Isaiah prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He has been well called the evangelical prophet, on account of his numerous and full prophesies concerning the coming and character, the ministry and preaching, the sufferings and death of the Messiah, and the extent and continuance of his kingdom. Under the veil of the deliverance from Babylon, Isaiah points to a much greater deliverance, which was to be effected by the Messiah; and seldom does he mention the one, without alluding at the same time to the other; nay, he is often so much enraptured with the prospect of the more distant deliverance, as to lose sight of that which was nearer, and to dwell on the Messiah's person, office, character, and kingdom.
The corruptions prevailing among the Jews. (1-9) Severe censures. (10-15) Exhortations to repentance. (16-20) The state of Judah is lamented; with gracious promises of the gospel times. (21-31)
Verses 1-9 Isaiah signifies, "The salvation of the Lord;" a very suitable name for this prophet, who prophesies so much of Jesus the Saviour, and his salvation. God's professing people did not know or consider that they owed their lives and comforts to God's fatherly care and kindness. How many are very careless in the affairs of their souls! Not considering what we do know in religion, does us as much harm, as ignorance of what we should know. The wickedness was universal. Here is a comparison taken from a sick and diseased body. The distemper threatens to be mortal. From the sole of the foot even to the head; from the meanest peasant to the greatest peer, there is no soundness, no good principle, no religion, for that is the health of the soul. Nothing but guilt and corruption; the sad effects of Adam's fall. This passage declares the total depravity of human nature. While sin remains unrepented, nothing is done toward healing these wounds, and preventing fatal effects. Jerusalem was exposed and unprotected, like the huts or sheds built up to guard ripening fruits. These are still to be seen in the East, where fruits form a large part of the summer food of the people. But the Lord had a small remnant of pious servants at Jerusalem. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. The evil nature is in every one of us; only Jesus and his sanctifying Spirit can restore us to spiritual health.
Verses 10-15 Judea was desolate, and their cities burned. This awakened them to bring sacrifices and offerings, as if they would bribe God to remove the punishment, and give them leave to go on in their sin. Many who will readily part with their sacrifices, will not be persuaded to part with their sins. They relied on the mere form as a service deserving a reward. The most costly devotions of wicked people, without thorough reformation of heart and life, cannot be acceptable to God. He not only did not accept them, but he abhorred them. All this shows that sin is very hateful to God. If we allow ourselves in secret sin, or forbidden indulgences; if we reject the salvation of Christ, our very prayers will become abomination.
Verses 16-20 Not only feel sorrow for the sin committed, but break off the practice. We must be doing, not stand idle. We must be doing the good the Lord our God requires. It is plain that the sacrifices of the law could not atone, even for outward national crimes. But, blessed be God, there is a Fountain opened, in which sinners of every age and rank may be cleansed. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, a deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption, and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression; though we have often dipped into sin, by many backslidings; yet pardoning mercy will take out the stain, ( Psalms 51:7 ) . They should have all the happiness and comfort they could desire. Life and death, good and evil, are set before us. O Lord, incline all of us to live to thy glory.
Verses 21-31 Neither holy cities nor royal ones are faithful to their trust, if religion does not dwell in them. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may still have the colour of wine. Those have a great deal to answer for, who do not help the oppressed, but oppress them. Men may do much by outward restraints; but only God works effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a Spirit of Judgment. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery. The redemption of the spiritual Zion, by the righteousness and death of Christ, and by his powerful grace, most fully accord with what is here meant. Utter ruin is threatened. The Jews should become as a tree when blasted by heat; as a garden without water, which in those hot countries would soon be burned up. Thus shall they be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh. Even the strong man shall be as tow; not only soon broken, and pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire. When the sinner has made himself as tow and stubble, and God makes himself as a consuming fire, what can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?
Isaiah 1:1-31 .
1. THE GENERAL TITLE OR PROGRAM applying to the entire book: this discountenances the Talmud tradition, that he was sawn asunder by Manasseh.
