Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 11:1-16
1. And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
1. Sed prodibit virga ex trunco Isai; et surculus de radicibus ejus fructus edet.
2. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
2. Et requiescet super eum Spiritus Iehovae, spiritus sapientiae et intelligentiae, spiritus consilii et fortitudinis, spiritus scientiae et timoris Iehovae.
3. And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
3. Et sagacem illum reddet in timore Iehovae; non secundum aspectum oculorum suorum judicabit, neque ex auditu aurium suarum arguet.
4. But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
4. Nam judicabit in justitia pauperes, et in aequitate arguet mansuetis terrae; et percutiet terram virga oris sui, et spiritu labiorum suorum interficiet impium.
5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
5. Et erit justitia balteus lumborum ejus, et fides balteus renum ejus.
6. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
6. Habitabit lupus cum agno, et pardus cum hoedo accubabit; vitulus, et leo, et pecus pingue pariter; et puer parvus reget eos.
7. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
7. Vacca et ursus pascentur; simul accubabunt foetus eorum. Et leo, quasi bos, comedet paleas.
8. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.
8. Et oblectabitur infans super foramine aspidis; et super speluncam cerastis qui ablactatus est manum suam mittet.
9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
9. Non nocebunt, neque injuriam inferent in toto monte sanctitatis meae; quoniam impleta erit terra scientia Iehovae, tanquam aquis mare operientibus.
10. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
10. Et erit in die illa, Radix Isai, quae stabit in signum populorum, requiretur a Gentibus, et erit requies ejus gloria.
11. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
11. Et erit in die illa, adjiciet Dominus rursus manum suum ad possidendas reliquias populi sui, quae residuae erunt ab Assur, et ab AEgypto, a Parthia, ab Arabia, ab AEthiopia, a Perside, a Chaldaea, ab Hamath, et ab insulis maris.
12. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
12. Et levabit signum Gentibus, congregabitque ejectos Israel, et dispersiones Iuda congregabit a quatuor plagis terrae.
13. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.
13. Et abscedet aemulatio Ephraim, et hostes Iuda excidentur. Ephraim non aemulabitur Iuda, nec Iuda anget Ephraim.
14. But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.
14. Involabunt autem in humeros Philistinorum ad occidentem; diripient pariter filios orientis, AEdom et Moab missio manus eorum, et filii Ammon obedientia eorum.
15. And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry-shod.
15. Et in nihilum rediget Iehova linguam maris AEgypti; et eriget manum suam super fluvium in fortitudine venti sui; et percutiet illum in septem rivis, et faciet calcari cum calceamentis.
16. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
16. Et erit semita reliquiis populi ejus, quae residuae erunt ab Assur, quemadmodum fuit Israel, in die qua ascendit e terra AEgypti.
1. But there shall come forth a rod. As the description of such dreadful calamities might terrify the godly, and give them reason for despair, it was necessary to hold out consolation; for when the kingdom was destroyed, cities thrown down, and desolation spread over the whole country, there might have been nothing left but grief and lamentation; and therefore they might have tottered and fallen, or been greatly discouraged, if the Lord had not provided for them this consolation. He therefore declares what the Lord will afterwards do, and in what manner he will restore that kingdom.
He pursues the metaphor which he employed towards the conclusion of the former chapter; for he had said that Jerusalem would be destroyed, as if a forest were consumed by a single conflagration. (Isa. 10:33, 34.) Its future desolation would be like that of a country formerly covered with forests, when the trees had been cut down, and nothing could be seen but ashes. That those things which are contrasted may answer to each other, he says, that out of the stock will come forth a branch, which will grow into a tree, and spread its branches and fruits far and wide. I have therefore preferred translating גזע (gezang) a dry stock, rather than a root, though it makes little difference as to the meaning, but the former expresses more fully what the Prophet meant, namely, that though the stock be dry, the branch which shall spring from it shall be more excellent than all the forests.
Hence we infer that this prediction applies solely to the person of Christ; for till he came no such branch arose. It certainly cannot be applied to Hezekiah or Josiah, who, from their very infancy, were brought up in the expectation of occupying a throne. Zerubbabel (Ezr 3:8) did not attain the thousandth part of that elevated rank which the Prophet extols. We see, therefore, that to the wretched and almost ruined Jews, consolation was held out in the Messiah alone, and that their hope was held in suspense till he appeared. At the time of his appearance, there would have been no hope that the kingdom would be erected and restored, if this promise had not been added; for the family of David appeared to be completely extinct. On this account he does not call him David, but Jesse; because the rank of that family had sunk so low, that it appeared to be not a royal family, but that of a mean peasant, such as the family of Jesse was, when David was unexpectedly called to the government of the kingdom. (1Sa 16:1; 2Sa 7:8.) So then, having sustained this calamity and lost its ancient renown, it is denominated by the Prophet the family of Jesse, because that family had no superiority above any other. Accordingly, I think that here, and not towards the conclusion of the former chapter, the consolation begins.
Amidst such frightful desolation they might doubt who should be their deliverer. He therefore promises that one will spring even out of a dry trunk; and he continues, as I mentioned a little before, the same metaphor of a forest, because it is far more beautiful than if he had said in plain language that the Messiah would come. Having threatened that the forest would be entirely cut down, he adds, that still a branch will arise out of it, to restore the abundance and magnificence of the consumed forest; that is, Christ, who should be the deliverer of the people. How low his beginning was, it is unnecessary to explain. Undoubtedly, he was so far from having anything splendid or attractive, that with the exception of his birth, everything, to the view of the flesh, was inconsistent with the character of the Redeemer. Even his birth was almost obscured; for who would have thought that a poor carpenter (Mr 6:3) was descended from a royal family? Again, where was Christ born, and how had he been brought up? In short, his whole life having been mean and even contemptible, he suffered a most disgraceful death, with which he had to begin his kingdom. Yet he grew to an immeasurable height, like a large tree from a small and feeble seed, as he himself shows, (Matt. 13:31, 32; Mr 4:32,) and as we see by daily examples; for in the uninterrupted progress of his kingdom the same things must happen as were seen in his person.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. He now begins to speak of Christ plainly and without a figure; for it was enough to have represented the consolation under that figure, in order that the full contrast between the burning of the wood and its springing up anew might be made manifest. Two states of the people are described by him; for, after having explained the calamity, he next added the hope of restoration, though the commencement of it was from a slender branch. But now he plainly shows what will be the nature of the redemption, and what will be the condition of Christ and of his kingdom.
