Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 24:1-23
1. Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.
1. Ecce Iehova evacuat terram, denudat eam, evertit faciem ejus, et incolas ejus dissipat.
2. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him.
2. Et erit ut populus, ita sacerdos; ut servus, ita domina ejus; ut ancilla, ita domina ejus; ut emptor, ita venditor; ut mutuo dans, ita qui mutuo accipit; ut foenerator, ita qui accipit foenori, (vel, ut creditor, ita debitor.)
3. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word.
3. Evacuando evacuabitur terra, et direptione diripietur; quoniam Iehova pronunciavit hoc verbum.
4. The earth mourneth and fadeth away; the world languisheth and fadeth away; the haughty people of the earth do languish.
4. Luxit, cecidit terra; elanguit, cecidit orbis; elanguerunt qui erant sublimis populus terræ.
5. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
5. Et terra fallax fuit sub incolis suis; quoniam transgressi sunt leges, mutarunt statutum, dissolverunt foedus seculi.
6. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.
6. Itaque maledictio cosumpsit terram, et desolati sunt incolæ ejus; ideo combusti sunt, inquam, incolæ terræ; et pauci residui sunt facti homines.
7. The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merry hearted do sigh.
7. Periit vinum, elanguit vitis, gemuerunt omnes qui læto erant corde.
8. The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth.
8. Cessavit gaudium tympanorum, desiit strepitus exultantium, quievit lætitia citharæ.
9. They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it.
9. Cum cantico non bibent vinum; amara erit sicera bibentibus eam.
10. The city of confusion is broken down; every house is shut up, that no man may come in.
10. Contrita est civitas vanitatis; clausa est omnis domus, ne quis ingrediatur.
11 There is a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone.
11. Clamor est super vino in plateis; obscuratum est omne gaudium; migravit lætitia terræ.
12. In the city is left desolation, and the gate is smitten with destruction.
12. Residua est in urbe vastitas, et vastatione percussa est porta.
13. When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning-grapes when the vintage is done.
13. Quia sic erit in medio terræ, in medio populorum, quasi decussio olivæ, et quasi racemi, cum peracta est vindemia.
14. They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord, they shall cry aloud from the sea.
14. Hi levabunt vocem suam; jubilabunt in altitudine Iehovæ, vociferabuntur a mari.
15. Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires, even the name of the Lord God of Israel in the isles of the sea.
15. Propterea in vallibus glorificate Iehovam, in insulis maris nomen Iehovæ Dei Israel.
16. From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously.
16. Ab extremo terræ laudes audivimus, gloriam (vel, gratulationem) justo, et dixi, Macies mihi, macies mihi, væ mihi. Prævaricatores prævaricati sunt; prævaricatione, inquam, prævaricatores prævaricati sunt.
17. Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth.
17. Pavor, et fovea, et laqueus super te, O icola terræ.
18. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake.
18. Et accidet ut qui effugerit a voce pavoris, incidat in foveam; et qui ascenderit e medio foveæ capiatur laqueo. Quoniam fenestræ de excelso apertæ sunt; et commota sunt fundamenta terræ.
19. The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly.
19. Contritione contrita est terra; dissolutione dissoluta est terra; commotione commota est terra.
20. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.
20. Agitatione agitata est terra, sicut ebrius; et transferetur sicut tabernaculum; et gravis erit super eam iniquitas ejus; et corruet, neque adjiciet ut resurgat.
21. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth.
21. Et erit in die illa, visitabit Iehova super exercitum excelsum in excelso, et super reges terræ super terram.
22. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.
22. Et congregabuntur congregatione instar vinctorum in carcere, et claudentur in ergastulo; deinde post multos dies visitabuntur.
23. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.
23. Erubescet luna, et pudefiet sol; cum regnaverit Iehova exercituum in monte Sion, et in Ierusalem; et coram senibus suis gloria.
1. Behold, Jehovah maketh the earth empty. This prophecy, so far as I can judge, is the conclusion of all the descriptions that have been given from the thirteenth chapter downwards, in which Isaiah foretold destruction not only to the Jews and to Israel, but to the Moabites, Assyrians, Egyptians, and other nations. In short, having, as it were, surveyed all the countries which were near the Jews and known to them, he gives a brief summary of the whole. Some view this as referring to Israel, and others to the Jews, and think that their destruction is foretold; but as he mentions the world, I can view it in no other light than as a comprehensive statement of all that he formerly said about each of them, and at different times. Nor is this view contradicted by the fact that he immediately mentions the priest, which might lead us to believe that these things relate to none but the people of God; for although he speaks of all the nations, yet because the Jews always hold the highest rank, Isaiah must have had them especially in his eye, for he was appointed to them. It may be said to have been accidental that he mentions other nations; and therefore we ought not to wonder if, after having made reference to them, he speaks particularly about his own people in a single word.
Others suppose that he means “the whole world,” but think that he refers to the last day, which I consider to be an excessively forced interpretation; for, after having threatened the Jews and other nations, the Prophet afterwards adds a consolation, that the Lord will one day raise up his Church and make her more flourishing; which certainly cannot apply to the last judgment. But by the term the earth, I do not think that the Prophet means the whole world, but the countries well known to the Jews; just as in the present day, when we speak of what happens in the world, we almost never go beyond Europe, or think of what is passing in India; for this may be said to be our world. Thus, Isaiah speaks of “the earth” known to himself and to all whom he addressed, and of the people who inhabited the neighboring countries. In short, we may limit the term “World” to the Egyptians, Assyrians, Moabites, Tyrians, and such like; as if he had said, “Hitherto I have spoken of various calamities, which threatened many nations, and still in part threaten some of them; but I may sum up all by saying, ‘The Lord will overturn and strip the face of the earth of all its ornaments.’”