Isaiah--equivalent to "The Lord shall save"; significant of the subject of his prophecies. On "vision," see 1 Samuel 9:9 , Numbers 12:6 ; and
Judah and Jerusalem--Other nations also are the subjects of his prophecies; but only in their relation to the Jews (Isaiah 13:1-23:18'); so also the ten tribes of Israel are introduced only in the same relation (Isaiah 7:1-9:21'). Jerusalem is particularly specified, being the site of the temple, and the center of the theocracy, and the future throne of Messiah ( Psalms 48:2 Psalms 48:3 Psalms 48:9 , Jeremiah 3:17 ). Jesus Christ is the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" ( Revelation 5:5 ).
Uzziah--called also Azariah ( 2 Kings 14:21 , 2 Chronicles 26:1 2 Chronicles 26:17 2 Chronicles 26:20 ). The Old Testament prophecies spiritually interpret the histories, as the New Testament Epistles interpret the Gospels and Acts. Study them together, to see their spiritual relations. Isaiah prophesied for only a few years before Uzziah's death; but his prophecies of that period (Isaiah 1:1-6:13') apply to Jotham's reign also, in which he probably wrote none; for Isaiah 7:1-25 enters immediately on Ahaz' reign, after Uzziah in Isaiah 6:1-13 ; the prophecies under Hezekiah follow next.
2. The very words of Moses ( Deuteronomy 32:1 ); this implies that the law was the charter and basis of all prophecy ( Isaiah 8:20 ).
Lord--Jehovah; in Hebrew, "the self-existing and promise-fulfilling, unchangeable One." The Jews never pronounced this holy name. but substituted Adonai. The English Version, LORD in capitals, marks the Hebrew "Jehovah," though Lord is rather equivalent to "Adonai" than "Jehovah."
children--( Exodus 4:22 ).
rebelled--as sons ( Deuteronomy 21:18 ) and as subjects, God being king in the theocracy ( Isaiah 63:10 ). "Brought up," literally, "elevated," namely, to peculiar privileges ( Jeremiah 2:6-8 Romans 9:4 Romans 9:5 ).
3. ( Jeremiah 8:7 ).
crib--the stall where it is fed ( Proverbs 14:4 ). Spiritually the word and ordinances.
Israel--The whole nation, Judah as well as Israel, in the restricted sense. God regards His covenant-people in their designed unity.
not know--namely. his Owner, as the parallelism requires; that is, not recognize Him as such ( Exodus 19:5 , equivalent to "my people," John 1:10 John 1:11 ).
consider--attend to his Master ( Isaiah 41:8 ), notwithstanding the spiritual food which He provides (answering to "crib" in the parallel clause).
4. people--the peculiar designation of God's elect nation ( Hosea 1:10 ), that they should be "laden with iniquity" is therefore the more monstrous. Sin is a load ( Psalms 38:4 , Matthew 11:28 ).
seed--another appellation of God's elect ( Genesis 12:7 , Jeremiah 2:21 ), designed to be a "holy seed" ( Isaiah 6:13 ), but, awful to say, "evildoers!"
children--by adoption ( Hosea 11:1 ), yet "evildoers"; not only so, but "corrupters" of others ( Genesis 6:12 ); the climax. So "nation--people--seed children."
provoked--literally, "despised," namely, so as to provoke ( Proverbs 1:30 Proverbs 1:31 ).
Holy One of Israel--the peculiar heinousness of their sin, that it was against their God ( Amos 3:2 ).
gone . . . backward--literally, "estranged" ( Psalms 58:3 ).
5. Why--rather, as Vulgate, "On what part." Image from a body covered all over with marks of blows ( Psalms 38:3 ). There is no part in which you have not been smitten.
head . . . sick, &c.--not referring, as it is commonly quoted, to their sins, but to the universality of their punishment. However, sin, the moral disease of the head or intellect, and the heart, is doubtless made its own punishment ( Proverbs 1:31 , Jeremiah 2:19 , Hosea 8:11 ). "Sick," literally, "is in a state of sickness" [GESENIUS]; "has passed into sickness" [MAURER].
