Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 14:1-32
1. For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.
1. Jam miserebitur Iehova Iacob, et eliget adhuc Israelem, et faciet eos quiescere super terram suam; adjungeturque illis advena; sociabuntur, inquam, domui Iacob.
2. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.
2. Et assument eos populi, inducentque eos in locum suum, possidebitque eos domus Israel in terra Iehovae, in servos et ancillas; et capient eos quorum fuerant captivi, imperabuntque oppressoribus suis.
3. And it shall come to pass, in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve,
3. Et erit in die quo tibi requiem dederit Iehova a labore tuo, et a tremore tuo, et a servitudine dura quae imposita fuerat tibi:
4. That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! The golden city ceased!
4. Tunc sumes dictum hoc super Regem Babylonis, et dices: Quomodo cessavit exactor? Cessavit cupida auri?
5. The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.
5. Confregit Iehova baculum impiorum, sceptrum dominantium.
6. He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.
6. Quod percutiebat populos in ira plaga perpetua; dominabatur in iracundia Gentibus; si quis persequutionem patiebatur, non prohibuit.
7. The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing.
7. Quievit, tranquilla est omnis terra, cecinerant laudem.
8. Yea, the fir-trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.
8. Etiam abietes laetatae sunt super te, cedri Libani; ex quo quievisti non ascendit succisor contra nos.
9. Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth: it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
9. Infernus subtus commotus est propter te, in occursum adventus tui excitavit tibi mortuos, et omnes duces terrae suscitavit de soliis suis, omnes Reges gentium.
10. All they shall speak and say untothee, Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?
10. Omnes loquentur, et dicent tibi: Tu quoque infirmitate affectus es sicut nos? et similis factus es nobis?
11. Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
11. Deposita est in sepulchrum magnificentia tua, et strepitus musicorum instrumentorum tuorum; subter te stratus est vermis, et operiunt te vermiculi.
12. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
12. Quomodo cecidisti e coelo Lucifer fili Aurorae? Quomodo in terram detractus es, sortem projiciens super Gentes (vel, debilitans gentes)?
13. For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
13. Atqui tu dicebas in corde tuo, Ascendam in coelum: in supernis juxta sidera Dei collocabo solium meum, et sedebo in monte testimonii, in lateribus Aquilonis.
14. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
14. Ascendam super excelsa nubium, et ero similis Altissimo.
15. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
15. Tu vero in sepulchrum detractus es, ad latera foveae.
16. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
16. Videntes te inclinabunt se, et attente intuebuntur. Anne hic est vir ille tremefaciens terram, concutiens regna?
17. That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
17. Posuit orbem quasi desertum, urbes ejus excidit, vinctis suis non aperuit domum.
18. All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house:
18. Omnes Reges gentium, ipsi, inquam, omnes jacent cum gloria; quisque domi suae.
19. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
19. Tu autem projectus es e sepulchro tuo, tanquam surculus detestandus, tanquam vestes interfectorum, qui gladio caesi sunt, descendentes in foveam; ut cadaver proculcatum.
20. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evil doers shall never be renowned.
20. Non conjunges te cum eis in sepultura; quoniam terram tuam vastasti, populum tuum occidisti, non memorabitur perpetuo semen impiorum.
21. Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.
21. Praeparate filiis ejus mactationem, in iniquitate patrum suorum; ne consurgant et possideant terram, atque impleant superficiem orbis urbibus.
22. For I will rise up against them, saith the Lord of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name, and remnant, and son, and nephew, saith the Lord.
22. Nam consurgam super eos dicit Iehova exercituum, et exterminabo e Babylone nomen et reliquias, filium et nepotem, dicit Iehova.
23. I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the Lord of hosts.
23. Et ponam eam in possessionem erinacei, et in stagna aquarum, et scopabo eam scopa evacuans, dicit Iehova exercituum.
24. The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand;
24. Juravit Iehova exercituum, dicendo: Si non quemadmodum cogitavi, sic factum est; et quemadmodum consultavi, ita stabit;
25. That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders.
25. Ut conteram Assur in terra mea, et in montibus meis conculcem eum; et recedat ab eis jugum illius, et onus illius ab humero ejus auferatur.
26. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.
26. Hoc consilium quod consultatum est super totam terram; et haec manus extenta super omnes gentes.
27. For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?
27. Quoniam Iehova exercituum decrevit, et quis dissolvet? Manus ejus extenta, et quis avertet eam?
28. In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden.
28. Anno quo mortuus est Rex Achaz, fuit hoc onus.
29. Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.
29. Ne laeteris universa tu Philistaea; quoniam confracta sit virga percutientis te. Nam de radice colubri nascetur regulus, et fructus ejus serpens ignitus.
30. And the first-born of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety; and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant.
30. Et pascentur primogeniti pauperum, et inopes secure accubabunt; et fame interire faciam radicem tuam, et reliquias tuas occidet.
31. Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed times.
31. Ulula porta, clama civitas, liquefacta es Palestina, universa tu. Quoniam ab Aquilone venit fumus; nec quisquam solus praefixo ejus die.
32. What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
32. Quid autem respondebitur nuntiis gentis? Nempe quod Iehova fundavit Sion, et in ea fiduciam habebunt pauperes populi ejus.
1. For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob. The particle כי(ki) having various significations, we might take it as signifying But, and might connect this verse with the former verse in the following manner: But (or, yet) the Lord will have compassion on Jacob. But I consider it to be better and more appropriate to view the particle כי (ki), in this as well as in many other passages, as used for assigning a reason; and thus the meaning will be, “God will destroy Babylon, because he will have compassion on Israel, whom he cannot despise or reject.” Hence we see that the Prophet had hitherto endeavored to soothe the grief of a wretched people, in order to inform them that they ought to entertain good hopes in the midst of their afflictions, of which God would be the avenger. (Ps 94:1.) Here, therefore, as in a picture, Babylon is contrasted with the Church of God; Babylon, I say, elevated to the highest power, which had plunged the Church into such a miserable and afflicted condition, that it was not probable that she could ever be raised up again. But the Lord casts down Babylon from her lofty situation, and thus testifies that he cares for his people, however mean and despicable they may be. It yields very great consolation to us to learn that the whole world is governed by God for our salvation. All things are directed to this object, that those whom he has elected may be saved, and may not be overwhelmed by any changes, however numerous, that shall befall them.
It will be asked, Was there a period during which God had no compassion? Undoubtedly, he always had compassion; but while the people were distressed by heavy calamities, it was not perceived; for, having their minds previously occupied with a view of God’s anger, and, judging from outward appearances, they could not perceive God’s compassion. Yet the Lord was always like himself, and never laid aside his nature. Thus it is proper to distinguish between the knowledge which springs from faith and the knowledge which springs from experience; for when the tokens of God’s anger are visible all around, and when the judgment of the flesh leads us to believe that he is angry, his favor is concealed from us; but faith raises our hearts above this darkness, to behold God in heaven as reconciled towards us. What follows is somewhat more startling.
And will yet choose Israel, or, will again choose Israel. God’s election is eternal. He does not choose us as if this had never before come into his mind; and as we were chosen before the foundation of the world, (Eph 1:4,) so he never repents of his choice. (Ro 11:29.) But when the Lord chastises his people, this has the appearance of rejecting them; as we learn from the frequent complaints of the saints, Lord, why hast thou cast us off? (Ps 74:1.) We look at God’s rejection or election according to our weakness, and judge of his feelings toward us by the outward action. (I speak of the knowledge which is derived from experience, and which is corrected by the light of faith.) Accordingly, when the Lord calls us, that is, confirms his election, he is said to choose us; and when he gives evidence that he is displeased, he is said to reject us. The meaning, therefore, is, “Though the Lord has treated his people so severely, as if he had rejected them; yet by the actual event he will at length show and prove that he has adopted them, by giving abundant evidence of his election, and by having compassion on them for ever.”
We now may readily conclude what we have already said, namely, that the chastisements which the godly endure are widely different from that deadly stroke, however light it may be, which is inflicted on the ungodly. The godly are immediately led to consider their election, the confident belief of which cheers their hearts; but the ungodly see nothing but darkness, bottomless pits, and frightful desolation on all sides. Whenever, therefore, the Lord chastises us, we ought immediately to call to remembrance this distinction, that we may strengthen our hearts by the hope of a happier condition.
