by comparison the complaint which he lately made about the slothfulness of the Jews; for they were more deeply in fault than others, but the heaviest blame lay on the priests who were their leaders. Let us therefore learn, that the nearer we approach to God, and the higher the rank to which we are elevated, we shall be the less excusable. For the same reason he applies the term perfect to those who ought to have been perfect; for he mentions reproachfully that perfection from which they had fallen by wicked revolt, and thus had basely profaned a most excellent gift of God. Having possessed a “perfect” rule of righteousness, it lay with themselves alone to follow it.

20. Seeing many things. The Prophet himself explains what is the nature of this blindness of which he spoke, and shews that it is double; and this shews clearly that he spoke of the Jews, who by wicked contempt had quenched God’s light. Our guilt will be double when we shall come to the judgment-seat of God, if we shut our eyes when he exhibits the light, and shut our ears when he teaches by his word. The heathen nations will indeed be without excuse; but the Jews and others to whom the Lord revealed himself in so many ways, will deserve double condemnation for having refused to see or hear God. We, therefore, who have so many and so illustrious examples set before us at the present day, ought to dread this judgment; for in many persons there will now be found not less blindness or obduracy than formerly existed among the Jews, and not more excusable.

21. The Lord is well pleased. In order to aggravate still more the guilt of the Jews, he now shews that it was not God who prevented them from leading a prosperous and happy life. He had already said that the distresses and afflictions which they endure are the punishment of their blindness, which they have voluntarily brought upon themselves; and now he brings forward as an addition and crowning point of the accusation, that by their obstinacy they reject all relief.

This passage is interpreted in various ways. Some render it, “The Lord hath so willed it;” others, “He is merciful;” but, for my own part, I have translated it, “The Lord is willing,” that is, disposed and inclined to deliver his people, and that for the purpose of magnifying his Law and extolling his righteousness. Thus God assigns the reason why he is ready to aid those who are unworthy, that he wishes to spread his glory in their salvation, that in this manner his righteousness may be illustriously displayed, and that his Law may prevail and flourish. As to the heavy calamities that have come on the Jews, the reason is, that of their own accord they have resolved to be blind, and to bring afflictions on themselves, instead of obeying God; for otherwise the Lord would have wished to enrich and exalt them. Others view it thus, “The Lord wishes to magnify his Law, because he wishes to appear to be faithful in punishing the Jews, as he had threatened them by his Law;” and thus they consider “righteousness” to denote the punishment and vengeance which God inflicts on a wicked people.

Others render it, “For his righteous one,” and refer it to Christ; but they mistake the meaning of the word wqdx, (tzidko,) and unquestionably he speaks of righteousness, and means that the Lord would willingly have displayed the magnificence of his promises:, and would have given proofs of his righteousness in preserving his people, if they had not shewn themselves to be ungrateful and unworthy. Some think that the Lord here offers an excuse for himself, because, when the people whom he had adopted were exposed to so many evils, it appeared as if his truth were shaken, and that the Prophet intended to meet this calumny, for they were seized and became a prey, not because the Lord delights in their miseries, but because he prefers his righteousness to everything else.

For my own part, I explain it simply to mean, “The Lord, for the sake of doing honor to his Law, was inclined to do good to his people, in order that his glory and righteousness might shine forth in it; but his people shewed themselves to be unworthy of so great a favor; and, therefore, by their own obduracy they made their wounds incurable.” Besides, we ought to learn from this passage the reason why the Lord bestows so many favors on his Church. It is, that he may promote his Law, that is, that he may bring men to honor his majesty, and that his truth may shine more and more. When he says that the Lord is willing and inclined; he shews plainly that he is not induced to it by any one else than by himself; but he expresses it more fully, when he adds, on account of his righteousness; for he excludes everything that men could bring. Nor is the Lord prompted by any other consideration to do good, than because he is righteous; for no merit or worth will be found among men. But this reason applied especially to the Jews, whom alone he deigned to adopt.

22. But this people. Isaiah now declares that it is through their own fault that the people are miserable and appointed to destruction, because they reject God, who would otherwise have been inclined to do good to them, and because they deliberately set aside all remedies, and wish for death, as is commonly the case with men who are past hope. Thus he excuses God in such a manner as to bring a heavy accusation against the people, because they have rejected him by their ingratitude, and have abused his fatherly kindness. Yet, as I remarked a little before, he mentions these things, not so much for the sake of excusing God, as of bringing a bitter complaint, that his countrymen have leagued to their destruction; because, as if on set purpose, they have precipitated themselves into many calamities. If, then, we see the Church, at the present day, in a ruinous and revolting condition, we ought to ascribe it to our iniquities and transgressions, by which we do not suffer God to do good to us.

The copulative w (vau) is rendered by some therefore;but I have preferred to translate it but; for it states a contrast to that desire by which the Lord declared that he was prompted to defend his people, if they had permitted it. I choose to interpret jph (hapheach) as a gerundial participle, about to be snared; for he speaks of a nation which was about to be led into captivity. As to yrwhb, (bahurim,) I think that two words, instead of one, are here used to signify in dens; for to translate the word young men, appears to me to be at variance with the context.

They shall be made a spoil. They who interpret this as relating to the whole human race, who have no Savior but Christ, (<430836>John 8:36,) adduce nothing that corresponds to the Prophet’s meaning; for he simply declares that the people shall perish without hope of deliverance, because they rejected the grace of God. Let us infer from this what must befall us, if we do not in due time embrace the grace of God offered to us. We shall certainly deserve to be deprived of all aid, to be exposed as a prey and a spoil, and utterly to perish.

23. Who is there among you? Isaiah continues the same subject; for he means that the Jews are and will be so stupid, that they will not see, even when they are warned; and he expressly addresses them, because, while they ought to have been better educated and taught than others, yet they understood nothing, and did not observe the judgments of God, even though they were exceedingly manifest.

Who shall hearken for the time to come? That is, who, being at length subdued by afflictions, repents, though it be late. We see, then, how this astonishment aggravates the criminality of their madness, because they will always refuse to be taught. Yet let us learn what is the use of threatenings and punishments; for God does not reprove our crimes, or punish us for them, as if he delighted in taking vengeance, or demanded some recompense, but that we may be on our guard “for the time to come.”

24. Who gave Jacob for a prey? These are the matters which Isaiah complains that the Jews did not observe; for they thought either that the sufferings which they endured happened by chance, or that they had not the same strength to resist as their fathers had, and that this was the reason why they were conquered by their enemies. In short, having their minds fully occupied with external causes, they did not at the same time observe the threatenings which had been so frequently denounced by the prophets, nor attend to the judgments of God; and therefore the Prophet drags them before the heavenly throne, by declaring that God is the author of these judgments.

Hath not Jehovah? They could not believe that the calamities which they suffered proceeded from God, as the just punishment of their sins; and we know that there is nothing which men can now be with more difficulty persuaded to believe. Everybody acknowledges that God is the author of all things, but if you ask whether or not all adverse events are God’s chastisements, they will be ashamed to confess it; for men are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and, being prejudiced by their opinion of fortune, turn their minds and hearts to this or that cause rather than to God.

Because we have sinned against him. Isaiah next points out the cause of so grievous destruction, the sins of the people, which the Lord justly punished. In like manner, Moses had also shewn,

“How would a thousand flee from the face of one? Doth not the Lord pursue you, and shut you up in the hands of the enemy?” (<053230>Deuteronomy 32:30.)

We wonder every day at many things which happen contrary to our expectation, and yet we do not acknowledge that the cause lies with ourselves. It is therefore necessary that we be hard pressed and constrained by violence to confess our fault, and consequently this doctrine must be often stated and repeated.

That men may not accuse God of cruelty, the Prophet adds, that he does it for a just cause; for he does not rush forward F762 to inflict punishment, if he be not constrained by necessity, and he takes no pleasure in our afflictions; and, therefore, we must here observe two separate things. First, no evil happens to us, but from the Lord, so that we must not think that anything happens either by chance or by any external cause. Secondly, we suffer no evil whatever, but for a just cause, because we have sinned against God. In vain, therefore, do men accuse God of cruelty; for we ought to acknowledge his righteous judgments in the chastisements which he deservedly inflicts.

And they would not walk in his ways. Here the Prophet aggravates the guilt of the Jews, but changes the person, because he formerly included himself along with others, as being a member of that body, and confessed his guilt. Not that he resembled the great body of the people, or approved of their crimes; but because, amidst such a huge mass of vices, he could not be free from being in some degree infected by the contagion, like other parts of the body. Because he was widely different from the great body of the people, he changes the person, and adds, “They would not;” by which he declares that such deep-rooted obduracy is offensive to him, so that he cannot in any way either conceal it or express his approbation of it; for the subject now in hand is not ordinary vices, but contempt and rejection of God, manifested by fiercely and haughtily shaking off his yoke. This is the reason why Isaiah excludes himself from their number.

If these things justly befell the Jews, let us know that the same punishment hangs over us and the whole world, if we do not take warning and repent. We see how kindly the Lord invites us to himself, in how many ways he expresses his good-will towards us, how graciously he testifies that he will be reconciled, though he has been offended. Having now been so often and so kindly invited by God, and having experienced his mercy, if we refuse to listen to him, we shall undoubtedly feel that the ruin which they experienced belongs equally to all rebels.

25. Therefore he hath poured upon him. Because the chastisements by which the Lord had begun, and would afterwards continue, to punish the Jews, were very severe, the Prophet employs metaphorical language to express their vehemence. He says that the Lord poureth out his fury, as if a thunderbolt were discharged with violence, or as if waters burst forth, to spread devastation far and wide on the surrounding country; just as, at the deluge, when

“the flood-gates of the deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened,” (<010711>Genesis 7:11,)

the waters burst forth with prodigious force and violence.

And the strength of war. He next employs a different figure, that God assembles his forces to make war, that he may attack the people with unrelenting hostility. If this be supposed to mean the enemies whom the Lord raised up against the Jews, I do not greatly object to the interpretation; for it is certain that they were raised up by the judgment of God. What else was Nebuchadnezzar than God’s scourge? (<245120>Jeremiah 51:20.) But, for my own part, I think that this also ought to be viewed as metaphorical language, meaning that “God rushes forth violently, like an armed enemy, and pours out his fury on the people.” He has various ways of making war; for he chastises his people sometimes by famine, sometimes by war, and sometimes by pestilence; and therefore I think that he includes here scourges of every kind by which the Lord strikes his people. If we sometimes think that they are too harsh and severe, let us consider how heinous our sins are; for we shall not find that he is immoderate or excessively severe in inflicting punishment.

And he gave no heed to it. Again the Prophet exclaims against that gross stupidity with which the Jews were struck, so that they did not perceive their affliction, nor raise their eyes to heaven, so as to acknowledge that the Lord was the avenger and author of it. F763

And he laid it not to heart. To “lay a thing to heart” is to consider attentively and diligently; for if this thought came into our minds, and were deeply engraven on our hearts, “God is judge, and hath justly punished us,” we should immediately repent. At present the whole world is oppressed by so many calamities, that there is scarcely a spot that is free from the wrath of God; yet no person gives heed to it, but all fiercely and rebelliously contend with him; and therefore we need not wonder that he inflicts on men such dreadful punishment, and pours out his wrath on all sides, when the world opposes him with inveterate rebellion.


Go To Isaiah 43:1-28

1. And now thus saith Jehovah. It is hard to say whether this is a different discourse or the same with the former; for the Prophets, whose writings have come down to us, did not separate their discourses into distinct chapters, so as to enable us to know what they spoke each day. For my own part, I think it is probable that this doctrine is connected with the preceding; for, having formerly spoken severely against the Jews, and threatened destruction to them, he wished to moderate that severity. The Lord always cares for the godly; and wickedness never abounds to such an extent that he does not at the same time preserve his people, and provide for their safety, that they may not be involved in similar destruction. I think, therefore, that the copulative w (vau) should be viewed as disjunctive, “And yet the Lord will leave some consolation to the godly who shall remain.”

This passage ought to be carefully observed; for, although it may appear as if all had leagued for our destruction, although the anger of the Lord burn fiercely, and we think that we are very near destruction; yet, if but two or three godly persons are left, we ought not to despair; for Jehovah addresses them in this manner, Fear not. The adverb Now, which is here used, has great weight; for it means a present or immediate calamity, and, in short, a time when it appeared as if all were lost and ruined; because at that very time God does not cease to comfort his people, and gently to soothe their sorrows, that amidst the utmost despair they may preserve their hope firm and unshaken.

Such is the purport of the preface, thy Creator and Maker; for otherwise the door would have been shut against the execution of these predictions. Besides, from other passages we may conclude, that the Lord does not here speak of universal creation, such as we share with the rest of men, and by which we are born mortal, but of regeneration to the hope of a heavenly life, on account of which we are also called new creatures. This is the sense in which Paul calls us “the workmanship of God,” (<490210>Ephesians 2:10,) as on former occasions we have fully explained. F764 In this sense also he calls himself the Maker; as if he had said, that God did not “make” his Church, in which the brightness of his glory shone conspicuously, in order to undo so excellent a work. Hence we ought to observe, that the Church has nothing that is properly her own, but everything in which she excels ought to be ascribed to the gift of God.

For I have redeemed thee. This is added as the reason of the former statement, and may appropriately be viewed as referring both to the future and to the past; for the first deliverance from Egypt gave hope of another deliverance to come. Although he describes a future deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, yet the past tense is not inapplicable; for God hath redeemed us to himself before the effect of redemption reaches us; and therefore when he wishes to testify what he has decreed, namely, to redeem his Church, which appeared to have perished, he uses with propriety the past tense.

I have called thee by thy name. To “call by one’s name” means here, to admit into close relationship, as when we are adopted by God to be his children. The reason of this mode of expression is, that God rejects the reprobate in such a manner that he appears to have forgotten them. Hence, also, the Scripture says, that “he knoweth them not.” (<400723>Matthew 7:23; <421327>Luke 13:27.) From a contrast of this sort we learn more fully what is meant by being “called by God.” It is when he passes by others, and deigns to bestow on us a peculiar honor, and, from being strangers, to make us members of his household, and next takes us under his care and guardianship, so as to direct us and all our affairs. For the same reason he adds, Thou art mine, that believers may know that there will always be left a Church among the elect people, because God refuses to be deprived of his rightful possession. In short, he declares that they are his dear inheritance, of which he will never suffer himself to be robbed.

2. When thou shalt pass through the waters. This is an anticipation by which he declares that they who rely on God’s immediate assistance have no reason for sinking under adversity. That is stated more fully than in the preceding verse, because while he shews that the Church will not be exempt from calamities and afflictions, but must maintain a constant warfare, he encourages to patience and courage; as if he had said, “The Lord hath not redeemed thee that thou mightest enjoy pleasures and luxuries, or that thou mightest abandon thyself to ease and indolence, but rather that thou shouldest be prepared for enduring every kind of evils.”

By fire and water he means every kind of miseries to which we are liable in this life; for we must contend not with calamities of one kind only, but with infinitely diversified calamities. At one time we must “pass through wares” and at another “through fire.” (<196612>Psalm 66:12.) In like manner the Apostle James exhorts believers not to faint when they “fall into various temptations.” (<590102>James 1:2.) And, indeed, faith needs to be put to the trial in many ways; for it often happens that he who has been victorious in one combat has been baffled by another kind of temptation. We are therefore tried by afflictions, but are at length delivered; we are baffled by the billows, but are not swallowed up; we are even scorched by the flames, but are not consumed. We have, indeed, the same feeling of pain as other men, but we are supported by the grace of God, and fortified by the spirit of patience, that we may not faint; and at length he will stretch out his hand and lift us up on high. F765

3. For I am Jehovah thy God. He confirms the preceding statement by the experience of the past; for the Lord had formerly assisted his people in such a manner that it was reasonable and proper that believers should safely rely on his grace. We must always remember what we had in the former verse, — “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I am thy Lord.” These ought to be read unitedly and in immediate connection, because they have the same object; for if the Lord is our God, it follows that he is on our side, and therefore we shall find that he is our Savior. But if we wish to know by experience that he is our Savior, we must be a part of Israel, not in name only, but so as to give true evidences of godliness during the whole course of our life. This is therefore the foundation of our confidence, that “Jehovah is our God;” and hence it follows that they who do not acknowledge God to be their Father, and who do not rely on his kindness, are wretched, and tremble continually. Wicked men, indeed, indulge in mirth, and even act disdainfully towards God; but their indifference is intoxication and madness of mind, by which they are the more rapidly carried headlong to their destruction. To believers alone this brings the assurance, that he who hath chosen them wishes to be continually their God, and to preserve them; and therefore hath separated them to be his inheritance.

In this sense he calls himself The Holy One of Israel, because while the whole human race is by nature estranged from him, he hath chosen his people that he might set them apart to be his own. Now, though external separation is of little moment, unless God sanctify the elect by the power of his Spirit, yet, because Israel had. openly polluted himself, God declares that still his covenant shall not be made void, because he is always like himself. Besides, it is well known that the word holy is used in an active sense for “him who sanctifies;” and therefore if we wish to be certain of God’s love towards us, let us always remember the testimony of our adoption, by which we are confirmed in our hearts, as by a sure pledge, and let us with all earnestness ask it from God.

I have given the price of thy redemption. I make no remarks on those repetitions which are frequently used by the Prophet, and are customary in the Hebrew language; for the two phrases in this verse, I have given the price, and I have given instead of thee, are used by him in the same sense. We have said that the Prophet confirms believers by bringing forward earlier proofs of the grace of God; as if he had said, “You have already known by experience that God cares for your salvation; for how could it have happened that Sennacherib turned his forces against Egypt, Ethiopia, and other nations, but because the Lord spared you, and directed the attack of your enemy to another quarter? Since therefore he has hitherto manifested so great anxiety on your behalf, you have no need to be anxious about the future.” Thus if at any time doubts arise in our minds about the providence of God, or about his promises, we ought to bring to remembrance the benefits which he has already bestowed upon us; for we shall be chargeable with extreme ingratitude if, after having received from God so many benefits, we doubt of his kindness for the future.

But a question arises. In what sense does he call “Egypt and Ethiopia the price of the redemption” of the Church? for heathen men are not of so high value as to redeem the children of God. But the Prophet borrowed this mode of expression from the ordinary language of men; as if he had said, “The Egyptians, the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans came in thy room, and, as if an exchange had been made, were constrained to suffer the destruction to which thou wast exposed; for, in order to preserve thee, I destroyed them, and delivered them instead of thee into the hand of the enemy.” But we must attend to the history. While Sennacherib was rushing on with his whole might against Judea, the Lord, by throwing over him a bridle, suddenly checked him, and entangled him by other wars, so that he was constrained to withdraw his army; and thus the Egyptians and Ethiopians were signally defeated, while the people of God were allowed to breathe. (<121928>2 Kings 19:28; <233708>Isaiah 37:8.)

We too may readily acknowledge, if we are not worse than stupid, that the same providence and infinite mercy of God have been manifested toward us, when tyrants who would have wished to destroy us, and who joined in opening their mouths with eagerness to devour us, are made by him to engage in wars against each other, and when the rage with which they burned against us is directed by him to another quarter; for by doing so he preserves us, so as to give them as the price of our redemption. When we see irreligious men, amidst the uproar and confusion of mutual wars, pause in their efforts to destroy us, while it is manifest that they do not pause of their own accord, let us lift up our eyes to heaven, and learn that God, in order to spare us, miraculously substitutes others in our room; for we were “like sheep appointed for slaughter,” (<194422>Psalm 44:22;) swords were drawn on every hand, if he had not snatched them from the hands of wicked men, or given them a different direction.

Hence we ought to draw a general doctrine, that the Lord takes such care of all believers (<600507>1 Peter 5:7) that he values them more highly than the whole world. Although, therefore, we are of no value, yet let us rejoice in this, that the Lord sets so high a value upon us, and prefers us to the whole world, rescues us from dangers, and thus preserves us in the midst of death. If everything were at peace with us, and if we had no troubles, we should not see this grace of God; for when a thousand deaths appear to hang over us, and when there appears no way of escape, and when he suddenly drives back the tyrants, or turns them in another direction, we then know by experience what the Prophet says, and perceive his invaluable kindness toward us.

4. Because thou wast precious. Others interpret it “Thou wast honorable, because I raised thee to honor;” but I think that God assigns the reason why he gave up Egypt and Ethiopia to the enemies in their room. It was because he loved them, and because they were dear to him. It ought to be explained thus, — “Because I loved thee, therefore I gave a man for thee.” By these words he excludes all personal worth on the part of the people, that they may not boast of having obtained anything by their own merit; and, indeed, the cause of salvation, and of all the blessings which we receive, is the undeserved love of God; it is also the cause of all our excellence; for, if he judge of us according to our own qualifications, he will not value us a straw. We must therefore set aside every idea of merit, or of personal worth, of which we have none, and must ascribe everything to the grace of God alone. He means that this love is not of an ordinary kind when he says that we are “precious;” and for the same reason he calls us “his first-born,” (<020422>Exodus 4:22,) and “his friends.” (<431515>John 15:15.)

I will give a man. Here he adds nothing new, but rather explains the preceding statement, and employs the word “man” collectively for “men;” as if he had said, “There will be no man whom God will not take away and destroy, in order to preserve his people; for he sets a higher value on a single believer than on the whole world.” At the same time he reminds believers that they are redeemed at the expense of those who do not at all differ from them in origin or in nature.

5. Fear not. When Isaiah frequently repeats this exhortation, we ought not to look upon it as superfluous; for we know and feel how prone we are by nature to distrust. Scarcely any words can express the greatness of the alarm by which the Church was at that time shaken. As soon as we begin to call in question the promises of God, our minds are distracted by various thoughts; we are alarmed and continually tormented by the greatness and diversity of the dangers, till at length we are stupified, and have no perception of the grace of God. Accordingly, before despair seize our hearts, it is not without good reason that he so frequently repeats I am with thee, in order that he may either destroy altogether or partially mitigate the fear which is seated in our hearts; for, when it has taken root, there is no method of curing it. This should lead us also to remark, that we ought not to place our safety in anything else than in the presence of God; for if he be absent, we shall either shudder with fear, or become stupid, or run headlong like drunkards. And yet it is not the will of God that we shall be so devoid of fear as to give ourselves up to slothfulness and indifference; but when we are informed that he is at hand and will assist us, cheerful confidence ought to be victorious in the midst of fears.

I will bring thy seed from the east. This passage is evidently taken front the writings of Moses, as we said at the beginning of this commentary, F766 that the prophets are his interpreters, and draw their doctrine from his books; and therefore the Prophet applies this passage to that particular event which he had in view in the present discourse. Moses had thus foretold,

“The Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and will have compassion on thee, and will turn and gather thee out of all the nations into which thy God hath scattered thee. Even if thou shalt be driven to the utmost parts of heaven, thence will thy God gather thee, and thence will he take thee.” (<053003>Deuteronomy 30:3, 4.)

What Moses spoke in general terms the Prophet here confirms in a particular instance, and again declares with a slight change of the words. The amount of what is stated is, that it is as difficult to gather a people that is not only scattered, but driven to the most distant countries of the world, as it is to gather ashes that have been scattered here and there; but that God, by his wonderful power, will cause those dislocated members to unite again in one body.

6. I will say to the north. Under these four parts he includes the whole world, which is very customary in all languages. But Isaiah speaks in somewhat loftier language than Moses, because he wished the people to view the event as if it had actually occurred; and, to such a purpose those lively descriptions which may be said to place it before our eyes, are admirably adapted. He might, indeed, have said it in a single word, but this manner of address is far more forcible; for he represents God as commanding, with supreme authority, all the creatures, and every part of the world, to set his people free.

Bring my sons. He means that not all Israel shall be gathered, but only that which is the true Israel; for not all who are the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh are true Israelites, but very many of them are bastards. (<450906>Romans 9:6, 7.) These belong to the true and lawful seed; for that vast multitude of people was not saved, but only “a remnant,” as we saw in a former chapter. (<231021>Isaiah 10:21, 22.) There was a vast number of people who were carried away into captivity, but there were few who were brought back. Among them was preserved a seed; and the Lord would not suffer that seed to perish, or the covenant which he had made with their fathers to be broken. These things were very hard to be believed by the Jews, who were despised by all, and were exposed not only to the hatred but to the curses of almost the whole world, and were scarcely reckoned to belong to the number of men; and therefore they must have depended solely on the promises. They knew that Cyrus (<234501>Isaiah 45:1)would come, but who he was they were not yet able to conceive, for he had not yet been born; and therefore they needed to be armed with very excellent and steadfast faith, in order to wait for the Lord with unshaken confidence, while many reckoned these predictions to be fables. Let us learn also flora this example to look to God alone, so as not to doubt that he will assist us and will abide by his promises at the proper time.

7. All called. Such is my interpretation of this clause, for the Prophet has made use of the singular number instead of the plural. Interpreters have mistaken the import of this mode of expression; for they explain it thus, “Whosoever have been called by my name, I have formed them to my glory.” But I understand it thus, “All called,” that is, “All shall be called by my name;” as he says in other passages, “My name shall be called upon them.” (<014816>Genesis 48:16; <052810>Deuteronomy 28:10; <230401>Isaiah 4:1.) Why so? “Because I have created them, I have formed them, I have made them for my glory.” He pursues the subject which he formerly handled about gathering the people into one body, though they have been scattered into various and distant parts of the world; as if he had said, “If this work appears to be incredible, you ought not to judge of it by the ordinary course of nature, but you ought to look to his power.”

By my name; that is, “under my direction;” as we have also said, in expounding another passage, (<234125>Isaiah 41:25,) that God is reconciled to us, because by the right of adoption we are accounted his people. Now, because the Jews were to be brought back under his guidance and command, and not by the power or assistance of men, he declares that his name will be rendered illustrious in this deliverance, in order that men may learn not to form their judgments from the views of the flesh or from natural means.

For my glory. The Prophet adds the reason, which contains strong ground of confirmation; that is, that he wishes his glory to be manifested in them. He therefore testifies that the salvation of his people concerns himself, that he can no more throw away the care of his people than he can expose his name to reproach and disgrace, which he will never do, and, in a word, that his glow, of which he is the continual defender, is intimately connected with the salvation of his people.

I have formed him, yea, I have made him. For the sake of amplification he repeats the same thing in many forms of language, that they may be more fully convinced that he wishes to conduct to the end the work which he has begun. Such is the force of the particle a, (aph,)which means “likewise,” or “even,” and sometimes, as we say, “for this time.” Accordingly, the meaning is generally supposed to be, “In like manner, as I have created and formed that people, so I desire to elevate them to a new rank, and to restore them to their ancient freedom.” It may also be rendered and so, and, as I have said, I prefer this rendering, so as to mean not only that the people have nothing but from his grace, but that he is deeply concerned about their salvation, because he cannot despise his own work, a work so remarkable and excellent. This passage, therefore, recommends to us the extraordinary grace of God, by which we are not only born to be men, but likewise formed anew after his image.

8. That I may bring out. The brevity of the words makes the meaning somewhat obscure. Some translate it thus, “I will bring out the blind, and him who hath eyes,” that is, both the blind and them that see, both the deaf and them that hear. Some explain blind to mean those who have indeed eyes, but so dim that they cannot perceive the secrets of heavenly wisdom. But when I take a careful survey of the whole, I prefer to interpret those phrases separately. “I will bring out the blind, so as to restore sight to them; I will bring out the deaf, so that they shall recover their hearing.” And thus the meaning of the words is, “To bring out the blind, and they shall have eyes; and to bring out the deaf, and they shall have ears.” The people are first delivered, and then eyes and ears are restored to them.

The Lord did this when he brought his people out of Babylon; but undoubtedly the Prophet looks farther, that is, to the kingdom of Christ; for at that time believers were gathered not only out of Babylon, but out of all places of the earth. This was seen openly and singularly at Peter’s first sermon, when many persons from various countries united in the same confession of faith. (<440241>Acts 2:41.) But afterwards others, who appeared to be altogether strangers, united in the same body, and shewed that they were children of Abraham. If, therefore, we wish to find the full truth of this prophecy, we must come to Christ, by whom alone we are rescued from the bondage of the devil and restored to liberty. (<430808>John 8:86.) It is he who restores to us eyes and ears, though formerly we were by nature both blind and deaf. Yet it is proper to remember what I have repeatedly stated on former occasious, that the return of the people is closely connected with the renewal of the Church, which was accomplished by Christ; for what God began by bringing his people out of captivity he continued till Christ, and then brought to perfection; and so it is one and the same redemption. Hence it follows that the blessings which are here mentioned ought not to be limited to a short time.

9. Let all the nations be gathered together. Here the Prophet, as on former occasions, speaks in the person of God, and bids defiance to all idols. It is highly necessary, and was at that time especially necessary, to distinguish between the true God and false gods. It is easy indeed to ascribe to God the glory of divinity, but it is very difficult to claim it for him so exclusively, that all false gods shall be reduced to nothing; and at that time the error regarding them had received greater confirmation, for at the ruin of the nation unbelievers applauded the gods as if they had vanquished the true God. The Prophet therefore suggests to believers the reply which they should make to the jeers of their enemies, and, although they should sally forth in crowds to defend their errors, enjoins the small number to stand firm against all their forces.

Who is there among them to declare this? We formerly said that foreknowledge and power belong to God alone; for he has all things under his eye, and governs all things according to his pleasure; and, accordingly, by these two arguments he formerly proved against all the false gods the charge of vanity, lie now repeats the same charge, not to reclaim from this error the Gentiles, who did not read those prophecies, but to confirm the faith of the Jews, who were assured that they alone knew the true God. At present, indeed, this doctrine belongs both to Gentiles and to Jews; and not only so, but when the Jews shewed themselves to be unworthy, (<441346>Acts 13:46,) their privileges were extended to the Gentiles; but at that time Isaiah chiefly addressed the Jews, that, although they saw the Gentiles succeeding in everything to their wish, still they might abhor their idols and superstitions.

Let them produce their witnesses. After haying summoned unbelievers to plead the cause of their gods, or rather, after having held it to be acknowledged that it was to no purpose that they spent their time in the worship of idols, because they had no power of predicting future events, he adds that there will be no witnesses to testify with truth that any prediction ever proceeded from false gods, and consequently that their cause is destitute of lawful defense. There never was a time, indeed, when there were not many fables told about idols, as we constantly hear of innumerable fables of that kind which are widely circulated, and the silliness with which unbelievers pour forth their lies is equalled by the obstinacy with which they defend them; but if we come to examine them, we shall find them to be supported by no proof, but to be absolute tricks and foolish inventions. On this account the Prophet willingly yields the victory, if they shall bring forward competent and trustworthy “witnesses.” To God alone, therefore, this glory belongs; for he has “witnessess,”

But let them hear. At length, as if the matter had been fully proved, he rises more confidently, and commands the vanquished to keep silence. When he bids them hear, he means that the only obstacle to their acknowledgment of the truth is, that they are prejudiced by their error, and refuse to hear God; for this contempt causes them not to repent, but, on the contrary, to defend their error with stubbornness. Now, the Lord was ready to teach if they had only been willing to hear him with candor; and a better teacher could not be desired, but pride and haughtiness will not suffer them to see the truth or to listen to God. They are, therefore, without excuse; for they disdainfully reject his public instructions, and do not assent to his doctrine. Isaiah justly declares that, if they gave due attention, they would be constrained to acknowledge it to be true; F767 and indeed all who shall shew themselves to be obedient will readily acknowledge that the truth of God is founded on a firm and solid judgment, and not on an uncertain and doubtful opinion.

10. Ye are my witnesses. After having summoned the Gentiles to a contest, and after having proved that the stories which they circulated concerning their idols were false and unfounded, God now separates himself from the multitude of them, and produces his “witnesses,” that he may not be thought to be of the same class with them. He justly boasts, therefore, that they are his witnesses, and that he has true witnesses; for the Jews had been instructed by heavenly oracles, as far as was necessary for attaining perfect certainty. Yet he indirectly reproaches them with ingratitude, if they do not openly declare that they know everything that is necessary for maintaining the glory of God; and, indeed, he calls them to bear witness, and adjures them not to cover with silence those predictions by which the true religion might be proved, because that would be unjustly to defraud a good cause of their support.

And my servant. By the word “servant” some think that Isaiah is meant, but I prefer to take it collectively, for all the prophets; for there is a change of number. Now, this name was peculiarly bestowed on the prophets, whom the Lord chose for the purpose of maintaining his truth; and yet, in making use of the singular number, there can be no doubt that he looked chiefly to Christ, in whom all the prophecies are contained and accomplished. (<430145>John 1:45; <440324>Acts 3:24, and 10:43; <450102>Romans 1:2, 3; <580101>Hebrews 1:1.) It is also certain that by him chiefly, as the highest witness, all men are convinced. Yet we ought to observe God’s design, which I formerly mentioned, to call the Jews to be witnesses, that he might accuse them of ingratitude, if they did not freely utter what is demanded by the faith of those who, after having received proofs so numerous and so remarkable, could not be ignorant of the power and goodness of God, or call them in question without the greatest treachery. At the same time, he shows in general that the Lord hath chosen the Church, in order to bear testimony to his truth; and on that ground Paul calls the Church

“the pillar and foundation of truth.” (<540315>1 Timothy 3:15.)

It is therefore the duty of the Church to defend and publish the truth, that it may be honored by posterity from age to age; not that the Lord needs this assistance, but because in this way he wishes to prove and establish its truth among men. Here Isaiah includes all believers, for this office of bearing testimony is binding on all, but especially on ministers, who ought to be standard-bearers, and to set an example before others. For this reason also they are particularly mentioned; but in general no man ought to be accounted a believer, who conceals the knowledge of God within his own heart, and never makes an open confession of the truth.

Therefore ye shall know. That it may not be thought that the Lord asks them to bear witness about what is unknown, he adds, “Ye shall know, ye shall believe, ye shall understand;” and by this order of the words he shews that faith goes before confession. If, therefore, confession proceed from the top of the lips, and not from the heart, it is vain and useless, and is not such as the Lord demands or approves. Yet there is still some difficulty in the order of those words, “to know, to believe, to understand;” for we do not say that all who know believe, and, in the ordinary manner of speaking, where there is knowledge, there may not be faith. Besides, it is doubtful what is meant by “understanding,” which is mentioned after faith, as if it differed from knowledge.

But in this passage the Prophet shows that there is a kind of preparation for faith, by which God procures reverence for his word, when he sees that it needs such assistance. The beginning of faith, indeed, is humility, by which we yield our senses as captives to God; but because we do not embrace the doctrine offered to us with such certainty as is needful, God confirms us by proofs, that we may fully believe. Thus John relates that he and Peter “believed the Scriptures,” (<432008>John 20:8,) when they beheld in the grave the tokens of Christ’s resurrection; and in another passage he says that “the disciples believed in Christ,” when that which they had heard from his mouth was accomplished. (<430222>John 2:22.)

We may therefore sum it up in this manner. “The Jews shall actually feel it, when their faith shall have been aided by signs to worship the true God.” At the same time, a distinction is made between true faith and that credulity which lightly carries away fickle men; and God always bestows on his elect knowledge and judgment, that they may distinguish truth from falsehood. Next follows faith and firm certainty, so that they embrace without hesitation all that the Lord hath spoken; and afterwards faith kindles in our hearts more and more the light of understanding, and even in proportion to the progress which we make in it, our knowledge grows and becomes brighter. But these things are not done by our own judgment, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, so far as we are enlightened by him.

That I am he. He means here that it is requisite, in order to faith, that we know who is our God, and that it is he whom we worship, and no other; that our minds may not foolishly waver, and go astray, and admit everything that shall be supported by the opinion of men. Thus, faith is not that which frames anything according to its own fancy, or thoughtlessly assents to any assertion, or doubts and hesitates, but that which rests on firm certainty, so that, yielding obedience to the one true God, it surveys as from a lofty position, and despises all false gods, and frees and delivers their minds from the dread of error.

Hence we see what we ought to think of the perplexed faith of Papists; for they think that men who are stupid and void of understanding, who can scarcely utter a syllable about God, whom they know not, or of whom they are uncertain, are believers, provided that they profess that they believe what their holy mother, the Church, believes. But the Lord does not approve of a thing so trivial, but has united faith with understanding, that we may not imagine that the one can be separated from the other. Besides, there is no faith, unless you believe that it is God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who spoke by the prophets and apostles; for it will not be faith, but a vain and wandering imagination, if we do not believe in that God.

Before me there was no God formed. In order to confirm still more what he lately said, that he is the only God, he again adds that “there was no other God before him.” Yet rxwn al (lo notzar) may be taken in a passive sense, so as to convey a different meaning, that of a “creature,” or “workmanship,” or “work” F768 of God; but as that appears to be a forced sense, I willingly concur with the ordinary opinion, that “no other God had been formed before him.” This contains a kind of irony, as if it had been said, that there was no other god that had not been made and formed by mortals, and consequently, that none can be compared with the eternal God.

And after me there shalt not be. He adds that “there shall be none afterwards,” because God always preserves his dominion entire and unimpaired, and does not fail through old age or length of days. His object is to shew that, until we rely on him, there is no faith in us. They who know that there is some deity, but do not understand what it is, continually hesitate, and entangle themselves in strange labyrinths. Let us, therefore, believe that he alone is God, and for that reason cannot permit any one to be equal to him, or to share with him in his majesty.

11. I, I  F769 am Jehovah. Here the Lord employs lofty language, as having obtained the victory. Already he had sufficiently explained in what manner he must be known, and had shewn that there is no God except himself; and now, in order to confirm this doctrine, he exclaims, “I alone am Jehovah, there is none besides me.” This shews how dangerous it is to contrive anything about God out of our own fancy; for when we make any kind of graven image, we produce an idol instead of God. We ought, therefore, to embrace nothing but what has proceeded from God, so as not to allow ourselves any liberty on this subject. After God has revealed himself to us, we ought to make progress in the knowledge of him, and to grow and be strengthened every day; for this is the meaning of the repetition, I, I. F769

And there is no Savior besides me. That we may not suppose that his eternal essence only is here exhibited, but also his power and goodness, which he constantly exercises towards us, and by which he is fully revealed, he adds an epithet as a distinguishing mark, that “he is the only Savior.” The world falls into the mistake of giving a naked and empty name to God, and at the same time conveying his authority to another, as in Popery God is indeed mentioned, but is robbed of his honor, when one part of it is given to St. Peter, and another to St. Paul, and another to St. William, and another to St. George; that is, his offices are distributed into so many parts, that hardly anything is left. to him but a naked and empty name. They boast, indeed, of worshipping God alone; but when we come to what it belongs to God to do, they make as many gods as they have creatures, and distribute among them his power and authority. But the Lord has determined that these shall remain entire and uninfringed, and they cannot be conveyed to another without shocking blasphemy; for he alone does good to men, he alone defends and preserves them. The last clause of the verse expresses that knowledge which is derived from experience, that we may not seek salvation in any other than in him who its the only author of it. Hence we learn that the chief part of the worship of God consists in faith, when he is acknowledged to be the beginning and the end of life, when we bestow on him the title of Savior, and do not convey to another what he declares to belong to himself and to reside in him alone.

12. I have told and have saved. This verse is a sort of recapitulation (ajnakefalai>wsiv) of the preceding; for Jehovah again relates that he foretold future events, and that he had actually accomplished what he foretold. To tell relates to foreknowledge, and to save relates to power and goodness. In a word, he means that he alone is God, who both knows and does all things. Although these things were spoken to the Jews, yet let us know that they belong to us also; for all the predictions that have come down to us ought to be regarded by us as so many proofs both of the knowledge and of the power of God, that we may rely on him alone.

And there is no strange god among you. That superstitions may be banished, and that he may be elevated to the throne of his heavenly doctrine, he again mentions that he displayed his power, and gave tokens of his grace, without being aided by any one; and hence it follows, that they who shall not be satisfied with him alone, will be excessively ungrateful and wicked. “At the time,” says he, “when ye worshipped no strange god, I openly and publicly displayed my power; and therefore it is unlawful to bestow on false gods what belongs to me.” And yet in these words he does not so much commend the piety or religion of the people, as he excludes all foreign aid; as if he had said, that while the Jews knew no other God, the miracles wrought by him were so numerous and so great, that it was perfectly evident that none but he is God. At the same time Isaiah remarks that our unbelief hinders God from displaying his power amongst us. Away, then, with all errors and all wavering and doubtful opinions about God, if we wish to have experience of his power! for if we turn our minds to superstitions or idols, we shall undoubtedfly render ourselves unworthy of his assistance and kindness.

Ye are therefore my witnesses. At length he again summons them as witnesses, accusing them of base and shameful ingratitude, if they conceal what he had abundantly made known to them; for the greater and more numerous the testimonies by which he has manifested to us his power and might, so much the more are we bound to declare them to others.

13. Even before the day was. He now speaks of the eternity of God; but we must attend to the Prophet’s design; for he who has a beginning and is not from himself, cannot rule by his dominion, or govern according to his pleasure, what he has not created. When, therefore, God declares that he is eternal, he reminds us that the world is his workmanship; for this order of nature did not spring up by chance, but proceeded from the wonderful purpose and. wisdom of God. (<010101>Genesis 1:1.) In this sense he afterwards adds, —

There is none to deliver out of my hand. Hence we shall clearly see that his supreme and infinite power is proved from his eternity; for if he were not eternal, he could neither exercise authority over all things, nor be the defender of his people, nor dispose of the creatures according to his pleasure; but since he is eternal, all things must be subject to his authority. To the same purpose is what he says, that no obstacle can prevent what he hath decreed to do, that the Jews may not be alarmed or dispirited by the forces or number of the enemies.

14. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet shews that. Cyrus will be but a hired soldier, to render his services to the Lord for delivering his people. He does not indeed name Cyrus, but speaks of the army which he has under his command for subduing the Babylonians. ‘We know that this was accomplished by Cyrus and Darius, and that under the direction of God, who had foretold it long before. And not only does he speak to those who beheld the accomplishment of these things, but to all others whom the Lord wished to comfort by this hope of deliverance, of which they could not have formed the smallest conception. He addresses captives, who, having been oppressed by the cruel tyranny of the Babylonians, appeared to be beyond all hope of obtaining deliverance, and who might be apt to regard those promises as absurd, because in the opinion of men there was no visible hope of redemption. But we should yield this honor to the word, to believe what is otherwise incredible, that we may be encouraged to “hope against hope.” (<450418>Romans 4:18.) Such is the power of faith, that it must not be limited to the view of external objects, but rise above the heavens, and reach even to God himself.

For your sake I have sent to Babylon. This is highly emphatic; for, while Cyrus was instigated by ambition and by an insatiable desire of power, and while there were many causes of the war, nothing was further from being generally believed, than that the destruction of that monarchy would shake the world, so that the Jews who were at that time most despicable in the eyes of men, would return to their native land. But God testifies that he will grant easy victories to the Persians, so that they shall subdue the East, because he will be reconciled to his Church.

For the same reason he begins by saying, that he is the Redeemer of his people, and the Holy One, to shew more clearly that he holds dear and precious those whom he has chosen to be his peculiar people. (<021906>Exodus 19:6.) But this appears to be inconsistent with what we have formerly seen,

“We to thee who plunderest, for thou shalt be exposed to plunder,” (<233301>Isaiah 33:1;)

for the Lord declared that he would punish the cruelty of the Babylonians, and repay to them what they had deserved; but now he affirms that he sends the Persians to deliver his people. But these statements may easily be reconciled. Though the Lord punished the Babylonians, yet he had also a care of his people; for, as the providence of God extends throughout the whole world, so he takes a peculiar care of his Church, and, as the elect are the object of his special love, so he directs all things for their salvation. It is not without good reason, therefore, that he says that he sent, and that he was induced by undeserved favor to send, because he wished to be the Savior of his people.

And I made them come down. For the same reason as before, he now adds that they shall come down at his command, because, although the Persians and Medes will have another object in view, yet their march shall be guided by heavenly impulse; and in this manner he wished to give an early testimony of his grace to the elect people, that they might not faint under many very distressing calamities. This promise ought therefore to have brought vast consolation to believers, that, although they were despised, and hated, and even abhorred by all, still they were dear to God; because he would at length assist them, and on their account would destroy the kingdom of the Babylonians.

They are all fugitives. F770By saying that “they shall be fugitives,” he shews that he will give to Cyrus such success, that the Babylonians shall tremble at his arrival, and in terror shall throw down their arms, and betake themselves to flight. It often happens that a very powerful prince, abundantly supplied with military preparations, undertakes a war, but conducts it unsuccessfully; and therefore it was not enough that Cyrus should be sent with a powerful army, if he were not also crowned with success.

And a cry of the Babylonians in the ships. To describe more fully the sudden flight, he adds that there shall be “a cry or noise in the ships;” for they were unable to escape by land. They had, indeed, a very convenient river, the Euphrates, which united with the river Tigris, by which they might easily have escaped. Yet even in this respect their expectation was disappointed on account of the bed of the river being dried up.

15. I Jehovah. This verse contains no statement, and only shews who it is that speaks, how great is his power and majesty, and, in a word, how warmly he loves the elect people, so as to give greater weight to the former promise. In short, it may be viewed as the seal of the preceding statement, more powerfully confirming what was formerly said, that it is God who makes these promises. But what God?

Your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. He is called Holy, because he has chosen and separated a people, that he might consecrate them to himself; for by this title he reminds them of the adoption by which he united them to himself in a peculiar manner, that they may understand that he will be their Father and Savior. And for the same reason we ought now to acknowledge him as our Holy One, because he has set us apart to be members of the Church, of which we are assured by our calling. The name Creator must not be viewed as referring to universal creation, by which unbelievers also are created, but to the new creation, on account of which we are also called (<490210>Ephesians 2:10) “his workmanship,” (r\to< poi>hma) as we have formerly stated, while expounding other passages.

Your King. This might indeed be thought to be absurd; for not even the semblance of a kingdom was visible, and nothing was to be seen among the Jews but what was covered with shame and disgrace, in consequence of their having been deprived of all aid and relief. Yet there was room for the exercise of faith, that they might hope for the restoration of the kingdom, though apparently ruined and almost extinguished, and might acknowledge God to be their King.

16. Thus saith Jehovah. He again repeats and confirms what was otherwise incredible; and, in order that this confirmation may have greater weight, he personates God himself.

Who maketh a way in the sea. He reminds them of former benefits, that, having experienced his power and kindness, they may believe that he will not be less gracious for the future, nor less powerful to deliver them. As if he had said, “The Lord who speaks will actually shew how vast is the greatness of his power. Your fathers experienced it, and you will not experience it the less.” Now, we are ungrateful to God, if former benefits do not lead us to entertain hope for the future; and especially when he intended to give a sure and striking proof of continual favor towards us. He brought the Jews out of Egypt on the express condition, that the deliverance which was accomplished should never be forgotten. (<021309>Exodus 13:9.)

The Prophet therefore represents God as actually present, and declares that he is the same God who surmounted every obstacle by his power, that he might be the Redeemer of his people. At that time he opened up a way through the sea, (<021421>Exodus 14:21,) and afterwards through the mighty waters, that is, through Jordan, which the Lord dried up, though it was running very rapidly. (<060316>Joshua 3:16.) And these prodigious miracles he expressly relates, because they might think that their return to Judea was closed up, and that all that was promised concerning it was fabulous.

17. When he bringeth out. He shows that no power or forces shall hinder him from delivering his people, whenever he shall think proper. The sea which lay between them could not prevent God from “bringing out” his people; but he divided its waters in the midst, and drowned the pursuing enemies, with their horses and chariots. (<021428>Exodus 14:28.) This is therefore an amplification; as if he had said, “Though the whole world be leagued for your destruction, and attempt, to hinder the deliverance of my Church, yet it will gain nothing; for not only will the Lord find out a way through whirlpools, when he thinks proper, but he will overthrow and scatter all opposing efforts, and will crush them so that they shall never again raise their head.”

They are quenched like flax. It is possible that he who was vanquished in one battle may renew his strength in another, and at length be victorious; but here the Lord promises a continual victory, for he declares that the enemies shall be subdued in such a manner that they shall be completely extinguished. By the metaphor of flax, he expresses more vividly the sudden destruction of the enemies; for flax may indeed burn and give light, but is immediately consumed.

18. Remember not former things. Hitherto the Prophet shewed how great was the power of God in delivering the people. He now declares that all the miracles which God wrought in that first redemption were of little importance as compared with the more remarkable miracle which should soon be wrought; that is, that the glory of this second deliverance shall be so great as to throw the former into the shade. Yet he does not mean that the Jews should forget so great a benefit, which he had commanded them to publish in every age, and to inscribe on permanent records; for in his preface to the Law he begins in this manner,

“I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (<022002>Exodus 20:2.)

He even enjoined parents to repeat it frequently to their children, and from hand to hand to deliver it to their grandchildren and to posterity. This must therefore be understood to be by comparison, like that saying’ of Jeremiah,

“Behold the days come,” saith the Lord, “that it shall no longer be said, The Lord liveth, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, who led and brought out the seed of the house of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries into which I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their land.” (<242307>Jeremiah 23:7, 8.)

In short, he shews that this latter redemption, when compared with the former, shall be far more illustrious. Hence it follows, that it is improper to limit this prediction to a small number of years; for the Prophet does not separate between its commencement and its progress, but extends the blessed consequences of their return till Christ, who, by his coming, actually set up the priesthood and the kingdom.

19. Behold, I do a new thing. This shews more clearly what the Prophet meant in the preceding verse, for he declares that there shall be “a new work,” that is, a work unheard of and uncommon, and which, on account of its greatness and excellence, shall throw into the shade the reputation of all other works; in the same manner as the brightness of the sun, when it fills heaven and earth, causes the stars to disappear.

Now it shall arise. He means that the time shall not be long. Yet these things were not so speedily accomplished; but, if we look to God, four hundred or even a thousand years are counted as a moment before him; how much less ought a delay of seventy years to wear out and discourage them? When he adds, Shall ye not know it? this question is more forcible and impressive than a bare affirmation, and this form of question is more frequently employed by Hebrew writers than in the Greek and Latin languages. When he promises a way in the wilderness, he alludes to that wilderness which lay between Judea and Babylon; for he speaks of the return of the people. Accordingly to the way he adds rivers; for in travelling through a dry country they might have been parched and died of thirst. On this account, the Lord says that he will supply them with water and everything that is necessary for the journey; as if he had said, “I will furnish you with provisions, so that under my guidance you shall return to your native land.”

But it may be thought that the Prophet is excessive, and that his language is altogether hyperbolical, when he extols this deliverance in such lofty terms; for we read that rivers were turned into blood, (<020720>Exodus 7:20,) the air was covered with darkness, (<021022>Exodus 10:22,) the first-born were slain, (<021229>Exodus 12:29,) insects were sent forth to destroy the whole country, (<021015>Exodus 10:15,) and that other prodigies of the same kind happened in Egypt, while nothing of this sort was done in Babylon. What then is meant by this new redemption? This consideration has compelled almost all Christian commentators to interpret this passage as referring absolutely to the coming of Christ, in which they are undoubtedly mistaken; and the Jews are also in the wrong, when they limit it to the redemption from Babylon. Accordingly, as I have frequently remarked, we ought here to include the whole period which followed the redemption from Babylon, down to the coming of Christ.

The redemption from Egypt may be regarded as having been the first birth of the Church; because the people were gathered into a body, and the Church was established, of which formerly there was not the semblance; but that deliverance is not limited to the time when the people went out of Egypt, but is continued down to the possession of the land of Canaan, which was delivered to the people, when the kings had been driven out. (<061123>Joshua 11:23.) We ought to take the same view of this new birth, (peri< tau>thv paliggenesi>av,) by which the people were rescued from Babylon, and brought back to their native land; for that restoration must not be limited to the departure from Babylon, but must be extended to Christ, during the whole of which period great and wonderful events undoubtedly happened. Was it not astonishing that a captive people, whom all despised as some contemptible slave, and who were even held to be accursed, should receive freedom and liberty to return from heathen kings; and not only so, but should be furnished with provisions, and with everything else that was necessary both for the journey and for settling at home, for rearing the city and for rebuilding the Temple? (<150102>Ezra 1:2.)

But far greater events followed, when but a few persons were willing to return, and the greater part were so discouraged as to prefer wretched bondage to blessed freedom. When, in comparison of that vast multitude which had been carried away, a few persons returned to Judea, still greater obstacles arose. Conspiracies were formed, the people formerly abhorred became the objects of keener resentments, the work was interrupted, and every method was tried for putting a full stop to the design. (<150401>Ezra 4.) Thus it appeared as if in vain the Lord had brought them back, for they were exposed to dangers much greater than before. When the temple had been built, they did not enjoy greater peace; for they were hedged in on all sides by very cruel and deadly enemies, from whom they often sustained great hardships. They were afterwards afflicted by distresses, and calamities, and various persecutions, so that they were supposed to be struck down and overwhelmed, and utterly ruined. And yet, in the midst of fire and sword, God wonderfully preserved them; and if we consider their wretched and miserable condition, and the grievous persecutions of tyrants, we shall wonder that even a single individual of them could survive.

In order that we may understand how great was the excellence of this latter redemption, and how far it excelled the former, we must: continue and bring it down to the time of Christ, who at length gave an immense addition to the former benefits. Thus, beyond all question, the second redemption leaves the first far behind. There is nothing forced in this interpretation, and it corresponds to the ordinary language of the prophets, who always have the Messiah for their end, and keep him constantly in their eye. But this will appear more clearly from what is related by Haggai; for, when the Temple began to be rebuilt, the old men, who had seen the glory of the ancient temple, mourned, and were not far from thinking that God had forsaken them, and that his promises had failed. But Haggai, in order to comfort them and to prove that the glory of this second would be greater than the glory of the first, though the structure of the building was far inferior, leads them to the Redeemer.

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts,” says he, “Yet once, and within a short time, I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea, and the continent, and all the nations; and the Desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the glory of the former.” (<370206>Haggai 2:6-9.)

Thus, as Haggai brings the restoration of the Temple down to Christ, and refers to him its true glory; so this deliverance (for the two things are connected, or rather they are the same) extended even to Christ. Consequently, we need not wonder if it surpassed the Egyptian deliverance in every respect.

20. The beast of the field shall honor me. He adorns the preceding statement; for, amidst such a desperate condition of affairs, it was proper that magnificent language should be employed in extolling the power of God, that words might supply what seemed to be wanting in the reality. The meaning is, that the power of God will be so visible and manifest, that the very beasts, impressed with the feeling of it, shall acknowledge and worship God. This prediction corresponds to the song,

“The sea saw and fled, Jordan was driven back. The mountains leaped like rams, and the hills like lambs. At the face of the Lord the earth trembled.” (<19B403>Psalm 114:3, 4, 7.)

Isaiah here ascribes the same feeling to brute animals, because by a secret impulse they shall be constrained to retire, so as to allow his people to pass safely. And yet the cause assigned is more extensive, that they will stand still, as if in astonishment, when they see the miracles. In a word, God declares that he will not suffer his people, in their journey homeward, to be destitute of the means of subsistence, but describes in exaggerated language his love toward the Jews, that by the height of their hope they may rise above the world. When we hear these statements, let us also not measure the power of God by the nature of things, but let us be exalted by faith above all that can be seen or known.

