Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 15: Isaiah, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.
1. Tacete mihi insulae; et colligant populi vires; accedant, tunc loquentur; pariter ad judicium accedamus.
2. Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.
2. Quis excitavit ab oriente justitiam, vocavit eum ad pedem suum, dedit coram co gentes, et reges subjugavit; dedit quasi pulverem gladio ejus, et quasi stipulam propulsam arcui ejus?
3. He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
3. Persequutus est cos; evasit in pace, semita qua non ingressus est pes ejus.
4. Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
4. Quis designavit, et fecit, vocans nationes ab initio? Ego Iehova prius, et cum novissimis ego idem.
5. The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
5. Viderunt insulae et timuerunt; extremi fines terrae expaverunt, accesserunt, et venerunt.
6. They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
6. Quisque proximo suo opem tulit, et fratri suo dixit, Sis strenuus.
7. So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.
7. Confortavit faber conflatorem, malleo percutiens tundentem vicissim, et dixit, Bonum hoc ad plumbaturam; firmavitque clavis, ut non moveretur.
8. But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
8. At tu Israel servus meus, Iacob quem elegi, semen Abrahae amici mei.
9. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
9. Quoniam apprehendi to ab extremitatibus terrae, ab eminentiis ejus vocavi to, ac dixi tibi, Servus meus es tu, elegi to, et non repudiavi to.
10. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
10. Ne timeas, quoniam ego tecum sum; non terrearis, quoniam ego Deus tuus sum, qui to corroboro, adhuc (vel, utique) opem tibi feram, adhuc to sustentabo dextera justitiae meae.
11. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.
11. Ecce pudefient et erubescent omnes qui to provocant; erunt quasi in nihilum, et peribunt qui tecum litigant.
12. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
12. Quaeres cos, nee invenies; qui contendunt tecum erunt quasi nihilum, et qui tecum belligerantur, quasi consumptio.
13. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
13. Quoniam ego Iehova Deus tuus, apprehendens dextram tuam, ac dicens tibi, Ne timeas, ego tibi opitulabor.
14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
14. Ne timeas, vermis Iacob, mortui Israel; ego auxiliabor tibi, dicit Iehova, et redemptor (vel, vindex) tuus, Sanctus Israelis.
15. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.
15. Ecce posui to in traham; ut tribula nova habens dentes, triturabis montes et comminues, et colles in pulverem rediges.
16. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
16. Ventilabis eos, et ventus toilet, et turbo sparget eos. Tu vero exultabis in Iehova, in Sancto Israel gloriaberis.
17. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
17. Egeni et pauperes quaerent aquas, quae non apparent; lingua eorum siti exarebit. Ego Iehova exaudiam cos; ego Deus Israelis non descram eos.
18. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
18. Aperiam in editis cacuminibus flumina, et fontes in media planitie; desertum ponam in stagna aquarum, et terram vastam in scaturigines aquarum.
19. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
19. Dabo in deserto cedrum, spinum, myrtum, et pinum; ponam in solitudine abietem, ulmum, et popu-lure sired.
20. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
20. Itaque videant, et cognoseant, cogitent, et intelligant simul, quod manus Iehovae fecerit hoc, et Sanctus Israelis creaverit istud.
21. Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
21. Adeste cansae vestrae, dicit Iehova; afferte firmamenta vestra, dicit rex Iacob.
22. Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
22. Adducant, et annuntient nobis quae ventura sunt; priora quae fuerunt nuntient, et apponemus cor nostrum; et sciemus novissima eorum; et quae ventura sunt praedicate nobis.
23. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
23. Nunciate quae futura sunt in posterum, ut sciamus vos deos esse; quin benefacite, ant malefacite, ut enarremus, et videanus (vel, mire-mur) pariter.
24. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
24. Ecce vos estis ex nihilo, et factura vestra ex nihilo; abominationem elegit in vobis (homo.)
25. I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.
25. Excitavi ab aquilone, et venit; ab oriente solis vocabit in nomine meo; et veniet ad principes, quasi ad lutum, et tanquam figulus calcabit lutum.
26. Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that dcclareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.
26. Quis nuntiavit ab initio, ut cognoscamus? Jam ante, et dicemus, justus. Utique non est annuntians; utique non audire faciens; utique non audiens verba vestra.
27. The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
27. Primus Sioni, Ecce, ecce ipsi; et Ierosolymae nuntium dabo.
28. For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
28. Aspexi, nec nullus erat; de istis inquisivi, et nullus erat consiliarius; interrogavi cos, nec responderunt verbum.
29. Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing; their molten images are wind and confusion.
29. Ecce onmes vanitas, et defectus opera; eorum; ventus et chaos simulachra eorum.
1. Be silent to me, 133 O islands. Though the Prophet’s discourse appears to be different from the former, yet he pursues the same subject; for, in order to put the Jews to shame, he says that he would have been successful, if he had been called to plead with unbelievers and blind persons. Thus he reproves not only the sluggishness, but the stupidity of that nation, “to whom God had been so nigh” and so intimately known by his Law. (De 4:7.) Yet we need not wonder that the people, overtaken by many terrors, trembled so that they scarcely received solid consolation; for we have abundant experience how much we are alarmed by adversity, because amidst; this depravity and corruption of our nature, every man labors under two diseases. In prosperity, he exalts himself extravagantly, and shakes off the restraint; of humility and moderation; but, in adversity, he either rages, or lies in a lifeless condition, and scarcely has the smallest perception of the goodness of God. We need not wonder, therefore, that the Prophet dwells so largely on this subject, and that he pursues it in many ways.
He gives the name of islands to the countries beyond the sea; for the Jews, having no intercourse with them, gave to all that lay beyond the sea the name of “islands;” and therefore he addresses not only the nations which were at hand, but likewise those which were more distant, and requires them “to keep silence before him.” But of what nature is this silence? Isaiah describes a kind of judicial pleading which the Lord is not unwilling to enter into with all nations. He demands only that he shall be heard in his own cause, and that there shall be no confusion or disorder in the proceedings, which would be altogether at variance with a court of justice. On this account he commands the Gentiles to keep silence, that, when this has been done, he may openly plead his cause; for the order of a court of justice demands that every person shall speak in his turn; for, if all should cry aloud together, there must be strange confusion. 134
This reminds us, that the reason why we do not think with so much reverence as we ought concerning the power and goodness and wisdom and other attributes of God, is, that we do not listen to him when he speaks. Men roar and murmur against God; some, swelling with their pride, openly despise his word; while others, through some kind of slothfulness, disregard him, and, in consequence of being buried in earthly delights, take no concern about aspiring to the heavenly kingdom. Even now we perceive with what insolence and rebellion many persons speak against God. How comes it that Papists are so obstinate and headstrong in their errors, but because they refuse to listen to God? for if they would listen to him in silence, the truth would speedily convince them. In a word, the Lord shews by these words that he will be victorious, if men listen to him attentively. He does not wish that they shall listen to him in a careless manner, as unjust and corrupt judges, having already determined what sentence they shall pronounce, are wont to do; but that they shall examine and weigh his arguments, in which they will find nothing but what is perfectly just.
It may be asked, “Does the Prophet now exhort the Gentiles to hear?” I reply, these things relate chiefly to the Jews; for it would be long before this prophecy would reach the Gentiles. But this discourse would be fitted more powerfully to remove the obstinacy of the Jews, when he shows that the Gentiles, though they were estranged from him, would speedily acknowledge his power, provided only that they chose to listen to him in silence. There is greater weight and force in these words addressed directly to the “islands” themselves than if he had spoken of them in the third person.
And let the people collect their strength. The Lord defies all the Gentiles to the contest, and in a contemptuous manner, as is commonly done by those who are more powerful, or who, relying on the goodness of their cause, have no doubt about the result. “Let them collect their strength and league against me; they will gain nothing, but I shall at length be victorious.” As we commonly say, “I disdain them, (Je les despite.) Even though they bend all their strength both of mind and of body, still they shall be conquered; all I ask is, that they give me a hearing.” By these words he declares that truth possesses such power that it easily puts down all falsehoods, provided that men give attention to it; and, therefore, although all men rise up to overwhelm the truth, still it will prevail. Consequently, if we are led astray from God, we must not throw the blame on others, but ought rather to accuse ourselves of not having been sufficiently attentive and diligent when he spoke to us; for falsehoods would not have power over us, nor would we be carried away by any cunning attempt of Satan to deceive us, or by the force of any attack, if we were well disposed to listen to God.
