Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 14: Isaiah, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgement.
1. Ecce in justitia regnabit rex, et principes in judicio præerunt.
2. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
2. Et erit ille vir velut latibulum a vento, receptus ab imbre, rivi aquarum in terra arida, umbra magnæ rupis in terra laboriosa.
3. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim; and the ears of them that hear shall hearken.
3. Tunc non oblinentur oculi videntium, et aures audientium auscultabunt.
4. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.
4. Et cor stultorum intentum erit ad scientiam, et lingua balborum expedita erit ad loquendum diserte.
5. The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.
5. Non vocabitur amplius sordidus liberalis, neque parcus dicetur largus.
6. For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry; and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
6. Quoniam sordidus loquetur sordes, et cor ejus machinabitur iniquitatem, ad designandam pravitatem, ut proferat subsannationem contra Iehovam, exinaniat animam famelicam, et potum sitienti subtrahat.
7. The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.
7. Avari arma sunt mala (vel, mensurœ sunt malœ) ipse pravitates excogitat, ut circumveniat simplices verbis mendacibus, et loquatur contra pauperem in judicio.
8. But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.
8. At liberalis liberalia agitabit, et liberaliter agendo progredietur.
9. Rise up, ye women that are at ease; hear my voice, ye careless daughters; give ear unto my speech.
9. Mulieres quitæ, surgite; audite vocem meam, filiæ confidentes; auscultate sermonem meum.
10. Many days and years shall ye be troubled, ye careless women: for the vintage shall fail, the gathering shall not come.
10. Dies super annum expavescetis, confidentes; quia deficiet vindemia, et collectio non veniet.
11. Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones; strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins.
11. Contremiscite, quietæ; trepidate, confidentes; spoliate, nudate, accingite lumbos.
12. They shall lament for the teats, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine.
12. Super ubera plangentes, super agros desideratos, super vitem frugiferam.
13. Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briars; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city:
13. Super terram populi mei ascendet spina et vepris; etiam super omnes domos lætitæ in urbe exultationis.
14. Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks;
14. Quoniam palatium desertum, strepitus urbis relictus, turris et propugnaculum redigentur in speluncas in perpetuum, ubi gaudeant onagri, et pascantur greges.
15. Until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.
15. Donec super nos effundatur Spiritus ex alto, et ponatur desertum in agrum cultum, et ager cultus instar sylvæ reputetur.
16. Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
16. Et habitabit in deserto judicium, et justitia in agro culto sedebit.
17. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.
17. Et erit opus justitæ pax; effectus, inquam, justitæ, securitas et quies in perpetuum.
18. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet restingplaces.
18. Et sedebit populus meus in tabernaculo pacis, et in mansionibus securis, et in refrigeriis quieis.
19. When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.
19. Et grando in sylvam descensu divertet, et in loco humili considet civitas.
20. Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.
20. Beati vos qui seritis super omnes aquas, qui immittitis pedem bovis et asini.
1. Behold, a King shall reign. He means that God will still be gracious to his Church, so as to restore her entirely; and the best method of restoring her is, when good government is maintained, and when the whole administration of it is conducted with propriety, and with good order. This prediction undoubtedly relates to Hezekiah and his reign, under which the Church was reformed and restored to its former splendor; for formerly it was in a wretched and ruinous condition. Ahaz, who was a wicked and disgraceful hypocrite, had corrupted everything according to his own wicked dispositions, and had overturned the whole condition of civil government and of religion. (2 Kings 16:2, 3.) He therefore promises another king, namely, Hezekiah, whose power and righteousness shall restore the state of affairs which is thus wretched and desperate. In a word, he presents to us in this passage a lively picture of the prosperous condition of the Church; and as this cannot be attained without Christ, this description undoubtedly refers to Christ, of whom Hezekiah was a type, and whose kingdom he foreshadowed.
In righteousness and judgment. Here he follows the ordinary usage of Scripture, which employs those expressions to denote good government; for by righteousness is meant equity and good government, and by judgment is meant that part of equity which upholds good men, and defends them from the assaults of the wicked. It is undoubtedly true that the duty of a good prince embraces a wider extent than “righteousness and judgment;” for his great aim ought to be to defend the honor of God and religion. But the ordinary usage of Scripture is, to describe the whole observation of the law by the works of the second table; for, if we refrain from acts of injustice, if we aid, as far as lies in our power, those who are oppressed by others, and, in a word, if we maintain brotherly kindness, we give evidence of the fear of God, from which such fruits spring and grow. From a part, therefore, the Prophet has described the whole.
And princes shall rule. It is not without good reason that he likewise mentions nobles; 328 for it would not be enough to be a good prince, if he were not supported by upright ministers and counselors. Frequently has the condition of the people, under good princes, been very bad; as we read of Nerva, 329 under whose reign every kind of conduct was tolerated, so that many persons were far less favourably situated under his reign than under Nero; for the carelessness and indolence of a single individual gave freedom of action to many wicked men. It is therefore necessary that a king shall have good governors, who shall supply the place of eyes and hands, and aid him in the righteous exercise of his authority. If this be not the case, a good king cannot advance a step without being more or less retarded by other men; and unless rulers move with a harmony resembling that which we find in musical instruments, the government of a state cannot be carried on with advantage.
