Isaiah 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers





Late Dean of Wells.




I. Life of Isaiah.—(1) We cannot write the life of Isaiah as we can write that of St. Paul. We have no contemporary notices of him by other writers, and only a few dim traditions as to any facts of his life and death. His writings, containing, as they do, the messages which he had to give to men from God, are as far as possible from being intentionally autobiographical. We know less of his home-life than we do of Hosea’s; less of the manner in which he was treated by priests and princes and rival prophets, than we do of the manner in which Jeremiah was treated by his contemporaries. All that we can do, in the dearth of this information from without, is to look to the prophet’s writings, and see what they tell us of the man, to draw inferences more or less legitimate from acknowledged facts, to trace out hints scattered here and there by chance, to supply a theory based upon some phenomena and explaining others, and so to construct what I have elsewhere called an “Ideal Biography of Isaiah.”[24]

[24] See a series of papers with this title in the Expositor, Second Series, 1883.

(2) Of the father of Isaiah we know nothing but the name which he bore himself, and that which he gave his son. The former, Amoz, is probably a shortened form of Amaziah (“strong is Jehovah”), and if we were to accept the Rabbinic maxim, that where the name of a prophet’s father is given it is because the father also was a prophet, we might infer that Isaiah was trained in early youth for the work that lay before him. The name Isaiah (“Jah,” or “Jehovah, saves”) would seem to indicate that he who gave it was a man whose belief in the Lord God of Israel was strong and living, perhaps that he dedicated his child to be a witness of the truth which the name implies. Isaiah’s practice of giving symbolic and suggestive names to his children may have been inherited from his father. It may be inferred, without much risk of error, from the circumstances of Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6:1), that he was a priest. The vision which he saw was from the court which none might enter but the sons of Aaron. The reformer of the ceremonial hypocrisy that had defiled the sanctuary (Isaiah 1:11-14; Isaiah 28:7) was to come, as in the instances of Jeremiah, the Baptist, Savonarola, Luther, from the sanctuary itself. The character of a man’s mother may always in some measure be inferred from that of the man himself. In Isaiah’s case we have, besides this, suggestive allusions to a mother’s care for her children (Isaiah 49:15). The tenderness with which she comforts her son is the type of the pitying love of Jehovah for His chosen, which remembers even when that natural tenderness forgets (Isaiah 66:12-13). We may feel sure that she presented rather the older pattern of the godly matrons of Israel than the life of frivolous luxury sketched by her son in such vivid colours in Isaiah 3:16-23. Looking to the fact that from twenty-five to thirty was the normal age at which priest or Levite entered on his functions, and that Isaiah does not plead his youth, as Jeremiah did (Jeremiah 1:6), as a reason for shrinking back from his calling as a prophet, we may fix his birth at from B.C. 788-783, and accordingly we have to think of the boy as growing up during the latter half of the reign of Uzziah. His education was naturally grounded on the sacred books of his country, as far as they then existed. Allusive references to Eden and Noah (Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 54:9), to Abraham and Sarah (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:1-2), to Jacob and Moses (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 63:11-12), to Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 13:19), show that these books must have included the substance of Genesis and Exodus. The Book of Judges supplied the memories of the day of Midian (Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 10:26). The Proverbs of Solomon, then, as always, prominent in Jewish education, furnished him with an ethical and philosophical vocabulary (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:3; Isaiah 33:5-6), and with the method of parabolic teaching (Isaiah 28:23-29), and taught him to lay the foundations of morality in the “fear of the Lord.” As he advanced to manhood, the Book of Job met him, with its bold presentations of the problems of the universe, and gave the training which he needed for his work as the great poet-prophet of Israel. (See Cheyne’s “Isaiah,” ii. 226, and essay on “Job and the Second Part of Isaiah,” ii. 243.)

(3) The Psalms which were then in use in the Temple supplied emotions, imagery, culture of another kind, which bore fruit in the “songs” or “hymns” which Isaiah actually incorporated in the collection of his writings (Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 26:1-4), perhaps, also in the Psalms of the sons of Korah, some, at least, of which belong to the same period (Psalms 44-48), and bear traces of parallelism of thought. The instances of a like parallelism between the language of Isaiah and that of Deuteronomy,[25] are not sufficient to settle the question as to the date and authorship of that book, but they may be at least considered as contributing to its solution. Side by side with this religious education there are signs of a wider culture, of training in the medical science of the time (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 38:21), of some knowledge of the history and religion of the great empires which were contending for the sovereignty of the East (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:11-13; Isaiah 23:12-13; Isaiah 46:1). The prosperous reign of Uzziah revived the commerce of Jerusalem, and from the men of Tyre and others he heard of the far-off voyages of the ships of Tarshish to the isles of Chittim (Isaiah 2:16; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 60:9), of the distant Shinar, and Media, and Elam (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6), and of the isles of the sea (Isaiah 11:11), even of the land of Sinim (China) (Isaiah 49:12). His knowledge of Egypt, of Zoan, and Noph, and Pathros (Isaiah 19:11), of the rivers of Ethiopia, and the seven streams of the Delta (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 11:15), of Dibon and Nebo, and other Moabite cities (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:9), implies, if not actual travel, much intercourse with travellers, in those countries. He may have learnt the Aramaic of the northern provinces of Syria, and so been able, like Hezekiah’s ministers, to converse even with Assyrians (Isaiah 36:11), and have known more than his fellows of their names and titles, and the organisation of their armies, as in the Sargon and the Tartan of Isaiah 20:1. He may have watched with his own eyes the art of the metallurgist (Isaiah 1:25), of the sculptor, of the painter, which he describes so vividly (Isaiah 44:12).

[25] See Dr. Kay, in the Speaker’s Commentary, Note on Isaiah, chap. 1.

(4) Two facts in the reign of Uzziah would seem to have impressed themselves on the mind of the young prophet: (1) the earthquake which is mentioned by Amos (Isaiah 1:1), and Zechariah (Isaiah 14:5), and which has left many traces of its influence as a type of Divine judgments in Isaiah’s writings (Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 24:19-20); and (2) the leprosy which came on the king as a punishment for the sacrilegious usurpation of the functions of the priesthood (2Chronicles 26:20-21), and which may well have suggested the terrible question whether he himself, and the whole nation of which he was a member, were not tainted with a like spiritual uncleanness, which yet he felt powerless to remedy (Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 6:5).

(5) The theophany of Isaiah 6 was the answer to these questionings and misgivings. He entered on a new stage of life, with new powers, and the sense of a new vocation. The touch of the burning coal upon his lips was, as it were, an instantaneous purgatory, cleansing his iniquity. But the work on which he entered was, beyond that of any other prophet, an arduous and a terrible one. He had to be a herald of devastation, and defeat, and exile; of messages the immediate effect of which would be to increase the spiritual deafness and blindness of his hearers (Isaiah 6:10). The one gleam of hope in the thick darkness was that which told of the “remnant” in which the true Israel should at last revive, of the young scion which should rise out of the decayed tree, the branches of which had been lopped off as by the axe of the Divine judgments (Isaiah 6:13).

(6) Isaiah does not seem, however, to have entered at once upon the public exercise of a prophet’s calling. His first work was to study the present and the future in the volume of the past, and in his history of the reign of Uzziah (2Chronicles 26:22), with its material prosperity, its national arrogance, its formalism and hypocrisy, its luxuries and its pomp, its corruption and its cruelty, we may well believe that he probed to the quick the ulcerous sores which were eating into the nation’s life, as he did afterwards in the “great indictment,” with which his collected writings open. To this period of his life, under Jotham, we may also assign his marriage with a woman like-minded with himself, not without her own share of prophetic gifts (Isaiah 8:3), and the birth of the son whose name, Shear-jashub (“remnant returns”), embodying, as it did, at once the terror and the hope of his great vision, made him, even in his infancy, “a sign and a wonder” to the people (Isaiah 8:18).