6. From the lowest to the highest of the people; "the ancient and honorable, the head, the prophet that teacheth lies, the tail." See Isaiah 9:13-16 . He first states their wretched condition, obvious to all ( Isaiah 1:6-9 ); and then, not previously, their irreligious state, the cause of it.
wounds--judicially inflicted ( Hosea 5:13 ).
mollified with ointment--The art of medicine in the East consists chiefly in external applications ( Luke 10:34 , 5:14 ).
7. Judah had not in Uzziah's reign recovered from the ravages of the Syrians in Joash's reign ( 2 Chronicles 24:24 ), and of Israel in Amaziah's reign ( 2 Chronicles 25:13 2 Chronicles 25:23 , &c.). Compare Isaiah's contemporary ( Amos 4:6-11 ), where, as here ( Isaiah 1:9 Isaiah 1:10 ), Israel is compared to "Sodom and Gomorrah," because of the judgments on it by "fire."
in your presence--before your eyes: without your being able to prevent them.
desolate, &c.--literally, "there is desolation, such as one might look for from foreign" invaders.
8. daughter of Zion--the city ( Psalms 9:14 ), Jerusalem and its inhabitants ( 2 Kings 19:21 ): "daughter" (feminine, singular being used as a neuter collective noun), equivalent to sons ( Isaiah 12:6 , Margin) [MAURER]. Metropolis or "mother city" is the corresponding term. The idea of youthful beauty is included in "daughter."
left--as a remnant escaping the general destruction.
cottage--a hut, made to give temporary shelter to the caretaker of the vineyard.
besieged--rather, as "left," and Isaiah 1:9 require, preserved, namely, from the desolation all round [MAURER].
9. Jehovah of Sabaoth, that is, God of the angelic and starry hosts ( Psalms 59:5 , 147:4 , 148:2 ). The latter were objects of idolatry, called hence Sabaism ( 2 Kings 17:16 ). God is above even them ( 1 Chronicles 16:26 ). "The groves" were symbols of these starry hosts; it was their worship of Sabaoth instead of the Lord of Sabaoth, which had caused the present desolation ( 2 Chronicles 24:18 ). It needed no less a power than His, to preserve even a "remnant." Condescending grace for the elect's sake, since He has no need of us, seeing that He has countless hosts to serve Him.
10. Sodom--spiritually ( Genesis 19:24 , Jeremiah 23:14 , Ezekiel 16:46 , Revelation 11:8 ).
11. God does not here absolutely disparage sacrifice, which is as old and universal as sin ( Genesis 3:21 , 4:4 ), and sin is almost as old as the world; but sacrifice, unaccompanied with obedience of heart and life ( 1 Samuel 15:22 , Psalms 50:9-13 , 51:16-19 , Hosea 6:6 ). Positive precepts are only means; moral obedience is the end. A foreshadowing of the gospel, when the One real sacrifice was to supersede all the shadowy ones, and "bring in everlasting righteousness" ( Psalms 40:6 Psalms 40:7 , Daniel 9:24-27 , Hebrews 10:1-14 ).
full--to satiety; weary of
burnt offerings--burnt whole, except the blood, which was sprinkled about the altar.
fat--not to be eaten by man, but burnt on the altar ( Leviticus 3:4 Leviticus 3:5 Leviticus 3:11 Leviticus 3:17 ).
12. appear before me--in the temple where the Shekinah, resting on the ark, was the symbol of God's presence ( Exodus 23:15 , Psalms 42:2 ).
who hath required this--as if you were doing God a service by such hypocritical offerings ( Job 35:7 ). God did require it ( Exodus 23:17 ), but not in this spirit ( Micah 6:6 Micah 6:7 ).
courts--areas, which the worshippers were. None but priests entered the temple itself.