Some think that this should rather be viewed as referring to Hezekiah; but how groundless that opinion is we have already shown; 179 for when he was born, David had still a flourishing reputation, and the rank of royalty belonged to his descendants; and Hezekiah was very far from attaining that greatness which is shortly afterwards described. Now, hence we infer that the spiritual kingdom of Christ was formerly promised to the ancient people, because his whole strength, power, and majesty, is here made to consist in the gifts of the Spirit. Although Christ was not deficient in gifts of this kind, yet as he took upon him our flesh, it was necessary that he should be enriched with them, that we might afterwards be made partakers of all blessings of which otherwise we are destitute; for out of his fullness, as John says, we must draw as from a fountain. (John 1:16, John 7:37, 38.)
The Spirit of the Lord We must keep in view what I mentioned a little ago, that this refers to Christ’s human nature; because he could not be enriched with the gift and grace of the Father, except so far as he became man. Besides, as he came down to us, so he received the gifts of the Spirit, that he might bestow them upon us. And this is the anointing from which he receives the name of Christ, which he imparts to us; for why are we called Christians, but because he admits us to his fellowship, by distributing to us out of his fullness according to the measure (Eph 4:7) of undeserved liberality? And undoubtedly this passage does not so much as teach us what Christ is in himself, as what he received from the Father, that he might enrich us with his wealth.
The spirit of wisdom and understanding. Though it is not necessary to bestow great attention on single words, yet if any person wish to draw a slight distinction between wisdom and understanding, I consider it to be this, that the word wisdom comprehends generally all that relates to the regulation of the life, and that understanding is added for the sake of explaining it; for if we are endowed with this wisdom, we shall have sagacity enough. Counsel means that judgment by which we can thread our way through intricate affairs; for understanding would not be sufficient, if there were not also counsel, that we might be able to act with caution in doubtful matters. The word might is well enough known. Knowledge differs little from understanding; except that it relates more to the act of knowing, and thus declares what has taken place. The fear of the Lord means a sincere desire to worship God.
The Prophet does not here enumerate all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as some have thought. Out of this passage the Papists have foolishly and ignorantly drawn their sevenfold grace, and some of the ancients fell into a similar blunder. He enumerates only six kinds; but they have added a seventh out of their own head. But as one error commonly follows another, they have chosen to limit the gifts of the Spirit to the number seven, although in other parts of Scripture (Joh 14:17; 2Ti 1:7) he receives numerous and lofty commendations drawn from the variety of the effects which he produces. Besides, it is very evident that it is through the kindness of Christ (Gal. 5:22, 23) that we are partakers of other blessings than those which are here enumerated, of meekness, chastity, sobriety, truth, and holiness; for these proceed from none else than from Christ. He does not mention, therefore, all the gifts which were bestowed on Christ, for that was unnecessary; but only shows briefly that Christ came not empty-handed, but well supplied with all gifts, that he might enrich us with them.
If these things had not been added, we might have supposed, as the Jews commonly do, that the restoration of this kingdom was carnal, and might have imagined that Christ was poor and destitute of all blessings. Accordingly, the Prophet afterwards shows that the gifts of the Spirit are laid up in him, first, generally, and next, particularly; that we may go to him to obtain whatever we want. He will enlighten us with the light of wisdom and understanding, will impart to us counsel in difficulties, will make us strong and courageous in battles, will bestow on us the true fear of God, that is, godliness, and, in a word, will communicate to us all that is necessary for our life and salvation. All gifts are here included by the Prophet, so that it is excessively foolish to attempt to conceal those which do not belong to the present enumeration.
He shows that they dwell in Christ, in order that they may be communicated to us. We are also called his fellows, (Ps 45:7,) because strength proceeds from him as the head to the individual members, and in like manner Christ causes his heavenly anointing to flow over the whole body of his Church. Hence it follows that those who are altogether barren and dry have no interest in Christ, and falsely glory in his name. Whenever therefore we feel that we are in want of any of these gifts, let us blame our unbelief; for true faith makes us partakers of all Christ’s benefits. We ought therefore to pray to the Lord not to permit the lusts of the flesh to rule in us, that Christ may wholly unite us to himself. It should also be observed, that we ought to ask all blessings from Christ alone; for we are mistaken if we imagine that anything can be obtained from the Father in any other way.
3. And will make him sagacious. 180 The verb ריח, (riach,) which is here put in the Hiphil conjugation, signifies literally to smell; but may also be explained in an active sense, as meaning to give a keen smell; which agrees better, I think, with this passage, so that this sagacity may be also included among the gifts of the Spirit. And this effect is peculiarly applicable to the person of Christ, namely, that far beyond what the godly are able to conceive, he is endowed with shrewd discernment for governing his people. We ought to attend, first of all, to the metaphor in the verb smell, which means that Christ will be so shrewd that he will not need to learn from what he hears, or from what he sees; for by smelling alone he will perceive what would otherwise be unknown. 181
In the fear of the Lord. This phrase is viewed by the greater part of commentators as meaning that all the feelings of the heart will be manifest to Christ, so that he will easily judge who are the sincere worshippers of God. But let the reader inquire if it be not a more appropriate meaning, that the fear of God denotes a fixed rule of judging. He expressly distinguishes between the heavenly judgment of Christ and earthly judgments, in order to inform us, that the outward mask of holiness or uprightness is of no avail in his presence.