(7) There are signs, however, that Isaiah was recognised as a prophet before the close of the reign of Jotham. At the beginning of that of Ahaz he had disciples, who gathered round him and took notes of his teaching (Isaiah 8:16). He would seem to have been on terms of intimacy with Zechariah, the father of the wife of Ahaz, the mother of Hezekiah, and with the high priest Urijah (Isaiah 8:2; 2Chronicles 29:1). The tone of authority in which he speaks to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 13), might almost seem to suggest that the education of the young prince had been entrusted to his care, as that of Solomon had been to Nathan. If the result, as far as Ahaz was concerned, was disappointing, the influence which he began to exercise on the mind of his future successor, born when Ahaz himself was scarcely out of the age of tutelage, must have been abundant compensation. The fact that Hezekiah’s mother was the daughter or granddaughter of one who had understanding in the visions of God (2Chronicles 26:5) suggests the inference that she may have been chosen by Jotham, under Isaiah’s guidance, as a wife for the young king, and that the devotion and purity of Hezekiah’s character were mainly due to her influence, as directed by him. Anyhow, the events of that reign, the invasion of Rezin and Pekah, the conquests of Pul, the intervention of Tiglath-pileser, the rise of the Ethiopian dynasty of the Pharaohs, represented by So, or Sabaco, the wars with the Philistines, and other neighbouring nations, must have given many occasions, over and above those recorded in his writings, for the exercise of his gifts of insight as a prophet and a statesman, seeing the secret workings that lay below the surface of things, and proclaiming the righteous government of Jehovah, as disposing and ordering all. During this period also we may rightly think of the influence of contemporary prophets such as Hosea and Amos, in the northern kingdom, and above all Micah, his friend and contemporary in Judah, as working upon his mind, enlarging his thoughts, completing the training which fitted him for the higher and more commanding position which he was to occupy in the reign of Hezekiah. To Micah especially we can trace his visions of the restored Temple (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1), his protests against greed and drunkenness (Micah 2:1-11), his hopes of a Prince of Peace rising out of the house of David (Micah 5:2; Micah 5:5).

(8) At the commencement of that reign, Isaiah must have been over sixty. The king whom he had trained, and whose mother was under his direction, was only twenty-five, and in the whole opening policy of his reformation, the restoration of the worship of the Temple, with its psalmody and music, the effort after a renewed unity shown in his invitation to Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, to keep the passover at Jerusalem, the conversion of the heathen and their admission, as proselytes, into fellowship with Israel, (2 Chronicles 29-32), we can trace, without the shadow of a doubt, the influence of his instructor. If the prophet did not identify the king with the ideal ruler, the Prince of Peace of his earlier utterances (Isaiah 9:6), he must have seen in him the pledge and earnest of the possibilities of a future like that of the stem and branch of Jesse in Isaiah 11:1. It was a time of joy such as the nation had not seen since the days of Solomon (2Chronicles 30:26). The king himself assumed the office of a teacher, and “spake comfortably” to the hearts of priests and laity, and appeared almost as a priest interceding for the ignorant and erring (2Chronicles 30:18), in words which must have been, in greater or less measure, the echo of Isaiah’s teaching. He added to the sacred books of Israel by collecting the Proverbs of Solomon that had been floating in the minds of men, though, as yet they had not been put together, and in which, as dealing largely with the duties and the faults of rulers, Isaiah may well have found the “ideal of a patriot king” which he hoped to see realised in his pupil (Proverbs 25-29). It was not long, however, before the bright dawn was overcast. There were perils from without and from within. The successive invasions of Shalmaneser, Sargon, Sennacherib, the conquest of Samaria, and the captivity of the Ten Tribes threw the people of Judah into a state of restless agitation. Some of the king’s counsellors trusted in the prospect of an alliance with the Ethiopian dynasty ruling in Egypt, represented by Sabaco and Tirhakah (Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 20:3; Isaiah 30:2). Some thought it more prudent to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Assyrian king and to pay a moderate tribute. Some fell back on new fortifications which were to make Jerusalem impregnable, and gave themselves up to a boastful and defiant revelry (Isaiah 22:9-13). The aged prophet stood almost alone as he told men, now in speech and now in strange and startling acts (Isaiah 20:2), that their one way of safety was to repent and to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Isaiah 22:12; Isaiah 26:8-9; Isaiah 28:16), and not to weave their webs of diplomacy and intrigue (Isaiah 30:1). They mocked at his iterated utterances in the name of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 28:9-14; Isaiah 30:11). They, for their parts, would none of Him. The king himself fell away from the bright promise of his early reign. The chief place among his counsellers was given to Shebna, of low or foreign extraction, ostentatious, arrogant, the chief advocate of a braggart and rollicking defiance (Isaiah 22:15-19). Among those counsellors Isaiah could count only on the support of the respectable Eliakim, and even he was tainted with the nepotism which is the besetting sin of Eastern rulers, and in which the prophet read the forecast of a future fall (Isaiah 22:20-25).

(9) The danger which had threatened Jerusalem from the armies of Sargon was averted by submission and the payment of tribute. He laid waste Judah, but left the capital untouched. Before long a danger of another kind threatened the frustration of Isaiah’s hopes. The king, not yet thirty-five, and as yet without an heir, was sick unto death (Isaiah 38:1). In the words in which the prophet-physician announced the danger there was a sad significance. Men who read between the lines might trace in that “set thine house in order,” the hint that there was disorder alike in the policy of the kingdom and in the inner habitation of the soul, that needed to be set right. As it was, the king’s repentance and the prayer of faith prevailed, and fifteen years were added to his life. His marriage with Hephzibah (2Kings 21:1) was probably determined by the counsels of the prophet, who saw in her very name (“my delight is in her “), an augury of good (Isaiah 62:4), and the name given to the child who was to succeed him, Manasseh (“forgetting”), bore witness that the king was following up his policy of conciliating the remnant of Ephraim and Manasseh, and of proclaiming an amnesty of all past animosities (2Chronicles 30:1-12). There was, however, even then a cloud upon the horizon. The king lent too willing an ear to the insidious proposals of Merôdach-baladan, the rebel king of Babylon, against whom Sargon had been carrying on a long-continued warfare, and had in the weakness of his pride displayed the treasures of his palace and his arsenal, as if they, and not the living God, were the strength of Israel (Isaiah 39:1-8; 2Chronicles 32:31). Against that alliance the fiery zeal of the old prophet kindled into a white heat of indignation. It was full of untold evils in its immediate and remote consequences. It was in that burst of inspiration that Isaiah had his first clear vision of the Babylonian captivity, beyond which he was afterwards led to see the dawn of a brighter day of redemption and return.