My people, my chosen. That these wretched exiles may not be driven from the hope of heavenly grace and assistance, he reminds them of their adoption; as if he had said, that amidst this ruinous and melancholy condition they still continued to be the people of God, because he who once chose them does not change his purpose. Accordingly, whenever we need to be excited to cherish favorable hope, let us remember God’s calling; for, although we are unworthy, still it ought to be reckoned enough that the Lord has deigned to bestow on us so great an honor.

21. This people have I created for myself. The Prophet means that the Lord will necessarily do what he formerly said, because it concerns his glory to preserve the people whom he has chosen for himself; and therefore these words are intended for the consolation of the people. “Do you think that I will suffer my glory to fall to the ground? It is connected with your salvation, and therefore your salvation shall be the object of my care. In a word, know that you shall be saved, because you cannot perish, unless my glory likewise perish. Ye shall therefore survive, because I wish that you may continually proclaim my glory.”

When he says that he has created the people, let us learn that it proceeds from supernatural grace that we are the people of God; for we must remember that principle of which we have formerly spoken, that he does not now speak of the ordinary nature of men, but of spiritual regeneration, or of the adoption by which he separates the Church from the rest of the world, and that with everything that belongs to it. Let no one therefore ascribe his regeneration to himself or to any human merits; but let us acknowledge that it is entirely to the mercy of God that we owe so great a favor.

They shall declare my praise. Though it is the design of the Prophet to shew what I have said, that his people shall be saved because it concerns the glory of God, yet we also learn from it, that the end of our election is, that we may shew forth the glory of God in every possible way. (<021404>Exodus 14:4, 17, 18.) The reprobate are, indeed, the instruments of the glory of God, but it is said to shine in us in a very different manner; for “he hath chosen us,” says Paul, “that we might be holy and without blame before him through love, who predestinated us that he might adopt us to be his children through Jesus Christ, in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace by which he hath made us accepted through the Beloved.” (<490104>Ephesians 1:4-6.) Such also is the import of the words of Peter when he says, that we were brought out of darkness into the wonderful kingdom of God, that we may declare his perfections, (<600209>1 Peter 2:9;) and likewise the words of Zacharias,

“That, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.” (<420174>Luke 1:74, 75.)

This, then, is the end of our calling, that, being consecrated to God, we may praise and honor him during our whole life.

22. And thou hast not called on me. He confirms by an indirect reproof what he said in the preceding verse, that it was not by any merits of his people that he was induced to act so kindly towards them. This deliverance, therefore, ought to be ascribed to no other cause than to the goodness of God. In order to prove this, he says, “Thou hast not called on me.” Calling on the name of God includes the whole of the worship of God, the chief part of which is “calling upon him;” and, therefore, following the ordinary manner of Scripture, he has put a part for the whole. But in other passages the Lord plainly shews that calling upon him is the chief part of his worship; for, after having said that he despises sacrifices and outward ceremonies, he adds,

“Call upon me in the day of trouble.” (<190101>Psalm 1:15.)

Hence also Scripture, when it speaks of the worship of God, chiefly mentions “calling on him;” for when Moses states that the worship of God had been restored, he says, “Then began men to call on the name of the Lord.” (<010426>Genesis 4:26.)

But thou hast been wearied of me. In this second clause I consider the particle yk (ki) to be disjunctive, “But rather thou hast been wearied of me.” Others render it “Because thou hast wearied;” as if he had said, “Thou hast received with dislike what was enjoined on thee;” which amounts to nearly the same thing. As the Lord demands obedience, so he wishes all that worship him to be ready and cheerful; as Paul testifies, that “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver,” (<470907>2 Corinthians 9:7,) and they who obey reluctantly cannot be called, and are not reckoned by him, true and sincere worshippers. Thus, in order to show that the Jews have not worshipped him as they ought to have done, he says that they did it reluctantly. If any one choose rather to view it as assigning the reason, and render it thus, — “Thou hast not called on me, for thou hast rendered to me no worship without regret, and what may be said to have been extorted from thee by violence,” as it makes little difference in the meaning, I do not greatly object; but the translation which I have given appears to convey more clearly what the Prophet intends. Besides, the contrast contains within itself the assigning of a reason; and therefore, if we wish that God should accept of our service, let us obey him with a cheerful disposition.

23. Theft hast not brought to me. A question arises, “Why does the Prophet bring this reproach against the Jews, who, it is evident, were very careful to offer sacrifices according to the injunction of the Law?” Some refer this to the time of the captivity, when they could not have offered sacrifices to God though they had been willing to do so; for it was not lawful for them to offer sacrifices in any other place than Jerusalem, and therefore they could not appease God by sacrifices. (<051213>Deuteronomy 12:13.) But I rather think that it is a general reproach; for at the very time when the people were sacrificing, they could not boast of their merits or personal worth, as if they had laid God under obligations in this manner; for they were wanting in the sacrifices which God chiefly approves, that is, faith and obedience, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. There was no integrity of heart, “their hands were full of blood,” (<230115>Isaiah 1:15;) everything was filled with fraud and robbery, and there was no room for justice or equity. Although, therefore, they daily brought beasts to the temple, and sacrificed them, yet he justly affirms that they offered nothing to him. Sacrifices could not be accepted by God when they were separated kern truth, and were offered to another rather than to God; for he did not demand them in themselves, but so far as the people treated them as exercises of faith and obedience, Hence we infer that the Prophet says nothing new, but continues to exhibit the same doctrine, namely, that God rejects all services that are rendered in a slavish spirit, or in any other respect are defective.

24. Thou hast not bought cane for me. He means the cane or calamus of which the precious ointment was composed, as we are informed, (<023023>Exodus 30:23;) for the high priests, the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, together with its vessels, were anointed with it he says, therefore, “Although thou buy cane for me with money, yet thou oughtest not to reckon that to be expense bestowed on me, as if I approved of it.” They lost their pains in all those ceremonies, because they did not look to the proper end, since they did not exercise faith, or worship God with a pure conscience.

And thou hast not made me drunk. This corresponds to a mode of expression employed in the law, in which God testifies that sacrifices are pleasant and delightful feasts to him; not that he took pleasure in the slaughter of animals, but that by these exercises he wished to lead his people to true obedience. He means that here, on the contrary, the people did not offer sacrifices in a proper manner, because they polluted everything with impiety; and, consequently, that he might be said to be hungry and faint, because they offered nothing in a right manner, but everything was corrupted and was without savor.

But thou hast made me to serve with thy sins. The Prophet now aggravates the heinousness of that offense, by saying that the people not only were deficient in their duty, and did not submit to God, but that they even endeavored to make God submit to them, and “to serve” their will, or rather their lust. They who explain this passage as referring to Christ torture the Prophet’s meaning, and therefore I consider this interpretation to be more natural. The Lord complains that men compelled him to carry a heavy burden, instead of submitting to him with reverence, as they ought to have done; for when we rise up against God, we treat him as a slave by our rebellion and insolence. He explains this more fully when he says, Ye have wearied me; that is, that God suffered much uneasiness on account of the wickedness of his people; for in some respects we wound and “pierce him,” as the Prophet says, (<381210>Zechariah 12:10,) when we reject his voice, and do not suffer ourselves to be governed by him. Apparently he alludes to what he had formerly said about the weariness or uneasiness of the people in worshipping God; for God declares, on the contrary, that the people have given him great distress.

25. I, I am he. F771 He concludes the former statement by this exclamation, as if he had said, that he may boast of his right, that he blots out the iniquities of his people, and restores them to freedom; for they have no merits by which they could obtain it, since they deserve the severest punishment, and even destruction. The same word is twice repeated by him, that he may more sharply rebuke the ingratitude of men who are wont to rob him of that honor which belongs to him alone, or in some way to throw it into the shade.

He that blotteth out thy iniquities. awh (hu) is the demonstrative pronoun He, used instead of a noun, as in many other passages. It is but a poor and feeble meaning that is attached to the words of the Prophet by those who think that God claims for himself the privilege and authority of pardoning sins, for he rather contrasts his mercy with all other causes, as if he declared that he is not induced by anything else to pardon sins, but is satisfied with his mere goodness, and, consequently, that it is wrong to ascribe either to merits or to any sacrifices the redemption of which he is the Author by free grace. The meaning may be summed up by saying, that the people ought to hope for their return for no other reason than because God will freely pardon their sins, and, being of his own accord appeased by his mercy, will stretch out his fatherly hand.

The present subject is the pardon of sins; we must see on what occasion it has been introduced. Undoubtedly the Prophet means that there will be a freely bestowed redemption, and therefore he mentions forgiveness rather than redemption, because, since they had received a severe punishment for their sins, they must have been pardoned before they were delivered. The cause of the disease must be taken away, if we wish to cure the disease itself; and so long as the Lord’s anger lasts, his chastisements will also last; and consequently his anger must be appeased, and we must be reconciled to God, before we are freed from punishments. And this form of expression ought to be carefully observed in opposition to the childish distinction of the Sophists, who say that God does indeed pardon guilt, but that we must make satisfaction by penances. Hence proceeded satisfactions, indulgences, purgatory, and innumerable other contrivances.

The Prophet does not only speak of guilt, but speaks expressly of punishment which is remitted, because sins have been freely pardoned. This is still more clearly expressed by the addition of the phrase for mine own sake. It is certain that this limitation is contrasted with all merits, that is, that God pays no regard to us, or to anything that is in us, in pardoning our sins, but that he is prompted to it solely by his goodness; for if he had regard to us, he would be in some respects our debtor, and forgiveness would not be of free grace. Accordingly, Ezekiel explains the contrast,

“Not for your sakes will I do this, O house of Jacob, but for mine own sake.” (<263622>Ezekiel 36:22.)

Hence it follows that God is his own adviser, and is freely inclined to pardon sins, for he does not find any cause in men.

Therefore I will not remember thy sins. The Prophet added this for the consolation of the godly, who, oppressed by the consciousness of their transgressions, might otherwise have fallen into despair. On this account he encourages them to cherish good hope, and confirms them in that confidence by saying, that although they are unworthy, yet he will pardon their sins, and will thus deliver them. Hence we ought to draw a useful doctrine, that no one can be certain of obtaining pardon, unless he rely on the absolute goodness of God. They who look to their works must continually hesitate, and at length despair, because, if they are not deceived by gross hypocrisy, they will always have before their eyes their own unworthiness, which will constrain them to remain in doubt as to the love of God.

When it is said that ministers also forgive sins, (<432023>John 20:23,) there is no inconsistency with this passage, for they are witnesses of this freely bestowed forgiveness. The ordinary distinction is. that God forgives sins by his power, and ministers by their office; but as this distinction does not explain the Prophet’s meaning, we must keep by what I have stated, that God not only forgives sins in the exercise of his authority, but that all the blessings for which we ought to hope flow from the fountain of his absolute bounty. Thus the Lord adorned the preaching of the gospel, and its ministers, in such a manner as to reserve the full authority for himself.

26. Bring to my remembrance. Because the pride of men cannot be easily corrected, the Lord pursues this argument, and dwells much upon it, in order to lead the Jews to throw away all confidence in their works, and to make them more humble, he gives them liberty to say and argue whatever they please, in order to support their cause, if they do not acknowledge that they are vanquished. By a sort of admission in their favor, he bids them call to his remembrance; as if he had said, “If thou thinkest me to be forgetful, tell it thyself; remind me, if thou canst allege anything good; speak in thy turn, I shall be silent.” By this form of expression he taunts men more than if he had stated in the usual way how the matter stood. He shews that it is exceedingly foolish in men to claim anything for themselves; for, though he gives them liberty of boasting, they will be found utterly unable to plead, and will have nothing to say in defense of their cause.

That thou mayest be justified, that is, “In order that thou mayest gain thy cause, and carry off the victory, I allow thee to say whatever thou pleasest.” This is vehement mockery, which shuts the mouths of men more completely than if he pronounced the sentence in his own person and with the authority of a judge. Yet we must also observe the design of the Prophet; for he found it necessary to strip the Jews of the mask of personal worth, that they might humbly and meekly receive the grace of God.

27. Thy first father sinned. This passage is almost universally understood to refer to the “first parent” Adam. (<010306>Genesis 3:6.) Some prefer to interpret it as relating to Abraham; as if he had said,

“You have not alone sinned, but your father Abraham himself sinned, though he was a man of eminent holiness.” F772 (<062402>Joshua 24:2.)

By the teachers are understood to be meant Moses and Aaron, who were men of extraordinary holiness, and yet sinned: “how much more you who are far inferior to theme” (<042012>Numbers 20:12.) That would be an argument from the greater to the less. But I view the matter differently; for under the word Father he includes not one or a few of their ancestors, but many. It is an interchange of the singular and plural number, which is very frequently employed by Hebrew writers. This reproof occurs very frequently in the prophets and in the Psalms; for, knowing that God reckoned them to be “a holy people,” (<021906>Exodus 19:6,) as if this honor had been due to the excellence or merits of the fathers, they rose fiercely against God himself, and swelled with pride on account of their hereditary privilege. On this account the prophets in every age expose the crimes of the fathers; and Stephen, who followed them, says, that “they always resisted the Holy Spirit;” (<440751>Acts 7:51;) as if he had said, “You do not now for the first time begin to be wicked; long ago your fathers were base and infamous. From a bad crow has come a bad egg. But you are far worse, and exceed your fathers in wickedness; so that if I had looked at you alone, you would long ago have been destroyed and completely ruined.”

And thy teachers. F773 He now adds the teachers, in order to shew that the blame did not lie with the people alone; for they who ought to have been the guides of others, that is, the priests and the prophets, were the first to stumble, and led others into error. In a word, he shews that no class was free from vices and corruptions. “Let them now go and boast of their virtues, and let them produce the very smallest reason why I ought to protect them, except my own goodness.” If it be objected that there is no reason why the sins of their fathers should be brought as an accusation against them, because it is written,

“The soul that hath sinned shall die, and the children shall not be punished instead of the fathers,” (<261820>Ezekiel 18:20,)

the answer will be easy. The Lord makes the children to bear the punishment of the sins of the fathers, when they resemble their fathers; and yet they are not punished for other men’s sins, for they themselves have sinned; and when the Lord chastises the whole body, he puts the fathers and the children together, so as to involve all in the same condemnation.

28. Therefore I will pollute. The copulative w (vau) here means therefore, and the preterite tense, I have polluted, ought to have a future signification, though it may also be rendered in the past tense; but I have preferred the future, in order to apply it to the time of the captivity; for he directly addresses those who were to live under the captivity. If it be thought preferable to extend it to various calamities, by which God had covered his people with disgrace, and at the same time to connect with it their exile in Babylon, there will be no impropriety; and indeed it will be more appropriate to view it as a description of what frequently happened to them in former times, that they may be warned for the future, that they have no privilege which can defend them from receiving again with the deepest disgrace the punishment of their ingratitude, tie shews, therefore, the cause of this destruction. It was because the transgressions of the fathers and of the children must be punished, that is, when there was no end of sinning, but when they daily kindled the wrath of God against them, till he at length punished them.

The Lord is said to “pollute” or “profane” his Church, when he despises and throws it aside as a thing of no value. In this sense the word is used in <198939>Psalm 89:39, and in many other passages. Having been set apart and sanctified by him, we dwell under his protection and guardianship, so long as we are holy; and in like manner when we are deprived of it, we are said to be “profaned,” because we cease to be sacred, and are rendered unworthy of his protection; and he exposes as a prey to enemies those whom he formerly called “his anointed,” and forbade men to “touch.” (<19A515>Psalm 105:15.) But it may be thought strange that the priests, who were Christ’s representatives, should be “profaned;” and the reason is, that they transgressed, while they ought to have been “teachers” of others.

And I will make Jacob a curse. The Hebrew word rh, (herem,) which we have translated a curse, signifies “destruction,” but likewise signifies “a curse;” and I have thought that the latter meaning is more appropriate to this passage, for it afterwards follows, a reproach. These statements are borrowed by the Prophet from Moses, whose description he follows so closely, that it is easy to perceive the style of Moses in these words, and to see that the prophets bring forward nothing that is new or strange. The words of Moses are:

“And thou shalt be an astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word among all the nations to which the Lord shall lead thee.” (<052837>Deuteronomy 28:37.)

He therefore threatens that he will afflict the people in such a manner as to make them “accursed” by all; so that whoever shall wish to pronounce a “curse” may take it for an example, and that it may be a form of “cursing;” that he will expose them to the ridicule of men, so that they shall serve as a proverb in the mouth of all who wish to utter scorn; just as at the present day we see that the name of a Jew, though in itself honorable, is in the highest degree ignominious and disgraceful. The Lord pronounced those dreadful threatenings by Isaiah, that they might know that a punishment sufficiently severe, as compared with the enormity of their transgressions, could not be inflicted; that when the Lord should chastise them, they might not complain that the punishments which they endured were too severe, or think that the Prophet’s reproofs were too sharp.


Go To Isaiah 44:1-28

1. Yet now hear. Having a little before rebuked the transgressions of the people, and declared that all deserved eternal perdition, because both the princes and the people had polluted everything by their crimes, he now mitigates that severity of punishment, and comforts the people. In this passage I consider the particle w (vau) to mean But or Yet, as in many other passages. As if he had said, “Though grievous afflictions are about to overtake thee, yet now hear what I will do for thy sake.” The verse must be viewed in connection with the former argument, because the Lord declares that he will never permit his people to perish altogether, though they be grievously afflicted. Hence infer, that God is never so angry with his Church as not to leave some room for mercy, as we have already seen on many occasions. The consequence is, that the prophets, whenever they threaten, always add some consolation as an abatement.

But lest we should imagine that men have deserved it by their good conduct, he therefore adds, whom I have chosen; for we do not serve God, because we are entitled to it, or deserve it, but because he renders us fit by a free election. In this passage, therefore, the words Servant and Elect are synonymous, yet so that election comes first in order, and therefore David says that he was God’s “servant” before he was born, because even from his mother’s womb he had been received into God’s family. (<192210>Psalm 22:10; 71:6; 116:16.)

2. Thus saith Jehovah thy Maker. Though he treated the Jews harshly, that they might be stripped of all false confidence, and might humbly betake themselves to the grace of God, he now caresses them pleasantly by a mild and gentle discourse, that they may know that by self-denial they shall sustain no loss. We must therefore supply here the following contrasts. “Thou, Jacob, art indeed nothing in thyself, but God thy Maker will not despise his work; no nobleness of birth would secure thee against perdition, but the adoption which the Heavenly Father has been pleased to bestow upon thee will be abundantly sufficient for redeeming thee.” Besides, we should keep in mind what I have often said already, that the Prophet does not speak of the first creation by which we are born to be human beings, but of the regeneration which belongs and is peculiar to the elect, that they may obtain a place in the Church of God.

He that formed thee from the womb. This is added, that men may not claim anything for themselves, as if they had moved him to shew kindness to them. By these words he also exhibits to them a hereditary covenant, by which God separated them to be his inheritance “before they were born.” (<450911>Romans 9:11.) Some think that this refers to the person of Jacob, because, by taking hold of his brother’s foot, (<012526>Genesis 25:26,) he gave a remarkable proof of his election; but this is a forced interpretation, and therefore I give a wider signification to these words, namely, that the Lord was kind and bountiful to his people from the commencement, and cut off all merits; because by free grace he “formed him,” and then freely bestowed on him all blessings.

He will help thee. Some supply the relative, “Who will help thee;” as if he had said, “Thy Helper;” but it is better to read the clause separately. F774 It would be still more clear in the first person, “I will help thee;” but as to the substance of the meaning it makes no difference. The statemen t amounts to this, that he who is the Creator of the people will be ready to give his assistance when the proper time shall arrive. Let every person therefore adopt that reading which he thinks proper; but I have preferred to follow the simple and natural meaning, without supplying any word.

O beloved! The word ˆwry (yeshurun) is explained in various ways. Some think that it is derived from ry, (yashar,) which means “to be upright,” or “to please;” others from rw, (shur,) and others from ra, (ashar.) But I rather agree with those who translate it Beloved, and derive it from the root ry, (yashar.) This designation is also bestowed on that nation by Moses in his song; for, although some render it in that passage Upright, and in this passage also, the old rendering is more suitable, “My beloved is grown fat.” (<053215>Deuteronomy 32:15.) The Prophet adorns his nation with these titles, that the Jews may be led by past benefits to entertain hope for the future. This rule ought to be held by all believers as perpetually binding, that, after having experienced the kindness of God toward them, they should likewise expect it for the future; for otherwise they will be excessively ungrateful, and will shew that they do not rely on the promises of God, which, when they are impressed on our hearts, undoubtedly bring peace and safety; not that we should be utterly devoid of fear, but that we should strive against all dread and distrust; and therefore he again repeats, —

Fear thou not, Jacob. Such is also the import of the consolation given by Christ,

“Fear not, little flock, for my Father hath good will towards thee.” (<421232>Luke 12:32.)

And, indeed, among the dangers which threaten death on all sides, no remedy is better adapted to allay terrors than that God has been pleased to bestow his favor upon us, so that he will save us for ever. By the word “Beloved,” therefore, he again repeats that this depends on the favor and protection of God, who ascribes to himself, and entirely claims, all the good that existed among the people.

3. For I will pour waters. He continues the same subject, and at the same time explains what will be the nature of that assistance which he has promised. But we ought always to keep in remembrance that these prophecies relate to that sorrowful and afflicted period of which he formerly spoke, that is, when the people, in the extremity to which they were reduced, might think that they were altogether forsaken, and that all the promises of God were vain. Isaiah meets this doubt, and compares the people to a dry and thirsty land, which has no moisture at all. By this metaphor David also describes his wretchedness. (<19E306>Psalm 143:6.) Although therefore they were worn out by afflictions, and the vital moisture was decayed, yet, that they might not throw away courage in their deepest distresses, they ought to have set before their minds this declaration of the Prophet. We, too, when we are brought into the greatest dangers, and see nothing before us but immediate death, ought in the same manner to betake ourselves to these promises, that we may be supported by them against all temptations. Yet we must feel our drought and poverty, that our thirsty souls may partake of this refreshing influence of the waters.

I will pour my Spirit. Jehovah himself explains what he means by waters and rivers, that is, his Spirit. In another passage the Spirit of God is called “water,” but in a different sense. When Ezekiel gives the name “water” to the Holy Spirit, he at the same time calls it “clean water,” with a view to cleansing. (<263625>Ezekiel 36:25.) Isaiah will afterwards call the Spirit “waters,” but for a different reason, that is, because by the secret moisture of his power he quickens souls. But these words of the Prophet have a wider signification, because he does not speak merely of the Spirit of regeneration, but alludes to the universal grace which is spread over all the creatures, and which is mentioned in <19A530>Psalm 105:30, “Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and he will renew the face of the earth.” As David declares in that passage that every part of the world is enlivened, so far as God imparts to it secret vigor, and next ascribes to God might and power, by which, whenever he thinks fit, he suddenly revives the ruinous condition of heaven and earth, so now for the same reason Isaiah gives the appellation “water” to the sudden renewal of the Church; as if he had said that the restoration of the Church is at God’s disposal, as much as when he fertilizes by dew or rain the barren and almost parched lands.

Thus the Spirit is compared to “water,” because without Him all things decay and perish through drought, and because by the secret watering of his power he quickens the whole world, and because the barrenness occasioned by drought and heat is cured in such a manner, that the earth puts on a new face. This is still more fully explained by the word which he afterwards employs, Blessing.

4. And they shall spring up. These words contain nothing more than what I quoted from <19A430>Psalm 104:30, that, when the Spirit of God has been sent forth, the whole face of the earth is renewed, and those fields which formerly were burnt up with thirst are green and flourish, just as the herbs grow, after having been watered by the rains. By these metaphors he extends the view of this subject, and more fully shews that it is quite as easy for God to enlarge by additional offspring the Church, which was desolate, and which had been reduced to ruinous and frightful solitude, as to impart to the earth the power of bringing forth. Yet, though he does not speak of regeneration, still we may apply to it this statement; because he speaks of the restoration of the Church, the chief part of which is the new creature by which the Lord restores his image in the elect. This doctrine may indeed be drawn from it and more copiously explained, but we must first explain the Prophet’s design, and lay open the plain and natural meaning of his words.

5. One shall say. Hitherto the Prophet has spoken metaphorically, but now expresses his meaning plainly without any figure of speech. He shews what is the nature of that vegetation and herbage of which he spoke. It means that out of all nations the Lord will gather his people, and will bring into his Church those who were formerly strangers, and will raise up and enlarge his Church, which formerly appeared to be reduced to nothing; for all shall flock to her from every quarter, and shall wish to be enrolled in the number of believers, as it is also said,

“Behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia; that man was born there.” (<198704>Psalm 87:4.)

That passage, though hitherto it seemed to be obscure, through the mistakes of interpreters, is exceedingly well adapted to the illustration of this prophecy, that believers, who might have been terrified and ashamed on account of their diminished numbers, (for we know that but a small number returned from captivity,) might cherish hope of that illustrious and magnificent grace of Redemption which had been celebrated by the prophets. To meet these views, that Prophet, whoever he was, that was the author of the psalm, declares that the Babylonians and Egyptians shall be citizens of the Church, and that the Ethiopians and Tyrians, and those who formerly were strangers, shall come for the purpose of being enrolled among the people of God. “Now,” says he, “Jerusalem lies waste; but one day God will not only gather those who are scattered, but will also call others from every quarter, and will unite in one body those who are now at the greatest variance, so that they shall boast of being citizens of Jerusalem, and shall belong to the body of the chosen people as much as if they had been natives.” The same thing is taught in this passage by the Prophet Isaiah, from whom the author of the psalm undoubtedly borrowed that sentiment.

And another shall be called by the name of Jacob. The general meaning is, that there will be a vast assembly of men, who shall be united in faith and in obedience to the one true God. But as, in a registration, every person either pronounces or writes his own name, the Prophet, keeping his eye on this custom, employs the following modes of expression, — “One shall write with his hand, I am God’s, and shall take the surname of Israel; another shall acknowledge that he is God’s, and shall be called by the name of Jacob.” He describes something new and uncommon, for he who formerly had nothing to do with God shall boast that God hath adopted him. “To be called” is in this place equivalent to the French phrase, Se reclamer, that is, “to declare one’s self to belong to a person;” just as formerly, when he spoke of women to whom the name of their husbands served for a protection, he introduces them as saying, “Let thy name be called on us,” that is, “Let us be named by thy name.” (<230401>Isaiah 4:1.)

Although Isaiah appears, in this passage, to distinguish between those who in express terms shall declare that they belong to the people of God, and shall wish to be named by the name of Jacob, yet both clauses refer to the same persons, because to be a child of God, and to be an Israelite, are two things closely connected, for God determines that the Church shall be the mother of all his children. Yet it ought to be remarked, that none are the lawful citizens of the Church but those who submit to the government of God. If the Prophet had passed by the name of God and mentioned “Jacob” and “Israel,” still we must have begun with the Head, from whom proceeds all relationship both in heaven and in earth; but, that there may be no remaining ambiguity, he has twice described this order, that none are reckoned to belong to the seed of Jacob but they who obey God.

Hence we easily see what is the Prophet’s meaning; for he shews that the Church, so long as she is destitute of the blessing of God, withers and gradually falls into decay; but that, when the Spirit of God has been poured out, she is quickened, and at length gathers strength, not only for recovering her former condition:, but so as to grow by wonderful increase beyond expectation. Let us remember, however, that the Prophet does not speak of the order of nature, as if the new children of the Church were born such from the womb, because no person gains such high rank by his own industry; but when they who formerly were aliens have been regenerated by faith, he says that they will eagerly enrol their names, in order to testify that they are the children of God. Thus he describes a change which surpasses nature and all the conceptions of men, when out of the accursed race of Adam is formed a spiritual Israel.

Some think that the Prophet here expresses the small number of believers, when he says, “One shall be called, another shall write;” but that argument has little weight, and even the context furnishes an easy refutation of their error. In my opinion, we should rather understand him to mean that the Church shall be collected in crowds out of various and distant nations; because God will assemble strangers under his authority, and will stir them up to boast sincerely, and not in empty words, that they belong to his people. It ought also to be observed, that true faith cannot stand without breaking forth immediately into confession; for such is the import of these four words, “To be called by the name of Israel, To write, To be known, To say, I am the Lord’s;” for they who sincerely worship God ought not to be dumb, but to testify both by actions and by words what they carry inwardly in their hearts. They profess to be the servants of God, and glory in his name during the whole course of his life.

6. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet now does nothing else than confirm the preceding doctrine, which was highly necessary; for the hearts of men, being prone to distrust, are easily dismayed by adversity, and may be encouraged by one or more exhortations. It, was not superfluous, therefore, to employ many words in confirming them; because we never ascribe as much as we ought to ascribe to the power of God, but are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and are too strongly attached to the present state of things.

The King of Israel, and his Redeemer. After having made use of the unutterable name of God, the Prophet calls him also “King” and “Redeemer;” because it is not enough that we perceive the power of God, if we are not convinced of his good-will towards us. In order, therefore, that his promises may produce their proper effect upon us, he mentions not only his glory, but also his goodness, that we may know that it extends to us. It might be thought absurd that he called him “King,” while there was scarcely any people; but believers ought to rely on this promise, that they might behold the kingdom by faith, and contemplate it as future, though they did not behold it with their eyes. And indeed this doctrine would never have penetrated their hearts, when they were reduced to the greatest extremity, and were almost overwhelmed with despair, if the way had not been opened by’ this preface. But when God familiarly addresses us, and declares that he is united to us, fairly, allured by so gentle an invitation, rises up out of hell itself.

I am the first. By these words he does not assert God’s eternity, but shews that He is always like himself, that they may hope that He will be to them in future what they have found him to be in the past. But why, it may be asked, does he speak in this manner to believers, who knew it well? I reply, though men believe God, yet they do not acknowledge him to be what he is, and sometimes ascribe less to him than to the creature. The Prophet, therefore, wishes that our minds should be pure and free from every false imagination, and that we should raise them to heaven, that they may be altogether fixed on God alone. Besides, it was necessary that the people, who had been so terribly distressed, should be fortified against such violent attacks, that they might firmly keep their ground.

7. And who as I? Here the Lord compares himself with idols, as we have already seen in another passage. In the present instance the object is, that, when they were fiercely insulted by the Babylonian conquerors, they might not be discouraged, or think that their hopes were disappointed; for the taunts which were hurled at them by wicked men were exceedingly harsh and insolent. “Where is their God?” (<197910>Psalm 79:10.) “Why does he not assist you?” Such blasphemies might shake the minds of believers, and disturb them in such a manner that they would throw away hope and confidence; and therefore the Prophet dwells more earnestly on this matter, in order to confirm believers more and more. That mournful calamity of the nation was like a dark cloud, which prevented believers from seeing the face of God; and in the meantime unbelievers danced for joy, as if the power of their gods had shone forth in full brightness. In order to dispel that darkness of error, the Prophet shows that still undoubted marks and proofs of the glory of God are distinctly visible, so as to distinguish him from idols; that is, because in due time he publicly made known what was future, that the Jews might recognize him to be a righteous Judge in chastisements, and yet might hope that he would be reconciled and gracious.

Shall call. The word call may be taken in two senses, so as to refer either to foreknowledge or to action; for, as God governs all things by his providence, so he knows everything that is future, and gives evidence of his foreknowledge. It is unnecessary to give ourselves much trouble about the meaning of this word, for it is very evident that the Prophet ascribes to God both the foreknowledge and the government of all things. But for my own part, I rather think that it refers to action. “Shall there be found among the gods of the nations any one that can call, that is, raise up, announce, and appoint deliverers? Does not this plainly shew that I alone am God?” Thus he defies idols, to whom groundlessly men ascribe any power. By the word which he immediately adds, shall tell it, he magnifies the special grace of God, in deigning to reveal his purpose to the elect people by the prophets.

Since I appointed the people of the age. By “the people of the age” some understand all nations, the singular number being used instead of the plural, because, as soon as the Lord multiplied the nations, he separated them from each other, and established that order which should last through future ages. Others extend it to all the creatures, viewing the stars as one people, the vegetable tribes as another, and in like manner animals as another, and so forth. But when I examine the matter closely, I am constrained to adopt an opposite opinion, namely, that the Lord speaks of his own people, and calls them: ‘the people of the age,” because they are preferred to all others. Other nations, indeed, were unquestionably more ancient. The Egyptians boasted of their antiquity, and so did the Arcadians and others. But Abraham was brought out of Mesopotamia, (<011131>Genesis 11:31; <440702>Acts 7:2,) when the Chaldees were in a highly flourishing condition, and lived at home a solitary individual, as if at his death the remembrance of him should quickly perish, while the neighboring countries were highly populous, and were eminent in other respects.

The antiquity of Israel, therefore, ought not to be estimated from the number of years, or from the outward condition of things, but from the election of God; and hence also the foundations of Jerusalem are called eternal. (<197869>Psalm 78:69.) It is therefore as if he had said, “Before idols were framed by men, I determined that I should have a Church, which should last for ever.” This “people,” therefore, is the most ancient and most excellent of all, though others may come before it either in time or in rank; for, as all things were created for the sake of man, so all men were appointed to be of service to the Church; so that there are none, though occupying a higher eminence, that do not sink to a lower rank; for the Church is the body of Christ, which nothing can exceed in antiquity or excellence. To adopt the fables of the Jews, that Jerusalem was founded from the very beginning, would be absurd, because in this passage there is no reference to dates; but yet we ought to hold by this principle, that the elect people holds a higher rank than the heathen nations, in consequence of approaching more nearly to God, who is the fountain of eternity.

Let them tell. This permission shews that it is vain for men to expect a revelation from idols, which, if they tell anything, delude by tricks, and by words of doubtful meaning, those who consult them, as we have already mentioned.

8. Fear not. Isaiah now explains the reason why he formerly spoke of the power of God, that is, in order to confirm the faith of the people. From the preceding statements he draws this conclusion, — “Since the Lord is so powerful, and governs all things at his pleasure, the people whom he hath taken under his protection ought not to fear.”

Have I not since then made thee hear? He next repeats what he had already said, that God not only brought assistance secretly to the Jews, and suddenly, as if by legerdemain, made his appearance when he was least expected, but kept their faith alive by many predictions, and, in short, gave manifest proofs of his fatherly kindness, so that his divinity was clearly perceived. It would be of no advantage to us that God knows and can do all things, if it were not also revealed how great concern he takes in our salvation. Although, therefore, he wishes that many things should be unknown to us, yet he communicates everything that is useful or advantageous for us to know. zam, (meaz,) from then, means a long period; or, if it be thought better, it denotes an opportunity; for the Lord reveals his secrets to the elect, when he sees a fit season; but the former interpretation appears to me to be more simple.

Therefore ye are my witnesses. He means what I have already remarked, that the people cannot plead the excuse of ignorance for not being satisfied with one God; for he has abundantly revealed himself to them, so as to give a testimony concerning himself. The object intended to be gained by our knowledge of the glory of God is, that we should profess his truth before men, as has been already said, if we do not wish to extinguish the light which he hath brought to us by his Spirit. Again, we cannot be “witnesses to God” if we are not confirmed by his truth; for a testimony proceeding from a doubtful opinion would be of no avail, and therefore we must be taught by the Word of God, so as to have a fixed and unhesitating hope of salvation.

And there is no strong God. F775 In this passage, as in many others, he applies to God the epithet strong; for it is not enough to acknowledge God’s eternal essence, if we do not also ascribe strength to him. But for this, we shall leave him nothing but a bare and empty name, as is done by wicked men, who with the mouth confess God, and afterwards ascribe his power to this and to that.

9. The formers of a graven image. The Lord now shews, on the contrary, how wretched idolaters are who wander amidst their contrivances, and are not founded on the eternal truth of God; for they have no knowledge or sound understanding. As he justly pronounced the people, a little before, to be guilty of ingratitude, if the proofs of the grace of God did not encourage them to the exercise of faith, so he now arms and fortifies them against all the superstitions of the Gentiles. Unbelievers being both very numerous and very wealthy, he says that all are nothing, F776 and, next, that amidst all their magnificence there is nothing but imposture.

And their desirable thinqs do not profit. Under the term desirable things, he includes not only idols, but all their worship, and the ornaments, honor, and obedience which foolish men render to them, and denotes those things by a highly appropriate name; for since the chief object of life is to acknowledge and worship God, (which alone is our principal distinction from the brutes,) we ought to prefer it to all things, even to the most valuable, so as to direct to him all our prayers, and, in a word, all the thoughts of our heart. With good reason, therefore, does Scripture employ this word in speaking of the worship of God; but here the Prophet speaks of corrupt worship and the mad desire of idols, by which men are hurried along; and therefore he says, that all that they desire or eagerly perform is vain and useless. Frequently, too, this “desire” is compared to the love of a harlot, by which men are bewitched and almost blinded, so as not to perceive their baseness or yield to any reason. But we have explained this under a former passage. (<230129>Isaiah 1:29.) F777

And they are their witnesses. Some explain this to mean that the idols bear testimony against themselves, and plainly shew how vain they are, so that they who do not perceive it must be exceedingly stupid. But I do not at all approve of that exposition, and prefer to follow those who refer it to the worshippers of idols, who themselves are aware of their being so utterly vain; for they know that they neither see nor understand anything. And in this passage there is a contrast between the testimony of the people of God and that of idolaters. The former will give an illustrious testimony of the glory of God from his works and promises and predictions; the latter will be constrained to be dumb, if they do not choose to bring forward contrivances which have no certainty whatever, and therefore are false and vain. Wicked men boast, indeed, of their worship with great haughtiness, and loudly applaud themselves; but their conscience F778 is “a witness” how uncertain and vain is all that they do, for they always tremble, and never find rest, though their obduracy leads them to violent exertions.

They will themselves, therefore, bear testimony against their idols; just as, if a man were to employ an ignorant teacher, he may be a witness of his ignorance. In like manner they will bear witness that their gods neither know nor can do anything; for they see that they are composed of stone or wood or some other material, and that they neither can see nor understand anything. Thus believers alone will render a true testimony to their God, because he knows, directs, and governs all things. The rest must at length be ashamed, though now they defend their errors with mad eagerness; for their conscience is a witness that nothing but opinion and a vain imagination holds their minds captive. F779

10. Who is the maker of God? He pours ridicule on the madness of men who dare to frame gods; for it is a shocking and detestable thing that men should take so much upon them as to create God. Every person certainly will greatly abhor such madness; and yet men are blindly impelled by foolish passion to manufacture gods, and no warning restrains them. On the other hand, they will say that this never entered into any man’s mind, and that injustice is done to them when they are accused of so great madness; just as the Papists in the present day say that we slander them, when we employ these arguments of the Prophet against them. But in vain do they rely on their sophistical reasonings for avoiding this charge. What the Prophet says is most true, that they are so mad as to think that they “make God;” for as soon as the stone or wood has been carved or polished, they ascribe to it divinity, run to it, make prayers, call upon it, and prostrate themselves before it, and in short, ascribe to it those things which they know to belong to God alone.

Which is profitable for nothing. We ought carefully to observe this clause, which condemns as vain and useless all the images by which God is represented. Hence it follows not only that God is insulted, whenever his glory is changed into dead images, but that all who procure idols for themselves lose their pains and suffer damage. Papists allege that they are the books of the unlearned; but this is a paltry evasion, for the Prophet testifies that they are of no use whatever. Let them, therefore, either erase this proof from the Book of Isaiah, or acknowledge that images are vain and useless. Formerly he expressed something more, when he affirmed that nothing can be learned from them but falsehood. But on this subject we have said enough in the exposition of these passages. (Isaiah 40 and 41.)

11. Lo, all his companions shall be ashamed. Not only does he attack the workers and makers of idols, but he likewise attacks generally all their worshippers, because they are so dull and stupid, that as soon as the trunk of a tree has received some new shape, they look upon it as containing the power of God. He means that not only shall the framers of idols be punished for their effrontery, but likewise all who have entangled themselves in the same superstitions; for it is right that they who share the same guilt should be subjected to the same punishment. Nor can they, on the other hand, plead any excuse; for they see that their idols, which proceeded from the hand of men, are dumb and vain, so far is it from being possible that they are gods.

Though they all assemble. Whatever conspiracy may be entered into by wicked men, yet, when they shall come to the judgment-seat of God, they must be ashamed. Nor is it without cause that the Prophet threatens against them trembling and shame, because wicked men usually are haughty and insolent, and look on all other men with scorn. They boast of their vast numbers, as the Papists in the present day despise our small numbers, and swell with insolence, and with amazing presumption attack God and his doctrine. In this passage, therefore, Isaiah appeals to the consciences of wicked men; because, although they are actuated by the most inveterate obstinacy and rebellion, yet sometimes they are constrained to tremble, when they ask themselves, “What are we doing?” and inquire into the reason of their actions; for they have nothing that is firm or solid, on which they can safely rest. They are bold so long as they are hurried on by their rage, but when they come to themselves, and take some leisure for reflection, they are terrified and dismayed; so that we need not be alarmed at their rage and pride and vast numbers, for they shall quickly pass away. Let us not therefore be moved by the conspiracies and displays and pride and rage and schemes of the Papists, since we know that all those things tend to their shame and destruction; for the more haughtily they swell and exalt themselves against God, the heavier shall be their fall, and the deeper their disgrace.

12. The worker in iron. With good reason does the Apostle here draw up a long description, in order to shake off the stupidity and madness of superstitious people, if they can at all be awakened, or, at least, to prevent the Jews from indulging in similar folly who were surrounded on all sides by innumerable worshippers of false gods; for he gives a minute and homely enumeration, which makes it exceedingly evident that they are frantic and outrageous, he might otherwise have condemned this wickedness in a single word or in a few words; but this catalogue points out the fact, as it were, with the finger, and places it before our eyes, he details the tools and labors and industry and care of workmen, so as almost to bring it actually before us. Men who have their errors deeply rooted by nature in their hearts are more deeply affected in this manner than by simple doctrine; for they cannot be roused from their lethargy but by loud and continual cries. Every part must be delivered to them, and broken into small fragments, and even chewed and put into the mouth, as they do with infants, that they may receive the doctrine, which would otherwise appear to them strange and uncommon.

Even hungry. He describes the eagerness by which superstitious persons are impelled to fashion gods; for they burn with such ardor that they cannot observe any limit or measure. Their lust, like a gad-fly, drives them on, and causes them to rush forward with such fury that we may justly compare that zeal to the love of a harlot, as we have formerly said. They apply to it their whole force both of body and of mind. This is what he means by the arm of his strength;  F780 as if he had said, “All the strength of their arms is applied to it; they work against their natural inclinations, and scarcely take as much as is necessary for the support of life; in a word, they spare no labor or expense to make the gods whom they have desired.

Although he describes the constancy of toil, by saying that they do not slacken their labor when they are hungry, but endure hunger and thirst rather than relinquish their work, F781 yet we may appropriately extend the observation to all the efforts of inconsiderate zeal. We see how the fervent devotion, as they call it, of unbelievers, is their own executioner; but the more laboriously they toil for their own destruction, the more base and shameful is our slothfulness, by which we defraud God of his lawful worship.

13. That it may abide in the house. Thus he shews the folly of such intense application; for their toil brings no other reward than to see their idols resting indolently without motion in the position which has been assigned to them, just, as if a sluggard were crouching over a fire or reclining on a couch.

14. He shall cut down for himself: The Prophet expresses not only the zeal and furious eagerness of idolaters, but also their rebellion and obstinacy; for when he says that they cut down cedars and plant pine-trees, he shews that they persevere very long in their madness, and are not prompted by any sudden impulse to manufacture gods. “Not only,” says he, “do they choose trees that are already grown, but they even plant and water and cultivate them, and wait till they have come to their full size, so as to be fit material for making an idol.”

When we read these things, and are instructed concerning this shocking madness, let us know that God lays his hand upon us, so to speak, in order to draw us back from it, and to keep us in true godliness;. It is necessary, indeed, to meet it early, lest longer delay should make the wound incurable; for as soon as we have been led away by foolish desire to the practice of false worship, there is always reason to fear that we shall be plunged into that whirlpool. We all carry some seed of this madness, which cannot in any way be rooted out, but continually buds and blossoms, if we are not cleansed anew by the Spirit of the Lord.

It ought also to be remarked that, since idolaters are impelled by so great eagerness to worship idols, we ought to be ashamed of our coldness in the true worship of God. Let us be ashamed, I say, that we are so negligent and cold and even freezing, when the worshippers of idols are so ardent; and let us consider that we must render an account. With what rage are the Turks seized, when the question relates to the defense of the reveries of their prophet Mahomet, for whom they gladly both shed their blood and part with their life! By what rage are the Papists impelled to follow their superstitions! Yet we scarcely become warm, and sometimes extinguish the sparks of that zeal which the Lord has kindled in us. To this also applies that expostulation of Jeremiah,

“Is there any nation that hath forsaken its gods? But my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged for themselves cisterns which cannot hold water.”
(<240210>Jeremiah 2:10-13.)

This comparison, therefore, ought to be carefully observed, that we may not be less steadfast in defending truth than they are obstinate in falsehood.

15., 16., and 17. Then shall a man use it for burning. He censures their ignorance in not being taught by manifest experience that a trunk of wood is not God, and even reproves their ingratitude in defrauding of the honor due to him the true God, whose power is illustriously displayed in the trees themselves; for the wood cannot be applied to various uses without bringing before our eyes the bounty of God. Whenever bread is baked in the oven, or flesh is seethed in the pot, or meat is roasted on the coals; whenever we warm ourselves, or obtain any advantage whatever from wood, our stupidity is inexcusable, if we do not consider how bountifully God hath provided for us, that we should not want anything necessary for us. Such is the meaning of these words —

Aha! I am warm. These words express the gladness of those who, freed from all uneasiness and annoyance, utter what may be called the language of triumph. What can be more base or foolish than that men, while they are pleasantly enjoying God’s benefits, should flatter and applaud themselves, and at the same time should not thank the author, and should even abuse his abundant wealth for the purpose of dishonoring him? In cooking their victuals, and in other conveniences, men perceive that the wood is subject to their control and devoted to their use; how comes it then that they bow down before a piece of wood that has the shape of a man? Is not God in this maimer robbed of his right? And when men call upon images, do they not defraud God of that sacrifice which he chiefly demands? Even heathen writers long ago laughed at this folly, that men ventured to form gods according to their own fancy out of corruptible matter which they formerly despised. Hence came that jest of Horace, “Once I was a trunk of a fig-tree, a useless piece of wood, when a carpenter, uncertain whether to make a bench or a Priapus, preferred that I should be a god; and so I became a god.” F782 But they did not actually know the fountain of impiety, because they did not apply their minds to consider the goodness and power of One God, which is displayed in all the creatures.

When the Prophet thus attacked the worshippers of idols, and laid open their stupidity and madness, they undoubtedly complained that they were unjustly defamed, and endeavored to cloak their errors under plausible pretexts, that they acknowledged that their gods were in heaven, as even their writings shewed, and did not mean that wood or stone is God, in the same manner as the Papists, in arguing against us, defend the same cause with them, and absolutely refuse to be condemned for such gross blindness. But we have already said that the Prophet does not confine his attention to the mere essence of God; and indeed if this be all that is left to God, it will be an idle phantom. He means that all the attributes which belong to him, his foreknowledge, power, government, righteousness, salvation, and everything else, remains unimpaired. Now, when wicked men set up statues or images, and fly to them for the purpose of imploring assistance, and whenever they place them before their eyes and address them, and think that God hears them, do they not wickedly connect their salvation with them? But this stupidity arises from their ignorance of the nature of God, which is simple and spiritual, but which they imagine to be gross and carnal. Thus their thoughts concerning him are excessively wicked, and they east aside and stain his glory, by making it like earthly and fading things. Nothing is so inconsistent with the majesty of God as images; and he who worships them endeavors to shut up God in them, and to treat him according to his own fancy. Justly, therefore, does the Prophet attack such corruptions, and sharply censure the mad zeal of superstitious persons, since nothing more detestable can be uttered or imagined.

18. They have not known or understood. He concludes that it is impossible that men endued with reason should have fallen into this mistake, if they had not been altogether blind and mad; for if any spark of reason had remained in them, they would have seen how absurd and ridiculous it is to adore a part of that wood which they had burned, and which they had seen with their own eyes consumed and reduced to ashes. But when they perceive nothing, and listen to no arguments, they shew that they have actually degenerated into beasts; for the expression which Isaiah uses in reproaching them, “They have not known,” amounts to a declaration that they are bereft of reason, and have lost all understanding; and although many of them undoubtedly were very acute and sagacious, yet in this respect there was abundant evidence of their brutish folly.

For he hath smeared their eyes. The reason now assigned is not intended to lessen their guilt, but to shew how monstrous and detestable it is; for men would never be so foolish, if the vengeance of heaven did not drive them to “a reprobate mind.” (<450128>Romans 1:28.) Here some interpreters supply the word “God,” and others supply the words “false prophets,” and say that the people were blind, because the false prophets led them astray; for their would never have plunged into such disgraceful errors if they had not been deceived by the impostures of those men, their eyes being dazzled by wicked doctrines. Others do not approve of either of these significations, and it might also refer to the devil. But as a different exposition is more customary in Scripture, I rather adopt it, namely, that God hath blinded them by a righteous judgment; if it be not thought preferable to view it as referring to themselves, F783 because they voluntarily shut both their minds and their eyes; in which case there would be a change of number, which frequently occurs among Hebrew writers. I have stated, however, what I prefer; and it is exceedingly customary among Hebrew writers, when they speak of God, not to mention his name.

In what sense God is said to blind men, and to “give them up to a reprobate mind,” (<450128>Romans 1:28,) is evident from various passages of Scripture; that is, when he takes away the light of his Spirit, and gives a loose rein to the lust of men, so that no reasoning can restrain them. He likewise arms Satan with the efficiency of error, so that they who have refused to obey the truth do not guard against his snares, and are liable to be deceived by his impostures. What then can be left in us but the thickest darkness and gross ignorance, so that this tyrant, the father of lies and of darkness, ravages at his pleasure both within and without? for there will not be found in us any spark of light to dispel the clouds of error, but, impelled by a spirit of giddiness with which God strikes the reprobate, (<530211>2 Thessalonians 2:11,) we shall be driven about in a strange manner at the will of Satan.

And yet we must not throw on God the blame of this blindness, for he has always just cause, though it is not always visible to our eyes; and we ought not to make anxious inquiries respecting it, or search into his secret decree, if we do not choose to be punished for our rashness. But frequently the causes are well known, namely, the ingratitude of men and their rebellion against God, as Paul plainly shews. (<450128>Romans 1:28.) The blinding is their just punishment, and therefore men have no excuse, though they pretend ignorance; for they would never have been entangled in such gross errors, if the Lord had not blinded them on account of their sins. A very convincing argument may be drawn from the judgments of God to the sins of men; for God is just, and never punishes any one without a just cause, and does not blind a man, unless he deserves it, and voluntarily shuts his eyes. The blame therefore lies with men alone, who have of their own accord brought blindness on themselves; and the design of the Prophet undoubtedly is to shew, that men who ought to have been governed by God, being naturally endued with some judgment, have been forsaken by “the Father of lights,” (<590117>James 1:17,) so that they become the slaves of Satan.

19. It doth not return into their heart. He confirms the preceding statement, and takes away every ground of excuse, because unbelievers of their own accord cherish their ignorance. That men are naturally careful and provident in worldly matters, but altogether blind in the worship of God, proceeds from no other cause than that they are abundantly attentive to their individual interests, but are not moved by any anxiety about the heavenly kingdom. Hence the Prophet reproves them for disregarding godliness, because, after long windings, unbelievers do not reflect whether they are keeping the right way, or, on the other hand, are uselessly fatiguing themselves with wicked errors, F784 He shews that their slothfulness is without excuse, because they are so much devoted to their superstitions; for if they applied their mind for a short time to consider the matter, nothing would be more easy than to perceive that stupidity; and, since they do not see it, it follows that they wish to be deceived, and that they flatter themselves in their error. They cannot, therefore, bring forward any palliation or excuse for their guilt, and cannot plead ignorance; for they do not design to apply their mind to the labor of investigating truth. To “return into the heart” F785 means “to consider and reflect;” for no child is so ignorant as not to be a competent judge of such extraordinary madness. Superstitious persons therefore give themselves too unlimited indulgence, and do not err merely through ignorance; and this vice ought not to be ascribed solely to the first corruption of men, but to rebellion.

20. He feedeth on ashes. This verse also confirms the preceding statement. To “feed on ashes” is the same thing as “to be fed with ashes,” just as “to feed on wind” is the same thing as “to be fed with wind.” (<281201>Hosea 12:1.) Both expressions are used, as on the other hand, “Thou shalt feed on truth,” is put for “Thou shalt be fed with truth,” that is, “Thou shalt be satisfied.” (<193703>Psalm 37:3.) Others interpret that passage, “Thou shalt administer spiritual provision,” and others, “Thou shalt feed faithfully;” but I choose rather to adopt the former interpretation. F786 But here he means that men are haughty and puffed up, but yet that they are empty and worthless, because they are merely full of deceptions, which have nothing solid or lasting. With such pride men will rather burst than be satisfied.

A deceived heart disposes him. Next, he again includes both statements, that they are blinded by deceitful lusts, so as to see nothing, and yet that they voluntarily and willingly surrender themselves to vain delusions. The Prophet dwells largely on this, in order to shew that nothing drives men to false and wicked worship but this, that they are led to it of their own accord; and therefore there is no ground for imputing this vice to others, since they find in themselves the fountain which they earnestly nourish and defend. With strange presumption they rise up against God, are puffed up with a false opinion of their superstitions, and, in a word, are swollen and ready to burst with pride But let us feed on the solid food of truth, and not allow ourselves to be led astray by any delusions.

Not to deliver his soul. He heightens the picture by saying that they flatter themselves in a matter so important; for who would forgive negligence in that which relates to salvation? We see how eagerly every person labors for this transitory life; and when the eternal salvation of the soul is in danger, what is more intolerable than that men should indolently slumber, when they might save it by making exertion? A man is said. to deliver his own soul, who by repentance rescues himself from the snares of the devil, in the same manner as some men are said to save others, when by holy warnings they bring back wanderers into the right way. (<590520>James 5:20.) How comes it then that idolaters rush headlong to their own destruction? It is because they hasten to it at full gallop, harden their hearts, and do not permit themselves to be drawn back.

Is there not a lie  F787 in my right hand? Thus he briefly points out the method by which men may deliver themselves from destruction. It is by examining their actions and not flattering themselves; for whoever is delighted with his error, and does not inquire if his manner of life be right, will never “deliver his soul.” In like manner the Papists refuse to inquire into the reasons for their worship, and disguise that stupidity under the name of simplicity; as if God wished us to be beasts, and did not enjoin us to distinguish between the worship which he approves and that which he rejects, and to inquire diligently what is his will, so as not to approve of everything without distinction. Everything ought to be tried by the standard which he has laid down for us. If that be done, we shall easily avoid danger; but if not, let us lay the blame of our destruction on ourselves, because of our own accord we wish to perish, and do not allow ourselves to receive any warning, or to be brought back into the right path.

