Isaiah 1 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 1
Pulpit Commentary
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Verse 1. - TITLE OF THE WORK. It is questioned whether the title can be regarded as Isaiah's, or as properly belonging to the work, and it is suggested that it is rather a heading invented by a collector who brought together into a volume such prophecies of Isaiah as were known to him, the collection being a much smaller one than that which was made ultimately. In favor of this view it is urged

(1) that the prophecies, as we have them, do not all "concern Judah and Jerusalem;"

(2) that there is a mistake in the title, which Isaiah could not have made, none of the prophecies belonging to the reign of Uzziah. But it may be answered, that, in the scriptural sense, all and Jerusalem, prophecy "concerns Judah and Jerusalem," i.e. the people and city of God; and, further, that it is quite impossible to prove that no part of the "vision" was seen in the reign of Uzziah. There are no means of knowing whether Isaiah collected his prophecies into a volume himself or whether the collection was the work of others. In either case, the existing title must be regarded as designed for the entire work. All the earlier prophecies - those of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, and Zephaniah - have some title introducing them. Verse 1. - The vision (comp. Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1). The term is probably used in a collective sense, but is also intended to suggest the intrinsic unity of the entire body of prophecies put forth by Isaiah. As prophets were originally called "seers" (1 Samuel 9:9), so prophecy was called "vision;" and this latter use continued long after the other (comp. 1 Chronicles 17:15; Ezekiel 12:27; Daniel 9:23; Obadiah 1:1, etc.). Isaiah the son of Amoz (comp. Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 37:2; etc.; 2 Kings 20:1; 2 Chronicles 32:32). The signification of the name Isaiah is "the salvation of Jehovah." The name Amen (Amots) is not to be confused with Amos ('Amos), who seems to have been a contemporary (Amos 1:1). Concerning Judah and Jerusalem. The prophecies of Isaiah concern primarily the kingdom of Judah, not that of Israel. They embrace a vast variety of nations and countries (see especially Isaiah 13, 15. - 21, 23, 47.); but these nations and countries are spoken of "only because of the relation in which they stand to Judah and Jerusalem" (Kay), or at any rate to the people of God, symbolized under those names. Jerusalem occupies a prominent place in the prophecies (see Isaiah 1:8, 21; Isaiah 3:16-26; Isaiah 4:3-6; Isaiah 29. 1-8; 31:4-9, etc.). In the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Uzziah (or Azariah, as he is sometimes called) reigned fifty-two years - probably from B.C. 811 to B.C. 759; Jotham sixteen years - from B.C. 759 to B.C. 743; Ahaz also sixteen years - from B.C. 743 to B.C. 727; and Hezekiah twenty-nine years - from B.C. 727 to B.C. 698. Isaiah probably prophesied only in the later years of Uzziah, say from B.C. 760; but as he certainly continued his prophetical career tin Sennacherib's invasion of Judaea (Isaiah 37:5), which was not earlier than B.C. 705, he must have exercised the prophet's office for at least fifty-six years. The lowest possible estimate of the duration of his ministry is forty-seven years - from the last year of Uzziah, B.C. 759, to the fourteenth of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:5). The highest known to us is sixty-four years - from the fourth year before Uzziah's death ( B.C. 762) to the last year of Hezekiah ( B.C. 698). (See 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 5. p. 5.)
