Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 15: Isaiah, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
1. Consolamini, consolamini populum meum, dicit Deus rester.
2. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
2. Loquimini secundum cor Ierusalem, et clamate ad eam, quod impleta sit militia ejus, quod remissa sit iniquitas (vel, miseria) ejus, quoniam accepit e manu Iehovae duplicia in onmibus peccatis suis.
3. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
3. Vox clamans in deserto: Parate viam Iehovae; Dirigite in solitudine semitam Deo nostro.
4. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
4. Omnis vailis exaltabitur, et onmis mons et collis humiliabitur; et erit praeruptum in rectitudinem, et loca confragosa in planiciem.
5. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
5. Et revelabitur gloria Iehovae, videbitque omnis caro pariter, quod os Iehovae loquutum sit.
6. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
6. Vox dixit (vel, dicebat): Clama. Et dixi, Quid clamabo? Omnis caro herba, et omnis gratia ejus quasi flos eampi.
7. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
7. Exaruit herba, emarcuit flos, quia spiritus Iehovae sufflavit in co. Sane herba est populus.
8. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
8. Arescit herba, emarcet flos. At sermo Dei nostri stabit in aeternum.
9. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
9. Ascende in montem excelsum, annuntiatrix Sion; attolle fortiter vocem tuam, annuntiatrix Ierusalem. Attolle, ne timeas. Die civitatibus Iuda: Ecce Deus rester.
10. Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
10. Ecce Dominus Iehova in robore veniet; et brachium ejus sibi potens. Ecce merces ejus cure co, et opus ejus coram ipsius facie.
11. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
11. Sicuti pastor gregem suam pascet, brachio suo colliget agnos, sinu suo portabit, foetus suaviter ducet.
12. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?
12. Quis mensus est pugillo suo aquas, et coelos palma mensus est, et comprehendit tribus digitis pulverem terrae, et appendit montes in statera, et colles in trutina?
13. Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or, being his counsellor, hath taught him?
13. Quis erudivit Spiritum Iehovae, aut consilio eum instruxit, et eum docuit?
14. With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?
14. A quo petlit consilium, ut eum moneret? et docuit eum semitam judicii, erudivit scientia, et viam prudentiae ostendit ei?
15. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.
15. En gentes quasi gutta situlae, et quasi pulvisculus trutinae reputantur; en insulas quasi rein minimam tollit.
16. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.
16. Nec Libanus sufficeret ad incendium, nec bestiae ejus ad holocaustum.
17. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
17. Omnes gentes quasi nihilum sunt corameo, et praeipso reputantur minus quam nihil, et quod non est.
18. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
18. Cui igitur similem fecistis Deum, aut quam similitudinem ordinabitis ei?
19. The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
19. Artifex parat sculptlie, aurifaber aurum aptat illi, et catenas argenteas (conflat) aurifaber.
20. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.
20. Pauper oblationi eligit lignum quod non putrescat; artificem peritum quaerit sibi qui sculptlie praeparet, ne moveatur.
21. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
21. An nescitis? An non audistis? An non vobis annuntiatum est ab initio? An non edocti estis a fundamentis terrae?
22. It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
22. Is sedet super gyrum terrae, cujus habitatores sunt vehti locustae, extendit coelum ut cortinam; expandit, inquam, quasi tentorium, ut inhabitetur.
23. That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
23. Redigit potentes in nihilum, gubernatores terrae quasi non slut.
24. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble.
24. Perinde ut non plantati, perinde ut non sati, perinde acsi non radix in terra stirps eorum. Etiam dum sufflat in eos arescunt, et turbo quasi stipulam aufert eos.
25. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
25. Et cut assimilabitis me, ut similis sim? dicit Sanctus.
26. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.
26. Tollite in sublime oculos vestros, et aspicite quis creaverit ea producens ad numerum exercitum eorum; omnibus nominatim acclamabit; a magnitudine virium et robore fortitudinis nullum deficiet (vel, deerit).
27. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God?
27. Quare dices, Iacob, et loqueris Israel? Abscondita est via mea ab Iehova, eta Deo meo judicium meum transit.
28. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
28. An non scivisti? An non audiisti (quod) Deus seculi sit Iehova, qui fines terrae creavit? Non laborat, nec lassitudine fatigatur; et non est investigatio intelligentiae ejus.
29. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
29. Dot lasso virtutem, et cui nihil est virium robur suppeditat.
30. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
30. Fatigantur adolescentes et lassantur; juvenes cadendo cadunt.
31. But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
31. At expectantes Iehovam vires novas colligent; sustollent alas ut aquibe; current, nec fatigabuntur; ambulabunt, nec deficient.
1. Comfort ye. The Prophet introduces a new subject; for, leaving the people on whom no favorable impression was made either by threatenings or by admonitions, on account of their desperate wickedness, he turns to posterity, in order to declare that the people who shall be humbled under the cross will experience no want of consolation even amidst the severest distresses. And it is probable that he wrote this prophecy when the time of the captivity was at hand, that he might not at his departure from life leave the Church of God overwhehned by very grievous calamities, without the hope of restoration. Though he formerly mingled his predictions with threatenings and terrors for this purpose, yet he appears to have contemplated chiefly the benefit of those who lived at that time. What will afterwards follow will relate to the future Church, the revival of which was effected long after his death; for he will next lay down a perpetual doctrine, which must not be limited to a single period, and especially when he treats of the commencement and progress of the reign of Christ. And this prophecy must be of so much the greater importance to us, because it addresses us in direct terms; for, although it may be a spiritual application of what goes before, so as to be doctrine that is common both to the Jews and to us, yet, as he leaves the Jews of that age, and addresses posterity down to the end of the world, it appears to belong more especially to us.
By this exhortation, therefore, the Lord intended to stir up the hearts of the godly, that they might not faint, amidst heavy calamities. First, he addresses the Jews, who were soon after to be carried into that hard captivity in which they should have neither sacrifices nor prophets, and would have been destitute of all consolation, had not the Lord relieved their miseries by these predictions. Next, he addresses all the godly that should live afterwards, or that shall yet live, to encourage their heart, even when they shall appear to be reduced very low and to be utterly ruined.
That this discourse might have greater weight, and might mere powerfully affect their minds, he represents God as raising up new prophets, whom he enjoins to soothe the sorrows of the people by friendly consolation. The general meaning is, that, when he shall have appeared to have forsaken for a time the wretched captives, the testimony of his grace will again burst forth from the darkness, and that, when gladdening prophecies shall have ceased, their proper time will come round. In order to exhibit more strongly the ground of joy, he makes use of the plural number, Comfort ye; by which he intimates that he will send not one or another, but a vast multitude of prophets; and this he actually accomplished, by which we see more clearly his infinite goodness and mercy.
Will say. First, it ought to be observed that the verb is in the future tense; and those commentators who render it in the present or past tense both change the words and spoil the meaning. Indircetly he points out an intermediate period, during which the people would be heavily afflicted, as if God had been silent. 104 Though even at that time God did not cease to hold out the hope of salvation by some prophets, yet, having for a long period cast them off, when they were wretchedly distressed and almost ruined, the consolation was less abundant, till it was pointed out, as it were with the finger, that they were at liberty to return. On this account the word comfort must be viewed as relating to a present favor; and the repetition of the word not only confirms the certainty of the prediction, but applauds its power and success, as if he had said, that in this message there will be abundant, full, and unceasing cause of joy.
Above all, we must hold by the future tense of this verb, because there is an implied contrast between that melancholy silence of which I have spoken, and the doctrine of consolation which afterwards followed. And with this prediction agrees the complaint of the Church,
“We do not see our signs; there is no longer among us a prophet or any one that knows how long.” (Ps 74:9.)
We see how she laments that she has been deprived of the best kind of comfort, because no promise is brought forward for soothing her distresses. It is as if the Prophet bad said, “The Lord will not suffer you to be deprived of prophets, to comfort you amidst your severest distresses. At that time he will raise up men by whom he will send to you the message that had been long desired, and at that time also he will show that he takes care of you.”
I consider the future tense, will say, as relating not only to the captivity in Babylon, but to the whole period of deliverance, which includes the reign of Christ. 105 To the verb will say, we must supply “to the prophets,” whom he will appoint for that purpose; for in vain would they have spoken, if the Lord had not told them, and even put into their mouth what they should make known to others. Thus there is a mutual relation between God and the prophets,” whom he will appoint for that purpose; for in vain would they have spoken, if the Lord had not told them and even put into their mouth what they should make known to others. Thus there is a mutual relation between God and the prophets. In a word, the Lord promises that the hope of salvation will be left, although the ingratitude of men deserves that this voice shall be perpetually silenced and altogether extinguished.
These words, I have said, ought not to be limited to the captivity in Babylon; for they have a very extensive meaning, and include the doctrine of the gospel, in which chiefly lies the power of “comforting.” To the gospel it belongs to comfort those who are distressed and cast down, to quicken those who are slain and actually dead, to cheer the mourners, and, in short, to bring all joy and gladness; and this is also the reason why it is called “the Gospel,” that is, good news, 106 Nor did it begin at the time when Christ appeared in the world, but long before, since the time when God’s favor was clearly revealed, and Daniel might be said to have first raised his banner, that believers might hold themselves in readiness for returning. (Da 9:2.) Afterwards, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Nehemiah, Ezra, and others, down to the coming of Christ, exhorted believers to cherish better and better hopes. Malachi, the last of them that wrote, knowing that there would be few prophets, sends the people to the law of Moses, to learn from it the will of God and its threatenings and promises. (Mal 4:4.)
