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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Isaiah Chapter 58

Isaiah 58:1

isa 58:1

As the last prophecy of the second book contained all the three elements of prophetic addresses - reproach, threat, and promise - so this, the first prophecy of the third book, cannot open in any other way than with a rehearsal of one of these. The prophet receives the commission to appear as the preacher of condemnation; and whilst Jehovah is giving the reason for this commission, the preaching itself commences. "Cry with full throat, hold not back; lift up thy voice like a bugle, and proclaim to my people their apostasy, and to the house of Jacob their sins. And they seek me day by day, and desire to learn my ways, like a nation which has done righteousness, and has not forsaken the right of their God: they ask of me judgments of righteousness; they desire the drawing near of Elohim." As the second prophecy of the first part takes as its basis a text from Micah (Mic 2:1-4), so have we here in Isa 58:1 the echo of Mic 3:8. Not only with lisping lips (Sa1 1:13), but with the throat (Psa 115:7; Psa 149:6); that is to say, with all the strength of the voice, lifting up the voice like the shōphâr (not a trumpet, which is called חצצרה, nor in fact any metallic instrument, but a bugle or signal horn, like that blown on new year's day: see at Psa 81:4), i.e., in a shrill shouting tone. With a loud voice that must be heard, with the most unsparing publicity, the prophet is to point out to the people their deep moral wounds, which they may indeed hide from themselves with hypocritical opus operatum, but cannot conceal from the all-seeing God. The ו of ואותי does not stand for an explanatory particle, but for an adversative one: "their apostasy ... their sins; and yet (although they are to be punished for these) they approach Jehovah every day" (יום יום with mahpach under the first יום, and pasek after it, as is the general rule between two like-sounding words), "that He would now speedily interpose." They also desire to know the ways which He intends to take for their deliverance, and by which He desires to lead them. This reminds us of the occurrence between Ezekiel and the elders of Gola (Eze 20:1.; compare also Eze 33:30.). As if they had been a people whose rectitude of action and fidelity to the commands of God warranted them in expecting nothing but what was good in the future, they ask God (viz., in prayer and by inquiring of the prophet) for mishpetē tsedeq, "righteous manifestations of judgment" i.e., such as will save them and destroy their foes, and desire qirbath 'Elōhı̄m, the coming of God, i.e., His saving parousia. The energetic futures, with the tone upon the last syllable, answer to their self-righteous presumption; and יחפצוּן is repeated, according to Isaiah's most favourite oratorical figure, at the close of the verse.

Isaiah 58:3

isa 58:3

There follow now the words of the work-righteous themselves, who hold up their fasting before the eyes of God, and complain that He takes no notice of it. And how could He?! "'Wherefore do we fast and Thou seest not, afflict our soul and Thou regardest not?' Behold, on the day of your fasting ye carry on your business, and ye oppress all your labourers. Behold, ye fast with strife and quarrelling, and with smiting with the fist maliciously closed: ye do not fast now to make your voice audible on high." By the side of צוּם (root צם, to press, tie up, constrain) we have here the older expression found in the Pentateuch, נפשׁ ענּה, to do violence to the natural life. In addition to the fasting on the day of atonement (the tenth of the seventh month Tizri), the only fast prescribed by the law, other fasts were observed according to Zac 7:3; Zac 8:19, viz., fasts to commemorate the commencement of the siege of Jerusalem (10th Tebeth), its capture (17th Tammuz), its destruction (9th Aibb), and the murder of Gedaliah (3rd Tizri). The exiles boast of this fasting here; but it is a heartless, dead work, and therefore worthless in the sight of God. There is the most glaring contrast between the object of the fast and their conduct on the fast-day: for they carry on their work-day occupation; they are then, more than at any other time, true taskmasters to their work-people (lest the service of the master should suffer form the service of God); and because when fasting they are doubly irritable and ill-tempered, this leads to quarrelling and strife, and even to striking with angry fist (בּאגרף, from גּרף, to collect together, make into a ball, clench). Hence in their present state the true purpose of fasting is quite unknown to them, viz., to enable them to draw near with importunate prayer to God, who is enthroned on high (Isa 57:15).