21. Remember these things, O Jacob. He now applies to the use of the people what he had so often said about the superstitions and falsehoods of the Gentiles, by which men who are not well instructed are deceived in the worship of God. Nor does he write these things solely for the men of his own age, but chiefly for their posterity, who were to be carried away into Babylon, and might have been corrupted by long intercourse with the Babylonians, and drawn aside from the true worship of God, if the Lord had not laid upon them those restraints. The Prophet therefore exhorts them, while they were held captive, to bring those exhortations to remembrance, and by means of them to strengthen their hearts amidst those grievous calamities.

For thou art my servant. I have formed thee. He adds this reason why they ought to remember these promises, and to beware of the general contagion of other men; for it would have been intolerable that the elect people, whom God had surrounded by the barriers of his Law, that they might be separated from others, should freely and indiscriminately mingle with the pollutions of the Gentiles. As if he had said, “It is not wonderful that the Babylonians should wander in their errors, but thou oughtest to be unlike them; for ‘I have formed thee,’ that thou mightest ‘serve me;’ I have regenerated and sanctified thee, that thou mightest be an heir of eternal life.”

Of this creation we have stated largely, on former occasions, that it relates to the renewal of the soul. Scripture frequently employs this argument, “Ye have been called to sanctification and not to uncleanness,” (<520407>1 Thessalonians 4:7,) “Walk as the children of light” (<490508>Ephesians 5:8) “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” (<504415>Philippians 2:15,)and in other passages of the same kind. Here we ought to infer that we shall be doubly punished, if it shall be found that we have quenched by neglect or indifference the light by which the Lord hath enlightened us; for our criminality will be far greater than that of others on whom he has not bestowed a similar favor. Heathens shall indeed be punished, and no excuse of ignorance shall be of any avail to them; but far heavier shall be the punishment of those who shall abuse the grace of God.

Do not thou forget me. He means that it is impossible for any who have once entered into the right path to be led aside from it, if they are not chargeable with forgetfulness of God; for error and delusions can never prevail, so long as the remembrance of God is rooted in our hearts. Let every one, therefore, who turns aside from God, and falls into superstition and impiety, lay the blame on his own wickedness. We ought thus to observe carefully the cause of apostasy, that is, forgetfulness of God, which gradually withdraws us from the right path, till we leave it altogether. Besides, he reminds them that by this remedy they will be secure against revolt, if they be employed in constant meditation; for our minds, through their sluggishness, easily contract rust, so to speak, which infects and corrupts all knowledge of God till it be entirely destroyed.

22. I have blotted out, as a cloud, thy iniquities. The Lord promises to his people future deliverance; for our hearts cannot be actually raised towards God, if we do not perceive that he is reconciled to us. In order, therefore, that he may keep the people whom he hath once bound to himself, he adds a promise by which he comforts them, that they may be fully convinced that the banishment shall not be perpetual; for God, being a most indulgent Father, moderates his chastisements in such a manner, that he always forgives his children.

When he says that “he has blotted out their iniquities,” this relates literally to the captives who were punished for their transgressions; and the consequence was, that, when God was appeased, they would be delivered. It is a demonstration from the cause to the effect. The guilt has been remitted, and therefore in like manner the punishment has been remitted; for the Jews, as soon as they have been reconciled to God, are freed from the punishment which was inflicted on account of guilt. Yet there is an implied exhortation to repentance, that they may not only groan under the heavy load of chastisement, but may consider that they are justly punished, because they have provoked God’s anger; and indeed, whenever God deals severely with us, we ought not merely to wish relief from uneasiness and pain, but we ought to begin with pardon, that God may no longer impute sins to us. Yet this passage overthrows the distinction of the Sophists, who acknowledge that guilt is remitted, but deny that punishment is remitted, as we have already explained fully in other passages.

The metaphor of “a cloud” has the same meaning as if the Lord had said that he will no longer pursue them in his displeasure, F788 or punish them, because, when guilt has been remitted, they are reconciled; in the same manner as when the sky has become calm, the clouds which intercepted from the earth the light of the sun, are “blotted out” and disappear. We must therefore reject the diabolical inventions of men, which overthrow the whole doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, while they openly contradict the doctrine of the prophets.

Return thou to me. This may be taken in two senses, either that the Lord exhorts the people to repentance, or that he encourages them to hope for deliverance; but both senses may agree well. We have said that it is the ordinary practice of Scripture, whenever redemption is mentioned, to exhort to repentance; for the Lord wishes to bring us back to himself in this manner, that he may render us fit for receiving his layouts. Besides, as the people, through their unbelief, were very far from cherishing the hope of salvation, it may likewise be taken for a confirmation, that the people may believe that they will undoubtedly return; as if he had said, “Though thou thinkest that I am estranged from thee, yet know that I will take care of thee.” And I approve more this latter sense, and think that it agrees better with the context; for the Prophet labors above all things to confirm the promises of God, and to fix them deeply on their hearts.

For I have redeemed thee. He commands the Jews to “return to him,” though their banishment stood in the way of their expecting that he would be a deliverer; as if he had said, “Though I appear to be estranged from you, yet trust; for I have determined to redeem you.”

23. Praise, O ye heavens. He now exhorts the Jews to render thanksgiving, not only that they may testify their gratitude, but that their own. expectation of deliverance may be strengthened; and, therefore, he enjoins believers to look upon it as an event already accomplished, as if the Lord had already delivered them. Such modes of address make a deeper impression on our hearts than if the promises had been presented in a naked form. Since, therefore, believers might doubt of their salvation, because they still languished amidst their miseries and were almost dead, the Prophet arouses them, and not only dictates to them a song, that they may fulfill their vows, but shews that the word of God will be so great and uncommon that it shall move heaven and earth and the dumb creatures.

Burst into praise, ye mountains. We might simply have interpreted it, “Heaven above and earth below;” but as he mentions the “mountains,” he gives the appellation of the lower parts of the earth to places which are level, such as plains and valleys, that all countries, wherever they are situated, may be excited to praise and celebrate the name of God.

For Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob. He now adds, that that work which he had aroused all to admire is the redemption of the Church, and declares that the glory of God shall shine forth in it illustriously. Besides, it is proper to remember what I formerly remarked, that here not only does he celebrate the return of the people to their native country, but the end is also included; for they would be “redeemed” from the captivity in Babylon on this condition, that God should at length collect under one head a Church taken out of the whole world. F789

24. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet will immediately describe in his own manner the strength and power of God; because the bare promises would have little authority and weight, if the power of God were not brought forward, in order to remove all doubt from our hearts. By our distrust and obstinacy we are wont to lessen the power and goodness of God, that is, to ascribe to it less than we ought; and, therefore, the Prophet, by remarkable commendations, which we shall soon afterwards see, will encourage believers to learn to hope beyond hope.

Thy Redeemer. He begins by praising the goodness and fatherly kindness with which God has embraced his Church, and which he intends to exercise till the end; for the declaration of his power and strength would have little influence on us, if he did not approach to us and assure us of his kindness. We ought not therefore to begin with his majesty, nor to ascend so high, lest we be thrown down; but we ought to embrace his goodness, by which he gently invites us to himself. The name Redeemer in this passage refers to past time, because the Jews, who had once been brought out of Egypt, as from a gulf, by an incredible miracle, ought to have been strengthened by the remembrance of that “redemption” to expect continual advancement. (<021251>Exodus 12:51.)

And thy Maker. He calls himself the “Maker,” in the same sense which we formerly explained; that is, because he regenerates by his Spirit those whom he adopts, and thus makes them new creatures; and therefore he mentions, in passing, the former benefits which they had received, that they may conclude from them, for the future, that God will abide by his promises. When he added from the womb, it was in order that the people might acknowledge that all the benefits which they had received from God were undeserved; for he anticipated them by his compassion, before they could even call upon him. By this consolation David comforted his heart in very severe distresses,

“Thou art he who brought me out of the womb; I trusted in thee while I was hanging on my mother’s breast; I was thrown on thee from my birth; thou art my God from my mother’s womb.” (<192209>Psalm 22:9, 10.)

Yet here he does not speak of the favor generally bestowed, by which God brings any human beings into the world, but praises his covenant, by which he adopted the seed of Abraham to a thousand generations; for they were not at liberty to doubt that he would wish to preserve his work even to the end.

Who alone stretcheth out the heavens. Now follow the commendations of his power, because he has measured out at his pleasure the dimensions of heaven, and earth. By the word “stretcheth out” he means that he has in his hands the government of the whole world, and that there is nothing that is not subject to him; for the power of God ought to be united to his word in such a manner as never to be separated.

25. Frustrating the signs. The Prophet expressly added this, because Babylon surpassed other nations not only in the force of arms, and in troops and resources, but likewise in some remarkable sagacity, by which she appeared to penetrate even to heaven. What injury could befall those who foresaw at a distance future events, and could easily, as was commonly supposed, ward off imminent dangers? The astrologers, who were celebrated among them, foretold all events; and from them sprung that bastard Astrology which is called Judicial, by which even now many persons of great abilities are led astray. They assumed the name of Mathematicians, in order to recommend themselves more to the approbation of the people. The Egyptians boasted of being the authors of that science, and of being the first who taught it; but let us leave them to settle their dispute. It is certain that the Babylonians practiced that art from the very commencement, and esteemed it highly, so that both the Greeks and the Romans gave to those astrologers the name of Chaldees. Since, therefore, they placed much confidence in that science, the Lord threatens that he will overthrow all that belongs to it.

By the word signs he means the positions, conjunctions, and various aspects of the stars, about which Astrologers speculate; and he afterwards says that he maketh them mad. Some take the word ydb (baddim) to mean lies, as if he had said that the divinations to which the Astrologers pretend are nothing but absolute delusions; but I choose rather to interpret it diviners, as we frequently find it used in that sense.

It is asked, “Does he condemn the astrology of the Chaldeans universally, or only the abuse and corruption of it?” I reply, in this passage he merely condemns those signs by means of which the Chaldeans prophesied, and imagined that they knew future events; for the Lord declares that they are absolutely worthless. It was not without good reason that he forbade the people to consult Chaldeans, astrologers, diviners, soothsayers, or any other kind of fortune-tellers, and commanded that no one who practiced that art should be permitted to dwell among the people. (<051810>Deuteronomy 18:10.) Now, if any certain information could have been obtained from the position and aspect of the stars, the Lord undoubtedly would not thus have condemned that science. Since, therefore, he forbade it without exception, he shewed that it contains nothing but absolute delusion, which all believers ought to detest.

But the defenders of that absurdity argue that the Lord gave the planets and stars “for signs.” (<010114>Genesis 1:14.) Granting this principle, I reply, that we ought to inquire of what, things they are the “signs;” for we do not condemn that Astronomy F790 which surveys the courses of the planets, in which we ought to acknowledge the wonderful majesty of God. But we condemn men addicted to curiosity, who wish to learn from them how long any government shall last, and what shall befall this city or that people, or even this or that man; for they go beyond limits, and abuse “signs,” which were not given for the purpose of being omens of future events. I do acknowledge that we are sometimes warned by heavenly signs, to see that we have provoked the Lord’s anger, or that chastisements are hanging over our heads, but not to venture to give minute explanations or conclusions, or to determine those hidden and secret events which we have no right to search and explore. But above all, we ought to observe the cause and origin of impiety; for, as soon as that error prevails, that the life of man is governed by the influence of the stars;, the judgment-seat of God is overthrown, so that he is not the judge of the world in inflicting punishments, or in restoring to life by his mercy those who were perishing. They who think that the stars, by their irresistible influence, control the life of men, immediately become hardened to the imagination of destiny, so that they now leave nothing to God. Thus the tribunals of God are buried, and consequently piety is extinguished, and calling on God is altogether at an end.

He calls them wise men, and speaks of their knowledge, by way of admission, because they boasted greatly of the title of “wisdom,” when they uttered those things which they had learned from the stars, as if they had been admitted into the counsel of God; and therefore he means that those empty masks of “wisdom” will not hinder the Lord from overturning their whole estate; for all their contrivances and tricks shall be brought to nothing.

26. Confirming the word. The Prophet now applies to his purpose what he had formerly said; for, although he spoke in general terms, still he had a specific object in view, to adapt to the circumstances of the present occasion all that he said, that the people might not be alarmed at that pretended wisdom of the Chaldeans, or doubt that God would one day deliver them. With their unfounded predictions, therefore, he contrasts the promises of God, that they might not imagine that that monarchy was free from all danger.

The promise was this,

“Babylon shall fall, but my people shall be restored to liberty.” (<232109>Isaiah 21:9.)

The Babylonians laughed at these promises, “As if we could not foresee by means of the stars what shall happen to us!” On this account the Lord says that he will confirm, that is, he will actually fulfill what he has promised, and will accomplish those things which could neither be foreseen nor imagined by those wise men. What the prophets foretold, wicked men treated as an empty sound which would quickly pass away. With this opinion he contrasts the word “confirm” or “raise up,” by which he means that God will establish the truth of his words.

Of his servant. By the word “servant” he means all the prophets, if it be not thought better to view it as chiefly denoting Isaiah, who announced and testified this deliverance more clearly than all others. But it is unnecessary to limit it to a single individual, for it related to them all, and he likewise calls them by the ordinary name, “ambassadors” or “messengers” of God, because he had sent many, in order to support by their common and universal consent the faith of his people.

The counsel of his messengers. By the word “counsel” he means the decrees of God, but not every kind of decrees; for we have no right to inquire about his secret purposes which he does not manifest by his servants, but, when he reveals to us what he will do, we ought to receive the threatenings of the prophets with as much reverence as if God admitted us into the most secret recesses of the heavens. Let not men therefore dispute according to their fancy, after God hath spoken by the mouth of the prophets. In a word, he intended to recommend the authority of his word, which is declared to us by the ministry of men, as if it revealed to us the eternal purpose of God.

Saying to Jerusalem. After having spoken in general terms, the Prophet applies more closely to the present subject that certainty of the promises of God; for otherwise the people could not have obtained any advantage from it; and, therefore, he expressly adds the mention of “Jerusalem,” that they may know that it shall be restored. Thus, we ought chiefly to behold in this matter the power of God in determining to defend his Church in a wonderful manner, and to raise her from death to life as often as is necessary. If, therefore, we think that God is true and powerful, let us not doubt that there will always be a Church; and when it appears to be in a lamentably ruinous condition, let us entertain good hope of its restoration. What is here said of “Jerusalem” relates to the whole Church; and, therefore, if we see that she is in a ruinous condition, and that her cities are demolished, and if nothing be visible but frightful and hideous desolation, let us rely on this promise, that she shall at length be raised up and perfectly restored.

27. Saying to the deep. This is generally considered to be an allegorical description of Babylon, and I certainly do not deny that it is included; but yet I cannot think of limiting it to Babylon, for I prefer to view it simply as denoting any unexpected change. He shews that some great revolution will be necessary, as if the people must be drawn out of the depths of the sea, but declares that God will easily surmount every obstacle, for he can easily “make the deep dry, and dry up the rivers.” In my opinion he rather appears to allude to that former redemption, (<021429>Exodus 14:29,) when the Lord brought the people out of Egypt through the Red Sea; as if he had said, “I did this for your fathers, and therefore you ought to hope for the same thing from me, and not to imagine that a return to your native land shall be closed against you.”

28. Saying to Cyrus. This is a remarkable passage, in which we not only may see the wonderful providence of God, but which likewise contains a striking proof of the truth and certainty of the prophecies. Here “Cyrus” was named long before he was born; for between the death of Manasseh, by whom Isaiah was slain, and the birth of “Cyrus,” more than a century intervened. Besides, even though he had been born, who would have conjectured that he should come from the most distant mountains of Persia to Babylon? These things ought therefore to be carefully observed, for they shew clearly that it was not by a human spirit that Isaiah spoke. No one would ever have thought that there would be a person named “Cyrus,” who should fly from the most distant and barbarous countries to deliver the people of God. F791

As to the objection made by infidels, that those things might have been forged by the Jews after they were fulfilled, it is so foolish and absurd that there is no necessity for refuting it. The Jews perused those prophecies, while they were held in captivity, in order that they might cherish in their hearts the hope of deliverance, and would have been entirely discouraged, if the Lord had not comforted them by such promises. These records, therefore, supported the hearts of believers in hope and confidence; and I have no doubt that Cyrus, when he learned that God had appointed him to be the leader and shepherd for bringing back Israel, was astonished at those promises, and that they induced him to cherish kind feelings towards the people, so as to supply them with food and with everything that was necessary for their journey. Thus the Lord points out the person by whose hand he has determined to bring back his people, that they may not look around on all sides in perplexity.

Even by saying to Jerusalem. This is the conclusion, by which the former statements are confirmed, that they may rest assured that “Jerusalem” shall infallibly be built, and may learn from it how dear and precious they are to God, when they shall see the monarchy of all the east transferred to the Persians. At the same time he points out the end for which Jerusalem was to be rebuilt, namely, that the pure worship of God might be restored; for he does not promise this restoration, that men may seek their own ease or the conveniencies of life, but that the Lord’s people may purely and sincerely call upon him without any disturbance. This ought to be carefully observed, for there are many who value more highly their own convenience and external comforts than the honor and worship of God. Hence also Haggai complained bitterly, that all were eager to build their own houses, but almost all gave themselves no concern about the Temple. (<370104>Haggai 1:4.) But it was the will of the Lord that men should care most about his house, and that is the import of what the Prophet says, —

And to the temple, Thou shalt be founded. But in the present day he does not thus recommend to us a temple of wood or stone, but living temples of God, which we are; for the Lord hath chosen his habitation in us. (<470616>2 Corinthians 6:16.) Such, therefore, are the temples which must be diligently built by the doctrine of the word, that we may lead a holy and righteous life, and may render to God the worship which is due to him; for this is the reason why the Lord wishes that there should be a Church in the world, that the remembrance of his name may not perish.


Go To Isaiah 45:1-25

1. Thus saith Jehovah. He pursues the subject which he had begun to handle. He shews that not in vain did he promise deliverance to his people, since the manner of it was altogether decreed and appointed by him; F792 for when the question relates to our salvation, we always inquire into the way and manner. Although God frequently chooses to hold us in suspense, and thus conceals from us the method which he has ready at hand, yet, in this instance he indulges the weakness of his people, and explains the method in which he will deliver them.

To Cyrus his anointed. He names the person by whose hand he will bring them back; for, since their faith would be sharply tried by other temptations, he wished in this respect to provide against doubt, that the difficulty of the event might not shake them. And in order to impart greater efficacy to this discourse, he turns to Cyrus himself: “I have chosen thee to be a king to me; I will take hold of thy hand, and will subject the nations to thy authority, so that they shall open up a passage for thee, and voluntarily surrender.” These words have greater effect than if the Lord spoke to his people.

Yet it might be thought strange that he calls Cyrus his Anointed; for this is the designation which was given to the kings of Israel and Judah, because they represented the person of Christ, who alone, strictly speaking, is “the Lord’s Anointed.” “The Lord went forth with his Anointed,” says Habakkuk, “for the salvation of his people.” (<350313>Habakkuk 3:13.) In the person of David a kingdom had been set up, which professed to be an image and figure of Christ; and hence also the prophets in many passages call him “David,” and “the Son of David.” (<263724>Ezekiel 37:24, 25.) It was indeed a special anointing, intended to distinguish that priestly kingdom from all heathen kingdoms. Since therefore this title belonged to none but the kings of Judea, it might be thought strange that it is here bestowed on a heathen king and a worshipper of idols; for although he was instructed by Daniel, yet we do not read that he changed his religion. True, he regarded with reverence the God of Israel, and considered him to be the Highest; but he was not prompted by a sincere affection of the heart to worship him, and did not advance so far as to forsake superstitions and idolatries.

Thus God deigns to call him his “Anointed,” not by a perpetual title, but because he discharged for a time the office of Redeemer; for he both avenged the Church of God and delivered it from the Assyrians, who were its enemies. This office belongs peculiarly to Christ; and this ordinary appellation of kings ought to be limited to this circumstance, that he restored the people of God to the enjoyment of liberty. This should lead us to observe how highly God values the salvation of the Church, because, for the sake of this single benefit, Cyrus, a heathen man, is called “the Messiah,” F793 or “the Anointed.

Whose right hand I have taken hold of. By this mode of expression, he means that Cyrus shall prosper in all his undertakings, for he shall carry on war under God’s direction; and therefore Isaiah declares that, for the sake of the Church, in order that he may deliver her, God will grant to him prosperity in all things; while he again commends the providence of God, that the Jews may fully believe, amidst changes and troubles, that God on high governs all things in such a manner as to promote the benefit of his elect. Now, since it was not easy for Cyrus to penetrate as far as Babylon, because the whole of Asia had leagued together in order to frustrate his designs, the Prophet testifies that God will dissolve all the strength which men can bring against him.

I will loose the loins of kings. Because the whole strength lies in the reins, the Hebrew writers use the phrase “opening,” or “loosing the loins,” to denote “being deprived of strength.” We might also view it somewhat differently, that is, that the Lord will “make bare,” or “loose their loins,” according to the customary manner of Scripture, by which kings are said to be ungirded of the belt, namely, of the badge of royalty, when they are deprived of authority. Job (<181218>Job 12:18) employs this mode of expression, and Isaiah will afterwards employ it: F794 “I will gird thee.” (Ver. 5.) On this account I more readily adopt this sense, that the force of the contrast may be more evident. This shews clearly that kings have just as much strength and power as the Lord bestows on them for the preservation of each nation; for when he determines to convey their authority to others, they cannot defend their condition by any weapons or swords.

To open the gates before him. By this expression he means that no fortresses can resist God, which indeed is acknowledged by all, but yet they do not cease to place foolish confidences in bulwarks and fortresses; for, where cities are well surrounded by walls, and the gates are shut, men think that there they are safe. On the other hand the Prophet shews that all defences are useless, and that it serves no purpose to block up every entrance, when the Lord wishes to open up a way for the enemies. Although it is certain that the gates were shut and securely barred, yet, because Cyrus pushed his way as swiftly as if all the cities had been thrown open, the Prophet justly affirms that nothing shall be closed against him.

2. and 3. I will go before thee. These two verses contain nothing new; but, in general, he shews that Cyrus will gain an easy and rapid victory, because he will have the Lord for the leader of his expedition. Accordingly he promises that all crooked paths shall be made straight, because God will remove every obstruction. Now, since money is the sinews of war, and Cyrus came from the scorched and poor mountains of Persia, Jehovah says that treasures which were formerly hidden and concealed shall come into the hands of Cyrus, so that, laden with rich booty, he shall have enough for defraying any expenditure; for by the treasures of darkness he means those which lay concealed, and as it were buried in safe and deep places of defense. It is abundantly clear from history, that all these things happened; for by taking Croesus, king of Lydia, who was at that time the richest of all men, he obtained large sums of money. Nor would any one have expected that he would gain victories so easily; and the reason of so great success is now added, because the Lord called and directed him, that he might give in him an illustrious demonstration of his power; for he adds —

That thou mayest know that I am Jehovah. True, Cyrus, as we formerly said, though he acknowledged that the God of Israel is the true God, and was filled with admiration, yet was not converted to him, and never embraced his pure worship according to the standard of the Law. This was therefore special knowledge, that is, so far as he assisted the Church, for whose deliverance he was appointed; and therefore it was necessary that he should be under the influence of this knowledge, in order that he might execute this work of God. Thus he does not speak of that knowledge by which we are enlightened, or about the Spirit of regeneration, but about special knowledge, such as men destitute of religion F795 may possess.

Calling thee by thy name. From some commentators this mode of expression has received a trivial interpretation, that “before Cyrus was born, God called and described him by his name.” But we have seen in a former passage, (<234301>Isaiah 43:1,) that the Prophet, while he used the same form of expression, meant something different; for God is said to “call by name” those whom he has chosen, and whom he appoints to perform some particular work, that they may be separated from the multitude. This word denotes closer and more familiar intercourse. Thus a shepherd is said to “call his sheep by name,” (<431003>John 10:3,) because he knows them individually. This applies indeed, in the highest degree, to believers, whom God reckons as belonging to his flock, and to the number of the citizens of his Church. God did not bestow this favor on Cyrus; but because, by appointing him to be the leader of so excellent a deliverance, he engraved on him distinguished marks of his power; with good reason is the commendation of an excellent calling applied to him.

The God of Israel. This ought to be carefully observed; for superstitious men ascribe to their idols the victories which they have obtained, and, as Habakkuk (<350116>Habakkuk 1:16)says, “They sacrifice every one to his god;” and therefore they wander in their thoughts, and conceive in their hearts any deity that they fancy, while they ought to acknowledge that Jehovah is the only and true God. What is said of Cyrus ought to be much more applied to us, that we may not fashion any knowledge of God according to our fancy, but may distinguish him from idols, so as to embrace him alone, and to know him in Christ alone, apart from whom nothing but an idol, or even a devil can be worshipped. In that; respect, therefore, let us surpass Cyrus, to whom the knowledge of God was revealed, so that we may lay aside superstitions and all false worship, and may thus adore him in a holy and upright manner.

4. For the sake of my servant Jacob. He shews for what purpose he would grant such happy and illustrious success to this prince. It is, in order that he may preserve his people; as if the Lord had said, “Thou shalt indeed obtain a signal victory, bur I will have regard to my own people rather than to thee; for it is for their sake that I subject kings and nations to thy power.” By these predictions, indeed, the Lord intended to encourage the hearts of believers, that they might not despair amidst those distresses; but undoubtedly he intended likewise to excite Cyrus to acknowledge that he owed to that nation all that he should accomplish, that he might he more disposed to treat them with all kindness.

And Israel mine elect. In this second clause there is a repetition which serves still farther to explain that reason; and at the same time he shews on what ground he reckons the Israelites to be “ his servants.” It is because he condescended to choose them by free grace; for it is not in the power of men to make themselves “servants of God,” or to obtain so great honor by their own exertions. This clause is therefore added, F796 as before, for the sake of explanation. But still it denotes also the end of election; for, since we are naturally the slaves of Satan, we are called in order that, being restored to liberty, we may serve God. Yet he shews that no man is worthy of that honor, as we have said, but he whom God hath chosen; for who will boast that he is worthy of so high an honor, or what can we render or offer to God? Thus “we are not sufficient of ourselves, but the Lord hath made us sufficient,” as Paul says. (<470305>2 Corinthians 3:5.) The beginning of our salvation, therefore, is God’s election by free grace; and the end of it is the obedience which we ought to render to him.

But although this is limited to the history of Cyrus, still we may draw from it a general doctrine. When various changes happen in the world, God secures at the same time the salvation of his people, and in the midst of storms wonderfully preserves his Church. We are indeed blind and stupid as to the works of God, yet we ought firmly to believe that, even when everything appears to be driven about at random, and to be tossed up and down, God never forgets his Church, whose salvation, on the contrary, he promotes by hidden methods, so that it is at length seen that he is her guardian and defender.

Josephus relates a memorable narrative about Alexander, who, while he was besieging Tyre, sent ambassadors to Jerusalem, to demand the tribute which the Jews were paying to Darius. Jaddus, the high-priest, who had sworn that he would pay that tribute, would not become subject to Alexander, and refused to pay him the tribute. Alexander was highly offended, and, swelling with pride and fierceness, determined to destroy Jerusalem, and, after having conquered Darius, marched to Jerusalem, for the purpose of consigning it to utter destruction. Jaddus went out to meet him, accompanied by other priests and Levites, wearing the priestly dress; and Alexander, as soon as he saw him, leapt from his horse, and threw himself down as a suppliant at his feet. Every person was astonished at a thing so strange and so inconsistent with his natural disposition, and thought that he had lost his senses. Parmenio, who alone of all who were present asked the reason, received a reply, that he did not adore this man, but God, whose servant he was; and that, before he left Dion, a city of Macedonia, a man of that appearance and dress, who appeared to have the form of God, presented himself to him in a dream, encouraged him to take Asia, and promised to be the leader of the army, so that he ought to entertain no doubt of victory, and therefore that he could not but be powerfully affected by seeing him. In this manner, therefore, was Jerusalem rescued from the jaws of that savage highwayman who aimed at nothing else than fire and bloodshed, and even obtained from him greater liberty than before, and likewise gifts and privileges. F797

I have quoted this example in order to shew that the Church of God is preserved in the midst of dangers by strange and unusual methods. Those were troublous times, and scarcely a corner of the earth was at rest; but above all other countries Judea might be said to be devoted to destruction. Yet behold the Church rescued in a wonderful and unusual manner, while other nations are destroyed, and nearly the whole world has changed its face!

And yet thou hast not known me. These words are added for the purpose of giving greater force to the statement, not only that Cyrus may learn that this is not granted on account of any of his own merits, but that he may not despise the God of Israel, though he does not know him. The Lord frequently, indeed, reminds us on this subject, that he anticipates all the industry that exists in men, in order that he may beat down all the pride of the flesh. But there is another reason, as regards Cyrus; for if he had thought that the Lord granted those things for his own sake, he would have disregarded the Jews and treated them as despicable slaves. For this reason the Lord testifies that it does not happen on account of Cyrus’s own merit, but only for the sake of the people, whom he determines to rescue out of the hands of enemies. Besides, nothing was more probable than that this man, in his blindness, would appropriate to his idols that which belonged to the true God; because, being entirely under the influence of wicked superstitions, he would not willingly have given place to a strange and unknown God, if he had not been instructed by this prediction.

5. I am Jehovah. He confirms the preceding statement, and the repetition is not superfluous; for it was proper that it should be often repeated to Cyrus, that there is one God, by whose hands all rulers and nations are governed, that he might be drawn aside from all delusions and be converted to the God of Israel. Besides, it is clearly stated that we ought not to try to find divinity in any other; as if he had said, “Beware of ascribing this victory to idols, or forming any confused idea of a god such as men imagine; know that the God of Israel is the only author of this victory.” Although Cyrus did not profit by this admonition to such an extent as to leave his idols and devote himself to the true God, yet it made so deep an impression on his heart that he acknowledged Jehovah to be God and to possess the highest authority. At the same time, it was proper that they who were members of the Church should embrace this doctrine, that they might boldly despise all pretended gods.

I have girded thee. That girding corresponds to the nakedness which he formerly mentioned, (verse 1,) when he said that he “opened” or “ungirded the loins of kings;” for he is said to “gird” those whom he supplies with strength and courage and renders victorious. Hence it ought to be inferred, that men have no courage but when the Lord imparts to them his power and strength, that neither weapons nor any military force can do anything unless he assist, and, in a word, that he presides over all wars, and gives victory to whomsoever he pleases, that none may. think that it happens by chance. He again repeats, Though thou hast not known me, in order to make it still more certain that these things are granted to Cyrus for the sake of the Church, in order that he may give evidence that he remembers it with gratitude, and may shew kindness to the people of God in return for such a distinguished favor.

6. Therefore they shall know. He means that this favor shall be so remarkable as to be acknowledged and admired by all nations. This was not indeed immediately fulfilled; for, although the fame of that victory was spread far and wide, yet few understood that the God of Israel was the author of it; but it was immediately made known to the neighbors, and was communicated by one nation to another, till the report of it was spread throughout the whole world. He does not predict what shall happen immediately, but what shall happen afterwards, though these things were long concealed. God therefore did not permit the remembrance of this transaction to fade away, but determined that it should be handed down in permanent records, that it might be celebrated in all ages, and by the most distant nations, to the very end of the world. We must therefore remember what I formerly remarked, that the Prophet interweaves earlier and later events, because the return of the people was the prelude to a future redemption, and that he thus speaks of a perfect restoration of the Church. Besides, when it happens that the illustrious works of God are buried by the ingratitude and malice of men, still it does not cease to be true, that they shall be visible to the whole world; for they shine openly and brightly, though the blind do not see them.

7. Forming light. As if he had said, that they who formerly were wont to ascribe everything either to fortune or to idols shall acknowledge the true God, so as to ascribe power and the government and glory of all things, to him alone. He does not speak of perfect knowledge, though this intelligence is requisite for the attainment of it. But since the Prophet says that it shall be manifest even to heathens, that everything is directed and governed by the will of God, they who bear the Christian name ought to be ashamed, when they strip him of his power, and bestow it on various governors, whom they have formed according to their fancy,as we see done in Popery; for God is not acknowledged when a bare and empty name is given to him, but when we ascribe to him full authority.

Making peace, and creating evil. By the words “light” and “darkness” he describes metaphorically not only peace and war; but adverse and prosperous events of any kind; and he extends the word peace, according to the custom of Hebrew writers, to all success and prosperity. This is made abundantly clear by the contrast; for he contrasts “peace” not only with war, but with adverse events of every sort. Fanatics torture this word evil, as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts “peace” with “evil,” that is, with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences. If he contrasted “righteousness” with “evil,” there would be some plausibility in their reasonings, but this is a manifest contrast of things that are opposite to each other. Consequently, we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of the “evil” of punishment, but not of the “evil” of guilt.

But the Sophists are wrong in their exposition; for, while they acknowledge that famine, barrenness, war, pestilence, and other scourges, come from God, they deny that God is the author of calamities, when they befall us through the agency of men. This is false and altogether contrary to the present doctrine; for the Lord raises up wicked men to chastise us by their hand, as is evident from various passages of Scripture. (<111114>1 Kings 11:14, 23.) The Lord does not indeed inspire them with malice, but he uses it for the purpose of chastising us, and exercises the office of a judge, in the same manner as he made use of the malice of Pharaoh and others, in order to punish his people. (<020111>Exodus 1:11 and 2:23.) We ought therefore to hold this doctrine, that God alone is the author of all events; that is, that adverse and prosperous events are sent by him, even though he makes use of the agency of men, that none may attribute it to fortune, or to any other cause.

8. Drop down dew from above. Some think that a form of prayer is here added, which it was the duty of believers to use while they were waiting for the redemption which is here described; and they connect this verse with the preceding in the following manner, “The Lord will not so speedily deliver you, but still it is your duty to be diligently employed in prayer.” But I interpret it differently in this manner. The Prophet always speaks in the name of God, who, in the exercise of his authority, calls on heaven and earth to lend their services to the restoration of the Church.

This verse is fitted very powerfully to confirm the godly in the hope of future redemption; for the people, wherever they looked, saw nothing but despair. If they tumed their eyes towards heaven, there they beheld the wrath of God; if towards the earth, there also were beheld afflictions and chastisements; and therefore nothing fitted to lead them to entertain favorable hope was visible. On this account the Prophet confirms them, and enjoins heaven and earth, which held out nothing but threatentings and terrors, to bring forth salvation and “righteousness.” This is more emphatic than if he promised that it shall be, when all the elements, which are ready to yield obedience to God, receive orders as to what he wishes them to do. And thus the stream of the discourse will flow on continuously, which otherwise will be abruptly broken off, if we understand this passage to be a prayer. F798

And let the clouds drop righteousness. This form of expression is frequently employed in Scripture; such as,

“And the mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the hills righteousness.” (<197203>Psalm 72:3.)

And again, “Piety and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other; truth shall spring from the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven;” where David describes the kingdom of Christ and its prosperity, and shews that in it “righteousness, peace, mercy, and truth, shall be joined together.” (<198510>Psalm 85:10, 11.) This passage treats of the same subject. There is an allusion to the ordinary food of men, who subsist on bread and other productions of the soil; for their life needs such aids. Now, in order that the earth may bring forth fruits, it must obtain its vigor from heaven and draw water from the clouds, that it may be rendered fertile, and then bring forth herbs and fruits both for men and for animals.

By the word righteousness he means nothing else than the fidelity with which the Lord defends and preserves his people. The Lord thus “drops down from heaven righteousness,” that is, well established order, of which salvation is the fruit; for he speaks of the deliverance of the people from Babylon, in which the Lord shews that he will be their protector. Yet while we understand the natural meaning of the Prophet, we must come down to the kingdom of Christ, to which these words undoubtedly bear a spiritual import; for God does not limit these promises to a few years, but continues his favors down to the coming of Christ, in whom all these things were abundantly fulfilled. There can be no doubt, therefore, that he likewise celebrates that eternal righteousness and salvation which is brought to us by Christ; but we ought first to observe that simple interpretation about the return from the captivity in Babylon.

9. and 10. Wo to him that striveth with his Maker! This passage is explained in various ways. Some think that it refers to King Belshazzar, who, as is evident from Daniel, haughtily defied God, when he profaned the vessels of the Temple. (<270503>Daniel 5:3.) But that is too forced an exposition. The second might appear to be more probable, that the Lord grants far more to his children than a man would grant to his sons, or an artisan to his work; for they suppose that a comparison of this kind is made. “If the son rise up against the father, and debate with him, he will not be listened to. The father will choose to retain his power, and deservedly will restrain his son; and in like manner, if the clay rise up against the workman. But the Lord permits questions to be put to him, and kindly offers to satisfy the people; nay, even bids them put questions to him.” And thus they join together the 10th and 11th verses, and think that God’s forbearance is manifested by treating us with greater kindness, and condescending to greater familiarity, than men usually exhibit towards their sons.

The latter exposition is indeed more plausible, but both are at variance with the Prophet’s meaning; and therefore a more simple view appears to me to be, to understand that the Prophet restrains the complaints of men, who in adversity murmur and strive with God. This was a seasonable warning, that the Jews, by patiently and calmly bearing the cross, might receive the consolation which was offered to them; for whenever God holds us in suspense, the flesh prompts us to grumble, “Why does he not do more quickly what he intends to do? Of what benefit is it to him to torture us by his delay?” The Prophet, therefore, in order to chastise this insolence, says, “Does the potsherd dispute with the potter? Do sons debate with their fathers? Has not God a right to treat us as he thinks fit? What remains but that we shall bear patiently the punishments which he inflicts on us? We must therefore allow God to do what belongs to him, and must not take anything from his power and authority.” I consider ywh, (hoi,) Wo! to be an interjection expressive of reproof and chastisement.

Potsherd to potsherds. That is, as we say in common language, (Que chacun se prenne a son pareil,) “Let each quarrel with his like,” “Let potsherds strive with potsherds of the earth.” F799 When he sends men to those who are like themselves, he reproves their rashness and presumption, in not considering that it is impossible to maintain a dispute with God without leading to destruction; as if he had said, “With whom do they think that they have to deal? Let them know that they are not able to contend with God, F800 and that at length they must yield. And if, unmindful of their frailty, they attack heaven after the manner of the giants, they shall at length feel that they did wrong in warring F801 with their Maker, who can without any difficulty break in pieces, and even crush into powder, the vessels which he has made.

Some interpret yj (charasim) to mean “workmen” or “potters,” and suppose the meaning to be, “Shall the potsherd rise up against the potter?” But those interpreters change the point and read (schin) instead of (sin). I acknowledge that such diversity and change may easily occur, but I prefer to follow the ordinary reading, and to adopt this simple meaning, “Shall the clay say to its maker? A potter is allowed to make any vessel of what form he pleases, a father is allowed to command his sons; will you not admit that God possesses a higher right?” Thus he reproves those who in adversity remonstrate with God, and cannot patiently endure afflictions.

We ought therefore to listen to the warning given by Peter, when he bids us learn to submit to God, and to “humble ourselves under his mighty hand,” (<600506>1 Peter 5:6,) so as to yield to his authority, and not to strive with him, if he sometimes tries us by various afflictions; because we ought to acknowledge his just right to govern us according to his pleasure. If we must come to debate, he will have such strong and decisive arguments as shall constrain us, being convicted, to be dumb. And when he restrains the insolence of men, it is not because he is destitute of argument, but because it is right and proper that we should yield and surrender ourselves to be wholly governed according to his pleasure; but at the same time he justly claims this right, that his own creatures should not call him to render an account. What can be more detestable than not to approve of his judgments, if they do not please men?

Paul makes use of the same metaphor, but on a higher subject; for he argues about God’s eternal predestination, and rebukes the foolish thoughts of men, who debate with God why he chooses some, and reprobates and condemns others. He shews that we ought, at least, to allow to God as much power as we allow to a potter or workman; and therefore he exclaims,

“O man, who art thou, that repliest against God? Shall the clay say to the potter, Why hast thou made me thus?”
(<450920>Romans 9:20.)

“Who is so daring as to venture to oppose God, and to enter into debate with him?” Thus he perfectly agrees with the Prophet, though he makes use of this metaphor on a different and more intricate subject; for both affirm that God has full power over men, so as to permit themselves to be ruled and governed by him, and to endure patiently all adverse events. There is only this difference, that Isaiah reasons about the course of the present life, but Paul ascends to the heavenly and eternal life.

His work hath no hands. The Prophet speaks in ordinary language, as we say that one “puts the last hand,” when a thing is completed, and that “hands are wanting,” when a work is disorderly, confused, or imperfect. Thus, whenever men murmur against God for not complying with their wishes, they accuse him either of slothfulness or of ignorance.

11. Thus saith Jehovah. I have already said, that I do not agree with those who connect this verse with the preceding, as if God, abandoning his just right, gave permission to the Jews to put questions more than is allowed among men. There is another meaning not much different, that the Israelites are miserable, because they know not, and do not even wish to know the will of the Lord; that they do not seek and even do not accept of consolation; and, in short, that the deep sorrow with which they are oppressed arises from the fault of the people, that is, because they do not ask at the mouth of the Lord. If we adopt this exposition, we must arrive at the conclusion that this passage treats of a different kind of inquiry; for as it is unlawful to thrust ourselves into the secret decrees of God, so he graciously condescends to make known to his people, as far as is necessary, what he intends to do; and, when he opens his sacred mouth, he justly commands us to open our ears to him, and to hear attentively whatever he declares. Now, we also know by experience that which Isaiah brings as a reproach against the ancient people.

But it is more reasonable to view this statement as depending on the preceding, so as to be an application of the metaphor in this sense: “A son will not be allowed to enter into a dispute with his father, and the clay will not be permitted to strive with its potter; how much more intolerable is this liberty which men take, when they prescribe to God in what manner he ought to treat his sons?” For otherwise this sentence would be broken and imperfect, but those two clauses agree beautifully with each other. “The potter will make clay of any shape according to his pleasure, the son of a mortal man will not venture to expostulate with his father; and will you refuse to me, who am the supreme Father and Maker of all things, to have equal power over my sons and my creatures?” If the former meaning be preferred, the Prophet reproaches men with their slothfulness, in not deigning to put questions to God, and to learn from his mouth those things which related to their consolation; for they might have learned from the prophecies that God took care of them, and might have known the conclusion of their distresses. And indeed there is no better remedy in adversity than to ask at the mouth of God, so as not to fix our eyes on the present condition of things, but to embrace with the heart that future salvation which the Lord promises.

“The Lord is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tried beyond what we are able to bear; but with the temptation will also grant deliverance, and will increase his grace in us.”
(<461013>1 Corinthians 10:13.)

Command ye me. This must not be understood as denoting authority; for it does not belong to us to “command” God, or to press upon him unseasonably; and it will not be possible for any person to profit by the word of God, who does not bring an humble heart. F802 But God presents himself to us, that we may ask from him what is of importance to us to know; as if he had said, “Order me; I am ready to reveal those things which are of the highest importance for you to know, that you may derive consolation from them.” But as that would be an unnatural mode of expression, I consider that the complaint which I have stated is more simple, that God is robbed of a father’s right, if he do not retain the absolute and uncontrolled government of his Church. Thus, in the clause, Ask me of things to come, the word ask is taken in a bad sense, when men, forgetting modesty, do not hesitate to summon God to their bar, and to demand a reason for anything that he has done. This is still more evident from the word command; as if he had said, “It will belong to you, forsooth, to prescribe what shape I ought to give to my work!”

In a word, the Prophet’s design is to exhort men to moderation and patience; for, as soon as they begin to dispute with him, they endeavor to drag him from his heavenly throne. Now, he does not address the Jews alone, for he needed to restrain the blasphemies which even at that time were current among infidels. It is as if God, wishing to maintain his right, thus refuted the slanders of the whole world: “How far shall your insolence carry its excesses, that you will not allow me to be master in my own workshop, or to govern my family as I think fit?”

12. I made the earth. He appears merely to maintain the power of God, as be had formerly done; so that there is an indirect contrast between God and idols, which superstitious persons worship. Foolish men ask counsel of idols, as if the world were governed at their pleasure. On the contrary, God calls us back to himself, when he says that he

“made the earth, and placed man upon it, and that his hands stretched out the heavens.” (<010101>Genesis 1:1, 6,26.)

But it will be more appropriate, in my opinion, to apply the whole of this discourse to the nature of the present subject. “Can anything be more foolish than that men shall uphold their own rank, and shall haughtily interrogate, and treat as a criminal, God, whose majesty is above the heavens?” Thus he indirectly censures the madness of men, who do not scruple to exalt themselves above the very heavens. Yet at the same time he reminds them that, if it must come to a strict examination, God will not want arguments to defend his cause; for, if he governs the whole world, he undoubtedly takes a peculiar care about his own people, and does not care for strangers, so as to allow the members of his family to be scattered and wander. Thus, then, I understand this verse. “Shall I, whose vast and inconceivable wisdom and power shine brightly in heaven and earth, not only be bound by human laws, but be degraded below the ordinary lot of men? And if there be any doubts of my justice, shall not I, who rule and govern all things by my hand, be careful of those whom I have adopted into my family? Shall I not watch over their salvation?”

Thus it is an argument from the less to the greater, and this meaning is agreeable to Scripture. We know that we have been adopted by God, in such a manner that, having been received under his protection, we are guarded by his hand; and none can hurt us, but by his permission. If “a sparrow,” as Christ tells us, “does not fall to the ground without his permission,” (<401029>Matthew 10:29,) shall we whom he values more than the sparrows be exposed by him at hazard to the rage and cruelty of enemies? And, therefore, since God upholds all the creatures by his providence, he cannot disregard the Church, which he prefers to the whole world. We must, therefore, betake ourselves to this providence, even in the most desperate affairs, and must not give way to any temptations by which Satan attacks us in various ways.

13. I have raised him up. He now continues the subject on which he had entered in the beginning of the chapter; for, having undertaken to soothe their affliction, which was exceedingly sharp and severe, Isaiah holds out the hope of deliverance, and stretches out his hand to them, that they may look for an absolutely certain redemption. Though you think that you are ruined, yet the Lord will protect you against destruction. Why the reproof which we have seen was intermingled with it, may be easily gathered from the event itself; for, if Isaiah had not abruptly made this digression, the Jews, in their vehement impatience, would have been hurried into despair.

In righteousness. This means “justly and truly,” and must be understood relatively; for it assigns the reason why God determined to raise up Cyrus, that is, because he is a faithful guardian of his Church, and does not disappoint his worshippers. Some explain it, “in justice,” that is, in order that he may punish the Babylonians; and others, “that he may reign justly;” but the Prophet meant nothing of this sort. But in the Scriptures, “righteousness” often signifies fidelity, (<190508>Psalm 5:8; 22:31), because the Lord manifests his “righteousness” by fulfilling his promises and defending his servants. The “righteousness” of God shines brightly in giving a display of exalted and perfect rectitude by saving his people; for, although there is no work of God on which a mark of righteousness is not engraven, yet a much more clear and striking proof is seen in the salvation of the Church. The meaning therefore is, that he “raised up” Cyrus, in order to manifest his “righteousness” in him, whom he has appointed to lead and conduct in bringing back his people.

He shall build my city. Jerusalem is meant, which he calls “his city,” because he wished that there the remembrance of his name should be preserved, and because he had consecrated it in a peculiar manner to himself. In like manner God himself had declared,

“Wherever I shall cause my name to be recorded, I will come to thee, and will bless thee.” (Exodus. 20:24.)

Now, there was no other city which he had appointed for sacrifices and vows, and for calling on his name; and, therefore, also it is called (Psalm 46: 4, 5) “The city of God, the holy tabernacle of the Most High, for God is in the midst of her;” and in another place it is said, “This is my rest for ever and ever.” (<19D214>Psalm 132:14.) Now, Cyrus did not build this city with his own hand, but by royal edicts forbade any one to hinder the rebuilding of it, and likewise supplied the people with provisions and money. (<143623>2 Chronicles 36:23; <150102>Ezra 1:2; 6:3.)

And shall release my captivity, not for a price, that is, “for nothing.” This was uncommon; for, if captives are released by a conqueror, either a price is demanded, or harsh conditions are imposed on them; but Cyrus did nothing of that kind. Hence it follows that this deliverance took place by the will of God, and not by the will of man. The word “captivity” is here used as a collective noun, denoting “captives.”

14. Thus saith Jehovah. He still speaks of the restoration which was afterwards effected under the conduct of Cyrus; but we must keep in remembrance what we formerly remarked, that those promises must be extended farther; for it includes the whole time which followed, down to the coming of Christ. Whoever shall duly consider and weigh this Prophet’s ordinary style will find in his words nothing extravagant, and will not look upon his language as exaggerated.

The labor of Egypt, the merchandise of Ethiopia. The Prophet alludes to the expenses which Cyrus contributed for building and adorning the temple. (<150608>Ezra 6:8) At that time was fulfilled what he says, that “the labor of Egypt” and “the merchandise of Ethiopia” came to the Jews; for “Egypt and Ethiopia” were tributaries and subjects of the king of Persia. From those tributes the temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt. But as that restoration was only the prelude to that which was accomplished by Christ, so likewise the homage which foreign nations rendered to the people of God was only the beginning of that homage which various nations rendered to the Church of God, after Christ had been revealed to the world.

Now, under the name of “Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sabeans,” who flourished at that time, he includes also the rest of the nations. It is as if he had said, “You are now oppressed by the tyranny of foreign nations, but the time shall one day come when they shall be subject to you.” This was not immediately fulfilled, but only at the time when Christ, by his coming, subdued their flinty and hitherto untameable hearts, so that they mildly submitted to the yoke that was laid upon them. But the Lord redeemed his people from Babylon, in order that he might preserve some Church till the coming of Christ, to whose authority all nations should be subject; and therefore we need not wonder, if the Prophet, when speaking of the return of the people, directs his discourse at the same time to God’s end and design, and makes it to be one redemption.

In chains they shall pass over. When he says that the Israelites shall be victorious over all the nations, this depends on the mutual relation between the Head and the members. Because the Only-begotten Son of God unites to himself those who believe in him, so that they are one with him, it frequently happens that what belongs to him is attributed to

“the Church, which is his body and fullness.”
(<490123>Ephesians 1:23.)

In this sense also government is ascribed to the Church, not so as to obscure by haughty rule the glory of her Head, or even to claim the authority which belongs to him, or, in a word, so as to have anything separate from her Head; but because the preaching of the gospel, which is committed to her, is the spiritual scepter of Christ, by which he displays his power. In this respect no man can bow down submissively before Christ, without also obeying the Church, so far as the obedience of faith is joined to the ministry of doctrine, yet so that Christ their Head alone reigns, and alone exercises his authority.

Surely  F803 God is in thee. He relates what will be said by those who shall make respectful entrearies to the Church. They will acknowledge that “God is in her.” Some translate ˚a (ach) only, which I do not object to, and even acknowledge to be well adapted to express the Prophet’s meaning; yet it will not be inappropriate to explain it affirmatively, Surely God is in thee.

And there is none besides God. F804 He explains the manner in which foreign nations shall be subject to the Jews; that is, by acknowledging that there is no other God than He whom the Jews worshipped. If it be objected, that this has nothing to do with the Jews, who are now alienated from the Church, I reply, The gospel nevertheless proceeded from them, and was diffused throughout the whole world; and thus we acknowledge Jerusalem to be the fountain from which pure doctrine flowed. (<197602>Psalm 76:2; <422447>Luke 24:47.) In ancient times there undoubtedly were none but the Jews who understood who is God, and what is the proper manner of worshipping him; the rest were devoted to trifles and delusions, and worshipped their own inventions. Hence also Christ, addressing the Samaritan woman, says, “We know what we worship.” (<430422>John 4:22.) Justly, therefore, is it here said, “God is in thee,” because other nations were ignorant of God. Yet as there is an implied contrast, I cheerfully admit the adverb only, so as to be a testimony of the repentance of the Gentiles, when they are satisfied with the one God and forsake their idols.

The meaning may be thus summed up, “They who formerly were haughty, and with lofty brow despised the Church, shall submit to her, when it shall be known that she is the sanctuary of the true God,” for, as we have said, when God extols his Church, he does not relinquish his own authority. And this is a Sign of true conversion, that we do not worship a God whom we have imagined, but him who is acknowledged in the Church. We ought also to observe this encomium pronounced on the Church, “God is in thee;” for, as we formerly quoted, “God is in the midst of her,” because he hath chosen her to be his habitation. (<194605>Psalm 46:5.) If we are the people of God, and are subject to his doctrine which bringeth salvation, it follows that he will assist, us; because he does not wish to forsake his people; for this promise is perpetual, and ought not to be viewed as referring solely to that time.

15. Truly thou art a God that hidest thyself. Isaiah now exclaims, that there is need of long exercise of patience, that we may enjoy the promises of God; for the people might have been prompted to despair, when the wicked had everything to their wish, and when everything adverse befell themselves. I am aware that some expound it differently. The Jewish writers commonly interpret it to mean, that the Lord will hide himself from the Gentiles, but will reveal himself to his people. Christian interpreters bring forward a different sense, but too far-fetched. There is ingenuity, indeed, in what they say, that Christ is a hidden God, because his divinity lies concealed under the infirmity of the flesh. But it does not agree with the Prophet’s meaning; for he calls himself “a hidden God,” because he appears to withdraw, F805 and, in some measure, to conceal himself, when he permits his people to be afflicted and oppressed by various calamities; and, therefore, our hearts ought to be encouraged by hope. Now, as Paul says, (<450824>Romans 8:24,) “hope is not directed to those things which are seen;” and in this sense Isaiah calls him “a hidden God,” because those things which he promised are not immediately visible to our eyes.

Thus he intended that we should withdraw our minds from present objects, and raise them above the heavens, which we must do, F806 if we wish to receive and accept of his aid. There is “need of patience,” (<581036>Hebrews 10:36,) therefore, that we may continue to direct our desires towards him, when he delays the execution of his promises. He had said, a little before, that unbelievers, though at that time they were blind and stupid, would feel the presence of God; but, because the time of manifestation was not yet at hand, this exclamation is appropriately introduced, that God, before he displays his glory, conceals his power in order to try our faith.

God the Savior of Israel. That the Prophet does not speak of the essence of God, but of his assistance, may be easily inferred from the epithet which is now added, when he calls God “the Savior.” He explains that God “hides himself” in the method which he takes for saving his Church, because he conceals his hand for a time in such a manner as if he had intended totally to abandon them. He wishes that our salvation should remain, as it were, hidden in darkness, that, if we desire to enjoy it, we may know that we must go out of this world, F807 for it will not all at once present itself to us, or become visible to our eyes. We ought, therefore, to look for it with unshaken steadfastness; for it is highly advantageous that in this manner God should try and prove our faith, that, when we shall be oppressed by various afflictions on every hand, we may nevertheless rely on God and on his promises.

