Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 4:1-6
1. And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
1. Apprehendent itaque in die illa septenae mulieres viros singulos, dicentes, Pane nostro vescemur, vestimentis nostris induemur, tantum invocetur nomen tuum super nos, (vel, censeamur tuo nomine,) tollasque probrum nostrum.
2. In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.
2. In die illa erit germen Iehovae in pulchritudinem et gloriam; et fructus terrae in praestantiam et decorem; nempe in liberatis Israelis.
3. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:
3. Et eveniet ut qui reliquus fuerit in Sion, et residuus manserit in Ierusalem, sanctus vocetur, omnesque Ierosolymis inter vivos (vel, ad vitam,) asscripti erunt;
4. When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.
4. Cum scilicet Dominus eluerit sordes filiarum Sion, et sanguines Ierusalem expiaverit e medio ejus, et in Spiritu judicii, et in Spiritu incendii (vel, ardoris.)
5. And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.
5. Et creabit Iehova super totam habitationem montis Sion, et super omnem coetum ejus, nubem et obscuritatem interdiu; noctu vero splendorem ignis flammantis; quia super omnem gloriam erit protectio.
6. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.
6. Eritque obumbratio per diem in umbram ab aestu, in refugium et latibulum a nimbo et imbre.
1. In that day shall seven women take hold of one man He pursues the same subject, and unquestionably this discourse is immediately connected with what goes before. This verse certainly ought not to have been separated from the preceding. By this circumstance he describes more fully the nature of that desolation and calamity which he had formerly threatened against the Jews; for hypocrites; unless the threatening be conceived in strong terms, either disregard or palliate warnings, so that God’s severity never produces its proper effect upon them. From the effect, therefore, he describes the appalling nature of the approaching calamity, that they may not indulge the hope of making an easy escape. As if he had said, “Do not imagine that it will be of moderate extent, lessening your numbers in a small degree; for utter destruction awaits you, so that hardly one man will be found for seven women.”
The phrase take hold of conveys the same meaning. It is, no doubt, inconsistent with the modesty of the sex that a woman should, of her own accord, offer herself to a man. But the Prophet says, that not only will they do this, but that seven women will, as it were, lay hands on a man, and keep hold of him; so small will be the number of men. The greatness of the calamity is likewise denoted by what immediately follows: we will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; for as it is a duty which belongs to a husband to support his wife and family, the women ask a husband for themselves on unreasonable conditions, when they release him from all concern about supplying them with food. Very great must, therefore, be the scarcity of men, when a great number of women, laying aside modesty, are not only constrained to solicit one man, but do not even shrink from the agreement to procure their own victuals, and request nothing more from a husband than to receive them within the bond of marriage.
Let thy name be called on us. It may be rendered, Let us be called by thy name; for when a woman passes into the family of her husband, she is called by his name, and loses her own, because the husband is her head. (1Co 11:3.) Hence the vail is a token of subjection, and Abimelech said to Sarah,
Thy husband Abraham shall be a covering to thy head. (Ge 20:16.)
But if she remain unmarried, she is concealed under the name of her family. That this is the true meaning of that mode of expression is sufficiently evident from what Jacob says when blessing his grandchildren,
Let my name, and the name of my fathers,
Abraham and Isaac, be called on them; (Ge 48:16;)
that is, “Let them be reckoned as our descendants, and let them be partakers of the covenant, and never excluded from it, as were Esau and Ishmael.” In the same manner also do heathen writers speak; as, in Lucan, Marcia, wishing to return to Cato, says: “Grant me only the bare name of marriage; let permission be given that it may be inscribed on my tomb, Marcia the wife of Cato.” 70
And take away our reproach. Their reason for saying so is, that women are sometimes treated with disdain, when they do not obtain husbands, not only because they appear to be despised as unworthy, but because among the ancient people offspring was reckoned an important blessing, and therefore the Prophet says that they will be desirous to wipe away this reproach, and will employ every argument for that purpose. Lastly, he declares that the calamity will be so great, that almost all the men will be carried off.
2. In that day shall the branch of the Lord be for beauty and glory. 71 This consolation is seasonably added; for the announcement of a dreadful calamity might have alarmed the godly, and led them to doubt as to the stability of God’s covenant being maintained amidst the destruction of the people. For there is a wide difference between the two statements, that the people will be like the sand of the sea, (Ge 22:17; Isa 10:22,) and yet that they would be cut down by such a frightful massacre, that in the remnant there would be found no dignity, no magnificence, and hardly any name. Isaiah, therefore, according to the custom generally followed by himself and by the prophets, provides against this alarm, and, by adding a consolation, assuages their excessive terror, that believers may still rest assured that the Church will be safe, and may strengthen their hearts by good hope. As he spoke of the restoration of the Church in the second chapter, so he now promises that a new Church will arise, as a bud or shoot springs up in a field which was formerly uncultivated.