(Note: The ancient church called a fast statio, because he who fasted had to wait in prayer day and night like a soldier at his post. See on this and what follows, the Shepherd of Hermas, iii. Sim. 5, and the Epistle of Barnabas, c. iii.)

The only difficulty here is the phrase חפץ מצא. In the face of Isa 58:13, this cannot have any other meaning than to stretch one's hand after occupation, to carry on business, to occupy one's self with it - חפץ combining the three meanings, application or affairs, striving, and trade or occupation. מצא, however, maintains its primary meaning, to lay hold of or grasp (cf., Isa 10:14; Targ. צרכיכון תּבעין אתּוּן, ye seek your livelihood). This is sustained by what follows, whether we derive עצּביכם (cf., חלּקי, Isa 57:6) from עצב (et omnes labores vestros graves rigide exigitis), נגשׂ (from which we have here תּנגּשׂוּ for תּגּשׂוּ, Deu 15:3) being construed as in Kg2 23:35 with the accusative of what is peremptorily demanded; or (what we certainly prefer) from עצב; or better still from עצב morf ll (like עמל): omnes operarios vestros adigitis (urgetis), נגשׂ being construed with the accusative of the person oppressed, as in Deu 15:2, where it is applied to the oppression of a debtor. Here, however, the reference is not to those who owe money, but to those who owe labour, or to obligations to labour; and עצב does not signify a debtor (an idea quite foreign to this verbal root), but a labourer, one who eats the bread of sorrows, or of hard toil (Psa 127:2). The prophet paints throughout from the life; and we cannot be persuaded by Stier's false zeal for Isaiah's authorship to give up the opinion, that we have here a figure drawn from the life of the exiles in Babylon.

Isaiah 58:5

isa 58:5

Whilst the people on the fast-day are carrying on their worldly, selfish, everyday business, the fasting is perverted from a means of divine worship and absorption in the spiritual character of the day to the most thoroughly selfish purposes: it is supposed to be of some worth and to merit some reward. This work-holy delusion, behind which self-righteousness and unrighteousness were concealed, is met thus by Jehovah through His prophet: "Can such things as these pass for a fast that I have pleasure in, as a day for a man to afflict his soul? To bow down his head like a bulrush, and spread sackcloth and ashes under him - dost thou call this a fast and an acceptable day for Jehovah? Is not this a fast that I have pleasure in: To loose coils of wickedness, to untie the bands of the yoke, and for sending away the oppressed as free, and that ye break every kind of yoke? Is it not this, to break thy bread to the hungry, and to take the poor and houseless to thy home; when thou seest a naked man that thou clothest him, and dost not deny thyself before thine own flesh?" The true worship, which consists in works of merciful love to one's brethren, and its great promises are here placed in contrast with the false worship just described. הכזה points backwards: is such a fast as this a fast after Jehovah's mind, a day on which it can be said in truth that a man afflicts his soul (Lev 16:29)? The ה of הלכף is resumed in הלזה; the second ל is the object to תּקרא expressed as a dative. The first ל answers to our preposition "to" with the infinitive, which stands here at the beginning like a casus absol. (to hang down; for which the inf. abs. הכפוף might also be used), and as in most other cases passes over into the finite (et quod saccum et cinerem substernit, viz., sibi: Ges. 132, Anm. 2). To hang down the head and sit in sackcloth and ashes - this does not in itself deserve the name of fasting and of a day of gracious reception (Isa 56:7; Isa 61:2) on the part of Jehovah (ליהוה for a subjective genitive).

Isa 58:6 and Isa 58:7 affirm that the fasting which is pleasant to Jehovah consists in something very different from this, namely, in releasing the oppressed, and in kindness to the helpless; not in abstinence form eating as such, but in sympathetic acts of that self-denying love, which gives up bread or any other possession for the sake of doing good to the needy.

(Note: The ancient church connected fasting with almsgiving by law. Dressel, Patr. Ap. p. 493.)