And shall cause them to rest in their own land. In their return he holds out an evidence of favor and reconciliation; for to the children of Abraham the land of Canaan was a pledge of their adoption.
And the stranger shall be joined to them. The Prophet foretells the calling of the Gentiles; as if he had said, “Not only will the Lord restore them to the possession of the land of Canaan, but will enlarge them by a great increase; for he will associate the Gentiles with them, that the two peoples may become one and the same body.” This benefit, therefore, is not limited to a short period, but extends to the whole Church, which the Lord promises to place in safety; for he speaks, not of the Church in his own time, but of the Church which shall be till the kingdom of Christ, and during his kingdom; otherwise that addition would have been inappropriate.
2. And the peoples shall take them. He means that the foreign nations will be willing to become their companions, and in such a manner that they will not scruple to discharge the duties of servants. An instance of this was given, (Ezr 1:6,) when the people were brought back from Babylon; but that was only a slight foretaste of those things which were accomplished by Christ, to whom all these statements must be referred. The Lord softened the hearts of the nations, who regarded that people with deadly hatred, so that by their guidance he brought them back to their native country, and bestowed on them their former liberty. But so far were many of the nations from assisting the Jews, after their return from Babylon, that all the neighbors earnestly entered into a league to distress them. (Ezr 4:4.) They certainly attempted not only to banish them from the land of Canaan, but to drive them entirely out of the world. These things therefore were done in the kingdom of Christ, to whom
has been given all power, not only in earth, but also in heaven, (Mt 28:18,)
and by whom the Gentiles, who formerly had been strangers, were united to the Jews, so as not only to assist them in keeping their inheritance, but also to submit calmly and willingly to bear the yoke. It is with this view that he adds —
And the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids. The Jews being in some sort the first-born (Ex 4:22) in the house of God, we who are joined to them appear as if we had assembled under their roof; for they go before us, and hold the highest rank above all the nations, and undoubtedly would still hold it, if they did not by their ingratitude deprive themselves of these great privileges. And yet their ingratitude did not hinder the Lord from actually performing these things; for the Apostles, being Jews, subdued foreign nations by the word of God, and even those very nations by whom they were formerly carried captive, and to whom they had been tributaries, such as the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Persians, and finally, the Roman empire; so that all the nations might justly be called their inheritance, though they did not wish to rule over them, but to gain them to God, that they might acknowledge the same Lord and Prince as themselves. These statements must therefore be referred to the dominion and yoke of Christ, to whom the Jews subdued the Gentiles, not to a government of an outward nature, such as the Jews falsely imagine.
3. And it shall be in that day. He adds a confirmation of the former promises. In this way the Lord provides for our weakness; for we find it difficult to render a full belief to his word, especially when the state of our affairs appears to contradict it. But by this method the Lord chooses to put our faith to the test, when he still promises the salvation of which all hope has been taken away.
From thy sorrow, and from thy trembling, and from thy hard bondage. He confirms what he has said by a variety of expressions, that, by removing all doubt, we may not cease to rely on his promises, even when our affairs are desperate. Yet by the same considerations he at the same time exhorts the Jews to gratitude, that they may never bury in forgetfulness a work of God so excellent and so worthy of remembrance. He expressly intended to mention the yoke and bondage, that the Jews might be fully aware that the Lord would take away these obstructions whenever he pleased, and that they could not at all prevent him from immediately delivering his people, when he thought fit. We ought also to apply this to our own use, in the present day, with reference to the wretched bondage and wicked yoke of Antichrist by which Christians are bound. Though they are confined and bound by snares and chains in every direction, they have God for their deliverer, who will quickly remove all difficulties and every kind of annoyances; and this ought to be extended to all sorrows, distresses, and afflictions.
4. Then thou shalt take up this saying. 213 By the term witty saying, or parable, (for the Hebrew word משל (mashal) denotes “sayings that are weighty and remarkable, and worthy of being observed,”) he shows that the ruin of Babylon will be so great that it will even become a proverb, which usually happens in great and astonishing events.
How hath the oppressor ceased? The word How throws it into the form of a question expressive of astonishment and ridicule. It might be thought incredible that Babylon, furnished with such abundant wealth and forces, should be overturned and fall into the hands of the enemy. Justly, therefore, does he ridicule their foolish and vain confidence, that, being swelled with haughtiness, they thought that they were invincible, and were placed beyond the reach of all danger.
Yet it may be thought to be inconsistent with the modesty of godly persons to scoff at the misery of others, for they ought rather to have pitied them. But it is not inconsistent with compassion, when our zeal is regulated by the justice of the judgment of God; for in that case we may with human feelings compassionate those who perish through their folly, and at the same time laugh at their insolence and madness. As the Lord scoffs at them, laughing at their senselessness, so he bids us, through zeal for his glory, mock at them; not that we may be swelled with impudence, but that we may praise his goodness and power. By this example, therefore, we may scoff at the enemies of God, when they are vanquished or brought down, as we may scoff at Antichrist, whose power we daily see diminished and gradually falling into decay.
How hath the city covetous of gold ceased! 214 The word מדהבה, (madhebah,) in this clause, might be rendered golden, or ornamented with gold; but as it is connected with the word Oppressor or Tyrant, it probably denotes covetousness and insatiable greediness for gold, to which the Babylonians were subject. It is usually the case with great empires and states and wealthy nations, that the greater their abundance, the stronger is their greediness to possess more. 215
5. The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked. He answers the question which has just been put; for he did not intend that believers should doubt that it would happen, but rather that they should be amazed at such wonderful works of God; for the question had a tendency to arouse their minds to more earnest attention. It is as if he had said that it did not happen at random or through the blind violence of fortune that they have not been oppressed by continual bondage, but that it ought to be ascribed to the providence of God, who hath broken that hard yoke of bondage. Now, the ungodly are amazed at such works, and remain bewildered, because they do not see the reason; but the godly know that this ought to be ascribed to God. Let us therefore learn to admire the works of God, and while we are amazed at them, let us acknowledge him to be the Author; and let us not think that any of them ought to be lightly passed over, especially when he displays his power for redeeming his Church, when by his wonderful power he delivers each of us from the bondage of the devil, from the tyranny of Antichrist, from eternal death. It is no ordinary work, of which any part ought to be ascribed to the power of man or to any other cause.
To the staff of the wicked he adds the sceptre of the rulers; and by this repetition he means that no imperial power can support unjust tyranny. And immediately afterwards he states more clearly that the monarchy of the Babylonians would be destroyed, because it was unjust and tyrannical, when he says (Isa 14:6) that the people had been struck with an incurable stroke, 216 and that there was no limit to the violence, because they had rioted with impunity in unbounded licentiousness. This reminds us that at length God will not spare tyrants, though he may wink at them for a time. The same destruction awaits them as, we learn, befell Babylon; for the Lord is righteous, (Ps 11:7,) and is always like himself.
7. and 8. They break forth into singing. Here he shows how greatly tyrants are hated by the whole world. When they are dead or ruined, all men break forth into joy, and express the feelings which they formerly entertained towards the tyrants, and which they dissembled through fear. Then do their hatred and spite burst forth, and not only do men make known their joy, but even the dumb creatures, as the Prophet, for the sake of amplification, adds the fir-trees and the cedars. As tyranny overturns everything, so when tyranny is done away, everything appears to be restored to its original condition.
Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us. To make the discourse more energetic, he adds a personification, in which he introduces the trees as speaking and congratulating themselves that, since the tyrant is dead, they will now stand gladly and at ease. The design of the Prophet is to show, that the Heavenly Judge cannot endure tyrants, who are abhorred by the whole world. Hence, we ought to conclude that, though under the sway of tyrants unhappy men are silent, and do not venture to open their mouths, yet the Lord listens to their secret groans. Let us not wonder therefore that tyrants come to such a dismal end; for God, who is a witness of the injuries which they have inflicted, must in the exercise of his justice assist the innocent.