Your God. From this passage we learn what we ought chiefly to seek in the prophets, namely, to encourage the hopes of godly persons by exhibiting the sweetness of divine grace, that they may not faint under the weight of afflictions, but may boldly persevere in calling on God. But since it was difficult to be believed, he reminds them of the covenant; as if he had said that it was impossible for God ever to forget what he formerly promised to Abraham. (Ge 17:7.) Although, therefore, the Jews by their sins had fallen from grace, yet he affirms that he is their God, and that they are his peculiar people, both of which depended on election; but, as even in that nation there were many reprobates, the statement implies that to believers only is this discourse strictly directed; because he silently permits unbelievers, through constant languishment, to be utterly wasted and destroyed. But to believers there is held out an invaluable comfort, that, although for a time they are oppressed by grief and mourning, yet because they hope in God, who is the Father of consolation, they shall know by experience that the promises of grace, like a hidden treasure, are laid up for them, to cheer their hearts at the proper time. This is also a very high commendation of the prophetic office, that it supports believers in adversity, that they may not faint or be discouraged; and, on the other hand, this passage shews that it is a very terrible display of God’s vengeance when there are no faithful teachers, from whose mouth may be heard in the Church of God the consolation that is fitted to raise up those who are cast down, and to strengthen the feeble.
2. Speak ye according to the heart of Jerusalem. Here God commands his servants the prophets, and lays down the message which he wishes them to deliver publicly, when believers shall be called to change their strain from mourning to joy. And yet he does not exhort and encourage them to the cheerful and courageous discharge of their office, so much as he conveys to the minds of believers an assured hope that they may patiently endure the irksomeness of delay, till the prophets appear with this glad and delightful message. To speak to the heart 107 is nothing else than “to speak according to the wish or sentiment of the mind;” for our heart abhors or recoils if any sad intelligence is communicated, but eagerly receives, or rather runs to meet, whatever is agreeable. Now, in consequence of the people having been apparently rejected, nothing could be more agreeable than a reconciliation 108 which should blot out all offenses. By a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, Jerusalem, as is well known, denotes the Church.
And cry to her. The word cry means that the promise of this grace will be open and manifest, so as to resound in the ears of all and be understood; for if prophets only muttered or spoke indistinctly, the belief of this consolation would be doubtful or weak, but now that they publish it boldly and with open mouth, all doubts are removed.
That her warfare is accomplished. This is the desirable message, that the Lord determines to put an end to the warfare of his people. I consider כי (ki) to be used for introducing an explanation. Some think that צבאה, (tzebaahh,) which we have translated “her warfare,” simply denotes “time,” as if it had been said, “her time is accomplished.” 109 Others think that it expresses the time of visitation, but this is incorrect; for among the Hebrews it literally denotes a time previously appointed and set apart for lawful work or labor. (Nu 4:23.) But here unquestionably the metaphor is taken from the discharge of soldiers; for it means that the end and issue of their vexations is at hand, and that God does not wish to harass his people continually, but to set a limit to their afflictions. He therefore compares the time of the captivity in Babylon to a righteous warfare, at the end of which the soldiers, having obtained an honorable discharge, will return home to enjoy peace and quietness.
That her iniquity is pardoned. This means that God is so gracious to them that he is unwilling to treat them with the utmost severity. These words, therefore, assign a reason; for, as physicians, in curing diseases, first remove the causes from which diseases arise, so does the Lord deal with us. The scourges by which he chastises us proceed from our sins; and therefore, that he may cease to strike, he must first pardon us; and consequently, he says that there will be an end of punishments, because he no longer imputes sin. Others think that עונה (gnavonahh) means “her misery,” and that it denotes that her misery is ended. This meaning also is highly appropriate, and thus the Prophet will make the same announcement in two ways; for to finish her warfare, and to put an end to her miseries, mean the same thing. Yet we must hold this principle, that God ceases from inflicting punishment when he is appeased, so that pardon and the forgiveness of sins always come first in order, as the cause. But the word נרצה (nirtzah) demands, in my opinion, the former meaning; as if he had said, that God has been appeased in such a manner that, having pardoned and forgiven their sins, he is ready to enter again into a state of favor with his people.
Double for all her sins. This passage is explained in two ways. Some say that the people, having deserved a double punishment, have obtained a double favor; and others, that they have received enough of punishment, because God is unwilling to exact more. The former interpretation, though it contains an excellent and profitable doctrine, does not agree with the text, and must therefore be set aside; and it is evident that the Prophet means nothing else than that God is abundantly satisfied with the miseries which have befallen his Church. I could have wished, therefore, that they who have attacked Jerome and other supporters of this interpretation, had been more moderate; for the natural meaning belongs to this interpretation, and not to the more ingenious one, that the Lord repays double favor for their sins. The general meaning is, that God is unwilling to inflict more severe or more lengthened punishment on his people, because, through his fatherly kindness, he is in some sense displeased with the severity.
Here the word double denotes “large and abundant.” It must not be imagined that the punishments were greater than the offenses, or equal to them; for we ought to abhor the blasphemy of those who accuse God of cruelty, as if he inflicted on men excessively severe punishment; for what punishment could be inflicted that was sufficiently severe even for the smallest offense? This must therefore relate to the mercy of God, who, by setting a limit to the chastisements, testifies that he is unwilling to punish them any more or longer, as if he were abundantly satisfied with what had gone before, though that nation deserved far severer chastisements. God sustains the character of a Father who, while he compassionates his children, is led, not without reluctance, to exercise severity, and thus willingly bends his mind to grant forgiveness.
3. A voice crying in the wilderness. He follows out the subject which he had begun, and declares more explicitly that he will send to the people, though apparently ruined, ministers of consolation. At the same time he anticipates an objection which might have been brought forward. “You do indeed promise consolation, but where are the prophets? For we shall be ‘in a wilderness,’ and whence shall this consolation come to us?” He therefore testifies that “the wilderness” shall not hinder them from enjoying that consolation.
The wilderness is employed to denote metaphorically that desolation which then existed; though I do not deny that the Prophet alludes to the intermediate journey; 110 for the roughness of the wilderness seemed to forbid their return. He promises, therefore, that although every road were shut up, and not a chink were open, the Lord will easily cleave a path through the most impassable tracts for himself and his people.
Prepare the way of Jehovah. Some connect the words “in the wilderness” with this clause, and explain it thus, “Prepare the way of Jehovah in the wilderness.” But the Prophet appears rather to represent a voice which shall gather together those who had wandered and had, as it were, been banished from the habitable globe. “Though you behold nothing but a frightful desert, yet this voice of consolation shall be heard from the mouth of the prophets.” These words relate to the hard bondage which they should undergo in Babylon.
But to whom is that voice addressed? Is it to believers? No, but to Cyrus, to the Persians, and to the Medes, who held that people in captivity. Having been alienated from obedience to God, they are constrained to deliver the people; and therefore they are enjoined to “prepare and pave the way,” that the people of God may be brought back to Judea; as if he had said:, “Make passable what was impassable.” The power and efficacy of this prediction is thus held up for our applause; for when God invests his servants with authority to command men who were cruel and addicted to plunder, and who at that time were the conquerors of Babylon, to “prepare the way” for the return of his people, he means that nothing shall hinder the fulfillment of his promise, because he will employ them all as hired servants. Hence we obtain an excellent consolation, when we see that God makes use of irreligious men for our salvation, and employs all the creatures, when the case demands it, for that end.
A highway for our God. When it, is said that the way shall be prepared not for the Jews, but for God himself, we have here a remarkable proof of his love towards us; for he applies to himself what related to the salvation of his chosen people. The Lord had nothing to do with walking, and had no need of a road; but he shews that we are so closely united to him that what is done on our account he reckons to be done to himself. This mode of expression is frequently employed elsewhere, as when it is said that God “went forth into battle with his anointed,” (Hab 3:13,) and that “he rode through the midst of Egypt,” (Ex 11:4,) and that he lifted up his standard and led his people through the wilderness. (Isa 63:13.)
This passage is quoted by the Evangelists, (Mt 3:3; Mr 1:3; Lu 3:4,) and applied to John the Baptist, as if these things had been foretold concerning him, and not unjustly; for he held the highest rank among the messengers and heralds of our redemption, of which the deliverance from Babylon was only a type. And, indeed, at the time when the Church arose out of her wretched and miserable condition, her mean appearance bore a stronger resemblance than the Babylonish captivity to a “wilderness;” but God wished that they should see plainly, in the wilderness in which John taught, the image and likeness of that miserably ruinous condition by which the whole beauty of the Church was injured and almost destroyed. What is here described metaphorically by the Prophet was at that time actually fulfilled; for at an exceedingly disordered and ruinous crisis John lifted up the banner of joy. True, indeed, the same voice had been previously uttered by Daniel, Zechariah, and others; but the nearer the redemption approached, the more impressively could it be proclaimed by John, who also pointed out Christ with the finger. (Joh 1:29.) But because, in the midst of a nation which was ignorant and almost sunk in stupidity, there were few that sincerely grieved for their ruinous condition, John sought a wilderness, that the very sight of the place might arouse careless persons to hope and desire the promised deliverance. As to his denying that he was a Prophet, (Joh 1:21,) this depends on the end of his calling and the substance of his doctrine; for he was not sent to discharge apart any continued office, but, as a herald, to gain an audience for Christ his Master and Lord. What is here said about removing obstructions, he applies skilfully to individuals, on this ground, that the depravity of our nature, the windings of a crooked mind, and obstinacy of heart, shut up the way of the Lord, and hinder them from preparing, by true self-denial, to yield obedience.
4. Every valley shall be exalted. He confirms and asserts the preceding statement; for he shews that no difficulties can prevent the Lord from delivering and restoring his Church whenever he shall think fit. These words might with propriety be rendered in the imperative mood, “Let every valley be exalted,” 111 so as to be placed in immediate connection with the command which God gives by his prophets to prepare and level the way for himself; but it makes hardly any difference in the meaning. Let us be satisfied with understanding the Prophet’s design, “that, although many and formidable difficulties are started to hinder the salvation of the Church, still the hand of God will be victorious and will prevail.”
