Isaiah Chapter 9:1-21
1. Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
1. Non tamen obscuratio juxta angustiam quae ei accidit tempore quo primum leviter attigerunt terram Zabulon et terram Nephtalia: nec posterius, cum aggravarunt per viam maris ultra Iordanem, in Galilaea Gentium.
2. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
2. Populus ambulans in tenebris vidit lucem magnam. Qui habitabant in terra umbrae mortis, lux affulsit super eos.
3. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
3. Multiplicando gentem non auxisti laetitiam, laetati sunt coram te secundum laetitiam in messe, quemadmodum exultant dividendo spolia.
4. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
4. Quoniam jugum ejus onerosum, et virgam humeri ejus, sceptrum exactoris ejus confregisti, sicut in die Madian.
5. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.
5. Quanquam omne proelium bellantis fit cum strepitu et volutatione vestis in sanguine; erit hoc in combustionem, cibum ignis.
6. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
6. Quia puer natus est nobis; et constitutus est principatus super humerum ejus; et vocabitur nomen ejus, Admirabilis, Consiliarius, Deus fortis, Pater seculi, princeps pacis.
7. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
7. Multiplicationi principatus et paci non erit finis; super solium David, et super regnum ejus, ut disponat et stabiliat ipsum in judicio et justitia, ab hoc tempore usque in perpetuum. Zelus Iehovae exercituum hanc rem faciet.
8. The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
8. Verbum misit Dominus in Iacob, et cecidit in Israel.
9. And all the people shall know even Ephraim, and the inhabitants of Samaria, that say in the pride of stoutness of heart,
9. Et sciet populus, omnes Ephraim, et incolae Samariae, qui dicunt in superbia et altitudine cordis,
10. The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.
10. Lateres ceciderunt, et politis aedificabimus; sycomori succisae sunt, et cedros sufficiemus.
11. Therefore the Lord shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him and join his enemies together;
11. Atqui roborabit Iehova hostes Rezin contra ipsum; et inimicos ejus coedjuvabit.
12. The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
12. Syria a fronte, et Philistaei a tergo; devorabuntque Israel toto ore. Nec in hoc toto aversus erit furor ejus, sed manus ejus adhuc extenta.
13. For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of hosts:
13. Atqui populus non est reversus ad percussorem suum; nec Iehovam exercituum quaesierunt.
14. Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day.
14. Abscindet ergo Iehova ab Israele caput et audam, ramum et arundinem die uno.
15. The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
15. Senex et vulta suspiciendus, hic est caput: Propheta autem qui docet mendacium, hic est cauda.
16. For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.
16. Nam gubernatores populi hujus, sunt seductores; et qui reguntur in eo, perditi.
17. Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
17. Propterea super adolescentibus ejus non gaudebit Dominus; et pupillorum ejus et viduarum non miserebitur. Quoniam omnes sunt hypocritae et scelerati, et omne os loquitur nequitiam. In hoc toto non erit aversus furor ejus, sed adhuc manus ejus extenta.
18. For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briars and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest; and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.
18. Quoniam succensa est velut ignis impietas; vepres et spinas devorabit. Postea exardebit in condensa sylvae; et elevabitur fumus ascendentis.
19. Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.
19. Prae ira Iehovae exercituum obscurabitur terra, et fiet populus quasi cibus ignis. Nemo fratri suo parcet.
20. And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm:
20. Rapiet quisque ad dexteram, et esuriet; comedet ad sinistram, et non saturabitur: quisque carnem brachii sui devorabit;
21. Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh: and they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
21. Menasse Ephraim, et Ephraim Menasse; pariter ipsi contra Iudam. Nec in hoc toto aversuserit furor ejus; sed manus ejus adhuc extenta.
1. Yet the darkness shall not be. He begins to comfort the wretched by the hope of alleviation, that they may not be swallowed up by the huge mass of distresses. Many take these words in quite an opposite meaning, that is, as a threatening which denounces against the Jews a heavier affliction than that with which Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29) and Shalmanezer (2 Kings 17:6) afflicted them. The former inflicted a heavy calamity, the latter inflicted one still heavier, for he carried the twelve tribes into captivity, and blotted out the name of the nation. Some think that he now foretells the heaviest calamity of all, for if it be compared with the former two, it exceeds both of them. Though I am not prepared to reject this view, for it does not want plausibility, yet I rather favor a different opinion. The other interpretation is indeed more plausible, that the Prophet intended to deprive hypocrites of every enjoyment, that they might not imagine that this calamity would quickly pass away like a storm as the others had done, for it would be utterly destructive; and so we shall take the particle yk (ki) in its literal meaning.1
But in my opinion it is most appropriate to view it as a consolation, in which he begins to mitigate what he had said about that frightful darkness and driving, (Isaiah 8:22,) and, by allaying the bitterness of those punishments, encourages them to expect the favor of God. As if he had said, "and yet, amidst that shocking calamity which the Jews shall endure, the darkness will not be such as when the land of Israel was afflicted, first, by Tiglath-pileser, (2 Kings 15:29,) and afterwards more grievously by Shalmanezer," (2 Kings 17:6.) Amidst so great extremities believers might otherwise have fainted, if their hearts had not been cheered by some consolation. Isaiah therefore directs his discourse to them lest they should think that they were ruined, for he intimates that the chastisements which are now to be inflicted will be lighter than those which came before. That this is the natural interpretation will quickly appear from what immediately follows.
But why does the Prophet say that this calamity, which was far more dreadful, would be more mild and gentle? For Jerusalem was to be razed, the temple thrown down, and the sacrifices abolished, which had remained untouched during the former calamities. It might be thought that these were the severest of all, and that the former, in comparison of them, were light. But it ought to be observed, that while in the former instances there was no promise, an explicit promise was added to this threatening. By this alone can temptations be overcome and chastisements be rendered light. By this seasoning alone, I say, are our afflictions alleviated; and all who are destitute of it must despair. But if, by means of it, the Lord strengthen us by holding out the hope of assistance, there is no affliction so heavy that we shall not reckon it to be light.
This may be made plain by a comparison. A man may happen to be drowned in a small stream, and yet, though he had fallen into the open sea, if he had got hold of a plank he might have been rescued and brought on shore. In like manner the slightest calamities will overwhelm us if we are deprived of God's favor; but if we relied on the word of God, we might come out of the heaviest calamity safe and uninjured.
As to the words, some take Pewm (mugnaph) for an adjective, as if the Prophet said, It shall not be darkened; but the feminine pronoun which immediately follows, hb (bahh), in her, does not allow us to refer this to men. It is more accurately described by others to be a substantive noun; and, therefore, I have resolved to render it literally, there shall not be darkness in Judea according to the affliction of the time when, etc. Some explain lqh (hekal) to mean that the land was relieved of a burden, in consequence of the people having been carried into captivity; but this is altogether at variance with the Prophet's meaning, and does not agree with what follows; for it is immediately added that the seacoast has been more grievously afflicted by a second calamity. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this verb corresponds to the other verb dybkh, (hikbid.)2 Not more than a small part of the kingdom having been afflicted by Tiglath-pileser, the calamity which he brought upon it is said to be light as compared with the second which was inflicted by Shalmanezer.
By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. He calls it the way of the sea, because Galilee was adjoining to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and on one side it was bounded by the course of the Jordan. It is called Galilee of the Gentiles, not only because it was contiguous to Tyre and Sidon, but because it contained a great multitude of Gentiles, who were mingled with the Jews; for from the time that Solomon granted this country to King Hiram, (1 Kings 9:11,) it could never be subdued in such a manner as not to have some part of it possessed by the Gentiles.