This passage is usually expounded as referring to Christ; and the opinion, plausible in itself, derives additional probability from the words of the prophet Zechariah:
Behold the man whose name shall be The Branch.
It is still further strengthened by the consideration, that the Prophet does not barely name this Branch, but mentions it with a title expressive of respect, as if he had intended to honor the Divinity of Christ. When he afterwards adds the fruits of the earth, they consider this as referring to his human nature. But after a careful examination of the whole, I do not hesitate to regard the Branch of God and the fruit of the earth as denoting an unusual and abundant supply of grace, which will relieve the hungry; for he speaks as if the earth, barren and exhausted after the desolation, would hold out no promise of future produce, in order that the sudden fertility might render the kindness of God the more desirable; as if the parched and barren fields would yield unexpected herbage.
This metaphor is frequently employed in Scripture, that the gifts of God spring up in the world.
Truth shall spring out of the earth, and
righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Ps 85:11.)
In like manner the Prophet afterwards says:
Let the earth open and bring forth salvation. (Isa 45:8.)
These words unquestionably denote a rich supply both of spiritual and of earthly blessings. That such is the meaning of the passage now under consideration is evident from the context; for Isaiah immediately afterwards adds, that it will be for honor and lustre to the delivered of Israel, 72 that is, to the number left, whom the Lord will rescue from destruction.
The word פליטת (pheletath) is commonly translated escape, but here, as in many other passages, it is a collective noun, denoting those who have escaped. He declares that the elect will enjoy that happy fertility which he had promised, and therefore (verse 3) that those who shall be left will be holy. The meaning of the Prophet is, that the glory of God will be illustriously displayed when a new Church shall arise; as if he would create a people for himself out of nothing, and to enrich it with every kind of blessings.
They who limit it to the person of Christ expose themselves to the ridicule of the Jews, as if it were in consequence of scarcity that they tortured passages of Scripture for their own convenience. But there are other passages of Scripture from which it may be more clearly proved that Christ is true God and true man, so that there is no need of ingenious glosses. Yet I acknowledge that the Prophet speaks here about the kingdom of Christ, on which the restoration of the Church is founded. But it ought to be observed, that the consolation is not addressed indiscriminately to all, but only to the remnant, which has been marvellously rescued from the jaws of death.
Besides, as it might be deemed a cold consolation if he had only said that a small number would be saved, he discourses about the magnificent glory and dazzling brightness, to lead believers to hope that this diminution will do no harm; because the excellence of the Church does not consist in multitude but in purity when God bestows splendid and glorious communications of the Spirit of God on his elect. Hence we ought to draw a very useful doctrine, that though believers be exceedingly few, when they are like brands plucked out of the fire, (Zec 3:2,) yet that God will glorify himself amongst them, and will display in the midst of them a proof of his unspeakable greatness not less illustrious than amidst a large number.
3. And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion. He follows out the same statement, that when the pollution of the people shall have been washed away, what remains will be pure and holy. The explanation given by some, that they who shall be found written in the book of life will be called holy, appears to me to be too limited. These two clauses ought rather to be read separately, that all who shall be left in Zion will be holy, and that they who shall be left in Jerusalem will be written in the book of life. And this repetition is very frequent and customary among the Hebrews, when the prophets set forth under various titles the same gift of God. Thus, when it is said,
There shall be salvation in Jerusalem,
and forgiveness of sins in Zion, (Joe 2:32,)
both must be viewed as referring to the same subject; but the grace of God is more fully extolled when the cause of salvation is declared to consist in a free pardon. 73
In this passage the argument is of the same kind; for he says that, when the filth shall have been washed away, the Church will be clean, and that all who shall have a place in her will truly be the elect of God. Now, it is certain that this does not apply universally to the external Church, into which many have been admitted under the designation of believers who have nothing that corresponds to their profession, and who even exceed the small number of good people, as the chaff exceeds the wheat in the barn. And although the captivity in Babylon had been employed by God, as a sieve, to remove a large portion of chaff, yet we know that the Church was still very far from being as pure as she ought to have been. But as at that time there was displayed, in some measure, a resemblance of that purity which will be truly and perfectly manifested after that
the lambs shall have been separated from the kids,
when Isaiah speaks of those beginnings, he includes, as his custom is, a period extending to the end, when God will bring to perfection that which he then began.
