Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter is a continuation of the same general subject which was presented in the two previous chapters. It is to be regarded (see the analysis of Isa. 40) as addressed to the exile Jews in Babylon, and near the close of their captivity, and the general object is to induce them to repose confidence in God, and to assure them of deliverance. The primary purpose of these chapters, therefore, is, to direct the attention to him who was to be raised up front the east, to rescue them from their bondage, that is, Cyrus. But in doing this, the mind of the prophet, by the laws of prophetic suggestion (see the Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7, III. 3), is also led to a far greater deliverer, and so entirely, and intently at times, as to lose sight altogether of Cyrus; and the restoration of the Jews to their own land is forgotten in the sublimer contemplation of the redemption of the world. In the previous chapters, the attention of the prophet had been particularly directed to Cyrus, with an occasional reference to the Messiah. In the commencement of this chapter, he seems to have lost sight of Cyrus altogether, and to have fixed the attention wholly on the future Messiah (see the notes at Isa 42:1). The chapter is, as I apprehend, occupied mainly, or entirely, with a description of the character and work of the Messiah. The evidence of this will be adduced in the notes at the chapter itself. The design for which the Messiah is introduced is to convince the Jews that God was their protector, and that it was his purpose that the long-promised Prince and Saviour should yet arise from their restored and recovered nation. Of course, if this was to occur, their national existence would be preserved. There is, therefore, in the chapter, a reference to their return to their own land, though the main scope relates to the Messiah.
The chapter may be regarded as divided into two portions. In the first Isa 42:1-9, the prophet describes the Messiah. Yahweh is introduced as speaking, and in Isa 42:1-4 he describes his character. He is the servant of Yahweh, endowed with the fullness of the Divine Spirit; meek, and lowly, and gentle, and kind; unobtrusive and noiseless in his movements, and yet securing the conquest of truth. Yahweh then Isa 42:5-7, addresses the Messiah himself directly, and states the object for which he had appointed him, to be a light to the Gentiles, to open the eyes of the blind, and to be the pledge of the covenant between him and his people. In Isa 42:8-9, Yahweh turns to the people for whom the prophecy was given, and awakens their attention to the subject, reminds them of the predictions which had been made, and says that the fulfillment of this prophecy, like all former predictions, would demonstrate his superiority over idols, and show that he was the true God.
The second part of the chapter Isa. 42:10-25, consists mainly of a call on the world, and especially on the exile Jews, to rejoice in view of the truth here announced. This general call contains the following portions or parts:
(1) In the exordium Isa 42:10-12 Yahweh calls on the inhabitants of all the earth to praise and glorify his name, and makes his appeal to those who are upon the sea, to the inhabitants of the isles, to the wilderness and solitary places, to the villages and the inhabitants of the rock, as all having occasion to rejoice on account of this glorious event.
(2) In Isa 42:13-17, Yahweh speaks particularly of the deliverance of his people and of the certainty of its being accomplished. He had long delayed to interpose; but now he would come forth in his strength, and annihilate his foes and redeem his people, and make darkness light before them, while all the worshippers of idols should be left without defense or aid.
(3) The people of Israel are new addressed directly, and their character and duty presented Isa 42:18-25. They are addressed as a people blind and deaf, and are admonished to rouse themselves, and to strive to attain to true knowledge. Notwithstanding all that God had done for them, and all his gracious interposition, they had hardened their hearts, and shut their eyes, and had steeled themselves against every good impression. For this God had punished them. He had given them as a spoil to their enemies, and overwhelmed them in grievous and long-continued calamities. They were now called on to attend to his instructions and promises, and henceforward be an obedient people.
Behold - This word is designed to call attention to the person that is immediately referred to. It is an intimation that the subject is of importance, and should command their regard.
My servant - This phrase denotes properly anyone who acknowledges or worships God; anyone who is regarded as serving or obeying him. It is a term which may be applied to anyone who is esteemed to be a pious man, or who is obedient to the commands of God, and is often applied to the people of God Gen 50:17; Ch1 6:49; Ch2 24:9; Dan 6:20; Dan 9:2; Tit 1:1; Jam 1:1; Pe1 2:16; Rev 7:3; Rev 15:3. The word 'servant' may be applied either to Isaiah, Cyrus, or the Messiah; and the question to whom it refers here is to be decided, not by the mere use of the term, but by the connection, and by the characteristics which are ascribed to him who is here designated as the 'servant' of Yahweh. There have been no less than five different views in regard to the personage here referred to; and as in the interpretation of the whole prophecy in this chapter, everything depends on this question, it is of importance briefly to examine the opinions which have been entertained.
I. One has been that it refers to the Jewish people. The translators of the Septuagint evidently so regarded it. They render it, Ἰακώβ ὁ παῖς μοῦ, κ.τ.λ. Iakōb ho pais mou, etc. - 'Jacob is my servant, I will uphold him; Israel is my chosen one, my soul hath embraced him.' Jarchi also so interprets the passage, but so modifies it as to understand by it 'the righteous in Israel;' and among the moderns, Rosenmuller, Paulus, and some others adopt this interpretation. The principal reason alleged for this interpretation is, that the phrase 'servant of Yahweh,' is used elsewhere in a collective sense, and applied to the Jewish people. Rosenmuller appeals particularly to Isa 41:8-9; to Isa 42:19, and to Isa 44:21; Isa 45:4; Isa 48:20; and argues that it is to be presumed that the prophet used the phrase in a uniform manner, and must therefore be supposed here also to refer to the Jewish people. But the objections are insuperable.
1. In Isa 42:6, the servant of Yahweh here referred to, is plainly distinguished from the people, where God says, 'I will give thee for a covenant of (with) the people.'
2. The description which the prophet gives here of the character of the 'servant' of Yahweh, as meek, mild, gentle, quiet, and humble Isa 42:2-3, is remarkably unlike the character which the prophet elsewhere gives of the people, and is as remarkably like the character which is everywhere given of the Messiah.
3. It was not true of the Jewish people that they were appointed, as is here said of the 'servant' of God Isa 42:7, to 'open the blind eyes, and to bring the prisoners out of prison.' This is evidently applicable only to a teacher, a deliverer, or a guide; and in no sense can it be applied to the collected Jewish people.
