Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The words are no longer addressed to Zion, but to her children. "Thus saith Jehovah, Where is your mother's bill of divorce, with which I put her away? Or where is one of my creditors, to whom I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities are ye sold, and for your transgressions is your mother put away." It was not He who had broken off the relation in which He stood to Zion; for the mother of Israel, whom Jehovah had betrothed to Himself, had no bill of divorce to show, with which Jehovah had put her away and thus renounced for ever the possibility of receiving her again (according to Deu 24:1-4), provided she should in the meantime have married another. Moreover, He had not yielded to outward constraint, and therefore given her up to a foreign power; for where was there on of His creditors (there is not any one) to whom He would have been obliged to relinquish His sons, because unable to pay His debts, and in this way to discharge them? - a harsh demand, which was frequently made by unfelling creditors of insolvent debtors (Exo 21:7; Kg2 4:1; Mat 18:25). On nōsheh, a creditor, see at Isa 24:2. Their present condition was indeed that of being sold and put away; but this was not the effect of despotic caprice, or the result of compulsion on the part of Jehovah. It was Israel itself that had broken off the relation in which it stood to Jehovah; they had been sold through their own faults, and "for your transgressions is your mother put away." Instead of וּבפשׁעיה we have וּבפשׁעיכם. This may be because the church, although on the one hand standing higher and being older than her children (i.e., her members at any particular time), is yet, on the other hand, orally affected by those to whom she has given birth, who have been trained by her, and recognised by her as her own.
The radical sin, however, which has lasted from the time of the captivity down to the present time, is disobedience to the word of God. This sin brought upon Zion and her children the judgment of banishment, and it was this which made it last so long. "Why did I come, and there was no one there? Why did I call, and there was no one who answered? Is my hand too short to redeem? or is there no strength in me to deliver? Behold, through my threatening I dry up the sea; turn streams into a plain: their fish rot, because there is no water, and die for thirst. I clothe the heavens in mourning, and make sackcloth their covering." Jehovah has come, and with what? It follows, from the fact of His bidding them consider, that His hand is not too short to set Israel loose and at liberty, that He is not so powerless as to be unable to draw it out; that He is the Almighty, who by His mere threatening word (Psa 106:9; Psa 104:7) can dry up the sea, and turn streams into a hard and barren soil, so that the fishes putrefy for want of water (Exo 7:18, etc.), and die from thirst (thâmōth a voluntative used as an indicative, as in Isa 12:1, and very frequently in poetical composition); who can clothe the heavens in mourning, and make sackcloth their (dull, dark) covering (for the expression itself, compare Isa 37:1-2); who therefore, fiat applicatio, can annihilate the girdle of waters behind which Babylon fancies herself concealed (see Isa 42:15; Isa 44:27), and cover the empire, which is now enslaving and torturing Israel, with a sunless and starless night of destruction (Isa 13:10). It follows from all this, that He has come with a gospel of deliverance from sin and punishment; but Israel has given no answer, has not received this message of salvation with faith, since faith is assent to the word of God. And in whom did Jehovah come? Knobel and most of the commentators reply, "in His prophets." This answer is not wrong, but it does not suffice to show the connection between what follows and what goes before. For there it is one person who speaks; and who is that, but the servant of Jehovah, who is introduced in these prophecies with dramatic directness, as speaking in his own name? Jehovah has come to His people in His servant. We know who was the servant of Jehovah in the historical fulfilment. It was He whom even the New Testament Scriptures describe as τὸν παῖδα τοῦ κυρίου, especially in the Acts (Act 3:13, Act 3:26; Act 4:27, Act 4:30). It was not indeed during the Babylonian captivity that the servant of Jehovah appeared in Israel with the gospel of redemption; but, as we shall never be tired of repeating, this is the human element in these prophecies, that they regard the appearance of the "servant of Jehovah," the Saviour of Israel and the heathen, as connected with the captivity: the punishment of Israel terminating, according to the law of the perspective foreshortening of prophetic vision, with the termination of the captivity - a connection which we regard as one of the strongest confirmations of the composition of these addresses before the captivity, as well as of Isaiah's authorship. But this ἀνθρώπινον does not destroy the θεῖον in them, inasmuch as the time at which Jesus appeared was not only similar to that of the Babylonian captivity, but stood in a causal connection with it, since the Roman empire was the continuation of the Babylonian, and the moral state of the people under the iron arm of the Roman rule resembled that of the Babylonian exiles (Eze 2:6-7). At the same time, whatever our opinion on this point may be, it is perfectly certain that it is to the servant of Jehovah, who was seen by the prophet in connection with the Babylonian captivity, that the words "wherefore did I come" refer.
