Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 12:1-6
1. And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.
1. Et dices in die illo: Cantabo tibi Iehova, Tametsi iratus es mihi, aversus est furor tuus, et consolatus es me.
2. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
2. Ecce Deus salus mea: confidam, et non pavebo. Quoniam fortitudo mea et canticum Deus Iehova; factusque est (vel erit) mihi in salutem.
3. Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
3. Haurietis aquas cum gaudio, de fontibus salvatoris (vel, salutis).
4. And in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.
4. Et dicetis in die illa: Canite Iehovae; invocate nomen ejus; celebrate in populis opera ejus; commemorate, quia nomen ejus exaltatum est.
5. Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.
5. Psallite Iehovae, quoniam magnifica gessit; et hoc vulgatum est per totam terram.
6. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.
6. Jubila et canta habitatrix Sion; quia magnus in medio tui Sanctus Israel.
1. And thou shalt say in that day. Isaiah now exhorts all the godly to thanksgiving. Yet the exhortation has also this object, that the promise may be more fully believed; for he seals it with that exhortation, that they may be convinced that it is certain, and may not think that they are deluded by unfounded hope, when a form of thanksgiving is now given, and, as it were, put into their mouth; and this would not have been the case, if there had not been just and solid grounds. At the same time, he points out the purpose which the Lord has in view in doing good in his Church. It is, that the remembrance of his name may be extolled; not that he needs our praise, but it is profitable to ourselves. We ought also to consider the honor which he bestows upon us, when he condescends to make use of our services for extolling and spreading the glory of his name, though we are altogether useless and of no value.
Thou shalt say. He addresses the whole people as if he were addressing one man, because it was their duty to be so united as to be one. We also are taught by the same example that we ought to be united together, that there may be one soul and one mouth, (Ro 15:6,) if we desire to have our prayers and thanksgivings accepted by God.
Though thou wast angry with me. The leading thought of this song is, that God, though he was justly offended at his people, yet was satisfied with inflicting a moderate chastisement, and showed that he was willing to be pacified. The particle כי (ki) being sometimes expressive of a cause, some render it, I will praise thee, O Lord, because, having been angry with me, still thou art immediately reconciled; but as it sometimes signifies though, 193 I have adopted the rendering which I considered to agree best with this passage.
Believers, therefore, first acknowledge their guilt, and next ascribe it to the mercy of God that they have been freed from their distresses. The words being in the future tense, the following interpretation might also be adopted: — “The temporal chastisement will not prevent thee from having at length compassion on me, and from giving me ground of joy and comfort.” Whichsoever of these views be taken, this sentiment ought to be carefully observed; for as soon as a conviction of God’s anger seizes our minds, it prompts us to despair, and if it be not seasonably counteracted, it will speedily overwhelm us. Satan also tempts us by all methods, and employs every expedient to compel us to despair. We ought, therefore, to be fortified by this doctrine, that, though we feel the anger of the Lord, we may know that it is of short duration, (Ps 30:5,) and that we shall be comforted as soon as he has chastened us.
When we have been relieved from distresses, let us call to remembrance that our punishment is ended, not because we have paid to the justice of God what we had deserved, but because through his fatherly love he spares our weakness. This confession belongs properly to the godly and elect; for though the chastisements of the godly and ungodly appear to be the same, yet the reasons of them are exceedingly different. The wrath of the Lord against the ungodly is perpetual, and the chastisements which are inflicted on them are forerunners of everlasting destruction: no alleviation or consolation is promised to them. But the godly feel that the wrath of God is of short duration, and encourage their hearts by hope and confidence; for they know that God will be gracious to them, since he has declared that he punishes their sins for no other reason than to train them to repentance, that they may not perish along with the world. (1Co 11:32.)
2. Behold, God is my salvation. Though it is proper to behold by faith the salvation of God in the midst of our afflictions, yet here Isaiah speaks of knowledge derived from experience; for he lays down a form of a joyful song, in which God shows by outward signs that he is pacified towards his Church. Such is also the import of the phrase הנה, (hinneh,) Behold; for now the brightness of God’s countenance, which had been hidden for a time, shines forth, so that they can point to it as with the finger. Since, therefore, our punishments fill us with dread, and it is impossible for our minds not to be overclouded by our sins, as if we had no interest in God’s salvation, or as if it were withdrawn from us, the Prophet describes here a change of feeling, when God is reconciled to us. But this prediction relates chiefly to the coming of Christ, which first exhibited fully the salvation of God.