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
Verses 2-6. - GOD'S COMPLAINT AGAINST HIS PEOPLE. The groundwork of Isaiah's entire prophecy is Judah's defection from God. God's people have sinned, done amiss, dealt wickedly. The hour of vengeance approaches. Punishment has begun, and will go on, continually increasing in severity. National repentance would avert God's judgments, but the nation will not repeat. God's vengeance will fall, and by it a remnant will be purified, and return to God, and be his true people. In the present section the indictment is laid. Judah's sins are called to her remembrance. Verse 2. - Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth. "A grave and magnificent exorilium! All nature is invoked to hear Jehovah make complaint of the ingratitude of his people" (Rosenmüller). The invocation is cast in the same form with that so common in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1), and seems to indicate familiarity with that book. The idea extends widely among sacred and other poets (see Psalm 1:3, 4; Micah 6:1, 2; Aesch., 'P. V.,' 11. 88-92). The Lord hath spoken; rather, the Lord (literally, Jehovah) speaketh (so Lowth, Cheyne, and Gesenius). The speech of Jehovah follows in vers. 2, 3. I have nourished and brought up children; literally, (my) sons I have made great and high; i.e. I have raised Israel to greatness and exalted him among the nations. Notwithstanding their disobedience, God still acknowledges them as his "sons." They have rebelled against me. The verb used is generally rendered in our version "transgressed" (see Jeremiah 3:13; Hosea 7:13; Amos 4:4); but it may also have the stronger sense here assigned it. Lowth translates, "revolted from me;" Gesenius, "fallen away from me;" Cheyne, "broken away from me."
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
Verse 3. - The ox... the ass. The ox and the ass are probably selected as the least intelligent of domesticated animals (so Jerome, Rosenmüller, and Gesenius). Yet even they recognize their owner or master. Jeremiah contrasts the brutish stupidity of Israel with the wise instinct of animals that have not been domesticated, as the stork, the turtle-dove, the crane, and the swallow (Jeremiah 8:7). Israel doth not know; i.e. does not acknowledge its Master and Owner, pays him no respect, does not recognize him as either Owner or Master. My people. Compare the formula, so frequent in Exodus, "Let my people go" (Exodus 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, etc.). Israel was God's people by election (Genesis 15:13), by covenant (Exodus 19:5-8; Exodus 24:3-8), by pardoning grace (Exodus 33:12-17). Despite all their backslidings, he had not yet cast them off. They are still "his people" in Isaiah from first to last, standing in contrast with "the nations, "or "the Gentiles, "among whom they are to be "set as a sign" (Isaiah 66:19). Doth net consider. Gesenius translates, "doth not consider thereof;" Cheyne, "is without understanding." Bishop Lowth retains the words of the Authorized Version. The meaning would seem to be, "My people doth not consider me, cloth not reflect on my relation to them as Lord and Master."
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Verse 4. - Ah sinful nation. These are the words of Isaiah, not of Jehovah. The prophet, having delivered God's message in vers. 2 and 3, proceeds to impress and enforce it on the people by remarks of his own. He begins with a lamentation over their wickedness and impenitence; "Ah sinful nation!" or "Alas for the sinful nation! "the nation called to be holy (Exodus 19:6; Leviticus 20:26, etc.), but sunk in sin and wickedness. How sad their condition! How almost hopeless! Laden with iniquity; literally, heavy with guilt. But our version well expresses the sense. As the psalmist says, "My sins have gone up over my head, and are like a sore burden, toe heavy for me to bear" (Psalm 38:4; cf. Matthew 11:28). A seed of evil-doers. Not descendants of evil-doors, but "an evil-doing seed, "or "race" (σπέρμα πονηρόν, LXX.; comp. Isaiah 14:20; Isaiah 61:9; Isaiah 65:23). Children that are corrupters; literally, sons that do corruptly. It is not their corrupting of others, though that might follow, but the corruption that was in themselves, which is spoken cf. The corruption was both moral and doctrinal (see ver. 21). In corroboration of the fact, see 2 Chronicles 27:2. They have forsaken the Lord. Not by renouncing his worship, which they still continued (see vers. 11-15), but by reducing it to a formality. The people "honored him with their lips, while their hearts were far from him" (Isaiah 29:13). They have provoked to anger; rather, despised (Revised Version), or scorched (Kay, Cheyne), or rejected with disdain (Lowth), in allusion to their disobeying his commandments (see vers. 21-23). The Holy One of Israel. This title of God is a favorite one with Isaiah (see Isaiah 5:19, 24; Isaiah 10:17, 20; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 29:19, 23; Isaiah 30:11, 12, 15; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 37:23; Isaiah 41:14, 16, 20; Isaiah 43:3, 14; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:9, 14), and is very rarely used by the other sacred writers. We find it thrice in the Psalms (Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18); once in Kings (2 Kings 19:22), but then in the mouth of Isaiah; twice in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:29; 51:5); and once in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:7). According to Isaiah's conception of God, holiness is the most essential element of his nature (see Isaiah 6:3, 5, 7). They are gone away backward; literally, they are estranged backwards; or, as Bishop Lowth paraphrases, "they are estranged from him; they have turned their back upon him." Instead of looking to God, and following after him, they "followed a multitude to do evil (Exodus 23:2)."
