Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
1. Væ coronæ superbiæ temulentorum Ephraim; quia decor gloriæ ejus erit flos deciduus, quæ est super caput vallis pinguium, oppresorum a vino.
2. Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which, as a tempest of hail, and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
2. Ecce durus et fortis Domino, sicut inundatio grandinis, turbo subvertens; sicut impetus aquarum vehementium inundantium, dejiciens in manu ad terram.
3. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:
3. Pedibus conculabitur corona superbiæ temultorum Ephraim.
4. And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up.
4. Et erit flos deciduus decor gloriæ ejus, quæ est super caput vallis pinguium, quasi fructus præcox ante æstivos, quem qui viderit, aspiciens eum dum adhuc in manu est, devorat.
5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people.
5. In illa die Iehova exercituum in corona gloriæ, et diadema decoris reliquiis populi sui,
6. And for spirit of judgement to him that sitteth in judgement, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.
6. Et in spiritum judicii sedenti super tribunal, et in fortitudinem propulsantibus prœlium ad portam.
7. But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way: the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
7. At isti quoque præ vino errarunt, præ sicera hallucinati sunt. Sacerdos et propheta errarunt præ sicera, absorpti sunt a vino; hallucinati sunt præ sicera, errarunt in visione, impegerunt in judicio.
8. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean
8. Quoniam omnes mensæ plenæ sunt vomitu stercoreo, ut locus non vacet.
9. Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
9. Quem docebit scientiam, et quem intelliegere faciet doctrinam? Abductos a lacte, abstractos ab uberibus?
10. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.
10. Quoniam præceptum ad præceptum, præceptum ad præceptum; instructio ad instructionem, instructio ad instructionem; paululum ibi, paululum ibi.
11. For with stammering lips, and another tongue, will he speak to this people.
11. Quoniam balbis labiis et lingua exotica loquetur ad populum istum.
12. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.
12. Quoniam illis dixit, Hæc est requies; requiescere facite lassum, et hoc refrigerium; et noluerunt audire.
13. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
13. Erit igitur illis verbum Iehovæ regula ad regulam, regula ad regulam; instructio ad instructonem, instructio ad instructionem; paululum ibi, paululum ibi; propterea ibunt, et corruent retrorsum, conterentur, irretientur et capientur.
14. Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.
14. Propterea audite verbum Iehovæ, viri illusores, qui dominamini populo huic, qui est in Ierusalem.
15. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.
15. Quia dixitis, Percussimus fœdus cum morte, et cum inferno fecimus pactum; flagellum inundans cum transierit, non veniet ad nos; quia posuimus mendacium refugium nostrum, et sub vanitate sumus absconditi.
16. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
16. Quare sic dicit Donminus Iehova: Ecce ego ponam in Sion lapidem, lapidem probationis, angulum pretiosum, fundamentum solidum. Qui credit non festinabit.
17. Judgement also will I lay to the line, and righteouseness to the plummet; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place.
17. Et ponam judicium ad regulam, et justitiam ad mensuram (vel, trutinam.) Everret grando fiduciam mendacii, et latibulum aquæ inundabunt.
18. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.
18. Et abolebitur pactum cum morte; visio vestra cum inferno non stabit, flagellum inundans cum transierit, tunc eritis ei in conculcationem.
19. From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night; and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
19. Ex quo transierit, rapiet vos utique mane quotidie, transibit interdiu et noctu. Et erit ut terror (vel commotio) duntaxat intelligere faciat auditum.
20. For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower that that he can wrap himself in it
20. Quoniam contractus est lectus, ut non sufficiat; angusta erit stragula colligendo.
21. For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.
21. Quoniam sicut in monte Perazim stabit Iehova, et sicut in valle Gibeon, irascetur (vel, tumultuabitur) ad faciendum opus suum, alienum opus suum; ad designandum facinus suum, alienum facinus suum.
22. Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong; for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.
22. Nunc itaque ne sitis illusores; ne forte constringantur vincula vestra. Quoniam consumptionem et finitionem audivi a Domino Iehova exercituum super universam terram.
23. Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
23. Auscultate, et audite vocem meam; advertite et audite sermonem meum.
24. Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground?
24. An quotidie arat arator, ut seminet? aperit et confringit glebas agri sui?
25. When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat, and the appointed barley, and the rye, in their place?
25. Annon cum æquaverit faciem ejus, tunc sparget viciam, seret cyminum, et ponet triticum in mensura, hordeum demensum, et speltam suo modo?
26. For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.
26. Docet eum rectitudinem Deus suus, et instituit eum.
27. For the fitches are not thrashed with a thrashing-instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod.
27. Certe non triturabitur vicia tabula dentata, nec rota plaustri super cyminum circumferetur; quia baculo excutitur vicia, et cyminum virga.
28. Bread-corn is bruised; because he will not ever be thrashing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen.
28. Triticum licet trituretur, non in perpetuum triturat ipsum, nec rotam plaustri sui perpetuo strepere facit, ne dentibus suis conterat ipsum.
29. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
29. Etiam hoc ab Iehova exercituum egressum est, qui mirificus est, consilio et magnificus opere.
1. Woe to the crown of pride. Isaiah now enters on another and different subject from that which goes before it; for this discourse must be separated from the former one. He shews that the anger of the Lord will quickly overtake, first, Israel, and afterwards the Jews; for it is probable that the kingdom of Israel was still entire when the Prophet uttered these predictions, though nothing more can be affirmed with certainty than that there is good reason to believe that the ten tribes had not at that time been led into captivity.
Accordingly, the Prophet follows this order. First, he shews that the vengeance of God is not far from Israel, because various sins and corruption of every kind prevailed in it; for they were swelled with pride and insolence, had plunged into their luxuries and given way to every kind of licentiousness, and, consequently, had broken out into open contempt of God, as is usually the case when men take excessive liberties; for they quickly forget God. Secondly, he shews that God in some measure restrains his anger by sparing the tribe of Judah; for when the ten tribes, with the half tribe of Benjamin, had been carried into captivity, the Jews still remained entire and uninjured. Isaiah extols this compassion which God manifested, in not permitting his Church to perish, but preserving some remnant. At the same time he shews that the Jews are so depraved and corrupted that they do not permit God to exercise this compassion, and that, in consequence of the wickedness which prevailed among them, not less than in Israel, they too must feel the avenging hand of God. This order ought to be carefully observed; for many persons blunder in the exposition of this passage, because the Prophet has not expressly mentioned the name of Israel, though it is sufficiently known that Ephraim includes the ten tribes.
As to the words, since the particle הוי (hōī) very frequently denotes “wishing evil on a person,” I was unwilling to depart from the ordinary opinion of commentators, more especially because the Prophet openly threatens in this passage; yet if the translation, Alas the crown! be preferred, I have no objection.
For the excellence of its glory shall be a fading flower 210 The copulative ו (vau) signifies for or because. He compares the “glory” and “excellence” of Israel to “a fading flower,” as will afterwards be stated. In general, he pronounces a curse on the wealth of the Israelites; for by the word “Crown” he means nothing else than the wicked confidence with which they were puffed up, and which proceeded from the excess of their riches. These vices are almost always joined together, because abundance and fullness produce cruelty and pride; for we are elated by prosperity, and do not know how to use it with moderation. They inhabited a rich and fertile country, and on this account Amos (Am 4:1) calls them “fat cows,” which feed on the mountain of Samaria. Thus, being puffed up by their wealth, they despised both God and men. The Prophet calls them “drunkards,” because, being intoxicated by prosperity, they dreaded no adversity, and thought that they were beyond the reach of all danger, and that they were not even subject to God himself.
A fading flower. He alludes, I doubt not, to the crowns or chaplets 211 which were used at banquets, and which are still used in many places in the present day. The Israelites indulged in gluttony and drunkenness, and the fertility of the soil undoubtedly gave occasion to their intemperance. By calling it “a fading flower” he follows out his comparison, elegantly alluding to flowers which suddenly wither.
