Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 15: Isaiah, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen:
1. Nunc tamen audi, Iacob, serve meus, et Israel quem elegi.
2. Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.
2. Sic dicit Iehova factor tuus, et formator tuus ab utero; tibi auxiliabitur. Ne timeas, serve meus, Iacob, dilecte quem elegi.
3. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
3. Quia effundam aquas super sitientem, et flumina super aridam. Effundam spiritum meum super semen tuum, et benedictionem meam super germina tua.
4. And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.
4. Et germinabunt quasi inter herbam, quasi salices juxta rivos aquarum.
5. One shall say, I am the LORD’S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
5. Hic dicet, Ego sum Iehovae; et ille vocabitur nomine Iacob; altus scribet manu sua, Iehovae (sum), et nomine Israel cognominabitur.
6. Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.
6. Sic dicit Iehova, rex Israel, et redemptor ejus, Iehova exercituum: Ego primus, et idem novissimus, et praeter me non est Deus.
7. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
7. Et quis sicut ego vocabit, annunciabit hoc, et ordinabit hoc mihi, ex quo constitui populum seculi? Et quae pendent, et quae ventura sunt, illis annuncient.
8. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
8. Ne timeatis et ne terreamini. An non ex tune audire to feci, et annuntiavi? Itaque vos testes mei, quod non sit Deus praeter me, et non sit fortis quem ignorem.
9. They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
9. Fictores sculptilis omnes vanitas; et desiderabilia eorum nihil prosunt; et testes eorum ipsi, quod non vident, nec cognoscunt; ideoque confundentur.
10. Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
10. Quis formator Dei? et quis sculptilis confiator, quod nullam ad rem usui est?
11. Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
11. Ecce omnes socii ejus pudefient, et artifices ipsi sunt ex hominibus. Ut conveniant omnes, ac stent, pavebunt, et pudefient simul.
12. The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
12. Faber ferrarius limam (aut forcipem) sumet; operabitur in prunis, malleis formabit illud; operabitur in eo, brachio virtutis suae; etiam famelicus, ut deficiant rites; non bibat aquam, ut fatiscat.
13. The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
13. Faber lignarius extendit regulam, illud delineat filo tincto, aptat planulis, circino figurat; facit illud secundum formam viri, secundum effigiem hominis, ut sedeat in domo.
14. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
14. Succidet sibi cedros, tollet ilicem et quercum; roborabitur ad ligna silvae; plantabit pinum, quam pluvia enutriet.
15. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it: he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
15. Tum erit homini in incendium; nam accipiet ex illis, et calefaciet se; praeterea furnum accendet, et coquet panes; Deum quoque efficiet, atque adorabit; finget idolum, et prosternet se coram co.
16. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
16. Partem ejus comburet igni; ex parte carnem comedet; assabit assaturam, et saturabitur. Deinde calefaciet se, ac dicet, Ohe calefactus sum, et vidi ignem.
17. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
17. Reliquias ejus in Deum vertit in sculptile suum; incurvat se coram eo; adorat et precatur illud, dicens, Libera me, quia Deus meus es.
18. They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
18. Nescierunt, nec intellexerunt; quia oblevit oculos eorum, ne videant, et cor eorum, ne intelligant.
19. And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
19. Non redit ad cor suum, non est sensus, nec intelligentia, ut dicat, Partem ejus combussi igni; etiam super prunas ejus coxi panem; assavi carnem, et comedi; residuum ejus in abominationem vertam: coram trunco ligni incurvabo me?
20. He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
20. Pascit cinerem, cor seductum inclinat eum, ut non liberet animam suam, neque dicat, Annon mendacium in dextera mea?
21. Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
21. Memor esto horum, Iacob, et Israel, quia servus meus es; formavi to; servus meus es; Israel, ne obliviscaris mei.
22. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
22. Delevi, ut nubem, iniquitates tuas; ut nebulam, peccata tua. Revertere ad me, quia redemi to.
23. Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
23. Laudate, coeli, quia fecit Iehova; jubilate, inferiora terrae; erumpite, montes, in laudem; silva et omnis arbor quae in ea st; quoniam redemit Iehova Iacob, et in Israel glorificabitur.
24. Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
24. Sic dicit Iehova redemptor tuns, et factor tuus ex utero. Ego Iehova faciens omnia, extendens coelos solus, expandens terrain inca virtute (vel, a meipso.)
25. That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;
25. Dissipans signa divinatorum, ariolos dementans, convertens sapientes retrorsum, et scientiam corum infatuans.
26. That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
26. Suscitans verbum servi sui, et consilium nuntiorum suorum perficiens; dicens Ierosolymae, Habitaberis; et civitatibus Iuda, Extruemini; et ruinas ejus erigam.
27. That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
27. Dicens profundo, Exsiccare, et flumina tua arefaeiam.
28. That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
28. Dicens Cyro, Pastor meus; et omnem voluntatem meam perficiet; dicendo etiam Ierosolymae, Aedificaberis; et templo, Fundaberis.
1. Yet now hear. Having a little before rebuked the transgressions of the people, and declared that all deserved eternal perdition, because both the princes and the people had polluted everything by their crimes, he now mitigates that severity of punishment, and comforts the people. In this passage I consider the particle ו (vau) to mean But or Yet, as in many other passages. As if he had said, “Though grievous afflictions are about to overtake thee, yet now hear what I will do for thy sake.” The verse must be viewed in connection with the former argument, because the Lord declares that he will never permit his people to perish altogether, though they be grievously afflicted. Hence infer, that God is never so angry with his Church as not to leave some room for mercy, as we have already seen on many occasions. The consequence is, that the prophets, whenever they threaten, always add some consolation as an abatement.
But lest we should imagine that men have deserved it by their good conduct, he therefore adds, whom I have chosen; for we do not serve God, because we are entitled to it, or deserve it, but because he renders us fit by a free election. In this passage, therefore, the words Servant and Elect are synonymous, yet so that election comes first in order, and therefore David says that he was God’s “servant” before he was born, because even from his mother’s womb he had been received into God’s family. (Ps. 22:10, Ps. 71:6, Ps. 116:16.)
2. Thus saith Jehovah thy Maker. Though he treated the Jews harshly, that they might be stripped of all false confidence, and might humbly betake themselves to the grace of God, he now caresses them pleasantly by a mild and gentle discourse, that they may know that by self-denial they shall sustain no loss. We must therefore supply here the following contrasts. “Thou, Jacob, art indeed nothing in thyself, but God thy Maker will not despise his work; no nobleness of birth would secure thee against perdition, but the adoption which the Heavenly Father has been pleased to bestow upon thee will be abundantly sufficient for redeeming thee.” Besides, we should keep in mind what I have often said already, that the Prophet does not speak of the first creation by which we are born to be human beings, but of the regeneration which belongs and is peculiar to the elect, that they may obtain a place in the Church of God.
He that formed thee from the womb. This is added, that men may not claim anything for themselves, as if they had moved him to shew kindness to them. By these words he also exhibits to them a hereditary covenant, by which God separated them to be his inheritance “before they were born.” (Ro 9:11.) Some think that this refers to the person of Jacob, because, by taking hold of his brother’s foot, (Ge 25:26,) he gave a remarkable proof of his election; but this is a forced interpretation, and therefore I give a wider signification to these words, namely, that the Lord was kind and bountiful to his people from the commencement, and cut off all merits; because by free grace he “formed him,” and then freely bestowed on him all blessings.
He will help thee. Some supply the relative, “Who will help thee;” as if he had said, “Thy Helper;” but it is better to read the clause separately. 173 It would be still more clear in the first person, “I will help thee;” but as to the substance of the meaning it makes no difference. The statemen t amounts to this, that he who is the Creator of the people will be ready to give his assistance when the proper time shall arrive. Let every person therefore adopt that reading which he thinks proper; but I have preferred to follow the simple and natural meaning, without supplying any word.