On this subject, men ought to listen to the advice of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, to unite with him
“able men fearing God, men of truth, and hating covetousness, and to appoint such men to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” (Ex 18:21.)
But at the present day, those who aid, or pander to their lusts, and who favor and flatter them, are promoted by kings to honors and high rank, which are bestowed on them as the just reward of their flattery or base servility. Nor ought we to wonder if we see, almost throughout the whole world, states thrown into confusion, ranks overturned, and all good government despised and set aside; for this is the just punishment of our iniquities, and we deserve to have such governors, since we do not allow God to rule over us. How shall this extraordinary kindness of God be enjoyed by men who are openly rebellious and profane, or by wicked hypocrites who cast God behind them, and cannot bear the yoke of Christ, through whom this prosperity and restoration of a declining Church is promised?
2. And that man shall be. How great is the importance of well-regulated government the Prophet shews plainly by these words, when he calls that king a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the rain; for mankind can never be so happy as when every one voluntarily abstains from every kind of violence and injustice, and when they conduct themselves peaceably and without restraint. Since, therefore, most men are urged and driven by their furious passions to acts of injustice, men would be embroiled in incessant quarreling if a remedy were not provided in the laws and courts of justice; but as many rulers, by a tyrannical exercise of power, raise more troubles than they allay, it is not without good reason that the good king is honored by this peculiar commendation. If this was said with truth concerning Hezekiah, much more may it be said concerning Christ, in whom we have our best, or rather, our only refuge in those storms by which we must be tossed about as long as we dwell in this world. Whenever, therefore, we are scorched by oppressive heat, let us learn to retire under his shadow; whenever we are tossed about by tempests, and think that we are overwhelmed by the violence of the waves, let us learn to betake ourselves to him as our safest harbour; he will speedily bring every storm to a calm, and will completely restore what was ruined and decayed.
3. and 4. Then the eyes of them that see. Hence we see more clearly that, while the Prophet describes the reign of Hezekiah, he intends to lead us farther; for here he discourses concerning the restoration of the Church, which indeed was shadowed out by Hezekiah, but has been actually fulfilled in Christ. We know that the Church is never in a healthy condition, unless she be internally ruled by righteous and wise governors. Now, this cannot be, unless Christ reign; and here, therefore, Christ and his reign are specially recommended to us. This promise is contrasted with the dreadful threatening which he had uttered in a former chapter, (Isa 29:10,) that he would blind the Jews; for here, on the other hand, he promises the true light, that they who were formerly blind may be enlightened, that “the deaf may begin to hear, that fools may understand, and that stammerers may speak.”
He calls them seeing and hearing who ought to have seen and heard when the word of God was exhibited to them; but they chose to be blind and deaf, and turned away their thoughts and hearts from doctrine. The Lord promises that he will restore to these persons eyes, ears, a tongue, and understanding. Now, it is certain that nothing is here promised which does not proceed from the grace of God; for he does not merely declare what men will do, but what God himself will do in men. These are extraordinary gifts of God; as, on the contrary, when he blinds, when he takes away understanding and the right use of speech, when he suffers ignorance and barbarism to prevail, these are dreadful punishments by which he takes vengeance on men for their ingratitude and for their contempt of the word. He promises that, at length, in compassion towards his people, the Lord will restore what he had justly taken away from them; and it must have been through the kindness of Christ that a tongue to speak, a mind to understand, and ears to hear, are restored to us; for formerly we were dull of apprehension, and were struck with frightful stupidity.
Let us therefore know that out of Christ there is no spiritual life in the world, because here they are declared to be destitute of sight, hearing, sound understanding, and the proper use of speech,
“till they be united in one body, of which he is the head.” 330 (Eph. 4:15, 16.)
Hence it follows that, when the kingdom of Christ is overthrown, these blessings are also taken away. It ought also to be observed, that the blessings which are here recommended are above all others excellent and desirable; for riches, and possessions, and everything else in which men commonly judge the happiness of life to consist, ought to be reckoned of no value in comparison of these blessings. Amidst the abundance of all things we shall be miserable, unless the Lord restore those spiritual blessings of which the Prophet speaks in this passage; and therefore, when they are taken away, let us know that Christ also is at a distance from us, and that we are strangers to him, seeing that it is from him alone, as Paul informs us, that all spiritual blessings flow. (Eph 1:3.) When we see that those blessings which had been taken away for a long period are now restored to us, let us be ashamed of our ingratitude in not rendering to Christ that glory which was due to him, and in not employing the understanding which he gave to us in spreading his kingdom and promoting his worship; for we plainly shew that he has no dominion over us.
And the heart of fools. 331 As fools are commonly hasty and rash, so the Hebrew writers take the word haste 332 as denoting folly; for wise men are usually cautious.
5. No longer shall the base person be called. The Prophet means that everything will be restored to good order, so that vices will not, as formerly, be reckoned virtues; for, when the public government is wicked, covetous persons are in power, and are honored and esteemed, because men judge of virtue by wealth and power; a poor man is everywhere despised, though he be truly upright and bountiful to the full extent of his ability; and, in a word, in such a state of things there is nothing but disorder and confusion. But good government quickly detects such pretences and masks; for, where virtue is esteemed, vices are immediately exposed. Good men also have greater freedom allowed them in restraining the wantonness of those who formerly trod under their feet all that is just and lawful.