Which is on the head of the valley of fatness. 212 He says that that glory is “on the head of the valley of fatness,” because they saw under their feet their pastures, the fertility of which still more inflamed their pride. שמנים (shĕmānīm) is translated by some “of ointments;” but that is inapplicable, for it denotes abundance and fullness, which led them to neglect godliness and to despise God. By the word “head” or “top,” he alludes to the position of the country, because the Israelites chiefly inhabited rich valleys. He places on it a crown, which surrounds the whole kingdom; because it was flourishing and abounded in every kind of wealth. This denotes riches, from which arose sluggishness, presumption, rashness, intemperance, and cruelty. This doctrine relates to us also; for the example of these men reminds us that we ought to use prosperity with moderation, otherwise we shall be very unhappy, for the Lord will curse all our riches and abundance.
2. Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one. This may refer to the Assyrians, as if he had said, that they will be ready at God’s command to fight under his authority, as soon as they shall be called. Yet I prefer to take it without a substantive, to mean either “a staff,” or some other instrument, by which the Lord will cast them down from this lofty pride.
As a deluge of hail. He compares it to “a deluge” or to “hail,” by which both herbs and flowers are thrown down, and all the beauty of the earth is marred. Thus he continues the metaphor of the “fading flower,” which he had introduced at the beginning of the chapter; for nothing can be more destructive to flowers than a heavy shower or “hail.” He makes use of the demonstrative particle הנה, (hinnēh,) behold; because wicked men are not moved by any threatenings, and therefore he shews that he does not speak of what is doubtful, or conjecture at random, but foretells those things which will immediately take place.
Casting them down with the hand to the earth. ביד, (bĕyād,) which I have translated “with the hand,” is translated by Jerome, “a spacious country,” which does not agree with the words. Others take it for “strength,” so as to mean a violent casting down. But the plain meaning appears to me to be, that the glory and splendor of the Israelites will be laid low, as if one threw down a drunk man “with the hand.” The same statement is confirmed by him in the third verse.
4. And the excellence of its glory. He repeats nearly the same words; for we know how difficult it is to terrify and humble those who have been blinded by prosperity, and whose eyes success covers in the same manner that fatness would. As Dionysius the Second, 213 in consequence of gorging himself at unseasonable banquets, was seized with such blindness that he constantly stumbled, so pleasures and luxuries blind the minds of men in such a manner that they no longer know either God or themselves. The Prophet therefore inculcates the same truth frequently on the minds of men who were stupid and amazed, that they might understand what would otherwise have appeared to them to be incredible. 214
As the hasty fruit before the summer. He now illustrates the subject by another metaphor exceedingly beautiful and appropriate; for the first-ripe fruits are indeed highly commended, because they go before others, and hold out the expectation of the rest of the produce; but they last but a short time, and cannot be preserved, for they are quickly eaten up either by pregnant women, or by children, or by men who do not make a proper selection of their food. He says that the happiness of the Israelites will be of that sort, because their flourishing prosperity will not be of long duration, but will be swallowed up in a moment. What Isaiah declared about the kingdom of Israel, applies also to the whole world. By their ingratitude men prevent all the goodness which the Lord has bestowed on them from reaching maturity; for we abuse his blessings and corrupt them by our wickedness. The consequence is, that hasty and short-lived fruits are produced, which could not yield to us continual nourishment.
5. In that day shall the Lord of hosts. After having spoken of the kingdom of Israel, he passes to the tribe of Judah, and shews that, amidst this severe vengeance of God, there will still be room for compassion, and that, although ten tribes perished, yet the Lord will preserve some remnant, which he will consecrate to himself; so that there will be in it a crown of glory and diadem of excellence, that is, that the Church is never disfigured in such a manner that the Lord does not adorn it with beauty and splendor.
Yet I do not extend this prophecy indiscriminately to all the Jews, but to the elect who were wonderfully rescued from death; for although he calls the tribe and half-tribe a remnant, as compared with the other ten tribes, yet, as we advance, we shall see that he makes a distinction between the tribe of Judah itself and the others. Nor ought we to wonder that the Prophet speaks differently about the same people, directing his discourse, sometimes to a body corrupted by crimes, and sometimes to the elect. Certainly, as compared with the ten tribes, which had revolted from the worship of God and from the unity of faith, he justly calls the Jews a remnant of the people; but when he leaves out of view this comparison, and considers what they are in themselves, he remonstrates with equal justice against their corruptions.
I am aware that some expound it differently, on account of what is said immediately afterwards about wine and strong drink, (Isa 28:7,) and think that this statement ought to be viewed in connection with the beginning of the chapter. Yet perhaps the Lord spares the Jews. But how would he spare them? They are in no respect better than the others; for they are equally in fault, 215 and must also be exposed to the same punishments. But those commentators do not consider that the Prophet holds out an instance of the extraordinary kindness of God, in not exercising his vengeance at the same time against the whole family of Abraham, but, after having overthrown the kingdom of Israel, granting a truce to the Jews, to see if they would in any degree repent. Neither do they consider that, by the same means, he employs the circumstance which he had stated for placing in a stronger light the ingratitude of the people, that is, that they ought to have been instructed by the example of their brethren; 216 for the calamity of Israel ought to have aroused and excited them to repentance, but it produced no impression on them, and did not make them better. Although therefore they were unworthy of so great benefits, yet the Lord was pleased to preserve his Church in the midst of them; for this is the reason why he rescued the tribe of Judah, and the half-tribe of Benjamin, from that calamity.
Now, since the tribe of Judah was a small portion of the nation, and therefore was despised by the haughty Israelites, the Prophet declares that in God alone there is enough of riches and of glory to supply all earthly defects. And hence he shews what is the true method of our salvation, namely, if we place our happiness in God; for as soon as we come down to the world, we gather fading flowers, which immediately wither and decay. This madness reigns everywhere, and more than it ought to be among ourselves, that we wish to be happy without God, that is, without happiness itself. Besides, Isaiah shews that no calamities, however grievous, can prevent God from adorning his Church; for when it shall appear that everything is on the eve of destruction, God will still be a crown of glory to his people. It is also worthy of observation, that Isaiah promises new splendor to the Church only when the multitude shall be diminished, that believers may not lose courage on account of that dreadful calamity which was at hand.
6. And for a spirit of judgment. He explains the manner in which the Lord will adorn that “remnant” with additional splendor; for he holds out instances of the true art of civil government, which mainly contributes to the upholding of nations. It consists chiefly of two things, counsel and strength. The internal administration must be conducted by counsel and wisdom, and “strength” and force are needed against enemies who are without. Since therefore it is by these two defences that kingdoms and commonwealths defend and uphold their rank, he promises to his people the spirit of “wisdom” and “strength.” At the same time he shews that it is God who gives both, and that they ought not to be expected from any other; for magistrates will not be able to rule and to administer justice in a city, and military generals will not be able to repel enemies, unless the Lord shall direct them.
7. But they also have erred through wine. He returns to the irreligious despisers of God, who were Jews in name only, and proves their ingratitude to be highly aggravated, because, though they had before their eyes a striking proof of the anger of God, when they saw their brethren severely chastised, and not withstanding experienced God’s forbearance towards themselves, yet neither that example of severity, nor the conviction of the divine goodness, could bring them back into the right path, or make them in any respect better, although the Lord spared them. Here he speaks of “wine and strong drink” metaphorically; for I do not understand it to relate to ordinary drunkenness, against which he remonstrated at the beginning of the chapter, but, on the contrary, he says that they were like drunk men, because they wanted knowledge and sound understanding. If the word as be supplied before the words “through wine and through strong drink,” the meaning will be more easily understood. I do acknowledge that by continued drunkenness men become, as it were, brutalized, and I have no doubt that drunkenness and excessive eating and drinking contributed also to stupefy the minds of the Jews; but if we examine the whole of the context, it will be easy to see that the madness which he condemns is metaphorical.