And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes. The meaning is, “When we come to the judgment-seat of Christ, not only will outward actions be brought to trial after the manner of human governments, but the life of men will be examined by the standard of true godliness. It does not belong to man to penetrate into the hearts; and those whom we suppose to be very excellent men have frequently nothing but a hollow mask; but Christ judges not from outward appearance, (Lu 11:17; Joh 2:25,) for he thoroughly knows and searches our inmost thoughts. His judgment, therefore, is quite different from that of men, who, with all their acuteness and quick sagacity, fall into the most shameful mistakes.” Hence it follows that none can be the true worshippers of God but those whom Christ approves. They cannot obtain his approbation, unless they offer a pure and upright mind; for a false and hollow mask cannot deceive him.
4. For he will judge the poor in righteousness. 182 Here he shows that Christ will be the guardian of the poor, or, he points out the persons to whom the grace of Christ strictly belongs, namely, to the poor or meek; that is, to those who, humbled by a conviction of their poverty, have laid aside those proud and lofty dispositions which commonly swell the minds of men, till they have learned to be meek through the subduing influence of the word of God. He therefore declares that he will be the protector and guardian, not of all men whatsoever, but of those who know that they are poor, and destitute of everything good. This was also declared by Christ to John’s disciples, when he said that the gospel is preached to the poor. (Mt 11:5.) Who are they that are capable of receiving this doctrine? Not all men without exception, but those who, having laid aside the glory of the flesh, betake themselves to that heavenly protection.
There is, therefore, an implied contrast, namely, that Christ does not rule over the rich, that is, over those who are swelled with a false opinion of themselves. Though he invites all men to come to him, still the greater part refuse to submit to his government. The poor alone allow themselves to be governed by him. This passage teaches us, that if we are desirous to be protected by the power of Christ, we must lay aside all pride, and put on the spirit of meekness and modesty. That spiritual poverty which the Prophet recommends to all the members of Christ is, to have no lofty views, but to be truly humbled by a conviction of our poverty and nakedness, so as to depend on Christ alone. When we have been brought to this state of mind, the faithful King and Guardian will undertake to secure our salvation, and will defend us to the last against all our enemies. We also learn whom Christ invites to come to him: Come to me, all ye that labor and are burdened. (Mt 11:28.) We must, therefore, labor and be pressed down by the weight of our burden, if we wish to feel and know his assistance.
And will reprove with equity for the meek of the earth. We must attend to the order which is here observed by the Prophet. He places poverty first, and then meekness; because we must first be poor before we become meek. So long as we think that we are somebody, (Ac 5:36,) and are carried away by a vain confidence in ourselves, our heart is filled with pride and self-conceit, and cannot yield or submit; but when we are convinced of our poverty, we lose courage, and, subdued and overpowered, begin to groan under the burden. The condition of Christ’s people, therefore, is here described, as he had formerly illustrated the nature of the king himself. Hence also we ought to learn, that those precious gifts of the Spirit with which we saw a little before that Christ was furnished, 183 are not bestowed by him on all men whatsoever, but on the poor and the meek; for the word judge denotes government, a very important part of which is, that Christ imparts to us the gifts which he received from the Father, that he may live in us, and that we may live in him.
And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth. The Prophet here extols the efficacy of the word, which is Christ’s royal scepter. By the rod of his mouth is meant a scepter which consists in words, and in the second clause he repeats the same idea by the phrase, the breath of his lips; as if he had said, that Christ will have no need to borrow aid from others to cast down his enemies, and to strike down everything that opposes his government; for a mere breath or a word will be enough. The statement may be general, since believers also must die, so as to be renewed to a spiritual life; and in this sense the gospel is called a sword appropriated for the slaying of sacrifices. (Ro 15:16.) But the latter part of the verse calls for a different interpretation. If any one choose to make a distinction, the striking of the earth will apply equally to the reprobate and the elect; as the gospel is
a two-edged sword, piercing even to the most hidden and secret feelings of the heart, and discerning the thoughts and affections. (Heb 4:12.)
Yet it wounds the former in a very different manner from that in which it wounds the latter. By mortifying in the elect a sinful nature, it kills their lusts, that they may become a living sacrifice, and a sacrifice of sweet-smelling savor; but it strikes the wicked in a manner altogether destructive, for they rot and die, and to them it is even, as Paul says, a savor of death to death. (2Co 2:16.) I should be willing enough to consider both effects as described here at the same time, were it not that it is opposed by the custom of the Hebrew language; for the Hebrew writers often repeat the same sentiment in different words.
And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. Christ is armed with the breath of his lips to slay the wicked. But perhaps this second clause was added by Isaiah for the purpose of amplification; and, indeed, to slay is much more than to strike. As it belongs to the gospel to cast down all men without exception, its effect on the reprobate may be said to be accidental, to slay them with a deadly stroke. In this way the Prophet would add a particular case to the general statement, intimating that the wicked fall under the sword of Christ to their everlasting destruction, because they are not set apart to be sacrifices. 184 However this may be, this latter clause must undoubtedly be limited to the wicked alone; and it is added, because that efficacy does not immediately appear in the preaching of the gospel, but, on the contrary, many ridicule, and jeer, and treat as a fable all that is said about Christ and his word. But though they do not immediately feel its power, yet they will not be able to escape it, and will at length be slain by a deadly wound.
But the Prophet’s meaning, I think, is not yet fully explained; for he does not speak only of the inward feeling by which wicked men are moved, whether they will or not, but of the wickedness itself, which will be removed and driven away by the power and efficacy of this scepter, as Paul also explains; for he undoubtedly alludes to this passage when he speaks of the destruction of Antichrist.
And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. (2 Thess. 2:7, 8.)
Thus he explains to us the meaning of the Prophet; for he shows that Christ will never be without enemies, who will endeavor to overturn his kingdom, and to hinder or retard the course of the gospel; otherwise these words of the Prophet would have been spoken in vain. But Christ will drive away some of their number, and the whole of them together, and their very head and leader, by the sound of his doctrine.
