Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 16: Isaiah, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
1. Sic dicit Iehova: Custodite judicium, et facite justitiam; quonoiam propinqua est salus mea, ut veniat; et justitia mea, ut reveletur.
2. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
2. Beatus homo qui fecerit hoc, et filius hominis qui hoc apprehenderit; custodiens sabbatum, ita ut non violet illud; et custodiens manum suam ut ab omni male abstineat.
3. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
3. Et ne dicat filius alienus aggregatus ad Iehovam, dicendo, Separando separavit me Iehova a populo suo; et ne dicat eunuchus, Ego sum lignum aridum.
4. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
4. Quoniam sic dicit Iehova, eunuchis qui custodiunt sabbata mea, et eligunt quae mihi placent, atque apprehendunt foedus meum;
5. Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
5. Dabo eis in domo mea et intra murosmeos locum, et nomen melius quam filiorum et filiarum; nomen perpetuum dabo eis, qued non delebitur.
6. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
6. Filios, inquam, alieni, qui aggregati erant ad Iehovam, ut ministrent ei, et diligant nomen Iehovae; ut sint illi in servos, quisquis custodierit sabbatum, ita ut non profanet illud, et amplexus fuerit foedus meum.
7. Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
7. Hos adducam in montes sanctitatis meae; et laetificabo eos in domo orationis meae. Holocausta eorum et sacrificia grata erunt in altari meo; quoniam domus mea Domus orationis vocabitur cunctis populis.
8. The Lord GOD, which gathereth the outcasts of Israel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
8. Dicit Dominus Iehova, qui congregat expulsos Israel: Adhuc congregabo super eum congregatos ejus.
9. All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.
9. Omnes bestiae agri, venitead devorandum, omnes bestiae sylvestres.
10. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.
10. Speculatores ejus caeci, omnes nescierunt, omnes canes muti, nesciunt latrare, jacentes dormiunt, amant dormitationem.
11. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.
11. Et canes illi anima fortes nesciunt saturitatem; pastores ipsi nesciunt, nec intelligunt; universi respiciunt ad vias suas; quisque ad commodum suum a fine ejus (vel, suo).
12. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.
12. Venite, accipiam vinum, potabimus siceram; et erit sicut hodie, ita crastinus dies, vel major, excellentior multo.
1. Thus saith Jehovah. This is a remarkable passage, in which the Prophet shows what God demands from us, as soon as he holds out tokens of his favor, or promises that he will be ready to be reconciled to us, that our reconciliation may be secured. He demands from us such a conversion as shall change our minds and hearts, that they may forsake the world and rise towards heaven; and next he likewise calls for the fruits of repentance.
Keep ye judgment, and do righteousness. Under the names “judgment” and “righteousness,” he includes all the duties which men owe to each other, and which consist not only in abstaining from doing wrong, but also in rendering assistance to our neighbors. And this is the sum of the second table of the Law, in keeping which we give proof of our piety, if we have any. For this reason the prophets always draw our attention to that table; because by means of it our real character is better known, and true uprightness is ascertained; for hypocrites, as we have formerly seen, 93 often practice deceit by ceremonies.
For my salvation is near, and my righteousness. He assigns the reason, and at the same time points out the source and the cause why it is the duty of all to devote themselves to newness of life. It is because “the righteousness of the Lord approaches to us,” that we, on our part, ought to draw near to him. The Lord calls himself “righteous,” and declares that this is “his righteousness,” not because he keeps it shut up in himself, but because he pours it out on men. In like manner he calls it “his salvation,” by which he delivers men from destruction.
Although this discourse was addressed to the Jews, that, by sincere affection of heart, and by the practice of integrity, they might show their gratitude to God their Redeemer, yet it refers to every one of us; for the whole world is ruined in itself, if it do not obtain salvation from God alone. We must therefore attend to this exhortation, which instructs us that the nearer we are to God, so much the more powerfully ought we to be excited to the practice of godliness. Hence also Paul admonishes believers, 94 “Cast away the works of darkness; put on the armor of light; for our salvation is nearer than we thought.” (Rom. 13:11, 12)
2. Happy is the man that shall do this. When he calls those persons “happy” who, having embraced this doctrine, devote themselves to walk uprightly, he indirectly leads us to conclude that many will be deaf or disobedient; but, lest their wickedness or indifference should retard the elect, he recommends the exhortation which he has given from the advantage which it yields. Thus, in order that believers may abandon all delay, he exclaims that they are “happy” to whom it hath been given 95 to possess such wisdom.
