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

Isaiah Chapter 48

Isaiah 48:1

isa 48:1

This third portion of the trilogy (Isa 46:1-13, Isa 47:1-15, 48) stands in the same relation to Isa 47:1-15, as Isa 46:3. to Isa 46:1-2. The prophecy is addressed to the great body of the captives. "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and have flowed out of the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of Jehovah, and extol the God of Israel, not in truth and not in righteousness! For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel, Jehovah of hosts His name." The summons to hear is based upon the Israelitish nationality of those who are summoned, to which they still cling, and upon the relation in which they place themselves to the God of Israel. This gives to Jehovah the right to turn to them, and imposes upon them the duty to hearken to Him. The blame, inserted by the way, points at the same time to the reason for the address which follows, and to the form which it necessarily assumes. "The house of Jacob" is not all Israel, as the following words clearly show, but, as in Isa 46:3, the house of Judah, which shared in the honourable name of Israel, but have flowed out of the waters, i.e., the source of Judah. The summons, therefore, is addressed to the Judaean exiles in Babylon, and that inasmuch as they swear by the name of Jehovah, and remember the God of Israel with praise (hizkı̄r b' as in Psa 20:8), though not in truth and not in righteousness (Kg1 3:6; Zac 8:8), i.e., without their state of mind (cf., Isa 38:3; Jer 32:41) or mode of action corresponding to their confession, so as to prove that it was sincerely and seriously meant. The praise bestowed upon the persons summoned, which is somewhat spoiled by this, is explained in Isa 48:2; they call themselves after the holy city (this title is applied to Jerusalem both here and in Isa 52:1, as well as in the books of Daniel and Nehemiah). We may easily supply here, that the holiness of the city laid an obligation upon its citizens to be holy in their character and conduct. They also relied upon the God of Israel, whose name is Jehovah Zebaoth; and therefore He would require of them the fullest confidence and deepest reverence.

Isaiah 48:3

isa 48:3

After this summons, and description of those who are summoned, the address of Jehovah begins. "The first I have long ago proclaimed, and it has gone forth out of my mouth, and I caused it to be heard. I carried it out suddenly, and it came to pass. Because I knew that thou art hard, and thy neck an iron clasp, and thy brow of brass; I proclaimed it to thee long ago; before it came to pass, I caused thee to hear it, that thou mightest not say, My idol has done it, and my graven image and molten image commanded it." The word הראשׁנות in itself signifies simply priora; and then, according to the context, it signifies prius facta (Isa 46:9), or prius praedicta (Isa 43:9), or prius eventura (Isa 41:22; Isa 42:9). In the present passage it refers to earlier occurrences, which Jehovah had foretold, and, when the time fixed for their accomplishment arrived, which He had immediately brought to pass. With a retrospective glance at this, we find plural masc. suffixes (cf., Isa 41:27) used interchangeably with plural fem. (cf., Isa 48:7 and Isa 38:16); the prophet more frequently uses the sing. fem. in this neuter sense (Isa 41:20; Isa 42:23, etc.), and also, though very rarely, the sing. masc. (Isa 45:8). On gı̄d, a band, a sinew, but here a clasp (cf., Arab. kaid, a fetter), see Psychology, p. 233. Nechūshâh is a poetical equivalent for nechōsheth, as in Isa 45:2. The heathen cravings of Israel, which reached into the captivity, are here presupposed. Hengstenberg is mistaken in his supposition, that the prophet's standpoint is always anterior to the captivity when he speaks in condemnation of idolatry. We cannot draw any conclusion from the character of the community that returned, with regard to that of the people of the captivity generally. The great mass even of Judah, and still more of Israel, remained behind, and became absorbed into the heathen, to whom they became more and more assimilated. And does not Ezekiel expressly state in Eze 20:30., that the golah by the Chaboras defiled themselves with the same abominations of idolatry as their fathers, and that the prevailing disposition was to combine the worship of Jehovah with heathenism, or else to exchange the former altogether for the latter? And we know that it was just the same with the exiles in Egypt, among whom the life and labours of Jeremiah terminated. Wherever the prophet speaks of פשׁעים and רשׁעים, these names invariably include a tendency or falling away to Babylonian idolatry, to which he describes the exiles as having been addicted, both in Isa 66:17 and elsewhere.