It is the same thing which we see every day going forward; for although chastisements and punishments do not entirely remove all spots from the Church, yet when spots have been washed out, she recovers a part of her purity. Thus she suffers no loss by the strokes inflicted on her; because, while she is diminished, she is at the same time comforted by casting out many hypocrites; just as it is only by casting out the offensive or corrupt matter that a diseased body can be restored to health.
Hence we obtain a most useful consolation; for we are wont always to desire a multitude, and to estimate by it the prosperity of the Church. On the contrary, we should rather desire to be few in number, and that in all of us the glory of God may shine brightly. But because our own glory leads us in another direction, the consequence is, that we regard more a great number of men than the excellence of a few.
We ought also to learn what is the true glory of a Church; for she is truly prosperous when the saints have a place in her; though they be few and despised in the world, yet they render her condition prosperous and desirable. But as it will never happen in the world that the saints alone will hold a place in the Church, we ought patiently to endure a mixture, and, in the meantime, we ought to reckon it a most valuable blessing when she makes a near approach to the cleanness which ought to be found in her.
And they shall all be written among the living [or, to life] in Jerusalem. We have already said that by those who are written in the book of life are meant the elect of God; as if he had said that the profane multitude, which have only a name on the earth, will be cut off. The Prophet alludes to a mode of expression which often occurs in the Scriptures, as when Moses desires that he should be blotted out of the book of life, (Ex 32:32,) rather than that the whole nation should be destroyed. Christ also says to the Apostles,
Rejoice because your names are written in heaven,
and Ezekiel says, They shall not be written in the catalogue of my people. 74 Now, although God has no other book than his eternal counsel, in which he has predestinated us to salvation by adopting us for his children, yet this comparison is exceedingly suitable to our weakness, because in no other way could our mind conceive that God’s flock is known to him, so that none of the elect can ever be deprived of eternal life. Since, therefore, God has the names of his people in some manner written down, the decree of adoption, by which their eternal blessedness is secured, is called the book of life. The reprobate, though for a time they appear to be on a level with the sons of God, are excluded from this catalogue, as we see that they are cut off when he collects and separates his own people. This matter will not be fully completed before the last day; but as the children of God, by continually persevering, when the reprobate fall off, have their election made sure, it is no small consolation amidst their afflictions, when the temptations by which they are assailed do not cause them to fall from their steadfastness.
4. When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion. He still follows out the same statement; for in consequence of its being generally believed that those calamities by which the Church is diminished inflict upon her grievous injury, the Prophet more zealously inculcates the opposite opinion. And now, for the purpose of refuting that error, he argues, on the contrary, that by this method God washes away the filth, and removes the corruptions, of his Church.
The blood of Jerusalem. By blood I understand not only murders or other atrocious crimes, but defilements and stains of every description. This metaphor is a reduplication, (ἀναδίπλωσις,) by which he repeats the same thing twice; for, having formerly spoken of pollution in general, he now particularly mentions blood as one kind of ceremonial uncleanness. In short, he shows the fruits which spring from God’s chastisements. By them our spots are washed away. When abounding iniquity is not punished, we become corrupted along with others; and therefore it is necessary that God should earnestly warn us, and, like a physician, apply physic, and the lancet, and sometimes proceed to burning
By the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. Here judgment stands for uprightness from its effect; that is, when they who had deeply fallen are restored to their former condition. He adds, the spirit of burning, by which the filth must be burned and consumed. In this expression there are two things to be observed; first, that the purification of the Church is accomplished by the Spirit; and secondly, that from the effects which he produces the Spirit receives the name, sometimes of judgment and sometimes of burning; as if he had said, The judgment of the Spirit, The burning of the Spirit. Whenever, therefore, expressions of this sort occur in Scripture, “The Lord will do these things by the Spirit of truth, of power, of righteousness,” we may change the expression thus, “by the truth, by the power, by the righteousness, of the Spirit.” In this manner doth the Spirit of God work in us, from whom is both the beginning and the end of our salvation. From these terms, therefore, we ought to learn what are the chief effects which he produces. By his Spirit the Lord purifies our affections that he may renew and sanctify us. The word judgment explains what is of chief importance in the restoration of the Church; that is, when those things which were confused or decayed are restored to good order. Burning points out the plan and method by which the Lord restores the Church to her purity.