Thus also Paul recommends a twofold use of doctrine, demanding from a pastor that
he shall be qualified not only to teach, but likewise
to refute those who oppose. (Titus 1:9.)
A pastor ought not only to feed his flock, but also to protect and guard them against every injury. This is what Christ performs, and therefore he is provided with necessary armor, that he may contend successfully against the falsehoods of Satan, and the cruelty of tyrants, and every kind of enemies.
Hence it is evident that wicked doctrines cannot be driven away by any other method than by the gospel. In vain will the magistrate employ the sword, which undoubtedly he must employ, to restrain wicked teachers and false prophets; in vain, I say, will he attempt all these things, unless this sword of the word go before. (De 13:5.) This ought to be carefully observed in opposition to the Papists, who, when the word fails them, betake themselves to new weapons, by the aid of which they think that they will gain the victory. They are even so impudent as to boast that heretics cannot be refuted by the word, though both the Prophet and Paul lay down no other method.
When the Prophet says, by the breath of his lips, this must not be limited to the person of Christ; for it refers to the word which is preached by his ministers. Christ acts by them in such a manner that he wishes their mouth to be reckoned as his mouth, and their lips as his lips; that is, when they speak from his mouth, and faithfully declare his word. (Lu 10:16.) The Prophet does not now send us to secret revelations, that Christ may reign in us, but openly recommends the outward preaching of doctrine, and shows that the gospel serves the purpose of a scepter in the hand of Christ, so far as it is preached, and so far as it is oral, if we may use the expression; otherwise it would have been to no purpose to mention the mouth and the lips. Hence it follows that all those who reject the outward preaching of the gospel shake off this scepter, as far as lies in their power, or pull it out of the hand of Christ; not that the efficacy which he mentions depends on the voice of men, but so far as Christ acts by his ministers; for he does not wish that their labor should be fruitless, without sacrificing the elect to obedience, (Ro 15:16,) and slaying the reprobate; as Paul in another passage boasts that there will be speedy vengeance against all unbelievers and rebels.
Here we must again call to remembrance what is the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As he does not wear a golden crown or employ earthly armor, so he does not rule over the world by the power of arms, or gain authority by gaudy and ostentatious display, or constrain his people by terror and dread; but the doctrine of the gospel is his royal banner, which assembles believers under his dominion. Wherever, therefore, the doctrine of the Gospel is preached in purity, there we are certain that Christ reigns; and where it is rejected, his government is also set aside. Hence it is evident how foolishly the Papists boast that the Church belongs to them, when they order Christ himself to be silent, and cannot endure the sound of his voice, but proclaim aloud, with distended cheeks, their own edicts, laws, decrees, and tyrannical regulations.
5. And righteousness shall be the belt. 185 Some translate it girdle; but as the Prophet represents Christ to us wearing, as it were, the emblems of royalty, I have rather translated it belt, which is also a royal emblem, in the same manner as the scepter, which he had assigned to him a little before. When Job speaks of taking away the authority of kings, he says that the Lord will ungird their belt. (Job 12:18.) To be girded with a belt, therefore, is nothing else than to be exalted to royal authority, as we shall afterwards see in another passage. (Isa 14:5.)
The Prophet describes two ornaments belonging to the belt. These are righteousness and truth; unless it be thought that there is a change in the order of construction, as if he had said that Christ will be girded with true righteousness; for truth is not added as if it were different from righteousness, but in order to point out the nature of that righteousness with which Christ is girded. Some think that righteousness here denotes that which Christ imparts to us, that it may dwell, not only in himself, but in his members. Faith or truth they understand to be that by which we embrace the salvation which he offers to us.
The Chaldee paraphrast explains it thus; “and the righteous shall be round about him, believing worshippers shall approach to him.” 186 But I adopt a more simple interpretation, as if he had said, “He shall not appear like kings, clothed with purple and a crown, or girded with a belt; but righteousness and truth shall shine forth in him.” I acknowledge, indeed, that righteousness is not confined to Christ, but belongs to his members; but we must attend to the mode of expression, that Christ comes forth to govern his people girded with righteousness, which he afterwards imparts to them by the secret influence of the Spirit. If we distinguish between the word אמונה (emunah) and righteousness, I consider it to mean faithfulness or steadfastness; as if he had said that Christ never disappoints his followers, for he continues always to be like himself.
6. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. He again returns to describe the character and habits of those who have submitted to Christ. As there is a mutual relation between the king and the people, he sometimes ascends from the body to the head, and sometimes descends from the head to the body; and we have already seen that Christ reigns, not for himself, but for those who believe in him. Hence it follows that he forms their minds by his heavenly Spirit. But the Prophet’s discourse looks beyond this; for it amounts to a promise that there will be a blessed restoration of the world. He describes the order which was at the beginning, before man’s apostasy produced the unhappy and melancholy change under which we groan. Whence comes the cruelty of brutes, which prompts the stronger to seize and rend and devour with dreadful violence the weaker animals? There would certainly have been no discord among the creatures of God, if they had remained in their first and original condition. When they exercise cruelty towards each other, and the weak need to be protected against the strong, it is an evidence of the disorder (ἀταξίας) which has sprung from the sinfulness of man. Christ having come, in order to reconcile the world to God by the removal of the curse, it is not without reason that the restoration of a perfect state is ascribed to him; as if the Prophets had said that that golden age will return in which perfect happiness existed, before the fall of man and the shock and ruin of the world which followed it. Thus, God speaks by Hosea:
I will make a covenant with the beast of the field, with the fowl of the heaven, and with the creeping things.
As if he had said, “When God shall have been reconciled to the world in Christ, he will also give tokens of fatherly kindness, so that all the corruptions which have arisen from the sinfulness of man will cease.”