2. The people walking in darkness hath seen a great light. He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: "Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead." Matthew, who quotes this passage, appears to torture it to a different meaning; for he says that this prediction was fulfilled when Christ preached along the sea-coast. (Matthew 4:16.) But if we take a just view of the comparison, it will be found that Matthew has applied this passage to Christ correctly, and in its true meaning. Yet it does not appear that the view generally given by our commentators is a successful elucidation of the passage; for they merely assert that it belongs to the kingdom of Christ, but do not assign a reason, or show how it accords with this passage. If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls. When we shall have made a little progress in reading Isaiah, we shall find that this was his ordinary custom.
Having spoken of the captivity in Babylon, which held out the prospect of a very heavy calamity, he shows that this calamity will be lighter than that which Israel formerly endured; because the Lord had fixed a term and limit to that calamity, namely, seventy years, (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10,) after the expiration of which the light of the Lord would shine on them. By this confident hope of deliverance, therefore, he encourages their hearts when overpowered by fear, that they might not be distressed beyond measure; and thus he made a distinction between the Jews and the Israelites, to whom the expectation of a deliverance so near was not promised. Though the Prophets had given to the elect remnant some taste of the mercy of God, yet, in consequence of the redemption of Israel being, as it were, an addition to the redemption of Judah, and dependent on it, justly does the Prophet now declare that a new light has been exhibited; because God hath determined to redeem his people. Appropriately and skilfully, too, does Matthew extend the rays of light to Galilee and the land of Zebulun. (Matthew 4:15.)
In the land of the shadow of death. He now compares the captivity in Babylon to darkness and death; for those who were kept there, were wretched and miserable, and altogether like dead men; as Ezekiel also relates their speech,
Dead men shall arise out of the graves. (Ezekiel 37:11, 12.)
Their condition, therefore, was such as if no brightness, no ray of light, had shone on them. Yet he shows that this will not prevent them from enjoying light, and recovering their former liberty; and that liberty he extends, not to a short period, but, as we have already said, to the time of Christ.
Thus it is customary with the Apostles to borrow arguments from the Prophets, and to show their real use and design. In this manner Paul quotes (Romans 9:25) that passage from Hosea,
I will call them my people which were not my people,
and applies it to the calling of the Gentiles, though strictly it was spoken of the Jews; and he shows that it was fulfilled when the Lord brought the Gentiles into the Church. Thus, when the people might be said to be buried in that captivity, they differed in no respect from the Gentiles; and since both were in the same condition, it is reasonable to believe that this passage relates, not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also. Nor must it be viewed as referring to outward misery only, but to the darkness of eternal death, in which souls are plunged, till they come forth to spiritual light; for unquestionably we lie buried in darkness, till Christ shine on us by the doctrine of his word. Hence also Paul exhorts,
Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians 5:14.)
If therefore we extend the commencement of the deliverance from the return from Babylon down to the coming of Christ, on whom all liberty and all bestowal of blessings depends, we shall understand the true meaning of this passage, which otherwise has not been satisfactorily explained by commentators.
3. Thou hast multiplied. This passage is somewhat obscure, both in itself, and on account of the diversity of interpretations; for it appears to be absurd to say that the joy was not increased, seeing that he immediately afterwards adds, they rejoiced. On this account the Jews interpret al (lo) not negatively, but as if w (vau) had been substituted for a (aleph); for sometimes, though rarely, it has this meaning in the Scriptures.3 (Exodus 21:8.) The Jews do this, because they cannot reconcile the words of the Prophet with their opinion. Again, some view these words as referring to Sennacherib, because his army, though it was large, brought him no ground of joy, but rather of grief. (2 Kings 19:35.) Others explain it as relating to the Church, and justly, but mistake the method of applying it; for they think that the Prophet said this because believers, as long as they live, are subject to numerous and diversified afflictions. Others go still farther from the point, by saying that the conversion of the Gentiles, which will enlarge the Church, will not bring joy to the Jews and the ancient synagogue.
But I cannot approve of any of those interpretations, and therefore I interpret it in this manner. As the Prophet, in the beginning of the chapter, had made a preliminary statement, that this blessing of redemption was greater than all other blessings, though it might appear to be unworthy of being so highly extolled, on account of the small number of those who were redeemed; so now he repeats the same comparison, or one not very different from it, namely, that this favor of God would be more remarkable than when he had formerly multiplied his people. This might at first sight be thought to be highly inappropriate; for if we compare the condition of the Jewish kingdom, before the Babylonish captivity, with its condition after the return from it, we may be led to think that the period during which its ancient possession remained unimpaired was a season of greater prosperity. It was but a small remnant that returned in comparison of that multitude which had been carried away. Besides, they had not the free possession of their land, but might be said to be tenants at will; and they had to pay tribute to the Persians, and retained hardly any semblance of their former rank. Who, therefore, would not have preferred that prosperous reign which had been enjoyed by the family of David to that condition?
But the Prophet declares that this latter condition, though it may appear to be greatly inferior, and even more wretched, ought to be preferred to that which was prosperous and splendid, and shows that it will yield greater joy than when they had an abundant share of wealth and of all kinds of possessions. This was also testified by Haggai,
that the glory of the latter temple would be greater
than the glory of the former, (Haggai 2:9,)
though at first sight it might appear to be far otherwise. It is as if Isaiah had said, "There never was greater joy, though the multitude of the people was greater. Though we are few and contemptible in number, yet by the light with which thou shinest on us thou hast cheered us to such a degree that no joy of our former condition can be compared with the present." For that redemption might be regarded as a prelude to the full and perfect salvation which was at length obtained through Christ.
Before thee. He means that the joy was true and complete, not slight or temporary. Men often rejoice, but with a deceitful and transitory joy, which is followed by mourning and tears. He affirms that this joy has its roots so deeply laid, that it can never perish or be destroyed. Such is also the import of the phrase before thee; for nothing cheers the godly so much as when the face of God shines sweetly on them. They are not like irreligious men, who are carried hither and thither by a blind and uncertain joy, but they have that which alone gives ground for full joy, their reliance on God's fatherly kindness. Perhaps also the Prophet intended to allude to those words which frequently occur in the writings of Moses: Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God. (Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 12:12,18.) For though the subject there spoken of is the Tabernacle, still the mode of expression is fitly applied to the present occasion, that the joy of a believing people will not be irreligious, but will arise from acknowledging God, and beholding him by the eyes of faith to be the author of salvation. (Hebrews 5:9.)
Others explain it more ingeniously, that inwardly believers rejoice before God in their consciences, because in the world grief and sighing continually awaits them. Though this is true, yet a more natural meaning is drawn from the connection of the passage, namely, that believers whom God shall redeem will possess true joy; because they will have been instructed by undoubted proof that he is their Father, so that they may freely boast that they will always be safe under his guidance; and, therefore, as I lately mentioned, it denotes continuance.
According to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoils. The comparisons of Harvest and Victory, by which he heightens the amount of the joy, are sufficiently plain. Now, hence it is evident what Christ brings to us, namely, a full and perfect joy, of which we cannot in any way be robbed or deprived, though various storms and tempests should arise, and though we should be weighed down by every kind of afflictions. However weak and feeble we may be, still we ought to be glad and joyful; for the ground of our joy does not lie in numbers, or wealth, or outward splendor, but in spiritual happiness, which we obtain through the word of Christ.