Isaiah 48:6

isa 48:6

But in order to determine exactly what "the former things" were, which Jehovah had foretold in order that Israel might not ascribe them to this idol or the other, we must add Isa 48:6-8 : "Thou hast heard it, look then at it all; and ye, must ye not confess it? I give thee new things to hear from this time forth, and hidden things, and what thou didst not know. It is created now, and not long ago; and thou hast not heard it before, that thou mightest not say, Behold, I knew it. Thou hast neither heard it, nor known it, nor did thine ear open itself to it long ago: for I knew thou art altogether faithless, and thou art called rebellious from the womb." The meaning of the question in Isa 48:6 is very obvious: they must acknowledge and attest, even thou against their will (Isa 43:10; Isa 44:8), that Jehovah has foretold all that is now confirmed by the evident fulfilment. Consequently the "former things" are the events experienced by the people from the very earliest times (Isa 46:9) down to the present times of Cyrus, and more especially the first half or epoch of this period itself, which expired at the time that formed the prophet's standpoint. And as the object of the prediction was to guard Israel against ascribing to its idols that which had taken place (which can only be understood of events that had occurred in favour of Israel), the "former things" must include the preparation for the redemption of Israel from the Babylonian captivity through the revolution brought to pass by Cyrus. Hence the "new things" will embrace the redemption of Israel with its attendant circumstances, and that not merely on its outward side, but on its spiritual side as well; also the glorification of the redeemed people in the midst of a world of nations converted to the God of Israel, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth; in short, the New Testament aeon (compare עם לברית, lxx εἰς διαθήκην γένους, Isa 42:6), with the facts which contribute to its ultimate completion (f. Isa 42:9). The announcement and realization of these absolutely new and hitherto secret things (cf., Rom 16:25) take place from this time forward; Israel has not heard of them "before today" (compare מיּום, "from this day forward," Isa 43:13), that it may not lay claim to the knowledge conveyed to it by prophecy, as something drawn from itself. This thought is carried to a climax in Isa 48:8 in three correlated sentences commencing with "yea" (gam). פּתח signifies patescere here, as in Isa 60:11 (Ewald, 120, a). Jehovah had said nothing to them of this before, because it was to be feared that, with their faithlessness and tendency to idolatry, which had run through their entire history, they would only abuse it. This is strange! On the one hand, the rise of Cyrus is spoken of here as predicted from of old, because it belonged to the "former things," and as knowable through prophecy - a statement which favours the opinion that these addresses were written before the captivity; and, on the other hand, a distinction is drawn between these "former things" and certain "new things" that were intentionally not predicted before the expiration of these "former things," which certainly seems to preclude the possibility of their having been composed before the captivity; since, as Ruetschi observes, if "the older Isaiah had predicted this, he would have acted in direct opposition to Jehovah's design." But in actual fact, the dilemma in which the opponents of the authenticity of these prophecies find themselves, is comparatively worse than this. For the principal objection - namely, that a prophet before the captivity could not possibly have known or predicted anything concerning Cyrus - cannot be satisfactorily removed by attributing these prophecies to a prophet of the time of the captivity, since they expressly and repeatedly affirm that the rise of Cyrus was an event foreknown and predicted by the God of prophecy. Now, if it is Isaiah who thus takes his stand directly in the midst of the captivity, we can understand both of these: viz., the retrospective glance at previous prophecies, which issued in the rise of Cyrus that prepared the way for the redemption from Babylon, since, so far as the prophet was concerned, such prophecies as Isaiah 13-14:23; Isa 21:1-10, and also Isa 11:10-12 (Mic 4:10), are fused into one with his present predictions; and also the prospective glance at prophecies which are now first to be uttered, and events which are now fore the first time about to be accomplished; inasmuch as the revelations contained in these prophecies concerning Israel's pathway through suffering to glory, more especially so far as they grew out of the idea of the "servant of Jehovah," might really be set down as absolutely new to the prophet himself, and never heard of before. Meanwhile our exposition is not affected by the critical question; for even we most firmly maintain, that the prophet who is speaking here has his standpoint in the midst of the captivity, on the boundary line of the condition of suffering and punishment and its approaching termination.