II. A second opinion has been, that by the 'servant of Yahweh' Cyrus was intended. Many of the Jewish interpreters have adopted this view, and not a few of the German critics. The principal argument for this opinion is, that what precedes, and what follows, relates particularly to Cyrus; and an appeal is made particularly to Isa 45:1, where he is called the Anointed, and to Isa 44:28, where he is called the Shepherd. But to this view also, the objections are obvious.
1. The name 'servant of Yahweh,' is, it is believed, nowhere given to Cyrus.
2. The description here by no means agrees with Cyrus. That he was distinguished for justice and equity is admitted (see the note at Isa 41:2), but the expressions used here, that God would 'put his Spirit upon him, that he should not cry, nor lift up his voice, so that it should be heard in the streets,' is one that is by no means applicable to a man whose life was spent mainly in the tumults of war, and in the pomp and carnage of battle and conquest. How can this description be applied to a man who trod down nations, and subdued kings, and who shed rivers of blood?
III. Others suppose that the prophet refers to himself. Among the Jews, Aben Ezra, and among others, Grottoes and Doderlin held this opinion. The only reason for this is, that in Isa 20:3, the name 'servant' of Yahweh is given to Isaiah. But the objections to this are plain, and insuperable.
1. Nothing can be urged, as we have seen, from the mere use of the word 'servant.'
2. It is inconceivable that a humble prophet like Isaiah should have applied to himself a description expressive of so much importance as is here attributed to the servant of God. How could the establishment of a new covenant with the people of God, and the conversion of the pagan nations Isa 42:6-7, be ascribed to Isaiah? And in what sense is it true that he was appointed to open the eyes of the blind, and to lead the prisoners from the prison?
IV. A fourth opinion, which it may be proper just to notice, is that which is advocated by Gesenius, that the phrase here refers to the prophets taken collectively. But this opinion is one that scarce deserves a serious refutation. For,
1. The name 'servant of Yahweh,' is never given to any collection of the prophets.
2. Any such collection of the prophets is a mere creature of the fancy. When did they exist? Who composed the collection? And how could the name servant designate them?
3. Of what collection of people could it be imagined that the description here given could be applied, that such a collection should not strive, nor cry; that it should be a covenant of the people, and that it should be the means of the conversion of the Gentile world?
V. The fifth opinion, therefore is, that it refers to the Messiah; and the direct arguments in favor of this, independent of the fact that it is applicable to no other one, are so strong as to put it beyond debate. A few of them may be referred to.
1. This is the interpretation of the Chaldee Paraphrase, which has retained the exposition of the ancient and early Jews. 'Behold my servant, the Messiah (משׁיתא עבדי ‛abeddı̂y meshı̂ythâ') I will cause him to come near; my chosen.'
2. There are such applications of the passage in the New Testament to the Lord Jesus, as to leave no room to doubt that, in view of the sacred writers, the passage had this reference. Thus, in Luk 2:32, he is spoken of as 'a light to lighten the Gentiles' (compare Isa 42:6). In Act 26:18, Paul speaks of him as given to the Gentiles,' to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light' (compare Isa 42:7). In Mat 3:17, God says of the Redeemer, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,' - language remarkably similar to the passage before us Isa 42:1, where he says, 'mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.' And the whole inquiry is put to rest by the fact that Matthew Mat 12:17-21 expressly and directly applies the passage to the Lord Jesus, and says that it was fulfilled in him.
3. It may be added, that the entire description is one that is exactly and entirely applicable to the Lord Jesus. It is as applicable as if it had been made after he had appeared among people, and as if it were the language of biography, and not of prophecy. It is an exceedingly beautiful and tender description of the Son of God; nor can there be any objection to its application to him, except what arises from a general purpose not to apply any part of the Old Testament to him, if it can be avoided. I shall regard the passage, therefore, as applicable to him, and him alone; and suppose that the design of the Spirit here in introducing this reference to the Messiah is, to comfort the hearts of the exile Jews with the assurance that they must be restored to their own land, because it was from them that the Messiah was to proceed, and from them that the true religion was to be spread around the world.
Whom I uphold - whom I sustain, or protect; that is, who is the object of my affection and care. In Mat 3:17, the expression is, 'in whom I am well pleased.' And so in Mat 12:18, it is rendered, 'my servant, whom I have chosen.'
Mine elect - My chosen one; or the one whom I have selected to accomplish my great purposes. It implies that God had designated or appointed him for the purpose. In Mat 12:18, it is rendered 'my beloved.' It implies that he was the object of the divine favor, and that God had chosen or appointed him to perform the work of a Messiah.
In whom my soul delighteth - This language is applied the Lord Jesus in Mat 3:17; Mat 12:18. God regarded him as qualified for his work: he approved of what he did; he was well pleased with all his words, and thoughts, and plans. The word 'soul' here, is equivalent to I myself - in whom I delight.
I have put my Spirit upon him - (Compare Joh 3:34): 'For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.' The Lord Jesus was divine, yet as Mediator he is everywhere represented as 'the anointed' of God, or as endowed with the influences of the Holy Spirit (compare the note at Isa 11:2). See also Isa 61:1, where the Messiah says of himself, 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because be hath anointed me' (compare Luk 4:18). Before he entered upon his public ministry, the Spirit of God descended on him at his baptism Mat 3:17, and in all his work he showed that he was endowed abundantly with that Spirit.
He shall bring forth judgment - The word 'judgment' (משׁפט mishpâṭ) is used in a great variety of significations. It properly means judgment, that is, the act of judging Lev 19:15; the place of judgment Ecc 3:16; a cause, or suit before a judge Num 28:5; a sentence of a judge Kg1 3:28; and thence guilt or crime, for which one is judged Jer 51:9. It also means right, rectitude, justice; a law, or statute; a claim, privilege, or due; also manner, custom, or fashion; or an ordinance, or institution. Here it is used, probably, in the sense of the order or institution that would be introduced under the Messiah; and it means that he would set up or establish the true religion among the Gentiles.
To the Gentiles - This is one of the many declarations which occur in Isaiah, that the Messiah would extend the true religion to pagan nations, and that they should be brought to participate in its privileges.
He shall not cry - He will not make a clamor or noise; he will not be boisterous, in the manner of a man of strife and contention.
Nor lift up - That is, his voice.
