Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 15: Isaiah, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it.
1. Accedite gentes ad audiendum, et populi attendite. Audiat terra, et plenitudo ejus; orbis, et cuncta germina ejus.
2. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.
2. Quia indignatio est Iehovae super omnes gentes, et furor super omnem exercitum earum; vastavit eas, tradidit eas in mactationem.
3. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
3. Interfecti earum abjicientur, et e cadaveribus eorum ascendet foetor earum, ac liquefient montes prae sanguine eorum.
4. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree.
4. Et tabescent omnes exercitus coelorum, et complicabuntur ut liber. Coeli et onmes exercitus eorum defluent, sicut defiuit folium e vite, et sicut defiuit ex ficu.
5. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.
5. Quoniam inebriatus est in coelis gladius meus. Ecce, super AEdom descendet, super populum, inquam, anathematis met in judicium.
6. The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.
6. Gladius Iehoae impletus eat sanguine, impinguatus est ab adipe; sanguine, inquam, agnorum et hircorum, adipe renum arietum. Quoniam victima Iehova in Bozra, et mactatio magna in terra AEdom.
7. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their l.and shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.
7. Et descendent unicornes cum eis, et juvenci cum tauris; et inebriabitur terra eorum sanguine, et pulvis adipe impinguabitur.
8. For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
8. Quoniam dies ultionis Iehovae, annus retributionum in causam Sion.
9. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
9. Et convertentur flumina ejus in picem, et pulvis ejus in sulphur; eritque terra ejus in picem ardentern.
10. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
10. Noctu et die non extinguetur, perpetuo ascendet fumus ejus; a generatione in generationem devastabitur, perpetuis aeternitatibus nemo transibit per cam.
11. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
11. Itaque accipient eam in possessionem pelicanus et ulula; noctua et corvus habitabunt in ea; extendetque super earn funiculum inanitatis et lapides perpendiculares vantratis.
12. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
12. Nobiles ejus sine regno vacabunt, et cuncti principes ejus erunt nihilum.
13. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.
13. Proferet in palatiis ejus spinas, et urticam, et carduum in arcibus ejus; eritque habitaculum draconum, et mansio pullis struthionis.
14. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.
14. Et occurrent bestiae sylvestres satyris, et stryx ad socium suum vociferabur;etiam Lamina ibi per noctabit, invenietque sibi mansionem quietam.
15. There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
15. Ulula faciet ibi nidum, et incubabit, et excludet, et congregabit in umbra ejus; quinetiam vultures ibi congregabuntur, unaquaeque cum socia sua.
16. Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.
16. Sciscitamini ex libro Iehovae, et legite. Nunquid unum ex illis substractum; nullum sociae suae deerit; quoniam os ejus praecepit, et spiritus ejus congregavit eas.
17. And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.
17. Et ipse projecit eis sortem, etmarius ejus divisit illis in perpetuum, quasi per funiculum. Ideo haereditabunt eam, in generationem et genereationem illic habitabunt.
1. Draw near, ye nations. Hitherto the Prophet, intentding to comfort the children of God, preached, as it were, in the midst of them; but now, directing his discourse to the Gentiles, he pursues the same subject, but in a different manner. Having formerly shewn (Isa. 33:6, 20) that the Lord takes such care of his people as to find out the means of preserving them, he now likewise adds, what we have often seen in earlier parts of this book, that, after having permitted wicked men to harass them for a time, he will at length be their avenger, He therefore pursues the same subject, but with a different kind of consolation; for he describes what terrible vengeance the Lord will take on wicked men who had injured his people.
Hearken, ye peoples. In order to arouse them the more, he opens the address by this exclamation, as if he were about to discharge the office of a herald, and summon the nations to appear before the judgmentseat of God. It was necessary thus to shake off the listlessness of wicked men, who amidst ease and prosperity despise all threatenings, and do not think that God will take vengeance on their crimes. Yet amidst this vehemence he has his eye principally on the Church; for otherwise he would have spoken to the deaf, and without any advantage.