9. Hell from beneath is moved for thee. 217 As he had formerly attributed gladness to the trees, so now, by a similar figure, he attributes speech to the dead 218 He arouses them, as it were, from their graves, to mock at the pride of this tyrant. The whole passage is ironical, and full of keen sarcasm. At the approach of kings, the people tremble, and come forth to meet and receive them with pompous display. The Prophet makes a fictitious representation, that when this tyrant shall die and go down to the grave, the dead will go forth to meet and honor him, but with such honor as he deserves. As if he had said, “Not only the living, but also the dead will rejoice at his death. The dead also will treat him respectfully according to his deserts.”
10. All shall speak and say to thee. These are taunts with which the dead jeer the tyrant who has joined them, as if they asked him what is the reason why he too is dead like other men. Struck with the singularity of the event, Isaiah pretends that they inquire with astonishment about it as something that could not be believed.
Art thou become like unto us? Tyrants are blinded by their greatness, and do not think that they are mortal, and even make themselves to be half-gods and adore themselves. On this account it is made known after their death that they shared in the condition of all mortals, to which they did not think that they were liable. It is in this sense that the dead, not without bitter scorn, reproach him for having become like unto themselves; for “death alone,” as the poet says, “acknowledges how small are the dimensions of the bodies of men.” 219 David also, speaking of princes and their high rank, says,
I have said, ye are gods; but you shall die like men, and fall like one of the common people. (Ps. 82:6, 7.)
The bodies of princes, like those of the common people, must at length become corrupted and be devoured by worms, even though costly and splendid sepulchres be built for them.
11. Thy pomp is laid down in the grave. He mentions royal pomp, that this change may be more attentively considered by comparing the latter with the former; and he shows that that pomp could not prevent him from being reduced to the same level with other men. Under the term musical instruments, he includes all the luxuries and enjoyments in which kings are wont to indulge; because not only does the sweetness of music cause them to forget death, but the mad sound of them drives away all sadness, and in some respects stupifies the minds of men.
The worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. In this second clause, the dead say jestingly, “Thou hast obtained a bed worthy of thee; for the worms serve thee for tapestry or a soft couch, and the worm serves for a splendid coverlet.” In a word, there is here exhibited to us a lively painting of the foolish confidence of men, who, intoxicated with their present enjoyments and prosperity, flatter themselves. This doctrine ought to be carefully pondered; for though men be well aware of their condition, and have death before their eyes, yet overrun by ambition, and soothed by pleasures, and even fascinated by empty show, they forget themselves.
12. How art thou fallen from heaven! Isaiah proceeds with the discourse which he had formerly begun as personating the dead, and concludes that the tyrant differs in no respect from other men, though his object was to lead men to believe that he was some god. He employs an elegant metaphor, by comparing him to Lucifer, and calls him the Son of the Dawn; 220 and that on account of his splendor and brightness with which he shone above others. The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians. But when passages of Scripture are taken up at random, and no attention is paid to the context, we need not wonder that mistakes of this kind frequently arise. Yet it was an instance of very gross ignorance, to imagine that Lucifer was the king of devils, and that the Prophet gave him this name. But as these inventions have no probability whatever, let us pass by them as useless fables.
Casting the lot upon the nations, or weakening the nations. 221 Translators have mistaken the meaning of this clause, by rendering the participle הולש (holesh) passively, Thou art become weak, for its signification is active. But as the verb from which it is derived signifies to cast a lot, and as the preposition על, (gnal,) upon, is here added, it is best to take it in this meaning, that, as the ruler and disposer of all countries, he directed them by lot, or held them as his own possessions. And yet I do not reject the other meaning, that he weakened the nations
13. Yet thou saidst in thy heart. These words must be connected with what goes before. To say means here, according to the custom of the Hebrew language, to resolve in one’s own mind. The Prophet ridicules the pride of the Babylonian monarch, who, relying on his greatness, ventured to promise to himself uninterrupted success, as if he had the power of determining the events of his life. In him there is exhibited to us a mirror of the madness of pride with which ungodly men are swelled, and which sometimes they even vomit out. Nor ought we only to behold here the person of a single tyrant, but the blasphemous rage of all the ungodly, who form their resolutions as if they could dispose of everything according to their pleasure; as their plans are also beautifully described by James,
We shall go into that city, we shall transact business, we shall make gain, though at the same time they know not what to-morrow shall bring. (Jas 4:13.)
They do not consider that they are in the hands of God, but believe that they will do everything by their own ability.
I will ascend into heaven. In these words, and those which immediately follow, the boasting is so absurd that it is impossible to believe that they proceeded from the lips of a mortal man; but as the Prophet did not intend to quote the very words which Nebuchadnezzar employed, let us be satisfied with examining the subject itself. Undoubtedly, all who claim for themselves more than human nature will allow, may be said to “attack heaven itself after the manner of the giants,” as the proverb runs. 222 Hence it follows that whatever they undertake will be destructive to them; more especially every one who goes beyond the limits of his calling provokes the wrath of God against himself by his rashness. Let every one therefore be satisfied with his lot, and learn not to aim at anything higher, but, on the contrary, to remain in his own rank in which God has placed him. If God stretch out his hand, and lift us up higher, we ought to go forward; but no one ought to take it on himself, or to strive for it from his own choice. And even those who are raised to a higher rank of honor ought to conduct themselves humbly and submissively, not with any pretended modesty, but with minds so thoroughly depressed that nothing can lift them up.
I will sit on the mountain of the testimony, 223 on the sides of the north. This plainly shows the reason why the Prophet especially accuses the Babylonian tyrant of so great madness, and what the Prophet means by such figures. He desired to sit on the mountain of the testimony. By this effrontery he attempted to make himself equal to God. Though he reasoned, after the manner of men, that he could obtain a victory over the Jews, yet, reckoning as nothing the assistance of God, by whom he had often heard that they were protected, it was as if he had endeavored to destroy the very heavens. For Mount Zion he uses the expression the sides of the north, according to the description,
Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, 224
the city of the great King. (Ps 48:2.)
He had formerly called it the mountain of the testimony. This word is derived from יעד, (yagnad;), which signifies to unite, to assemble, and to be agreed. On this account מועד (mogned) signifies both an assembly and an appointed day; and, in a word, it may relate to time, place, and persons. But here I prefer to view it as a Covenant; for the Lord, speaking by Moses, calls the Tabernacle מועד, (mogned,) and says, I will meet with you there. (Exod. 25:21, 22, Exod. 29:42.) Let us not think, therefore, that it means an assembly of men, as when irreligious persons assemble to their fairs or festivals, but that the Lord intended to give a token of his presence, and there to ratify his covenant. This ought to be carefully observed; for the blasphemy of the wicked king is proved by this, that he attacked heaven itself rather than an earthly place.
14. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. 225 It might certainly be thought strange that the Prophet thus accuses the Babylonian monarch, as if he wished to make himself equal to God, since, as we have said, this thought could scarcely enter into the mind of a man without making him absolutely shudder. As there is a seed of religion implanted in us by nature, so we are constrained, even against our will, to entertain the belief of some superior being who excells all things; and no man is so mad as to wish to cast down God from his throne; for we are instructed by nature that we ought to worship and adore God. Hence also the Gentiles, though they were ignorant of God, rendered worship to their idols; and therefore it may be thought improbable that the king of Babylon wished to drive out God, and to reign in heaven.
And yet the Prophet does not accuse him falsely. Though the ungodly do not believe that they ought to reign instead of God, yet, when they exalt themselves more than is proper, they take away a portion of what belongs to him, and claim it for themselves, which is the same as if they wished to pull him down from his throne. And what did Satan say when he deceived our first parent? Ye shall be as gods. (Ge 3:5.) Consequently, all who dare to ascribe more to themselves than God allows are chargeable with exalting themselves against God, as if they declared war against him; for where pride is, contempt of God must be there.
We ought also to observe that argument which we lately noticed, that the tyrant, by assailing the Church, which was God’s holy heritage, might be said intentionally to attack God. Since, therefore, he profaned the heavenly sanctuary, the language ought not to be thought exaggerated. Hence also we obtain a doctrine full of most valuable consolation, for we are taught that the ungodly exalt themselves against God whenever they attack his Church. He is not accused of exalting himself above angels, but of endeavoring to crush the Church of God. The worship of God is not now confined to one place, but is as extensive as the whole world. Whenever, therefore, men call on the name of God, if any tyrant rise up to oppress the godly, let us know that he attacks not men, but God himself, who at length will not endure to be insulted.