Keeping the Sabbath. We have said that the words “justice” and “judgment,” in the preceding verse, include all the duties of the second table; but here he mentions the Sabbath, which belongs to the first table. I reply, as I have already mentioned briefly, that they who live inoffensively and justly with their neighbors, testify that they serve God; and therefore we need not wonder that the Prophet, after having glanced at the second table, mentions also the first; for both ought to be joined together In a word, Isaiah declares that he who shall obey God by keeping his law perfectly shall be “happy;” for the salvation and the righteousness of God shall belong to him. Since, therefore, men wander at random amidst their contrivances, and adopt various methods of worshipping God, he shows that there is only one way, that is, when men endeavor to frame and regulate their life by the injunction of the Law; for otherwise they will weary themselves in vain by taking other roads. In short, this is a remarkable passage, showing that nothing pleases God but keeping the Law.
If the question be put, “Can men obtain righteousness and salvation by their own works?” the reply will be easy; for the Lord does not offer salvation to us, as if he had been anticipated by our merits, (for, on the contrary, we are anticipated by him,) but offers himself freely to us, and only demands that we, on our part, draw near to him. Since therefore he willingly invites us, since he offers righteousness through free grace, we must make every effort not to be deprived of so great a benefit.
Again, because the Sabbath, as Moses declares, (Exod. 31:13, 17) and as Eze 20:12 repeats, was the most important symbol of the worship of God, so by that figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, and which is called a synecdoche, the Sabbath includes all the exercises of religion. But we must view the Sabbath in connection with everything that attends it; for God does not rest satisfied with outward ceremony, or delight in our indolence, but demands from us earnest selfdenial, that we may be entirely devoted to his service.
So that he may not profane it. This clause is commonly rendered, “That he may not profane it;“ and literally it runs thus, “From profaning it;“ and therefore we have thought it proper to prefix the word “so” to the clause, “So that he may not profane it,” in order to remove all ambiguity.
And keeping his hand, that he may abstain from all that is evil. He now adds another synecdoche, to describe the duties which men owe to each other. The amount of it is, that there is no other way of serving God aright but by sincere piety and a blameless life, as he has also included in these two parts the rule of leading a holy life. In a word, it is an exposition of true righteousness which is contained in the Law of the Lord, that we may acquiesce in it; for in vain do men seek any other road to perfection. Here also are thrown down all false worship and superstitions, and, finally, everything that is contrived by men in opposition to the word of God.
3. And let not the son who is a foreigner 96 say. The Prophet shows that this grace of God shall be such that even they who formerly were estranged from him, and against whom the door might be said to have been shut, may obtain a new condition, or may be perfectly restored. And he meets their complaint, that they may not say that they are rejected, or unworthy, or “foreigners,” or excluded by any mark; for the Lord will remove every obstacle. This may refer both to Jews, who had been brought into a condition similar to that of foreign nations by a temporary rejection, and to the heathen nations themselves. For my own part, I willingly extend it to both, that it may agree with the prediction of Hosea,
“I will call them my people who were not my people.” (Ho 1:10)
Joined to Jehovah. When he says that they are “joined to God,” he gives warning that this consolation belongs to those only who have followed God when he called them; for there are many “eunuchs” on whom God does not bestow his favor, and many “foreigners” who do not join themselves to the people of God. This promise is therefore limited to those who have been called and have obeyed.