I will trust and not be afraid. He adds, that when we are fully convinced that salvation is laid up for us in God, this is a solid foundation of full confidence, and the best remedy for allaying fears. But for this we must have trembled, and been uneasy and distressed, and tortured by painful emotions. Hence, we conclude, that confidence proceeds from faith, as an effect from its cause. By faith we perceive that salvation is laid up for us in God, and a calm and peaceful state of mind arises from it; but when faith is wanting there can be no peace of conscience. Let us therefore know that we have made good progress in faith, when we have been endued with such confidence as the Prophet describes.
Besides, this confidence ought to have the chief place in our hearts, (Col 3:15,) so as to banish all fear and dread; not that we are free from all distress and uneasiness, but that assurance will at length be victorious. Yet we must keep in mind what I said, that the Prophet here speaks of the cheerfulness which believers, who had formerly been almost overwhelmed under the load of temptations, obtain, when God is reconciled to them.
For the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength. He states more clearly and more expressly that believers will have good reason to sing, because they will have known by experience that they are strong in their God, as indeed redemption was an illustrious display of the power of God. Since Isaiah does not describe the benefit of a single day, but that which God had determined to carry forward till the coming of Christ, it follows that there are none who sincerely and heartily sing the praises of God, but those who, convinced of their weakness, seek to obtain strength from God alone in answer to prayer. Nor is he here called a part or an aid of our strength, but our complete strength; for we are strong, so far as he supplies us with strength.
And my song. The reason why he is called The song of the godly is, that he bestows on them so much kindness for the purpose of exciting them to perform the duty of thankfulness. Hence we conclude that the beginning of joy springs from the favor of God, and that the end of it is the sacrifice of praise. (Ps. 50:23, Hos. 14:2, Heb. 13:15.) Thus, the hearts of the godly ought to be trained to patience, that they may not cease to bless God; but in a state of joy and prosperity their mouth is opened, so that they loudly proclaim God’s benefits. But since the ungodly freely indulge in despising God, and, having laid their consciences asleep, riot like brutes in drunken mirth, and never awake to praise God, Christ justly curses their joy.
Wo to you that laugh, for ye shall mourn; your joy shall be turned into grief, and your laughter into qnashing of teeth.
And he hath become my salvation. 194 If it be thought better to take this clause in the past tense, the meaning will be, that believers sing joyfully, because God hath saved them. But it will be most appropriate to take it in the future tense, and he will become my salvation; that is, God not only hath been salvation to his people, but will be so to the end; for believers ought not to confine their attention to the present benefit, but to extend their hope to the uninterrupted progress of his favor.
3. You shall draw waters with joy. In this verse he confirms what we have already noticed, that this chapter may be regarded as a seal to confirm the promise which he gave about the redemption of his people. As if he had said, “The salvation of God hath been set before you, as if it were a constant running fountain, from which you can draw waters in abundance.” This is a very beautiful metaphor; for in this life nothing is more necessary than water, so that there is no kind of scarcity that gives us more uneasiness or more distress than a scarcity of water. Thus, by a figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, he declares that everything necessary for supporting life flows to us from the undeserved goodness of God. And since we are empty and destitute of everything good, he appropriately compares the mercy of God to a fountain, which satisfies those who are thirsty and dry, refreshes those who are parched with heat, and revives those who are worn out with fatigue.
From the fountains of the Savior. 195 This word is more appropriate to this passage than if he had said, “from the fountains of God;” for it yields more consolation when we know that he is the author of our salvation, and therefore the Prophet has skilfully adapted this term to the situation in which it is placed. Now, if this promise includes the whole of Christ’s reign, we ought constantly to apply it to our use. Let us therefore know that the goodness of God is held out to us, that we may be satisfied with it; for we ought to be like a dry and thirsty land, as the Psalmist says, (Ps 143:6,) that we may desire the waters of the Lord. This goodness of God is wonderful and beyond what could have been believed, that he does not suffer us to burn with unsatisfied desire, but presents a fountain from which we may draw abundantly. That fountain is Christ, in whom all God’s benefits are imparted to us; for out of his fullness, as John says, we all draw. (Joh 1:16.) It remains, therefore, that whenever we feel our want we go directly to him.
4. And in that day shall ye say. He now exhorts them not only to sing praise and give thanks to God individually, but to excite others to do the same. As he had formerly said, Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up into the mountain of the Lord, (Isa 2:3,) that is, exciting each other by mutual exhortation to embrace the pure worship of God; so after having enjoined them individually to be thankful to God, he now also commands them mutually to excite each other to thanksgiving. He means that they ought to speak not to one, but to all, and not at one time only, but during their whole life.