O beloved! The word ישרון (yeshurun) is explained in various ways. Some think that it is derived from ישר, (yashar,) which means “to be upright,” or “to please;” others from שור, (shur,) and others from אשר, (ashar.) But I rather agree with those who translate it Beloved, and derive it from the root ישר, (yashar.) This designation is also bestowed on that nation by Moses in his song; for, although some render it in that passage Upright, and in this passage also, the old rendering is more suitable, “My beloved is grown fat.” (De 32:15.) The Prophet adorns his nation with these titles, that the Jews may be led by past benefits to entertain hope for the future. This rule ought to be held by all believers as perpetually binding, that, after having experienced the kindness of God toward them, they should likewise expect it for the future; for otherwise they will be excessively ungrateful, and will shew that they do not rely on the promises of God, which, when they are impressed on our hearts, undoubtedly bring peace and safety; not that we should be utterly devoid of fear, but that we should strive against all dread and distrust; and therefore he again repeats, —
Fear thou not, Jacob. Such is also the import of the consolation given by Christ,
“Fear not, little flock, for my Father hath good will towards thee.” (Lu 12:32.)
And, indeed, among the dangers which threaten death on all sides, no remedy is better adapted to allay terrors than that God has been pleased to bestow his favor upon us, so that he will save us for ever. By the word “Beloved,” therefore, he again repeats that this depends on the favor and protection of God, who ascribes to himself, and entirely claims, all the good that existed among the people.
3. For I will pour waters. He continues the same subject, and at the same time explains what will be the nature of that assistance which he has promised. But we ought always to keep in remembrance that these prophecies relate to that sorrowful and afflicted period of which he formerly spoke, that is, when the people, in the extremity to which they were reduced, might think that they were altogether forsaken, and that all the promises of God were vain. Isaiah meets this doubt, and compares the people to a dry and thirsty land, which has no moisture at all. By this metaphor David also describes his wretchedness. (Ps 143:6.) Although therefore they were worn out by afflictions, and the vital moisture was decayed, yet, that they might not throw away courage in their deepest distresses, they ought to have set before their minds this declaration of the Prophet. We, too, when we are brought into the greatest dangers, and see nothing before us but immediate death, ought in the same manner to betake ourselves to these promises, that we may be supported by them against all temptations. Yet we must feel our drought and poverty, that our thirsty souls may partake of this refreshing influence of the waters.
I will pour my Spirit. Jehovah himself explains what he means by waters and rivers, that is, his Spirit. In another passage the Spirit of God is called “water,” but in a different sense. When Ezekiel gives the name “water” to the Holy Spirit, he at the same time calls it “clean water,” with a view to cleansing. (Eze 36:25.) Isaiah will afterwards call the Spirit “waters,” but for a different reason, that is, because by the secret moisture of his power he quickens souls. But these words of the Prophet have a wider signification, because he does not speak merely of the Spirit of regeneration, but alludes to the universal grace which is spread over all the creatures, and which is mentioned in Ps 105:30, “Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and he will renew the face of the earth.” As David declares in that passage that every part of the world is enlivened, so far as God imparts to it secret vigor, and next ascribes to God might and power, by which, whenever he thinks fit, he suddenly revives the ruinous condition of heaven and earth, so now for the same reason Isaiah gives the appellation “water” to the sudden renewal of the Church; as if he had said that the restoration of the Church is at God’s disposal, as much as when he fertilizes by dew or rain the barren and almost parched lands.
Thus the Spirit is compared to “water,” because without Him all things decay and perish through drought, and because by the secret watering of his power he quickens the whole world, and because the barrenness occasioned by drought and heat is cured in such a manner, that the earth puts on a new face. This is still more fully explained by the word which he afterwards employs, Blessing.
4. And they shall spring up. These words contain nothing more than what I quoted from Ps 104:30, that, when the Spirit of God has been sent forth, the whole face of the earth is renewed, and those fields which formerly were burnt up with thirst are green and flourish, just as the herbs grow, after having been watered by the rains. By these metaphors he extends the view of this subject, and more fully shews that it is quite as easy for God to enlarge by additional offspring the Church, which was desolate, and which had been reduced to ruinous and frightful solitude, as to impart to the earth the power of bringing forth. Yet, though he does not speak of regeneration, still we may apply to it this statement; because he speaks of the restoration of the Church, the chief part of which is the new creature by which the Lord restores his image in the elect. This doctrine may indeed be drawn from it and more copiously explained, but we must first explain the Prophet’s design, and lay open the plain and natural meaning of his words.
5. One shall say. Hitherto the Prophet has spoken metaphorically, but now expresses his meaning plainly without any figure of speech. He shews what is the nature of that vegetation and herbage of which he spoke. It means that out of all nations the Lord will gather his people, and will bring into his Church those who were formerly strangers, and will raise up and enlarge his Church, which formerly appeared to be reduced to nothing; for all shall flock to her from every quarter, and shall wish to be enrolled in the number of believers, as it is also said,
“Behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia; that man was born there.” (Ps 87:4.)
That passage, though hitherto it seemed to be obscure, through the mistakes of interpreters, is exceedingly well adapted to the illustration of this prophecy, that believers, who might have been terrified and ashamed on account of their diminished numbers, (for we know that but a small number returned from captivity,) might cherish hope of that illustrious and magnificent grace of Redemption which had been celebrated by the prophets. To meet these views, that Prophet, whoever he was, that was the author of the psalm, declares that the Babylonians and Egyptians shall be citizens of the Church, and that the Ethiopians and Tyrians, and those who formerly were strangers, shall come for the purpose of being enrolled among the people of God. “Now,” says he, “Jerusalem lies waste; but one day God will not only gather those who are scattered, but will also call others from every quarter, and will unite in one body those who are now at the greatest variance, so that they shall boast of being citizens of Jerusalem, and shall belong to the body of the chosen people as much as if they had been natives.” The same thing is taught in this passage by the Prophet Isaiah, from whom the author of the psalm undoubtedly borrowed that sentiment.
And another shall be called by the name of Jacob. The general meaning is, that there will be a vast assembly of men, who shall be united in faith and in obedience to the one true God. But as, in a registration, every person either pronounces or writes his own name, the Prophet, keeping his eye on this custom, employs the following modes of expression, — “One shall write with his hand, I am God’s, and shall take the surname of Israel; another shall acknowledge that he is God’s, and shall be called by the name of Jacob.” He describes something new and uncommon, for he who formerly had nothing to do with God shall boast that God hath adopted him. “To be called” is in this place equivalent to the French phrase, Se reclamer, that is, “to declare one’s self to belong to a person;” just as formerly, when he spoke of women to whom the name of their husbands served for a protection, he introduces them as saying, “Let thy name be called on us,” that is, “Let us be named by thy name.” (Isa 4:1.)
Although Isaiah appears, in this passage, to distinguish between those who in express terms shall declare that they belong to the people of God, and shall wish to be named by the name of Jacob, yet both clauses refer to the same persons, because to be a child of God, and to be an Israelite, are two things closely connected, for God determines that the Church shall be the mother of all his children. Yet it ought to be remarked, that none are the lawful citizens of the Church but those who submit to the government of God. If the Prophet had passed by the name of God and mentioned “Jacob” and “Israel,” still we must have begun with the Head, from whom proceeds all relationship both in heaven and in earth; but, that there may be no remaining ambiguity, he has twice described this order, that none are reckoned to belong to the seed of Jacob but they who obey God.
Hence we easily see what is the Prophet’s meaning; for he shews that the Church, so long as she is destitute of the blessing of God, withers and gradually falls into decay; but that, when the Spirit of God has been poured out, she is quickened, and at length gathers strength, not only for recovering her former condition:, but so as to grow by wonderful increase beyond expectation. Let us remember, however, that the Prophet does not speak of the order of nature, as if the new children of the Church were born such from the womb, because no person gains such high rank by his own industry; but when they who formerly were aliens have been regenerated by faith, he says that they will eagerly enrol their names, in order to testify that they are the children of God. Thus he describes a change which surpasses nature and all the conceptions of men, when out of the accursed race of Adam is formed a spiritual Israel.