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
Verse 5. - Why should ye, etc.? Translate, Why will ye be still smitten, revolting more and more? or, Why will ye persist in re-hellion, and so be smitten yet more? The Authorized Version does not express the sense, which is that suffering must follow sin - that if they still revolt, they must still be smitten for it - why, then, will they do so? Compare Ezekiel's "Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31). The whole head... the whole heart. Mr. Cheyne translates, "Every head... every heart;" but Lowth, Gesenius, and Ewald agree with the Authorized Version. The prophet personifies Israel, and means to say that the whole head of the nation is diseased, its whole heart faint, or "prostrate with languor" (Kay). The head and heart represent respectively the intellectual and moral natures.
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
Verse 6. - From the sole of the foot even unto the head (comp. Job 2:7). From top to bottom, the body corporate is diseased throughout - there is no soundness in it (cf. Psalm 38:3, 7) - all is one wound, one livid bruise, one festering sore. Note the use of the singular number in the original. They have not been closed; literally, they have not been pressed; which is explained to mean (Aben Ezra, Kay) that they have not had the matter formed by suppuration pressed out of them. Neither bound up; i.e. not bandaged, Neither mollified with ointment; rather, with oil. On the treatment of wounds and ulcers with oil m ancient times, see 'Hippocrat., De Ulceri. bus,' § 4; Galen., 'De Compos. Medic.,' § 2; and comp. Luke 10:34. Recent medical science has revived the practice, and wounds of all kinds are now frequently treated with nothing but carbolic oil. The general sentiment of the entire passage is that there has been no medical treatment of the wounds of any kind; they have been left to themselves, to spread corruption over the whole body - no attempt has been made to cure them.
Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Verse 7. - Your country is desolate. Metaphor is now dropped, and the prophet describes in strong but simple language the judgments of God, which have already followed the sins of the nation. First of all, their land is "a desolation." It has been recently ravaged by an enemy; the towns have been burnt, the crops devoured. There is nothing to determine who the enemy had been. Knobel supposes the Edomites and Philistines, who invaded Judaea in the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:17, 18), to be intended; Rosenmüller suggests the Israelites under Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:21-24); while Mr. Cheyne supposes the devastation to have been wrought by the Assyrians under Sargon. If we could be assured that the prophecies of Isaiah are arranged in chronological order, we should either have to accept Rosenmüller's view, or to suppose some invasion of Judaea to have taken place in the later years of Uzziah of which no mention is made by the authors of Kings and Chronicles; but it is impossible to be certain on what principle Isaiah's prophecies are arranged. The mention of "strangers" is in favor of the enemy having been actual foreigners, and therefore not the Israelites. Your cities are burned with fire. The common fate of cities taken in war. In the Assyrian sculptures we often see the torch applied to them. Your land. Mr. Cheyne translates, "your tillage." Adamah means "soil" or "ground" generally; but here no doubt denotes the ground which bore crops. Strangers devour it; i.e. "foreigners" others than the sons of the soil - not necessarily persons of a different race, but still probably such persons. In your presence; before your eyes, as you look on - an aggravation of the affliction. It is desolate, as overthrown by strangers; literally, it is a desolation, like an overthrow by strangers. The near approach to repetition displeases moderns, who conjecture

(1) that zarim, strangers, has another meaning, and should be here translated by "inundation" or "deluge" (Aben Ezra, Michaelis, Lowth); or

(2) that it is a wrong reading, and should Be altered into sodim, a word not very different (Ewald, Cheyne). But "the return to words whose sounds are yet lingering in the ear" is characteristic of ancient writing, and a favorite practice of Isaiah's (Kay). The translation of the Authorized Version may therefore stand.