We shall afterwards meet with a similar example in Sennacherib, of whom Isaiah declares that, while he threatened and reproached Zion, he threatened and reproached God himself. Let us therefore know that we are under the protection of God in such a manner, that any one who gives us trouble will also have God for his enemy.
He that hurteth you, says he, hurteth the apple of mine eye. (Zec 2:8.)
He likewise testifies that he dwells in the midst of the Church, (Ps 46:5,) so that no one can attack the Church without receiving the first strokes; and therefore he will avenge the injuries which the Church endures, though he may permit her to be afflicted for a time.
15. But thou shalt be brought down to the grave. He formerly explained the intention of the king of Babylon, which was, that he should place his throne above the clouds; but he now contrasts with it an opposite event, namely, the sides of the pit or ditch, that is, some corner of a sepulcher into which he shall be thrown. He had formerly said that the king of Babylon wished to be carried up to Mount Zion, to the sides of the north, because that was a very lofty situation, and widely seen. He now uses the word sides in an opposite sense, as if he had said that he would have an abode in the most contemptible part of a sepulcher, as when one is thrust into a mean and despicable corner. In a wide and large sepulcher they place the dead bodies of honorable men in the middle; but the Prophet means that he will be thrown into a corner, or into the outer edges. Thus the Lord from on high laughs at the pride of the ungodly, so that, when they shall have swallowed up everything by their covetousness, and shall have burst through the clouds and heaven itself by their effrontery, he will at length expose them to the mockery of all, after having, in the twinkling of an eye, overturned their schemes.
16. They that see thee. The Prophet again, personating the dead, mocks at that wicked king. It might also be viewed as relating to the living; but it is better to apply the whole of this discourse to the dead, if we would not rather refer it to the grave itself, which amounts nearly to the same thing. We are wont to stretch out our neck when we meet with anything that is strange, or that deserves our attention. Thus, when it was thought to be a kind of prodigy that this king, who possessed so great power, had died, the Prophet says that the eyes of all men were directed towards him, to look at him earnestly, as if they scarcely believed their own eyes.
Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that shook kingdoms? They first ask, if it be possible that he who, by the slightest expression of his will, made the earth to tremble, should be so quickly and easily laid low. Next, he mentions that this man was eager, but is unable, to destroy everything, and shows that tyrants, with all their cruelty, are like clouds, which pour down a sudden shower of rain or hail, as if they would destroy everything, but are scattered in a moment. This comparison was also employed by the good old Athanasius, when some one threatened him with the rage of the Emperor Julian. Isaiah shows that this change proceeds from the hand of God, who, by the slightest expression of his will, can overturn the whole world.
17. He made the world as a wilderness. He expresses the cruel and savage disposition of the tyrant, by saying that he brought desolation on the world, that he overthrew cities, that he did not release prisoners. It is sometimes the custom of conquerors to release prisoners, in order to win their hearts by kindness; but tyrants choose rather to be feared than to be loved. They think that the only way to reign is to strike terror into all by inexorable cruelty. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, that their end is so wretched and dismal; for it is impossible that the Lord should not, after having chastised his Church by their cruelty, give them like for like, and withhold all compassion from those who failed to exercise compassion to others. He therefore shows how wretched tyrants are, for they have God for their enemy, and are hated by men.
18. All the kings of the nations. He contrasts the king of Babylon with other kings, in order to show that, after his death, he will be more wretched than all the rest. And thus by comparison he gives a more enlarged view of the judgment of God, by which he would avenge the injuries done to his Church. This passage is the reason why I do not venture to limit, what Isaiah here foretells about the king of Babylon, to the person of Nebuchadnezzar alone; because it does not appear from history that he was denied burial. The Jews, indeed, relate that Evil-merodach gave orders that he should be dug out of his grave, because the nobles of the kingdom would not venture to pay homage to him, unless there were evidence that his father was dead; but Jerome, though otherwise credulous enough, treats this as a fable.
He therefore describes, not a single man, but a whole dynasty; and, in like manner, when Scripture speaks of Antichrist, it includes the whole duration of his reign. Consequently, as if in the person of one man, the Prophet ridicules the pride of all those tyrants, and threatens what shall be their end, namely this, that they shall not have a spot of earth to bury them, though formerly they were insatiable whirlpools, and could not be satisfied with any possessions. They who have scarcely a foot of earth still retain their right to have a grave, which was also highly prized by the patriarchs; for it was reckoned disgraceful to be deprived of it.
19. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch. He shows that the kings of Babylon will be loaded with such disgrace, that they will even be cast out of the sepulcher which they possessed by inheritance, and will exhibit a disgraceful spectacle. It may be asked, Is it of so great value in the sight of God to be buried with our fathers, that to be deprived of it should be reckoned a punishment and a curse? I answer, he does not here speak of the grave, as if it were necessary for salvation; but it ought justly to be reckoned disgraceful to be denied burial. And first, we ought to consider why burial has been so highly valued among all nations. This undoubtedly arose from the patriarchs, whose bodies the Lord commanded to be buried in the hope of the last resurrection. The carcases of beasts are cast out, because they are only fit for rotting; but ours are laid in the earth, that being kept there, they may await the last day, when they shall rise to enjoy a blessed and immortal life in union with the soul.
Various superstitions have arisen as to the interment of bodies. This has undoubtedly been occasioned by the craftiness of Satan, who usually corrupts and perverts everything that is good and useful, for he devised innumerable contrivances by which he might dazzle the eyes of men. We need not wonder that the Jews had a great variety of ceremonies connected with this subject, and they cannot be blamed on account of it, for Christ had not yet been revealed, and consequently they had not so clear a revelation of the resurrection. But in our time the case is very different, for we plainly see the resurrection in Christ, and, every vail having now been removed, we behold clear promises which were more obscure to the Jews. If any one, therefore, were again to introduce and renew those ancient rites, he would undoubtedly darken the light, and, by putting a vail on Christ who has been revealed to us, would offer to him a high insult. Yet it is not useless to pay attention to burial, for it is the symbol of the last resurrection, which we still look for; but let there be no superstition and ostentatious display in funerals, which all godly persons ought to detest.
Now, if any one has been entirely deprived of burial, we must examine the cause. Many of the prophets, martyrs, and holy men have been deprived of it. We hear the Church bewailing that
the dead bodies of the servants of God have been thrown down to wild beasts and to the fowls of heaven, and that there is none to bury them, (Ps. 79:2, 3;)
and every day we see the servants of Christ burned, or drowned, or hanged; and yet their death is glorious and blessed in the sight of God. As the cross of Christ was blessed, so crosses, chains, prisons, and deaths, which are endured by his members, share in the same blessing, and far exceed the prosperity and trappings and splendor and majesty of kings, so that, following the example of Paul, they boldly venture even to glory in them. (Ro 5:3; 2Co 12:5; Ga 6:14.)
But as to those whom the Lord permits to remain unburied, when we see nothing else than a token of his anger, we must fall back on this statement and others of the same kind. For example, Jeremiah threatened Jehoiakim with the burial of an ass, because he deserved to be ranked with beasts rather than with men, who, even after death, are distinguished from beasts by being buried. Thus it was proper that the king of Babylon, who had exalted himself above all men, should be cast down below all men, so as even to be deprived of ordinary burial. Isaiah, therefore, foretells that he will not be buried in his own house, that is, in the sepulcher of his fathers, which came to him by inheritance; for we must not suppose that sepulchres were within houses. 226 The comparisons which are added express more strongly the disgrace which was due to that tyrant. As hurtful or useless trees are rooted out, so he shows that the king of Babylon does not deserve to have any place among men.
As the garments of those who are slain. They who fall in the field of battle are not buried in the ordinary way, but their bloody and stinking bodies are trodden down, and are thrown into a ditch along with their rotten garments, that they may not infect the air with their offensive smell; and no one deigns to touch the very garments defiled by mire and blood, lest he should be polluted by them. Which of the kings of Babylon it was that suffered this we cannot tell; but undoubtedly it was fulfilled.