Some think that the Prophet here expresses the small number of believers, when he says, “One shall be called, another shall write;” but that argument has little weight, and even the context furnishes an easy refutation of their error. In my opinion, we should rather understand him to mean that the Church shall be collected in crowds out of various and distant nations; because God will assemble strangers under his authority, and will stir them up to boast sincerely, and not in empty words, that they belong to his people. It ought also to be observed, that true faith cannot stand without breaking forth immediately into confession; for such is the import of these four words, “To be called by the name of Israel, To write, To be known, To say, I am the Lord’s;” for they who sincerely worship God ought not to be dumb, but to testify both by actions and by words what they carry inwardly in their hearts. They profess to be the servants of God, and glory in his name during the whole course of his life.
6. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet now does nothing else than confirm the preceding doctrine, which was highly necessary; for the hearts of men, being prone to distrust, are easily dismayed by adversity, and may be encouraged by one or more exhortations. It was not superfluous, therefore, to employ many words in confirming them; because we never ascribe as much as we ought to ascribe to the power of God, but are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and are too strongly attached to the present state of things.
The King of Israel, and his Redeemer. After having made use of the unutterable name of God, the Prophet calls him also “King” and “Redeemer;” because it is not enough that we perceive the power of God, if we are not convinced of his good-will towards us. In order, therefore, that his promises may produce their proper effect upon us, he mentions not only his glory, but also his goodness, that we may know that it extends to us. It might be thought absurd that he called him “King,” while there was scarcely any people; but believers ought to rely on this promise, that they might behold the kingdom by faith, and contemplate it as future, though they did not behold it with their eyes. And indeed this doctrine would never have penetrated their hearts, when they were reduced to the greatest extremity, and were almost overwhelmed with despair, if the way had not been opened by’ this preface. But when God familiarly addresses us, and declares that he is united to us, fairly, allured by so gentle an invitation, rises up out of hell itself.
I am the first. By these words he does not assert God’s eternity, but shews that He is always like himself, that they may hope that He will be to them in future what they have found him to be in the past. But why, it may be asked, does he speak in this manner to believers, who knew it well? I reply, though men believe God, yet they do not acknowledge him to be what he is, and sometimes ascribe less to him than to the creature. The Prophet, therefore, wishes that our minds should be pure and free from every false imagination, and that we should raise them to heaven, that they may be altogether fixed on God alone. Besides, it was necessary that the people, who had been so terribly distressed, should be fortified against such violent attacks, that they might firmly keep their ground.
7. And who as I? Here the Lord compares himself with idols, as we have already seen in another passage. In the present instance the object is, that, when they were fiercely insulted by the Babylonian conquerors, they might not be discouraged, or think that their hopes were disappointed; for the taunts which were hurled at them by wicked men were exceedingly harsh and insolent. “Where is their God?” (Ps 79:10.) “Why does he not assist you?” Such blasphemies might shake the minds of believers, and disturb them in such a manner that they would throw away hope and confidence; and therefore the Prophet dwells more earnestly on this matter, in order to confirm believers more and more. That mournful calamity of the nation was like a dark cloud, which prevented believers from seeing the face of God; and in the meantime unbelievers danced for joy, as if the power of their gods had shone forth in full brightness. In order to dispel that darkness of error, the Prophet shows that still undoubted marks and proofs of the glory of God are distinctly visible, so as to distinguish him from idols; that is, because in due time he publicly made known what was future, that the Jews might recognize him to be a righteous Judge in chastisements, and yet might hope that he would be reconciled and gracious.
Shall call. The word call may be taken in two senses, so as to refer either to foreknowledge or to action; for, as God governs all things by his providence, so he knows everything that is future, and gives evidence of his foreknowledge. It is unnecessary to give ourselves much trouble about the meaning of this word, for it is very evident that the Prophet ascribes to God both the foreknowledge and the government of all things. But for my own part, I rather think that it refers to action. “Shall there be found among the gods of the nations any one that can call, that is, raise up, announce, and appoint deliverers? Does not this plainly shew that I alone am God?” Thus he defies idols, to whom groundlessly men ascribe any power. By the word which he immediately adds, shall tell it, he magnifies the special grace of God, in deigning to reveal his purpose to the elect people by the prophets.
Since I appointed the people of the age. By “the people of the age” some understand all nations, the singular number being used instead of the plural, because, as soon as the Lord multiplied the nations, he separated them from each other, and established that order which should last through future ages. Others extend it to all the creatures, viewing the stars as one people, the vegetable tribes as another, and in like manner animals as another, and so forth. But when I examine the matter closely, I am constrained to adopt an opposite opinion, namely, that the Lord speaks of his own people, and calls them: ‘the people of the age,” because they are preferred to all others. Other nations, indeed, were unquestionably more ancient. The Egyptians boasted of their antiquity, and so did the Arcadians and others. But Abraham was brought out of Mesopotamia, (Ge 11:31; Ac 7:2,) when the Chaldees were in a highly flourishing condition, and lived at home a solitary individual, as if at his death the remembrance of him should quickly perish, while the neighboring countries were highly populous, and were eminent in other respects.
The antiquity of Israel, therefore, ought not to be estimated from the number of years, or from the outward condition of things, but from the election of God; and hence also the foundations of Jerusalem are called eternal. (Ps 78:69.) It is therefore as if he had said, “Before idols were framed by men, I determined that I should have a Church, which should last for ever.” This “people,” therefore, is the most ancient and most excellent of all, though others may come before it either in time or in rank; for, as all things were created for the sake of man, so all men were appointed to be of service to the Church; so that there are none, though occupying a higher eminence, that do not sink to a lower rank; for the Church is the body of Christ, which nothing can exceed in antiquity or excellence. To adopt the fables of the Jews, that Jerusalem was founded from the very beginning, would be absurd, because in this passage there is no reference to dates; but yet we ought to hold by this principle, that the elect people holds a higher rank than the heathen nations, in consequence of approaching more nearly to God, who is the fountain of eternity.
Let them tell. This permission shews that it is vain for men to expect a revelation from idols, which, if they tell anything, delude by tricks, and by words of doubtful meaning, those who consult them, as we have already mentioned.
8. Fear not. Isaiah now explains the reason why he formerly spoke of the power of God, that is, in order to confirm the faith of the people. From the preceding statements he draws this conclusion, — “Since the Lord is so powerful, and governs all things at his pleasure, the people whom he hath taken under his protection ought not to fear.”
Have I not since then made thee hear? He next repeats what he had already said, that God not only brought assistance secretly to the Jews, and suddenly, as if by legerdemain, made his appearance when he was least expected, but kept their faith alive by many predictions, and, in short, gave manifest proofs of his fatherly kindness, so that his divinity was clearly perceived. It would be of no advantage to us that God knows and can do all things, if it were not also revealed how great concern he takes in our salvation. Although, therefore, he wishes that many things should be unknown to us, yet he communicates everything that is useful or advantageous for us to know. מאז, (meaz,) from then, means a long period; or, if it be thought better, it denotes an opportunity; for the Lord reveals his secrets to the elect, when he sees a fit season; but the former interpretation appears to me to be more simple.
Therefore ye are my witnesses. He means what I have already remarked, that the people cannot plead the excuse of ignorance for not being satisfied with one God; for he has abundantly revealed himself to them, so as to give a testimony concerning himself. The object intended to be gained by our knowledge of the glory of God is, that we should profess his truth before men, as has been already said, if we do not wish to extinguish the light which he hath brought to us by his Spirit. Again, we cannot be “witnesses to God” if we are not confirmed by his truth; for a testimony proceeding from a doubtful opinion would be of no avail, and therefore we must be taught by the Word of God, so as to have a fixed and unhesitating hope of salvation.
And there is no strong God. 174 In this passage, as in many others, he applies to God the epithet strong; for it is not enough to acknowledge God’s eternal essence, if we do not also ascribe strength to him. But for this, we shall leave him nothing but a bare and empty name, as is done by wicked men, who with the mouth confess God, and afterwards ascribe his power to this and to that.