Isaiah 48:9

isa 48:9

The people now expiating its offences in exile has been from time immemorial faithless and inclined to apostasy; nevertheless Jehovah will save it, and its salvation is therefore an unmerited work of His compassion. "For my name's sake I lengthen out my wrath, and for my praise I hold back towards thee, that I may not cut thee off. Behold, I have refined thee, and not in the manner of silver: I have proved thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, for mine own sake I accomplish it (for how is it profaned!), and my glory I give not to another." The futures in Isa 48:9 affirm what Jehovah continually does. He lengthens out His wrath, i.e., He retards its outbreak, and thus shows Himself long-suffering. He tames or chains it (חטם, like Arab. chṭm, root טם, compare domare, root Sanscr. dam, possibly also to dam or damp) for the sake of Israel, that He may not exterminate it utterly by letting it loose, and that for the sake of His name and His praise, which require the carrying out of His plan to salvation, on which the existence of Israel depends. What Israel has hitherto experienced has been a melting, the object of which was not destruction, but testing and refinement. The Beth of בכסף ולא is not Beth pretii in the sense of "not to gain silver," or "not so that I should have gained silver as operae pretium," as Umbreit and Ewald maintain (and even Knobel, who explains it however as meaning "in the accompaniment of silver," though in the same sense). Such a thought would be out of place and purposeless here. Nor is Rosenmller's explanation admissible, viz., "not with silver, i.e., with that force of fire which is necessary for the smelting out of silver." This is altogether unsuitable, because the sufferings inflicted upon Israel did resemble the smelting out of the precious metal (see Isa 1:25). The Beth is rather the Beth essentiae, which may be rendered by tanquam, and introduces the accusative predicate in this instance, just as it introduces the nominative predicate in the substantive clause of Job 23:13, and the verbal clause of Psa 39:7. Jehovah melted Israel, but not like silver (not as men melt silver); the meaning of which is, not that He melted it more severely, i.e., even more thoroughly, than silver, as Stier explains it, but, as the thought is positively expressed in Isa 48:10, that the afflictions which fell upon Israel served as a smelting furnace (kūr as in Deu 4:20). It was, however, a smelting of a superior kind, a spiritual refining and testing (bâchar is Aramaic in form, and equivalent to bâchan). The manifestation of wrath, therefore, as these expressions affirm, had a salutary object; and in this very object the intention was involved from the very first, that it should only last for a time. He therefore puts an end to it now for His own sake, i.e., not because He is induced to do so by the merits of Israel, but purely as an act of grace, to satisfy a demand made upon Him by His own holiness, inasmuch as, if it continued any longer, it would encourage the heathen to blaspheme His name, and would make it appear as though He cared nothing for His own honour, which was inseparably bound up with the existence of Israel. The expression here is curt and harsh throughout. In Isa 48:9, למען and אפּי are to be supplied in thought from Isa 48:9; and in the parenthetical exclamation, יחל איך (niphal of חלל, as in Eze 22:26), the distant word שׁים (my name), also from Isa 48:9. "I will do it" refers to the carrying out of their redemption (cf., Isa 44:23). In Eze 36:19-23 we have, as it were, a commentary upon Isa 48:11.

Isaiah 48:12

isa 48:12

The prophecy opened with "Hear ye;" and now the second half commences with "Hear." Three times is the appeal made to Israel: Hear ye; Jehovah alone is God, Creator, shaper of history, God of prophecy and of fulfilment. "Hearken to me, O Jacob, and Israel my called! I am it, I first, also I last. My hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: I call to them, and they stand there together. All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear: Who among them hath proclaimed this? He whom Jehovah loveth will accomplish his will upon Babel, and his arm upon the Chaldeans. I, I have spoken, have also called him, have brought him here, and his way prospers. Come ye near to me! Hear ye this! I have not spoken in secret, from the beginning: from the time that it takes place, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me and His Spirit." Israel is to hearken to the call of Jehovah. The obligation to this exists, on the one hand, in the fact that it is the nation called to be the servant of Jehovah (Isa 41:9), the people of sacred history; and on the other hand, in the fact that Jehovah is הוּא (ever since Deu 32:39, the fundamental clause of the Old Testament credo), i.e., the absolute and eternally unchangeable One, the Alpha and Omega of all history, more especially of that of Israel, the Creator of the earth and heavens (tippach, like nâtâh elsewhere, equivalent to the Syriac tephach, to spread out), at whose almighty call they stand ready to obey, with all the beings they contain. אני קרא is virtually a conditional sentence (Ewald, 357, b). So far everything has explained the reason for the exhortation to listen to Jehovah. A further reason is now given, by His summoning the members of His nation to assemble together, to hear His own self-attestation, and to confirm it: Who among them (the gods of the heathen) has proclaimed this, or anything of the kind? That which no one but Jehovah has ever predicted follows immediately, in the form of an independent sentence, the subject of which is אהבו יהוה (cf., Isa 41:24): He whom Jehovah loveth will accomplish his will upon Babylon, and his arm (accomplish it) upon the Chaldeans. וּזרעו is not an accusative (as Hitzig, Ewald, Stier, and others maintain); for the expression "accomplish his arm" (? Jehovah's or his own) is a phrase that is quite unintelligible, even if taken as zeugmatic; it is rather the nominative of the subject, whilst כּשׂדּים = בּכּשׂדּים, like תהלתי = תהלתי למען in Isa 48:9. Jehovah, He alone, is He who has proclaimed such things; He also has raised up in Cyrus the predicted conqueror of Babylon. The prosperity of his career is Jehovah's work.