By calling them “foreigners” and “eunuchs,” he describes under both classes all who appear to be unworthy of being reckoned by God in the number of his people; for God had separated for himself a peculiar people, and had afterwards driven them out of his inheritance. The Gentiles were entirely shut out from his kingdom, as is sufficiently evident from the whole of Scripture. Paul says,
“Ye were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now by Christ Jesus, ye who formerly were far off have been made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
(Eph. 2:12, 13)
The Gentiles, therefore, might at first doubt whether or not the benefit of adoption, which was literally intended for the Jews, belonged to them. We see also how much the Apostles shrunk from it, when the Lord commanded them (Mr 16:15) to “preach the Gospel through the whole world;” for they thought that the doctrine of salvation was profaned if it was communicated indiscriminately to Gentiles as well as to Jews. The same hesitation might harass the elect people, from the time that their banishment from the holy land became a sign of the rejection of them; and therefore the Prophet commands them to dismiss their doubts.
And let not the eunuch say. By the same figure of speech, in which a part is taken for the whole, he includes under this designation all who bore any mark of disgrace which kept them apart~ from the people of God; for “eunuchs,” and those who had no children, appeared to be rejected by God and shut out from the promise which the Lord had made to Abraham, that “his seed should be as the stars of heaven, (Ge 15:5) and as the sand of the sea.” (Ge 22:17) In a word, he warns all men against looking at themselves, that they may fix their minds exclusively on God’s calling, and may thus imitate the faith of Abraham, (Ge 15:6) who did not look at either his own decayed body or the barren womb of Sarah, so as through unbelief to dispute with himself about the power of God, but hoped above all hope. (Ro 4:1820) The Prophet addresses persons who were despised and reproached; for, as Peter says,
“there is no respect of persons with God, but in every nation he who feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted by him.” (Acts 10:34, 35)
4. For thus saith Jehovah. Now follows a confirmation; for the sincere worshippers of God, who keep the sabbaths and follow the righteousness of the Law, though they be “eunuchs,” 97 or labor under any other obstruction, shall nevertheless have a place in the Church. He appears to annihilate in this manner all the external marks 98 in which alone the Jews gloried; for the high rank of the Church is not external, but spiritual; and although believers have no emblems of distinction in the eyes of the world, and are even despised and reproached, yet they rank high in the sight of God.
And choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant. With the “keeping of the Sabbath,” he connects obedience and adherence to “the covenant;” and hence we may readily infer that, when he spoke hitherto about the Sabbath, he had in view not an idle ceremony but perfect holiness. At the same time, he again lays a restraint on the children of God, not to make even the smallest departure from the injunction of the Law; for they are permitted to “choose,” not whatever they think fit, but that which God declares to be pleasing and acceptable to himself. Wherefore both hypocrisy and inconsiderate zeal are here condemned, when God not only contrasts his own commandments with the inventions of men, but enjoins them earnestly to “take hold of his covenant.”
5. I will give to them in my house. Here we see that all men, however unworthy, may obtain admission into the kingdom of God: he alludes to Jerusalem, and to the temple in which the Lord placed a memorial of his name. No place was given in it to any but to the Jews alone; and they would have reckoned the temple to be polluted, if any of the Gentiles had entered into it. Hence also a serious insurrection arose against Paul for having brought into the temple uncircumcised persons. The Lord now admits, without distinction, those whom he previously forbade; and indeed he set aside this distinction, when we, who were the children of strangers, were brought by him into the temple, that is, into his Church, which is not confined, as formerly, within those narrow limits of Judea, but is extended through the whole world.
A place and a name. יד (yad) is here put for place, as in many other passages. It might also be supposed to denote “authority,” or “power;“ for they shall be elevated to such dignity as to be accounted the children of God.
Better than of sons and of daughters. A question may arise, Does the Lord compare the Jews who were at that time in the Church, with the believers whom he shall afterwards place in their room; or, does he contrast the future condition of the people with their condition at that time? For it is certain that “the name” of the Gentiles is “better” than that of the Jews, who were “cut off on account of their unbelief;“ and we have succeeded in their room, “as wild olives ingrafted into a good olive tree,” as Paul says. (Ro 11:24) The meaning’ might therefore be, that “eunuchs” and “foreigners” shall have “a better name” than children and domestics, who were regarded as God’s heritage. But I choose rather to explain it in a different manner, namely, that the dignity of believers shall be higher under Christ than it was under the Law. The patriarchs had a very excellent “name,” when they called upon God as their Father, and were joined in covenant with him; but the grace of God has been far more abundantly poured out upon us since the coming of Christ; and therefore we have obtained in him a far more excellent name.
