Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 16: Isaiah, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
1. Heus sitientes omnes, venite ad aquas; et qui non habetis pecuniam, venite, emite, et comedite. Venite, inquam; emite absque pecunia, et absque ullo pretio vinum et lac.
2. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
2. Quare expenditis pecuniam, non in panem? et laborem vestrum, non ad saturitatem? Audite audiendo me, et comedite bonum, et oblectet se pinguedine anima vestra.
3. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
3. Inclinate aurem vestram, et venite ad me; audite, et vivet anima vestra. Et percutiam vobiscum foedus deculi, misericordias Davidis fideles.
4. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.
4. Ecce testem populis dedi eum, ducem et praeceptorem populis.
5. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
5. Ecce gentem quam ignoras vocabis; et gens quae to non cognovit current ad to; propter Iehovam Deum tuum, et Sanctum Israel; quia glorificavit to.
6. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
6. Quaerite Iehovam, dum invenitur; invocate eum, dum prope est.
7. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
7. Derelinquat impius viam suam, et vir iniquus cogitationes suas; revertatur ad Iehovam, et miserebitur ejus; ad Deum nostrum, quia multus est ad remittendum.
8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
8. Neque enim cogitationes meae cogitationes vestrae, neque viae vestrae viae meae, dicit Iehova.
9. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
9. Nam quanto excelsiores sunt coeli terra, tantum superant viae meae vias vestras, et cogitationes meae cogitationes vestras.
10. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
10. Certe, quemadmodum descendit pluvia et nix e coelis, neque illuc revertitur, sed irrigat terram, et eam facit concipere et germinare, ut det semen seminanti et panem comedenti;
11. So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
11. Sic erit verbum meum quod egredietur ex ore meo; non redibit ad me vacuum, donec faciat quod volo, et successum afterat, quo misi ipsum.
12. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
12. Itaque cum laetitia egrediemini, et cum pace deducemini; montes et colles erumpent coram vobis in gaudium, et omnia ligna agri plaudent manu.
13. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
13. Pro rubo ascendet abies, et pro urtica (vel, spina) myrtus (vel, ulmus) crescet; et erit Iehovae in nomen, in sugnum perpetuum quod non auferetur.
1. Ho, all that are thirsty. Here the Prophet describes in lofty terms of commendation the goodness of God, which was to be poured down more copiously and abundantly than before under the reign of Christ, “in whose hand are hid all the treasures” (Col 2:3) of the grace of God; for in him God fully explains his mind to us; so that the saying of John is actually fulfilled, “We have all drawn from his fullness, and have received grace for grace.” (Joh 1:16) The fathers were, indeed, partakers of that divine goodness and spiritual kindness which is here mentioned. “How great,” says David, “is thy goodness, which hath been laid up for them that fear thee!” (Ps 31:19) But he hath poured it out far more liberally and abundantly in Christ. Thus, it is a remarkable commendation of the grace of God, which is exhibited to us in the kingdom of Christ; for the Prophet does not instruct us what has been done once, but also what is done every day, while the Lord invites us by his doctrine to the enjoyment of all blessings.
Come to the waters. Some view the word “waters” as referring to the doctrine of the Gospel, and others to the Holy Spirit; but neither of these expositions, in my opinion, is correct. They who think that it denotes the doctrine of the Gospel, and who contrast it with the law, (of which the Jewish writers think that the Prophet speaks in this passage,) include only one part of what the Prophet meant. They who expound it as denoting the Holy Spirit have somewhat more plausibility, and quote that passage of John’s Gospel,
“If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” (Joh 4:10)
And a little after, Christ appears to expound this passage when he says,
“Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the water which I shall give to him shall never thirst; but the water which I shall give to him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up to everlasting life.” (John 4:13, 14)
But I have no doubt that under these words, “waters, milk, wine, bread,” Isaiah includes all that is necessary for spiritual life; for the metaphors are borrowed from those kinds of food which are in daily use amongst us. As we are nourished by “bread, wine, milk, and water,” so in like manner let us know that our souls are fed and supported by the doctrine of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and other gifts of Christ.
The Prophet exclaims, as with a voice above the usual pitch, He! for so great is the sluggishness of men that it is very difficult to arouse them. They do not feel their wants, though they are hungry; nor do they desire food, which they greatly need; and therefore that indifference must be shaken off by loud and incessant cries. So much the more base and shameful is the indolence of those who are deaf to this exhortation, and who, even when they are so sharply urged forward, still indulge in their slothfulness. Besides, the invitation is general; for there is no man who is not in want of those “waters,” and to whom Christ is not necessary; and therefore he invites all indiscriminately, without any respect of persons. But men are so miserable that, although they know that they are in need of Christ, they contrive methods by which they may be deprived of this benefit, and rather believe the devil, who offers various obstructions, than this kind invitation.