When the Prophet speaks here about the condition and reformation of the Church, which is a spiritual government, we ought to raise our minds somewhat higher, so as to view all this as relating to Christ, to whom it specially and peculiarly belongs to expose hidden vices, and to remove those vails and coverings by which the appearance of vices is changed, so that they are praised as if they were virtues. He does this by means of the gospel, by which he drags into light the disgraceful actions which were formerly concealed, and openly shews what they really are, so that no man, unless he choose it, can be deceived by their outward appearance. And this is the reason why the gospel is so much hated by the world; for no man can patiently endure to have his “hidden thoughts” and concealed baseness “revealed.” (Lu 2:35.) Philosophers indeed reason admirably about covetousness and liberality, and in some degree explain what is the difference between them; but they never penetrate into the hearts, so as to search them and actually distinguish between the covetous man and the bountiful. This can only be done by Christ’s light, when he shines by means of the gospel, and, by exploring the deepest corners of the human heart, brings us to spiritual and inward obedience. In this passage, therefore, we are brought to the judgment-seat of Christ, who alone, by exposing hypocrisy, reveals whether we are covetous or bountiful.
6. For the vile person will speak vileness. We might also render it, “The wicked man will speak wickedly;” for נבלה (nĕbālāh) denotes “baseness” or any wickedness, such as is meant by the French word lascheté, or by the English words, “lewdness” or “baseness.” It might also be rendered, “The fool will speak wickedly;” and thus there would be an allusion to the words נבל (nābāl) and נבלה, (nĕbālāh,) 333 though the meaning would be considerably different; but, since he employed this word in the former verse, when speaking of “vile” persons, I willingly adopt that interpretation.
And his heart will contrive iniquity. I consider און (āvĕn) to denote “wickedness;” for he speaks of giving themselves up continually to sin and do wickedly, as is plainly shewn by what follows; for his earnest remonstrances are directed against wicked men, who abandon themselves to all that is vile, and are not moved by any feeling of conscience, who laugh at all warnings, and ridicule God and his servants. Christ also drags them into the light, and exposes what lay concealed under coverings; for to him, as we have said, it peculiarly belongs to
“pierce, by the sword of the gospel, the hidden feelings of the heart, that they may answer to the judgment of God.” (Heb 4:12.)
Isaiah therefore continues the same subject which he had formerly begun to explain.
Others explain it differently, but, as I think, in an unsuitable manner; for they think that it is a kind of proverbial saying, and render it in the present tense, “The vile person speaketh vileness.” But I think that the Prophet means something higher, namely, that Christ is the Judge of the world, and therefore, when he shall ascend the judgment-seat, he will shew what is the disposition of every person; for, so long as he does not exercise the office of a judge, everything remains in confusion, the wicked are applauded, because they have the appearance of piety, and the most excellent men are despised. But Christ will openly display the life of every person, so that what formerly, under some pretense, bore a fair reputation, will be manifested to be wickedness; and on this account he is said to
“have in his hand a sieve for separating the wheat from the chaff.” (Mt 3:12.)
Now, this sieve is the gospel, by which, as a Judge, he brings malefactors to trial, and draws forth, in spite of their efforts, the exposure of their transgressions and crimes.
We have the experience of this more and more every day, when an exposure is made of that wickedness which had been concealed under the mask of Popery and the strange folds of superstitions. Who would ever have thought, amidst that darkness, that there were concealed in the hearts of men such dreadful monsters as are brought forward at the present day? To such a height has the contempt of God arisen, that many discover themselves to be more like beasts than men. Yet the Papists slander us, as if by our doctrine we gave loose reins to men, and exhorted them to despise God and follow wickedness without fear or shame. But let them listen to Isaiah, who replies that, when the truth of God shall be made known, vile persons will speak vileness, and wicked persons will speak baseness and wickedness; and, indeed, Christ would not be a spiritual judge if he did not
“reveal the secret thoughts of the heart, and bring every hidden thing to light.” (Lu 2:35.)
To make empty the hungry soul. In addition to those mockeries which the reprobate cast against God, cruelty is next mentioned. The Prophet thus gives an exact enumeration of those actions which are contrary to the second table. Wicked men begin with despising God, then rush to outward crimes, and practice cruelty of every sort against their neighbors. Now, the worst and most flagrant of all cruelty is, to “snatch food from the hungry soul and drink from the thirsty;” for mere natural feeling prompts us to mercy and (συμπάθειαν) 334 compassion. When men are so brutalized that they are not affected by the misery of others, and lay aside every feeling of humanity, they must be worse than the beasts themselves, who have some sort of pity for the wants of their own kind.
7. The instruments of the covetous man are evil. We must always keep by the future tense; for he does not inquire what wicked men are, but declares that they shall be revealed under the reign of Christ, that they may no longer deceive or impose upon any one. He speaks of the heavenly light which would arise, as we have already said, to expose hidden wickedness. Christ therefore shews what covetous men are, and how destructive are the means which they employ. If it be thought better that כלי (kĕlē) should be translated “measures,” I have no objection; but the word “instrument” is more appropriate and extensive, for it includes “instruments” of every description. It means therefore every kind of means, tricks, and cunning devices, by which “covetous men” put simple persons off their guard, and draw them into their nets.