(10) The danger which Isaiah had predicted soon drew near. Sargon was murdered in his palace, and his successor (Sennacherib) having in the first year of his reign crushed the Babylonian revolt, and driven Merôdach-baladan into the marshes of the lower Euphrates (see Notes on Isaiah 36:1), turned his arms to subdue the rebels of his southern provinces, and among others Hezekiah, who had attacked and imprisoned the Assyrian ruler of Ashdod, and demanded an exorbitant tribute, which could only be paid by emptying the treasure-house, that had been boastfully shown to the Babylonian envoys, and stripping even the Temple of its gold (2Kings 18:14-16). Even this, however, did not avail. The Assyrian king, suspecting probably that negotiations were going on between Hezekiah and Tirhakah, tore up the treaty, led his armies against Jerusalem, and sent Rabshakeh and his companions to demand an unconditional surrender (2Kings 18:17-27). We need not now follow the history of that mission. In its relation to Isaiah’s life we may find in it the time of his crowning glory. At last mockers were silenced, and the people could “see their teachers” (Isaiah 30:20). King, priests, nobles, came in procession to the house of Isaiah in the sackcloth of supplication. Would he not once more intercede for them with the Holy One of Israel? The occasion was worthy of the grand burst of prophecy which was Isaiah’s last public utterance.

(11) During the three or four years that remained of Hezekiah’s reign, after the destruction of the Assyrian armies, the position of Isaiah was one of safety and of honour. It was probably during this period that he fell back upon the line of work with which he started, and wrote the history of the reign of Hezekiah, which manifestly served as the basis of 2Chronicles 29:1 to 2Chronicles 32:32. But the time must also have been one of disappointment and of dark forebodings for the future. Hezekiah had only partially fulfilled the hopes with which Isaiah had hailed his accession to the throne. He must have seen that the boy prince, Manasseh, whom he was too old to educate himself, was likely to walk in the steps of his grandfather rather than his father. As soon as Hezekiah died his whole policy was reversed. The Shebna party were once more in the ascendant. Foreign alliances and foreign idolatries prevailed as they had done in the days of Ahaz. The disciples who had gathered round Isaiah during his long career entered an unavailing protest (2Chronicles 33:10), and were slain by Manasseh as the prophets of Jehovah had been slain of old by Jezebel and Ahab (2Kings 21:16). According to a Jewish tradition, not in itself improbable, Isaiah himself perished in the persecution, being accused of blasphemy for having said that he had seen the Lord, as in Isaiah 6 and was condemned to die by being enclosed in the hollowed trunk of a tree, and then sawn asunder. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is supposed to allude to this tradition in Hebrews 11:37. Of the sons of Isaiah we have nothing but the names; but it is well to remember that those names must have made them, as long as they lived, the representatives to the generation that came after them of all that was most characteristic in their father’s teaching. Whether the prophet himself was engaged during the later years of his life in providing for the perpetuation of his leading ideas in another form, is a question which will meet us farther on.

II. Arrangement of Isaiah’s prophecies.—(1) It is obvious that the writings of a man who has played a conspicuous part as a writer or a teacher may be brought together in very various ways. The writer may be his own editor, sifting and selecting from the MSS. of many years, and arranging them either in chronological order or else according to a method independent of that order, and determined by personal or ideal associations. Or the task of editing may be left to a friend, disciple, or secretary, acting as Baruch seems to have acted in relation to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 36:18; Jeremiah 36:32). Or again, the papers may come in a loose and fragmentary state into the hands of the scribes, or men of letters, of a later generation, and they may exercise their functions with varying degrees of insight or of accuracy, editing with or without notes and glosses and interpolations. When we have no record as to which process was adopted, the problem is complicated by the possibility that all three processes may have mingled in varying and uncertain proportions. It is not to be wondered at that critics who are not content to assume that the arrangement which they find in the existing Hebrew text of the Old Testament can claim a Divine authority which could be claimed by no other, should come on these points to widely different conclusions, and be influenced by considerations more or less subjective. The task of a complete critical analysis lies beyond the limits within which the present writer has to work, and all that will be now attempted will be the endeavour to note the probable sequence of the chapters or other sub-sections of Isaiah’s writings.

(2) It is tolerably plain, at the outset, that we have three chief divisions.

(A) Isaiah 1-35. A collection, not necessarily a complete collection, of prophetic writings from the death of Uzziah to the closing years of Hezekiah.

(B) Isaiah 36-39. An historical appendix to that collection, connected with the most memorable passage in Isaiah’s life.

(C) Isaiah 40-66. A complete and systematically arranged collection, manifestly having a unity of its own, and having for its central subject the restoration of the Jews from Babylon.

It remains to examine the arrangement of the sections in each group.

(A) Isaiah 1. A general introduction to the whole, probably written in the latter part of the reign of Jotham, embodying the results of Isaiah’s study of the reign of Uzziah, possibly retouched under Hezekiah.

Isaiah 2-5. A further denunciation of the sins of Israel, and the judgments coming on them, coloured in part by reminiscences of the earthquake under Uzziah, and painting the social evils of that period. Mingling with the prophecies of judgment are visions of a future restoration (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 4:2-6), shared by Isaiah with his contemporary Micah. Isaiah 1-5 may be considered as deliberately placed before Isaiah 6, as showing the state of things which preceded the call there narrated.

Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 10:4. Narrative mingled with prophecies belonging to the early years of Ahaz. First definite prediction of the Assyrian invasion, and of an ideally righteous king (Isaiah 9:6-7); the witness of the names of Isaiah’s children; the true Immanuel.

Isaiah 10:5 to Isaiah 12:6. Clearer announcement of the Assyrian invasion of Tiglath-pileser (?), Salmaneser (?), or Sargon (?). Renewed vision of the return of the remnant (the true Shear-Jashub), and of the true Immanuel, or righteous King (Isaiah 11:1-16), coloured probably by the virtues of the young Hezekiah, and the captivity of the ten tribes.

Isaiah 13-23. Obviously in its form an independent collection of “burdens” or oracles, bearing on the history of Jerusalem and the neighbouring nations, all probably written under Hezekiah, and in some cases as an answer to ambassadors who came to consult the prophet as to the future of the people who sent them (Isaiah 14:32). “The burden of Babylon” (Isaiah 13, 14), assuming it to be Isaiah’s, was probably among the latest, written after the mission of Merôdach-bala-dan had directed the prophet’s mind to that city, as almost equally with Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire, and destined for a time to take its place as the great world-power (Isaiah 14:25), but is placed first, as the Epistle to the Romans stands in the New Testament at the head of St. Paul’s epistles, on account of its importance. Isaiah 18-20 are connected with the plans of an Egypto-Ethiopian alliance; Isaiah 21 with the future destruction of Babylon; Isaiah 22 with Sargon’s or Sennacherib’s (?) attack on Judah.

Isaiah 24-27. The four poems seem grouped together, not necessarily as having been written continuously, but as having for their common subject “the day of the Lord,” which brings at once judgment and redemption. The recurrence of the phrase “in that day,” in Isaiah 26:1; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 27:12, connects them with Isaiah 4:1; the glory of the “mountain of the Lord,” in Isaiah 25:6, with Isaiah 2:2. With the exception of the passing reference to Moab in Isaiah 25:10, the group is less definitely historical than any other.

Isaiah 28-32, like the “burdens” of Isaiah 13-23, have an outward unity in the opening formula of “Woe to” (Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 33:1), in which the prophet falls back upon the model of one of his earlier writings (Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:18; Isaiah 5:20). The whole group belongs to the time when the march of Sargon’s (?) or Sennacherib’s (?) armies was striking terror into the people, and leading them once again to projects of foreign alliances. The picture of the ideally righteous king, in Isaiah 32:1-8, reminding us of Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9, is suggestive. Hezekiah had not fulfilled the ideal. It was still in the distant future; but the hopes of the prophet were inextinguishable.