In a word, under these figures the Prophets teach the same truth which Paul plainly affirms, that Christ came to gather together out of a state of disorder those things which are in heaven and which are on earth. (Eph 1:10; Col 1:20.) It may be thus summed up: “Christ will come to drive away everything hurtful out of the world, and to restore to its former beauty the world which lay under the curse.” For this reason, he says, that straw will be the food of the lion as well as of the ox; for if the stain of sin had not polluted the world, no animal would have been addicted to prey on blood, but the fruits of the earth would have sufficed for all, according to the method which God had appointed. (Ge 1:30.)
Though Isaiah says that the wild and the tame beasts will live in harmony, that the blessing of God may be clearly and fully manifested, yet he chiefly means what I have said, that the people of Christ will have no disposition to do injury, no fierceness or cruelty. They were formerly like lions or leopards, but will now be like sheep or lambs; for they will have laid aside every cruel and brutish disposition. By these modes of expression he means nothing else than that those who formerly were like savage beasts will be mild and gentle; for he compares violent and ravenous men to wolves and bears which live on prey and plunder, and declares that they will be tame and gentle, so that they will be satisfied with ordinary food, and will abstain from doing any injury or harm. On this subject it is proper to argue from the less to the greater. “If Christ shall bring brute animals into a state of peace, much more will brotherly harmony exist among men, who will be governed by the same spirit of meekness.” And yet Isaiah does not mean that any are mild and peaceful by nature before they are renewed, but yet he promises, that whatever may have been their natural disposition, they will lay aside or conquer their fierceness, and will be like lambs and sheep.
And a little child shall lead them. This means that beasts which formerly were cruel and untameable, will be ready to yield cheerful obedience, so that there will be no need of violence to restrain their fierceness. Yet we must attend to the spiritual meaning which I noticed, that all who become Christ’s followers will obey Christ, though they may formerly have been savage wild beasts, and will obey him in such a manner, that as soon as he lifts his finger, they will follow his footsteps, as it is said that his people shall be willing. (Ps 110:3.) Those who are not endued with this meekness do not deserve to be ranked among the sheep. Let us, therefore, permit ourselves to be ruled and governed by him, and let us willingly submit to those whom he has appointed over us, though they appear to be like little children. Besides, I think that the ministers of the word are compared to children, because they have no external power, and exercise no civil government over them.
A question arises, Do we find any persons who are meek, though they have not been tamed by the gospel? The Prophet appears to insinuate this, when he compares some men to sheep, and others to wolves and bears; and certainly among men who follow the bent of their natural disposition, we shall perceive an astonishing diversity. Some are mild and gentle, others are fierce and violent; but it is certain that all men are untamed till Christ subdues them by the gospel; all are swelled with ambition and pride before they are cured by this medicine. Many will be able to make a false and hollow profession of modesty and humility, but they will swell with inward pride. In short, where the Spirit of Christ is not, there will be no true meekness.
8. And the child shall play on the hole of the asp. He continues to illustrate the same sentiment, that when men have been brought into a state of favor with God, and have been cleansed from their depravity by the Spirit of regeneration, they will likewise be free from every hurtful disposition. There is no reason why men dread the danger or poison arising from the bite of serpents, but because they do not deserve that God should place every part of the world under their control. And, indeed, since animals are permitted to do injury even to children, this shows that the whole race of Adam has been stained with pollution from the very womb.
We must again observe the comparison which we stated, that those men whom a concealed poison led to deeds of violence will have their disposition changed, and will do no harm even to little children. Some men are openly fierce and cruel, (Ps 140:3,) and others inwardly carry and cherish their malice like poison, (Ps 55:21,) as David also describes them; for some men are more quick, and others are more slow, to manifest the desire of doing injury. Whatever they may have formerly been, he means that all of them must be cleansed from wickedness, both open and concealed, after having submitted to Christ. He means, also, that henceforth safety, which will reign everywhere, will be enjoyed even by those who have no kind of protection; so that they will freely venture to expose themselves to imminent dangers.
9. They shall not hurt. He now declares plainly, that men themselves, having laid aside the depravity which naturally dwells in them, will be inclined, of their own accord, to do what is right. He speaks of believers who have been truly regenerated to a new life, (Ro 6:4;) for though in the Church many hypocrites full of wickedness were mixed with the elect of God, yet they are like the Ishmaelites, whom God will cast out at the proper time. We ought also to observe, as we are taught in Ps. 15:1, Ps. 24:3, that those only who follow righteousness have a settled residence in the temple of God, that they may dwell there for ever. It is, therefore, a distinguishing mark of the genuine members of the Church, that they are free from all desire of doing injury to others. Hence, also, we infer, that it is a remarkable gift of the Spirit of Christ, that men abstain from being evil-doers; for by nature, ambition, pride, cruelty, and avarice, always prompt them freely and voluntarily to commit acts of injustice.
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. With good reason does the Prophet add, that this invaluable blessing flows from the knowledge of God; for it abases all flesh, and teaches men to commit themselves to his trust and guardianship, and brings them into a state of brotherly harmony, when they learn that they have the same Father. (Mal 2:10.) Although many, who have not yet been renewed by the Spirit of Christ, profess to have humanity, yet it is certain that self-love (φιλαυτίαν) reigns in them; for in all it is natural and so deeply-rooted, that they seek their own advantage and not that of others, think that they are born for themselves and not for others, and would wish to make the whole world subject to them, if they could, as Plato has judiciously observed. Hence arise fraud, perjury, theft, robbery, and innumerable crimes of this sort; and therefore there is no other remedy for subduing this lawless desire than the knowledge of God. We see how the Prophet again makes the government of Christ to rest on faith and the doctrine of the gospel, as indeed he does not gather us to himself (Eph 1:10) in another way than by enlightening our minds to reveal the heavenly life, which is nothing else, as he himself declares, than
to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. (Joh 17:3.)