There is a bitter irony in these words, just as when the ancients said, "not eating is a natural fast, but abstaining form sin is a spiritual fast." During the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans a general emancipation of the slaves of Israelitish descent (who were to be set free, according to the law, every three years) was resolved upon and carried out; but as soon as the Chaldeans were gone, the masters fetched their liberated slaves back into servitude again (Jer 34:8-22). And as Isa 58:6 shows, they carried the same selfish and despotic disposition with them into captivity. The זה which points forwards is expanded into infin. absolutes, which are carried on quite regularly in the finite tense. Mōtâh, which is repeated palindromically, signifies in both cases a yoke, lit., vectis, the cross wood which formed the most important part of the yoke, and which was fastened to the animal's head, and so connected with the plough by means of a cord or strap (Sir. 30:13; 33:27).

(Note: I have already observed at Isa 47:6, in vindication of what was stated at Isa 10:27, that the yoke was not in the form of a collar. I brought the subject under the notice of Prof. Schegg, who wrote to me immediately after his return from his journey to Palestine to the following effect: "I saw many oxen ploughing in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and the neighbourhood of Ephesus; and in every case the yoke was a cross piece of wood laid upon the neck of the animal, and fastened to the pole of the plough by a cord which passed under the neck of the animal.")

It is to this that אגדּות, knots, refers. We cannot connect it with mutteh, a state of perverted right (Eze 9:9), as Hitzig does. רצוּצים are persons unjustly and forcibly oppressed even with cruelty; רצץ is a stronger synonym to עשׂק (e.g., Amo 4:1). In Isa 58:7 we have the same spirit of general humanity as in Job 31:13-23; Eze 18:7-8 (compare what James describes in Jam 1:27 as "pure religion and undefiled"). לחם (פרשׂ) פרץ is the usual phrase for κλᾶν (κλάζειν) ἄρτον. מרוּדים is the adjective to עניּים, and apparently therefore must be derived from מרד: miserable men who have shown themselves refractory towards despotic rulers. But the participle mârūd cannot be found elsewhere; and the recommendation to receive political fugitives has a modern look. The parallels in Lam 1:7 and Lam 3:19 are conclusive evidence, that the word is intended as a derivative of רוּד, to wander about, and it is so rendered in the lxx, Targ., and Jerome (vagos). But מרוד, pl. מרוּדים, is no adjective; and there is nothing to recommend the opinion, that by "wanderers" we are to understand Israelitish men. Ewald supposes that מרוּדים may be taken as a part. hoph. for מוּרדים, hunted away, like הממותים in Kg2 11:2 (Keri המּמתים); but it cannot be shown that the language allowed of this shifting of a vowel-sound. We prefer to assume that מרוּדים (persecuted) is regarded as part. pass., even if only per metaplasmum, from מרד, a secondary form of רוּד (cf., מכס, מלץ, מצח, makuna). Isa 58:7 is still the virtual subject to אבחרהוּ צום. The apodosis to the hypothetical כּי commences with a perf. consec., which then passes into the pausal future תתעלּם. In hsilgnE:egaugnaL\&מבשׂרך (from thine own flesh) it is presupposed that all men form one united whole as being of the same flesh and blood, and that they form one family, owing to one another mutual love.