As to his assuming the character of a guilty person, in order that he may appear and plead his cause before a court of justice, it may be asked, “Who among men will be competent. to judge in so hard and difficult a cause?” I reply, there is nothing said here about choosing judges; the Lord means only, that he would be successful, if impartial judges were allowed to try this cause. He cannot submit either to men or to angels, so as to render an account to them; but, for the purpose of taking away every excuse, he declares that victory is in his power, even though he were constrained to plead his cause; and, consequently, that it is highly unreasonable to dispute among ourselves, and not to yield to him absolute obedience; that we are ungrateful and rebellious, in not listening to him, and in not considering how just are his demands. And, indeed, though nothing can be more unreasonable than for mortals to judge of God, yet it is still more shocking and monstrous, when, by our blind murmuring, we condemn him before he has been heard in his own defense.
2. Who shall raise up righteousness from the east? This shews plainly what is the design of the Prophet; for he intends to assure the Jews that they will be in no danger of going astray, if they choose to follow the path which he points out to them. And this is the reason why he mentions Abraham; for he might have enumerated other works of God, but selected an example appropriate to his subject; for, having been descended from Abraham, whom God had brought out of Chaldea amidst so many dangers, they ought also to have hoped that he would equally assist them; since his power was not diminished, and he is not wearied by acts of kindness. 135 Because it was difficult for captives and exiles, while they were at a great distance from their native country, to hope for a return:, he exhorts them by a similar example to cherish favorable hopes. Having been scattered throughout Chaldea and the neighboring countries, they thought that the road which led homeward was shut up against them on account of numerous obstructions. But from the same place Abraham their father had traveled into Judea. (Gen. 11:31, Gen. 12:1.) Could not he who conducted one poor, solitary man, with his father, his nephew, and his wife, safe and sound amidst so ninny dangers, be the leader of his people in the journey? Since, therefore, God had called Abraham out of his native country, and delivered him from all distresses, this fact drawn from the family history ought to have made a deeper impression on his children, that the departure of their father Abraham might be a pledge or mirror of their future deliverance from Babylon.
When he calls Abraham righteousness, he does so, not for the purpose of extolling the man, but of shewing that God had assigned to him a character which belonged to the whole condition of the Church; for he was not called as a private individual, but the demonstration of God’s eternal justice which was given in his calling is common to all believers; as if he had said, that in his person the Church had once been delivered, in order that he might confidently believe that his salvation and the justice of God would be alike eternal. And indeed in a single individual we behold the calling of believers, and a sort of model of the Church, and the beginning and end of our salvation. In short, Abraham may be regarded as a mirror of the justice of God, so far as it shines in the affairs of this world. This word is used for the sake of amplification, (πρὸς αὔξησιν); for to “raise up righteousness from the east,” where everything had been corrupted and polluted by the most abominable superstitions, was an astonishing work of God. If, therefore, such a display of God’s goodness and power had once been given, why ought; they not to expect the same or a similar display in future?
Called him to his foot. 136 Some interpret this as meaning that Abraham, wherever he went, called on the name of the Lord; for as soon as he came into any country, he erected an altar to God, that he might offer sacrifice upon it. (Ge 12:7, and 13:18.) This is indeed true, but I interpret it differently, that the Lord was the leader in the journey to Abraham, who followed him step by step; for when he was commanded to depart, no particular country was pointed out to which he should go; and thus when he set out he knew not either how far, or in what direction he should travel, but God kept him in suspense till he entered into the land of Canaan. (Ge 12:1; Ac 7:3.) When Abraham had been called, he immediately appeared, and though he was uncertain as to his journey, he listened to the mouth of God, and was satisfied with having God for his leader. On this account the expression is appropriate, that he followed him “to his foot,” because he surrendered himself to God to be a footman, like obedient and submissive servants who follow the footsteps of their master, though they are uncertain whither he is leading them.
Gave nations before him. This means that although the good man might be afflicted and tormented every moment by many anxieties, yet God removed every obstruction that could annoy him. Moses does not enumerate all the difficulties which Abraham encountered at his departure, but any person may conclude that this journey could not be free from very great annoyances; for it was impossible for him, when he set out, not to draw upon himself the hatred of the nation, and to be universally condemned as a madman for leaving his native land, and relations, and friends, and wandering to an unknown country. After having come into the land of Canaan, he had to do with wicked and cruel men, with whom he could not be agreed, because he was entirely opposed to their superstitions. What Moses relates Shews plainly enough that Abraham was never at rest, and yet that wicked men durst not attempt to do anything against him; so that when he wished to purchase a sepulcher from the children of Herb, they offered it to him freely and for nothing, and acknowledged him to be a man of God and a prince. (Ge 23:6.)
And subdued kings. The Prophet illustrates the grace of God, by shewing that he did not spare even kings, so as to make it evident that he was a faithful protector of his servant or vassal Abraham. The history of the four kings whom he vanquished and routed is well known, (Gen. 14:14, 15,) and might be extended to Pharaoh, (Ge 12:17,) and Abimelech, (Ge 20:3,) who are also mentioned in Ps 105:14, where this subject is handled; for they were chastised because they dared to “touch the Lord’s Anointed.” (Ps 105:15.) But strictly it denotes that victory which he obtained over four kings, (Gen. 14:14, 15,) who had carried off his nephew Lot, with all that belonged to him; for it is very evident from the context that the Prophet does not speak of kings or nations that had been soothed, but of armed enemies that had been violently made to pass under the yoke.
As dust to his sword. Lastly, he magnifies the ease with which that victory was gained, and thus expresses the highest contempt by comparing those kings to dust and stubble; for he subdued them without exposing himself to danger. At the same time he reminds us that this ought not to be ascribed to the power of man, but to the assistance of God; because it is not by human power that victory can be so easily gained.
3. He pursued them. The Prophet again commends, by the greatness of the victory, the extraordinary kindness of God. It is of the highest importance that he obtained it in a country which was unknown to him; for it is difficult and hazardous to pursue enemies in unknown countries; and how great is the value of a knowledge of places is plainly shewn by history, and daily experienced by those who carry on war. That was no obstacle to Abraham; and hence it is still more evident, that he was led and assisted by the hand of God to conduct his followers courageously.
4. Who hath appointed? Although Isaiah has exhibited in this passage nothing more than the example of Abraham, yet he undoubtedly intended to remind the people of all the benefits which the fathers had received in ancient times; as if he had said, “Call to remembrance what is your origin, whence I raised up your father Abraham, by what path I led him; and yet this was not the termination of my favors, for since that time I have never ceased to enrich you with every kind of blessings.” When he asks therefore who he is, he does not speak merely of a single performance, but adds other benefits, which followed at various times, and which the people ought also to remember.
Calling the nations from the beginning. This must relate to the constant succession of ages. In the Hebrew language דור (dor) means not only “an age,” or the duration of human life, but the men who lived at that time. Thus one generation is distinguished from another, as fathers from their children, and grandchildren from their grandfathers; for posterity will call us the former generation, and will call our ancestors a generation more remote and ancient. Again, because any one age would consume mankind, if it were not renewed by offspring, the Prophet shows that God multiplies men by an uninterrupted course, so that they succeed each other. Hence it follows, that he presides over all ages, that we may not think that this world is governed by chance, while the providence of God is clearly seen in the succession of ages. But because, in consequence of various changes, the world appears to revolve by blind impulse, the Prophet declares by these words that those manifold events were known “from the beginning”’ of the world, which amounts to this, that amidst that variety which time brings, God reigns, and accomplishes by a uniform course what he decreed from the beginning.
I Jehovah. At length he asserts more plainly that God is the author of these blessings, that Abraham conquered enemies, (Ge 14:16,) that he lived among wicked men without suffering harm, that he put kings to flight, (Ps 105:14,) that the Lord avenged him, when Abimelech (Ge 20:18) and also Pharaoh (Ge 12:17) had violently seized his wife. Besides, he shows that it ought to be ascribed to him, that other blessings of various kinds had been bestowed on every generation; for his power had been manifested not only to the race of Abraham, but to the whole world.
Am the first, and likewise with the last. This relates not only to the eternity of essence, but to the government which he exercises on earth; as if he had said, that God does not grow old by any length of time, and never will surrender his authority; for he does not sit unemployed in heaven, but from his throne, on the contrary, he regulates the affairs of this world. But although the world put in his place an innumerable crowd of gods, yet he declares that he sustains no loss, because he will always continue to be like himself.
5. The isles saw, and feared. He now shows the excessive ingratitude of the world, which, after having perceived the works of God, still continued in the same blindness to which it had been formerly abandoned. A little before, he had said that he would easily gain a victory, if they would only listen to him; and now he adds, that the Gentiles knew his power, and yet were rebellious and obstinate. The consequence is, that they are altogether inexcusable; because the majesty of God was abundantly revealed, if they had not chosen to shut their eyes of their own accord. 137 In order, therefore, to take away the excuse of ignorance even from the most distant nations, he says that they trembled at the sight of his works, and yet returned immediately to their natural dispositions, so as to be entangled by many errors and superstitions. There is an elegant allusion in the two verbs ראו וייראו, (rau veyirau) which cannot be expressed in the Latin language; but the general meaning is, that they not only were eyewitnesses, but also were so deeply convinced, that fear was awakened in them by what they knew.