As with waters that cover the sea. There is an implied comparison between the abundance of knowledge and that slender taste which God gave to the ancient people under the law. The Jews having been kept in the rudiments of childhood, (Gal. 3:23, Gal. 4:3,) the perfect light of wisdom hath fully shone on us by the gospel, as was also foretold by Jeremiah:
They shall not every one teach his neighbor, and a man his brother, to know God; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. (Jer 31:34.)
If this fullness of knowledge take possession of our minds, it will free us from all malice.
This passage also instructs us what is the character of the Church under Popery, where the light of doctrine is choked and almost extinguished, and the highest religion is made to consist in the benumbing influence of brutish stupidity. If we do not immediately possess full knowledge, we must advance from day to day, and make continual progress, (2Pe 3:18,) and in such a manner that fruit may spring from that root. Hence it is evident how little progress the greater part have made in the school of Christ, seeing that fraud and robbery and acts of violence abound everywhere.
10. And it shall be in that day the root of Jesse. He again returns to the person of Christ, and repeats the same comparison which he had introduced at the beginning of the chapter, that of a root or a branch springing from a decayed trunk, of which no trace appeared; and he foretells that the Gentiles, who formerly abhorred the Jews, will henceforth bow before their King with lowly homage. This might be thought to be altogether incredible, and unquestionably the promise was ridiculed for many centuries, because such a gathering together was to be expected rather when the kingdom remained and flourished than when it had been cut down. But it was necessary that it should be cut down, so that it might afterwards sprout again, and that the glory and power of God might shine in it more brighter than in its flourishing condition. Who would have seen with the eyes of men that the branch would rise to such a height as to be seen by all nations, and to direct the eyes of all men towards it?
Which shall stand for an ensign of the peoples. He compares it to a banner stretched aloft; and we know that this was fulfilled by the preaching of the gospel, and indeed was more illustrious than if Christ had soared above the clouds. To the same purpose is what he says,
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up. (Joh 3:14; Nu 21:9.)
Shall be sought by the Gentiles. Christ is said to be sought, when men flee to him for the purpose of asking salvation, as to seek God means, in every part of Scripture, to cast all our hopes upon him. Accordingly, the Greek translators have rendered it ἐλπιοῦσι, they shall hope, looking rather at the meaning than at the word.
And his rest shall be glory. These words are commonly explained as referring to the burial of Christ, and that by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole; for afterwards they apply it also to his death; and indeed the burial of Christ was nothing else than an appendage to his death. They think that the meaning is this, “The death of Christ, which was disgraceful in the eyes of the world, will be glorious and splendid.” But when I take a closer view of the whole, by rest the Prophet means in this passage the Church; as it is also said,
This is my everlasting rest; here will I dwell.
He bestows an honorable appellation on the assembly of the godly, because he chooses to have a continual habitation among them. Accordingly, the Church having been at that time exposed to reproaches and disgrace, he promises that it will be again raised to a more prosperous condition, and will recover its ancient glory. Here, therefore, we have a remarkable proof that God is pleased to dwell continually in his Church, though this may not always be seen by men.
11. And it shall be in that day, the Lord will again set his hand. The prediction about the future glory of the Church having been incredible, he explains the method of restoring it, namely, that God will display the power of his hand, as if for performing a memorable and uncommon exploit. Now, to confirm the hope of the elect people, he recalls to their minds the remembrance of a past deliverance, that they may not doubt that God is as able to deliver them now as their fathers found him to be in Egypt. (Ex 12:51.) Such is the import of the word שנית, (shenith,) that is, the second time, or again; as if he had said, “Now also will God be the deliverer of his Church.”
To possess the remnant of his people. He confirms what he has said by another argument; for though it appeared as if God had disregarded his people, yet he will not allow himself to be deprived of his inheritance. We may sum it up by saying, that God will take care of the salvation of his Church, so as not to be robbed of his right. He expressly calls them a remnant, because this deliverance belonged only to a small seed. (Isa. 1:9, Isa. 10:22.) In short, he repeats what he formerly said, “Though God disperse and scatter his Church, yet it is impossible that he can ever cast it away altogether; for it is as dear to him as our inheritance is to any of us.”
Which shall be left from Assyria and from Egypt. He speaks not only of the Assyrians, who had led the people captive, but also of other nations among whom the Jews were scattered; for though the greater part of the people was carried to Babylon, some fled into Egypt, some into Ethiopia, and some into other countries. They were afraid lest they should endure the same bondage as had been endured by others. Some think that by Pathros is meant Parthia, which is highly probable; others think that it is Arabia the Rocky. Under the name Elam he includes the Medes, Zocdians, Bactrians, and other eastern nations. Shinar belongs to Chaldea. By Hamath they mean Cilicia, and the other countries which lie towards Mount Taurus. By the word islands the Jews mean all countries that lie beyond the sea; for to them Greece, and Italy, and Spain, were islands, because they were separated from them by the sea. 187
We see that the Prophet speaks here not only of the deliverance which took place under Zerubbabel, (Ezr 2:2,) but that he looks beyond this; for at that time the Israelites were not brought back from Egypt, Ethiopia, and other countries. These words, therefore, cannot be understood to relate to the deliverance from Babylon, but must be viewed as referring to the kingdom of Christ, under whom this deliverance was obtained through the preaching of the gospel. Besides, it is proper to observe that this work belongs to God, and not to men; for he says, The Lord shall stretch out his arm; thus ascribing to his heavenly power this work, which could not have been accomplished by human ability.
It ought also to be observed, that from God’s past benefits we ought always to entertain good hopes for the future; so that whenever we call to remembrance the deliverances from Babylon and from Egypt, (Ezr 2:2; Ex 12:51,) we may be convinced that God is equally able, and will equally assist us at the present day, that he may restore the Church to her ancient glory. What he did once and again, he is able to do a third time, and a fourth, and many times. When the Prophet calls those whom he rescues a remnant, let us learn that we ought not to desire a vast multitude, and let us be satisfied, though we be few, and let us not be terrified by the smallness of our numbers; for, provided that the righteousness of God abound, we have true and abundant ground of confidence.