To deceive the simple by lying words. He now assigns the reason. It is, because they do not cease to contrive some injury. 335 It is certain that this is a description of the practices of bad men, who think of nothing but their own convenience and gain, and are always bent on cheating and “deceiving.” Christ brings to light those persons, and their tricks and contrivances.
To speak against the poor in judgment. 336 Various circumstances are brought forward, to present in a more striking light the shamefulness of this wickedness. First, “to deceive the simple,” who cannot take care of themselves, is more shameful and flagrant than to deceive sharpers and veterans in crime. It is shameful, secondly, to make use of deceitful blandishments under the pretense of friendship; thirdly, to deceive “the poor,” whose poverty we ought rather to have relieved; fourthly, to lay snares in the very court of justice. This is more highly criminal than if a man were attacked by open violence; for the court of justice ought to be a refuge for the poor, and what shall become of them, if it be a den of robbers or thieves? If the roads are beset by robbers, and if snares are laid, there may be some way of avoiding them; but there is no possibility of guarding against the frauds committed in courts of justice. These circumstances, therefore, ought to be carefully remarked.
8. But the liberal shall devise liberal things. We have already said that these statements of the Prophet have a deeper meaning than is commonly supposed; for he does not speak in the ordinary sense of the words, but treats of the reformation of the Church. This relates therefore to the regenerate, over whom Christ reigns; for, although all are called by the voice of the gospel, yet there are few who suffer themselves to be placed under his yoke. The Lord makes them truly kind and bountiful, so that they no longer seek their own convenience, but are ready to give assistance to the poor, and not only do this once or oftener, but every day advance more and more in kindness and generosity.
In acting liberally he shall make progress. This passage is commonly explained in a different manner, namely, that the liberal advance themselves, and become great by doing good; because God rewards them, and bestows on them greater blessings. This view pleases at first sight; but the Prophet, on the contrary, shews that the liberal will never cease to perform acts of generosity, for they will daily make greater progress, and will pursue the same designs and adhere firmly to their intention, as it is said by the Psalmist,
“He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever.” (Ps 112:9; 2Co 9:9.)
This is added, because it is easy to counterfeit liberality for a time; many even think that they are sincerely bountiful because they have performed an act of beneficence, but quickly cease and change their purpose. But true liberality is not momentary or of short duration. They who possess that virtue persevere steadily, and do not exhaust themselves in a sudden and feeble flame, of which they quickly afterwards repent.
This is what the Prophet intended to express by the word קום, (kūm,) which signifies to “arise” and “grow.” There are indeed many occurrences which retard the progress of our liberality. We find in men strange ingratitude, so that what we give appears to be ill bestowed. Many are too greedy, and, like horse-leeches, suck the blood of others. But let us remember this saying, and listen to Paul’s exhortation “not to be weary in well-doing;” for the Lord exhorts us not to momentary liberality, but to that which shall endure during the whole course of our life. (Ga 6:9.)
9. Ye women at ease, arise. These words appear not to be connected with what goes before; for formerly he spoke about restoring the Church, but now he threatens that the judgment of God is ready to strike a people carelessly reposing amidst riches and pleasures; and therefore it is probable that here Isaiah begins a new and distinct subject. Yet there will be no absurdity in connecting this with the former prediction, for the Prophets commonly observe this order. After having promised the grace of God to believers, they next direct their discourse to hypocrites, to declare that the mercy which the Lord promises to believers will be of no avail to hypocrites, and that notwithstanding they shall be punished for their sins.
As to women being chiefly addressed, the Hebrew commentators, agreeably to the frequent usage of their language, suppose “cities” 337 to be meant; but I think that the language here is not figurative, and I rather adhere to the simple meaning of the words. He addresses “women” rather than men, in order to shew the extent of that calamity; for in ordinary circumstances women and children are spared, because they are unfit for war, and have no power to defend themselves. He says that the destruction will be so cruel that none shall be spared.
He expressly addresses them also as “women at ease,” who are usually more delicate than others, and, enjoying the advantages of wealth, have some means of providing for their safety and of rescuing themselves from calamities, even when persons of ordinary rank are suffering grievous hardships. But to them especially Isaiah makes the intimation, that they must “arise” and “tremble;” and he contrasts this trembling with the ease and luxury which they peacefully enjoyed. He bids them arise, that they may know that this is not the time for repose, and that the Lord will arouse them from their ease and indifference.
Hear my voice, ye careless daughters. 338 In the same manner as before, the word daughters is interpreted by the rabbins to mean “villages” or “smaller cities;” but I think, as I have already said, that it ought to be taken in its literal meaning. He shews them whence shall arise this terror, whence shall arise that violence which shall compel them to “arise” and “tremble.” It is from the judgment of God. But he mentions “a voice,” that they may know that this prophecy shall not fail of its accomplishment; because he proclaims war against them by the command of God. “How efficacious this speech shall be, and what power it shall have to arouse you, one day you shall actually feel.” So frequently does he reproach them for indolence, carelessness, and luxury, not only because it is harder for those who live at ease to be harshly aroused, but because the corruption and depravity of human nature make it scarcely possible for the world to enjoy ease and prosperity without becoming indolent. Next, falling gradually into slothfulness, it will deceive itself by a false imagination, and drive far away from it all fear, and, relying on this confidence, will insolently rise up against God.