Let the earth hear. He addresses the Edomites who would haughtily despise these judgments, and therefore he calls heaven and earth to bear witness against them; for he dedares that the judgment will be so visible and striking, that not only all the nations but even the dumb creatures shall behold it. It is customary with the prophets thus to address the dumb creatures, when men, though endued with reason and understanding, are stupid, as we have formerly seen. (Isa 1:2; De 32:1.)
2. For the indignation of Jehovah is on all the nations. He undoubtedly means “the nations” which were hostile to the Jews, and at the same time were contiguous to them; for, being surrounded on all sides by various nations, they had almost as many enemies as neighbors. Though this hatred arose from other causes, such as envy, yet the diversity of religion very greatly inflamed their rage, for they were exceedingly offended at having their superstitions condemned. So much stronger was the reason why God proraised that he would be a judge and avenger.
On all their army. This is added because the Jews were few in number when compared with the rest of the nations. Although, therefore, “the nations” were proud of their vast numbers, and despised the Jews because they were few, yet he declares that God will easily diminish and crush them, in order to preserve, his little flock, of which he is the guardian.
He hath destroyed them. Though he speaks of future events, yet he chose to employ the past tense, in order to place the event immediately before the eyes of those who were lying low and overwhelmed with adversity. These predictions were made, as I briefly noticed a little before, not on account of the Edomites, who paid no regard to this doctrine, but for the sake of the godly, whom he wished to comfort, because they were wretchedly harassed by their enemies.
3. Their slain shall be cast out. By this circumstance he shews that it will be a great calamity, for if a few persons are “slain,” they are committed to the earth; but when so great a multitude is slain at one time, that there are not left as many as are necessary for burying them, there is no thought of interment, and therefore the air is polluted by the stench of their carcases. Hence it is evident, that God is sufficiently powerful to lay low innumerable armies. Perhaps, also, the Prophet intended to heighten the picture of the judgment of God, because to the slaughter of the nations there will be added shame and disgrace, so that they shall be deprived of the honor and duty of burial
And the mountains shall melt on account of their blood. Another figure of speech is employed to shew more fully the extent of the slaughter, for the “blood” will flow from “the mountains,” as if the very mountains were melted, just as when the waters run down violently after heavy showers, and sweep away the soil along with them. Thus, also, he shows that there will be no means of escape, because the sword will rage as cruelly on the very mountains as on the field of battle.
4. And all the armies of heaven shall fade away. Isaiah employs an exaggerated style, as other prophets are accustomed to do, in order to represent vividly the dreadful nature of the judgment of God, and to make an impression on men’s hearts that were dull and sluggish; for otherwise his discourse would have been deficient in energy, and would have had little influence on careless men. He therefore adds that “the stars” themselves, amidst such slaughter, shall gather blackness as if they were ready to faint, and he does so in order to show more fully that it will be a mournful calamity. In like manner, as in a dark and troubled sky, the clouds appear to be folded together, the sun and stars to grow pale and, as it were, to faint, and all those heavenly bodies to totter and give tokens of ruin; he declares that thus will it happen at that time, and that everything shall be full of the saddest lamentation.
These statements must be understood to relate to men’s apprehension, for heaven is not moved out of its place; but when the Lord gives manifestations of his anger, we are terrified as if the Lord folded up or threw down the heavens; not that anything of this kind takes place in heaven, but he speaks to careless men, who needed to be addressed in this manner, that they might not imagine the subject to be trivial or a fit subject of scorn. “You will be seized with such terror that you shall think that the sky is falling down on your heads.” It is the just punishment of indifference, that wicked men, who are not moved by any fear of God, dread their own shadow, and tremble “at the rustling of a falling leaf,” (Le 26:36,) as much as if the sun were falling from heaven. Yet it also denotes a dreadful revolution of affairs, by which everything shall be subverted and disturbed.