13. oblations--unbloody; "meat (old English sense, not flesh) offerings," that is, of flour, fruits, oil, &c. ( Leviticus 2:1-13 ). Hebrew, mincha.
incense--put upon the sacrifices, and burnt on the altar of incense. Type of prayer ( Psalms 141:2 , Revelation 8:3 ).
new moons--observed as festivals ( Numbers 10:10 , Numbers 28:11 Numbers 28:14 ) with sacrifices and blowing of silver trumpets.
sabbaths--both the seventh day and the beginning and closing days of the great feasts ( Leviticus 23:24-39 ).
away with--bear, MAURER translates, "I cannot bear iniquity and the solemn meeting," that is, the meeting associated with iniquity--literally, the closing days of the feasts; so the great days ( Leviticus 23:36 , John 7:37 ).
14. appointed--the sabbath, passover, pentecost, day of atonement, and feast of tabernacles [HENGSTENBERG]; they alone were fixed to certain times of the year.
weary--( Isaiah 43:24 ).
15. ( Psalms 66:18 , Proverbs 28:9 , Lamentations 3:43 Lamentations 3:44 ).
spread . . . hands--in prayer ( 1 Kings 8:22 ). Hebrew, "bloods," for all heinous sins, persecution of God's servants especially ( Matthew 23:35 ). It was the vocation of the prophets to dispel the delusion, so contrary to the law itself ( Deuteronomy 10:16 ), that outward ritualism would satisfy God.
16. God saith to the sinner, "Wash you," &c., that he, finding his inability to "make" himself "clean," may cry to God, Wash me, cleanse me ( Psalms 51:2 Psalms 51:7 Psalms 51:10 ).
before mine eyes--not mere outward reformation before man's eyes, who cannot, as God, see into the heart ( Jeremiah 32:19 ).
17. seek judgment--justice, as magistrates, instead of seeking bribes ( Jeremiah 22:3 Jeremiah 22:16 ).
judge--vindicate ( Psalms 68:5 , 1:27 ).
18. God deigns to argue the case with us, that all may see the just, nay, loving principle of His dealings with men ( Isaiah 43:26 ).
scarlet--the color of Jesus Christ's robe when bearing our "sins" ( Matthew 27:28 ). So Rahab's thread ( Joshua 2:18 ; compare Leviticus 14:4 ). The rabbins say that when the lot used to be taken, a scarlet fillet was bound on the scapegoat's head, and after the high priest had confessed his and the people's sins over it, the fillet became white: the miracle ceased, according to them, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, that is, exactly when Jesus Christ was crucified; a remarkable admission of adversaries. Hebrew for "scarlet" radically means double-dyed; so the deep-fixed permanency of sin in the heart, which no mere tears can wash away.
snow--( Psalms 51:7 ). Repentance is presupposed, before sin can be made white as snow ( Isaiah 1:19 Isaiah 1:20 ); it too is God's gift ( Jeremiah 31:18 , end Lamentations 5:21 , Acts 5:31 ).
red--refers to "blood" ( Isaiah 1:15 ).
as wool--restored to its original undyed whiteness. This verse shows that the old fathers did not look only for transitory promises (Article VII, Book of Common Prayer). For sins of ignorance, and such like, alone had trespass offerings appointed for them; greater guilt therefore needed a greater sacrifice, for, "without shedding of blood there was no remission"; but none such was appointed, and yet forgiveness was promised and expected; therefore spiritual Jews must have looked for the One Mediator of both Old Testament and New Testament, though dimly understood.
19, 20. Temporal blessings in "the land of their possession" were prominent in the Old Testament promises, as suited to the childhood of the Church ( Exodus 3:17 ). New Testament spiritual promises derive their imagery from the former ( Matthew 5:5 ).