20. For thou hast laid thy land desolate. This is the reason why he says that the king of Babylon did not deserve burial. He who has laid the earth desolate does not deserve that the earth shall receive him into its bosom and cover him. As the earth supports the living, so it covers the dead, and keeps them till the coming of Christ. It is therefore a just punishment of cruelty, when the earth refuses to receive into her bosom those who have dishonored her. There is added a threatening still more severe, that the Lord will also inflict on posterity the remainder of the punishment.
The seed of the wicked shall not be continually remembered. There are two ways in which we may explain this clause, either that the remembrance of the seed of the wicked will not be of long duration, or that it will be altogether extinguished. The word לעולם 227 (legnolam) may be translated in various ways, for it may refer either to the past or to the future. If we refer it to the past, the meaning will be, “Although the seed of the wicked be renowned, לעולם, (legnolam,) for a time, yet the remembrance of it will at length pass away.” If we refer it to the future, the meaning will be, “God will extinguish the seed of the wicked, so that it shall never again be mentioned.” It usually happens that the Lord curses the seed of the wicked, as, on the other hand, he blesses the seed of the godly, (Pr 10:7;) and as the righteous shall be held in perpetual remembrance, (Ps 112:6,) so the remembrance of the wicked must be destroyed and cut off. (Ps 34:16.) Though we do not always behold these things with our eyes, yet there are abundant and clear proofs of the fact, by which it is fully confirmed.
But we must attend to the reason of this vengeance. The Lord punishes the pride of wicked men, who wish to spread their name, and to leave a perpetual remembrance of them; for all irreligious men have this for the object of their labors and exertions. On the other hand, the Lord blots out their name and remembrance, which appeared to be inscribed on lasting records; and the result is, that they are not only despised but even abhorred by all men. This happens to all tyrants, that though, while they live, they are universally applauded and flattered, yet after they are dead, they and their posterity are universally abhorred. It is therefore evident that they are detested by God, by angels, and by men.
21. Prepare slaughter for his children. Here Isaiah prophesies more plainly than before against the king of Babylon. He speaks of the whole of his descendants, to whom he intimates that this destruction extends. We must keep in mind what we formerly said, that hitherto the Prophet has spoken not of a single man, but of a whole dynasty; and now he removes all doubt as to the metaphorical language. The rendering given by the old translation, Prepare his children for the slaughter, does not agree well; for the preposition ל, (lamed,) which is prefixed, evidently shows that it ought to be translated to or for the children.
We must see to whom this discourse relates. It must be understood that reference is made, though not directly expressed, to some servants as officers or executioners, whom the Lord orders to be in a state of preparation for executing his judgments. And who were they? Partly the Medes and Persians, and partly others by whom Babylon was completely overthrown; for, as we have formerly said, Babylon was not entirely destroyed when the Persians subdued it. He therefore addresses those whom the Lord, by his eternal decree, had appointed to destroy Babylon. This mode of expression is more energetic than if he had merely said that slaughter was prepared; for he shows that he not only disposes of wicked men according to his pleasure, but that he has servants at hand to punish their sins.
For the iniquity of their fathers. When he says that in this manner the iniquity of the fathers is punished, it may at first sight appear to be excessively harsh to include the children along with the fathers in what relates to the infliction of punishment on them, and still more harsh, that the punishment due to the fathers should be extended even to their children and grandchildren. This inconsistency may easily be avoided if the word עון (gnavon) be translated misery; for it denotes the punishment of sin as well as sin itself. (Exod. 20:5, Exod. 34:7; De 5:9; Jer 32:18.) But as it is frequently stated in Scripture, that God recompenses the sins of the parents into the bosom of the children, there is no necessity for evading it in this manner.
Nor is this inconsistent with what is said by Ezekiel,
The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.
God does not punish any innocent person; and this passage ought not to be understood as if the punishment due to ancestors were transferred by God to children who in other respects deserved no such punishment; for the guilt of the children is connected with the guilt of the fathers. Not to mention the universal curse of the human race, to which all are subject from the womb, let us take the example of some wicked man. When the Lord casts away that man and his posterity, we certainly have no right to remonstrate with him. If his blessing is free and undeserved, we have no right to constrain him, because he does not bestow it equally on all. His grace is free; and each of us ought to reflect, that anything good which we have, does not naturally belong to us, but, on the contrary, comes from another quarter, and has proceeded from the undeserved goodness of God. If, therefore, he cast off any one, must not that man’s seed also be accursed? When we are destitute of his grace, what remains but iniquity? And if they are liable to eternal death, much more to temporal punishments; for he who has been condemned to undergo capital punishment, deserves much more to endure imprisonment and scourging.
This ought to be carefully observed. I consider it to be a childish reply that is given by those who think that the Lord inflicts temporal punishments on the children of wicked men for the sins of their parents, and who do not look upon it as unworthy of God to inflict punishments of this nature even on innocent persons; for God never punishes those who do not deserve it, and he is by nature inclined to compassion; and how would he spare wicked men if he exercised his wrath against the innocent? We ought, therefore, to hold it as a settled point, that all who are destitute of the grace of God are involved in the sentence of eternal death. Hence it follows, that the children of the reprobate, whom the curse of God pursues, are liable to the same sentence. Isaiah, therefore, does not speak of innocent children, but of flagitious and unprincipled children, who perhaps even exceeded their parents in wickedness; in consequence of which they were justly associated with their parents, and subjected to the same punishment, seeing that they have followed the same manner of life.
It will be said, that in that case they suffer the punishment of their own sin and not of their parents. This, I acknowledge, is partly true; but it was with their parents that the rejection began, on account of which they also have been forsaken and rejected by God. Their own guilt is not set aside as if they had been innocent; but, having been involved in the same sins as to reprobation, they are also liable to the same punishments and miseries. I am aware that this solution does not satisfy those who never cease to quarrel with God; but I give myself little concern about them, provided that I satisfy godly persons and those who are not fond of disputing; and these, I hope and trust, will be well satisfied with this reply, which is true.
That they may not fill the face of the world with cities. Some render it, that they may not fill the face of the earth with enemies; as if the Prophet meant that all wicked men are enemies of the human race, or rather of the whole earth; and, therefore, that the Lord provides for the safety of all, when he takes them out of the midst; for the earth would otherwise be choked by them as by thorns and briers. But this signification appears to express something more; for the earth receives us into her bosom, if we do our duty; and if we be despisers of God, the earth, even against her will, nourishes and supports us as enemies.
But I would rather follow another signification, which is more commonly received. I think that the Prophet intimates that wicked men have a numerous progeny, and that they surpass others both in numbers and in display, which we also see taking place every day, and which has originated the proverb, that “a bad reed grows quickly.” The Prophet, therefore, insinuates, that wicked men would fill the whole earth not only with men, but also with towns, if the Lord did not beforehand perceive and guard against this evil, and diminish their number. When we everywhere see a vast multitude of wicked men, by whom the earth is almost overwhelmed, it is what we richly deserve; but the Lord never deals so harshly with us as not to leave some remnant of good seed, however small, and likewise to reserve some corners of the earth in which godly men shall have a little breathing. And if the Lord did not cut off a large proportion of wicked men, the earth would undoubtedly be soon overwhelmed by them.
This confirms what we have already said, that the children of the Babylonians who were slain were not innocent, for here the cause is assigned, that they may not fill the earth with cities. It follows, therefore, that they were wicked, and are taken away by a righteous judgment, that provision may be made for the salvation of men, and that the Lord cannot be accused of harshness and cruelty.
22. For I will rise up against them. The Lord now declares that he will do what he had formerly, by the Prophet, commanded others to do. Both statements ought to be observed, that it is the work of God, when wicked men are ruined, though he may employ the agency of men in executing his judgments. He formerly addressed them, saying, Prepare. (Verse. 21.) This should lead us to observe not only the power of God, but likewise the efficacy of prophecy, in consequence of which the prophets, by the appointment of God, command all nations to do this or that; and next, that men are so far from being able to hinder the accomplishment that they are even constrained to yield obedience to God. As we usually rely on men, and, by neglecting God, attribute to them the power of doing everything, we ought to hold by this principle, that since God acts by means of them, he is, strictly speaking, the Author of the work, and that they are only servants or instruments. This is clearly enough shown by the connection of what immediately follows.