And maketh it bare. 121 Some translate בלקה, (bōlĕkāch,) he uncovereth the earth, that the enemies may have free entrance into it. But I choose rather to translate it, “he maketh bare the earth,” because the earth is said to be “covered,” when it is inhabited by a great multitude of men, and when it abounds in fruits and flocks; and it is said to be “uncovered” or “laid bare,” when it is deprived of its inhabitants, and when its covering is taken away from it, as if one were stripped of his raiment and ornaments. Now, this must have happened not only to the Jews, but to the Assyrians, Egyptians, and other nations, which he had mentioned; and therefore to all of them together he threatens their ruin.
2. And it shall be. By these words he means the utmost desolation, in which there will be no longer any distinction of ranks or any appearance of a commonwealth; for so long as there is a tolerably regular form of government, some distinction continues to be maintained between “the people” and “the priests.” By a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, (συνεκδοχικῶς,) he mentions one department instead of the whole class, as is frequently done in the Scriptures; though we might take כחנים, (kōchănīm,) to mean those who hold any high rank; for Hebrew writers frequently give this name to princes, and especially to those who are of royal blood; but I have no reluctance to view it as an instance of the figure of speech which I have mentioned.
Since Isaiah reckons this confusion among the curses of God, and declares that, when the distinction of ranks is laid aside, it is a terrible display of the vengeance of God, we ought to conclude, on the other hand, how much God is pleased with regular government and the good order of society, and also how great a privilege it is to have it preserved among us; for when it is taken away, the life of man differs little from the sustenance of cattle and of beasts of prey. We ought therefore not only to acknowledge the dreadful vengeance of God, but also to lay it to the blame of our own sins, whenever he breaks down order and takes away instruction and courts of law; for when these fall, civilisation itself falls along with them. It ought also to be considered that, when the Lord executes his judgments, he spares no rank, not even the most sacred. What was this order of priests, which the Lord had so splendidly adorned, and had determined to consecrate to himself, and of which the people also boasted as if it had been unchangeable and eternal? Yet even the rank of priesthood is involved in the judgment of God, because there is no respect of persons, but, on the contrary, the more highly any have been favored, and the higher the rank to which they have been exalted, the more severely will he punish them, if they shall shew themselves to be ungrateful and abuse his benefits.
As the servant, so his master; as the buyer, so the seller. This statement is to the same effect with what goes before; for these ranks are manifestly lawful, and are not usually set aside, unless when the Lord determines to chastise his people with dreadful vengeance, as we have already said; for in a well-ordered society the distinction between master and servant must be observed. In like manner, no public government can be lasting without the transactions of commerce; and therefore, when the distinction between rich and poor has been taken away, every scheme for gaining a livelihood among men is destroyed. The meaning of the Prophet is, that all civil government will be broken up, because in such calamities, they who were the wealthiest are reduced to the lowest poverty. In short, he describes the most appalling desolation, which will be followed by unwonted change.
3. By emptying shall the earth be emptied. He confirms what he had already said, and declares that those changes will not be accidental, but that they are the work of God. In the first verse, he had expressly stated that God is making preparations for emptying the earth: he now asserts that it will happen, and adds the reason, that God hath purposed and determined to do it.
4. The earth hath lamented. Isaiah proceeds with his subject; for all this tends to explain the desolation of the whole world, that is, of the world which was known to the Jews. According to his custom, he illustrates the judgment of God more clearly by figures, which are fitted to produce an effect on sluggish minds.
The lofty people of the earth. 122 By the “lofty ones” we must understand those eminent persons who held a higher rank than others; for this is more wonderful than if the common people had fallen. Yet if it be thought preferable to explain it as relating peculiarly to the Jews, I have no objection; for although the Assyrians and Egyptians excelled them in wealth and power, still the Jews held the highest rank in this respect, that they had been adopted by God. But I prefer the other exposition, which makes the meaning to be, that the Lord would inflict punishment, not only on common people, but also on those who surpassed others in rank and splendor.
5. And the earth was deceitful. 123 Others render it “defiled” or “polluted,” because כנף (chānăph) means “to be wicked.” Both renderings may be appropriate; but the next verse appears to demand that we explain it to mean false; for he appears to illustrate and exhibit it more fully immediately afterwards, when he says that “the earth has been consumed by a curse.”
Under its inhabitants. Whether תהת (tăhăth) be translated “Under its inhabitants,” or, “On account of its inhabitants,” is of little importance. There is a kind of mutual bargain between the land and the husbandmen, that it gives back with usury what it has received: if it does not, it deceives those who cultivate it. But he assigns a reason, imputing blame to them, that they render it barren by their wickedness. It is owing to our fault that it does not nourish us or bring forth fruit, as God appointed to be done by the regular order of nature; for he wished that it should hold the place of a mother to us, to supply us with food; and if it change its nature and order, or lose its fertility, we ought to attribute it to our sins, since we ourselves have reversed the order which God had appointed; otherwise the earth would never deceive us, but would perform her duty.
