1. Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin.
1. Vae filiis contumacibus, (vel, perversis) dicit Iehova, ut capiant consilium, et non ex me; ut operiant arcanum. (vel, fundant fusionem,) et non ex spiritu meo; ut peccatum addant peccato.
2. That walk to go down into Egyst, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharoah , and to trust in the shadow of Egypt.
2. Proficiscuntur ut descendant in Aegyptum, et os meum non interrogaverunt, roboratnes se robore Pharaonis, et sperantes in umbra Aegypti.
3. Therefore shall the strength of Pharoah be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt.
3. Erit autem vobis fortitudo Pharaonis in pudorem, et fiducia in umbra Aegypti in ignomiam.
4. For his princes were at Zoan, and his ambaassadors came to Hanes.
4. Fuerunt enim principes ejus in Zoan et legati ejus in Hanes venerunt.
5. They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach.
5. Omnes pudefient in populo qui eis non proderit, neque auxilio erit in pudorem, atque etiam in opprobrium.
6. The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them.
6. Onus jumentorum Austri. In terra afflictionis et angustiae, leo, et leo major ab illis, vipera et prester volans, dum portabunt super humerum pullorum divitias suas, et super gibbos camelorum thesauros suos ad populum qui non proderit.
7. For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still.
7. Certe Aegyptii vanitas, et frustra auxiliabuntur. Propterea clamavi ad illam: Robur illorum quiescere.
8. Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever;
8. Nunc vade, et scribe hanc visionem in tabula coram ipsis, et in libro insculpe eam; ut sit in diem novissimum, in perpetuum usque in secula.
9. That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:
9. Quod populud hic rebellis sit, filii mendaces, filii qui recusant audire legem Iohivae.
10. Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us rught things, speak unto us smotth things, prophesy deceits:
10. Qui dicunt videntibus, ne videatis, et prospicientibus, ne prospiciatis nobis recta; loquimini nobis blanditias, videte errores.
11. Get you out of the wat, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
11. Recedite a via, declinate a semita; facite ut a facie nostra facessat Sanctus Israel.
12. Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
12. Propterea sic dicit Sanctus Israel: quia respuistis verbum hoc, et confisi estis in violentia et pravitate, et innix estis in eam;
13. Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
13. Ideo erit vobis iniquitas haec quasi ruptura caadens, tumor in alto muro, cujus repente et subito venit fractura.
14. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potter's vessel that in broken pieces: he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.
14. Et contritio ejus quasi contritio vasis figulorum, quod absue misericordia comminuitur; nec in ejus fractura invenitur testa adignem e foco ferendum, vel aquam e puteo hauriendum.
15. For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest shall ye be saves; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; and ye would not.
15. Quoniam sic dixit Dominus Iehova Sanctus Israel: In requie et quite salvi eritis; in tranquillitate et fiducia erit fortitudo vestra, sed noluistis.
16. But ye said, No: for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.
16. Et dixistis, Non sed equis effugiemus; proptera fugietis; super celerem conscendemus; proptera celeriores erunt qui vos persequentur.
17. One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hilll.
17. Mille unus a facie increpationes unius a facie increpationis quinque fugietis, donesc relicti fueritis sicut malus navis in vertice montis, et sicut vexillum in colle.
18. And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgement: blessed are all they that wait for him.
18. Propterea expectabit vos Iehova, ut misereatur vestri; et propterea exaltibur, ut propitius sit vobis; quia Deus judicii Iehova. Beati omnes qui expectant eum.
19. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; thou shalt weep no more: hel will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.
19. Certe populus in Sion habiitat in Ierusalem; flendo non flebis; miserendo miserebitur tui; ad vocem clamoris tui, simulac audierit, respondebit tibi.
20. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
20. Ubi dederit vobis Dominus panem angoris et aquam afflictionis, non arcebitur pluvia tua et oculi tui videbunt pluviam tuam.
21. And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
21. Tum aures tuae audient verbum a tergo tuo dicendo: Haec via, ambulate in ea, sive ad dextram sive ad sinistram eatis.
22. Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.
22. Tum profanabitis tectorium sculptilium argent tui, et operimentum conflatilis auri tui, separabisque ea tanquam pannum mentruo infectum, dices qui illi: Egredere (vel Apage)
23. Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.
23. Tum dabit pluviam semini tuo, cum seminaveris terram, et panem provertus terrae; et erit uber et pinguis, et pascentur pecora tua in die illo in amplis pascuis.
24. The oxen likewise, and the young asses that ear to the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fan.
24. Boves etiam tui, et pulli asinorum colentes terram, pabulum purum comedent, quod in pala ventilatum erit et in vanno.
25. And there shal be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of waters in the day of the great slaughter, when the the towers fall.
25. Et accidet, ut super omnem montem excelsum, et super omnem collem elevatum, sint rivi, rivi aquarum in die caedis magnae cum turres corruerint.
26. Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven-fold, as the light of seven days in the breach of his people, and healeth the stoke of their wound.
26. Et erit lux lunae sicut lux solis, et lux solis septuplo major, quasi lux septem dierum, in die qui alligaverit Iehova fracturam populi sui, et perfossionem plagae ejus quasi ignis devorans.
27. Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire:
27. Ecce nomen Iehovae venit e loco remoto; ardens facies ejus, et grave onus; labia ejus plena, sunt indifnationes; et linhua ejus quasi ignis devorans.
28. And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations wit the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.
28. Et spiritus ejus quasi torrens inundans, usque ad collum dividet; ad ventilandas gentes in cribro inutili, et fraenum errare faciens in maxillis populorum.
29. Ye shall have a song, as in the night, when a holy solemnity is kept: and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mighty One of Israel.
29. Canticum erit vobis, quemadmodum in nocte dum celebratur dies festus, et laetitia cordis quasi ejus qui ad tibiam incedit, ut veniat ad montem Iehovae, ad Fortem Israelis.
30. And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall show the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and the tempest, and hailstones.
30. Et audiri faciet Iehova potentiam vocis suae, et descensionem brachii sui videri faciet, cum furore vultus et flamma ignis vorantis, disipatione inundatione, et lapide grandinis.
31. For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assurian be beaten down, which smote with a rod.
31. Sane a voce Iehovae conteretur Assur, qui virga percussit.
32. And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.
32. Et erit in omni transitu baculus fundatus, quam infliget Iehova super eum cum tympanis, et citharis, et praeliis elevationis pugnabit contra eam.
33. For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king is prepared: he heath made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.
33. Quoniam ordinata est ab hesterno Tophet: etiam Regi praeparata est: quam in profundum posuit et dilatavit. Pyra ejus ignis, et ligna multa; flatus Iehovae quasi torrens sulphuris succendit eam.
1. Woe to the rebellious children. The Prophet exclaims against the Jews, because, when they were unable to bear the burden, when they were hard pressed by the Assyrians and other enemies, they fled to Egypt for help. This reproof might appear to be excessively severe, were we merely to consider that weak and miserable men, especially when they are unjustly oppressed, have a right to ask assistance even from wicked persons; for it is a principle implanted in us by nature, that all human beings should willingly, and of their own accord, endeavor to assist each other. But when we come to the very sources, we shall find that no ordinary or inconsiderable guilt had been contracted by the people.
First, it is no light offense, but wicked obstinacy, to disregard and even despise God's government, and follow their own inclinations. But Goal had strictly forbidden them to enter into any alliance or league with the Egyptians. (Exodus 13:17; Deuteronomy 17:16.) There were chiefly two causes of this prohibition. One was general, and related to alliances and leagues with other nations; for God did not wish that his people should be corrupted by the superstitions of the Gentiles. (Exodus 23:32; 34:15; Deuteronomy 7:2.) We are gradually infected, I know not how, by the vices of those with whom we have intercourse and familiarity; and as we are more prone by nature to copy vices than virtues, we easily become accustomed to corruptions, and, in short, the infection rapidly spreads from one person to another. This has happened to our own country, France, in consequence of having intercourse with many nations, which leads her too eagerly to imitate their vices, and has covered her with frightful pollution. This immoderate desire of forming alliances unlocked Asia to the Mahometans, and next laid Europe open to them; and though they still retain their moderation in eating and drinking, all that has been subdued by their arms has contracted nothing but filth and debasement. This is what we Frenchmen have also derived from our intercourse with other nations.
The second reason was special and peculiar to this nation; for, since the Lord had delivered the Jews out of Egypt, and commanded them to remember so remarkable a benefit, he forbade them to have any intercourse with the Egyptians. And if they had entered into an alliance with the Egyptians, the remembrance of that benefit might easily have been obliterated; for they would not have been at liberty to celebrate it in such a manner as had been commanded. (Exodus 13:3, 8,14.) It was excessively base to disregard the glory of God for the purpose of cultivating friendship with an irreligious and wicked nation. Since God intended also to testify to his people that he alone was more than sufficient to secure their safety, they ought to have valued that promise so highly as to exclude themselves willingly from other assistance. It was a very heinous crime to endeavor to gain the favor of heathen nations on all sides, and to deprive God of the honor due to him; for if they had been satisfied with having God's protection alone, they would not have been in such haste to run down to Egypt. Their noisy eagerness convicted them of infidelity.