We must therefore inquire what is the true preparation for receiving this grace. The Prophet describes it by the word “thirsty.” Those who are puffed up with vain confidence and are satiated, or who, intoxicated by earthly appetites, do not feel thirst of soul, will not receive Christ; because they have no relish for spiritual grace. They resemble those persons who are in want of nourishments, but who, because they are filled and swollen with wind, loathe food, or who, being carried away by their own vain imaginations, feed on their own stupidity, as if they were in want of nothing. The consequence is, that they who are puffed up with pride or a false opinion of their own righteousness, or whom the allurements of the flesh have seized with lethargy, despise or reject the grace of God. It is therefore necessary that we have “thirst,” that is, an ardent desire, in order that it may be possible for us to receive so great blessings.
Buy without money. He does not mean that there are any persons who have money in abundance, but the words ought to be explained thus. “Although they are poor, although they are sunk in the deepest poverty, yet the way is open for them to come to Christ, through whom these blessings are freely bestowed.” “But how is it possible,” it will be said, “to buy without a price?” I reply, “buying” denotes figuratively the method by which we procure anything; and שבר (shabar) is here put for “procure,” and “price” for labor or industry, or any other method by which men obtain anything, he shows that we are poor and utterly destitute, and that we have nothing by which we can become entitled to God’s favor; but that he kindly invites us, in order that he may freely bestow everything without any recompense.
2. Wherefore do ye spend money? 76 He complains of the ingratitude and madness of men, in rejecting or disdaining the kindness of God who offers all things freely, and yet harassing themselves greatly about various trifles which cannot yield them any advantage. Men are so enchanted by the devil, that they choose rather to wander through deserts, and to vex themselves in vain, than to rely on the grace which God offers to them. The experience of the present age abundantly shows that the Prophet not only expostulated with his own nation, but exclaimed against all men, to whatever age they might belong; for all the posterity of Adam have been seized with such madness that, in seeking the road to a heavenly life, 77 they altogether go astray, and follow their own vain opinions rather than the voice of God.
The Prophet does not complain of the slothfulness of those who, altogether forgetful of themselves and of God, take no concern about the spiritual life of the soul; (there are many such persons;) but of those who desire life, and yet do not understand the method or way of obtaining it, and wander in uncertainty through deserts and untrodden paths. Here, therefore, are condemned all the methods which men contrive, in opposition to the Word of God, for obtaining salvation, and they are pronounced to be useless expenses; for by the word “money” he denotes all the industry, study, or labor which belongs to man. Not that God values a single farthing all our idle attempts to worship him, but because labors foolishly undertaken are reckoned valuable by the judgment of the flesh.
And your labor, not so as to be satisfied. We see that by the word “bread” is here meant the same as was formerly meant by “waters,” and that he gives the name “labor” to that which he formerly called “money.” As if he had said, “Men toil without any advantage; for, when they follow their own inventions, however eagerly they may vex and weary themselves, they have no right to expect any reward.” Thus he affirms that they who labor in an inconsiderate manner cannot “be satisfied;“ for they who forsake God, and attempt new methods of salvation, can never “be satisfied.” “They feed on wind,” as Hosea says. (Ho 12:1) They may, indeed, imagine that they are full, when they are swelled with vain confidence, but are like persons who, in consequence of being swollen with wind, do not perceive their hunger. Yet it would be better for them to be sore pressed by hunger and thirst, that it might lead them to call on the Lord with earnestness of heart, as it is said in the Psalm, “My soul is as a thirsty land before thee.” (Ps 143:6) But bread alone, or water alone, would not be enough to “satisfy,” and by neither of them could life be supported; and that is the reason why the Prophet has made use of a variety of terms, in order to show that the Lord abundantly supplies everything that is necessary for life, that we may not think that we ought to seek aid from any other quarter.
Hear ye by hearing me. 78 Because every person is led into error by his own counsel, and all who neglect God vanish away in wicked imaginations, the Prophet here adds the remedy, which is, that we must depend entirely on the mouth of God. Whoever shall submit to his word will have no reason to fear that he shall spend his strength on things of no value. Here we see the amazing goodness of God, who offers his grace to men, though they are unthankful and unworthy.