Because they have transgressed the laws. He immediately assigns the reason why the earth is unfaithful, and deceives her inhabitants. It is because those who refuse to honor God their Father and supporter, will justly be deprived of food and nourishment. Here he peculiarly holds up to shame the revolt of his nation, because it was baser and less excusable than all the transgressions of those who had never been taught in the school of God. The word תורה (tōrāh) is applied to “the Law,” because it denotes instruction; but here, in the plural number, תורת (tōrōth,) it denotes all the instruction that is contained in the “Law.” But as the “Law” contains both commandments and promises, he adds two parts for the purpose of explanation.
They have changed the ordinance. The Hebrew word חק (chōk) means “an ordinance,” and on that account some think that it denotes ceremonies, and others that it denotes morals. We may render it “commandments;” and I understand it to mean not only ceremonies, but everything that belongs to the rule of a holy life.
They have broken the everlasting covenant. The third term employed by him is, ברית, (bērīth,) by which he means a covenant and contract. This word is limited to those “contracts” by which the Lord, who adopted his people, promised that he would be their God. (Exod. 19:6, Exod. 29:45; Le 26:12.) He therefore charges them with ingratitude, because, when the Lord revealed himself by all these methods, and gave proofs of his love, they were disobedient and rebellious, “transgressed the laws,” and “broke the holy covenant.”
But why does he address himself to the Jews? Because he knew that he had been appointed to be their Prophet, that he might especially give instructions to them. Hence we may infer what is the rule of a holy life. It is contained in that law which we ought to follow if we wish that God should approve of our life; if we turn aside from it, we must be wicked and abandoned. We ought also to remark, that it is the will of God that in his word we should consider not only his commandments and laws, but also his covenant; for the chief part of the word consists of promises, by which he adopts and receives us as his own people. Besides, the Prophet unquestionably intended to use a variety of terms in order to express his meaning more strongly; as if he had said, “There is nothing about us that is sound and pure; everything is polluted and corrupted.”
He calls it “the covenant of eternity,” or “the everlasting covenant,” because it ought to be perpetual and inviolable, and to be in force in every age. It was to be transmitted, in uninterrupted succession, from father to son, that it might never be effaced from the memory of man, but might be kept pure and entire. He therefore represents in strong terms their treachery and wickedness, because they dared to violate that covenant which God had made with them, and to overthrow what the Lord intended to be firm and permanent. This was monstrous; and therefore we ought not to wonder that the earth takes vengeance for this wickedness, and refuses to give food to men.
6. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth. Some render it perjury, 124 but as אלה (ālāh) signifies also a “curse,” I have no doubt that here he employs it to denote a “curse,” and alludes to those curses which Moses in the law threatens against wicked men and transgressors of the law, (Le 26:16; De 28:15.) We know that the earth was cursed on account of the transgression of our first parent, so that it brought forth thorns and thistles instead of fruits. (Gen. 3:17, 18.) The Lord mitigated this curse, so that, although men were ungrateful and unworthy, still it yielded them food. But when we do not cease to sin, and when we add sin to sin, is it not in the highest degree just that the earth should become barren and unfruitful, in order that we may more clearly perceive this curse, and that it may make a deeper impression on our senses?
And its inhabitants are made desolate. I think that אשם (āshăm) here means “to make desolate,” rather than “to forsake;” and this is apparent from the context, on which account I have translated it “are made desolate.” But perhaps it will be thought preferable to take the copulative ו (vau) as signifying because, and then the meaning will be, “The earth accursed by God is burnt up, because its inhabitants have acted wickedly.” 125
Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left. The word חרו (charu) may be taken metaphorically, and I prefer this view of it, which makes the meaning to be, that those whom the wrath of God has consumed are burned up; because the destruction is compared to a conflagration. When he adds, “that few will be left,” we learn from it that this prediction cannot be explained as relating to the last day of judgment, and that, on the contrary, the Prophet foretells and confirms those desolations which threatened various nations, and that he does so in order that the godly may fear, and may be led to repentance, and may be prepared for enduring all things.
7. The wine hath failed. The same subject is continued, and the Prophet threatens chiefly against the Jews the desolation of the land. He gives a long description in order to affect them more deeply, and impress them with a conviction of the judgment of God. Their luxury, intemperance, and feasting, are rapidly surveyed, because amidst so great abundance they proudly disobeyed God. Such ingratitude was not peculiar to the Jews or to that age, but it is universally found that they who enjoy abundance rebel against God, and indulge themselves too freely. On this account the Prophet censures them; as if he had said, “Hitherto you have been plunged in luxuries and pleasures, but the Lord will cause you to lead a very different kind of life.” Isaiah speaks of the future as if it had been present, in order to place it more clearly before their eyes.
9. They shall not drink wine with a song. To drink wine is not in itself evil, because God has appointed it for the use of man; but here the Prophet describes the banquets of drunkards, which were full of licentiousness, songs, and insolence. Again, because they abused their enjoyment of plenty, he threatens them with want, which men almost bring upon themselves, when by their luxury they turn to a bad use the goodness of God.
Strong drink shall be bitter. He adds, that if they drink wine, it will be “bitter” to them; because sorrow commonly deprives men of a relish both for what they eat and for what they drink. The meaning may be thus summed up, “Though they have abundance of wine, yet they will be deprived of the use of it, because they will feel such sorrow as shall take away all relish for it.” “Strong drink shall be bitter;” that is, you shall no longer enjoy those pleasures and delights in which you have hitherto indulged.
