Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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This chapter exhibits to our view the Servant of Jehovah, i. e. the Messiah and his people, as a complex person, and as the messenger or representative of God among the nations. His mode of operation is described as being not violent but peaceful, vs. 1-5. The effects of his influence are represented as not natural but spiritual, vs. 6-9. The power of God is pledged for his success, notwithstanding all appearances of inaction or indifference on his part. vs. 10-17. In the latter portion of the chapter, the Church or Body of Christ, as distinguished from the Head, and representing him until he came, is charged with unfaithfulness to their great trust, and this unfaithfulness declared to be the cause of what is suffered, vs. 18-25. Several important exegetical questions with respect to the Servant of Jehovah, will be noticed in the exposition of the chapter.

1. Behold my servant! I will hold him fast; my chosen one (in whom) my soul delights; I have given (or put) my Spirit upon him; judgment to the nations shall he cause to go forth. There is no need of assuming (with the English Version) an ellipsis of the relative twice in the same clause. The separate construction of the first two words, as an introduction to the following description, makes them far more impressive, like the ecce homo ( ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος) of John 19:5. The first verb, construed as it is here, signifies to hold fast, for the most part with the accessory idea of holding up, sustaining, or supporting. Elect or chosen does not mean choice or excellent, except by implication; directly and strictly it denotes one actually chosen, set apart, for a definite purpose. By Spirit, as in all such cases, we are to understand, not only divine influence, but the divine person who exerts it. (See vol. 1. pp. 64, 163.) The use of the phrase on him, where in him might have seemed more natural, is probably intended to suggest the idea of descent, or of an influence from heaven. The last clause predicts the diffusion of the true religion. The ancient doctrine of the Jewish church, and of the great majority of Christian writers, is that the servant of the Lord is the Messiah. In favour of the Messianic exposition may be urged not only the tradition of the Jewish church already cited, and the perfect facility with which this hypothesis at once accommodates itself to all the requisitions of the passages to which it is applied, but also the explicit and repeated application of these passages to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. These applications will be noticed seriatim as the texts successively present themselves. To this first verse there are several allusions more or less distinct and unequivocal. Besides the express citation of it, with the next three verses, in Matt. 12:19-21, there is an obvious allusion to its terms, or rather a direct application of them made by God himself, in the descent of the Holy Spirit on our Saviour at his baptism, and in the words pronounced from heaven then and at the time of his transfiguration: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:17. 17:5). That Christ was sent to the Jews and not the Gentiles, is only true of his personal ministry and not of his whole work as continued by his followers, who were expressly commissioned to go into all the world, to make disciples of all nations, the only restriction imposed being that of beginning at Jerusalem. It only remains to be considered, whether this application of the title and the description of our Saviour is exclusive of all others, as its advocates commonly maintain. This inquiry is suggested by the fact, which all interpreters admit, that Israel, the chosen people, is not only called by this same name, but described as having some of the same attributes, not only elsewhere, but in this very context, and especially in vs. 19, 20, of this chapter, where any other explanation of the terms, as we shall see, is altogether inadmissible. Assuming, then, that the Messiah is the servant of Jehovah introduced at the beginning of the chapter, there are only two ways of accounting for the subsequent use of the same language with respect to Israel. The first way is by alleging a total difference of subject in the different places, which in fact though not in form is to decline all explanation of the fact in question, as being either needless or impossible. That such a twofold application of equivalent expressions to entirely different subjects is conceivable and must in certain cases be assumed, there is no need of denying. But unless we abandon all attempt to interpret language upon any settled principle, we must admit that nothing short of exegetical necessity can justify the reference of the same descriptive terms to different subjects in one and the same context. If then there is an exegetical hypothesis by which these applications can be reconciled, without doing violence to usage or analogy, it seems to be clearly entitled to the preference. Such a hypothesis, it seems to me, is one obscurely stated by some older writers, but which may be more satisfactorily propounded thus, that by the servant of Jehovah, in these Later Prophecies of Isaiah, we are to understand the Church with its Head, or rather the Messiah with the Church which is his body, sent by Jehovah to reclaim the world from its apostasy and ruin. This agrees exactly with the mission both of the Redeemer and his people as described in Scripture, and accounts for all the variations which embarrass the interpretation of