And every mountain and hill shall be laid low. It ought to be observed that many obstructions always arise whenever God makes provision for our deliverance, or wishes to aid the afflicted; and although his glory is more fully displayed by these obstructions, yet we suffer no loss; for we behold more clearly his wonderful power when no strength, or efforts, or contrivances of men can prevent him from gaining his object. He conducts his people through “mountains” and steep places in such a manner as if the road were perfectly level; and by the words mountains and hills, the Prophet undoubtedly intends to denote metaphorically obstructions of every kind; for Satan attempts in every way to hinder our salvation. When we come, therefore, to spiritual redemption, these words undoubtedly include both internal and external obstacles, — lusts and wicked desires, ambition, foolish confidence, and impatience, which retard us wonderfully, but the Lord will break them all down; for when he stretches out his hand, nothing can restrain or drive him back.
5. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed. He means that this work of redemption will be splendid, so that the Lord will shew that he is the Author of it, and will illustriously display his majesty and power. This, indeed, is very openly manifested in all places and in all events, but he promises that he will do this especially in protecting and delivering his Church, and not without good reason; for the deliverance of the Church, from its commencement down to the coming of Christ, might be called a renewal of the world. 112 And because the power of God, which he had formerly been accustomed to display, was almost extinguished, so that scarcely the slightest traces were discernible, as it is said in the Psalm, “We do not see our signs,” (Ps 74:9;) this was a very seasonable warning, that a new and striking demonstration is promised, by which they may perceive that God has in his power various methods of giving relief, even when he conceals them for a time.
And all flesh shall see. He now heightens the miracle by an additional circumstance, that it will be known not only in Judea, but in foreign and distant countries; for by these words “All flesh shall see,” he means that there will be no nations that do not see clearly that the return of the people is a heavenly work, and that God did not speak in vain by the Prophet. Thus he censures the unbelief of men, who never rely on the promises of God, and who treat as fables whatever is said by the prophets, till by beholding the actual fact they are constrained to yield.
That the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken. Here we are taught what is the true method of correcting our unbelief; that is, to be employed in meditating on the promises of God, and to have our faith strengthened by all the proofs of them which he exhibits. Thus it is proper to join doctrine with experience; for since the sight of God’s works would produce little impression on us, he first enlightens us by the torch of his word, and next seals the truth of it by the actual accomplishment.
6. The voice said, Cry. He now describes a different “voice” from that of which he formerly spoke; for hitherto he had spoken about the “voice” of the prophets, but now he means the “voice” of God himself commanding the prophets to cry. Although the voice of the prophets is also the voice of God, whose instruments they are, (for they do not speak of themselves,) (2 Pet. 1:20, 21,) yet this distinction is necessary, that we may know when the Lord commands, and when the prophets and ministers execute his commandments. There is also a beautiful comparison between the two “voices,” that we may receive with as much reverence what the prophets utter as if God himself thundered from heaven; for they speak only by his mouth, and repeat as ambassadors what he has commissioned them to declare. Besides, this preface gives notice that the Prophet is about to speak of something highly important; for, although he everywhere testifies that he faithfully delivers from hand to hand what he has received from God, yet, in order to obtain closer attention, he states that the voice of God has expressly enjoined the mode of speaking which he shall employ. Such is also the import of the word Cry, as if he had said that he must proclaim this commandment in a clear and loud voice, that it may make the deeper impression.
And I said, What shall I cry? The addition of this question has great weight; for the Prophet means that he does not break forth at random, and boast of what he appeared to have heard in a confused manner; but that he received clear and undoubted instruction, after having waited for it with composure. Besides, from the fact itself we may learn that there is nothing here that is superfluous, because two chief points of heavenly doctrine were to be briefly handled; that, although man is smoke and vanity, and all his excellence is deceitful and fading, yet believers have the best reason for glorying, because they seek salvation not from themselves; and that, although they are strangers on the earth, (Heb 11:13,) yet they possess heavenly happiness, because God unites himself to them by his word; for by renouncing ourselves we are led to desire the grace of God. The Prophet knew, indeed, what he ought to say; but by this question he intended to make a stronger impression on their minds, in order to shew that he and all the other servants of God are constrained by necessity to utter this sentiment, and that they cannot begin to teach in any other manner, though they should put a hundred questions and inquiries; as indeed they will gain nothing by choosing to adopt any other method.
As to the word Cry, I have no objection to view it as denoting both boldness and clearness; because prophets ought not to mutter in an obscure manner, but to pronounce their message with a distinct voice, and to utter boldly and with open mouth whatever they have been commanded to declare. Let every one, therefore, who is called to this office constantly remember and believe, that he ought to meet difficulties of every sort with unshaken boldness, such as was always manifested both by prophets and by apostles.
“Wo to me,” says Paul, “if I do not preach the gospel; for necessity is laid on me.”
All flesh is grass. First, it ought to be observed, that he does not speak merely of the frailty of human life, but extends the discourse farther, so as to reduce to nothing all the excellence which men think that they possess. David indeed compares this life to grass, (Ps 103:15,) because it is fading and transitory; but the context shews that the Prophet does not speak only of the outward man, but includes the gifts of the mind, of which men are exceedingly proud, such as prudence, courage, acuteness, judgment, skill in the transactions of business, in which they think that they excel other animals; and this is more fully expressed by that which immediately follows —
All the grace of it. Some translate חסדו (chasdo) “his glory;” others, “his kindness;” but I have preferred the word “grace,” by which I mean everything that procures honor and esteem to men. Yet a passive signification may also be admitted; as if the Prophet had said, that all that is excellent and worthy of applause among men is the absolute kindness of God. Thus David calls God “the God of his kindness,” (Ps. 59:10, 17,) because he acknowledges him to be the author of all blessings, and ascribes it to his grace that he has obtained them so largely and abundantly. It is indeed certain that חסד (chesed) here denotes all that is naturally most highly valued among men, and that the Prophet condemns it for vanity, because there is an implied contrast between the ordinary nature of mankind and the grace of regeneration.
Some commentators refer this to the Assyrians, as if the Prophet, by extenuating their power and wealth, and industry and exertions, or rather by treating these as they had no existence, freed the minds of the Jews from terror. They bring out the meaning in this manner, “If you are terrified at the strength of men, remember that they are flesh, which quickly gives way through its own weakness. But their error is soon afterwards refuted by the context, in which the Prophet expressly applies it to the Jews themselves. We ought carefully to observe that man, with his faculties, on account of which he is accustomed to value himself so highly, is wholly compared to a flower. All men are fully convinced of the frailty of human life, and on this subject heathen writers have argued at great length; but it is far more difficult to root out the confidence which men entertain through a false opinion of their wisdom; for, if they imagine that they have either knowledge or industry beyond others, they think that they have a right to glory in them. But he shews that in man there is nothing so excellent as not to fade quickly and perish.
As the flower of the field. The Prophet seems, as if in mockery, to add a sort of correction; for a flower is something more than grass. It is, therefore, an acknowledgment, that, although men have some shining qualities, like flowers in the fields, yet the beauty and lustre quickly vanish and pass away, so that it is useless for them to flatter or applaud themselves on account of this idle and deceitful splendor.
7. The grass is withered. This might be understood to relate to the beauty of the fields, which is spoiled by a single gust of wind, as it is said, (Ps 103:16,) “As soon as the wind passeth over it, it is gone;” for we know that the wind is called “the Spirit of God” in other passages. But I am more inclined to think that the metaphor is adapted to the present subject; for otherwise the application of it would be somewhat obscure. The Prophet therefore explains what object he has in view, by saying that men, with all their glory, are nothing else than grass; theft is, because the Spirit of God will quickly carry them away by a single breath.
Because the Spirit of Jehovah hath blown upon it. The meaning may be thus explained, “However illustrious are the gifts with which men are endowed, yet as soon as the Spirit of God shall blow upon them, they shall fed that they are nothing.” For the false confidence with which they intoxicate themselves springs from this source, that they do not appear before God, but, in order to indulge freely in flattering themselves, creep into places of concealment. That they may no longer deceive themselves by a foolish delight in falsehood, the Prophet drags them into the presence of God, and admits that apparently they flourish, when they have been withdrawn from God; but as soon as the Lord has breathed upon them, all their strength and beauty perish and decay.
But it may be thought that he assigns to “the Spirit of God” an office which is greatly at variance with his nature; for it belongs to him “to renew by his power the face of the earth.” (Ps 104:30.) On the other hand, if the Lord withdraw his Spirit, all is reduced to nothing. Here Isaiah asserts what is exceedingly different, and appears to contradict David. But there is no absurdity in saying that all things are renewed by the power of the Spirit, and again, that what formerly appeared to be something is reduced to nothing; for we are nothing but in God, and, in order that we may begin to be something in him, we must first be convinced, and made thoroughly to know, that we are vanity. Therefore does the Lord breathe upon us, that we may know that of ourselves we are nothing.
Surely the people is grass. The Prophet added this, that all might know that he was not speaking of foreigners, but of that people which gloried in the name of God; for the Jews might have thought that they were more excellent, and held a higher rank than other men, and that on this account they ought to be exempted from the common lot. He therefore addresses theta expressly and by name, that they may not claim anything for themselves above others; as if he had said, that they would act wisely if, through a conviction of their poverty, they should cast away all confidence in themselves. In a word, the Prophet, after having mentioned consolation, shews in what way men must be prepared to receive it; for they are not capable of it till they have formerly been reduced to nothing. Our hardness must therefore be softened, our haughtiness must be east down and laid low, our boasting must be put to shame, and our hearts must be subdued and humbled, if we wish to receive with any advantage the consolations which the prophets bring to us by the command of God.
8. The grass withereth. This repetition is again added for the purpose of bringing to nought the glory of the flesh, but at the same time contains within itself a highly valuable consolation, that God, when he has cast down his people, immediately raises up and restores them. The context therefore runs thus: “The grass indeed withereth and perisheth, but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” After having learned how empty and destitute we are of all blessings, how transitory and fading is the glory of the flesh, the only consolation left for us, that we may be raised up by the word of the Lord, as by an outstretched hand, is, that we are frail and fading, but that the word of the Lord is durable and eternal, and, in a word, that the life which we need is offered to us from another quarter.