Nor cause his voice to be heard in the street - He shall not t use loud and angry words, as they do who are engaged in conflict, but all his teaching shall be gentle, humble, and mild. How well this agrees with the character of the Lord Jesus it is not necessary to pause to show. He was uniformly unostentatious, modest, and retiring. He did not even desire that his deeds should be blazoned abroad, but sought to be withdrawn from the world, and to pursue his humble path in perfect peace.
A bruised reed - The word 'reed' means the cane or calamus which grows up in marshy or wet places (Isa 36:6; see the note at Isa 43:24). The word, therefore, literally denotes that which is fragile, weak, easily waved by the wind, or broken down; and stands in contrast with a lofty and firm tree (compare Mat 11:7): 'What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?' The word here, therefore, may be applied to people who are conscious of feebleness and sin; that are moved and broken by calamity; that feel that they have no strength to bear up against the ills of life. The word 'bruised' (רצוּץ râtsûts) means that which is broken or crushed, but not entirely broken off. As used here, it may denote those who are in themselves naturally feeble, and who have been crushed or broken down by a sense of sin, by calamity, or by affliction. We speak familiarly of crushing or breaking down by trials; and the phrase here is intensive and emphatic, denoting those who are at best like a reed - feeble and fragile; and who, in addition to that, have been broken and oppressed by a sense of their sins, or by calamity.
Shall he not break - Shall he not break off. He will not carry on the work of destruction, and entirely crush or break it. And the idea is, that he will not make those already broken down with a sense of sin and with calamity, more wretched. He will not deepen their afflictions, or augment their trials, or multiply their sorrows. The sense is, that he will have an affectionate regard for the broken-hearted, the humble, the penitent, and the afflicted. Luther has well expressed this: 'He does not cast away, nor crush, nor condemn the wounded in conscience, those who are terrified in view of their sins; the weak in faith and practice, but watches over and cherishes them, makes them whole, and affectionately embraces them.' The expression is parallel to that which occurs in Isa 61:1, where it is said of the Messiah, 'He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted;' and to the declaration in Isa 50:4, where it is said, 'that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.'
The smoking flax - The word used here denotes flax, and then a wick that is made of it. The word rendered 'smoking' (כהה kēhâh) means that which is weak, small, thin, feeble; then that which is just ready to go out, or to be extinguished; and the phrase refers literally to the expiring wick of a lamp, when the oil is almost consumed, and when it shines with a feeble and dying luster. It may denote here the condition of one who is feeble and disheartened, and whose love to God seems almost ready to expire. And the promise that he will not extinguish or quench that, means that he would cherish, feed, and cultivate it; he would supply it with grace, as with oil to cherish the dying flame, and cause it to be enkindled, and to rise with a high and steady brilliancy. The whole passage is descriptive of the Redeemer, who nourishes the most feeble piety in the hearts of his people, and who will not suffer true religion in the soul ever to become wholly extinct. It may seem as if the slightest breath of misfortune or opposition would extinguish it forever; it may be like the dying flame that hangs on the point of the wick, but if there be true religion it will not be extinguished, but will be enkindled to a pure and glowing flame, and it will yet rise high, and burn brightly.
He shall bring forth judgment - (See Isa 42:1). The word 'judgment' here evidently denotes the true religion; the laws, institutions, and appointments of God.
Unto truth - Matthew Mat 12:29 renders this, 'unto victory.' The meaning in Isaiah is, that he shall establish his religion according to truth; he shall faithfully announce the true precepts of religion, and secure their ascendency among mankind. It shall overcome all falsehood, and all idolatry, and shall obtain a final triumph in all nations. Thus explained, it is clear that Matthew has retained the general idea of the passage, though he has not quoted it literally.
He shall not fail - He shall not be weak, feeble, or disheartened. However much there may be that shall tend to discourage, yet his purpose is fixed, and he will pursue it with steadiness and ardor until the great work shall be fully accomplished. There may be an allusion in the Hebrew word here (יכהה yı̂kheh) to that which is applied to the flax (כהה kēhâh); and the idea may be that he shall not become in his purposes like the smoking, flickering, dying flame of a lamp. There shall never be any indication, even amidst all embarrassments, that it is his intention to abandon his plan of extending the true religion through all the world. Such also should be the fixed and determined purposes of his people. Their zeal should never fail; their ardor should never grow languid.
Nor be discouraged - Margin, 'Broken.' The Hebrew word ירוּץ yârûts may be derived either from רצץ râtsats, to break, to break in pieces; or from רוץ rûts to run, to move hastily, to rush upon any one. Our translators have adopted the former. Gesenius also supposes that this is the true interpretation of the word, and that it means, that he would not be broken, that is, checked in his zeal, or discouraged by any opposition. The latter interpretation is preferred by Vitringa, Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, and others. The Chaldee renders it, 'Shall not labor,' that is, shall not be fatigued, or discouraged. The Septuagint renders it, 'He shall shine out, and not be broken.' The connection seems to require the sense which our translators have given to it, and according to this, the meaning is, 'he shall not become broken in spirit, or discouraged; he shall persevere amidst all opposition and embarrassment, until he shall accomplish his purposes.' We have a similar phraseology when we speak of a man's being heart-broken.
Till he have set judgment - Until he has secured the prevalence of the true religion in all the world.
And the isles - Distant nations (see the note at Isa 41:1); the pagan nations. The expression is equivalent to saying that the Gentiles would be desirous of receiving the religion of the Messiah, and would wait for it (see the notes at Isa 2:3).
Shall wait - They shall be dissatisfied with their own religions, and see that their idol-gods are unable to aid them; and they shall be in a posture of waiting for some new religion that shall meet their needs. It cannot mean that they shall wait for it, in the sense of their already having a knowledge of it, but that their being sensible that their own religions cannot save them may be represented as a condition of waiting for some better system. It has been true, as in the Sandwich Islands, that the pagan have been so dissatisfied with their own religion as to east away their idols, and to be without any religion, and thus to be in a waiting posture for some new and better system. And it may be true yet that the pagan shall become extensively dissatisfied with their idolatry; that they shall be convinced that some better system is necessary, and that they may thus be prepared to welcome the gospel when it shall be proposed to them. It may be that in this manner God intends to remove the now apparently insuperable obstacles to the spread of the gospel in the pagan world. The Septuagint renders this, 'And in his name shall the Gentiles trust,' which form has been retained by Matthew Mat 12:21.
