Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.LVII.
(1) The righteous perisheth . . .—The words seem written as if in the anticipation or in the actual presence of Manasseh’s persecution of the true prophets. Even before that persecution burst out in its full violence, the “righteous” survivors of Hezekiah’s régime may well have vexed their souls even to death with the evils that were around them. The prophet finds comfort in the thought that their death was a deliverance from yet worse evils. The singular number points to the few conspicuous sufferers.
He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.(2) He shall enter into peace . . .—Notice- able as presenting the brighter side of the dim thoughts of Israel as to the life behind the veil, and so far contrasted with Hezekiah’s shrinking fear. (Comp. Job 3:17.) For the righteous there was peace in death as in life. For the wicked there was peace in neither (Isaiah 57:21).
They shall rest in their beds.—The “bed” is obviously the grave, the thought following naturally on that of death being as the sleep “after life’s fitful fever.” (Ezekiel 32:25.)
Each one walking in his uprightness.—Better, every one who has walked straight before him—has taken, i.e., the straight path of duty (Isaiah 30:21.)
But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.(3) Ye sons of the sorceress.—The words may be purely figurative, as meaning those who practise sorcery, but it is also possible that they may have reference to the female soothsayers, such as are described in Ezekiel 13:17-23.
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,(4) Against whom do ye sport yourselves?—The question, as in Isaiah 37:23, is one of indignant scorn, the implied answer being that the mockers were deriding the servants of Jehovah. (Comp. Wisdom 2), and, in so doing, mocking Jehovah himself. The “wide mouth,” and the “drawn-out tongue,” are the natural symbols of derision.
Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?(5) Enflaming yourselves.—The best illustration of the phrase is found in the real or supposed derivation of “fanatic” as meaning one who is circa fana calefactus. No word could better describe the orgiastic excitement of heathen rites. For “with idols read among the terebinths, which were prominent, with other trees, in the groves dedicated to idol-worship (Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13).
Slaying the children in the valleys . . .—This had been done by Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:3). It was perfectly natural that it should be done by Manasseh. There is not the slightest trace of the revival of the practice among the exiles in Babylon or after their return. The scenery described—the torrent-stream, the clefts of the rock—belongs distinctively to Palestine.
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?(6) Among the smooth stones . . .—The worship of stones was almost as widely diffused as that of trees and serpents. In Genesis 28:18 we have, at least, an analogous practice, which might easily become identical. Among the Phœnicians such stones were known as Bœtulia (probably a Grecised form of Bethel), and were connected with the worship of the reproductive powers of nature. As the true portion of Israel was emphatically Jehovah (Jeremiah 10:16; Psalm 16:5) there is an indignant irony in the word thus used. The idolaters had chosen a fetish instead of the Eternal One. In thy portion, we have the feminine singular, designating Israel as the faithless wife.
Should I receive comfort in these?—i.e., better, Should I be quiet in spite of all this? (Comp. Jeremiah 5:7.)
Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.(7) Set thy bed . . .—Idolatry being as adultery, the “bed” follows naturally as representing the locality of the idol-worship. Comp. Ezekiel 16:31; Ezekiel 23:17.
Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.(8) Hast thou set up thy remembrance . . .—The noun has been commonly referred to the Mesusah, or memorial text, “Jehovah is our God; Jehovah is one,” which was to be written on the door-posts of each house (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20); and the prophet is supposed to point to the fact that this had been written behind the door, as showing that Israel had been ashamed to confess her creed. The explanation seems tenable, but it is possible that “remembrance” may stand for some idolatrous symbol or inscription which had been substituted for the true confession.
Thou hast discovered thyself.—The figure of the unfaithful wife is carried into its details almost with Ezekiel’s boldness.
Made thee a covenant with them . . .—The noun, as the italics show, is implied in the verb. The faithless wife forsook the covenant of her youth with her husband, and made a fresh compact with the adulterers.
Where thou sawest it.—And thou sawest the place, the words being used euphemistically for the obscene image of a Chemosh-liko idol.
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.(9) Thou wentest to the king . . .—The alteration of a single letter would give to Molech; and this may be the meaning even of the text as it stands. Looking to the Manasseh-surroundings of the passage, however, it is more natural to refer the words to the king, the great king of Assyria, whose religion Judah had basely and shamefully adopted. The sin of Ahaz (2Kings 16:11) had been reproduced by his grandson. The description that follows is that of a harlot adorning herself for her evil calling, and finds its best illustration in Proverbs 7:14-17. Looking to the previous traces of Isaiah’s study of that book (Isaiah 11:1-4, &c) we may, perhaps, find in it a deliberate reproduction of that passage. The “ointment” and “perfumes” are symbols of the treasures which were lavished to secure the Assyrian alliance. The words help us to understand Isaiah’s indignation at what must have seemed to him the initial step of a like policy on the part of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39:3-7). The words which point to the “far-off” land, to which the messengers were sent, seem almost like an echo from that king’s apology.