Yet I have no doubt that the Prophet directed his indignation against that sacrilege, because, by laboring earnestly to obtain the assistance of the nations around them, they withheld from God the praise of almighty power. Hence also the Spirit elsewhere compares that ardor to the extravagances of love, and even to licentious courses. (Jeremiah 5:8.) Ezekiel shews that, by joining the Egyptians, they acted as if a woman, shamefully transgressing the bounds of decency, not only ran furiously after adulterers, but even desired to associate with horses and asses. (Ezekiel 16:26.) And yet here he does not absolutely condemn all leagues that are made with idolaters, but has especially in view that prohibition by which the law forbade them to enter into alliance with the Egyptians. It is chiefly on account of the prohibition that he kindles into such rage; for it was not without pouring grievous contempt on God that they ran trembling into Egypt. For this reason he calls them Myrrwo, (sorerim,) obstinate and rebellious. We have explained this word at the first chapter. 1 It denotes men of hardened wickedness, who knowingly and willingly revolt from God, or whose obstinacy renders them objects of disgust, so that no integrity or sincerity is left in them. At first he reproves that vice on this ground, that they neglected the word of God, and were devoted to their own counsels.
That they may cover the secret. The words hkom Konl, (linsoch massechah,) are explained by some commentators to mean, "to pour out the pouring out." Though this is not at variance with the Prophet's meaning, yet it is more correctly, in my opinion, translated by others, "that they may cover a covering." I have followed that version, because the words relate to counsels held secretly and by stealth, by which they cunningly endeavored to deceive the prophets, and, as it were, to escape from the eyes of God. Another rendering, "that they may hide themselves by a covering," is absurd; for although it was for the sake of protection that they sought the Egyptians, yet he rather alludes to that craftiness of which I have spoken. Both expositions amount to the same thing. 2
By three modes of expression he makes nearly the same statement; that they "cover their counsels," that is, keep them apart from God; that they do not ask at "the mouth of the Lord;" and that they do not suffer themselves to be governed by "his Spirit." They who are guided by their own views turn aside to cunning contrivances, that they may conceal their unbelief and rebellion; and because they have resolved not to obey the word of God, neither do they ask his Spirit. Hence arises that miserable and shameful result. Wretchedly and ruinously must those deliberations and purposes end, over which the Lord does not preside. There is no wisdom that is not obtained from "his mouth;" and if we "ask at his mouth," that is, if we consult his word, we shall also be guided by his Spirit, from whom all prudence and wisdom proceeds.
Let it be observed that two things are here connected, the word and the Spirit of God, in opposition to fanatics, who aim at oracles and hidden revelations without the word; for they wish to come to God, while they neglect and forsake the word, and thus they do nothing else than attempt, as the saying is, to fly without wings. First of all, let it be held as a settled principle, that whatever we undertake or attempt, without the word of God, must be improper and wicked, because we ought to depend wholly on his mouth. And indeed, if we remember what feebleness of understanding, or rather, what lack of understanding, is found in all mankind, we shall acknowledge that they are excessively foolish who claim for themselves so much wisdom, that they do not even deign to ask at the mouth of God.
If it be objected, that the Scriptures do not contain everything, and that they do not give special answers on those points of which we are in doubt, I reply, that everything that relates to the guidance of our life is contained in them abundantly. If, therefore, we have resolved to allow ourselves to be directed by the word of God, and always seek in it the rule of life, God will never suffer us to remain in doubt, but in all transactions and difficulties will point out to us the conclusion. Sometimes, perhaps, we shall have to wait long, but at length the Lord will rescue and deliver us, if we are ready to obey him. Although, therefore, we are careful and diligent in the use of means, as they are called, yet we ought always to attend to this consideration, not to undertake anything but what we know to be pleasing and acceptable to God.
The Prophet condemns the presumption of those who attempt unlawful methods, and think that they will succeed in them, when they labor, right or wrong, to secure their safety, as if it could be done contrary to the will of God. It is certain that this proceeds from unbelief and distrust, because they do not think that God alone is able to protect them, unless they call in foreign though forbidden assistance. Hence come unlawful leagues, hence come tricks and cheating, by which men fully believe that their affairs will be letter conducted than if they acted towards each other with candour and fairness. There are innumerable instances of this unbelief in every department of human life; for men think that they will be undone, if they are satisfied with the blessing of God, and transact all their affairs with truth and uprightness. But we ought to consider that we are forsaken, rejected, and cursed by God, whenever we have recourse to forbidden methods and unlawful ways. In all our undertakings, deliberations, and attempts, therefore, we ought to be regulated by the will of God. We ought always to consider what he forbids or commands, so as to be fully disposed to obey his laws, and to submit ourselves to be guided by his Spirit, otherwise our rashness will succeed very ill.
That they may add sin to sin. The Prophet says this, because the Jews, by those useless defences which they supposed to fortify them strongly, did nothing else than stumble again on the same stone, and double their criminality, which already was very great. Our guilt is increased, and becomes far heavier, when we endeavor, by unlawful methods, to escape the wrath of God. But we ought especially to consider this expression as applicable to the Jews, because, after having brought the Assyrians into Judea, (for they had called them to their assistance against Israel and Syria,) they wished to drive them out by the help of the Egyptians. (2 Kings 16:7, 17:4, 18:21.) The Jews were hard pressed by the Assyrians, and were justly punished for their unbelief, because they resorted to men, and not to God, for aid; and we see that this happened to many nations who called the Turk to their assistance. So far were the Jews from repenting of their conduct, and acknowledging that they had been justly punished, that they even added evil to evil, as if crime could be washed out by crime. On this account they are more severely threatened; for they who persevere in their wickedness, and rush with furious eagerness against God, and do not allow themselves to be brought back to the right path by any warnings or chastisements, deserve to be more sharply and heavily punished.
2. They walk that they may go down into Egypt. The reason why the Prophet condemns this "going down" has been already explained; 3 but as their guilt was aggravated by open and heinous obstinacy, he again repeats that they did this without asking at the mouth of God, and even in the face of his prohibition.
Strengthening themselves with the strength of Pharaoh. He again draws their attention to the source of the evil, when he says that it was done for the purpose of acquiring strength, because they placed confidence in the forces of the Egyptians. Hence arose that lawless desire of entering into a league. In this way they shewed that they cared little about the power of God, and did not greatly trust in him; and they openly displayed their unbelief.
It might be objected, that men are the servants of God, and that it is lawful for any one to make use of their services, whenever they are needed. I reply, that while we make use of the labors and services of men, it ought to be in such a manner as to depend on God alone. But there was another reason peculiar to the Jews, for they knew that God had forbidden them to call the Egyptians to their assistance, and, by doing so, they withheld from God all that they ascribed to Pharaoh and to his forces. Thus it is not without good reason that Isaiah contrasts Pharaoh with God; for the creatures are opposed to God, and enter, as it were, into contest with him when they rise up against God, or whenever men abuse them, or place their hearts and confidence in them, or desire them more than is lawful.
3. But to you shall the strength of Pharaoh be shame. He now shews what shall be the end of the wicked, who despise God and his word, and follow those schemes which are most agreeable to their own views. All that they undertake shall tend to their ruin. He threatens not only that they shall be disappointed of their hope, but also that they are seeking with great toil, destruction and ruin, from which they will gain nothing but sorrow and disgrace. To all wicked men it must unavoidably happen that, although for a time they appear to gain their object, and though everything succeeds to their wish, yet in the end all shall be ruinous to them. It is the just reward of their rashness, when they go beyond the limits of the word; for nothing that has been acquired by wicked and unlawful methods can be of advantage to any person.
By way of admission he calls it "the strength of Pharaoh," as if he had said, "You think that you gain much protection from Pharaoh, but it will yield you reproach and disgrace. The shadow of Egypt, by which you hoped to be covered, will make you blush for shame." Accordingly, both expressions, "shame" and "disgrace," have the same meaning; and as hprx, (cherpah,) 4 reproach, is a stronger expression than "shame," it is afterwards added for the purpose of bringing out the meaning more fully.
4. For his princes were in Zoan. The Prophet not only says that the aid of the Egyptians was sought, and that they were invited to assist, but expresses something more, namely, that the Jews obtained it with great labor and expense. They had to perform long and painful journeys, to endure much toil, and to expend vast sums of money, in order to arrive, loaded with presents, at the most distant cities of Egypt, which are here named by the Prophet. On this embassy were sent, not persons of mean or ordinary rank, but "princes" and nobles; and therefore the censure was more severe, because they slavishly solicited an alliance with Egypt, and wandered like suppliants through various countries. It is proper also to bear in mind the contrast which we have already pointed out. They did not need to go far to seek God; they did not need to endure much toil, or spend large sums of money, in calling on him. He invited them by his promise, "This is my rest," and assured them that in that place they would not call upon him in vain. (Psalm 132:14; Isaiah 28:12.) But those wretched persons despised God, and chose rather to torment themselves, and to run to the very ends of the world, than to receive the assistance which was offered to them.
5. They shall all be ashamed. He confirms the former statement; for it was very difficult to convince ungodly men that all that they undertook without the word of God would be ruinous to them. In order to punish them more severely, God sometimes bestows on them prosperity, that they may be more and more deceived, and may throw themselves down headlong; for by the righteous judgment of God it is brought about, that Satan draws them by these allurements, and drives them into his nets. Yet the final result is, that not only are they deprived of the assistance which they expected, but they are likewise severely punished both for their presumption and for their unbelief.
Of a people that will not profit them. He threatens not only that the Egyptians will prove false, as wicked men often forsake at the utmost need, or even treacherously ruin, those whom they have fed with empty promises, but that even though they endeavor to the utmost to fulfill the promises which they have made, still they will be of no use. Whatever may be the earnestness with which men endeavor to help us, yet, as events are in the hand of God, they will "profit nothing" without his blessing. It was difficult to believe when the Prophet spoke, that a nation so powerful could yield no assistance; but we ought always to hold it as a principle fully settled, that all the advantage that dazzles us in the world will vanish away, except in so far as God is gracious and kind, and makes it sure for our advantage.