A perpetual name. He calls this name “perpetual,” because it is written in heaven, where it shall live and flourish throughout all ages. Wicked men wish to have their name made illustrious in this world, and labor to promote their reputation, that the remembrance of their name may last for ever; but it is fading and of short duration. But far different is this name; for it makes us heirs of the heavenly kingdom, so that in the presence of angels we are reckoned to be the children of God.
We might also interpret מבנים (mibbanim) to mean, “than the name which is derived from children; 99 for men, by having children, do in some respect perpetuate their own name. He promises that this name shall be far more excellent. But I prefer to follow the former exposition.
6. The children of the foreigner who shall be joined to Jehovah. He repeats the same thing which he had formerly said, that God will open the doors of his temple to all men without distinction, so that there shall no longer be a distinction between the Jew and the Greek. He declares that those whom God brings into a state of friendship with himself by the word, which is the bond of our adoption, are “joined to God.” This is “the betrothing in mercy and faithfulness” which is mentioned by Hosea. (Hos. 2:19, 20) Not only does he grant to them a temple in which they may adore him as the body of the people were wont to do, but he assigns to them a more honorable rank, that they, nay minister to him; that is, God acknowledges as priests or Levites those who were formerly heathens.
And that they may love the name of Jehovah. We must observe the end of the calling, which is here stated; for he says that they shall be God’s ministers on condition that they love his name. Thus hypocrites are here excluded; for the calling joins two things together, that we serve God, and that our service be with a ready and cheerful disposition of mind. There can be no worship of God, if we do not willingly and readily yield obedience. What is said about alms, that “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2Co 9:7) ought to be applied to every part of life, that we render to God willing service.
Whosoever shall keep my Sabbath. He again mentions the Sabbath; and we have said that under this word is included the whole worship of God. In observing it the people overlooked that which was of the highest importance; for, by resting satisfied with outward ceremony, they neglected the truth, that is, reformation of life. The Lord enjoined them to rest in such a manner as to keep both their hands and their minds from all crime and wickedness.
And shall embrace my covenant. Here he describes the zeal and steadfastness of those who submit themselves to God and cleave to his word; and therefore, if we are joined to God by a covenant, we ought to hold by it constantly, and adhere firmly to sound doctrine, so that it may not be possible to withdraw or separate us from him in any manner.
7. These will I bring. By these modes of expression he describes what he had formerly stated, that foreigners who were formerly excluded from the Church of God, are called to it; so that henceforth the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision shall be abolished. This cannot refer to proselytes, who were received into the number of God’s people by circumcision, for that would have been nothing new or uncommon; but he testifies that the grace of God shall be diffused throughout the whole world; and this cannot be accomplished without uniting the Gentiles to the Jews so as to form one body, which happened when the difference between circumcision and uncircumcision was taken out of the way. There is therefore nothing now to prevent Gentiles from ministering to God, seeing that they have been called into the temple, that is, into the assembly of believers. Not only so, but we saw a little before, that the priesthood is removed from the tribe of Levi, not only to the whole body of the people, but even to foreigners.
How strongly the Jews abhor this sentiment is well known; for, although they read these words of the Prophet, yet they reckon it to be utterly monstrous that the Gentiles should be called to this distinguished benefit of God which was especially intended for them. Yet the Prophet’s meaning is so plain, that it cannot without the greatest impudence be called in question. He extols this grace from the fruit which it yields; for true and perfect happiness is, to be reconciled to God and to enjoy his favor. We know, indeed, that wicked men indulge excessively in mirth; but that mirth is turned into gnashing of teeth, because the curse of God rests upon it. But God fills the hearts of believers with the most delightful joy, not only by showing that he is reconciled to them, but by the manifestation of his favor and kindness in their prosperity. Yet their highest joy is that which springs from “peace” of conscience, which Paul ascribes to “the kingdom of God,” (Ro 14:1-7) and which we enjoy when we are reconciled to God by Christ. (Ro 5:1)
Their burnt-offerings and sacrifices shall be acceptable. He promises that their sacrifices shall be acceptable to him, because all have been called on this condition, that they shall offer themselves and all that they have to God. By the word “sacrifices,” he means such spiritual worship of God as is enjoined in the Gospel; for the Prophet spoke in accordance with what was customary in his time, when the worship of God was wrapped up in a variety of ceremonies. But now, instead of sacrifices, we offer to God praises, thanksgivings, good works, and finally ourselves. When he declares that they shall be acceptable, let us not imagine that; this arises from their own value or excellence, but from God’s undeserved kindness; for he might justly reject them, if he looked at them in themselves. This ought to be a spur to excite in us a strong desire to worship God, when we see that our works, which are of no value, are accepted by God as if they had been pure sacrifices.