5. For my sword is made drunken in the heavens. He says that the “sword” of the Lord is bloody, as extensive slaughter makes the “swords” wet with gore; and, in order to give greater weight to his style, he represents the Lord as speaking. But why does he say that it is in heaven? for God does not call men to heaven to inflict punishment on them, but executes his judgments openly in the world, and by the hand of men. 16 Here the Prophet looks at the secret decree of God, by which he appoints and determines everything before it is executed; and he does not mean the act itself, but extols the efficacy of the prediction, because the certainty of the effect is manifest from the unchangeable purpose of God; that unbelievers may know that the Lord in heaven takes account of the crimes of wicked men, although for a time they may pursue their career of iniquity without being punished, and that, although they enjoy profound peace, still the sword by which they shall be slain is even now bloody in the sight of God, when he determines to inflict punishment on them. In like manner Sodom (Ge 19:28) was already burning in the sight of God, while it freely indulged in wine and feasting, and in satisfying its lust; and the same thing must be said of other wicked men, who, while they are wallowing in pleasures, are held as appointed by God to be slain. We ought not, therefore, to fix our attention on the present state when we see wicked men enjoy prosperity and do everything according to their wish. Though no one annoys them, still they are not far from destruction when God is angry with them and is their enemy.
So it shall come down on Edom. He expressly mentions the Edomites, who were hostile to the people of God, though related to them by blood, and distinguished by the same mark of religion; for they were, as we have formerly mentioned, 17 descended from Esau, (Ge 36:8,) and were the posterity of Abraham. At the present day, in like manner, we have no enemies more deadly than the Papists, who have publicly received the same baptism with ourselves, and even profess Christ, and yet cruelly persecute and would wish utterly to destroy us, because we condemn their superstitions and idolatry. Such were the Edomites, and therefore the Prophet has chiefly selected them out of the whole number of the enemies.
On the people of my curse. By giving them this appellation he confirms the sentence which he had pronounced, for in vain would they endeavor to escape that destruction to which they were already destined and devoted. By this term he declares that they are already destroyed by a decree of heaven, as if they had been already separated and cut off from the number of living men. That it may not be thought that God has done it unjustly, he adds, to judgment; for there is nothing to which men are more prone than to accuse God of cruelty, and the greater part of men are unwilling to acknowledge that he is a righteous judge, especially when he chastises with severity. Isaiah, therefore, shews that it is a just judgment, for God does nothing through cruelty or through excessive severity.
6. The sword of Jehovah is filled with blood. He follows out the same statement, but by a different description, which places the matter in a much stronger light, in order to shake off the drowsiness of wicked men, who are wont to laugh and scoff at all doctrine, as we have formerly remarked. It is therefore necessary that the judgments of God should be set forth as in a lively picture:, that it may not only make a deep impression on their dull minds, but may encourage believers by holy confidence, when they learn that the pride and rebellion of their enemies cannot at all hinder them from being dragged like cattle to the slaughter, whenever it shall be the will of God.
He compares it to sacrifices, for animals are slain in sacririce for the worship and honor of God, and in like manner the destruction of this people will also tend to the glory of God. And here he confirms what was formerly said about judgment, for when God executes his judgments, he shews forth his glow; so that the destruction of wicked men is justly compared to “sacrifices,” which belonged to his worship. “Sacrifices,” indeed, were undoubtedly not very pleasant and agreeable to behold, for the revolting act of taking away life, the reeking blood, and the stencil of the smoke, might have a repulsive effect; and yet in these things the honor of God shone brightly. Thus, also, this slaughter was hideous to behold, and little fitted to obtain regard; but believers, in order that they may hallow the name of God in this respect, are commanded to lift up their eyes to heaven; because, in executing such punishment, God erects altars to himself for slaying sacrifices. Because they unjustly oppressed the Church of God, and, forgetful of all humane feelings, treated the children of God with cruelty, Isaiah declares that in their blood is offered a sacrifice of sweet savor, and highly acceptable to God, because he executes his judgment.
With the blood of lambs and of goats. Under this appellation he describes metaphorically the people that were to be slain, and, alluding to the various kinds of victims, includes not only all men of ordinary rank, but all the nobles, in order to intimate that the Lord will punish his enemies in such a manner that no man of any class whatever shall be exempted he mentions Bozrah, the chief city and metropolls, as it were, of the nation, where the greatest slaughter shall take place; and next, he adds, the country of Edom, through the whole of which this calamity shall take its course. 18
7. And the unicorns shall come down with them. This verse is closely connected with the former, for he adds nothing new, but proceeds with the same figure, amplifying what he had said about “rams” and “goats,” to which he adds not only bullocks but wild and savage beasts. It amounts to this, that the vengeance of heaven will be so unrelenting as to spare neither age nor rank, and to mark; for slaughter even cruel giants, notwithstanding their silly fierceness, just as if one were preparing a sacrifice which consisted indiscriminately of every kind of animals. It ought not to be thought strange that lambs are mingled with cruel beasts, for the term “lambs” is not employed in commendation of their mildness or harmlessness, but is applied comparatively to those who are feeble and who belong to the ordinary rank, which lays them under the necessity of having some appearance of modesty.