9. The formers of a graven image. The Lord now shews, on the contrary, how wretched idolaters are who wander amidst their contrivances, and are not founded on the eternal truth of God; for they have no knowledge or sound understanding. As he justly pronounced the people, a little before, to be guilty of ingratitude, if the proofs of the grace of God did not encourage them to the exercise of faith, so he now arms and fortifies them against all the superstitions of the Gentiles. Unbelievers being both very numerous and very wealthy, he says that all are nothing, 175 and, next, that amidst all their magnificence there is nothing but imposture.
And their desirable thinqs do not profit. Under the term desirable things, he includes not only idols, but all their worship, and the ornaments, honor, and obedience which foolish men render to them, and denotes those things by a highly appropriate name; for since the chief object of life is to acknowledge and worship God, (which alone is our principal distinction from the brutes,) we ought to prefer it to all things, even to the most valuable, so as to direct to him all our prayers, and, in a word, all the thoughts of our heart. With good reason, therefore, does Scripture employ this word in speaking of the worship of God; but here the Prophet speaks of corrupt worship and the mad desire of idols, by which men are hurried along; and therefore he says, that all that they desire or eagerly perform is vain and useless. Frequently, too, this “desire” is compared to the love of a harlot, by which men are bewitched and almost blinded, so as not to perceive their baseness or yield to any reason. But we have explained this under a former passage. (Isa 1:29.) 176
And they are their witnesses. Some explain this to mean that the idols bear testimony against themselves, and plainly shew how vain they are, so that they who do not perceive it must be exceedingly stupid. But I do not at all approve of that exposition, and prefer to follow those who refer it to the worshippers of idols, who themselves are aware of their being so utterly vain; for they know that they neither see nor understand anything. And in this passage there is a contrast between the testimony of the people of God and that of idolaters. The former will give an illustrious testimony of the glory of God from his works and promises and predictions; the latter will be constrained to be dumb, if they do not choose to bring forward contrivances which have no certainty whatever, and therefore are false and vain. Wicked men boast, indeed, of their worship with great haughtiness, and loudly applaud themselves; but their conscience 177 is “a witness” how uncertain and vain is all that they do, for they always tremble, and never find rest, though their obduracy leads them to violent exertions.
They will themselves, therefore, bear testimony against their idols; just as, if a man were to employ an ignorant teacher, he may be a witness of his ignorance. In like manner they will bear witness that their gods neither know nor can do anything; for they see that they are composed of stone or wood or some other material, and that they neither can see nor understand anything. Thus believers alone will render a true testimony to their God, because he knows, directs, and governs all things. The rest must at length be ashamed, though now they defend their errors with mad eagerness; for their conscience is a witness that nothing but opinion and a vain imagination holds their minds captive. 178
10. Who is the maker of God? He pours ridicule on the madness of men who dare to frame gods; for it is a shocking and detestable thing that men should take so much upon them as to create God. Every person certainly will greatly abhor such madness; and yet men are blindly impelled by foolish passion to manufacture gods, and no warning restrains them. On the other hand, they will say that this never entered into any man’s mind, and that injustice is done to them when they are accused of so great madness; just as the Papists in the present day say that we slander them, when we employ these arguments of the Prophet against them. But in vain do they rely on their sophistical reasonings for avoiding this charge. What the Prophet says is most true, that they are so mad as to think that they “make God;” for as soon as the stone or wood has been carved or polished, they ascribe to it divinity, run to it, make prayers, call upon it, and prostrate themselves before it, and in short, ascribe to it those things which they know to belong to God alone.
Which is profitable for nothing. We ought carefully to observe this clause, which condemns as vain and useless all the images by which God is represented. Hence it follows not only that God is insulted, whenever his glory is changed into dead images, but that all who procure idols for themselves lose their pains and suffer damage. Papists allege that they are the books of the unlearned; but this is a paltry evasion, for the Prophet testifies that they are of no use whatever. Let them, therefore, either erase this proof from the Book of Isaiah, or acknowledge that images are vain and useless. Formerly he expressed something more, when he affirmed that nothing can be learned from them but falsehood. But on this subject we have said enough in the exposition of these passages. (Isaiah 40 and 41.)
11. Lo, all his companions shall be ashamed. Not only does he attack the workers and makers of idols, but he likewise attacks generally all their worshippers, because they are so dull and stupid, that as soon as the trunk of a tree has received some new shape, they look upon it as containing the power of God. He means that not only shall the framers of idols be punished for their effrontery, but likewise all who have entangled themselves in the same superstitions; for it is right that they who share the same guilt should be subjected to the same punishment. Nor can they, on the other hand, plead any excuse; for they see that their idols, which proceeded from the hand of men, are dumb and vain, so far is it from being possible that they are gods.
Though they all assemble. Whatever conspiracy may be entered into by wicked men, yet, when they shall come to the judgment-seat of God, they must be ashamed. Nor is it without cause that the Prophet threatens against them trembling and shame, because wicked men usually are haughty and insolent, and look on all other men with scorn. They boast of their vast numbers, as the Papists in the present day despise our small numbers, and swell with insolence, and with amazing presumption attack God and his doctrine. In this passage, therefore, Isaiah appeals to the consciences of wicked men; because, although they are actuated by the most inveterate obstinacy and rebellion, yet sometimes they are constrained to tremble, when they ask themselves, “What are we doing?” and inquire into the reason of their actions; for they have nothing that is firm or solid, on which they can safely rest. They are bold so long as they are hurried on by their rage, but when they come to themselves, and take some leisure for reflection, they are terrified and dismayed; so that we need not be alarmed at their rage and pride and vast numbers, for they shall quickly pass away. Let us not therefore be moved by the conspiracies and displays and pride and rage and schemes of the Papists, since we know that all those things tend to their shame and destruction; for the more haughtily they swell and exalt themselves against God, the heavier shall be their fall, and the deeper their disgrace.
12. The worker in iron. With good reason does the Apostle here draw up a long description, in order to shake off the stupidity and madness of superstitious people, if they can at all be awakened, or, at least, to prevent the Jews from indulging in similar folly who were surrounded on all sides by innumerable worshippers of false gods; for he gives a minute and homely enumeration, which makes it exceedingly evident that they are frantic and outrageous, he might otherwise have condemned this wickedness in a single word or in a few words; but this catalogue points out the fact, as it were, with the finger, and places it before our eyes, he details the tools and labors and industry and care of workmen, so as almost to bring it actually before us. Men who have their errors deeply rooted by nature in their hearts are more deeply affected in this manner than by simple doctrine; for they cannot be roused from their lethargy but by loud and continual cries. Every part must be delivered to them, and broken into small fragments, and even chewed and put into the mouth, as they do with infants, that they may receive the doctrine, which would otherwise appear to them strange and uncommon.
Even hungry. He describes the eagerness by which superstitious persons are impelled to fashion gods; for they burn with such ardor that they cannot observe any limit or measure. Their lust, like a gad-fly, drives them on, and causes them to rush forward with such fury that we may justly compare that zeal to the love of a harlot, as we have formerly said. They apply to it their whole force both of body and of mind. This is what he means by the arm of his strength; 179 as if he had said, “All the strength of their arms is applied to it; they work against their natural inclinations, and scarcely take as much as is necessary for the support of life; in a word, they spare no labor or expense to make the gods whom they have desired.
Although he describes the constancy of toil, by saying that they do not slacken their labor when they are hungry, but endure hunger and thirst rather than relinquish their work, 180 yet we may appropriately extend the observation to all the efforts of inconsiderate zeal. We see how the fervent devotion, as they call it, of unbelievers, is their own executioner; but the more laboriously they toil for their own destruction, the more base and shameful is our slothfulness, by which we defraud God of his lawful worship.
13. That it may abide in the house. Thus he shews the folly of such intense application; for their toil brings no other reward than to see their idols resting indolently without motion in the position which has been assigned to them, just, as if a sluggard were crouching over a fire or reclining on a couch.
14. He shall cut down for himself: The Prophet expresses not only the zeal and furious eagerness of idolaters, but also their rebellion and obstinacy; for when he says that they cut down cedars and plant pine-trees, he shews that they persevere very long in their madness, and are not prompted by any sudden impulse to manufacture gods. “Not only,” says he, “do they choose trees that are already grown, but they even plant and water and cultivate them, and wait till they have come to their full size, so as to be fit material for making an idol.”