10. Days above a year. 339 By these words he declares that the calamity will be of long duration; for it is no slight consolation in adversity, when the distresses which must otherwise have been endured by us with grief and sorrow pass quickly away. But when no end and no mitigation of sorrows, no comfort or hope of deliverance is held out to us, what can be left but despair? He therefore threatens not only that they shall endure them for one year, but that afterwards they must look for new afflictions.
You shall tremble. By this word he indirectly stings their slothfulness, by declaring that they who grudged to listen to calm instruction shall be dragged forth with trembling and alarm. As the Jews were excessively anxious about earthly blessings and perishing food, he addresses their senses by threatening a scarcity of wine and wheat. If they had been more thoroughly purified from grovelling desires, he would rather have threatened what Jeremiah deplores in his Lamentations, that
“the sacrifices and festivals had ceased, and that the holy assemblies were discontinued.” (La 1:7.)
But, because they were sunk in their pleasures, and had not made such proficiency as to know the value of spiritual blessings, the Prophet accommodates himself to their ignorance, and addresses their bellies rather than their understandings. He speaks of the desolation of the fields, which would be the necessary consequence of that calamity; for abundance and plenty commonly give rise to ease and indifference. “The Lord will therefore,” says he, “deprive you of all food, and shake off your slothfulness, and take away all ground of confidence.” Accordingly, we are here reminded that we ought not to sleep in the midst of prosperity, nor imagine that we are safe, as if we could expect uninterrupted prosperity in the world. But we ought to use with moderation the gifts of God, if we do not wish to be suddenly aroused, and to be overwhelmed when we are off our guard, and to feel the heavier distress because we did not look for a change of our affairs.
11. Tremble. This repetition is not unnecessary, but states more fully what he formerly said; for when men are asleep, they are not easily aroused by the voice of the prophets, and therefore it is needful to cry aloud and reprove them continually. And thus, by adding one threatening to another, or by repeating the same threatenings, he shews how great is the stupidity of men, when they have once been blinded by prosperity; for they can scarcely endure any longer to hear the warnings which God addresses to them. Men are undoubtedly more in danger from prosperity than from adversity; for when matters go smoothly with them, they flatter themselves, and are intoxicated by their success; and therefore it was necessary to deal more sharply with the Jews, in order to shake off that slothfulness. This exhortation of the Prophet ought to be explained in the future tense; as if he had said, “You shall at length tremble, for the rest which you now enjoy will not be perpetual.”
By bidding them make themselves bare, and gird sackcloth on their loins, he describes the manner and dress of mourners. Whenever they were visited by deep adversity, they put on sackcloth, made bare the other parts of their body, and by dress, and attitude, and every method, manifested their grief. He desires women to put on sackcloth and other expressions of mourning, instead of the luxuries and pleasures in which they eagerly indulged.
12. Mourning over the breasts. This verse is explained in various ways. Some understand it to mean simply, that there will be so great a scarcity of provisions, that women will lose their milk, and thus the children will “mourn over dry breasts;” which we see sometimes happen, when a very great scarcity of provisions occasions leanness. But the more generally received and more appropriate interpretation is, to view the word “breasts” as figuratively denoting fields and vineyards, as the Prophet himself declares; for they are justly compared to the breasts of mothers, because, by deriving nourishment from them, we suck the milk or blood of the earth. He therefore means that there will be a want of food and nourishment, because the Lord will curse the earth, so that it shall yield no fruits. Thus shall men sigh over that scarcity, as if over their mother’s “breasts,” from which they formerly received delicious nourishment. This appears to me to be a more natural meaning, and to agree best with the context; for it serves to explain what afterwards follows, about “rich fields and the fruitful vine.” 340
13. There shall grow up the brier and the thorn. He confirms the former verse, and explains the cause of barrenness and famine, which is, that the fields, which formerly used to be fat and fertile, will be uncultivated, desolate, and barren. This was a frightful change of affairs; for we know that that country yielded corn and fruits more plentifully than other countries, not so much by nature as by the blessing of God; for he had said, “I will give you a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exod. 3:8, Exod. 17:0, Exod. 13:5, Exod. 33:3.) This was the cause of the abundance and fertility.
On the land of my people. By giving it this name, he meets an objection which they might otherwise have brought, that there was no reason to fear that the land which God had chosen would not produce fruits every year; because, although the kindness of God extends to all mankind, yet he was in a peculiar manner the Father and supporter of that nation. It was therefore incredible that this land, which had been set apart for the children of God, would be covered with “briers and thorns;” and thus the Prophet reproves the Jews more sharply, because they not only made void the blessing of God by their wickedness, but drew down his wrath, so as to spoil and deface the beauty of the land.
Even on all the houses of joy. The particle כי (ki) signifies even, though some think that it means “for” or “because,” “Because there is joy in their houses.” 341 But that interpretation cannot be admitted, because בתי (bāttē,) “houses of,” is in the construct state. This appears to me therefore to be an enlargement of what he had now said, and to mean that this desolation will be, not only in the utmost corners of the land, but “even in the houses of joy,” that is, in the splendid and magnificent houses, which formerly were the abodes of the most refined luxury. When the Prophet said this, he was undoubtedly ridiculed by the men of that age; men certainly did not listen to him amidst those luxuries by which they were blinded. Besides, they grew insolent on account of the promises of God, and thought that they would never be in want of anything. Yet all that Isaiah foretold came to pass. From this example let us learn to be moderate in our use of prosperity, and to depend on the blessing of God, so as to obey his word with a good conscience.