The farthest boundaries of the earth trembled. It might be objected, that the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham could not be celebrated throughout the whole world, so as to be known to foreign nations. But, as we have said, although Abraham alone was mentioned by him, yet he intended also to bring to remembrance other instances of his kindness which their fathers experienced, that these might lead them to entertain better hope; for not only did he bring Abraham out of Chaldea, but he rescued all his posterity from the bondage of Egypt, (Ex 13:16,) and put them in possession of the land of Canaan. He says therefore, that the Gentiles had experience of his power when he delivered and preserved his people, that they might know that he is the only true God; for amidst so many miracles his power was clearly and manifestly displayed. In short, he declares that the Gentiles were terrified by the wonderful power of God, when he delivered his people; for wicked men, when they hear something of that power, are every day terrified and filled with amazement, because they perceive that God is their enemy.
Drew near and came. This expression, drew near, is interpreted by some to mean, that unbelievers observed more closely the works of God; for, when we wish to perceive anything more accurately, we approach nearer. Others refer it to the king of Sodom,” who went out to meet Abraham.” (Ge 14:17.) But those interpretations are unsuitable, and indeed have nothing to do with the subject.
6. Every one brought assistance to his neighbor. What now follows agrees well with what goes before, if you connect this verse with the last clause of the former verse, “They drew near, they were assembled, every one assisted his neighbor;” so that the meaning is, “Although the islands saw and knew my works, so that they trembled at them, yet they assembled in crowds to make a league among themselves.” Why? That they might encourage each other to frame new gods, and might confirm each other more and more in their blindness. He therefore aggravates the guilt of the Gentiles by saying, that “every one assisted his neighbor;” and indeed whoever shall make careful inquiry will find that this is the source of all superstitions, that men by mutual consent darken the light brought to them from heaven. But although the Lord here expostulates with idolaters, yet he does it for the sake of the Jews, that they may not fall into the impiety of the Gentiles, or permit themselves to be turned aside from God and from sincere faith. 138 On this account he brings forward the ingratitude of the Gentiles, that the Jews may not imitate it, but may remain steadfast in the true worship of God.
And said to his neighbor, Be courageous. Here we see, as in a mirror, how great is the wickedness of men, who profit nothing by considering the works of God, and are even rendered more rebellious, and harden themselves more and more; for they choose of their own accord to be blind, and to shut their eyes against the clearest light, rather than to behold God who manifests himself before their eyes. To blindness is added rage, in consequence of which they risc up against God, and. do not hesitate to wage war with him for defending their superstitions; so that this vice is not idol worship but idol madness. Isaiah describes this madness by saying, “Be bold, act courageously;” for he means that men have entered into a base conspiracy, by which they naturally encourage and inflame each other to the worship of idols, and to drive away the fear of God which his power might have led them to entertain.
7. The workmen encouraged the founder. This verse is explained in various ways, and indeed is somewhat obscure; and even the Jewish writers are not agreed as to the meaning of the words. I see no reason why חרש (cherish) should be here understood to mean simply a carpenter, for it means any kind of workman. 139 The word מהליק, (mahalik,) which means one that strikes, is generally rendered in the accusative case; I prefer to render it, in the nominative case. פעם (pagnam) 140 is generally translated anvil, and by others a smaller hammer; but; as it sometimes signifies by turns, that interpretation appears to agree best with the context; for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.
From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mumm persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a riffling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.
8. But thou, Israel, art my servant. He now shews how unreasonable it is to confound the people of Israel with the heathen nations, though all have lifted up a standard and agree in error, and though the whole world be abandoned to impostures; for, since by a calling of free grace God had chosen and set them apart, they ought not to have given themselves up to the same rage. This is a remarkable passage, and teaches us that we ought to be satisfied with our calling, so as to be restrained from the pollution of this world. Though corruptions abound, and though we indulge freely in every kind of iniquity, yet we ought to be restrained by this consideration, that we are God’s elect, and therefore we are not at liberty to go beyond bounds like Gentiles, and ungodly men. “Such were some of you,” says Paul,
“but now you have been washed, now you have been sanctified by the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
Indeed, nothing is more unreasonable than that we should wander like blind men in darkness, when the sun of righteousness hath shined upon us. We ought therefore to consider our calling, that we may follow it with all zeal and industry, and, “walking as becomes the children of light,” (Eph 5:8,) may shun that manner of life to which we were formerly habituated. For this reason he calls Israel his servant; not that the Israelites deserved anything on account of their obedience, but because he had set them apart for himself; and accordingly, for the same reason he adds —
Jacob, whom I have chosen. This is a remarkable commendation of undeserved favor; as if he had said, “You are indeed my servants, not through your own merit, but through my bounty; for by my election I have prepared and formed you to be my peculiar people.” In short, he reminds them that it was not by their own industry that they obtained the honor of being called God’s servants, and that they did not differ from others so as to excel them in any respect, but that it was because it so pleased God, who has a right to select this or that person according to his pleasure. Yet at the same time he explains what is the design of our election, namely, that we may serve God. “He hath chosen us,” as Paul says, “that we may be holy and unreprovable before him.” (Eph 1:4.) The object to be gained by election is, that they who were the slaves of Satan may submit and devote themselves unreservedly to God.
The seed of Abraham. This is added in the third place, in order to inform us that election depends on the promise of God; not that the promise goes before the election, which is from eternity, but because the Lord has bestowed his kindness from a regard to the promise; for he said to Abraham,
“I am thy God and the God of thy seed.” (Ge 17:7.)
This favor has therefore been continued to posterity, and on account of the promise the Lord took peculiar care of that people, as Paul also declares that “to them belonged the testament, the promise, and the giving of the Law.” (Ro 9:4.) Hence also they were called “that holy nation,” (Ex 19:6,)
“God’s sacred inheritance, and a priestly kingdom.”
My friend. It was an extraordinary honor which the Lord bestowed on Abraham, when he called him his friend. To be called “the servant of God” is high and honorable; for if it be reckoned a distinguished favor to be admitted into the family of a king or a prince, how much more highly should we esteem it, when God accounts us as his servants and members of his family? But, not satisfied with that, he bestows on him even a higher honor, and adorns him with the name of “friend.” What is here said about Abraham relates to all believers; and Christ declared more plainly, “Now I call you not servants, but ye are my friends; for servants know not their Lord’s will, but to you have been revealed secret and divine mysteries, and hence you may know my friendly and kind disposition towards you.” (Joh 15:15.) Having therefore obtained from God so great an honor, we ought to remember our duty, that the more abundantly he has testified his kindness towards us, we may the more earnestly and with deeper reverence worship him continually. But we ought always to remember that Abraham was God’s friend on no other ground than that of adoption; as Moses also says that the Jews enjoyed their high rank merely through the good pleasure of God, “because God loved their fathers.” (Deut. 4:37, Deut. 7:6.)
9. For I have taken thee from the end of the earth. Isaiah continues the same subject; for we know by experience how necessary it is that consolations be repeated when adversity presses upon us; so that it is not wonderful that the Prophet dwells so largely on this subject. But from one person, Abraham, he passes to the whole nation, mentioning the benefits which all of them have received from God. The relative אשר (asher) 141 appears to me to be here put for an illative particle; for he assigns the reason why the people ought to be courageous amidst adversity. It is because they have formerly experienced his kindness, and consequently ought to cherish equally favorable expectations for the future. “The ends of the earth” may be understood in two ways; either that the people were brought from a distant country, of which Abraham was a native, or that God, who embraces within his dominion the utmost boundaries of the world, deigned to stretch forth his hand to none but a single people.
From its eminences have I called thee. אצילים (atzilim) has been generally translated “eminences.” Others prefer to take it in the masculine gender, as meaning “princes” or “nobles,” in a sense not very different from the other; for the Prophet extols the grace of God, because, passing by very illustrious nations, he has adopted to himself a mean and obscure people. Others refer it to the kingdom of Egypt, from which the Jews were brought out; for we know how great was the renown of that people, and how far superior to other nations they reckoned themselves to be in learning, antiquity, nobility, and many other accomplishments.
But I interpret it differently; for I refer it to the election of the people, who were chosen out of the midst of other nations far superior to them; and therefore I consider מ (mem) to mean “from,” or “more than,” so that there is a comparison between the Jews and other nations. In like manner also, Moses shews that they were not elected,
“because they were more or better than other nations, (for they were far fewer,) but because the Lord loved them, and determined to keep the covenant which he had sworn to their fathers.” (Deut. 7:7, 8.)