6. The burden of the beasts of the south. After having spoken loudly against the consultations of the Jews about asking assistance from the Egyptians, he ridicules the enormous cost and the prodigious inconveniences which they endured on that account; for at so high a price did they purchase their destruction; and he threatens the same curse as formerly, because unhappily they acted in opposition to the word of God. He mentions "the south," because they journeyed through a southern region, Egypt being situated to "the south" of Judea. He therefore calls them "beasts of burden" on account of the journey, and addresses them in order to pour contempt on men, because it was in vain to speak to them, and they were deaf to all exhortations. Accordingly, he threatens that the effect of this prediction shall reach the very "beasts of burden," though men do not understand it.
In the land of trouble and distress. The people having proudly disregarded the threatenings, the Prophet seasonably turns to the horses and camels; and declares that, although they are void of reason, yet they shall perceive that God hath not spoken in vain, and that, though the people imagined that there was uninterrupted prosperity in Egypt, it would be a land of anguish and affliction even to the brute animals. The journey was labourious and difficult, and yet they shrunk from no exertion in order to satisfy their mad desire; and to such a pitch of madness was their ardor carried, that they were not discouraged by the tediousness of the journey.
The young lion and the strong lion. In addition to the inconveniences already mentioned, Isaiah threatens the special vengeance of God, that they shall encounter "lions" and beasts of prey. There was nothing new or uncommon in this to persons who traveled from Judea into Egypt; but here he threatens something extraordinary and more dangerous. In addition to the inconveniences and toils, and to the sums of money which they shall expend, God will also send disastrous occurrences, and at length they shall be miserably ruined.
This doctrine ought to be applied to us, who are chargeable with a fault exceedingly similar; for in dangers we fly to unlawful remedies, and think that they will profit us, though God disapproves of them. We must therefore experience the same result and fall into the same dangers, if we do not restrain our unbelief and wickedness by the word of God. We ought also to observe and guard against that madness which hurries us along to spare no expense and to shrink from no toil, while we obey with excessive ardor our foolish desire and wish. We had abundant experience of this in Popery, when we were held captives by it, running about in all directions, and wearying ourselves with long and toilsome pilgrimages to various saints; yet the greatest possible annoyances were reckoned by us to be light and trivial. But now, when we are commanded to obey God and to endure "the light yoke" of Christ, (Matthew 11:30,) we find that we cannot endure it.
7. Surely the Egyptians are vanity. 5 This verse contains the explanation of the former statement; for he repeats and threatens the same thing, that the Egyptians, after having worn out the Jews by various annoyances and by prodigious expense, will be of no service to them. "The strength of Egypt" will do them no good, even though he be earnest in assisting them, and employ all his forces. Thus shall the Jews be disappointed of their hope, and deceive themselves to their great vexation. The particle w (u) signifies here either for or surely, as I have translated it.
Therefore have I cried to her. He now shews that the Jews have no excuse for fleeing with such haste into Egypt, and that they are willingly foolish and unworthy of any pardon, because they do not repent when they are warned. When he says that he "cried" to Jerusalem, I consider this to refer to God himself, who complains that his distinct warnings and instructions produced no effect, and that his exhortation to them to sit still was not without foundation, but was intended to meet the troubles and calamities which he foresaw. Whence came that restlessness, but because they refused to believe the words of the Lord? In a word, he shews that it is mere obstinacy that drives them to flee into Egypt; for by "sitting still" they might provide for their safety.
By the word "cry" he means that he not only warned them by words, but likewise chastised them; and this makes it evident that their obstinacy and rebellion were greater. "To sit still" means here "to remain and to stay at home," though he will afterwards shew (verse 15) that they ought to have peaceable dispositions. The cause of their alarm and impassioned exertions was, that they were terrified and struck with dismay, and did not think that God's protection was sufficient, if they had not also the Egyptians on their side. Thus, they who do not give sufficient honor to God have their hearts agitated by unbelief, so that they tremble and never find peace.
8. Now go, and write this vision on a tablet. After having convicted the Jews of manifest unbelief, he means that it should be attested and sealed by permanent records, that posterity may know how obstinate and rebellious that nation was, and how justly the Lord punished them. We have said that it was customary with the prophets to draw up an abridgment of their discourses and attach it to the gates of the temple, and that, after having allowed full time to all to see and read it, the ministers took it down, and preserved it among the records of the temple; and thus the book of the prophets was collected and compiled. 6 But when any prediction was remarkable and peculiarly worthy of being remembered, then the Lord commanded that it should be written in larger characters, that the people might be induced to read it, and to examine it more attentively. (Isaiah 8:1; Habakkuk 2:2.) The Lord now commands that this should be done, in order to intimate that this was no ordinary affair, that the whole ought to be carefully written, and deserved the closest attention, and that it ought not only to be read, but to be engraven on the remembrance of men in such a manner that no lapse of time can efface it.
Yet there can be no doubt that Isaiah, by this prediction, drew upon himself the intense hatred of all ranks, because he intended to expose and hold them up for abhorrence, not only among the men of his own age, but also among posterity. There is nothing which men resent more strongly than to have their crimes made publicly known and fastened on the remembrance of men; they reckon it ignominious and disgraceful, and abhor it above all things. But the Prophet must obey God, though he should become the object of men's hatred, and though his life should be in imminent danger. Here we ought to observe his steadfastness in dreading nothing, that he might obey God and fulfill his calling. He despised hatred, dislike, commotions, threatenings, false alarms, and immediate dangers, that he might boldly and fearlessly discharge the duties of his office. Copying his example, we ought to do this, if we wish to hear and follow God who calls us.
Before them. Mta (ittam) is translated by some, "with them," but it is better to translate it "before them," or, "in their sight;" for it was proper that he should openly irritate the Jews, to whom he presented this prediction written "on a tablet." Hence we ought to infer, that wicked men, though they cannot bear reproof and are filled with rage, ought nevertheless to be reproved sharply and openly; and that threatenings and reproofs, though they be of no advantage to them, will yet serve for an example to others, when those men shall be stamped with perpetual infamy. In them will be fulfilled what is written elsewhere,
"The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond engraven on their hearts." (Jeremiah 17:1.)
They must not think that they have escaped, when they have despised the prophets and shut their ears against them; for their wickedness shall be manifest to men and to angels. But as they never repent willingly or are ashamed of their crimes, God commands that a record of their shame shall be prepared, that it may be placed continually before the eyes of men. As victories and illustrious actions were commonly engraved on tables of brass, so God commands that the disgrace which the Jews brought upon themselves by their transgressions, shall be inscribed on public tablets.
That it may be till the last day. It was very extraordinary, as I remarked a little before, that the Prophet was charged by a solemn injunction to pronounce infamy on his countrymen. For this reason he adds "till the last day," either that they may be held up to abhorrence through an uninterrupted succession of ages, or because, at the appearance of the Judge, the crimes of the wicked shall be fully laid open when he shall "ascend his judgment seat, and the books shall be opened;" for those things which formerly were hidden and wrapped in darkness will then be revealed. (Daniel 7:10; Revelations 20:12.)
Here it ought to be carefully observed, that prophecies were not written merely for the men of a single age, but that their children and all posterity ought to be instructed by them, that they may know that they ought not to imitate their fathers.
"Harden not your hearts as your fathers did." (Psalm 95:8.)
What Paul affirms as to the whole of Scripture is applicable to prophecy, that it
"is profitable for warning, for consolation, and for instruction," (2 Timothy 3:16;)
and this is proper and necessary in every age. We must therefore reject the fancies of fanatics and wicked men, who say that this doctrine was adapted to those times, but affirm that it is not adapted to our times. Away with such blasphemies from the ears of the godly; for, when Isaiah died, his doctrine must flourish and yield fruit.
9. For this is a rebellious people. The word for or because points to the explanation of what has been already said; for the Prophet explains what the Lord intends to declare to posterity, namely, that the perverseness of this nation is desperate, because they cannot submit to be restrained by any doctrine. That the honorable appellation of the "people" wounded to the quick the hearts both of the ordinary ranks and of the nobles, may be inferred from their loud vaunting; for they boasted that they were the holy and elect seed of Abraham; as if God's adoption had been a veil to cover the grossest crimes. But God commands that their crimes shall nevertheless be brought to light and openly proclaimed.
Who refuse to hear the law of Jehovah. By accusing them of this, he points out the source of all evils, namely, contempt of the word, which discovers their wickedness and their contempt of God himself; for it is idle to pretend that they worship God, when they are disobedient to his word. Isaiah likewise aggravates their guilt, by saying that they reject the remedy which doctrine offers for curing their diseases. On this account he calls them not only "rebellious," and untameable or abandoned, but liars or treacherous persons; for they who refuse to obey the word of God, openly revolt from him, as if they could not endure his authority; and at the same time, they shew that they are given up to vanity and the delusions of Satan, so that they take no pleasure in sincerity.
10. Who say to the seers, See not. He now describes more clearly, and shews, as it were, to the life, the contempt of God and obstinacy which he formerly mentioned; for wicked men not only pour ridicule on doctrine, but furiously drive it away, and would even wish to have it utterly crushed and buried. This is what Isaiah intended to express. Not only do they turn away their ears, and eyes, and all their senses, from doctrine, but they would even wish that it were destroyed and taken out of the way; for wickedness is invariably attended by such rage as would lead them to wish the destruction of that which they cannot endure. The power and efficacy of the word wounds and enrages them to such a degree, that they give vent to their fierceness and cruelty like wild and savage beasts. They would gladly escape, but whether they will or not, they are constrained to hear God speaking, and to tremble at his majesty. This bitterness is followed by hatred of the prophets, snares, alarms, persecutions, banishment, tortures, and deaths, by which they think that they can overturn and root out both the doctrine and the teachers; for men are more desirous to have dreams and fabulous tales told them than to be faithfully instructed
See not, prophesy not to us right things. The Prophet does not relate the words of wicked men, as if they openly made use of these words, but he describes the state of the fact and their actual dispositions; for he had not to do with men who were such fools as to make an intentional discovery of their wickedness. They were singularly cunning hypocrites, who boasted of worshipping God, and complained that they were unjustly reproached by the prophets. Isaiah tears off the mask by which they concealed themselves, and discovers what they are, because they refused to give place to the truth; for whence came the murmurs against the prophets, but because they could not bear to hear God speaking?