The priest and the prophet have erred. He proceeds still farther to exhibit their aggravated guilt, and says that not only the common people were drunk, but the priests themselves, who ought to have held out the light and pointed out the path to others; for, as Christ declares, they may be regarded as “the salt of the earth.” (Mt 5:13.) If they are mad, what shall the common people be? “If the eye is blind,” what shall become of the other parts of the body? (Mt 6:23.)
They have erred in vision. The most grievous thing of all is, when he says that they err not only in the more flagrant transgressions of life, but in vision and judgment. Hence we ought to infer how desperate was the condition of the Jewish Church, and here, as in a mirror, we may behold our transgressions. It is indeed something monstrous that, after so many chastisements which God has employed for cleansing it, the Church is so deeply corrupted; but such is our wickedness that we fight against his strokes, 217 and though he continually restrains us, and uses unceasing efforts to purify us from our sins, we not only render all his remedies useless, but bring upon ourselves new diseases. We ought not therefore to wonder that in the present day, after the numerous scourges and afflictions with which the Church has been chastised, men appear to be obstinate, and even become worse, when Isaiah testifies that the same thing took place in the ancient Church. True, indeed, the goodness of the Lord rose above the base and shameful wickedness of that nation, and still preserved the Church; but this was accomplished by his secret power, contrary to the expectation of all; for it would be of no advantage to us, if he employed ordinary remedies.
Hence also it is evident how silly and childish is the boasting of the Papists, who always have in their mouth “The Church,” and use as a pretext the names of priests, bishops, and pontiffs, and wish to fortify themselves by their authority against the word of God, as if that order could never err or mistake. They think that they have the Holy Spirit confined within their brains, and that they represent the Church, which God never forsakes. But we see what the Prophet declares concerning the priests, whose order was more splendid and illustrious. If ever there was a Church, there certainly was one at that time among the Jews; and that order derived from the word of God support to which they have no claim. And yet he shews that not only were they corrupt in morals, but erred “in vision and judgment,” and that the prophets, whom we know that God added to the priests, out of the ordinary course, on account of the carelessness of the priests, were nevertheless blind in that sacred office of teaching and in revelations. Nothing therefore is more idle than, under the pretext of an office which bears a splendid title, to hold out as exempt from the danger of erring those who, having forsaken God, and not only cast away all regard to religion, but even trodden shame under their feet, defend their tyranny by every means in their power.
8. For all tables are full of vomiting. He pursues the same metaphor, and draws, as it were, a picture of what usually happens to men who are given up to drunkenness; for they forget shame, and not only debase themselves like beasts, but shrink from nothing that is disgraceful. It is certainly an ugly and revolting sight to see “tables covered with vomiting;” and, accordingly, under this figure Isaiah describes the whole life of the people as shameful beyond endurance. There can be no doubt that the Prophet intended to express by a single word, that no sincerity or uprightness was left among the Jews. If we approach their tables, we can find nothing but foul drunkenness; if we look at their life, no part of it is pure or free from crimes and enormities. Doctrine itself is so corrupt that it stinks as if it were polluted by vomiting and filth. In expounding allegories, I have no intention to enter, as some do, into ingenious disquisitions.
9. Whom shall he teach knowledge? Here the Prophet shews by an expression of amazement, that the disease of the people is incurable, and that God has no other remedies adapted to cure them, for he has tried every method without effect. When he calls wanderers to return to the right path, and unceasingly warns those who are thoughtlessly going astray, this undoubtedly is an extraordinary remedy; and if it do no good, the salvation of those who refuse to accept of any aid from a physician is utterly hopeless.
Those who are weaned from the milk. The Prophet complains that the stupidity of the people may be said to hinder God from attempting to cure them of their vices; and therefore he compares the Jews to very young infants, 218 or who are but beginning to prattle, and whom it would be a waste of time to attempt to teach. Justly indeed does Peter exhort believers to draw near, “like infants newly born, to suck the milk of pure doctrine;” for no man will ever shew himself to be willing to be taught until he has laid aside that obstinacy which is the natural disposition of all. 219 (1Pe 2:2.) But now the Prophet condemns another kind of infancy, in which men who are stupefied by their vices pay no more regard to heavenly doctrine than if they had no understanding whatsoever. It is therefore a mistake to connect this statement of the Prophet with that passage in the Apostle Peter, as if Isaiah represented God as desirous to obtain disciples who had divested themselves of all pride, and were like infants lately weaned; for the Prophet, on the contrary, loudly complains, that to “teach doctrine” is useless, and merely provokes ridicule among stupid and senseless persons, who are “children, not in malice, but in understanding,” as Paul speaks. (1Co 14:20.) From what follows it will more clearly appear that, since they were unfit for receiving doctrine, God cannot be accused of undue severity if he reject them, and if he resolve not to bestow useless labor by thundering in their ears any longer.
10. For precept must be on precept. This shews plainly that the Lord complains of spending his labor to no purpose in instructing this unteachable people, just as if one were to teach children, who must have elementary instructions repeated to them over and over again, and quickly forget them, and when the master has spent a whole day in teaching them a single letter, yet on the following day and afterwards, the same labor must be renewed, and though he leave nothing untried that care or diligence can do, still they will make no progress under him. Those who change the words of this verse, in order to avoid offending the ears of the readers, 220 obscure the Prophet’s meaning through a foolish affectation of copiousness of language, and even destroy the elegance of the style; for, by using the same words, he intended to express a repetition which is constant and unceasing, and full of annoyance. The metaphor, as I have already said, is taken from children, to whom teachers do not venture to give long lessons, because they are incapable of them, but give them, as it were, in little drops. Thus, they convey the same instructions a second and third time, and oftener; and, in short, they continue to receive elementary instructions till they acquire reason and judgment. By a witty imitation he repeats the words, “here a little, there a little.”
Instruction upon instruction. 221 The word קו (kăv) is improperly, in my opinion, translated by some interpreters line, as if the Prophet alluded to the slow progress of a building, which rises gradually by “lines.” That would be a harsh and far-fetched metaphor, for this passage relates to elementary instruction conveyed to children. I acknowledge that the same Hebrew word is used in the eighteenth chapter, where we have translated it “Line by line,” 222 and in many other passages; but here the connection demands a different meaning, as is also the case in Ps 19:4, where, however, the word line 223 or dimension could be admitted with greater propriety than in this verse. Yet I admit that it is taken metaphorically for an instruction or rule; for as in buildings קו (kăv) denotes the “rule” or “plumb-line,” as we shall see that it means in a later portion of this chapter, we need not wonder that it is applied to other rules.
11. For with stammering lips. 224 Some supply, that “it is as if one should say;” but that is superfluous. I therefore view these words as relating to God, who became, as the Prophet tells us, a barbarian 225 to a people without understanding. This reproof must have wounded them to the quick, because by their own fault they made God, who formed our tongues, to appear to be “a stammerer.” He does not as yet threaten them, but lays the blame on their indolence, that they rendered the proclamation of heavenly doctrine a confused noise, because of their own accord they shut their eyes, and thus derived no advantage from it. Their infatuation, in not hearing God speaking to them, is compared by the Prophet to a prodigy.
12. For he said to them. Some explain it by circumlocution in this manner: “If one should say to them, This is the rest, they refuse to hear.” But this is a feeble exposition, and does not connect the various parts of the passage in a proper manner. On the contrary, the Prophet assigns the reason why God appears to the Jews to be a barbarian: it is, because they had not ears. Words were spoken to the deaf. It was to no purpose that the Lord offered to them rest. This deafness arose from obstinacy, for they wickedly and rebelliously rejected doctrine. Their wickedness was doubly inexcusable in refusing rest which was offered to them, and which all men naturally desire. It was in itself intolerable baseness to be deaf to the voice of God speaking, but it was still more foul ingratitude deliberately to reject a blessing which was in the highest degree desirable. Accordingly, he points out the benefit which they might have derived from the obedience of faith, and of which they deprived themselves by their own wickedness. He therefore reproaches them with this ignorance and blindness; for it springs from their own stubbornness in maliciously turning away their eyes from the light which was offered to them, and choosing rather to remain in darkness than to be enlightened.