Again, he says,
“Not for thy righteousness, or the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou come to possess the land.” (De 9:5.)
Thus, while they were far less than other nations, still they were elected; and this shews the greatness of the love of God, and that there was no reason why, after having received blessings so numerous and so great, they should afterwards distrust so kind a Father. Besides, he adds, that a proof of this favor was given to the people in the Law; as if he had said that it was not hidden, but, on the contrary, was engraven on public tables, when God made a covenant with them by giving them the Law; for God did not wish that they whom he had taken to be his own people should wander hither and thither, but bound them to himself by a promise of salvation.
And have not cast thee off. This last expression might be thought superfluous, and even unseasonable, if Jewish writers had not frequently employed this form of speech, which is very emphatic; for it denotes the firmness of election, as if he had said, “After having once adopted thee, I did not desert or forsake thee, though I had various occasions for casting thee off.” So great had been the ingratitude of the Jews, that he might justly have rejected them if he had not resolved to continue to be like himself.
What is said about them relates also to us; for the saying of Paul holds good, that “the gifts of God are without repentance.” (Ro 11:29.) Though he cut off the greatest part of men on account of their unbelief, yet he reserves some seed of adoption, that the calling may continue in some furrows; for the wickedness of men cannot change the election of God. Let us therefore remember that we have been elected by God on this condition, that we shall continue in his family, though we might justly have been abandoned.
10. Fear not. The former doctrine having had for its aim that the people should rely on God, the Prophet concludes from the numerous blessings by which the Lord manifested his love, that the people ought not to be afraid. And we ought carefully to observe the reason which he assigns —
For I am with thee. This is a solid foundation of confidence, and if it be fixed in our minds, we shall be able to stand firm and unshaken against temptations of every kind. In like manner, when we think that God is absent, or doubt whether or not he will be willing to assist us, we are agitated by fear, and tossed about amidst many storms of distrust. But if we stand firm on this foundation, we shall not be overwhelmed by any assaults or tempests. And yet the Prophet does not mean that believers stand so boldly as to be altogether free and void of all fear; but though they are distressed in mind, and in various ways are tempted to distrust, they resist with such steadfastness as to secure the victory. By nature we are timid and full of distrust, but we must correct that vice by this reflection, “God is present with us, and takes care of our salvation.”
Yet I will assist thee. אף עזרתיך (aph gnazarticha) is rendered by some in the past tense, “Yet I have assisted thee;” but I render it in the future tense, “I will assist thee.” I translate אף (aph) yet, as it is usually translated in many other passages. Yet it is not inappropriate to translate it even, and accordingly my readers are at liberty to make their choice. If the past tense of the verb be preferred, it will mean “moreover” or “also.”
With the right hand of my righteousness. Under the word “righteousness,” Scripture includes not only equity, but that fidelity which the Lord manifests in preserving his people; for he gives a display of his righteousness when he faithfully defends his people against the contrivances and various attacks of wicked men. He therefore gives the appellation of “the right hand of righteousness” to that by which he shews that he is faithful and just. Hence we ought to draw a remarkable consolation; for if God has determined to protect and defend his servants, we ought not to have any terror; because “God cannot deny himself” (2Ti 2:13) or lay aside his righteousness.
11. Lo, all shall be ashamed and blush. Here the Prophet expressly promises assistance to the Jews against their enemies; for if he had merely promised safety, without making any mention of enemies, various thoughts and anxieties might have arisen in their minds. God indeed promises that we shall be saved, but yet our adversaries prevail, and treat us with the utmost scorn and cruelty; where then is that salvation which was so freely and abundantly promised? To the general promise, therefore, there is likewise added this circumstance: “Though the enemies flourish, yet they shall at length be driven back, covered with shame and disgrace.” Salvation is therefore promised on this condition, that we must, in the meantime, encounter enemies and maintain various contests with them, that we may not promise to ourselves external peace, for we must incessantly carry on war.
12. Thou shalt seek them. That is, if thou seek them; for enemies are not sought, when they have been put to flight; and therefore I think that this future ought to be rendered as a subjunctive, “If thou seek them, thou shalt not find them; for they shall be destroyed and reduced to nothing.” Here it ought to be observed that he describes two kinds of enemies, one, of those who attack us by open violence, the other, of those who attack us by words, that is, who tear us by slanders, curses, and reproaches, and who, as if they were defending a righteous cause, carry on various controversies with us, and summon us to courts of justice, and often accuse us of those crimes of which they have been guilty. But these are the stratagems of Satan, and we need not wonder that they who are his servants imitate their lord and master. The Prophet therefore mentions armed enemies who violently fight against the Church, and next brings forward wranglers, who annoy the Church by deceit and slander, and by false pretense of justice. We need not wonder, therefore, that such accusations are directed against us, and we ought not to think it strange, if many unprincipled men in the present day sell themselves to Antichrist to slander us; for the same thing happened formerly to prophets and other servants of God.
13. For I am Jehovah thy God. The Prophet had already shewn where the hope of salvation ought to be placed, so as to hold out against every attack; that is, when we are convinced that God is our God, and is on our side. He now lays down the same doctrine, but in different words; and yet the repetition is not superfluous, for we know how easily this doctrine slips out of our minds, even though it be frequently repeated; and it was impossible to bestow excessive commendation on this promise, which it is so difficult to root in our hearts. Let us therefore know that we shall have a prosperous issue of all our contests, for the Lord is present with us; and whenever we are attacked by any severe contest, let us learn to look to Him; for if we hesitate and look hither and thither, we shall never enjoy peace of mind. When he calls himself our God, he not only mentions his power, but gives proof of his goodness, which he intends to exercise towards us; for it would not be enough to be convinced of the power of God, if we were not equally certain of his love; and even when we are terrified by the mention of his power alone, his goodness is well fitted to give us peace.
Taking hold of thy right hand, and saying to thee. He now speaks about “taking hold of the hand,” and about his voice; for it is of great importance to us to believe the signs which God has given us of his love, and to connect with them the doctrine which assures us of his eternal favor. The word saying is therefore highly emphatic; for we must remain in suspense till the Lord speak, whose voice alone can remove fear and bring peace. If, then, we desire to have composure of mind, and to conquer the vexations which come upon us from various quarters, we must pay close attention to his voice, so as never to withdraw our mind from it; for they who refuse to hear this voice of God, or do not hear it attentively, must be miserably tormented by continual doubt and uncertainty.
14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, ye dead Israel. He appears to speak of the Jews very disrespectfully when he calls them “a worm,” and afterwards “dead;” but this comparison agrees better with the distresses of the people, and is more adapted to console them than if he had called them an elect nation, a royal priesthood, a holy tree from a holy root, and adorned them with other titles of that kind. It would even have been absurd to call them by those high-sounding names while they were oppressed by the deepest wretchedness. Accordingly, by the word worm he may be viewed as bewailing the disgraceful condition of the people, and encouraging them to cherish better hope; for he shews that he keeps his eye upon them, though they are mean and despised. It is as if he had said, “Although thou art nobody, yet I will assist thee, and, by restoring thee to thy former freedom, will cause thee to come out of thy filth and pollution.”
Some translate מתים (methim) men, which does not at all agree with the context. We are therefore constrained by obvious argument to translate it dead, for it is an exposition of the former word by repetition, which is very customary among Jewish writers. On this account I agree with Jerome, who translates it in that manner, and attaches no importance to the circumstance that the first syllable of מתים (methim) is here written with Scheva (:) instead of Tzere (..); for points so closely allied might easily have been interchanged. 142 The subject ought also to be considered; for nothing could be more foolish than to put “men” instead of “worms,” unless perhaps it be thought preferable to render it “mortals.”
But, undoubtedly, God intended that this voice should be heard by persons most deeply afflicted, so as to reach even to the grave; for he promises, on the contrary, that he will be a Redeemer of “dead men.” Besides, while the Prophet had in view his own age, he extended this doctrine to all the ages of the world. Whenever, therefore, we shall see the Church oppressed by the cruelty of wicked men, it will be our duty to bring these things to remembrance, that we may believe that the children of God, who are trodden under foot by the pride of the world, and are not only reckoned contemptible, but oppressed by every kind of cruelty and reproaches so that they are scarcely allowed to breathe, are held by God in the highest honor and esteem, so that they will soon lift up their head; and let every one of us apply this to himself, so that we may not be terrified by reproaches, nor by our wretchedness, nor by anguish, nor by death itself. Though we resemble dead. men, and though all hope of salvation has been taken from us, yet the Lord will be present with us, and will at length raise up his Church even from the grave.