The prophets were called seers, because the Lord revealed to them what would afterwards be made known to others. They were stationed, as it were, in a lofty place, that they might behold from on high, and as if from "a watch-tower," (Habakkuk 2:1,) the prosperous or adverse events which were approaching. The people wished that nothing of an adverse nature should be told them; and therefore they hated the prophets, because, while they censured and sharply reproved the vices of the people, they at the same time were witnesses of the approaching judgment of God. Such is the import of those words, "Do not see, do not prophesy right things." Not that they spoke in this manner, as we have already said, but because such was the state of their feelings, and because they desired that the prophets should speak with mildness, and could not patiently bear the sharpness of their reproofs. Not one of them was so impudent as to say that he wished to be deceived, and that he abhorred the truth; for they declared that they sought it with the greatest eagerness, as all our adversaries boast of doing at the present day; but they denied that what Isaiah and the other prophets told them was the word of God. In like manner they plainly told Jeremiah that he was "a liar," (Jeremiah 43:2,) and threatened him more insolently,
"Thou shalt not prophesy in the name of the Lord,
lest thou die by our hand." (Jeremiah 11:21.)
To them the truth was intolerable; and when they departed from it, they could find nothing but falsehood, and thus they willingly chose to be deceived and to have falsehood told them.
Speak to us smooth things. When he says that they desire "smooth things," 7 he points out the very source; for they were ready to receive flatterers with unbounded applause, and would willingly have allowed their ears to be tickled in the name of God. And this is the reason why the world is not only liable to be carried away by delusions, but earnestly desires them; for almost all wish to have their vices treated with forbearance and encouragement. But it is impossible that the servants of God, when they endeavor faithfully to discharge their duty, should be chargeable with being severe reprovers; and hence it follows that it is an idle and childish evasion, when wicked men pretend that they would willingly be God's disciples, provided that he were not rigorous. It is as if they bargained that, for their sake, he should change his nature and deny himself; as Micah also says, that no prophets were acceptable to the Jews, but such as "prophesied of wine and strong drink." (Micah 2:11.)
11. Depart from the way. The amount of what is stated is, that when the prophets are set aside, the Lord is also rejected and set aside, and no regard is paid to him. Wicked men pretend the contrary, for they are ashamed to acknowledge so great wickedness. But they gain nothing by it; for God wishes that we should listen to him by means of those to whom he gave injunctions to declare his will to us, and to administer the doctrine of the word. If therefore it is our duty to listen to God, if we are bound to pay him any homage, we ought to shew it by embracing his word, as it is contained in the writings of the prophets and evangelists. This ought to be carefully observed in commendation of the word; for they who set it aside act as if they denied that he is God.
Cause the Holy One of Israel to depart. Here he again points out the cause of so great wickedness, which doubles their guilt; namely, that God does not spare or flatter their vices, but acts the part of a good and skillful; physician. Men desire to be flattered, and cannot patiently endure that God should threaten them. Hence it comes that men hate and reject the word. Hence proceeds the furious attack on the prophets, whose reproofs and threatenings they cannot endure; for there is no reason why men should revolt from the government of God, but because they take delight in what is wrong and crooked, and abhor the right way. Appropriately, therefore, does the Prophet join these two things, dislike of heavenly doctrine and hatred of uprightness.
12. Because you have disdained this word. He next declares the punishment of ungodliness, threatening that they shall not pass unpunished for refusing to hear God speaking; and he expresses their contempt more strongly by the word "disdain." He calls it "this word," making use of the demonstrative; for men would willingly contrive some word adapted to their manner of life, but refuse to listen to God when he speaks.
And trusted in violence and wickedness. God's gentle invitation, and his exhortation to quiet rest, are here contrasted with their disorderly pursuits. The Hebrew word qse (gnoshek) denotes "robbery," and "seizing property which belongs to another." Others render it "ill-gotten wealth." Those who render it "calumny," do not sufficiently express the Prophet's meaning. For my own part, I do not view it as referring to riches gained by unlawful methods, but rather to that rebelliousness in which that nation insolently indulged.
The word "wickedness," 8 which is added, ought not to be limited to decisions of courts of law; for, in my opinion, it has a more extensive signification; and by these two words he intended to express the presumption of wicked men, by which they fiercely and wantonly rose up against God, because they always dared to follow their own lawless desires, and to do what was forbidden. And as the poets feign that the giants made war with God, 9 so those men resisted God's threatenings, and thought that they would speedily overcome his power by their fierceness and presumption.
13. Therefore shall your iniquity be like a breach falling. This is a threatening of punishment, and Isaiah expresses it by a very appropriate metaphor. He compares wicked men to a wall that is rent, or that bulges out. As the "swelling out" of a wall threatens the ruin of it, because it cannot stand unless all the parts of it adhere closely to each other, so the haughtiness and insolence of wicked men are a sign and very sure proof of their approaching ruin; because the more they are puffed up and swelled without any solid value, 10 the more readily do they throw themselves down headlong, and it is impossible for them not to fall speedily by their own weight. "Rise up," says he, "and act insolently against God; he will quickly put down your presumption and insolence, for it is but an empty swelling." Hence we learn that nothing is better for us than to submit wholly to God, and to keep charge of all our senses, so as to remain chained and bound by his authority; for they who raise themselves by shaking off all humility, destroy themselves by collecting much wind. For a time, indeed, the Lord permits wicked men to swell and utter their big words, that at length, by their "swelling" and idle boasting, they may bring upon themselves ruin and destruction.
14. And the breaking of it shall be. When a wall has fallen, some traces of the ruin are still to be seen, and the stones of it may be applied to use, and to some extent the wall may even be rebuilt. But here the Prophet threatens that they who are puffed up with obstinacy against God shall perish in such a manner that they cannot be restored, and all that is left of them shall be utterly useless. Accordingly, he employs the metaphor of a potter's vessel, the broken fragments of which cannot be repaired or put together. These threatenings ought to make a deep impression upon us, that we may embrace with reverence the word of God, when we learn that punishments so severe are prepared for those who despise it; for the Prophet threatens that they shall be utterly destroyed and ruined, and takes away all hope of their being restored. Nor is the threatening groundless; for we see how they that despise God, when they have been twice and three times cast down, still do not cease to raise their crests; for nothing is more difficult than to root out the false confidence from their hearts. 11
15. For thus saith the Lord. Here he describes one kind of contempt of God; for when warnings are addressed to hypocrites in general terms, they commonly produce little effect. In addition to the general doctrine, therefore, the prophets specify particular instances, which they specially accommodate to the conduct of those with whom they have to do, so as always to aim at a definite object. They might have wrangled and urged, "Why do you accuse us of so great impiety, as if we rejected the word of the Lord?" He therefore brings forward this class, in order to strike their consciences and cut short their idle sophistry. Was it not the word of the Lord, In hope and silence shall be your strength? why did you not rely on God? why did you raise a commotion?" Thus the Prophet holds them to be convicted, so that they cannot cavil without the grossest impudence, or, if they do so, will derive no advantage.
The Holy One of Israel. He makes use of this appellation, in order to reproach them the more for their ingratitude, that they may know how great protection they would have found in God: for God wished to be their protector and guardian. When they had forsaken him, their distrust carried them away to solicit the aid of the Egyptians, which was very great and intolerable wickedness. This title contains a bitter complaint, that they shut out God from entering, when he drew near to them.
In rest and quietness shall you be safe. Some render hbws (shubah) "repentance." Others render it "rest," 12 and I am more disposed to adopt that rendering; for I think that the Prophet intended frequently to impress upon the people, that the Lord demands more from them than to rely fully upon him. Nor is the repetition of the statement by two words superfluous; for he expressly intended to bring together the words "rest and quietness," in order to reprove the people the more sharply for their distrust and unbelief.
This verse consists of two clauses, a command and a promise. He enjoins the people to be of a quiet disposition, and next promises that their salvation shall be certain. The people do not believe this promise, and consequently they do not obey the command; for how would they render obedience to God, whom they do not believe, and on whose promises they do not rely? We need not wonder, therefore, that they do not enjoy peace and repose; for these cannot exist without faith, and faith cannot exist without the promises, and as soon as the promises have been embraced, souls that were restless and uneasy are made calm. Thus, unbelief alone produces that uneasiness; and therefore the Prophet justly reproves it, and shews that it is the source of the whole evil.
Though our condition be not entirely the same with that of the Jews, yet God commands us to wait for his assistance with quiet dispositions, not to murmur, or be troubled or perplexed, or to distrust his promises. This doctrine must belong equally to all believers; for the whole object of Satan's contrivances is to distress them, and to cast them down from their condition. In like manner had Moses long before addressed them,
"You shall be silent, and the Lord will fight for you."
Not that he wished them to sleep or to be idle, but he enjoined them to have this peace in their hearts. If we have it, we shall feel that it yields us sufficient protection; and if not, we shall be punished for our levity and rashness.
16. We will flee on horses; therefore shall you flee. He shews how they refused to wait calmly for the salvation of the Lord; for they chose rather to "flee" to the Egyptians. This is a very beautiful instance of (ajntana>klasiv) throwing back an expression, by which he causes their words, so full of confidence, to recoil on themselves. In the first of these clauses, "to flee" means "to escape," and in the second it means "to take flight." The Jews said that it would be better for them, if they adopted timely measures for guarding against the danger which was close at hand, and consequently, that they would best provide for their safety by calling in the aid of the Egyptians. "You shall certainly flee," says Isaiah, "not to find a place of refuge, but to turn your back and to be pursued by horses swifter than yours."