the passages in question upon any more exclusive exegetical hypothesis. It is also favoured by the analogy of Deut. 18, where the promised Prophet, according to the best interpretation, is not Christ exclusively, but Christ as the Head of the prophetic body who possessed his spirit. Another analogy is furnished by the use of the phrase Abraham's seed, both individually and collectively. He whom Paul describes as the seed of Abraham, and Moses as a prophet like unto himself, in a personal but not an exclusive sense, is described by Isaiah as the servant of Jehovah, in his own person, but not to the exclusion of his people, so far as they can be considered his co-workers or his representatives. Objections founded on the want of agreement between some of these descriptions and the recorded character of Israel, are connected with a superficial view of Israel considered simply as a nation and like other nations, except so far as it was brought into external and fortuitous connection with the true religion. An essential feature in the theory proposed is that this race was set apart and organized for a specific purpose, and that its national character is constantly subordinate to its ecclesiastical relation. There is precisely the same variation in the language used respecting it as in the use and application of the term ἐκκλησία in the New Testament. Israel is sometimes described as he was meant to be, and as he should have been; sometimes as he actually was. The name is sometimes given to the whole race and sometimes to the faithful portion of it, or, which amounts to the same thing, it is sometimes used to denote the real, sometimes the nominal Israel. The apparent violence of applying the same description to an individual person and a body, will be lessened by considering, that Christ was in the highest and the truest sense the Servant of Jehovah and his messenger to man, but that his body, church, or people, was and is a sharer in the same vocation, under the gospel as an instrument or fellow-worker, under the law as a type or representative of one who had not yet become visible. Hence the same things might be predicated to a great extent of both. As the Messiah was the servant and messenger of God to the nations, so was Israel. It was his mission also to diffuse the true religion and reclaim the nations. From the very first it was intended that the law should go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Ch. 2: 3.) The national restrictions of the old economy were not intended to exclude the gentiles from the church, but to preserve the church from assimilation to the gentiles. All the world might have come in if they would by complying with the terms prescribed; and nothing is more clear from the Old Testament than the fact that the privileges of the chosen people were not meant to be restricted even then to the natural descendants of Israel, for this would have excluded proselytes entirely. Multitudes did embrace the true religion before Christ came; and that more did not, was partly their own fault, partly the fault of the chosen people, who neglected or mistook their high vocation as the Messiah's representative and as Jehovah's messenger. If it be asked, how the different applications of this honourable title are to be distinguished, so as to avoid confusion or capricious inconsistency, the answer is as follows. Where the terms are in their nature applicable both to Christ as the Head and to his Church as the Body, there is no need of distinguishing at all between them. Where sinful imperfection is implied in what is said, it must of course be applied to the Body only. Where a freedom from such imperfection is implied. the language can have a direct and literal reference only to the Head, but may be considered as descriptive of the Body, in so far as its idea or design is concerned, though not in reference to its actual condition. Lastly, when anything is said implying deity or infinite merit, the application to the Head becomes not only predominant but exclusive. It may further be observed that as the Church, according to this view of the matter, represents its Head, so it is represented by its leaders, whether prophets, priests, or kings; and as all these functions were to meet in Christ, so all of them may sometimes be particularly prominent in prophecy. How far the theory here stated with respect to the Servant of Jehovah is either necessary to explain the prophecies or really consistent with their terms, can only be determined by a specific application of the principle to the successive parts of the description. If applied to this first verse, it would determine its interpretation, as describing Israel, the ancient church, to be in a peculiar sense the Servant of Jehovah, protected and sustained by Him, enlightened by a special revelation, not for his own exclusive use, but as a source of saving light to the surrounding nations. At the same time it would show him to possess this character not in his own right but in that of another, as the representative and instrument of one who, though he was with God and was God, took upon him the form of a servant and received the Spirit without measure, that he might be a light to lighten the gentiles as well as the glory of his people Israel. (Luke 2: 32 ) The reference to Christ is here so evident, however, that there is no need of supposing any distinct reference to his people at all, nor any advantage in so doing, except that of rendering the subsequent verses still more significant, as descriptive not only of his personal ministry, but of the spirit and conduct of his people, both before and after his appearance.