10. The city of 126 vanity is broken down. I do not object to viewing this as relating especially to the desolation of Jerusalem. Yet it may be gathered from the context that it applies also to other cities; for shortly afterwards he uses the plural number in summoning the nations to appear before the same tribunal. But as the Prophet had his own countrymen chiefly in view, we may properly consider it to denote Jerusalem, which he calls “the city of vanity,” either because there was no solid virtue in it, or because it was destroyed.
The word תהו (tōhū) may refer either to the destruction itself, or to their crimes, by which they provoked the wrath of God against them. If it be thought better to refer it to their crimes, it will denote “the city of confusion,” in which nothing is regular or properly arranged; and I approve of this interpretation. Yet it may refer to the punishment; for it declares, in my opinion, the cause of the destruction, and gives up the city to ruin, because justice and good government are banished from it.
Every house is shut up. This is a proof of solitude, and the only reason why it is added is, to express the desolation of that city.
11. There is a cry about wine. He means, that there will be a scarcity of wine; for where want or hunger is found, it is accompanied by unceasing complaints, not only in private, but “in the streets” and public places. He therefore points out those doleful sounds and complaints, but, at the same time, reproves their luxury and intemperance, because they were not satisfied with what was necessary, but greedily swallowed wine, and abandoned themselves to every kind of enjoyment. We must supply the contrast. “Hitherto you have had abundance of wine and of food, and you have taken occasion from it to grow insolent against God; and therefore you will justly be deprived of them, and, instead of your wanton indulgence, wailing and lamentations will be heard in the streets.”
All joy is darkened. The metaphor in this second clause deserves attention; for, as we say that joy brightens when it obtains its object, so the Prophet here says, that “joy is darkened,” because sorrow may be said to be a cloud drawn over it. To rejoice is not in itself evil, any more than to drink; and the Prophet does not censure joy simply considered, but excessive and immoderate mirth. When men are merry, they lay no restraint on themselves on account of that dissoluteness or love of disorder (ἀταξίαν) which is natural to them. The Jews, having behaved insolently and lived luxuriously, are deservedly threatened with the vengeance of God, because most justly is joy taken from us when we know not how to make a right use of the Lord’s benefits, or to rejoice in him. It thus becomes necessary that he should take away our pleasures and delights, and compel us to sigh and groan.
12. In the city is left desolation. By an elegant mode of expression he describes the desolation of Jerusalem or of many other cities. The ornament and perfection of cities consists of men; and therefore, when their inhabitants have been removed, cities are said to be deserted. The Prophet says ironically, that “ruin” will be left; but the word שמה (shămmăh) is rendered by others desolation, which amounts to the same thing.
And the gate is smitten with desolation. He mentions the gates, because in them the crowded population of the city was seen, for there the people assembled, and there the courts of justice were held. At first, therefore, he mentions the whole city, and next he names one part of it, but for the purpose of setting the matter in a stronger light; for although cities be deprived of their inhabitants, yet some are to be seen in the gates; but if the gates be altogether empty, there must be grievous solitude in the whole city.
13. For it shall be in the midst of the land. As this statement is inserted between the threatenings and the consolation, the Prophet appears to address the chosen people, and not all the nations indiscriminately; if we do not rather say that he describes the dispersion, by which the Jews were divided, as it were, into many nations. But this being a harsh and forced interpretation, I interpret it as simply meaning that some hope is left to the ruined nations, and certainly this prediction applies strictly to the kingdom of Christ; and therefore we need not wonder that some part of the salvation is also promised to the Gentiles.
As the shaking of an olive-tree. The Prophet has elsewhere used the same metaphor, but it was when he spoke of the Church alone. (Isa. 17:5, 6.) On that occasion he said that some seed of God would be left, that believers might not think that the Church was utterly ruined; for when “the olives are shaken,” still a few olives are left, and some grapes after the vintage; and in like manner, after the terrible destruction which shall fall upon the Church, a small number of the godly will be left. But now he extends the same promise to other parts of the world, as they were to become partakers of the same grace through Christ. Yet there is still a mixture of threatening; as if he had said, that the earth will be deprived of its inhabitants in exactly the same manner as the trees and vines are stripped of their fruits.
14. They shall lift up their voice. He follows out and increases the consolations which he had briefly sketched; for, having formerly (Isa 10:19-22) said that, out of that vast multitude, a few drops would be left, which would nevertheless overflow the whole world, in like manner he now says, that the small number of the godly, which shall be left out of an abundant vintage, will nevertheless rejoice and utter a voice so loud that it will be heard in the most distant countries. This was done by the preaching of the gospel; for, as to the condition of Judea, it appeared to be entirely ruined by it: the national government was taken away, and they were broken down by foreign and civil wars in such a manner that they never could rise above them. The rest of the world was dumb in singing the praises of God, and deaf to hear his voice; but as the Jews were the first fruits, I shall willingly admit that they are here placed in the highest rank.
Hence we obtain a remarkable consolation, that the Lord can in a moment restore his Church, and make it most flourishing; or rather, he can, as it were, create it out of nothing; for even out of death, as we have seen, he brings life. Now, this is contrary to nature and to ordinary custom, that so small a number of persons should lift up their voice, and be heard in distant places; for where there are few persons, there is silence, and where there is a crowd, there is commonly a noise. It is therefore a work of God, which goes beyond the course of nature and the ability of men; for otherwise it would appear as if the Prophet uttered what was contradictory, that when the whole of Judea had been laid waste and the world had been emptied, there would be few or almost none left, and yet that their shouting would be heard everywhere. This is in itself incredible, or rather absurd; but, as we have already said, it is an astonishing work of God.