Isaiah 33-35. The close of the first great collection, historically turning mainly on Sennacherib’s invasion, and the part taken by the Edomites in his attack on Judah (Isaiah 34:5-6), but ending in a vision of the restoration of all things which transcends all history (Isaiah 35:1-10). They would have been fitting “last words” for the aged prophet, when his work seemed all but over. They were, perhaps, a stepping stone to the greater and more connected work which, more than anything else, was to make his name immortal, in Isaiah 40-66

(B) Isaiah 36-39. Probably, looking to the difference of style, not written by Isaiah, but appended, perhaps by some disciple, perhaps by a scribe-editor, in the time of Ezra, as embodying what could be gathered of the prophet’s closing work, and his almost greatest utterance, and based, perhaps, upon the prophet’s history of Hezekiah (2Chronicles 32:32). In chronological order, Isa 38:39 should come first, as dealing with events prior to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army.

(C) The question of the arrangement of Isaiah 40-66 will be considered here independently of its authorship. A tripartite division is apparently indicated by the recurrence of the burden, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” in Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21, as follows:—

-1Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 48:22, open with the proclamation of the return of the exiles, and pass on to the contrast between the greatness of Jehovah and the nothingness of the gods of the heathen. Cyrus appears as the central figure, the ideally righteous man, the anointed of the Lord (Isa 44:26 to Isa 45:7); but the Servant of the Lord, afterwards so prominent, appears also in Isaiah 42:1-7.

-2Isaiah 49:1 to Isaiah 57:21 are occupied chiefly with the Servant of the Lord, thought of now in his personal, now in his collective, unity, in whom the prophet is taught to see even more than he had seen in Hezekiah or Cyrus, the instrument by which God’s work for Israel and for mankind was to be accomplished, by the victory, not of power only or chiefly, but of vicarious suffering (Isaiah 49:4-7; Isaiah 50:6; Isa 52:13 to Isa 53:12).

-3Isaiah 58:1 to Isaiah 66:24. This portion ends with an expansion of the thought of the “no peace” of the two previous sections. It is remarkable as gathering up, and developing to their highest point, what had been throughout the prominent thoughts of Isaiah’s work as a teacher—his condemnation of his people’s sins (Isaiah 65:2-12; Isaiah 66:3-4); his visions of a new world of righteousness and peace (Isaiah 60, 62, Isaiah 65:17-25); of a redeemed Israel fulfilling its ideal (Isaiah 66:10-14); of one in whom the ideas of the righteous King and the Servant of the Lord are strangely blended (Isaiah 61:1-3); of the ultimate overthrow of all the enemies of God (Isaiah 66:15; Isaiah 66:24). Not a few critics have gone farther than this, and have traced an elaborate tripartite division of three sections in each part; and again a further grouping of three sub-sections under each of the nine thus formed, the structure of the whole book being, on this view, as elaborately planned as Dante’s Commedia, on the basis of the mystic number three thus squared and cubed.[26] It may be questioned, however, whether this arrangement is not too artificial, at variance with the character of Isaiah’s mind, and embarrassing rather than helpful in tracing, what it is in any case difficult to trace, the sequence and continuity of thought. A more natural explanation seems to be, that the writer’s mind, dwelling now on one great idea, now on another, wrote now this and now that section, often with a considerable interval between them, so that we have not a book after modern fashion, with beginning, middle, and end, but rather a series of detached pieces, connected mainly by subtle links of association, like the Pensées of Pascal, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sonnets. On the assumption of Isaiah’s authorship, the whole of this second volume must be assigned, with scarcely the shadow of a doubt, to the closing years of the reign of Hezekiah or the opening years of that of Manasseh, and therefore to a very advanced period of the prophet’s life. Of him, as of Moses, it might have been said, that “his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.” The old age of Isaiah must have been the counterpart, in its receptive and apocalyptic power, of the old age of St. John.

[26] See Delitszch’s Isaiah, on chaps. 40-66 in Clark’s Foreign Theological Library.

III. The authorship of Isaiah 40-66—(1) The limits within which I must confine myself do not admit of anything like an exhaustive treatment of this question. It may be well to begin by noting what it involves. Were the authorship of Isaiah disproved, it would not follow that we had a spurious book, a counterfeit and a forgery, or even, as in the case of the hypothesis of the later date of Ecclesiastes, a case of personated authorship without the animus decipiendi. All that would follow would be that some unknown writer, at or about the time of the return of the Jews from Babylon, had so imbued himself with the thoughts and even the style of Isaiah, that his work was accepted by his contemporaries, or by the scribes who were concerned in the completion of the Old Testament Canon under Ezra, as rounding off the cycle of that prophet s teaching. In regard to all the Messianic elements in it, its great argument against idolatry, and its visions of judgment and restoration, it would still retain all the dignity and authority of inspiration, and be entitled to the place which it occupies in the Hebrew Canon. Even its appeals to the foreknowledge of God, as manifested in prophetic announcements of the downfall of Babylon and the victories of Cyrus (Isaiah 40:13; Isaiah 41:26-28; Isaiah 43:9; Isaiah 45:21), would retain their force as referring to prophecies, like those of Jeremiah and Micah, which foretold a like downfall of the city on the Euphrates, and a like restoration of Jerusalem.

(2) The arguments which have led many recent critics to the conclusion that the authorship of Isaiah is disproved, are briefly these:—

(a) That the whole standpoint of the writer is that of one who was living at the time of the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and specially that the name of Cyrus was altogether beyond the horizon of Isaiah’s knowledge.

(b) That the central thought of the Servant of the Lord, as made perfect through suffering and dying vicariously for the sins of his people, is entirely foreign to the teaching of the historical Isaiah.

(c) That the style and vocabulary of Isaiah 40-66 are so different from those of Isaiah 1-39 as to imply diversity of authorship.

(3) On the other hand, it has been urged—

(a) That on the assumption of Isaiah’s inspiration, he may have been led to place himself, as in an ecstatic vision, like that of Balaam and other prophets, in a time and country other than his own.

(b) That the name of Cyrus may have been within the limit of Isaiah’s human knowledge, or may have been supernaturally revealed to him. See Note on Isaiah 44:28.

(c) That the knowledge of Babylon and its life and worship as shown in 2 Isaiah is not more than may be accounted for by the commerce of the time, the diplomatic intercourse with Merôdach-baladan, and other sources.

(d) That the forms of idolatry condemned in Isaiah 57:5-6; Isaiah 65:3-5; Isaiah 65:11, belong much more to the state of Palestine under Manasseh than to that of the Babylonian exiles, either before or after their return.

(e) That the reference to Hephzibah and Azubah. the names of the mothers of Manasseh and Jehoshaphat, in Isaiah 62:4; Isaiah 62:12, is more natural in one living under the former king than it would be in a writer a century and a half later.

(f) That the local colouring of the book, as seen in the “clifts of the rocks” in Isaiah 57:5, the trees of Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 44:14; Isaiah 55:12, the “tents” of Isaiah 54:2, the references to Midian, Kedar, Nebaioth, Lebanon, in Isaiah 60:6-13, is Palestinian rather than Mesopotamian.

(g) That the idea of the Servant of the Lord was one which might have been developed by Isaiah’s experience, from the failure of his earlier hopes, from teaching like that of the Book of Job, with which he was obviously familiar, and from the lesson thus learnt that in that apparent failure, in the suffering and death of every righteous servant, culminating in those of Him who was to fulfil the ideal, lay the secret of an eternal victory.