And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
Verse 8. - The daughter of Zion. Not "the faithful Church" (Kay), but the city of Jerusalem, which is thus personified. Comp. Isaiah 47:1, 5, where Babylon is called the "daughter of the Chaldeans;" and Lamentations 1:6; Lamentations 2:1, 4, 8, 10, where the phrase here used is repeated in the same sense. More commonly it designates the people without the city (Lamentations 2:13; Lamentations 4:22; Micah 3:8, 10, 13; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 2:10; Zechariah 9:9, etc.). As a cottage; rather, as a booth (Revised Version; see Leviticus 23:42). Vineyards required to be watched for a few weeks only as the fruit began to ripen; and the watchers, or keepers, built themselves, therefore, mere "booths" for their protection (Job 27:18). These were frail, solitary dwellings - very forlorn, very helpless. Such was now Jerusalem. As a lodge in a garden of cucumbers. Cucumber-gardens required watching throughout the season, i.e. from spring to autumn, and their watcher needed a more solid edifice than a booth. Hence such gardens had "lodges" in them, i.e. permanent huts or sheds, such as those still seen in Palestine (Tristram's 'Natural History of Palestine,' p. 442). As a besieged city. Though not yet besieged, Jerusalem is as if besieged - isolated, surrounded by waste tracts, threatened.
Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
Verse 9. - Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom. Lowth and Cheyne prefer to divide the two clauses differently, and to translate, "Except the Lord of hosts had left us a remnant, within a little we should have been like Sodom." The "remnant" is that of the few godly men who still inhabit Jerusalem. The comparison of Jerusalem with Sodom is made again in Isaiah 3:9, and is carried out at some length by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:44-57). It implies a condition of extreme depravity.
Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Verses 10-15. - THE PEOPLE'S PLEA NO EXCUSE, BUT AN AGGRAVATION OF THEIR GUILT. The prophet supposes the people, by the mouth of their rulers, to meet the charge of rebellion with an appeal to the fact that they maintain all the outward ordinances of religion, as required by the Lawn and are therefore blameless. This draws from him a burst of indignant eloquence, which the Holy Spirit directs him to put, mainly, into the mouth of God (vers. 11-15), denouncing such a pretence of religion as an aggravation of their sin, and characterizing their whole worship as an "abomination." Verse 10. - Hear the word of the Lord; i.e. "Do not speak to no purpose, but hear." The rulers are supposed to have begun their plea, but the prophet stops them. Ye rulers of Sodom. Having said in the preceding verse how nearly Jerusalem had suffered the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, the writer grows more bold, and proceeds to give Jerusalem the obnoxious names. Her "rulers, "literally, judges (katsin in Hebrew corresponding to kadi in Arabic), are "rulers of Sodom;" her people are the "people of Gomorrah." There is as much wickedness, though it may be not the same wickedness, in "the daughter of Zion" at the existing time, as in the cities of the plain when God destroyed them. The law of our God. Not the Levitical Law, though the word used has generally that sense, but the "instruction" or "direction" that was about to be uttered (comp. Psalm 78:1; and see below, Isaiah 2:3 and Isaiah 51:4). See Mr. Cheyne's note on the passage.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
Verse 11. - To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? Cui bono? What good end do they serve? "Thinkest thou that I will eat the flesh of bulls, and drink the blood of goats? "(Psalm 1:13). God "delights not in burnt offerings." From the time of Samuel he had declared, "Behold, to obey is better then sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22). David had said of him, "Sacrifice and meat offering thou wouldest not; burnt offerings and sacrifice for sin hast thou not required" (Psalm 40:8, 9); and again, "I will not reprove thee because of thy sacrifices, or for thy burnt offerings, because they were not always before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goat out of thy folds; for all the beasts of the forest are mine, and so are the cattle upon a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:8-10). Not, of course, that either David or Isaiah desired to abolish sacrifice, or had any commission so to do; but they were, both of them, anxious to impress on men that sacrifice, by itself, was nothing - that self-dedication, self-renunciation, true devotion of the heart, with its necessary concomitant obedience, must accompany sacrifice, for God to be pleased therewith. The sacrifices of a people such as is described in vers. 21-23 could not but be an offence to him. Saith the Lord. The phrase employed is unusual, and almost confined to Isaiah, occurring elsewhere only in Psalm 12:5. Isaiah uses it again in ver. 18, and also in Isaiah 33:10; Isaiah 41:21; and Isaiah 66:9. It is explained to be emphatic, implying that this is what God says, and will say, concerning the matter in hand, once and forever (Kay). I am full of the burnt offerings of rams; rather, I am overfull, satiated, wearied with them. Barns