Even unto hell—i.e., Hades or Sheol, the world of the dead—as the symbol of an abysmal depth of degradation.
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.(10) Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way . . .—Better, with the length of thy journey—i.e., with the long embassies to Assyria, and to Babylon, as for the time the residence of its kings. For “there is no hope,” read, there is no result, or profit. Judah would not acknowledge that the negotiations were fruitless.
Thou hast found the life of thine hand . . .—The words arc a literal rendering, and convey the meaning, Thou didst renew the strength of thine hand—i.e., Judah found a fancied increase of power in the alliance she was seeking, and therefore did not repent of her ignominious diplomacy.
And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?(11) And of whom hast thou been afraid . . .?—The question implies that Judah had been led by the fear of man to forsake the fear of Jehovah, and this had led her to what was, in the fullest sense of the word, the false step of an alliance with Assyria, which was an acted lie.
Have I not held my peace . . .?—The words suggest, half-pityingly, the cause of the people’s little faith. From “of old,” i.e., during the period that preceded the captivity, or perhaps in the dark time of Manasseh, Jehovah had been silent, and His long- suffering had been mistaken for apathy, and therefore the people had not feared Him.
I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.(12) I will declare thy righteousness . . .—Accepting the Hebrew text, we must look on the word as used ironically, the righteousness which is no righteousness. Comp. Isaiah 64:6. A slight alteration, adopted by many critics, gives “my righteousness.”
When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;(13) Let thy companies . . .—The word is used contemptuously of the crowd of gods introduced by the confluent idolatry of Manasseh. (Comp. 2Chronicles 33:3-7.) The prophet taunts the worshipper with their impotence, “Let them save thee, if they can,” but that taunt is followed by a declaration that true help and strength will be given to all who trust in Jehovah.
And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.(14) And shall say . . .—Better, And one said. The prophet hears, as it were, a voice behind him, bringing an oracle from Heaven, which renews the cry of the herald in Isaiah 40:3. The verb, cast up, points to the construction of the “highway” of a spiritual return, from which all impediments are removed.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.(15) For thus saith the high and lofty . . .—The central truth for the comfort of God’s people is that the infinitely Great One cares even for the infinitely little. The truth of the greatness of lowliness manifested in the life of Christ was but the reflection of the permanent law of the Divine government. The “high and holy place” is, of course, the heavenly temple, the “light inaccessible.” The verse, as a whole, combines the truths of 2Chronicles 6:18, and Psalm 51:17.
For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.(16) I will not contend for ever . . .—The words come as a message of comfort to the penitent who is still bearing the chastisement of his sins. The time during which God “contends” with him as an accuser and a judge has its limits. Were it not so. the souls which he had made would be utterly consumed, and His purpose in creation would be frustrated. The words seem like an echo of Genesis 6:3; Genesis 8:21. (Comp. Psalm 103:9-10).
For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.(17) For the iniquity of his covetousness . . .—Literally, of his gain. This was the root-evil, out of which all others sprang (Jeremiah 6:13; Ezekiel 33:31; 1Timothy 6:10), and for this, therefore, a sharp chastisement was needed that men might learn what their true wealth consisted in. The last clause may either state the guilt Which caused the wrath, or paint the obduracy which went on doing evil in spite of it.
I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.(18) I have seen his ways . . .—The words have been interpreted: (1) of the evil ways described in the previous verse; (2) of the way of repentance into which Israel had been led by chastisement. (1) seems most in harmony with the context. The paths had been rough and thorny, but Jehovah presents Himself as the Healer to those who had been wounded by them, and leads them into a better way. The “mourners” are those who have been touched as with the “godly sorrow” of 2Corinthians 7:10-11.
I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.(19) The fruit of the lips . . .—The words point primarily to the praise and thanksgiving of the pardoned penitent (comp. Hosea 14:2; Hebrews 13:15), but include also all true utterances of the wise of heart (Proverbs 10:31). All these alike have their origin in the creative fiat of Jehovah, which proclaims “peace” (i.e., salvation) to all, whether near or far, Jews in Jerusalem, or Jews in exile, or (as in Ephesians 2:17) the Gentiles whose distance was that of spiritual remoteness. The message of healing is for all.
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.(20) The wicked are like the troubled sea . . .—The promise of healing is, however, not unconditional. The acceptance of peace requires calmness; but for the wicked, whose thoughts are restlessly seething with evil ripening into act, this true peace is, in the nature of the case, impossible. We note the recurrence of the watchword of Isaiah 48:22, as indicating the close of another section of the prophecy. The MSS. and versions present a curious variation in Isaiah 57:21 : some “saith Jehovah,” some “God,” some “the Lord God.” It would almost seem as if transcribers and translators had shrunk from the prophet’s boldness in claiming God as in some special sense his God. It has a parallel, however, in Isaiah 7:13, and may be noted, accordingly, as one of the characteristic touches common to the two parts of Isaiah. The “Sea” of which Isaiah speaks may possibly have been the Dead Sea, casting up its salt bituminous deposits.