12. And he will lift up an ensign to the nations. This verse contains nothing more than the explanation of the former verse. The language is metaphorical, and admits of two meanings; either that, by giving an ensign, he will terrify adversaries, so that they will not dare to prevent his people from returning, or that he will give an ensign to the wretched exiles not to hesitate to make preparations for their return. But even at the present day this doctrine is highly useful among us; for as an ensign is lifted up in the army, that the soldiers may assemble, and that every one may follow and may keep his proper place, so a banner is here held out to us, that we may assemble to it, namely, the gospel, which the Lord has lifted up among the Gentiles, by which Christ is preached to us. 188
And will gather together the dispersions of Judah. Hence we ought to conclude, that we cannot be gathered by the Lord unless we assemble to this ensign, and be joined to him by faith; for there is no other way in which he acknowledges us to be his sheep, than when, after having been scattered, we are gathered together, and meet in the same assembly under this ensign; as he says,
My sheep hear my voice and follow me. (Joh 10:27.)
The word gather is repeated. He will gather together the outcasts of Israel, and will gather together the dispersions of Judah. He shows how efficacious God’s calling will be; for as soon as he shall give the slightest indication that such is his pleasure, he will restore the people. Dispersion is a collective noun, for it means the Jews scattered in all directions; and he appears to allude, as he often does elsewhere, to similar passages in the writings of Moses, in which the Lord promises that he will gather the people, though they were scattered to the farthest parts of the world, and to the four winds of heaven. (Deut. 30:3, 4.) Now, this was done under the direction of Christ. Under the same leader we ought at the present day to expect the restoration of a wretched and scattered Church; for there is no hope of gathering the remnant but by the elect looking to this ensign. We ought frequently, therefore, to call to remembrance those promises, that by relying on them we may more and more strengthen our hearts.
13. And the envy of Ephraim shall depart. Here he promises that the Church will be in such a state of peace, that neither will the Israelites and the Jews contend in civil broils, nor will they suffer any annoyance from their enemies, and that they will not be liable to hatred or envy, as they formerly were. Not that there will be no wicked men, but the Lord will at length cut off and destroy them. But we ought chiefly to observe what he adds about allaying domestic quarrels, that henceforth the children of Abraham may not harass each other, but unite in the same religion, and in the pure worship of God; for it was a disgraceful and shocking spectacle that their mutual strife and hostilities had been so long maintained.
With good reason does he point out the source of quarrels, namely, envy, in consequence of which the descendants of Abraham have torn each other, while the tribes of Judah and Ephraim strive with each other for renown. This horrible torch has always kindled wars in the world, while every man is unwilling to yield. In short, the Lord here promises outward and inward peace, which is a very great and most desirable blessing.
It will be objected that this was never accomplished, and that the very opposite of this took place; for as soon as the gospel began, it was followed by various wars, commotions, and dreadful persecutions, and nearly the whole world was disturbed and shaken. And inwardly what peace did the Church enjoy? Among Christians themselves, Satan, by his tares, (Mt 13:25,) has raised up dreadful disturbances, so that no enemies were more ferocious and destructive than those which were brought up in the bosom of the Church.
I reply, the Prophet here includes the whole of Christ’s kingdom, and not merely a single age or century. In this world we taste but the beginning of Christ’s kingdom; and while the Church is harassed by enemies both within and without, still the Lord defends and preserves her, and conquers all her enemies. Besides, this prediction properly belongs to the true and lawful children of Abraham, whom the Lord has purified by the cross and by banishment, and has constrained to lay aside ambition and envy; as those who have been tamed in the school of Christ cease to be desirous of renown. Thus the promise which Isaiah makes in this passage has already been in part fulfilled, and is fulfilled every day. But we must proceed in these exercises, and must fight earnestly within and without, till we obtain that everlasting peace which it will be our happiness to enjoy in the kingdom of God.
14. And they shall fly on the shoulders of the Philistines. He means that there is also another way in which the Lord will assist his people; which is, that he will conquer their enemies, and subdue them under his dominion. Having spoken of the safety of the Church, he now declares that she will be victorious over her enemies. He mentions those nations with which the Jews incessantly carried on wars; for on the one hand the Philistines, and on the other the Ammonites and Moabites, to whom they were bound by the tie of relationship and kindred, were continually molesting and attacking them. On one side also were the Edomites, who were not restrained by blood-relationship from being most determined enemies; for they were descended from Esau, (Gen. 25:25, 26, Gen. 36:1, 8, 9,) the brother of Jacob; and the remembrance of this ought to have dissuaded them from enmity and hatred. The Lord, therefore, promises that the Church, though she is not absolutely without enemies, will gain advantage over them by suffering, and in the end be victorious.
Edom and Moab shall be the stretching out of the hands. 189 The stretching out of the hands means the dominion which the Church obtained over her enemies; for by the word hand is usually meant power; and the Hebrews use the phrase, to stretch out the hand, instead of “to place this or that under subjection.” Thus it is said,
I will set his hand in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.
The stretching out of the hand, therefore, is full power to rule; and, on the other hand, he adds the obedience which the enemies will yield to her: and the children of Ammon shall be their obedience 190
The Jews, who dream of an earthly kingdom of Christ, interpret all this in a carnal sense, and apply it to I know not what external power; but they ought rather to judge of it according to the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Partly, no doubt, the accomplishment of this prediction was seen, when the Jews returned from captivity, and God brought them into moderate prosperity, contrary to the wish, and in spite of the opposition, of all the neighboring nations; but believers were led to expect a more splendid victory, which they at length obtained through the preaching of the gospel. Although we must continually fight under the cross, yet we vanquish our enemies, when we are rescued from the tyranny of the devil and of wicked men, and are restored to liberty by Christ, that the flesh may be subdued, and our lusts laid low, and that thus we may live to him, and in patience may possess our souls, (Lu 21:19,) calmly and patiently enduring everything that happens. And thus we even heap coals on the head (Ro 12:20) of enemies, to whose attacks and reproaches we appear to be subject.