Although God may appear to be harsh in thus directing his hostility against all classes, yet, by the use of the word “sacrifice,” he claims for himself the praise of justice; and indeed no man, when he comes to the trial, will be found to be without blame, so that on good grounds all, without exception, are irrecoverably ruined. Such is the destruction which awaits all the reprobate, who of their own accord refuse to devote themselves to the service of God; irreligious hands shall offer them in sacrifice. 19
אברים (abbirim) is translated strong by some commentators; I have preferred to follow those who explain it to mean bulls, which it means also in Ps 50:13, though in this passage the Prophet employs the word bulls to denote metaphorically those who are very strong and powerful.
8 For it is the day of vengeance of Jehovah. This verse must be viewed as closely connected with the preceding verses, for it points out the object which the Lord has in view in punishing the Edomites with such severity; and that object is, that he wishes to avenge his people and defend their cause. If, therefore, he had not also assigned this reason, the former statements might have appeared to be obscure or inappropriate; for it would, have been an uncertain kind of knowledge if we did not consider that God, in punishing wicked men, testifies his unceasing affection and care to preserve his own people.
What was formerly said about the Edomites must undoubtedly be extended to the enemies of the Church, for all of them were included by the Prophet under a particular class; and, therefore, in adversity our hearts ought to be supported by this consolation:, that the attacks which we now suffer shall come into judgment before God, who justly claims for himself this office. The Prophet does not only mean that it is in his power to punish wicked men whenever he thinks proper, but, that he reigns in heaven, in order to punish every kind of injustice at the proper time.
But we must attend to the words day and year, by which he reminds us that God does not sleep in heaven, though for a little time he does not come forth, but delays his vengeance till a fit season, that believers may in the meantime “possess their souls in patience,” (Lu 21:19,) and may leave him to govern according to his inscrutable wisdom.
9. And its streams shall be turned into pitch. What the Prophet now adds contains nothing new, but describes more fully this desolation. We have formerly explained the reason wily the prophets employ these lively pictures in representing the judgments of God. It is for the purpose of leading men to view them as actually present, and of compelling them to acknowledge those things which their eyes and minds do not discern, or which, as soon as they are beheld and known, are immediately forgotten. But it ought also to be observed that the Prophets spoke of things which were dark and secret, and which were generally thought to be incredible; for many persons imagined that the Prophets uttered them at random. It was, therefore, necessary to add many confirmations, such as those which he employs in this and in other passages; and thus he denotes a horrible change, which shall destroy the whole face of Judea.
Moreover, he alludes to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, (Ge 19:24,) as the prophets very frequently do. In that destruction, as Jude informs us, we have a perpetual representation of the wrath of God against the reprobate, (Jude 1:7;) and it is not without good reason that the prophets call it to our remembrance, that all may learn to dread the judgments of God. To the same purpose is what he adds, —
10. By night and by day it shall not be quenched. The Prophet’s language is undoubtedly hyperbolical; but the Lord is compelled to act towards us in this manner, for otherwise plain words would produce no impression on us. When he declares that the wrath of God against the Edomites will resemble a fire that burns continually, he cuts off from them all hope of pardon, because, having never ceased to provoke God, they find that he is implacable; and Malachi also pronounces this expression of reprobation, that the curse of God will for ever rest on that nation. (Mal 1:4.) The contrast must be supplied, because some mitigation is always held out to the people of God for their comfort. But this does not need a lengthened interpretation. It is enough that we understand the meaning and design of the Prophet.
11. Therefore the pelican and the owl shall possess it. As to these animals there are various opinions, and Hebrew commentators are not agreed about them; but the design of the Prophet is evident, which is, to describe a desert place and an extensive wilderness. He undoubtedly mentions dreadful beasts and hideous monsters, which do not dwell with men, and are not generally known by them, in order to shew more fully how shocking will be this desolation. The former clause therefore is plain enough, but the latter is attended by some difficulty.