14. For the palace shall be forsaken. Here also he describes more fully the desolation of the country; for, having mentioned in the former verse magnificent houses, he now likewise adds palaces and cities, so as to shew that there is nothing, however splendid and illustrious, that is exempted from that calamity. We see that men are dazzled by their own splendor, till they lift up their eyes to heaven; and the consequence is, that they are soothed to sleep in the midst of their wealth, and dread nothing. He therefore declares that all that was splendid, magnificent, and lofty, in Judea, cities, palaces, bulwarks, fortresses, all will be brought to nothing. When he says for ever, he again gives warning, as he formerly did, that this calamity will not last only for a single day, but that, as they had been long hardened in their vices, so it will be of long duration; for, if they had been punished only for a short time, being obstinate and intractable, they would quickly have relapsed into their natural disposition.
15. Till the Spirit be poured out upon you. Because the Prophet speaks of the Jews among whom God had determined to plant his Church, it was therefore necessary to leave to them some hope of salvation, that they might not faint amidst so great afflictions; for, while the Lord is severe towards wicked men who falsely shelter themselves under his name, yet in some manner he preserves his Church. The Prophet therefore adds this promise, that they might know that, whatever be the severity with which he punishes his people, still he is always mindful of his covenant; for he never threatens in such a manner as not to leave some ground for consolation, so as to cheer and comfort the hearts of believers, even when their affairs are utterly desperate. Besides, in order that they may fully enjoy the comfort which is offered to them, he raises their eyes to the very Author of life; and indeed we see that, when a favorable change takes place, the greater part of men fill themselves to excess with bread and wine, and, when they are pressed by famine, they neglect God and solicit the earth.
With good reason, therefore, does Isaiah say that “the Spirit” will come from on high to refresh and fertilize the earth; and he alludes, I have no doubt, to that saying of David,
“Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and thou wilt renew the face of the earth.”
Holding out this as an evidence that God is reconciled, he at the same time declares that the restoration of the Church proceeds solely from the grace of God, who can remove its barrenness as soon as he has imparted strength from heaven; for he who created all things out of nothing, as if they had formerly existed, is able to renew it in a moment.
And the wilderness become a Carmel. 342 In explaining this comparison of “the wilderness” to “Carmel,” commentators are sadly at a loss; but, as I remarked on a former passage, (Isa 29:17,) where a similar phrase occurred, 343 the Prophet merely, in my opinion, points out the happy effect of that restoration, namely, that the abundance and plenty of all things will prove that God is actually reconciled to his people. He says that places which formerly were “wildernesses” shall be like “Carmel,” which was a rich and fertile spot, and on that account receives its name; and that “Carmel” shall be like “a wilderness,” that is, it shall be so fertile, that if we compare what it now is with what it shall afterwards be, it may seem like “a wilderness.” It is an enlarged representation of that unwonted fertility. “Fields now barren and uncultivated shall be fertile, and cultivated and fertile fields shall yield such abundant fruit that their present fertility is poverty and barrenness, in comparison of the large produce which they shall afterwards yield;” just as if we should compare the fields of Savoy with those of Sicily and Calabria, and pronounce them to be a “wilderness.” In a word, he describes unparalleled fertility, which believers shall enjoy, when they have been reconciled to God, in order that they may know his favor by his acts of kindness.
While Isaiah thus prophesies concerning the reign of Hezekiah, all this is declared by him to relate to the kingdom of Christ as its end and accomplishment; and therefore, when we come to Christ, we must explain all this spiritually, so as to understand that we are renewed as soon as the Lord has sent down the Spirit from heaven, that we who were “wildernesses” may become cultivated and fertile fields. Ere the Spirit of God has breathed into us, we are justly compared to wildernesses or a dry soil; for we produce nothing but “thorns and briers,” and are by nature unfit for yielding fruits. Accordingly, they who were barren and unfruitful, when they have been renewed by the Spirit of God, begin to yield plentiful fruits; and they whose natural dispositions had some appearance of goodness, being renewed by the same Spirit, will afterwards be so fruitful, that they will appear as if they had formerly been a “wilderness;” for all that men possess is but a wild forest, till they have been renewed by Christ. Whenever, therefore, the Church is afflicted, and when her condition appears to be desperate, let us raise our eyes to heaven, and depend fully on these promises.
16. And judgment shall dwell in the wilderness. The Prophet shews what is the actual condition of the Church, that is, when justice and judgment prevail; for men ought not to be like cattle, which seek nothing but plenty of food and abundance of outward things. And hence it is plain enough that the Jews were not confined to transitory enjoyments, so as to have their hope fixed exclusively on earthly blessings, as some fanatics imagine. They were enjoined to attend to that which was of the greatest importance, that justice and judgment should prevail; and undoubtedly they knew that true happiness consists in it. It is therefore our duty to look chiefly to this, that we should not, like hogs in a sty, judge of the happiness of life by abundance of bread and wine; for this is the end of all the blessings which the Lord bestows upon us, this is the object of our deliverance, “that we should serve him,” as Zacharias says, “in holiness and righteousness.” (Luke 1:74, 75.)