Hence it follows that unbelievers, as soon as God has exhibited to them his word, voluntarily draw down on themselves wretched uneasiness; for he invites all men to a blessed rest, and clearly points out the object by which, if we shape the course of our life, true happiness awaits us; for no man who has heard heavenly doctrine can go astray except knowingly and willingly. We learn from it how lovely in our eyes heavenly doctrine ought to be, for it brings to us the invaluable blessing of enjoying peace of conscience and true happiness. All confess loudly that there is nothing better than to find a place of security; and yet, when rest is offered, many despise it, and the greater part of men even refuse it, as if all men expressly desired to have wretched perplexity and continual trembling: and yet no man has a right to complain that he errs through ignorance; for nothing is clearer or plainer than the doctrine of God, so that it is vain for men to plead any excuse. In short, nothing can be more unreasonable than to throw the blame on God, as if he spoke obscurely, or taught in a confused manner. Now, as God testifies in this passage that he points out to us in his word assured rest, so, on the other hand, he warns all unbelievers that they suffer the just reward of their wickedness when they are harassed by continual uneasiness.
Cause the weary to rest. Some explain it thus, that God demands the duties of brotherly kindness, in order that he may be reconciled to us, and that those duties are here included, a part being taken for the whole. But I think that the Prophet’s meaning is different, namely, that God points out to us that rest by which our weariness may be relieved, and that consequently we are convicted of deeper ingratitude, if even necessity, which is a very sharp spur, does not quicken us to seek a remedy. This saying of the Prophet corresponds nearly to the words of Christ,
“Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28.)
In a word, Isaiah informs the Jews that they have this choice, “Do they prefer to be refreshed and relieved, or to sink under the burden and be overwhelmed?” This confirms a passing remark which I made a little before, that God does not in vain exhort those who seek repose to come to him, as we shall elsewhere see,
“I have not in vain said to the house of Jacob, Seek me.” (Isa 45:19.)
Since, therefore, if we do not stand in the way, we shall be taught by his word, we may safely rely on the doctrine which is contained in it; for he does not intend to weary us out by vain curiosity, as men often draw down upon themselves much distress and anguish by idle pursuits.
Besides, when he shews that this rest is prepared for the weary who groan under the burden, let us at least be taught by the distresses which harass us to betake ourselves to the word of God, that we may obtain peace. We shall thus find that the word of God is undoubtedly fitted to soothe our uneasy feelings, and to give peace to our perplexed and trembling consciences. All who seek “rest” in any other way, and run beyond the limits of the word, must always be subjected to torture or wretched uncertainty, because they attempt to be wise and happy without God. We see that this is the condition of the Papists, who, having despised this peace of God, are wretchedly tormented during their whole life; for Satan tosses and drives them about in such a manner that they are tormented with dreadful uneasiness, and never find a place of rest.
13. The word of the Lord shall therefore be to them. Although the Prophet repeats the same words, yet the meaning is somewhat different; for, having formerly spoken of voluntary stupidity, he now threatens the punishment of it, namely, that God will strike them with such bewilderment, that they shall be totally deprived of the benefit of saving doctrine, and shall perceive in it nothing but an empty sound. In short, he concludes, from what goes before, that since they had not profited by the word of God, the Jews shall be justly punished for their ingratitude; not that the word shall be taken from them, but that they shall be deprived of sound judgment and understanding, and shall be blind amidst the clearest light. Thus God blinds and hardens the reprobate more and more on account of their disobedience.
Paul quotes this passage (1Co 14:21) when he reproves the Corinthians for foolish affectation, in consequence of their being so much under the influence of ambition, that they regarded with the highest admiration those who spoke in a foreign tongue, as the common people are accustomed to stare at everything that is unknown and uncommon. This passage in the writings of Paul has been misunderstood, because these words of the Prophet have not been duly weighed. Now, Paul applies these words most appropriately to his object; for he shews that the Corinthians are under the influence of a foolish and absurd admiration, and that they improperly aspire to those things from which they can derive no advantage; in short, that they are “like children, not in malice, but in knowledge and understanding;” that thus they voluntarily draw down on themselves the curse which the Prophet here threatens; and that the word of God becomes to them precept on precept, and they receive no more instruction from it than if a person were to bawl out to them in an unknown tongue. It is the height of madness to bring upon themselves, by idle affectation, that blindness and stupidity which the Lord threatens against obstinate and rebellious men. Paul therefore explains and renders more intelligible this statement made by the Prophet, for he shews that they who abuse the doctrine of salvation do not deserve to make progress in it in any way whatever.
We have seen a passage closely resembling it in which the Prophet compared his doctrine to “sealed letters.” (Isa 8:16) Afterwards we shall find that the Prophet compares it to a book that is “shut.” (Isa 29:11.) This takes place when, on account of the ingratitude of men, God takes from them judgment and sound understanding; so that, “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear,” and thus are most justly punished. (Isa 6:9; Mr 4:12.) This ought to be carefully observed; for frequently we think that all is well with us, and are highly delighted with ourselves, because we continue to enjoy the word. 226 But of what avail will it be to us, if it do not enlighten our understanding and regulate our hearts? We thus draw down upon ourselves a heavier judgment, and therefore we need a twofold grace; first, that God would shine on us by his word; and secondly, that he would open our understandings and dispose our hearts to obedience, otherwise we shall derive no more aid from the brilliancy of the gospel than blind men derive from the brightness of the sun. By this punishment, therefore, we are reminded that we must not abuse the word of God, but must look directly to the object which the Lord holds out to us in the word.
They shall fall backward, and be broken and snared. At length he describes the destruction of those who are blind to this brightness of the word; for nothing remains for them but to be thrown down headlong, because they have departed from the right path, and therefore they must stumble and fall. He means that the fall will not be slight, for they shall be bruised by it. By the word snared he employs another metaphor, namely, that for all unbelievers “snares” are prepared, by which they shall be entangled and drawn to destruction. We had a similar sentiment on a former occasion, (Isa 8:15,) and expressed in nearly the same words; 227 for there the Prophet speaks on the same subject, the blinding of the people, who by their obstinacy had provoked the wrath of God. He shews that they who go astray, in opposition to the word of God, are always very near destruction. Either they shall meet with stumbling blocks on which they shall “stumble,” or with snares by which they shall be “ensnared.” In short, it will be impossible that evil shall not befall those who do not keep the path which God has pointed out; for either they shall openly “fall and be bruised,” or through concealed traps they shall fall into a “snare.”
14. Wherefore hear ye the word of the Lord. He goes on to address to them still stronger reproof, and at the same time mingles with it a consolation in order to encourage the hearts of the godly. While he threatens utter destruction against the wicked, he leaves for believers ground of consolation, by declaring that their salvation is dear and precious in the sight of God.
Ye scornful men. By this term he means men who are addicted to sophistry and deceit, who think that by jeers and cunning they can escape the judgment of God; for לוץ (lūtz) 228 signifies to jeer or scorn. Now, he addresses not ordinary men, but rulers and governors, who, in governing the people, thought that they surpassed other men in sharpness and dexterity, but turned their acuteness to cunning, by which they acted hypocritically towards God himself, and therefore, in keen irony, he calls them “scorners;” as if he had said,
“You think that you have enough of craftiness to mock God,
but you will not succeed in mocking him.” (Ga 6:7.)
The Prophet’s chief and severest contest was with the nobles; for although all ranks were exceedingly corrupted, yet the nobles, being puffed up with a false belief of their own wisdom, were more obstinate than the rest. It has commonly been found, in almost every age, that the common people, though they are distinguished by unrestrained fierceness and violence, do not proceed to such a pitch of wickedness as nobles or courtiers, or other crafty men, who think that they excel others in ability and wisdom. The ministers of the word ought chiefly, therefore, to arm themselves against ingenious adversaries. None can be more destructive; for they not only of themselves do injury, but excite others to the same kind of scorn and wickedness, and frequently, through the estimation in which they are held, and the splendor of their reputation, they dazzle the common people who are less clear-sighted. It is a dreadful and monstrous thing when the governors of the Church not only are themselves blinded, but even blind others, and excite them to despise God, and ridicule godly doctrine, and taunt it by their jeers, and, in short, employ their utmost ingenuity for overturning religion; but in opposition to such persons we ought to encourage our hearts by the example of the Prophet, that we may not sink or lose heart in this contest. He shews us also the way in which we ought to treat such persons. 229 We ought not to spend much time in teaching them, (for instruction would be of little use,) but must threaten them severely, and terrify them by the judgment of God.