He shall stretch over it the cord of emptiness. Some view the phrase “an empty cord” as bearing an opposite sense, and apply it to the Jews; but I take a more simple view, and think that, like all the preceding statements, it must relate to the Edomites. Anti to make it more clear that this is Isaiah’s natural meaning, we read the same word in the Prophet Malachi, who lived a long time afterwards. That passage may be regarded as an approbation of this prophecy.
“If Edom shall say, We have been diminished, we shall therefore return and rebuild the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of Hosts, They shall indeed build, but I shall pull down, and they shall call them the borders of wickedness, and the people against whom the Lord is angry for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, Let the Lord be magnified on the borders of Israel.” —
(Mal. 1:4, 5.)
What Isaiah had foretold more obscurely, Malachi explains with greater clearness. The latter declares that “the Edomires shall build in vain,” and the former that “they shall stretch an empty cord.” As if he had said, “In vain shall the masterbuilders bestow their exertions on rebuilding the cities;” for builders make use of cords and plummets in all their measurements. He therefore shews that the efforts of those who shall intend to restore the land of Edom will be fruitless; for his meaning is, that they shall be destroyed in such a manner that they cannot at all recover from that destruction, though God usually alleviates other calamities by some consolation.
And hence we ought to draw a very profitable doctrine, that when cities are in some measure restored after having been thrown down, this arises from the distinguished kindness of God; for the efforts of builders or workmen will be unavailing, if he do not put his hand both to laying the foundation and to carrying forward the work. Fruitless and unprofitable also will their work be, if he do not conduct it to the conclusion, and afterwards take it under his guardianship. In vain shall men bestow great expense, and make every possible exertion, if he do not watch over and bless the work. It is only by the blessing of God, therefore, that we obtain any success; and hence also it is said that “his hands have built Jerusalem.” (Ps 147:2; Isa 14:32.) What Isaiah threatens in this passage against the Edomites, the Holy Spirit elsewhere declares as to the house of Ahab, meaning that it shall be razed to the very foundation. (2Ki 21:13.)
12. They shall call her nobles without a kingdom. This passage has received various interpretations, which I do not quote, because it would be tedious to refute them. One of the most probable is, “They shall call his nobles to reign, but in vain.” As if he had said, “In their wretched condition none will be found willing to rule over them, and to undertake the charge of the commonwealth.” A statement of the same kind is found elsewhere, and we have formerly (Isa. 3:6, 7) seen one that is almost alike; but the words do not correspond. When the Prophet speaks thus, “They shall call her nobles, and they shall not be there,” he employs, I doubt not, witty raillery to censure the pride of that nation which had been cherished by longcontinued peace and abundance. When the Edomites, therefore, out of their mountains breathed lofty pride, the Prophet declares that they shall be disgracefully cast down, so that they shall have no nobility and no government; just as, when a kingdom has been overturned, government is taken away, so that the general mass of the people resembles a maimed or disfigured body, and there is no distinction of ranks. To those stately nobles who vaunted themselves so much, he says in mockery, that they shall be princes without subjects.
And all her princes shall be nothing. The meaning of the former clause is still more evident from this second clause, in which he adds for the sake of explanation, that her princes “shall be reduced to nothing.’ It amounts to this, that the land of Edom shall resemble a mutilated body, so that nothing shall be seen in it but shocking confusion. This is the utmost curse of God; because, if men have no political government, they will hardly differ at all from beasts. Indeed, their condition will be far worse, for beasts can dispense with a governor, because they do not make war against their own kind; but nothing call be more cruel than man, if he be not held by some restraint, for every one will be driven by the furious eagerness of his own passions to every kind of vicious indulgence.