For thou hast broken his burdensome yoke. He explains the cause of the joy, that believers, when they have been delivered from a frightful and cruel tyranny, will feel as if they had been rescued from death. In order to illustrate the grace of God, he reminds them how shameful and burdensome was the slavery with which the Jews had been oppressed and afflicted; and this is his object in heaping up the expressions, the yoke of the shoulder, the staff of the shoulder, the rod of the oppressor or overseer. Whatever may be our excessive effeminacy or cowardice, while we actually feel afflictions, yet as soon as they are gone, we easily come to forget them. That the redeemed people may not think lightly of the favor of God, the Prophet bids them consider how bitter and mournful was the slavery, when they groaned under a heavy yoke or triumphal car, when the staff was laid on their shoulders, and they were oppressed by tyrannical rule; and therefore their deliverance ought justly to make them more glad and joyful.
Next, he extolls the excellence of this favor on another ground, that God has openly displayed his hand from heaven. For this purpose he adduces an ancient and memorable instance. As God had formerly overthrown the Midianites, without the help of men, by a wonderful and amazing method, (Judges 7:21,) so now there will be a similar and illustrious display of power; for God will deliver his people from a cruel tyranny, when not one of the wretched Jews will venture to lift a finger. Now, it ought to be observed that God sometimes assists his people in such a manner as to make use of ordinary methods; but when he sees that this hinders men from beholding his hand, which may be said to be concealed, he sometimes works alone, and by evident miracles, that nothing may prevent or obscure the manifestation of his power. Thus in this victory of Gideon, when the enemies were routed without any agency of men, the arm of God openly appeared. For what had Gideon but the noise of pitchers, which could scarcely have driven away mice, and a small band of men, against a vast army, and, instead of weapons, a useless scarecrow? To this deliverance, therefore, he compares the future deliverance of the people, in which the hand of God will be not less openly and illustriously displayed.
Some explain this passage as relating merely to the law, which might not inappropriately have been called a burdensome yoke, and a rod lying on the shoulders. But that interpretation is unsuitable; for it would give to the Prophet the appearance of having suddenly broken off from his subject, and would be a violent torture of this passage. We must therefore attend to that arrangement which I formerly noticed, namely, that when God brought his people out of Babylon, he continued that blessing of deliverance till Christ. The meaning therefore is, "Thou hast broken those burdens by which thy people were unjustly and cruelly oppressed."
Others apply it to the destruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Vespasian, but they have no argument on their side. Almost all the Jews refer it to Hezekiah, when in this manner the Lord delivered the city from the siege of Sennacherib, and cut off his army. (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) But that interpretation could not be admitted, for Hezekiah did not reign tyrannically over the Jews. Besides, at that time the Lord rescued the people from fear and danger, and not from slavery. Hence it is evident that this prediction had a more distant object, and that the interpretation which I have given to this passage is just and reasonable.
5. For every battle. Here commentators are nearly agreed that Isaiah intended to contrast the victory which God was about to give to his people with other victories. Others conquer by making a great slaughter of the enemies, but here the Lord will conquer by his own hand alone. He expresses more fully what he had said, As in the day of Midian. (Verse 4.) The Lord therefore, he says, will not employ the agency of a great multitude, but will achieve a victory for himself from heaven. When the Lord acts by himself, every covering is removed, and we perceive more clearly that he is the Author of our life and salvation.
Now, since there is a contrast which expresses the difference between the ordinary mode of warfare and the miracle of redemption, the copulative w, (vau,) in the middle of the verse, ought to be rendered but; as if he had said, that it is usually amidst the confusion of the battle that enemies are hewn down: but God will act in a very different manner; for he will destroy the enemies of the Church, as if he sent down lightning from heaven, or suddenly struck them by thunderbolts. It may perhaps be thought better to adopt the opinion of those who explain the second clause as a continuation of the first, that all warriors will be with trembling and with burning fire. But the former meaning is more appropriate, and is likewise supported by the words of the Prophet. Hence it is evident that the present subject is not merely the deliverance which the people obtained from Cyrus, permitting them to return to their native country, but that these words must be viewed as extending to the kingdom of Christ.
6. For unto us a child is born. Isaiah now argues from the design, to show why this deliverance ought to be preferred to the rest of God's benefits, namely, because not only will God bring back the people from captivity, but he will place Christ on his royal throne, that under him supreme and everlasting happiness may be enjoyed. Thus he affirms that the kindness of God will not be temporary, for it includes the whole of that intermediate period during which the Church was preserved till the coming of Christ. Nor is it wonderful if the Prophet makes a sudden transition from the return of the ancient people to the full restoration of the Church, which took place many centuries afterwards; for in our observations on Isaiah 7:14,4 we have remarked, that there being no other way that God is reconciled to us than through the Mediator, all the promises are founded on him; and that on this account it is customary with the Prophets, whenever they wish to encourage the hearts of believers by good hope, to bring this forward as a pledge or earnest. To this must be added, that the return from the captivity in Babylon was the commencement of the renovation of the Church, which was completed when Christ appeared; and consequently there is no absurdity in an uninterrupted succession. Justly, therefore, does Isaiah teach that they ought not to confine their attention to the present benefit, but should consider the end, and refer everything to it. "This is your highest happiness, that you have been rescued from death, not only that you may live in the land of Canaan, but that you may arrive at the kingdom of God."
Hence we learn that we ought not to swallow up the benefits which we receive from God, so as instantly to forget them, but should raise our minds to Christ, otherwise the advantage will be small, and the joy will be transitory; because they will not lead us to taste the sweetness of a Father's love, unless we keep in remembrance the free election of God, which is ratified in Christ. In short, the Prophet does not wish that this people should be wholly occupied with the joy occasioned by the outward and short-lived freedom which they had obtained, but that they should look at the end, that is, at the preservation of the Church, till Christ, the only Redeemer, should appear; for he ought to be the ground and perfection of all our joy.
A child is born. The Jews impudently torture this passage, for they interpret it as relating to Hezekiah, though he had been born before this prediction was uttered. But he speaks of it as something new and unexpected; and it is even a promise, intended to arouse believers to the expectation of a future event; and therefore there can be no hesitation in concluding that he describes a child that was afterwards to be born.
He is called the Son of God. Although in the Hebrew language the word son, I admit, has a wide acceptation, yet that is when something is added to it. Every man is the son of his father: those who are a hundred years old are called (Isaiah 65:20) the sons of a hundred years; wicked men are called the sons of wickedness; those who are blessed are called the sons of blessing; and Isaiah called a fruitful hill the son of fatness. (Isaiah 5:1.) But son, without any addition, can mean none else than the Son of God; and it is now ascribed to Christ, by way of eminence, (kat j ejxoch<n,) in order to inform us, that by this striking mark he is distinguished from the rest of mankind. Nor can it be doubted that Isaiah referred to that well-known prediction, which was in the mouth of every person,
I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son,
(2 Samuel 7:14,)
as it is afterwards repeated,
Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Had it not been commonly and generally known that the Messiah would be the Son of God, it would have been foolish and unmeaning for Isaiah simply to call him the Son. Accordingly, this title is derived from the former prediction, from which the Apostle reasons, that the excellence of Christ exalts him above all the angels. (Hebrews 1:5.)