Isaiah 58:8

isa 58:8

The prophet now proceeds to point out the reward of divine grace, which would follow such a fast as this, consisting of self-renouncing, self-sacrificing love; and in the midst of the promise he once more reminds of the fact, that this love is the condition of the promise. This divides the promises into two. The middle promise is linked on to the first; the morning dawn giving promise of the "perfect day" (Pro 4:18). The first series of promises we have in Isa 58:8, Isa 58:9. "Then will thy light break forth as the morning dawn, and thy healing will sprout up speedily, and thy righteousness will go before thee, the glory of Jehovah will follow thee. Then wilt thou call and Jehovah will answer; thou wilt beseech, and He will say, Here am I!" The love of God is called "light" in contrast with His wrath; and a quiet cheerful life in God's love is so called, in contrast with a wild troubled life spent in God's wrath. This life in God's love has its dawn and its noon-day. When it is night both within and around a man, and he suffers himself to be awakened by the love of God to a reciprocity of love; then does the love of God, like the rising sun, open for itself a way through the man's dark night and overcome the darkness of wrath, but so gradually that the sky within is at first only streaked as it were with the red of the morning dawn, the herald of the sun. A second figure of a promising character follows. The man is sick unto death; but when the love of God stimulates him to reciprocal love, he is filled with new vigour, and his recovery springs up suddenly; he feels within him a new life working through with energetic force like a miraculous springing up of verdure from the earth, or of growing and flowering plants. The only other passages in which ארוּכה occurs are in the books of Jeremiah, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It signifies recovery (lxx here, τὰ ἰάματά σου ταχὺ ἀνατελεῖ, an old mistake for ἱμάτια, vestimenta), and hence general prosperity (Ch2 24:13). It always occurs with the predicate עלתה (causative העלה, cf., Targ. Psa 147:3, ארכא אסּק, another reading ארוּכין), oritur (for which we have here poetically germinat) alicui sanitas; hence Gesenius and others have inferred, that the word originally meant the binding up of a wound, bandage (impontiru alicui fascia). But the primary word is ארך = ארך, to set to rights, to restore or put into the right condition (e.g., b. Sabbath 33b, "he cured his wounded flesh"), connected with אריך, Arab. ârak, accommodatus; so that ארוּכה, after the form מלוּכה, Arab. (though rarely) arika, signifies properly, setting to rights, i.e., restoration.

The third promise is: "thy righteousness will go before thee, the glory of Jehovah will gather thee, or keep thee together," i.e., be thy rear-guard (lxx περιστελεῖ σε, enclose thee with its protection; אסף as in מאסּף, Isa 52:12). The figure is a significant one: the first of the mercies of God is δικαιοῦν, and the last δοξάζειν. When Israel is diligent in the performance of works of compassionate love, it is like an army on the march or a travelling caravan, for which righteousness clear and shows the way as being the most appropriate gift of God, and whose rear is closed by the glory of God, which so conducts it to its goal that not one is left behind. The fourth promise assures them of the immediate hearing of prayer, of every appeal to God, every cry for help.