His law - His commands, the institutions of his religion. The word 'law' is often used in the Scriptures to denote the whole of religion.
Thus saith God the Lord - This verse commences a new form of discourse. It is still Yahweh who speaks; but in the previous verses he had spoken of the Messiah in the third person; here he is introduced as speaking to him directly. He introduces the discourse by showing that he is the Creator and Lord of all things. The object of his dwelling on this seems to have been, to show that he had power to sustain the Messiah in the work to which he had called him; and to secure for him respect as having been commissioned by him who had formed the heavens and the earth, and who ruled over all. He shows that he had power to accomplish all that he had promised: and he seeks thus to elevate and confirm the hopes of the people with the assurance of their deliverance and salvation.
And stretched them out - The heavens are often represented as stretched out as a veil (Gen 1:6, Hebrew) or as an expanse that can be rolled up (see the note at Isa 34:4), or as a tent for the appropriate dwelling-place of God (see the note at Isa 40:22). His great power and glory are indicated by the fact that he has stretched out what to us appears a vast expanse over our heads. On the grammatical construction of the word which occurs here in the Hebrew, see Rosenmuller in loc.
He that spread forth the earth - He stretched it out as a plain - retaining the idea which was so common among the ancients that the earth was a vast plain, reaching from one end of the heavens to the other. The words, however, which are used here are not inconsistent with the idea that the earth is a sphere, since it may still be represented as stretched out, or expanded to a vast extent. The main idea in the passage is not to teach the form in which the earth is made, but to show that it has been made by God.
And that which cometh out of it - The productions of the earth - the trees, shrubs, grain, etc. As the verb to stretch out cannot be applied to these, some verb must be understood; as he produced, or caused to grow.
He that giveth breath and spirit to them - This refers, doubtless, to beasts as well as to people; and the idea is, that God is the source of life to all the creatures that live and move on the earth. The argument in the passage is, that as God is the creator and upholder of all; as he has given life to all, and has the universe entirely under his control, he has a right to appoint whom he will to be the medium of his favors to people, and to demand that suitable respect shall be shown to the Messiah whom he has designated for this work.
I the Lord have called thee in righteousness - The phrase 'in righteousness' has been very differently understood by different expositors (see the note at Isa 41:10). The most probable meaning may be, 'I have done it as a righteous and just God, or in the accomplishment of my righteous purposes. I am the just moral governor of the universe, and to accomplish my purposes of justice and fidelity, I have designated thee to this work.' Lowth has well rendered it, 'For a righteous purpose.' In this work all was righteousness. God was righteous, who appointed him; it was because he was righteous, and could not save without a mediator and an atonement, that he sent him into the world; he selected one who was eminently righteous to accomplish his purpose; and he came that he might establish righteousness on the earth, and confirm the just government of God (see Isa 42:21).
And will hold thine hand - I will take thee by the hand, as one does who guides and leads another. The phrase denotes the same as to guard, or keep - as we protect a child by taking him by the hand.
And give thee for a covenant - This is evidently an abbreviated form of expression, and the meaning is, 'I will give or appoint thee as the medium, or means by which a covenant shall be made with the people; or a mediator of the new covenant which God is about to establish with men' (see Isa 49:8). A similar expression occurs in Mic 5:5, where it is said of the Messiah, 'and this man shall be the peace;' that is, he shall be the source of peace, or peace shall be established and maintained by him. So in Eph 2:14, it is said of him, 'he is our peace.'
Of the people - It has been doubted whether this means the Jewish people, or the Gentiles. Grotius, Hengstenberg, Vitringa, and others understand it of the Jews; Rosenmuller and others, of the Gentiles. It is not easy to determine which is the correct interpretation. But the meaning, as I apprehend, is, not that he would confirm the ancient covenant with the descendants of Abraham, as Hengstenberg and Vitringa suppose, but that his covenant would be established with all, with both Jews and Gentiles. According to this, it will refer to the Jews, not as Jews, or as already interested in the covenant, but as constituting one portion of the world; and the whole expression will mean, that his religion will be extended to Jews and Gentiles: that is, to the whole world.
For a light of the Gentiles - (See Luk 2:32). 'Light' is the emblem of knowledge, instruction, and of the true religion. The Messiah is often called 'light,' and the 'light of the world' (see Mat 4:16; compare the note at Isa 9:2; Joh 1:4, Joh 1:7, Joh 1:9; Joh 3:19; Joh 8:12; Joh 9:5; Joh 12:35, Joh 12:46; Rev 21:23). This is one of the numerous declarations which occur in Isaiah, that the religion of the Messiah would be extended to the pagan world; and that they, as well as the Jews, would be brought to partake of its privileges.
To open the blind eyes - This is equivalent to saying that he would impart instruction to those who were ignorant. It relates to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. He would acquaint them with God, and with the way of salvation. The condition of the world is often represented as one of darkness and blindness. Men see not their true character; they see not their real condition; they are ignorant of God, and of the truths pertaining to their future existence; and they need, therefore, some one who shall enlighten, and sanctify, and save them.
To bring out the prisoners from the prison - (Compare Isa 61:1-2). This evidently refers to a spiritual deliverance, though the language is derived from deliverance from a prison. It denotes that he would rescue those who were confined in mental darkness by sin; and that their deliverance from the thraldom and darkness of sin would be as wonderful as if a prisoner should be delivered suddenly from a dark cell, and be permitted to go forth and breathe the pure air of freedom. Such is the freedom which the gospel imparts; nor can there be a more striking description of its happy effects on the minds and hearts of darkened and wretched people (compare Pe1 2:9).
I am the Lord - I am Yahweh. Here is also a change in the address. In the previous verses, God had addressed the Messiah. Here he turns to the people, and assures them that he is the only true God, and that he will not suffer the praise that is due to him to be given to any other, or to any graven image. The name Yahweh signifies being, or essential existence (see the note at Isa 1:9). It is a name which is given to none but the true God, and which is everywhere in the Scriptures used to distinguish him from all others.
That is my name - That is the name which I have chosen by which to distinguish myself from all idols, and which I regard as appropriately expressive of my existence and perfections. Thus it is used in Psa 83:18 (compare Psa 96:5). "And my glory." The glory, honor, or praise that is due to me.
Will I not give - I will not allow it to ascribed to another; I will not allow another to assume or receive the honor which is due to me.