We now perceive more clearly what is the fault which Isaiah describes. By the distinct reply, No, he shews how obstinately they refused to comply with the advice which was given to them by the prophets, and chose rather to provide for their safety in another manner. Thus, by despising God, they gave a preference to a groundless appearance of safety, which they had allowed themselves to imagine. We ought, therefore, to turn away our minds from looking at present appearances and outward assistance, that they may be wholly fixed on God; for it is only when we are destitute of outward aid that we rely fully on him. It is lawful for us to use the things of this world for our assistance, but we altogether abuse them by our wickedness in forsaking God.
It is proper also to observe how unhappy is the end of those who rely more on outward aids than on God; for everything must be unsuccessful and contrary to their expectation; as we see that these men, in their attempts to find safety, are constrained to undertake a flight which is highly disgraceful, and from which they obtain no advantage. At first there is some appearance of prosperity; but the only effect is, that the change of condition makes the final result more bitter and distressing. And yet Isaiah does not affirm that they will receive no assistance from Egypt, but forewarns them that the Lord will find new methods of thwarting that assistance, so that they will not be able to escape his hand; for, although all men agree together, yet they will not succeed in opposition to God and to his purposes.
17. A thousand, as one, shall flee at the rebuke of one. Because the Jews, on account of their vast numbers, relied on their forces. as men are wont to do when they possess any power, therefore the Prophet threatens that all the protection which they have at home will be of no more avail to them than foreign aid, because the Lord will break and take away their courage, so that they shall not be able to make use of their forces. For what avail arms and a vast multitude of men? What avail fortresses and bulwarks, when men's hearts fail and are dismayed? It is therefore impossible for us to be strong and powerful, unless the Lord strengthen and uphold us by his Spirit. This statement occurs frequently in the law, that when they should revolt from God, a vast number of them would be put to flight by a very small number of enemies. But there is this difference between the law and the prophets, that the prophets apply to a particular subject what Moses announced in general terms, as we have formerly explained. 13
Here two observations must be made. First, we shall have just as much courage as the Lord shall give us; for we immediately lose heart, if he do not support us by his power. Secondly, it is the result of the righteous vengeance of God, that we are terrified by men, when he could not prevail upon us to fear him; that, when we have despised God's word and warnings, we fall down in terror at the words and threatenings of men. But we must also add, thirdly, God needs not extensive preparations to chastise us; for, if he lift up but a finger against us, we are undone. A small and feeble army will be sufficient to destroy us, even though we be well prepared, and have great numbers on our side. Next, he threatens that there will be no end to these calamities till they have been reduced to the last extremity, and until, amidst the frightful desolation of the earth, but few tokens of God's compassion are left.
As the mast of a ship on the top of a mountain. This may be explained in two ways. Some consider the metaphor to be taken from trees which have been cut down; for, when a forest is cut down, lofty trees are left which may be of use for building ships. But rh, (har,) "a mountain," probably denotes also a rock or promontory, against which ships are dashed, and to which they adhere, and on which a "mast," the emblem of shipwreck, is afterwards seen. 14
As a banner on a hill. Another metaphor is now added, borrowed from trophies erected to commemorate the defeat of enemies. In short, the Prophet declares that they will be so few that all that remains shall be an indication of very great ruin. As if he had said, "This great multitude which you now have dazzles your eyes; but there will be such ruin and decrease that you shall no longer have the face of a people." We are thus reminded how humbly and modestly we ought to conduct ourselves, even though we have great wealth and numerous forces; for if our mind be puffed up, God will speedily beat down our pride, and render us more feeble and cowardly than women and children, so that we shall not be able to bear the sight even of a single enemy, and all our strength shall melt away like snow.
18. Therefore will Jehovah wait. The Prophet now adds consolation; for hitherto he threatened to such an extent that almost all the godly might be thrown into despair. He intended therefore to soothe their minds, and encourage them to hope for better things, that they might embrace the mercy of God in the midst of those miseries, and might thus nourish their souls by his word. He contrasts this "waiting" with the excessive haste against which he spoke loudly at the beginning of the chapter, where he reproved the people for noisy haste, and condemned them for unbelief; but now, on the contrary, he reproaches them by saying that the Lord will not render like for like in consequence of the contempt with which they have treated him, and will not in that manner hasten to punish them. Others explain it, "He commands you to wait," or "he will cause you to wait." But the meaning which I have brought forward appears to me to be more appropriate.
For Jehovah is a God of judgment. To make the former statement more plain, we must lay down this principle, that God exercises moderation in inflicting punishment, because he is inclined to mercy. This is what he means by the word "judgment;" for it denotes not only punishment, but also the moderation which is exercised in chastening. In like manner, Jeremiah says,
"Chasten me, O Lord, but in judgment, not in thy wrath,
lest thou crush me." (Jeremiah 10:24.)
And again, I will not consume thee, but will chastise thee in judgment. 15 (Jeremiah 30:11.) "Judgment" is thus contrasted with severity, when the Lord observes a limit in punishing believers, that he may not ruin those whose salvation he always promotes; and, accordingly, as Habakkuk says, "in the midst of wrath he remembers his mercy." (Habakkuk 3:2.) He is not like us, therefore; he does not act with bustling or hurry, otherwise at every moment we must perish, but he calmly waits. Nor is it a slight confirmation of this when he adds, that God gives a proof of his glory by pardoning his people.
And therefore will he be exalted, that he may be gracious to you. Others translate the words, "till he be gracious to you;" but I think that the former translation is more appropriate, and it agrees better with the meaning of the particle l (lamed.) The Lord appears to lie still or to sleep, so long as he permits his Church to be assailed by the outrages of wicked men; and the customary language of Scripture is to say that he sits, or lies unemployed, when he does not defend his Church. It might be thought that he lay still when he gave loose reins to the Chaldeans to oppress the Jews; and therefore the Prophet says, that the Lord will arise and ascend his judgment-seat. Why? "That he may be gracious to you."
Blessed are all that wait for him. This is an inference from the former statement, in which he called Jehovah "a God of judgment." While he thus restrains himself, he draws from it an exhortation to patience and "waiting," and makes use of a part of the same verb, "wait," which he had formerly used. They were chargeable with distrust, and were distressed by strange uneasiness and restlessness of mind; for they were fearfully harassed by their unbelief, so that they could not "wait" for God calmly. To cure this vice, he enjoins them to "wait," that is, to hope. Now, hope is nothing else than steadfastness of faith, that is, when we wait calmly till the Lord fulfill what he has promised. When he says that they who shall patiently "wait" for him will be "blessed," he declares, on the other hand, that they who allow themselves to be hurried away by impatience, and do not repent of their crimes and their wickedness, are wretched and miserable, and will at length perish; for without hope in God there can be no salvation or happiness.
19. Surely the people in Zion shall dwell in Jerusalem. He confirms the former statement, that the people will indeed be afflicted, but will at length return to "Zion." Now, this might be thought incredible after the desolation of the city and of the whole country, for it seemed as if the whole nation had perished; yet Isaiah promises that the Church shall be preserved. He begins with Mount "Zion," on which the temple was built, and says that there men will henceforth call on the Lord. He likewise adds, "in Jerusalem," by which he means that the Church shall be enlarged and increased, and that all that had formerly been laid waste shall be restored. Yet he intimates that "Jerusalem" shall again be populous, because God had chosen it to be his sanctuary.
Weeping thou shalt not weep. 16 The meaning is, that this mourning shall not be perpetual. The Church, that is, all believers, while they were in this wretched and distressed condition, must have been exceedingly sorrowful; but he says that those tears shall come to an end. To the same purport is it said by the Psalmist, "They who sow in tears shall reap in joy." (Psalm 126:5.) The Lord permits us indeed to be afflicted with great anguish; but at length he cheers us, and gives us reason for gladness, when he restores his Church; for that is the true joy of believers. Besides, as it is difficult to taste any consolation when the mind is overwhelmed by a conviction of God's vengeance, he holds out a ground of consolation in the mercy of God, because, when he is appeased, there is no reason to dread that joy and peace shall not immediately return. But, as the Prophet Habakkuk says in the passage already quoted, "in his wrath the Lord remembers mercy;" and he never punishes believers with such severity as not to restrain and moderate his strokes, and put a limit to his chastisements. (Habakkuk 3:2.)
At the voice of thy cry. The Prophet points out the manner of obtaining pardon, in order to arouse believers to pray earnestly, and to supplicate with earnest groanings; for if there be no repentance, if we do not ask pardon from God, we are altogether unworthy of his mercy. If, therefore, we wish that the Church should be gathered together, and rescued from destruction by a kind of resurrection, let us cry to God to listen to our sighs and groanings; and if there be no sorrow of heart that excites us to prayer, we have no right to expect any alleviation.
He will answer thee. This means nothing else than that he will give evidence of his kindness and aid; for the Lord "answers," not by word, but by deed. Yet let us not think that he will instantly comply with our wishes, which are often hasty and unseasonable. He will undoubtedly assist us when the proper time arrives, so that we shall know that he had in view our salvation.
20. When the Lord shall have given you. He continues the same subject, and strengthens believers, that they may not faint; for patience springs from the hope of a more prosperous issue. Accordingly, he prepares them for enduring future chastisement, for the wrath of God will press hard on them for a time; but he immediately promises that a joyful issue awaits them, when they shall have endured those calamities and distresses; for God will restrain his severity. Thus, I consider w (vau) to mean "When" or "After;" as if he had said, "When you shall have endured those troubles, then will the Lord bless you; for he will change your condition for the better."