But before the prophet brings his promises up to their culminating point, he once more lays down the condition upon which they rest. "If thou put away from the midst of thee the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking of evil, and offerest up thy gluttony to the hungry, and satisfiest the soul that is bowed down: thy light will stream out in the darkness, and thy darkness become like the brightness of noon-day. And Jehovah will guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in droughts, and refresh thy bones; and thou wilt become like a well-watered garden, and like a fountain, whose waters never deceive. And thy people will build ruins of the olden time, foundations of earlier generations wilt thou erect; and men will call thee repairers of breaches, restorers of habitable streets." מוטה, a yoke, is here equivalent to yoking or oppression, as in Isa 58:6, where it stands by the side of רשׁע. שׁלח־אצבּא (only met with here, for שׁלח, Ges. 65, 1, a), the stretching out of the finger, signifies a scornful pointing with the fingers (Pro 6:13, δακτυλοδεικτεῖν) at humbler men, and especially at such as are godly (Isa 57:4). דּבּר־און, the utterance of things which are wicked in themselves and injurious to one's neighbour, hence sinful conversation in general. The early commentators looked for more under נפשׁך, than is really meant (and so does even Stier: "they soul, thy heart, all thy sympathetic feelings," etc.). The name of the soul, which is regarded here as greedily longing (Isa 56:11), is used in Deu 24:6 for that which nourishes it, and here for that which it longs for; the longing itself (appetitus) for the object of the longing (Psychol. p. 204). We may see this very clearly from the choice of the verb תּפק (a voluntative in a conditional clause, Ges. 128, 2), which, starting from the primary meaning educere (related to נפק, Arabic anfaqa, to give out, distribute, nafaqa, distribution, especially of alms), signifies both to work out, acquire, carry off (Pro 3:13; Pro 8:35, etc.), and also to take out, deliver, offer, expromere (as in this instance and Psa 140:9; Psa 144:13). The soul "bowed down" is bowed down in this instance through abstinence. The apodoses commence with the perf. cons. וזרח. אפלה is the darkness caused by the utter absence of light (Arab. afalat esh-shemsu, "the sun has become invisible"); see at Job 10:22. This, as the substantive clause affirms, is like the noon-day, which is called צהרים, because at that point the daylight of both the forenoon and afternoon, the rising and setting light, is divided as it were into two by the climax which it has attained. A new promise points to the fat, that such a man may enjoy without intermission the mild and safe guidance of divine grace, for which נחה (הנחה, syn. נהל) is the word commonly employed; and another to the communication of the most copious supply of strength. The ἅπαξ γεγρ בצחצחות does not state with what God will satisfy the soul, as Hahn supposes (after Jerome, "splendoribus"), but according to צסהיחה (Psa 68:7) and such promises as Isa 43:20; Isa 48:21; Isa 49:10, the kind of satisfaction and the circumstances under which it occurs, viz., in extreme droughts (Targ. "years of drought"). In the place of the perf. cons. we have then the future, which facilitates the elevation of the object: "and thy bones will He make strong," יחליח, for which Hupfeld would read יחליף, "will He rejuvenate." חחליץ is a denom. of חלוּץ, expeditus; it may, however, be directly derived from a verb חלץ, presupposed by חלצים, not, however, in the meaning "to be fat" (lxx πιανθήσεται, and so also Kimchi), but "to be strong," lit., to be loose or ready for action; and b. Jebamoth 102b has the very suitable gloss גרמי זרוזי (making the bones strong). This idea of invigorating is then unfolded in two different figures, of which that of a well-watered garden sets forth the abundance received, that of a spring the abundance possessed. Natural objects are promised, but as a gift of grace; for this is the difference between the two testaments, that in the Old Testament the natural is ever striving to reach the spiritual, whereas in the New Testament the spiritual lifts up the natural to its own level. The Old Testament is ever striving to give inwardness to what was outward; in the New Testament this object is attained, and the further object now is to make the outward conformed to the inward, the natural life to the spiritual.

The last promise (whether the seventh or eighth, depends upon whether we include the growing of the morning light into the light of noon, or not) takes its form from the pining of the exiles for their home: "and thy people (ממּך) build" (Ewald, 295, c); and Bttcher would read ממך וּבנּוּ; but מן with a passive, although more admissible in Hebrew than in Arabic, is very rarely met with, and then more frequently in the sense of ἀπό than in that of ὑπό, and בּנּוּ followed by a plural of the thing would be more exact than customary. Moreover, there is no force in the objection that ממּך with the active can only signify "some of thee," since it is equivalent to ממך אשׁר, those who sprang from thee and belong to thee by kindred descent. The members born to the congregation in exile will begin, as soon as they return to their home, to build up again the ruins of olden time, the foundations of earlier generations, i.e., houses and cities of which only the foundations are left (Isa 61:4); therefore Israel restored to its fatherland receives the honourable title of "builder of breaches," "restorer of streets (i.e., of places much frequented once) לשׁבת" (for inhabiting), i.e., so that, although so desolate now (Isa 33:8), they become habitable and populous once more.