16. and 17. They shall all be put to shame. Here the Prophet compares the Jews with the Gentiles, in order to meet a grievous and dangerous temptation, by which they might be assailed, when they saw the Gentiles enjoying prosperity; F808 for, amidst so great troubles, they might have suspected that God was favorable to the Gentiles, or that he had cast away the care of his people, or that everything was governed by the blind impulse of fortune. The Prophet, therefore, assures them that, although for a time the Gentiles flourish and appear to be exalted to heaven, F809 yet the result must be, that they shall perish and Israel shall be saved. In a word, he exhorts them not to judge of the power of God from the present condition of things, not to have their minds fixed on temporary happiness, but to raise them to eternal salvation, and, when struck by the hand of God, patiently to bear their condition, and, on the other hand, not to envy the prosperity of the wicked, which shall be followed by a moumful reverse, as it is excellently described by the Psalmist. (<193701>Psalm 37:1,2.)

This statement is added to the preceding; for whoever shall know that God, when he is a “Savior,” is “hidden,” will not wonder that wicked men enjoy prosperity, and that good men are poor, and despised, and tried by various afflictions. Thus the Lord makes trial of our faith and patience, and yet no part of our eternal salvation is lost; but they who now appear to be a thousand times safe and happy shall at length perish, and all the wealth which they possess shall plunge them in deeper ruin; because they abuse God’s benefits, and, like robbers, seize on what belongs to other men, even though they appear to possess all of them by a just title. Whenever, therefore, this thought arises in our minds, “Wicked men are at ease, and therefore God favors them, and the promises on which we rely are unworthy of credit;” let us betake ourselves to this declaration of the Prophet as the surest anchor, and let us fortify ourselves by it, “The Lord will not disappoint our expectation, but we shall at length be delivered, even though we be now exposed to the reproaches, slanders, mockings, and cruelty of the wicked.”

18. For thus saith Jehovah. This verse tends to confirm the preceding; for the Prophet means that the Jews are fully convinced that the Lord will at length deliver them, though they are oppressed by wretched bondage.

God the maker of the earth. Some think that by “the earth” is here meant Judea, but I consider it to be an argument from the less to the greater, as we said formerly on the twelfth verse, that, since the providence of God extends universally to the creatures, much more does it relate to those whom he has adopted to be his sons; for of them he has a special care. In short, the Prophet’s argument is this. “Since God created the earth, that men might have an abode and habitation in it, much more did he create it, that there might be a residence for his Church; for he takes a deeper concern about his Church than about all the rest.” If, therefore, he founded the earth, if he gave to it a shape and a fixed use, that men might be nourished by the fruits which it should produce, he has undoubtedly assigned to his children the first place and the highest rank of honor. This is not always visible to our eyes, and therefore our hearts ought to be encouraged and upheld by hope, that we may stand unmoved against all temptations.

In a word, as long as the earth shall endure, so long shall the Church of God exist; so long as the sun and moon shall last, it shall not fail. Afterwards the Prophet will use a still stronger argument. “If the covenant which God made with Noah, as to the settled order of this world, is stable, much more the covenant which he hath made concerning the Church must be stable. (<235409>Isaiah 54:9; <010909>Genesis 9:9.) The world is fading and corruptible; but the Church, that is, the kingdom of Christ, shall be eternal; and therefore it is reasonable to believe that the promises which relate to the Church shall undoubtedly be more stable and permanent than all the rest.

He did not create it empty. As it is the principal ornament of the earth that it is the abode of inhabitants, he adds, that it was not created in order that, by being empty, it might be waste and desolate. If it be objected, on the other hand, that the earth was “empty and void” when it was created, as appears from that passage in which Moses employs the same word that is here used by the Prophet, wht, (tohu,) which means “shapeless and empty,” the answer is easy. The Prophet does not speak of the commencement of the creation, but of God’s purpose by which the earth was set apart for the use and habitation of men; and therefore, there is nothing here that is contrary to what is said by Moses, for Isaiah contemplates the end and use.

He formed it to be inhabited. This statement indeed extends to all mankind, because the earth was appointed to all, that they might dwell in it; for how comes it that God nourishes us and supplies us with everything that is necessary, and even supports wicked men, but because he intended that his decree should stand, by which he gave the earth to be inhabited by men? In any other point of view, it is strange that he bears with so many sins and crimes, and does not entirely destroy mankind; but he has regard to his own purpose, and not to our merit. Hence kingdoms and commonwealths are sustained, and hence ranks of society and forms of government are preserved even amidst barbarians and infidels; for, although God often reduces some countries to desolation on account of the sins of men, and sprinkles them, as it were, with “saltness,” (<19A734>Psalm 107:34, F810) that they may become barren, and may never again be able to support their inhabitants, yet he always adds this alleviation, “that the earth may be inhabited;” for this is his inviolable decree. Yet we must bear in remembrance what I have already said, that, so long as the earth shall be inhabited, it is impossible that God shall not support his worshippers who call upon him. Besides, from this passage all good men ought to derive the highest consolation, that, although they are despised by the world and are few and feeble, and although, on the other hand, wicked men surpass them in numbers, and power, and influence, while they are despised so as to be reckoned of less value than “the offscourings of the world,” (<460413>1 Corinthians 4:13,) yet they are precious in the sight of God, because he reckons them in the number of his children, and will never suffer them to perish.

I am Jehovah. When he repeats that he is God, this is not intended merely to assert his essence, but to distinguish him from all idols, and to keep the Jews in the pure faith; for even superstitious men acknowledge that there is one God, but conceive of him according to their fancy; and therefore we must acknowledge God, who revealed himself to the fathers, and who spoke by Moses. Thus, he does not speak merely of God’s eternal essence, as some think, but of all the offices which belong to him alone, that no part of them may be ascribed to creatures.

19. Not in secret have I spoken. He now recalls the people to the doctrine of the Law, because God cannot be comprehended by human faculties; but as he is concealed from carnal reason, so he abundantly reveals himself, and affords the remedy, by his word, which supplies what was wanting, that we may not desire anything more. If this had not been granted, we should have had no hope, and should have lost all courage. Now, he solemnly declares that he does not invite us in vain, though he delay his assistance; for what he has promised is most certain, and, as he plainly shewed to whom we ought to betake ourselves, and on whom we ought to rely, so he will give practical demonstration that the hope of those who relied on his word was not vain, or without foundation.

This enables us to see clearly how wicked are the speeches of those who say that no certainty can be obtained from the word, and who pretend that it is a nose of wax, in order to deter others from reading it; for thus do wicked men blaspheme, because the mere doctrine of the word exposes and refutes their errors. But we reply with David,

“Thy word, O Lord, is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths.” (<19B9105>Psalm 119:105.)

We reply with Isaiah and the rest of the prophets, that the Lord has taught nothing that is obscure, or ambiguous, or false. We reply also with Peter, that

“the prophetic word is more sure, and you do well if you take heed to it, as to a lamp buming in a dark place, till the day dawn, and the morning-star arise in our hearts.” (<610119>2 Peter 1:19.)

If these things were said concerning the Law and the prophets, what shall we say of the Gospel, by which the clearest light has been revealed to us? Shall we not say with Paul,

“If the Gospel is dark, it is dark to those who are lost, whom Satan, the prince of this world, hath blinded?”
(<470403>2 Corinthians 4:3,4.)

Let blind and weak-sighted men therefore accuse themselves, when they cannot endure this brightness of the word; but, whatever may be the darkness by which they shall endeavor to clothe it, let us adhere firmly and steadfastly to this heavenly light.

Besides, the Prophet appears to allude to the predictions which were uttered out of the groves and tripods of the idols. F811 They are uncertain and deceitful, but nothing of this kind can be found in God’s answers; for he speaks openly, and utters nothing that is deceitful or ambiguous. But experience tells us that Scripture is somewhat dark and hard to be understood. This is indeed true, but ought to be ascribed to the dulness and slowness of our apprehension, and not to the Scripture; for blind or weak-sighted men have no right to accuse the sun, because they cannot look at him.

I have not said in vain to the seed of Jacob, Seek me. This continues to be a fixed principle, that they who shew themselves to be submissive and obedient, do not spend their labor in vain; because God faithfully performs the office of a teacher towards poor and little ones. Now, though all do not rise in the highest degree, yet the labor of those who shall sincerely seek God will never be unprofitable. By this expression, Seek me, Isaiah points out the principal end and use of the Law, to invite men to God; and, indeed, their true happiness lies in being united to God, F812 and the sacred bond of union is faith and sincere piety.

In this second clause he not only asserts that he has spoken clearly and without ambiguity, but declares the certainty and steadfastness of his word; as if he had said, that he does not promise largely with an intention to deceive, or amuse hungry men by words, but actually performs what he has promised. This demonstrates the ingratitude of those who, when they are called, do not answer; since God has no other design than to make us partakers of all blessings, of which we are otherwise empty and destitute.

I Jehovah speaking righteousness. This is added for the sake of explanation; as if he had said that the word by which he draws his elect to himself, is not soiled by any stain of fraud, but contains the most perfect holiness. “The words of the Lord,” as David says, “are clean, like silver purified in an earthen fumace, seven times refined.” (<191206>Psalm 12:6.) Thus, in the word of God we have bright righteousness, which instantly shines into our hearts, when the darkness has been removed.

20. Assemble yourselves, He challenges all superstitious persons, and, as it were, appoints a day that they may submit to a righteous judgment, as we have formerly seen in expounding other passages, in order to shew that they can plead nothing which shall not be speedily overtumed. Now, indeed, they delight in their superstitions; but all their smoke shall be dispelled, when they come to plead their cause, and without any difficulty they shall be convicted. Let them then “assemble” in crowds, let them conspire and make every effort by fraud, and threatenings, and terrors; the truth shall at length be victorious. This confirmation was highly necessary for the Jews, because in every nation and in every place they beheld the spread of wicked errors which buried the worship of the true God. We also ought to betake ourselves to this refuge, when we see how few and how feeble we are. The Mahometans possess a large portion of the world, the Papists, with elevated crest, triumph far and wide, while we are but a handful of people, F813 and are scarcely reckoned in the number of men. But truth shall at last prevail, and shall cast down all that loftiness which now dazzles the eyes of men.

Ye rejected of the nations  F814 yfylp (pelite) is translated by some “rejected,” by others “exiles,” or “those who have escaped;” and the address is supposed to be made to the Jews who had retumed from the captivity. But that is too forced a sense. The more generally received interpretation is, “Rejected of the nations,” because flp (palat) means “to reject.” Not that he describes the meaner sort, or the refuse of men; but, on the contrary, he directs his discourse to those who were the highest in rank, and wealth, and power, and learning among the Gentiles. He calls them “rejected,” because they are of no value in the sight of God, though they are highly esteemed by men; for

“that which ranks high among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (<421615>Luke 16:15.)

Yet if it be thought preferable to translate it “distant,” I have no objection; as if he had said, “Let them assemble from the farthest parts of the earth.”

That carry the wood of their graven image. He shews how great is the madness which seizes idolaters, who worship images, which they bear on their shoulders and carry round on waggons. Or we may take yyn (nesum) as denoting “to place on a lofty and elevated spot,” as it was a crafty device of Satan to erect statues on pillars and lofty places, in order to excite the admiration of men, and to lead men to pay honor and reverence by merely looking at them. But we may interpret it simply as denoting all worship that is rendered to images, so as to convict them of vanity and madness. Superstitious persons know that idols need the aid and assistance of men, instead of men needing the aid and assistance of idols, which cannot even be made to stand upright without the agency of men. F815 And this is the meaning of what next follows, to pray to a god that cannot save; for what can be more foolish than to address vows and prayers to wood and stone? and yet infidels run about to dead statues, for the purpose of seeking salvation from them.

21. Tell ye. He again challenges all those who might have annoyed the Jews and shaken their faith by their taunts; for he always keeps this object in view, to fortify the faith of the people against all the assaults of the Gentiles. Amidst temptations so numerous and so severe, there was danger lest the Jews should sink under their terrible afflictions, if there had not been powerful arguments on the other side to induce them still to worship and trust the true God; and therefore he permits heathens to produce and bring forward everything that they can find in support of their cause.

Let them also take counsel together. These words are added, in order to inspire greater confidence; for the Prophet means, as we have already said, that they will gain nothing, though they “take counsel” among themselves and enter into a conspiracy. Yet, perhaps, he intended also to make it evident that there is nothing but groundless pretense and falsehood in all that infidels contrive for excusing their errors. Whatever then may be the gaudy ostentation with which they plume themselves on their inventions, the Prophet shews that the word of God will be abundantly strong to support the faith of believers. He challenges them to a strict examination, in order to compare with the Law and the prophets all that infidels boast of as having been foretold by their idols. I cheerfully admit what is generally believed, that the Prophet speaks of the redemption of the people; but as the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy was likewise connected with it, I think that it is also included.

Who hath proclaimed this from the beginning? Because there is a repetition of the same statement, dqm (mikkedem) and zam (meaz) mean the same thing; as if he had said, “from the beginning,” or, “from of old;” for this prophecy was published long before the event happened. Hence believers might with certainty conclude that God had spoken.

And a savior. To foreknowledge he adds power, as in a former passage. Yet he likewise describes for what purposes he exerts his power, that is, for “saving” his people.

22. Look unto me. Hitherto he addressed the Jews alone, as if to them alone salvation belonged, but now he extends his discourse farther. He invites the whole world to the hope of salvation, and at the same time brings a charge of ingratitude against all the nations, who, being devoted to their errors, purposely avoided, as it were, the light of life; for what could be more base than to reject deliberately their own salvation? He therefore commands all “to look to him,” and to the precept adds a promise, which gives it greater weight, and confirms it more than if he had made use of a bare command.

And ye shall be saved. Thus we have a striking proof of the calling of the Gentiles; because the Lord, after having broken down “the partition-wall” (<490214>Ephesians 2:14) which separated the Jews from the Gentiles, invites all without exception to come to him. Besides, we are here reminded also what is the true method of obtaining salvation; that is, when we “look to God,” and tum to him with our whole heart. Now, we must “look to him” with the eye of faith, so as to embrace the salvation which is exhibited to all through Christ; for “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him may not perish.” (<430316>John 3:16.)

For I am God. When he exhorts all the ends of the earth, he at the same time shews that all men have hitherto wandered, and have not “looked to” the true God; for where infidelity exists, there cannot be a distinct looking towards God, so as to distinguish him from empty masks. In a word, he declares that the ruin of all has been occasioned by their being driven about by their wicked inventions, and thus revolting from the true God, from the knowledge of whom certain and eternal salvation flows. The Lord therefore stretches out his hand, in order to rescue all and point out the method of obtaining salvation.

This makes it evident that it was not at random that the doctrine of the Gospel was preached to all nations, but by the decree of God, by whom it had been long ago ordained. Yet, as I remarked a little before, he accuses the Gentiles of stupidity, in allowing their senses to be tumed and whirled about in all directions, wherever their fancy led them. Though by nature they could not approach to God, and though they even sucked in with their milk the superstitions by which they were blinded, yet God might have justly reproached them with wicked contempt of his grace; for ignorance always implies hypocrisy, when men choose rather to be deceived by empty flatteries than to go straight to God.

28. I have sworn by myself. He adds a clearer confirmation of the preceding statement; for, in consequence of this calling being unusual and marvellous, he adds an oath, as is usually done in what is new and hard to be believed. The Jews might have objected, that they alone were called by the name of the elect people; but, when he confirms it by an oath, this removes all debate. The Prophet still, indeed, aims at the same object, namely, that the glory of God shall be so visible in the restoration of the Church as to arouse the whole world to the admiration of it from the rising to the setting of the sun, or, to express it more briefly, that this demonstration of the power of God shall be so splendid and illustrious as to strike all nations with fear. Yet from these words we may justly infer what I have remarked, that the Gentiles shall be admitted to an equality with the Jews, so that God shall be the common Father of all, and shall be worshipped in every country.

Now, God “swears by himself,” because he cannot have another equally competent witness of the truth; for he alone is the truth. “Men,” as the Apostle says, “swear by a greater than themselves; but God, because he had no greater, hath sworn by himself.” (<580616>Hebrews 6:16.) We ought to observe the reason why he “swears.” It is because he intended to aid the weakness of his people, that they might not be tossed about in uncertainty. This certainly is wonderful condescension, that, in order to remedy the fault of our distrust, he does not scruple to bring forward his own name as holding the place of a pledge; and the more base and disgraceful must be our unbelief, if even an oath does not satisfy us. Besides, since God claims for himself all confirmation of the truth, we ought to be exceedingly careful, when we appeal to him by an oath, not to mingle any other names either of saints or of any creature, but, by using his name with all becoming reverence, to preserve the honor due to him entire and unabated.

The word hath gone out of my mouth in righteousness. He means that all that he has commanded to be published by his Prophet is firm and lasting, as if he had said that this commandment did not proceed “out of his mouth” rashly or unadvisedly. And in this sense the word righteousness is often used in Scripture, that is, for a word that is not deceitful, which shall clearly appear to be perfectly true; and thus he says that the decree cannot be revoked.

And shall not return. This is another mode of expression conveying the same idea. It means that the word of God shall continue to make progress, till the actual result shall make manifest that it has proceeded from a just and true and almighty God. A person is said to return, when some obstacle hinders him from proceeding farther; but, because nothing can prevent God from executing what he has decreed, the Prophet justly infers that nothing can interrupt or retard the course of this word. The particle yk, (ki,) that, must be viewed as introducing an explanatory clause; as much as to say, “This is the word,”

That to me every knee shall bow. By this mode of expression he means that all the Gentiles shall be suppliants to God, because the astonishing deliverance of the Church shall strike terror upon all. Yet hence also it follows, that his worship shall be spread among all nations; for we cannot truly “bend the knee” before God till he hath been made known to us. To an unknown God, indeed, men may render some kind of worship; but it is false and unprofitable. But here he speaks of a true profession, which proceeds from a knowledge of God deeply seated in our hearts; for, where there is no faith, there can be no worship of God, and faith is not directed to a thing unknown or uncertain. Accordingly, he has made use of the sign to express the thing itself, as is frequently done.

Hence it ought to be observed, that God demands also external worship; for the Prophet does not separate an external profession of religion from the inward feelings of the heart. In vain, therefore, do fanatics boast that in some manner they worship God and do homage to him, while they bow down before idols. In vain, I say, do they pretend that their heart is upright towards God; for the worship of the heart cannot be separated from an external profession. In like manner the soul cannot be dedicated and consecrated to God, while the body is consecrated to the devil; for both ought to be consecrated to God, and thus the worship of the heart ought also to be accompanied by an external profession.

“With the heart we believe to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (<451010>Romans 10:10)

Hence also the Lord, approving of the piety and uprightness of his people, says, “that they have not bowed a knee before Baal.” (<111918>1 Kings 19:18; <45114>Romans 11:4.)

Paul applies this passage of Isaiah to the last judgment, when he says (<451410>Romans 14:10, 11) that “we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;” although the subject here treated of is, the redemption of the people, the publication of the gospel, and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. But he takes for granted (what all ought to know) that those statements which relate to the kingdom of Christ must not be limited to any part of it, but extend to the whole of its course, till it arrive at full perfection. The knee is bent to Christ, when his doctrine is obeyed, and when the preaching of the gospel is accepted. But many still oppose and boldly despise him; Satan contrives many schemes and incessantly carries on war with him; and therefore we are at a great distance from the full accomplishment of this prophecy. Then shall every knee be truly bent to Christ, when he shall triumph over vanquished and utterly ruined adversaries, and shall render visible to all men his majesty, which Satan and wicked men now oppose. Thus Paul teaches that, when Christ shall ascend his judgment-seat to judge the world, then shall be fully accomplished that which began to be done at the commencement of the gospel, and which we still see done from day to day.

Every tongue shall swear. By a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, the word swear is put for worship, reverence, or subjection. “Swearing” is one department of the honor which is due to God; for by it we confess and acknowledge that he is the Author and Father and lawful defender of the truth, and that “all things are naked and open to him.” (<580413>Hebrews 4:13.) Whenever therefore this honor is bestowed on idols, the majesty of God is dishonored by abominable sacrilege; and consequently they who worship him purely swear exclusively by his name. But on this subject we have spoken F816 in the exposition of another passage. (<231918>Isaiah 19:18.)

24. Surely in Jehovah. He shews what is the nature of true faith and of the true worship of God; that is, when we not only acknowledge, or perceive by the understanding, that there is a God, but likewise feel what he wishes to be towards us. Whoever shall be satisfied with a bare knowledge departs very widely from faith, which must invite us to God in such a manner that we shall feel him to be in us. In like manner Paul wishes that

“Christ should dwell in the hearts of believers through faith.” (<490317>Ephesians 3:17.)

He who imagines that God sits unemployed in heaven either will not humble himself sincerely before him, or will not make an open and sincere profession.

Righteousness and strength. As these are the two principal parts of our salvation, when believers acknowledge that they receive both of them from God, they ascribe to him the undivided praise of a happy life, and testify that by nature they do not possess that which they acknowledge that they owe to his grace. Thus they own that in themselves they have nothing either of “righteousness” or of “strength,” but seek them in God alone, that he may not be defrauded of his right.

To him shall he come. Here commentators differ; but, for my own part, I take a simple view of this passage as relating to believers who submit themselves to God, so as to enable us to perceive the nature of the contrast between them and rebels, who do not cease obstinately to resist God. I explain it thus: “They who shall confess that their righteousness is placed in God will approach to him.” He means that we obtain access to God through faith, so that they who perceive that their righteousness is placed in him, feel that he is present; and indeed no man, if he be not reconciled to God, will ever approach to him willingly, but, on the contrary, all who dread his majesty will fly to the greatest possible distance from him. Thus the Prophet applauds the very delightful result of grace, because it will unite to God those men who were formerly driven away from him by their wickedness; and to this corresponds what is said by the Psalmist,

“Thou art the God that heareth prayer; to thee shall all flesh come.” (<196502>Psalm 65:2.)

But all who defy him shall be ashamed. After having testified that God wishes to gather strangers from their dispersion, that he may bring them into a state of intimate friendship with himself, he threatens vengeance against despisers, who, being without God, and despising God, give the reins to their wicked passions, and wallow in the enjoyments of the world. As it is only by faith that we obey God, so it is by unbelief alone that Isaiah declares his anger to be provoked; while he distinguishes all unbelievers by this mark, that they are disobedient to God, and even challenge him to a contest. Although they now use the language of triumph, the Prophet declares that they shall be clothed with shame and disgrace.

25. In Jehovah shall be justified. He now makes a brief reply to an objection which might be urged, that it appeared absurd to say, that the Lord called the Gentiles, who had always been alienated from him. “Is it in vain that the Lord hath chosen the seed of Abraham? Is his promise void, which he so frequently repeated?” (<011505>Genesis 15:5, and 17:7.) In order to remove this doubt, he declares that the Lord will nevertheless stand by his promises; that, though he choose the Gentiles, yet the covenant which he made with the fathers shall not fall to the ground, because the elect people shall enjoy the privileges of their rank. Nor does he in this passage, as in many others, speak of the rejection of that nation; but the Prophet simply shews that the grace of God, which shall be diffused throughout the whole world, shall flow from that fountain.

As to the greater number having been rejected by God, still this did not set aside God’s covenant; because the remnant of adoption were always the true and lawful Israel; and although they were few in number, yet they were the first-born in the Church. Besides, all those among the Gentiles who had been ingrafted into that body began also, as we have formerly seen, to be accounted children of Abraham.

“One shall say, I belong to Jacob; another shall subscribe with his band, I am a descendant of Israel.” (<234405>Isaiah 44 5.)

And on this ground we are now reckoned the genuine Israel of God, though we are not the descendants of Israel. The Prophet therefore added this, both that the Jews might not think that the Lord’s covenant had failed, and that they might not boast of their birth and despise the Gentiles.

All the seed of Israel. He extends this seed farther, that they may not suppose that it ought to be limited to the family of Abraham; for the Lord gathers his people without distinction from among Jews and Gentiles, and here he speaks universally of the whole human race.

Shall be justified and shall glory. It ought to be observed that the Prophet says that we “are justified and glory in the Lord,” for in none else ought we to seek “righteousness” or “glory.” He has joined to it “glory,” which depends on “righteousness,” and is added to it. Hence also Paul says,

“Where is thy glorying? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (<450327>Romans 3:27.)

And, again,

“If Abraham was justified by works, he hath glory,
but not before God.” (<450402>Romans 4:2.)

It follows, therefore, that they alone deservedly glory who seek their righteousness in God, and acknowledge that in themselves they have no ground for glorying.


Go To Isaiah 46:1-13

1. Bel hath bowed down. Isaiah continues the same subject; for we need not trouble ourselves about the division of chapters, which have not always been accurately divided; but we ought to examine the statements themselves, which agree with each other in the manner which I have pointed out. Yet if any prefer to view this as the commencement of a new discourse, because immediately afterwards he prophesies concerning the destruction of Babylon, I shall not greatly quarrel with him.

Nebo is cast down. “Bel” and “Nebo” were idols which were worshipped by the Babylonians, and probably were their chief patrons; as idolaters always have some particular gods, under whose protection, above all others, they consider themselves to be placed. It may be conjectured that this “Nebo” was a sort of inferior god that was added to the chief god “Bel,” as Mercury was to Jupiter. Under their names he includes also the rest of the idols, and declares that all the superstitions and false worship of the Gentiles shall be overthrown, when God shall lay low and triumph over their worshippers; because it shall then be manifest that he is the righteous avenger of his Church.

Their idols shall be on the beasts. The Babylonians having haughtily boasted of the protection of false gods, the Prophet rebukes that vain confidence, because the God of Israel will not only bring utter ruin on that wicked nation, but also will cast down and treat disdainfully their gods. The reason why he says that they shall be burdens of “beasts” is, that they shall be laid on waggons and removed from one place to another, and shall even be huddled together without any respect, as the waggoners think proper. This is what is meant by “being cast down,” for the robbers shall collect into a large heap those gods which formerly occupied an elevated station.

There can be no doubt, indeed, that this was fulfilled when the Persians and Medes took Babylon by storm; for when the monarchy was removed, these idols were taken away as a part of the booty. But Isaiah, though he predicted this, looked farther, that is, to the coming of Christ, who was to overtum and destroy all false worship; for, when his kingdom has been established, all idols immediately fall to the ground, and it is impossible that false religion and superstition can exist along with the knowledge of him. By his brightness he dispels all darkness, so as to leave no room for false gods or superstitions; for, as Paul says,

“What hath Christ to do with Belial? What hath light to do with darkness?” (<470614>2 Corinthians 6:14,15.)

At the same time it ought to be observed, that the Prophet had his eye on the time when the Jews were held in captivity; for they saw the Babylonians offer incense to idols, and ascribe to them supreme power, as if the government of affairs depended on them; while the God of the Jews was treated with scorn, as if he could not defend his people, or as if he cared nothing about them. For this reason he shews that there will be so great a revolution, that the gods of the Babylonians, which were elevated so high, shall be laid low, and God, who appeared to he low, shall rise up and avenge his people.

2. They could not withdraw themselves from the burden. He ridicules the vanity of such gods as these, which have neither strength nor motion, and cannot defend or support themselves, and, in a word, who need the aid of beasts of burden to carry them. There is, therefore, an implied contrast between idols and the true God, who has no need of anything whatever. I interpret these words as applied to beasts, but the Prophet heightens the disgrace by saying that they were a heavy burden to the beasts themselves which would willingly have cast them off, and consequently that the false gods, besides being of no use to their worshippers, also wearied out the beasts.

And their soul hath gone into captivity. This is a Hebrew mode of expression, by which he ridicules those gods which have neither “soul” nor understanding. He speaks ironically, therefore, against useless and dumb idols, when he says that they shall be carried into captivity along with their soul. But we must see if these things cannot be retorted on the true God, whose ark, by which he gave testimony of his presence, was taken by the Philistines; for in this way it appeared as if the Lord were a captive. (<090411>1 Samuel 4:11.) This objection may be easily answered; for, although the Lord intended that the ark should be a testimony of his presence, yet he forbade the Jews to fix their whole and exclusive attention upon it, but commanded them to raise their eyes to heaven, and there to seek and adore God. He wished to be always worshipped in a spiritual manner, (<430424>John 4:24,) and the ark was not adored instead of God, but was a symbol, by which the people were led upwards, as by the hand, to God. The Gentiles, on the other hand, fixed their attention on their idols, and attributed to them divine power.

It might even have been said that the Philistines were at length punished for their wickedness, and acknowledged that they had to deal with the true God. (<090506>1 Samuel 5:6.) But that would not have been a sufficient answer, because the Lord sometimes permitted his ark to be treated with derision, as is evident from other passages of the history. The true solution therefore is, that the Lord, though he holds intercourse with us by symbols and sacraments, yet wishes to be sought in heaven. To this must be added, that he had openly declared, by memorable predictions, that he was not dragged as a captive by conquerors, but that of his own accord he exposed his sanctuary to the sport of enemies, in order to punish the sins of his people. Nor could the Jews, when the Temple had been thrown down and bumt, and when the holy vessels were carried to Babylon, doubt that the same God whom they had worshipped was the author of this punishment, since he had so frequently threatened by his prophets what then happened.

3. Hear me. Here the Prophet beautifully points out the vast difference between the true God and idols. Having formerly said that the Babylonian gods must be drawn on waggons and carts, because they consist of dead matter, he now ascribes a widely different office to the God of Israel, namely, that he “carries” his people, like a mother, who carries the child in her womb, and afterwards carries it in her bosom. He addresses the Jews, that they may return an answer from their experience; for this ought to have powerfully affected them, when they actually felt that he bore them and their burdens. He, therefore, makes use of a highly appropriate contrast, and concludes from the preceding statements: “Acknowledge that I am the true God, and that I differ widely from idols, which are useless and dead weights; for you have known and experienced my power by constant benefits, which I have not ceased to confer upon you from the womb.” God is not only powerful in himself, but diffuses his power through all the creatures; so that we feel his strength and energy.

Who are carried from the womb. This is a very expressive metaphor, by which God compares himself to a mother who carries a child in her womb. He speaks of the past time, when he began to give them testimonies of his grace. Yet the words might be taken as meaning simply that God kindly nourished that people, like an infant taken from its mother’s womb, and carried it in his bosom, as the Psalmist says,

“I was cast upon thee from the womb, thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” (<192210>Psalm 22:10.)

But as God did not only begin to act as the father and nurse of his people from the time when they were born, but also “begat them” (<590118>James 1:18) spiritually, I do not object to extending the words so far as to mean, that they were brought, as it were, out of the bowels of God into a new life and the hope of an eternal inheritance.

If it be objected, that God is everywhere called “a Father,” (<243109>Jeremiah 31:9; <390106>Malachi 1:6,) and that this title is more appropriate to him, I reply, that no figures of speech can describe God’s extraordinary affection towards us; for it is infinite and various; so that, if all that can be said or imagined about love were brought together into one, yet it would be surpassed by the greatness of the love of God. By no metaphor, therefore, can his incomparable goodness be described. If you understand it, simply to mean that God, from the time that he begat them, gently carried and nourished them in his bosom, this will agree admirably with what we find in the Song of Moses,

“He bore them, and carried them, as an eagle carrieth her young on her wings.” (<053211>Deuteronomy 32:11.)

In a word, the intention of the Prophet is to shew, that the Jews, if they do not choose to forget their descent, cannot arrive at any other conclusion than that they were not begotten in vain, and that God, who has manifested himself to be both their Father and their Mother, will always assist them; and likewise, that they have known his power by uninterrupted experience, so that they ought not to pay homage to idols.

All the remnant of the house of Israel. By calling them a “remnant” he means, as we formerly remarked, that the greater part had been alienated from the Church by their revolt, so that the hope of deliverance belonged only to a very small number. On this account he demands from them a hearing; for unbelievers, not less than heathen nations, were utterly deaf to his voice. Now, although the people were so far from being in their unbroken strength, that the dispersion of them had left but a small number behind, yet God bids them consider how wonderfully they have been hitherto preserved, that they may not doubt that he will henceforth act towards them, as he has hitherto acted, the part of both father and mother. And when he demands that they shall listen to him, he shews that the true and indeed the only remedy for our distresses and calamities is, to hang on his mouth, and to be attentive to the promises of grace; for then shall we have sufficient courage to bear every affliction; but if not, the way is opened for despair, and we ought not to expect anything else than destruction.

4. And even to old age. Here I explain the copulative w (vau) to mean therefore; and the reasoning ought to be carefully observed, for he argues thus, “I have begotten and brought you forth;” and again, “Even when you were little children, I carried you in my arms, and therefore I will be the guardian of your life till the end.” Thus also David reasons,

“Thou art he who brought me out of the womb; I trusted in thee while I hung on my mother’s breasts; I was cast upon thee from my birth; thou art my God from my mother’s womb.”
(<192210>Psalm 22:10.)

He therefore promises that he will always be a Father to the Jews; and hence we see that we ought to cherish assured confidence of salvation from the time that the Lord hath once begun it in us, for he wishes to continue his work till the end. “The Lord,” says David, “will complete what he hath begun;” and again,

“O Lord, thy loving-kindness is eternal, and thou wilt not forsake the works of thy hands.” (<19D808>Psalm 138:8.)

I am the same. The Hebrew word awh (hu) is, in my opinion, very emphatic, though some interpreters render it simply by the demonstrative pronoun He; F817 but it means that God is always “the same” and like himself, not only in his essence, but with respect to us, so that we ourselves shall feel that he is the same. When he says, “Even to old age,” F818 it might be thought absurd; for we ought to become full-grown men after having been carried by God from infancy. But if any one shall examine it properly, it will be found that we never make so great progress as not to need to be upheld by the strength of God, for otherwise the most perfect man would stumble every moment; as David also testifies,

“Forsake me not in the time of old age, withdraw not from me when my strength faileth.” (<197109>Psalm 71:9.)

I have made and will carry. He again argues in the same manner. God does not regard what we deserve, but continues his grace toward us; and therefore we ought to draw confidence from it, “Thou didst create us, not only that we might be human beings, but that we might be thy children; and therefore thou wilt continue till the end to exercise continually toward us the care of a father and of a mother.”

5. To whom will ye liken and compare me? Here the Prophet introduces the Lord as remonstrating with the Jews, because they distrusted and doubted his power, and, in a word, because they put him on a level with idols, and even placed idols above him. When they saw the Babylonians enjoy prosperity, they thought that their hope was gone, and that the remembrance of the covenant had faded away, and hardly believed that God was in heaven or took any concern about them. On this account the Lord complains that they ascribe some power to idols, and that thus they east his power into the shade. This subject was formerly discussed under the forty-second, forty-third, and following chapters; and therefore it is unnecessary to repeat observations in each word.

In order that they may not estimate the power of God by the present condition of things, he bids them raise their minds higher. In like manner, when we see the Papists enjoy prosperity, if we should entertain doubts whether or not they possessed the true religion, we would need to be dissuaded by the same exhortation; for this would be to compare God with idols. And we ought carefully to observe this circumstance, the forgetfulness or disregard of which has led many commentators absurdly to weaken this statement, by supposing that the Prophet merely attacks superstitious persons who ascribe some divine power to wood or stone, because this degrades the glory of God by comparing him to dead things. But I have no doubt that he reproves that sinful and wicked conclusion by which the people, when they were weighed down by adversity, imagined that God was favorable to the Babylonians; for, if he had been favorable to them, it would follow that he approves of idolatry, and thus his honor would have been conveyed to dumb creatures. We may likewise draw from it a general doctrine that God is robbed of his glory, when he is compared to dumb and senseless things, as Paul also applies the passage appropriately. (<441729>Acts 17:29.)

6. Lavishing gold out of bags. The Prophet had formerly said this, and he now repeats it, in order to fix this doctrine more and more deeply on the hearts of men; for superstition has struck its roots so deeply in their hearts, that it cannot be torn out, unless the Lord. entirely change our nature. Whatever we have heard about this madness quickly passes out of our minds; for we always carry about some seed of superstition, and there is nothing to which we are more prone than to fall into it. He says, therefore, that one person supplies the materials for manufacturing idols, and another gives them a shape; and that in this way it may be said that there are two fathers of such gods, that is, the rich man who lavishes out the gold or silver, and the workman who adds the shape and makes the idol. Thus he makes an open exposure of the madness of these who seek a deity in their purses and in the hand of their workmen; for what means so sudden a change, that they bow down before the metal, as soon as it has assumed a different shape, and a shape, too, which has been regulated by their own will or caprice? for it is exactly such a god as they have been pleased to manufacture at their own expense.

They even adore. The particle a, (aph,) even, heightens the description of this madness; for there might perhaps be some room for repentance, if one who had been overtaken by a sudden mistake adored some false god; but these men obstinately persevere in their error. This word therefore draws attention more strongly to that obstinacy, and shews that they are altogether blinded. Excessively foolish, as I have said, is this stupidity, when men adore a god which they have made with their own hands.

7. They shall carry them on the shoulder. The picture is still more heightened by the description contained in this verse; for, since the idols have no feeling of any kind, they who fly to them to ask assistance must be not only very stupid but very obstinate.

8. Remember this. This verse may be explained in two ways, either that the Lord addresses the Jews, or that he addresses the Gentiles. Men who otherwise are not well instructed in the Law are led into mistakes, because they extinguish that knowledge which God kindles in their hearts; for there is no person who has not some seed of religion implanted in him by nature, but men choke it by their unbelief, or corrupt and debase it by their inventions. On this account we might extend it to the whole human race. But I am more disposed to adopt a different opinion, which is also demanded by the context; for the Prophet will soon afterwards add what does not apply to any but the Jews, whom he calls transgressors, because, having been vanquished by a slight temptation, they revolted from the true God, as if captivity ought to have obliterated from their hearts all the benefits which he had bestowed on them. Since, therefore, they had shaken off the true religion, he sharply rebukes their ingratitude in having been so easily led away to sinful inventions.

Return to the heart.  F819 By giving them this injunction he means that they are not of sound understanding. Others render it, “Recall.” This is feeble and inappropriate, and, a little before, he had bid them remember, and will immediately repeat the same thing. Now, therefore, he rather bids them “return to the heart,” because forgetfulness of God’s benefits was a sort of madness.

Blush. Others render it, “Act a manly part,” and derive the word from ya, (ish.) Others derive it from ya, (ashish,) which means “a foundation;” as if he had said, “Take courage, do not despair of my assistance.” But I rather agree with Jerome, who derives it from a, (esh;) for it is more appropriate, when their disgrace has been exposed, to “be ashamed” than to assume manly courage; though I leave it to every person to form his own judgment. He therefore means that they blush for their madness, ingratitude, and wickedness, so as to return to God. F820

9. Remember the former things. This is an explanation of the preceding statement; for he expresses more fully what he formerly meant, that is, that God hath testified of himself by sufficiently numerous proofs, and hath shewed what is his nature and greatness; and that not merely for two or three days, or for a few years, but at all times; for he had continued his benefits, and had incessantly bestowed his grace upon them. Hence he infers that the manifestations of his divinity, being so clear, ought to prevent them from giving their hearts to another.

That I am God. In this passage the particle yk (ki) does not signify for, but that, and introduces a clause which explains what goes before. Besides, as we have formerly explained, God wishes not only that he may be acknowledged, but that he alone may be acknowledged; and therefore he wishes to be separated from all the gods which men have made for themselves, that we may fix our whole attention on him; because, if he admitted any companion, his throne would fall or shake; for either there is one God or there is none at all.

10. Declaring from the beginning. He now explains more fully in what manner he wishes the Jews to remember the past time, namely, that they were taught by constant predictions, as far as was necessary for their advantage. But from this preface he immediately makes a transition to the hope of deliverance.

My counsel shall stand. We ought not to wonder that he repeats this so frequently, because it is very hard to persuade men of the truth of it. The people were not only slow to believe, but even obstinate; and therefore he reminds them that they had learned long ago, and not on one occasion only, how safe it is to place their confidence in God. Nor is it only his foreknowledge that is here extolled by him, but he says that he has testified by his prophets what he had decreed. Even the prophecies would have no certainty or solidity, if the same God who declares that this or that thing shall happen had not the events themselves in his power. At the same time, he states that he speaks according to truth and brings forward his decrees in all the prophecies, that the Jews may not hesitate to place a firm reliance, as soon as the prophets have spoken. But as I have already explained these subjects more largely, I now give nothing more than a brief view of them.

11. Calling a bird or a thought from the east. After having spoken of God’s foreknowledge and power, the Prophet applies to his own purpose the general statement which he had made. He intended to comfort the Jews, and to shew that they were not led into captivity in such a manner as to leave no hope of deliverance; and therefore he adds a specific instance, and promises that Cyrus shall come, though it appeared to be incredible.

The word fy[ (ait,) which I have translated thought, is translated by the greater part of interpreters a bird; and this is the true signification of the word. But as we may learn from <270214>Daniel 2:14, that it sometimes denotes counsel, (for the insertion of a letter in the noun fy[ is customary among the Chaldee writers,) I choose rather to follow this interpretation, which is approved by some Hebrew writers. Yet it is possible that he alludes to a bird, F821 as if he had said that his purpose would be sudden; and I do not deny that he alludes to the swiftness of the approach of Cyrus.

The man of my counsel. When he again calls Cyrus “the man of his counsel,” this is a repetition very frequent among Hebrew writers; and hence also it is evident that, in the former clause, the noun ty[ (ait) is put for “thought” or “decree.” Now, he calls him “the man of counsel,” because he executes the Lord’s decree.

Yet if it be thought preferable to translate it bird, I do not debate about it. The metaphor is beautiful; for the approach of Cyrus was so sudden and unexpected, that he seemed to fly like “a bird.” He suddenly invaded Babylon and took it by storm, even when the Babylonians imagined that every entrance was closed against him. It may also be said, if this interpretation of the word be approved, that Isaiah alludes to auguries, to which the Babylonians were greatly addicted. Accustomed to practice judicial astrology, they observed the flight and chattering of birds, and looked upon this as a certain knowledge of future events; but the Lord threatens that he will send “a bird” which they had not foreseen. But I prefer the former exposition, namely, that he alludes to the swiftness of Cyrus, and declares that no roads shall be shut against him, and that no fortresses shall hinder him from entering immediately into Babylon.

When he says from the east, this not only relates to the certainty of the promise, but is intended to inform us that no distance or length of time can retard the work of God; and accordingly, in the second clause, it is added by way of explanation, from a distant country. Let us learn from this what is the purpose to which we ought to apply all that we read in Scripture concerning the foreknowledge and power of God; for those statements are not made in order to keep us in suspense, but that we may apply them to our own use. Now, he makes an implied contrast between the counsel of God and our thoughts; for he delivers his people in such a manner that the reason of the deliverance cannot be comprehended by men. Thus, although that which God promises appears to be incredible, yet he says that he will easily open up a way, that we may not measure by our capacity his unsearchable counsels.

I have thought. Others render it I have formed; but in this passage it appears to be more appropriate to view rxy (yatzar) as signifying “to think.” He confirms what he formerly said, that this hath been determined by him, and therefore shall be steadfast and unalterable.

I have spoken, and will accomplish. These words mean, that he has predicted nothing in vain, and that this prediction, which he has commanded to be published, ought to be regarded as fulfilled. To establish our faith in himself was the object of the one clause, and in the other he connects his thoughts with the preached word. This ought to be carefully observed; for we are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and we doubt if God has spoken sincerely, and suspect that he is like us, that is, that he is a hypocrite or dissembler. But he declares that nothing proceeds from him but what he formerly determined in his counsel. F822 so that the preaching of the word is nothing else than a sure testimony of his hidden counsel, which he commands to be revealed to us. As soon therefore as the Lord hath spoken any word, we ought; to be certain of its accomplishment.

12. Hear me. He again rebukes the Israelites, because they could not place confidence in God, or receive any consolation in adversity. That rebuke is indeed sharp and severe, but was well deserved by those whose hearts were not soothed by any promise, or by any invitation, however gracious, which God addressed to them.

We ought to observe the two epithets which he employs here, Hardened in heart and Far from righteousness. By these expressions he means that poor distressed persons shut the door against God’s assistance on account of their obstinacy; because by murmuring or fretting they shake off the fear of God, and thus throw themselves into despair, so that they openly rage against God. He addresses the Jews, who, though they were almost overwhelmed, yet were swelled with pride and insolence, and, having thrown off the fear of God, rose to more and more outrageous madness; as frequently happens to many persons in the present day, whom distresses and afflictions render more rebellious. Accordingly, they refused to receive any medicine, any remedy for their distresses. If any one prefer to consider the word righteousness to be put for “the assistance of God,” as in the following verse, let him enjoy his opinion, which indeed is not inappropriate; because obstinate men, who refuse to believe the promises of God, drive God away from them, and reject his grace; for they do not suffer God to confer benefits upon them, though he offered to them his assistance.

13. I will bring near my righteousness. If that interpretation which I mentioned a little before be preferred, that those persons are called “far from righteousness” who are incapable of receiving the grace of God, the meaning will remain unaltered; but if we hold that the Jews were “far from righteousness,” because, like desperate men, they were wholly abandoned to crimes, there will be a beautiful contrast between the righteousness of men and the righteousness of God. Although therefore the Jews revolted and were estranged from all practice of godliness, yet God assures them that “his righteousness is near;” as if he had said that unbelief is indeed a very great obstacle, but yet that it is such an obstacle as cannot hinder God from at length manifesting the power of his truth. “For the unbelief of men,” as Paul says, “cannot make void the truth of God; and, though men are liars, God will always be true.” (<450303>Romans 3:3, 4.) And indeed, if he did not exceed the malice of men by his goodness, we should all perish without exception, for who is there that receives God, and makes use of his grace as he ought?

Accordingly, the only reason why he does not continue to bestow benefits upon us is, that we are estranged from “his righteousness;” and yet, though we are reluctant and make resistance, he approaches to us in order to display “his righteousness,” though we do not deserve it. Now, he does this in such a manner that unbelievers obtain no advantage at all from it; for the Prophet did not include wicked apostates, as if they should be partakers of the salvation which he promises, but he only says that God has at hand a method by which “his righteousness” shall be made manifest. But here we must consider what was the condition of the people to whom those things were spoken; for everything had been corrupted by unbelief, and there were very few who relied on the promises of God; and they who belonged to the number of the elect sometimes shewed that they were obstinate, so that they appeared to be infected by the same plague of impiety as the others. He therefore rebukes the whole nation, both to convict the reprobate and, at the same time, to chastise the elect and bring them back into the right path; but especially, as I have said, he attacks unbelievers, who professedly, as it were, rejected all hope of grace.

And my salvation shall not tarry. This makes still more plain what he meant by the word “righteousness,” that is, the assistance which the Lord promised to his people. Consequently, he means the same thing by the word “salvation” and the word “righteousness;” for the most remarkable instance of the “righteousness” of God is, when he preserves, guards, and delivers his people. It is not superfluous to say that it is not “retarded” or “delayed;” for he describes the greatness of his mercy by saying, that the Lord opens up a course for his justice, notwithstanding the reluctance and opposition of the people.

And I will place. The copulative w (vau) is here used in order to express the cause, “For I will place.” This is an additional confirmation of the preceding statement, that, since the Lord has once determined to save Jerusalem, she cannot be deprived of that benefit.

And my glory in Jerusalem. He connects his “glory” with the “salvation” of believers, as Paul also uses the word “glory” to denote “mercy.” (<490106>Ephesians 1:6, and 3:16.) The glory of God is most illustriously displayed, when he rescues his people from destruction and restores them to liberty; for he wished that an indissoluble bond should connect the salvation of the Church with his righteousness.


Go To Isaiah 47:1-14

1. Come down, and sit in the dust. Isaiah now explains more fully what he had briefly noticed concerning the counsel of God, and the execution of it. He openly describes the destruction of Babylon; because no hope whatever of the return of the people could be entertained, so long as the Babylonian monarchy flourished. Accordingly, he has connected these two things, namely, the overthrow of that monarchy, and the deliverance of the people which followed it; for the elevated rank of that city was like a deep grave in which the Jews were buried, and, when it had been opened, the Lord brought back his people to their former life.

The use of the imperative mood, “Come down,” is more forcible than if he had expressed the same thing in plain words and simple narrative; for he addresses her authoritatively, and as if he were speaking from the judgment-seat; because he proclaims the commands of God, and therefore, with the boldness which his authority entitles him to use, he publishes what shall happen, as we know that God granted this authority to the prophets. “Behold, I have this day set thee over nations and kingdoms, to root out and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (<240110>Jeremiah 1:10.) There is no power that is not added to the authority of the word. In a word, he intended to place the event immediately before the eye of the Jews; for that change could scarcely be imagined, if God did not thunder from heaven.

Virgin daughter of Babylon. It was a figure of speech frequently employed by Hebrew writers, to call any nation by the title of “Daughter.” He calls her “Virgin,” not because she was modest or chaste, but because she had been brought up softly and delicately like “virgins,” and had never been forced by enemies, as we formerly said when speaking of Sidon. F823 And at the present day the same thing might be said of Venice and some other towns, which have a great abundance of wealth and luxuries, and, in the estimation of men, are accounted very happy; for they have as good reason as the Babylonians had to dread such a revolution of affairs, even when they appear to be far removed from danger.

For it shall no longer be. That is, “Thou shalt no longer be caressed by men who thought that thou wast happy.”

2. Take millstones. The whole of this description tends to shew that there shall be a great change among the Babylonians, so that this city, which was formerly held in the highest honor, shall be sunk in the lowest disgrace, and subjected to outrages of every kind, and thus shall exhibit a striking display of the wrath of God. These are marks of the most degrading slavery, as the meanest slaves were formerly shut up in a mill. The condition of the captives who were reduced to it must therefore have been very miserable; for, in other cases, captives sometimes received from their conquerors mild and gentle treatment. But here he describes a very wretched condition, that believers may not doubt that they shall be permitted freely to depart, when the Babylonians, who had held them prisoners, shall themselves be imprisoned. Now, though we do not read that the nobles of the kingdom were subjected to such contemptuous treatment, it was enough for the fulfillment of this prophecy, that Cyrus, by assigning to them the operations of slaves, degraded them, and compelled them to abstain from honorable employments.

Unbind thy curled locks. On account of their excessive indulgence in magnificence of dress, he again alludes to the attire of young women, by mentioning “curled locks.” We know that girls are more eager than they ought to be about cuffing their hair, and other parts of dress. Here, on the contrary, the Prophet describes a totally different condition and attire; that is, that ignominy, and blackness, and filth shall cover from head to foot those who formerly dazzled all eyes by gaudy finery.

Uncover the limbs. “Virgins” hardly ever are accustomed to walk in public, and, at least, seldom travel on the public roads; but the Prophet says that the Babylonian virgins will be laid under the necessity of crossing the rivers, and with their limbs uncovered.

3. Thy baseness shall be discovered. This is the conclusion of the former statement. So long as Babylon was in a flourishing condition, she preserved her reputation, and was highly honored; for wealth and power, like veils, often conceal a great number of sores, which, when the veils have been removed, become visible, and are beheld with the greatest disgrace. And, as Demosthenes says, when, speaking of Philip’s condition, — w[sper ga<r toi~v sw>masin hJmw~n e[wv me<n a}n ejrrwme>nov h+| tiv oujde<n ejpaisqa>netai tw~n kaq e[kasta saqrw~n ejpj a}n de< ajrrw>sthma sumbh~| pa>nta kinei~tai ka}n rJh~gma ka}n stre>mma ka}n allo> ti tw~n uJparco>ntwn saqrw~n h+| ou[tw kai< tw~n po>lewn kai< tw~n tura>nnwn. “For as, in our bodies, so long as any person is in full vigor, no malady is perceived in any of the members, but if he fall into debility, produced either by a wound or by a strain, or by any other of the diseases to which the body is subject, the whole is affected; so is it with cities and governments.” (Dem., Olynth. 2.) When commotions arise, and when their wealth and troops are taken from them, disgraceful transactions which lay concealed are exposed to view; for cruelty, and fraud, and extortions, and perjury, and unjust oppressions, and other crimes, which were honored during prosperity, being to fall into disgrace.

I will take vengeance, and will not meet (thee) a man. Some think that k (caph) ought here to be supplied, “As a man;” as if he had said, “Do not think that ye have to deal with man, whose attack ye may be able to resist.” And, indeed, in other passages, when he speaks of the hand of man, it denotes some abatement; but here he means that no remedy is left, because God will reduce them to nothing. Others translate it, “I will not meet a man;” that is, “I will not allow a man to meet me; whoever shall meet me, or intercede in their behalf, I will not spare them, or remit or abate their punishment.” This meaning is highly appropriate, but the construction is somewhat forced; for [gpa (ephgang) must thus be understood to have a passive sense, which could scarcely be admitted. Besides, the Prophet does not absolutely say that no petition shall be presented to God, but that he cannot be appeased. The former exposition, therefore, flows more smoothly, so far as relates to the context; but let every one choose that which he prefers; for, whatever exposition you adopt, the words amount to this, “that the Lord will destroy the Babylonians, and that there will be no room for mercy.” Only, I say, that I prefer the former, because it is more agreeable to the original text.

4. Our Redeemer. The Prophet shews for what purpose the Lord will inflict punishment on the Babylonians; that is, for the salvation of his people, as he had formerly declared. (<234504>Isaiah 45:4.) But this statement is much more forcible, because he speaks in what may be called an abrupt manner, and like a person awakened out of sleep, when he sees Babylon ruined, which formerly was wont to subdue other nations and trample them under her feet; and he shews that this happens for no other reason than that the Lord shews himself to be the “Redeemer” and defender of his people.

The Holy One of Israel. As if he had said, that not in vain hath he chosen this people, and separated it from other nations. In this transaction he intended to give a display of his power, and. on that account added to the title descriptive of his power, Jehovah of Hosts, the designation “Holy.”

5. Sit silent. He continues the same subject, and shews that the end of the Babylonian monarchy is at hand. As this appeared to be incredible, he therefore repeats the same thing by a variety of expressions, and repeats what might have been said in a few words; and thus he brings forward those lively descriptions, in order to place the event, as it were, before their eyes. When he bids her “sit” and be “silent,” it is an indication of shame or disgrace. Yet this silence may be contrasted with her former condition, while she reigned; for at that time not only did she speak loudly and authoritatively, but she cried with a loud voice, and by her commands terrified the whole of the East. But now, in consequence of the change of her condition, he bids her “sit silent;” because not only will she not venture to utter terrific words, but she will not even venture to make a gentle sound. F824 But, since he adds, enter into darkness, I willingly adopt the former view, that it denotes shame; for they whose condition has been changed for the worse shut their mouth through shame, and scarcely venture to whisper.

For it shall no longer be. We know that the Babylonian monarchy was very widely extended, and exercised dominion over large and numerous countries; for it was the chief of many kingdoms. On this account the captive people needed to be fortified by these promises, and to be forewarned of her fall, that they might entertain assured hope of deliverance.

