Isaiah 56
Pulpit Commentary
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
Verses 1-8. - AN EXHORTATION TO OBSERVE THE LAW, ESPECIALLY THE LAW OF THE SABBATH, COMBINED WITH PROMISES. There was much of the Law which it was impossible to observe during the Captivity. Sacrifice had ceased, the temple was destroyed, almost all the ceremonial law must have been suspended; even the command to do no work on the sabbath day cannot have been kept by a nation of slaves, whose masters would certainly not have permitted them to be idle one day in seven. Still, the spirit of the ordinance might be kept by devoting the day, so far as was possible, to religious observance, as to prayer and to meditation upon holy things. This is now enjoined on the captive Jews, with the promise of a blessing - a blessing in which even the most despised part of the nation, the proselytes and the eunuchs, might participate. Verse 1. - Keep ye judgment, and do justice; rather, keep ye Law, and observe righteousness. The exhortation is general, and has no special bearing on trials or law-courts. It is a call on the Jews, in their captivity, to keep, so far as was possible, the whole Law given on Sinai. My salvation is near to come. The nearer the time of deliverance approaches, the more faithful and exact ought Israel to be in life and conduct. God's "salvation" and his "righteousness" go hand-in-hand. It is as his righteous people, "a holy seed" (Isaiah 6:10), that he is about to vindicate and rescue them. If they are no holier than others, why should he do more for them than for those others?
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.
Verse 2. - That doeth this... that layeth hold on it; i.e. that doeth according to the exhortation in ver. 1. That keepeth the sabbath. The prominent place assigned to this duty by the evangelical prophet is remarkable. We may observe, however,

(1) that the spirit of obedience is better tested by a positive than by a moral ordinance; and