But the word of our God shall stand for ever. This passage comprehends the whole Gospel in few words; for it consists of an acknowledgment of our misery, poverty, and emptiness, that, being sincerely humbled, we may fly to God, by whom alone we shall be perfectly restored. Let not men therefore faint or be discouraged by the knowledge of their nakedness and emptiness; for the eternal word is exhibited to them by which they may be abundantly supported and upheld. We are likewise taught that we ought not to seek consolation from any other source than from eternity, which ought not to be sought anywhere else than in God; since nothing that is firm or durable will be found on the earth. Nothing is more foolish than to rest satisfied with the present state, which we see to be fleeting; and every man is mistaken who hopes to be able to obtain perfect happiness till he has ascended to God, whom the Scripture calls eternal, in order that we may know that life flows to us from him; and indeed he adopts us to be his children on this condition, to make us partakers of his immortality.
But this would be of no avail, if the manner of seeking him were not pointed out; and therefore he exhibits the word, from which we must not in any respect turn aside; for if we make the smallest departure from it, we shall be involved in strange labyrinths, and shall find no way of extricating ourselves. Now, the word is called eternal, not merely in itself, but in us; and this ought to be particularly observed, because otherwise we could obtain no consolation. And thus Peter, a faithful expounder of this passage, applies it to us, when he says that “we are regenerated by this incorruptible seed, that is,” says he, “by the word which is preached.” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25.) Hence we infer, what I mentioned a little before, that life is prepared for the dead who shall come thirsting to the fountain that is exhibited to them; for the power which is hid in God is revealed to us by the word.
9. Ascend on the high mountain. He proceeds with the same subject; for the Lord, having formerly promised that he would give prophets who should soothe the grief and fear of the people by promises, now commands that this consolation shall be more widely spread; because it is his pleasure to diffuse his grace throughout the whole of Judea.
Lift up thy voice aloud, O Jerusalem. Formerly he had given to Jerusalem, and Zion the hope of this joyful message; now he commands that the same voice shall be spread and shall be heard through other cities, and, for this reason, gives orders that the loud voice shall be lifted up, and proclaimed from a lofty place. Although by the words “Zion” and “Jerusalem” he means the same thing, yet the repetition is emphatic; for he shews that one city excels all other cities, for no other reason than because God hath chosen it to be his sanctuary.
That bringest tidings. He gives to the city this appellation, because there the priests and Levites were instructed according to the injunctions of the Law, that they might be the teachers of the whole people, and by their labors might spread the doctrine of salvation. (Mal 2:7.) Yet we ought carefully to observe this commendation which God bestows on his Church, that it may not be without a clear mark of distinction; for an assembly in which the preaching of heavenly doctrine is not heard does not deserve to be reckoned a Church. In this sense also, Paul calls it (1Ti 3:15) “the pillar and foundation of the truth;” for although God might have governed us by himself, and without the agency of men, yet he has assigned this office to his Church, and has committed to it the invaluable treasure of his Word. For the same reason it will be called in another passage, “the mother of all believers.” (Isa 54:1; Ga 4:26.) Hence it follows that nothing is more absurd and wicked than for dumb idols to boast of the name of the Church, as is done in Popery.
We are likewise taught, that the Church has not been instructed by God, in order that she may keep her knowledge hidden within herself, but that she may publish what she has learned. Besides, he commands that grace shall be freely and boldly proclaimed, that prophets and teachers may not speak with timidity, as if it were a doubtful matter, but may shew that they are fully convinced of the certainty of those things which they promise, because they know well that “God, who cannot lie,” (Titus 1:2,) is the Author of them. He enjoins the witnesses of his grace to proceed from Zion, that they may fill with joy the whole of Judea.
Behold your God! This expression includes the sum of our happiness, which consists solely in the presence of God. It brings along with it an abundance of all blessings; and if we are destitute of it, we must be utterly miserable and wretched; and although blessings of every kind are richly enjoyed by us, yet if we are estranged from God, everything must tend to our destruction. From this circumstance it ought also to be remarked, that nothing is more opposite to faith than to estimate by the present appearances of things what God declares by his prophets, who at that time must have been struck dumb, had they not raised their views above the world, and thus, through the power of unshaken boldness and perseverance, dared to draw others along with them, that they might cherish good hopes when matters were at the worst. And indeed when wicked men and wickedness prevail, the greater the terror that is spread all around, and the greater the seeming wretchedness of the Church, the more ought we to extol the grace of God, and to point out his presence to believers. 113
10. Behold, the Lord Jehovah. He adorns this short sentence by many words, because some explanation was needed; and he again uses the word Behold for the sake of certainty, in order to impart greater confidence to the hearts of good men. Thus he shews more clearly how great advantage they derive from the presence of God. And first, he says, that he will come with strength, and that strength not unemployed, but accompanied by such an effect as we shall perceive.
And his arm shall be powerful to him 114 לו (lo), which we have translated to him, is translated by others of himself; or, perhaps, it will be thought preferable to translate it, “He is powerful, or reigns for himself.” The meaning is, that God is sufficient for himself, and does not need the assistance of any one.
Behold, his reward is with him, and his work before his face. By the repetition of the words “reward” and “work,” he states more clearly what has been already expressed; for it is very customary with Hebrew writers to express the same thing in two different ways. “Reward” does not here denote what is due to merits, but the justice of God, by which he testifies that he is a rewarder to all who truly and sincerely call upon him. (Heb 11:6.) That this is the signification of the word שכר (sachar) is known to all who are moderately acquainted with the Hebrew language. The meaning may be thus summed up: “God will not come to be beheld by us as unemployed, but to display his power, and to make us feel it;” and thus, instead of the word “work,” the word “effect” would not be inapplicable. Many persons attempt an ingenious exposition of these words, and enter into childish discussion about the words “work” and “reward,” as if the “work” were a merit on which a “reward” is bestowed. But nothing was farther from the view of the Prophet; for he repeats the same thing, as we have already said, and declares the result of the coming of the Lord, from which believers will derive the highest advantage.
11. As a shepherd. In this verse he declares what is the nature of that work of the Lord; for since he works in various and, indeed, in innumerable ways, the hearer might have been kept in suspense as to the work which God intended to accomplish; and thus the general doctrine would have been less efficacious in exciting hope. Though he does not describe every part, yet he states in a few words that God has determined to protect and guard his Church. On this account he compares him to “a shepherd;” and under this designation he expresses his infinite love towards us, when he does not refuse to stoop so low as to perform towards us the office of “a shepherd.” In other passages, and even a little before, (Isa 34:2, etc.,) he described himself as armed with terrible power for the defense of his people, and a little after this he repeats the same statement; but here he ascribes to him a more amiable character, that believers may sweetly repose under his protection.
He will feed his flock. Now, although by the word “flock” he describes an elect people, whom he had undertaken to govern, yet we are reminded that God will be a shepherd to none but to those who, in modesty and gentleness, shall imitate the sheep and lambs. For this reason we ought to observe the character of the flock; for he does not choose to feed savage beasts, but lambs. We must therefore lay aside our fierceness, and permit ourselves to be tamed, if we wish to be gathered into the fold of which God promises that he will be the guardian.
He will carry them in his bosom. These words describe God’s wonderful condescension; for not only is he actuated by a general feeling of regard to his whole flock, but, in proportion to the weakness of any one sheep, he shews his carefulness in watching, his gentleness in handling, and his patience in leading it. Here he leaves out nothing that belongs to the office of a good shepherd; for the shepherd ought to observe every sheep, so as to treat it according to its capacity; and especially they ought to be supported, if they are exceedingly weak. In a word, God will be mild, kind, gentle, and compassionate, so that he will not drive the weak harder than they are able to bear.
12. Who hath measured? After having spoken of God’s friendly care in defending his people, he now proclaims his power, and bestows upon it all possible commendations, which, however, would produce less impression upon us, if we did not attend to the Prophet’s design. At first sight, ignorant readers would think that the Prophet crowds together unfinished sentences, which would be absurd. But if we look at his object, he adorns the power of God by a seasonable and elegant discourse, which is a true support of our faith, that we may not hesitate to believe that he will do what he has promised. Not without reason does Paul say that Abraham did not hesitate, because he believed that God who had promised was able to perform what he had said. (Rom. 4:20, 21.) In the same sense also he testifies of himself in another passage,
“I know whom I have believed; God is able to keep what I have committed to him.”
Such is also the import of those words of Christ,
“My Father who gave you to me is greater than all.”
Since, therefore, we ought continually to strive against distrust, and since Satan attacks us by various contrivances, it is of great importance that the promises of God should be believed by us, to give to his power the praise which it deserves. Now, because the restoration of the people was beyond belief, it was necessary that godly minds should he raised above the world, that they might not view the grace of God as limited to human means.
We see that the Prophet does not merely teach that God is the Creator of heaven and earth, but applies to the present subject all that he relates concerning God’s infinite power; and in like manner it is fitted for our guidance. When any adversity befalls us, our salvation is hidden, and, as if a cloud had come between, the power of God is concealed; we are held in astonishment, as if the Lord had forsaken and overlooked us. Let us not, therefore, think that the Prophet speaks of some ordinary matter; for if this conviction of the power of God were deeply seated in our hearts, we would not be so much alarmed, and would not be disturbed by any calamity whatever. On this power, as we have said, Abraham leaned, that he might cordially embrace what was otherwise incredible; and, accordingly, Paul affirms (Ro 4:18) that “he hoped against hope;” for he believed that God was able to do what he had said, and did not waver or stagger in his mind. We are thus taught to raise our eyes above this world, that we may not judge by outward appearances, but may believe that what God hath spoken will come to pass; because all things are at his disposal.
While this conviction is necessary for all, I have said that the Jews had very great need of it; for they were pressed hard by very powerful enemies, they had no means of escape and no hope of freedom, and nothing was to be seen on every hand but a large and frightful wilderness. In vain, therefore, would consolation have been offered to them, had they not, at the suggestion of the Prophet, raised their minds to heaven, and, disregarding the appearances of things, fixed their whole heart on the power of God.