But he adds the condition; for there is no way by which we can enter into life but by “hearing” him; and as the cause of our destruction is, that we are deaf to the voice of God, so the road to life is open, if we lend our ears to him. 79 In order to make a deeper impression upon us, he repeats the same admonition, and doubles the same word, “Hear ye by hearing;“ and, in order to draw us more gently, he solemnly declares that it depends entirely on ourselves whether or not he will “delight” us even to fullness with all abundance of blessings.
3. Incline your ear. This assemblage of words makes still more evident what I slightly mentioned a little before, that God leaves nothing undone which is fitted to correct and arouse our tardiness. Yet there is an implied reproof; for they must be excessively stupid who, when they are so gently called, do not instantly obey. This is a remarkable passage, from which we see that our whole happiness lies in obeying the word of God. When God speaks in this manner, the object which he has in view is to lead us to life; 80 and therefore the blame lies wholly with ourselves, because we disregard this saving and lifegiving word.
And come unto me. If God only commanded what we ought to do, he would indeed lay down the method of obtaining life, but without advantage; for the Law, which proceeded from the mouth of God, is the minister of death; but when he invites us “to himself,” when he adopts us as children, when he promises pardon of sin and sanctification, the consequence is, that they who hear obtain life from him. We ought, therefore, to take into view the kind of doctrine which contains life, in order that we may seek our salvation from it; and hence we infer that there is no hope of salvation if we do not obey God and his word. This reproves all mankind, so that they can plead no excuse for their ignorance; for he who refuses to hear can have no solid argument to defend his cause.
These repetitions describe the patience of God in calling us; for he does not merely invite us once, but when he sees that we are sluggish, he gives a second and even a third warning, in order to conquer our hardheartedness. Thus he does not all at once reject those who despise him, but after having frequently invited them.
Besides, this is a description of the nature of faith, when he bids us “come to himself.” We ought to hear the Lord in such a manner that faith shall follow; for they who by faith receive the word of God have laid aside their desires and despised the world, and may be said to have broken their chains, so that they readily and cheerfully “draw near to God.” But faith cannot be formed without hearing, (Ro 10:17,) that is, without understanding the word of God, and so he bids us “hear” before we “come to him.” Thus, whenever faith is mentioned, let us remember that it must be joined to the word, in which it has its foundation.
And I will strike a covenant of eternity with you. It is asked, Did not the Jews formerly enter into an everlasting covenant with God? For he appears to promise something that is new and uncommon. I reply, nothing new is here promised for which the Lord did not formerly enter into an engagement with his people; but it is a renewal and confirmation of the covenant, that the Jews might not think that the covenant of God was made void on account of the longcontinued banishment. For when they were banished from the country that had been promised to them, 81 when they had no temple or sacrifices, or any marks of the “covenant” except circumcision, who would not have concluded that it was all over with them? This mode of expression, therefore, Isaiah accommodated to the capacity of the people, that they might know that the covenant into which God entered with the fathers was firm, sure, and eternal, and not changeable or temporary.
This is also what he means by the mercies of David, but by this phrase he declares that it was a covenant of free grace; for it was founded on nothing else than the absolute goodness of God. Whenever, therefore, the word “covenant” occurs in Scripture, we ought at the same time to call to remembrance the word “grace.” By calling them “the faithful mercies of David,” 82 he declares that he will be faithful in it, and at. the same time states indirectly that he is faithful and steadfast, and cannot be accused of falsehood, as if he had broken his covenant; that the Jews, on the other hand, are covenantbreakers and traitors, (for they have revolted from him,) but that he cannot repent of his covenant or his promise.
He calls them “the mercies of David,” because this covenant, which has now been solemnly confirmed, was made in the land “of David.” The Lord indeed entered into a covenant with Abraham, (Gen. 15:5, Gen. 17:7) afterwards confirmed it by Moses, (Exod. 2:24, Exod. 33:1) and finally ratified this very covenant in the hand of David, that it might be eternal. (2Sa 7:12) Whenever, therefore, the Jews thought of a Redeemer, that is, of their salvation, they ought to have remembered “David” as a mediator who represented Christ; for David must not here be regarded as a private individual, but as bearing this title and character. Yet some regard must be had to the time when this prophecy was uttered; for, since the rank of the kingdom had been obliterated, and the name of the royal family had become mean and contemptible during the captivity in Babylon, it might seem as if, through the ruin of that family, the truth of God had fallen into decay; and therefore he bids them contemplate by faith the throne of David, which had been cast down.