This people which is in Jerusalem. Their guilt is highly aggravated by the consideration that they inhabit the very sanctuary of God, and infect with their pollution God’s chosen people.
15. Because ye have said. The Prophet next assigns the reason why he called them “scorners;” it was because they had thrown off all fear of God. He likewise describes the manner in which they acted, by saying that they promised to themselves that they would escape punishment amidst all their crimes and enormities, and became the more daring, and, as if they had obtained greater liberty to pursue wicked courses, rushed forward without dread wherever their unruly passions carried them.
We have struck a league with death, and with hell have we made a compact. This is what he means by the league into which they had entered with death and the grave; for by despising and boldly ridiculing all God’s threatenings and chastisements, they thought that they were out of all danger. חזה (chōzĕh) means what he had formerly expressed by ברית, (bērīth,) for it is a repetition of the same statement. Literally it signifies seeing, 230 and denotes what is conveyed by the French phrase, avoir intelligence, or by the English phrase, “to have a mutual understanding.” There appears to be also an implied contrast between prophetic visions and that deceitful craftiness on which veterans in wicked arts value themselves.
We have made lies our refuge. It is certain that those cunning men never broke out into such boasting as to utter those offensive words, for that would have been childish and absurd. 231 Besides, though they despised God and set at nought all his admonitions, they undoubtedly wished to be held in some estimation by the people, and would never have confessed that they “made lies their refuge;” but the Prophet looked at their feelings and aims, and not at their pretexts, and took into account their actions and dispositions, and not their words. Whoever, then, flatters himself and his vices, and fearlessly despises God’s threatenings, declares that he has “entered into a league with death,” which he does not at all dread, notwithstanding the Lord’s threatenings.
The Prophet, therefore, reproves in general that carnal presumption by which men are led to forgetfulness of the judgment of God, and willingly deceive themselves, as if they could escape the arm of God: but chiefly he attacks Lucianists 232 and censorious men, who place their wisdom in nothing else than in irreligious contempt of God; and the more eager they are to conceal their dishonor, the more earnestly does the Prophet expose them, as if he had dragged forth to the light, from a deep concealment, their cunning wiles, and as if he had said, “This is the dexterity, skill, and cunning of the wise men of this world, who are exposed on every hand to troubles and afflictions, and yet imagine that they are concealed and safe. They unquestionably deserve to seek salvation from falsehood, for they disregard God’s salvation, and despise and ridicule him.” Their tricks, and cunning, and imposture, are indeed concealed by them under plausible names, and they do not think that they are falsehoods; but the Prophet calls them by their proper names.
When the overflowing scourge shall pass through. As to “the overflowing scourge,” the Prophet here includes two metaphors; for he compares the calamities and afflictions by which God chastises the transgressions of the world to a “scourge,” and then says, that they are so rapid and violent that they resemble a “flood.” Against those calamities, however severe and distressing, wicked men of this description think that they are fortified by lying and deceit, and hope that they shall be able to escape them, though they overflow far and wide over the whole world. They perceive the judgments of God, and the calamities to which men are exposed; but, because they do not observe the hand and providence of God, and ascribe everything that happens to fortune, they therefore seek to obtain such defences and safeguards as may drive such “scourges” away from them.
16. Therefore thus saith the Lord God. Isaiah now comforts the godly, and threatens against the wicked such punishment as they deserved. In the first instance, he brings forward consolation, because the godly were a laughingstock to those crafty men, as we see at the present day that irreligious men laugh at our simplicity, and reckon us to be fools, because amidst such deep adversity and sore afflictions we still hope that it will turn out to our advantage. In opposition to this insolence of the reprobate, the Prophet encourages and supports the hearts of the godly to pass by with indifference, and reckon of no account their jeers and reproaches, and to believe firmly that their hope will not be confounded or vain.
Behold, I lay in Zion a stone, a stone of trial. The demonstrative particle behold expresses certainty; as if he had said, “Though wicked men despise my words, and refuse to believe them, yet I will perform what I have promised.” The pronoun I is emphatic, that the prophecy may be more firmly believed. As to the words, the genitive בחן, (bōchăn,) of trial, which is used instead of an adjective along with stone, may be taken both in an active and in a passive sense, either for a stone by which the whole building is “tried,” or examined as by a standard, or for a “tried stone.” The former meaning appears to me to be more appropriate, and undoubtedly the usage of the Hebrew language requires us to interpret it rather in an active sense. He calls it therefore a trying stone, or a trier, on account of the effect produced; because by this stone the whole building must be squared and adjusted, otherwise it must unavoidably totter and fall.
A precious corner-stone, a sure foundation. He calls it a corner-stone, because it supports the whole weight of the building, and by this name, which is also given to it in Ps 118:22, he commends its force and strength. Lastly, he calls it a “foundation,” and, so to speak, a “fundamental foundation,” proceeding gradually in the commendation of it; for he shews that it is not an ordinary stone, or one of many which contribute to the building, but that it is a highly valuable stone, on which the whole weight of the building exclusively rests. It is a stone, but a stone which fills the whole corner; it is a corner-stone, but the whole house is founded on it. As “another foundation cannot be laid,” so on it alone must the whole Church, and every part of it, rest and be built. (1Co 3:11.)
He that believeth shall not make haste. This clause is interpreted by some as an exhortation, “He that believeth, let him not make haste.” But I prefer to take it in the future tense, both because that meaning agrees best with the context, and because it is supported by the authority of the Apostle Paul. I do acknowledge that the Apostles followed the Greek translation, 233 and used such liberty, that while they were satisfied with giving the meaning, they did not quote the exact words. Yet they never changed the meaning, but, taking care to have it properly applied, they gave the true and genuine interpretation. Whenever, therefore, they quote any passage from the Old Testament, they adhere closely to its object and design.
Now, Paul, when he quotes this prophecy, adopts the Greek version, “He that believeth shall not be ashamed.” (Rom. 9:33, Rom. 10:11.) And certainly the design of the Prophet is to shew, that they who believe will have peace and serenity of mind, so that they shall not desire anything more, and shall not wander in uncertainty, or hasten to seek other remedies, but shall be fully satisfied with this alone. That is not a departure from the meaning, for the word signifying to make haste conveys the idea of eagerness or trembling. In short, the design of the Prophet is, to extol faith on account of this invaluable result, that by means of it we enjoy settled peace and composure. Hence it follows that, till we possess faith, we must have continual perplexity and distress; for there is but one harbour on which we can safely rely, namely, the truth of the Lord, which alone will give us peace and serenity of mind.
This fruit of faith is elsewhere described by the same Apostle Paul, when he says that, “being justified by faith, we obtain peace with God.” (Ro 5:1.) The Apostles and evangelists shew that this “stone” is Christ, because the Church was actually settled and founded at the time when he was presented to the view of the world. (Mt 21:42; Ac 4:11; Ro 9:33; 1Pe 2:6.) First, in him the promises have their firmness; secondly, the salvation of men rests on him alone, and therefore if Christ be taken away, the Church will fall down and be ruined. The state of the fact therefore shews, that these statements must undoubtedly be referred to Christ, without whom there is no certainty of salvation; and therefore at every moment ruin is at hand. Next, we have the authority of evangelists and Apostles; and indeed the Holy Spirit conveys that instruction by their mouth.