Now, though in the person of a child Christ might have a mean appearance, still the designation of Son points out his high rank. Yet I do not deny that he might have been called the Son of David, but it is more natural to apply it to him as God. The titles which follow are still less applicable to Hezakiah. I shall soon give an ample refutation of the sophistry by which the Jews attempt to evade this passage. Let them slander as they may, the matter is sufficient plain to all who will calmly and soberly examine it.
A Son hath been given to us. There is weight in what he now adds, that this Son was given to the people, in order to inform the Jews that their salvation and that of the whole Church is contained in the person of Christ. And this giving is one of the chief articles of our faith; for it would have been of little avail to us, that Christ was born, if he had not likewise been our own. What this child will be, and what is his rank, he declares in the following statements.
And the government hath been laid upon his shoulder. To suppose, as some do, that this is an allusion to the cross of Christ is manifestly childish. Christ carried the cross on his shoulders, (John 19:17,) and by the cross he gained a splendid triumph over the prince of this world. (John 14:30.) But as the government is here said to have been laid on his shoulders in the same sense in which we shall see that the key of the house of David was laid on the shoulders of Eliakim, (Isaiah 22:22,) we need not go far to seek ingenious expositions. Yet I agree with those who think that there is an indirect contrast between the government which the Redeemer bore on his shoulders and the staff of the shoulder which was just now mentioned; for it agrees well, and is not liable to any objections. He therefore shows that the Messiah will be different from indolent kings, who leave off business and cares, and live at their ease; for he will be able to bear the burden. Thus he asserts the superiority and grandeur of his government, because by his own power Christ will obtain homage to himself, and he will discharge his office, not only with the tips of his fingers, but with his full strength.
And his name shall be called. Though arqy, (yikra,) he shall call, be an active verb, I have not hesitated to translate it in a passive sense; for the meaning is the same as if he had made use of the plural number, they shall call. We have a French idiom that resembles it, on appellera, literally, one shall call, that is, he shall be called. The Jews apply it to God, and read it continously, he shall call his name Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. But it is very evident that this proceeds from a desire, or rather from a licentious eagerness, to obscure the glory of Christ; for if they had not labored with excessive keenness to rob him of his Godhead, the passage would run on very smoothly as interpreted by our divines. Besides, what necessity was there for ascribing to God those attributes, if the Prophet meant nothing more than that God gave a name to Messiah? For the attributes which are usually ascribed to God are either perpetual or accommodated to the case in hand, neither of which suppositions can here be admitted. Again, it would have been an interruption of the regular order to insert the name of God in the midst of various titles, but it ought to have run thus, the mighty God, Wonderful, Counsellor, shall call. Now, I do not see how the name Uewy (yognetz) can be applied absolutely to God, for it belongs to counsellors who attend kings or other persons. If any obstinate wrangler shall contend for the notion of the Rabbins, he will show nothing but his own impudence. Let us follow the plain and natural meaning.
Wonderful. It ought to be observed that those titles are not foreign to the subject, but are adapted to the case in hand, for the Prophet describes what Christ will show himself to be towards believers. He does not speak of Christ's mysterious essence, but applauds his excellencies, which we perceive and experience by faith. This ought to be the more carefully considered, because the greater part of men are satisfied with his mere name, and do not observe his power and energy, though that ought to be chiefly regarded.
By the first title he arouses the minds of the godly to earnest attention, that they may expect from Christ something more excellent than what we see in the ordinary course of God's works, as if he had said, that in Christ are hidden the invaluable treasures of wonderful things. (Colossians 2:3.) And, indeed, the redemption which he has brought surpasses even the creation of the world. It amounts to this, that the grace of God, which will be exhibited in Christ, exceeds all miracles.
Counselor. The reason of this second title is, that the Redeemer will come endowed with absolute wisdom. Now, let us remember what I have just noticed, that the Prophet does not here reason about the hidden essence of Christ, but about the power which he displays towards us. It is not, therefore, because he knows all his Father's secrets that the Prophet calls him Counsellor, but rather because, proceeding from the bosom of the Father, (John 1:18,) he is in every respect the highest and most perfect teacher. In like manner we are not permitted to get wisdom but from his Gospel, and this contributes also to the praise of the Gospel, for it contains the perfect wisdom of God, as Paul frequently shows. (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:9.) All that is necessary for salvation is opened up by Christ in such a manner, and explained with such familiarity, that he addresses the disciples no longer as servants but as friends. (John 15:14, 15.)
The mighty God. la (El) is one of the names of God, though derived from strength, so that it is sometimes added as an attribute. But here it is evidently a proper name, because Isaiah is not satisfied with it, and in addition to it employs the adjective rwbg, (gibbor,) which means strong. And indeed if Christ had not been God, it would have been unlawful to glory in him; for it is written,
Cursed be he that trusteth in man. (Jeremiah 17:5.)
We must, therefore, meet with the majesty of God in him, so that there truly dwells in him that which cannot without sacrilege be attributed to a creature.
He is, therefore, called the mighty God, for the same reason that he was formerly called Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14.) For if we find in Christ nothing but the flesh and nature of man, our glorying will be foolish and vain, and our hope will rest on au uncertain and insecure foundation; but if he shows himself to be to us God and the mighty God, we may now rely on him with safety. With good reason does he call him strong or mighty, because our contest is with the devil, death, and sin, (Ephesians 6:12,) enemies too powerful and strong, by whom we would be immediately vanquished, if the strength of Christ had not rendered us invincible. Thus we learn from this title that there is in Christ abundance of protection for defending our salvation, so that we desire nothing beyond him; for he is God, who is pleased to show himself strong on our behalf. This application may be regarded as the key to this and similar passages, leading us to distinguish between Christ's mysterious essence and the power by which he hath revealed himself to us.
The father of the age. The Greek translator has added me>llontov future;5 and, in my opinion, the translation is correct, for it denotes eternity, unless it be thought better to view it as denoting "perpetual duration," or "an endless succession of ages," lest any one should improperly limit it to the heavenly life, which is still hidden from us. (Colossians 3:3.) True, the Prophet includes it, and even declares that Christ will come, in order to bestow immortality on his people; but as believers, even in this world, pass from death to life, (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14,) this world is embraced by the eternal condition of the Church.
The name Father is put for Author, because Christ preserves the existence of his Church through all ages, and bestows immortality on the body and on the individual members. Hence we conclude how transitory our condition is, apart from him; for, granting that we were to live for a very long period after the ordinary manner of men, what after all will be the value of our long life? We ought, therefore, to elevate our minds to that blessed and everlasting life, which as yet we see not, but which we possess by hope and faith. (Romans 8:25.)
The Prince of Peace. This is the last title, and the Prophet declares by it that the coming of Christ will be the cause of full and perfect happiness, or, at least, of calm and blessed safety. In the Hebrew language peace often signifies prosperity, for of all blessings not one is better or more desirable than peace. The general meaning is, that all who submit to the dominion of Christ will lead a quiet and blessed life in obedience to him. Hence it follows that life, without this King, is restless and miserable.
But we must also take into consideration the nature of this peace. It is the same with that of the kingdom, for it resides chiefly in the consciences; otherwise we must be engaged in incessant conflicts and liable to daily attacks. Not only, therefore, does he promise outward peace, but that peace by which we return to a state of favor with God, who were formerly at enmity with him. Justified by faith, says Paul, we have peace with God. (Romans 5:1.) Now, when Christ shall have brought composure to our minds, the same spiritual peace will hold the highest place in our hearts, (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15,) so that we will patiently endure every kind of adversity, and from the same fountain will likewise flow outward prosperity, which is nothing else than the effect of the blessing of God.