They shall cry aloud from the sea. By those heralds he means not only those who were the descendants of the Jews according to the flesh, but those who were descended from them by faith. The crying aloud denotes not only cheerful voices, expressive of gladness and joy, but likewise confidence; for they will freely and boldly utter with a loud voice the praises of God. He states, at the same time, that it is right that believers should be employed in extolling God’s perfections and not their own claims to approbation. By the sea, he obviously means distant countries, and those which lay beyond the sea and were unknown to the Jews.
15. Wherefore glorify Jehovah in the valleys. 127 God’s benefits ought to excite us to gratitude, and we testify it by singing his praises. “What return shall we make,” as David says, “for all the benefits which he has bestowed on us, but to take the cup of thanksgiving for salvation, and call on the name of the Lord?” The Prophet therefore observes this order; having spoken of the restoration of the Church, he exhorts us to offer the sacrifice of praise.
By the valleys, he means countries that are hidden and, as it were, separated from others; for those which are surrounded by mountains are separated and disjoined by nature. The consequence is, that the inhabitants of valleys are less civilized, because they have fewer opportunities of conversing with each other. The meaning is the same as if the Prophet had said, that there will not be a corner so obscure or retired that the praises of God shall not be heard in it.
The name of Jehovah the God of Israel. He uses the expression, “the name of the God of Israel,” in order to intimate that all nations will call upon the true God; for, as all nations have a knowledge of God that is natural to them, so all easily turn aside to superstition and false worship. (Ro 1:19.) But here he speaks of spreading the true religion through the whole world; and this makes it still more evident that the prophecy relates to the kingdom of Christ, under which true religion has at length penetrated into foreign and heathen nations.
16. From the uttermost part 128 of the earth. This verse contains two statements which have some appearance of being at variance with each other. It begins with a joyful description of the praises of God, and next passes on to complaints and lamentations, in which he bewails the treachery of transgressors, who overturn religion and godliness. So far as relates to praises, we have said that we can neither praise God nor call upon him, till he reveal himself to us, and give a taste of his goodness, that we may entertain hope and confident expectation of life. Hence those sayings of David,
“In the grave who shall praise thee, O Lord?
In death who shall confess to thee?” (Ps 6:5.)
When we feel nothing but the wrath of God, we are dumb to his praises; and therefore when he says that the praises of God will be heard, he means that the gospel will be spread through the whole world; that men may acknowledge God to be their Father, and may thus break forth into his praise. “From the uttermost part” is a phrase that deserves attention; for at that time the praises of God were confined to Judea, and were not heard at a distance; but afterwards they began to resound everywhere. (Ps. 76:1, 2.)
Glory to the righteous. Some consider this to be spoken by all believers, as if the song were, “God is glorified on account of his righteousness.” Others read the two clauses as one, “We have heard that glory is given to the righteous God.” Those who think that the heralds of God’s praises are called “righteous,” bring out a very good sense, but do not attend to the word “Glory,” or at least are constrained to render the word צבי (tzēbī) joy. 129 He makes use of the preterite, “We have heard,” instead of the future tense; and his reason for doing so is, that he intended to cheer the hearts of the godly by some consolation; “We shall again hear the praises of God;” for this is more than if he had said, “They will be heard.” He speaks also in the first person, in order to include the whole body of the Church, and thus to awaken the attention of the godly.
God is called righteous; and we know that this expression frequently occurs in Scripture, but it belongs to him in a different manner from that in which it belongs to men; for men are called “righteous,” on account of the “righteousness” which has been communicated to them; but God, who is the fountain of righteousness, is called “righteous,” on account of what he performs. (De 32:4; Ps. 7:9, Ps. 11:7.) And that is a proof of this congratulation and thanksgiving, because from the communication of this righteousness we obtain salvation and life; and therefore, wherever the righteousness of God is, it must be followed by praises and thanksgivings.
When the Prophet predicted these things, how incredible might they appear to be! for among the Jews alone was the Lord known and praised. (Ps 76:2.) To them destruction is foretold, and next the publication of the word, and the celebration of the praises of God; but how could these things be done, when the people of God had been destroyed? Hence we may infer that there were few who believed these predictions. But now that those events have taken place, it is our duty to behold with admiration so great a miracle of God, because, when the Jews had been not only broken down, but almost annihilated, still there flashed from them a spark by which the whole world was enlightened, and all who were kindled by it burst forth into a confession of the truth.
My leanness. 130 This passage is explained in various ways; for some translate רזי(rāzī) secret, and others leanness. Those who translate it secret understand the Prophet to mean that a double secret has been revealed to him, because the Lord has determined to reward the good and to punish the wicked; for when men look only at the outward appearance of things, and see that the wicked succeed to their wish, and that the godly are overwhelmed by afflictions, they are distressed, and doubt whether the affairs of men are governed by the hand of God, or all things happen by chance; and Solomon shews that thoughts of this kind are the seed of ungodliness. (Ec 8:11.) On this account the Psalmist also says, that he “entered into the sanctuary of God,” that he might examine the subject in another manner than by human reason. (Ps 73:17.) If we adopt that interpretation, the meaning will be, “Though it appear as if there were no reward to the righteous, yet I hold this as a secret imparted to me, that it will be well with them; and although the wicked think that they will escape, yet I know that they will not pass unpunished.” But as this ingenuity appears to be too far-fetched, I prefer a more simple interpretation; and, besides, there immediately follows an interjection expressive of lamentation, אוי, (ōī,) Wo! so that I do not think that Isaiah speaks here about the righteous or about their reward.