When he names “measures,” which are used by men in very small matters, he accommodates himself to our ignorance; for thus does the Lord often prattle with us, and borrow comparisons from matters that are familiar to us, when he speaks of his majesty; that our ignorant and limited minds may better understand his greatness and excellence. Away, then, with all gross conceptions of God; for his greatness far exceeds all creatures, so that heaven, and earth, and sea, and all that they contain, however vast may be their extent, yet in comparison of him are nothing.
13. Who instructed the Spirit of Jehovah? What the Prophet had formerly taught concerning the Lord’s goodness and power he now adds concerning his wisdom. And we ought to observe the connection; for, us carnal sense wickedly limits the power of God to human means, so it improperly subjects his inscrutable counsel to human reasonings. Till God be exalted above all creatures, many difficulties present themselves to interrupt the course of his works; and, therefore, if we form a judgment according to our own opinion, various scruples will immediately arise. Thus, whenever we do not see how God will do this or that, we doubt if it will take place; because what surpasses our reason appears to be impossible. Consequently, as we ought to contrast, the power of God with our weakness, so our insolence ought to be repressed by his incomparable, wisdom.
By inquiring, who guided or directed the Spirit of God, he means that God had no need of a teacher, to go before and inform him about things unknown. Spirit here denotes reason, judgment, or understanding; for he borrows a comparison from the nature of men, that he may more fully accommodate himself to them; and I do not think that this ought to be understood as denoting the essential Spirit of God.
14. From whom took he counsel? The Prophet expresses the same thing in many ways; that we may know that nothing is more foolish than man, 115 when he ventures to lift himself up into heaven, to examine or judge by his own ability the works of God. In these words, therefore, Isaiah intended to repress more and more the insolence and rashness of men. Paul quotes this proof for the same purpose, to deter us from judging of the unsearchable counsel of God; for God does not wish us to inquire concerning his wisdom but in a sober and becoming manner. (Ro 11:34.) There is one difference, that Paul affirms that the spiritual mystery of the gospel cannot be fathomed by the human understanding, while the Prophet pronounces a commendation, in general terms, on the providence of God. But on both points we ought to learn humility, and to bring all our senses captive to obedience. All the reason or understanding that we have is mere darkness, till we have been enlightened by Christ.
15. Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket. If we wish to understand the Prophet’s meaning, and to read these words with advantage, we must (as I remarked a little before) understand his design. He does not celebrate the greatness of God in a detached manner, but extols it with the utmost. possible adaptation to the present subject, that Israelites may know that this shield alone is sufficient to protect them, and that they will have no reason to dread the efforts, or rage, or violence of the world, if God be reconciled to them, and that they may thus learn to betake themselves to God’s protection; for if they were not fully convinced of this, there would arise at every moment various causes of despair. Isaiah thus continues the subject, when he says that all nations and peoples are nothing when compared with God; for, by simply breathing on them, he will scatter like small dust all the inhabitants of the earth. In consequence of our being excessively prone and foolishly ingenious in devising reasons of distrust, we imagine that everything that Satan does for the purpose of hindering our salvation blocks up the path of God. For the purpose of correcting this error, the Prophet declares that all the creatures are nothing before God, and that all the nations resemble small and inconsiderable drops of water. Hence we infer that nothing can be more contrary to reason than to exalt creatures for the sake of diminishing the power of God, which is high above all, and ought to be so acknowledged.
16. And Lebanon would not be sufficient. That is, “If we must sacrifice to God according to what he deserves, neither the whole of Lebanon, nor the beasts that graze upon it, would be sufficient for a sacrifice.” By various forms of expression he dwells largely on this power of God, that men, being’ convinced of it, may care nothing about creatures and all their might. Yet the Prophet appears to speak expressly of the worship of God, in order to lead readers to cherish deeper reverence for him; as if he had said, “Will you dare to measure by your own judgment the power of God, whom you will not be prepared, for worshipping aright, even though you should amass all the beasts and all the wood that are on Lebanon?” Hence some infer that no man can entitle himself to the favor of God by sacrifices. This, indeed, is true; but we ought, as has been already said, to consider the design of the Prophet, who, for the purpose of encouraging the Jews to cherish stronger confidence, shews that in comparison of God all things are nothing.
17. All nations. He repeats what he had said, that it is in the power and at the disposal of God to destroy “all nations,” whenever he shall think proper; and that, even while they remain in their present condition, they are reckoned as nothing before him. But it may be thought absurd for him to say, that “the nations are nothing,” since God created them, that they might be something. I reply, this is said by comparison; for the depravity of the human mind is such that it obscures the divine majesty, and places above it those things which ought to have been subject to God; and, therefore, when we come to that contest, we may boldly declare that everything that is compared with God is worthless. Nor does Isaiah speak merely about the nature of men, such as it was created by God; but his aim is to abase and restrain their pride, when they venture to exalt themselves against God. We know that we cannot subsist but in God, in whom alone, as Paul declares, “we live, and move, and are.” (Ac 17:28.) Nothing is more vain than man; and, as David says,
“If he be laid in the balance with vanity, he will be found to be even lighter than vanity.” (Ps 62:9.)
In the same manner does Isaiah affirm that “the nations” are not only “nothing,” but “less than nothing.” in order to exhibit more fully their feebleness and vanity. 116
18. To whom then have ye likened God? The Jews were in great danger from another temptation; for there was reason to believe that the Assyrians and Babylonians would not have obtained so many victories without their assistance; and hence they might naturally conclude, “Of what avail is it to us to have a peculiar manner of worshipping God which differs from other nations; for our enemies fight under the favor and protection of heaven, while we are not cheered by any assistance from the God whom we worship?” Neither can there be any doubt, that the captives were taunted by unbelievers, as is evident from other passages. (Ps 137:3; La 2:15.) That true religion may not be ruined among the Jews on account of the calamity which they had sustained, God rises up, and proclaims that a grievous injury is done to him, if believers, discouraged by adversity, turn aside to the idols and superstitions of the Gentiles. Thus he confirms them in the faith of the promises, that they may not sink under the weight of the punishments which they endure.
The Prophet, as we formerly suggested, does not address merely the men of his own age, but posterity, who would have a still severer contest with the mockeries of the nations whose captives they were, and likewise with bad examples and customs; for when, in consequence of being mingled with heathen nations, they daily beheld many corruptions of piety, it was more difficult for them steadily to persevere. That they might not entertain any foolish notion that high prosperity attended the worshippers of false gods, the Prophet meets this error, and reminds them that God, whom they and their fathers worshipped, ought not to be compared with the gods of the Gentiles; for these were made by men, and were composed of gold or silver, wood or stone; but God created all things; and therefore that the highest injury is done to God, not only by comparing his majesty with things of no value, but even by not, placing him far above all the angels and everything that is reckoned divine.
When Paul employs this passage (Ac 17:29) as a proof against idolaters, or at least quotes the words of the Prophet, he does not wrest them from their true meaning. He infers, indeed, from them that to frame any image of God is exceedingly wicked, while the Prophet, in guarding the Jews against distrust, at the same time condemns the superstitions of the Gentiles, and declares that it is inconsistent with the nature of God to be represented by painting or by any kind of likeness. This shews clearly that Paul’s doctrine fully agrees with it; for the Prophet, after having shewn that the power of God is infinite, since he holds all things in his fist, at length concludes, “To whom then will ye liken me? for no image that is formed will have any likeness or resemblance to me.”
Or, what resemblance will you appoint to him? This is a useful doctrine, and worthy of observation; for were there nothing more than this single passage, it would be perfectly sufficient for refuting the inventions by which Papists deceive themselves, when they think that they have a right to represent God by outward figures. The Prophet declares that it is impossible to frame out of dead matter an image which shall have any resemblance to the glory of God. He openly rejects idols, and does not even speak of the worship of them, but affirms that to manufacture and set them up before God is wicked and abominable. The Scripture is full of such proofs. Moses warned a people prone to this vice,
“Thou sawest no image or shape in the mountain, thou only heardest a voice. See then and beware that thou be not led astray so as to frame for thyself any image.”
(Deut. 4:12, 15.)
In order to know God, therefore, we must not frame a likeness of him according to our own fancy, but we must betake ourselves to the Word, in which his lively image is exhibited to us. Satisfied with that communication, let us not attempt anything else of our own. Other ways and methods, such as idols and images, teach us vanity and falsehood, and not truth, as Jeremiah beautifully says, “The wood is the instruction of vanities,” (Jer 10:8,) and Habakkuk, “His graven image is falsehood.” (Hab 2:18.) When the Lord sometimes compares himself to a lion, a bear, a man, or other objects, this has nothing to do with images, as the Papists imagine, but by those metaphors either the kindness and mercy of God, or his wroth and displeasure, and other things of the same nature, are expressed; for God cannot reveal himself to us in any other way than by a comparison with things which we know. In short, if it were lawful to frame or set up an image of God, that would be a point of resemblance to the gods of the Gentiles, and this declaration of the Prophet could not be maintained.
19. The carver prepares a graven image. As public opinion has great force, and everything that pleases the multitude passes for a law, the Prophet fortifies believers against this error. These words therefore convey an anticipation, that the Jews may not be terrified when they see the Gentiles laboring with all their might to make idols, for in this way they deceive and ensnare each other. But he attacks the madness of the whole world, 117 on this ground, that all are impelled by such outrageous zeal to the practice of superstition, and every man is his own instructor in the formation of idols.
20. The poor chooseth for his offering wood that will not rot. He concludes that no class of men is free from that crime, that the rich and poor alike are guilty and condemned; for the rich make their gods of gold or silver, and the poor of wood which they had selected. Hence he shews that all men are carried away by strange madness, and that even though they have not the means, still they desire to have something excellent for the worship of their gods. Men wish to enjoy the presence of God, and this is the beginning and source of idolatry; for God is not present with us by an idol, but by his word and by the power of his Spirit; and although he holds out to us in the sacraments an image both of his grace and of spiritual blessings, yet this is done with no other intention than to lead us upwards to himself. Yet the Prophet censures the folly of men, who are so blind as to labor with excessive industry and ingenuity in highly adorning their idols.