Isaiah 58:13

isa 58:13

The third part of the prophecy now adds to the duties of human love the duty of keeping the Sabbath, together with equally great promises; i.e., it adds the duties of the first table to those of the second, for the service of works is sanctified by the service of worship. "If thou hold back thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy business on my holy day, and callest the Sabbath a delight, the holy of Jehovah, reverer, and honourest it, not doing thine own ways, not pursuing thy business and speaking words: then wilt thou have delight in Jehovah, and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the land, and make thee enjoy the inheritance of Jacob thy forefather, for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it." The duty of keeping the Sabbath is also enforced by Jeremiah (Jer 17:19.) and Ezekiel (Eze 20:12., Eze 22:8, Eze 22:26), and the neglect of this duty severely condemned. Chapter 56 has already shown the importance attached to it by our prophet. The Sabbath, above all other institutions appointed by the law, was the true means of uniting and sustaining Israel as a religious community, more especially in exile, where a great part of the worship necessarily feel into abeyance on account of its intimate connection with Jerusalem and the holy land; but whilst it was a Mosaic institution so far as its legal appointments were concerned, it rested, in a way which reached even beyond the rite of circumcision, upon a basis much older than that of the law, being a ceremonial copy of the Sabbath of creation, which was the divine rest established by God as the true object of all motion; for God entered into Himself again after He had created the world out of Himself, that all created things might enter into Him. In order that this, the great end set before all creation, and especially before mankind, viz., entrance into the rest of God, might be secured, the keeping of the Sabbath prescribed by the law was a divine method of education, which put an end every week to the ordinary avocations of the people, with their secular influence and their tendency to fix the mind on outward things, and was designed by the strict prohibition of all work to force them to enter into themselves and occupy their minds with God and His word. The prophet does not hedge round this commandment to keep the Sabbath with any new precepts, but merely demands for its observance full truth answering to the spirit of the letter. "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath" is equivalent to, if thou do not tread upon its holy ground with a foot occupied with its everyday work.

עשׂות which follows is not elliptical (= מעשׂות answering to משּׁבּת, an unnecessary and mistaken assumption), but an explanatory permutative of the object "thy foot:" "turn away thy foot," viz., from attending to thy business (a defective plural) on my holy day. Again, if thou call (i.e., from inward contemplation and esteem) the Sabbath a pleasure (‛ōneg, because it leads thee to God, and not a burden because it leads thee away from thine everyday life; cf., Amo 8:5) and the holy one of Jehovah (on this masculine personification of the Sabbath, see Isa 56:2), "mekhubbâd," honoured = honourable, honorandus, and if thou truly honourest him, whom Jehovah has invested with the splendour of His own glory (Gen 2:3 : "and sanctified it"), "not" (מן = ὥστε μὴ) "to perform thy ways" (the ordinary ways which relate to self-preservation, not to God), "not to attend to thine own business' (see at Isa 58:3) "and make words," viz., words of vain useless character and needless multitude (דּבּר־דּברas in Hos 10:4, denoting unspiritual gossip and boasting);

(Note: Hitzig observes, that "the law of the Sabbath has already received the Jewish addition, 'speaking is work.' " But from the premiss that the sabbatical rest of God was rest from speaking His creating word (Psa 33:6), all the conclusion that tradition has ever drawn is, that on the Sabbath men must to a certain extent rest מהדבור as well as ממעשׂה; and when R. Simon b. Jochai exclaimed to his loquacious old mother on the Sabbath, "Keeping the Sabbath means keeping silence," his meaning was not that talking in itself was working and therefore all conversation was forbidden on the Sabbath. Tradition never went as far as this. The rabbinical exposition of the passage before us is the following: "Let not thy talking on the Sabbath be the same as that on working days;" and when it is stated once in the Jerusalem Talmud that the Rabbins could hardly bring themselves to allow of friendly greetings on the Sabbath, it certainly follows from this, that they did not forbid them. Even the author of the ש לה (הברית לוחות שׂני) with its excessive ceremonial stringency goes no further than this, that on the Sabbath men must abstain from חול דברי. And is it possible that our prophet can have been more stringent than the strictest traditionalists, and wished to make the keeper of the Sabbath a Carthusian monk? There could not be a more thorough perversion of the spirit of prophecy than this.)

then, just as the Sabbath is thy pleasure, so wilt thou have thy pleasure in Jehovah, i.e., enjoy His delightful fellowship (על־ה תּתענּג, a promise as in Job 22:26), and He will reward thee for thy renunciation of earthly advantages with a victorious reign, with an unapproachable possession of the high places of the land - i.e., chiefly, though not exclusively, of the promised land, which shall then be restored to thee - and with the free and undisputed usufruct of the inheritance promised to thy forefather Jacob (Psa 105:10-11; Deu 32:13 and Deu 33:29) - this will be thy glorious reward, for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. Thus does Isaiah confirm the predictions of Isa 1:20 and Isa 40:25 (compare Isa 24:3).

Next: Isaiah Chapter 59