Others more correctly explain it leanness; as if he had said, that through grief he shrinks and grows lean; for as the prosperous and flourishing condition of that people might be called “fatness,” so its wretched and distressed condition might be called “leanness.” Here the Prophet stands forth as the representative of the whole race; and when the Lord cuts it down, he justly complains of his “leanness.” This interpretation, I have said, is probable; for when the Prophet saw the people diminishing in numbers, he had good reason for bewailing that diminution. We know that, when the grace of God was very abundantly poured out, the ancient people was greatly diminished, and the posterity of Abraham was almost annihilated.
But we must see if the Prophet does not look farther than to the rejection of his nation, so as to bewail the condition of his bowels, when he foresees that the Church will be heavily distressed; for רז (rāz,) which some translate secret, may properly be understood to denote the internal part of the body. In this way the exclamation would be, “My bowels, or my entrails, are pained;” for in a pathetic discourse there is no absurdity in supposing that a word is supplied. When the Lord has extended his Church, it appears to be in a flourishing state, and free from all danger; but when its very inwards or bowels, that is, its own members, give it uneasiness, it is grievously tormented. Hypocrites arise, by whom it is more annoyed than by enemies who “are without.” (Re 22:15.)
Such is also the import of those groanings, אוי, (ōī,) wo to me; and Isaiah, I have no doubt, intended to intimate that the godly should not think that they will be happy in this world, but should believe that they must maintain a continual strife, even when they might imagine that there is nothing to hinder them from enjoying uninterrupted tranquillity and peace. He wishes to express the feeling of poignant grief which torments the Church inwardly, even in her very bowels; and this affliction is the more deeply to be lamented, because it cannot be avoided; for, as some one says, the Church can neither flee from internal and domestic enemies, nor put them to flight. Isaiah can scarcely find terms adequate to express this miserly
The treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously. These words abundantly confirm the expositions which have been already given. How heavy this affliction is, and how deeply it ought to be deplored, we ourselves have abundantly experienced, and still experience every day. Whence arose Popery, and all its corruption, but from this internal evil? for it was an imposthume (ἀπόστημα) bred in the very bowels of the Church, which sent forth offensive and diseased matter. How comes it also that, when the Church begins to revive, we see doctrine corrupted and discipline overturned not only by the common people, but by those who ought to have given a good example to others? Is it not because the Church is always subject to this evil?
17 Fear, and the pit, and the snare. The Prophet here discourses against the sins of the people. Formerly he declared that not only one nation, but very many and very distant nations, would have abundant grounds of thanksgiving. He now passes to another doctrine; for I think that these words ought to be separated from what goes before, because Isaiah again threatens the wicked, that they may know that amidst the highest prosperity of the Church they will be miserable. For the sake of cherishing their indifference, wicked men are accustomed rashly to apply the promises of God to themselves, though they do not at all belong to them; and therefore the prophets usually mingle threatenings with them. It is also possible that Isaiah delivered this discourse separately from the rest, and on a different occasion; for neither the prophets themselves nor other learned men divided the chapters. We have often seen different subjects joined together, and others divided which ought to have been joined, which was undoubtedly done through ignorance. However that may be, the Prophet returns to the wicked, and threatens against them severe and dreadful judgment.
This description of “fear, the pit, and the snare,” is intended to touch the feelings; for if he had said, in a single word, that destruction awaits the wicked, they would not have been greatly moved. But there is room for doubting if he addresses the Jews alone. For my own part, I should not be much inclined to dispute about this matter; but I think it is more probable that these threatenings related also to other nations, and even to the whole world, of which he had formally prophesied.
O inhabitant of the earth. By “the world” we understand those countries which were known to the Jews, as we have already explained. The meaning is, “Thou art pressed by afflictions so diversified, that thou hast no means of escape.” Amos gives a similar description: “He who shall flee through dread of a lion shall meet a bear; and if he go into the house, when he leaneth on a wall, a serpent shall bite him.” (Am 5:19.) Isaiah formerly said that lions would be sent against the Moabites who had escaped from the battle. (Isa 15:9.) God has an endless variety of scourges for punishing the wicked. It is as if he had said, “Know that you cannot escape the hand of God; for he has various methods by which he takes vengeance on their crimes, and thus overtakes those who had hoped to escape by a variety of contrivances. He who escapes from the battle shall be tormented with hunger; and when he is freed from hunger, he will meet some other calamity, as if nets had been laid on all sides to ensnare you.”
For the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth are shaken. This argument confirms what had been already said, that it is impossible for them to escape the vengeance of God, who has prepared for it a free course in heaven and in earth, from the utmost height of heaven down to the depths of the earth. Some think that he alludes (Ge 7:11) to the deluge; but, in my opinion, the meaning is simpler, that the wrath of God will be revealed above and below; as if he had said, “The Lord will arm heaven and earth to execute his vengeance against men, that wherever they turn their eyes, they may behold nothing but destruction.”