I have thought it best to view the particle ו (vau) as meaning for. He assigns the reason why he enjoins the Medes and others to prepare destruction to the Babylonians, For I will rise up against them. This mode of expression, by which the Lord says that he riseth up, is sufficiently common. By means of it, the Prophet accommodates himself to our capacity, for the majesty of God is so high that we cannot conceive of it. We think that God is idle and unoccupied, so long as he winks at men; and therefore he says that he riseth up, when he exerts his power, and manifests it by some visible act.
Saith the Lord of hosts. This title serves to confirm the statement; as if he had said that he did not, without good grounds, claim the government over the nations; for God governs all armies by his own hand. Since, therefore, he has been appointed to make known the purpose of God, it belongs to him to command men, that they may yield obedience to him. By the words saith the Lord, which he twice repeats in this verse, he affirms that he utters nothing but what has been commanded by God, that this prophecy may carry greater weight.
And I will cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, son and grandson. It has been often enough mentioned before, that this destruction did not overtake Babylon till after the death of Alexander the Great. By the phrase sons and grandsons, he means not only the posterity but the remembrance, which wicked men are so desirous to obtain, in order that they may be applauded for many ages after their death. This also the Lord took away from Babylon, that no remembrance of it might remain, but what was accompanied by dishonor and reproach.
23. And I will make it to be a possession of the hedgehog. 228 He again confirms the same things which he formerly predicted, namely, that henceforth it will not be a habitation of men, but will resemble a hideous cavern, in which wild beasts shall lurk. קפד (kippod) is rendered by some a beaver, by some a tortoise, and by others a hedgehog. From the connection of the passage, it is probable that the Prophet spoke of an animal that is found near the water; for he afterwards mentions pools of water. This applies strictly to the situation of the place, for though Babylon did not lie in a marsh, yet it lay in a moist place, the country around it being watered on one side by the Euphrates, and on the other by the Tigris. Hence the Lord threatens to bring a deluge upon it. 229
24. The Lord of hosts hath sworn. For more full confirmation an oath was necessary. There is nothing of which it is more difficult to convince us than that wicked men will immediately be ruined, when we see them flourishing, and furnished with all means of defense, and seemingly placed out of danger, and free from all fear. We are therefore stunned by beholding them, and are dazzled by their brightness, so that we can scarcely believe God when he foretells their ruin and destruction. On this account he employs an oath, that he may leave no room for doubt. Hence we learn how great is his forbearance towards us, when he aids our weakness by applying this remedy, for otherwise he might have been satisfied with simply declaring it. This tends to the consolation of the godly, as we shall afterwards see. (Isa 22:14.)
If it hath not been as I thought. The elliptical form of an oath which he employs must be well known, for it occurs frequently in Scripture. The Lord purposely used this guarded language, that we might not be too free in the use of oaths, which burst from us daringly and at random. He suppresses the greater part of the oath. “If I shall not do what I have decreed, let men think that I am a liar, and let them not think that I am God;” or something of this kind (which we shudder to express) is left to be supplied. Men ought, therefore, to lay a bridle on themselves, so as not to break out at random into imprecations, or to pronounce shocking curses against themselves; but let them learn from this to restrain their insolence.
25. That I may bruise the Assyrian in my land. Some think that this relates to Sennacherib’s army, which the hand of God destroyed by means of an angel, when he besieged Jerusalem. (2Ki 19:35; Isa 37:36.) If this interpretation be preferred, the meaning will be, that the Lord will shortly give some evidence of that destruction which he has threatened against the Babylonians. Those who heard these predictions might have brought this objection: “Of what avail will it be to us that Babylon is destroyed, after Babylon has ruined us? Would it not have been better that both Babylon and we had remained uninjured? What consolation will be yielded to us by its destruction, when we, too, shall have been destroyed?” And, indeed, I have no doubt that he holds out a proof of God’s favor in destroying their enemies, which either had been already manifested, or would be manifested soon afterwards.
I dare not affirm at what time this prediction was uttered by the Prophet, but it may be conjectured with some probability that the slaughter of Sennacherib’s army by the angel had already taken place. In this way, from a striking event which they had known, the Prophet would lead them to expect a future redemption; as if he had said, “You have already perceived how wonderfully God assists his people at the very hour of danger.” I am thus prepared to assign a reason for thinking that Sennacherib’s army had been already slain. Undoubtedly this instruction must have been of some use.
But Babylon did not begin to give any annoyance to the Jews before she had subdued the Assyrians and renewed the monarchy. So long, therefore, as the Jews had nothing to do with Babylon, why did the Prophet speak of the judgment of God, by which he would avenge his people? There is no absurdity in supposing that the record of a past event is confounded with a prediction. And yet it will not be inadmissible to say that the Assyrians are here put for the Chaldeans; for though they had been deprived of the government, yet it is probable that they were always first in a state of readiness whenever there was an opportunity of attacking the Jews, and that, while they fought under foreign leaders, they formed the greater part of the army. Not only were they nearer than the Chaldeans, but those who at that time held the sway were aware that their inveterate hostility against the Jews would make them loyal and obedient in that war. Besides, it was advantageous to the conquerors to weaken the vanquished by continual wars, till they had been accustomed to bear the yoke.
Most appropriately, therefore, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, Isaiah, though he is speaking of Babylon, describes the whole of its forces under the name of Assyria. There will thus be no argument which lays us under the necessity of explaining this passage as relating to the slaughter effected by the angel in Sennacherib’s army. The Prophet merely affirms, so far as my judgment goes, that the Lord will put an end to the tyranny of the Assyrians, so that they shall not always enjoy their present superiority. As if he had said, “Though for a time God permits wicked men to rule over you, this power will not always last; for one day he will, as it were, break the yoke, and deliver this people from this bondage under which they groan.” The Assyrians, though they were vanquished by the Chaldeans, did not on that account, as we have said, cease to be enemies of the Church; but Babylon, which had succeeded in the room of Nineveh, began at that time, by a kind of transferred right, to carry on war with the Jews.
And his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden shall be taken from their shoulder. When he says that the Assyrian will be broken in Judea, this must not be understood as if they would be slain there, or that they would be instantly crushed by some calamity; but that the chosen people would be delivered from their tyranny, and that their authority would thus be taken away. The breaking, therefore, does not refer so much to persons as to the empire. What he says about the yoke and the burden would not apply strictly to the Assyrians alone, who at least never were masters of the city of Jerusalem; and therefore we must attend to the succession which I mentioned, for the Chaldeans had no right to carry on war except that right which they boasted of as having been conveyed to them by the Assyrians. Thus I think that I am justified in extending this prophecy to that deliverance by which the Lord showed that he would avenge his people against the Chaldeans and Assyrians; for at that time the yoke was shaken off by which the Jews were miserably held bound, and it even includes the redemption obtained through Christ, of which that deliverance was a forerunner.
And upon my mountains I will tread him under feet. Some think that the word mountains is put in the plural number for Mount Zion; but I prefer a different interpretation. Jerusalem being situated among the mountains, the whole country around was despised for that reason. The Prophet therefore speaks contemptuously, as if he admitted that the country was regarded by the enemies as of little value because it was mountainous. But this very contempt serves to magnify the power of God; for he shakes off from his mountains the dominion of this powerful monarchy. This refers to the narrative contained in 1 Kings 20:23, 28
26. This purpose which is purposed upon the whole earth. The Lord is not satisfied with one or two confirmations, and can scarcely refrain from proclaiming it more and more abundantly, because he knows well that our minds are naturally prone to distrust. No confirmation suffices for us, even though his promises be frequent and copious and solemn. God therefore wishes to remedy this disease, and that is the design of the repetition, so that we must not think that it is superfluous. They who suppose that the Prophet, or rather the Spirit of God, uses too many words, are not well acquainted with themselves.
He declares, first, the will and purpose of God, and, secondly, his power. How comes it that we have any doubts about the word, but because we do not ascribe to God that power which belongs to him, or because we are not convinced of his power? These are the only two causes of our unbelief, with which, on the other hand, we ought to contrast the two things which Isaiah recommends to our notice, namely, the purpose and the power of God. We ought to believe, first, that God is true, for he declares nothing that is not fixed and unchangeable; and, secondly, that he is powerful, and that nothing can withstand his arm. Again, we must not inquire about the secret purpose of God: for the Prophet here enjoins us to rest satisfied with the decree which has been manifested in the word of God. We must not rise any higher, therefore, so as to penetrate into the secrets of God; but we ought to be satisfied with undoubted proofs which he declares by the mouth of the prophets. Let us therefore embrace all the promises of God with our whole heart, and let us also add to them his power; for his hand ought never to be separated from his mouth. We must not imagine his power to be, as philosophers talk, a power that is unemployed, but, as the Scriptures teach us, powerful and active.