Thy rain shall no longer be restrained. 17 The word hrwm (moreh) is viewed by some commentators as meaning "a teacher." But this does not agree with the context; for, although the chief fruit of our reconciliation to God is to have faithful "teachers," yet, as the ignorant multitude was more deeply affected by the want of food, Isaiah accommodates his language to their ignorance, and gives them a taste of God's fatherly kindness under the emblem of abundance of food.
By the words "bread" and "water," he means extreme want and scarcity of all things, and therefore he calls it "bread of anguish and water of affliction." 18 Instead of this famine, he says that he will send them plenty and abundance. This is what he means by the word rain; for he describes the cause instead of the effect, as if he had said, "The earth shall yield fruit in abundance." This had a literal and special reference to a country, the fertility of which depended entirely on heaven; for it was not watered by rivers or fountains, but by rains.
"The land whither ye go to possess it," says Moses, "is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven." (Deuteronomy 11:11.)
He declares that the fruits of the earth, which the Lord took away or diminished by barrenness, will return; because, in consequence of the copious "rains," 19 there will be large and abundant produce. Thus, when the Lord shall punish us, let us comfort our hearts with these statements and promises.
21. Then shall thine ears hear. It was indeed no despicable promise which he made of an abundant produce of the fruits of the earth, but the chief ground of gladness and joy is, when God restores to us pure and sound doctrine; for no scarcity of wheat ought to terrify and alarm us so much as a scarcity of the word; and indeed, in proportion as the soul is more excellent than the body, so much the more ought we to dread this kind of famine, as another prophet also reminds us. (Amos 8:11.) Isaiah promises this to the Jews as the most valuable of all blessings, that they shall be fed with the word, by the want of which they had formerly been heavily afflicted. The false prophets also boast of the word, and in a more haughty and disdainful manner than godly teachers: they wish to be reckoned and declared to be the best guides; but they lead men into error, and at length plunge them into destruction. But the word which points out the right path comes from God alone, though it would be of little service to us, if he did not also promise that he would give us ears; for otherwise he would speak to the deaf, and we should hear nothing but a confused sound
A word behind thee. These words must be extended so far as to mean that he will not permit what he speaks to us to be useless, but will inwardly move our understandings and hearts, so as to train them to true obedience; for by nature we are not willing to learn, and must be altogether formed anew by his Spirit. The word hear is very emphatic. He compares God to a schoolmaster, who places the children before his eyes, that he may more effectually train and direct them; by which he expresses the wonderful affection and care manifested towards us by God, who does not reckon it enough to go before us, but also "with his eye upon us gives us direction." (Psalm 32:8.) But the Prophet declares that they who follow God as their guide will be in no danger of going astray.
Walk ye in it. This is an exhortation to cheerful progress, so that their journey may not be retarded, as frequently happens, by any uncertainty. What he adds, about the right hand and the left, might be thought absurd; for when Moses pointed out to the people the way in which they should walk, he at the same time charged them "not to turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 5:32; 17:20.) The road is straight and we ought not to seek any departures from it.
What then does the Prophet mean? I reply, he uses the words "Right" and "Left" in a different sense; for he means by them every kind of transactions which we must undertake to perform. These are various, as there are also various modes of living; and every person meets with difficulties of many kinds, and is under the necessity of deliberating about them. By the "right and left hand," therefore, he means all the actions of human life, whatever they are, so that, in all that we undertake, we may have God for our guide, and may always regulate our transactions by his authority, whether we must go "to the right hand or to the left." And hence we derive very great consolation, that the Lord will favor our undertakings, and will direct our steps, to whatever hand we turn, provided only that we do not turn aside from the path which he points out to us.
22. Then shall you profane the covering. This shews that the heavenly direction will not be without effect; for they will bid adieu to their errors, and devote their minds to the pure worship of God; and the Prophet expressly mentions the outward profession of true godliness, by which they will openly proclaim that they have renounced idolatry. For, since statues and images are instruments of idolatry and superstition, they who are truly converted to God detest and abhor them, and, as far as lies in their power, profane them as we read that Jehu did, who profaned the altars of Baal, and turned his temple into a common sewer. (2 Kings 10:27.) The example given by him and by others of the same class ought to be followed by godly princes and magistrates, if they wish to give a genuine proof of their repentance; for, although repentance is seated in the heart, and has God for a witness, it is shewn by its fruits. Isaiah has mentioned one class of them instead of the whole; for in general he shews that the proof of true repentance is, when men make it appear that they hold in abhorrence everything that is opposed to the worship of God. When he says that the idols are profaned, he does not mean that they were formerly sacred; for how could anything be sacred that dishonors God, and defiles men by its pollution? But, as men falsely imagine that they possess some sacredness, that is the reason why he says that they are "profaned," and that they ought to be despised and rejected as things of no value and altogether unclean.
The covering 20 of the graven images of thy silver. When he speaks of the "silver" and "gold" of the graven images, he means that no loss or damage prevents believers from abhorring the worship of idols. Such considerations restrain many from casting away idols altogether, because they see that "gold" or "silver" or something else is lost, and they choose rather to keep their idols than to sustain the smallest loss. Covetousness holds them in its net, so that they are more willing to sin of their own accord, and to pollute themselves with these abominations, than to lose this or that. But we ought to prefer the worship of God to everything else, to set little value on gold, to cast away pearls, and to loathe everything that is accounted precious, rather than defile ourselves with such crimes. In short, nothing can be so valuable that it ought not to be despised and reckoned worthless by us, when it comes into competition with overturning the kingdom of Satan and restoring the worship of God. In this manner we actually shew whether the love of God and of religion dwells in our hearts, when a sincere abhorrence of our wicked ignorance drives us to throw away all that is polluted.
23. Then will he give rain to thy seed. From the fruit he again shews how desirable it is to be converted to God; for the fruit of repentance is, that he receives converted persons into favor, and bestows his blessing on them, so that they are in want of nothing, but, on the contrary, are loaded with every kind of blessings. As troubles and distresses proceed from the wrath of God, whom we provoke by our crimes, so, when he is pacified, everything goes on prosperously with us, and we obtain every sort of kindness, as the Law more fully testifies. (Leviticus 26:3-13; Deuteronomy 28:3-14.) A little before, he had spoken of "rain," from which they were led to expect an abundant supply of food; but because he had not observed order in beginning with earthly and fading blessings, he therefore now adds to doctrine, which is spiritual nourishment, those things which belong to the use of this corruptible life; for, although godliness has the promise of the present life as well as "of that which is to come," (1 Timothy 4:8,) yet first of all it aims at heaven. (Matthew 6:33.)
Hence also let us learn that it is in vain for men to toil in cultivating their fields, if the Lord do not send rain from heaven. Our labors must be watered by him, and he must "give the increase;" otherwise they will be of no service. Yet we must not expect rain but from the blessing of God; and if we receive abundant produce, we ought to give to him the glory. Hence learn also that we shall be in want of nothing, and shall obtain very abundant fruits of our labors, if we are converted to God, and that it is our own fault that we often suffer poverty and want, because by our wickedness we drive away from us the blessing of God. Let us not therefore ascribe barrenness and famine to any other causes than to our own fault; for it is impossible that there should be so great a multitude of men as to be incapable of deriving support and nourishment from the earth; but by our iniquities and transgressions we shut the bosom of the earth, which would otherwise be laid open to us, and would abundantly yield fruits of every description, that we might lead a prosperous and happy life.
And thy cattle shall feed. What he now adds about the "cattle" tends greatly to magnify the grace of God; for if his kindness overflows even on the dumb cattle, (Psalm 36:6,) how much more on men whom "he created after his image." (Genesis 1:27.) But we need not wonder if brute beasts, which were created for the use of men, suffer hunger along with their masters, and that they have a share in the bestowal of favor when God is reconciled to men.
24. Thine oxen also. When he promises that the oxen and the asses shall eat abundant and clean provender, this is a repetition and confirmation of what was stated in the preceding verse. This passage is taken from the Law, (Deuteronomy 28:11,) and is gladly and frequently quoted by the prophets, in order that we may learn to discern in the sickness and death of cattle the indignation of God, and to desire more earnestly to be reconciled to him, that our houses may be filled with his goodness.
25. And it shall come to pass. When the prophets describe the kingdom of Christ, they commonly draw metaphors from the ordinary life of men; for the true happiness of the children of God cannot be described in any other way than by holding out an image of those things which fall under our bodily senses, and from which men form their ideas of a happy and prosperous condition. It amounts therefore to this, that they who obey God, and submit to Christ as their king, shall be blessed. Now, we must not judge of this happiness from abundance and plenty of outward blessings, of which believers often endure scarcity, and yet do not on that account cease to be blessed. But those expressions are allegorical, and are accommodated by the Prophet to our ignorance, that we may know, by means of those things which are perceived by our senses, those blessings which have so great and surpassing excellence that our minds cannot comprehend them.
And on every high hill there shall be streams. When he says that "on the mountains" there shall be "streams and rivulets," he gives a still more striking view of that plenty and abundance with which the Lord will enrich his people. Water is not plentiful on the peaks of the mountains, which are exceedingly dry; the valleys are indeed well moistened, and abound in water; but it is very uncommon for water to flow abundantly on the tops of the mountains. Yet the Lord promises that it shall be so, though it appear to be impossible; but by this mode of expression he foretells that, under the reign of Christ, we shall be happy in every respect, and that there will be no place in which there shall not be an abundant supply of blessings of every description; that nothing will be so barren as not to be rendered fruitful by his kindness, so that everywhere we may be happy. This is what we should actually experience, if we were fully under the authority of Christ. We should plainly see his blessing on all sides, if we sincerely and honestly obeyed him; everything would go on to our wish; and the whole world and everything in it would contribute to our comfort; but, because we are very far from yielding that obedience, we have only a slight taste of those blessings, and enjoy them so far as we have advanced in newness of life.