When we read these things, and are instructed concerning this shocking madness, let us know that God lays his hand upon us, so to speak, in order to draw us back from it, and to keep us in true godliness;. It is necessary, indeed, to meet it early, lest longer delay should make the wound incurable; for as soon as we have been led away by foolish desire to the practice of false worship, there is always reason to fear that we shall be plunged into that whirlpool. We all carry some seed of this madness, which cannot in any way be rooted out, but continually buds and blossoms, if we are not cleansed anew by the Spirit of the Lord.
It ought also to be remarked that, since idolaters are impelled by so great eagerness to worship idols, we ought to be ashamed of our coldness in the true worship of God. Let us be ashamed, I say, that we are so negligent and cold and even freezing, when the worshippers of idols are so ardent; and let us consider that we must render an account. With what rage are the Turks seized, when the question relates to the defense of the reveries of their prophet Mahomet, for whom they gladly both shed their blood and part with their life! By what rage are the Papists impelled to follow their superstitions! Yet we scarcely become warm, and sometimes extinguish the sparks of that zeal which the Lord has kindled in us. To this also applies that expostulation of Jeremiah,
“Is there any nation that hath forsaken its gods? But my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged for themselves cisterns which cannot hold water.”
This comparison, therefore, ought to be carefully observed, that we may not be less steadfast in defending truth than they are obstinate in falsehood.
15., 16., and 17. Then shall a man use it for burning. He censures their ignorance in not being taught by manifest experience that a trunk of wood is not God, and even reproves their ingratitude in defrauding of the honor due to him the true God, whose power is illustriously displayed in the trees themselves; for the wood cannot be applied to various uses without bringing before our eyes the bounty of God. Whenever bread is baked in the oven, or flesh is seethed in the pot, or meat is roasted on the coals; whenever we warm ourselves, or obtain any advantage whatever from wood, our stupidity is inexcusable, if we do not consider how bountifully God hath provided for us, that we should not want anything necessary for us. Such is the meaning of these words —
Aha! I am warm. These words express the gladness of those who, freed from all uneasiness and annoyance, utter what may be called the language of triumph. What can be more base or foolish than that men, while they are pleasantly enjoying God’s benefits, should flatter and applaud themselves, and at the same time should not thank the author, and should even abuse his abundant wealth for the purpose of dishonoring him? In cooking their victuals, and in other conveniences, men perceive that the wood is subject to their control and devoted to their use; how comes it then that they bow down before a piece of wood that has the shape of a man? Is not God in this maimer robbed of his right? And when men call upon images, do they not defraud God of that sacrifice which he chiefly demands? Even heathen writers long ago laughed at this folly, that men ventured to form gods according to their own fancy out of corruptible matter which they formerly despised. Hence came that jest of Horace, “Once I was a trunk of a fig-tree, a useless piece of wood, when a carpenter, uncertain whether to make a bench or a Priapus, preferred that I should be a god; and so I became a god.” 181 But they did not actually know the fountain of impiety, because they did not apply their minds to consider the goodness and power of One God, which is displayed in all the creatures.
When the Prophet thus attacked the worshippers of idols, and laid open their stupidity and madness, they undoubtedly complained that they were unjustly defamed, and endeavored to cloak their errors under plausible pretexts, that they acknowledged that their gods were in heaven, as even their writings shewed, and did not mean that wood or stone is God, in the same manner as the Papists, in arguing against us, defend the same cause with them, and absolutely refuse to be condemned for such gross blindness. But we have already said that the Prophet does not confine his attention to the mere essence of God; and indeed if this be all that is left to God, it will be an idle phantom. He means that all the attributes which belong to him, his foreknowledge, power, government, righteousness, salvation, and everything else, remains unimpaired. Now, when wicked men set up statues or images, and fly to them for the purpose of imploring assistance, and whenever they place them before their eyes and address them, and think that God hears them, do they not wickedly connect their salvation with them? But this stupidity arises from their ignorance of the nature of God, which is simple and spiritual, but which they imagine to be gross and carnal. Thus their thoughts concerning him are excessively wicked, and they east aside and stain his glory, by making it like earthly and fading things. Nothing is so inconsistent with the majesty of God as images; and he who worships them endeavors to shut up God in them, and to treat him according to his own fancy. Justly, therefore, does the Prophet attack such corruptions, and sharply censure the mad zeal of superstitious persons, since nothing more detestable can be uttered or imagined.
18. They have not known or understood. He concludes that it is impossible that men endued with reason should have fallen into this mistake, if they had not been altogether blind and mad; for if any spark of reason had remained in them, they would have seen how absurd and ridiculous it is to adore a part of that wood which they had burned, and which they had seen with their own eyes consumed and reduced to ashes. But when they perceive nothing, and listen to no arguments, they shew that they have actually degenerated into beasts; for the expression which Isaiah uses in reproaching them, “They have not known,” amounts to a declaration that they are bereft of reason, and have lost all understanding; and although many of them undoubtedly were very acute and sagacious, yet in this respect there was abundant evidence of their brutish folly.
For he hath smeared their eyes. The reason now assigned is not intended to lessen their guilt, but to shew how monstrous and detestable it is; for men would never be so foolish, if the vengeance of heaven did not drive them to “a reprobate mind.” (Ro 1:28.) Here some interpreters supply the word “God,” and others supply the words “false prophets,” and say that the people were blind, because the false prophets led them astray; for their would never have plunged into such disgraceful errors if they had not been deceived by the impostures of those men, their eyes being dazzled by wicked doctrines. Others do not approve of either of these significations, and it might also refer to the devil. But as a different exposition is more customary in Scripture, I rather adopt it, namely, that God hath blinded them by a righteous judgment; if it be not thought preferable to view it as referring to themselves, 182 because they voluntarily shut both their minds and their eyes; in which case there would be a change of number, which frequently occurs among Hebrew writers. I have stated, however, what I prefer; and it is exceedingly customary among Hebrew writers, when they speak of God, not to mention his name.
In what sense God is said to blind men, and to “give them up to a reprobate mind,” (Ro 1:28,) is evident from various passages of Scripture; that is, when he takes away the light of his Spirit, and gives a loose rein to the lust of men, so that no reasoning can restrain them. He likewise arms Satan with the efficiency of error, so that they who have refused to obey the truth do not guard against his snares, and are liable to be deceived by his impostures. What then can be left in us but the thickest darkness and gross ignorance, so that this tyrant, the father of lies and of darkness, ravages at his pleasure both within and without? for there will not be found in us any spark of light to dispel the clouds of error, but, impelled by a spirit of giddiness with which God strikes the reprobate, (2Th 2:11,) we shall be driven about in a strange manner at the will of Satan.
And yet we must not throw on God the blame of this blindness, for he has always just cause, though it is not always visible to our eyes; and we ought not to make anxious inquiries respecting it, or search into his secret decree, if we do not choose to be punished for our rashness. But frequently the causes are well known, namely, the ingratitude of men and their rebellion against God, as Paul plainly shews. (Ro 1:28.) The blinding is their just punishment, and therefore men have no excuse, though they pretend ignorance; for they would never have been entangled in such gross errors, if the Lord had not blinded them on account of their sins. A very convincing argument may be drawn from the judgments of God to the sins of men; for God is just, and never punishes any one without a just cause, and does not blind a man, unless he deserves it, and voluntarily shuts his eyes. The blame therefore lies with men alone, who have of their own accord brought blindness on themselves; and the design of the Prophet undoubtedly is to shew, that men who ought to have been governed by God, being naturally endued with some judgment, have been forsaken by “the Father of lights,” (Jas 1:17,) so that they become the slaves of Satan.