A question may here arise, Why does he mention the whole earth and all the nations, when he is only speaking about Babylon? But we must keep in remembrance what we formerly said, that the Babylonian empire, after having swallowed up Nineveh, extended nearly through the whole of the east, and that various nations were subject to it. The consequence was, that the devastation of that empire was also the destruction of the whole world; for such great monarchies cannot fall without involving many in an extensive ruin. Accordingly, as the extent of that empire might lead men to call in question this prophecy, Isaiah shows that, though it be spread far and wide, and includes a boundless multitude of nations, that does not prevent God from executing his decree.
27. For the Lord of hosts hath decreed. Isaiah here employs what may be regarded as a concluding exclamation, to confirm more fully the preceding statement. Having said that it is the purpose of the Lord, in order to show that it cannot be broken or made void, (Ps 33:11,) he puts a question as if about a thing impossible, Who shall disannul his purpose? or, who shall turn back his hand? By this exclamation he speaks disdainfully of all the creatures; for as soon as the Lord has decreed, he stretches out his hand, and when his hand is stretched out, the execution of the work must undoubtedly follow. Nor is it only men whom he declares to be incapable, but he also declares everything else to be incapable of preventing the decree of God; at least if there be anything but man and Satan that opposes his will. In short, he intimates that there can be no repentance or change in God, (Nu 23:19,) but that whatever may happen, even amidst an endless diversity of events, he continues always to be like himself, and that no occurrence can thwart his purpose.
If it be objected that God sometimes changed his purpose, as when he spared the Ninevites, (Jonah 1:2, Jonah 3:10,) Abimelech, (Gen. 20:3, 17,) or Pharaoh, (Ge 12:17,) the answer is easy. When the Lord sent Jonah to the Ninevites, he did not reveal what had been decreed in his secret purpose, but wished to arouse their minds by the preaching of Jonah, that he might have compassion on them. The same thing might be said, when he threatened Abimelech and Pharaoh, because they wished to lay hands on Abraham’s wife; for thus the Lord, by terrifying them, intended to keep them back, that they might not suffer the punishment of their obstinacy.
28. In the year that King Ahaz died. Here the fifteenth chapter ought to have begun, for the Prophet enters on a new subject; and this plainly shows how absurdly the chapters are divided, or rather torn asunder. Having spoken of the Babylonians, he passes to the Philistines; 230 or, perhaps, before speaking of the Babylonians, he addressed the Philistines, who, being the near neighbors of the Jews, cherished deadly hostility against them. They were the remainder of those nations whom the Israelites spared, though the Lord had commanded that they should be removed out of the midst of them. (Nu 33:52; De 7:16.) Their unbelief in this matter was the reason why the Lord left these nations to be thorns, that they might prick their eyes; as the Scripture shows that the Lord had formerly threatened against them. (Nu 33:55.) In consequence of the deadly animosities which existed between these two nations, whenever the Jews sustained any defeat, the Philistines reckoned it to be so much gain to themselves; for they wished the ruin of the Jews, and no occurrence could give them greater delight than when the Jews were reduced to the deepest adversity and distress. The Prophet therefore prophesies against them as against the constant enemies of the Church.
It is proper to attend to the time when this vision was exhibited to the Prophet. So long as Ahaz lived, the Philistines were victorious. That wicked hypocrite, who had forsaken God, and eagerly sought the outward assistance of man, was punished for his treachery. During his reign the Philistines (2Ch 28:18) recovered those towns which Uzziah (2 Chr. 26:6, 7) had taken out of their hands; but after his death, they became still more courageous, for they expected that they would then gain all that they desired, because he who had been left as his heir was still a child; for Hezekiah, the new king, had neither shrewdness, nor authority, nor wisdom. These circumstances, therefore, ought to be carefully observed; for Isaiah has not the Philistines so much in his view, though he speaks to them, as the godly, whom he wishes to comfort and strengthen with good hope by this prophecy, who would otherwise have thought that the condition of Judea was entirely ruined, because they were attacked by enemies on all sides, and no assistance of any kind could be seen. To those persons, therefore, in their distressed and forlorn condition, Isaiah stretches out his hand, and bids them be of good courage, because the Lord would undoubtedly assist them.
This burden. He calls this prophecy a burden, because it would be disagreeable and painful to the Philistines, who thought that they had got rid of every annoyance, because the Jews were hard pressed, and had no hope of bettering their condition; and therefore he threatens that the destruction of the Philistines also is at hand.
29. Rejoice not, thou whole Philistia. 231 He begins by checking the vain and groundless confidence with which the Philistines were puffed up, and, by adding Thou whole, he intimates that all of them would feel a portion of this calamity; as if he had said that not only would that country be laid waste in some part, but that there would not be a corner of it exempted from the stroke, and that, in all its length and breadth, it would immediately and universally be visited with destruction.
Because the rod of him that smote thee is broken. Some think that by the broken rod is meant King Ahaz, but that view is unfounded; for in all his battles with the Philistines he was vanquished. (2Ch 28:18.) It must therefore be referred to Uzziah, (2Ch 26:6,) and yet I would not choose to limit it even to him, but would at the same time refer it to the whole body of the Jewish people. It is as if he had said to Palestina, “Thinkest thou that thou art safe, when the Jews, who formerly distressed thee, have been subdued? Thou art greatly deceived; for very soon shalt thou be more severely distressed.” For this reason, as I have said, I do not limit it to any one person, but think that in the person of one man is described the whole body of the Jews.
For out of the adder’s root shall spring a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery serpent. He now assigns the reason why Palestina ought not to rejoice; namely, that the Jews would have more power than ever to do injury; that if the Philistines had formerly sustained damage from them, they would afterwards sustain greater and heavier damage. The metaphor which he employs is highly appropriate; for the cockatrice is more hurtful than the adder, and the fiery serpent is more hurtful than the cockatrice. Through the kindness of God we have no animals so destructive in the countries which we inhabit. But the Prophet means nothing else than that the power of doing them injury has been taken away from the Jews; and therefore I differ from others who view the name of the adder and of the fiery serpent as applying to Hezekiah only. Though that opinion derives great plausibility from the circumstance that Hezekiah held all that belonged to the Philistines, as far as Gaza, (2Ki 18:8,) yet the Prophet intended that this promise should extend farther. Let us therefore know that the favor of which the Prophet now speaks, though it began with Hezekiah, belongs to the Jews as to one body.
We ought to draw from it a general statement, that when we are weighed down by adversity, and when the ungodly rejoice as if we were ruined, and as if they alone were prosperous, God declares that their joy is without foundation. The Church will always rise again, and be restored to her former and prosperous condition, though all conclude that she is ruined. The children of God shall acquire new vigor, that they may pierce the eyes of the ungodly; not that they wish this, or have any such intention, but because the decree of God makes it necessary that this shall take place.
The names of cockatrice and fiery serpent do not imply reproach. In their own nature the godly are not such, but they are so called, because they are hurtful to the wicked, though in themselves harmless; for it is through the fault and the malice of the wicked that what ought to have been useful and profitable is hurtful to them. Such is also the nature of God himself, (Ps 18:26,) and of the gospel, (2Co 2:16.)
30. And the first-born of the poor shall feed. The Prophet, as has been already said, has not so much in view the Philistines, to whom his threatenings were of no avail, as the Jews, whom he wished to comfort in their affliction; for they were so grievously afflicted that they were not far from despair. He therefore calls them the first-born of the poor, as being eminent for their wretchedness; for, being reduced to extremities, they held the first rank among the wretched. Now, he promises that the Lord will deliver them from such misery, and will again feed and nourish them. Hence we perceive that the Philistines were cut down and destroyed for the benefit of the people of God. In like manner, also, the Lord promised to Abraham and his posterity, I will bless them that bless thee, and I will curse them that curse thee; for those who are hostile to the children of God must find that God is hostile to them. (Ge 12:3.)