He adds, On my altar; because in no other manner could the sacrifices be acceptable to God than “on the altar,” by which “they were sanctified.” (Mt 23:19) Thus all that we offer will be polluted, if it be not “sanctified” by Christ, who is our altar.
For my house shall be called a house of prayer. Formerly the temple was appointed for the Jews alone, whom in an especial manner the Lord desired to call upon him; for, when Paul shows that the Jews have a superiority over the Gentiles, he says that λατρεία, that is, “the worship of God,” is theirs. (Ro 9:4) Thus by an extraordinary privilege, such as the rest of the nations were not permitted to enjoy, a temple was built among them. But now the distinction has been removed, and all men, to whatsoever nation or place they belong, are freely admitted into the temple, that is, into the house of God. This temple has been enlarged to such a degree, that it extends to every part of the whole world; for all nations have been called to the worship of God.
Here we have the manifest difference between the Law and the Gospel; for under the Law the true worship of God was observed by one nation only, for whose sake the temple was especially dedicated to him; but now all are freely admitted without distinction into the temple of God, that they may worship him purely in it, that is, everywhere. We must attend to the form of expression, which is customary and familiar to the Prophets, who employ, as we have already said, figures that correspond to their own age, and, under the name of “Sacrifices” and of “the Temple,” describe the pure worship of God. He paints the spiritual kingdom of Christ, under which we may everywhere “lift up pure hands,” (1Ti 2:8) and call upon God; and, as Christ saith, God is not now to be adored in that temple, but “the true worshippers worship him in spirit and in truth.” (Joh 4:24)
For this reason we see a fulfillment of this plain prophecy, namely, that “to all peoples the house of God hath become the house of prayer,” that all may “call upon him, Abba, Father,” (Ro 8:15; Ga 4:6) that is, in every language; that henceforth the Jews may not boast that they alone have God. Thus the prophets were under a necessity of accommodating their discourse to their own time, and to the ordinary services of religion, that they might be understood by all; for the time of full revelation was not yet come, but the worship of God was clothed with various figures. Yet undoubtedly the temple, which had been consecrated to the name of God, was actually his house; for he testified by Moses that he would be in all places where he made mention of his name, (Ex 20:24) and Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, said, “When they shall come to pray in this house, thou wilt hear in heaven, in thy habitation.” (1Ki 8:30) And accordingly Christ reproves the Jews for “turning his Father’s house into a den of robbers,” (Mt 21:13; Mr 11:17) and connects this passage with a passage in the book of the Prophet Jer 7:11
Christ calls the temple “the house of prayer,” with reference to that time when the Gospel had not yet been published; for although he was come, he was not yet known, and the ceremonies of the Law were not abolished. But when “the vail of the temple was rent,” (Mt 27:51) and pardon of sins was proclaimed, these applauses of the temple ceased along with other ceremonies; for God began to be everywhere called upon by “all peoples.”
Yet it must here be observed that we are called into the Church, in order that we may call on God; for in vain do they boast who neglect prayer and true calling upon God, and yet hold a place in the Church. In whatever place we are, therefore, let us not neglect this exercise of faith; for we learn from the words of Isaiah, as it is also said, (Ps 50:14) that this is the highest and most excellent sacrifice which God demands; so that the holiness of the temple consists in prayers being there offered continually.