4. Behold, I have given him a witness to the peoples. The Prophet now explains more fully the reason why he mentioned “David.” It was because into his hand had been committed the promise of a Redeemer that was to come, and this discourse might be expressed with a view to his public character, so far as he was the surety of the covenant; for he did not act for himself individually, but was appointed to be a sort of mediator between God and the people. Yet it is beyond all doubt that the Prophet leads them directly to Christ, to whom the transition from David was easy and natural; as if he had said, “That successor of David shall come forth, by whose hand perfect salvation and happiness hath been promised.”
By calling him “a witness,” he means that the covenant into which he entered shall be ratified and confirmed in Christ. There is a weighty meaning in the word “witness;” for he clearly shows that this covenant shall be proved in Christ, by whom the truth of God shall be made manifest. He will! testify that God is not false. But this testimony consists in doctrine; and if it were not added, we should receive little benefit from Christ’s coming, as it is said, “I will publish the command.” (Ps 2:7) In this sense also Isaiah said in another passage, that Christ will have a mouth like a sword or an arrow. (Isa 49:2)
A leader and instructor. This is added, in order to procure attention to his doctrine; for, if we do not hear him when he speaks, and if we do not embrace by assured faith what he makes known to us concerning the Father’s good pleasure, his power is set aside. In like manner, the name of Christ is pronounced loudly enough by the Papists; but since they refuse to receive him as a teacher and instructor, and acknowledge him merely by name, their boasting is idle and ridiculous.
To the peoples. This was added for the purpose of amplification, because the Church could not be restored to her ancient dignity, or be enlarged, but by assembling the Gentiles; and therefore it was necessary that the voice of Christ should pierce even to the remotest countries, because he has been appointed a “witness, leader, and instructor” to the whole human race.
5. Behold, thou shalt call a nation which thou knowest not. Isaiah explains more largely what he formerly glanced at by a single word; for he declares that Christ shall be the “leader,” not of a single people, but of all the peoples. “To call” here denotes possession; for there is a mutual relation between the words “call” and “answer.” Christ therefore “calls” in the exercise of authority, as one who is invested with supreme power; and he “calls” the Gentiles, that he may bring them into a state of obedience, and may cause them to submit to his word.
He says that they shall be ready to obey, though hitherto they were unknown; not that the Son of God, by whom they were created, did not know them, but because he paid no regard to them 83 until they began to be reckoned as belonging to the Church. God had in a peculiar manner called the Jews; the Gentiles appeared to be excluded as if they did not at all belong to him. But now, addressing Christ, 84 he promises that Christ shall constrain the Gentiles to obey him, though formerly they were opposed to his authority. He expresses this still more plainly in what immediately follows.
A nation that knew not thee shall run to thee. By putting the verb ירוצו (yarutzu) shall run, in the plural number, he intends to explain more fully that the Church shall be collected out of various peoples, so that they who were formerly scattered shall be gathered into one body; for the word “run” relates to harmony of faith. When he now says that the Gentiles “did not know Christ,” he employs the expression in a different sense from that in which he said, a little before, that they were unknown to Christ; for all heathens and unbelievers are declared, in a literal sense, to be in a state of ignorance, in consequence of their being destitute of the light of heavenly doctrine, without which they cannot have the knowledge of God. Although by nature the knowledge of God is engraven on the hearts of all men, yet it is so confused and dark, and entangled by many errors, that, if the light of the word be not added to it, by knowing they know not God, but wander miserably in darkness.
Here we have a remarkable testimony of God as to the calling of the Gentiles, for whom, as well as for the Jews, Christ was appointed. Hence also we learn that God takes care of us, if we bow to his authority, and not only such care as he takes of all the creatures, but such care as a father takes of his children.
Yet the word “run” describes more fully the efficacy of this calling, for the object of it is, that we shall obey God, that we shall readily and cheerfully place ourselves before him as teachable, and ready to comply with any expression of his will; in like manner, as Paul shows that obedience is the end of our calling. (Rom. 1:5, Rom. 16:26) But as the Gentiles were at a great distance from God, it was necessary that they should labor earnestly to surmount every obstacle, that they might draw near to him.
For the sake of Jehovah thy God. He shows what is the source of this readiness and cheerfulness. It is because the Gentiles shall know that they have to do with God; for, if we contemplate Christ merely as man, we shall not be powerfully affected by his doctrine, but when we behold God in him, an astonishing warmth of affection is kindled in our hearts. Now, Christ is here described as a minister appointed by God to perform his work; for he assumes the character of a servant along with our flesh, and in this respect there is no impropriety in his being subjected to the Father, as if he belonged to the rank of other men.