formed a part of the required sacrifice on all great occasions, as at the Passover (Numbers 28:19), at the Feast of Weeks (Numbers 28:27), at the Feast of Tabernacles (Numbers 29:13, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, 36), at the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:2), and on the great Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:8). They were commanded as the sole sacrifice for a trespass offering (Leviticus 5:16, 18). Under David were offered on one occasion "a thousand rams" (1 Chronicles 29:21); and the occasions where seven rams formed the legitimate sacrifice were many. Unaccompanied by a proper frame of mind, each such offering was an offence to God, displeased him, wearied him. The fat of fed beasts. The fat was always regarded, both by the Hebrews and the Greeks, as especially suitable for sacrifice. It was burnt upon the altar in every case, even where the greater part of the victim was consumed as food (see Leviticus 1:8, 12; Leviticus 3:3, 10, etc.; note particularly the expression in Leviticus 3:16, "All the fat is the Lord's"). "Fed beasts" are those which were kept separate in stalls or sheds for some time before the sacrifice, and given food in which there was nothing" unclean." The Paschal lambs were required to be thus separated and fed for four days (Exodus 12:3, 6). I delight not in the blood. The blood, "which is the life" (Leviticus 17:14), was to be sprinkled on the altar in every sacrifice of a victim. This sprinkling was of the very essence of the sacrifice (Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 3:2, 8, 13; Leviticus 4:6, 17, 25, 30, etc.). Bullocks... lambs... he-goats. These, together with rams, constituted all the sacrificial beasts of the Hebrews.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Verse 12. - When ye come to appear before me. Mr. Cheyne translates, "to see my face;" but most other commentators (Gesenius, Delitzsch, Ewald, Kay) regard the phrase used as equivalent to that employed in Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16; and the passage as referring to that attendance in the temple at the three great annual festivals, which was required of all adult male Israelites. The requirement of the Law was still observed in the letter, but not in the spirit. They came with no true religious object. Hence the question which follows: Who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? This was not what God had enjoined - a mere bodily attendance, a trampling of his courts with their feet, when their hearts were far from him.
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Verse 13. - Bring no more vain oblations. The command is net "Bring no more oblations, "as though the daily oblation was to cease; but "bring no more oblations that are vain ones, "i.e. empty and unreal - mere forms, without the proper corresponding spirit. The "oblation" spoken of is the minchah, or "meat offering," cf. Leviticus 2:1-11; Numbers 28:12-31, which was a cake of fine flour mingled with oil, and generally had incense joined with it, which explains the nexus of this clause with the following one. Incense is an abomination unto me. God had commanded the use of incense in worship, as he had commanded burnt offerings and oblations (Exodus 30:1-8, 34-38; Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 16:12, 13). But incense symbolized prayer (Psalm 141:2); and if no heartfelt prayer accompanied its use, it was emptied of all its significance, and became hateful to God - a mere form, and consequently an "abomination." The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with. The weekly festival of the sabbath, the monthly one of the "new moon, "and the annual "assemblies" or "solemn feasts" (2 Chronicles 8:13), were the main occasions of Jewish worship. As at this time conducted, God could endure none of them; all were tainted with the prevalent unreality. The construction of the passage is highly rhetorical, and indicates great excitement of feeling. Kay translates it literally, "New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies, I cannot - it is ungodliness - even the solemn meeting." The authors of the Revised Version also suppose an aposiopesis. The solemn meeting. The word thus translated is applied only to particular days in the great festival seasons, as to the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36; Numbers 29:35; Nehemiah 8:18), and the seventh day of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:8), or else to days specially appointed for religious services by civil authority (2 Kings 10:20; 2 Chronicles 7:9; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:15). The meaning thus is, that even the very highest 'occasions of religious worship were abused by the Israelites of the time, and made an offence to God.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
Verse 14. - Your new moons. (For the ceremonies to be observed at the opening of each month, see Numbers 28:11-15.) Your appointed feasts. The "appointed feasts" are the great festival-times - the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. They do not include the sabbath or the "new moon, "with which they are, both here and elsewhere (1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 31:3), contrasted. They are a trouble unto me; literally, an encumbrance (see Deuteronomy 1:12).