19. By breaking down is the earth broken down. He heightens his description of punishments by using various modes of expression. A little afterwards he will point out the cause of this “shaking,” which is, that men by their sins had drawn down on themselves such destruction. He now declares that this evil is incurable. We have formerly said that the Prophet explains the same thing in various ways, and for the purpose of striking and arousing those minds which are naturally very sluggish; for there is in the flesh a carelessness which produces contempt of God, and we have too much experience of it both in ourselves and in others. In order, therefore, that the prophets might arouse those who were careless and asleep in their vices, they adorn their style; not because they cared about being thought eloquent, but that they might make their hearers more attentive, and sting them to the quick. Hence the allusions of which these verses are full; hence the brilliant metaphors in the style; hence the threatenings and terrors announced in various ways; the object of all is, that careless men may be aroused.
Now, this doctrine ought to be limited to the wicked; not because the godly are exempted from those evils, for they are afflicted as well as other men; but because, when the godly betake themselves to God, and rely wholly upon him, they are not shaken in this manner, and remain firm and steadfast against every assault; while wicked men, who despised the judgments of God, and took unbounded liberties in transgression, are terrified and alarmed, and never find rest.
20. And shall be removed like a tent. This does not mean that any change will take place in the position of the earth; but these words, as we have already said, must be referred to men; as if he had said, that there would be no kingly power and no regular government. In short, he intended to describe those changes which he had spoken of in the tenth chapter.
And the transgressions thereof shall be heavy upon it. When he says that “the earth is laden with its iniquity,” he has very appropriately assigned this reason, that we may understand that God is never angry with men without a cause; for we ourselves are the authors of all the evils which we suffer. God is by nature disposed to kindness, and regards us with a father’s love; and therefore it is our own fault that we are treated with sharpness and severity, and we have no reason to blame him. 131
And it shall fall, and not rise again. He at length repeats what he briefly stated a little before, that there will be no remedy for those evils. Some think that this relates to the Jews, whose form of government was entirely taken away, so that they were broken down and scattered, and were scarcely reckoned in the rank of men. But I give a more extensive interpretation, that the distresses of the world will be so severe, that it cannot be restored to its original condition. Men always contend against adverse events, and their minds are full of confidence. Having endured calamities, they think that there will be some room for breathing, and their minds are swelled with false hopes, which the Prophet therefore takes away, that they may not in future deceive themselves by unfounded expectation. Yet it ought to be observed, that this general statement does not set aside the exception which Isaiah formerly made.
21. And it shall come to pass. This passage has tortured the minds of many commentators, and various interpretations have been offered by various writers. Some think that this relates to the sun and the stars, and others, that it relates to the devils, who will be punished along with the wicked. Others refer it to the Jews, on whom God had bestowed a remarkable privilege. But I cannot adopt any of those interpretations. 132 The simple and genuine meaning, therefore, appears to me to be, that no power will be so high as to be exempted from those scourges of God; and though they raise themselves above the clouds, yet the hand of God will reach them; as it is said in the Psalm,
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? and whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, there also shall thy hand pursue me.” Ps 139:7-10.
Jehovah will visit upon the army on high. 133 This is a metaphor by which he denotes kings and princes, who shine and sparkle in the world like stars; and he afterwards explains this metaphor in direct language, by adding upon the kings of the earth; for I do not think that they ought to be separated, as if he were speaking of different subjects, but that there is a repetition of the same statement, so that the latter clause explains the former. But perhaps it will be thought preferable to explain it thus: “he will visit on the kingdoms of the earth,” even on those things which appear to surpass the rank of men; for some things rise so much above others, that they appear as if they did not belong to the ordinary rank. The word visit must relate to punishment, as even the context shews plainly enough.
22. And they shall be gathered together, and shall be shut up in prison. He continues his subject in the beginning of the verse. The mode of expression is metaphorical; for they were not all captives, but God reduced them to servitude, as if a man held in his hand the enemies whom he subdued. He therefore brings forward God as a conqueror, who shuts up enemies in prison, as captives are commonly shut up. We know that men, as it were, flee from God, and despise him, so long as he spares them, and exercises any forbearance towards them; and on this account also he threatens that they shall be thrown into prison in large masses, that they may not solace themselves with their multitude.
Afterwards they shall be visited. When he adds that after a time “they shall be visited,” it is not simply a promise, but includes also a threatening to this effect, “As formerly by their obstinacy they mocked God, and excessively prolonged the time of sinning, so God will punish without making haste, till at length, though late, they acknowledge the cause of their distresses.” Thus earthly judges frequently do not deign to admit into their presence the malefactors who have offended them, but plunge them into darkness and filth, and gradually wear them out, in order to subdue their obstinacy. Again, as there are two ways in which God visits the world, either when he punishes the wicked, or when he shews to the elect the tokens of a Father’s kindness, the word visit here signifies “to look upon;” and thus the Prophet softens the harshness of the threatening. It was necessary that the hearts of the godly should be supported amidst these distresses, that they might not faint; and on their account, therefore, after various threatenings, the prophets are wont to add consolations. As these statements tended to support believers, they were undoubtedly addressed to the Jews, among whom chiefly faith was found, or rather, there was none to be seen anywhere else.
After many days. This also deserves attention. It was intended to try the faith of the godly; 134 for we are hasty in our desires, and would wish that God should immediately perform his promises: we complain that he is slow, and we cannot brook any delay. It is therefore our duty to wait patiently for that mercy; and no delay, however long, should make us lose heart. Yet it ought also to be observed, that this does not refer to all; for, as we saw a little before, God had determined to save but a small remnant; and this ought to quicken us the more, that, being humbled by slow and long-continued punishments, we may meet God who visits us.