Yet we ought to keep in remembrance what we have frequently seen as to the union of the Head and the members; for what is now said concerning Christ relates to the whole body, and therefore the glorifying is common to the whole Church. Yet Christ always holds the highest rank; for, being raised on high, he is exalted above the whole world, that to him there may be a concourse of all nations. In a word, he shows that men obey Christ and submit to his doctrine, because God hath exalted him, and hath determined to make his pre-eminence known to all men; for otherwise the preaching of the gospel would be of little use, if God did not give power and efficacy to his doctrine by the Spirit.
6. Seek ye Jehovah. After having spoken of the good success of the gospel among the Gentiles, who formerly were strangers to the kingdom of God, he urges the Jews to be ashamed of loitering while others run; for since they were the first who were called, it is shameful that they should be last. This exhortation, therefore, relates strictly to the Jews, to whom the example of the Gentiles is held out in order to excite their jealousy; in the same manner as the Lord hath foretold that “he would provoke the Jews to jealousy by a foolish nation.” (De 32:21)
While he is found. “The time of finding” is here used not exactly in the same sense as in Ps 32:6, 85 but as the time when God offers himself to us, as in other passages he has limited a fixed day for his goodpleasure and our salvation. (Isa 49:8) Yet I readily admit that it likewise denotes the time when necessity prompts us to seek God’s assistance; but we ought chiefly to remember that God is sought at a seasonable time, when of his own accord he advances to meet us; for in vain shall indolent and sluggish persons lament that they had been deprived of that grace which they rejected. The Lord sometimes endures our sluggishness, and bears with us; but if ultimately he do not succeed, he will withdraw, and will bestow his grace on others. For this reason Christ exhorts us to walk while it is day, for the night cometh when the means of pursuing our journey shall be taken from us. (Joh 12:35) We ought to draw high consolation from being assured that it is not in vain for us to seek God. “Seek,” says Christ, “and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened; ask, and it shall be given to you.” (Mt 7:7)
Call upon him while he is near. The word “call” may here be taken in a general sense; but I think that it denotes one description of” seeking” God, which is of more importance than all the others, as if he commanded us to betake ourselves to him by prayers and supplications. He says that he is “near,” when he opens the door and gently invites us to come to him, or when he comes forth publicly, so that we do not need to seek him through long windings. But we must attend to Paul’s definition, who tells us that it denotes the preaching of the gospel. (Ro 10:8) “The Lord is nigh,” (Php 4:5) and exhibits himself to us, when the voice of the gospel cries aloud; and we do not need to seek far, or to make long circuits, as unbelievers do; for he exhibits himself to us in his word, that we, on our part, may draw near to him.
7. Let the wicked man forsake his way. He confirms the former statement; for, having formerly called men to receive the grace of God, he now describes more largely the manner of receiving it. We know how hypocrites loudly call on God whenever they desire relief from their distresses, and yet shut up their hearts by wicked obstinacy; 86 and therefore, that the Jews may not be hypocritical in seeking God, he exhorts them to sincere piety. Hence we infer that the doctrine of repentance ought always to accompany the promise of salvation; for in no other way can men taste the goodness of God than by abhorring themselves on account of their sins, and renouncing themselves and the world. And indeed no man will sincerely desire to be reconciled to God and to obtain pardon of sins till he is moved by a true and earnest repentance.
By three forms of expression he describes the nature of repentance, — first, “Let the wicked man forsake, his way;” secondly, “The unrighteous man his thoughts;” thirdly, “Let him return to the Lord.” Under the word way he includes the whole course of life, and accordingly demands that they bring forth the fruits of righteousness as witnesses of their newness of life. By adding the word thoughts he intimates that we must not only correct outward actions, but must begin with the heart; for although in the opinion of men we appear to change our manner of life for the better, yet we shall have made little proficiency if the heart be not changed.
Thus repentance embraces a change of the whole man; for in man we view inclinations, purposes, and then works. The works of men are visible, but the root within is concealed. This must first be changed, that it may afterwards yield fruitful works. We must first wash away from the mind all uncleanness, and conquer wicked inclinations, that outward testimonies may afterwards be added. And if any man boast that he has been changed, and yet live as he was wont to do, it will be vain-boasting; for both are requisite, conversion of the heart, and change of life.
Besides, God does not command us to return to him before he has applied a remedy to revolt; for hypocrites will willingly endure that we praise what is good and right, provided that they be at liberty to crouch amidst their filth. But we can have nothing to do with God if we do not withdraw from ourselves, especially when we have been alienated by wicked variance; and therefore self-denial goes before, that it may lead us to God.