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Verse 15. - I will hide mine eyes, etc. A time comes when the wicked are alarmed, and seek to turn to God; but it is too late. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me" (Proverbs 1:28). When ye make many prayers; literally, multiply prayer. Full of blood (comp. ver. 21). Actual bloodshed may be pointed at, as the murder of Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:21), and the fate which befell Isaiah himself, according to the tradition, would seem to show. But cruelty and oppression, producing poverty and wretchedness, and tending to shorten life, are no doubt also included (comp. Micah 3:10, 11). These were the special sins of the time (see vers. 17, 23).
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Verses 16-20. - THE REQUIREMENT OF GOD - AMENDMENT OF LIFE. God, having put aside the worthless plea of outward religiousness made by his people, goes on to declare, by the mouth of his prophet, what he requires. First, in general terms (ver. 16), and then with distinct specification (ver. 17), he calls on them to amend their ways, both negatively ("cease to do evil") and positively ("learn to do well"). If they will really amend, then he assures them of forgiveness and favor; if they refuse and continue their rebellion, the sword will devour them. Verse 16. - Wash you, make you clean. The analogy of sin to defilement, and of washing to cleansing from sin, has been felt among men universally wherever there has been any sense of sin. Outward purification by water has been constantly made use of as typical of the recovery of inward purity. Hence the numerous washings of the Levitical Law (Exodus 29:4; Leviticus 1:9, 13; Numbers 19:7, 8, 19; Deuteronomy 21:6; Deuteronomy 23:11; etc.); hence the ablutions of the priests in Egypt (Herod., 2:37); hence the appropriateness of the rite of baptism; hence the symbolical washing of hands to free from complicity in blood-guiltiness (Matthew 27:24). "Wash you, make you clean, "could not be misunderstood by the Israelites; they would know that it was a requirement to "wash their hands in innocency" (Psalm 26:6; Psalm 73:13), even apart from what follows. Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Not "hide it, "for that was impossible; but remove it altogether - in other words, "cease from it." "Cast off all the works of darkness;" get rid of evil, to begin with. So much is negative.
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Verse 17. - Learn to do well. Now comes the positive; first, in the general form" learn," etc.; which resembles the apostle's "Put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:12). Then follow the particulars. Seek judgment; or, seek out justice; i.e. endeavor to get justice done to all men; see that they "have right." Relieve the oppressed. So the LXX., the Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Chaldean Versions. But the word translated "oppressed" is thought by many to mean "oppressor" (Kimchi, Gesenius, Cheyne). This is certainly its meaning in Psalm 71:4. Translate, tighten the oppressor; i.e. correct and chasten him. Judge the fatherless; rather, do justice to the orphan (Cheyne); see that he is not wronged - be his champion. Plead for the widow; i.e. plead her cause in the courts; or, if judge, and she have no advocate, lean towards her, as if her advocate. The widow and the orphan were taken under God's special protection from the time of Moses, and constantly commended to the tender care of the righteous (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19, etc.).
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Verse 18. - Come now, and let us reason together. God has from time to time permitted man to reason with him (Genesis 18:23-32; Exodus 4:1-17; Job 23:3-7; Micah 6:2); but it is difficult to see that there is any "reasoning" or "controversy" here. Mr. Cheyne translates, "Let us bring our dispute to an end." Though your sins be as scarlet... like crimson; i.e. "open, evident, glaring." Or there may be an allusion to their blood-guiltiness (see vers. 15, 19). They shall be as white as snow. Comp. Psalm 51:7, which is completely parallel, whether it was written before or after. There can be no better image of, purity than snow (comp. Job 9:30; Lamentations 4:7). As wool. A weaker illustration than the preceding one, but needed for the parallelism. (The resemblance of falling snow to wool is noted in Psalm 147:16.)