21. Do ye not know? After having ridiculed the stupidity and madness of the Gentiles, the Prophet turns to the Jews; for we are all prone to superstition, and thus we easily fall into it when any example is placed before our eyes. In consequence of mixing with the Babylonians during their captivity, the Jews were constrained to behold daily the basest examples of idolatry, and might be led away to wicked imitation. Isaiah therefore anticipates this at an early period, and warns them not to be carried away by the sight of such things.
He asks, “Have they not been taught, and have they not learned who is God?” The greater part of commentators think that all the questions here put are a repetition of the same truth, namely, that the creation of the world shews clearly that nothing can be more inconsistent than to seek God in wood and stone, silver and gold. But we may infer from the context that there are two clauses. Had he proceeded in his expostulation with the Gentiles, he would have brought forward no other witnesses than heaven and earth. But because he addresses the Jews who had been plainly taught by the Law, he brings forward direct arguments to refute them, drawn both from the order of nature and from the voice of God. And, first, he puts the question in general terms, “Do ye not know?” Next, he adds two methods by which they ought to have distinguished between the true God and the false gods. The former is drawn from the hearing of the Word, and therefore he expressly says, “Hath it not been told you? Have ye not heard?”
The latter method is borrowed from that magnificent theatre 118 in which the glory of God shines above and below. If the discourse had been addressed to foreigners and heathens, he would have been satisfied with this second demonstration, as we see that Paul also was; for, having to do with the inhabitants of Lystra, to whom no knowledge of heavenly doctrine had been conveyed, he employs none but natural arguments, that “God, by giving rain and sunshine, did not leave himself (ἀμάρτυρον) without witness.” (Ac 14:17.) But when the Prophet spoke to the Jews about true godliness, it would have been improper for him to pass by the Law, which rendered them doubly inexcusable if, by neglecting it, they profaned themselves with unbelievers; for they had been convinced not only by the sight of their eyes, but also by the hearing of their cars, which God beat incessantly by the preaching of his Law. Since, therefore, from their mother’s womb they had sucked along with the milk the true knowledge of God, and had been taught by their fathers through a long succession of generations, the Prophet justly argues that they will be exceedingly ungrateful and wicked, if such assistance produce no good effect upon them.
Hath it not been told you from the beginning? The phrase, from the beginning, or “long ago,” conveys the idea that not only had they been educated from childhood in the pure worship of God, but during a succession of ages there had been largely enjoyed by that nation a doctrine which would not suffer them to go astray, provided that they were attentive; as if he had said, “Ye have not any new God, but the same God who revealed himself from the beginning to Abraham, Moses, and the rest of the fathers.” And indeed it yields no small confirmation, that the doctrine which had been continued among believers during so many ages must have been ancient. Not that antiquity alone is sufficient for establishing the certainty of faith, (for, on the contrary, the Gentiles might easily have objected, that their superstitions were not less ancient,) but since “from the beginning” the authority of the Law had been abundantly ratified, and God had testified that it came from him, long experience added no small confirmation, when they knew that their ancestors had delivered to posterity a form of religion which they could not throw away without receiving the stamp of base apostasy. Such a commencement, therefore, and such progress quickly remove all doubt. It is one and the same faith that has been held by us and by our fathers, for they and we have acknowledged the same God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same word, the same promises, and the same end, have been exhibited to all believers.
From the foundations of the earth. This is figurative language, in which a part is taken for the whole; for a part of the world is put; for the whole world. God has exhibited this world as a mirror to men, that by beholding it they may acknowledge his majesty, so that it is a lively image of invisible things, as Paul explains at great length in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Their ignorance is therefore “without excuse;” for they cannot allege that they do not know God who has revealed himself in so many ways. (Ro 1:20.) And indeed men sin more through insolence and pride than through ignorance; for they despise God who manifests himself openly and speaks plainly, and their attention is occupied with creatures, and with the most trifling matters. Has such contempt any title to be excused? Do they not deserve to be blinded, and to adore their own inventions instead of God, which we see has happened to almost all? Such punishment is unquestionably just and due to so great pride. And if to that knowledge which we obtain through the creatures there be likewise added the doctrine of the word, we are much less excusable. Isaiah has therefore joined both kinds of knowledge, in order to shew that the Jews ought to be doubly condemned, if they did not place confidence in God, after having received instruction concerning his power and goodness.
22. It is he that sitteth. He pursues the same subject, though in a different manner, and extols the glory and power of God. Why he does so we have already in some measure explained. It is because we are so prone to distrust, that the very smallest occasion makes us waver; and therefore the Prophet is constrained to repeat the same thing in many ways, that he may keep our weak and inconstant hearts in the exercise of confidence in God. Formerly he spoke of the creation of the world, but now he comes to the continual government of it; for God did not only for a single moment exert his power for creating the world, but he manifests his power not less efficaciously in preserving it. And this is worthy of observation; for our minds would be little impressed by knowing that God is the creator of the world, if his hand were not continually stretched out for upholding it in existence. By the word sitteth the Prophet means, that the earth does not remain firmly and permanently in its place any further than as it is upheld by the power of God; for “sitting” is a metaphorical term which denotes “government.”
The inhabitants of which are as locusts. By comparing the inhabitants of the earth to locusts, he reminds us that God cannot be confined within such narrow boundaries, because “even the heavens (1Ki 8:27) do not contain him;” that we may learn, whenever we mention God, to conceive nothing earthly or human as belonging to his incomprehensible glory. Besides, this metaphor shews how ridiculous is the blindness of men when they claim anything for themselves; for they gain by their boastings just as much as if some small creatures, such as locusts, would elevate themselves by leaping; but they must immediately fall back on the earth.
Spreadeth it out as a tent. David also employs the same form of expression, (Ps 104:2,) and both speak of the aspect and spreading out of the heavens with respect to us; for they do not mean that God spreads out the heavens, that he may dwell in them, but rather that there may be given to us a place of habitation under them; for while the earth sustains, the heavens cover us, so that we have a dwelling close and covered on all sides.
But it may be thought that these metaphors detract greatly from the dignity of the subject of which the Prophet discourses, while his object is to commend and exalt it to the utmost of his power. What is a curtain? What is a tent? I reply, these metaphors tend nevertheless to exalt the subject; for it is as if he had said, “that it is as easy for God to spread out heaven, as for a man to spread out a curtain.” And he leaves to every person to consider how great is the difference between heaven and a curtain, and what is their size, which any person may easily understand. Lastly, there is an implied contrast between tabernacles or houses 119 which men are long, and laboriously, and at great expense employed in building, and yet which hardly rise to a hundred feet, and the immeasurable height of the heavens spread out by an instantaneous act of the will of God, which makes abundantly manifest how great and how excellent a workman he is.
23. He bringeth the mighty to nothing. He proceeds in extolling the providence of God, by which he governs the whole world, but more especially mankind. Already and but a little ago he had begun to remark that God did not create the world, so as afterwards to allow it to be governed by chance, but that he undertakes the preservation of it, and keeps it under his power and authority; but as he deigns to look more closely at mankind, so the Prophet selects this department, that by means of it he may extol God’s providence. The sum of what he says is, that God’s government extends far and wide, so that he directs and governs everything according to his pleasure; but he shews, (what was also highly advantageous to be known,) that even in the life of men striking proofs of the immediate exercise of the power of God are visible, and, not even satisfied with the general doctrine, he brings forward one class which ought still more to arouse our attention.
The governors of the earth as if they were not. 120 Anything that happens to the undistinguished mass of common people is despised and passed by as unworthy of being observed; but when kingdoms and monarchies, or men of high rank, fall from their elevation, it seems as if the earth had been shaken; and the Prophet skilfully avails himself of such proofs to arouse us. It might, indeed, be supposed that princes and magistrates are exempted from the common lot, and are not subject to the ordinary miseries of men; for by their splendor they dazzle the eyes and understandings of all men. But their lustre is entirely dimmed; and therefore the Prophet especially mentions them, and declares that the Lord “bringeth them to nothing.” And if the hand of God is so powerful against nobles and princes, what must we think of the common people? Will he not also treat the ordinary crowd according to his pleasure, and drive them wherever he thinks fit? Will he not either give or take away from them, whenever he pleases, both strength and courage?
24. It is as if they had not been planted. Though the particle אף (aph) signifies also, yet in this passage it may be more appropriately rendered “so that;” and thus the plain meaning will be, “So that you may say that they were not planted or sown.” It is an amplification of what he had formerly said, for he shews that the princes are totally destroyed and rooted out, so that no trace of them is left, any more than if they had never existed. So long as they remain in prosperity, they appear to be so strong as to be beyond the possibility of being thrown down by any adverse event. 121 but such changes happen as blot out their name and remembrance, so that you would say that they had never existed; and we see that this has happened not only to men but even to very flourishing kingdoms.
Since, therefore, great downfalls are so many tokens of God’s dreadful power, let us learn not to lean on earthly and deceitful supports, but, whatever may be the amount of our riches or strength, let us depend on him. God does not, as heathen men babble, turn about this world like a ball, as if he took pleasure in this game; but whenever any person is highly elevated, he never ceases from insolent boasting till he is thrown down headlong, so that the judgments of God are always manifest. We are also reminded by it, that it is wrong to ascribe to fortune or to any other cause the various events that happen; for God was not an instantaneous Creator, that would immediately abandon the charge of his work, but incessantly applies his hand, so that nothing is done but by his will and pleasure. Seeing that various changes thus happen in the world, seeing that those things which were thought to be firm and stable are transitory and fading, let us turn our minds to that supreme providence of God.
Even while he bloweth on them. Hence he shows how light and trivial before God are those things which commonly dazzle our eyes and fill us with amazement; for we cannot think of any great king without being perfectly alarmed and stupified. But he shows that kings and princes are like stubble before God, by whose breath they are driven, as by a whirlwind, at any instant that he pleases. We are therefore taught that we ought never to be overwhelmed by the sight of any creature, so as not to render to God the honor and glory that are due to him. This ought to have been carefully considered by the Jews, who would have thought that that monarchy of the Babylonians, whose captives they were, would never be destroyed, and that they could not be rescued out of their hands, if they had not called to remembrance this doctrine, that nothing in this world is so durable that it may not be dissolved by the breath of God. That they may not despair of their salvation, the Prophet reminds them that God, as soon as he shall be pleased to thunder from heaven, will crush all that strength in their enemies that terrifies them, so that it shall vanish away.