Now, to apply this for our own instruction, whenever any distrust arises, and all means of escape are taken away from us, whenever, in short, it appears to us that everything is in a ruinous condition, let us recall to our remembrance that Christ is called Wonderful, because he has inconceivable methods of assisting us, and because his power is far beyond what we are able to conceive. When we need counsel, let us remember that he is the Counsellor. When we need strength, let us remember that he is Mighty and Strong. When new terrors spring up suddenly every instant, and when many deaths threaten us from various quarters, let us rely on that eternity of which he is with good reason called the Father, and by the same comfort let us learn to soothe all temporal distresses. When we are inwardly tossed by various tempests, and when Satan attempts to disturb our consciences, let us remember that Christ is The Prince of Peace, and that it is easy for him quickly to allay all our uneasy feelings. Thus will these titles confirm us more and more in the faith of Christ, and fortify us against Satan and against hell itself.
7. To the increase of the government there will be no end. He begins to explain and confirm what he had formerly said, that Christ is The Prince of Peace, by saying that his government is extended to every age, and is perpetual; that there will be no end to the government or to peace. This was also repeated by Daniel, who predicts that his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. (Daniel 7:27.) Gabriel also alluded to it when he carried the message to the virgin; and he gave the true exposition of this passage, for it cannot be understood to refer to any other than to Christ.
He shall reign, says he, over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:33.)
We see that the mightiest governments of this world, as if they had been built on a slippery foundation, (Psalm 73:18,) are unexpectedly overturned and suddenly fall. How fickle and changeable all the kingdoms under heaven are, we learn from history and from daily examples. This government alone is unchangeable and eternal.
Now, this continuance, of which Isaiah now speaks, consists of two parts. It belongs both to time and to quality. Though the kingdom of Christ is in such a condition that it appears as if it were about to perish at every moment, yet God not only protects and defends it, but also extends its boundaries far and wide, and then preserves and carries it forward in uninterrupted progression to eternity. We ought firmly to believe this, that the frequency of those shocks by which the Church is shaken may not weaken our faith, when we learn that, amidst the mad outcry and violent attacks of enemies, the kingdom of Christ stands firm through the invincible power of God, so that, though the whole world should oppose and resist, it will remain through all ages. We must not judge of its stability from the present appearances of things, but from the promise, which assures us of its continuance and of its constant increase.
And to the peace. To the government he adds the eternity of the peace, for the one cannot be separated from the other. It is impossible that Christ should be King without also keeping his people in calm and blessed peace, and enriching them with every blessing. But as they are daily exposed to innumerable vexations, endure fierce attacks, and are tossed and perplexed by fears and anxieties, they ought to cultivate that peace of Christ, which holds the highest place in their hearts, (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15,) that they may remain unhurt, and may even retain their composure amidst the destruction of the whole world.
In the word hbrMl, (lemarbeh,) contrary to the usual manner of writing, there is the close form of M (mem).6 Some think that it denotes the slavery by which the Jewish people should be oppressed till the coming of Christ. Others think that that nation, on account of its treachery, was escluded by this mark from having any share in this kingdom. I do not find fault with these views. Indeed, we can hardly assert that the Prophet wrote it in this manner; but yet, since this is the form in which it has come into our hands, and since the Rabbins were so close observers of the minutest portion of a letter, we cannot avoid thinking that this was not rashly done. And if we admit that the Prophet intentionally wrote it in this manner, I think that it conveyed this useful instruction, that believers should not imagine that the splendor of Christ's kingdom would consist in outward pomp, or cherish vain hopes of worldly triumphs, but should only expect, amidst various calamities, an unseen extension of the kingdom, because it had been promised.
Upon the throne of David. A promise having been made to David that the Redeemer would spring from his seed, (2 Samuel 7:12,13,) and his kingdom having been nothing else than an image or faint shadow of that more perfect and truly blessed state which God had determined to establish by the hand of his Son, the Prophets, in order to remind the people of that remarkable miracle, usually call Christ the Son of David. (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15.) Though the name of such a holy and upright king was justly beloved and revered, yet believers esteemed more highly the promised restoration to full salvation, and even among the most ignorant persons that prediction was universally remembered, and its truth and authenticity were considered to be clear and undoubted. I shall collect but a few of the passages in which the Prophets promise to an afflicted people restoration in the person of David or of his Son. (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24; Hebrews 3:5.) Sometimes they foretell that David, who was already dead, would be king. In like manner Isaiah, in this passage, intimates that he brings forward nothing that is new, but only reminds them of that which God had formerly promised about the perpetuity of the kingdom. Indirectly also he insinuates what Amoz more plainly states, that Christ will
again raise up the throne which for some time had been fallen. (Amos 9:11.)
To order it, and to establish it with judgment and with righteousness. He describes the quality of the kingdom, but by a comparison drawn from earthly governments; for he says that Christ will be a King, to order and establish his kingdom with judgment and with righteousness. These are the means by which earthly governments prosper and take deep roots; but those which are only administered by fear and violence cannot be lasting. Since, therefore, justice is the best guardian of kingdoms and governments, and since the happiness of the whole of the people depends on it, by this clause Isaiah shows that the kingdom of Christ will be the model of the best kind of government.
Judgment and righteousness do not here relate to outward affairs of state. We must observe the analogy between the kingdom of Christ and its qualities; for, being spiritual, it is established by the power of the Holy Spirit. In a word, all these things must be viewed as referring to the inner man, that is, when we are regenerated by God to true righteousness. Outward righteousness indeed follows afterwards, but it must be preceded by that renovation of the mind and heart. We are not Christ's, therefore, unless we follow what is good and just, and bear on our hearts the impress of that righteousness which hath been sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Henceforth even for ever. This must be understood, I think, to refer to the perpetuity of righteousness and doctrine rather than of the kingdom, lest we should imagine that his laws resemble the statutes of kings and princes, which are in force for three days, or for a short period, and are continually renewed, and soon become old again, but that we may know that their obligation is everlasting; for they have been established, as Zecharias says,
that we may serve him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. (Luke 1:74, 75.)
As Christ's kingdom is everlasting, because he dieth no more, (Romans 6:9,) so it follows that righteousness and judgment will be everlasting, for they cannot be changed by any length of time.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. By zeal I understand that ardent desire which God will display in preserving his Church, by removing all difficulties and obstructions which might otherwise have hindered its redemption. When we engage in any difficult undertaking, our earnestness, and the warmth of our feelings, overcome the difficulties which present themselves to baffle or retard our attempts. In like manner Isaiah shows that God is inflamed with an uncommon and extraordinary desire to promote the salvation of the Church, so that if believers cannot measure by their own capacity what he has just now promised, still they ought not to cease to entertain confident hope, for the manner of it is wonderful and inconceivable. In short, he intimates that God will come with no light or slow arm to redeem his Church, for he will be all on flame with amazing love of believers, and anxiety about their salvation.
8. The Lord hath sent a word. Here he relates a new prediction, for I think that this discourse is separated from the former, because the Prophet now returns to speak of the future condition of the kingdom of Israel, which was at that time hostile to the Jews. Now, we know that the Jews had good reason for being alarmed at the forces and power of that kingdom, especially when it had made a league with the Syrians, because they saw that they had not sufficient strength to oppose them. In order, therefore, to yield comfort to the godly, he shows what will be the future condition of the kingdom of Israel.