And he will have mercy on him. We ought carefully to examine this context, for he shows that men cannot be led to repentance in any other way than by holding out assurance of pardon. Whoever, then, inculcates the doctrine of repentance, without mentioning the mercy of God and reconciliation through free grace, labors to no purpose; just as the Popish doctors imagine that they have discharged their duty well when they have dwelt largely on this point, and yet do but chatter and trifle about the doctrine of repentance. But although they taught the true method of repenting, yet it would be of little avail, seeing that they leave out the foundation of freelybestowed pardon, by which alone consciences can be pacified. And indeed, as we have formerly said, a sinner will always shrink from the presence of God so long as he is dragged to his judgment-seat to give an account of his life, and will never be subdued to fear and obedience till his heart is brought into a state of peace.
For he aboundeth in pardoning. Now, because it is difficult to remove terror from trembling minds, Isaiah draws all argument from the nature of God, that he will be ready to pardon and to be reconciled. Thus the Holy Spirit dwells on this part of doctrine, because we always doubt whether or not God is willing to pardon us; for, although we entertain some thoughts of his mercy, yet we do not venture fully to believe that, it belongs to us. It is not without reason, therefore, that this clause is added, that we may not be hindered by uncertainty or doubt as to his infinite compassion toward us.
8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts. This passage is expounded in various ways. Some think that it condemns universally the life of men, that they may not be satisfied with it or flatter their vices; for we cannot approach to God but by taking away a false conviction of our own righteousness. And indeed none call for physicians but those who are driven by the violence of disease to seek both health and remedies. Accordingly, this passage is compared by them to that saying of our Lord,
“What ranks high among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Lu 16:15)
But the Prophet’s meaning, I think, is different, and is more correctly explained, according to my judgment, by other commentators, who think that he draws a distinction between God’s disposition and man’s disposition. Men are wont to judge and measure God from themselves; for their hearts are moved by angry passions, and are very difficult to be appeased; and therefore they think that they cannot be reconciled to God, when they have once offended him. But the Lord shows that he is far from resembling men. As if he had said, “I am not a mortal man, that I should show myself to be harsh and irreconcilable to you. 87 My thoughts are very different from yours. If you are implacable, and can with difficulty be brought back to a state of friendship with those from whom you have received an injury, I am not like you, that I should treat you so cruelly.”
9. For as the heavens are higher than the earth. This agrees well with that passage in which David, describing the mercy of God, says, (Ps 103:11) that it is as much more excellent “as the heavens are higher than the earth;” for although the application is different, yet the meaning is the same. In short, God is infinitely compassionate and infinitely ready to forgive; so that it ought to be ascribed exclusively to our unbelief, if we do not obtain pardon from him. 88
There is nothing that troubles our consciences more than when we think that God is like ourselves; for the consequence is, that we do not venture to approach to him, and flee from him as an enemy, and are never at rest. But they who measure God by themselves as a standard form a false idea and altogether contrary to his nature; and indeed they cannot do him a greater injury than this. Are men, who are corrupted and debased by sinful desires, not ashamed to compare God’s lofty and uncorrupted nature with their own, and to confine what is infinite within those narrow limits by which they feel themselves to be wretchedly restrained? In what prison could any of us be more straightly shut up than in our own unbelief?
This appears to me to be the plain and simple meaning of the Prophet. And yet I do not deny that he alludes, at the same time, to the life of men such as he formerly described it to be. In a word, he means that men must forget themselves, when they wish to be converted to God, and that no obstacle can be greater or more destructive than when we think that God is irreconcilable. We must therefore root out of our minds this false imagination.
Moreover, we learn from it how widely they err who abuse the mercy of God, so as to draw from it greater encouragement to sin. The Prophet reasons thus, “Repent, forsake your ways; for the mercy of God is infinite.” When men despair or doubt as to obtaining pardon, they usually become more hardened and obstinate; but when they feel that God is merciful, this draws and converts them. It follows, therefore, that they who do not cease to live wickedly, and who are not changed in heart, have no share in this mercy.