25. And to whom will ye liken me? He repeats the former statement, (Isa 40:18,) by which he said that the Lord would not suffer himself to be likened to idols; that the Jews might not in any degree detract, from his power, on account of their having been so long held captive in the hand of unbelievers, or think that idols are anything on account of the prosperity of their worshippers, whom they were compelled to serve; for, by reasoning in this manner about the power of the true God and of idols, they would have compared him with idols. On this account he repeats, as it were in indignation, “To whom will ye liken me?” as if he had said, “Will you rob me of my majesty by your comparisons?” For although men have various thoughts of God, and transform him according to their fancy, yet he continues to be like himself, for he does not change his nature on account of the inventions of men.
Saith the Holy One. He appropriately applies to God the term Holy, by which title he indirectly blames or accuses the Jews of base ingratitude, if, as they have been set apart by him, they do not sanctify him in return. No holiness will be found in the gods of the Gentiles; they are the mere inventions of men. A grievous injury therefore is done to God, and he is basely degraded from his rank, when idols are brought into collision with him, and when it becomes a subject of debate if they can do more than God himself.
26. Lift up your eyes on high. The Prophet appears to linger too long on this subject, more especially because it presents no obscurity; for he repeats by many statements what is acknowledged by all, that God’s wonderful power and wisdom may be known from the beautiful order of the world. But we ought to observe what I have already said, that we are so wicked and ungrateful judges of the divine power, that we often imagine God to be inferior to some feeble man. We are more terrified frequently by the empty mask of a single man 122 than we are strengthened by all the promises of God. Not in vain, therefore, does the Prophet repeat that God is defrauded of his honor, if his power do not lead us to warm admiration of him; nor does he spend his labor in what is superfluous, for we are so dull and sluggish that we need to be continually aroused and excited.
Men see every day the heavens and the stars; but who is there that thinks about their Author? By nature men are formed in such a manner as to make it evident that they were born to contemplate the heavens, and thus to learn their Author; for while God formed other animals to look downwards for pasture, he made man alone erect, and bade him look at what may be regarded as his own habitation.
This is also described beautifully by a poet: 123 “While other animals look downwards towards the earth, he gave to man a lofty face, and bade him look at heaven, and lift up his countenance erect towards the stars.” 124 The Prophet therefore points out the wickedness of men who do not acknowledge what is openly placed before their eyes concerning God, but, like cattle, fix their snout in the earth; for, whenever we raise our eyes upwards, with any degree of attention, it is impossible for our senses not to be struck with the majesty of God.
And see who hath created them. By mentioning the stars, he states more clearly that the wonderful order which shines brightly in the face of the heavens preaches loudly that there is one God and Creator of the world; and all who shall observe, that amidst the vast number and variety of the stars, so regular an order and course is so well maintained, will be constrained to make this acknowledgment. For it is not by chance that each of the stars has had its place assigned to it, nor is it at random that they advance uniformly with so great rapidity, and amidst numerous windings move straight forwards, so that they do not deviate a hairbreadth from the path which God has marked out for them. Thus does their wonderful arrangement shew that God is the Author and worker, so that men cannot open their eyes without being constrained to behold the majesty of God in his works.
Bringing out by number their army. Under the word army he, includes two things; their almost infinite number, and their admirable arrangement; for a small number of persons do not constitute an army, and not even a considerable number, if there be not also numerous companies. Besides, it is not called an “army,” when men are collected together at random, and without any selection, and in a confused manner, or when they wander about in a disorderly state, but where there are various classes of officers, who have the charge of ten, or a hundred, or a thousand men, 125 and where the ranks are drawn up and arranged on a fixed plan. Thus the wonderful arrangement of the stars, and their certain courses, may justly be called an “army.”
By the word number he means that God always has this “army” at his command. In an army the soldiers may wander, and may not be immediately collected or brought back to their ranks by the general, though the trumpet sound. But it is otherwise with God. He always has his soldiers in readiness, and that “by number;” that is, he keeps a reckoning of them, so that not one of them is absent.
He will call to all of them by name. The same expression occurs, (Ps 147:4,) and in the same sense. Some explain it to mean that God knows the number of the stars, which is unknown to us. But David and Isaiah meant a different thing, that is, that God makes use of the stars according to his pleasure; as if one should command a servant, calling him to him by name; and the same thing will afterwards be said of Cyrus, whose labors and service the Lord employed in delivering his people. (Isa 45:1.) In a word, it denotes the utmost submission and obedience, when he who is called instantly answers to his name.
By the greatness of his strength. Those who explain the preceding clause to mean that the Lord knows the number of the stars, are also mistaken in supposing that by giving them their names is meant their power and office. Others explain it, that there is not a star that has not its own power and energy, because the Lord gave to them those qualities they would always possess. But others connect these words with יקרא, (yikra,) “he shall call;” as if he had said, “The Lord is so powerful that all the stars listen to his commands.” But a meaning which appears to me to be more appropriate is, that God is so powerful, that, as soon as he has issued an order, all the armies of the stars are ready to yield obedience. In this we have an extraordinary proof of his power, when those highly excellent, creatures unhesitatingly submit to him, and by executing his orders testify that they acknowledge him to be their Author.
Not one shall be wanting. The word איש (ish) is applied by Hebrew writers not only to men and women, but also to other animals, and even to inanimate objects, as in a former passage, (Isa 34:16,) when, speaking of the birds that should occupy those splendid abodes, he said that “not one should be wanting,” he used the word איש(ish). 126 These words commend to us the power of God, that we may know that there is nothing in heaven or in earth that does not depend on his will and pleasure. Nothing, therefore, can be more shameful or unreasonable than to compare him to idols, which are as worthless as anything can possibly be. 127
27. Why wilt thou say? The Prophet now expostulates either with the Jews, because they were almost overcome by despair, and did not look to the promises of God, by which they ought, to have supported their minds; or he makes provision for posterity, that they may not sink under any distresses however long continued. The verbs are in the future sense, which might also be explained by the subjunctive mood, Why wouldst thou say? For Isaiah justly infers front the preceding statement, that the chosen people, whatever may happen, ought to wait patiently for God, till he give assistance in due time. He argues from the less to the greater: “Since God keeps every part of the world under his authority, it is impossible that he shall forsake his Church.” Yet it is probable that at that time there were heard among the people complaints, by which they murmured against God, as if he did not care about their salvation, or were slow in rendering assistance, or even shut his eyes and did not see their distresses. The fault which is now corrected is, that they thought that God did not care about them; as usually happens in afflictions, in which we think that God has forsaken us, and exposed us for a prey, and that he takes no concern about the affairs of this world. 128
O Jacob and Israel! By these names he calls to their remembrance the Lord’s covenant, which had been ratified by promises so numerous and so diversified; as if he had said, “Dost thou not think that thou art that people which God hath chosen peculiarly for himself? Why dost thou imagine that he who cannot deceive does not attend to thy cause?”
My way is hidden from Jehovah. He employs the word way for “condition” and ‘cause,” and hidden, for “disregarded” or “unknown;” for if God delay his assistance for a short time, we think that his care does not extend to us. Some explain it differently, that is, that the people are here reproved for thinking that they would not be punished for sinning, and they think that this sentiment resembles such as, “The wicked man hath said in his heart, There is no God.” (Ps 14:1.) But the Prophets meaning unquestionably was, “Thinkest thou, O Israel, that the Lord taketh no concern about thine affairs?” For he exclaims against the distrust of the people, and chides them sharply, that he may afterwards comfort them, and may show that the Lord will continually assist his people whom he hath undertaken to defend.
And my judgment passeth away from my God. The word judgment confirms our interpretation of the preceding clause; for “judgment” is implored in affliction, when we are unjustly oppressed, or when any one does us wrong; and God is said to favor and undertake “judgment,” or “our right,” when, after having known our cause, he defends and guards us; and he is said to pass by it, when he overlooks us, and permits us to be devoured by our enemies. It is as if he had said, that the Jews act unjustly in complaining that God has disregarded their cause and forsaken them; and by that reproof he prepares them for receiving consolation, for they could not receive it while their minds were occupied with wicked or foolish thoughts. It was therefore necessary first to remove obstructions, and to open up the way for consolation.
28. Hast thou not known? He repeats the same statement which he had formerly made, that the people who had been carefully taught in the school of God were inexcusable for their slothfulness, and chides them sharply for not having profited more by the doctrine of the Law, and by the other means which God had bestowed in addition to that knowledge which they possessed in common with the Gentiles. The word know, which is more general, is put first; because by many miracles and other proofs God had manifested his glory. Next, he asks, Hast thou not heard? As if he had said, “If thou hast profited nothing by being taught by actions and by word that God is never unemployed, it is evident that thou are excessively unteachable.”
That Jehovah is the God of eternity. The Prophet calls him “eternal,” and thus distinguishes him from all idols, which endure but for a time, and were made by men; and truly, if this were deeply seated in our hearts, there would no longer be any room for distrust; for if God is eternal, he never changes or decays, eternity being uniformly attended by this quality, that it is never liable to change, but always remains the same. Since the Jews did not sufficiently believe these things, though they had often “heard” them, the Prophet intended to arouse them by this reproof, in order to shew that they will be doubly guilty before God, if, after having been taught both by his numerous benefits, and by the word, they do not render the honor and glory which are due to him.
And is not wearied by weariness, and there is no searching of his understanding. Here the Prophet makes two statements; first, that God is not wearied in doing good; and, secondly, that no man can explore his wisdom. In the former clause he shews that, nothing will hinder God from continuing to exercise his kindness; for he is not like men whose resources are exhausted by giving frequently, or who are wearied by continually bestowing new favors, or who repent of their generosity. His kindness is never exhausted; if he was kind to the fathers, he will be not less kind and bountiful to posterity. As to the allegation, that God very often acts differently from what we think to be best for us, the Prophet meets it by saying that his purpose is incomprehensible, and warns us that we ought not to murmur, though he does not all at once comply with our wishes; because nothing is better adapted to cherish our hope than this sobriety, which leads us to consider how marvellously God works in preserving us, and thus to submit to his secret counsel.