(h) That the ideal completeness of the restoration of Israel depicted in Isaiah 40:1-16; Isaiah 41:17-19; Isaiah 43:2-6; Isaiah 49:7-26, Isaiah 54, 55, Isaiah 58:8-14, is more natural in one contemplating the return of the exiles from a distance, than to one who, as a contemporary, watched the somewhat meagre results recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, in Haggai and Zechariah.

(i) That on the assumption of the writer of 2 Isaiah having been a contemporary with the return, it is strange that there should be no trace of him in any one of the writers just mentioned, no reference in what he himself wrote to those who were contemporary actors on the stage of history, Zerubbabel and Joshua, or to the prophets who had preceded him, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel.

(j) That the resemblances of style and language between the two books—a resemblance closer than that between either of them and any other book of the Old Testament—preponderate over the diversities. The induction upon which this statement is based has been exhibited with much fulness by Dr. Kay, Mr. Birks, Mr. Cheyne, and others, in their respective Commentaries. The limits within which I have to confine myself prevent my entering on it. It will be enough to note one or two of the most striking instances:

(A) The dominance in both books of the name and the thought of the Holy one of Israel, fourteen times in each, and very rarely elsewhere.

(B) The recognition of the Spirit of the Lord as the source of the wisdom of the true king in Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 61:1.

(C) The formula “the Lord” or “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken,” in Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 58:14, and of the peculiar Hebrew form for “saith the Lord,” in Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 33:10, and in Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 66:9, both peculiar, or all but peculiar, to Isaiah.

(D) The frequent recurrence of the word tohu, the “chaos” of Genesis 1:1, three times in 1 Isaiah, and seven times in 2 Isaiah, almost, as it were, the catchword of both books, much as some modern writers are characterised by their use of phrases like “the absolute” or “the eternities.”

(E) The numerous traces in both books that the writers of each had received the same literary culture, and were cast in the same mould. Allusive references to Genesis, the Psalms, the Book of Job, Proverbs, are conspicuous in each. (See Cheyne, ii. Appendix, for details).

(4) It has to be remembered, however, that the inductive argument on either side is hardly more than tentative, and is uncertain in its results. A writer of genius, as he grows old, develops new thoughts, enlarges his vocabulary, varies his phraseology and style according to the occasion which leads him to write or the intensity of his own emotions. Many, if not most, New Testament students find no difficulty in accepting the Pastoral Epistles as written by St. Paul, in spite of the long list of words found in them which are not found in his other writings, and the peculiarities of style and thought which characterise them. On the other hand, the history of all literature shows that one writer may, either from pure reverence and love, or from a deliberate purpose of personation, so imbue his mind with the thoughts and language of another, adopt his phrases, reproduce the turns and tricks of his style, that it will not be easy even for an expert to distinguish between the counterfeit and the original. All that can be said as to the application of this inductive method to 1 and 2 Isaiah is, that the parallelisms and the peculiarities may fairly be left to balance each other. So far as I can judge, and I speak with the reserve of one who cannot claim the authority of an expert, there seems to me a slight preponderance in favour of the former.

(5) On this ground then, as well as on a review of the other elements of evidence, I adopt the hypothesis that we have in the two books that are placed in the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament under the name of Isaiah, substantially the work of one and the same author. I admit in so doing that there is so strong a primâ, facie case for the opposite hypothesis, that it would be simply impertinent and unfair to charge those who adopt it with irreverence, or haste, or prejudice. The second part of Isaiah would remain as a priceless treasure whoever wrote it, just as the worth of the Epistle to the Hebrews is unaffected by the question whether it was written by Paul or by Apollos, or some unknown writer; it would still have for us, as Christians, the incomparable attraction of having been in part, at least, the basis of the theology of Christendom. It was given to that book to revive, from time to time, the dormant Messianic hopes of Israel; to exercise a traceable influence on the minds of later prophets, such as Jeremiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; to nourish the souls of those who were looking for consolation and redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38); to contribute, if “the word be not too bold,” to the education of Him who was to meet those longing expectations. There, as in the mirror of the Divine word, Jesus of Nazareth saw, in the Servant of the Lord, the guiltless Sufferer, the righteous King, that which He recognised as the archetype, after which His own life and death were to be fashioned (Mark 10:45). There the Baptist found that which defined his position in the kingdom of God, as a voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23). There the publican Evangelist found the Christ delineated as he had seen Him in Jesus (Matthew 8:17). There Peter, and Paul, and John, and Philip, found the foreshadowings of all that was most precious to them in the teaching of their Master, a witness to Jesus in His lowliness, His purity, His gentleness, His sufferings and death and victory (Acts 8:35; 1Peter 2:21-24), the ground of their hopes of the restoration of Israel (Romans 10:15; Romans 10:20), of the redemption of mankind, and of the restoration of all things, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2Peter 3:13), the apocalypse of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21, 22). There the souls of devout Christians, century after century, have found, more than in any other utterance of prophecy, the Evangel pre-evangelised, the exceeding great and precious promises which sustained them in their conflict with temptation, under the burden of their sins, and turned their sorrow and sighing into the songs of an everlasting joy.

IV. (1) It remains that I should acknowledge the debt of gratitude which I owe, in greater or less measure, to some of my forerunners. The list of commentators on Isaiah is a very long one, and it is probable, to use a phrase of the old Rabbis, that no one has ever entered into the House of the Interpreter with reverent footsteps without finding some treasure which he might make peculiarly his own. Of these I cannot claim to have consulted more than comparatively few. The circumstances under which I have had to write the notes that follow—a somewhat prolonged absence from England, and the pressure of other work on my return—have restricted my range of choice. The English student will scarcely complain if that limitation has led me to a more careful study of those whom I chose as the safest and most trustworthy guides. The limits within which 1 have had to work forbade my discussing the views of other commentators, and I have had to be content with giving results, apart from the processes which led to them. All the more is it right that I should, here at least, acknowledge my obligations to those to whom I am conscious that I am most largely indebted—to Ewald, here, as always, suggestive, bold, original; to Delitzsch, exhaustive and complete, with an almost more than Teutonic exhaustiveness; to my old Oxford instructor in Hebrew, Dr. Kay, looking into the spiritual significance of words and phrases, and investigating suggestive parallelisms with a microscopic minuteness; above all, to Mr. Cheyne, in whom the spirit of a wide and fearless research, and the vividness of historical imagination, are blended, in a measure rarely found elsewhere, with a spirit of devout reverence and insight which makes his Commentary on Isaiah wellnigh all that the scholar student can desire. It has been my effort, while reserving to myself the right of an independent judgment so far as I felt competent to exercise it, to follow, though with unequal steps, in the path in which these interpreters have gone before me, learning myself, according to the old adage, in the endeavour to teach others.

(2) I have further to acknowledge my many obligations to Mr. Sayce, M. Oppert, and the other Assyriologists whose labours, collected in the Records of the Past series, published by Mr. Bagster, have made the inscriptions which have thrown a new light on the writings of Isaiah accessible to the average English student. Looking to the class of readers for whom I write, I have thought it better, as a rule, to refer to that series than to books like Mr. George Smith’s Assyrian Discoveries and History of Sennacherib; or Dr. Ginsburg’s Moabite Stone, or Mr. Budge’s Esarhaddon, or Schrader’s Keil-Inschriften; or papers that lie buried as it were, in the Transactions of learned societies.