13. In her palaces she shall bring forth thorns. He pursues the same subject; for he describes a frightful desolation, by which splendid houses and palaces are levelled to the ground, or reduced to a state so wild that they are of no use to men, but produce only briers, thorns, and nettles; which is more disgraceful than if they had been turned into fields and meadows. In this manner does the Lord punish the insolence of those who built lofty and magnificent houses and costly palaces, that the remembrance of them might be handed down to the latest posterity. Having banished men, he turns those dwellings into nests of birds and dens of wild beasts, that, instead of being, as they expected, the trophies of their name and renown, they may stand as monuments of foolish ambition. Thus the place of men is nearly supplied by beasts, which represent the dispositions of those who reared those goodly edifices. This overthrow of order is likewise a sad token of the wrath of God, when the earth, which was created for the use of man, beholds its natural lords banished, and is compelled to admit other inhabitants; for then, undoubtedly, it is cleansed from the defilements with which it was polluted.
14. And the wild beasts shall meet with the satyrs. 20 These animals are thought by some commentators to mean fauns, by others screechowls or goblins, and by others satyrs; and it is not fully agreed what is the exact meaning of the Hebrew words; but it would serve no good purpose to give ourselves much uneasiness about them, for it is quite enough if we understand the meaning and design of the Prophet. He draws a picture of frightful desolation, as if he had said that Idumea shall be destroyed so as to be without inhabitants, and instead of men it shall be inhabited by frightful beasts. This reward is most justly reaped by the ambition of those who built costly palaces to be, as we have already said, monuments of their name and reputation. Yet this is also a punishment threatened against the cruelty of a wicked nation, which was eagerly bent on the oppression of neighbours and brethren.
Though we cannot absolutely determine whether the Prophet means witches, or goblins, or satyrs and fauns, yet it is universally agreed that these words denote animals which have the shape of men. We see also what various delusions are practiced by Satan, what phantoms and hideous monsters are seen, and what sounds and noises are heard. But of these we have already spoken under the thirteenth chapter. 21
The sin which God punished so severely in a single nation, is common to almost every nation; for hardly ever are those splendid buildings reared without committing much violence and injustice against the poor, and giving great and numerous annoyances to others; so that the lime, and stones, and timber, are filled with blood in the sight of God. Therefore, as Habakkuk says,
“the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall bear witness to it.” (Hab 2:11.)
Let us not wonder, therefore, at those dreadful changes, when ambition lays hold on plunder and wicked extortions, but let us contemplate the righteous judgments of God.
16. Inquire at the book of Jehovah. By “the book of the Lord” some understand this prophecy, as if he had enjoined them to read attentively this prediction; for not even in the minutest point will it fail at the appointed time, as he will afterwards add. Others explain it more ingeniously as denoting the eternal decree of God; “inquire if such be not the purpose of God;” but this exposition is not sufficiently natural. I willingly interpret it as denoting the Law itself, which by way of eminence is called “the book of the Lord;” for from the Law, as from its source, the Prophets drew their doctrine, as we have frequently remarked.
Lest the strangeness of the event should prevent the prediction from being believed, Isaiah says that the Jews had been warned of it long before; and thus he indirectly censures the unbelief of those who stared at the announcement, as. if it had been something uncommon. He appropriately brings them back to the Law, in which God frequently declares that he will take care of his people, and that he will punish the wicked and reprobate. Moses having long ago spoken in this manner, the Prophet says that there is no reason why it should be difficult to believe what he foretells, since he brings forward nothing new, but only confirms now what Moses declared and testified. Such appears to me to be the natural meaning of the Prophet, and by these words he intended to fortify the Jews, patiently to look for what the Lord promised, and fully to believe that all that had. been foretold about the Edomites and the other adversaries of the Church would at length be actually fulfilled, since Moses was a credible witness, that God would always be the avenger of his people. Besides, it was proper that they should be reminded of this, in order that, when these things should befall the Edomites, they might not think that they had happened by chance, but might know that they were brought about by the judgment of God. Such is the rebellion of men, that they do not believe God when he forewarns them, and what afterwards takes place by the judgment of God is ascribed by them to fortune. Isaiah therefore meets this, and bids them inquire at Moses, whose authority they all revered.
Not one of those; that is, of the animals; for the Hebrew writers employ these terms, איש (ish) and אשה, (ishshah,) not only for men and women, but for males and females of any species.