By Jacob and Israel he means the same thing; but the diversity of expression is elegant, and is intended to show that the wicked gain nothing by their opposition, when they endeavor either to turn away from them, or to alter the judgment of God. He alludes to the speech of those who think that they can escape by means of their witticisms, and who turn into jest and sport all that is threatened by the Prophets; just as if one were to attempt to drive away a storm by the breath of his mouth. It is, therefore, an ironical admission, as if he had said, "In your opinion, what God pronounces against you will fall on others; but all the threatenings which he utters against Jacob will light upon Israel."
To send means to appoint. The preposition b (beth) means in Jacob himself. The word of God must dwell and rest in him, for it cannot vanish away without producing any effect. This is what he afterwards lays down in other words, "My word shall not return to me void; that is, because it is an effectual publication of that which I have once decreed." (Isaiah 55:11.) By the word, it hath fallen,7 he points out the certainty of the effect and result; as if he had said, "I do not conjecture these things, nor do I contrive them out of my own head; but God hath spoken, who cannot be deceived, and cannot change."
9. And the people shall know. By the word people I understand, not the Jews, but rather the Israelites; and, indeed, the Prophet removes doubt by expressly naming Ephraim. He likewise adds Samaria, which was the metropolis of that people, or of the ten tribes; for fortified cities, conceiving themselves to be placed beyond the reach of danger, are much more insolent in their pretensions. They think that they will always have the remedy in their hands by capitulating with the enemy, though the whole country were laid waste. On this account Isaiah threatens that they will not be exempted from the general calamity. He says that all will feel that the predictions which were uttered by the mouth of God will not be without effect. By the word know, which relates to actual experience, he indirectly reproves their unbelief; as if he had said, "Since I speak to the deaf, and you set no value on the warnings which I now address to you, the actual event will teach you, but too late."
Who say. Here the Prophet attacks the obstinacy and rebellion of that people, because, though they had once and again been chastised by God's scourges, and that sharply, they were so far from repentance that they reckoned their losses to be gain, and became more hardened. Assuredly they who thus insolently mock at God are not brought to obedience without being reduced to utter weakness. Now, such an insult openly and avowedly provokes God's anger, and therefore the Prophet says that it proceeds from the haughtiness and pride of the heart. Hence it follows that it is right to apply to knotty timber chisels that are harder still.
10. The bricks are fallen down. These are the words of men who were obstinate, and who despised the calamity which they had sustained, as if it had been of advantage to them, because it afforded them an opportunity of adorning with greater splendor both their houses and their fields. "We shall build," they say, "more magnificently. The brick houses have been thrown down that we may dwell in splendid palaces; and since the trees have been cut down, we shall plant more fruitful ones." This was not the fault of a single age, for at this day we see the same obstinacy in the world. How many are the distresses with which Europe has been afflicted for thirty or forty years? How many are the chastisements by which she has been called to repentance? And yet it does not appear that those numerous chastisements have done any good. On the contrary, luxury increases every day, lawless passions are inflamed, and men go on in crimes and profligacy more shamelessly than ever. In short, those very calamities appear to have been so many excitements to luxury and splendor. What then should we expect but to be bruised with heavier blows?
11. But the Lord will set up the adversaries of Rezin against him. The Israelites having been proud of their alliance with the king of Syria, and hoping that everything would succeed to their wish, Isaiah threatens a new change which will take away all their hope and utterly frustrate their designs, for the Assyrians afterwards took arms and waged war with the Syrians. Accordingly, when Rezin had been slain, (2 Kings 16:9,) that country was entirely ruined. Still more does he heighten this, by adding, he shall mingle;8 for he means that the Lord will gather together and mingle various enemies whom he will commission to destroy the king of Syria, as the soldiers who composed the army of that vast monarchy were collected out of various nations.
12. Syria in front.9 The Prophet shows what will be the nature of this change, and what will happen after the death of Rezin, (2 Kings 16:9,) who had allied himself with Israel against Judah; namely, that the Syrians, after the death of their king, from being allies will suddenly become enemies, and will make war against Israel, which took place. (2 Kings 17:3.) This is what he means when he says that Syria will be in front; for I do not agree with those expositors who make Syria to mean "those on the East," and the Philistines "those on the West." A more natural meaning is, that the enemies will invade them on every side; because on all sides they who had been regarded as faithful friends will rise up to destroy them. The phrases in front and behind agree with the ordinary modes of speaking, so that we ought not to seek an interpretation that is new and foreign to the purpose.
From this example we ought to learn what it is to rely on human power and the alliances of kings, and especially when, in consequence of being entangled by unlawful covenants, we become careless and fall asleep; for as soon as the Lord pleases, they who were formerly on our side will, in the smallest portion of time, be turned against us to our ruin; and remedies, which we thought would be useful to us will prove to be our destruction, and will assist us both before and behind. We ought also to observe that God does not all at once expend all his scourges, but when we proceed obstinately, and provoke him more and more, he increases and multiplies the chastisements, and still inflicts a new kind of punishment, till at length he subdues our obstinacy and rebellion.
And will devour Israel with the whole mouth. 10 The phrase with the whole mouth, 11 is equivalent to an ordinary idiom of our own, (a pleine bouche,) with full mouth. As if he had said, "Israel will be exposed as a prey to her enemies, so that on every hand she will be devoured with open mouth, both by the Syrians and by the Philistines."
His anger is not turned away. This is the severest of all, and beyond everything else ought to have terrified the ungodly, that if they had suffered much, they have more to endure; that new punishments continually await them, because by going on in their obstinacy they inflame still more the wrath of God. Men take this as an incentive to more obstinate and determined wickedness, that, having suffered some punishment, they think that they have nothing more to suffer, and become more hardened. They do not even believe that they are any longer exposed to the judgment of God, who has already spent his rods; and as if they were altogether out of his power, they give themselves greater indulgence, and shake off every yoke.
But his hand is stretched out still. What we have now stated is the reason why Isaiah threatens that the hand of the Lord is still stretched out, that they may not think that they have escaped that hand. Now, this is said not for the purpose of instructing, but of accusing, though the threatenings have also a tendency to make doctrine better understood; but as he had to do with obstinate men, on whom no chastisement produced any good effect, he therefore announces that the chastisements are not yet at an end; and that, although God has for a time discontinued those chastisements, still he has not dispensed with them, but has his hand lifted up to inflict a new wound.
13. But the people hath not turned.12 The copulative w (vau) is rendered by some interpreters for, as if the Prophet were assigning a reason why the Lord does not cease to employ his scourges in the continual infliction of chastisements; that is, because the people are so hardened and obstinate that they will not repent. When there is no repentance, it is unreasonable to expect that God will yield to obstinate men, as if he were vanquished; and the consequence is, that he prepares himself for inflicting severer punishment. Since, therefore, no chastisements had produced any amendment in Israel, he must perish; for when they had been so frequently struck and punished, and did not at all repent, this was a proof of the most desperate wickedness.
This is a very severe rebuke, that although the Lord not only admonishes us by words, but actually pushes us forward, and constrains us by various chastisements, still we grow hardened, and do not suffer ourselves to be drawn away from our crimes and our lusts. Desperate wickedness is thus evinced, and nothing more heinous could be spoken or conceived. It is a heinous offense, when men do not receive instruction as soon as it is delivered to them; it is more heinous, when they are not affected by rebukes; it is the most heinous of all, when, in spite even of chastisements, they grow hardened, and even kick, or by their headstrong behavior inflame still more the indignation of the Judge, and do not consider why they were punished, or what it is to which the Lord calls them. Accordingly, when no remedies produce any good effect, what must we think but that the disease is incurable and utterly desperate?