8. The Lord Jehovah saith. Isaiah again confirms what he formerly testified as to the restoration of the people; for although he extolled in lofty terms the grace of God, by which he would deliver his people, yet the condition of the Church was such that promises of this kind appeared to be ridiculous. Such repetitions, therefore, are not superfluous, but were necessarily added in order to strengthen feeble minds, that they might be fully convinced of that which was otherwise incredible.
Who gathereth the outcasts of Israel. It is with reference to the subject in hand that he bestows on God this title; for it belongs to him to gather a scattered church, and the same words, “he gathereth the outcasts of Israel,” are used here in the same sense. (Ps 147:2) Thus he promises that he will assemble them, and not them only, but that he will add to them various “peoples,” that the Church may be very numerously increased and multiplied. Whenever therefore we are drawn by various calamities of the Church to doubt as to his gathering them together, we ought to interpose this shield: “It belongeth to the Lord to gather the dispersed of Israel; and, though they are widely dispersed and scattered, yet he will easily and perfectly restore them.”
Still more will I gather upon him his gathered. I willingly keep by the literal meaning of the words of the Prophet. על (gnal) that is, “To,’ or “Upon;“ for he appears to me to have in view what he had said in the former verse, that the temple would be opened to all peoples; and he means that he will yet add many others to the Jews who have been gathered. This actually happened; for not only did he gather the dispersed in Babylon, but he also gathered other dispersions, which were frequent and almost of daily occurrence. Nor has he ever ceased to gather; so that he has added a large mass to those who have been gathered.
9. All ye beasts of the field. This prediction appears to be at variance with what goes before; for what the Prophet has hitherto said was full of the most delightful consolation, but now he appears to threaten fiercely, and to predict frightful ruin. These statements might indeed appear to be contradictory; but, after having comforted believers, it ought not to be thought inconsistent if he forewarn them of a future calamity that they might not lose courage when they saw everything near destruction, and that necessity might likewise prompt them to betake themselves more warmly and earnestly to the grace of God. There is also another reason, that hypocrites abuse the promises of God and hold them out under false pretenses, cherish unfounded hope, and insolently boast of those things which do not at all belong to them; and therefore Isaiah intended to take from them the ground of false boasting.
And thus his design was twofold; first, that the hearts of believers might not be discouraged by various calamities, which should bring them almost, to utter destruction, and that even when, amidst prosperity and peace, they beheld by faith at a distance a future calamity, they might rest satisfied with this single consolation; and secondly, that he might strike hypocrites with dread and horror, so that they might not exalt themselves by vain confidence, or freely indulge their sinful inclinations under the pretense of these promises. For this reason God calls not men, but savage “beasts,” that they might devour the people. He therefore forbids believers to be alarmed and tempted to unbelief, when these wild beasts shall be sent. And yet he intended also to strike terror into them, that he might arouse them to repentance, and to exhort them to seek the mercy of God, that the promises might not lose their value.
When he calls them “beasts of the field,” he means beasts of every kind, and includes not only the Babylonians and Assyrians, but Antiochus, the Romans, and other enemies of the people, who brought various calamities upon them. But he has chiefly in view the defeat which they received from the Babylonians, who carried them away into wretched bondage.
10. Her watchmen are blind. He now assigns the reason why the people must be destroyed. It is because they are governed by wicked princes and pastors; not that he wishes to throw the blame on them alone, and thinks that the people are innocent, but because this was the beginning of the evil. We are not exempted from blame, if we follow blind guides, but, on the contrary, are justly punished for our transgressions; for the Lord takes away good guides from those whom he intends to punish for their ingratitude.
By the word “Watchmen” 100 he means not only the prophets, to whom was committed the office of teaching, but likewise judges, princes, and kings, who ought to have governed everything in a proper manner. He includes both kinds of government, that of princes, and that of the ministers of the word, whom the Lord has placed, as the two eyes in the body, to govern the Church. Consequently, if they are wicked or unfaithful, there cannot arise a more destructive plague to a commonwealth.