For his mouth hath commanded. He confirms what he formerly said; for although the works of God are sufficiently plain, yet by his mouth, that is, by the word, he makes them plainer to us, that we may see them more clearly. And this is the true contemplation of the works of God, when we keep our eye fixed on the mirror of the word; for otherwise our boldness is carried to excess, and we tke greater liberty than is proper, if heavenly doctrine do not guide us like a lamp. This ought therefore to restrain the boldness and rashness of men, who, despising the doctrine of the word, wish to dispute and form opinions about the judgments of God and all his worlds. If they “inquired at the book,” and asked at the mouth of the Lord, we should see greater piety and religion among them.
Yet by “the mouth of the Lord” the Prophet intended to confirm the vengeance which he had foretold, because nothing that has come out of God’s holy mouth can fail of its effect. Isaiah affirms that what God has once decreed, and published in his own name, cannot be reversed. By this shield he thus wards off all the doubts which quickly arise, whenever the promises of God go beyond our senses. Sometimes, indeed, he threatens conditionally, as he threatened the Ninevites, (Jon 1:2,) Pharaoh, (Ge 12:17,) and Abimelech, (Ge 20:3,) whom he spared, because they repented; but when he has once determined to revenge and punish, he gives actual proof that he is not less true and powerful than when he promised salvation to his people. The agreement of the words Mouth and Spirit makes it still more evident.
And his Spirit hath gathered them. Although “the breath of the mouth” often means the same thing as “speech,” and although it is customary with the Hebrew writers to repeat the same thing twice, yet here he alludes elegantly to the breath, from which the words proceed, and by which they are formed; as if he had said that this prediction is abundantly powerful, because the same God who by his voice commanded the brute animals to possess the land of Edom, will bring them by merely breathing. He speaks of a secret influence; and we ought not to wonder that the slightest expression of the will of God causes all the animals to assemble, as happened at the flood, (Ge 7:15,) and likewise at the very creation of the world, when, as Moses relates, all the animals were gathered together, by the command of God, to the first man, that they might be subject to his authority. (Ge 2:19.) And undoubtedly they would have continued to be subject and obedient to him, had not his own rebellion deprived him of that power and authority; but when he revolted from God, the animals at the same time began to refuse subjection and to attack him.
17. And he hath cast the lot for them. He says that to those wild beasts and monsters there hath been granted a secure and permanent habitation, from which they cannot be easily banished or driven out; because God hath allotted it to them as.their portion by inheritance. This means that the whole of Idumea is at the disposal of the Lord, to drive out the inhabitants, and to grant possession of it to whomsoever he pleases, either wild beasts, or birds, or monsters.
Hence infer that it is vain for men ever to promise themselves a permanent abode, unless so far as every person has obtained his place “by lot,” and on the express condition that he shall instantly leave it, whenever God calls. We lead a dependent life wherever he supports us; and either on our native soil, or at a distance from our fatherland, we are strangers. If he shall be pleased to give us a peaceable habitation for a long time in one place, it will only be by his special favor that we shall dwell there; and as soon as he thinks proper, he will constrain us to change our abode. Besides, if we acknowledge that a residence in this or that country has been appointed to us by God, we may dwell in it with safety and composure; for if he keeps wild beasts in possession of the place which he has allotted to them, how much more will he preserve men, for whose sake he created heaven, earth, the seas, and all that they contain?
Nothing is more customary among Eastern poets than to employ a ‘sword drunken with blood’ to denote extensive slaughter. (Schurrer on Hab 3:9.) Or, perhaps, in this verse the sword in heaven ought rather to be understood to be drunk with the divine anger, before it is let down on the earth to be glutted with the blood of enemies; in which case the following verse would fifty describe that sword as glutted with blood in the land of the Edomites.” — Rosenmuller.
Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 1 p. 393.
“Au travers de la quelle ceste desconfiture passera sans espargner endroit quelconque.” “Across which this overthrow shall pass without sparing any place whatever.”
“Ils seront sacrifiez par les mains d’aussi mecans qn’eux.” “They shall be sacrificed by the hands of persons as wicked as themselves.”
“Les bestes sauvages (assavoir Ziim avec Iim,) s’y rencontreront.” “The wild beasts (that is, the Ziim with the Iim) shall meet there.”
Commentary on Isaiah, vol 1, p. 429.