But it will be proper to examine it more closely, that we may see in what manner these things are applied to Christ. First, it is not without good reason that Isaiah represents God as speaking, whose peculiar work it is to found the Church, as we have already seen elsewhere, and as the Prophet will afterwards declare; and this statement occurs very frequently in the Psalms. For if all men devote their labor to it, they will not be able to lay the least stone. It is God alone, therefore, who founds and builds his Church, though he employs for this purpose the labors and services of men. Now, by whom was Christ given, but by the Father? So then it was the heavenly Father who did and accomplished these things, and who appointed Christ to be the only foundation on which our salvation rests.
But was not this stone laid before? Did not the Church always rest on this foundation? I acknowledge that it did, but only in hope; for Christ had not yet been revealed, and had not fulfilled the office of a Redeemer. On this account the Prophet speaks of it as a future event, that believers may be fully persuaded that the Church, which they saw not only tottering and falling, but grievously shaken and almost laid in ruins, will yet be made firm by a new support, when it shall rest on a stone laid by the hand of God.
I lay in Zion. He says that it is “in Zion;” because Christ must come out of it, which contributes greatly to confirm our faith, when we see that he came out of that place which was appointed for this purpose so long before. Now, at the present day, “Mount Zion” is everywhere; for the Church has spread to the ends of the world.
Christ is truly “the stone of trial,” for by him must the whole building be regulated, and we cannot be the building of God, if we are not adapted to him. Hence also Paul exhorts us to
“grow in him who is the head, from whom the whole body must be joined and united.” (Eph 4:15.)
Our faith must be wholly applied to Christ, that he may be our rule. He is also the “corner-stone,” on which rests not only one part of the building, but its whole weight, and the foundation itself.
“No man,” as Paul says, “can lay any other foundation than Jesus Christ.”
This is the reason why, when the Lord promises by the mouth of Isaiah the restoration of his Church, he reminds us of the foundation; for it was wasted in such a manner that it resembled a ruin, and there was no way in which it could be restored but by Christ. As to Christ being called also the “stone of stumbling,” this is accidental; for the fault lies on ungrateful men, who, having rejected him, find him to be altogether different from what he would have been to them. But on this subject we have spoken at Isa 8:14. 234
17. And I will lay judgment to the line. The ruinous condition of the Church being such that believers hardly ventured to hope that it would be improved, he shews that God has in his hand the ready means of forming the Church entirely anew. As he lately mentioned a building, so now, by a different metaphor, he shews that there is no reason to fear that God will not at length finish the work of building which has been begun. Yet indirectly he reproves the pride and insolence of those who wished to be accounted pillars of the Church, while they were endeavoring, as far as lay in their power, to raze it to the foundation. Although, in consequence of an almost total extinction of the light of faith, and a frightful corruption of the worship of God, the state of the people was hideous, yet they boasted of their royal priesthood, in the same manner as we see the Papists at the present day shamelessly utter similar boasting, though lamentable confusion cries aloud that the form of the Church has utterly perished among them. For this reason the Prophet describes what will be the reformation of the Church.
Judgment to the line, and righteousness to the measure or plummet. It is probable that קו, (kāv,) a line, and משקלת, (mĭshkōlĕth,) a plummet, mean the same thing, as may be inferred with greater certainty from another passage:
“I will stretch over Jerusalem the rope or line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab.” (2Ki 21:13.)
Yet I do not deny that he alludes to the examination of weights; but both metaphors are taken from buildings, in which the master-builders and masons try everything by a rule, in order to preserve a due proportion in every part. Thus it is said that the Lord administers equal judgment, when he restores the Church, in which otherwise everything is disordered and confused, as in a hideous ruin, when the ungodly are exalted and enjoy prosperity, while the godly are despised and sorrowful.
He makes the same statement concerning “righteousness,” that he will measure or try it by his weights, and will regulate everything by a rule; for by righteousness and judgment he means a proper and lawful administration of the Church, as contrasting with the masks and disguises boasted of by those who fear the title of Bishops. The meaning is, that this foundation is laid, not only that the Church may be commenced, but that it may be perfectly restored, to use a common phrase, “from top to bottom” (De fonds en comble.)
The hail shall sweep away the reliance of falsehood. This second part of the metaphor denotes also a very exact equality. Nothing then will be wanting to the building, if Christ be laid for the foundation; and, on the other hand, if he be not there, all will be vanity and confusion. Now since there was no room for “judgment and righteousness,” but by sweeping away the false confidences, he declares that they shall be all swept away, because the violence of God’s anger shall cast down all loftiness, and the flood shall penetrate all the hiding-places of thoughtless indifference. He therefore threatens that hypocrites, with all their boasting, shall nevertheless perish, even though the Lord preserve the Church; for he does not speak of chastisements, as if the wicked would be corrected by them, because, on the contrary, they become hardened and more obstinate. The cleansing, therefore, he shews, will be such as to drag them forth from their hiding-places and strip them of false and empty confidence; for wicked men think that they are so thoroughly concealed by their falsehood and deceit, that they shall never feel strokes, and therefore they please and flatter themselves amidst their iniquities and crimes; but the waters will easily reach them; that is, the wrath of God, which shall rush down upon them like a deluge, will easily break through their lurking-places.
18. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled. Formerly he directed his reproof against hypocrites, who obstinately mocked at God and all his threatenings; and he checked their thoughts in imagining that “they had made a covenant with death,” (Isa 28:15,) that is, in promising to themselves that all their transgressions would pass unpunished; as if by jeers and laughter they could escape the arm of God. He now threatens that, when they shall be fully aware that they must render an account to God, they shall be struck with fear and dread, whether they will or not; 235 for that state of ease and indifference into which they are sunk, arises from a kind of lethargy or drunkenness, which hinders them from perceiving the alarming nature of their disease; but the Lord will arouse them from their sleep, however profound, and will annul their imaginary compacts.
In short, he means that that peace which the wicked enjoy, while they slumber in their sins, will not be perpetual; for they shall be compelled, even against their will, to acknowledge that God is their judge, and, when they shall wish to enjoy repose, and while they are careless and unprepared, they shall be suddenly seized and agitated by strange terrors and anguish of mind. Their case is similar to that of malefactors, who, if they have broken out of prison and escaped, mock their judges, and utter reproachful and forward and insolent language against them, but, when they see the officers of justice close at their heels, suddenly tremble, and find that all their joy is turned into mourning, and that their condition is far worse than if they had not broken out of prison. Thus the wicked enjoy some momentary gladness, which they obtain by forgetfulness of their guilt; but the Lord immediately lays his hand on them, and terrifies their consciences in such a manner that they can find no rest.
19. From the time that it shall pass. He expresses more in this verse than in the preceding one; for he declares that the destruction of the reprobate is close at hand, though they promise to themselves everlasting happiness. Wicked men indeed perceive that they are liable to many calamities, but yet they flatter and stupefy themselves, and imagine that in this way they can ward off their calamities. They have in their mouth proverbs of this sort, “Let us not distress ourselves before the time: Let us enjoy the season while it lasts: Let us be cheerful, and not give ourselves uneasiness when we can avoid it.” But he threatens that there hangs over their heads a hidden destruction, 236 and adds:
It shall seize you every morning, and shall pass every day by day and night. By “every morning” is meant “quickly and continually;” for it is only when they feel distress that wicked men are touched with the fear of God. Frequently indeed they are afraid when there is no danger; but it is a blind terror, for they do not understand whence their alarm proceeds. While God threatens, they are unconcerned, because they do not acknowledge him to be their judge, and thus they have no serious thoughts about God till they feel his hand. When he again repeats “in the morning,” and afterwards adds, “by day and by night,” he means, as I have said, that the scourge will be constant and daily; that they may not persuade themselves that it will be a light calamity, or deceive themselves by the hope of any mitigation; for, while the wrath of God against believers is momentary, against unbelievers it is eternal, for it never ceases to pursue them to the end.