15. And the Lord will utterly destroy. In this verse he means nothing else than that the Lord, by his amazing power, will open for his people a way, which formerly appeared to be shut up. He speaks figuratively. What he calls a tongue is “a bay of the sea;” for when the sea penetrates into the land, and occupies a part of it, there is a resemblance to a person putting out his tongue. He therefore means the Egyptian sea and Egypt itself, as he afterwards more fully explains. But he chiefly mentions the sea and the rivers, because they protect the countries and shut up every entrance.
And will stretch out the hand over the river in the strength of his wind. He undoubtedly means the Nile, which waters the whole of Egypt, and divides it into many parts, and might thus interrupt the march of the people when returning to their native country. I have no doubt that רוח (ruach) here denotes wind, though he adds the Lord’s; for all the winds are the Lord’s, because he regulates and guides according to his pleasure; and more especially this phrase is employed when it is miraculously agitated by a violent whirlwind. He alludes to the former deliverance of his people, by which he brought them out of Egypt; for when the Lord was pleased to open up a way for them, he dried up the sea by the force and violence of the winds. (Ex 14:21.)
True, the Lord did not need the assistance of the winds, for he might have done it by an immediate exertion of his power. But when he makes use of outward means, let us learn, first, that all creatures are ready to yield obedience to him; for though they have a natural course, yet they are in his power, so that he can direct their force and violence in whatever way he pleases. For instance, when a wind arises, its beginning proceeds from a natural cause, and each of the winds has its properties. The south wind is moist, and the north wind is cold, and completely similar are the effects which proceed from them; for the south wind moistens bodies, and the north wind dries them. By extraordinary miracles the Lord shows that he possesses an authority far above these natural causes, so that they are governed, not by nature, (that is, by that succession of events or chain of causes which irreligious men imagine to exist,) but by God alone.
Secondly, he shows that he changes the nature and order of events whenever he pleases, that he may be acknowledged to be their only Lord; because such a change exhibits more clearly his authority and dominion. On this account Isaiah called it not simply the wind, but the wind of the Lord, that we may perceive that it is not directed or moved by chance, but by the power of the Lord.
And shall smite it in the seven streams. Some render it torrents, and explain it thus: “he will divide the Nile into seven parts.” Though this exposition has been universally adopted, yet I do not approve of it; and I think that it has arisen from forgetfulness, rather than from ignorance, on the part of its authors, who are learned men notwithstanding, and deeply skilled in the perusal of the ancient writers. It is well known from history that the Nile had seven mouths. There are others which are little mentioned, because they had no names, and are therefore called false mouths. Whatever, then, is the number of the mouths or branches, it appears to form that number of streams or rivers; and these might have been so many hinderances to retard their journey. The Prophet expressly mentions them, because the river was highly celebrated.
And shall make them be shod with shoes. 191 The river being deep, he says that he will dry it up, so that it will not be necessary to pull off their shoes in crossing it, though this would have been necessary if only a small portion of water had remained.
By these metaphors, therefore, the Prophet means nothing else than that nothing will stand in God’s way, when it shall be his pleasure to rescue his people from captivity. He glances at the history of a former deliverance, that they may learn that it will be the same with that which they formerly enjoyed. On this account he wished to place it, as it were, before their eyes; for the means of this deliverance was not seen. If this promise had been stated in plain terms, it might not have produced so deep an impression on their minds as by holding out this remarkable example.
16. And there shall be a path. 192 This verse contains nothing new, but explains the former verse. The people would perceive the same power of God in the deliverance from Babylon as they had perceived in the deliverance from Egypt. He had opened up a way through seas, (Ex 14:29; Ps 77:19,) through untrodden deserts, (Deut. 8:2, Deut. 29:5,) and through Jordan; (Josh. 3:16, 17.) In like manner, Isaiah says, that by an unexpected and astonishing method he will again open up a way for his people to go out. Accordingly, what the Lord has once performed let us also expect for the future; and for that purpose let us ponder the ancient histories. This ought also to direct our thoughts to the final deliverance of the Church, by which we shall all be delivered from all troubles and distresses; so that, though what we are told about a resurrection and immortal life may appear to be incredible, and the means of accomplishing them are not seen by us, still the Lord will easily find a way.
See page 372.
And shall make him of quick understanding. (Heb. scent, or smell.) — Eng. Ver.
“And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah. His delight, הריחו, (haricho,) his snuffing up with pleasure, his pleasurable sensations. So the verb רוח (riach) signifies, when followed by the preposition ב, as in Le 26:31, Am 5:21. The expression is equivalent to, but stronger than that of David in Ps 1:2, בתורת יהוה חפצו, (bethorath Yehovah Chephtzo,) in the law of the LORD is his delight.” — Stock
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor. — Eng. Ver.
See page 374.
The force of these repeated allusions to Ro 15:16 will be best understood by consulting the Author’s Commentary on that remarkable passage. — Ed.
The girdle. — Eng. Ver.
“The Targum of Jonathan renders it, and the righteous shall be round about him; that is, ‘they shall cleave to him like a girdle.’” — Jarchi.
“Not islands merely, but all distant regions are comprised in the meaning of this word איי, (iye.)” — Rosenmuller
“Set up his standard on an eminence, the signal for the soldiery to assemble round their commander. Caesar terms it vexillum proponere, quod erat insigne, cum ad arma concurri oporteret. B. Gall. See Ammian, Hist., 27:10.” — Rosenmuller.
They shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab. (Heb. Edom and Moab shall be the laying on of their hand.) — Eng. Ver.
And the children of Ammon shall obey them. (Heb. the children of Ammon their obedience.) — Eng. Ver.
And make men go over dry-shod. (Heb. in shoes.) — Eng. Ver.
An highway. — Eng. Ver.