Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. In that day the Lord, with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
1. In die illa visitabit Iehova gladio suo duro, et magno et forti, super Leviathan serpentem penetrem, et super Leviathan serpentem flexuosum, et occidet draconem qui est in mari.
2. In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
2. In die illa vineæ ruboris canite.
3. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
3. Ego Iehova custodio eam, singulis momentis irragabo eam; ne visitet eam (hostis,) noctu et interdiu custodiam ipsam.
4. Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.
4. Furor non est mihi. Quis me committat cum vepre et spina (aut, veprem spinœ)? Gradiar hostiliter per eam, incendam penitus.
5. Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
5. An apprehendet robur meum, ut faciat mecum pacem, mecum, inquam, pacem faciat?
6. He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.
6. In posterum radices mittet Iacob; pullulabit et florebit Israel, et implebuntur facies orbis fructu.
7. Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?
7. An juxta plagam percutientis eum percussit eum? An juxta cædem cædentium eum cæsus est.
8. In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.
8. In mensura in emissione ejus disceptabis cum ea, etiam cum flaverit vento suo violento in die Euri.
9. By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the alter as chalk-stones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up.
9. Itaque hoc modo expiabitur iniquitas Iacob; et hic omnis fructos, ablatio peccati ejus; cum posuerit cunctos lapides altaris sicut lapides calcis confractos, ut non resurgant luci et imagines.
10. Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches thereof.
10. Civitas tamen munita erit solitaria; locus habitatus erit desertus, ac derelictus quasi solitudo. Ibi pascetur vitulus, et ibi accubabit et absumet summitates ejus.
11. When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire; for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.
11. Dum arescet messis ejus, frangent (vel, secabunt) eam, mulieres venientes accendent eam; quia non est populus intelligens; propterea non miserebitur ejus factor ejus, et fictor ejus non erit illi propitius.
12. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.
12. Accidet tamen in die illa, ut excutiat Iehova ab alveo fluminis ad fluvium Ægypti; et vos congregabimini unus ad unum, filii Israel.
13. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
13. Accidet etiam die illa, ut clangatur tuba magna; et venient qui perierant in terra Assur, et qui dissipati erant in terra Ægypti; et adorabunt Iehovam in monte sancto, in Ierusalem.
1. In that day. Here the Prophet speaks in general of the judgment of God, and thus includes the whole of Satan’s kingdom. Having formerly spoken of the vengeance of God to be displayed against tyrants and wicked men who have shed innocent blood, he now proceeds farther, and publishes the proclamation of this vengeance.
On leviathan. The word “leviathan” is variously interpreted; but in general it simply denotes either a large serpent, or whales and sea-fishes, which approach to the character of monsters on account of their huge size. 189 A1though this description applies to the king of Egypt, yet under one class he intended also to include the other enemies of the Church. For my own part, I have no doubt that he speaks allegorically of Satan and of his whole kingdom, describing him under the figure of some monstrous animal, and at the same time glancing at the crafty wiles by which he glosses over his mischievous designs. In this manner he intended to meet many doubts by which we are continually assailed, when God declares that he will assist us, and when we experience, on the other hand, the strength, craft, and deceitfulness of Satan. Wonderful are the stratagems with which he comes prepared for doing mischief, and dreadful the cruelty which he exercises against the children of God. But the Prophet shews that all this will not prevent the Lord from destroying and overthrowing this kingdom. It is indeed certain that this passage does not relate to Satan himself, but to his agents or instruments, 190 by which he governs his kingdom and annoys the Church of God. Now, though this kingdom is defended by innumerable cunning devices, and is astonishingly powerful, yet the Lord will destroy it.
To convince us of this, the Prophet contrasts with it the Lord’s sword, hard, and great, and strong, by which he will easily slay an enemy that is both strong and crafty. It ought therefore to be observed, that we have continually to do with Satan as with some wild beast, and that the world is the sea in which we sail. We are beset by various wild beasts, which endeavor to upset our ship and sink us to the bottom; and we have no means of defending ourselves and resisting them, if the Lord do not aid us. Accordingly, by this description the Prophet intended to describe the greatness of the danger which threatens us from enemies so powerful and so full of rage and of cunning devices. We should quickly be reduced to the lowest extremity, and should be utterly ruined, did not God oppose and meet them with his invincible power; for by his sword alone can this pernicious kingdom of Satan be destroyed.
But we must observe what he says in the beginning of the verse, In that day. It means that Satan is permitted, for some time, to strengthen and defend his kingdom, but that it will at length be destroyed; as Paul also declares, “God will quickly bruise Satan under your feet.” (Ro 16:20.) By this promise he shews that the time for war is not yet ended, and that we must fight bravely till that enemy be subdued, who, though he has been a hundred times vanquished, ceases not to renew the warfare. We must therefore fight with him continually, and must resist the violent attacks which he makes upon us; but, in order that we may not be discouraged, we must keep our eye on that day when his strong arm shall be broken.
On leviathan the piercing serpent, and on leviathan the crooked serpent. The epithets applied to “leviathan” describe, on the one hand, his tricks and wiles, and, on the other hand, his open violence; but at the same time intimate that he is endued with invincible power. Since בריח (bārīăch) signifies a crowbar, that word denotes metaphorically the power of piercing, either on account of venomous bites or on account of open violence. The second name, עקלתון, (gnăkāllāthōn,) is derived from the verb עקל, (gnākăl,) to bend; and hence it comes to be applied to crooked and tortuous foldings.
2. Sing to the vineyard of redness. 191 He now shews that all this will promote the salvation of the Church; for the Lord attends to the interests of his people, whom he has taken under his guardianship and protection. In order, therefore, that the Church may be restored, Satan and all his kingdom shall be utterly destroyed. The object of all the vengeance which God takes on his enemies is to shew that he takes care of the Church; and although in this passage the Prophet does not name the Church, he shews plainly enough that he addresses her in this congratulation.