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
(1) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz . . .—The term “vision,” as descriptive of a prophet’s work (1Samuel 3:1), is the correlative of the old term “seer,” as applied to the prophet himself (1Samuel 9:9). The latter fell into disuse, probably because the pretenders to the clairvoyance which it implied brought it into discredit. The prophet, however, did not cease to be a “seer;” and to see visions was still one of the highest forms of the gift of the spirit of Jehovah (Joel 2:28). It describes the state, more or less ecstatic, in which the prophet sees what others do not see, the things that are yet to come, the unseen working of the eternal laws of God. As compared with “the word of the Lord,” it indicates a higher intensity of the ecstatic state; but the two terms were closely associated, and, as in Isaiah 2:1, a man was said to see “the word of the Lord.” Judah and Jerusalem are named as the centre, though not the limit, of the prophet’s work.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
(2) Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.—The prophet opens the great indictment by calling the universe to listen to it. The words remind us of Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 32:1, but the thought was the common inheritance of Hebrew poets (Psalm 50:4; Jeremiah 6:19; Jeremiah 22:29), and we can draw no inference from the parallelism as to the date of either book.

I have nourished and brought up children. The last word has in the Hebrew the emphasis of position: Sons I have reared and brought up. From those who had thus grown up under a father’s care filial duty might have been expected; but it was not so. The sons had rebelled against their father’s control. It is significant that the prophet starts from the thought of the fatherhood of God in His relation to Israel. The people might be unworthy of their election, but He had chosen them (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Hosea 11:1).

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
(3) The ox knoweth his owner . . .—As in Exodus 20:17; 1Samuel 12:3, the ox and the ass rather than, as with us, the horse and the dog, are the representative instances of the relation of domesticated animals to man. These know that relation, and act according to it; but Israel did not, or rather would not, know. So Jeremiah dwells, turning to a different region of animal life, on the instinct which leads the stork, the swallow, and the crane to fulfil the law of their being (Jeremiah 8:7), while Israel “knew not”—i.e., did not acknowledge—the law of Jehovah.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
(4) Ah, sinful nation . . .—The Hebrew interjection is, like our English “Ha!” the expression of indignation rather than of pity.

A seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters.—The first phrase in the Hebrew idiom does not mean “the progeny of evil-doers,” but those who, as a seed or brood, are made up of such. (Comp. Isaiah 14:20; Isaiah 65:23.) The word “children” (better, as in Isaiah 1:2, sons) once more emphasises the guilt of those who ought to have been obedient.

They have forsaken the Lord . . .—The three verbs paint the several stages of the growth in evil. Men first forsake, then spurn, then openly apostatise. (Comp. Luke 16:13). In the “Holy One of Israel” we have the Divine name on which Isaiah most delights to dwell, and which had been impressed on his mind by the Trisagion, which accompanied his first call to the office of a prophet (Isaiah 6:3). The thought expressed by the name is that all ideas of consecration, purity, and holiness are gathered up in God. The term occurs fourteen times in the first part of Isaiah, and sixteen times in the second. A corrupt people needed to be reminded ever more and more of the truth which the name asserted.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
(5) Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.—Better, by revolting more and more. The prophet does not predict persistency in rebellion, but pleads against it. (Comp. “Why will ye die?” in Ezekiel 18:31.)

The whole head is sick. . . .—Better, every head. . . . every heart. The sin of the people is painted as a deadly epidemic, spreading everywhere, affecting the noblest organs of the body (see Note on Jeremiah 17:9), and defying all the resources of the healing art. The description that follows is one of the natural parables of ethics, and reminds us of Plato’s description of the souls of tyrants as being full of ulcerous sores (Gorg., c. 80). The description may have connected itself with the prophet’s personal experience or training in the medicine and surgery of his time, or with the diseases which came as judgments on Jehoram (2Chronicles 21:18) and Uzziah (2Chronicles 26:20). We find him in Isaiah 38:21 prescribing for Hezekiah’s boil. It would seem, indeed, from 2Chronicles 16:12, that the prophets, as an order, practised the art of healing, and so were rivals of the “physicians,” who depended chiefly on idolatrous charms and incantations. The picture of the disease reminds us of the language of Deuteronomy 28:22-35; Job 2:7, and of the descriptions of like pestilences in the history of Florence, and of England. Every part of the body is tainted by the poison. “We note a certain technical precision in the three terms used: “wounds” (literally, cuts, as inflicted by a sword or knife); “bruises,” or weals, marks of the scourge or rod; “putrifying sores,” wounds that have festered into ulcers. As the diagnosis is technical, so also are the therapeutic agencies. To “close” or “press” the festering wound was the process tried at first to get rid of the purulent discharge; then, as in Hezekiah’s case (Isaiah 38:21), it was “bound up,” with a poultice, then some stimulating oil or unguent, probably, as in Luke 10:34, oil and wine were used, to cleanse the ulcer. No such remedies, the prophet says, had been applied to the spiritual disease of Israel.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
(7) Your country is desolate . . .—It is natural to take the words as describing the actual state of things when the prophet wrote. There had been such invasions in the days of Ahaz, in which Israel and Syria (Isaiah 7:1), Edom and the Philistines, had been conspicuous (2Chronicles 28:17-18); and the reign of Hezekiah already had witnessed that of Sargon (Isaiah 20:1).

The Hebrew has no copulative verb, but joins subject and predicate together with the emphasis of abruptness: Your landa desolation, and so on. The repetition of the word “strangers” is characteristic of Isaiah’s style.

As overthrown by strangers.—Conjectural readings give (1) “as the overthrow of Sodom;” (2) “as the overthrow of (i.e., wrought by) a rain-storm.” The word rendered “overthrown” is elsewhere applied only to the destruction of the cities of the plain (Deuteronomy 29:23; Amos 4:11; Jeremiah 49:18). So taken, the clause prepares the way for the fuller comparison of Isaiah 1:9-10.

And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
(8) The daughter of Zion.—The phrase stands, as everywhere (Psalm 45:12; Lamentations 2:8; Micah 4:10), for the ideal city personified.

Is left as a cottage in a vineyard . . .—The “hut,” or “booth,” in which the keeper of the vineyards dwelt, apart from other habitations, was an almost proverbial type of isolation, yet to such a state was Zion all but reduced. The second similitude is of the same character. Cucumbers and other plants of the gourd type (Jonah 4:6) were largely cultivated in Judæa, and here, too, each field or garden, like the olive groves and vineyards of Italy, had its solitary hut.

As a besieged city.—The comparison of the besieged city to itself is at first startling. Rhetorically, however, it forms a climax. The city was not at this time actually besieged, but it was so hemmed in with perils, so isolated from all help, that this was what its condition practically came to. It was neither more nor less than “as a besieged city,” or ‘within a measurable distance’ of becoming so.

Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
(9) Except the Lord of hosts . . .—This name also had been stamped on the prophet’s mind at the time of his call (Isaiah 6:3). The God of the hosts (or armies) of heaven (sun, moon and stars, angels and archangels) and of earth had not been unmindful of the people. The idea of the “remnant” left when the rest of the people perished is closely connected with the leading thought of Isaiah 6:12-13. It had, perhaps, been impressed on the prophet’s mind by the “remnant” of Israel that had escaped from Tiglath-pileser or Sargon (2Chronicles 30:6; comp. Micah 5:7).

We should have been as Sodom . . .—Here the prophet, continuing perhaps the thought of Isaiah 1:7, speaks of the destruction, in the next verse of the guilt, of the cities of the plain. Both had passed into a proverb. So Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:46-56) works out the parallelism; so our Lord speaks of the guilt of Sodom as being lighter than that of Capernaum (Matthew 11:23); so the tradition has condensed itself in the Arabic proverb, quoted by Cheyne, “More unjust than a kadi of Sodom.” (Comp. Isaiah 3:9; Deuteronomy 32:32.)

Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
(10) Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom.—The Hebrew text, by leaving a space between the two verses, indicates the beginning of a new section. It is noticeable that the prophet does not address the king. It may be that he trusted him, but not his ministers. We have to remember that the rulers (better, judges; same word as kadi) thus addressed were probably those who were outwardly active in Hezekiah’s work of reformation, or had taken part in the older routine worship under Uzziah. For princes and people alike that reformation was but superficial. The priestly writer of the Book of Chronicles might dwell only on the apparent good in either reign (2Chronicles 27:2; 2 Chronicles 29-31); but the eye of Isaiah saw below the surface. In “the word of the Lord,” and “the law of our God,” we have two different aspects of the revelation of the Divine will, the first being the prophetic message of the prophet, the second pointing primarily, perhaps, to the law given by Moses, but including also, as in Psalm 19:7; Psalm 119:1; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:24; Isaiah 51:7, all forms of direct ethical teaching, especially, perhaps, such as were actually based upon the law or Torah as a text.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
(11) To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? . . .—Isaiah carries on the great catena of prophetic utterances as to the conditions of acceptable worship (1Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Psalm 50:7-14; Psalm 51:16-17). In Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8 we have the utterances of contemporary prophets, who may have exercised a direct influence on his teaching. The description points primarily, perhaps, to the reign of Uzziah, but may include that of Hezekiah. The account of the sacrifices agrees with 2Chronicles 29:21-29.

Saith the Lord . . .—Here, as in Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 33:10; Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 66:9, the prophet uses the future instead of the familiar past tense. This is what Jehovah will say, once and for ever.

When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
(12) When ye come to appear before me.—Literally, before my face. This is the meaning given by the present Hebrew text, and it is, of course, adequate. The Syriac version and some modern scholars (e.g., Cheyne) adopt a reading which gives to see my face. In either case the implied thought is that the worshippers believed they came into the more immediate presence of Jehovah when, they entered the Temple courts. To “appear before God” was the normal phrase for visiting the Temple at the three great Feasts and other solemn occasions (Exodus 34:23; Psalm 42:3; Psalm 84:7).

Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
(13) Bring no more vain oblations.—These were of the minchah class, the “meat-offerings,” or, more properly, meal-offerings of Leviticus 7:9-12. This, with its symbolic accompaniment of incense (Isaiah 66:3), was the characteristic feature of the thank-offerings and peace-offerings.

Incense is an abomination.—The Hebrew word is not that usually translated “incense,” and is found in Psalm 66:15 (“incense,” or sweet smoke, “of rams”), in connection with animal sacrifice. There does not appear, however, any adequate reason why we should take the minchah in any but its usual sense of meal-offering. The prophet brings together all the chief ritual phrases without an elaborate attention to the details connected with them.

The new moons and sabbaths . . .—The classification agrees with that of 2Chronicles 8:13 : sabbaths, new moons, and solemn feasts.” (Comp. Hosea 2:11). The term “convocation,” or “assembly,” was specially applied to the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:7; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:27). The religious revival under Hezekiah brought all these into a fresh prominence (2Chronicles 31:3). In Colossians 2:16 they appear together as belonging to the Judaising Essene Christians of the apostolic age.

It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.—The Hebrew construction has the abruptness of indignation: “The new moon and sabbaths, and calling of assemblies . . . iniquity with a solemn assembly I cannot bear. This was what made the crowded courts of the Temple hateful to the messenger of Jehovah. “Iniquity” was there. The character of a ruling caste is not changed in a day, and the lives of rulers and judges were under Hezekiah as they had been in the days of Ahaz, or at least in those of Uzziah.

Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
(14) Your new moons and your appointed feasts.—The latter word included the sabbaths (Leviticus 23:3). The words add nothing to what had been said before, but they come with all the emphasis of iteration.

My soul.—The words are in one sense anthropomorphic. With man the “soul” expresses the full intensity of life and consciousness, and so, in the language of the prophets, it does with God.

And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
(15) When ye spread forth your hands.—The words point to the attitude of one who prays, as was the manner of Jews, Greeks, and Romans (“tenditque ad sidera palmas,” Virg., Æn., xii. 196), standing, and with hands stretched out toward heaven. (Comp. Luke 18:11-13.)

When ye make many prayers.—The Pentateuch contains no directions for the use of forms of prayer beyond the benediction of Numbers 6:23-26, and two forms connected with the Passover in Deuteronomy 26:5-10; Deuteronomy 26:13-15. The “eighteen prayers” for daily use belong to the later Rabbinic stage of Judaism. It lies in the nature of the case, however, that first a real, and then an ostentatious devotion would show itself in the use of such forms, possibly, as in Psalm 119:164, “seven times a day.” In Proverbs 27:14; Proverbs 28:9, which belong to the reign of Hezekiah, and may, therefore, indirectly represent Isaiah’s teaching, we have the warnings of the wise as to the right use of such forms.

Your hands are full of blood.—Literally, bloods, as implying many murderous acts. The words point to the guilt of judges and princes, such as that described in Hosea 4:2. Life was sacrificed to greed of gain, or lust, or vindictiveness. To the prophet’s eye those hands, stretched upwards in the Temple by some, at least, of the king’s ministers and judges, were red with the blood of the slain. (Comp. Isaiah 59:3.)

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
(16) Wash you, make you clean . . .—The words were probably as an echo of Psalm 51:7. Both psalmist and prophet had entered into the inner meaning of the outward ablutions of ritual.

Cease to do evil; (17) learn to do well.—Such words the prophet might have heard in his youth from Amos (Amos 5:14-15). What had then been spoken to the princes of the northern kingdom was now repeated to those of Judah.

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
(17) Relieve the oppressed.—More accurately, correct the oppressor. The prophet calls on the rulers not merely to acts of benevolence, but to the courageous exercise of their authority to restrain the wrong-doing of the men of their own order. We are reminded of what Shakespeare says of Time, that it is his work—

“To wrong the wronger till he render right.”

(Rape of Lucrece.)

Judge the fatherless.—The words are still primarily addressed to men in office. They are told that they must be true to their calling, and that the “fatherless” and the “widow,” as the typical instances of the defenceless, ought to find an advocate in the judge.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
(18) Come now, and let us reason together.—The Authorised Version suggests the thought of a discussion between equals. The Hebrew implies rather the tone of one who gives an authoritative ultimatum, as from a judge to the accused, who had no defence, or only a sham defence, to offer (Micah 6:2-3). “Let us sum up the pleadings—that ultimatum is one of grace and mercy—‘Repent, and be forgiven.’”

Though your sins be as scarlet.—The two colours probably corresponded to those now designated by the English words. Both words point to the dyes of Tyre, and the words probably received a fresh emphasis from the fact that robes of these colours were worn by the princes to whom Isaiah preached (2Samuel 1:24). To the prophet’s eye that dark crimson was as the stain of blood. What Jehovah promises is that the guilt of the past, deep-dyed in grain as it might be, should be discharged, and leave the character with a restored purity. Men might dye their souls of this or that hue, but to bleach them was the work of God. He alone could transfigure them that they should be “white as snow” (Mark 9:3). Comp. the reproduction of the thought, with the added paradox that it was the crimson “blood of the lamb” that was to bleach and cleanse, in Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:14.