To another - To any other; whether it be man, or whether it be an idol. God claims that all appropriate honors should be rendered to him, and that men should cherish no opinions, maintain no doctrines, indulge in no feelings, that would be derogatory to the honor of his name. This declaration is designed to counteract the propensity everywhere manifest to attribute to man that which belongs to God, or to ascribe to our own wisdom, skill, or power, that which he alone can accomplish.
Neither my praise - The praise which is due to me. He would not permit graven images to receive the praise of having done that which he himself had accomplished.
Behold, the former things are come to pass - That is, the former things which he had foretold. This is the evidence to which he appeals in proof that he alone was God, and this is the basis on which he calls upon them to believe that what he had predicted in regard to future things would also come to pass. He had by his prophets foretold events which had now been fulfilled, and this should lead them to confide in him alone as the true God.
And new things do I declare - Things pertaining to future events, relating to the coming of the Messiah, and to the universal prevalence of his religion in the world.
Before they spring forth - There is here a beautiful image. The metaphor is taken from plants and flowers, the word צמח tsâmach properly referring to the springing up of plants, or to their sending out shoots, buds, or flowers. The phrase literally means, 'before they begin to germinate,' that is, before there are any indications of life, or growth in the plant. The sense is, that God predicted the future events before there was anything by which it might be inferred that such occurrences would take place. It was not done by mere sagacity - as men like Burke and Canning may sometimes predict future events with great probability by marking certain political indications or developments. God did this when there were no such indications, and when it must have been done by mere omniscience. In this respect, all his predictions differ from the conjectures of man, and from all the reasonings which are founded on mere sagacity.
Sing unto the Lord a new song - It is common, as we have seen, to celebrate the goodness of God in a hymn of praise on the manifestation of any special act of mercy (see the notes at Isa 12:1-6; Isa 25:1-12; 26) Here the prophet calls upon all people to celebrate the divine mercy in a song of praise in view of his goodness in providing a Redeemer. The sentiment is, that God's goodness in providing a Saviour demands the thanksgiving of all the world.
A new song - A song hitherto unsung; one that shall be expressive of the goodness of God in this new manifestation of his mercy. None of the hymns of praise that had been employed to express his former acts of goodness would appropriately express this. The mercy was so great that it demanded a song expressly made for the occasion.
And his praise frown the end of the earth - From all parts of the earth. Let the most distant nations who are to be interested in this great
Ye that go down to the sea - That is, traders, navigators, merchants, seamen; such as do business in the great waters. The sense is, that they would be interested in the plan of mercy through a Redeemer; and hence, they are called on to celebrate the goodness of God (compare the notes at Isa 60:5). This is referred to by the prophet, first, because of the great multitude who thus go down to the sea; and, secondly, because their conversion will have so important an influence in diffusing the true religion to distant nations.
And all that is therein - Margin, as Hebrew, 'The fullness thereof.' All that fill it; that is, either in ships, or by dwelling on the islands and coasts. The meaning is, that all who were upon the sea - the completeness, the wholeness of the maritime population, being equally interested with all others in the great salvation, should join in celebrating the goodness of God.
The isles - A large portion of the inhabitants of the world are dwellers upon islands. In modern times, some of the most signal displays of the divine mercy, and some of the most remarkable conversions to Christianity, have been there. In the Sandwich Islands, and in Ceylon, God has poured out his Spirit, and their inhabitants have been among the first in the pagan world to embrace the gospel.
Let the wilderness - (See the note at Isa 35:1). The word here denotes the most uncultivated countries, intimating that even the most rude and barbarous people would have occasion to rejoin, and would be interested in the mercy of God.
And the cities thereof - To us there seems to be something incongruous in speaking of the 'cities' in a 'wilderness.' But we are to remember that the Hebrews gave the name wilderness or desert to those regions that were mostly uncultivated, or sparsely inhabited. They were places that were chiefly devoted to pasturage, and not cultivated by the plow, or regions of vast plains of sand and far-extended barrenness, with here and there an oasis on which a city might be built. Josephus, speaking of the desert or wilderness lying between Jerusalem and Jericho enumerates several villages or towns in it, showing that though it was mainly a waste, yet that it was not wholly without towns or inhabitants. We are to remember also that large towns or cities for commercial purposes, or thorough fares, were often built in the few fertile or advantageous places which were found in the midst of desert wastes. Thus we are told of Solomon Ch2 8:4, that 'he built Tadmor in the wilderness;' and we know that Palmyra, and Bozrah, and Sela, were large cities that were built in the midst of regions that were generally to be regarded as deserts, or wastes.
The villages that Kedar doth inhabit - Where the inhabitants of Kedar dwell. Kedar was a son of Ishmael Gen 25:13, the father of the Kedarenians or Cedrei, mentioned by Pliny (Nat. Hist. v. 2), who dwell in the vicinity of the Nabathaeans in Arabia Deserta. They often changed their place, though it would seem that they usually dwelt in the neighborhood of Petra, or Sela. The name Kedar is often given to Arabia Deserta, and the word may in some instances denote Arabia in general. The inhabitants of those countries usually dwell in tents, and lead a nomadic and wandering life.
Let the inhabitants of the rock sing - It is uncertain whether the word 'rock' here (Hebrew, סלע sela‛, Greek Πέτραν Petran, 'Petra' or 'rock') is to be regarded as a proper name, or to denote in a general sense those who dwell in the rocky part of Arabia. Sela, or Petra, was the name of the celebrated city that was the capital of Idumea (see the notes at Isa 16:1); and the connection here would rather lead us to suppose that this city was intended here, and that the inhabitants of the capital were called upon to join with the dwellers in the surrounding cities and villages in celebrating the goodness of God. But it may denote in general those who inhabited the desolate and stony region of Arabia Petrea, or whose home was among the cliffs of the rocks. If so, it is a call upon Arabia in general to rejoice in the mercy of God, and to give glory to him for providing a plan of redemption - an intimation that to the descendants of Ishmael the blessings of the gospel would be extended.