This figure conveys the meaning even more strongly than if he had spoken expressly of the people of Israel; for since the whole excellence of a vineyard depends partly on the soil in which it is planted, and partly on diligent cultivation, if the Church of God is a vineyard, we infer that its excellence is owing to nothing else than the undeserved favor of God and the uninterrupted continuance of his kindness. The same metaphor expresses also God’s astonishing love towards the Church, of which we spoke largely under the fifth chapter. 192
He calls it a vineyard of redness, that is, very excellent; for in Scripture, if we compare various passages, “red wine” denotes excellence. He says that this song may at that time be sung in the Church, and foretells that, though it would in the mean time be reduced to fearful ruin, and would lie desolate and waste, yet that afterwards it will be restored in such a manner as to yield fruit plentifully, and that this will furnish abundant materials for singing.
3. I Jehovah keep it. Here the Lord asserts his care and diligence in dressing and guarding the vine, as if he had said, that he left nothing undone that belonged to the duty of a provident and industrious householder. Not only does he testify what he will do, when the time for gladness and congratulation shall arrive, but he relates the blessings which the Jews had already received, that their hope for the future may be increased. Yet we must supply an implied contrast with the intermediate period, during which God appeared to have laid aside all care of it, so that at that time it differed little from a wilderness. This then is the reason why the Lord’s vineyard was plundered and laid waste; it was because the Lord forsook it, and gave it up as a prey to the enemy. Hence we infer that our condition will be ruined as soon as the Lord has departed from us; and if he assist, everything will go well.
I will water it every moment. He next mentions two instances of his diligence, that he “will water it every moment,” and will defend it against the attacks of robbers and cattle and other annoyances. These are the two things chiefly required in preserving a vineyard, cultivation and protection. Under the word water he includes all that is necessary for cultivation, and promises that he will neglect nothing that can carry it forward. But protection must likewise be added; for it will be to no purpose to have cultivated a vineyard with vast toil, if robbers and cattle break in and destroy it. The Lord, therefore, promises that he will grant protection, and will not permit it to suffer damage, that the fruits may ripen well, and may be gathered in due season. Though the vine may suffer many attacks, and though enemies and wild beasts may assail it with great violence, God declares that he will interpose to preserve it unhurt and free from all danger. Moreover, since he names a fixed day for singing this song, let us remember that, if at any time he cease to assist us, we ought not entirely to cast away hope; and therefore, if he permit us to be harassed and plundered for a time, still he will at length shew that he has not cast away all care of us.
4. Fury is not in me. This verse contains excellent consolation; for it expresses the incredible warmth of love which the Lord bears towards his people, though they are of a wicked and rebellious disposition. God assumes, as we shall see, the character of a father who is grievously offended, and who, while he is offended at his son, still more pities him, and is naturally inclined to exercise compassion, because the warmth of his love rises above his anger. In short, he shews that he cannot hate his elect so as not to bear fatherly kindness towards them, even while he visits them with very severe punishments.
Scripture represents God to us in various ways. Sometimes it exhibits him as burning with indignation, and having a terrific aspect, and sometimes as shewing nothing but gentleness and mercy; and the reason of this diversity is, that we are not all capable of enjoying his goodness. Thus he is constrained to be perverse towards the perverse, and holy towards the holy, as David describes him. (Ps 18:25.) He shews himself to us what we suffer him to be, for by our rebelliousness we drive him to severity.
Yet here the Prophet does not speak of all indiscriminately, but only of the Church, whose transgressions he chastises, and whose iniquities he punishes, in such a manner as not to lay aside a father’s affection. This statement must therefore be limited to the Church, so as to denote the relation between God and his chosen people, to whom he cannot manifest himself otherwise than as a Father, while he burns with rage against the reprobate. Thus we see how great is the consolation that is here given; for if we know that God has called us, we may justly conclude that he is not angry with us, and that, having embraced us with a firm and enduring regard, it is impossible that he shall ever deprive us of it. It is indeed certain that at that time God hated many persons who belonged to that nation; but, with respect to their adoption, he declares that he loved them. Now, the more kindly and tenderly that God loved them, so much the more they who provoked his anger by their wickedness were without excuse. This circumstance is undoubtedly intended to aggravate their guilt, that their wickedness constrains him, in some measure, to change his disposition towards them; for, having formerly spoken of his gentleness, he suddenly exclaims, —
“Who shall engage me in battle with the brier and thorn?” or, as some render it, “Who shall set me as a brier and thorn?” Yet it might not be amiss also to read, “Who shall bring against me a brier, that I may meet it as a thorn?” for there is no copulative conjunction between those two words. Yet I willingly adhere to the former opinion, that God wishes to have to deal with thistles or thorns, which he will quickly consume by the fire of his wrath. If any one choose rather to view it as a reproof of those doubts which often arise in us in consequence of unbelief, when we think that God is inflamed with wrath against us, as if he had said, “You are mistaken in comparing me to the brier and thorn,” that is, “You ascribe to me a harsh and cruel disposition,” let him enjoy his opinion, though I think that it is different from what the Prophet means. 193
Others think that God assumes the character of a man who is provoking himself to rage; as if he had said, “I do not choose to be any longer so indulgent, or to exercise such forbearance as I have formerly manifested;” but this is so forced, that it does not need a lengthened refutation. It is true, indeed, that since God is gentle and merciful in his nature, and there is nothing that is more foreign to him than harshness or cruelty, he may be said to borrow a nature that does not belong to him. 194 But the interpretation which I have given will of itself be sufficient to refute others, namely, that God complains bitterly that he will as soon fight with thorns as with his vineyard, for when he considers that it is his inheritances he is compelled to spare it.