This rebuke applies not to the Israelites only but to us also. Already hath the Lord chastised the whole world by various afflictions, so that hardly any part could be exempted from distresses and calamities. And yet all appear to have obstinately conspired against God, so that, whatever He does, they cease not to retain their former character, and to carry on their wicked courses. Justly, therefore, might the Lord address to us the same expostulation, and assuredly he addresses us by the mouth of Isaiah; and we ought not to look for another Prophet to threaten new chastisements, seeing that our case is not different from that of the Israelites, and we are involved in the same blame with them.
Nor have they sought the Lord of hosts. This is immediately added as an explanation, for the reason why God inflicts punishment is, to bring back the wanderers to himself. By this method, indeed, he appears to drive men to a greater distance from him; but as it belongs to him to bring out of the grave those whom he appeared to have wounded and slain, by terrifying sinners he only humbles them, in order that they may return to him. And indeed the beginning of conversion is to seek God, or rather it is the only rule of living well; if we turn aside from it we have no rest for the sole of our foot. But we must now inquire what it is to seek God, or in what manner we ought to seek him; for hypocrites will always be ready to plead, that by prayers and fastings, and tears, and a sorrowful countenance, they earnestly entreat God and implore forgiveness. But God chooses to be sought in another manner; that is, when the sinner truly subdued, willingly takes the yoke which he had shaken off, and yields obedience to him whom he had despised.
14. Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel. He intimates that God's vengeance will be universal, and will involve all ranks; for the whole nation was corrupted, and the contagion had spread over the whole country, to such an extent that no part was left whole or sound. Now, when iniquity thus abounds, every one flatters himself, and they think that they have concealed themselves by an admirable veil, because they have many who are like them; and when they compare themselves with others, they think that they have pleaded their excuse. This is the reason why he threatens that vengeance generally against all; for not one was free from the general disease.
Head and tail, branch and reed.13 By branch he means the stronger and more powerful; by reed or rush he means the feebler, that is, men of the lowest rank, and who had scarcely any wealth. He therefore means that the vengeance of God hangs over them, and spares neither the strong nor the weak, neither the highest nor the lowest, because no part is sound or uninfected by the general disease.
15. The ancient and honorable, he is the head. What he had spoken allegorically about the head and the tail he explains more plainly and without a figure. He says that the heads are the princes and nobles who had the charge of public affairs, and sat at the helm of the commonwealth. To these he adds the false prophets, and says that they are meant by the tail. But he explains only the first part of the verse, and says nothing about the branch and reed. The reason why he omitted them is easily explained. It is, because he intended to press hardest on those who were more heinous transgressors, and who led others to commit sin, in consequence of the influence which they obtained from their high rank. He gives to the prophets the name of the tail, not because they were mean and contemptible, as some think; but he intended to denote the lowest parts of the whole body. By the head he means magistrates and judges, and by the tail he means false prophets, because they deceive and impose upon men by falsehoods and hypocrisy, as if he had compared the one to lions or bears, and the other to foxes.
This passage warns us that we ought not to slumber in our sins, because wickedness and profligacy abound in all ranks, and no class of men is sound or uninfected; for the more that vices abound, so much the more will the wrath of God be kindled against the highest and the lowest. We ought, especially in the present day, amidst that pestilence of every kind of evils, to fear lest, when the wrath of God hath begun to burn, it may consume everything, high and low.
16. For the rulers of this people are seducers.14 Some render it, they who make thee blessed, or, they who call thee blessed; as if he had said that nothing was more hurtful or destructive to a nation than flatteries, which gave encouragement to unbounded licentiousness. But I shall follow the reading which I approved on a former occasion, when the same word occurred. 15 (Isaiah 3:12.) He means that the rulers and magistrates, whose duty it was to restrain the people within the limits of decent behavior, allowed all to indulge freely in crimes and wickedness. On this account they ought justly to be reckoned seducers and corrupters, for corruption flows from them to the whole body of the people, as from the head to the members. Magistrates and pastors are appointed in order to restrain the waywardness of the people, to enjoin what is good and right, and especially to defend the honor of God. If they neglect these duties they ought to be reckoned impostors and not rulers, for they give rise to miserable confusion. Now, when every one does what he pleases, and the reins of government are nowhere to be found, can there be anything but the most terrible result? When the common people are thus punished on account of their faults, no lighter vengeance awaits the rulers, because they have neglected the duty entrusted to them, and have occasioned so many evils.
And they who are governed are destroyed. By this clause he means that wicked princes, and those who rule according to their own caprice, are destructive; and in like manner teachers who rather deceive and impose on men than point out the way of salvation, because through their fault the people are ruined. But at the same time he shows that this affords no excuse to any one for seeking to make bad rulers a cloak for their own transgressions, as is commonly done, for if the blind lead the blind, as Christ says, both will fall into the ditch. It is certain that none are ruined by wicked and treacherous leaders, but those who of their own accord wish to be led astray.
17. Therefore the LORD will not delight in their young men. Isaiah describes more clearly how dreadful will be that vengeance of God against all ranks; for so far will more flagrant transgressors be from escaping, that neither boys nor youths, nor widows, will be exempted, who are usually spared even amidst dreadful slaughter; which was usually done even among heathens at the sacking of towns, as we learn from history. But here the Lord threatens that he will pay no regard either to sex or to age. Yet the following view will not be unsuitable. "Although the carnage will rob many women of their husbands, and will deprive many children of their parents, still God will not shrink from punishing women by making them widows, and children by making them orphans." But as it does not greatly affect the general meaning, I do not dwell upon it. Again, that they may not accuse God of cruelty, he at the same time shows that there are good reasons why he is so severe, because they are all wicked, and therefore that they deserve to be cast headlong to ruin without any distinction.
For all are hypocrites and evil-doers. As to this word, I was unwilling to depart from the opinion commonly entertained, though Pnx (chaneph) means an ungodly, deceitful, or treacherous and wicked man. He appears to point out the source of all the evils, that there was no true fear of God among them. By this he does not mean any slight dissimulation, but inward contempt seated in the heart, by which consciences are stupified, so that no instructions produce any effect on them; as if he had said that they were deeply sunk in their depravity. But as wickedness, when it has taken possession of the mind, drags the hands and feet, and the rest of the members of the body along with it, so the Prophet adds, that they are all evil-doers.
And every mouth speaketh villany.16 Thirdly, he adds that they have proceeded to such a pitch of open wickedness, that they boast of their crimes without shame. The Hebrew word hlbn (niblah), which is translated folly, has frequently a more extensive meaning; for it denotes baseness, villany, and madness. (Genesis 34:7; Joshua 7:15; Judges 19:24.) Here, in my opinion, the Prophet means that they are so entirely abandoned to wicked courses, that we need not seek any other proof of it than from their tongues.
His anger will not be turned away. He again repeats this statement, which ought to be frequently repeated; for it is not enough to have been once informed how dreadful are the judgments of the Lord against the wicked; so easily and quickly will there steal upon us that forgetfulness of them which banishes uneasiness, as well as fear, about the future. Besides, we are led astray and blinded by that deception, for we think that the infliction of a single punishment has exhausted the power of God. There can be nothing better, therefore, than to hold by this principle, that whenever God chastises us he threatens something more dreadful, if we do not quickly repent. (Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24, 28.)