The Holy One of Israel. By adding these words, the Prophet again reminds believers, as he did a little before, of that covenant by which Israel had been separated to be God’s sacred heritage; and thus he imparts courage, that they may not faint or give way on account of their wretched condition, when they look upon themselves as “worms” and “dead men.”
15. Lo, I have made thee. The Prophet still speaks of the restoration of the Church, and promises that she will be so victorious over her enemies as to crush and reduce them to powder; and he declares this by a highly appropriate metaphor. The Jews, whom he addresses, were nearly crushed, but he declares that, on the contrary, they shall crush their enemies, so that, after having been delivered, they shall render to them what had been done to themselves. It was necessary that this should be added, for, if they had not regained new strength, they would always have been exposed to the unlawful passions of their enemies; and therefore they needed that God. should give them strength to repel the attacks which were made upon them. Yet Isaiah at the same time declares that they shall be executioners of the vengeance of God.
But it may be thought that in this way he inflames the Jews to be desirous of taking revenge. Now, this is quite contrary to the nature of the Spirit of God; and, while we are too much inclined to this disease, the Lord is so far from treating with forbearance these purposes of revenge, that in many passages he commands us to repress them; for he exhorts us rather to pray for our enemies, and not to take delight in their distresses and afflictions. (Mt 5:44.) I reply, the Prophet here shews what will happen, but neither commands nor exhorts us to desire the destruction of our enemies. If it be again objected that we ought not only to expect but even to desire what the Lord promises, when it tends to his glory and our salvation; I acknowledge that this consolation tends greatly to alleviate our sorrows, when he promises that he will one day inflict punishment on enemies who have cruelly distressed us, and will render to them the measure which they have meted out. (Mt 7:2.) Yet this is not inconsistent: with the command of God, that we should be kind-hearted, and should pity them on account of the evils which they bring upon themselves, and bewail their wretched condition, instead of being led by cruel dispositions to rejoice in their destruction. (Mt 5:44.)
If we embrace this promise with that faith which we ought to cherish, we shall bring into subjection all the violence of the flesh, and consequently shall first be disposed to endure, and afterwards with moderate zeal shall desire the judgment of God. Accordingly, it ought to be our first aim to repress and lay aside every violent emotion of the flesh, and thus to await with an honest and sincere heart the fit season of the divine judgment; and that not so much from a regard to our private advantage as that due praise may be given to the justice of God. To the same purpose David wrote —
“The righteous shall rejoice when they shall see the vengeance; they shall wash their feet in the blood of wicked men.”
Not that they delight in their distresses, but because, as he afterwards adds, the righteous man receives his reward, and the righteous judgments of God are made known in the earth when the wicked are punished for their transgressions.
The Jews, being by nature cruel and eager of bloodshed, seize on these promises after the manner of wild and savage beasts, which eagerly devour the prey that is offered to them, and, as soon as they smell it, are mad with rage. But the Lord does not wish his people to forget that kindness which he recommends above all things; for we cannot be his, if we are not guided by the same spirit, that is, by the spirit of mildness and gentleness. In a word, by this metaphor of “a harrow having teeth,” he means nothing else than the wretched destruction of the wicked, whom the Lord will put to flight by the hand of the godly; and that for the purpose of comforting the godly, and not of inflaming them with eagerness for shedding blood.
16. Thou shalt winnow them. The meaning is the same as in the former verse, but by a different metaphor; for he compares the Church to a sieve, and wicked men to the chaff which is driven away by the sieve and scattered in every direction. As if he had said, “Though for a time the Gentiles bruise and winnow you, yet a severer judgment awaits them; for by their destruction they shall be bruised and driven away like chaff.” But we ought to observe the difference, because here believers are bruised for their good, for they suffer themselves to be subdued and placed under the authority of God; while others, who obstinately resist and do not suffer themselves to be brought into subjection, are scattered by the wind like chaff or stubble, as the Prophet tells us. Thus God had struck them with his flails, had bruised and trodden them, had winnowed and tossed them about, in order that, when the wheat had been well cleansed, he might gather them to himself; but the heathen nations he assigns as chaff to the dunghill.
To this is added, that the victorious Church bruises some unbelievers, so that, being purified from their pollution, they obtain a place in God’s barn; and thus was this prediction fulfilled, whenever by the agency of believers some of the Gentiles were subdued, so as to yield obedience to the authority of Christ; for they were never invested with any earthly power, so as to rule over all his enemies, but on the contrary they found it necessary to “possess their souls in patience.” (Lu 21:19.) But the Lord raised them up like palm-trees bent down by so many burdens, so that they not only were safe and sound, but also, with unshaken firmness of mind, trod their enemies under their feet.
It ought also to be observed, that Scripture is frequently accustomed to apply to the Church what strictly belongs to God alone. Since, therefore, God afflicted the ungodly Gentiles for the sake of his Church, he is said to have given them to be trodden under the feet of believers, who reaped the advantage. Whenever we read those prophecies, our minds ought to be raised to the kingdom of Christ, that, free from every wicked disposition, we may observe becoming moderation, and may not desire that this bruising should take place before the proper time; for it ought to be abundantly sufficient for us, if our Head shall at length prostrate his enemies under his feet, that we may share in the triumph of his victory.
But thou shalt rejoice in Jehovah. When he adds that the Jews will have cause to rejoice in the Lord, though by this confidence he intends to alleviate their grief, yet at the same time he admonishes the godly to be modest, that they may not exult with fierceness of mind, if at any time it happen that they are raised up by the hand of God, and exalted in such a manner as to reduce their enemies under their power; for there is nothing to which men are more prone than to become proud and insolent when everything happens to their wish. They forget that they are men, and blot out the remembrance of God, whom they ought to have acknowledged as the author of all blessings. In order, therefore, to restrain that immoderate exultation in which the flesh always indulges, and by which we often suffer ourselves to be carried away, the Prophet adds, “in the Lord,” because on him all our glory and all our joy ought to rest. In a word, the Prophet exhorts to gratitude, that, the more highly God exalts us, the more carefully ought we to repress all the vanity of ambition, and rejoice and glory in him alone.
17. The needy and poor shall seek water. Here he follows out the subject which he had begun to handle at the beginning of the fortieth chapter; for he describes the wretched and afflicted condition in which the Jews should be in Babylon, till at length God should have compassion on them and render assistance. He therefore prepares them for enduring extreme poverty, by saying that they will be thirsty; for this figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole, is better adapted to express the severity of the affliction. We know that nothing gives men greater distress than the want of water when they are “thirsty.”
I Jehovah will listen to them. God declares that he will relieve them, when they are brought to this necessitous condition; and hence we ought to learn to whom this promise belongs, namely, to those who, having been reduced to extremity, are as it were, parched with thirst and almost fainting. Hence also we see that the Church does not always possess an abundance of all blessings, but sometimes feels the pressure of great poverty, that she may be driven by these spurs to call upon God; for we commonly fall into slothfulness, when everything moves on according to our wish. It is therefore advantageous to us to thirst and hunger, that we may learn to flee to the Lord with our whole heart. In a word, we need to be deeply affected with a conviction of our poverty, that we may feel the Lord’s assistance. The Prophet unquestionably intended, by this circumstance, partly to illustrate the greatness of the favor, and partly to advise the people not to lose heart on account of their poverty.
The needy and poor. We ought to observe the names by which the Prophet here denominates the people of God. When he calls them “afflicted and poor,” he does not speak of strangers, but of those whom the Lord had adopted and chosen to be his heritage, and whom he forewarns that they must patiently endure some severe hardships. Hence we ought not to wonder if the Lord sometimes permit us almost to languish through hunger and thirst, since he dealt not less severely with our fathers.
When he says that waters are nowhere to be seen, let us learn that the Lord, in order to try our patience and faith, withdraws from us every assistance, that we may lean on him alone. Thus, when we look around on every side, and see no relief, let us know that still the Lord will assist. By the expression, I will listen, he means that God does not assist every kind of persons, but those who pray to him; for if we are so slothful as to disregard his aid, it is right that we should be altogether deprived of it, and, on account of our unworthiness, should fed no alleviation.
18. and 19. I will open rivers. He illustrates the former doctrine in a different manner, namely, that God has no need of outward and natural means for aiding his Church, but has at his command secret, and wonderful methods, by which he can relieve their necessities, contrary to all hope and outward appearance. When no means of relief are seen, we quickly fall into despair, and scarcely venture to entertain any hope, but so far as outward aids are presented to our eyes. Deprived of these, we cannot rest on the Lord. But the Prophet states that at that time especially they ought to trust, because at that time the Lord has more abundant opportunities of displaying his power, when men perceive no ways or methods, and everything appears to be utterly desperate. Contrary, then, to the hope and belief of all men, the Lord will assist his people, that we may not suffer ourselves to be driven hither and thither by doubt and hesitation.