I will pass through them in a hostile manner, and utterly consume them. These words confirm my former exposition; for the burning relates to “briers and thorns,” and he declares that, if he had to deal with them, he would burn them all up, but that he acts more gently, because it is his vineyard. Hence we infer that, if God is not enraged against us, this must be attributed, not to any merits of men, but to his election, which is of free grace. By these words, מי יתנני, (mi yittĕnēnī,) “Who shall give me?” he plainly shews that he has just cause for contending with us, and even for destroying us in a hostile manner, were he not restrained by compassion towards his Church; for we would be as thorns and briers, and would be like wicked men, if the Lord did not separate us from them, that we might not perish along with them. If the phrase במלחמה, (bămmilhāmāh,) in battle, which we have translated “in a hostile manner,” be connected with the question, “Who shall set me?” it will not ill agree with the meaning. 195
5. Will she take hold of my strength? או (ō,) is frequently a disjunctive conjunction, 196 and therefore this passage is explained as if the particle had been twice used, “Either let her take hold of my strength, or let her make peace with me;” that is, “If she do not enter into favor with me, she will feel my strength to her great loss.” Others explain it somewhat differently, “Who shall take hold of my strength?” that is, “Who shall restrain me?” But I pass by this interpretation, because I consider it to be too far-fetched. I return to that which is more generally received.
It is supposed that God threatens the Jews in order to try all the ways and methods by which they may be brought back to the right path; for God is laid under a necessity to urge us in various ways, because we are accustomed to abuse his forbearance and goodness. On this account he frequently threatens to punish us for our ingratitude, as Isaiah appears to do in this passage, “If they do not choose to avail themselves of my kindness, and repent, that they may return to favor with me, they shall feel my strength, 197 which I have hitherto restrained.” Yet another meaning equally appropriate might perhaps be drawn from it, as if God exhorted his people to acknowledge his power, which leads them to seek reconciliation; for whence comes that brutish indifference which makes us view without alarm the wrath of God, but because we do not think of his power with due reverence?
But I prefer to view it as a question, as in other passages also it frequently has this meaning. 198 “Will he take hold of my strength, so as to enter into peace with me?” As if a father, anxious and perplexed about his son, were to groan and complain, “Will not this scoundrel 199 allow himself to receive benefit? for I know not how I ought to treat him; he cannot endure severity, and he abuses my goodness. What shall I do? I will banish him till he repent, and then he will feel how great is that fatherly power by which I have hitherto preserved him. Since he does not permit me to exercise forbearance, he must be treated with the utmost rigour of the law. Will he not then perceive how great my power is, that he may come into a state of favor with me?” We shall understand this better, if we consider that the source of all our distresses is, that we are not affected with a sense of the divine goodness; for if we should take into consideration the greatness of the blessings which we have received from God, we should quickly be drawn aside from our iniquities and transgressions, and should desire to return into a state of favor with him.
Here we see what care about our salvation is manifested by our Heavenly Father, who wishes us to take hold of his power and goodness, that we may know how great it is, and may partake of it more and more abundantly; for he would wish to deal with us on the same familiar terms as with his children, if we did not prevent him by our wickedness. Since, therefore, we are incapable of enjoying his fatherly tenderness, he must display his strength and majesty, that, being awed by it, and affected by the anticipation of the judgment, we may humbly entreat him, and sincerely implore peace and pardon. Now, this is done when we are truly 200 converted to him; for, so long as we please ourselves, and flatter our vices, we cannot but displease him; and, on the other hand, if we enter into peace with him, we must make war against Satan and sin.
How earnestly God desires to be reconciled to us appears still more clearly from the repetition of the words. He might have said, in a single word, that he is merciful and ready to bestow pardon; and therefore, when he twice repeats the words, that he may make peace with me, he declares that willingly and most earnestly he hastens to blot out all our offenses.
6. Afterwards 201 shall Jacob put forth roots. He now gives actual proof of that love of which he formerly spoke. In order to understand it better, we must consider the condition of that ancient people; for it was the heritage of God, not through its own merits, but by the blessing of adoption. The Lord might justly have been offended at that nation to such an extent as to destroy it utterly, and blot out its name; but he refrained from exercising such severity, because he had to deal with his vineyard and heritage. He aimed at nothing more than that the people should acknowledge their guilt and return to his favor; and therefore he followed up the former statement with this promise, lest the people, struck with excessive terror at that power which exhibits the judgments of God and his chastisements and stripes, should grow disheartened; for the contemplation of the judgment of God might throw us into despair, if we did not entertain some hope of being restored. Accordingly, he says —
Jacob shall again put forth roots. “Though I shall lessen my Church, and reduce it to a very small number, yet it shall be restored to its ancient and flourishing condition, so as to fill the whole world; for, after having once been reconciled, it will be more and more increased.” This metaphor borrowed from roots is highly elegant; for by the wrath of the Lord we are as it were cut off, so that we appear to be completely slain and dead; but to whatever extent the Lord afflicts his Church, he never allows the roots to die, but they are concealed for a time, and at length bring forth their fruit.
And the face of the world shall be filled with fruit. What he now says, that “the world shall be filled with the fruit” of those roots, was accomplished at the coming of Christ, who collected and multiplied the people of God by the gospel; and Israel was united with the Gentiles in one body, so that the distinction which formerly existed between them was removed. (Eph 2:14.) Now, we know that the gospel, and all the fruit that sprung from it, proceeded from the Jews. (Isa 2:3; Joh 4:22.)
7. Hath he smitten him? 202 He confirms the former statement, and shews that, even in chastisements, there are certain and manifest proofs of the goodness and mercy of God; for while the Lord chastises his people, he moderates the severity in such a manner as always to leave some room for compassion. There are various ways of explaining this verse. Some interpret it thus: “Did I smite Israel as his enemies smote him? The Assyrians did not at all spare him: they acted towards him with the utmost cruelty. But I laid a restraint on my wrath, and did not smite as if I wished to destroy him; and thus I gave abundant evidence that I am not his enemy.” But I prefer another and commonly received interpretation, which leads us to understand that a difference between believers and the reprobate is here declared; for God punishes both indiscriminately, but not in the same manner. When he takes vengeance on the reprobate, he gives loose reins to his anger; because he has no other object in view than to destroy them; for they are “vessels of wrath, appointed to destruction,” (Ro 9:22,) and have no experience of the goodness of God. But when he chastises the godly, he restrains his wrath, and has another and totally different object in view; for he wishes to bring them back to the right path, and to draw them to himself, that provision may be made for their future happiness.