He in whom Jehovah came to His nation, and proclaimed to it, in the midst of its self-induced misery, the way and work of salvation, is He who speaks in Isa 50:4 : "The Lord Jehovah hath given me a disciple's tongue, that I may know how to set up the wearied with words: He wakeneth every morning; wakeneth mine ear to attend in disciple's manner." The word limmūdı̄m, which is used in the middle of the verse, and which is the older word for the later talmidı̄m, μαθηταί, as in Isa 8:16; Isa 54:13, is repeated at the close of the verse, according to the figure of palindromy, which is such a favourite figure in both parts of the book of Isaiah; and the train of thought, "He wakeneth morning by morning, wakeneth mine ear," recals to mind the parallelism with reservation which is very common in the Psalms, and more especially the custom of a "triolet-like" spinning out of the thoughts, from which the songs of "degrees" (or ascending steps, shı̄r hamma‛ălōth) have obtained their name. The servant of Jehovah affords us a deep insight here into His hidden life. The prophets received special revelations from God, for the most part in the night, either in dreams or else in visions, which were shown them in a waking condition, but yet in the more susceptible state of nocturnal quiet and rest. Here, however, the servant of Jehovah receives the divine revelations neither in dreams nor visions of the night; but every morning (babbōqer babbōqer as in Isa 28:19), i.e., when his sleep is over, Jehovah comes to him, awakens his ear, by making a sign to him to listen, and then takes him as it were into the school after the manner of a pupil, and teaches him what and how he is to preach. Nothing indicates a tongue befitting the disciples of God, so much as the gift of administering consolation; and such a gift is possessed by the speaker here. "To help with words him that is exhausted" (with suffering and self-torture): עוּת, Arab. gât̬, med. Vav, related to אוּשׁ, חוּשׁ, signifies to spring to a person with words to help, Aq. ὑποστηρίσαι, Jer. sustentare. The Arabic gât̬, med. Je, to rain upon or water (Ewald, Umbreit, etc.), cannot possibly be thought of, since this has no support in the Hebrew; still less, however, can we take עוּת as a denom. from עת, upon which Luther has founded his rendering, "to speak to the weary in due season" (also Eng. ver.). דּבר is an accusative of more precise definition, like אשׁר in Isa 50:1 (cf., Isa 42:25; Isa 43:23). Jerome has given the correct rendering: "that I may know how to sustain him that is weary with a word."
His calling is to save, not to destroy; and for this calling he has Jehovah as a teacher, and to Him he has submitted himself in docile susceptibility and immoveable obedience. Isa 50:5 "The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear; and I, I was not rebellious, and did not turn back." He put him into a position inwardly to discern His will, that he might become the mediator of divine revelation; and he did not set himself against this calling (mârâh, according to its radical meaning stringere, to make one's self rigid against any one, ἀντιτείνειν), and did not draw back from obeying the call, which, as he well knew, would not bring him earthly honour and gain, but rather shame and ill-treatment. Ever since he had taken the path of his calling, he had not drawn timidly back from the sufferings with which it was connected, but had rather cheerfully taken them upon him. V.6 "I offered my back to smiters, and my cheeks to them that pluck off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting." He offered his back to such as smote it, his cheeks to such as plucked out the hair of his beard (mârat as in Neh 13:25). He did not hide his face, to cover it up from actual insults, or from being spit upon (on kelimmōth with rōq, smiting on the cheek, κολαφίζειν, strokes with rods, ῥαπίζειν, blows upon the head, τύπτειν εἰς τὴν κεφαλήν with ἐμπτύειν, compare Mat 26:67; Mat 27:30; Joh 18:22). The way of his calling leads through a shameful condition of humiliation. What was typified in Job (see Isa 30:10; Isa 17:6), and prefigured typically and prophetically in the Psalms of David (see Psa 22:7; Psa 69:8), finds in him its perfect antitypical fulfilment.
But no shame makes him faint-hearted; he trusts in Him who hath called him, and looks to the end. "But the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not suffered myself to be overcome by mockery: therefore did I make my face like the flint, and knew that I should not be put to shame." The ו introduces the thought with which his soul was filled amidst all his sufferings. In נכלמתּי לא he affirms, that he did not suffer himself to be inwardly overcome and overpowered by kelimmâh. The consciousness of his high calling remained undisturbed; he was never ashamed of that, nor did he turn away from it. The two על־כּן stand side by side upon the same line. He made his face kachallâmı̄sh (from châlam, related to gâlam in Isa 49:21, with the substantive termination ı̄sh: see Jeshurun, p. 229), i.e., he made it as unfelling as a flint-stone to the attacks of his foes (cf., Eze 3:8-9). The lxx renders this ἔθηκα τὸ πρόσωπον μου ὡς στερεὰν πέτραν; but ἐστήριξα τὸ πρός, which is the rendering given to פני שׂים in Jer 21:10, would have been just the proper rendering here (see Luk 9:51). In "holy hardness of endurance," as Stier says, he turned his face to his antagonists, without being subdued or frightened away, and was well assured that He whose cause he represented would never leave him in the lurch.