On lofty mountain tops. In order to confirm his statement more fully, he promises that he will perform miracles contrary to the nature and order of things, that we may not imagine that we should think and judge of these things according to human capacity, or limit the power and promises of God to these inferior means. 143 The Lord has sufficient power in himself, and needs not to borrow from any other, and is not confined to the order of nature, which he can easily change, whenever he thinks fit; for when he says that he will make waters to flow on the tops of mountains, and fountains in valleys, and pools in deserts, we know that all this is contrary to the order of nature. The reason why he promised these things is abundantly evident. It was that the Jews might not think that they were prevented from returning to Judea by that vast desert in which travelers are scorched by the heat of the sun, and deprived of all the necessaries of life. The Lord therefore promises that he will supply them with water, and with everything else that is necessary for the journey. Now, these things were fulfilled when the Lord brought his people out of Babylon, but much more abundantly when he converted the whole world to himself by Christ the Redeemer, from whom flow in great abundance throughout the whole world waters to quench the thirst of poor sinners. 144 At that time such a change took place as could never have entered into the imaginations of men.
20. Therefore let them see and know. While God leads us by all his works to adore him, yet when the restoration of his Church is the matter in question, his wonderful power is manifested, so as to constrain all to admire him. As we have seen elsewhere, and as he will afterwards repeat frequently, when he brought back his people from banishment, he gave a proof fitted for being remembered in all ages, as he declares in this passage that he will do. But because we are either sluggish or careless in considering his works, and because they quickly pass away from our view in consequence of our giving so little attention to them, he repeats the same statement in many forms. We give our attention to vain and useless matters, instead of admiring these works of God; and if at any time they excite our admiration, yet we quickly forget them, because we are speedily led aside to different and very unimportant matters. The Prophet therefore arouses us, in order to shake off our slothfulness, and to quicken and direct all our senses to understand the power of God. On this account he places in the first rank looking, which produces certain knowledge, and next adds thought, which more fully and abundantly confirms the knowledge.
It is uncertain whether the Prophet speaks of the Jews, who were the citizens of the Church, or of foreigners; but in my opinion we may view it as having a general meaning, that in the restoration of the Church the hand of God will be visible even to very remote Gentiles, so that all shall be constrained to admire the work of God. Yet it is certain that the Persians and Medes, after having conquered the Jews, were singularly astonished when they heard those passages from the prophets:, and especially when they beheld the accomplishment of them before their eyes; for they knew that such things could not be performed by men, though they were not converted to God.
21. Plead your cause. There was also a necessity that this should be added to the former doctrine; for when we associate with wicked men, they pour ridicule on our hope and charge us with folly, as if we were too simple-minded and credulous. Our faith is attacked and frequently shaken by jeers such as the following, “These people hang on the clouds, and believe things that are impossible and contrary to all reason.” Since, therefore, the Jews, in their captivity, would hear such mockeries, it was of importance that they should be fortified by these warnings of the Prophet; and in order to give greater weight to this address, he comes forth of his own accord, for the sake of inspiring confidence, and challenges the Gentiles themselves, charging them to bring forward everything that could support their cause, as is usually done in courts of justice.
Saith the king of Jacob. When he calls himself “the king of Jacob,” he defies all idols, and shews that he undertakes the cause of his people, so as to be at length acknowledged to have vindicated his glory by delivering those who were unjustly oppressed. And yet the godly needed to possess a strong faith; for what was the aspect of the kingdom, when they were captives and so severely oppressed? This was also the reason why he formerly (verse 14) called them “the worm Jacob” and “dead men.” But they comforted their hearts by that promise by which he formerly said that their root was concealed under ground, when he compared the people to a tree that had been cut down.
“A branch shall spring from the stock of Jesse, and a sprout from his roots shall yield fruit.” (Isa 11:1.)
They beheld by the eyes of faith that kingly power which lay concealed; for it could not be seen by the bodily eyes or comprehended by the human understanding.
22. Let them bring them forth. Not only does he attack idolaters, but he bids them bring forward the gods themselves along with them; as if he had said, “Whatever may be their ingenuity, they will not be advocates able to defend so bad a cause.” Here we see God sustaining the character of an advocate, and speaking in the name of the whole nation; for he does not wish to be separated from his Church, which he therefore confirms and fortifies against the mockeries of wicked men, and other contrivances by which they attack our faith. We ought therefore to be of good cheer, when God undertakes our cause, and comes forth publicly against idolaters, and, armed with his invincible truth, rises up against the idols and puts to silence their vanity.
In this manner he shews, that by his word he has most abundantly armed his elect for certain victory, so that they ought not to hesitate to attack and join battle with all unbelievers; and indeed whoever has profited, as he ought, by heavenly doctrine, will easily repel all the tricks of Satan by steadfast and victorious faith. It is true, indeed, that our faith begins with obedience; but submissiveness, by which we place our senses in obedience to God, goes before understanding, in such a manner that it illuminates our minds by certain knowledge. And by this mark the true religion is distinguished from superstitions, for it is regulated by a rule which is not doubtful and cannot deceive. Idolaters are indeed exceedingly proud of their errors, but all their obstinacy proceeds from stupidity, madness, or fanatical violence; for if they would soberly and calmly attend to sound doctrine, that pride by which they obscure the light of truth would speedily give way.
It is far otherwise with the godly, whose faith is indeed founded on humility, but is not rashly led away by foolish and inconsiderate zeal, for it has for its guide and teacher the Spirit of God, that it may not go astray from the sure light of the word. Accordingly, when there is no rule to distinguish, as the Prophet declares, it is absolute superstition. Now, since nothing ought to be rejected at random, believers say, “Bring them forth, and we will give our heart to them;” not that they whom God has taught ought still to be ready to turn to either side, but because superstitious persons can bring forward no argument but what is ridiculous. Again, therefore, he points out the distinction between stupid obstinacy and true faith, which has its foundation in the word of God, so that it can never fail.
And let them tell us what is to come. We must now inquire by what arguments the Prophet maintains the majesty of God; for God claims for himself Almighty power and foreknowledge of all things, in such a manner that they cannot be ascribed to another without the most shocking blasphemy. Hence it is concluded that these things are peculiar to the Godhead, so that whoever it be that knows all things and can do all things, is justly believed to be God. In this manner, therefore, the Prophet now argues, “If the idols which you worship be gods, they must know all things, and be able to do all things; but they can do nothing either in prosperity or in adversity, and they know nothing that is past or that is future; and therefore they are not gods.”
Here arises a difficult question. In the writings of heathen authors we find many predictions which they received from the oracles of their gods, which might lead us to believe that Apollo, Jupiter, and others, foreknew future events, and consequently were gods. I reply, first, if we consider what was the nature of those oracles which are reported to have been uttered by idols, we shall find that they were all obscure and doubtful, like that which was given to Pyrrhus, 145 —
“Aio to AEacida Romanos vincere posse,”
or that to Croesus, —
“Croesus Halym penetrans magnam pervertet opum vim.” 146
By embarrassing ambiguities of this sort did Satan torture the minds of men; so as to send away in uncertainty those who were the victims of that imposture.
But we must also believe what Paul teaches, that Satan has received power of giving effect to error, that he may deceive all the ungodly men who willingly give themselves up to his delusions. (2Th 2:11.) Thus, when they consulted Satan, “the father of falsehood,” (Joh 8:44,) it was not wonderful that they should be deceived under the pretense of truth; but it was a most righteous reward of their ingratitude. We see that Satan was freely permitted to increase, by means of the false prophets, the blindness of Ahab, who took pleasure in such delusions. (1Ki 22:22.) Equally just was it that heathen nations, having alienated themselves from the true God, should be caught by idle snares, and even drawn to destruction. And here it is superfluous to pursue the argument on which Augustine bestows so much toil and pains, how far the devils approach to the heavenly angels in foreknowledge; for the cause must be sought in something else than in their nature. Thus, in ancient times, by giving to wicked teachers the opportunity of practising deception, God revenged the crimes of his people, not that they excelled in the gift of understanding, but so far as they were adapted to this purpose, they freely exercised the permission which was granted to them.
So far as relates to God himself, though his foreknowledge is concealed, and is even a deep abyss, yet he plainly enough revealed it to the elect people, so as to distinguish himself from the multitude of false gods. Not that he foretold everything by his prophets; for the curiosity of men is insatiable, and it is not advantageous to them to know everything; but because he concealed nothing that is profitable to be known, and by many remarkable predictions shewed, as far as was necessary, that he takes a peculiar care of the Church; as Amos says,
“Shall there be any secret that God doth not reveal to his servants the prophets?”