6. I was angry with my people. This is an anticipation, by which he forewarns the Jews, as he has often done formerly, that the distressing condition of captivity was a scourge which God had inflicted; because, if it had proceeded from any other, there was no remedy in the hand of God. In order, therefore, that they might be convinced that he who had struck them would heal their wounds, he bids them attribute it to their sins that they were so terribly oppressed. Yet he exhorts them to cherish favorable expectation, because God intends to set a limit to the chastisement; and he even mentions this as the reason why the Babylonians shall be destroyed, that God, who is the just avenger of savageness and cruelty, will much more avenge the injuries done to his people.

Thou didst not shew compassion to them. In the former clause he calls the Jews to repentance, because by their own crimes they drew down upon themselves so many calamities. Next, he accuses the Babylonians of having seized this occasion for exercising cruelty, just as if one were to become the executioner of a child whom a father had put into his hands to be chastised. Hence it follows that the Babylonians have no right to be proud, as if by their own power they had subdued the Jews and carried them into captivity; but, on the contrary, because they have wickedly abused the victory and cruelly treated the captives, he will justly punish them.

I profaned my heritage. When he says that he “was angry,” and that this was the reason why he “profaned his heritage,” let us not imagine that he had changed his purpose, and was offended so far as to cast away the care of his people and the remembrance of his covenant. This is evident both from the event itself and from his deigning still to call them “his people,” though the greater part of them were estranged from him, and though he had the best reasons for “profaning” them. But he has respect to his covenant when he speaks in this manner; for he looks at their source and foundation, that they who were the descendants of Abraham may be accounted the people of God, though very few of them actually belonged to him, and almost all boasted of an empty title.

Thus the word amger, in Scripture, must not be supposed to refer to any emotion in God, who desires the salvation of his people, but to ourselves, who provoke him by our transgressions; for he has just cause to be angry, though he does not cease to love us. Accordingly, while he “profanes” his Church, that is, abandons her, and gives her up as a prey to her enemies, still the elect do not perish, and his eternal covenant is not broken. And yet, in the midst of anger, the Lord remembers his mercy, and mitigates the strokes by which he punishes his people, and at length even inflicts punishment on those by whom his people have been cruelly treated. Consequently, if for a time the Lord “profanes” his Church, if she is cruelly oppressed by tyrants, let us not lose courage, but betake ourselves to this promise, “He who avenged this barbarous cruelty of the Babylonians will not less avenge the savageness of those tyrants.”

It ought also to be carefully observed that no one should abuse victory so as to be cruel to captives, which we know is often done; for men, when they see that they are stronger, lay aside all humanity, and are changed into wild beasts, and spare neither age nor sex, and altogether forget their condition. After having abused their power, they shall not at length pass unpunished; for

“judgment without mercy shall be experienced by those who shewed no mercy.” (<590213>James 2:13.)

But it is asked, “How could the Babylonians go beyond the limit which God had assigned to them, as if their lawless passions were laid under no restraint?” And what will become of that promise,

“Not a hair shall fall from your head without the appointment of your Father?” (<422118>Luke 21:18.)

The answer is easy. Though it was not in their power actually to go beyond the limit, yet he looked at their cruelty, because they endearvored utterly to ruin unhappy persons who had surrendered at discretion. Thus Zechariah complains of the unbridled rage of the Gentiles, because, when “he was angry with his people for a little,” they rushed forward with violent fury to destroy them. (<380115>Zechariah 1:15.)

On the old man. He states an aggravation of their guilt, that they did not spare even “the old men,” for whom age naturally procures reverence; and hence he draws an inference, how savage was their cruelty towards armed foes.

7. And thou saidst, I shall for ever  F825 be a mistress. Here he censures the haughtiness of the Babylonians, in promising to themselves perpetual dominion, and in thinking that they could not fall from their elevation through any adverse event. Thus the children of this world are intoxicated by prosperity, and despise all men as compared with themselves; but Isaiah mocks at this confidence, and shews that God regards it with the greatest abhorrence. To say, means here to conclude in one’s own mind, as will be more clearly evident from what the Prophet says shortly afterwards; for proud men do not publicly speak in this manner, but entertain this conviction, though they pretend the contrary. It is intolerable madness when men, forgetting their frailty, look upon themselves as not sharing in the common lot; for in this way they forget that they are men. Believers, too, have their conviction of being safe, because, under the protecting hand of God, they are prepared boldly to encounter every danger. And yet they do not cease to consider that they are liable to many distresses, because nothing in this world is lasting. Irreligious men, therefore, mock God whenever, through a foolish imagination, they promise to themselves lasting peace amidst the constant changes of the world.

Hitherto thou hast not applied thy mind to it. F826 For the purpose of heightening the description of their madness, he adds that even a long course of time did not render them more moderate. To become elated immediately after having obtained a victory, is not so wonderful; but to become more fierce from day to day, and to throw out taunts against their captives, was altogether savage and intolerable. This arose, as we have said, from pride; because they did not consider that a revolution of affairs would afterwards take place, or that a condition so magnificent could be changed. Consequently, this is the second reason why the Lord overtumed the monarchy of the Babylonians.

And didst not remember her end. F827 Some think that there is a change of the person here, but I consider that to be too forced; and indeed I have no doubt that he speaks of the “end” of Jerusalem, which is the opinion most commonly received. The Lord often speaks of the Church, by way of eminence, katj ejxoch<n without mentioning the name, as we do when our feelings are powerfully affected towards any person. Now, wicked men do not know the “end” of the Church, and the reason why the Lord chastises her. They mock at the calamities of good men, because they would wish them to be utterly destroyed and ruined, and do not consider that God takes care of them.

If it be objected that the Babylonians could not know this, that is nothing to the purpose; for they could not be ignorant that he was the God whom the Israelites worshipped. Consequently, when they treated the Jews with haughtiness and cruelty, they insulted God himself, as if he and the covenant which he had made with his people had been intentionally trampled under their feet.

8. And now hear this, thou delicate woman. The Prophet again threatens the destruction of Babylon, and employs appropriate words for strengthening the hearts of believers, that the prosperity of the Babylonians may not stupify and lead them to despondency; and yet he does not address Babylon in order to produce an impression upon her, but to comfort believers. He adds, that she was intoxicated with pleasures; for prosperity, being the gift of God, ought not in itself to be condemned, but it is well known how prone the children of the world are, to pass from luxury to insolence.

Who saith in her heart. He now explains what is meant by the word to say, of which we spoke in the exposition of the preceding verse, namely, that one convinces himself and believes that it will be thus and thus, as proud and insolent men commonly do, although they often conceal it through pretended modesty, and do not wish it to be publicly known.

I am, and there is none besides me. This arrogance, by which she prefers herself to the whole world, is intolerable. First, she thinks that she is; secondly, she imagines that the rest of the world does not deserve to be compared to her; thirdly, she promises to herself everlasting repose, for she says, I shall not sit as a widow. As to the first, there is none of whom it can be said with truth that he is, but God alone, who has a right to say, “I am what I am,” (<020314>Exodus 3:14;) for by this mark he is distinguished from the creatures. Thus, he who thinks that he subsists by his own power robs God of the honor due to him, and so Babylon, by exalting herself, made war with God. Secondly, she treated the whole world with contempt, when she preferred herself to it. In this manner proud men begin with God, by representing him to be their enemy, and they end by making all men, without exception, their enemies, through their haughtiness. The third clause, which may be regarded as the copestone of her pride, is, that she considers her condition to be eternal, and does not take into account the liability of the affairs of men to undergo change; for the higher men have been exalted, they sometimes on that account sink the lower.

9. But those two things shall suddenly come to thee. Because Babylon supposed that she was beyond the reach of all danger, the Prophet threatens against her very sore distress. When she said that she would neither be “a widow” nor “childless,” he declares on the other hand, that both calamities shall come upon her, so that her miserable destitution shall expose her to the utmost contempt.

In their perfection. That is, “completely,” so that in all points, without any exception, she shall be childless. There is also an implied contrast between moderate punishment, some alleviation of which may be expected, and the dreadful vengeance of God, which has no other end than ruin; for, the greater the confidence with which wicked men are elated, the more severely are they punished.

For the multitude of thy divinations. Some render this term diviners; but I think that it denotes the act or the vice rather than the persons. Some explain b (beth) to mean “on account of,” and understand it to express a cause; and in this sense it frequently occurs in Scripture. Yet it might be suitably interpreted, that the Babylonians shall derive no aid or relief from the deceitful skill in divinations of which they boasted so much; and so it might be translated notwithstanding;  F828 as if he had said, “The abundance of divinations or auguries shall not prevent these things from happening to Babylon.” F829 He ridicules the confidence which they placed in their useless auguries, by which they thought that they foresaw future events; but, as we shall shortly afterwards dwell more largely on this point, I readily admit that it is here reckoned to be one of the causes of the vengeance inflicted on them, that, in consequence of trusting to such delusions, they dreaded nothing. F830

10. For thou trustedst. He explains what he said in the preceding verse, though it may be extended further, so as to be a censure of the fraud and oppression and violence and unjust practices by which the Babylonians raised themselves to so great power. Almost all large kingdoms are, what a distinguished robber pronounced them to be, great robberies; for there is no other way in which they enlarge their dominions than by extorting them from others by violence and oppression, and by driving out the lawful owners from their dwellings, that they alone may reign at large.

In thy malice. He gives the name of “malice” to that which he will afterwards adorn with more plausible names, namely, wisdom and knowledge. In this manner do tyrants usually disguise their tricks, when they lay aside all regard to justice and equity, and cunningly deceive the people; but the Lord detests and exposes them; so that it becomes manifest that it served no purpose to cover their wickedness by useless veils. Thus Job:, after having said that “wise men are taken in their own wisdom,” explains this by calling it “craftiness.” (<180513>Job 5:13.)

Thou saidst, No one seeth me. When he adds that Babylon thought that her iniquities were not seen, this refers to free indulgence in sinning; for while men are kept in the discharge of duty by fear or shame, he who neither dreads God as a witness, nor thinks that men will know what he does, breaks out into every kind of licentiousness. It is true, indeed, that even the worst of men are often tormented by the stings of conscience; but, by shutting their eyes, they plunge themselves in: stupidity as in a lurking-place, and, in short, harden all their senses. Above all, we see that they have the hardihood to mock God, as if by their craftiness they could dazzle his eyes; for whenever they wish to defraud simpletons, they think it enough that they are not detected, as if they could impose on God. But to no purpose do they flatter themselves in their cunning, for the Lord will speedily take off the mask from them. All men ought therefore to abhor this wisdom, by which men deceive themselves, and accomplish their own ruin.

I, and there is none beside me. He again repeats those blasphemies, that all may plainly understand how greatly God abhors them, and how near to destruction are all who raise themselves higher than they ought.

11. Therefore shall evil come upon thee. Continuing the subject which he had formerly introduced, he ridicules the foolish confidence of the Babylonians, who thought that by the position of the stars they foresaw all events. He therefore says that they shall soon be overtaken by that which Scripture threatens generally against all despisers of God, (<520503>1 Thessalonians 5:3,) that, “when they shall say, Peace and safety, sudden destruction shall overwhelm them,” and that at the dawning of the day they shall not know what shall be accomplished in the evening; and it, is very clear from the book of Daniel that this happened. (<270530>Daniel 5:30.)

12. Stand now amidst thy divinations. The Prophet speaks as we are accustomed to speak to desperate men, on whom no warnings produce any good effect; “Do as thou art wont to do; in the end thou shalt be instructed by the event; thou shalt know what good the augurs and soothsayers do thee.” By the word “stand” he alludes to the custom of the augurs, who remain unmoved in one place till some sign is seen. F831 In like manner, the astrologers mark out their divisions in the heavens, even to the minutest points. If it shall be thought preferable to translate yrbj (chabarim) diviners instead of divinations, I shall not greatly object; for the meaning of the word is ambiguous.

If perhaps thou shalt prevail. As if he had said, “Thou shalt not be able, by the aid of thy augurs, to mitigate the calamity which is about to overtake thee.” He taunts their perverse confidence on this ground, that when they shall have made every attempt, no advantage will follow.

13. Thou hast wearied thyself. He now declares still more plainly what he had formerly expressed in somewhat obscure language; that all the schemes which Babylon had previously adopted would lead to her ruin; for she nourished within herself a vain confidence arising from a belief of her power and wisdom, as if nothing could do her injury.

In the multitude of thy counsels. He calls them not only “counsels,” but “a multitude of counsels,” in order to declare that there is no good reason for being puffed up or exalting themselves, whatever may be the ingenuity or skill of their efforts to deceive; because their crafty counsels, the more numerous and the more plausible they are, will give them the greater annoyance. This is a general statement against those who, trusting to their own ability, contrive and form counsels of every sort, and, relying on their prudence, collect all the stratagems and annoyances that can be invented for oppressing others; for God scatters all their contrivances, and overtums their fraudulent designs, as he threatened that all unlawful means would be unsuccessful. “They dare,” says he, “to take counsel, but not from me; they weave a web, but not from my Spirit.” (<233001>Isaiah 30:1.)

Thus do the consultations of many persons altogether fail of success, because they do not ask counsel of God, from whom (<590105>James 1:5) all wisdom should be sought; for, the more they toil, the greater annoyance do they suffer, and they can obtain no advantage. Well does David F832 say, (<19C702>Psalm 127:2,) that “in vain do they toil who rise early in the morning, and go late to rest, and eat the bread of sorrow;” for he speaks of unbelievers, who do not cast their cares on the Lord, but, trusting to their industry, make many daring efforts. The Lord ridicules this confidence, and causes them to be at length disappointed, and to feel how worthless are all their wicked labors and efforts, and how in this way they are punished for their rashness; while at the same time “the beloved of God sleep pleasantly,” as is said in that passage. Not that they are freed from all annoyances, but that they do not weary themselves with useless labor, and they commit to God the result of all their affairs.

Let them stand now. Here we perceive what counsellors are chiefly meant by the Prophet, that is, those diviners who boasted to the people of the empty name of science; as if they understood, all future events by looking at the stars. But we have formerly spoken of that judicial astrology, and of its uselessness. If it be objected, that it was not in the power of those men to mitigate the dangers which were hanging over them, I reply, the Babylonians would have done it at their suggestion, if they had foreseen the calamity; and, since they did not foresee it, the conclusion is, that their art had no foundation whatever. It is idle to pretend, as some do, that the Prophet reproves unskilfulness in the art, and not the art itself; for he addresses the Babylonians, who were the authors of this science.

The binders of the heavens. He says wittily that they “bind the heavens;” because they utter their decisions as boldly as if, by binding and tying the stars, they held mankind in chains. Yet, if any one choose to render the term “inchanters,” the meaning will not be inapplicable, and both are denoted by the verb rbj (chabar). Although to observe the position of the stars is not in itself sinful, the Prophet says that it is carried farther than is proper by those who draw from it conclusions as to doubtful events, and appears indirectly to contrast those observers with the prophets, in order to make them more detested, because they extinguish all divine predictions; for, when men attach to the stars a fatal necessity, all the judgments of God must fall to the ground.

14. Behold, they shall be as stubble. With still greater eagerness he attacks those astrologers who strengthened the pride of Babylon by their empty boasting; for impostors of this sort are wont to take away all fear of God out of the hearts of men, by ascribing everything to the stars, so that nothing is left to the providence of God. Hence arises contempt of God and of all his threatenings; for punishments are not ascribed to the judgment of God, but to some fate and relation of things which they foolishly imagine. For this reason he kindles into such indignation against the Babylonians, and says that they shall be buming “stubble,” which is quickly consumed; for he does not compare them to wood, which is of some use for giving heat, but to “stubble,” in order to shew that nothing is so light or useless.

15. So shal they be to thee. After having threatened destruction to those astronomers, he again retums to the Babylonians, and threatens that they must not look for assistance from that quarter from which they expected it, and that they ought not to rely on those vain counsels, with which they had long and eagerly vexed themselves in vain.

He calls them dealers, or, as we commonly say, traffickers; a metaphor taken from merchants, who are skilled in innumerable arts of deceiving, and in impostures of every kind; for the princes do not consult in a manner suitable to their rank, but traffic in disgraceful transactions. F833 Though we may extend this to all the allies by whom the Babylonians were aided, yet the Prophet has his eye chiefly on the diviners. When he adds, from thy youth, he aggravates the guilt of Babylon, in having been infected with this foolish belief from an ancient date, and in having held this error as if it had been born with her.

Every one to his own quarter. F834 It is supposed that the Prophet here speaks of the flight of the astrologers, that every one shall provide for his own safety; and I fully agree with this, but think that, there is also an allusion to the “quarters” of the heavens, which astrologers divide and measure, so as to deduce their prognostications from them. He therefore ridicules their vain boasting. “They shall withdraw into their quarters, but they shall go astray, and there shall be no means of protection. If any one choose to apply it to the revolt of those whose assistance Babylon thought that at any time she could easily obtain, I have no objection.


Go To Isaiah 48:1-22

1. Hear this, O house of Jacob. He now addresses his discourse to the Jews; whom also he had chiefly in his eye, in the whole of the preceding chapter; for he was not sent to the Babylonians, but addresses them in such a manner as to wish that the Jews, to whom he had been especially appointed, should hear him. Accordingly, he foretold the destruction of the Babylonians, that the Jews might calmly wait for deliverance, and at the same time might not be terrified by the greatness and power of their enemies, F835 and that, relying on these promises, they might stand unmoved against all temptations. But because the Jews were obstinate, and did not believe those promises, and because Isaiah foresaw how great would be their hard-heartedness and obstinacy during their captivity, for that reason he reproves them with greater severity. Ezekiel shews still more clearly how inveterate was their unbelief, when they murmured against God, and cast away all confidence, and cared no more about the promises of God than about empty fables. It was not without reason, therefore, that Isaiah made use of such vehement language, in order to shew that they offered the highest insult to God by refusing to rely on his grace.

Who are called by the name of Israel. He addresses “Israel,” but that which was actually spurious, and which at that time had nothing more than the name of “Israel;” for he does not employ this honorable name for the sake of mentioning them in a respectful manner, but rather in order to put to shame their false boasting, because they had no riglit to glory in this empty title, from the truth of which they were widely estranged. Why did God honor Jacob with this name, but because he proved himself to be courageous and invincible in adversity? This appeared from that wrestling in which he contended with God; for when the Lord tries by various afflictions, he enters, as it were, into debate with us. (<013225>Genesis 32:25.) How, then, did this name apply to his posterity, if they were cast down and threw away all hope in adversity?

Who have come out from the.waters of Judah. He next reproaches them with being descended from the holy fathers, and yet being utterly unlike them. By “the waters of Judah,” he means metaphorically the source and fountain from which the Jews proceeded; for I do not approve of the childish attempt of the Jewish writers to explain the metaphor, which is borrowed in a highly natural manner from waters which flow from a distant place.

Who swear by the name of Jehovah. Having censured them for being the degenerate and wicked children of holy fathers, he adds that they falsely pretend to the worship of God, and to a semblance of piety from which they are widely distant. Now, as “swearing” is a kind of worship of God, he here puts one department for the whole class, by a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole. As idolaters offer an insult to God, when they swear by their idols, in like manner do the sincere worshippers of God render honor to God, by employing his name in oaths; for they acknowledge that they have one God, in whose name they glory. But here he attacks hypocrites who, with open mouth, loudly boasted of the name of God, and frequently mentioned his name, and yet in their hearts were greatly opposed to him. On this account he says, not in truth nor in righteousness, he employs the word “righteousness,” to denote integrity and sincerity of heart, without which nothing can be acceptable to God; or rather “righteousness” and “truth” are synonymous terms; as if he had said, that it was mere pretense and hypocrisy to profess that they were the people of the true God, because their treachery openly proclaimed their falsehood.

2. For from the holy city they are called. He continues the same subject, and by different words exposes their false boasting; for they falsely boasted that they were the citizens of “the holy city,” which they defiled by their vices and crimes. Jerusalem ought to have been “holy,” for God had consecrated her to himself; but she had prostrated herself to iniquities, so great and so numerous, that she scarcely retained any holiness. We see in <191502>Psalm 15:2, and 24:4., what the true citizens of Jerusalem ought to be; but because the Jews were not ashamed of mocking God, they reckoned it enough to be protected by the shadow of the Temple.

And rely on the God of Israel. When he says that they “rely on Jehovah,” he does not speak of sincere belief, but of empty confidence; for, as good men rely on God, and trust him with their whole heart, so hypocrites falsely make pretensions to his name, and are intoxicated by unfounded belief, and fearlessly despise everything, and even boast confidently of these words, “God will assist us, he will not cast off his people;” as if God wished to encourage their wickedness. In a word, by trampling him under their feet, they loudly declare that they rely on themselves for safety; but, lest they should think that they will not be punished for this mockery, the Prophet assures them that God loses nothing of his authority, when he is thus misrepresented by hypocrites; for, when he calls him Jehovah of hosts, he adds this by way of threatening, that they might know that God, under whose name they falsely sheltered themselves, was strong enough to punish them, and at length would not permit them to make him the subject of mockery.

3. Long ago have I declared the former things. He accuses the Jews of ingratitude, because they distrust God, who has given every possible proof of his goodness, in order to establish them in sincere confidence; and therefore he takes away from them every excuse, by saying, that “he declared the former things.” He appears to speak not of their deliverance from Babylon, but of other benefits which the Lord had bestowed on that nation; as if he had said that God began, long before this, to foretell to his people what would happen, and never promised anything which he did not perform, and yet that his people, after having received so many proofs, did not place confidence in his certain and infallible truth.

It may also be said, that the Prophet did not merely address those who lived at that time, but those who should afterwards live during the captivity, in order that, when this certainty arrived, they might consider that it had been already foretold. God intended that this prediction should be widely known, in order that, during their captivity, they might know that these things did not happen by chance, and that they might obtain some consolation. Isaiah therefore rebukes them, because, after having learned the truth of this matter from the event itself, still they cannot acknowledge the work of God, or place confidence in him.

And justly does he severely reprove and accuse them of obstinacy; for they resisted God, who stretched out his hand to them, and rejected his grace; they did not believe that they would have liberty to return to Judea, and, when the way was opened up, there were very few who had courage to return. Some thought that it would be better to remain in Babylon than to undergo the annoyances and dangers of the joumey. Others suspected that Cyrus had made a crafty proclamation of liberty to return, in order that, having ascertained their dispositions, he might oppress them or treat them with severity; and they did not take into account that God had foretold these things, and that they must unavoidably happen, and that no power of men could prevent them. Accordingly, I understand those predictions of which the Prophet speaks so as to include, indeed, the ancient prophecies by which God foretold to Abraham (<011513>Genesis 15:13) that his seed would be held captive, and would afterwards be restored to their former freedom, but that afterwards, in their due order, other predictions are added, which also followed at different times; for this also was frequently fulfilled, partly at one time, and partly at another. He shews, therefore, that the Lord predicted nothing which was not justified by the event.

4. For I knew that thou art obstinate. Literally it is, “On account of my knowing,” or, “From nay knowing.” Here the Lord solemnly declares by the Prophet, that it was on account of the hard-heartedness of the people that he spake of future events; as if he had said that he acted more liberally towards them than he ought to have done. Not that this was the only end which he aimed at; for we know that the chief use of doctrine belongs to believers, who gently submit themselves and cheerfully obey; but Isaiah, who had to deal with obstinate men, justly says that, if their depravity had not been incurable, God made use of an excellent remedy, by uttering many successive predictions for the purpose of ratifying his Law. Thus as he had foretold future events to the fathers, so he shews that he follows the same course, in order to conquer or soften the obstinacy and hard-heartedness of the people.

And thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy forehead is of brass. He calls their neck “an iron sinew,” because it cannot be bent. “Sinews” are indeed hard, but still they are capable of being bent; here, he says, there is no bending, because they are untameable. He next mentions “a brazen forehead,” to denote their impudence. There are two ways by which we may be kept in the path of duty; first, if we are submissive and obey good instructions or holy commandments; and secondly, if, after having fallen into any sin, we are moved by sincere shame to repent of what we have done. When these are wanting, it is a sign of desperate wickedness. These are two proofs, therefore, which he has brought forward to shew that the nation was abandoned to everything that was sinful; they were refractory, and they were impudent. And yet, when the Lord cannot cure us in any other way, he treats even our perversity with such forbearance, that he is pleased to give us warning of future events. Thus he assumes, as it were, every possible shape, in order to recall us to himself, and bring us back into the right path.

5. I foretold to thee long ago. He again repeats the same statement, that the people, when they had been delivered from Babylon, might acknowledge the kindness of God, and might not ascribe this deliverance to idols or to fortune. If it be asked “Why does the Prophet mention idols, seeing that the Jews professed the worship of one God?” I reply, They had been corrupted by associating with the Gentiles, and had degenerated into superstitions, to such an extent, that they had entirely forgotten God. Ezekiel complains of this, that, in the vision in which he appeared to be carried to Jerusalem, he beheld the sanctuary of God polluted by various idols. (<260803>Ezekiel 8:3.) Not without reason, therefore, does he recall them to God as the only author of these events, that they may acknowledge that he has redeemed them.

Lest, perhaps, thou shouldest say. He means that the Jews will be inexcusable, if they do not acknowledge the kindness of God, when they shall have been emancipated from slavery; for what had been long ago foretold would not have happened by chance. God’s foreknowledge is therefore connected by the Prophet with his power; and he declares that he not only foresaw, but likewise accomplished these events. Here then, as in a mirror, we behold the wicked exercise of our understanding, which always contrives in what way it shall rob God of the praise which is due to him. Whenever he either assists us, or in any way is kind to us, he may be said to stretch out his hand and invite us to himself.

Yet the world, as if it purposely designed to make resistance, ascribes to others what has proceeded from God; as we see that in Popery all God’s benefits are attributed to dead saints, in such a manner as if God were sleeping a deep sleep. It is therefore necessary that the lamp of doctrine should shine, in order to regulate our judgment; for, in considering the works of God, we shall always go astray, if he do not go before and enlighten us by his word. But even now we find in many persons what Isaiah deplores in his nation, that, even after having been warned, they do not cease to make idols for themselves, which they clothe with the spoils taken from God. Peter and John loudly declared (<440312>Acts 3:12) that it was not by their own merits or excellence that they performed their miracles; but we see how the Papists load them with miracles against their will, and in spiteof their resistance. Although God does not now foretell the events which shall happen, yet the doctrine of the Law and of the Gospel will tend as powerfully to condemn our ingratitude as if the prophecies had attested those works of which God there declares himself to be the author.

6. Thou hast heard. This makes it still more clear that the Prophet speaks of a future captivity, and of the redemption by which it should be followed; thus intending to make provision for the advantage both of the men of his own time and of posterity, that, if they who then lived received no benefit, at least posterity might take warning and repent. It frequentlyhappens, that the doctrine of the prophets produces little effect on those who see and hear, and sometimes is even treated by them with contempt, while posterity receive it with better dispositions.

See all. When he bids them see, some think that the Prophet exhibits the event in such a manner as if he had said, that God had spoken nothing which had not been made evident to be true. But I give a different interpretation of this word hzj, (chazeh,) see, in this manner: “Seeing that the Lord hath spoken, it is thy duty to examine the words, and to give attention.” Hence we ought to observe, that it is owing to our sluggishness or indolence that we immediately lose those things which proceed from the mouth of God, and that in vain do many persons hold out the pretext of ignorance; because the Lord reveals clearly enough all that is necessary to be known, if they who hear would examine it carefully, and with due attention.

And will ye not declare it? The Lord next demands something more from his people than to understand and consider his word; that is, that they may be a herald and witness of the miracles which they have known by experience. And, indeed, he instructs his people on this condition, that they shall afterwards lead others to the same confession of faith. Even now have I made thee to hear. As if he had said, “Observe this day, on which the Lord foretells to thee, by my mouth, those things which thou didst not know; for these things cannot be perceived or foreseen by human conjecture.”

7. Now for the first time have they been created. The Prophet shews that he is not reasoning about things that are known, or that have been learned by actual experience; and his object is, not merely to correct that haughtiness which is natural to all men, (for they claim for themselves what belongeth to God alone,) but likewise that no part of this event may be ascribed to fortune or to any other cause. In various ways do men rob God of the glory that is due to him, and direct all their faculties towards distributing among the creatures that which belongs to Him alone, so as to leave Him nothing but a bare and empty name. That the people might not think that they had been vanquished by the power of the Babylonians, or that it was by human strength or by chance that they were afterwards restored to liberty, on this account he so frequently repeats and reiterates, that this is the work of God.

Thou hadst not heard those things. When he affirms that “they had not heard them,” some explain this to mean that the people rejected God’s warnings, and did not listen to good counsels. But I think that the Prophet’s meaning was different, namely, that what could not be known by human sagacity, and what had been unknown to the Jews, has been revealed in such a manner that they cannot defraud the Holy Spirit of the praise which is due to him; and this is very evident from the context.

8. I knew that by transgressing thou wouldest transgress. By these words the Lord means that it is not without good reason that he so earnestly persuades and entreats the people to acknowledge that it was by him that they were chastised and afterwards delivered from so great distresses. The rebelliousness of that people might have prompted them to complain that it was useless to repeat this so often, and to press it on their attention. The Prophet replies, that men need not wonder at it, because he has to deal with obstinate men; and thus he confirms by different words what he said a little before about “the iron sinew of their neck.” (Ver. 4.) The meaning amounts to this, that the forwardness of that nation was well known to God, and that consequently he left nothing undone which was fitted to retain those who were attached to his service; and that, having received abundant evidence from undoubted proofs, they were so much the more inexcusable.

Therefore have I called thee a rebel from the womb. After having torn off the mask from this nation, which, as we formerly saw, falsely boasted of the name of Israel, he gives them a new name, and calls them “rebels.” By the “womb” I understand to be meant, not their first origin when they began to be reckoned a nation, but the time when they were delivered from the bondage of Egypt; for that deliverance might be regarded as a sort of nativity of the Church. (<021251>Exodus 12:51.) But the people, though they had experienced the infinite goodness of God, did not cease to act treacherously towards him, and transgressed more and more, so that he justly calls them “rebels and transgressors.”

9. For my name’s sake. After having reproached the people with that malice which was natural to their fathers from the beginning, and which had passed down to children and grandchildren, he now reminds them that it is owing to his mercy that they survive, but that otherwise they would have deserved a thousand times to perish. This warning served two purposes; first, believers needed to be supported, that during their captivity they might not lose courage; and secondly, when they had received permission to return, it was not of less importance that they should be humbled, that they might acknowledge that they were indebted for their deliverance to nothing else than God’s undeserved goodness.

So as not to cut thee off. Hence we see that the object of the preceding remonstrance was, that the people might know that it is not owing to their merit that the Lord stretches out his hand to bring them out of the grave of Babylon; for they deserved to be utterly ruined. Consequently, that the Lord now spares us also, that he mitigates or remits punishment, and, in a word, that he pays any attention to us, all this is entirely the result of his grace; so that we ought not to ascribe it to any merits or satisfactions of men. And thus, as we have formerly explained at other passages, the distinction made by the Sophists falls to the ground, as to the remission of punishment which they refuse to admit to be undeserved, because satisfaction is made to the justice of God. But here Isaiah declares that remission is made by free grace “for God’s name’s sake;” for he speaks of punishment which he might justly have inflicted on the Jews. He had the justest cause for destroying this nation, if he had not determined to defend his glory.

10. Lo, I have tried thee. The Lord shews that he exercises such moderation in chastising his people, that he makes provision for their salvation. Formerly he had said that he had spared or would spare them, because he had regard to his glory. He now declares that he does indeed lay stripes upon them, but of such a nature as to be serviceable to them; for it is for the purpose of “proving and trying” that he chastises them, and we “prove” that which we do not wish to be lost. Since therefore he has this end in view, it follows that he makes provision for our salvation. Besides, it is by way of anticipation that he mentions the “trial,” lest any one should object that God’s forbearance did not, at all appear amidst such severe afflictions. The Prophet therefore comes forward early to meet this objection, and points out that, although God does not permit his people altogether to go free, yet he deals gently with them.

And not like silver. He adds that he does not “try us like silver,” because we should be altogether consumed; for “silver” contains something that is pure, but in us nothing will be found but chaff; and even if God did not make us “silver,” we should be reduced, like chaff or stubble, to ashes and to nothing. Chastisement itself would undoubtedly bring out nothing that is pure. Accordingly, in the very “trial” the Lord considers what we can endure, so as not to proceed beyond measure; and, at the same time, by the secret influence of his Spirit, he makes those punishments to be profitable to us which would otherwise have been destruction.

I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. To “choose” means here to “distinguish.” We “choose” that which we desire to preserve and defend, as he formerly said in the same sense,

“to choose the good and refuse the bad.” (<230715>Isaiah 7:15.)

By this word, therefore, he shews how wide is the difference between the punishment which is inflicted on good men and that which wicked men endure, and which ends in their destruction. We, on the other hand, though the Lord bums and pierces us, are accepted by him; and he retains his kindness toward us in the midst of afflictions, and even causes us to come out of them more fully tried, and to be to him a sacrifice of good savor. In a word, he means that God, even when he appears to abandon his people to destruction, is still gracious to them.

11. For my own sake. He repeats the same statement which he had formerly made, but adds a question, such as Hebrew writers are wont to employ, when they speak of what is absurd, “Is it possible that my name should be profaned?”

And I will not give my glory to another. This second clause is added for the purpose of exposition; and therefore Isaiah, by multiplying the forms of expression, now adorns that which he had formerly expressed in a few words, and elevates his style. Nor is it a mere explanation of the former statement, but rather an adornment in order to confirm it the more. By these words he means that men do all that lies in their power to “profane the name of God,” and to convey “his glory to another,” but that the Lord, by his wonderful providence, meets this evil, and causes his glory to remain unabated. Although, therefore, by our fault we abandon the glory of God, yet he will preserve it, while he shall be our protector. Hence we derive wonderful consolation, that God connects our salvation with his own glory, as we have already pointed out on other passages.

I will not give. That is, “I will not suffer my glory to be taken from me.” This would have happened, if the God of Israel had been mocked on account of the ruin and destruction of the people; as wicked men, when the people of God were oppressed, were wont to taunt them with blasphemies of this sort, “Where is their God?” (<197910>Psalm 79:10.) Moses also assigned a familar reason why the Lord was unwilling to destroy the whole nation. “Lest perhaps,” says he, “their enemies should claim it for themselves, and say, It is our lofty hand, and not the Lord, that hath done all this.” (<053227>Deuteronomy 32:27.) And indeed, when the Lord, by exhibiting tokens of his anger, strikes terror into believers, there remains no refuge but this, that he will remember his adoption, so as not to expose his sacred name to the curses of wicked men. Nor did the Prophet, by these words, merely exhort his people to gratitude, that they might acknowledge that it was exclusively through the grace of God that they were preserved; but he held out to believers a ground of supplication, and a shield by which they might resist despair. F836

12. Hearken to me, O Jacob. We have formerly explained the reason why the Lord declares his eternity. It is, that we may know that he is always like himself, and that we may not measure him by our capacity. He bids us “hearken to him;” because we are led into errors and are carried away by false opinions, in consequence of refusing to lend our ears to him.

And Israel, my called. When he says that “Israel has been called by him,” he indirectly contrasts this statement with the reprobation mentioned by him at the beginning of the chapter; for he shewed that the Jews falsely assumed this name, and idly gloried in it, inasmuch as they did not prove themselves to be true Israelites. Here, on the contrary, he affirms that “Israel is his called.” Just as if a father, in rebuking his son, should call him a bastard, and yet should afterwards acknowledge him to be his son, so the Lord shews that the Jews are so greatly degenerated that he might justly reject them, but that, although they do not deserve so high an honor as to belong to his family, still he pays regard to his calling, which no ingratitude or wickedness of men can set aside.

I, even I. In this passage the particle a (aph,) even, denotes continuance; for he lays down nothing else than that God is always like himself, and does not, like men, undergo change or alter his counsel. (<450303>Romans 3:3, 4; 11:29.) On this account he says that he is the first and the last. F837 But here it ought also to be observed, that Isaiah does not speak of God’s eternal essence, but applies this doctrine to our use, that we may know that he will be to us the same that he has always been, and next, that we may remember to distinguish him from idols, lest our understandings, led away by extravagant inventions, should fall off from the fear of him.

13. Surely my hand hath founded the earth. Here the Prophet explains more clearly what he meant in the preceding verse. After having spoken of God’s constant and unvarying will toward us, he likewise praises God’s power as manifested by the works which we daily behold. In these works the Lord may be said to present himself to our view; and, coming forth from his sanctuary, he approaches to us by means of them.

And my right hand hath measured, or, hath upheld the heavens. Whether we translate hjpf (tippechah,) “Hath measured,” or, “Hath upheld,” the meaning will be the same; and we need not give ourselves much trouble about the interpretation of the word. By the word “measure” is denoted God’s amazing wisdom in having adjusted on all sides, with such exact proportion, the vast extent of the heavens, so that it is neither nearer to the earth nor farther from it than is advantageous for preserving order, and that in this prodigious expanse there is nothing jarring or unseemly. If we prefer the word “uphold,” this also is an extraordinary commendation of the wisdom and power of God, in “upholding” the huge mass of the heavens in continual motion, so that it neither totters nor leans more to one side than to another.

When I call them, they stand up, or, shall stand up together. This latter clause, in which he says that all things are ready at, his command, is attended by some greater difficulty; for it may refer either to the first creation or to the continual government of the world. If we refer it to the first creation, the future wdm[y (yagnamdu,) they shall stand, will be put for a preterite. “As soon as the Lord commanded them to appear, they instantly obeyed;” as the Psalmist says, “He spake, and they were done.” (<193309>Psalm 33:9.) But if we adopt this meaning, the word equally, which he adds, may appear not to agree well with the history of the creation as related by Moses; for heaven and earth were not created and beautified at one moment, but at first everything was shapeless and confused, and afterwards the Lord reduced them to order. (<010102>Genesis 1:2-6.) The answer is easy; for the Prophet means nothing more than that the Lord, by the mere expression of his will, created all things, and gave to heaven and earth their form, so that they immediately obeyed his command.

Yet I willingly extend it to the continual government of the world; as if he had said, “Heaven and earth yield to the authority of the Lord and obey his voice, and those bodies which are at the greatest distance from each other move of their own accord with astonishing harmony, as if they were carried about by the same motion of a wheel. Though heaven is separated from the earth by a wide space, yet the voice of the Lord is everywhere heard, he needs no messengers to convey his will, but by the slightest expression he executes everything at the very moment.” Is there any prince who has his servants everywhere rendering to him instant obedience? Certainly not. Thus, the power of God is infinite, is diffused far and wide, and extends to every part of the world, as Scripture declares, (<194702>Psalm 47:2,) and as we learn by the instructions of faith.

14. Assemble, all of you, and hear. There can be no doubt that the Prophet addresses the Jews, though here he utters nothing that ought not to be acknowledged by all. But because unbelieving and irreligious men have no ears, on this account he does not invite them to “hear.” We know that the Jews enjoyed this privilege above other nations, that God revealed himself to them. (<19E719>Psalm 147:19, 20; <450302>Romans 3:2.) “God is known in Judea,” says the Psalmist,: his name is great in Israel.” (<19C601>Psalm 126:1.) So much the less excusable was either their slothfulness or their obstinacy, in paying scarcely any regard to their own prosperity. Whence arose their great levity or proneness to revolt, but from their undervaluing or despising the inestimable treasure of heavenly doctrine? They therefore deserved to be sharply and severely rebuked by the Prophet, who now exclaims against them, indirectly remarking that they wickedly and perversely agree among themselves to cast into the shade the grace of God.

Who among them foretelleth those things? Here God appears to permit the Jews to bring forward publicly any objection which they can make, as those who trust to the goodness of their cause venture to taunt their adversaries: “Produce thy arguments; if thou possessest any acuteness, shew it.” Of his own accord, therefore, he makes an attack upon them, and gives them permission to shew, if they can find any argument to that effect, that such things were foretold by the gods of the Gentiles. We may also extend it to the diviners and augurs, who claimed for themselves the knowledge of future events, and who could not at all foresee such things. With the same view he will repeat what follows in the next verse, “It is I, it is I who have spoken.” The object of the whole is to shew that the Jews waver, and even fall away, in consequence of not estimating sufficiently how extraordinary a blessing it is to learn from the sacred mouth of God all that is necessary for their salvation.

Jehovah hath loved him, and he shall execute his pleasure on Babylon. He points out a single instance, that God had now deigned to foretell to them the end of their captivity in Babylon. Cyrus is not named by him as the dispenser of this favor, but, as if he were speaking of a man who was known and ascertained, he says, without mentioning the name, that God has chosen him to take Babylon by force. The word loved is not employed in an absolute sense, but pro<v ti<; with reference to a particular object; and therefore it is limited to the successful result of the expedition. In like manner Saul, with reference to a particular object, was dear to God, so that he reigned for a time, and was even endued with the gift of prophecy. (<091010>1 Samuel 10:10.) The case is different with believers, whom God has embraced with an unchangeable love, and whom he never permits to fall away from him. He intimates that Cyrus will take Babylon by force, in consequence of having undertaken this work by God’s appointment and direction, not indeed intentionally on his part, but in such a manner as God makes even the ignorant and blind to go where he pleases, or compels them against their will to yield obedience; for the Prophet does not applaud Cyrus for voluntary obedience, but rather magnifies the providence of God, by which he leads all men to execute his counsel.

And his arm  F838 Some read the word “arm” in the nominative, and others in the accusative case; but it makes little difference as to the meaning. Arm may here be taken for “work,” and in a metaphorical sense; and thus the passage will read more smoothly. “He will execute his counsel on Babylon, his work on the Babylonians;” for we know that it is a distinguishing peculiarity in the style of the prophets to join together “the work of the Lord” and his “counsel.” Indirectly he reproaches the Jews with their ingratitude in refusing to believe the promises of God, though he points out the event, as it were, with the finger, and speaks in a very different manner from that in which either diviners or false gods are accustomed to speak. In a word, he wishes to convince the Jews that, the taking of Babylon by storm shall be “the work of the Lord,” under whose direction Cyrus shall execute it, in order that the Church may at length be delivered.

15. Therefore he shall prosper in his way. He again reminds the Jews of the predictions, and claims for God this honor, that, by foretelling the event in due time, he has removed all doubt; and next he adds, that all that had been foretold shall be accomplished. Accordingly, in the repetition of the pronoun, It is I, it is I who have spoken, there is a double emphasis; first, tlmt none but the God of Israel hath spoken about future and hidden events, and secondly, that, because he is faithful and never deceives, all the events which he has foretold shall undoubtedly take place. Accordingly, in the last clause of the verse I consider the copulative w (vau) to mean therefore. Here Isaiah has two objects in view; first, that the captive Jews may expect deliverance, and secondly, that, after having been delivered, they may acknowledge God to be the author of so valuable a blessing, and may not imagine that it took place either by the assistance of men or by chance.

Surely I have called him, I have conducted him. He declares that everything shall go prosperously with Cyrus, because Jehovah “hath called him;” not that he deserved so high a favor, or obtained it by his own industry or power, but because the Lord was pleased to employ the agency of Cyrus in delivering his people. As to his calling him beloved in the preceding verse, and now saying that he has been “called and conducted,” I explained a little before that this cannot refer to the love of God, by which he adopts us to be his children and calls us to himself; for in this sense Cyrus was not “beloved” or “called.” Though he was endowed with great virtues, yet he was stained by very great vices, ambition and the lust of power, avarice, cruelty, and other vices; and his lamentable end shewed what kind of person he was. The Prophet therefore means that God was favorable to Cyrus, so as to bestow upon him an external blessing, but not so as to adopt him, and to impart to him that grace which he bestows on the elect. We must consider the reason why he calls him by these names. It is because he makes use of the agency of Cyrus for delivering the Church, as we have already explained.

16. Draw near to me, hear this. He again addresses the Jews, and, by bidding them draw near, goes out, as it were, to meet them, and to receive them kindly. Yet at the same time he indirectly glances at their revolt, shewing that they would not be capable of receiving sound doctrine, if they did not withdraw from error. It was no small crime that they were so far removed from God, to whom they ought to have been united in a friendly manner. They were at a great distance from him, not as to space, but as to the agreement of the heart. The “drawing near,” therefore, means that we should lay aside our natural dispositions and be ready to hear him. And this must proceed from his grace; for we can never be prepared to do this, if he do not lead us to himself.

Not from the beginning have I spoken in secret. Commentators explain this passage in various ways. Many apply it to Christ, though the Prophet meant no such thing; but we ought to guard against violent and forced interpretations. Others explain it as relating to the Prophet himself, but that is not more suitable; for this discourse would not be applicable to a man. I think, therefore, that Isaiah introduces God as speaking, in order to reproach the people with ingratitude, because “from the beginning,” that is, from the time that he began to reveal himself to their fathers, he did not speak obscurely or secretly. Hence it follows, that all the ignorance that was in them ought to be ascribed to their depravity, because of their own accord they forsook the light.

From the time that it was done, I was there. When he says that he was present at the time that the event occurred, the meaning is, that what he had uttered with his mouth was carried into execution by his strength and by his power. Justly, therefore, does he affirm that he gave tokens of his presence, when, by accomplishing all things, he not only proved the truth of the predictions by the event itself, but shewed that those things which are supposed to be accidental are governed by his authority. In a word, he mentions the ancient promises of God and the fulfillment of them, in order to shew that God will always be like himself. Those who say that Isaiah will be present in spirit, when the Lord shall bring back his people, torture the Prophet’s words, and produce nothing that agrees with his meaning.

And now Jehovah hath sent me. Isaiah now begins to speak of himself, and applies this statement to the preceding doctrine, and testifies that that God, who hath spoken from the beginning, now speaketh by him, and consequently that we ought to believe those things which God now speaketh by him, in the same manner as if he were visibly present. Hence we ought to draw a useful doctrine, namely, that all the miracles which the Lord has performed ought to be brought to our remembrance, that we may confirm his truth in our hearts. It is no slight argument, that the Lord had from the beginning a distinct people, whom he taught, to whom he made sure promises, and to whom he performed those promises, and whom he never deceived, even in the smallest matter; for all things were performed and fulfilled in due time. Whenever, therefore, any doubt arises, we ought to betake ourselves to these examples, “God hath always assisted his people; not now, for the first time, hath he spoken to them, and he did not deceive his people by words which were dark or ambiguous, but spoke plainly and clearly.” Thus the Prophet declares that he brings forward nothing of his own, but that he was sent by God, who has proved himself to be faithful.

And his Spirit. He mentions “the Spirit,” not as if he meant something different from God, because he is of the same essence with him; for in one essence of God we acknowledge Three Persons; but he names “The Spirit,” because He is the only teacher and director of all the prophets. Paul says, that “no man can say that Jesus is Christ, but by the Spirit,” and a little after he says that “the gifts of God are various, but that it is one and the same Spirit who worketh all things in all. (<461203>1 Corinthians 12:3, 6.) This passage is also a clear proof of the divinity of the Spirit, since the prophets are sent by him; for it belongs to God alone to send them, as it is by the authority of the prince alone that ambassadors are sent; and since the Spirit does this, — since he directs them, and gives to them power and efficacy, unquestionably he is God.

From this passage we learn also, that they who have not this direction of the Spirit, though they boast of having been sent by God, ought to be rejected; such as those Popish bands of wolves which glory in the name of pastors and teachers, and impudently boast of their mission, though they are altogether opposed to the Spirit of God, and to his doctrine. In vain do they boast of having been sent or authorized by God, when they are not adorned with the gifts of the Spirit, which are necessary for the execution of such an office. To pretend to having the inspiration of the Spirit, while they are entirely destitute of faith, and have not even the slightest spark of doctrine, is excessively disgusting. Let us suppose an assembly of mitred bishops, the greater part of whom are known to be ignorant, and among three hundred of whom there shall scarcely be found ten who have a moderate share of the rudiments of piety; what could be more foolish than for such an assembly to boast of being governed by “the Spirit? “

17. Thus saith Jehovah. I connect this verse with the four following verses, because they relate to the same subject, and because in them the Lord promises deliverance to his people, but in such a manner as first to shew that it was through their own fault that they were reduced to slavery; that is, that the people might not murmur and object that it would have been better to be kept in their native country, if the Lord wished to assist them, than to be carried away and brought back; for physicians who cure a disease which they might have prevented, are held to be less entitled to thanks. The Prophet therefore meets this, and says that this befell the people through their own fault, and that they might have escaped this destruction, if they had attended to the commandments of the Lord. He shews, therefore, that this was a just reward of the wickedness of the people; for it was not the Lord who had formerly prevented the people from enjoying prosperity, but they had rejected his grace. And yet he declares that the Lord will go beyond this wickedness by his goodness, because he will not suffer his people to perish, though he afflict them for a time.

Teaching thee profitably. He means that God’s “teaching” is such that it might keep the people safe and sound, if they would only rest upon it. Now, the Lord “teaches,” not for his own sake, but in order to promote our salvation; for what profit could we yield to him? It is therefore by “teaching” that he makes provision for the advantage of each of us, that, having been instructed by it, we may enjoy prosperity. But since, through our ingratitude, we reject the benefit that is freely offered to us, what remains but that we shall miserably perish? Justly, therefore, does Isaiah reproach the Jews that, if they had not defrauded themselves of the benefit of teaching, nothing that was profitable for their salvation would have been hidden from them. And if these things were said of the Law, that the Lord, by means of it, “taught his people profitably,” what shall we say of the Gospel, in which everything that is profitable for us is very fully explained? F839

Hence, also, it is manifest, how shocking is the blasphemy of the Papists who say that the reading of the Holy Scripture is dangerous and hurtful, in order to terrify unlearned persons F840 from reading it. Shall they then accuse God of falsehood, who declares, by the mouth of the Prophet, that it is “profitable?” Do they wish us to believe them rather than God? Though they impudently vomit out their blasphemies, we certainly ought not to be dissuaded from the study of it; for we shall learn by actual experience with what truthfulness Isaiah spoke, if we treat the Holy Scriptures with piety and reverence.

Leading thee. These words shew more clearly the profitableness which was mentioned a little before. He means that the way of salvation is pointed out to us, if we hearken to God when he speaks; for he is ready to become our guide during the whole course of our life, if we will only obey him. In this manner Moses testifies that he “set before the people life and death.” (<053019>Deuteronomy 30:19.) Again, it is said, (<233021>Isaiah 30:21,) “This is the way, walk ye in it;” for the rule of a holy life is contained in the Law, which cannot deceive. “I command thee,” says Moses, “that thou love the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways, and keep his commandments and statutes and judgments, that thou mayest live and be multiplied, and that the Lord may bless thee in the land which thou goest to possess.” (<053016>Deuteronomy 30:16.) In a word, they who submissively yield obedience are not destitute either of counsel or of the light of understanding.

18. O if thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! As the people might complain of being carried into captivity, the Prophet, intending to meet those murmurs, points out the cause, which was, that they did not submit to the doctrine of salvation, and did not allow themselves to derive any advantage from it. He undoubtedly alludes to the song of Moses, in which very nearly the same form of expression occurs, “O that they were wise, and that they understood!” (<053229>Deuteronomy 32:29.) awl (lu) denotes a wish, O if! or, Would that!

Not only does the Lord expostulate with the Jews for having disregarded the advantage, or “profitableness,” (verse 17,) which was offered to them, but like a father, he deplores the wretchedness of his children; for he takes no pleasure in our distresses, and is not severe, unless when we constrain him by our wickedness. This is therefore a figurative appropriation of human affections, by which God compassionates the ruin of those who chose rather to perish of their own accord than to be saved; for he was ready to bestow blessings of every kind, if we did not drive him away by our obstinacy. Yet it would be foolish to attempt to penetrate into his secret counsel, and to inquire why he did not add the efficacy of the Spirit to the external word; for nothing is said here about his power, but there is only a reproof of the hard-heartedness of men, that they may be rendered inexcusable. Certainly, whenever God invites us to himself, there is clearly laid before us, in his word, complete happiness, which we wickedly reject.

Then would thy peace have been as a river. The word peace, as we have formerly explained, F841 denotes all prosperous events. It is as if he had said, “The richest plenty of spiritual blessings would have flowed to thee abundantly, and thou wouldst have had no occasion to dread any change; because the blessing of God upon believers is never dried up.

And thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. We might explain righteousness, which he connects with peace, to mean what is expressed by the familiar phrase (ton bon droict) “thy right.” But I choose rather to understand by the word “Righteousness” a well regulated commonwealth, in which everything is administered in a regular and orderly manner; as if he had said, “Thou wouldest have had everything well conducted at home, and wouldest have had plenty and abundance of all things.” And properly does he connect this condition with “peace;” for when government is overtumed, everything goes wrong and is out of order, and it is utterly impossible that we shall enjoy “peace,” if there be not “righteousness,” that is, a just and equitable administration of affairs. If, therefore, we are desirous of “peace,” let us likewise wish to have that blessed condition on which the Lord bestows his blessing. Here some commentators speculate about spiritual “righteousness,” and the forgiveness of sins; but they wander far from the Prophet’s meaning, which is plain and obvious.

19. Thy seed would have been as the sand. This also relates to a happy life, when progeny is multiplied, by whose aid the labors of the old are alleviated, and which “resists the adversaries in the gate.” The Psalmist compares such children to “arrows shot by a strong hand,” and pronounces him to be “blessed who hath his quiver full of them;” that is, who has a large number of such children. (<19C704>Psalm 127:4, 5.)

When he mentions sand, he appears to allude to the promise which was made to Abraham,

“I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea-shore.” (<012217>Genesis 22:17.)

And he repeats the same sentiment in various words; according to the usage of the Hebrew writings, substituting children for “seed,” and small stones for “sand.” In a word, he shews that the people prevented God from causing them to enjoy the fruit of that promise.

His name would not have been cut off. Coming down to the interruption of this favor, he next reproaches them in more direct terms with having sought for dispersion, after having been miraculously collected by the hand of God; for by the word name he means the lawful condition of the people, which would always have flourished, if the blessing had not been tumed aside front its course. What he says about the people having been “cut off,” must be understood to refer to the land of Canaan, from which the people of God had been cast out, and thus appeared to have been thrust out of their Father’s house; for the Temple, of which they were deprived, was a symbol of God’s presence, and the land itself was a pledge or earnest of a blessed inheritance. Being driven into captivity, therefore, the people appeared to have been cut off and banished from the presence of God, and had no token of the divine assistance, if the Lord had not soothed their affliction by those promises. Now, we ought carefully to observe this distress, that, when they had been banished into a distant country, they had no temple, or sacrifices, or religious assemblies; for they who in the present day have no form of a Church, F842 no use of sacraments, and no administration of the word, ought to look upon themselves as being in some measure cast out from the presence of God, and should learn to desire, and continually to ask by earnest prayer, the restoration of the Church.