All are ignorant. First, he reproaches them with want of knowledge; for, as it is the chief excellence of a good shepherd to know his duty, that he may judge what is profitable and what is pernicious to the flock, and to watch laboriously, and to stand, as it were, on a watchtower, that he may promote their safety in every respect, so nothing is more inconsistent with that office than ignorance and blindness. No man, therefore, will be a good shepherd, unless he understands the right method of governing the people. And hence we see what we ought to think of the idols of our time, who haughtily and insolently boast of the name of shepherds or pastors; for they are untaught and ignorant beasts.
All are dumb dogs. By calling them, secondly, “dumb dogs,” he charges them with slothfulness and indifference; for, since it is the duty of a good shepherd to be industrious and careful, when he calls them slothful and indifferent, he shows that they had nothing about them that ought to belong to a shepherd. Thus, when we are deprived of good shepherds, and when lazy or even savage beasts come in their room, let us acknowledge God’s wrath, and let us know that destruction is not far off; for the Prophet threatens and foretells the ruin of the people, when shepherds are “dumb.”
Hence also it follows, that God appoints them to discharge the office of “dogs,” that is, to keep watch, to drive away robbers and thieves, and not to permit them to enter into the fold. And if dogs are so faithful guardians and so warmly attached to their masters, that they continually watch for their safety, and do not cease to drive away, by barking, those from whom danger is apprehended, shepherds, when they give themselves up to sloth and drowsiness, ought to be ashamed of being surpassed by a brute beast.
11. And those dogs strong of appetite. The third vice which he remarks in wicked pastors is insatiable avarice. Though they are lazy in all that relates to good government, yet they have a strong and ravenous appetite for food. Some view the Prophet’s words as still more extensive, and as meaning that they rule tyrannically. Ezekiel expressly reproves them for this vice; for false prophets are commonly fierce, and act cruelly and barbarously towards the people of God. (Eze 34:4) But if any person examine the matter carefully, he will perceive that the Prophet speaks of their insatiable avarice, which he afterwards describes by a variety of expressions.
They look to their ways. That is, “They attend eagerly to their own affairs; every person consults his own advantage.” In short, he means that there is no man who does not wish to be preferred to others, as if every man had been born for himself.
Every one to his gain from his end. 101 מקצהו (mikkatzehu) has received various expositions. Some render it, “In his end,” that is, “In his affairs;” as if the reading had been, בקצהו, (bekatzehu) But this does not agree with the Prophet’s meaning. Others render it, “From the end of his avarice.” I think that a more simple interpretation is, “From his end,” that is, “On his part;“ or as we commonly say, (Chacun en son endroict,) “Every one in his place.” Thus every one is bent on avarice, and draws and appropriates everything to himself, and consults his own advantage, without attending to the duties of his office.
Hence we learn, that no man can serve God who is given up to wicked desires; and he who shall labor to amass wealth, will not apply his mind to build up the Church of the Lord. No kind of blindness can be more dangerous than avarice; and so much the more ought it to be avoided by pastors, if they wish to be faithful servants of God. When we see the Prophet complaining of the bad pastors of his time, let us not be alarmed if we meet with the same thing in the present day, and let us not look upon it as an unusual occurrence that so few are earnestly employed in the work of the Lord.
12. Come ye, I will fetch wine. After having spoken of the avarice and carelessness of pastors, he points out their desperate wickedness and obstinacy; for he represents them as speaking, 102 and brings forward their hardhearted speeches, from which it is evident that they could not be brought back to the right path by any admonitions or threatenings, but fearlessly despised them all. In another passage the Prophet quoted the words of scorners, who, when the servants of God exhorted them to sackcloth and ashes, invited each other to feasting and drinking. “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.” (Isa 22:13) Why do those prophets annoy us? It will never fare well with us, if we give ear to them. (Isa 28:15) A similar complaint is here repeated by Isaiah, that the pastors held out obstinately and seared themselves against the judgments of God.