But his hand is stretched out still. since the Prophet repeats this warning, let us unceasingly call to our remembrance, that the indignation of God is not yet appeased, though we may think that he has already punished us severely for our sins. What then ought we to conclude, when he has given us but a light chastisement? At the present day, for instance, we have endured some punishment; but what is it as compared with those dreadfully severe calamities which that nation had suffered, when Isaiah foretold that new chastisements were still awaiting them? What then will become of us? The Lord will undoubtedly continue to perform what belongs to him, and will always be like himself. If this dread do not arouse us, our insensibility is evidently beyond endurance. I have translated the verb bs (shab) in the future sense, will not be turned away, to make the meaning more clear; for though he speaks as if it had been a past transaction, still he threatens a continuance of punishments against the rebellious.
18. For wickedness burneth as the fire. The Prophet attacks the wicked, who are accustomed to defend themselves by laying the blame on God. Either they practice evasions, in order to convince themselves that they are innocent, or, when they have been convicted, they still extenuate their guilt, as if the severity of God were beyond proper bounds. Never, certainly, do they acknowledge that God is just in punishing them, till they are compelled to acknowledge it; and even though they do not venture to excuse themselves publicly, still they fret and murmur. With the view of repressing such insolence, the Prophet compares the calamities to burning, but shows that the wickedness of men is the wood and fuel, by which the anger of God is kindled: as if he had said, "All exclaim and make loud complaints that the wrath of God burns violently, and yet they do not consider that their own sins are the fans by which it is inflamed, and that those sins supply the fuel, and that even themselves are consumed by the inward fire of their crimes."
It shall devour the briers and thorns. The meaning is, that this flame will seize every part of Judea. Two things are here expressed, that the punishment of sin proceeds from the judgment of God, and yet that the blame lies with the sinners themselves, that they may not remonstrate with God as if he had dealt cruelly with them. There is a beautiful gradation; for we perceive that it usually happens that a fire, kindled in the lowest part of any place, gathers strength by degrees, spreads wider and wider, and ascends to the higher parts. Such will the wrath of God be; for Isaiah shows that it does not all at once seize the wicked, but is gradually kindled, till it utterly destroy them. At first the Lord proceeds gently, but if a light chastisement produce no good effect, he increases and doubles the punishment. If he see that we are obstinate, his wrath burns to the uttermost, so as to destroy us altogether, and consume us like a thick forest. Lastly, as the Prophets elsewhere declare, we must be like chaff and straw as soon as the wrath of God is kindled. (Psalm 83:14; Isaiah 5:24; 33:11; 40:24; 41:2; 47:14.)
19. Through the anger of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened. After having shown that the cause of all our evils proceeds from ourselves, and that therefore the blame of it should be laid upon us, he at the same time shows that God is a most righteous avenger. When men draw down upon themselves calamities and distresses, God does not suffer them to escape his hand; not that he is inclined to cruelty, for he is gracious and merciful, (Exodus 34:6,) but because he is just, and cannot endure the wicked. The dreadful nature of God's vengeance is described by the metaphor of darkness, than which nothing can be more dismal; for without figures of speech a judgment so revolting cannot be expressed. And yet he appears to allude to smoke, of which he spoke in the former verse; for when a conflagration extends, and rages with such violence, the light must be overpowered by the thick smoke.
No man shall spare his brother. In this last clause and in the following verse, the Prophet describes the methods and means, as they are called, by which the Lord will execute his vengeance, when his wrath has been thus kindled. When no enemies shall be seen whom we have cause to dread, he will arm ourselves for our destruction. As if he had said, "The Lord will find no difficulty in executing the vengeance which he threatens; for though there be none to give us any annoyance from without, he will ruin us by intestine broils and civil wars." It is shocking and monstrous to relate, No man shall spare his brother, "every man shall devour his own flesh;" for no man ever hated his own flesh. (Ephesians 5:29.) But when the Lord hath blinded us, what remains but that we mutually destroy each other? And though it is monstrous, yet it happens almost every day.
We are not restrained by any relationship either of blood, or of religion, or of the image of God, which we all bear; though even the heathen, on the contrary, were prevented, by sharing in this common nature, from injuring each other, because they perceived that the beasts themselves are restrained by similarity of nature from cruelty against their own kind; for a wolf does not devour a wolf, and a bear does not devour a bear. That human beings, from whom the name of humanity is derived, should fight with such cruelty and fierceness against one another as to exceed the rage of wild beasts, is monstrous; and this evil can arise from no other source than that God hath blinded them, and given them up to a reprobate sense. (Romans 1:28.) Justly hath Isaiah described this kind of revenge; for when men enjoy peace, they think that they are placed beyond the reach of danger, and dread nothing. But the Lord laughs at this indifference, and shows that he will execute his vengeance by their own hand, which he will arm and direct against them.
20. Every one shall snatch on the right hand. It is equivalent to a phrase in common use, prendre et ravir a toutes mains, to take and seize at all hands. This mode of expression denotes either insatiable covetousness or insatiable cruelty; for the eagerness to snatch excites to savage cruelty. That they will be insatiable he expresses more emphatically, by saying that, in consequence of being impelled by blind fierceness and inconceivable rage, they will suck their brother's blood as freely as they would devour the flesh which was their own property. The bitterness of the vengeance is greatly heightened by this circumstance, that the children of Abraham, and the holy posterity of the chosen race, break out into such beastly fury. Let us therefore remember that it is a dreadful proof of heavenly punishment, when brothers are hurried on, with irreconcilable eagerness, to inflict mutual wounds.
21. Manasseh, Ephraim. These tribes were closely related to each other; for besides their being descended from the same ancestor, Abraham, a close relationship arose out of their being descended from one patriarch, his grandson, Joseph. (Genesis 41:50-52.) But though they were closely allied, still God threatens that he will cause them to destroy themselves by mutual conflict, as if they were devouring the flesh of their own arm, and, consequently, that there will be no need of foreign enemies. He likewise adds that, after having wearied themselves out by mutual wounds, both will unite against Judah, in order to destroy it.
And for all this his anger shall not be turned away. If any one take into consideration those calamities which Isaiah threatened, he will be amazed and greatly astonished that still more severe chastisements are foretold. But in this manner God acts towards the wicked, and does not cease to afflict till he utterly overwhelm and destroy them, when, after having been frequently invited, they refuse to be reconciled to him. We need not wonder, therefore, that he inflicts stroke after stroke, as he also foretold by Moses that he would punish seven times more (Leviticus 26:18), and bring seven times more plagues upon (Leviticus 26:21) those who would not repent; lest they should think that, when they had been punished once or twice, they would not be punished again.
But his hand is stretched out still. By this he means that rods are prepared, that he may immediately strike with them; for it is not with a woman's passion that the Lord is angry, but his wrath is immediately followed by revenge.
"Mankind shall thus his guardian care engage,
The promised Father of the future age."
That admirable poem appeared originally in the Spectator, No. 378, where the abundant foot-notes direct the reader to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, as the source from which the poet has drawn his finest strokes and happiest illustrations. It is deeply to be regretted that the recent editors leave out those references, so valuable in the estimation of the author, that, in the edition prepared by his own hand, the finest lines in Virgil's Pollio are placed side by side with the quotations from Isaiah, "under the mutual disadvantage of a literal translation," for the express purpose of showing the immeasurable superiority of the Hebrew prophet. -- Ed.