As certainly now as הקּבצוּ in Isa 48:14 is the word of Jehovah, so certain is it that אלי קרבוּ is the same. He summons to Himself the members of His nation, that they may hear still further His own testimony concerning Himself. From the beginning He has not spoken in secret (see Isa 45:19); but from the time that all which now lies before their eyes - namely, the victorious career of Cyrus - has unfolded itself, He has been there, or has been by (shâm, there, as in Pro 8:27), to regulate what was coming to pass, and to cause it to result in the redemption of Israel. Hofmann gives a different explanation, viz.: "I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; not from the time when it came to pass (not then for the first time, but long before); I was then (when it occurred)." But the arrangement of the words is opposed to this continued force of the לא, and the accents are opposed to this breaking off of the אני שׁם, which affirms that, at the time when the revolution caused by Cyrus was preparing in the distance, He caused it to be publicly foretold, and thereby proclaimed Himself the present Author and Lord of what was then occurring. Up to this point Jehovah is speaking; but who is it that now proceeds to say, "And now - namely, now that the redemption of Israel is about to appear (ועתּה being here, as in many other instances, e.g., Isa 33:10, the turning-point of salvation) - now hath the Lord Jehovah sent me and His Spirit?" The majority of the commentators assume that the prophet comes forward here in his own person, behind Him whom he has introduced, and interrupts Him. But although it is perfectly true, that in all prophecy, from Deuteronomy onwards, words of Jehovah through the prophet and words of the prophet of Jehovah alternate in constant, and often harsh transitions, and that our prophet has this mark of divine inspiration in common with all the other prophets (cf., Isa 62:5-6), it must also be borne in mind, that hitherto he has not spoken once objectively of himself, except quite indirectly (vid., Isa 40:6; Isa 44:26), to say nothing of actually coming forward in his own person. Whether this takes place further on, more especially in Isa 61:1-11, we will leave for the present; but here, since the prophet has not spoken in his own person before, whereas, on the other hand, these words are followed in Isa 49:1. by an address concerning himself from that servant of Jehovah who announces himself as the restorer of Israel and light of the Gentiles, and who cannot therefore be ether Israel as a nation or the author of these prophecies, nothing is more natural than to suppose that the words, "And now hath the Lord," etc., form a prelude to the words of the One unequalled servant of Jehovah concerning Himself which occur in chapter 49. The surprisingly mysterious way in which the words of Jehovah suddenly pass into those of His messenger, which is only comparable to Zac 2:12., Zac 4:9 (where the speaker is also not the prophet, but a divine messenger exalted above him), can only be explained in this manner. And in no other way can we explain the ועתּה, which means that, after Jehovah has prepared the way for the redemption of Israel by the raising up of Cyrus, in accordance with prophecy, and by his success in arms, He has sent him, the speaker in this case, to carry out, in a mediatorial capacity, the redemption thus prepared, and that not by force of arms, but in the power of the Spirit of God (Isa 42:1; cf., Zac 4:6). Consequently the Spirit is not spoken of here as joining in the sending (as Umbreit and Stier suppose, after Jerome and the Targum: the Septuagint is indefinite, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ); nor do we ever find the Spirit mentioned in such co-ordination as this (see, on the other hand, Zac 7:12, per spiritum suum). The meaning is, that it is also sent, i.e., sent in and with the servant of Jehovah, who is peaking here. To convey this meaning, there was no necessity to write either ורוּחו אתי שׁלח or ואת־רוחו שׁלחוי, since the expression is just the same as that in Isa 29:7, וּמצדתהּ צביה; and the Vav may be regarded as the Vav of companionship (Mitschaft, lit., with-ship, as the Arabs call it; see at Isa 42:5).