Nor does he merely reprove them for drinking wine and strong drink, which in itself is not sinful, but for that mental drunkenness and brutality by which men haughtily and insolently despise the word of God. In other passages drunkenness and the abuse of wine are condemned; but here the Prophet exclaims against the madness and insolence with which pastors exalted themselves against God, and trampled under foot all threatenings, warnings, reproofs, and, in short, all religion. Yet there can be no doubt that he reproves the gross and shameful wickedness of burying reflection, as if on purpose, by excess of wine and feasting, that no shame or fear, no reverence for God or men, might disturb their repose; as ungodly persons do all they can to stupefy themselves by unlawful pleasures, that they may more daringly, and with less reserve, abandon themselves to wickedness.
It is a shocking and monstrous sight to behold such contempt of God and of religion, not in foreigners, not in the common people, but in governors and princes themselves, who ought to have instructed others by their example, in that sacred order which bore the image of Christ; for both kings and priests bore his likeness and image. How intolerable this pride is, by which men furiously oppose the word, is well known. We are ruined and undone, when this medicine, which is the last, is rejected by us; for we do not permit the Lord to lead us back into the right path. 103 For this reason he has threatened in another passage that “this wickedness shall not be expiated.” (Isa 22:14) Thus he rebukes the height of impiety; and it is of great importance for us to weigh carefully the words which follow —
As today, so tomorrow. That is, “If it is well with us today, it shall be well tomorrow. Let us not be miserable before the time.” 104 He describes their aggravated guilt, in treating with mockery God’s gentleness and forbearance, and assuring themselves that they would escape punishment, as if God were asleep or enjoyed luxurious ease in heaven, whenever he suspended his judgments. By such diabolical proverbs, do men, even in the present day, labor to soothe and even to fascinate their consciences, that they may more fully wallow in every kind of pleasures, and indulge in their iniquities and crimes. That we may not fall, therefore, under this terrible judgment of the Lord, let every one examine himself, and perceive at a distance the wrath of God, that it may not attack us suddenly and unprepared.
Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. 1, pp. 56, 57
“Admonneste les fideles.”
“Ausquels la grace a este faite.” “To whom grace hath been given.”
“The essential meaning of this verse is, that all external disabilities shall be abolished, whether personal or national. To express the latter, he makes use of the phrase בן נכר, (ben nekar,) which strictly means not ‘the son of the stranger,’ as the common version has it, but ‘the son of strangeness,’ or ‘of a strange country;’ נכר (nekar) corresponding to the German Fremde, which has no equivalent in English. Alexander
“According to the Law, (De 23:1) eunuchs could not be received into the Hebrew nation; so that their situation, in that respect, was the same as that of the foreigners who were formerly mentioned. Of what use (might such a person say) are those splendid promises to me, who cannot be admitted into the Jewish commonwealth?” — Rosenmuller.
“Toutes les marques exterieures.”
“A place and name more excellent than that which comes from children.” Doederlein.
“More excellent and longer lived than that name which the fathers of families procure for themselves by the succession of posterity.” Rosenmuller.
“The prophets are called ‘Watchmen,’ (Jer 6:17; Ezek. 3:17, Ezek. 33:2, 6, 7; Isa 52:8) because it is their duty to see far, and to look out, and carefully to observe the evils, and the causes of the evils which may be pernicious to the people. The metaphor is drawn from guards or military sentinels, who, being placed on the watch-towers of fortified cities, carefully attend to everything that may bring mischief on the city.” Rosenmuller.
“From his quarter.” (Eng. Ver.) “Heb. ‘this extremity,’ his quarter, be it ever so remote; that is, universally.” Stock.
“Literally, ‘From his extremity.’ Jerome correctly renders it, ‘From first to last,’ that is, without any exception; and that is the meaning which the word bears in Gen. 19:4, Gen. 47:2; Eze 33:2.” Rosenmuller.
“All to a man.” Doederlein.
“Thus they spoke one to another.” Jarchi.
“Au bon chemin.”
“Thus, in all probability, these drunken guardians of the people said, in derision of the prophets, who were continually threatening them with destruction. They tell us of imminent danger and strange calamities which hang over our heads. But mind them not. Let us cheer our hearts with wine, and drown the thoughts of such improbable chimeras. Let us take our pleasure today, and never doubt but tomorrow we shall be full as merry, and so on for many years.” — White.