But it may be asked, Why does the Prophet employ a circuitous mode of expression, and say, “according to the stroke of him that smote him?” I answer, he did so, because the Lord often employs the agency of wicked men in chastising us, in order to depress and humble us the more. It is often a very sore temptation to us, when the Lord permits us to be oppressed by the tyranny of wicked men; for we have doubts whether it is because he favors them, or because he deprives us of his assistance, as if he hated us. To meet this doubt, he says that he does indeed permit wicked men to afflict his people, and to exercise their cruelty upon them for a time, but that he will at length punish them for their wickedness more sharply than they punished the godly persons. Yet, if any one choose to adopt the former interpretation, namely, that the Lord will not deal with us as with enemies, I have no objection. Hence arises also that saying, that “it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men;” for the Lord can never forget his covenant, that he will deal in a gentle and fatherly manner with his Church. (2Sa 24:14; 1Ch 21:13.)
8. In measure. This is the second proof of the divine compassion towards all the elect, whom he chastises for this purpose, that they may not perish; and, by mitigating the punishments which he inflicts upon them, he pays such regard to their weakness that he never permits them to be oppressed beyond measure. As to the word בסאסאה, (bĕsăssĕāh,) in measure, all interpreters agree that it denotes moderation; for otherwise we could not bear the hand of the Lord, and would be overwhelmed by it; but he keeps it back, and “is faithful,” as Paul says,
“not to suffer us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear.”
Thus also Jeremiah prays to the Lord to “chastise him in judgment,” that is, with moderation, accommodating the stripes to his weakness. (Jer 10:24.)
In her shooting forth, בשלחה, (bĕshāllĕchāch.) Interpreters are not agreed as to the meaning of this word. Some think that it means, “by engaging them in internal wars with each other,” and others, “that God will punish their sins by that sword which they have drawn and put into his hand.” But as I cannot approve of either of those interpretations, I pass them by. I approve more highly of those who interpret it, “in her shootings forth,” that is, in plants; so as to mean, that in inflicting punishment, the Lord attacks not only their outward circumstances, but also their persons. We know that the Lord’s chastisements are various. The more light and moderate are those by which he takes from us only external blessings, which are called “the good things of fortune.” So then God punishes believers in such a manner as not only to afflict their persons, but to take from them what is necessary for the support of life, such as corn, wine, oil, and other things of that kind which the earth produces; for שלח(shālăch) signifies to “shoot forth,” and to “produce.”
But I have another exposition which comes nearer to the Prophet’s meaning, that in shooting forth God contends with the Church, because, though he cuts down the branches and even the trunk, yet his wrath does not extend to the roots, so as to prevent the tree from again shooting forth; for there is always some remaining vigor in the roots, which he never permits to die. And this agrees with what goes before, when he promised (Isa 27:6) that Israel would bring forth “fruit.” This explains what he formerly said, in measure; namely, that he will not pull up the root; for the Lord cuts down what appears outwardly, such as branches and leaves, but defends the root and preserves it safe. But, on the other hand, he tears up the reprobate by the roots, and cuts them down in such a manner that they can never rise again.
Though he blow with his violent wind. Some translate it, “he blew with his wind,” but I think that the meaning is made more clear by saying, “though he blow.” He continues the metaphor, by which he had alluded to herbs and plants, which a violent wind causes to wither, but only in appearance; for the root is always safe. Thus though the Lord attacks believers with great violence, and takes away all their beauty and comeliness, so that they appear to be entirely slain, yet he usually preserves in them some internal vigor.
In the day of the east wind. When the Prophet spoke of “the day of the east wind,” he had his eye on the situation of Judea, to which, as we learn from other passages, that easterly wind was injurious. We know that each country has its own particular wind that is injurious to it; for in some countries the north wind, in others the south wind, and in others the east or equinoctial wind, occasions great damage, throwing down the corn, scorching or spoiling all the fruits, blasting the trees, and scarcely leaving anything in the fields uninjured. By “the east wind” in this passage, is supposed to be meant “the equinoctial wind,” which in many countries is very destructive.
9. Therefore in this manner shall the iniquity of Jacob be expiated. After having spoken of the chastisement of the people, he begins to state more clearly that the Lord promotes the interests of his people by these chastisements, so that they derive benefit from them. He had mentioned this formerly, but now he explains it more fully, that all the chastisements which God inflicts will tend to wash away the sins of his people, that thus they may be reconciled to God.
A question arises, Are our sins expiated by the stripes with which God chastises us? For if it be so, it follows that we must satisfy God for our sins, as the Papists teach. These two things are closely connected. If God punish us for our sins in order to expiate them, when punishments are not inflicted, satisfactions must come in their room. But this difficulty will be easily removed, if we consider that here the Prophet does not handle the question, whether we deserve the forgiveness of sins on account of our works, or whether the punishments which God inflicts on us may be regarded as making amends for them. He simply shews that chastisements are the remedies by which God cures our diseases, because we are wont to abuse his goodness and patience. God must therefore bring us to acknowledgment of our sins, and to patience; and thus the punishments which he inflicts as chastisements for our sins are remedies, because our desires may be said to be consumed by them as by fire, 203 to which also Scripture frequently compares them. (Ps. 66:10, Ps. 89:46.) In no respect can they yield satisfaction, but men are prepared by them for repentance. Hence he shews, therefore, that the godly have no reason for exclaiming against God’s chastisements, and that they ought to acknowledge, on the contrary, that their salvation is thus promoted, because otherwise they would not acknowledge the grace of God. If any person wish to have a short reply, we may state it in a single word, that chastisements expiate our offenses indirectly, but not directly, because they lead us to repentance, which again, in its turn, brings us to obtain the forgiveness of sins.