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
Verse 19. - If ye be willing and obedient. Rosenmüller explains this as equivalent to "if ye be willing to obey" (cf. Ezekiel 3:7); but perhaps it is better to give each verb its separate force: "If you consent in your wills, and are also obedient in your actions" (so Kay). Ye shall eat the good of the land; i.e. there shall be no invasion; strangers shall not devour your crops (see ver. 7); you shall consume them yourselves. "The good of the land" is a common expression for its produce (Genesis 45:18, 20; Ezra 9:12; Nehemiah 9:36; Jeremiah 2:7).
But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Verse 20. - If ye refuse and rebel; i.e. "if ye neither consent in will, nor obey in act, "antithetical to the two verbs in the first clause of ver. 19. Ye shall be devoured; or, ye shall be eaten. The same verb as in the latter clause of ver. 19. With the sword. The metaphor is not a common one, but occurs in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:30; Jeremiah 12:12; Jeremiah 46:10, 14) and Nahum (Nahum 2:13). The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. A weighty ending, indicating the certainty of fulfillment, Jehovah, who cannot lie, has spoken; the result will assuredly follow.
How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
Verses 21-23. - ISAIAH'S LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM. The exhortation to amendment has been made - the results have been set forth; the temporal reward has been promised; the temporal vengeance, unless they amend, threatened. Time must be allowed the people for the prophet's words to reach them, and do their work upon them, i.e. either soften or harden them. Meanwhile, Isaiah reflects on the condition of Jerusalem, and the unlikelihood of its rulers turning to God in consequence of his preaching. Verse 21. - How is the faithful city become an harlot! Not here an idolatress, but one that has left her first love, and turned to other attractions. Faithful once to her lord her spouse (Cant., passim), she has now cast him off - she is an adulterous wife, she no longer obeys or loves her husband. It was full of judgment; righteousness, etc. "She that was full" (Revised Version). Under Solomon (1 Kings 3:9-28) and again under Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:5-11). It is not clear when the systematic perversion of justice by the rulers began. Perhaps it originated in the latter part of Uzziah's reign, when the royal authority was weakened by being divided between Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chronicles 26:21). But now murderers (see the last note on ver. 15).
Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
Verse 22. - Thy silver is become dross. Primarily, "thy great men have deteriorated." From pure silver, they have become mere dross, the vile refuse of the smelted ore, only fit to be cast away as worthless. But per-Imps there is some further reference to all that was once precious in Jerusalem; there had been a general deterioration - all the silver was now a debased metal of no value. Thy wine mixed with water. A parallelism; but (as so often happens) a weakened iteration of the preceding sentiment.
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
Verse 23. - Thy princes are rebellious; i.e. "rebels against their true King, Jehovah." Companions of thieves. Leagued with those who are engaged in filching away the inheritance of the widow and the orphan by chicane in the law courts (see above, vers. 15-17; and compare the Homiletics on vers. 16-20). Gifts... rewards; i.e. "bribes, "given and taken on the condition of their perverting justice (comp. Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 22:12; Micah 3:11; Micah 7:3). They judge not the fatherless, etc. They dismiss the orphan's complaint without hearing it, and are so noted for perversion of justice that the widow does not even bring her cause before them.
Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
Verses 24-31. - THE DECLARATION OF GOD'S JUDGMENT. It is foreknown to God that Israel will not repent. He therefore fulminates his judgment; which, however, is still conditional, so far as individuals are con-corned. His vengeance will fall upon the land; but the result will be twofold. Destruction will come upon the unrighteous and the sinners (ver. 28) - they will be "consumed" (ver. 28), and "confounded" (ver. 29); but there will be some on whom the punishment will have a purifying power, whose dross it will purge away, and whom it will convert to God (vers. 25, 27). From these will rise up a new Jerusalem - a "city of righteousness," a "faithful stronghold" (ver. 26). Verse 24. - The Lord, the Lord of hosts. In the original, Ha-Adon, Jehovah Sabaoth - i.e. "The Lord" (or "Master" of men and angels), "the Self-Existing One of the hosts of heaven" - i.e., their God, the only proper object of their worship. It gives peculiar weight and significance to this prophecy, that it is introduced by a triple designation of the Divine Being. The Mighty One of Israel. A very unusual designation, only found here and, with the modification of "Jacob" for "Israel, "in the following places: Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Genesis 49:24; Psalm 132:2, 5. God's might would be shown alike in his vengeance on his enemies, and in his purification of a remnant to serve him. I will ease me of mine adversaries; literally, I will comfort me; i.e. I will rid myself of them, and so obtain the only comfort that they will allow me to receive from them (comp. Ezekiel 5:13, "I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted").
And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
Verse 25. - I will turn my hand upon thee; rather, I will bring back my hand upon thee; i.e. I will once more put forth the "strong hand and mighty arm, with which I brought thee out of Egypt" (Psalm 136:12), and will work another deliverance - the deliverance of Israel out of captivity. Purely purge away thy dross; literally, will purge away thy dross like borax, which was used as a flux in purifying the metal. The prophet continues the metaphor of ver. 22. And take away all thy tin; rather, thy had - the alloy with which the "silver" had become mixed.
And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellers as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
Verse 26. - I will restore thy judges as at the first (see Exodus 19:25, 26). In the early times there was no bribery, no perversion of justice (Jeremiah 2:2, 3). God will bring back a time when the nation will renew its first love, and be as it was in the days of Moses and Joshua. Thy counselors (comp. 2 Samuel 15:12; 1 Chronicles 26:14; 1 Chronicles 27:32, 33, etc.). The city of righteousness; or, of justice. The prophecy may have been fulfilled in part by the earthly Jerusalem under Zerubhabel, Ezra, and the Maccabees. but is mainly fulfilled in the heavenly Jerusalem - the Church of God, the true Israel. The faithful city (comp. ver. 21). Certainly the post-Captivity Church was "faithful" to Jehovah, in the way of acknowledging him, and him only, to be God, to a very remarkable degree, and in strong contrast to its inclination during pro-Captivity times.
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
Verse 27. - Redeemed with judgment; rather, delivered through judgment; i.e. God's judgment shall have the effect of "delivering" a remnant, who shall build up Zion once more, and dwell in it. Her converts; i.e. those of her children who turn to God, shall be delivered through God's righteousness, i.e. through the righteous vengeance which he executes upon the unfaithful nation. Some, however, understand both clauses to mean that the penitent remnant shall "deliver their own souls by their righteousness" (comp. Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Ezekiel 18:27, etc.).
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
Verse 28. - Transgressors... sinners... they that forsake the Lord (comp. vers. 2 and 4). These are scarcely distinct classes - rather different names for the ungodly. All of them, by whatever name they were called, would perish "together."
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
Verse 29. - The oaks which ye have desired are, primarily, the "green trees" under which images were set up (2 Kings 17:10), but perhaps represent also any worldly attractions which draw the soul away from God - as wealth, or power, or honors. In the day of suffering, sinners are ashamed of having been led away by such poor temptations as those to which they have yielded (comp. Romans 6:21, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?"). The gardens. Kay suggests "idolatrous pleasure-gardens as those at Daphne, near Antioch, "which is a reasonable exegesis. Such were probably to be found wherever Astarte, or the "Dea Syra," was worshipped.
For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
Verse 30. - Ye shall be as an oak, etc. Contrast the case of the godly, whose "leaf shall not wither" (Psalm 1:3).
And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
Verse 31. - The strong (literally, the strong one) shall be as tow; i.e. weak and powerless (comp. Judges 16:9), utterly unable to resist the Divine fiat when it goes forth. The maker of it. An extraordinary mistranslation, since po'al never means anything but "work." His own acts would light the fire by which the "strong one" would be consumed and perish.

"Nec lex justior ulla est,
Quam necis artifices arts perire sua."

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