23. The moon shall be confounded. Many commentators think that the Prophet waxes still more wroth against the Jews, so far as to say, that the sun and moon and stars are ashamed of their unbelief, and that not only men, but creatures devoid of speech, will abhor them; but this appears to be far removed from the meaning and design of the Prophet. I have no doubt that he continues to give the consolation which he had glanced at in the former verse; “When the Lord shall visit his people, and cleanse the Church from its defilement, he will establish a kingdom so illustrious that it will darken the sun and stars by its brightness.” This mode of expression is frequently employed by the prophets, and we have formerly seen it. Since, therefore, God will establish your kingdom on Mount Zion, so great will be its splendor in the restoration of the people, that those things which dazzle the eyes of men, will be dark in comparison of it; and, for the purpose of expressing this, he has mentioned those objects which surpass all others in brightness.
When the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion. Some think that the word reign denotes God’s vengeance; but this is inaccurate, for although the Lord is said to reign when he discharges the office of a Judge, yet the complex phrase, “the reign of God in Mount Zion,” always denotes mercy and salvation. He speaks of the restoration of the Church, and hence it follows, that it is only in Christ that those things are fulfilled.
And before his elders glory. By expressly mentioning the “elders,” he employs a figure of speech frequently used in Scripture, by which the chief part of the Church is taken for the whole body of it. And yet it is not without a special design that he denotes, by the term “elders,” not only the priests, but other governors who preside over discipline and morals, and by whose moderation and prudence others ought to be guided. Under their name he includes the whole nation, not only because they represent the whole body, and because the common people are in some measure concealed under their shadow, but likewise that believers may entertain hope of future restoration; for otherwise it would have been of little or no avail that a scattered multitude should be left like a mutilated body or a confused mass. Not without good reason did he use the phrase, “and before his elders,” that the Jews might know that the power of God would be visibly and strikingly displayed; not that it can be perceived by the bodily senses, but by faith. He reigns in such a manner, that we feel that he is present with us; and if we did not comprehend this, it would yield us no consolation.
Glory. 135 Instead of “glory” some read “gloriously,” and others, “glorious.” I prefer to take it simply as a substantive, though there is little difference in the meaning. He shews how great will be the splendor and glory of God, when the kingdom of Christ shall be established, because all that is brilliant must be obscured, and the glory of Christ alone must hold a high and prominent place. Hence it follows, that then only does God receive his just rights, and the honor due to him, when all creatures are placed in subjection, and he alone shines before our eyes.
“And maketh it waste.” — Eng. Ver.
FT379 “The haughty people of the earth. (Heb. the height of the people.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT380 “The earth also is defiled.” — Eng. Ver. “The earth is even polluted.” — Stock. “And the land has been profaned.” — Alexander
FT381 “On account of the sin of perjury is the earth consumed.” — Jarchi. “אלה (ālāh) does not here mean false swearing, as explained in the Targum, and by Jarchi, and Kimchi, but the curse of God attending the violation of his law.” — Alexander
FT382 “אשם (āshăm) is taken by some of the early writers in the sense of being desolate. Its true sense is that of being recognised as guilty, and treated accordingly. It therefore suggests the ideas both of guilt and punishment.” — Alexander
FT383 “The city of confusion.” — Eng. Ver.
FT384 “In the fires, (or, valleys.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT385 “The uttermost part. (Heb. wing.)” — Eng. Ver. The Septuagint translates it literally, ἀπὸ τῶν πτερύγων τὢς γὢς, “from the wings of the earth” — Ed
FT386 There is a considerable diversity of opinion about the application of the term righteous in this passage. Many commentators agree with Calvin in thinking that God is here called righteous. Bishop Stock has slightly modified this view by applying the designation to the Messiah. “By the righteous,” says he, “is probably meant one person the Messiah, (see Acts 7:52, Acts 22:14,) whose kingdom the Prophet beholds in vision, and joins in the chorus of joy at its approach; a joy, however, which is presently interrupted by a reflection on the wickedness of the greater part of his countrymen at that time, who should reject the Lord that bought them. Therefore he saith, Woe is me! destruction shall overtake the inhabitants of the land.” Instead of “Glory to the righteous,” the Septuagint renders it, ἐλπὶς τῶ εὐσεβεῖ, “hope to the godly man.” Professor Alexander’s rendering is, “Praise to the righteous;” and he remarks, צדיק (tzăddīk) is not an epithet of God (Henderson) or Cyrus (Hendewerk), but of righteous men in general.” — Ed
FT387 “My leanness. (Heb. leanness to me, or, my secret to me.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT388 “Nous n’avons raison aucune d’accuser celuy qui nous frappe;” — “We have no reason to blame him who strikes us.”
FT389 “Interpreters have commonly assumed that ‘the host of the high place’ is the same with the ‘host of heaven,’ and must therefore mean either stars (Jerome), or angels (Aben Ezra), or both (Gesenius). Grotius understands by it the images of the heavenly bodies worshipped in Assyria. Gesenius finds here an allusion to the punishment of fallen angels, and then makes this a proof of recent origin, because the Jewish demonology was later than the time of Isaiah. It may be doubted whether there is any reference to the hosts of heaven at all.” — Alexander
FT390 “The Lord shall punish (Heb. visit upon) the host of the high ones.” — Eng. Ver.
FT391 “Des enfans de Dieu;” — “Of the children of God.”
FT392 “And before his ancients gloriously; (or, there shall be glory before his ancients.)” — Eng. Ver. “Before his ancients shall he be glorified.” — Lowth. “And before his elders shall there be glory.” — Alexander