And this is all the fruit, the taking away of his sin. Some render it in the genitive case, “the fruit of the taking away of his sin;” but I prefer to read it in the nominative case. כל, (chōl,) all, frequently means, “great and abundant;” and therefore it denotes the plentiful fruit by which the chastisements will be followed. In a word, he intends to commend to us God’s chastisements on the ground of their usefulness, that the godly may bear them with calmness and moderation, when they know that by means of them they are purged and prepared for salvation. 204 And immediately afterwards the Prophet explains his meaning more clearly by speaking of abolishing superstitions. So long as the people of Israel enjoyed prosperity, they did not think of repentance; for it is natural to men that prosperity should make them insolent and harden them more and more. He therefore shews how, in chastising his people, God also takes away their sin, because, having formerly indulged in wickedness and proceeded to greater lengths in sinning in consequence of his goodness and forbearance, they shall now know that they were justly punished, and shall change their life and conduct.
When he shall have made all the stones of the altar. Here Isaiah, by a figure of speech, exhibits a single class, so as to explain the whole by means of a part, and describes in general terms the removal of idolatry and superstitions; for he does not speak of the altar which was consecrated to God, but of that which they had erected to their idols. Thus, when the stones of it shall have been broken, and the idols thrown down and destroyed, so that no trace of superstition shall be seen, the iniquity of the people shall at the same time be removed.
Hence it ought to be remarked, first, that we ought not to expect pardon from the Lord, unless we likewise repent of our sins; for whosoever flatters himself must be the object of the anger of God, 205 whom he does not cease to provoke, and our iniquity is taken away only when we are moved by a true feeling of repentance. Secondly, it ought to be observed, that though repentance is an inward feeling of the heart, yet it brings forth its fruits before men. In vain do we profess that we fear God, if we do not give evidence of it by outward works; for the root cannot be separated from its fruits. Thirdly, it ought to be inferred, that idolatry is chiefly mentioned here, because it is the source of all evils. So long as the pure worship of God and the true religion are maintained, there is also room for the duties of brotherly kindness, which necessarily flow from it; but when we forsake God, he permits us also to fall into every kind of vices. And this is the reason why, under the name of idolatry, he includes likewise other acts of wickedness. Besides, we see that he condemns not only statues and images, but everything that had been invented by the Jews contrary to the injunction of the law; and hence it follows that he sets aside every kind of false worship.
That groves and images may never rise again. By adding this, he shews how strongly God abhors idolatry, the remembrance of which he wishes to be completely blotted out, so that not even a trace of it shall henceforth be seen. Yet the Prophet intended to express something more, namely, that our repentance ought to be of such a kind that we shall steadfastly persevere in it; for we will not say that it is true repentance, if any one, through a sudden impulse of feeling, shall put down superstitions, and afterwards shall gradually allow them to spring up and bud forth; as we see to be the case with many who at first burn with some appearance of zeal, and afterwards grow cold. But here the Prophet describes such steadfastness that they who have once laid aside their filth and pollution maintain their purity to the end.
10. Yet the defenced city shall be desolate Here the copulative ו (vau) is generally supposed to mean for, and some take it for otherwise. There will thus be a twofold interpretation; for if we translate it because, the Prophet will assign a reason for the former statement, but that exposition is rejected by the context, and is altogether absurd. With greater plausibility it is taken for otherwise; for this threatening might be appropriately introduced, “If you do not repent, you see what awaits you, the defenced city shall be like a wilderness.” But I consider that exposition to be a departure from the natural meaning, and therefore I choose rather to take it as signifying nevertheless or yet
The Prophet means that Jerusalem and the other cities of Judea must “nevertheless” be destroyed, and that, although the Lord wishes to spare his people, it is impossible for them to be preserved. Godly men would have grown disheartened, when they saw that holy city overthrown and the temple demolished; but from these predictions they learned that God would have abundance of methods for preserving the Church, and were supported by that consolation. So then the Prophet intended to meet this very sore temptation; and hence also we learn that we ought never to lose courage, though we suffer every hardship, and though the Lord treat us with the utmost severity. Although this threatening extends to the whole of Judea, yet I think it probable that it relates chiefly to Jerusalem, which was the metropolis of the nation.
There shall the calf feed. This metaphor is frequently employed by the prophets when they speak of the desolation of any city; for they immediately add, that it will be a place for pasture. Here we ought to take into account the judgment of God, which places calves and brute beasts in the room of the Jews who had profaned the land by their crimes. Having been adopted by God to be his children, with good reason ought they to have obeyed so kind a Father; but since they had shaken off the yoke and given themselves up to wickedness, it was the just reward of their ingratitude, that the land should be possessed by better inhabitants, taken not from the human race but from brute beasts.
And shall browse on its tops. 206 What he says about the “tops” tends to shew more strongly the desolation; as if he had said that there will be such abundance of grass that the calves will crop none but the tender parts. סעף (sāīph) signifies also branch; but as branches naturally rise high, I take it here for summit or top. It might also be thought that there is an allusion to the beauty of the city, and that as its houses formerly were lofty and magnificent, when these have been thrown down, nothing will be seen in it but herbs and leaves, the “tops” of which the calves which enjoy abundant pasture will eat in disdain.
11. When its harvest shall wither. 207 Some think that the Prophet has in his eye the metaphor of a vineyard, which he employed at the beginning of the chapter, and therefore they translate קציר (kātzīr,) branches. The word is certainly ambiguous; but as קציר (kātzīr) means also a harvest, and as the metaphor of a harvest is more appropriate, I prefer to take it in that sense. Nor do I translate it, “When the harvest shall be withered,” but “When the harvest shall wither.” In this passage wither means nothing else than to approach to maturity. Before the harvest of the land is ripe, it shall be cut down; as if he had said, “The Lord will take away from thee the produce which thou thoughest to be already prepared for thee and to be in thy hand.”