2. He shall not cry (or call aloud), and he shall not raise (his voice), and he shall not let his voice be heard in the. street (or abroad, without). The simple meaning of the verse is, he shall not be noisy but quiet. As applied both to Christ and to the Church, this verse describes a silent, unostentatious method of proceeding. The quotation in Matth. 12:19 is commonly explained as referring to our Saviour's mild and modest demeanour; but it rather has respect to the nature of his kingdom, and to the means by which it was to be established. His forbidding the announcement of the miracle is not recorded simply as a trait of personal character, but rather as implying that a public recognition of his claims was not included in his present purpose.

3. A bruised (or crushed) reed he will not break, and a dim wick he will not quench; by the truth will he bring forth judgment. The verbs of the first clause have no exact equivalents in English. The first appears to mean broken but not broken off, which last is denoted by the other. The common version, smoking fax, is that of the Septuagint and Vulgate. The Hebrew noun really denotes flax (Ex. 9:31), but the adjective means faint or dim; so that in order to convey the meaning in translation, the former must be taken in the specific sense of wick, which it also has in ch. 3:17. The verse continues the description of the mode in which the Messiah and his people were to bring forth judgment to the nations, or in other words to spread the true religion. It was not to be by clamour or by violence. The first of these ideas is expressed in the preceding verse, the last in this. That such is the true import of the words is clear from the addition of the last clause, which would be unmeaning if the verse related merely to a compassionate and sympathetic temper. That this verse is included in Matthew's quotation (ch. 12:19), shows that he did not quote the one before it as descriptive of a modest and retiring disposition. For although such a temper might be proved by Christ's prohibiting the publication of his miracles, this prohibition could not have been cited as an evidence of tenderness and mildness. The only way in which the whole quotation can be made appropriate to the case in hand, is by supposing that it was meant to be descriptive, not merely of our Saviour's human virtues, but of the nature of his kingdom and of the means by which it was to be established. That he was both lowly and compassionate is true, but it is not the truth which he established by his conduct upon this occasion, nor the truth which the evangelist intended to illustrate by the citation of these words. As well in their original connection as in Matthew's application of them, they describe that kingdom which was not of this world; which came not with observation (Luke 17: 20); which was neither meat nor drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 1:17); which was founded and promoted not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord; (Zeph. 4:6) and of which its founder said (John 18:36), If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence. And again (John 18:37), when Pilate said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest (rightly) that I am a king; to this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth; every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. How perfectly does this august description tally with the great prophetic picture of the Servant of Jehovah, who was to bring forth judgment to the nations, and in doing so was not to cry or raise his voice or let men hear it in the streets, nor by brutal force to break the crushed reed or quench the dim wick, but to conquer by healing and imparting strength. This passage also throws light on the true sense of the somewhat obscure phrase the truth, by showing that it means with respect to the truth, which is here equivalent to saying by the truth. This construction, by presenting an antithesis between the true and false way of bringing forth judgment to the gentiles, is much to be preferred to those constructions which explain the phrase as simply meaning in truth (i.e. truly), or in permanence (i.e. surely), or unto truth (i.e. so as to establish and secure it). All these may be suggested as accessory ideas: but the main idea seems to be the one first stated, namely, that the end in question is to be accomplished not by clamour, not by violence, but by the truth.

4. He shall not be dim, and he shall not be crushed, until he shall set judgment in the earth, and for his law the isles shall wait. He shall neither conquer nor be conquered by violence. This verse is a new proof that the one before it does not describe mere tenderness and pity for the weak. The antithesis would then be, he shall neither be unkind to the infirm nor infirm himself. On the other hand, the sense is clear and pertinent if v. 3 means that he shall not use violence towards those who are weaker than himself, and v. 4 that he shall not suffer it from those who are more powerful; he shall neither subdue others nor himself be subdued by force. To set or place judgment in the earth is to establish and confirm the true religion. By his law we are to understand his word or revelation, considered as a rule of duty. Here again the islands is a poetical expression for the nations, or more specifically for the transmarine and distant nations. The hope meant in the last clause is not so much subjective as objective. The thing described is not the feeling of the gentiles towards the truth, but their dependence on it for salvation, and on Christ for the knowledge of the truth itself. For his law the isles are waiting (or must wait), and till it comes they must remain in darkness.