19. It doth not return into their heart. He confirms the preceding statement, and takes away every ground of excuse, because unbelievers of their own accord cherish their ignorance. That men are naturally careful and provident in worldly matters, but altogether blind in the worship of God, proceeds from no other cause than that they are abundantly attentive to their individual interests, but are not moved by any anxiety about the heavenly kingdom. Hence the Prophet reproves them for disregarding godliness, because, after long windings, unbelievers do not reflect whether they are keeping the right way, or, on the other hand, are uselessly fatiguing themselves with wicked errors, 183 He shews that their slothfulness is without excuse, because they are so much devoted to their superstitions; for if they applied their mind for a short time to consider the matter, nothing would be more easy than to perceive that stupidity; and, since they do not see it, it follows that they wish to be deceived, and that they flatter themselves in their error. They cannot, therefore, bring forward any palliation or excuse for their guilt, and cannot plead ignorance; for they do not design to apply their mind to the labor of investigating truth. To “return into the heart” 184 means “to consider and reflect;” for no child is so ignorant as not to be a competent judge of such extraordinary madness. Superstitious persons therefore give themselves too unlimited indulgence, and do not err merely through ignorance; and this vice ought not to be ascribed solely to the first corruption of men, but to rebellion.
20. He feedeth on ashes. This verse also confirms the preceding statement. To “feed on ashes” is the same thing as “to be fed with ashes,” just as “to feed on wind” is the same thing as “to be fed with wind.” (Ho 12:1.) Both expressions are used, as on the other hand, “Thou shalt feed on truth,” is put for “Thou shalt be fed with truth,” that is, “Thou shalt be satisfied.” (Ps 37:3.) Others interpret that passage, “Thou shalt administer spiritual provision,” and others, “Thou shalt feed faithfully;” but I choose rather to adopt the former interpretation. 185 But here he means that men are haughty and puffed up, but yet that they are empty and worthless, because they are merely full of deceptions, which have nothing solid or lasting. With such pride men will rather burst than be satisfied.
A deceived heart disposes him. Next, he again includes both statements, that they are blinded by deceitful lusts, so as to see nothing, and yet that they voluntarily and willingly surrender themselves to vain delusions. The Prophet dwells largely on this, in order to shew that nothing drives men to false and wicked worship but this, that they are led to it of their own accord; and therefore there is no ground for imputing this vice to others, since they find in themselves the fountain which they earnestly nourish and defend. With strange presumption they rise up against God, are puffed up with a false opinion of their superstitions, and, in a word, are swollen and ready to burst with pride But let us feed on the solid food of truth, and not allow ourselves to be led astray by any delusions.
Not to deliver his soul. He heightens the picture by saying that they flatter themselves in a matter so important; for who would forgive negligence in that which relates to salvation? We see how eagerly every person labors for this transitory life; and when the eternal salvation of the soul is in danger, what is more intolerable than that men should indolently slumber, when they might save it by making exertion? A man is said. to deliver his own soul, who by repentance rescues himself from the snares of the devil, in the same manner as some men are said to save others, when by holy warnings they bring back wanderers into the right way. (Jas 5:20.) How comes it then that idolaters rush headlong to their own destruction? It is because they hasten to it at full gallop, harden their hearts, and do not permit themselves to be drawn back.
Is there not a lie 186 in my right hand? Thus he briefly points out the method by which men may deliver themselves from destruction. It is by examining their actions and not flattering themselves; for whoever is delighted with his error, and does not inquire if his manner of life be right, will never “deliver his soul.” In like manner the Papists refuse to inquire into the reasons for their worship, and disguise that stupidity under the name of simplicity; as if God wished us to be beasts, and did not enjoin us to distinguish between the worship which he approves and that which he rejects, and to inquire diligently what is his will, so as not to approve of everything without distinction. Everything ought to be tried by the standard which he has laid down for us. If that be done, we shall easily avoid danger; but if not, let us lay the blame of our destruction on ourselves, because of our own accord we wish to perish, and do not allow ourselves to receive any warning, or to be brought back into the right path.
21. Remember these things, O Jacob. He now applies to the use of the people what he had so often said about the superstitions and falsehoods of the Gentiles, by which men who are not well instructed are deceived in the worship of God. Nor does he write these things solely for the men of his own age, but chiefly for their posterity, who were to be carried away into Babylon, and might have been corrupted by long intercourse with the Babylonians, and drawn aside from the true worship of God, if the Lord had not laid upon them those restraints. The Prophet therefore exhorts them, while they were held captive, to bring those exhortations to remembrance, and by means of them to strengthen their hearts amidst those grievous calamities.
For thou art my servant. I have formed thee. He adds this reason why they ought to remember these promises, and to beware of the general contagion of other men; for it would have been intolerable that the elect people, whom God had surrounded by the barriers of his Law, that they might be separated from others, should freely and indiscriminately mingle with the pollutions of the Gentiles. As if he had said, “It is not wonderful that the Babylonians should wander in their errors, but thou oughtest to be unlike them; for ‘I have formed thee,’ that thou mightest ‘serve me;’ I have regenerated and sanctified thee, that thou mightest be an heir of eternal life.”
Of this creation we have stated largely, on former occasions, that it relates to the renewal of the soul. Scripture frequently employs this argument, “Ye have been called to sanctification and not to uncleanness,” (1Th 4:7,) “Walk as the children of light” (Eph 5:8) “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” (Php 2:15,) and in other passages of the same kind. Here we ought to infer that we shall be doubly punished, if it shall be found that we have quenched by neglect or indifference the light by which the Lord hath enlightened us; for our criminality will be far greater than that of others on whom he has not bestowed a similar favor. Heathens shall indeed be punished, and no excuse of ignorance shall be of any avail to them; but far heavier shall be the punishment of those who shall abuse the grace of God.
Do not thou forget me. He means that it is impossible for any who have once entered into the right path to be led aside from it, if they are not chargeable with forgetfulness of God; for error and delusions can never prevail, so long as the remembrance of God is rooted in our hearts. Let every one, therefore, who turns aside from God, and falls into superstition and impiety, lay the blame on his own wickedness. We ought thus to observe carefully the cause of apostasy, that is, forgetfulness of God, which gradually withdraws us from the right path, till we leave it altogether. Besides, he reminds them that by this remedy they will be secure against revolt, if they be employed in constant meditation; for our minds, through their sluggishness, easily contract rust, so to speak, which infects and corrupts all knowledge of God till it be entirely destroyed.
22. I have blotted out, as a cloud, thy iniquities. The Lord promises to his people future deliverance; for our hearts cannot be actually raised towards God, if we do not perceive that he is reconciled to us. In order, therefore, that he may keep the people whom he hath once bound to himself, he adds a promise by which he comforts them, that they may be fully convinced that the banishment shall not be perpetual; for God, being a most indulgent Father, moderates his chastisements in such a manner, that he always forgives his children.
When he says that “he has blotted out their iniquities,” this relates literally to the captives who were punished for their transgressions; and the consequence was, that, when God was appeased, they would be delivered. It is a demonstration from the cause to the effect. The guilt has been remitted, and therefore in like manner the punishment has been remitted; for the Jews, as soon as they have been reconciled to God, are freed from the punishment which was inflicted on account of guilt. Yet there is an implied exhortation to repentance, that they may not only groan under the heavy load of chastisement, but may consider that they are justly punished, because they have provoked God’s anger; and indeed, whenever God deals severely with us, we ought not merely to wish relief from uneasiness and pain, but we ought to begin with pardon, that God may no longer impute sins to us. Yet this passage overthrows the distinction of the Sophists, who acknowledge that guilt is remitted, but deny that punishment is remitted, as we have already explained fully in other passages.
The metaphor of “a cloud” has the same meaning as if the Lord had said that he will no longer pursue them in his displeasure, 187 or punish them, because, when guilt has been remitted, they are reconciled; in the same manner as when the sky has become calm, the clouds which intercepted from the earth the light of the sun, are “blotted out” and disappear. We must therefore reject the diabolical inventions of men, which overthrow the whole doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, while they openly contradict the doctrine of the prophets.