Let them shout from the top of the mountains - They who had taken refuge there, or who had made their permanent abode there. Vitringa supposes that the mountains of Paran are meant, which are situated on the north of Mount Sinai. The idea in the verse is, that all the dwellers in Arabia would celebrate the goodness of God, and join in praising him for his mercy in giving a deliverer. They were yet to partake of the benefits of his coming, and to have occasion of joy at his advent. It is possible that Cowper may have had this passage in his eye in the following description of the final and universal prevalence of the gospel:
The dwellers in the vales and on the rocks,
Shout to each other, sad the mountain-tops,
From distant mountains catch the flying joy:
Till nation after nation taught the strain,
Earth rolls the rapturous hosannas round.
Let them give glory ... in the islands - (see the note at Isa 41:1). Let the distant regions praise God.
The Lord shall go forth - This and the following verses give the reasons why they should praise Yahweh. He would go forth in his might to overcome and subdue his foes, and to deliver his people. In his conquests, and in the establishment of his kingdom, all people would have occasion to rejoice and be glad.
As a mighty man - As a hero, as a warrior. Yahweh is often in the Scriptures represented as a hero, or a man of war:
Yahweh is a man of war:
Yahweh is his name. - Exo 15:3.
Who is this King of glory?
Yahweh, strong and mighty;
Yahweh mighty in battle. - Psa 24:8.
Compare Psa 45:3; Isa 27:1; Isa 30:30,
He shall stir up jealousy - He shall rouse his vengeance, or his indignation. The word קנאה qin'âh means vengeance, or indignation, as well as jealousy. The image here is that of a warrior who rushes on impetuously to take vengeance on his foes.
He shall cry - He shall give a shout, or a loud clamor. Warriors usually entered a battle with a loud shout, designed to stimulate their own courage, and to intimidate their foes. All this language is taken from such an entrance on an engagement, and denotes the fixed determination of God to overthrow all his enemies.
I have long time holden my peace - This is the language of Yahweh, and it means that he had for a long time been patient and forbearing; but that now he would go forth as a warrior to overpower and destroy his foes.
I will destroy - The word used here (from נשׁם nâsham) denotes properly to breathe hard, to pant, as a woman in travail; and then to breathe hard in any manner. It here denotes the hard breathing which is indicative of anger, or a purpose to execute vengeance.
And devour at once - Margin, 'Swallow,' or 'Sup up.' The word שׁאף sha'aph means rather "to breathe hard, to pant, to blow, as in anger, or in the haste of pursuit." The idea in the verse is, that Yahweh had for a long time restrained his anger against his foes, and had refrained from executing vengeance on them. But now he would rouse his righteous indignation, and go forth to accomplish his purposes in their destruction. All this language is descriptive of a hero or warrior; and is, of course, not to be regarded as applicable literally to God. He often uses the language of people, and speaks of his purposes under the image of human passions. But we are not to infer that the language is literally applicable to him, nor is it to be interpreted too strictly. It means, in general, that God would go forth with a fixed and settled purpose to destroy his foes.
I will make waste mountains - This verse denotes the utter desolation which God would bring upon his foes in his anger. The meaning of this part of the verse is, that he would spread desolation over the hills and mountains that were well watered and laid out in gardens and orchards. It was common to plant vineyards on the sides of hills and mountains; and indeed most of the mountains of Palestine and adjacent regions were cultivated nearly to the top. They were favorable to the culture of the vine and the olive; and by making terraces, the greater portion of the hills were thus rescued for purposes of agriculture. Yet an enemy or warrior marching through a land would seek to spread desolation through all its cultivated parts, and lay waste all its fields. God, therefore, represents himself as a conqueror, laying waste the cultivated portions of the country of his foes.
And dry up all their herbs - He would destroy all the grain and fruits on which they were depending for support.
And I will make the rivers islands - Or rather, dry land, or deserts. I will, in the heat of my anger, dry up the streams, so that the bottoms of those streams shall be dry land. The word rendered here 'islands,' from אי 'ı̂y, properly denotes dry land, habitable ground, as opposed to water, the sea, rivers, etc., and the signification 'islands' is a secondary signification.
And I will dry up the pools - The pools on which they have been dependent for water for their flocks and herds. The sense of the whole passage is, I will bring to desolation those who worship idols, and the idols themselves. I will produce an entire change among them, as great as if I were to spread desolation over their cultivated hills, and to dry up all their streams. The reference is probably to the great changes which God would make in the pagan world. All that flourished on Pagan ground; all that was nurtured by idolatry; all their temples, fanes, altars, shrines, should be overturned and demolished; and in all these things great and permanent changes would be produced. The time would have come when God could no longer bear with the growing abominations of the pagan nations, and when he would go forth as a conqueror to subdue all to himself.
And I will lead the blind - Having said in the previous verses what he would do to his enemies, God now speaks of his people. He would conduct them to their own land, as a blind people that needed a guide, and would remove whatever obstacle there was in their way. By the 'blind' here, he refers doubtless to his own people. The term is applied originally to his people in captivity, as being ignorant, after their seventy years' exile, of the way of return to their own land. It is possible that it may have a reference to the fact, so often charged on them, that they were characteristically a stupid and spiritually blind people. But it is more probable that it is the language of tenderness rather than that of objurgation; and denotes their ignorance of the way of return, and their need of a guide, rather than their guilt, and hardness of heart. If applied to the people of God under the New Testament - as the entire strain of the prophecy seems to lead ns to conclude - then it denotes that Christians will feel their need of a leader, counselor, and guide; and that Yahweh, as a military leader, will conduct them all in a way which they did not know, and remove all obstacles from their path.
By a way that they knew not - When they were ignorant what course to take; or in a path which they did not contemplate or design. It is true of all the friends of God that they have been led in a way which they knew not. They did not mark out this course for themselves; they did not at first form the plans of life which they came ultimately to pursue; they have been led, by the providence of God, in a different path, and by the Spirit of God they have been inclined to a course which they themselves would never have chosen (compare the note at Isa 30:21).
I will make darkness light before them - Darkness, in the Scriptures, is the emblem of ignorance, sin, adversity, and calamity. Here it seems to be the emblem of adverse and opposing events; of calamities, persecutions, and trials. The meaning is, that God would make those events which seemed to be adverse and calamitous, the means of furthering his cause, and promoting the spirit of the true religion, and the happiness of his people. This has been eminently the case with the persecutions which rite church has endured. The events which have been apparently most adverse, have been ultimately overruled to the best interests of the true religion. Such was the case with the persecutions under the Roman emperors, and in general such has been the case in all the persecutions which the church has been called to suffer.