Call upon his name. 196 He now gives a short description of the manner in which praise is properly rendered to God, when he enjoins us to
call upon him, that we may not glory in any other.
(Jer. 9:23, 24.)
Hence also, by taking a part for the whole, (συνεκδοχικῶς,) Scripture frequently describes the whole of worship under the designation of calling upon God. In this way we show that our confidence is placed in God; and this is also what he chiefly demands from us. In like manner, I think that here the Prophet connects calling upon God with praises, in order to include the whole of the worship of God.
Make known his works among the peoples. 197 He means that the work of this deliverance will be so excellent, that it ought to be proclaimed, not in one corner only, but throughout the whole world. He wished, indeed, that it should be first made known to the Jews, but that it should afterwards spread abroad to all men. This exhortation, by which the Jews testified their gratitude, might be regarded as a forerunner of the preaching of the gospel, which afterwards followed in the proper order. As the Jews proclaimed among the Medes and Persians, and other neighboring nations, the favor which had been showed to them, so, when Christ was manifested, they ought to have been heralds to sound aloud the name of God through every country in the world. Hence it is evident what is the desire which ought to be cherished among all the godly. It is, that the goodness of God may be made known to all, that all may join in the same worship of God. We ought especially to be inflamed with this desire, after having been delivered from some alarming danger, and most of all after having been delivered from the tyranny of the devil and from everlasting death.
5. Sing unto the Lord He continues his exhortation, showing what is the feeling from which this thanksgiving ought to proceed; for he shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.
For he hath done glorious things. When he asserts that God hath done gloriously, he means that there is abundant ground for singing. The Lord does not wish that his praises should be proclaimed without any reason, but holds out a very rich and very abundant subject of praise, when he frees his people from very hard bondage. We have said that this song is not limited to a short period, but, on the contrary, extends to the whole of Christ’s reign. This work therefore is truly glorious, that God sent his Son to reconcile us to himself, (John 3:16, 17,) and to destroy the dominion of death and the devil. (Heb 2:14.) If, therefore, we consider the work of our deliverance as we ought to do, we shall have very abundant ground for praising God.
And this hath been made known through all the earth. When he says that this hath been made known, he glances at the calling of the Gentiles, and confirms what has been already stated, that the work is such as ought not to be concealed in a corner, but to be everywhere proclaimed.
6. Shout and sing. He again exhorts the godly to rejoice in the Lord, at the same time reminding them what is the nature of true joy, and on what it is founded. We have no other happiness than to have God dwelling in the midst of us. But for this, our life would be wretched and unhappy, though we should have abundance of other blessings and of every kind of riches. Now, if our heart be set on our treasure, (Mt 6:21,) this happiness will attract all our feelings.
The Holy One of Israel. He calls him the Holy One, in order to inform us what he intends to prove himself to be to us, while he dwells with us; that is, that not only his majesty may fill our minds with reverence towards him, for it would at the same time overwhelm us with terror; but that he may vouchsafe to make us the objects of his peculiar care, though separated from the rest of the world. He calls him the Holy One, from the effect produced; for, by gathering us to himself, (Eph 1:10,) and saving us by his grace, he may be said to sanctify us to be his own property. Accordingly, if God is with us, the conviction of his presence will fill us with inconceivable joy. Hence it follows that, when he is absent, we continue to be exposed to grief and sadness.
By the words, Shout and sing, he means that when God magnifies his power in the midst of us, he gives us occasion for no ordinary joy. Again, by directly addressing the inhabitants of Zion, he intimates that all are not capable of so great a blessing, and at the same time indirectly exhorts them to maintain unity of faith, that, by being united to the Church, we may partake of this blessed joy.
Lowth remarks that the Hebrew phrase is exactly the same with what we find in Ro 6:17. But thanks be to God that ye were the slaves of sin, but have obeyed from the heart; that is, that whereas, or though ye were the slaves of sin; yet ye have now obeyed from the heart the doctrine on the model of which ye were formed. “For thou wast angry. That is, whereas thou wast angry, now hast thou forgiven and comforted me.” — Stock.
FT185 He also is become my salvation. — Eng. Ver.
FT186 In the margin he adds, “or, of salvation.”
FT187 Call upon his name, (or, Proclaim his name.) — Eng Ver.
FT188 Declare his doings among the people. — Eng. Ver.