Return thou to me. This may be taken in two senses, either that the Lord exhorts the people to repentance, or that he encourages them to hope for deliverance; but both senses may agree well. We have said that it is the ordinary practice of Scripture, whenever redemption is mentioned, to exhort to repentance; for the Lord wishes to bring us back to himself in this manner, that he may render us fit for receiving his layouts. Besides, as the people, through their unbelief, were very far from cherishing the hope of salvation, it may likewise be taken for a confirmation, that the people may believe that they will undoubtedly return; as if he had said, “Though thou thinkest that I am estranged from thee, yet know that I will take care of thee.” And I approve more this latter sense, and think that it agrees better with the context; for the Prophet labors above all things to confirm the promises of God, and to fix them deeply on their hearts.
For I have redeemed thee. He commands the Jews to “return to him,” though their banishment stood in the way of their expecting that he would be a deliverer; as if he had said, “Though I appear to be estranged from you, yet trust; for I have determined to redeem you.”
23. Praise, O ye heavens. He now exhorts the Jews to render thanksgiving, not only that they may testify their gratitude, but that their own expectation of deliverance may be strengthened; and, therefore, he enjoins believers to look upon it as an event already accomplished, as if the Lord had already delivered them. Such modes of address make a deeper impression on our hearts than if the promises had been presented in a naked form. Since, therefore, believers might doubt of their salvation, because they still languished amidst their miseries and were almost dead, the Prophet arouses them, and not only dictates to them a song, that they may fulfill their vows, but shews that the word of God will be so great and uncommon that it shall move heaven and earth and the dumb creatures.
Burst into praise, ye mountains. We might simply have interpreted it, “Heaven above and earth below;” but as he mentions the “mountains,” he gives the appellation of the lower parts of the earth to places which are level, such as plains and valleys, that all countries, wherever they are situated, may be excited to praise and celebrate the name of God.
For Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob. He now adds, that that work which he had aroused all to admire is the redemption of the Church, and declares that the glory of God shall shine forth in it illustriously. Besides, it is proper to remember what I formerly remarked, that here not only does he celebrate the return of the people to their native country, but the end is also included; for they would be “redeemed” from the captivity in Babylon on this condition, that God should at length collect under one head a Church taken out of the whole world. 188
24. Thus saith Jehovah. The Prophet will immediately describe in his own manner the strength and power of God; because the bare promises would have little authority and weight, if the power of God were not brought forward, in order to remove all doubt from our hearts. By our distrust and obstinacy we are wont to lessen the power and goodness of God, that is, to ascribe to it less than we ought; and, therefore, the Prophet, by remarkable commendations, which we shall soon afterwards see, will encourage believers to learn to hope beyond hope.
Thy Redeemer. He begins by praising the goodness and fatherly kindness with which God has embraced his Church, and which he intends to exercise till the end; for the declaration of his power and strength would have little influence on us, if he did not approach to us and assure us of his kindness. We ought not therefore to begin with his majesty, nor to ascend so high, lest we be thrown down; but we ought to embrace his goodness, by which he gently invites us to himself. The name Redeemer in this passage refers to past time, because the Jews, who had once been brought out of Egypt, as from a gulf, by an incredible miracle, ought to have been strengthened by the remembrance of that “redemption” to expect continual advancement. (Ex 12:51.)
And thy Maker. He calls himself the “Maker,” in the same sense which we formerly explained; that is, because he regenerates by his Spirit those whom he adopts, and thus makes them new creatures; and therefore he mentions, in passing, the former benefits which they had received, that they may conclude from them, for the future, that God will abide by his promises. When he added from the womb, it was in order that the people might acknowledge that all the benefits which they had received from God were undeserved; for he anticipated them by his compassion, before they could even call upon him. By this consolation David comforted his heart in very severe distresses,
“Thou art he who brought me out of the womb; I trusted in thee while I was hanging on my mother’s breast; I was thrown on thee from my birth; thou art my God from my mother’s womb.” (Ps. 22:9, 10.)
Yet here he does not speak of the favor generally bestowed, by which God brings any human beings into the world, but praises his covenant, by which he adopted the seed of Abraham to a thousand generations; for they were not at liberty to doubt that he would wish to preserve his work even to the end.
Who alone stretcheth out the heavens. Now follow the commendations of his power, because he has measured out at his pleasure the dimensions of heaven, and earth. By the word “stretcheth out” he means that he has in his hands the government of the whole world, and that there is nothing that is not subject to him; for the power of God ought to be united to his word in such a manner as never to be separated.
25. Frustrating the signs. The Prophet expressly added this, because Babylon surpassed other nations not only in the force of arms, and in troops and resources, but likewise in some remarkable sagacity, by which she appeared to penetrate even to heaven. What injury could befall those who foresaw at a distance future events, and could easily, as was commonly supposed, ward off imminent dangers? The astrologers, who were celebrated among them, foretold all events; and from them sprung that bastard Astrology which is called Judicial, by which even now many persons of great abilities are led astray. They assumed the name of Mathematicians, in order to recommend themselves more to the approbation of the people. The Egyptians boasted of being the authors of that science, and of being the first who taught it; but let us leave them to settle their dispute. It is certain that the Babylonians practiced that art from the very commencement, and esteemed it highly, so that both the Greeks and the Romans gave to those astrologers the name of Chaldees. Since, therefore, they placed much confidence in that science, the Lord threatens that he will overthrow all that belongs to it.
By the word signs he means the positions, conjunctions, and various aspects of the stars, about which Astrologers speculate; and he afterwards says that he maketh them mad Some take the word בדים (baddim) to mean lies, as if he had said that the divinations to which the Astrologers pretend are nothing but absolute delusions; but I choose rather to interpret it diviners, as we frequently find it used in that sense.
It is asked, “Does he condemn the astrology of the Chaldeans universally, or only the abuse and corruption of it?” I reply, in this passage he merely condemns those signs by means of which the Chaldeans prophesied, and imagined that they knew future events; for the Lord declares that they are absolutely worthless. It was not without good reason that he forbade the people to consult Chaldeans, astrologers, diviners, soothsayers, or any other kind of fortune-tellers, and commanded that no one who practiced that art should be permitted to dwell among the people. (De 18:10.) Now, if any certain information could have been obtained from the position and aspect of the stars, the Lord undoubtedly would not thus have condemned that science. Since, therefore, he forbade it without exception, he shewed that it contains nothing but absolute delusion, which all believers ought to detest.
But the defenders of that absurdity argue that the Lord gave the planets and stars “for signs.” (Ge 1:14.) Granting this principle, I reply, that we ought to inquire of what, things they are the “signs;” for we do not condemn that Astronomy 189 which surveys the courses of the planets, in which we ought to acknowledge the wonderful majesty of God. But we condemn men addicted to curiosity, who wish to learn from them how long any government shall last, and what shall befall this city or that people, or even this or that man; for they go beyond limits, and abuse “signs,” which were not given for the purpose of being omens of future events. I do acknowledge that we are sometimes warned by heavenly signs, to see that we have provoked the Lord’s anger, or that chastisements are hanging over our heads, but not to venture to give minute explanations or conclusions, or to determine those hidden and secret events which we have no right to search and explore. But above all, we ought to observe the cause and origin of impiety; for, as soon as that error prevails, that the life of man is governed by the influence of the stars;, the judgment-seat of God is overthrown, so that he is not the judge of the world in inflicting punishments, or in restoring to life by his mercy those who were perishing. They who think that the stars, by their irresistible influence, control the life of men, immediately become hardened to the imagination of destiny, so that they now leave nothing to God. Thus the tribunals of God are buried, and consequently piety is extinguished, and calling on God is altogether at an end.
He calls them wise men, and speaks of their knowledge, by way of admission, because they boasted greatly of the title of “wisdom,” when they uttered those things which they had learned from the stars, as if they had been admitted into the counsel of God; and therefore he means that those empty masks of “wisdom” will not hinder the Lord from overturning their whole estate; for all their contrivances and tricks shall be brought to nothing.
26. Confirming the word. The Prophet now applies to his purpose what he had formerly said; for, although he spoke in general terms, still he had a specific object in view, to adapt to the circumstances of the present occasion all that he said, that the people might not be alarmed at that pretended wisdom of the Chaldeans, or doubt that God would one day deliver them. With their unfounded predictions, therefore, he contrasts the promises of God, that they might not imagine that that monarchy was free from all danger.