And crooked things straight - Things which seem to be adverse and opposing - the persecutions and trials which the people of God would be called to endure.
And not forsake them - (See Isa 41:10, note, Isa 41:13, note).
They shall be turned back - The phrases, to be turned back, and to be suffused with shame, are frequently used in the Scriptures to denote a state of disappointment in regard to an object of trust or confidence, and especially of those who had trusted in idols (see Psa 35:4; Psa 70:3; Psa 97:7; compare the notes at Isa 1:29; Isa 19:9; Isa 37:27; see also Eze 16:52). The sense here is, that they should find no such protection in their idol-gods as they had hoped, and that they should be covered with conscious guilt forever, having trusted in them and given to them the homage which was due to the true God.
Hear, ye deaf - This is evidently an address to the Jews, and probably to the Jews of the time of the prophet. He had been predicting the coming of the Messiah, and the influence of his religion on the Gentile world. He had said that God would go forth to destroy the idolatry of the pagan nations, and to convince them of the folly of the worship of images, and to confound them for putting their trust in them. He seems here to have recollected that this was the easily-besetting sin of his own countrymen, and perhaps especially of the times when he penned this portion of the prophecy - under the reign of Manasseh; that that generation was stupid, blind, deaf to the calls of God, and sunk in the deepest debasement of idolatry. In view of this, and of the great truths which he had uttered, he calls on them to hear, to be alarmed, to return to God, and assures them that for these sins they exposed themselves to, and must experience, his sore displeasure. The statement of these truths, and the denouncing of these judgments, occupy the remainder of this chapter. A similar instance occurs in Isa. 2, where the prophet, having foretold the coming of the Messiah, and the fact that his religion would be extended among the Gentiles, turns and reproves the Jews for their idolatry and crimes (see the notes at that chapter). The Jewish people are often described as 'deaf' to the voice of God, and 'blind' to their duty and their interests (see Isa 29:18; Isa 42:8).
And look ... that ye may see - This phrase denotes an attentive, careful, and anxious search, in order that there may be a clear view of the object. The prophet calls them to an attentive contemplation of the object, that they might have a clear and distinct view of it. They had hitherto looked at the subject of religion in a careless, inattentive, and thoughtless manner.
Who is blind, but my servant? - Some of the Jewish expositors suppose that by 'servant' here, the prophet himself is intended, who, they suppose is here called blind and deaf by the impious Jews who rejected his message. But it is evident, that by 'servant' here, the Jewish people themselves are intended, the singular being used for the plural, in a sense similar to that where they are so often called 'Jacob' and 'Israel.' The phrase 'servants of God' is often given to his people, and is used to denote true worshippers. The word is used here to denote those who professed to be the true worshippers of Yahweh. The prophet had, in the previous verses, spoken of the blindness and stupidity of the Gentile world. He here turns to his own countrymen, and addresses them as more blind, and deaf, and stupid than they. 'Who,' he asks, 'is as blind as they are?' Where are any of the pagan nations so insensible to the appeals of God, and so hard-hearted? The idea of the prophet is, that the Jews had had far greater advantages, and yet they were so sunk in sin that it might be said that comparatively none were blind but they. Even the degradation of the pagan nations, under the circumstances of the case, could not be compared with theirs.
As my messenger that I sent - Lowth renders this, 'And deaf, as he to whom I have sent my messengers.' The Septuagint renders it, 'And deaf but those that rule over them;' by a slight change in the Hebrew text. The Vulgate reads it as Lowth has rendered it. The Chaldee renders it,' If the wicked are converted, shall they not be called my servants? And the sinners to whom I sent my prophets?' But the sense seems to be this: The Jewish people were regarded as a people selected and preserved by God for the purpose of preserving and extending the true religion. They might be spoken of as sent for the great purpose of enlightening the world, as God's messengers in the midst of the deep darkness of benighted nations, and as appointed to be the agents by which the true religion was to be perpetuated and propagated on earth. Or perhaps, the word 'messenger' here may denote collectively the Jewish leaders, teachers, and priests, who had been sent as the messengers of God to that people, and who were, with the people, sunk in deep debasement and sin.
As he that is perfect - (כמשׁלם kı̂meshullâm). A great variety of interpretations has been offered on this word - arising from the difficulty of giving the appellation 'perfect' to a people so corrupt as were the Jews in the time of Isaiah. Jerome renders it, Qui venundatus est - 'He that is sold.' The Syriac renders it, 'Who is blind as the prince?' Symmachus renders it, Ὡς ὁ τέλειος hōs ho teleios; and Kimchi in a similar manner by תמים tâmı̂ym - 'perfect.' The verb שׁלם shālam means properly "to be whole, sound, safe"; to be completed, finished, ended: and then, to be at peace or friendship with anyone. And it may he applied to the Jews, to whom it undoubtedly refers here, in one of the following senses; either
(1) ironically, as claiming to be perfect; or
(2) as those who professed to be perfect; or
(3) as being favored with rites and laws, and a civil and sacred constitution that were complete (Vitringa); or
(4) as being in friendship with God, as Grotius and Gesenius suppose.
It most probably refers to the fact that they were richly endowed by Yahweh with complete and happy institutions adapted to their entire welfare, and such as, in comparison with other nations, were suited to make them perfect.
As the Lord's servant - The Jewish people, professing to serve and obey God.
Seeing many things - That is, the people, the Jews, spoken of here as the servants of God. They had had an opportunity of observing many things pertaining to the law, the government, and the dealing of Yahweh. They had often witnessed his interposition in the days of calamity, and he often rescued them from peril. These things they could not but have observed, much as they had chosen to disregard the lessons which they were calculated to convey.
But thou observest not - Thou dost not keep them (תשׁמר tı̂shmor); thou dost not regard them.
Opening the ears - Thou hast thine ears open. They heard the words of the law, and the instructions conveyed by tradition from their fathers, but they did not lay them to heart, or give heed to them (see the note at Isa 6:10).
The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake - There is great variety in the translation and interpretation of this verse. Lowth renders it:
Yet Yahweh was gracious unto him for his truth's sake;
He hath exalted his own praise, and made it glorious.
Noyes renders it:
It pleased Yahweh for his goodness' sake
To give him a law great and glorious;
And yet it is a robbed and plundered people.