By the day of slaughter, is denoted another mark of the divine favor, that God will keep his people safe and sound against the violence of enemies; and in this way the Prophet gives credibility to the former prediction; for otherwise it would have been difficult to believe that captives and exiles would enjoy such prosperity. Here he speaks therefore of the slaughter of the wicked; as if he had said, "The Lord will not only do you good, but will also drive out your enemies." It is generally thought that the Prophet now speaks of the defeat which befell the wicked king Sennacherib when he besieged Jerusalem. (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) But when I examine it more closely, I am more disposed to view this passage as referring to the destruction of Babylon; for although a vast multitude of persons was slain, when Sennacherib was shamefully put to flight, yet still the people were not delivered. This reminds us that we ought not to despair, even though our enemies be very numerous, and leave abundance of garrisons, troops, and fortifications; for the Lord can easily put them to flight and defend his Church. Let us not be terrified at their power or rage, or be discouraged because we are few in number; for neither their troops, nor their bulwarks, nor their rage and insolence, will hinder them from falling into the hands of God.
26. And the light of the moon shall be. The Prophet was not satisfied with describing an ordinary state of prosperity, without adding something extraordinary; for he says that the Lord will go beyond the course of nature in this kindness and liberality. It never happened that the brightness of "the sun" was increased, unless when "the sun" stood still in the days of Joshua, in order to give time for pursuing the enemies, (Joshua 10:12,13,) and when, for the sake of Hezekiah, the dial went backward. (2 Kings 20:11; Isaiah 38:8.) But on this occasion nothing is said about those miracles. 21 Besides, the Prophet does not speak about prolonging the course of "the sun" above our horizon, but about increasing its brightness sevenfold. He shews what will be the condition of the godly under the reign of Christ; for in other respects the Lord
"maketh his sun to shine on the bad as well as on the good." (Matthew 5:45.)
But here he speaks of happiness in which ungodly men can have no share. There is one kind of liberality which is bestowed indiscriminately on all, and another kind which is peculiar to believers alone; as it is said, "Great is the abundance of thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee." (Psalm 31:19.) Isaiah speaks of this special favor, 22 and, in order to describe it, borrows metaphors from well-known objects. Accordingly, he declares that God will enlighten believers with so great brightness that, if "seven" suns were brought together, their brightness would be far inferior to this.
When the Lord shall have bound up the breach of his people. That the weight of afflictions, by which the people were soon afterwards overwhelmed, might not hinder them from believing this statement, he likewise adds another promise, that the Lord will be like a physician to heal their wounds. Hence it follows, that the people must be chastened, and, in some measure, prepared for repentant by wounds, and must even be crushed and bruised in such a manner as to be reduced almost to nothing.
And healed the stroke of their wound. What he now adds about a "stroke," is intended to shew that this bruising will not be slight; for it resembles a body beaten and wounded by many strokes. If therefore we shall be ready at any time to think that the Lord deals harshly with us, let us call to remembrance those predictions, that the Lord will "bind up our wounds," which otherwise might appear to be mortal. And if any one ask why the Lord chastises his people so severely, I reply, that it produces no good effect on us when he treats us mildly; our vices are deeply rooted, and adhere to our very marrow, and cannot be separated but by a razor which has a sharp and keen edge.
27. Behold the name of the Lord cometh. He threatens the destruction of the Assyrians, who were at that time the chief enemies of the Church. From almost all their neighbors, indeed, the Jews received annoyance; but as the Assyrians were greatly superior to others in wealth and power, so the prophets, when they speak of enemies, mention them almost exclusively, and afterwards the Babylonians, who obtained the monarchy; though, as we have already seen, they frequently, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, include the Chaldeans under the name of Assyrians. By "the name of God" he unquestionably means God himself; but he makes use of this circumlocution, because the Assyrians and other nations worshipped gods made of gold and silver, and held up the Jews to ridicule, because they did not worship him under any image, or statue, or resemblance; as one who wrote against them says that "they worship the bright clouds and the deity of the sky." 23 Thus wicked and ungodly men always judge of God according to outward appearances; while the prophets, on the other hand, remind believers of "the name of God." "That God who revealed himself to you by his name, whom you do not feel, whom you do not see, will take vengeance on your insults."
From afar. He adds this as if he granted what was said by them; for ungodly men, when they do not perceive the hand of God, think that he is at a great distance, and mock at the confidence of believers as groundless. Accordingly, the Prophet, adapting his language to the views of unbelievers, shews that God, whom they thought to be at a great distance, will come, or rather, has already come, and is at hand. This is what he means by the particle hnh, (hinneh,) behold, which he contrasts with the word qhrmm, (mimmerhok,) "from afar," directing believers, in this manner, to rise above all obstructions, that by their hope they may arrive at that assistance which he promised.
His face burneth. In order to shew that the celebration of the name of God in Judea is not vain or groundless, the Prophet describes the power of God, that is, the power which he will employ in driving out the enemies of the Church, as dreadful. When he addresses those who believe in him, in order to encourage them to the exercise of faith, he shews himself to be kind, gentle, patient, slow to anger, and merciful; but to the ungodly he holds out nothing but fear and terror. (Exodus 34:6.) And as the ungodly are terrified when God is mentioned, so believers, drawn by a conviction of his goodness, rely on him, and are not distressed by such fears. This shews us that we ought continually to persevere in the fear of God, that we may not find God to be what he is here described by the Prophet.
His burden is heavy. 24 That is, the Lord will bring with him dreadful calamities, which the ungodly will not be able to endure; for by "burdens" he means the punishments which are inflicted on the ungodly. He expresses the same thing by the words lips and tongue. But why did he speak of them rather than of the hands? It is, because ungodly men mock at all the threatenings which are uttered by the word of God, and treat as fabulous all that is declared by the prophets. To their own cost, therefore, they shall learn that the sound which proceedeth from the sacred name of God is not without meaning, and is not idle thunder intended merely to strike the ears, but shall at length know by experience what is the power of that word which they despised.
28. And his Spirit. 25 He proceeds with that threatening which he had begun to utter, namely, that the Church will indeed be chastised, but yet that the Assyrians shall utterly perish; for he says that they will be plunged into the deep by the "Spirit" of God, or rather, that the "Spirit" himself is like a deep torrent which shall swallow them up. Others translate hwr, 26 (ruach,) by "blowing," and think that the allusion is to a storm or violent wind.
And with a useless sieve. The next metaphor employed is that of a "sieve," which is very frequent in Scripture (Matthew 3:12.) He says that he will shake the Assyrians with a sieve, in order to thrash and scatter them; and therefore he calls it "the sieve of vanity," that is, a useless sieve, 27 intended not to preserve, but to destroy; for, in another sense, the Lord is wont to "sift" his own people also, so as to gather them like good grain into the barn.
And a bridle causing to err. 28 The third metaphor is that of a "bridle," by which the Lord continually restrains the pride and rebelliousness of wicked men, and, in a word, shews that he is their Judge. True, indeed, the Lord commonly restrains and subdues his own people by a "bridle," but it is in order to bring them to obedience; while, on the other hand, he restrains wicked men in such a manner as to cast them down headlong to destruction. This is what he means by the phrase "causing to err." As furious horses are driven about in all directions by their riders, and, the more they kick are more violently struck and beaten; so the ungodly, when they are kept back, rush eagerly in the opposite direction, as it is beautifully described by David. (Psalm 32:9.)
The object of these metaphors is to shew that we must not sport with the Lord; for, although he appear for a time to act differently, we shall at length know by experience the truth of what the Prophet says, that his "breath" alone will be like a torrent to cast down the wicked, that they may be suddenly overwhelmed. Next, when he gives warning that the nations shall be winnowed with "a useless sieve," we ought to fear lest the Lord, if he find in us nothing but chaff, throw us on the dunghill. Lastly, we must observe the difference that exists between the children of God and the reprobate; for the Lord chastises both, but in different ways -- the children of God, that they may be purified and preserved -- and the reprobate, that they may be cast down headlong and destroyed.
29. And you shall have a song as in the night. Here he declares that all the punishments which he threatened against the Assyrians shall tend to the advantage of the Church, because the Lord punishes the outrages committed against his people not less severely than if they had been committed against himself. In this way he testifies his infinite love and kindness towards his own people, when he deigns to take up arms on their behalf. Hence we ought to conclude, that all the threatenings which are found in any part of Scripture tend to the consolation of believers.
When a festival is kept. He says that this "song" will be sacred, and compares it to a "holy solemnity," in order to excite believers to thankfulness, and to shew that their joy should be directed to God; for it is not enough to rejoice, unless our joy look straight towards God, and unless we keep him alone always in our view; otherwise our joy will be fruitless and irreligious, and will not promote our salvation, or be acceptable to God. He calls it "a song of the night," because the Jews began the day at sunset, and, as soon as the evening came, celebrated the festival.
To the mountain. He explains more fully of what nature this joy shall be. They shall not dance, as irreligious men do, but shall raise and fix their eyes on God, whom they acknowledge to be the author of every blessing. By "the mountain" he means the temple which was built "on the mountain." He calls God The Mighty One of Israel, because it was by his assistance that they had been redeemed and preserved; and hence he reminds them that in future they will not be safe in any other way than by placing their hope in God alone. And indeed, when we cherish any conviction of our own strength, we rob God of this title, which is truly and sincerely bestowed on him by none but the lowly and humble, who have laid aside all confidence in their own strength.