The women coming shall burn it. When he says that “women shall come,” he means that God will have no need of robust soldiers to execute his judgment, and that he will only make use of the agency of women. This exhibits in a still stronger light the disgracefulness of the punishment, for he threatens that the calamity shall also be accompanied by disgrace; because it is more shameful and humiliating to be plundered by “women,” who are unused to war, than by men.
For it is a people of no understanding. At length he assigns the reason of so heavy a calamity. At first sight it might appear to be excessively harsh that the Lord should permit the people whom he had chosen to be wretchedly tormented and scattered, and not to render them any assistance; for it is inconsistent with his kindness and fatherly love which he bears towards them. But the Prophet shews that God had good reason for punishing the Jews with such severity; for they were destitute of knowledge and sound “understanding.”
Nor is it without reason that he pronounces ignorance to have been the source of all evils; for since “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” (Pr 1:7; Ps 111:10,) they who despise God and obey the wicked passions of their flesh are justly condemned by the Spirit of God as blind and mad. And yet such ignorance does not at all excuse us or lessen the guilt of our wickedness; for they who sin are conscious of their sinfulness, though they are blinded by their lust. Wickedness and ignorance are therefore closely connected, but the connection is of such a nature that ignorance proceeds from the sinful disposition of the mind. Hence it comes that “ignorance,” or “ignorances,” is the general name given by the Hebrew writers to every kind of sin, and hence also that saying of Moses,
“O that they were wise and understood!”
Any man will easily perceive this, if he consider how great is the power of evil passions to trouble us; for when we have been deprived of the light of doctrine, and are void of understanding, the devil drives us as it were to madness, so that we do not dread the arm of God, and have no respect for his holy word.
Therefore their Maker will not have compassion on them. For the purpose of still heightening their terror, he at length takes away all hope of pardon; for even if a remnant was preserved, the wrath of God did not on that account cease to rage against the multitude at large. The Prophet here calls God the Maker and Creator of Israel, not in the same manner that he is called the Creator of heaven and earth, (Ge 1:1,) but inasmuch as he has formed his Church by the Spirit of regeneration. In like manner Paul also declares, that in that sense we are αὐτοῦ ποίημα, his workmanship, (Eph 2:10,) as we have already stated in the exposition of another passage. 208 (Isa 19:25.) Isaiah made this statement, in order to exhibit more strongly the ingratitude of the people, and to shew how justly they deserve to be punished, since, after having been formed and preserved by God, they treated him with dishonor and contempt.
12. And yet it shall come to pass on that day. He softens the harshness of the former statement; for it was a dreadful judgment of God, that the people were deprived of all hope of mercy and favor. The particle ו (vau) must therefore be explained as in the tenth verse, “Nevertheless, or, and yet it shall come to pass on that day.”
That Jehovah shall thrash. The Prophet speaks metaphorically; for he compares the gathering of the Church to the “thrashing” of wheat, by which the grain is separated from the chaff. The meaning of the metaphor is, that the people were so completely overwhelmed by that captivity that they appeared to be nothing else than grain concealed or scattered here and there under the chaff. It was necessary that the Lord should “thrash,” as with a fan, what was concealed amidst the confused mass; so that this gathering was justly compared to “thrashing.”
From the channel of the river to the river of Egypt. By this he means Euphrates and the Nile; for the people were banished, partly into Chaldea or Assyria, and partly into Egypt. Many fled into Egypt, while others were carried captive into Babylon. He therefore foretells that the Lord will gather his people, not only from Chaldea, and from the whole of Mesopotamia, but also from Egypt.
And you shall be gathered one by one. לאחד אחד, (lĕăhăd ĕhād,) which we have translated “one by one,” is translated by others “each out of each place;” but this is an excessively forced exposition, and the exposition which I have stated appears to me more simple. Yet there are two senses which the words will bear; either, “I will gather you into one body,” or “I will gather you, not in companies nor in great numbers, but one after another,” as usually happens when men who had wandered and been scattered are gathered; for they do not all assemble suddenly, but approach to each other by degrees. The Jews were scattered and dispersed in such a manner that they could not easily be gathered together and formed into one body; and therefore he shews that this dispersion will not prevent them from being restored to a flourishing condition. This was afterwards fulfilled; for the Jews were gathered and brought back, not by a multitude of horsemen or chariots, not by human forces, or swords, or arms, as Hosea states, but solely by the power of God. (Ho 1:7.)
13. It shall also come to pass in that day. This is the explanation of the former verse. He speaks metaphorically, and shews that so great will be the power of God, that he will easily bring back his people. As kings assemble large armies by the sound of a trumpet, so he shews that it will be easy for the Lord to gather his people, on whom prophecy had not less efficacy than the trumpet by which soldiers are mustered.
And they shall come who were perishing. He calls them perishing, because they were miserably scattered, and appeared to be very near destruction, without any hope of being restored. The enemies, while their monarchy lasted, would never have permitted their captives to return, nor had they led them into banishment in a distant country with any other design than that of gradually casting into oblivion the name of Israel.
And who had been scattered in the land of Egypt. What he adds about Egypt contains a more remarkable testimony of pardon, namely, that those who fled into Egypt, though they did not deserve this favor, shall be gathered. They had offended God in two respects, as Jeremiah plainly shews; first, because they were obstinate and rebellious; and, secondly, because they had refused to obey the revelation, (Jer. 28:10, 11;) for they ought to have submitted to the yoke of the Babylonians rather than flee into Egypt in opposition to the command of God.