20. Go out of Babylon. This is the second clause of this remonstrance, in which the Lord solemnly declares that he will be the Redeemer of his people, though they have been unworthy and ungrateful. After having declared that he performed the office of a good teacher, but that the people refused to hearken to him, so that by their own fault they drew down on themselves the punishment of captivity, he now declares his unwearied forbearance, by adding that he will still assist them, in order to bring them out of slavery. He therefore commands them to go out of the land of Babylon, in which they were captives. Hence we see that God, in his unspeakable goodness, though he has just cause to remonstrate with us, yet relieves our afflictions, and assists those who had been unworthy, and even who had insolently rejected his grace.

With the voice ofrejoicing. This relates to the confirmation of the deliverance, for he intended to give assurance to a promise which was altogether incredible. In order, therefore, to remove all doubt, he employed lofty language in extolling this blessing.

Tell it. He describes the strength of that confidence by which he wished to encourage the Jews; for we are wont to utter loudly and boldly those things of which we are certain, and, if we have any doubt, we scarcely venture to speak, and are dumb. Isaiah speaks of a future event as if it had actually arrived, that the people might cherish in their hearts greater and stronger confidence. He makes use of the imperative mood, which is much more forcible, and produces a more powerful impression on our minds, than if he had expressed his meaning in plain terms.

21. Therefore they thirsted not. Because the Jews did not see the way opened up for their return, and because great and dangerous wildernesses intervened, the Prophet asserts the power of God, and brings forward examples of it, that they may not be terrified by any difficulty. He therefore bids them consider whether or not God had sufficient power to rescue their fathers from the slavery of Egypt, and to lead them through desolate wildernesses, in which he supplied them with food and water and everything that was necessary for them. (Exodus 16:and 17; Numbers 20.) Here the Jews, according to their custom, contrive absurd fables, and invent miracles which were never performed; and they do this, not through ignorance, but through presumption, by which anything that is plausible, though there be no ground whatever for it, easily gains their support.

The design of the Prophet was to recall to their remembrance the former departure from Egypt, and the miracles which the Lord performed at that time, which we have already remarked to be customary with the Prophets, when they wish to extol in lofty terms the works of God. Thus David, when he was celebrating the victories which he had obtained, says that

“the mountains trembled and flowed down, that the air was cleft asunder, and that the Lord was seen from heaven,”
(<191807>Psalm 18:7,)

though nothing of this kind ever happened to him; but he imitates the description of the deliverance from Egypt, in order to shew that God, who was the author of it, had also been his supporter and leader in conquering his enemies, and that the power of God ought not to be less acknowledged in his victory than in those signs and wonders.

In like manner the Prophet wishes that the people should now contemplate those miracles, in order to correct their unbelief, and that they may not be tempted by any distrust. The holy servants of God were always accustomed to cast their eyes on that deliverance, in order that, by the remembrance of so great a benefit, they might strengthen the hearts of all in hope and confidence; as we have formerly said that it was the duty of believers in every age to expect the fruit of this redemption, that the Lord, by uninterrupted progress, might be the guardian of a redeemed people. Thus Isaiah means that the Lord will easily surmount every obstacle, will open up a way which is shut, and will supply them abundantly with water, so that they shall not die of thirst, in the same manner as he formerly brought water out of rock by an extraordinary miracle, when the people thought that their condition was hopeless; and consequently, that there is no reason why they should despair of their return, if they wish to contemplate, and cordially to believe, that power of God which they have already experienced.

22. There is no peace, saith Jehovah to the wicked. These words, “saith the Lord,” are included by some commentators in a parenthesis; but we view them as having this connection with what goes before, that the Lord denies to wicked men that “peace” of which they are unworthy. F843 And this is expressly added, that hypocrites might not, according to their custom, cherish false confidence in these promises; for he declares that the promises do not belong to them, in order to shut them out altogether from the hope of salvation. But Isaiah appears also to have had his eye on something else; for, since the greater part of the people, under the influence of impiety, rejected this blessing, many weak and feeble persons might hesitate and might be terrified by the opinion of the multitude; F844 as in our own day we see feeble consciences disturbed, when they see the greater part of men despise the doctrine of salvation. Beholding many persons placed in danger, he tums away their minds from such a temptation, that they may not be troubled by the multitude of wicked and unbelieving men, who reject the grace of God and this prosperous condition, but that, without paying any regard to those men, they may embrace and enjoy this benefit.


This is believed to be the earliest account of a Sun-Dial that is anywhere to be found in history, and, on that account, has arrested the attention of scholars little addicted to the study of the Holy Scriptures. The form of it, which can now be nothing else than a matter of ingenious conjecture, has been investigated with uncommon industry, and illustrated with great profusion of learning. Little aid can be obtained from the incidental notice of the sacred historian, which our author has expounded with more than his usual conciseness.

A preliminary question relates to the Hebrew word twl[m, (magnaloth,) which, like the Latin word gradus, literally means steps, but might naturally enough mean degrees. It has been contended that baqmou<v the term used by Josephus, is liable to a similar ambiguity, and may have been used by him in its literal signification. Michaelis differed so widely from this view, that he considered, hl[m (magnalah) to signify a degree, in the sense used by modern mathematicians, who divide a circle into 360 degrees, so that 10 degrees (10) would denote the ninth part of a right angle; and he supports his opinion by shewing that this use of the word degree did not take its rise among European philosophers, but traveled from the East, and, like our ordinary numerals, had an Arabic origin.

Assuming that the word denotes steps, there is still abundant room for diversity of interpretation. Some have thought that there was a flight of steps leading to the royal palace of Ahaz, on the top of which was placed a gnomon, (or obelisk,) and that the steps served to measure the shadow of the sun which was thrown upon them. Others refer it to an earlier period, when the sun-dial consisted of a massive structure, towering into the sky like other monuments of Oriental architecture, and built with scientific precision, but unfitted by its cumbrous form to vie with the accuracy and elegance of lighter instruments which belong to a more advanced age of science. The type of such buildings is naturally sought, not in Judea, where such studies were never cultivated, but among the Egyptians, and especially among the Babylonians, to whom the Greeks and other nations were indebted for their knowledge of astronomy. Po>lon me<n ga<r gnw>mona kai< ta< duw>deka me>rea th~v hJme>rhv, para< Babulwni>wn e]maqon oiJ Ellhnev “For the Greeks learned from the Babylonians the dial, and the gnomon, and the division of the day into twelve (parts) hours.” (Herodotus Eut., 109.) Nothing is more natural than to suppose that Ahaz directed some architect to copy a celebrated building in Babylon, the general form of which may be gathered from the description given by Bishop Stock,* whose version of the passage, and note, accompanied by a drawing, we shall lay before our readers: —

Behold, I turn the shadow of the degrees,
By which the sun is gone down on the dial of Ahaz,**
Backward ten degrees.
So the sun turned back ten degrees,
On the dial, by which it had gone down.

In what manner the shadow was made to go backward ten degrees is a question totally distinct from the form of the dial. That it was effected by a motion of the sun itself, or by a change of the relative position of the earth to that luminary, though this has been boldly stated and argued, is a notion too extravagant to need refutation. There is plausibility in the view suggested by Doederlein, that “the change of the shadow depended entirely on a cloud, which intercepted, and in a manner altogether extraordinary refracted, the rays of the sun, and thus made the shadow or the light to go back ten degrees.” Rosenmuller relates, on the authority of another commentator, an alteration of the shadow of a sun-dial, to the extent of an hour and half, which was effected by the shadow of a cloud at Metz, in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Without inquiring into the historical evidence of such an occurrence, or entering into long and intricate reasonings on the principles of optics, which would be unsuitable to this place, we shall only remark, that the transaction was undoubtedly miraculous; for it is declared to have been “a sign from Jehovah.” In this respect, it is but one of innumerable miracles which were performed by an Almighty hand in the sight of the Jewish people, and which have been recorded in order to strengthen the faith, and aid the devotion, of the worshippers of God in all ages, who delight to “praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.” — Ed.


Go To Isaiah 49:1-26

1. Hear me, O islands! After having treated of the future deliverance of the people, he comes down to Christ, under whose guidance the people were brought out of Babylon, as they had formerly been brought out of Egypt. The former prophecy must have been confirmed by this doctrine; because they would scarcely have hoped that the Lord would deliver them, if they had not placed Christ before their eyes, by whom alone desponding souls can be comforted and strengthened; for from him they ought not only to expect eternal salvation, but ought equally to expect temporal deliverance. Besides, it is customary with the prophets, when they discourse concerning the restoration of the Church, to bring Christ into view, not only because he would be the minister of the Church, but because on him was founded the adoption of the people. The Jews also, or, at least, such of them as have any soundness of understanding, admit that this passage cannot be understood as relating to any other person than Christ. But still the train of thought which we have pointed out has not been perceived by every interpreter; for the Prophet does not, by a sudden transition, mention Christ, but interweaves this with the former subject, because in no other manner could the people entertain the hope of deliverance, since on him depended their reconciliation with God. And in order that the style might be more energetic, he introduces Christ as speaking, and addresses not only the Jews but nations that were beyond the sea, and foreign nations who were at a great distance from Judea, to whom, as we have formerly remarked, F845 he gives the name of “Islands.”

Jehovah hath called me from the womb. A question arises, What is the nature of this calling? For, seeing that we were

“chosen in Christ before the creation of the world,”
(<490104>Ephesians 1:4,)

it follows that election goes before this calling; for it is the commencement and foundation of our election. Accordingly, it might be thought that Isaiah says far less than the occasion demands, when he says that he was “called from the womb;” for he had been called long before. But the answer is easy; for the subject here treated of is not eternal election, by which we are adopted to be his sons, but only the appointment or consecration by which Christ is set apart to that office, that no man may think that he intruded into it without being duly authorized. “For no man,” as the Apostle says,

“taketh this honor upon himself, but he who is called by God, as Aaron was. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he who spake to him, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (<580504>Hebrews 5:4, 5.)

Moreover, the Prophet does not describe the commencement of the period, as if it were only from the womb that God began to call him; but it is as if he had said, “Before I came out of the womb, God had determined that I should hold this office.” In like manner Paul also says that he was “set apart from the womb,” (<480115>Galatians 1:15,) though he had been “elected before the creation of the world.” (<490104>Ephesians 1:4.) To Jeremiah also it is said, “Before thou camest out of the womb, I knew thee.” (<240105>Jeremiah 1:5.) In short, the meaning is, that Christ was clothed with our flesh by the appointment of the Father, in order that he might fulfill the office of Redeemer, to which he had been appointed.

From my mother’s belly he hath had my name in remembrance. This has the same import as the former clause; for by “the remembrance of the name” is meant familiar acquaintance. He therefore distinguishes himself from the ordinary rank of men, because he was elected to an uncommon and remarkable office.

2. And he hath placed my mouth as a sharp sword, he employs a twofold comparison, that of “a sword” and of “a quiver,” in order to denote the power and energy of the doctrine; and he shews why he was called, and why he was honored by a name so excellent and illustrious, namely, that he may teach; for this is what he means by the word “mouth.” Christ hath therefore been appointed by the Father, not to rule, after the manner of princes, by the force of arms, and by surrounding himself with other external defences, to make himself an object of terror to his people; but his whole authority consists in doctrine, in the preaching of which he wishes to be sought and acknowledgcd; for nowhere else will he be found. He asserts the power of his “mouth,” that is, of the doctrine which proceeds from his mouth, by comparing it to “a sword;” for

“the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (<580412>Hebrews 4:12.)

And hath made me as a polished arrow. He now compares his mouth to “an arrow,” because it strikes not only close at hand, but likewise at a distance, and reaches even those who appear to be far off.

In his quiver hath he hid me. After having spoken of the efficacy of doctrine, Isaiah adds, that God, by his power, protects Christ and his doctrine, so that nothing can stop his course. And this was very necessary to be added; for, as soon as the mouth of Christ is opened, that is, as soon as his Gospel is preached, adversaries rise up on all sides, and innumerable enemies league together in order to crush it; so that the efficacy which he ascribes to doctrine would not be sufficient, if there were not added his protection, in order to drive away adversaries.

Besides, the present question is not about the person of Christ, but about the whole body of the Church. We must indeed begin with the Head, but we must next come down to the members; and to all the ministers of the Word must be applied what is here affirmed concerning Christ; for to them is given such efficacy of the Word, that they may not idly beat the air with their voices, but may reach the hearts and touch them to the quick. The Lord also causes the voice of the Gospel to resound not; only in one place, but far and wide throughout the whole world. In short, because he faithfully keeps them under his protection, though they are exposed to many attacks, and are assaulted on every side by Satan and the world, yet they do not swerve from their course. We ought to have abundant knowledge of this from experience; for they would all to a man have been long ago ruined by the conspiracies and snares of adversaries, if the Lord had not defended them by his protection. And indeed, amidst so many dangers, it is almost miraculous that a single preacher of the Gospel is permitted to remain. The reason of this is, that the Lord guards them by his shadow, and “hides them as arrows in his quiver,” that they may not be laid open to the assaults of enemies and be destroyed.

3.Thou art my servant, O Israel. It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shews that the Prophet now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation; which has not been duly considered by commentators. This passage must not be limited to the person of Christ, and ought not to be referred to Israel alone; but on the present occasion we should attend to the customary language of Scripture. When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward conspicuously so as to include all the children of God. We hear what Paul says:

“The promises were given to Abraham and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” (<480316>Galatians 3:16.)

He does not include the whole multitude of children who were descended from Abraham himself according to the flesh, seeing that all were not partakers of the blessing. Ishmael was rejected, Esau was a reprobate, and many others were cut off. When the people were rescued from Babylon, but a small renmant came out; for the greater part rejected God’s astonishing kindness. Where then was “the seed?” In Christ, who is the Head, and contains in himself the rest of the members; for in him is joined and bound by an indisoluble bond all the seed.

In like manner, under the name Israel, by which he means Christ, Isaiah includes the whole body of the people, as members under the Head. Nor ought this to be thought strange; for Paul also, when he speaks of the union, employs the metaphor of the human body, and then adds: “So also is Christ.” (<461212>1 Corinthians 12:12.) In that passage the name of Christ is given to Israel, that is, to the whole body of believers, who are joined to Christ, as members to the Head. In a word, the Lord honors by this name the Church, which is the spouse of Christ, just as the wife is honored by bearing the name and title of her husband. He calls “Israel his servant,” that is, he calls the Church his handmaid, because she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” (<540315>1 Timothy 3:15; ) for he hath committed his word to the care of the Church, that by her ministrations it may be published throughout the whole world.

In thee I will be glorified. At length, in the conclusion of the verse he shews what is the design of these ministrations, and for what purpose, they who preach the Gospel are called by God; namely, that they may zealously display his glory, and may likewise promote it among others, which Christ also teaches us in the Gospel,

“Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.” (<431701>John 17:1.)

This is a very high honor conferred on poor, feeble men, when the Lord appoints them, though corrupt and depraved, to promote his glory; and therefore we ought to be the more encouraged to render to him our service and obedience. Yet God intends to express something more, that, notwithstanding the efforts of Satan and all wicked men, the power of God will be victorious, so that Christ shall triumph gloriously, and the majesty of God shall shine forth in his Gospel.

4. And I said, In vain have I toiled. The Prophet here brings forward a grievous complaint in the name of the Church, yet in such a manner that, as we have formerly remarked, we must begin with the Head. Christ therefore complains along with his members, that it appears as if his labor were thrown away; for, having formerly pronounced a high and striking commendation on the power and efficacy of the word which proceedeth out of his mouth, while yet it scarcely does any good, and the glory which God demands from the ministration of it does not shine forth, he therefore introduces the Church as complaining that she spends her labor fruitlessly, because men do not repent at the preaching of heavenly doctrine.

It was highly necessary that the Prophet should add this; first, that we may know that the fruit which he mentioned is not always visible to the eyes of men; for otherwise we might call in question the truth of the word, and might entertain doubts if that which is so obstinately rejected by many was the word of God. Secondly, it was necessary, that we may advance with unshaken firmness, and may commit our labor to the Lord, who will not permit it to be ultimately unproductive. The Prophet therefore intended to guard against a dangerous temptation, that we may not, on account of the obstinacy of men, lose courage in the middle of our course. And indeed Christ begins with the complaint, for the purpose of affirming that nothing shall hinder him from executing his office. The meaning of the words might be more clearly brought out in the following manner: “Though my labor be unprofitable, and though I have almost exhausted my strength without doing any good, yet it is enough that God approves of my obedience.” Such is also the import of what he adds, —

But my judgement is before Jehovah. Although we do not clearly see the fruit of our labors, yet we are enjoined to be content on this ground, that we serve God, to whom our obedience is acceptable. Christ exhorts and encourages godly teachers to strive earnestly till they rise victorious over this temptation, and, laying aside the malice of the world, to advance cheerfully in the discharge of duty, and not to allow their hearts to languish through weariness. If therefore the Lord be pleased to make trial of our faith and patience to such an extent that it shall seem as if we wearied ourselves to no purpose, yet we ought to rely on this testimony of our conscience. And if we do not enjoy this consolation, at least we are not moved by pure affection, and do not serve God, but the world and our own ambition. In such temptations, therefore, we should have recourse to this sentiment.

Yet it ought to be observed, that here Christ and the Church accuse the whole world of ingratitude; for the Church complains to God in such a manner as to remonstrate with the world, because no good effect is produced on it by the doctrine of the Gospel, which in itself is efficacious and powerful. Yet the whole blame rests on the obstinacy and ingratitude of men, who reject the grace of God offered to them, and of their own accord choose to perish. Let those persons now go and accuse Christ, who say that the Gospel yields little fruit, and who defame the doctrine of the word by wicked slanders, and who throw ridicule on our labors as vain and unprofitable, and who allege that, on the contrary, they excite men to sedition, and lead them to sin with less control. Let them consider, I say, with whom they have to do, and what advantage they gain by their impudence, since men alone ought to bear the blame, who, as far as lies in their power, render the preaching of the Word unprofitable.

Godly ministers, who bitterly lament that men perish so miserably by their own fault, and who sometimes devour and waste themselves through grief, when they experience so great perversity, ought to encourage their hearts by this consolation, and not to be alarmed so as to throw away the shield and spear, though sometimes they imagine that it would be better for them to do so. Let them consider that they share with Christ in this cause; for Christ does not speak of himself alone, as we formerly mentioned, but undertakes the cause of all who faithfully serve him, and, as their advocate, brings forward an accusation in the name of all. Let them therefore rely on his protection, and allow him to defend their cause. Let them appeal, as Paul does, to the day of the Lord, (<460404>1 Corinthians 4:4,) and let them not heed the calumnies, reproaches, or slanders of their enemies; for their judgment is with the Lord, and although they be a hundred times slandered by the world, yet a faithful God will approve and vindicate the service which they render to him.

On the other hand, let wicked men, and despisers of the word, and hypocrites, tremble; for when Christ accuses, there will be no room for defense; and when he condenms, there will be none that can acquit. We must therefore beware lest the fruit which ought to proceed from the Gospel should be lost through our fault; for the Lord manifests his glory in order that we may become disciples of Christ, and may bring forth much fruit.

5. And now saith Jehovah. By this verse he confirms the former statement, and yields more abundant consolation, by repeating that calling; and the testimony of conscience, which ought to be regarded by us as a fortress; for there is nothing that gives us greater distress and anxiety, than to entertain doubts by whose authority, or by whose direction everything is undertaken by us. For this reason Isaiah reminds us of the certainty of our calling.

Who formed me from the womb to be his servant. In the first place, godly teachers, along with Christ who is their Prince, say that they have been “formed” by a divine hand; because God always enriches and adorns with necessary gifts those whom he calls to the office of teaching, who derive from the one fountain of the Spirit all the gifts in which they excel. Thus “the Father hath sealed” (<430627>John 6:27) his Only-begotten Son, and next prepares others, according to their degree, to be fit for discharging their office. At the same time, he points out the end of the calling; for to this end have Apostles and teachers of the Church been appointed, to gather the Lord’s scattered flock, that under Christ we may all be united in the same body. (<490411>Ephesians 4:11, 13.) In the world there is miserable dispersion, but in Christ there is ajnakefalai>wsiv “a gathering together” of all, (<490110>Ephesians 1:10,) as the Apostle speaks; for there can be no other bond of union. As to the word “create,” or “form,” it is to no purpose that some men speculate about it as relating to Christ’s human existence, which was created; for it is clearer than noon-day, that the “forming” must be viewed as relating to office.

And though Israel be not gathered. The Jews read these words as a question: “Shall I not bring back Jacob? and shall Israel not be gathered?” and supply the particle h (ha). But that reading is excessively unnatural, and the Jews do not consider what was the Prophet’s meaning, but, so far as lies in their power, corrupt the text, in order to conceal the disgrace of their nation. Some explain it, “Shall not be lost,” or, “Shall not perish;” for the verb psa (asaph) sometimes denotes what we commonly call (trousser) to truss. Those things which are intended to be preserved are “gathered,” and likewise those things which are intended to be consumed; and accordingly, when we mean that any person has been removed out of the world, we frequently use the vulgar phrase, “he is trussed,” F846 or, “he is despatched.”

Yet I shall be glorious. To suppose the meaning to be, “I have been sent, that Israel may not perish,” would not be unsuitable; but I choose rather to follow a different interpretation, namely, “Though Israel be not gathered, yet I shall be glorious;” for it is probable that opposite things are contrasted with each other in this passage. If ministers have been set apart, for the salvation of men, it is glorious to them when many are brought to salvation; and when the contrary happens:, it tends to their shame and disgrace. Paul calls those whom he had gained to Christ “his glory and crown.” (<500401>Philippians 4:1; <520219>1 Thessalonians 2:19.) On the other hand, when men perish, we receive from it nothing but shame and disgrace; for God appears to curse our labors, and not to deign to bestow on us the high honor of advancing his kingdom by our agency. But the Prophet declares that those who have served Christ shall nevertheless be glorious; for he speaks both of the head and of the members, as we have formerly remarked. Although therefore Israel refuse to be “gathered,” yet the ministry of Christ shall retain its glory unimpaired; for it will be ascribed to the baseness and wickedness of men, that they have not been “gathered.”

In like manner, although the preachers of the Gospel be “the savor of death unto death” to the reprobate, yet Paul declares that they have a sweet and delightful odor before God, who determines that wicked men shall thus be rendered the more inexcusable. God is indeed doubly glorified if success corresponds to their wishes; but when the ministers of the word have left nothing undone, though they have good reason to lament that their labor is unprofitable, still they must not repent of having pleased God, whose approbation is here contrasted with the perverse judgments of the whole world. As if the Prophet had said, “Though men vehemently slander and load them with many reproaches, yet this ought to be calmly and patiently endured by them; because God judges differently, and bestows a crown of honor on their patience, which wicked men insolently slander.

And my God shall be my strength. When he says that it is enough that “God is their strength,” the meaning corresponds to what goes before, that they ought not to be terrified by the multitude or power of their enemies, seeing that they are persuaded that their “strength” lies in God.

6. And he said, It is a small matter. Isaiah proceeds still farther, and shews that the labor of Christ, and of the whole Church, will be glorious not only before God, but likewise before men. Although at first it appears to be vain and useless, yet the Lord will cause some fruit to spring from it contrary to the expectations of men. Already it was enough that our labor should be approved by God; but when he adds that it will not be unprofitable even in the eyes of men, this ought still more abundantly to comfort, and more vehemently to excite us. Hence it follows, that we ought to have good hopes of success, but that we ought to leave it to the disposal of God himself, that the blessing which he promises may be made manifest at the proper time, to whatever extent, and in whatever manner he shall think proper.

Therefore I have appointed thee to be a light of the Gentiles. He now adds, that this labor will be efficacious, not only among the people of Israel, but likewise among the Gentiles; and so it actually happened. Moreover, when the preaching of the Gospel produced hardly any good effect on the Jews, and when Christ was obstinately rejected by them, the Gentiles were substituted in their room. And thus Christ was

“appointed to be a light of the Gentiles, and his salvation was manifested to the very ends of the earth.” (<441347>Acts 13:47.)

Now this consolation was highly necessary, both for prophets and for apostles, who experienced more and more the obstinacy of the Jews. They might doubt the truth of these promises, since they did not perceive them to yield any fruit; but when they understood that Christ was sent to the Gentiles also, it was not so difficult to animate their hearts to persevere. This was incredible, and even monstrous; but this is the manner in which the Lord commonly works, contrary to the expectation of all. Paul says that this was “a mystery bidden from ages,” and that the angels themselves did not understand it until it was actually revealed in the Church of God. (<490305>Ephesians 3:5.) Although therefore the Jews alone appeared to have discernment, they are now placed on a level with the Gentiles, and with God “there is no distinction between the Jews and the Greeks.” (<451012>Romans 10:12.)

The Jews read this verse as a question, “Is it a small thing?” As if he had said, that it is enough, and that nothing more or greater ought to be desired. But they maliciously corrupt the natural meaning of the Prophet, and imagine that they will one day be lords of the Gentiles, and will have wide and extensive dominion. The true meaning of the Prophet is, “This work in itself indeed is magnificent and glorious, to raise up and restore the tribes of Israel, which had fallen very low; for he will add the Gentiles to the Jews, that they may be united as one people, and may be acknowledged to belong to Christ.” Nor does this passage relate to the rejection of the ancient people, but to the increase of the Church, that the Gentiles may be associated with the Jews. It is true, indeed, that when the Jews revolted from the covenant, the Gentiles entered, as it were, into that place which they had left vacant; and thus their revolt was the reason why those who had formerly been aliens were admitted to be sons. But in this, as well as in other passages, Isaiah foretells that the Church will be greatly extended, when the Gentiles shall be received and united to the Jews in the unity of faith.

A light of the Gentiles. Although by the word “light” is meant happiness, or joy, yet the Prophet, I have no doubt, directly refers to the doctrine of the Gospel, which enlightens souls, and draws them out of darkness, He shews that this “light,” which Christ shall bring, will give salvation. In the same manner as Christ is called “the way, the truth, and the life,” (<431406>John 14:6) because through the knowledge of the truth we obtain life, so in this passage he is called the “light” and salvation of the Gentiles, because he enlightens our minds by the doctrine of the Gospel, in order that he may lead us to salvation. Two things, therefore, ought to be remarked; first, that our eyes are opened by the doctrine of Christ; and secondly, that we who had perished are restored to life, or rather life is restored to us.

7. Thus saith Jehovah. Isaiah pursues the same subject, that the people, when they were afflicted by that terrible calamity, might cherish the hope of a better condition; and, in order to confirm it the more, he calls God, who promised these things, the Redeemer and the Holy One of Israel. It will be objected that these statements are contradictory, that is, that God is called the “redeemer” of that people which he permitted to be oppressed; for where is this redemption, and where is this sanctification, if the people could reply that they were miserable and ruined? I reply, the record of ancient history is here exhibited as the ground of confidence and hope; for when the Jews were on the point of despair, the Prophet comes forward and reminds them that God, who had formerly redeemed their fathers, is still as powerful as ever; and therefore, although for a time, in order to exercise the faith of the godly, he concealed their salvation, believers are commanded to stand firm, because in his hand their redemption is certain. Yet it was proper that they should form conceptions of that which lay far beyond human senses. This is a remarkable passage, from which we learn how firmly we ought to believe God when he speaks, though he does not immediately perform what he has promised, but permits us to languish, and to be afflicted for a long time.

To the contemptible in the soul. hzb (bezo) is rendered by some commentators “contempt,” and by others “contemptible,” which I prefer. F847 It heightens the wretchedness of that nation, that “in the soul,” that is, in their own estimation, they are “contemptible.” Many are despised by others, though they either deserve honor on account of their good qualities, or do not cease to swell with pride, and to tread down the arrogance of others by still greater arrogance. But of this people the Prophet says, that they despise themselves as much as others despise them. He therefore describes deep disgrace and a very unhappy condition, and, at the same time, prostration of mind, that they may know that God’s time for rendering assistance will be fully come, when they shall be altogether humbled.

To the abhorred nation. F848 I see no reason why the plural “Nations,” is here employed by some interpreters; seeing that the singular ywg, (goi,) “nation,” is used by the Prophet, and it is certain that the discourse is specially directed to the posterity of Abraham.

To the servant of rulers. This is added, as if he had said that they are oppressed by strong tyrants; for he gives the appellation ylm (moshelim) to those whose strength and power are so great that it is not easy to escape out of their hands.

When he says that kings shall see, he speaks in lofty terms of the deliverance of his nation; but yet he permits them to be put to the test in the fumace, that he may make trial of their faith and patience; for otherwise there would be no trial of their faith, if he immediately performed what he promised, as we have already said. The word princes contains a repetition which is customary among the Hebrews. We would express it thus: “Kings and princes shall see; they shall rise up: and adore.” By the word adore, he explains what he had said, “They shall rise up; “ for we “rise up” for the purpose of shewing respect. The general meaning is, that the most exalted princes of the world shall be aroused to perceive that the restoration of the nation is an illustrious work of God, and worthy of reverence.

For faithful is the Holy One of Israel. This is the reason of the great admiration and honor which the princes shall render to God. It is because they shall perceive the “faithfulness” and constancy of the Lord in his promises. Now, the Lord wishes to be acknowledged to be true, not by a bare and naked imagination, but by actual experience, that is, by preserving the people whom he has adopted. Let us therefore learn from it, that we ougtlt not to judge of the promises of God from our condition, but from his truth; so that, when we shall see nothing before us but destruction and death, we may remember this sentiment, by which the Lord calls to himself the contemptible and abominable.

Hence also it ought to be observed, how splendid and astonishing a work of God is the deliverance of the Church, which compels kings, though proud, and deeming hardly anything so valuable as to be worthy of their notice, to behold, admire, and be amazed, and even in spite of themselves to reverence the Lord. This strange and extraordinary work, therefore, is highly commended to us. How great and how excellent it is, we may learn from ourselves; for to say nothing about ancient histories, in what manner have we been redeemed from the wretched tyranny of Antichrist? Truly we shall consider it to be “a dream,” as the Psalmist says, (<19C601>Psalm 126:1,) if we ponder it carefully for a short time; so strange and incredible is the work which God hath performed in us who have possessed the name of Christ.

And who hath chosen thee. He now repeats what he had formerly glanced at, that this nation has been set apart to God. But in election we perceive the beginning of sanctification; for it was in consequence of God having deigned to elect them out of his mere good pleasure, that this nation became his peculiar inheritance. Isaiah therefore points out the secret will of God, from which sanctification proceeds; that Israel might not think that he had been selected on account of his own merits. As if he had said, “The Lord, who hath chosen thee, gives actual proof of his election, and shows it by the effect.” In the same manner, therefore, as the truth of God ought to be acknowledged in our salvation, so salvation ought to be ascribed exclusively to his election, which is of free grace. Yet they who wish to become partakers of so great a benefit, must be a part of Israel, that is, of the Church, out of which there can be neither salvation nor truth.

8. In a time of good pleasure. From this verse we again learn more clearly what we explained at the beginning of this chapter, that the Prophet, while he addresses the whole body of the Church, begins with Christ, who is the head. I have said that this ought to be cardully observed; for commentators lmve not attended to it, and yet there is no other way in which this chapter can be consistently expounded. This is clearly shewn by Paul, who applies this statement to the whole Church. (<470602>2 Corinthians 6:2.) And yet, what the Prophet adds, I will give thee to be a covenant, is applicable to no other than Christ.

How shall we reconcile these statements? By considering that Christ is not so much his own as ours; for he neither came, nor died, nor rose again for himself. He was sent for the salvation of the Church, and seeks nothing as his own; for he has no want of anything. Accordingly, God makes promises to the whole body of the Church. Christ, who occupies the place of Mediator, receives these promises, and does not plead on behalf of himself as an individual, but of the whole Church, for whose salvation he was sent. On this account he does not address Christ separately, but so far as he is joined and continually united to his body. It is an inconceivable honor which our heavenly Father bestows upon us, when he listens to his Son on our account, and when he even directs the discourse to the Son, while the matter relates to our salvation. Hence we see how close is the connection between us and Christ. He stands in our room, and has nothing separate from us; and the Father listens to our cause.

By the word “good pleasure,” the Prophet lays a bridle on believers, so to speak, that they may not be too eager in their desires, but may wait patiently till the time appointed by God has arrived; and in this sense Paul gives to the coming of Christ the appellation of “the time of fullness.” (<480404>Galatians 4:4.) He means, therefore, that they depend on God’s disposal, and ought therefore to endure his wrath with meekness and composure. But although the intention of the Prophet is to exhort the godly to patience, that they may learn to place their feelings in subordination to God, yet at the same time he shows that our salvation proceeds from God’s undeserved kindness. ˆwxr (ratzon) which the Greeks translate eujdoki>a, that is, the good-will of God is the foundation of our salvation; and salvation is the effect of that grace. We are saved, because we please God, not through our worthiness or merits, but by his free grace. Secondly, he shows, at the same time, that our salvation is certain, when we have a clear proof of the grace of the Lord. All doubt ought to be removed, when the Lord testified of his “good pleasure.” This passage tends to the commendation of the word, beyond which we ought not to inquire about salvation; as Paul declares that the good pleasure of God is clearly manifested in the preaching of the Gospel, and that thus is fulfilled what is contained in this passage about “the day of salvation.” (<470602>2 Corinthians 6:2.)

Thirdly, the Prophet intended to remind us, that God gives us an undoubted pledge of his favor when he sends the Gospel to us; because it is evident that he has compassion upon us, when he gently invites us to himself, that we may not look around in every direction to seek this light, which ought to be expected only from God’s gracious pleasure, or be tortured by doubt, from which God frees us. But let us remember that all this depends on God’s free purpose. When therefore the question is put, why the Lord enlightened us at this time rather than at an earlier period, the reason which ought to be assigned is this: because thus it pleased God, thus it seemed good in his sight. Such is the conclusion to which Paul comes in the passage which we quoted,

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (<470602>2 Corinthians 6:2.)

This passage may greatly aid us in ascertaining Isaiah’s meaning, that we may learn to connect our salvation with God’s good pleasure; a proof of which is given to us in the preaching of the Gospel. It ought also to be observed, that these predictions should not be limited to a certain age, since they belong to the whole Church in all ages. For if we begin with the deliverance from Babylon, we must go on to the redemption of Christ, of which it might be regarded as the commencement and the forerunner; and since there are still found among us many remnants of slavery, we must proceed forward to the last day, when everything shall be restored.

I have appointed thee to be a covenant. This makes it still more evident, that all that had formerly been said was promised to Christ, not for the sake of his personal advantage, but on our behalf; for he has been appointed to be the mediator of the covenant, because the Jews by their sins had revolted from God, who had made an everlasting covenant with them. The renewal of that covenant, therefore, which had been broken or dissolved, is ascribed to Christ. Yet we must likewise keep in view the saying of Paul, that

“Christ is our peace, to reconcile both them that are far off, and them that are near.” (<490214>Ephesians 2:14, 17.)

But, Isaiah had directly in view that lamentable ruin, the remedy for which could be expected from Christ alone. Besides, it is proper to apply this grace to ourselves, because, as compared to the Jews, before the Gospel was preached, we were enemies and aliens from God, and could not in any other way be reconciled to him. Christ was therefore “given to be a covenant of the people,” because there was no other way to God but by him. At that time the Jews were a people; but in consequence of the partition-wall having been broken down, all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, have been united in one body.

That thou mayest raise up the earth, which at that time was waste and desolate; for the return of the people was, as we have elsewhere seen, a kind of new creation. Such is also the design of the words of the Prophet, that we may know that there is nothing in the world but ruin and desolation. Christ is sent in order to restore what was fallen down and decayed. If we had not been in a fallen condition, there would have been no reason why Christ should be sent to us. We ought therefore to weigh well our condition; for we are aliens from God, destitute of life, and shut out from all hope of salvation. But by Christ we are fully restored and reconciled to our Heavenly Father. Isaiah likewise adds the benefits which we obtain through Christ, after having been reconciled to God.

9. That thou mayest say to them that are bound. These words describe the change which took place at the coming of Christ. And yet the Prophet unquestionably intends to administer consolation to the Jews in their extremity, that they may not think it incredible that they shall be restored to a better condition, because they see that they are almost devoted to destruction. Still, he shows in general what is the nature of Christ’s office, and explains what is meant by restoring desolate heritages; for, before the coming of Christ, we are “bound” under a miserable yoke, and plunged in darkness. By these metaphors is meant, that so long as we are without Christ, we are overwhelmed by a load of all evils; for by darkness he excludes everything that relates to the kingdom of Christ, faith, righteousness, truth, innocence, and everything of that nature. We are therefore in “darkness,” till Christ say, Shew yourselves. We are “bound,” till he say, Come forth.

The word rmal, (lemor,) “that thou mayest say,” is highly emphatic; for it shews that the preaching of the Gospel is the means by which we are delivered. If therefore we desire liberty, if we desire the light of the kingdom of God, let us listen to Christ when he speaks; otherwise we shall be oppressed by the unceasing tyranny of Satan. Where then is the liberty of our will? Whosoever claims for himself light, or reason, or understanding, can have no share in this deliverance of Christ; for liberty is not promised to any but those who acknowledge that they are captives, and light and salvation are not promised to any but those who acknowledge that they are plunged in darkness.

On the ways they shall feed. When he promises that pastures shall be accessible to the children of God, and shall be on the tops of the mountains, by these metaphors he declares that all who shall be under the protection of Christ shall dwell safely; for he is a careful and attentive Shepherd, who supplies his flock with everything that is necessary, so that they are in want of nothing that is requisite for the highest happiness. (<431011>John 10:11.) This instruction was highly necessary at the time when the Jews were about to perform a joumey through dry and barren countries, in their return to a land which lay waste and desolate. The Prophet therefore says that God has abundant resources for supplying their wants, though earthly means should fail; and accordingly, in accordance with the ordinary custom of Scripture, he compares believers to sheep, in order that, being aware of their weakness, they may shrink themselves entirely to the care of the Shepherd.

Yet it is probable that indirectly he warns believers not to desire excessive luxury, because they will never have so great a superfluity as not to be attended by many difficulties; and likewise not to become effeminate, because they will be beset by dangers; for we know that “the ways” are exposed to the attacks of enemies and robbers, and that the tops of mountains are for the most part barren. The Church is governed by Christ in such a manner as not to be free from the attacks and insults of men, and is fed in such a manner as frequently to inhabit barren and frightful regions. But though enemies are at hand, God protects us from their violence and oppression. If we are thirsty or hungry, he is abundantly able to supply everything that is necessary for food and maintenance; and amidst perils and difficulties of this nature we perceive his care and anxiety more dearly than if we were placed beyond the reach of all danger.

10. They shall not hunger or thirst. He confirms what was said in the former verse, that there is food in the hand of God, so that the Jews shall not be in want of provisions for their joumey. Nor can it be doubted that he calls to their remembrance, that when their fathers were threatened with death in the wilderness through a scarcity of bread and of every kind of food, God gave them daily, for forty years, manna from heaven. (<021635>Exodus 16:35.) In like manner, when he immediately afterwards speaks of a shadow against the heat of the sun, he alludes to the history related by Moses about “the pillar of a cloud,” by which God protected his people from being scorched by the buming rays of the sun. (<021321>Exodus 13:21.) We have said that it is customary with the prophets to mention the departure of the people out of Egypt, whenever they intend to demonstrate the kindness of God, either publicly towards all, or privately towards any individual.

By the fountains of waters. He likewise alludes to those waters which flowed from the rock, (<021706>Exodus 17:6,) when the people had well-nigh perished from thirst; for those occurrences did not take place at the deliverance from Babylon, but, by mentioning former benefits, the Prophet magnifies the power of God in securing the safety of the Church.

11. And I will place all my mountains. Here he directly and expressly treats of the return of the people; for in vain would he have promised so great happiness to the Church, if the people were not to be restored to their former liberty. The meaning is, that he will remove every obstacle and hinderance that might prevent the return of the people; and that he will render the “mountains” passable, which appeared to be impassable; and, in short, that he will level both the mountains and the valleys, that their return to Judea may be facilitated. Thus, when the Church is about to be completely restored, no obstructions, however great and formidable, can hinder God from being finally victorious. Besides, when he calls them “my mountains,” he not only means that he has an absolute right to command them to afford a passage to his people, but declares that he will be the leader of the expedition, as if he would march along with the Jews, and accompany them in the joumey. In like manner, it is said in another passage, that he passed through Egypt and “rode on the high places of it” at the departure of his people. (<053213>Deuteronomy 32:13.) But here he describes the extraordinary love of God towards the Church, when he says that he travels along with her, and undertakes to supply all her wants, as if he were consulting his own interests when he assisted his people.

12. Behold, those from afar shall come. The opinion entertained by some, that the four quarters of the earth are here denoted, does not rest on very solid grounds; yet I do not reject it, because it not only is probable, but agrees with many other passages. Undoubtedly, he first says that they shall come from distant parts of the world, and next adds certain subdivisions or parts in order to explain this general statement.

And those from the land of Sinis. Instead of “Sinis,” some read “Sinis;” and indeed the Hebrew copies differ. F849 Jerome thinks (and this is the commonly received opinion) that a southern region is so denominated from Mount Sinai, which lay toward the south. Others think that “Syene” is meant, because it lies under the tropic of Cancer. F850 But this diversity has nothing to do with the meaning of the Prophet, which of itself is clear and easy to be understood; for the Prophet unquestionably means those who had been scattered and dispersed in various places, whether they are collected from the north or from the sea. While Isaiah promises a return from Babylon, he at the same time extends this prediction to the time of Christ, as may be easily learned from what goes before; for we must keep in remembrance what we formerly said, that the second birth of the Church is here described. Not only does he promise that the Jews shall return to Jerusalem to build the temple, but likewise that they who had formerly been aliens from the Church, shall be collected from every corner of the world.

13. Praise, O heavens; and rejoice, O earth. Though he exhorts and encourages all the godly to thanksgiving, yet he likewise aims at confirming the promise which might have been regarded as doubtful; for afflictions trouble our consciences, and cause them to waver in such a manner that it is not so easy to rest firmly on the promises of God. In short, men either remain in suspense, or tremble, or utterly fall and even faint. So long as they are oppressed by fear or anxiety, or grief, they scarcely accept of any consolation; and therefore they need to be confirmed in various ways. This is the reason why Isaiah describes the advantages of this deliverance in such lofty terms, in order that believers, though they beheld nothing around them but death and ruin, might sustain their heart by the hope of a better condition. Accordingly, he places the subject almost before their eye, that they may be fully convinced that they shall have the most abundant cause of rejoicing; though at that time they saw nothing but grief and sorrow.

Let us therefore remember, that whenever the Lord promises anything, we ought to add thanksgiving, that we may more powerfully affect our hearts; and next, that we ought to raise our minds to the power of God, who exercises a wide and extensive dominion over all the creatures; for as soon as he lifts his hand, “heaven and earth” are moved. If the tokens of his wonderful power are to be seen everywhere, he intends that there shall be an eminent and remarkable example of it in the salvation of the Church.

And he wilt have compassion on his poor. By this metaphor the Prophet shews that no obedience which is rendered to God by heaven and earth is more acceptable to him than to join together and lend their mutual aid to his Church. Moreover, that believers may not faint under the weight of distresses, before promising to them consolation from God, he exhorts them calmly to bear distresses; for by the word poor he means that the Church, in this world, is liable to many calamities. In order, therefore, that we may partake of the compassion of God, let us learn, under the cross and amidst many annoyances, to strive after it with sighs and tears.

14. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me. In order to magnify his grace the more, God complains that the hearts of the Jews were so narrow and close, that the road was almost shut against him, if he had not overcome their wicked thoughts by his great goodness. Yet at the same time he endeavors to correct this fault, that the deliverance which is offered, and, as it were, set before them, may be received by them with open hearts, and that, as he is willing to assist them, so they, on the other hand, may be prepared to cherish favorable hopes. Now, to us also this doctrine belongs; because almost all of us, when God delays his assistance, are fearfully distressed and tormented; for we think that he has forsaken and rejected us. Thus despair quickly creeps in, which must be opposed, that we may not be deprived of the grace of God. And indeed amidst these doubts our unbelief is manifested and exposed, by our not relying on the promises of God, so as to bear patiently either the chastisements by which God urges us to repentance, or the trials of faith by which he trains us to patience, or any afflictions by which he humbles us. Justly therefore does God remonstrate with the Jews for rejecting by wicked distrust the salvation offered to them, and not permitting themselves to receive assistance. Nor does he limit this accusation to a small number, but includes nearly the whole Church, in order to shew that he will be kind and bountiful toward the Jews beyond the measure of their faith, and that he even strives with them, that by his salvation he may break through all the hinderances by which they opposed him. Let each of us therefore beware of indulging or flattering ourselves in this matter; for the Lord contends with the whole Church, for uttering speeches of this kind, which proceed from the fountain of distrust.

15. Shall a woman forget her child! In order to correct that distrust, he adds to the remonstrance an exhortation full of the sweetest consolation. By an appropriate comparison, he shews how strong is his anxiety about his people, comparing himself to a mother, whose love toward her offspring is so strong and ardent, as to leave far behind it a father’s love. Thus he did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, (which on other occasions he very frequently employs,) but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls them not merely “children,” but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection. What amazing affection does a mother feel toward her offspring, which she cherishes in her bosom, suckles on her breast, and watches over with tender care, so that she passes sleepless nights, wears herself out by continued anxiety, and forgets herself! And this carefulness is manifested, not only among men, but even among savage beasts, which, though they are by nature cruel, yet in this respect are gentle.

Even if they shall forget. Since it does sometimes happen that mothers degenerate into such monsters as to exceed in cruelty the wild beasts and forget “the fruit of their womb,” the Lord next declares that, even though this should happen, still he will never forget his people. The affection which he bears toward us is far stronger and warmer than the love of all mothers. We ought also to bear in mind the saying of Christ,

“If ye, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more your heavenly Father?” (<400711>Matthew 7:11.)

Men, though by nature depraved and addicted to self-love, are anxious about their children. What shall God do, who is goodness itself? Will it be possible for him to lay aside a father’s love? Certainly not. Although therefore it should happen that mothers (which is a monstrous thing) should forsake their own offspring, yet God, whose love toward his people is constant and unremitting, will never forsake them. In a word, the Prophet here describes to us the inconceivable carefulness with which God unceasingly watches over our salvation, that we may be fully convinced that he will never forsake us, though we may be afflicted with great and numerous calamities.

16. Behold, on the palms of my hands. By another cormparison he describes that inconceivable carefulness which the Lord exercises toward us. It is a common proverb, that “we have it on our fingers’ ends,” when we have anything fully and deeply fixed on our memory. And Moses when he recommends constant meditation on the Law, says, “Thou shalt bind them for a sign on thy hand;” that is, that they should always have the commandments of God placed before their eyes. (<050608>Deuteronomy 6:8.) He now makes use of the same comparison; as if he had said, “I cannot look at my hands without beholding thee in them; I carry thee engraved on my heart, so that no forgetfulness can efface thee; in a word, I cannot forget thee without forgetting myself.” True, indeed, God has neither hands nor bodily shape; but Scripture accommodates itself to our weak capacity so as to express the strength of God’s love toward us.

Thy walls are continually before me. As the Church is frequently called the “habitation” or “city of God,” (and hence also the metaphor of “building” (<19A216>Psalm 102:16; <242406>Jeremiah 24:6; <401618>Matthew 16:18) is frequently employed in Scripture,) so he makes use of the figurative term “walls,” by which he denotes the peace and prosperity of the Church; as if he had said that he would take care that Jerusalem should thrive and flourish. Yet it ought to be observed that the term “walls” denotes proper order of policy and discipline, of which God declares that he will be the ceaseless and unwearied guardian. Let us remember that this prophecy was accomplished during that frightful desolation, when the “walls” of Jerusalem, which were a lively image of the Church, had been cast down, the temple overthrown, and government overtumed, and, in a word, when everything had been destroyed and nearly razed to the foundation; for immediately afterwards he promises that they shall all be restored.

17. Thy builders hasten. He affirms what had been briefly stated in the former verse; for it might have been thought that there was no ground for what he had now asserted about the unceasing care which God takes of his Church and of her walls, which he permits to be razed to their foundations, and therefore he adds the explanation, that it will indeed be thrown down, but will afterwards be built anew. Builders. From this word we may learn what is the true method of restoring the Church, namely, if the Lord send “builders, F851 to rear it, and next if he drive far away the destroyers who demolish it. Though God could, by himself, and without the aid of men, rebuild the Church, yet he deigns to employ their hands; and although he alone, by the secret influence of his Spirit, completes this whole building, yet he blesses their labor, that it may not be useless. From him, therefore, we ought to ask and look for builders; for it belongs to him to render them “sufficient,” as Paul also informs us, (<470305>2 Corinthians 3:5,) and to assign to each his department.

We ought also to pray not only that he may “send forth laborers into his harvest,” (<400938>Matthew 9:38,) but that he may recruit their strength and efficaciously direct them, so that they may not labor in vain; for, when the doctrine of the Gospel is preached with any advantage, it arises from his extraordinary goodness. But even this would not be enough, if he did not “drive destroyers far away;” for Satan, by innumerable arts, invades and assails the Church, and is in no want of servants and attendants, who direct their whole energy to destroy, or spoil, or hinder the Lord’s building. We ought, therefore, constantly to entreat that he would ward off their attacks; and if the result be not entirely according to our expectations, let us blame our own sins and ingratitude; for the Lord was ready to bestow those blessings abundantly upon us.

18. Lift up thine eyes round about. He arouses the Church to survey this magnificent work, as if it were actually before her eyes, and to behold the multitudes of men who shall flock into it from every quarter. Now, as this assemblage must have encouraged godly hearts during the dispersion, so they who were eye-witnesses must have been excited to gratitude. This shews clearly that this prediction was useful at both periods, not only while the event was still concealed by hope, but when it had been actually accomplished. Though he speaks to the whole Church at large, yet this discourse relates also to individuals, that all with one accord, and each person separately, may embrace these promises.

When he bids them “lift up their eyes,” he means that the reason why we are so much cast down is, that we do not examine the Lord’s work with due attention, but have a vail placed, as it were, before our eyes, to hinder us from seeing what lies at our feet. In consequence of this, we do not cherish any confidence, but in adversity are almost overwhelmed by despair. And if these things are said to the whole Church, let every man consider in his own heart how far he is chargeable with this vice, and let him forthwith arouse and awaken himself to behold the works of the Lord, that he may rely with all his heart on his promises.

All are gathered together. When he says that the elect of the Church are “gathered together,” he means that, in order to their becoming one body under Christ, and, as it were, “one fold under one shepherd,” (<431016>John 10:16,) they must be, if we may so express it, “gathered” into one bosom. Christ reckons and treats as his followers none but those who are joined in one body by unity of faith. Whoever then shall choose to be regarded as belonging to the number of the children of God, let him be a son of the Church; for all who are separated from it will be aliens from God.

Thou shalt be clothed as with an ornament. The Prophet shews what is the true ornament of the Church, namely, to have a great number of children, who are brought to her by faith and guided by the Spirit of God. This is true splendor; this is the glory of the Church, which must be filthy and ugly, ragged and dishevelled, if she have not these ornaments. Hence we see how well the Papists understand what is the true manner in which the Church ought to be adorned; for their whole attention is given to painted tables, to statues, to fine buildings, to gold, precious stones, and costly garments; that is, they give their whole attention to puppets, like children. But the true dignity of the Church is internal, so far as it consists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and of progressive faith and piety. Hence it follows, that she is richly provided with her ornaments, when the people, joined together by faith, are gathered into her bosom, to worship God in a proper manner.

I live, saith Jehovah. F852 In order that this promise may be more certain, the Lord employs an oath, which is intended to warn us against distrust, and that, when we shall consider that her end is near, we may be certain that she shall be fully restored. And if this doctrine was ever necessary, it is especially necessary at the present time; for, wherever we tum our eyes, we meet with nothing but frightful desolation.

What then must we do, but, relying on this oath of God, struggle against despair, and not be terrified by our being inconsiderable in number, which makes us despised by the world, and not doubt that there are many of the elect, now wandering and scattered, whom God will at length assemble into his Church? And therefore we ought to encourage our hearts, and to lift up our eyes by faith, that we may extend our hope not only to a single age, but to the most distant period.

19. For thy desolate places, he confirms by other words what we have already seen, that the change which he promised is in the hand of God, that the Church, which was for a long time waste and desolate, may speedily have many inhabitants; so that the place may be too narrow to contain them all. He employs the metaphor of a ruinous city, whose walls and houses are rebuilt, to which the citizens return in such vast numbers that its circumference must be enlarged, because its former extent cannot contain them all. Thus he means not only the return of the people from Babylon, but the restoration which was effected through Christ; that is, when the Church was spread far and wide, not only throughout Judea, but throughout the whole world.

And thy destroyers shall remove far away. He adds that a garrison will be provided, if any enemies shall molest her; yea, that she shall be secure against their attacks and molestation, because God will “drive them far away.” Not that the Church shall ever enjoy perfect peace, and be secured against all the attacks of enemies; but yet God, bearing with the weakness of his people, defended them from wicked men, and restrained or warded off their attacks, so that at least the kingdom of Satan might not grow out of the ruins of the Church.

20. Shall again say in thine ears. Isaiah continues the same subject, and, under a different metaphor, promises the restoration of the Church. He compares her to a widowed or rather a barren mother, in order to describe her wretched and distressful condition; for she was overwhelmed by so many distresses, that the remembrance of the nation appeared to have wholly perished. Mingled with the Babylonians,who held her captive, she had almost passed into another body. We need not wonder, therefore, if he compares her to a barren mother; for she brought forth no more children. Formerly the Jews had enjoyed high prosperity; but the kingdom was ruined, and all their strength was decayed, and, in short, their name was almost extinguished, when they were led into captivity. He therefore promises that the Church shall be purified from her filthiness, and that she who is now solitary shall regain that condition which she formerly held. And this is included in the word Again, that they may not doubt that it is in the power of God to restore what he formerly gave, though it was withdrawn for a time.

The children of thy bereavement. F853By “the children of bereavement” some suppose that orphan children are meant; but I cannot agree with this, for “bereavement” and “barrenness” refer rather to the person of the Church, and accordingly it is for the sake of amplification that he describes them to be those who, contrary to expectation, had been given to her who was bereaved and barren.

Make room for me; that is, “withdraw for my benefit.” Not that it is proper for the godly to shut out their brethren or drive them from their place; but the Prophet has borrowed from familiar language a mode of expression fitted to declare that no inconvenience shall hinder many from desiring to be admitted and to have room made for them. Now, this happened, when the Lord collected innumerable persons out of the whole world; for suddenly, and contrary to the expectation of men, the Church, which had formerly been empty, was filled; its boundaries were enlarged and extended far and wide.

21. And thou shalt say in thy heart. By these words he declares that the restoration of the Church, of which he now speaks, will be wonderful; and therefore he represents her as wondering and amazed on account of having been restored in a strange and unexpected manner. And truly a description of this sort is not superfluous; for, as a new offspring grows up among men every day, by which the human race is propagated, so the children of God and of the Church are born, who, “not from flesh and blood,” (<430113>John 1:13,) but by the secret power of God, are formed again to be new creatures. By nature we have no share in the kingdom of God; F854 and therefore, if any man contemplate this new and uncommon work, and in what manner the Church is increased and maintained, he will be constrained to wonder.