10. Surely, as the rain cometh down. After having spoken of God’s tender affection and inconceivable forbearance towards us, he again brings forward the promises, that, by relying on them, we may banish all doubt of being free from every danger. It would be of little avail to speak to us about the nature or the secret purpose of God, if we were not reminded of “the word,” by which he reveals himself. Now, God speaks openly to us, so that it is unnecessary to make longer inquiry. We must therefore come to the word, in which his will is declared without obscurity, provided that all our senses are confined within those limits; for otherwise we remain in suspense, and doubt what he has determined concerning us, even though the Lord declare a thousand times that he is altogether unlike men; for, although men acknowledge this, yet they wish to be certain about themselves and their salvation. 89 For this reason we ought carefully to observe the order which is followed by the Prophet. Thus also Moses recalled the people to the knowledge of God. “Say not thou, Who shall ascend to heaven? or, Who shall descend into the deep? The word is nigh, in thy mouth and in thy heart.” (De 30:12) “That is,” saith Paul, “the word of faith which we preach.” (Ro 10:8)
He employs a comparison drawn from daily experience and wonderfully appropriate; for, if we see great efficacy in the rain, which waters and fertilizes the earth, much greater efficacy will God display in his word. The rain is transitory and liable to corruption; but the word is eternal, unchangeable, and incorruptible, and cannot, like the rain, vanish away.
That we may more fully understand the Prophet’s words, we must keep in view the end at which he aims. Men doubt if God will actually perform what he promises in his word; for we look upon the word, as if it were suspended in the air and had no effect. How shocking this is, he demonstrates from the very course of nature; for it is in the highest degree unreasonable to ascribe less to the word than to a dumb creature; and therefore he teaches us, that his word never fails of its effect. Some understand this to mean that the preaching of the Gospel is never unprofitable, but always produces some fruit. This is true in itself; for the Lord worketh by his Spirit, and “giveth increase,” (1Co 3:7) so that the labor of his servants is not unproductive. But the Prophet’s meaning was different; namely, that God does not speak in vain or scatter his promises into the air, but that we shall actually receive the fruit of them, provided that we do not prevent it by our unbelief.
But watereth the earth, and causeth it to bring forth. He mentions two effects produced by the watering of the rain, which fertilizes the earth; first, that men have abundance of food for their support; and secondly, that they have seed for procuring a crop in the following year. If therefore in things of a transitory nature the power of God is so great, what must we think of the word? 90
11. So shall my word be. The word goeth out of the mouth of God in such a manner that it likewise “goeth out of the mouth” of men; for God does not speak openly from heaven, but employs men as his instruments, that by their agency he may make known his will. But the authority of the promises is more fully confirmed, when we are told that they proceed from the sacred mouth of God. Although, therefore, he brings forward witnesses from the earth, he declares that all that they have promised shall be ratified and sure; and, in order to impress more deeply on the minds of men the power and efficacy of preaching, he declares that he does not cast that precious seed at random, but appoints it for a fixed purpose, and consequently that we ought to entertain no doubt as to the effect; for there is nothing to which mortals are more prone than to judge of God from themselves so as to withhold belief from his voice.
This doctrine must be frequently repeated and inculcated, that we may know that God will do what. he hath once spoken. For this reason, when we hear the promises of God, we ought to consider what is his design in them; so that, when he promises the free pardon of our sins, we may be fully assured that we are reconciled through Christ. But, as the word of God is efficacious for the salvation of believers, so it is abundantly efficacious for condemning the wicked; as Christ also teacheth, “The word which I have spoken, that shall judge him at the last day.”
12. Therefore ye shall go out with joy. The Prophet concludes the subject of this chapter; for, when he spoke of the mercy of God, his object was, to convince the Jews that the Lord would deliver them. He now applies to his purpose what was contained in his discourse concerning the infinite goodness of God, and shows that his thoughts are very unlike the thoughts of men. And the true way of teaching is this, that we should apply general statements for present use. Finally, he treats of the restoration of the people, which depended on the undeserved mercy of God.
The mountains and hills shall break out before you. By “the mountains and hills” he means that everything which they shall meet in the journey, though in other respects it be injurious, shall aid those who shall return to Jerusalem. They are metaphors, by which he shows that all the creatures bow to the will of God, and rejoice and lend their aid to carry on his work. He alludes to the deliverance from Egypt, (Ex 14:22) as is customary with the Prophets; for thus is it described by the Psalmist, “The mountains leaped like rams, and the hills like lambs. What ailed thee, O sea, that thou fleddest, and Jordan, (Jos 3:16) that thou wast driven back? (Ps. 114:4, 5) For the restoration of the Church may be regarded as a renovation of the whole world, and in consequence of this, heaven and earth are said to be changed, as if their order were reversed. But all this depended on former predictions, by which they had received a promise of their return.