29. He giveth power to the faint. The Prophet now applies to the present subject the general statements which he made; for we have said that his intention was to give warmer encouragement to the people, and to lead them to cherish better hope. Because the Jews were at that time weakened and destitute of all strength, he shews that on this account it belongs to God to give assistance to those who were thus exhausted and weakened. He therefore magnifies the power of God on this ground, that they may conclude and believe that they ought not to doubt of their salvation so long as they enjoy his favor. It was indeed to the people who were held captive in Babylon that the Prophet looked; but we ought also to apply this doctrine to ourselves, that whenever our strength shall fail, and we shall be almost laid low, we may call to remembrance that the Lord stretches out his hand ‘to the faint,” who are sinking through the want of all help. But first, we must feel our faintness and poverty, that the saying of Paul, “The power of God is made perfect in our weakness,” (2Co 12:9,) may be fulfilled; for if our hearts are not deeply moved by a conviction of our weakness, we cannot receive seasonable assistance from God.
30. The youths are wearied and faint. By this comparison the Prophet illustrates more powerfully what he had formerly said, that the strength which God imparts to his elect is invincible and unwearied; for men’s strength easily fails, but God’s strength never fails. It is indeed certain that all the vigor which naturally dwells in us proceeds from God; but since men claim as their own what God has bestowed generally on all, the Prophet thus distinguishes between the strength of men which appears to be born with them, and that strength by which God peculiarly supports his elect; for God’s kindness, which is diffused throughout all nature, is not sufficiently perceived. And thus by “men’s strength” he means that which is generally possessed by mankind, and by “God’s assistance,” he means that by which he peculiarly assists us after our strength has failed; for the Prophet speaks of the grace of God which is cormmonly called supernatural, and says that it is perpetual, while men can have nothing in themselves but what is fading and transitory; that by this mark he may distinguish between the Church of God and the rest of the world, and between spiritual grace and earthly prosperity.
And the young men by falling fall. In the former clause he made use of the word נערים, (negnarim,) youths, but now he adds בחרים, (bachurim,) which means not only that they were “young men,” but also that they had been selected. 129 The repetition of the same statement may be supposed to refer particularly to age, though he means that they were persons of the choicest vigor and in the prime of life. With this design he recommends that excellent privilege which God bestows on his children in preference to other men; that they may be satisfied with their lot, and may bear no envy to earthly men, 130 for that strength of which they boast. In a word, he shews that men are greatly deceived if they are puffed up by confidence in their own strength, for they immediately sink and faint.
He appears to allude to what happens every day, that the stronger any person is, the more boldly does he attempt what is exceedingly difficult, and the consequence is, that they who are naturally more robust seldom live to be old men. They think nothing too hard or difficult, they attempt everything, and rashly encounter all dangers; but they give way in the middle of their course, and suffer the punishment of their rashness. The same thing befalls those who are proud of any gift which God has bestowed on them, and are full of confidence in themselves; for all that they have received from God is reduced to nothing, or rather turns to their ruin and destruction; and thus they are justly punished for their insolence.
31. But they that wait for Jehovah. Hebrew writers employ the phrase, “exchanging strength,” 131 to denote “gathering new strength,” and thus “being restored.” The Prophet therefore shews, that godly persons, who shall hope in God, will not be deficient in strength; and he confirms what he formerly said,
“In rest and silence shall be your strength.” (Isa 30:15.)
We must not become agitated, or throw ourselves forward rashly, but “wait” patiently. In this passage, therefore, waiting means nothing else than patience. Violent men dash themselves to pieces by their own eagerness, but the vigor of godly men, though it has less display, and often appears to lie buried while they calmly “wait for” God’s assistance, is refreshed and renewed. We must therefore return to the saying of Paul, that
“the power of God is made perfect in our weakness.”
We must, therefore be fully convinced of our weakness, that we may yield to the power of God. The Jews, who were oppressed by that cruel captivity, had great need of this doctrine; but for us also, during this wretchedly ruinous condition of the Church, it is exceedingly needful.
They shall raise their wings as eagles. It is generally believed that the Prophet uses this phrase in the same sense that the Psalmist says,
“Thy youth shall be renewed like that of the eagle.”
It is certain that the “eagle” is very long-lived as compared with other birds.
Aristotle and Pliny affirm that it never dies of old age, but of hunger; that is, that when the upper part of the beak becomes too large, it cannot take food into its mouth, and for a long time subsists entirely on what it drinks. One Zaadias, as all Jews are audacious in constructing fables, pretends that the eagle flies upward into the region that is near the sun, and approaches the sun so closely, that its old wings are burned, and other new ones grow in their place; but this is utterly absurd and fabulous. The Prophet means that they who trust in the Lord will be vigorous, like eagles, till the most advanced old age. But seeing that eagles fly higher than other birds, by which they shew remarkable swiftness, which has also given rise to the proverb, “An eagle among the clouds,” this passage may be understood to denote not only long life, but also strength and agility; so that Isaiah, after having shewn that their strength is recruited, adds that they are more vigorous, and ascend to a great height. Such is also the import of what follows, —
They shall run and shall not be weary. It is as if he had said, that the Lord will assist them, so that they shall pursue their course without any molestation. It is a figurative expression, by which he intimates that believers 132 will always be ready to perform their duty with cheerfulness. But it will be said, “There are so many troubles which we must endure in this life; how then does he say that we shall be exempt from weariness?” I reply, believers are indeed distressed and wearied, but they are at length delivered from their distresses, and feel that they have been restored by the power of God; for it happens to them according to the saying of Paul,
“While we are troubled on every side, we are not overwhelmed; we are perplexed, but are not in despair; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but are not destroyed.”
(2 Cor. 4:8, 9.)
Let us therefore learn to flee to the Lord, who, after we have encountered many storms, will at length conduct us to the harbor; for he who hath opened up a path, and hath commanded us to advance in that course in which he hath placed us, does not intend to assist us only for a single day, and to forsake us in the middle of our course, (Php 1:6,) but will conduct us to the goal.
“Comme si Dieu n’en cust rien veu.” “As if God had not at all seen it.”
“Qui comprend en soy le regne de Christ jusqu’ a la fin du monde.” “Which includes the reign of Christ till the end of the world.”
Evangile, c’est a dire Bonne nouvelle.
“Selon le coeur;” “according to the heart.” Our author employs both “secundum cor“ and “ad cor.” — Ed.
“La reconciliation avec Dieu.” “The reconciliation with God.”
Que nons avons traduit Guerre, pour “le temps,” comme s’il estoit dit Son temps est accompli.
“Au chemin d’entre Iudee et Babylone.” “To the road between Judea and Babylon.”
“Grotius supposes the command at the beginning of the chapter to be still continued, (‘Let every valley, etc.,) and the latest German writers give the same construction of this verse, although they make a new command begin in the one preceding. The form of the following verb והיה, (vehayah,) though not incompatible with this explanation, rather favors the strict interpretation of the future, which is, of course, on general principles to be preferred.” — Alexander.
“Un renonvellement incroyable, ou seconde creation du monde.” “An incredible renewal or second creation of the world.”
“A ceux qui la veulent contempler en foy.” “To those who wish to behold it by faith.”
“With strong (hand), or, against the strong.” — Eng. Ver. “Against the strong one, that is, against (foreign) nations to punish them.” — Jarchi. Vitringa gives the same version, though with a different explanation, and quotes the authorities of Junius and Piscator, while he states that all the ancient interpreters, among whom he enumerates the Septuagint, Jerome, and the Chaldee Paraphrast, render the phrase with strength. — Ed.
“Que l’homme est plus beste que los bestes mesmes.” “That man is more a beast than the beasts themselves.”
The ambiguous use of the word “vanity,” and of the corresponding term in the Latin language, “vanitas,” is avoided by our author’s version; “and in comparison of him they are reckoned less than nothing, and what is not.” — Ed.
“Il s’esleve d’une saincte colere alencontre de la folie desesperee des hommes.” “He rises in holy wrath against the desperate folly of men.”
“De ce beau theater du monde.” “From that beautiful theater of the world.”
“He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.” — Eng. Ver. “The judges (or rulers) of the earth like emptiness (or desolation) he has made.” — Alexander.
“Que le vent d’adversite ne les puisse abattre.” “That the wind of adversity cannot throw them down.”
“L’apparence d’un ver de terre.” “The appearance of a worm of the earth.”
“Par un poete profane.” “By a heathen poet.”
“Pronaque quum spectent animalia caetera terram,
Os homini sublime dedit, coelumque videre
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus.”
Some readers will, perhaps, thank me for a translation of the above passage into French rhyme, taken from the French version of this Commentary. — Ed.
“Et neantmoins que tout autre animal
Iette toujours son regard principal
En contre bas, Dieu a Phomme a donne
La face haute, et luy a ordonne
De regarder l’excellence des cieux,
Et d’eslever aux estoilles ses yeux.”
“Mais celle ou il y aura des sergens de bande, capitaines, colonels et autres conducteurs.” “But where there shall be serjeants of companies, captains, colonels, and other officers.”
In the passage referred to, although not איש (ish) but the feminine form אשה (ishshah) is used, this does not invalidate our author’s argument. — Ed.
“Qui sont plus vaines que la vanite mesme.” “Which are more vain than vanity itself.”
“Et qu’il ne se soucie des choses de ce monde.”
“Men in full vigor, picked men, in military language.” — Stock.
“Aux enfans de ce monde.” “To the children of this world.”
“The phrase translated ‘they shall gain new strength,’ properly means ‘they shall exchange strength;’ but the usage of the verb determines its specific meaning to be that of changing for the better, or improving. The sense is therefore correctly given in the English Version (‘they shall renew their strength’).” — Alexander.