5. And Jehovah will create on every dwelling-place of Mount Zion. As if he had said that “there will not be a corner of Mount Zion on which the grace of God does not shine.” Dwelling-place and assembly I understand to mean the same thing; for assembly does not here denote a congregation, but the place where men assemble. With the design to express a full blessing, he alludes to what Moses relates, when the Lord delivered the people from Egyptian bondage, and sent
pillars of cloud by day and pillars of fire by night.
It was customary with the prophets, in describing any remarkable blessing, to remind them of that deliverance from Egypt as an extraordinary work of God; for on that occasion God made a remarkable display of the boundless treasures of his grace in establishing his Church, and left out no proof of his kindness, in order to make known the happiness of that nation. But what chiefly deserved to be commemorated was, that by the covering of a cloud by day he protected them from excessive heat, and that by night a pillar of fire went before them, to prevent them from wandering or going astray.
It amounts to this, that when God shall bring back the Church from the captivity in Babylon, the deliverance will be of a kind not less striking and magnificent than when, at an early period, the nation went out of Egypt. Not that during their journey from Babylon to Judea they would be accompanied, as in the wilderness, by a cloud and a pillar of fire, but that he would display his grace and kindness by other methods not less remarkable. Just as if we were to say at the present day, “God will enlighten us by his Spirit of fire; He will give cloven tongues, (Ac 2:3,) to spread his Gospel throughout the whole world.” Such expressions ought not to be understood literally, as if the Spirit would be sent down from heaven under that visible sign; but by reminding them of the miracle, it would lead believers to expect that the same power of God, which the Apostles formerly experienced, will now be displayed in restoring the Church. Add to this, that the Prophet, by this mode of expression, points out an uninterrupted continuance of blessing; as if he had said, “Not only will God for a moment stretch out his hand for your deliverance, but as he always accompanied your fathers in the wilderness, so likewise he will deliver and protect you to the end.”
For on all the glory shall be a defense. This is connected with what he formerly said, that the bud or branch which should afterwards spring up would be for glory. It is as if he had said, “on all who shall bear the proof and marks of their deliverance.” Perhaps also he alludes to the passage in which it is related that the destroying angel passed over the houses which were marked without doing them any injury, (Ex 12:23;) for as the sprinkling of blood at that time protected and saved them, so Isaiah promises that believers, when God has marked them, will be safe. This must be carefully observed; for we are reminded that we shall not become partakers of the grace of God in any other way than by bearing his image, and by his glory shining in us.
6. And a covering in the day-time shall be a shadow from the heat. Though the Prophet confirms what we have already noticed, that God will be our perpetual guide till he has brought us to the end of our journey, yet we are reminded that believers will always be exposed to numerous calamities. Scorching heat, and piercing cold, and still heavier distresses, press on them severely; when they escape from one danger, they meet with another. But the highest consolation is that against every inconvenience the shadow of the Lord will of itself be sufficient; for it will cover them in such a manner that nothing can injure or do them any harm. Although, therefore, various calamities and afflictions surround us on every side, still the Lord promises that he will assist us; as it is said in the Psalm,
The sun shall not scorch thee by day, nor the moon by night; for the Lord will preserve thee from all evil. (Ps. 121:6, 7.)
Nothing more is necessary than that we follow our calling, and perform our duty faithfully. It belongs equally to the condition of the good and of the bad that they suffer many inconveniencies; but bad men have no refuge, no place of concealment in which they may hide themselves, and they must be utterly overwhelmed. But blessed is the condition of the godly; for although they endure heat and cold, still they have a safe refuge in God. But that glory of which we formerly spoke must shine in us; otherwise we shall have no share in these things; and if we carry about with us God’s mark, whenever we shall be assailed by a tempest, let us rest assured that he will be our protection.
Da tantum nomen inane Connubii: liceat tumulo scripsisse, Catonis Marcia. Luc. Phars. 2:342.
In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious. — Eng. Ver. The marginal reading is, beauty and glory. — Ed.
Excellent and comely [Heb. beauty and glory] for them that are escaped of Israel, [Heb. for the escaping of Israel.] — Eng. Ver.
There is a mistake here. In the verse quoted the prophet Joel does not speak of the forgiveness of sins; but our Author probably had his eye on the concluding clause, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call, as resembling a part of this verse, and he that shall be left in Jerusalem, and on this ground adduced it as a parallel passage, but was not successful in pointing out where the parallelism lies. — Ed.
He appears to refer to Eze 13:9, where his version is, And they shall not be written in the writing, that is, in the catalogue, of my people. — Ed.