And shall worship Jehovah in the holy mountain. At length, he describes the result of their deliverance, that the Jews, having returned from captivity into their country, may again worship God their deliverer in a pure and lawful manner. By the mountain he means the temple and sacrifices. This was indeed accomplished under Darius, but the Prophet undoubtedly intended to extend this prophecy farther; for that restoration was a kind of dark foreshadowing of the deliverance which they obtained through Christ, at whose coming the sound of the spiritual trumpet, that is, of the gospel, was heard, not only in Assyria or Egypt, but in the most distant parts of the world. Then were the people of God gathered, to flow together to Mount Zion, that is, to the Church. We know that this mode of expression is frequently employed by the prophets when they intend to denote the true worship of God, and harmony in religion and godliness; for they accommodated themselves to the usages of the people that they might be better understood. We know also that the gospel proceeded out of Zion; but on this subject we have spoken fully at the second chapter. 209
“The word leviathan, which, from its etymology, appears to mean contorted, coiled, is sometimes used to denote particular species, (e.g., the crocodile,) and sometimes as a generic term for huge aquatic animals, or the larger kind of serpents, in which sense the corresponding term! תנין (tănnīn) is also used. They both appear to be employed in this case to express the indefinite idea of a formidable monster, which is in fact the sense now commonly attached to the word dragon.” — Alexander
FT447 Ses organes et instrumens
FT448 “Chantez à la vigne rouge;” — “Sing to the red vineyard.”
Ft449 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 162
FT450 “Si quelqu’un est de cet advis, je n’empesche point qu’il ne le suive;” — “If any one is of that opinion, I do not hinder him from following it.”
FT451 “Tellement qu’il est constraint comme l’emprunter d’ailleurs quand il se courrouce;” — “So that he is compelled, as it were, to borrow it from another quarter when he is enraged.”
FT452 That is, instead of making it the beginning of the following sentence, “in battle (or, in a hostile manner) I will pass through them,” it might be read as the conclusion of the question, “Who shall engage me with briers and thorns in battle?” And this concluding suggestion accords with our English version. — Ed
FT453 “Of the various senses ascribed to או, (ō,) such as unless, oh that if, etc., the only one justified by usage is the disjunctive sense of or.” — Alexander
FT454 “Ils sentiront la pesanteur de ma main;” — “They shall feel the weight of my hand.”
FT455 That is, our Author is of opinion that או (ō) frequently has the same force as the Latin interrogative particle An. — Ed
FT456 “Ce vaut-neant-ci;” — “This good-for-nothing.”
FT457 “Sans feintise;” — “Without hypocrisy.”
FT458 Such is Calvin’s translation of באים, (bāīm,) coming, which, occupying a somewhat anomalous position at the beginning of the verse, has perplexed the critics. The usual and best defended supplement is ימים, (yāmīm,) days, and thus the construction is supposed to be, “In coming days.” The French version takes ci-apres, “hereafter;” the Italian has Ne’ giorni a venire, “In the days to come;” Luther’s version has As mirb bennoch bazu fummen, “Yet it will come to this.” Our English version connects the word with “Jacob,” and makes it to signify “Them that come of Jacob,” which is countenanced by the Septuagint, οἱ ἐρχόμενοι τέκνα Ιακὼβ, “They that come, the children of Jacob,” but does not appear to have the support of any modern critic or version. — Ed
FT459 “Hath he smitten him as he smote (Heb., according to the stroke of) those that smote him?” — Eng. Ver.
FT460 “Ne plus ne moins que si le feu y avoit passé;” — “In exactly the same manner as if fire had passed on them.”
FT461 “Et mis en chemin de salut;” — “And led into the way of salvation.”
FT462 “Quiconque se flatte en son ordure, il attirera sur sa teste infalliblement l’ire de Dieu;” — “Whosoever flatters himself in his pollution will infallibly draw down on his head the wrath of God.”
FT463 “And consume the branches thereof.” — Eng. Ver.
FT464 “When the boughs thereof are withered.” — Eng. Ver.
FT465 See p. 83
FT466 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 96
FT467 “Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower.” — Eng. Ver.
FT468 “Woe to Samaria, the proud chaplet of the drunkards of Ephraim, which stands at the head of a rich valley belonging to a race of sots! ‘Sebaste, the ancient Samaria, is situated on a long mount of an oval figure, having first a fruitful valley, and then a ring of hills running round about it.’ — Maundrell, p. 58. Hence it is likened to a chaplet, or wreath of flowers, worn upon the head by Jews, as well as Greeks and Romans, at their banquets, as may be seen, Wis. 2:7, 8.” — Stock
FT469 “De la vallee grasse;” — “Of the fat valley.”
FT470 “Tyran de Sicile;” — “Tyrant of Sicily.”
FT471 Justin, in a rapid sketch of that tyrant, informs us that, “after having defeated his rivals, he abandoned himself to indolence and gluttony, which brought on such weakness of sight that he could not bear day-light; that the consciousness of being despised on account of his blindness made him more cruel than before, and led him to fill the city with murders as much as his father had filled the jails with prisoners, so that he became universally hated and despised.” — Justin, Hist. 1. 21, c. 11. The appalling facts are confirmed by other historians. — Ed
FT472 “Puis donc qu’ils sont coulpables d’une mesme ingratitude;” — “Since they are guilty of the same ingratitude.”
FT473 “Aux despens de leurs freres;” — “At the expense of their brethren.”
FT474 “Que nous regimbons contre l’esperon;” — “That we kick against the spur.”
FT475 “A des petis enfans n’agueres sevrez;” — “To young infants hardly weaned.”
FT476 “Que tous apportent du ventre de la mere;” — “Which all bring from their mother’s womb.”
FT477 “Afin de ne fascher les oreilles des lecteurs.”
FT478 “Line upon line.” — Eng. Ver.
FT479 “De toutes parts, ou, ligne apres ligne;” — “On all sides, or, line after line.”