This privilege was wickedly and shamefully abused by the Jews, who universally made traffic of their trivial predictions among the Gentiles. But the truth always shone so brightly in the heavenly oracles, that all who guarded against snares clearly perceived by means of it that the God of Israel, and he alone, is God. So far were the idols from demonstrating their foreknowledge, that believers, who had been taught in the school of God, could no more be deceived by them, than a person who had the proper use of his eyes could be made to mistake black for white at noon-day. Much less could they ascribe power to the idols, since it was evident from the predictions which were daily uttered, that God alone directs both prosperity and adversity. The Assyrian conqueror rendered thanks to his idols; but God had previously forewarned the Jews what would happen, and had even shewed plainly that he armed that wicked man for the purpose of executing his vengeance.
23. Do good, or do evil. It must not be supposed that to do evil denotes, in this passage, to commit injustice, which is contrary to the nature of God; but it means to inflict punishment, and to send adversity, which ought to be ascribed to the providence of God, and not to idols or fortune. In this sense it is very frequently found in Scripture.
“Is there evil in a city which the Lord hath not done?”
In like manner Jeremiah accuses the people of not acknowledging God to be “the author of good and of evil.” (La 3:38) By “evils” of that kind, therefore, such as wars, pestilence, famine, poverty, disease, and others of the same kind, the Lord punishes the sins of the people, and wishes to be acknowledged as the author of them all. Now, Isaiah does not bring forward all the examples and arguments by which God could be distinguished from idols, for that would have required a very long discourse; but he is at present satisfied with those which would give a short and yet clear demonstration; for he has not yet concluded his argument.
24. Lo, ye are of nothing. He now mocks at idols, in order to confirm the godly in the belief and worship of one God, when by the comparison they see that those who worship idols are miserably deceived and blind.
And your work is of nothing. Work must here be taken in a passive sense, as if he had said that it is a vain imagination, a contrivance of no value. But it may be thought that Isaiah speaks inaccurately, when he says that idols are of nothing, for they are composed of gold, or silver, or brass, or stone, or other materials. The solution is easy, for Isaiah did not look at the material, but at the quality, that is, the notion of divinity which men erroneously attribute to them. Superstitious people do not adore wood, or brass, or metal, viewed in themselves, but the majesty which they foolishly attach to the idol; 147 and this undoubtedly is nothing else than a vain imagination, Hence also Paul, in like manner, declares that “an idol is nothing;” for what reality can be ascribed, or what name can be given, to a mere image (1Co 8:4.)
He hath chosen abomination in you. Some translate abomination in the nominative case, and suppose the meaning to be, that the men who choose the idols are abominable; but I think that the meaning is different. The verb hath chosen, appears to me to be used indefinitely, as the grammarians call it, and in that manner it is often used in other passages of Scripture; for when the Prophets speak of the generality of men:, and relate any common or ordinary occurrence, they do not employ a substantive. I consider the meaning therefore to be, that men cannot frame idols without at the same time framing abomination. This is a remarkable passage for abhorring idols and the presumption of men who make them, which they cannot do without offering the highest insult to God. Some men think that it is amusement, but the Prophet declares it to be “abomination,” which God cannot endure, and will not permit to be unpunished. The word choose points out, as with the finger, the origin of idol-worship; for pure religion would never have been contaminated by so many corruptions, if they had not dared to make gods for themselves according to their own caprice; and therefore it ought to be remarked, that all kinds of worship that are the result of “choice” are at variance with true godliness.
25. I have raised him from the north. He again returns to that argument; which he had briefly handled, respecting the foreknowledge and power of God, and shews that to him alone in whom these are found, the name of God belongs; and therefore that they are empty idols, which neither know nor can do anything. When he says that he “raised him from the north,” some explain this as relating to Cyrus, and others as relating to Christ. But I think that here the Prophet denotes two things; for when he says “from the north,” he means the Babylonians, and when he says “from the east,” he means the Medes and Persians; as if he had said, “Two changes shall happen that are worthy of remembrance; for I will raise up the Babylonians, whose empire I will exalt on high, and next shall come the Persians, who shall become their masters.”
Though these events happened afterwards, and after a long interval, he shews that they were already well known to him, and appointed by his decree, so that the accomplishment of them is a clear proof of his divinity. Yet, in the former clause, he threatens punishment for the purpose of terrifying the Jews; in the latter he commends his mercy; because he testifies that both the captivity and the deliverance of the people will be his work, so that it is evident that both foreknowledge and power belong to him. Heathens make a division of various offices among their gods: Apollo foretells what is to come, Jupiter executes it, and another god does something else. But it belongs to God, not only to foretell or declare what shall happen, but to arrange everything according to his pleasure; for every divine attribute belongs to God alone, and cannot be ascribed to another; and this is the reason why he claims for himself foreknowledge and execution as inseparable.
When he says that he calls him “from the north,” as I suggested a little before, he predicts the future captivity of which at that time there was no expectation, because the Jews were friends and allies of the Chaldeans, and at the same time he prophesies concerning the restoration of the people who were permitted by Cyrus to return into their native land. Who would have thought, when matters were in that state, that such things could be believed? Especially since it was after a long interval that they followed; for they happened two hundred years after having been predicted by the Prophet. The Lord testifies that he is the author of these events, that all may know that the Babylonians did not attack them by chance, but that the Lord raised them up as scourges for chastising the Jews, and that the Persians and Medes did not subdue the Babylonians by their own power, but because they were led and prompted by the hand of God. In these words, therefore, he describes the greatness and power of God, and so much the more plainly by declaring that kings and princes, with respect to him, are clay. Hence we see more clearly that the Prophet had regard not only to his own age, but to posterity; for these things could not be known to the men who lived at that time, but posterity, who had actual experience of their accomplishment, understood them better; so that none could doubt that it is God alone “to whom all things are naked and open,” (Heb 4:13,) and who directs everything according to his pleasure.
This is a remarkable passage for establishing the full and perfect certainty of the oracles of God; for the Jews did not forge these predictions while they were captive in Babylon, but long after the predictions had been delivered to their fathers, they at length recognised the righteous judgment of God, by whom they had been warned in due time, and then embraced his mercy, having learned that they would be at length delivered by the Lord, who wished to preserve his Church, and whom they had found to be faithful to his promises. Hence, therefore, we may conclude with certainty, that Isaiah did not speak at his own suggestion, but that his tongue was moved and guided by the Spirit of God.
And he has come. 148 When he says that “he has come,” the meaning is, that all that has been foretold by the command of God will infallibly be accomplished. He speaks of a future event, and thus illustrates the foreknowledge of God; and when he says that God is the author of these events, this relates to his power and might.
He shall call on my name. To call “on the name of God” means nothing else than to undertake anything in obedience to his authority. It is true, indeed, that nothing was farther kern the intention of Cyrus than to be employed in the service of the God of Israel, or to follow him as a leader; but the event shewed that God, in a secret manner, led the way, so as to conduct him by successive and incredible victories to Babylon.
And as a potter he shall tread the clay. This comparison is added, because the power of the Babylonians was so vast that it was universally believed that it could not be assailed, and they looked upon themselves as invincible. Since therefore the Babylonians, trusting to their resources, despised all their adversaries, and were elated with pride, the Prophet says, that not only they, but many others shall be subdued and “trodden down like the clay.” In short, he means that the wealth of the Babylonians shall not prevent this change from being made, or the Medes and Persians from becoming masters of the empire; and, indeed, the propriety of this metaphor was clearly proved by the event, when Cyrus, after having conquered so many nations, and gained so many brilliant victories, within a short period subdued the whole of the East.
26. Who hath declared from the beginning? Again the Lord attacks idols, after having maintained his divinity; for he asks if idolaters can produce anything of a similar nature to support their worship; that is, if they can bring forward any such instance of foreknowledge or power. And because beyond all controversy he could claim this prerogative for himself alone, he tauntingly says, “We will acknowledge that he by whom such things shall be done is the true God.”
We will say he is righteous. This is the literal rendering, but the word “righteous” has an extensive meaning, and sometimes denotes “true and approved;” hence the saying, “Wisdom is justified,” that is, approved, “by her children.” (Mt 11:19.) These are then clear proofs of the divine majesty, which demonstrate the vanity of idols, because by the disposal of God alone all things are governed, and by the slightest expression of his will the mightiest monarchies are overthrown. The Lord speaks in the plural number, in order to shew that he does not defend his own cause, but the cause of the whole nation. He is, indeed, satisfied with his own eternity; but as we are weak, it is therefore necessary that it should be proved to us that he is God, that our minds may not go astray, or wander in uncertainty, but may rest entirely upon him; and therefore to the word is added experimental knowledge, that it may more fully support our faith, if it should still be liable to waver.