Under the terms “justice” and “judgment,” as we have already seen, he includes all that belongs to uprightness; for although these two words relate strictly to that equity which ought to be mutually cultivated among us, yet, since it is customary to describe the observation of the whole law by the duties of the second table, here the Prophet, by a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, embraces also piety and the worship of God. The Prophets are accustomed to notice the chief duties of brotherly kindness, and those which belong to the second table, because by these, more than by any others, we manifest the real state of our feelings towards God.
When he declares that justice and judgment have their abode in the wilderness, as well as in the cultivated fields, this shews more clearly that the abundance of blessings promised a little before was so great that, when men saw it, they would consider that those fields which they formerly looked upon as very excellent had been comparatively barren.
17. And the work of righteousness shall be peace. A little before, he censured severely that peace which made the Jews drowsy and slothful; he now promises a different kind of repose, which will be a striking proof of the love of God, who has received them into favor, and will faithfully guard them. We ought therefore to observe the implied contrast between that brutal repose which the reprobate think that they obtain by their presumption in committing every kind of wickedness, and in which they also fall asleep, and that different kind of repose, on the other hand, which the children of God obtain by a religious and holy life, and which Isaiah exhorts us to desire, shewing that we ought fearlessly to believe that a blessed and joyful peace awaits us when we have been reconciled to God.
In this way he recommends to them to follow uprightness, that they may obtain assured peace; for, as Peter declares, there is no better way of procuring favor, that no man may do us injury, than to abstain from all evil-doing. (1Pe 3:13.) But the Prophet leads them higher, to aim at a religious and holy life by the grace of God; for nothing is more unreasonable than that wicked men should desire to have peace, while they are continually fighting against God. That wish is indeed common; for hardly one person in a hundred shall be found who does not loudly extol peace, while at the same time every man raises up enemies to himself in the earth, and all in vast crowds disturb heaven and earth by their crimes. Now, the latter repose, being perpetual, is compared by him to the former, which is slight and momentary.
The effect of righteousness. When peace receives this designation, let us learn that, as wars proceed from the wrath of God, which we provoke by our wickedness, so peace springs from his blessing. When, therefore, we see enemies enraged to battle, and rising furiously against us, let us seek no other remedy than repentance; for the Lord will easily allay commotions when we have returned to him. He it is, as the Psalmist says, who
“maketh wars to cease to the ends of the earth, who breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in pieces, and burneth the chariots in the fire.” (Ps 46:9.)
We have already said that these things do not relate exclusively to Hezekiah, but must be referred to Christ.
18. And my people shall dwell. As we have said that spiritual righteousness is that which has its seat in the hearts of men, we must say the same thing about peace, which is the fruit of it. Accordingly, when quiet habitations and resting-places are here mentioned, let us remember the saying of Paul, “justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Ro 5:1.) When Christ says that he “leaves” this peace to the disciples, (Joh 14:27,) he affirms that “it cannot be given by the world;” and we ought not to wonder at this, for, as the same Apostle Paul informs us in another passage, “this peace surpasses all understanding.” (Php 4:7.) Having obtained this righteousness, we are no longer restless or alarmed within, as when we feel in the gnawings of conscience the wrath of God. A bad conscience is always alarmed, and harassed by wretched uneasiness.
Wicked men must therefore be uneasy, and distressed by a variety of terrors; for where righteousness is banished that peace cannot be found; and where Christ reigns, there alone do we find true peace. Assured peace, therefore, is enjoyed by none but believers, who appeal to the heavenly tribunal, not only by their piety, but by their reliance on the mercy of God. Hence we infer that Christ does not yet reign where consciences are uneasy, and tossed by the various waves of doubts, as must be the case with Papists and all others who are not built on the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement obtained through him.
19. And the hail. We have already said that the prophets are accustomed frequently to describe under figures the reign of Christ; for they borrow their metaphors from an earthly kingdom, because our ignorance would make it almost impossible for us to comprehend, in any other way, the unspeakable treasure of blessings. The meaning is, “The Lord will remove from his people distresses and annoyances, and will make them fall on others;” because here we are liable to various storms and tempests, and must endure rain, hail, showers, winds, and tempests. He says that God, by his wonderful providence, will prevent all distresses from doing any injury to believers, because he will drive their violence in another direction.
By forests he means unfrequented and desert places, where there are no crowds of men. Hence we learn that, when we are under the guardianship of Christ, we are protected from inconveniences and dangers, but that, at the same time, various storms and tempests are ready to burst on our heads. But the Lord is our deliverer, who turns away in another direction the evils that are approaching, or rescues us when we are in danger.
And the city shall be situated to a low place. 344 In order to confirm what he had said about peace, he says, that “cities,” which shall be situated on level ground, will be out of danger; for at that time it was customary to build on high and elevated places, that the access to them might be more difficult. “Such,” says he, “will be God’s protection of his people, that they will not need the ordinary fortifications, because the city may be safely set down in valleys; and even although it be liable to the attacks of enemies, it will sustain no inconvenience, for the hand of the Lord will protect it.” We must not therefore seek safety by relying on our defences, lest we be immediately driven from our nest; but since our heavenly Father deigns to provide for our safety, let us be satisfied with having him for our protector and guardian. 345
20. Blessed are ye. He shews how great will be the change, when Christ shall begin to reign; for he had formerly said that so great would be the desolation, that “thorns and briers” would overspread the holy land, costly houses would be thrown down, and cities and palaces would be levelled with the earth. This would happen, when the incessant attacks of enemies should lay that country desolate. But now he says that they shall be blessed, because God will give them abundant produce of all fruits. That fertility which might have been described in simple language, he illustrates by figures, that they shall “sow in marshes,” and shall “send forth their cattle” into the fields without dread of losing them.