13. Instead of the bramble 91 shall come up the fir-tree. He still extols the power of God, which would be visible in the restoration of the people; for he shows that the change will be such that they shall have an easy road to return. Some explain it allegorically, and suppose that by “brambles” are meant men who wish to do injury, and who inflict wounds on others, and that these shall be “firtrees,” that is, trees that bear fruit and that are useful to their neighbors; but in expositions of that kind ingenuity is carried to excess. When they say that these things relate to the kingdom of Christ, and on that account ought to be understood in a spiritual sense, I agree with them; for the Prophet begins with the departure from Babylon, and includes the whole condition of the Church, till Christ was manifested to the world. But the propriety of that allegory must not therefore be admitted; for he speaks of the departure from Babylon, and, in order to open it up for his people, he says that he will remove every obstacle, and will supply them with everything necessary, so that they shall suffer no inconvenience. In like manner, when Christ promises the benefit of redemption, he likewise takes away everything that would injure or retard, and even turns those things to a different and totally opposite purpose, that from them also they may receive some benefit. All things (Ro 8:28) tend to the advantage of believers, and those things which would otherwise be injurious and destructive, are employed by God as remedies to purify them, that they may not be devoted to the world, but may become more ready and cheerful in the service of their Master. 92
And shall be to Jehovah for a name. When he says that it shall be to God “for a name,” he shows what is the design of the restoration of the Church. It is, that the name of God may be more illustrious among men, and that the remembrance of him may flourish and be maintained. On this account he adds that it shall be a perpetual sign, that is, a monument, and, as we commonly say, a memorial; and although, amidst these tempests, the Church be tossed and agitated in various ways, yet, because the Lord wishes that the remembrance of his name may be everlasting, he will guard and defend her.
“Spend. Hebrews Weigh.” (Eng. Ver.) “In the first clause there is reference to the primitive custom of weighing instead of counting money, from which have arisen several of the most familiar denominations, such as the Hebrew ‘shekel,’ the Greek ‘talent,’ the French ‘livre,’ and the English ‘pound.’ The essential idea here is that of paying.” Alexander.
“En cherchant le chemin de vie eternelle.” “In seeking the road to eternal life.”
“Hearken diligently unto me.” Eng. Ver.
“Si nons l’escoutons attentivement.” “If we listen to him attentively.”
“De nons amener a salut.” “To lead us to salvation.”
“Hors du pays qui leur avoit este promis et donne.” “Out of the country, that had been promised and given to them.”
“The sure mercies of David.” Eng. Ver.
“Pource qu’elles ont este mesprisees et rejettees.” “Because they were despised and rejected.”
“The question which has chiefly divided interpreters, in reference to this verse, is, whether the object of address is the Messiah or the Church. The former opinion is maintained by Calvin, Sanctus, and others; the latter by Grotins and Vitringa. The masculine forms prove nothing either way, because the Church is sometimes presented in the person of Israel, and sometimes personified as a woman. The most natural supposition is, that after speaking of the Messiah, he now turns to him and addresses him directly.” Alexander.
“In a time when thou mayest be found. Heb., in a time of finding.” (Eng. Ver.) Our author’s rendering is, “Therefore shall every one that is meek pray unto thee in the time of finding thee.” In his commentary he makes reference to this passage of Isaiah. Ed.
“Par une obstination mechante.”
“Pour vous estre rude et ennemi a jamais.” “So as to be harsh and an enemy to you for ever.”
“Do not think,” saith God, “that what I promise is difficult, and let it not seem incredible to you, that a wicked and unjust man, or the people of the Jews, or all who among the Gentiles knew not God, can be saved. Consider this, that there is a wide difference between your purposes and mine, and that the difference of will is as great as the difference of nature; for there are many thoughts in the heart of a man, but the purpose of the Lord endureth for ever. You, like men who often repent of what they have promised, have thrown down the ancient will, and have set up in its place a modern will. But the thoughts of his heart are from generation to generation, and whatever he hath decreed cannot be changed.” Jerome.
“Lesquels desirent (s’ils veulent dire la verite) estre certains de leur salut, et que ce qu’ils deviendront.” “Who desire (if they are willing to tell the truth) to be certain about their salvation, and what shall become of them.”
“These words depend on what goes before, and their meaning may thus be briefly stated. Let not the people refuse to believe that a wicked man, after having committed great crimes, shall suddenly be saved. For my thoughts are not as the thoughts of men; and as far as heaven is distant from the earth, so are my thoughts separated from the thoughts of men. I am most merciful and ready to forgive. Would you wish to have another metaphor? As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return thither, but water and refresh the earth, and cause it to bring forth various productions, that the corn-fields may produce abundance of bread for the use of men; so the word of my promise, which I have promised once and again, and which hath gone out of my mouth, shall not be void, but all shall be actually fulfilled.” Jerome.
“Instead of the thorn.” Eng. Ver.
“Au service de leur maistre.”