There is none that heareth your words. He says that the idols are dumb, and leave their worshippers in suspense, while he kindles the torch of his word, to enlighten his elect people, and lead them forward to righteous judgment.
27. The first to Zion. 149 In this verse God states more clearly that he predicts future events to the Jews, in order to encourage them to believe; because if prophecies had not their end and use, it would not in itself be of very great advantage to know future events. God therefore testifies that prophecies are intended by him to promote the faith and edification of the Church. It was necessary that this should be added to the former statements, that the people might know that those examples were exhibited, not only in order to magnify the power of God, but that all believers might reap advantage from it; for all the instances of the power and foreknowledge of God ought to be viewed by us in such a light as will enable us to know that he takes care of us, (1Pe 5:7,) and that he does everything for promoting our salvation. Zion is therefore commanded to acknowledge him as the true and only God, not merely because he has punished their crimes, but because they are restored from captivity, and thus learn that God is reconciled to them.
Behold! Behold! Here we must regard Mount Zion as desolate and uninhabited, and Jerusalem as reduced to a wilderness. Hence also Jeremiah represents Jerusalem as speaking in the manner that is usual with afflicted and distressed women. (La 1:20.) Thus the Lord now exhibits her as a widow and forsaken. Isaiah will afterwards arouse her to rejoice as a woman who had formerly been barren, and to whom the Lord had given new fertility for bearing offspring. (Isa 54:1.) At the same time he now declares that he will comfort Jerusalem, at a time when nothing was to be seen but what was melancholy and revolting in her hideous ruins. Now, the present message is, either that she shall give birth to children, though she was long a widow and desolate, or that they who had been scattered in distant captivity will return to her in vast numbers. With that desolation, therefore, we must contrast the restoration which was effected through Cyrus, when it is said, “Behold, they come;” and by the word “first,” is denoted not only the eternal essence of God, but likewise the antiquity of the prediction.
And I will send a messenger to Jerusalem. He now describes the manner in which God informs believers about future events, that is by the agency and ministry of the prophets. מבשר(mebashsher) is translated by Jerome “Evangelist,” or “a bringer of good tidings;” but it literally means a “messenger.” This makes little difference, however, as to the meaning; for it denotes the prophets who should bring the glad and cheering message of this deliverance, as God had formerly promised by Moses, that he would raise up, in uninterrupted succession, faithful ministers who should surpass all the magicians, and soothsayers, and diviners. (De 18:15.) For this reason also he formerly bestowed on the Church a remarkable appellation, calling her “a bearer of tidings,” (Isa 40:9,) because in the Church the word of God ought to sound aloud.
This tends greatly to the commendation of preaching; for the Lord does not descend from heaven to instruct us, but employs the ministry of his servants, and declares that he speaks to us by their mouth; and this distinguished blessing of God ought to be embraced with our whole heart. He had promised in the Law, as I mentioned a little before,
“I will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you.” (De 18:15.)
He now confirms that promise, by saying that there shall never be wanting “messengers” to soothe the people amidst their griefs, and to comfort them amidst their severest afflictions. Hence also we ought to conclude, that there is no condition of the Church in which prophecies cease; that is, in which the word of God brings no alleviation of our distresses.
28. I looked, and there was none. After having spoken of himself, the Lord returns to idols; for these are continued contrasts by which a comparison is drawn between God and idols. As if he had said, “I do these things, but idols cannot do them; they have no counsel, or wisdom, or understanding; they cannot give an answer to those that ask them, and cannot yield any alleviation to the wretched.” In this comparison we ought to observe that he plainly shews himself to be God, first, by the prophets and by their doctrine, and, secondly, by his works in a similar manner; and that nothing of this kind is found in idols; from which it follows, that they are not gods, and that we ought to rely on him alone. Besides, the eyes of men are darkened by slothfulness; because they neither inquire, nor consider, nor observe. Thus they are stupified by idols, for they are willingly deceived; because they would immediately perceive the emptiness of idols, if they carefully applied their minds to examine them. This shews that idolaters cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance, for they choose to be blind and to wander in darkness, rather than to see the light and embrace the truth.
29. Behold, they are all vanity. After having spoken of idols, he makes the same statement as to their worshippers; as it is also said,
“They who make them, and all that trust in them, are like them.” (Ps 115:8.)
Thus he shews that all superstitious persons are full of “vanity,” and have no judgment or reason. They cannot, indeed, believe this; for, inflated with pride, they look upon themselves as men of the highest ability, and despise us as stupid and ignorant of the affairs of men, when compared with themselves. With what pride do the Papists and their learned doctors scorn us! With what haughtiness did the Romans in ancient times despise the Jews! But we need not spend time on such pride, for in this passage God condemns them all for “vanity.”
Their works are a failure. He gives the name of “works” both to the images which superstitious men make for themselves, and to all false worship, which has no end or measure, and in which every person desires to be a master and teacher of religion. He pronounces all of them to be a “failure,” that is, of no value. He declares this still more plainly, when he says, that they are wind and chaos, that is, confusion; for I explain תהו (tohu) in the same sense that it has in the first chapter of Genesis, where Moses says that
“the earth was at first shapeless and confused.”
This passage against idolaters ought to be carefully studied; for they think that images were appointed to preserve religion, and that minds are kindled by the sight of them, as by the visible presence of God. They think that they are the books of the ignorant and unlearned, who cannot be instructed by the reading of the Scriptures. But the Spirit of God here declares that it is a confused and shapeless thing, that is, because it disturbs and retains in superstition the minds of men; and indeed all true knowledge that exists among men is choked and quenched by this worship of idols. In short, he teaches that all images, and the homage that is paid to them, and they who have made and follow them, are mere vanity, and that we may safely condemn them.
“Devant moy“ “Before me.”
“He alludes to the method observed in courts of judicature, where silence is always commanded to prevent interruption; he calls upon the idolatrous nations to appear at the bar with him, and see if they could give so convincing proofs of the divinity of their gods as he could of his own.” — White.
“Puisque sa force n’estoit point diminuee, ni sa beneficence refroidie.” “Since his strength was not diminished, nor his benevolence cooled.”
“L’ a-il pas appele pour venir apres soy.” “Called him to come after himself.”
“Afin de ne la point voir.” “That they might not see it.”
“De la droite fiance en luy.” “From proper confidence in him.”
חרש (charash) denotes any kind of workman, who devotes himself to his work, whatever may be the material on which he is employed. It is employed particularly to denote a ‘worker in iron,’ (Isa 44:12,) ‘a carpenter,’ (Isa 44:13,) ‘a worker in stone,’ (Ex 28:11,) and a ‘worker in brass,’ (1Ki 7:14.) צרף (tzoreph) is more definite. It is the participle of the verb צרף, (tzaraph,) which signifies ‘the melting and casting of metals;’ and hence צרף (tzoreph) is one who melts metals in the fire, purifies them from dross, separates one metal from another, and prepares them by the hammer. (Isa. 41:7, Isa. 46:6.)” — Rosenmuller.
“‘Him that striketh by turns with him.’ פעם (pagnam) is not here a noun substantive, signifying an anviI, as it has been generally understood, but an adverb, denoting that reciprocal action of two smiths on the same anvil, of which Virgil speaks. Aen. 8:452.” — Stocks.
That is, instead of the usual and natural rendering, “whom I have taken,” Calvin renders the clause, “because I have taken thee.” — Ed.
“As the parallelism, seems to require an analogous expression of contempt in the next clause, some either read מתי (methe) (dead men) with Aquila (τεθνεῶτες), Theodotion (νεκροί), and Jerome (qui mortui estis in Israel), or regard מתי (methe) as a modification of that word, denoting mortals. Vitringa and Hitzig gain the same end by explaining it as an ellipsis for מתי מספר, (methe mispar,) men of number, that is, few men, used in Ps 105:12.” — Alexander.
“Aux causes secondes.” “To second causes.”
“Des poures pecheurs.”
“Comme celuy qui fut donne a Pyrrhus.”
The former of these hexameters is perhaps the finest recorded specimen of that intentional ambiguity which the Pythian and kindred oracles so successfully cultivated. It may either mean, “I say that thou, the son of Aeacus, canst conquer the Romans,” or, “I say that the Romans can conquer thee, the son of Aeacus.” — Ed.
“A l’idole corruptible.” “To the corruptible idol.”
“And he shall come.” — Eng. Vet.
“I, saith Jehovah, am the first that has foretold by my prophets to the Jews those things which none of the false gods, and none of their prophets could foretell, the destruction of Babylon and the return of the banished Jews into their native country.” — Rosenmuller.