20. Lord hath spoken it--Isaiah's prophecies rest on the law ( Leviticus 26:33 ).
21. faithful--as a wife ( Isaiah 54:5 , 62:5 , Hosea 2:19 Hosea 2:20 ).
harlot--( Ezekiel 16:28-35 ).
righteousness lodged--( 2 Peter 3:13 ).
murderers--murderous oppressors, as the antithesis requires
22. Thy princes and people are degenerate in "solid worth," equivalent to "silver" ( Jeremiah 6:28 Jeremiah 6:30 , Ezekiel 22:18 Ezekiel 22:19 ), and in their use of the living Word, equivalent to "wine" ( Solomon 7:9 ).
mixed--literally, "circumcised." So the Arabic, "to murder" wine, equivalent to dilute it.
23. companions of thieves--by connivance ( Proverbs 29:24 ).
gifts--( Ezekiel 22:12 ). A nation's corruption begins with its rulers.
24. Lord . . . Lord--Adonai, JEHOVAH.
mighty One of Israel--mighty to take vengeance, as before, to save.
ease me--My long tried patience will find relief in at last punishing the guilty ( Ezekiel 5:13 ). God's language condescends to human conceptions.
25. turn . . . hand--not in wrath, but in grace ( Zechariah 13:7 ), "upon thee," as Isaiah 1:26 Isaiah 1:27 show; contrasted with the enemies, of whom He will avenge Himself ( Isaiah 1:24 ).
purely--literally, "as alkali purifies."
thy dross--not thy sins, but the sinful persons ( Jeremiah 6:29 ); "enemies" ( Isaiah 1:24 ); degenerate princes grace.
tin--Hebrew, bedil, here the alloy of lead, tin, &c., separated by smelting from the silver. The pious Bishop Bedell took his motto from this.
26. As the degeneracy had shown itself most in the magistrates ( Isaiah 1:17-23 ), so, at the "restoration," these shall be such as the theocracy "at the first" had contemplated, namely, after the Babylonish restoration in part and typically, but fully and antitypically under Messiah ( Isaiah 32:1 , 52:8 , Jeremiah 33:7 , Matthew 19:28 ).
faithful--no longer "an harlot."
27. redeemed--temporarily, civilly, and morally; type of the spiritual redemption by the price of Jesus Christ's blood ( 1 Peter 1:18 1 Peter 1:19 ), the foundation of "judgment" and righteousness, and so of pardon. The judgment and "righteousness" are God's first ( Isaiah 42:21 , Romans 3:26 ); so they become man's when "converted" ( Romans 8:3 Romans 8:4 ); typified in the display of God's "justice," then exhibited in delivering His covenant-people, whereby justice or "righteousness" was produced in them.
converts--so MAURER. But Margin, "they that return of her," namely the remnant that return from captivity. However, as Isaiah had not yet expressly foretold the Babylonian captivity, the English Version is better.
28. destruction--literally, "breaking into shivers" ( Revelation 2:27 ). The prophets hasten forward to the final extinction of the ungodly ( Psalms 37:20 , Revelation 19:20 , 20:15 ); of which antecedent judgments are types.
29. ashamed--( Romans 6:21 ).
oaks--Others translate the "terebinth" or "turpentine tree." Groves were dedicated to idols. Our Druids took their name from the Greek for "oaks." A sacred tree is often found in Assyrian sculpture; symbol of the starry hosts, Saba.
gardens--planted enclosures for idolatry; the counterpart of the garden of Eden.
30. oak--Ye shall be like the "oaks," the object of your "desire" ( Isaiah 1:29 ). People become like the gods they worship; they never rise above their level ( Psalms 135:18 ). So men's sins become their own scourges ( Jeremiah 2:9 ). The leaf of the idol oak fades by a law of necessary consequence, having no living sap or "water" from God. So "garden" answers to "gardens" ( Isaiah 1:29 ).
31. strong--powerful rulers ( Amos 2:9 ).
maker of it--rather, his work. He shall be at once the fuel, "tow," and the cause of the fire, by kindling the first "spark."
both--the wicked ruler, and "his work," which "is as a spark."