(2) that as, probably, there could be little outward keeping of the sabbath by the captives, it would have had to be kept inwardly by spiritual exercises, by silent prayer and praise, together with prolonged meditation upon holy things. In the absence of all the ordinary aids to devotion, the religious condition of the people must have depended very much on their keeping up the recollection of the sabbath, and hallowing it so far as was possible; e.g. doing no work for themselves, neither buying nor selling, making their devotions longer, and keeping God in their thoughts throughout the day.
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.
Verse 3. - The son of the stranger; i.e. the foreigner, who has become a proselyte. During the depression of the Captivity these are not likely to have been many. Still, there were doubtless some; and these, who had embraced Judaism under such unfavourable circumstances, were entitled to special consideration. As Messianic hopes prevailed, and the time of restoration to Palestine drew near (ver. 1), they might naturally be afraid that they would not be looked upon as equals by the native Israelites, but would be made into a lower grade, if not even excluded. The Lord hath utterly separated me; rather, the Lord will utterly separate me. They do not suppose it done, but think it will be done. The eunuch. Isaiah had prophesied to Hezekiah that a certain number of his seed should serve as eunuchs in the royal palace of the King of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were such persons (Daniel 1:3-6), and there may have been others. By the letter of the Law (Deuteronomy 23:1), they were cut off from the congregation, but practically it would seem that during the Captivity they were on a par with other Israelites. These persons feared, with more reason than the foreign proselytes, that, on the return of Israel to their own land, a stricter practice would be established than had prevailed during the Captivity, and the letter of the Law would be enforced against them. I am a dry tree. Therefore useless, and entitled to no consideration at all.
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;
Verse 4. - The eunuchs that... take hold of my covenant. The law of Deuteronomy 23:1 shall be abrogated under the new condition of things, for such as "take hold of God's covenant."
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.
Verse 5. - In mine house; i.e. "in my Church" (comp. 1 Timothy 3:15). Within my walls. Within the walls of my "holy city" (see above, Isaiah 54:11, 12; 50:14; 42:12). A place and a name; or, a memorial and a name; i.e. honourable mention, like that promised to the woman who anointed Christ for his burial (Matthew 26:13). Such mention is found in Matthew 19:12; Acts 8:27-39.
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;
Verse 6. - Also the sons of the stranger (comp. ver. 3). The proselytes shall not be treated as they fear. On the contrary, God will treat them in exactly the same way as his original people - will conduct them to Palestine, settle them in his "holy mountain," admit them to the temple services, accept their burnt offerings and their sacrifices. All this will be a foretaste of their position in the Christian Church, where there will be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, but a community where all are brethren and all have equal privileges.
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.
Verse 7. - My house of prayer. In Solomon's address to God at the dedication of the temple, its character, as a house of prayer, is abundantly laid down (1 Kings 8:29-53). And no doubt it was used for the purpose of prayer, as well as for the purpose of sacrifice, from its first erection to its final destruction. But the purpose of sacrifice so far predominated, in fact, over the other, that the expression, "my house of prayer," comes upon us in this place to some extent as a surprise. The prophet seems to anticipate the time when the temple should be emphatically a προσευχή the legal sacrifices having received their fulfilment (Isaiah 53:10), and being thenceforth superfluous and out of place. For all people; rather, for all the peoples. All the ends of the earth were to see the salvation of God (Psalm 98:3); "All nations were to fall down before him; all people to do him service" (Psalm 72:11).
The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
Verse 8. - The Lord God; rather, the Lord Jehovah - Adonai Jehovah. An unusual phrase. Which gathereth together the outcasts of Israel; i.e. the Lord who has pledged himself to bring back Israel from captivity, and to gather together Israel's outcasts from all regions (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 27:12, 13; Isaiah 43:5, 6, etc.). This same Lord now promises something further: "He will gather others also to Israel, besides his own gathered ones." Introduced with such emphasis and formality, this was probably, when delivered, a new revelation. In the present arrangement of the prophecies, however, it announces no novelty. The addition of Gentile members to the Israelite community has been declared frequently (see Isaiah 44:5; Isaiah 55:5, etc.). Section V. A WARNING TO THE WICKED (ISAIH 56:9-57.).
All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.
Verses 9-12. - THE BLIND GUIDES OF ISRAEL REBUKED. A sudden change of style marks the introduction of an entirely new prophecy. The eye of the prophet, apparently, goes back from the period of the exile, which he has been so long contemplating, to his own day, or at any rate to the pre-exile period, and rests upon Israel in their own land. He sees them misled by their teachers (vers. 10-12), given to idolatry (Isaiah 57:3-9), and offering themselves a ready prey to their enemies (Isaiah 56:9). Many modern critics regard the passage as the composition of an unknown prophet belonging to the time of Manasseh. But there is no sufficient evidence of this. The prophecy has many Isaiah characteristics. Verse 9. - Beasts of the field... beasts in the forest; i.e. "all wild beasts of whatever kind" - all the enemies of God's flock (see Jeremiah 12:9; Ezekiel 34:8). Come to devour. Make haste, now is your opportunity. The people have none to protect them, and will be an easy prey. Come, set to work; devour.
His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.
Verse 10. - His watchmen are blind. Israel's "watchmen" are his guides and teachers, the prophets (Isaiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; Habakkuk 2:1, etc.). At the time of which Isaiah speaks, they are "blind" (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7, 16, 18, 19; Isaiah 43:8, etc.), or without knowledge - like the "blind guides" of the Gospel (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39, etc.). They have not the spiritual discernment which would enable them to lead the people aright. Further, they are dumb dogs. Instead of acting as faithful watch-dogs, who give warning of the approach of danger by their barking, they remain apathetic, and utter no warning at all. It is as if they passed their lives in sleep.
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.
Verse 11. - Yea, they are greedy dogs. Another defect is noted. Not only do they fail in the way of neglect of duty, but they are actively culpable. Being worldly and not spiritually minded, they are "greedy" after gain. Anciently, the taking of a gift, or fee, from those who came to consult them was regarded as no dishonour to the prophetic office (Numbers 22:7; 1 Samuel 9:7; 1 Kings 14:3); but the nobler class of prophets declined to make a profit of their spiritual powers, and would receive no fee (2 Kings 5:16; Matthew 10:8; Acts 8:20). In Ezekiel and Micah the taking of gifts by prophets is regarded as discreditable (Ezekiel 13:19; Ezekiel 22:25; Micah 3:3). From his quarter; rather, to the uttermost (Kay), or every one, without exception (Cheyne).
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.
Verse 12. - Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine. Here we have mention of a third defect. The prophets of the time are not only negligent of their duty, and covetous, but they are given to excess in wine and to long revels, such as even the heathen considered to be disgraceful (comp. Isaiah 28:7, where both priests and prophets are taxed with habitual drunkenness). To-morrow shall be as this day; i.e. the drinking shall continue - we will have a two days' bout of it. And much more abundant; rather, very exceedingly abundant. There is no comparison of one day with the other; but simply a promise that on both days the drinking shall be without stint. (On the drunkenness occasionally prevalent in Oriental countries, see Herod.,1:133; Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 8:8, § 10; Dur. Samuel Fr., 13; and compare the remarks of Sir H. Rawlinson on the inebriety of the modern Persians in the author's ' Herodotus,' vol. 1. p. 219, edition of 1862.)

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