In the midst of his continued sufferings he was still certain of victory, feeling himself exalted above every human accusation, and knowing that Jehovah would acknowledge him; whereas his opponents were on the way to that destruction, the germ of which they already carried with them. "He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me?! We will draw near together! Who is my adversary in judgment?! Let him draw near to me! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that could condemn me?! Behold, they all shall fall to pieces like a garment; the moth shall eat them up." הצדּיו and הרשׁיע are forensic antitheses: the former signifies to set one forth, both practically and judicially, as righteous (Sa2 15:4; Psa 82:3); the latter as guilty, רשׁע (Deu 25:1; Psa 109:7). נעמדה, which has lost the principal tone on account of the following יחד (יּהד), has munach instead of metheg in the antepenultimate. Ba‛al mishpâtı̄ means, "he who has a judicial cause of lawsuit against me," just as in Roman law the dominus litis is distinguished from the procurator, i.e., from the person who represents him in court (syn. ba‛al debhârı̄m, Exo 24:14, and 'ı̄sh rı̄bhı̄ in Job 31:35; compare Isa 41:11). מי־הוּא are connected, and form an emphatic τίς, Rom 8:34 (Ewald 325, a). "All of them" (kullâm): this refers to all who are hostile to him. They fall to pieces like a worn-out garment, and fall a prey to the moth which they already carry within them - a figure which we meet with again in Isa 51:8 (cf., Job 13:28; Hos 5:12), and one which, although apparently insignificant, is yet really a terrible one, inasmuch as it points to a power of destruction working imperceptibly and slowly, but yet effecting the destruction of the object selected with all the greater certainty.
Thus far we have the words of the servant. The prophecy opened with words of Jehovah (Isa 50:1-3), and with such words it closes, as we may see from the expression, "this shall ye have at my hand," in Isa 50:11. The first word of Jehovah is addressed to those who fear Him, and hearken to the voice of His servant. Isa 50:10"Who among you is fearing Jehovah, hearkening to the voice of His servant? He that walketh in darkness, and without a ray of light, let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay himself upon his God." The question is asked for the purpose of showing to any one who could reply, "I am one, or wish to be such an one," what his duty and his privileges are. In the midst of the apparent hopelessness of his situation (chăshēkhı̄m the accusative of the object, and plural to chăshēkhâh, Isa 8:22), and of his consequent despondency of mind, he is to trust in the name of Jehovah, that firmest and surest of all grounds of trust, and to stay himself upon his God, who cannot forsake or deceive him. He is to believe (Isa 7:9; Isa 28:16; Hab 2:4) in God and the word of salvation, for בטח and נשׁען are terms applied to that fiducia fidei which is the essence of faith. The second word of Jehovah is addressed to the despisers of His word, of which His servant is the bearer. Isa 50:11 "Behold, all ye that kindle fire, that equip yourselves with burning darts, away into the glow of your fire, and into the burning darts that ye have kindled! This comes to you from my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow." The fire is not the fire of divine wrath (Jer 17:4), but the fire of wickedness (rish‛âh, Isa 9:17), more especially that hellish fire with which an evil tongue is set on fire (Jam 3:6); for the zı̄qōth (equivalent to ziqqōth, from zēq = zinq, from zânaq, to spring, to let fly, Syr. to shoot or hurl), i.e., shots, and indeed burning arrows (Psa 7:14), are figurative, and stand for the blasphemies and anathemas which they cast at the servant of Jehovah. It is quite unnecessary to read מאירי instead of מאזּרי, as Hitzig, Ewald, and Knobel propose, or even, contrary to all usage of speech, מאורי. The former is the more pictorial: they gird burning darts, accingunt malleolos, i.e., they equip or arm themselves with them for the purpose of attack (Isa 45:5). But the destruction which they prepare for the servant of Jehovah becomes their own. They themselves have to go into the midst of the burning fire and the burning darts, that they have set on fire. The hand of Jehovah suddenly inverts the position; the fire of wrath becomes the fire of divine judgment, and this fire becomes their bed of torment. The lxx has it correctly, ἐν λύπῃ κοιμηθήσεσθε. The Lamed indicates the situation (Ewald, 217, d). תּשׁכּבוּן with the tone upon the last syllable gives a dictatorial conclusion. It has a terrible sound, but still more terrible (apart from the future state) is the historical fulfilment that presents itself to the eye.