By waters some understand a rich and fertile soil; but the universal particle כל, (chōl,) all, leads me to take a different view; as if he had said, “Places which were overrun with waters shall be fit for sowing, and there will be no reason to fear that the water shall spoil our fields.” We are accustomed also to drive away oxen, and asses, and other animals, from fields, and especially from sown fields, that they may not eat the corn. But here he says that the corn will grow so thick and plentifully, that it shall be necessary to send oxen and asses to crop the early blade, as is commonly done when the corn is luxuriant. 346
He calls them blessed, in accordance with the usage of the Hebrew language, because their labor will never be unprofitable. If it be objected that, under the reign of Christ, such fertility has never been seen, I acknowledge that, even when God has shewn the highest kindness to his people, still there have always been visible marks of the curse, which was entailed on mankind by the fall and revolt of Adam. (Ge 3:17.) But since Christ has restored to believers the inheritance of the world, with good reason do the prophets assert that he would renew the earth, so as to remove its filthiness and restore that beauty which it had lost. They who complain that it is not yet fulfilled, ought to consider whether or not they themselves are purified from every stain of sin. And if they are still at a great distance from spiritual righteousness, let them be satisfied with enjoying the blessing of God according to the measure of regeneration, the full enjoyment of which we must not expect to obtain, till, freed from the pollution of the flesh, we shall bear the perfect image of God.
In our Author’s version, from which the heading of this paragraph is taken, he makes use of the word principes, which commonly means “rulers,” but sometimes also (as in the phrases, “facile princeps, femina princeps,”) denotes persons of high rank, or those who in any respect are highly distinguished. But here he employs the word proceres, “nobles;” and he does so evidently for the purpose of removing ambiguity, and of stating clearly that view which is contained in the conclusion of this sentence. — Ed.
FT585 The singular mildness of the Roman Emperor Nerva, which made him personally beloved, was carried to such an excess as to impair the efficiency of his government, and compelled him to resign the throne to the able and excellent Trajan. On the other hand, Nero, whose name cannot be mentioned without awakening the remberance of his monstrous cruelty, held the reins with a firmer hand, and prevented the repetition of many disorders which had been committed under the reign of his amiable predecessor Nerva. — Ed
FT586 “Duquel il soit le chef.”
FT587 “The heart also of the rash. (Heb. hasty.)” — Eng.Ver. “The heart also of the hasty.” — Stock
FT588 This observation is founded on the Hebrew word נמהרים, (nimharim,) which our Author translates Fools, and which literally means Hasty. — Ed
FT589 The allusion would be better brought out by rendering it, “The fool will speak folly.” — Ed
FT590 Συμπάθεια, a more extensive term than the English word “sympathy,” literally denotes “fellow-feeling,” and is frequently employed by our Author to express that kind of feeling which every man ought to cherish towards his fellow-men. — Ed
FT591 “Quelque trahison;” — “Some treachery.”
FT592 “Even when the needy speaketh right;” or, “when he speaketh against the poor in judgment.” — Eng. Ver.
FT593 “Ye provinces that dwell at ease.” — Jarchi
FT594 “Ye cities that dwell carelessly.” — Jarchi. In this, as well as in the former case, he refers to Jonathan’s Targum. — Ed
FT595 “Many days and years; (Heb. days above a year.)” — Eng. Ver. “In a year and more.” — Alexander. “Shortly after a year; Heb. days upon a year: that is, the time will soon come after the expiration of one year, when ye shall be troubled with a dearth.” — Stock
FT596 “It may be better translated, striking your breasts, because of the pleasant fields and fruitful vines, which should be destroyed by the Assyrians. It was a common gesture used on all mournful occasions, to strike the breasts; though others think teats may be taken metaphorically for the pleasant fields and fruitful vine by which they subsisted, as infants by the mother’s paps.” — Samuel White
FT597 “For all that desolation shall be on all joyful houses.” — Jarchi
FT598 “And the wilderness become a fruitful field.” Such is the Author’s own translation of the clause, which corresponds to our authorized version. — Ed
FT599 See our Author’s Commentary on that passage. — Ed
FT600 “And the city shall be low in a low place;” or, “And the city shall be utterly abased.” — Eng. Ver.
FT601 “Some by the Forest understand Nineveh, some Babylon, some Jerusalem, and some the Assyrian army; but Gataker, and Vatablus before him, think the words may be rendered, he shall hail with hail on the forest, and cities shall be built in low places; as if he had said, God shall preserve the fruits of the earth from the injuries of unseasonable weather, and, when he sends a storm of hail, cause it to fall on the woods and deserts; and he shall give them so great security, that for the future they shall build their cities in low grounds, to shew that they are under no apprehension of being overrun any more by an enemy.” — White
FT602 “Happy ye who shall enjoy as great fertility as if all your lands lay on the side of a running stream. Your corn shall grow so thick and fast that ye shall be forced to let your cattle crop the luxuriant ears; a practice still in use among our husbandmen.” — White