The Septuagint renders it, 'The Lord God determined that he should be justified, and magnify his praise.' The Chaldee renders it, 'Yahweh willed that Israel should be justified; he magnified the doers of his law, and comforted them.' The Syriac, 'The Lord willed on account of his righteousness to magnify his law, and to commend it.' Vitringa explains it, 'God has embraced the Jewish people in his love and favor, and regards them as acceptable to himself, not indeed on account of any merit of theirs, or on account of any external advantages, but on account of his own truth, fidelity, and equity, that he might fulfill the promises which he made to their fathers.' This seems to express the sense of the passage. According to this, it refers solely to the Jewish people, and not, as is often supposed, to the Messiah. The phrase, 'is well pleased,' means that Yahweh takes delight in his people, or looks upon them with an eye of tenderness and affection. He finds pleasure in contemplating them as his people, and in regarding and treating thorn as such.
For his righteousness' sake - Not for the righteousness of his people, but on account of his own righteousness; that is, his own goodness, clemency, mercy, and forbearance. It is not because he sees in them anything that should win his love, or excite his favor, for he says Isa 42:22 that they are robbed, and plundered, and hid, and bound in prison. But Yahweh had selected their fathers as his own people. He had made them precious promises. He had designs of mercy toward them. He had given them a holy law. He had promised to be their protector and their God. On this accouter he was pleased with them still; and it was on account of his own fidelity and plighted protection, that he was delighted in them as his people. The word 'righteousness,' therefore (צדק tsedeq), is used to denote God's purpose to do right; that is, to adhere to his promises, and to maintain a character of fidelity and integrity. He would not fail, or violate his own pledges to his people.
He will magnify the law - The word 'law' bore is used to denote the entire series of statutes, or legislative acts of God, in regard to the Jewish people - including all his promises and pledges to them. And the meaning is, that he would so deal with them as to make that law important in their view; so as to show that he regarded it as of infinite moment. He would adhere strictly himself to all his own covenant pledges in that law, so as to show that he regarded it as sacred and of binding obligation; and all his dealings with them under that law would be such as to magnify its importance and purity in their view. The Hebrew is, 'he will make the law great;' that is, he will make it of great importance.
And make it honorable - Or, make it glorious, by himself showing a constant regard for it, and by so dealing with them that they should be brought to see and feel its importance. According to this, which is the obvious interpretation, the passage has no reference particularly to the Messiah. It is true, however, that the language hero used is such as would appropriately describe the work of the Redeemer; and that a large part of what he did in his public ministry, and by his atonement, was 'to magnify the law and make it honorable;' - to vindicate its equity - to urge its binding obligation - to sustain its claims - to show that it could not be violated with impunity - and to demonstrate that its penalty was just. The whole effect of the Redeemer's work is to do honor to the law of God, nor has anything occurred in the history of our world that has done so much to maintain its authority and binding obligation, as his death on the cross, in the place of sinners.
But this is a people robbed and spoiled - The Jewish people, though highly favored, have been so unmindful of the goodness of God to them, that he has given them into the hand of their enemies to plunder them. This is to be conceived as spoken after the captivity, and while the Jews were in exile. Their being robbed and spoiled, therefore, refers to the invasion of the Chaldeans, and is to be regarded as spoken propheticly of the exiled and oppressed Jews while in Babylon.
They are all of them snared in holes - This passage has been variously rendered. Lowth renders it, 'All their chosen youth are taken in the toils;' following in this the translation of Jerome, and rendering it as Le Clerc and Houbigant do. The Septuagint read it, 'And I saw, and the people were plundered and scattered, and the snare was in all their private chambers, and in their houses where they hid themselves;' - meaning, evidently, that they had been taken by their invaders from the places where they had secreted themselves in their own city and country. The Chaldee renders it, 'All their youth were covered with confusion, and shut up in prison.' The Syriac, 'All their youth are snared, and they have hid them bound in their houses.' This variety of interpretation has arisen in part, because the Hebrew which is rendered in our version, 'in holes' (בחוּרים bachûrı̂ym) may be either the plural form of the word בצוּר bachûr ("chosen, selected"); and thence "youths" - selected for their beauty or strength; or it may be the plural form of the word חוּר chûr, "a hole" or "cavern," with the preposition בּ (b) prefixed. Our translation prefers the latter; and this is probably the correct interpretation, as the parallel expression, 'they are hid in prison-houses,' seems to demand this. The literal interpretation of the passage is, therefore, that they were snared, or secured in the caverns, holes, or places of refuge where they sought security.
And they are hid in prison-houses - They were concealed in their houses as in prisons, so that they could not go out with safety, or without exposing themselves to the danger of being taken captive. The land was filled with their enemies, and they were obliged to conceal themselves, if possible, from their foes.
And none saith, Restore - There is no deliverer - no one who can interpose, and compel the foe to give up his captives. The sense is, the Jewish captives were so strictly confined in Babylon, and under a government so powerful, that there was no one who could rescue them, or that they were so much the object of contempt, that there were none who would feel so much interest in them as to demand them from their foes.
Who among you will give ear to this? - Who is there in the nation that will be so warned by the judgments of God, that he will attend to the lessons which he designs to teach, and reform his life, and return to him? It is implied by these questions that such ought to be the effect; it is implied also that they were so sunken and abandoned that they would not do it. These judgments were a loud call on the nation to turn to God, and, in time to come, to avoid the sins which had made it necessary for him to interpose in this manner, and give them to spoil.
Who gave Jacob for a spoil? - Who gave up the Jewish people to be plundered? The object of this verse is, to bring distinctly before them the fact that it was Yahweh, the God of their fathers, and of their nation, who had brought this calamity upon them. It was not the work of chance, but it was the immediate and direct act of God on account of their sins. Probably, as a people, they were not disposed to believe this; and the prophet, therefore, takes occasion to calf their attention particularly to this fact.
Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger - His righteous indignation in the overturning of their nation, the destruction of their temple and city, and in carrying them captive into a distant land.
And it hath set him on fire - That is, the fury of Yahweh kindled the flame of war all around the Jewish nation, and spread desolation everywhere.
Yet he knew not - They refused to attend to it, and lay it to heart. They pursued their ways of wickedness, regardless of the threatening judgments, and the impending wrath of God. They did not consider that these evils were inflicted for their crimes, nor did they turn from their sins when they were thus threatened with the wrath of God.