Who hath begotten me these? He shews that this astonishment will not be pretended, like expressions of this kind which frequently proceed from flatterers, but that it will come from “the heart;” for there will be good ground for wondering, that the Lord has preserved the Church amidst so great dangers, and has multiplied it by a new and unexpected offspring. Who would have thought that, at the time when the Jews were held in the greatest contempt, and were overwhelmed by every kind of reproaches and distresses, there would be any of the Gentiles who of their own accord desired to be associated with them? It was also in the highest degree improbable that the dispositions of men should be so suddenly changed as to adopt a religion which they had detested. Besides, the partition-wall which had been erected between them hindered all foreigners and uncircumcised persons from entering.

For I was bereaved (or barren) and solitary. She now explains what was the chief ground of that astonishment; namely, that formerly she brought forth no children, and was altogether destitute. Doctrine, which is the seed of spiritual life, by which the children of the Church are begotten, (<600123>1 Peter 1:23,) had ceased; even the worship enjoined by the Law had been broken off; and, in short, everything that usually contributes to upholding the order of government had been taken away. Now, the Church is called bereaved or barren, not because God hath forsaken her, but because his presence is not always visible. We ourselves saw an image of that barrenness, when the Lord, in order to punish the ingratitude of men, took away his doctrine, and allowed them to wander in darkness. The Church might truly be said to be “bereaved” and “barren,” when none of her children were seen. Hence we ought to conclude how foolish the Papists are, who wish that Christ would always govern his Church so that it may never be “bereaved” or “barren;” seeing that the Lord, thougit he does not forsake the Church, yet very frequently, on account of the ingratitude of men, withdraws the tokens of his presence.

Who then hath brought up those? It is no easy matter for those who are led into captivity, and who often change their place and habitation, to “bring up” children; and when the law and the doctrine of piety no longer resounded in the temple, spiritual nourishment had almost entirely failed. But the Lord, who has no need of human aid, begets his children in an extraordinary manner, and by the astonishing power of his Spirit, and “brings them up” wherever he thinks proper; and in the fulfillment of this prediction, the Lord supplied them with nurses contrary to the expectation of all, so that it is not without reason that the Church wonders how they were reared. When we read this prophecy we are reminded that we ought not to be distressed beyond measure, if at any time we see the Church resemble a “bereaved” woman, and that we ought not to doubt that he can suddenly, or in a moment, raise up and restore her, though we perceive no means by which she can be restored.

22. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. Isaiah confirms what he had said a little before, that the Lord would cause his Church, though for a very long time she had been “barren” and “bereaved,” to have an exceedingly numerous offspring, and to be constrained to wonder at her own fruitfulness; and he does so, in order to remove all doubt which might have found its way into their hearts.

I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles. He declares that he will give children to the Church, not only from among the Jews, as formerly, but likewise from among “the Gentiles.” And yet he indirectly asserts that this generation shall be spiritual through the grace of adoption; for the metaphor of a banner was intended to lead believers to expect a new kind of generation, and different from that which is seen in the ordinary course of nature. The Lord must therefore set up a sign, and display his secret power through the Gospel, F855 that, out of nations who differed so widely from each other both in customs and in language, he might bring children to the Church, who should be united in the same faith, as brethren meet in their mother’s bosom.

Those who think that, by the figurative terms Hand and Banner, nothing more than the preaching of the Gospel is meant, and who set aside the power of the Spirit, are mistaken; for both ought to be united, and the efficacy of the Spirit ought not to be separated from the preaching of the Gospel, as Paul clearly shews. (<470306>2 Corinthians 3:6.) To this “hand” of God, therefore, to this “banner” we must betake ourselves, when we see that the Church is oppressed by the tyranny of wicked men. Though every effort be made to overthrow and destroy it, the “hand” of God is higher, and in vain do men oppose him. He will at length subdue and crush their obstinacy, that the Church may obtain some repose in spite of all their exertions.

When he promises that the sons of the Church shall be brought in her arms and on her shoulders, the language is metaphorical, and means that God will find no difficulty, when he shall wish to gather the Church out of her dispersion; for all the Gentiles will assist him. Although this refers, in the first instance, to the Jews who had been banished and scattered, yet it undoubtedly ought to be extended to all the elect of God, who have become partakers of the same grace.

23. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers. After having spoken of the obedience of the Gentiles, he shews that this relates not to the common people only, but to “kings” also. He compares “kings” to hired men who bring up the children of others, and “queens” to “nurses,” who give out their labor for hire. Why so? Because “kings” and “queens” shall supply everything that is necessary for nourishing the offspring of the Church. Having formerly driven out Christ from their dominions, they shall henceforth acknowledge him to be the supreme King: and shall render to him all honor, obedience, and worship. This took place when the Lord revealed himself to the whole world by the Gospel; for mighty kings and princes not only submitted to the yoke of Christ, but likewise contributed their riches to raise up and maintain the Church of Christ, so as to be her guardians and defenders.

Hence it ought to be observed that something remarkable is here demanded from princes, besides an ordinary profession of faith; for the Lord has bestowed on them authority and power to defend the Church and to promote the glory of God. This is indeed the duty of all; but kings, in proportion as their power is greater, ought to devote themselves to it more earnestly, and to labor in it more diligently. And this is the reason why David expressly addresses and exhorts them to “be wise, and serve the Lord, and kiss his Son.” (<190210>Psalm 2:10-12.)

This shews how mad are the dreams of those who assert that kings cannot be Christians without laying aside that office; for those things were accomplished under Christ, when kings, who had been converted to God by the preaching of the Gospel, obtained this highest pinnacle of rank, which surpasses dominion and principality of every sort, to be “nursing-fathers” and guardians of the Church. The Papists have no other idea of kings being “nursing-fathers” of the Church than that they have left to their priests and monks very large revenues, rich possessions and prebends, on which they might fatten, like hogs in a sty. But that “nursing” aims at an object quite different from filling up those insatiable gulls. Nothing is said here about enriching the houses of those who, under false pretences, hold themselves out to be ministers of the Church, (which was nothing else than to corrupt the Church of God and to destroy it by deadly poison,) but about removing superstitions and putting an end to all wicked idolatry, about advancing the kingdom of Christ and maintaining purity of doctrine, about purging scandals and cleansing from the filth that corrupts piety and impairs the lustre of the Divine majesty.

Undoubtedly, while kings bestow careful attention on these things, they at the same time supply the pastors and ministers of the Word with all that is necessary for food and maintenance, provide for the poor and guard the Church against the disgrace of pauperism; erect schools, and appoint salaries for the teachers and board for the students; build poor-houses and hospitals, and make every other arrangement that belongs to the protection and defense of the Church. But those unnecessary and extravagant expenses for Anniversaries and Masses, for golden vessels and costly robes, which swell the pride and insolence of papists, serve only to uphold pomp and ambition, and corrupt the pure and simple “nursing” of the Church, and even choke and extinguish the seed of God, by which alone the Church lives. When we see that matters are now very different, and that “kings” are not the “nursing-fathers,” but the executioners of the Church; when, in consequence of taking away the doctrine of piety and banishing its true ministers, idle bellies, insatiable whirlpools, and messengers of Satan, are fattened, (for such are the persons to whom the princes cheerfully distribute their wealth, that is, the moisture and blood which they have sucked out of the people;) when even princes otherwise godly have less strength and firmness for defending the Word and upholding the Church; let us acknowledge that this is the reward due to our sins, and let us confess that we do not deserve to have good “nursing-fathers.” But yet, after this frightfully ruinous condition, we ought to hope for a restoration of the Church, and such a conversion of kings that they shall shew themselves to be “nursing-fathers” and protectors of believers, and shall bravely defend the doctrine of the Word.

And shall lick the dust of thy feet. This passage is also tortured by the Papists in order to uphold the tyranny of their idol, as if kings and princes had no other way of proving themselves to be sincere and lawful worshippers of God than by adoring that masked prince of the Church instead of God. Thus they consider the obedience of piety to consist in kissing the Pope’s feet with deep reverence. What they ought to think of such barbarous and idolatrous worship, let them learn, first, from Peter, whose seat they boast of occupying, who would not permit such honor to be rendered to him by the centurion. (<441006>Acts 10:6.) Let them, next, learn from Paul, who tore his garments, and rejected such worship with the utmost abhorrence. (<441414>Acts 14:14.) What could be more absurd than to imagine that the Son of God appointed, instead of a minister of the Gospel, an object of abhorrence, some king dazzling in Persian luxury and splendor? But let us remember that the Church, so long as she is a pilgrim in this world, is subjected to the cross, that she may be humble and may be conformed to her Head; that if her foes make any cessation of their hostility, still her highest ornament and lustre is modesty. Hence it follows, that she has laid aside her own attire, when she is clothed with irreligious pride.

Here the Prophet means nothing else than the adoration by which princes bow down before God, and the obedience which they render to his Word in the Church. What we have already said must be carefully observed, that, when we speak of rendering honor to the Church, she must never be separated from the Head; for this honor and worship belongs to Christ, and, when it is bestowed on the Church, it still continues to belong undivided to him alone. By the obedience of piety kings do not profess submission, so as to bear the yoke of men, but to yield to the doctrine of Christ. Whosoever therefore rejects the ministry of the Church, and refuses to bear the yoke which God wishes to lay with his own hand on all his people, can neither have any fellowship with Christ nor be a child of God.

For they shall not be ashamed. I consider ra (asher) to be a conjunction signifying For;  F856 and the clause to which it belongs is closely connected with what goes before, and has been improperly disjoined from it by some commentators. By this argument he proves that it is highly proper for princes to submit cheerfully to the government of God, and not hesitate to humble themselves before the Church; because God will not suffer those who hope in him to “be ashamed.” As if he had said, “This is a pleasant and delightful submission.”

I am Jehovah. He connects his own truth with our salvation; as if he had said, that he does not wish men to acknowledge him to be true or to be God, unless he actually fulfill what he has promised. And hence we obtain inestimable advantage; for, as it is impossible that God should not continue to be the same, so the stability of our salvation, which the Prophet infers from God’s own stability, must remain unshaken.

24. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? Having solved, in the former verse, an objection which might occur to the mind of believers, he now confirms that solution still more; for it might have been thought incredible that the Jews should be rescued out of the hands of so powerful an enemy, by whom they had been taken in fair battle and reduced to slavery, He therefore adds this question as uttered by the whole of the common people, among whom it probably flew universally from mouth to mouth; and he immediately replies, as we shall sec.

Shall the captivity of the righteous (or, the righteous captivity) be delivered? And we ought, first, to observe this metaphor, that the Church is called “the prey of the mighty” and “the captivity of the righteous,” that is, lawful captivity. He is said to be the “righteous” possessor who is the lawful possessor; just as the prey, when the war has been righteous, passes into the hands of a righteous possessor. F857 Such was the condition of the ancient people, after having been driven into captivity; for, along with their native country, they had lost their liberty, and were entirely in the power, and at the disposal, of the conqueror. And yet we ought carefully to observe this metaphor, that the Church is oppressed by the tyranny of princes, and exposed to the jaws of wolves, and nevertheless is supposed to be their “just” prey. This is, indeed, shamefully wicked; but thus were our fathers treated, and we are not more virtuous or more excellent than our fathers.

25. The prey of the tyrant shall be delivered. However they may boast of having a right to govern, and glory in an empty title, the Lord declares that they are most wicked robbers, when he threatens that he will be an avenger and will snatch their prey from them. God does not overtum just dominion; and hence it follows that the dominion which they usurped over the people of God is mere robbery and wicked tyranny. Neither their arms, nor their forces, nor their warlike preparations, shall hinder the Lord from taking out of their hands an unjust possession.

Nor does this promise relate only to outward enemies and tyrants, but also to the tyranny of Satan, from which we are rescued by the wonderful power of God. True indeed, he possesses vast power, but God is far more powerful, takes away his arms and demolishes his fortresses, that he may set us at liberty. (<401229>Matthew 12:29; <421122>Luke 11:22.) If therefore we have had experience of the power of God in this respect, so much the stronger reason have we for trusting that he will undoubtedly be our deliverer, whenever our enemies shall lay us under their feet and oppress us with cruel bondage.

I will contend with him that contendeth with thee. When he threatens that He will “contend” on our account, first, he reminds us to consider his power, that we may not regard the matter by human reason or by the power of men. We ought not therefore to look at what we can do or what resources we possess, but it is our duty to commit the whole matter to the disposal of God alone, who is graciously pleased to protect and defend us. Secondly, he affirms that he will be a powerful advocate, to reply to the slanders of enemies. We said, a little before, that wicked men not only are hurried along by violence and cruelty against the Church, but load her with false and calumnious charges, as if they had a right to treat her with cruelty; and therefore this consolation is highly necessary, that God will be the defender of our innocence, to scatter by his defense all the idle pretences which strengthen the audacity and fierceness of wicked men. Accordingly he again repeats, —

I will save thy children. We derive great consolation from knowing that we are united with him by so close a bond that he sets himself in opposition to all who contend with us, “blesses those who bless us, and, on the other hand, curses those who curse us,” and, in short, declares that he is the enemy of our enemies. (<011203>Genesis 12:3.) Hence also it ought to be observed, that, when we are restored to liberty and life, when we are not oppressed by enemies, and, in short, when we are saved, it is not a work of man; that no one may ascribe to his own industry what God commands us to expect as an extraordinary blessing from himself alone.

26. And I will feed thy oppressors with their own flesh. First, he declares what is the nature of that end which awaits the enemies of the Church, and threatens that they shall not only be inflamed with mutual hatred, but shall likewise slay each other by mutual slaughter. And indeed it is God who drives them headlong, and rouses them to rage, so that they tum against themselves that strength which they formerly exerted against the Church, fight with each other, as the Midianites did, and bring destruction on themselves. (<070722>Judges 7:22.) The meaning amounts to this, that there will be no need of outward aid or of any preparations, when God shall determine to overtum and destroy the reprobate; because, having been struck by him with giddiness, they shall wear themselves out in mutual conflict by the insatiable rage with which they shall attack each other.

And all flesh shall know. He repeats that statement which we have formerly seen, namely, that he will be acknowledged by all to be the God of Israel and the true and only God, when he shall have delivered his people from destruction; for he intended it to be a demonstration of his Divinity, that he openly manifested himself to be the Redeemer and Savior of his people.

The Mighty One of Jacob. Some read the word Jacob in the vocative case: “O mighty Jacob;” but I read it in the genitive case, “of Jacob.” The Lord testifies that he is the Savior, Redeemer, and Mighty One of Israel, that they may rely with their whole heart on his defense and protection.


Go To Isaiah 50:1-11

1. Where is that bill of divorcement? There are various interpretations of this passage, but very few of the commentators have understood the Prophet’s meaning. In order to have a general understanding of it, we must observe that union by which the Lord everywhere testifies that his people are bound to him; that is, that he occupies the place of a husband, and that we occupy the place of a wife. It is a spiritual marriage, which has been consecrated by his eternal doctrine and sealed by the blood of Christ. In the same manner, therefore, as he takes us under his protection as a early beloved wife, on condition that we preserve our fidelity to him by chastity; so when we have been false to him, he rejects us; and then he is said to issue a lawful divorce against us, as when a husband banished from his house an adulterous wife.

Thus, when the Jews were oppressed by calamities so many and so great, that it was easy to conclude that God had rejected and divorced them, the cause of the divorce came to be the subject of inquiry. Now, as men are usually eloquent in apologizing for themselves, and endeavor to throw back the blame on God, the Jews also complained at that time about their condition, as if the Lord had done wrong in divorcing them; because they were far from thinking that the promises had been made void, and the covenant annulled, by their crimes. They even laid the blame on their ancestors, as if they were punished for the sins of others. Hence those taunts and complaints which Ezekiel relates.

“Our fathers ate a sour grape, and our teeth are set on edge.” (<261802>Ezekiel 18:2.)

Speeches of this kind being universally current among them, the Lord demands that they shall produce the “bill of divorcement,” by means of which they may prove that they are free from blame and have been rejected without cause.

Now, a “bill of divorcement” was granted to wives who were unjustly divorced; for by it the husband was constrained to testify that his wife had lived chastely and honorably, so that it was evident that there was no other ground for the divorce than that she did not please the husband. Thus the woman was at liberty to go away, and the blame rested solely on the husband, to whose sullenness and bad temper was ascribed the cause of the divorce. (<052401>Deuteronomy 24:1.) This law of divorcement, as Ezekiel shews, (<401908>Matthew 19:8,) was given by Moses on account of the hard-heartedness of that nation. By a highly appropriate metaphor, therefore, the Lord shews that he is not the author of the divorce, but that the people went away by their own fault, and followed their lusts, so that they had utterly broken the bond of marriage. This is the reason why he asks where is “that bill” of which they boasted; for there is emphasis in the demonstrative pronoun, hz (zeh), that, by which he intended to expose their idle excuses; as if he had said, that they throw off the accusation, and lay blame on God, as if they had been provided with a defense, whereas they had violated the bond of marriage, and could produce nothing to make the divorce lawful.

Or who is the creditor to whom I sold you? By another metaphor he demonstrates the same thing. When a man was overwhelmed by debt, so that he could not satisfy his creditors, he was compelled to give his children in payment. The Lord therefore asks, “Has he been constrained to do this? Has he sold them, or given them in payment to another creditor? Is he like spendthrifts or bad managers, who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by debt?” As if he had said, “You cannot bring this reproach against me; and therefore it is evident that, on account of your transgressions, you have been sold and reduced to slavery.”

Lo, for your iniquities ye have been sold. Thus the Lord defends his majesty from all slanders, and refutes them by this second clause, in which he declares that it is by their own fault that the Jews have been divorced and “sold.” The same mode of expression is employed by Paul, when he says that we are “sold under sin,” (<450714>Romans 7:14,) but in a different sense; in the same manner as the Hebrew writers are wont to speak of abandoned men, whose wickedness is desperate. But here the Prophet intended merely to charge the Jews with guilt, because, by their own transgressions, they had brought upon themselves all the evils that they endured.

If it be asked, “Did the Lord divorce his heritage? Did he make void the covenant?” Certainly not; but the Lord is said to “divorce,” as he is elsewhere said to profane, his heritage, (<198939>Psalm 89:39; <262421>Ezekiel 24:21,) because no other conclusion can be drawn from present appearances; for, when he did not bestow upon them his wonted favor, it was a kind of divorce or rejection. In a word, we ought to attend to these two contrasts, that the wife is divorced, either by the husband’s fault, or because she is unchaste and adulterous; and likewise that children are sold, either for their father’s poverty or by their own fault. And thus the course of argument in this passage will be manifest.

2. Why did I come? This might be a reason assigned, that the people have not only brought upon themselves all immense mass of evils by provoking God’s anger, but have likewise, by their obstinacy, cut off the hope of obtaining pardon and salvation. But I think that God proceeds still further. After having explained that he had good reason for divorcing the people, because they had of their own accord given themselves up to bondage, when they might have been free, he adds that still it is not he who prevents them from being immediately set at liberty. As he shewed, in the former verse, that the whole blame rests with the Jews, so now he declares that it arises from their own fault that they grow old and rot in their distresses; for the Lord was ready to assist them, if they had not rejected his grace and kindness. In a word, he shows that both the beginning and the progress of the evil arise from the fault of the people, in order that he may free God from all blame, and may shew that the Jews act wickedly in accusing him as the author of evil, or in complaining that he will not assist them.

First, then, the Lord says that he “came;” and why, but that he might stretch out his hand to the Jews? Whence it follows that they are justly deprived; for they would not receive his grace. Now, the Lord is said to “come,” when he gives any token of his presence. He approaches by the preaching of the Word, and he approaches also by various benefits which he bestows on us, and by the tokens which he employs for manifesting his fatherly kindness toward us.

“Was there ever any people,” as Moses says, “that saw so many signs, and heard the voice of God speaking, like this people?” (<050433>Deuteronomy 4:33.)

Constant invitation having been of no advantage to them, when he held out the hope of pardon and exhorted them to repentance, it is with good reason that he speaks of it as a monstrous thing, and asks why there was no man to meet him. They are therefore held to be convicted of ingratitude, because, while they ought to have sought God, they did not even choose to meet him when he came; for it is an instance of extreme ingratitude to refuse to accept the grace of God which is freely offered.

Why did I call, and no one answered? In the word call there is a repetition of the same statement in different words. When God “calls,” we ought to be ready and submissive; for this is the “answer” which, he complains, was refused to him; that is, we ought to yield implicitly to his word. But this expression applies strictly to the matter now in hand; because God, when he offered a termination to their distresses, was obstinately despised, as if he had spoken to the deaf and dumb. Hence he infers that on themselves lies the blame of not having been sooner delivered; and he supports this by former proofs, because he had formerly shewn to the fathers that he possessed abundance of power to assist them. Again, that they may not cavil and excuse themselves by saying that they had not obtained salvation, though they heartily desired it, he maintains, on the other hand, that the cause of the change ought to be sought somewhere else than in him, (for his power was not at all diminished,) and therefore that he would not have delayed to stretch out his hand to them in distress, if they had not wickedly refused his aid.

By shortening hath my hand been shortened? By this interrogation he expresses greater boldness, as if he were affirming what could not be called in question; for who would venture to plead against God that his power was diminished? He therefore relates how powerfully he rescued his people out of Egypt, that they may not now imagine that he is less powerful, but may acknowledge that their sins were the hinderance. F857 He says that by his reproof he “dried up the sea,” as if he had struck terror by a threatening word; for by his authority, and at his command, the seas were divided, so that a passage was opened up, (<021421>Exodus 14:21,) and Jordan was driven back. (<060316>Joshua 3:16.) The consequence was, that “the fishes,” being deprived of water, died and putrified.

3. I clothe the heavens with blackness. He mentions also that thick darkness which was spread over all Egypt during the space of three days. (<021022>Exodus 10:22.) At that time the heaven was clothed as with a mouming dress; for, as fine weather has a gladdening influence, so blackness and darkness produce melancholy; and therefore he says, that the heavens were covered as with sackcloth or with a mouming dress, as if they had been tokens and expressions of mouming, F859 If any one prefer to view them as general statements, let him enjoy his opinion; but I think it probable that he glances at the history of the deliverance from Egypt, F860 front which it might easily be inferred that God, who had so miraculously assisted the fathers, was prevented by their ingratitude from granting relief to the miseries which now oppressed them.

4. The Lord Jehovah. After having twice convicted them of guilt, he adds a consolation in his usual manner; for when the Lord covers us with shame, he intends immediately to free us from shame. Although, therefore, he shewed that the people had been rejected for the best possible reasons, and had perished by their own fault, because they proved themselves to be even unworthy of deliverance, yet he promises assistance to them. Again, because in a matter so difficult to be believed there needed more than ordinary proof, he begins by saying that God has sent and instructed him to execute his commands. This passage is commonly explained so as to relate to Christ, as if it had not been applicable to the Prophet, because he afterwards says, that he had been beaten with rods, which we nowhere read was done to Isaiah. But there is no great force in this argument; for David complains that his garments were divided, (<192218>Psalm 22:18,) which applies literally to Christ, (<402735>Matthew 27:35; <431924>John 19:24,) and yet it does not follow that this did not happen to David himself. For my own part, I have no doubt, that Isaiah comes forward as one who represents all the servants of God, not only those who were from the beginning, but those who should come afterwards.

Hath given me the tongue of the learned. He says that the Lord hath given him a “tongue,” that the promises bywhieh he cheers the people may have greater weight. Our faith wavers, if we suspect that a man speaks from himself; and the condition of that people was so wretched that no human arguments could induce them to entertain the hope of deliverance. It amounts to this, that the message of approaching salvation is brought to them from heaven; and if any person do not receive it, he must prove himself to be rebellious and disobedient. Although these words are literally intended by the Prophet to secure the belief of his statements, yet we may infer from them generally, that no man is fit to teach who has not first been qualified by God. This reminds all godly teachers to ask from the Spirit of God what otherwise they could not at all possess. They must indeed study diligently, so as not to ascend the pulpit till they have been fully prepared; but they must hold by this principle, that all things necessary for discharging their office are gifts of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, if they were not organs of the Holy Spirit, it would be extreme rashness to come forth publicly in the name of God.

That I may know a word in season to the weary. Some verb must be supplied here, such as, “to administer” or “to utter.” The word “know” includes wisdom and skill, which a pastor ought to possess, that the word of God may be faithfully and profitably administered by him; as if he had said that he has been well instructed in the school of God, and thus knows well what is suitable to those who are wretched and who groan under a burden. F861 The term “weary” is applied to those who are overwhelmed by many afflictions; as we have formerly seen, “who giveth strength to the weary.” (<234029>Isaiah 40:29.) Thus also Christ speaks, “Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.” (<401128>Matthew 11:28.) He therefore means that God has been his teacher and instructor, that he may be able to soothe wretched men by appropriate consolation, that by means of it their dejected hearts may be encouraged by feeling the mercy of God.

Hence we infer that the most important duty of the ministers of the word is, to comfort wretched men, who are oppressed by afflictions, or who bend under their weight, and, in short, to point out what is true rest and serenity of mind, as we have formerly seen. (<233320>Isaiah 33:20.) We are likewise taught what each of us ought chiefly to seek in the Scriptures, namely, that we may be fumished with doctrine appropriate and suitable for relieving our distresses, He who, by seasonable consolation, in afflictive or even desperate affairs, can cheer and support his heart, ought to know that he has made good proficiency in the Gospel. I acknowledge that doctrine has indeed various uses; for not only is it useful for comforting the afflicted and feeble, but it likewise contains severe reproofs and threatenings against the obstinate. (<550316>2 Timothy 3:16.) But Isaiah shews that the chief duty incumbent on him is, to bring some consolation to the Jews who, in the present distress, are ready to faint.

He will waken in the morning. The Prophet here testifies that the Lord is so careful about wretched and oppressed persons that he aids them “in the morning,” that is, seasonably. I do acknowledge that we are often destitute of consolation; but, although God often permits us to languish, yet he knows every moment that is suitable for seasonably meeting the necessity by his aid. Besides, if his assistance be somewhat late, this happens through our own fault; for not only by our indolence, but likewise by rebellion, we withdraw ourselves from his grace. However that may be, he always watches carefully and runs to give aid; and even when we fly and resist, he calls us to him, that we may be refreshed by tasting his grace and kindness.

He twice repeats the phrase, “in the morning,” by which he expresses continuance and earnestness, that we may not think that he is liable to sudden impulses like men, to cast off or quickly forget those whom he has once undertaken to guard, whom he continues, on the contrary, to make the objects of his grace till the end, and never leaves destitute of consolation.

That I may hear as the learned. He means that his ear has not only been pulled or twitched, as for sluggish and indolent persons, but has been formed and trained. Yet by his example he shews that God efficaciously teaches all whose ministry he intends to employ for the salvation of his Church; for it would have been a small matter to be instructed after the manner of men, if they had not within them the Spirit of God as their instructor. This makes still more evident the truth of what we have formerly said, that none are good teachers but those who have been good scholars. He calls them “learned’and “well-instructed;” for they who do not deign to learn, because they think that they are wise enough, are doubly fools; since they alone, in the judgment of God, are reckoned to be “well-instructed” and “learned,” who permit themselves to be taught before discharging the office of teachers, that they may have clear knowledge of those things which they communicate to others, and may publicly bring forward nothing but what they can testify to have proceeded from God; and, in a word, they alone are “learned,” F862 who, by continually learning, do not refuse to make constant progress. Some read the word in the accusative, meaning, “that I may hear as (hearing) the learned;” but that is harsh and at variance with the true meaning.

5. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear. He again repeats what he had formerly said, and here includes everything that belongs to the office of a teacher; for the “opening of the ear” must be understood to refer not only to doctrine, but to the whole calling; that is, when he takes one to be his servant, and intbrms of his duty him whom he has determined to send, when he gives commands, and enjoins him to execute what he commands. But the Lord “opens the ear,” not only when he declares what is his will, but when he powerfully affects a man’s heart and moves him to render obedience, as it is said,

“Thou hast bored mine ear.” (<194006>Psalm 40:6.)

And Christ says,

“Whosoever hath heard and learned from the Father
cometh to me.” (<430645>John 6:45.)

Such is also the import of the second clause, And I was not rebellious, the meaning of which may be thus summed up: “He undertakes nothing at random, but, being fully convinced of God’s calling, he discharges the office of a teacher, though it is laborious and difficult, because he is ready to obey.”

6. I exposed my body to the smiters. With the reproaches, jeers, and insolence of wicked men, he contrasts the unshaken courage which he possesses; as if he had said that, “whatever resistancemay be attempted by the despisers of God, yet he will baffle all their insults, so that he will never repent of the labors which he has undertaken.” Yet this passage plainly shows that the ministers of the word cannot perform their office faithfully without being exposed to a contest with the world, and even without being fiercely assailed on all sides; for as soon as Isaiah says that he has obeyed the command of God, he likewise adds that “He has exposed his body to the smiters.” The faithful servants of God, when they administer the doctrine of the word, cannot escape from this condition, but must endure fights, reproaches, hatred, slanders, and various attacks from adversaries, who loathe that liberty of advising and reproving which it is necessary for them to use. Let them, therefore, arm themselves with steadfastness and faith; for a dreadful battle is prepared for them. And not only does he describe the persecutions of wicked men, but the reproach of the world; because wicked men desire to be thought to have good cause for opposing the ministers of the word and persecuting their doctrine, and wish that those ministers should be regarded as criminals and malefactors, and held up to universal hatred and abhorrence. For these reasons they lead them with various slanders, and do not refrain from any kind of reproach, as we know well enough by experience in the present day, when our adversaries call us heretics, deceivers, seditious persons, and assail us with other slanders, which were also directed against Christ and the Apostles. (<402763>Matthew 27:63; <430712>John 7:12; <441620>Acts 16:20.)

My face I did not hide from shame and spitting. He not only says that open and outward foes spat and inflicted blows on him, but glances at the slanders which he is compelled to bear from foes who are within and belong to the household; for out of the very bosom of the Church there always spring up wicked men and despisers of God, who insolently attack the prophets. They who wish to serve God must be prepared to endure all these things calmly, that they may walk through evil report and through good report, (<470608>2 Corinthians 6:8,) and may despise not only banishment, stripes, imprisonment, and death, but likewise reproaches and disgrace, though they may sometimes appear harder to endure than death itself. While this doctrine belongs to all believers, it belongs especially to the teachers of the word, who ought to go before others, and to be, as it were, standard-bearers.

7. For the Lord Jehovah will help me. The Prophet declares whence comes so great courage, which he and the other servants of God need to possess, in order to withstand courageously the attacks of every one. It comes from God’s assistance, by relying on whom he declares that he is fortified against all the attacks of the world. After having, with lofty fortitude, looked down contemptuously on all that was opposed to him, he exhorts others also to maintain the same firmness, and gives what may be called a picture of the condition of all the ministers of the word; that, by tuming aside from the world, they may tum wholly to God and have their eyes entirely fixed upon him. There never will be a contest so arduous that they shall not gain the victory by trusting to such a leader.

Therefore I have set my face as a flint. By the metaphor of “a flint” he shews that, whatever may happen, he will not be afraid; for terror or alarm, like other passions, makes itself visible in the face. The countenance itself speaks, and shews what are our feelings. The servants of God, being so shamefully treated, must inevitably have sunk under such attacks, had they not withstood them with a forehead of stone or of iron. In this sense of the term, Jeremiah also is said to have been “set for a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall, against the kings of Judah, and the princes, and the people,” (<240118>Jeremiah 1:18; ) and to Ezekiel is said to have been given “a strong forehead, and even one of adamant, and harder than that, that he might not be dismayed at the obstinacy of the people.” (<260309>Ezekiel 3:9.)

Therefore I was not ashamed. The word “ashamed” is twice used in this verse, but in different senses; for in the former clause it relates to the feeling, and in the latter to the thing itself or the effect. Accordingly, in the beginning of the verse, where he boasts that he is not confounded with shame, because God is on his side, he means that it is not enough that God is willing to help us, if we do not also feel it; for of what advantage to us will the promises of God be, if we distrust him? Confidence, therefore, is demanded, that we may be supported by it, and may assuredly know that we enjoy God’s favor.

I shall not be confounded. In the conclusion of the verse he boldly declares his conviction that the end will be prosperous. Thus “to be confounded” means “to be disappointed;” for they who had entertained a vain and deceitful hope are liable to be mocked. Here we see that some special assistance is promised to godly teachers and ministers of the word; so that the fiercer the attacks of Satan, and the stronger the hostility of the world, so much the more does the Lord defend and guard them by extraordinary protection. And hence we ought to conclude, that all those who, when they come to the contest, tremble and lose courage, have never been duly qualified for discharging their office; for he who knows not how to strive knows not how to serve God and the Church, and is not fitted for administering the doctrine of the word.

8. He is near that justifieth me. We ought always to keep in remembrance that the Prophet mentions nothing that is peculiar to himself, but testifies what the Lord chooses to be, and will always be, towards faithful ministers, that whosoever has this testimony, that God has sent him, and knows that he discharges his office faithfully, may boldly despise all adversaries, and may not be moved by their reproaches, for he is “justified” by the Lord; and, in like manner, the Lord always is, and will be, near to defend and maintain his truth. Besides, that any one may be able to make this protestation, it is necessary that his conscience be pure; for, if any man thrust himself rashly into the office, and have no testimony of his calling, or bring forward his dreams publicly, in vain will he boast of this promise, which belongs only to those who have been called by God, and who sincerely and uprightly perform their duty. Now, although either hypocrites or despisers never cease to annoy the servants of God, yet Isaiah advances to meet them, as if none would venture to pick a quarrel or utter a slander; not that he can keep them in check, F863 but because they will gain nothing by all their attempts. He therefore declares, that he looks down with utter contempt on the false accusations which the enemies of sound doctrine pour out against its teachers. There is no crime with which they do not upbraid them; but their efforts are fruitless; for the Judge, by whom their integrity is maintained, is not far off. They may, therefore, as Paul did, boldly appeal from the wicked and unjust judgments of men to “the day of the Lord,” by whom their innocence will be made manifest. (<460404>1 Corinthians 4:4.)

Let us stand together. Godly teachers ought to have so great confidence as not to hesitate to give a bold defiance to adversaries. Satan, with his agents, does not always venture to attack openly, especially when he fights by falsehoods, but by ambuscade, and by burrowing under ground, endeavors to take them by surprise; but the servants of God are not afraid to “stand up” openly, and enter into contest with the enemy, and contend by arguments, provided that adversaries are willing to enter into the lists. So great is the force of truth that it does not dread the light of day, as we say that Isaiah here attacks boldly those whom he perceives to be plotting against him; and therefore he repeats, —

Let him draw near to me. Godly ministers ought to be ready to assign a reason for their doctrine. But where is the man that is willing to hear them patiently, and to consider what is the nature of that doctrine which they publicly declare? True indeed, adversaries will approach, but it is to draw their swords to slay them; to sharpen their tongues, that by every kind of slander they may tear them in pieces. In short, their whole defense consists in arms or deceitful stratagems; for they do not venture to contend by scriptural arguments. Relying, therefore, on the justice of our cause, we may freely defy them to the conflict. Though they condemn us without listening to our vindication, and though they have many that support the sentence which they have pronounced, we have no reason to be afraid; for God, whose cause we plead, is our Judge, and will at length acquit us.

9. Who is he that condemmeth me? Paul appears to allude to this passage, in his Epistle to the Romans, when he says, “It is God that justifieth; who shall condemn?” (<450833>Romans 8:33, 34.) We may safely have recourse to the judgment-seat of God, when we are well assured that we have obtained his righteousness by free grace through Christ. But here Isaiah handles a different subject; for he does not speak of the universal salvation of men, but of the ministry of the Word, which the Lord will defend against the attacks of wicked men, and will not suffer his people to be overwhelmed by their fraud or violence.

Lo, they shall all wax old as a garment. He now shews more clearly that it is not in the shade or at case that he boasts of his courage, as if none were giving him any disturbance; but he declares that, though he is assailed by deadly foes, still he boldly maintains his position; because all who fight with the Word of God shall fall and vanish away through their own frailty. In order to place the matter before their own eyes, he employs a demonstrative particle, “Behold, like garments shall they perish, being consumed by worms.” The Psalmist makes use of the same metaphor, when he compares the men of this world to the children of God. (<194914>Psalm 49:14, 15.) The former, though they make a show and shine like dazzling garments, shall perish; but believers, who now are covered with filth, shall at length obtain new brightness and shine brilliantly like the stars. Here he speaks literally of fierce dogs that attack and bark at godly teachers. Though such persons are held in high estimation by men, and possess very high authority among them, yet their lustre shall perish and fade away, like that of garments which are eaten by worms.

10. Who is among you that feareth the Lord? After having spoken of God’s invincible aid, by which all prophets are protected, he directs his discourse to believers, that they may suffer themselves to be guided by the Word of God, and may become obedient. Hence we may infer how far a holy boasting raised him above his slanderers; for, in consequence of wicked men, through their vast numbers, possessing at that time great influence among the Jews, there was a risk of overwhelming the faith of the small minority. F864 When he asks, “Where are they that fear God?” he points out that their number is small. Yet he addresses them separately, that they may detach themselves from the mixed crowd, and not take part in counsels which are wicked, and which God has condemned. In like manner we have formerly met with these words, “Say ye not, A confederacy.” (<230812>Isaiah 8:12.) Although therefore the enemies of God are so numerous as to constitute a vast army, yet Isaiah does not hesitate to say that there are some left who shall profit by his doctrine.

He speaks to those who “fear God;” for, wherever there is no religion and no fear of God, there can be also no entrance for doctrine. We see how audaciously doctrine is rejected by those who, in other respects, wish to be reckoned acute and sagacious; for, in consequence of being swelled with pride, they detest modesty and humility, and are exceedingly stupid in this wisdom of God. It is not without good reason, therefore, that he lays this foundation, namely, the fear of God, that his Word may be attentively and diligently heard. Hence also it is evident that true fear of God is nowhere to be found, unless where men listen to his Word; for hypocrites do proudly and haughtily boast of piety and the fear of God, but they manifest rebellious contempt, when they reject the doctrine of the Gospel and all godly exhortations. The clear proof of such persons is, that the mask which they desire to wear is torn off.

Let him hear the voice of his servant. He might have simply said, “the voice of God,” but he expressly says, “of his servant;” for God does not wish to be heard but by the voice of his ministers, whom he employs to instruct us. Isaiah speaks first of himself, and next of all others who have been invested with the same office; and there is an implied contrast between that “hearing” which he demands and that wicked eagerness to despise doctrine in which irreligious men indulge, while they also, by their insolence, encourage many idle and foolish persons to practice similar contempt.

He who hath walked in darkness. Believers might have brought it as an objection, that the fruit of their piety was not visible, but that they were miserably afflicted, as if they had lived a life of abandoned wickedness; and therefore the Prophet anticipates and sets aside this complaint, by affirming that believers, though hitherto they have been harshly treated, yet do not in vain obey God and his Word; for, if they “have walked in darkness,” they shall at length enjoy the light of the Lord. By “darkness” the Prophet here means not the ignorance or blindness of the human understanding, but the afflictions by which the children of God are almost always overwhelmed. And this is the consolation which he formerly mentioned, when he declared that “the tongue of the learned had been given to him, that he might speak a word to one who was faint.” (Ver. 4.) Thus he promises that they who have hitherto been discouraged and almost overwhelmed by so many distresses shall receive consolation.

11. Lo, all of you kindle a fire. He upbraids the Jews with choosing to kindle for themselves their own light, instead of drawing near to the light of God. This passage has been badly expounded; and if we wish to understand its true meaning, we must attend to the contrast between the light of God and the light of men; that is, between the consolation which is brought to us by the Word of God and the empty words of comfort uttered by men, when by idle and useless things they attempt and toil to alleviate their distresses. Having formerly spoken of “light” and “darkness,” and having promised light to believers, who hear the voice of the Lord, he shews that the Jews had rejected this light, in order to kindle another light for themselves, and threatens that ultimately they shall be consumed by this light, as by a conflagration. Thus Christ upbraids the Jews with “rejoicing in John’s light,” (<430535>John 5:35,) because they made a wrong use of his official character, in order to obscure or rather to extinguish the glory of Christ. To bring forward John’s official character, in order to cover with darkness the glory of Christ, was nothing else than to extinguish the light of God shining in a mortal man, in order to kindle another light for themselves, not that it might guide them by pointing out the road, but that, by foolishly rejoicing in it, they might be driven about in every direction.

When he says that they are surrounded by sparks, he glances at their various thoughts, by which they were agitated and carried about in uncertainty sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another; and in this way he mocks at their folly, because they willingly and eagerly ran wheresoever their foolish pleasures drew them.

Walk in the light of your fire. As if he had said, “You shall know by experience how useless and transitory is your light, when your unwarranted hopes shall have deceived you.” The ironical permission denotes disappointment. Others explain it, that wicked men kindle against themselves the fire of God’s wrath; but the Prophet looked higher, and that sentiment appears not to agree with this passage.

From my hand. Because wicked men, being intoxicated by false confidence, think that they are placed beyond the reach of all danger, and, viewing the future with reckless disregard, trust to “their own light,” that is, to the means of defense with which they imagine themselves to be very abundantly provided; the Lord declares, that they shall lie down in sorrow, and that this shall proceed “from his hand;” and, in a word, that men who have forsaken the light of the Word, and who seek consolation from some other quarter, shall miserably perish.


Go To Isaiah 51:1-23

1. Hearken to me, ye that follow righteousness. The Prophet now exhorts the Jews not to despair because they are few in number; for they had been cut down and diminished to such a degree that they appeared to be on the eve of being reduced to nothing, while there was little or no hope of any to succeed them. He therefore reminds them of their origin, that they may know that, though they are a small remnant, God can increase and multiply them; and he bids them contemplate their father Abraham, who, though he was a single individual, grew to a vast number, and received from God a numerous posterity. Hence they might infer that God, who, in so short a period, had multiplied their fathers, would in future multiply them also; because his power has not been diminished, and his will has not been changed.

Look to the rock of your hewing. F865 Some are of opinion that Abraham is called a “Rock,” because, as Paul declares, “he was strong in faith.” (<450420>Romans 4:20.) Others assign a totally opposite meaning to this metaphor; for they think that he is called a “Rock,” because he was worn out by age, and that Sarah is called a Pit, because she was barren. But both, in my opinion, are in the wrong; for it is a simple metaphor, taken from quarries, and declares that they have descended from Abraham and Sarah, as stones are cut out of a “rock” and a “pit.” Amidst the ruin of the nation it was highly necessary that the godly should be supported by this doctrine and admonition. God had promised that the seed of Abraham should be “as the stars of heaven,” (<011505>Genesis 15:5,) and as “the sand of the sea.” (<012217>Genesis 22:17.) This promise had apparently failed amidst that desolation in which they who were left hardly differed at all from a few clusters when the vintage was ended.

But since they had already known by experience how powerful was the strength of God to create a vast people out of nothing, the Prophet bids them cherish favorable hopes, that they may not be ungrateful to God; and he addresses his discourse directly to believers, to whom this was a sore temptation. He does not speak to all, but to those only who could rely on the promise, that is, to those whom he calls “followers of righteousness;” for the country abounded with unbelievers and hypocrites, who had formerly revolted from the practice of piety; and so much the more laudable was the steadfastness of those who did not cease to follow what was right. Wherever “righteousness” is practiced, there God is listened to; and wherever unbelief reigns, reliance cannot be placed on any promise. F866 Although therefore they boasted that they were the children of Abraham, yet all were not capable of receiving this doctrine.

Ye that seek Jehovah. He explains the method of “following righteousness” to consist in “seeking the Lord;” for they who make an outward shew of “righteousness,” and do not aim at this end, must have wandered during their whole life. These two things, therefore, must be joined together; namely, the practice of righteousness and seeking God.

2. For I called him alone. This application plainly shews what was the design of this exhortation of the Prophet. It was to encourage the hearts of believers to cherish the hope of a better condition. He says that he “called him one or alone,” not only because he had none along with him, when he was called out of his country, but because the Lord suffered him to dwell in the land of Canaan without children up to a worn out old age, so that he had no hope of having children, especially because Sarah (<011602>Genesis 16:2) also was barren; and when at length, as a solace for their childless condition, one son was given to them, not long afterwards he appeared to be led forth to slaughter. Yet the Lord increased and enriched him with a great number of children.

How needful this consolation was to the Jews has been remarked by me a little before, and may be easily learned from their condition, which history plainly declares to have been wretched and unhappy. To us also, in the present day, amidst this distracted condition of the Church, it is highly necessary, that we may not be discouraged because our number is small, and that we may hope that God will increase his Church by unexpected methods. We behold a very clear and striking testimony of this in the blessing by which the Lord increased, even to extreme old age, the posterity of Abraham, who was childless and solitary. That promise relates not to the Jews only, but to other nations; and on this account also he

“was no longer called Abram, but Abraham.”
(<011705>Genesis 17:5.)

3. Surely Jehovah will comfort Zion. The Prophet shews that in the person of Abraham there was exhibited an example which applies to all ages; for, as the Lord suddenly produced from one man so numerous an offspring, so he will also people his Church by wonderful and unknown methods, and not once only, but whenever she shall be thought to be childless and solitary. In like manner, Paul, after having spoken of the faith of Abraham and praised his excellence, applies that doctrine to each of us, that

“he believed in hope against hope, and that his mind was not driven hither and thither, but that he was fully persuaded that what God had promised he was able also to perform, though it appeared to be incredible and at variance with all reason.”
(<450418>Romans 4:18-21.)

He will comfort all her desolations. This may be explained to mean, “The Lord will comfort his Church, not only when she shall be in a flourishing condition, but likewise when she shall be desolate and reduced to solitude; for she must have been laid desolate, and her frightful ruins must have brought her to the verge of destruction, before she felt the aid which is here described.

And will make her desert like a place of delights. The Prophet here alludes to a passage in the writings of Moses, in which he relates that man was at first placed in “the garden of Eden,” (<010215>Genesis 2:15,) that is, in “a place of delights,” from which he was driven out by his own fault. (<010324>Genesis 3:24.) Now we, who have been deprived of that blessing which he bestowed on our first parent, are exiles throughout the whole world, and are deprived of that paradise. Accordingly, whenever great calamities happen, and the order of events is overturned, and everything is thrown into wretched desolation and ruin, let us know that we are punished for our unbelief and for our heinous sins; and let us remember that sentence which was pronounced on our first parent, or rather on all mankind; and that in every part of life, but especially when we see the condition of the Church ruined and overturned. The earth, which otherwise would abound in blessings of every kind, has been reduced to solitude through our fault; and the Church, which would flourish everywhere, has been ruined and laid desolate.

Joy and gladness. He means that the change shall be so great that the Church will no longer groan or complain; for, so long as the Church was oppressed by a harsh captivity, nothing could be heard in her but mouming and lamentation. Now restored, she shall rejoice and render thanksgiving to God. Thus we are also exhorted to gratitude, that we may burst out into praise and thanksgiving to God, when we have had experience of his goodness.

4. Attend to me, my people. There are good reasons why the Lord so frequently demands that he shall be heard. We know by experience how slow we are to hear him, especially in adversity; and even when we would have great need of consolation, we reject it by our impatience, and faint. Each of us, therefore, the sorer are the afflictions which press upon him, ought to endeavor more earnestly to enlarge his heart, and in this way to arouse himself, and to shake off his slothfulness, that he may receive consolation. What is here demanded is attention, to sustain our hearts by patience, till the season of grace be fully come.

For the law shall go forth from me. The meaning is, that the Lord will again reign, and will arouse his Church to call on his name. Though the word Law is equivalent to the edict which God shall order to be proclaimed, when he shall be pleased to gather his Church, yet at the same time he describes his manner of reigning; namely, by his “Law” and byhis doctrine. Hence we see that wherever doctrine is rejected, God’s government is not found, that is, is not recognised by men. By judgment he means the order and administration of government, by which he shall restore his kingdom.

For a light of the peoples, He says that this will be “for a light of the peoples,” because, when God begins to reign, miserable men F867 are rescued from darkness and enlightened by the doctrine of the word.

I will reveal. This vero [ygra (argiang) is variously expounded by commentators, because [gr (ragang) has various significations. Sometimes it signifies to “cut” and “open,” and sometimes “to be at rest.” Some therefore explain it, “I will cause to rest,” that is, “I will establish;” and that meaning is not inappropriate. Most of the Jewish writers explain it differently, but I shall not relate their crooked and harsh interpretations. I rather approve of this translation, “I will manifest judgment,” or, “I will cause judgment to break forth,” or, which means the same thing, “I will reveal;” because I think that it agrees better with the former clause. Repetitions, we know, are very customary among the Hebrew writers. Although, therefore, he employs different words, still the meaning is the same. Having formerly said that “the law shall go forth from him,” he now says that “he will reveal judgment.”

5. My righteousness is near. He confirms the former doctrine. The “righteousness” of the Lord has relation to men, who know by experience that he is “righteous.” While the people were oppressed by cruel bondage, they knew, indeed, that they were justly punished for their sins; but they might wonder that they were so much forsaken, because the worship of God ceased, and his name was blasphemed by wicked men, who pursued their wicked career without punishment. In order, therefore, to bring them some consolation, he promises that God will speedily assist them, so that all shall acknowledge that he is faithful and just. By the word “righteous” the Prophet does not mean that he renders to every one a “righteous” reward, but that he yields the best protection, and dispenses the largest kindness to his people, that he faithfully performs his promises to all believers, when he delivers them and does not suffer them to be finally overwhelmed.

This appears more clearly from the following clause, in which, for the purpose of explanation, he adds, My salvation hath gone forth; for the “righteousness” of God shone brightly in the deliverance of the people. Now, the captivity in which the Jews were held in Babylon was a kind of death, in consequence of which that deliverance is here called “Salvation.”

My arms shall judge the peoples. By “arms” he means the wide exercise of his power. That figure of speech which describes God under forms of expression drawn from the human frame occurs frequently in Scripture. Because God’s government appeared to be confined within narrow limits, or rather was not at all visible, on this account he mentions arms, by which he means that he will spread his kingdom far and wide.

6. Lift up your eyes toward heaven. When we see so great changes in the world, we are apt to think that the Church comes within the influence of the sanhe violent motion; and therefore we need to have our minds elevated above the ordinary course of nature; otherwise, the salvation of the Church will appear to hang on a thread, and to be carried hither and thither by the billows and tempests. Yet, we may see both in heaven and in earth how wisely God regulates all things, with what fatherly kindness he upholds and defends his workmanship and the frame of the world, and with what equity he provides for all his creatures. But in a remarkable manner he deigns to watch over his Church, as he has separated her from the ordinary rank.

And look upon the earth beneath. Both of the views now stated are here embraced by the Prophet; for he bids believers turn their eyes upwards and downwards, so as to perceive both in heaven and in earth the wonderful providence of God, by which he so beautifully preserves the order and harmony which he at first established. But he adds that, though heaven and earth hasten to decay, it is impossible that the Church shall fail, the stability of which is founded on God; as if he had said, “A thousand times rather shall leaven mingle with the earth than the promise on which your salvation rests shall fail of its accomplishment.”-

My salvation shall endure for ever. First of all, he mentions “salvation,” and next he speaks of “righteousness,” on which it rests as on a solid foundation. Whenever, therefore, dangers shall press upon us on every hand, let us learn to betake ourselves to this place of refuge. And with this sentiment agree the words of the Psalmist,

“The heavens shall wax old and vanish away; but thou, Lord, art always the same, and thy years are not changed.”
(<19A226>Psalm 102:26, 27)

Both passages remind us that the grace of God, which he displays in the preservation of his Church, surpasses all his other works. Everything that is contained in heaven and earth is frail and fading; but God’s salvation, by which he guards the Church, is eternal, and therefore cannot be liable to these dangers.

7. Hearken to me. Because wicked men, when they enjoy prosperity, laugh at our faith, and ridicule our distresses and afflictions, on this account the Prophet exhorts believers to patience, that they may not dread their reproaches or be dismayed by their slanders. The reason assigned is, that their prosperity shall not be of long duration. Whatever may be their insolent boasting, they are already pronounced (verse 8) to be the food of moths and worms; while God holds in his hand the salvation of believers, from which they appear to be thrown to the greatest possible distance. Here we ought again to observe the repetition of the word Hearken. This is now the third time that the Lord demands a “hearing;” because, when we tremble with anxiety on account of our distresses, it is with the greatest difficulty that we rely on his promises, and therefore we need to be often roused and stimulated, till we have conquered every difficulty.

Ye that know righteousness, Here he does not address unbelievers, but those who “know righteousness;” because, though they do not intentionally reject the word of God, yet they often shut the door against his “righteousness,” so that it does not reach them, when, under the influence of adversity, they shut their ears and almost despair. In order therefore that they may receive the promises, and that they may admit consolation, the Prophet stirs up and arouses them.

A people in whose heart is my law. We must attend to the train of thought. First, he describes what kind of people the Lord wishes to have, namely, “those who know righteousness;” and next he explains what is the nature of this knowledge, that is, when the people have “the law” fixed and deeply rooted in their hearts. Without the word of the Lord there call be no “righteousness.” No laws of men, however well framed, will lead us to true righteousness, of which they may indeed give us a feeble idea, but which they never can justly describe. At the same time, he shews in what manner we ought to make progress in the law of the Lord; namely, by embracing it with the heart; for the seat of the law is not in the brain, but in the heart, that, being imbued with heavenly doctrine, we may be altogether renewed.

8. But my righteousness shall continually endure. Because the believing servants of God must endure many reproaches and slanders from the enemies of the word, the Prophet exhorts and encourages them to bear it courageously. It frequently happens that we are more deeply moved by the contumely and insults of men than by fire and sword; but we ought to reckon it praise and glory to be the object of their contempt and abhorrence. True valor springs from this consideration, that, although the world reject us as “filth and offscourings,” (<460413>1 Corinthians 4:13,) God holds us in estimation; because we maintain the same cause with himself. Let us with Moses, therefore, “prefer the reproach of Christ to the treasures of the Egyptians.” (<581126>Hebrews 11:26.) Let us rejoice with the Apostles, who

“departed from the council glad and joyful, because they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.” (<440541>Acts 5:41.)

And my salvation for ever and ever. Because the death of wicked men would yield to us small consolation, if we were not saved, he shews what will be our condition, namely, that we shall never be left destitute of “God’s righteousness and salvation.” But the comparison may appear to be inappropriate, when he contrasts the destruction of the wicked with his righteousness. Far more clearly and suitably it might have been thus expressed: “though the reprobate indulge in mirth, yet they shall speedily perish; but believers, though they appear to be dead, shall live.” Again, because he makes no mention of us, and commends only the eternity of God’s righteousness, it may be objected, that to us who are almost overwhelmed this is of no avail. But by these words the Prophet instructs us, that in our afflictions we ought to seek consolation from the thought, that our health and salvation are, as it were, shut up in God; for, so long as men trust or rely on themselves, they cannot cherish any good hope that does not speedily decay; and therefore we ought to turn our hearts to God, whose “mercy endureth from everlasting to everlasting on them that fear him,” as David says, “and his righteousness to children’s children.” (<19A317>Psalm 103:17.)