The promise was this,
“Babylon shall fall, but my people shall be restored to liberty.” (Isa 21:9.)
The Babylonians laughed at these promises, “As if we could not foresee by means of the stars what shall happen to us!” On this account the Lord says that he will confirm, that is, he will actually fulfill what he has promised, and will accomplish those things which could neither be foreseen nor imagined by those wise men. What the prophets foretold, wicked men treated as an empty sound which would quickly pass away. With this opinion he contrasts the word “confirm” or “raise up,” by which he means that God will establish the truth of his words.
Of his servant. By the word “servant” he means all the prophets, if it be not thought better to view it as chiefly denoting Isaiah, who announced and testified this deliverance more clearly than all others. But it is unnecessary to limit it to a single individual, for it related to them all, and he likewise calls them by the ordinary name, “ambassadors” or “messengers” of God, because he had sent many, in order to support by their common and universal consent the faith of his people.
The counsel of his messengers. By the word “counsel” he means the decrees of God, but not every kind of decrees; for we have no right to inquire about his secret purposes which he does not manifest by his servants, but, when he reveals to us what he will do, we ought to receive the threatenings of the prophets with as much reverence as if God admitted us into the most secret recesses of the heavens. Let not men therefore dispute according to their fancy, after God hath spoken by the mouth of the prophets. In a word, he intended to recommend the authority of his word, which is declared to us by the ministry of men, as if it revealed to us the eternal purpose of God.
Saying to Jerusalem. After having spoken in general terms, the Prophet applies more closely to the present subject that certainty of the promises of God; for otherwise the people could not have obtained any advantage from it; and, therefore, he expressly adds the mention of “Jerusalem,” that they may know that it shall be restored. Thus, we ought chiefly to behold in this matter the power of God in determining to defend his Church in a wonderful manner, and to raise her from death to life as often as is necessary. If, therefore, we think that God is true and powerful, let us not doubt that there will always be a Church; and when it appears to be in a lamentably ruinous condition, let us entertain good hope of its restoration. What is here said of “Jerusalem” relates to the whole Church; and, therefore, if we see that she is in a ruinous condition, and that her cities are demolished, and if nothing be visible but frightful and hideous desolation, let us rely on this promise, that she shall at length be raised up and perfectly restored.
27. Saying to the deep. This is generally considered to be an allegorical description of Babylon, and I certainly do not deny that it is included; but yet I cannot think of limiting it to Babylon, for I prefer to view it simply as denoting any unexpected change. He shews that some great revolution will be necessary, as if the people must be drawn out of the depths of the sea, but declares that God will easily surmount every obstacle, for he can easily “make the deep dry, and dry up the rivers.” In my opinion he rather appears to allude to that former redemption, (Ex 14:29,) when the Lord brought the people out of Egypt through the Red Sea; as if he had said, “I did this for your fathers, and therefore you ought to hope for the same thing from me, and not to imagine that a return to your native land shall be closed against you.”
28. Saying to Cyrus. This is a remarkable passage, in which we not only may see the wonderful providence of God, but which likewise contains a striking proof of the truth and certainty of the prophecies. Here “Cyrus” was named long before he was born; for between the death of Manasseh, by whom Isaiah was slain, and the birth of “Cyrus,” more than a century intervened. Besides, even though he had been born, who would have conjectured that he should come from the most distant mountains of Persia to Babylon? These things ought therefore to be carefully observed, for they shew clearly that it was not by a human spirit that Isaiah spoke. No one would ever have thought that there would be a person named “Cyrus,” who should fly from the most distant and barbarous countries to deliver the people of God. 190
As to the objection made by infidels, that those things might have been forged by the Jews after they were fulfilled, it is so foolish and absurd that there is no necessity for refuting it. The Jews perused those prophecies, while they were held in captivity, in order that they might cherish in their hearts the hope of deliverance, and would have been entirely discouraged, if the Lord had not comforted them by such promises. These records, therefore, supported the hearts of believers in hope and confidence; and I have no doubt that Cyrus, when he learned that God had appointed him to be the leader and shepherd for bringing back Israel, was astonished at those promises, and that they induced him to cherish kind feelings towards the people, so as to supply them with food and with everything that was necessary for their journey. Thus the Lord points out the person by whose hand he has determined to bring back his people, that they may not look around on all sides in perplexity.
Even by saying to Jerusalem. This is the conclusion, by which the former statements are confirmed, that they may rest assured that “Jerusalem” shall infallibly be built, and may learn from it how dear and precious they are to God, when they shall see the monarchy of all the east transferred to the Persians. At the same time he points out the end for which Jerusalem was to be rebuilt, namely, that the pure worship of God might be restored; for he does not promise this restoration, that men may seek their own ease or the conveniencies of life, but that the Lord’s people may purely and sincerely call upon him without any disturbance. This ought to be carefully observed, for there are many who value more highly their own convenience and external comforts than the honor and worship of God. Hence also Haggai complained bitterly, that all were eager to build their own houses, but almost all gave themselves no concern about the Temple. (Hag 1:4.) But it was the will of the Lord that men should care most about his house, and that is the import of what the Prophet says, —
And to the temple, Thou shalt be founded. But in the present day he does not thus recommend to us a temple of wood or stone, but living temples of God, which we are; for the Lord hath chosen his habitation in us. (2Co 6:16.) Such, therefore, are the temples which must be diligently built by the doctrine of the word, that we may lead a holy and righteous life, and may render to God the worship which is due to him; for this is the reason why the Lord wishes that there should be a Church in the world, that the remembrance of his name may not perish.
“Even on the common supposition, that the words of God begin with the second clause, it is better to take ‘He will help thee’ as a short independent clause, parenthetically thrown in to complete the description, or to connect it with what follows.” — Alexander.
“There is no God. Heb., Rock. — (Eng. Ver.)
“Que tous sont vanite.” “That all are vanity.”
Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1, p. 84.
“Ce peu qu’ils ont de conscience.” “The little conscience that they have.”
“The obscurity of this verse proceeds from too close a translation, which may be cleared up by this paraphrase, ‘They that make a graven image are framers of a vain insignificant thing, for their idol can never profit them; they that make them can witness for them, that they see not, and have no knowledge, therefore they may be ashamed to worship them.’” — White.
“The strength of his arms.” — Eng. Ver.
The lamented missionary, Mr. Williams, discovered in the Islands of the Pacific a superstitious practice, probably very ancient, which sheds light on this passage. During the manfacture of an idol, the workmen scrupulously abstain from food, and do not even drink water; which accounts for the painful exhaustion and intense thirst described by the Prophet Isaiah as brought on at an advanced stage of the operation. “Their strength faileth,” and “they are faint.” — Ed.
Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum;
Quum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum,
Maluit esse Deum; Dens inde ego.
Hor. Sat. 1:8.
“Des idolatres mesmes.” “To the idolaters themselves.”
“Apres des erreurs et superstitions.” “After errors and superstitions.”
“The first phrase does not correspond exactly to the English ‘Lay to heart,’ but comprehends reflection and emotion.” — Alexander.
The Author’s exposition of Psalm 37:3, and the Editor’s note, may be consulted with advantage. — Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, p. 19. — Ed.
שקר (sheker) denotes in general ‘anything that deceives, a vain or deceitful thing,’ which does not correspond to a man’s opinion and expectation, but deceives and imposes upon him. Hence also (in Jer. 10:14, Jer. 51:17) an idol is called שקר (sheker). — Rosenmuller.
“A la rigueur.” “Rigorously.”
“Son Eglise composee de toutes les nations de la terre.” “His Church composed of all the nations in the world.”
The Latin word Astrologia has a wider signification than the English word Astrology; for it sometimes denotes, as it undoubtedly does in this instance, “Astronomy,” which belongs to the lawful domains of calculation and science. — Ed.
“Lequel viendroit avec une merveilleuse vistesse.” “Who should come with amazing swiftness.”