Isaiah 48:17

isa 48:17

The exhortation is now continued. Israel is to learn the incomparable nature of Jehovah from the work of redemption thus prepared in word and deed. The whole future depends upon the attitude which it henceforth assumes to His commandments. "Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I, Jehovah thy God, am He that teacheth thee to do that which profiteth, and leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldst go. O that thou hearkenedst to my commandments! then thy peace becomes like the river, and thy righteousness like waves of the sea; and thy seed becomes like the sand, and the children of thy body like the grains thereof: its name will not be cut off nor destroyed away from my countenance." Jehovah is Israel's rightful and right teacher and leader. להועיל is used in the same sense as in Isa 30:5 and Isa 44:10, to furnish what is useful, to produce what is beneficial or profitable. The optative לוּא is followed, as in Isa 63:19, by the preterite utinam attenderis, the idea of reality being mixed up with the wish. Instead of ויהי in the apodosis, we should expect ויהי (so would), as in Deu 32:29. The former points out the consequence of the wish regarded as already realized. Shâlōm, prosperity or health, will thereby come upon Israel in such abundance, that it will, as it were, bathe therein; and tsedâqâh, rectitude acceptable to God, so abundantly, that it, the sinful one, will be covered by it over and over again. Both of these, shâlōm and tsedâqâh, are introduced here as a divine gift, not merited by Israel, but only conditional upon that faith which gives heed to the word of God, especially to the word which promises redemption, and appropriates it to itself. Another consequence of the obedience of faith is, that Israel thereby becomes a numerous and eternally enduring nation. The play upon the words in כמעותיו מעיך is very conspicuous. Many expositors (e.g., Rashi, Gesenius, Hitzig, and Knobel) regard מעות as synonymous with מעים, and therefore as signifying the viscera, i.e., the beings that fill the heart of the sea; but it is much more natural to suppose that the suffix points back to chōl. Moreover, no such metaphorical use of viscera can be pointed out; and since in other instances the feminine plural (such as kenâphōth, qerânōth) denotes that which is artificial as distinguished from what is natural, it is impossible to see why the interior of the sea, which is elsewhere called lēbh (lebhabh, the heart), and indirectly also beten, should be called מעות instead of מעים. To all appearance מעותיו signifies the grains of sand (lxx, Jerome, Targ.); and this is confirmed by the fact that מעא (Neo-Heb. מעה numulus) is the Targum word for גּרה, and the Semitic root מע, related to מג; מק, melted, dissolved, signifies to be soft or tender. The conditional character of the concluding promise has its truth in the word מלּפני. Israel remains a nation even in its apostasy, but fallen under the punishment of kareth (of cutting off), under which individuals perish when they wickedly transgress the commandment of circumcision, and others of a similar kind. It is still a people, but rooted out and swept away from the gracious countenance of God, who no more acknowledges it as His own people.

Isaiah 48:20

isa 48:20

So far the address is hortatory. In the face of the approaching redemption, it demands fidelity and faith. But in the certainty that such a faithful and believing people will not be wanting within the outer Israel, the prophecy of redemption clothes itself in the form of a summons. "Go out of Babel, flee from Chaldaea with voice of shouting: declare ye, preach ye this, carry it out to the end of the earth! Say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob His servant. And they thirsted not: He led them through dry places; He caused water to trickle out of rocks for them; He split rocks, and waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith Jehovah, for the wicked." They are to go out of Babylon, and with speed and joy to leave the land of slavery and idolatry far behind. Bârach does not mean literally to flee in this instance, but to depart with all the rapidity of flight (compare Exo 14:5). And what Jehovah has done to them, is to be published by them over the whole earth; the redemption experienced by Israel is to become a gospel to all mankind. The tidings which are to be sent forth (הוצי) as in Isa 42:1), extend from גאל to the second מים, which is repeated palindromically. Jehovah has redeemed the nation that He chose to be the bearer of His salvation, amidst displays of love, in which the miracles of the Egyptian redemption have been renewed. This is what Israel has to experience, and to preach, so far as it has remained true to its God. But there is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the reshâ‛ı̄m: this is the name given to loose men (for the primary meaning of the verbal root is laxity and looseness), i.e., to those whose inward moral nature is loosened, without firm hold, and therefore in a state of chaotic confusion, because they are without God. The reference is to the godless in Israel. The words express the same thought negatively which is expressed positively in Gal 6:16, "Peace upon the Israel of God." "Shâlōm is the significant and comprehensive name given to the coming salvation. From this the godless exclude themselves; they have no part in the future inheritance; the sabbatical rest reserved for the people of God does not belong to them. With this divine utterance, which pierces the conscience like the point of an arrow, this ninth prophecy is brought to a close; and not that only, but also the trilogy concerning "Babel" in chapters 46-49, and the whole of the first third of these 3 x 9 addresses to the exiles. From this time forth the name Kōresh (Cyrus), and also the name Babel, never occur again; the relation of the people of Jehovah to heathenism, and the redemption from Babylon, so far as it was foretold and accomplished by Jehovah, not only proving His sole deity, but leading to the overthrow of the idols and the destruction of their worshippers. This theme is now exhausted, and comes into the foreground no more. The expression איּים שׁמעוּ, in its connection with עמּי נחמוּ, points at once to the diversity in character of the second section, which commences here.

Next: Isaiah Chapter 49