Because salvation is founded on the goodness of God, Isaiah reminds us of it, that men may be reduced to nothing, and that confidence may be placed in God alone. The meaning may be thus summed up, “Salvation is in God, that by it he may preserve, not himself, but us; righteousness is in God, that he may display it for our defense and preservation.” Accordingly, from the eternity of God’s “salvation and righteousness” we ought to infer that the servants of God cannot possibly perish; which agrees with the passage quoted a little before from David,

“Thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. The children of thy servants shall dwell, and their posterity shall be established for ever.” (<19A227>Psalm 102:27, 28.)

Thus we see how he applies this eternity to the children of God, who do not subsist in themselves, but in God, and have the foundation of their salvation in him.

9. Awake, awake. Here the Prophet instructs us, that, when God cheers us by his promises, we ought also to pray earnestly that he would perform what he has promised. He does not comfort us in order to render us slothful, but that we may be inflamed with a stronger desire to pray, and may continually exercise our faith. The Prophet speaks according to our feelings; for we think that God is asleep, so long as he does not come to the relief of our wants; and the Lord indulges us so far as to permit us to speak and pray according to the feeling of our weakness. Believers therefore entreat the Lord to “awake,” not that they imagine him to be idle or asleep in heaven; F868 but, on the contrary, they confess their own sluggishness and ignorance, in not being able to form any conception of God, so long as they are not awaro of receiving his assistance. But yet, though the flesh imagine that he is asleep, or that he disregards our calamities, faith rises higher and lays hold on his eternal power.

Put on strength, O arm of Jehovah. He is said to “awake” and “put on strength,” when he exhibits testimonies of his power, because otherwise we think that he is idle or asleep. Meanwhile, the Prophet, by addressing the arm of God which was concealed, holds it out to the view of believers as actually present, that they may be convinced that there is no other reason why they are so bitterly and painfully afflicted by their enemies than because God has withdrawn his aid. The cause of the delay has been already shewn, that they had estranged themselves from God.

In ancient days. By the term “ancient days” he shews that we ought to bear in remembrance all that the Lord did long ago for the salvation of his people. Though he appears to pause and to take no more care about us, still he is the same God who formerly governed his Church; and therefore he can never forsake or abandon those whom he takes under his protection.

In ages long ago past. This repetition tells us still more clearly, that we ought to consider not only those things which have happened lately, but those which happened long ago; for we ought to stretch our minds even to the most remote ages, that they may rise above temptations, which otherwise might easily overwhelm us.

Art thou not it that crushed the proud one?  F869 The numerous testimonies of grace which God had displayed in various ages are here collected by the Prophet, so that, if a few are not enough, the vast number of them may altogether confirm the faith of the Church. But, since it would be too tedious to draw up an entire catalogue, he brings forward that singular and most remarkable of all such events, namely, that the people were once delivered from Egypt in a miraculous manner, for I have no doubt that by Rahab  F870 he means proud and cruel Egypt; as it is also said,

“I will mention Rahab and Babylon among my friends.”
(<198704>Psalm 87:4.)

In like manner Ezekiel calls the king of Egypt “a Dragon.”

“Behold, I am against thee,O Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon, who dwellest in the midst of thy rivers.”
(<262903>Ezekiel 29:3.)

It is sufficiently evident, and is universally admitted, that the Prophet here calls to remembrance the miraculous deliverance of the people from Egypt. “If at that time the pride of Egypt was tamed and subdued, if the dragon was put to flight, why should we not hope for the same thing?”

By putting the question, if it be the same arm, he argues from the nature of God; for this could not be affirmed respecting the “arm” of man, whose strength, though it be great, is diminished and fails through time? Milo, who had been very strong, when he became old and looked at his arms, groaned because the strength which he possessed at an earlier period had now left him. But it is not so with God, whose strength no lapse of time can diminish. These words ought to be read ejmfatikw~v emphatically, “Art thou not it? “ For he shews that the Lord is the same as he formerly was, because he remains unchangeable.

10. Which dried up the sea. Though Isaiah does not relate all the miracles which God performed when he brought out his people from the bondage of Egypt, yet he intended to include in a few words all that are related by Moses, that the Jews, having been briefly addressed, might consider the various ways in which the Lord had demonstrated his power. The drying up of the Red Sea is mentioned, not only on account of the extraordinary excellence of the miracle, but because the numerous miracles which preceeded it were directed to this end, that the people, rescued from unjust violence and tyranny, might pass into the promised land. Accordingly, the Prophet expressly mentions that a way was opened up for the redeemed. From this example we ought to consider what God will be to us, so as to draw this conclusion, that in future God will always be like himself, as is evident from the context.

11. Therefore the redeemed by Jehovah shall return. He now describes more plainly what he had briefly remarked; for, after having related the magnificent works of God, by which he formerly displayed his power in Egypt, in order to deliver his people, he concludes that neither the sea, nor the lofty rocks, nor the whirlpools, nor even hell itself, can prevent him from leading forth his people out of Babylon. And in order to confirm it more fully, and to apply that example, he calls them “redeemed,” that they may know that, when God calls himself the deliverer of his people, this belongs to them, and that they may not doubt that, in delivering them, he will produce such an example as had been already exhibited; for the reason is the same.

Shall come to Zion. Namely, to that place where he wished that men should call on his name, that the temple may be rebuilt and the pure worship of God restored; for, since the Jews, during the Babylonish captivity, ought to expect the same aid as had been obtained by their fathers, because God was in like manner the Redeemer of the children also, they were superior to the fathers in one respect, that God had at that time chosen Mount Zion, in which he had promised that his rest would be eternal. (<19D214>Psalm 132:14.) But since the work of God, which Isaiah promises, was worthy of admiration, on this account, he exhorts the people to praise and thanksgiving.

With a song. hnr (rinnah) may indeed be taken simply for “rejoicing;” but, as it frequently denotes the praise which is rendered to God when we acknowledge his benefits, I prefer to take it in that sense in this passage. F871 The meaning is, that there will be a great and unexpected change, so that they shall have very abundant ground of joy and thanksgiving. When he says that joy shall be on their head, he alludes to the chaplets of flowers with which they were wont to adorn themselves at banquets. He adds that “they shall obtain joy,” which denotes that their enjoyment shall be solid and lasting. Lastly, for the purpose of amplification, he adds that all sorrow shall be banished, that they may not dread what frequently happens, that joy, by a sudden change, shall give place to mourning. (<201413>Proverbs 14:13.) Yet the Prophet instructs them, though they groan and are sorrowful, to wait patiently for that issue which he promises.

12. I, I am. Here the Lord not only promises grace and salvation to the Jews, but remonstrates with them for refusing to believe him, and for valuing his power less than they ought. It is exceedingly base to tremble at the threatenings of men to such a degree as to care nothing about God’s assistance; for he displays his power for this purpose, that he may at least fortify; us against every attack. Accordingly, by an excessive fear of men we betray contempt of God.

Hence it is evident how sinful it is to be agitated by the terrors of men, when God calls us to repose. And indeed it is amazing ingratitude in men, who, when they hear that God is on their side, derive no hope from his magnificent promises, so as to venture boldly to exclaim, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (<450831>Romans 8:31.) The consequence is, that when dangers arise, they are terrified and confounded, and attribute far more to the power of mortal man in attacking than to the power of God in defending. Justly, therefore, does he upbraid the Jews with not fortifying themselves by these promises, and with not rendering themselves invincible against every danger; for God is treated with the highest dishonor when we doubt his truth, that is, when we are so completely overcome by human terrors that we cannot rest on his promises.

The repetition, I, I, is highly emphatic. He who promises consolation is the God of truth, against whom neither the strength nor the contrivances of men will be of any avail. When thou distrustest him, it follows that thou dost not consider who he is.

That thou shoudest be afraid of a man. He describes how frail, fading, transitory: and unsubstantial is the condition of men, in order to exhibit more fully their criminal stupidity in preferring a shadow and smoke to God. He shews that men, so long as they are mindful of God, cannot be struck down by fear. Consequently, when we are stunned by dangers that assail us, it follows that we have forgotten God; and therefore he adds, —

13. And hast forgotten Jehovah thy Maker. It is not enough to imagine that there is some God, but we ought to acknowledge and embrace him as ours. When he calls him “Maker,” this must not be understood to refer to universal creation, but to spiritual regeneration, as we have already explained under other passages. In this sense Paul calls us (to< poi>hma) “the workmanship of God,” (<490210>Ephesians 2:10,) because he hath created us to every good work. Thus, if we remember our creation and adoption, these beginnings may encourage us to hope for continued progress, that we may not be ungrateful to God, when he has proved his veracity by undoubted experience.

Who hath stretched out the heavens and founded the earth. To the special kindness which God had exercised towards his people he likewise adds his boundless power which he contrasts with the weakness of men, whom he formerly compared to withered grass. (<234007>Isaiah 40:7.) He demonstrates that power by his works, so that they who do not perceive it must be exceedingly stupid; for we cannot tum our eyes in any direction without perceiving very abundant testimonies of divine goodness and power, which, however, are briefly described by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, when he says that it is “He who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth.” It is therefore the greatest folly and indolence to forget him, for so numerous are the signs and testimonies which recall him to the remembrance of men.

And hast dreaded continually. He follows out the same comparison. “What are men,” says he, “that thou shouldst dread them, if thou compare them to God, who promises thee his assistance?” Assuredly, God is grievously blasphemed, if we refuse to believe that he is more powerful to preserve than enemies are to destroy us; and therefore the Lord bids us consider who and what he is, how vast and extensive is his power, that we may not dread the fury of a mortal man, who vanishes like a whirlwind or like smoke.

14. The exile hasteneth to be loosed. This verse is expounded in various ways; for some think that it refers to Cyrus, and take the word, h[x (tzoeh)  F872 in a transitive sense, and explain it to mean, “Causing to migrate.” F873 But it is more customary to interpret it as meaning one who is imprisoned and oppressed, or an exile who wanders about without any settled abode. Now, the Jews were not only exiles but captives, so that they were not at liberty to return to their native land; and therefore I explain it as referring to the Jews.

But still there are two senses in which it may be understood, either that the Prophet reproves their excessive haste, in impatiently desiring to return, or that the Prophet means that their return to their native country is immediately at hand, that they may not sink under the discouragement of long delay; as if he had said, that the time when they must prepare for departure will speedily arrive. The second of these expositions has been more generally approved; and I adopt it the more readily, because it agrees best with the context.

But it may appear strange that he should say that the people will quickly return, since their captivity was of long duration. Yet with good reason does God say that that event will come quickly which he delays till a fit season; for, although to us it may appear to be long, yet, being appropriate and suitable, the time is short. And indeed it was a short time, if we look at the condition of that monarchy, which was so vast and strong that it appeared as if it could never be destroyed. Thus, what appears to be long in the promises of God will appear to be short, provided that we do not refuse to lift up our eyes to heaven. This meaning is confirmed by what immediately follows.

That he may not die in a pit. Such then is God’s haste to come early to deliver his people; that they may come forth safely out of the dungeon. The Lord does not promise to his people some sudden assistance, that he may only bring them out of prison, but also that, after having been delivered, they may be the objects of his kindness; for he promises everything necessary for their food and support, that they may be convinced that God will always take care of them; and he is wont not only to assist his people for a moment, but to remain with them continually.

15. And I am Jehovah thy God. Again the Lord declares his power; for so great is the unbelief and sluggishness of men, that, although it is frequently declared, yet the very smallest temptation shews that they are not fully convinced of it. They quickly fall back upon themselves, when they are hard pressed by afflictions; and when they hear that anything is in the power of God, they do not think that it belongs to them.

Who divide the sea. He does not speak in general terms, but brings forward the instance which he had often mentioned before; for, by once redeeming the fathers, he held out to posterity the hope of eternal salvation. Justly, therefore, does he exclaim that he is the same God who long ago “divided the sea;” and next he magnifies the miracle by saying that its roaring billows were stilled at his command. (<021421>Exodus 14:21.) We ought to know, therefore, that there are no raging billows which God cannot allay and calm in order to deliver his Church. “It is he who,” by his power, “stills the sea and makes it calm,” (<182612>Job 26:12,) though it rage furiously; and he likewise drives and swells its waves, when he thinks fit; though literally, as I have remarked, the Prophet alludes to the history of the deliverance from Egypt. F874

Jehovah of hosts. The Lord is adorned with this title, that we may know how extensive is his power; and he exhibits that power as often as he is pleased to render assistance to his Church.

16. And I have put my words in thy mouth. He again retums to the doctrine which he had formerly stated, namely, that the Lord comforts his Church: “I, I am he that comforteth you,” (ver. 12.) So he now says that he put into the mouth of the prophets what they should say. Hence we may infer that these words do not proceed from men, who often prove false, but from “God, who cannot lie.” (<560102>Titus 1:2.) The Lord speaks to all the prophets, first to Isaiah, and then to the rest in their order; but at last we must come to Christ. These things must not be limited either to Isaiah or to Christ, but must be extended to all the prophets. The Lord wishes that believers should hear the consolation from the prophets, as if he were present and addressed them, and even declares that he speaks openly by their mouth.

Hence also we ought to conclude that none ought to come forward to comfort the Church but they who speak from the mouth of the Lord; for they who alter their own dreams, though they take shelter under the name of God, ought to be rejected. But; we must understand the Prophet’s meaning; for, seeing that he shows that the consciences of men always tremble, till the Lord confirm them, he instructs us to abide by this principle, that it is God who speaks by the prophets; for otherwise consciences will always remain in doubt and uncertainty. Yet the mode of expression is highly emphatic, when he repeats the commandments of God, by which he was encouraged to the execution of his office.

And in the shadow of my hand. Though he had already said this, yet the repetition is not superfluous, that we may fully believe that God will always assist his ministers, so that, relying on his immediate aid, they may be raised by him above all obstructions. Now, in order to being covered with that shadow of the Lord, two things are necessary; first, that they are certain that what they utter is the word of God, and secondly, that they do so by God’s command. They who rashly put themselves forward may indeed boast of the name of God, but in vain; for when they come to fight in earnest, they will faint. And if we have the testimony of conscience, we have no reason for entertaining doubts as to God’s protection and aid, by which he will enable us to gain the victory. Next comes the object of the embassy.

That I may plant the heavens; that is, that I may restore everything to its proper order. There are, indeed, various interpretations of these words; but the true meaning appears to me to be this, that heaven and earth are said to be restored by the doctrine of salvation; because “in Christ,” as Paul says, “are collected all things that are either in heaven or in earth.” (<490110>Ephesians 1:10.) Since the fall of the first man we see nothing but frightful confusion, which troubles even the dumb creatures, and makes them suffer, in some respects, the punishment of our sins; and, consequently, that confusion cannot be repaired but by Christ. Since therefore the whole face of the world is disfigured by frightful desolation, there are good grounds for saying that godly teachers renovate the world, as if God formed heaven and earth anew by their hand. And hence it is evident how great is the heinousness of our guilt, which has been followed by such dreadful confusion in the nature of things. Thus, “the heavens” are said to be “planted and the earth to be founded,” when the Lord establishes his Church by the word; and he does this by the agency of ministers, whom he directs by his Spirit, and protects against hidden enemies and various dangers, that they may effectually accomplish what he has enjoined.

That I may say to Zion, Thou art my people. At length he shews that this aims at something higher than the visible form of the world, which shall quickly perish; namely, to excite and nourish in the hearts of believers the hope of a heavenly life. The true stability of the Church, the restoration of the world, consists in this, that the elect be gathered into the unity of faith, so that, with one consent, all may lift their hearts to God, who also invites them sweetly and gently by these words, “I am thy God.” And hence we see how highly God values the salvation of the Church, since he not only prefers it to the whole world, but even shews that the stability of the world depends upon it. We must likewise observe what is the word which the Lord enjoins to be proclaimed; for it not only lays down a rule of life, but also gives a testimony of our adoption, in which our salvation chiefly consists.

17. Awake, awake. The Church was about to endure grievous calamities, and therefore he fortifies her by consolation, and meets a doubt which might arise, that the Jews, being now oppressed by tyrants, saw no fulfillment of these promises. The meaning therefore is, that the Church, though afflicted and tossed in various ways, will nevertheless be set up again, so as to regain her full vigor. By the word “Awake” he recalls her, as it were, from death and the grave; as if he had said, that no ruins shall be so dismal, no desolations shall be so horrible, as to be capable of hindering God from effecting this restoration. And this consolation was highly necessary; for when grief seizes our hearts, we think that the promises do not at all belong to us; and therefore we ought frequently to call to remembrance, and to place constantly before our eyes, that it is God who speaks, and who addresses men who are not in a prosperous or flourishing condition, but fallen and dead, and whom notwithstanding he can raise up and uphold by his word; for this doctrine of salvation is intended not for those who retain their original condition, but for those who are dead and ruined.

Who hast drunk from the hand of Jehovah the cup of his wrath. There are two senses in which the term, “cup of wrath,” may be understood; for sometimes the Lord is said to put into our hands a “cup of wrath,” when he strikes us with some kind of giddiness, or deranges our intellect; as we see that affliction sometimes takes away men’s understanding; but sometimes it is used in a simpler sense, to denote the sharp and heavy punishments by which the Lord severely chastises his people. This is evidently the meaning in which it must be taken here, as appears from the addition of the pronoun His. Nor is this inconsistent with what he says, that the Church was stupified and drunk; for he shews that this happened in consequence of the Lord having severely chastised her. It is an ordinary metaphor by which the chastisement which God inflicts on his people is called a “potion,” F875 or a certain measure which he assigns to each. But whenever it relates to the elect, this term “cup” serves to express the moderation of the divine judgment; that the Lord, though he punish his people severely, still observes a limit. F876

Pressing out the dregs of the cup of distress (or of trembling.) I consider the word hl[rt (targnelah) to denote “anguish” or “trembling,” by which men are nearly struck dead, when they are weighed down by heavy calamities. Such persons may be called “drunk,” as having exhausted all that is in the cup, because nothing can be added to their affliction and distress.

This is also denoted by another term, “pressing out.” The Church is here reminded that all the evils which befall her proceed from no other source than from the hand of God, that she may not think that they happen to her by chance, or that she is unjustly afflicted. The object which the Prophet has in view is, that the people may know that they are justly punished for their sins. No one can rise up till he first acknowledge that he has fallen, or be delivered from misery till he perceive that it is by his own fault that he is miserable. In short, there can be no room for consolations till they have been preceded by the doctrine of repentance.

Dregs, therefore, must not here be understood in the same sense as in <242515>Jeremiah 25:15, where the reprobate are spoken of, whom the Lord chokes and kills by his cup, but as denoting complete and righteous punishment, to which the Lord has been pleased to assign a limit. Thus, when the Lord has inflicted on us such punishment as he thought fit, and puts an end to our afflictions, he declares that the “dregs” are exhausted; as we have seen before at the fortieth chapter. F877

18. There is no one to guide her. He describes the sorest calamity of the Church; for the heaviest and sorest of all undoubtedly is, that she receives no sympathy or consolation from her own children. This accumulated misery is described by him, in order that, though her condition be desperate, she may still expect consolation from God, who will never disappoint his servants, though they be sunk to the depth of hell. Although the Church has been forsaken by men, and even by those whom she nourished in her bosom and carried in her arms, yet she shall receive assistance from God. No affliction more severe can befall a mother than to be deserted by her children, who ought in their turn to have treated her with kindness. Such ingratitude and want of natural affection is certainly much liarder to bear than the violent and unbridled cruelty of enemies; for why does she give birth to children, and why does she bring them up, but in expectation of being supported by them in return? Since her children do not perform their duty, what remains but that she shall think that to have born and reared them has been of no advantage to her? Although therefore the Church has performed the duty of a mother, and has brought up her children to the age of maturity, yet the Prophet declares that she must not expect any assistance or consolation from ungrateful persons.

Yet his discourse conveys something more, and pronounces those children who have rendered no assistance to their mother to be bastards and reprobates, with the view of inducing her to bear the loss of them more patiently. It was sad and distressing for the Church to be deprived of all her offspring, and to be reduced to childlessness; though this has sometimes happened. But the Prophet reminds the mother that the children do not deserve that she should mourn for them, and that, on the contrary, she ought to desire additional offspring, as it is said by the Psalmist,

“The people that shall be created shall praise the Lord.” (<19A318>Psalm 103:18.)

What is here described by the Prophet is entirely applicable to our own age; for many boast of being the children of the Church; but where is the man that cares about his mother’s distresses? Who is grieved for her ruin? Who is moved so deeply as to put his shoulders to her support? How many betray her, and, under presence of this title, persecute her more cruelly than open and avowed enemies? Accordingly, after all her calamities this is added as the copestone of her miseries. Moreover, they who wish to be regarded as holding the first rank in the Church, and who not only boast of being children, but vaunt of being called fathers, treacherously desert her when she implores their aid. We need not wonder, therefore, if God shall drive them out, in order to make way for the increase of his Church by lawful and dutiful children. F878

19. These two things have happened to thee. Nearly the same thing was already asserted concerning Babylon,

“These two things shall befall thee suddenly in one day, childlessness and widowhood.” (<234709>Isaiah 47:9.)

But here Isaiah promises to the Church that there shall eventually be a different issue; for the Lord will rescue her from the deepest abyss. He threatens extreme wretchedness, that believers may gird themselves for patience, and not cease to send upwards prayers and supplications from the depth of their distresses. The general meaning is, that the Church shall be burdened with afflictions of every kind, so that she shall appear to be on the brink of utter ruin; because from without she shall endure very heavy calamities, and from within shall obtain no aid or sympathy from her own children. These are two very sore evils which the Prophet relates. But it appears as if the division were not quite appropriate; for, after having related one evil, that there is none to bewail her, he enumerates four kinds —

Desolation and destruction, and the sword and famine. Some explain it to mean that the Church is visited by famine within, and harassed by enemies without. But I interpret it differently, as I have already hinted; for it is very customary among Hebrew writers to put a question, when they wish absolutely to deny anything; and among them it is elegant, though in Greek or Latin authors it would be ungraceful. Isaiah therefore describes “two evils,” one external, for both by the devastations of “war” and by “famine” they will be brought to the verge of “destruction” and “desolation,” which he describes by these four classes; and another internal, because she is deprived of consolation, and “there is none to bewail her.” By putting the question, “Who shall bewail her?” he affirms that she shall have no consolation; and this verse agrees with the former, in which we have already explained the design which the Prophet has in view, in describing this highly calamitous and wretched condition of the Church.

20. Thy sons have fainted. He describes more fully the lamentable and wretched condition of the Church, when he says that her children he prostrate. A mother cannot be visited with any grief more bitter than to have her children slain before her eyes, and not one or two of them, but so great a number as to fill the roads with the slaughter.

As a wild bull in a net. The metaphor is taken from bears or other savage animals, by which he means that even the strongest of them have, as it were, been caught in snares.

Full of the indignation of Jehovah. By this expression he distinctly states that none of these events are accidental, lest they should suppose that any of them has happened by chance, or lest they should accuse the Lord of cruelty for having punished them severely; because his judgment is just and righteous. This is what he means, when he says that this punishment has proceeded from the rebuke of the Lord. Yet we must bear in mind his object which I have already mentioned, that believers ought not to throw away the hope of grace, though innumerable calamities prompt and urge them to despair.

21. Therefore now hear this. He now shews more plainly the reason why he spoke of the calamities of the Church. It was, that believers might be fully persuaded that they would obtain consolation from God, though they were reduced to the extremity of distress. But why does he call the Church wretched, since nothing is more happy than to be God’s people, and that happiness cannot be taken away by any tribulations?; Not without cause is it said,

“Blessed is the people whose God is Jehovah.”
(<19E415>Psalm 144:15.)

I reply, she is apparently “wretched,” and not in vain does the Lord address her by that name; for, as we have already said, he helps the wretched, and succors the destitute.

And drunken, not with wine. F879 When he calls her “drunken,” it ought to be observed that believers never endure so patiently the chastisements which are inflicted on them as not to be sometimes stupified; but, although stupified, they ought to remember that the Lord punishes them justly, and ought to believe that the Lord will assist them. He does not speak to robust or healthy men, but to those who are feeble, wretched, prostrate, and who resemble drunken persons, and says that he brings to them consolation. Finally, by this word he soothes the grief of the Church, and shews that he preserves a limit, by which he restrains the violence even of the greatest afflictions, and restores her when ruined, as if he were raising from the dead a rotten corpse.

22. Thus saith Jehovah. Not at random does the Prophet add to the name Jehovah three epithets, namely, that he is the Lord or Defender of his Church, that he is God, and lastly, that he is her Avenger. We ought always to consider what is the nature of our relation to God; for he addresses us in a familiar manner, in consequence of having once chosen us to be his people, by uniting himself to us in an everlasting covenant. This preface encouraged the Jews, in ancient times, not to hesitate to embrace what is here promised; and at the present day the same argument applies to a new people, who have been taken under God’s care and protection not less than they. The Lord declares himself to hold the office of an “Avenger,” in order that, when we shall be threatened with the most alarming dangers, and when it shall appear as if all were over with us, we may betake ourselves to this anchor, that God is the “Avenger” of his people; and this ought to support us, not only when we are assailed by outward enemies, but also when we are assailed by Satan.

Behold, I have taken from thy hand. He holds out the ground of hope; for it is only by temporary stripes that the Lord chastises his Church. Hence also the Jews ought to learn that all the calamities to which they were subjected were the just reward of their transgressions; for those calamities would never come to an end but by their being reconciled to God. The general meaning is, that the wrath of the Lord will be appeased, so that he will restrain and bring to a close the chastisements which he had formerly inflicted on his Church.

The cup of thy affliction, or, the cup of thy trembling. We have already spoken of the metaphor of “the cup;” and the explanation of it which we gave is fully confirmed by this passage, in which God calls it “the cup of his indignation,” though it had made the Church to tremble, as if she had been seized with giddiness. Yet it is the same word which he formerly used, hl[rt (targnelah,) which some translate “anguish,” and others “trembling.” By dregs, as I have said, he means the full measure of vengeance with which God is satisfied on account of his fatherly kindness.

23. And I will put it into the hand of thy oppressors. This is another part of the consolation, in which he promises that the Lord will not only deliver the Church from those heavy distresses, but will also lay upon her enemies the calamities with which she is afflicted. If therefore we are afflicted, F880 our condition will be speedily changed, and our enemies will be severely punished. Truly, as Paul says, it is righteous with God to render tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest along with us, when the Lord shall be revealed from heaven, with the angels of his power, with flame of fire, to take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (<530106>2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.) Thus the temporary punishments which God inflicts on them are the beginnings of that eternal punishment to which they shall be finally condemned.

Who said to thy soul. In order to describe more fully the insolence and haughtiness of their enemies, such as we too experience every day in our adversaries, he quotes their words, by which they slandered and insulted the unhappy children of God. Impiety is always accompanied by pride and cruelty; for, as the true knowledge of God renders men gentle, so ignorance makes them ferocious and savage. They who are ignorant of God please themselves, and pour out unmeasured reproaches against God and those who truly worship him. This truly is most wretched and base; but since he frequently permits his name to be exposed to the insults of wicked men, let us not wonder that we are assailed on account of his name; for we are not more excellent than God, and our condition ought not to be better than that of the ancient Church. David employs a different metaphor, (<19C903>Psalm 129:3,) when he says that the Church resembles a field which is cut and broken up by the plough; for he shews that frequently it is deeply furrowed and trodden upon, that we may not think that our condition is different.


Go To Isaiah 52:1-15

1. Awake, awake. He confirms the former doctrine, in order still more to arouse the people who had been weighed down by grief and sorrow. These things were necessary to be added as spurs, that the doctrine might more easily penetrate into their drowsy and stupified hearts; for he addresses the Church, which appeared to be in a benumbed and drowsy condition, and bids her “awake,” that she may collect her strength and revive her courage, he repeats it a second time, and with great propriety; for it is difficult to arouse and reanimate those whose hearts have been struck, and even laid prostrate, by a sense of God’s anger.

Put on thy strength. As if he had said, “Formerly thou wast dejected, and wallowedst in filth and pollution; now prepare for a happy and prosperous condition, to which the Lord will restore thee.” Thus he contrasts “strength” with despondency, such as is usually found when affairs are desperate; and he contrasts garments of beauty with filth and pollution.

For henceforth there shall not come to thee. The reason assigned by him is, that henceforth God will not permit wicked men to indulge their sinful inclinations for destroying it. Freed from their tyranny, the Church already has cause to rejoice; and security for the future holds out solid ground for joy and gladness. Yet Isaiah exhorts us to mutual congratulation when God is reconciled to his Church; and indeed if we have any piety in us, we ought to be deeply affected by her condition, that we may rejoice in her prosperity, and be grieved in her adversity. F881 In short, it ought to be the height of our gladness, as also the Psalmist says,

“Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I remember not thee, and if thou be not the crown of my gladness.” (<19D706>Psalm 137:6.)

By the word come, he means what we commonly express by the phrase, (Avoir e entree,) “to have access.”

By the uncircumcised and unclean, he means all irreligious persons who corrupt the worship of God and oppress consciences by tyranny. It was customary to apply the term “uncircumcised” to all who were estranged from the Church, which had for its symbol “circumcision,” by which all believers were distinguished. But as very many persons, though they bore this outward mark of the covenant, were not better than others, in order to remove all doubt, he added the word “unclean;” for the mark of “circumcision is nothing in itself,” (<480506>Galatians 5:6,) and (unless, asPaul says, there be added purity of heart) “is even reckoned uncircumcision.” (<450202>Romans 2:2.5,) Accordingly, he declares that henceforth such persons shall not be admitted into the Church, in order that, by the removal of corruptions, and the restoration of the worship of God, she may possess perfect joy. Yet I do not object to viewing these words as applied to outward foes, whom he calls by hateful names, that even the severity of the punishment may warn the Jews of the heinousness of their offenses.

2. Shake thyself from the dust; arise. He explains more fully the deliverance of the Church, and exhibits it prominently by uJpotu>pwsin, “a lively description.” When he bids her “shake off the dust and arise,” let us not on that account think that our liberty is in our power, so that we can obtain it whenever we think fit; for it belongs to God alone to raise us from the dust, to lift us up when we are prostrate, and, by breaking or loosing our chains, to set us at liberty. Why then does the Prophet make use of the imperative mood? for it is unreasonable to demand what we cannot perform. I reply, the imperative form of address has a much more powerful tendency to arouse than if he had employed plain narrative; and therefore he declares that, when God shall have restored her to her former freedom, she shall come out of the mire.

Sit, O Jerusalem,. The word “sit” denotes a flourishing condition, and is contrasted with the word “to lie,” which denotes the lowest calamity. Sometimes indeed it means “to be prostrate,” as when he formerly said to Babylon, “sit in the dust.” (<234701>Isaiah 47:1.) But here the meaning is different; for, after ordering her to arise, he likewise adds, “that she may sit;” that is, that she may no longer lie down, but may regain her former condition, and not be in future laid prostrate by enemies.

3. For thus saith Jehovah. This verse has been badly expounded by many commentators, who have here chosen to enter into philosophical subtleties; for they have dreamed of many things at variance with the Prophet’s meaning. It agrees with what he had formerly stated,

“To which of my creditors have I sold you?” (<230101>Isaiah 1:1.)

For here, in the same manner, he says,Ye have been sold for nought;” as if he had said that he has received no price, and is under no obligations to a creditor who can claim them as having been purchased by him. This tends greatly to confirm the promise; because the Jews might entertain doubts of the liberty which was promised to them, in consequence of their having been long held in possession by the Babylonians, who were the most powerful of all nations. The Lord meets this doubt. “I did not sell or make a conveyance of you to them; for nought were ye sold; and therefore I can justly claim you as nay property and sell you. Do not then consider how great are your difficulties, when I promise you liberty, and do not reason on this matter by human arguments; for the Babylonians have no right to detain you, and cannot prevent your being set at liberty.

Therefore shall ye be redeemed without money. Lastly, as he had formerly said, that he is not like a spendthrift, who is compelled to sell his children, or offer them in payment, so in this passage he declares that “for nought he sold” and gave them up to their enemies, for no other reason than because they had provoked him by their sins; and therefore that there will be no greater difficulty in delivering them than in giving them up to their enemies.

Some explain it more ingeniously thus, that Christ has redeemed us by free grace. This doctrine must indeed be maintained, but does not agree with the Prophet’s meaning, who intended to correct the distrust of the Jews, that they might have no doubt as to their being set at liberty. Let it suffice to know, that when God shall be pleased to deliver his people, it will not be necessary to make a pecuniary bargain with the Babylonians, whom, in spite of their opposition, he will have no difficulty in driving out of their unjust possession.

4. Into Egypt my people went down aforetime. Here also the commentators touch neither heaven nor earth; for the Jews dream of three captivities, and Christians differ from them by thinking that this denotes a third captivity, which shall be under Antichrist, and from which Christ will deliver them. But the Prophet’s meaning, in my opinion, is quite different; for he argues from the less to the greater, by quoting the instance of the Egyptian captivity, from which the people were formerly recalled by the wonderful power of God. (<021428>Exodus 14:28.) The argument therefore stands thus: “If the Lord punished the Egyptians because their treatment of his people was harsh and unjust, (<011514>Genesis 15:14,) much more will he punish the Babylonians, who have cruelly tyrannized over them.”

But the Assyrian has oppressed them without cause. There was much greater plausibility in Pharaoh’s claim of dominion over the Jews than in that of the Babylonians; for Jacob, having voluntarily come down to Egypt with his family, (<014605>Genesis 46:5,) undoubtedly became subject to the power of Pharaoh, who, in return for the kindness received from Joseph, F882 had assigned to him a large country and abundant pasturage. Pharaoh’s successors, ungrateful and forgetful of the benefit conferred on them by Joseph, afflicted all the posterity of Jacob in various ways. This ingratitude and cruelty the Lord severely punished. But far more base and savage was the wickedness of the Babylonians, who drove the Jews out of a lawful possession, and dragged them into bondage. If then the Lord could not bear the Egyptians, who were unthankful and ruled by unjust laws, though in other respects they had a just title to possession, much less will he endure the violent and cruel Babylonians, who have no right to govern his people and oppress them by tyranny.

By “the Assyrian,” he means the Babylonians, who were united under the same monarchy with the Assyrians; but he takes special notice of “the Assyrian,” because he was the first that grievously distressed the Jews, and that prepared the way for this captivity.

5. What have I here? He follows out and confirms what I have already said, that it; is not reasonable that he should silently permit his people to be any longer oppressed. By these words he reproves, in some measure, his own delay; as if he had said, “Shall I not stretch out my hand? Shall I not avenge my people? If Pharaoh did not hinder me, though he was a lawful master, shall the violence of robbers hinder me?” He next enumerates the reasons which ought to move him to bring back the people.

That my people should be carried away for nought. There must be understood an implied contrast to the participle “carried away;” for the Egyptians did not “carry away” Jacob by force; he came down to it of his own accord when he was pressed by famine, yet he was delivered from it; F883how much more shall he be rescued out of the hand of those who tore him from his native country, and carried him by violence into captivity?

That they should cause them to howl. In order to express more forcibly the baseness of this conduct, he says that they are constrained to howl without ceasing. Some translate the vero as neuter; F884 but I think that it is intended to express the strength of their hatred, and therefore I consider it to be an active verb, expressive of the violence which the Babylonians exercised towards the Jews; for they not only ruled unjustly over them, but also treated them harshly. To “howl” is more than to sigh or weep; for there is reason to believe that the pain which sends forth loud and strong cries is exceedingly severe. The metaphor is taken from wild beasts, and denotes extreme despair.

The third and principal reason why the Lord will deliver his people is, that his name is continually exposed to the reproach and blasphemy of wicked men. For the sake of his own honor the Lord preserves the Church, and defends the pure worship of his name. Because wicked men seize on the Church’s calamitous state as a reason for blasphemy, and insolently mock God, with good reason does he say, that by delivering his people, he will plead his own cause. I do not here relate the various interpretations, or stay to refute them; for it will be enough for me to have briefly explained the Prophet’s real meaning.

6. Therefore shall my people know. In this verse he concludes what he had glanced at in the two preceding verses, that at length the people must be redeemed by God, who cannot be unlike himself; for, if he redeemed the fathers, if he always assisted the Church, their posterity, whom he has adopted in the same manner, will never be suffered by him to be overwhelmed. We ought carefully to observe the word “know;” for to “know the name of the Lord” is to lay aside every false opinion, and to know him from his word, which is his true image, and next from his works. We must not imagine God according to the fancy of men, but must comprehend him as he declares himself to us. The Lord, therefore, concludes that he will actually assist them, and will fulfill all that he has promised, that the people may know that their hope has not been without foundation, and that they may be more and more confirmed in the knowledge of his name. We must keep in remembrance what we have elsewhere said about experimental knowledge, which confirms the truth of the word.

That it is I who speak. The verb “to speak” relates to the promises. ynnh (hinni,) Behold I, relates to actual power; as if he had said, “Although now there be nothing more than that there sound in your ears the words by which I promise what is hardly probable, yet you shall speedily obtain it; for I will actually accomplish what I promise.” Hence we ought to draw the universal doctrine, that the promises of God and the fulfillment of them are linked together by an indissoluble bond. Whenever, therefore, Satan tempts and urges us to distrust, as if God had forsaken and abandoned us, we must come back to this point, and place our confidence in God, who never promises anything in vain. “If hitherto he does not perform, yet he will assist in due time.”

7. How beautiful upon the mountains. The Prophet again confirms believers as to the certainty of the word of God, that they may be fully persuaded that they shall be restored to their former liberty, and may comfort their hearts by assured hope during that hard bondage. He pronounces magnificent commendations on this message, that believers may be convinced that God holds out to them, in their calamity, the hope of future salvation; and indeed, when God speaks, they ought to accept the consolation, that, relying on it, they may calmly and patiently wait for the fulfillment of the promise. Thus, in order that believers may bridle their desires by patience, he splendidly adorns the word of God. “Will you be so ungrateful as not to rest satisfied with that incomparable treasure of the word which contains so many benefits? Will you give way to unruly passions? Will you complain of God?” He wishes to guard against distrust the people who were drawn away by various allurements, and did not fully rely on the word of God; and therefore he praises the excellence of the doctrine, and shews that the Lord bestows upon “us more than we can say or think.” (<490320>Ephesians 3:20.)

He states that he does not now speak of every kind of doctrine, but of that which is adapted to consolation, and therefore shews that “beautiful” and lovely is the approach of those who bring consolation from the mouth of God, which can not only alleviate our grief, but even impart to us abundant joy. Here he speaks of the doctrine of salvation, and consequently says that peace, happiness, salvation, is proclaimed. By the word “peace” he denotes a prosperous and happy condition, as we have already in other passages explained fully the signification of this term.

That saith to Zion. Hence we infer what is the beginning of that doctrine which Isaiah preaches, and what we ought chiefly to desire, namely, that the kingdom of God may be erected among us; for until he reign among us, everything must go in with us, and therefore we must be miserable, as, on the other hand, when God is pleased to take care of us, this of itself is the chief part of salvation; and this, too, is the only way of obtaining peace, though the state of affairs be ruinous and desperate. And let us remember that this message is sent to the Church; for it cannot apply to heathens that know not God.

Paul quotes this passage, in order to prove that the preaching of the Gospel proceeds not from men but from God, and that the ministers who bring the message of salvation are sent by him. He employs this chain of reasoning, — “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But it is impossible for any one to call on God till he know him; for there can be no entrance to calling on him till it is opened up by faith, that, embracing God as our Father, we may familiarly pour our cares into his bosom. Now, the foundation of it is doctrine, by which the Lord has revealed himself to us, and for that purpose employs the agency and ministry of men. Therefore he adds, lastly, that there will be none to preach till he be sent by God.” (<451015>Romans 10:15.)

But it may be thought that Paul tortures the Prophet’s words; for Isaiah does not say that God sends ministers, but that their approach and presence is desirable. I reply, Paul took this principle for granted, that nothing is desirable but what comes from God. But whence comes salvation? From men? No; for none but God can be the author of such a distinguished benefit. Justly, therefore, does he conclude that it proceeds from God, and not from man.

8. The voice of thy watchmen. He continues his argument; for he shews that there shall be such a restoration of the people, that the messengers shall venture boldly to proclaim it. To lift up the voice has the same meaning with the phrase, “on the mountains,” which he formerly employed. (Verse 7.) The matter will not be hidden, but so clear and evident as to draw forth universal admiration. They who speak of what is doubtful matter mutter inaudibly, F885 and do not venture to “lift up the voice;” but here there will be nothing doubtful or uncertain.

The Prophet borrowed the metaphor from sentries which are commonly placed in cities, though the designation of “watchmen” is usually given to all Prophets, because they are placed, as it were, on watch-towers, to keep watch over the safety of the people. When he says that they shall lift up the voice, he means that there will be silence during the captivity, because the voice of the Prophets shall not be heard; for although they warn every one privately, yet there will be no freedom of speech. Hence also Jeremiah says, “I will put my mouth in the dust.” (<250329>Lamentations 3:29) But when the Lord shall be pleased to lead forth the people, the mouth of watchmen, who were formerly dumb, shall be opened to proclaim that they are at liberty to return; for they will not speak within private walls, or impart moderate consolation, but will openly proclaim that salvation. On this subject I have spoken fully at the beginning of the fortieth chapter.  F886

Eye to eye; that is, openly. This extends, indeed, to spiritual conversion; but let us not on that account depart from the literal sense, so as not to include also the benefit which the Lord conferred on the ancient people; for, when he restored the Jews to liberty, and employed the ministry of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, these things were fulfilled. Yet at the same time they ought to be continued down to the coming of Christ, by which the Church was gathered out of all parts of the world. But we ought also to go forward to Christ’s last coming, by which all things shall be perfectly restored.

9. Praise ye, rejoice together. He exhorts believers to thanksgiving, but chiefly confirms them in the hope and confidence of this salvation; as if the actual enjoyment of it already called them to thank God for it.  F887 We are not sufficiently moved, when the Lord testifies that he will assist us, and think that we are deceived, if he do not actually show it. On this account the Prophets insist much on strengthening the hearts of believers, and placing the fact almost before their eyes. Although it appears to be unreasonable and inappropriate to prescribe a song of joy in the midst of grief, yet we have elsewhere seen that this form of expression is well fitted to arouse those who groan under the burden of sorrow, fear, and cares.

Ye wildernesses of Jerusalem. He calls them “wildernesses” or waste places “of Jerusalem,” that, notwithstanding its ruin and destruction, they might still hope that it would be restored. And this appellation is better adapted for shaking off fear than if he had called her prosperous or flourishing; for, in consequence of their condition being very wretched, nothing would have led them to think that these promises related to them except a description of their misery, against which they needed to be fortified, in order that, though they beheld nothing but desolation and hideous ruin, still they might look for restoration with assured confidence.

For Jehovah hath comforted his people. The Lord hath changed the mourning of the people into joy, and out of captivity hath made them free. Yet some person will say  F888 that this had not yet happened. But in the promises of God, as in a mirror, we ought to behold those things which are not yet visible to our eyes, even though they appear to us to be contrary to reason.

He hath redeemed Jerusalem. Here we see that to deliver the Church is God’s own work. And if we ought to judge thus of the redemption from Babylon, which was but of a shadowy nature, what shall we say of the spiritual redemption? Can it be ascribed to men without grossly insulting God? As it belongs to God alone to deliver the Church, so to him it likewise belongs to defend its liberty.

10. Jehovah hath made bare the arm of his holiness. The Prophet has borrowed this comparison from soldiers who stretch out their arms when they make ready for the battle. To “make bare” does not here mean to hold out the naked arm, but to exert it; because, when we sit in idleness, we either have our arms folded or conceal them; and in like manner, we conceive of God according to the grossness of our senses, and think that, like a wearied or indolent man, he does not move a finger till he publicly displays his power.

The Prophet calls it “the arm of holiness,” because he intended to display his power for the salvation of the people. This implies a mutual relation between God and the Church which the Lord has consecrated to himself. True, “he maketh bare his arm” in the government of the whole world; but he does not call it “the arm of holiness,” as in this passage, when he renders peculiar assistance to his Church. There are two points of view in which the power of God ought to be regarded; first, universally, in preserving all the creatures; next, specially, in defending the Church; for there is a peculiar care which he exercises about his own people, and which the rest do not share with them.

Before the eyes of all nations. He means that this deliverance shall be worthy of so great admiration that it shall be visible even to the blind. The extension of this magnificent spectacle to the very ends of the earth makes it evident that the Prophet does not. speak of the return of the people, which would take place a few years afterwards, but of the restoration of the whole Church. This prophecy is maliciously restricted by the Jews to the deliverance from Babylon, and is improperly restricted by Christians to the spiritual redemption which we obtain through Christ; for we must begin with the deliverance which was wrought under Cyrus, (<143622>2 Chronicles 36:22, 23,) and bring it down to our own time. Thus the Lord began to display his power among the Medes and Persians, but afterwards he made it visible to all the nations.

11. Depart ye, depart ye. He now exhorts the people to be always ready to set out, and at the same time to bear their misery with patience. As the excessive haste of the people needed to be restrained, so it was also proper to shake off their slothfulness; for, before the time of deliverance arrived, they burned with extravagant eagerness to depart; but when the period of the captivity was fulfilled, they had grown languid through long delay, and had thrown away all hope and wish to return, so that there were few who returned to Judea.  F889 They had mingled with the Babylonians, whose customs had captivated and depraved them so much that they disregarded their native country; and therefore they needed to be aroused and admonished, that they might not lose heart through long expectation, and might not suffer themselves to be corrupted by the pollutions of the Babylonians.

Touch not what is unclean.  F890 This expresses more clearly what we have already said. He bids them keep themselves pure and free from the defilements with which the Babylonians polluted themselves; for there was a risk of their being corrupted by the pollutions of the Gentiles, as we are all prone to evil, and easily led away by bad examples. Accordingly, he exhorts them, though they are captives, not to do anything for the purpose of pleasing their masters, or of having their condition improved; not to allow themselves to be drawn aside from the pure worship of God; not to be polluted by their idolatries; not to pretend that they worship idols or approve of their religion; for this is detestable “uncleanness,” which the Prophet bids them shun. Captives and those who groan under tyranny meet with temptations of this kind, under which they frequently sink so as to allow themselves to do many things that are unlawful and base, under the pretense of wishing to mitigate the rage of tyrants. But how frivolous their excuse is we see in this passage; for the Prophet does not exhort the Jews to be clean when they shall be free, but so long as they shall be held captive, and even when their life shall be in danger. These words undoubtedly relate to us also, whom Paul exhorts to be unpolluted, not only “in spirit,” but also “in the flesh.” (<470701>2 Corinthians 7:1).

Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of Jehovah. This exhortation is especially directed to the priests and Levites, who, being standard‑bearers, ought to maintain greater integrity; not that others have a right to pollute themselves, but he addresses them chiefly, that they may give an example to others, to whom they have been appointed to be guides. Besides, we must bear in remembrance what we have already seen, and what Isaiah will again repeat at the end of this book, that there will be a new priesthood among a redeemed people. (<236621>Isaiah 66:21.)

Yet I approve of the simple meaning, that the Levites and ministers of the temple are put, by way of eminence, (katj ejxoch<n) for the whole of the people. This doctrine, therefore, relates in the present day, not only to ministers of the word, but to all Christians, who are also called “a royal priesthood,” (<600209>1 Peter 2:9,) and not only are appointed to carry the vessels of the temple, but are themselves “temples of God.” (<460619>1 Corinthians 16, and 6:19.) Thus Ezekiel has predicted that at the restoration of the Church the Levites shall be high priests, and the whole people shall be admitted into the order of the Levites. Seeing, therefore, that the Lord has raised all to so high a rank of dignity, it follows that this “cleanness” is demanded from all without exception; and on this account also Paul has applied this passage to the whole Church.

12. For not in haste shall ye go out. The Prophet again magnifies that benefit of redemption, for it appeared to be incredible, so deep was the despair with which almost all of them had been seized; for he chiefly addresses those who would be led into captivity, that they might not lose courage in that wretched condition. He promises that this deliverance shall not resemble a flight such as that of Egypt; for there is an implied contrast between the deliverance from Egypt. and the deliverance from Babylon. They fled “by night” out of Egypt, (<021231>Exodus 12:31,) having pretended that they were only performing “a journey of three days to offer sacrifice to God.” (<020503>Exodus 5:3.) They went out “with haste” (<021233>Exodus 12:33) and bustle, as they were told to do, and Pharaoh pursued them in their journey and attempted to destroy them. But the Prophet declares that the present case shall be totally different, and that they shall go away like conquerors, so that none shall venture to give them any annoyance, or, as we commonly say, “They will go out with flying colors,” (Ils s’en iront a enseigne desployee,) so that this deliverance will be more excellent and wonderful.

Jehovah will go before you; that is, will be the leader of your journey. It will be said that God was also the leader of his ancient people when he led them out of Egypt. This is undoubtedly true; but he did not at that time display his majesty, as now, when, like a general, he brought back his army, after having vanquished his enemies.

And the God of Israel will assemble you. The word “assemble” will confirm the interpretation now given; for there will be no scattering such as usually takes place when men are under the influence of terror, nor will they wander about here and there, but will march, as under banners, in a regular and ordinary manner. As if he had said, “God will bring you out as a band or army drawn up; one shall not follow another, like those who steal away secretly; but ye shall be openly gathered in troops, and shall depart without any fear. None shall molest you; for you will be assembled under God as your leader, that you may return into your native country.

13. Behold, my servant shall have prosperous success.  F891 After having spoken of the restoration of the Church, Isaiah passes on to Christ, in whom all things are gathered together. Some explain lyky (yashkil) to mean shall “deal prudently;” but, as it is immediately added that he shall be exalted, the context appears to demand that we shall rather understand it to denote “prosperous success,” for lk (shakal) also signifies “to be prosperous.” He speaks, therefore, of the prosperity of the Church; and as this was not visible, he draws their attention to the supreme King, by whom all things shall be restored, and bids them wait for him. And here we ought carefully to observe the contrasts which the Prophet lays down; for the mightiness of this king whom the Lord will exalt is contrasted by him with the wretched and debased condition of the people, who were almost in despair. He promises that this king will be the head of the people, so that under him as the leader the people shall flourish, though they be now in a state of the deepest affliction and wretchedness; because he shall have a prosperous course.

He calls Christ “his Servant,” on account of the office committed to him. Christ ought not to be regarded as a private individual, but as holding the office to which the Father has appointed him, to be leader of the people and restorer of all things; so that whatever he affirms concerning himself we ought to understand as belonging also to us. Christ has been given to us, and therefore to us also belongs his ministry, for the Prophet might have said, in a single word, that Christ will be exalted and will be highly honored; but, by giving to him the title of “Servant,” he means that he will be exalted for our sake.

14. As many. He makes use of an anticipation; for the exalted state of Christ was not visible at first sight, and on this pretense it might be rejected. On this account, he informs them that Christ must first be rejected and humbled, and anticipates that doubt which might have arisen from his singularly debased and unseemly condition. As if he had said, “There is no reason why men should be shocked at that unseemliness and disgrace which will be speedily followed by eternal happiness.”

So marred by men. I have translated ˆk (ken) as meaning so; for it is a mistake to suppose that it opens the second part of the comparison.  F892 I consider yam (meish) to mean “by men;” for I do not consider m (mem) to be a particle denoting comparison, as others explain it; that is “more than” men, or “beyond” what is usually found among men; but I adopt a simpler meaning, which is, that Christ was disfigured among men, or that his beauty was defaced by the perverse judgment of men.

Were amazed.  F893 This “amazement” is considered by some commentators to denote the astonishment with which men were seized on account of the miracles performed by Christ, and next, that, when he must come to the cross, he was immediately rejected by them. But they have not caught the Prophet’s meaning; for he says that Christ will be such that all men will be shocked at him. He came into the world so as to be everywhere despised; his glory lay hid under the humble form of the flesh; for though a majesty worthy of “the only‑begotten Son of God” (<430114>John 1:14) shone forth in him, yet the greater part of men did not see it, but, on the contrary, they despised that deep abasement which was the veil or covering of his glory.

The cause of their astonishment was this, that he dwelt among men without any outward show; and the Jews did not think that the Redeemer would come in that condition or attire. When he came to be crucified, their horror was greatly increased. Paul describes this humiliation and subsequent exaltation of Christ, when he says,

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to make himself equal to God, but emptied himself, taking upon him the form of a servant, made in the likeness of man, and found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, being made obedient even to death, and the death of the cross. Wherefore also God hath raised him to the highest exaltation, and hath given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus should bow every knee of those that are in heaven and in earth and in hell; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (<501706>Philippians 2:6-11)

It was therefore necessary that Christ should first be humbled and covered with shame, and that exaltation to which he was about to be raised was not all at once visible; but the shame of the cross was followed by a glorious resurrection attended by the highest honor.

15. So shall he sprinkle many nations. Some explain it, “Shall cause to drop,” which they take to be a metaphorical expression for “to speak.” But since hzn signifies “to sprinkle,” and is commonly found to have this sense in Scripture, I choose rather to adopt this interpretation. He means that the Lord will pour out his Word over “many nations.” He next mentions the effect of doctrine, that kings shall shut their mouth, that is, in token of astonishment, but a different kind of astonishment from that which he formerly described. Men “shut their mouths,” and are struck with bewilderment, when the vast magnitude of the subject is such that it cannot be expressed, and that it exceeds all power of language.

What they have not heard. He means that this astonishment will not arise merely from Christ’s outward appearance, but, on the contrary, from the preaching of the Gospel; for, though he had risen from the dead, yet all would have thought that he was still a dead man, if the glory of his resurrection had not been proclaimed. By the preaching of the Gospel, therefore, were revealed those things which formerly had neither been seen nor heard; for this doctrine was conveyed to kings and nations that were very far off, and even to the very ends of the world.

Paul quotes this passage, and shows that it was fulfilled in his ministry, and glories on this ground, that he proclaimed the doctrine of the Gospel to those who had never heard of it at all. (<451521>Romans 15:21) This belongs to the office of an Apostle, and not to the office of every minister. He means that the kingdom of Christ is more extensive than merely to embrace Judea, and that it is not now confined within such narrow limits; for it was proper that it should be spread through all nations, and extended even to the ends of the world. The Jews had heard something of Christ from the Law and the Prophets, but to the Gentiles he was altogether unknown; and hence it follows that these words relate strictly to the Gentiles.

They shall understand. By this word he shows that faith consists in certainty and clear understanding. Wherever, therefore, knowledge of this kind is wanting, faith is unquestionably wanting. Hence it is evident how idle is the notion of the Papists about implicit faith, which is nothing else than gross ignorance, or rather a mere creature of imagination.


Go To Isaiah 53:1-12

1. Who will believe our report? This division, or rather dismemberment, of the chapter, ought to be disregarded; for it ought