Terror alone shall cause them to understand the report. 237 Here commentators differ. Jerome’s translation is, “Terror shall give understanding to the report.” But they come nearer to the meaning of the Prophet who give this interpretation, “The report alone shall make you understand,” that is, “The men to whom the messenger shall come will be rendered obedient to God by the report alone.” For my own part, I adopt a simpler view, though I do not choose to refute the expositions given by others. “It will come to pass that terror alone shall enable you to understand doctrine.” As if he had said, “Hitherto I have not succeeded in my exhortations to you, but the Lord will find out a new method of instructing you, that is, chastisements and calamities, by which he will terrify you in such a manner that you shall know with whom you have to do.” It is as if a grieved and sorrowful father were thus to remonstrate with a disobedient and incorrigible son, “Since you despise my advices, you must one day be taught by the executioner.” 238
Thus Isaiah threatens wicked men, who mocked at all his threatenings, and tells them that they do not care for the assistance of prophets, but that one day they will actually know with what sincerity and truth they addressed them, and yet that it will be of no advantage to them, because knowledge so late will leave no room for repentance. We must “seek the Lord while there is time.” (Isa 55:6.) Pharaoh was made no better by the chastisements which he received, (Ex 8:15,) and Esau gained nothing by his tears, when he saw that he had been stripped of his birthright, (Ge 27:38; Heb 12:17;) for they were not followed by any repentance or any amendment of life. By the word “terror” he shews how “dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God,” (Heb 10:31,) and that they who despise his word are never allowed to pass unpunished. He employs the word שמועה (shĕmūgnāh) to denote what is heard, that is, doctrine.
20. For the bed shall be short. By this metaphor he adorns the former statement; for he compares the reprobate, who are pressed down by the hand of God, to those who have concealed themselves in a “short and narrow bed,” in which they can scarcely stretch their limbs or lift their head, and where, in short, instead of rest, they feel sharp pains. He means that the Jews will be shut up in such a manner that they shall be overwhelmed with the severity of their distresses, and that the “bed,” which is given to man for rest, will be an instrument of torture.
If they seek a “covering,” he says that “it will be too short to wrap themselves in it,” and that it is an addition to their former distress, that amidst those heavy calamities they will want all necessary comforts. He chose to express this by the metaphor of a “narrow covering,” that they may know that their condition will be in the highest degree wretched; because the vengeance of God will pursue them on all sides, both above and below, so that they shall have no abatement or mitigation, and shall find no relief. The Lord employs these metaphors, in order to accommodate himself to our weakness; because otherwise we cannot understand how dreadful is the judgment of God. Hence therefore we learn how dreadful are the terrors which shake and confine wicked men, when the Lord pursues them; they search eagerly for places of concealment, and would willingly hide themselves in the center of the earth; but the Lord drags them forth to light, and confines and hems them in, so that they cannot move.
21. For as in Mount Perazim. Since he speaks here of the reprobate, the Prophet holds out nothing but terrors and cruel punishment; for while the Lord deals kindly and gently with his children, he shews that he will be an object of terror to the reprobate. For this purpose he produces examples, in which the Lord displayed his arm in defense of his people, as when he routed the Philistines in the valley of Perazim, when David pursued them, (2Sa 5:20; 1Ch 14:11,) and at another time, when the Amorites and other enemies were slain by the Israelites in the valley of Gibeon, with Joshua as their leader, to whom the Lord granted that the “sun and moon should stand still,” that they might more easily pursue their enemies. (Jos 10:10-14.)
Shall Jehovah rise up. By the word “rise up” he points out the power of God, because we think that he is lazy and indolent, when he does not punish the reprobate. It is therefore said that he “rises up” or stands erect, when he openly exhibits to us proofs of his power, and such as especially manifest the great care which he takes of his Church. Although the manner was different, (for in ancient times he “rose up” in defense of his chosen people against foreigners, but now he threatens war against the Jews,) yet Isaiah skillfully applies these examples; for by driving out internal enemies God will promote the advantage of his Church not less than if he directed his strength and arms against foreigners. He would thus reckon them in the number of enemies, though they falsely boasted that they were his people.
His strange work. 239 Some think that this “work” is called “strange,” because nothing corresponds better to the nature of God than to be merciful and to pardon our sins; and that when he is angry, he acts against his will, and assumes a character that is foreign to him and that is contrary to his nature. By nature he is gentle, compassionate, patient, kind, slow to anger, as Scripture declares by many words and by a variety of expressions his infinite compassion. (Ex 34:6; Ps 103:8.) Others explain it to mean that the “work” is “strange,” because formerly he was wont to defend his people, and that it is monstrous that he now proceeds to attack and exterminate them, as if they were enemies.
For my own part, I consider “strange” to mean simply what is uncommon or wonderful; for this appellation is given to what is rare and unusual among men, and we know that they almost always view with astonishment whatever is new. It is as if he had said, “The Lord will punish you, and that not in a common or ordinary way, but in a way so amazing that at the sight or hearing of it, all shall be struck with horror.” It is certain that all the works of God are so many proofs of his power, so that they ought justly to excite our admiration; but because, through constant habit and looking at them, they are despised by us, we think that he does nothing unless he adopt some extraordinary methods. On this account Isaiah quotes ancient examples, in order that we may know that, though to men this vengeance be new and amazing, yet to God it is far from being new, since for a long period he has given proofs of his power and ability not less remarkable than these. Yet I willingly admit that the Prophet contrasts the wicked Israelites with the Philistines and Canaanites, as if he had said, “The Lord formerly performed miracles when he wished to save his people; he will now perform them in order to destroy that people; for since the Israelites have degenerated, they shall feel the hand of God for their destruction which their fathers felt for their salvation.”
22. Now therefore. He again reminds those wicked men, whom he had formerly called “scorners,” (Isa 28:14,) that their cunning, and contempt, and jeers, and mockery, will avail them nothing, because all their ingenuity will be thwarted; and he exhorts them to repentance, if there still be any of them that are capable of being cured. For this reason he repeats the same threatenings, in order to arouse them.
Lest your chains be more firmly fastened. He says that all that they will gain by resistance will be to draw themselves more firmly into their nets. Instead of “chains,” there are some who render מוסרים (mōsĕrīm) “chastisements;” but this does not agree with the context. The metaphor of “chains” is highly appropriate in this passage; for, as the fox which has fallen into a snare, fastens the knot more firmly by his attempts to extricate himself and escape, so wicked men by their disobedience entangle and fasten themselves more and more. They desire to escape the hand of God, and kick against the spur, like an unruly horse which bends all its strength to shake of its rider; but all that they accomplish by their obstinacy and stubbornness is to receive heavier and severer blows.
Be ye not mockers. This shews us how we ought to deal with wicked men, when we see that they are altogether destitute of the fear of God. All that remains for us to do is, to warn them that their jeers and scorn will be attended by no success in resisting the vengeance of God which hangs over them. We are also reminded that we ought not to sport with God, since we see, as in a mirror, what has been the end of those who despised the warnings and threatenings of the prophets since the beginning of the world.
For I have heard a consumption. That his prediction may be firmly believed, he declares that he brings nothing forward which God did not reveal. כלה (chālāh) sometimes signifies “perfection,” and sometimes “consumption,” as we formerly stated 240 (Isa 10:23.) Here it must denote “consumption,” for the Prophet means nothing else than that God has determined speedily to destroy the whole earth by a general slaughter. This includes two things; first, that dreadful and grievous destruction is about to overtake the world, (unless it be thought better to limit the word “earth” to Judea, to which I do not object,) and, secondly, that the day is fixed and is not distant. The word hearing is here used to denote Revelation. He says that it has been made known to him; for, as the Lord determined to make use of the ministry of the prophets, so he revealed to them his secrets, that they might be, as it were, interpreters of them.