And the needy shall lie down in safety. The Prophet compares his people to sheep, whom we must resemble, if we wish to have God for our keeper. No metaphor is more frequently employed in Scripture than this. When the Lord chastises us, we are like sheep that are scattered, and exposed to wolves and robbers; but when he punishes our enemies, he intends to gather us together again, that we may dwell in a safe and quiet place. This is what Isaiah means when he says, in safety. There are therefore two things which the Lord here promises; first, pastures, that is, everything that is necessary for food and raiment; and, secondly, safety and protection, that we may be protected and defended from every injury. These two things belong to the duty of a shepherd, and they include all that is necessary for our salvation.
And I will kill thy root with famine. He now turns to the Philistines, whom he compares to a tree which strikes its roots so deep that we would be apt to think that it cannot in any way be rooted out. But if the root be dried up, the tree also, however deeply laid, must decay. Hence we ought to infer that the condition of the wicked is never so firmly established that the Lord cannot easily overturn it; for not only will he cut off branches, but he will also dry up and destroy the root which is hidden under ground.
And he will slay thy remnant. This is commonly viewed as referring to Hezekiah; but I prefer, as I have already explained, to extend it to the whole body, of which he speaks as of one man, and of which the king was the head, and represented Christ himself. We might also refer it to the Assyrians, and to any others, whose agency the Lord employed in destroying the Philistines; for it is customary with the Jews to employ indefinite language when they speak of the agents by means of whom God executes his judgments.
31. Howl, O gate. Here the Prophet makes use of amplifications, that by means of them he may seal his predictions on the hearts of the godly, and may press with greater earnestness those things of which they might otherwise have entertained doubts. In explaining another passage, where it is said that her gates shall mourn and lament, (Isa 3:26,) we have stated that the gates mean crowded places, in which public meetings were held. 232 He threatens that there will be mourning in each of the cities, and mourning of no ordinary kind, for it will be spread through every one of the most crowded assemblies.
For a smoke cometh from the north. We may understand Smoke to mean Fire, so that the sign will denote the thing signified; for the smoke appears before the fire burns. By the north we may understand the Assyrians as well as the Jews, for both of them lay to the north with respect to the land of the Philistines. Yet I prefer to interpret it as referring to the Jews themselves, though I would not argue against the opposite exposition. The Philistines thought, as we have already said, that they were gainers by what the Jews suffered, as, for instance, when they sustained any defeat from the Assyrians; but they at length found that they suffered along with the Jews in such a defeat. Something of this kind happened, not long ago, to many nations who had taken great delight in seeing their enemies vanquished by the Turk: they found that such victories were destructive and mournful to themselves; for, after the defeat of those whom they wished to see destroyed, the road to themselves was likewise thrown open, and they also were defeated.
And no one shall be alone on his appointed day. 233 When he adds, that at that time no one shall be solitary, 234 this relates to the enemies; and he says, that on an appointed day, that is, when God shall have determined to ruin the land of the Philistines, the enemies shall be endued with such power and authority, that no one will remain unemployed at home, but all will be ready for battle; as if one who intended to applaud the authority of some prince should say that his subjects, if he but lift up his finger, assemble and give their attendance.
32. And what shall be answered to the messengers of the nation? I choose to interpret this of any nations whatever, and not of a single nation; for strangers, as soon as they enter into any city, are wont to ask what is done, that they may hear some news. It is as if he had said, “What shall be answered to strangers when they shall inquire? And what report shall be spread when the Philistines shall have been vanquished?”
That the Lord hath founded Zion. By this he means that the destruction of the land of the Philistines will be a signal proof of God’s compassion towards his people, that all may understand that the Lord is the guardian and protector of Judea, which he had chosen to be his own. The foundation is nothing else than God’s gracious adoption, by which he promised to Abraham (Ge 17:7) and his posterity that he would be a God to them; and next, when he determined that a temple should be built on Zion, (2 Chr. 3:1, Ps. 65:1, Ps. 84:7,) that the remembrance of his name might there be preserved. That foundation does not consist of lime or stones, but of the gracious promises of eternal life, by which his grace was always known to all the godly. The Prophet therefore shows that this destruction of the Philistines will be a signal proof, by means of which the most distant nations will learn that God preserves and guards his people whom he hath chosen.
And the poor of his people will have confidence in it. 235 He does not mean that the hope of believers will be placed in Zion, as when we say that we ought to hope in God, but that the inhabitants of Zion shall dwell in a safe and quiet place, as the prophets often teach, in other passages, that salvation is in Zion. (Joe 2:32.) Isaiah, therefore, does not mean that the confidence of the godly is placed in the Church, but he shows that the godly are preserved in it, because the Lord defends it.
Yet the Lord intends to make trial of our faith, that we may not think that we are in every respect happy; and therefore he calls them poor, that we may not think that we are exempted from ordinary calamities, though we are under God’s protection. Can any higher consolation be brought to us, than to learn that the inhabitants of the Church of God, though they are liable to a great variety of afflictions, are out of all danger? Let us therefore apply that consolation to our calamities, and not faint through impatience, when we are informed that God takes care of us, and when we absolutely know that we are in safety.
That thou shalt take up this proverb, (or, taunting speech.) — Eng. Ver.
FT205 The golden city ceased! — Eng. Ver.
FT206 “מדהבה, (madhebah,) being a Chaldee word, was probably the epithet by which that people distinguished their capital, as the Italians say, Florence the fair, Padua the learned, etc.” — Stock
FT207 With a continued stroke. (Heb. a stroke without removing.) — Eng Ver. A stroke without intermission. — Stock With a stroke unremitted. — Lowth
FT208 Hell from beneath (or, the grave) is moved for thee. — Eng. Ver.
FT209 The dead. — Eng. Ver. The mighty dead. — Stock. “Rephaim, the gigantic spectres. Ghosts are commonly magnified by vulgar terror to a stature superior to the human.” — Rosenmuller
FT210 The allusion is obviously to a passage from Juvenal which the author, on a former occasion (See page 174), quoted at greater length. — Ed
Mors sola fatetur,
Quantula sint hominum corpuscula.
Juven. Sat. 10:172,173.
Son of the morning. — Eng. Ver
FT212 Which didst weaken the nations. — Eng. Ver.
FT213 For the origin and application of this “proverb,” see Com. on the Gospel according to John, vol. 1 p. 223, note 1: — Ed
FT214 Upon the mountain of the congregation. — Eng. Ver.
FT215 “In the outer court, that is, in the part which was chosen for the north side; as it is said, (Le 1:11,) on the side of the altar northward.” — Jarchi
FT216 “I will ascend above the heights of the thick cloud. My lofty rank does not permit me to dwell with men. I will make for me a small cloud in the air, and will dwell in it.” — Jarchi
FT217 “It is curious that the Welsh language still preserves this meaning of the word beth, a last home; for it is the appropriate term in that language for a grave.” — Stock
FT218 עולם (gnolam) is derived from עלם, (gnalam,) to hide, and is defined by the lexicographers to mean “an age, a time hidden from men, either unlimited and eternal or limited.” Our author treats it as capable of meaning either time past or time to come. — Ed
FT219 For the bittern. — Eng. Ver. ὥστε κατοικεῖν ἐχίνους, so that hedgehogs shall dwell in it. — Sept
FT220 And I will make it an iheritance for the porcupine. — Lowth. “The porcupine, which grows to a great size in the islands at the mouth of the Euphrates, as Strabo remarks, b. 16.” — Rosenmuller
FT221 The Hebrew word here used by Isaiah is פלשת (Phelesheth,) from which was derived the word Philistia, afterwards changed to Palestina. An early genealogy informs us that the Philistim, or Philistines, were descendants of Mizraim, a son of Ham. (Ge 10:14.) — Ed
FT222 Palestina. — Eng. Ver.
FT223 See page 148
FT224 And none shall be alone (or, he shall not be alone) in his appointed times, (or, assemblies.) — Eng. Ver.
FT225 “Jonathan interprets it thus: There will be no one to cause delay in his time in the military forces whom God will assemble to come against you; there will be no one to retard their progress, that he may be solitary, that he may come alone; but all will come at once with prodigious violence.” — Jarchi
FT226 Shall trust in it, (or, betake themselves unto it.) — Eng. Ver.