30. And Jehovah shall cause to be heard. He confirms what he formerly said about the judgment of God on the Assyrians, and he describes it figuratively, as is very customary both with himself and with the other prophets. When God delays, and does not immediately punish the wicked, we think that he is either asleep or not powerful, and are distracted by doubt and uncertainty. And if we behold some of his judgments, yet such is our natural stupidity, or rather our ingratitude, that we keep before us those masks which hinder us from perceiving the glory of God; for we ascribe it to fortune, or to the plans and contrivances and strength of men, and never, unless when we are compelled, acknowledge that we owe anything to God.
The power of his voice. 29 For the reasons now stated, the Prophet was not satisfied with having once foretold the vengeance of God against the Assyrians; but he likewise describes it in a lively manner, and repeats it with great earnestness. He declares that the destruction shall be such that men will be constrained to hear "the voice of God;" that is, to acknowledge his judgment, and to confess that this calamity hath proceeded from him, as if he had spoken openly. The matter, therefore, may be thus summed up. The event will be so manifest, that there shall be no one who does not understand that this calamity proceeded from "the mouth," that is, from the decree of God.
And the descent of his arm shall he cause to be seen. He begins with "the voice of God," that we may know that he directs by his authority everything that is done on the earth. Yet at the same time he applauds the power of his doctrine, on which it was necessary that his people should rely, in order that the effect might be openly displayed at the proper time. But as the work quickly follows the decree and "voice of God," he adds "the descent of his arm." These two things ought always to be joined together; for we ought not to imagine that God is like men, or that he suddenly undertakes anything, and then leaves it defective or incomplete. Whatever he has decreed he likewise executes, and his hand can never be separated from his mouth. On the other hand, he executes nothing at random, but all must have been previously decreed, so that all the punishments which he inflicts are so many displays of righteous judgment.
With deluge and hailstone. That vengeance is illustrated, in the conclusion of the verse, by figures, in order that its terrific character may lead the Jews more cheerfully to raise their faith on high; for it was highly consolatory to them to know that, though they were heavily afflicted, a far more dreadful judgment would soon fall on their enemies. And yet we must not dream, as the Rabbins do, that the Assyrians were struck by a thunderbolt, for their conjecture is excessively frivolous. On the contrary, the Prophet follows the ordinary custom, and, by means of these comparisons, describes the judgment of God, which our prodigious dulness makes us excessively slow to comprehend. Conflagrations, thunderbolts, inundations, and deluges, are somewhat unusual and monstrous events, and thus produce a stronger impression on our own minds. For this reason, the prophets draw a comparison from them, that men may perceive the dreadful and avenging hand of God against the wicked.
31. Surely by the voice of Jehovah. He added this for two reasons; first, to shew why the Assyrian must be bruised; for, since he was cruel and savage to others, it is proper that
"the same measure which he meted should be measured
to him again." (Matthew 7:2.)
This is the ordinary judgment of God against tyrants, as the Prophet says in a subsequent passage of this book,
"Woe to thee that spoilest, for thou shalt be spoiled."
The second reason is, because the power of the Assyrian king appeared to be so great that he could not fall. Although, therefore, he was fortified on every hand, not only to defend himself, but also to attack others, yet the Prophet says, that "by the voice of God" alone he shall be bruised. Hence we learn how groundless is the confidence of wicked men, who rely on their garrisons and arms, and presumptuously despise God, as if they had not been liable to his judgment. But in order to destroy them, the Lord will have no need of any other arms than his own "voice;" for by the slightest expression of his will he will lay them low. Nor can it be doubted that the Prophet intends to withdraw the minds of believers from earthly means, that they may not inquire how it shall be done, but may be satisfied with the bare promise of God, who is fully able to execute his word as soon as it has gone forth from him.
32. And there shall be in every passage. He means that the Assyrians will in vain try every method of escaping from the hand of God; for wherever they go, whether they attempt to go forward or to turn back, the hand of God shall pursue them. As to the phrase, fastened staff, 30 I readily adopt the opinion of those who think that the metaphor is taken from those on whom have been inflicted strokes so heavy, that the marks of the instrument of punishment remain, as if a rod or staff were "fastened" in the wound. It will perhaps be thought preferable to interpret it to mean, that the wound is "fastened" 31 on the Assyrian, as a foundation is fixed in the earth; for what is not "fastened" may be moved out of its place and carried away. But he shews that that wound is so deeply fixed that it cannot be shaken off or removed. In like manner, the weight of God's wrath lies on the reprobate, and holds them weighed down to the end. To shew that there is no hope of being able to derive advantage from a change of place, he says everywhere, thus declaring that there shall be no retreat. The clause ought to be thus arranged, "wherever the staff shall pass, there it will stick firmly."
With tabrets and harps. He means that the issue of the battle will not be doubtful, as when the combatants meet on equal terms; for he says that the victory will be certain; because, as soon as God determines to go forth to fight, he already holds the victory in his hand. "Tabrets and harps," hands spread out and lifted up, are expressive of the joy of conquerors, when they shout aloud and chant the song of victory.
Shall fight against her. The feminine pronoun hb (bahh) is viewed by some commentators as referring to the army; but the Prophet undoubtedly intended to express something higher, namely, the head of the army, that is, Babylon, as contrasted with Jerusalem, which also he formerly denoted by a similar pronoun.
From these statements we ought to infer, that the wicked shall at length be destroyed, though they appear to have many means of escape; for wherever they turn, whatever road they take, the "staff" of the Lord shall pursue them, and shall ever remain "fastened" to their back; they shall never escape his hand or get quit of their wounds. We, too, are chastened by the hand of God, but the wounds do not always last; our pains are soothed and abated, and "our grief is turned into joy." (John 16:20.) Besides, God carries on war against the reprobate in such a manner that they cannot resist him, or gain anything by their attempts. He joins battle with them, indeed, but it is as a conqueror; he even allows them to obtain some advantages, but represses their insolence whenever he thinks proper. If, therefore, we fight under his banner, let us entertain no doubt of obtaining the victory; for, when we have him as our leader, we shall be safe from all danger, and shall undoubtedly come off conquerors.
33. For Tophet is ordained. The Prophet goes on to threaten the vengeance of God, and says that not only a temporary calamity, but also everlasting destruction awaits the wicked; for hell is prepared for them, and not merely for persons of ordinary rank, but likewise for the king himself and the nobles. By "Tophet" he unquestionably means Hell; not that we must fancy to ourselves some place in which the wicked are shut up, as in a prison, after their death, in order to endure the torments which they deserve; but it denotes their miserable condition and excruciating torments. In the book of Kings, it denotes that place where the Jews sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch. (2 Kings 23:10.) It is also mentioned by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 19:6;) and that place was destroyed and profaned by Josiah on account of the detestable superstition committed in it. (2 Kings 23:10.) The prophets, I have no doubt, intended to give the name of this place to the punishments and torments of the wicked, in order that the bare mention of it might excite horror in godly persons, and that idolatry might be universally regarded with greater abhorrence. The word "Gehenna" 32 has the same etymology; for "the Valley of Hinnom" was a name given to Hell (Gehenna) on account of the abominable sacrilege practiced in it.
Since yesterday. 33 When we see that all goes well with the wicked, and that they have everything to their wish, we think that they will pass unpunished. For this reason the Prophet, on the contrary, exclaims: "Since yesterday, that is, of old since the beginning of the world, the Lord hath determined what punishments he shall inflict on them." Though this decree is still hidden from us, yet it must be certain, and cannot fail. Let us not, therefore, judge of the lot of the wicked according to outward appearances; let us wait for the Lord, who in due time will execute his righteous judgment. Yet let us not be rash, or think that God hath forgotten to take vengeance; for he had determined what he should do before it could enter into our mind; nor can we so speedily desire the destruction of the wicked as not to have our thoughts and desires anticipated long before by the Lord, for from the beginning he determined to inflict on them punishments and torments. Some think that it is a parallel passage to that of the Apostle, "Christ yesterday, to-day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8.) But I consider "yesterday" to be here used simply as contrasted with our thoughts, that we may not think that we possess so much wisdom as to be capable of anticipating God: for there is nothing sudden in his purposes, but all were long ago settled and determined by him. He speaks of the punishments of the life to come, as I have already said, that is, of the punishments which the wicked shall endure, in addition to the distresses which they suffer in this life. On this subject it is strange that the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8) were so dull and stupid as to confine rewards and punishments within the limits of this life, as if the judgment of God did not extend beyond this world; for the modes of expression which immediately follow would not apply to temporal punishments, and the very name "Tophet," taken metaphorically, could denote nothing else than God's highest curse.
Yea, for the king it is prepared. He shews that not even "kings," who are supposed to be entitled, on account of their majesty and power, to enjoy some peculiar privilege, are exempted from this punishment. Their greatness dazzles the eyes of men, but will yield them no defense, so as to prevent the Lord from punishing them as they deserve.
He says that the slaughter of them will be in a deep place, that we may know that they cannot escape or be rescued from it; and he calls hell broad, that we may know that however numerous they may be, though they all conspire together, they shall likewise perish; for the Lord will not be exhausted by punishing, and he will have a place so large as to contain all his enemies.
The pile of it is fire. He speaks metaphorically concerning the destruction of the reprobate, which otherwise we cannot sufficiently comprehend, in the same manner as we do not understand the blessed and immortal life, unless it be shadowed out by some figures adapted to our capacity. Hence it is evident how foolish and absurd the sophists are, who enter into subtle arguments about the nature and quality of that fire, and torture themselves by giving various explanations of it. Such gross imaginations must be banished, since we know that the Prophet speaks figuratively; and in another passage (Isaiah 66:24) we shall see that "fire" and the "worm" are joined together.