Upon the whole earth. As if he had said, “The whole world abounds with shocking impiety, reprobate men have grown wanton in their wickedness, as if there would be no judgment of God; but throughout the whole world, or in every part of Judea, God will shew that he is judge and avenger, and not a corner of the earth will be exempted from troubles and calamities, because they have despised the word.” Now, although these things were revealed in the age of Isaiah, yet they belong not less to other times, in which God shews that he is always like himself, and is wont to execute his judgments by the same method and rule. 241
23. Give ear and hear my voice. Isaiah makes use of a preface, as if he were about to speak of something important and very weighty; for we are not wont to demand attention from our hearers, unless when we are about to say what is very important. And yet he seems here to speak of common and ordinary subjects, as for example, about agriculture, sowing, thrashing, and such like operations. But the Prophet intended to direct the minds of his hearers to higher matters; for when he discourses about the judgments of God, and shews with what wisdom God governs the world, though wicked men think that everything moves by chance and at random, he intended to lay down and explain a difficult subject, in a plain style, by metaphors drawn from objects which are well known and understood. We often complain that God winks too much at the crimes of wicked men, because he does not immediately punish them agreeably to our wish; but the Prophet shews that God appoints nothing but what is just and proper.
The design of this preface therefore is, that men may perceive their stupidity in carping at the judgments of God, and putting an unfavourable construction on them, while even in the ordinary course of nature they have a very bright mirror, in which they may see them plainly. There is an implied expostulation with men who shut their eyes amidst so clear light. He shews that they are dull and stupid in not understanding the works of God which are so manifest, and yet are so rash and daring that they presume to judge and censure what is hidden. In like manner Paul also, when speaking of the resurrection, pronounces that those who do not perceive the power of God in the seeds which are thrown into the earth are madmen.
“Thou fool, that which thou sowest does not grow or vegetate till it has rotted.”
Thus Isaiah here declares that those who do not see the wisdom of God in things so obvious are stupid, and, in short, that men are blind and dull in beholding the works of God.
24. Doth the ploughman plough every day 242 to sow? This passage is commonly explained as if the Lord reproached his people for ingratitude, because he had cultivated the field as a husbandman, and had spent on it all his care and industry, and yet did not reap such fruit as it ought to have yielded. Such is the interpretation given by the Jews, who have been followed also by the Greek and Latin commentators; but Isaiah’s meaning was quite different. He connects this doctrine with his former statement, that the destruction of Judea, or of the whole world, had been revealed to him; and therefore he adds, that still God does not always display his hand, or constantly punish the wickedness of men; for he often appears as if he did not see it, and delays the punishment of it for a time. The Lord’s forbearance and slowness to punish, which is thus manifested, is abused by wicked men for leading them to greater lengths in wickedness, as Solomon remarks that men are encouraged to commit wickedness by observing that
“all things happen alike to the good and to the bad,” (Ec 8:14,)
that all the worst and basest men enjoy prosperity, while the godly are liable to distresses not less and even greater than those of other men. 243
In short, when the wicked perceive no difference in outward matters, they think either that there is no God, or that everything is governed by the blind violence of fortune. To such thoughts therefore Isaiah replies, “Do you not know that God has his seasons, and that he knows what he ought to do at the proper time?” If ploughmen do not “every day” cleave the earth or break the clods, this ought not to be attributed to their want of skill; for, on the contrary, their skill requires them to desist. 244 What would they gain by continually turning over the soil, but to weary themselves to no purpose, and prevent it from yielding any fruit? Thus God does not act with bustle or confusion, but knows the times and seasons for doing his work. 245
25. When he hath levelled its surface. He now speaks about sowing. The sower will not put into the earth as much as he can, nor will he throw it in at random, but will measure the ground, and give to it as much as is necessary; for otherwise the superfluous mass would rot, and not a single grain would take root.
Wheat in measure, and barley measured. 246 He will not mix various seeds, but will allot one part of the field for “wheat,” another for “vetches,” and another for “cummin.” He will do this in measure, for that I consider to be the proper interpretation of שורה (sōrāh.) 247 It does not mean excellent or good; for he is speaking about measurement. Similar statements are made about reaping and thrashing; for all kinds of grain are not thrashed in the same manner. Wheat is thrashed with the wheel of a cart or wagon, vetches with a staff, and cummin with a thicker rod. He speaks according to the custom of the country. This mode of thrashing is unknown in any part of France, except Provence. 248 In short, he means that the manner of thrashing which is suitable to the grain does not apply equally to all. Besides, the husbandman is not constantly or incessantly employed in thrashing, but exercises moderation, that he may not bruise the grain.
26. His God instructeth and teacheth him what is right. From whom did the husbandman learn these things but from God? If they are so well educated and taught in the smallest matters, what ought we to think of so great a teacher and instructor? Does he not know how to apply a fixed measure and equity to his works? Does he not see the time for executing his judgment; when he ought to cut down the people, and, as we may say, to harrow 249 them; when he ought to thrash; what strokes, what kind of chastisements he ought to inflict; in short, what is most suitable to each time and to each person? Will not he who appointed the universal order of nature regulate these things also by a just proportion? Are men so headstrong that they will venture to remonstrate with him, or to impugn his wisdom? The general meaning is, that we ought not to judge rashly, if God does not immediately punish the wickedness of men.
This shews that we ought to restrain the presumption of men, who, even in the smallest matters, often fall into mistakes. If a person ignorant of agriculture should see a husbandman cutting fields with a plough, making furrows, breaking clods, driving oxen up and down and following their footsteps, he would perhaps laugh at it, imagining that it was childish sport; but that man would be justly blamed by the husbandman, and convicted of ignorance and rashness; for every person of great modesty will think that those things are not done idly or at random, though he does not know the reason. When the seed is committed to the ground, does it not appear to be lost? If ignorant men find fault with these things, as ignorance is often rash and presumptuous in judging, will not intelligent men justly blame and pronounce them to have been in the wrong? If this be the case, how shall the Lord deal with us, if we dare to find fault with his works which we do not understand?
Let us therefore learn from this how carefully we ought to avoid this rashness, and with what modesty we ought to restrain ourselves from such thoughts. If we ought to act modestly towards men, and not to condemn rashly what exceeds our understanding or capacity, we ought to exercise much greater modesty towards God. When we consider therefore the various calamities with which the Church is afflicted, let us not complain that loose reins are given to the wicked, 250 and that consequently she is abandoned to her fate, or that all is over with her; but let us believe firmly, that the Lord will apply remedies at the proper time, and let us embrace with our whole heart his righteous judgments.
If any person carefully examining those words shall infer from them that some are punished more speedily and others more slowly, and shall pronounce the meaning to be, that punishment is delayed, such a view is not merely probable, but is fully expressed by the Prophet. We draw from it a delightful consolation, that the Lord regulates his thrashing in such a manner that he does not crush or bruise his people. The wicked are indeed reduced by him to nothing and destroyed; but he chastises his own people, in order that, having been subdued and cleansed, they may be gathered into the barn.
29. This also hath proceeded from Jehovah of hosts. This passage is explained by some, as if The Prophet had said that the science of agriculture proceeded from the Lord; but I consider it to be the application of what goes before. Having pointed out the wisdom of God, even in the smallest matters, he bids us, in like manner, raise our eyes to higher subjects, that we may learn to behold with greater reverence his wonderful and hidden judgments. A passing observation on the 26th verse may be made, and indeed ought to be made, that not only agriculture, but likewise all the arts which contribute to the advantage of mankind, are the gifts of God, and that all that belongs to skillful invention has been imparted by him to the minds of men. Men have no right to be proud on this account, or to arrogate to themselves the praise of invention, as we see that the ancients did, who, out of their ingratitude to God, ranked in the number of the gods those whom they considered to be the authors of any ingenious contrivance. Hence arose deification and that prodigious multitude of gods which the heathens framed in their own fancy. Hence arose the great Ceres, and Triptolemus, and Mercury, and innumerable others, celebrated by human tongues and by human writings. The Prophet shews that such arts ought to be ascribed to God, from whom they have been received, who alone is the inventor and teacher of them. If we ought to form such an opinion about agriculture and mechanical arts, what shall we think of the learned and exalted sciences, such as Medicine, Jurisprudence, Astronomy, Geometry, Logic, and such like? Shall we not much more consider them to have proceeded from God? Shall we not in them also behold and acknowledge his goodness, that his praise and glory may be celebrated both in the smallest and in the greatest affairs?