FT480 The reader may consult the Author’s exposition, and the Translator’s notes Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 1, pp. 312, 313. — Ed
FT481 “For with stammering lips. (Heb. Stammerings of lips.)” — Eng. Ver.
FT482 “But since this patience has been lost upon them, a stronger way shall be taken to force their attention. God will thunder in their ears, what to them will appear jargon, the language of a foreign nation, by whom they shall be carried into captivity.” — Stock
FT483 “De ce que la parole est au milieu de nous;” — “Because the word is in the midst of us.”
FT484 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 282
FT485 From which the noun לצון (lātzōn) is derived. The phrase אנשי לצון (ănshēlatzon) literally signifies “men of scorn,” and is so rendered by Stock and others; but the force of the Hebrew idiom is fully brought out by the word “scoffers,” as in Lowth, or by “scornful men,” as in the English Version. — Ed
FT486 “Ces moqueurs;” — “Those mockers.”
FT487 חזה (chōzĕh) is properly a participle (seeing) often used as a noun to denote a seer or prophet. Here the connection seems distinctly to require the sense of league or covenant. That there is no error in the text may be inferred from the substitution of the cognate form חזות (chŭzūth) in Isa 28:18. Hitzig accounts for the transfer of meanings by the supposition that in making treaties it was usual to consult the seer or prophet. Ewald supposes an allusion to the practice of necromantic art or divination as a safeguard against death, and translates the word orafel, (oracle.) The more common explanation of the usage traces it to the idea of an interview or meeting, and the act of looking one another in the face, from which the transition is by no means difficult to that of mutual understanding or agreement.” — Alexander. Buxtorf renders it “a seer, or prophet,” and, by a transferred meaning, “provision,” or “foresight,” “We have made provision, we have looked forward, we have acted with foresight;” and adds, that the Chaldee version renders it שלמא, (shĕlūmā,) peace. — Ed
FT488 “Car c’eust esté une chose trop ridicule et dont les petits enfans se fussent moquez;” “For it would have been too absurd, and even young children would have laughed at it.”
FT489 Lucian is often alluded to by our Author as the type of daring and scornful infidels. See Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, vol. 2, p. 283, n. 1. — Ed
FT490 Commonly called the Septuagint. — Ed
FT491 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 280
FT492 “Voire en despit de leurs dents;” — “Even in spite of their teeth.”
FT493 “Qu’il leur pend une horrible calamité sur leurs testes, laquelle ils ne voyent point;” — “That there hangs over their heads a dreadful calamity which they do not see.”
FT494 “And it shall be a vexation only to understand the report. Or, when he shall make you to understand doctrine.” — (Eng. Ver.) “And even the report alone shall cause terror.” — Lowth. “And it shall be terror merely to hear the report of it.” — Stock. “And only vexation (or distress) shall be the understanding of the thing heard.” — Alexander. “E’l sentirne il grido non produrrà altro che commovimento;” — “And to hear the cry of it will produce nothing but distress.” — (Ital. Ver.)
FT495 “There are three interpretations of the last clause, one of which supposes it to mean, that the mere report of the approaching scourge should fill them with distress; another, that the effect of the report should be universal distress; a third, that nothing but a painful experience would enable them to understand the lesson which the Prophet was commissioned to teach them. שמועה (shĕmūgnāh) meaning simply what is heard, may of course denote either rumor or revelation. The latter seems to be the meaning in Isa 28:9, where the noun stands connected with the same verb as here. Whether this verb ever means simply to perceive or hear, may be considered doubtful; if not, the preference is due to the third interpretation above given, viz., that nothing but distress or suffering could make them understand or even attend to the message from Jehovah.” — Alexander
FT496 “La sua opera strana, la sua operazione straordinaria;” — “His strange work, his extraordinary act.” — Ital. Ver.
FT497 See Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 360
FT498 “Avec mesme raison et equité;” — “With the same reason and justice.”
FT499 “The common version, ‘all day,’ though it seems to be a literal translation, does not convey the sense of the original expression, which is used both here and elsewhere to mean ‘all the time,’ or ‘always.’” — Alexander
FT500 “Et les fideles sont sujets à beaucoup de miseres, voire plus que ne sont pas les reprouvez;” — “And believers are liable to many afflictions, even more than the reprobate are.”
FT501 “Will the ploughman never sow, but always cut the earth by spades and instruments for ploughing?” — Jarchi
FT502 “This apposite simile from the various methods used by the husbandman in preparing his land, and in managing the crop after it is gathered, is addressed to those who might question divine providence, because sentence against the wicked is not executed speedily. God, who teacheth the farmer the proper time and manner of treating his crop, knoweth best when and how to punish sinners: he reduceth them not to dust at once, any more than corn is suffered to lie under pressure till it is rendered unserviceable, but chastiseth in mercy, in order to reclaim them.” — Stock
FT503 “The principle wheat and the appointed barley. Or, wheat in the appointed place, and barley in the appointed place.” — Eng. Ver. “The choice wheat and the picked barley.” — Stock. “The wheat in due measure.” — Lowth
FT504 “The words שורה (sōrāh) and נמסן (nĭmsān) are by some explained as epithets of the grain; principal wheat, appointed or sealed barley. Ewald makes them descriptive of the soil; wheat in the best ground, barley in the rough ground. But the explanation best sustained by usage and analogy is that of Gesenius, who takes נמסן (nĭmsān) in the sense of appointed, designated, and שורה (sōrāh) in that of a row or series.” — Alexander
FT505 “Car en France on n’escout point le bled sinon avec le fleau, excepté en Provence;” — “For in France corn is not thrashed in any way but with the flail, except in Provence.”
FT506 “Et comme faire passer la charue et la herse sur les peuples;” — “And, as it were, to pass the waggon and the harrow over the nations.”
FT507 “Comme si les meschans avoyent la bride sur le col;” — “As if the wicked had the bridle on their neck.”