If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
(19) If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.—The promise of temporal blessings as the reward of a true repentance, instead of the spiritual peace and joy of Psalm 51:8-12, fills us at first with a sense of disappointment. It has to be remembered, however, that the prophet spoke to those who were unjust and selfish, and who were as yet far from the broken and contrite heart of the true penitent. He was content to wake up in them the dormant sense of righteousness, and to lead them to recognise the moral government of God. In the long run they would not be losers by a change of conduct. The choice of eating or “being eaten” (the “devoured” of Isaiah 1:20), enjoying a blameless prosperity, or falling by the sword, was placed before those to whom the higher aspirations of the soul were little known. Such is, at all times, one at least of the methods of God’s education of mankind.

How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
(21) How is the faithful city become an harlot! . . .—The opening word, as in Lamentations 1:1, is the key-note of an elegiac wail, which opens a new section. The idea of prostitution as representing apostasy from Jehovah was involved in the thought that Israel was the bride whom He had wooed and won (Hosea 1-3; Jeremiah 2:2). The imagery was made more impressive by the fact that actual prostitution entered so largely into the ritual of many of the forms of idolatry to which the Israelites were tempted (Numbers 25:1-2). So Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:1-14) develops the symbolism with an almost terrible fulness. So our Lord spoke of the Pharisees as an “adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39). The fact that Hosea, an earlier contemporary, had been led to tell how he had been taught the truth thus set forth by a living personal experience, is not without significance in its bearing on the genesis of Isaiah’s thoughts.

Righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.—Better, assassins. The word implies not casual homicide, but something like the choice of murder and robbery as a profession. Hosea (Hosea 6:9) had painted a like picture as true of Samaria. The traveller who sojourned in Jerusalem, the poor who lived there, were exposed to outrage and murder; and all this was passing before men’s eyes at the very time when they were boasting, as it were, of their “glorious reformation.”

Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
(22) Thy silver is become dross . . .—The two images describe the degeneracy of the rulers to whose neglect this disorder was due. (See Notes on Jeremiah 6:28-30.) Hypocrisy and adulteration were the order of the day. The coinage of judgment and justice was debased; the wine of spiritual life (Proverbs 9:5), of enthusiasm and zeal for good, was diluted till it had lost all power to strengthen and refresh. In “the salt that has lost its savour” of Matthew 5:13 we have a like symbolism.

Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
(23) Thy princes are rebellious.—The Hebrew words present an alliterative paronomasia (sārim, sôrerîm), which may be represented by “Thy rulers are rebels.” Here, as before, we note the “influence of Hosea (Hosea 9:15), from whom the words are cited.

Companions of thieves.—We seem almost to be reading a report of the state of police in a provincial city under the government of Turkey as it is, or of Naples or Sicily as they were. The kadi himself is in secret partnership with the brigands who infest the highways. Nothing can be done without baksheesh, and the robbers who have the plunder can bribe more heavily than the man whom they have robbed. (Comp. Micah 7:3.) To the complaints of the widow and the orphan the judges turned a deaf ear, and put off the hearing of their cause with indefinite procrastination. There is, perhaps, a touch of irony in the word for “bribes” (shalmōnîm, as if “peace gifts”), which were sought after, instead of shalôm, the true peace itself.

Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
(24) Therefore saith the Lord.—The word for “saith” (literally, whisper) is that which always indicates the solemn utterance of an oracle. The solemnity is emphasised by the exceptional accumulation of Divine names. He who speaks is the Eternal, the Lord of the armies of earth and heaven, the Hero, the Mighty One, of Israel. The latter name is found also in Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16; Genesis 49:24; Psalm 132:2; Psalm 132:5, and not elsewhere.

Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries.—In bold, anthropomorphic language, which reminds us of Psalm 78:65, Jehovah is represented as waking out of slumber, and rising up to judgment. The words “ease” and “avenge” in the Hebrew have nearly the same sound (nicham and niqqam), and come from the same root, the primary thought being that of the deep breath which a man draws in the act of throwing off a burden. The weariness and impatience of Isaiah 1:14, the long-suffering that waited, had come to an end at last (comp. Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:13), and the day of vengeance had come. The punishment was, however, to be reformatory, and not merely penal.

And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
(25) I will turn my hand upon thee.—The phrase, like the English “visit,” presents both a severe and a gracious aspect. Of the former we have instances in Psalm 81:14, Amos 1:8; of the latter in Zechariah 13:7. The context here inclines to the latter meaning. Jehovah punishes that He may save, and smites that He may heal.

Purely purge away thy dross.—Better, will smelt away thy dross with lye, or potash, which was used in the smelting process. The imagery of Isaiah 1:22 is resumed. The great Refiner can purify the debased metal. In Malachi 3:2-3, we have the same image expanded. The process involved, of course, the rejection of the dross—i.e., in the interpretation of the parable, of the lead that would not let itself be turned to silver.

Tin.—Better, perhaps, lead. In either case Isaiah’s knowledge of metallurgy was probably due to intercourse with the Phœnicians, who brought both lead and tin from Tarshish (i.e., Spain).

And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellers as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
(26) I will restore thy judges as at the first.—The prophet looks back to the good old days, the time probably of David, or the early years of Solomon (1Kings 10:9)—as Englishmen look back to those of Elizabeth—when judges were faithful, and princes upright, and the people happy—to such an ideal polity as that of Psalms 15, 24.

The city of righteousness, the faithful city.—The two nouns are not the same, and the second has rather the meaning of “citadel,” the acropolis of Jerusalem. There is possibly an allusive reference to the idea embodied in the names of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:2) and Adonizedec (Joshua 10:3), as connected with Jerusalem. So in Jeremiah 33:16 the ideal city, no less than the ideal king, is to be called Jehovah Tsidkenu (“the Lord our righteousness”).

Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
(27) Zion shall be redeemed with judgment . . .—Better, through justice. The condition of the redemption which primarily proceeds from the compassion of Jehovah is found in the renewed righteousness of man to man described in the preceding verse. Without that no redemption was possible, for that was of its very essence.

Her converts.—Literally, those that turn. The conversion implied is obviously not that of Gentiles to the faith of Israel, but of Israelites who had gone astray. The word is the same as that which meets us in the name of Shear-jashub (the remnant shall return), and is prominent in the teaching of Jeremiah, “Turn ye, and live” (Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 3:14; Isaiah 4:1, et al.).

And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
(28) Of the transgressors and of the sinners.—The first of the two words presents evil in its aspect of apostasy, the second in that of the open sin which may accompany the apostasy or exist without it.

For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
(29) They shall be ashamed of the oaks . . .—Better, terebinths. The words point to the groves that were so closely connected with the idolatry of Canaan, especially with the worship of the asherah, and which the people had chosen in preference to the sanctuary of Jehovah (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2Kings 16:4; Jeremiah 3:6). Greek worship presents the parallels of the groves of Daphne at Antioch, and those of Dodona and of the Eumenides at Colônos. The “gardens” were the precinct planted round the central tree or grove.

For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
(30) Ye shall be . . .—Men were to think of the pleasant places that had tempted them, not as they had seen them, fresh and green, but as burnt up and withered, and then were to see in that desolation a parable of their own future. The word for “strong” occurs only in Amos 2:9, where we find “strong as the oaks.”

And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
(31) The maker of it as a spark.—Better, his work as a spark. The sin itself becomes the instrument of destruction. The mighty and the proud, who were foremost in the work of idolatry, and who did not repent, should perish with their work—i.e., with the idol which their hands had made. The tow and the spark are chosen as representing the most rapid form of combustion.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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