5. Thus saith the Mighty (God), Jehovah, creating the heavens and stretching them out, spreading the earth and its issues, giving breath to the people on it, and spirit to those walking in it. The substitution of the preterite for the participle in the English Version (he that created the heavens and stretched them out) is not only a gratuitous departure from the form of the original, but hides from the English reader the allusion to the creative power of God as constantly exercised in the continued existence of his works. The same figure is exhibited more fully in ch. 40:22, and the places there referred to. This clause is not a scientific but a poetical description. To the eye, the heavens have the appearance of a canopy or curtain, and the verdant surface of the earth that of a carpet. No single English word is so appropriate as issues to express both the meaning and the derivation of the corresponding one in Hebrew, which denotes the things that come out of the earth, its produce, growth, or vegetation with particular allusion here to grass. Here, as in ch. 40:7, the word people is evidently used in application to the whole human race, a fact of some importance in the exposition of what follows. The enumeration of Jehovah's attributes in this verse is intended to accredit the assurances contained in the context.

6. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness, and will lay hold of thee, (or hold thee fast), and will keep thee, and will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the gentiles. The act of calling here implies selection, designation, and providential introduction to God's service. In righteousness, i.e. in the exercise of righteousness on God's part, including the fulfilment of his promises as well as of his threatenings. I will hold thee fast, and thereby hold thee up, sustain thee. (See above, v. 1.) We may understand by a covenant of the people a negotiator between God and the people. This use of covenant, although unusual, is in itself not more unnatural or forced than that of light in the next phrase. As light of the nations must mean a source or dispenser of light to them, so covenant of people, in the very same sentence, may naturally mean the dispenser or mediator of a covenant with them. The only reason why the one appears less natural and simple than the other, is that light is habitually used in various languages both for the element of light and for its source or a luminous body, whereas no such twofold usage of the other word exists, although analogies might easily be traced in the usage of such words as justice for judge, counsel for counsellor, in both which cases the functionary takes the name of that which he dispenses or administers. But supposing this to be the true construction of the phrase, the question still arises, who are the contracting parties, or in other words, what are we to understand by people? The great majority of writers make it mean the Jews, the chosen people of Jehovah, and the covenant the mediator or negotiator of a new covenant between them and Jehovah, according to the representation in Jer. 31:31-33. But it is better to understand it as a description of the servant of Jehovah in the character, not only of a light (or an enlightener) to the nations, but of a mediator or negotiator between God and the people, i.e. men in general. These are epithets applicable in their highest sense to Christ alone, to whom they are in fact applied by Simeon (Luke 2: 32) and Paul (Acts 13:7). That neither of these quotes the phrase a covenant of the people, does not prove that it has no relation to the gentiles, but only that it does not relate to them exclusively, but to the whole human race; whereas the other phrase, as applying specifically to the gentiles, and as being less ambiguous, was exactly suited to Paul's purpose.

7. To open blind eyes, to bring out from prison the bondman, from the house of confinement the dwellers in darkness. This was the end to be accomplished by the Servant of Jehovah in the character or office just ascribed to him. The spiritual evils to be remedied are represented under the figures of imprisonment and darkness, the removal of the latter having obvious allusion to the light of the nations in v. 6. That explanation of these words, which refers them to the restoration of the Jews from exile, is encumbered with various and complex difficulties. What is said of bondage must be either strictly understood or metaphorically. If the former be preferred, how is it that the Prophet did not use expressions more exactly descriptive of the state of Israel in Babylon? A whole nation carried captive by its enemies could hardly be described as prisoners in dark dungeons. If it be said that this is a figurative representation of confinement in the dark, the principle of strict interpretation is abandoned, and the imprisonment itself may be a metaphor for other evils. There is then left no specific reason for applying this description to the exile any more than to a hundred other seasons of calamity. Another and more positive objection to this limitation is, that it connects this verse with only part of the previous description, and that the part to which it bears the least resemblance. Even granting what has been disproved, that the covenant of the people has respect to Israel alone, how is it that the other attribute, a light to the gentiles, must be excluded in interpreting what follows? It was surely not in this capacity that the Servant of Jehovah was to set the Jewish exiles free. The opening of the eyes and the deliverance of those that sit in darkness are correlative expressions to the light of the gentiles, which on this account, and as the nearest antecedent, must decide the sense of this verse, if that sense depend on either of these attributes exclusively. I will make thee a light to the gentiles, to open the blind eyes etc. can scarcely mean, I will make thee an instructor of the heathen to restore the Jews from captivity in Babylon. Whether the verse before us therefore be strictly or figuratively understood, it cannot be applied to the captivity without doing violence at once to the text and context. The very same reasoning applies to the analogous expressions used in ch. 49:9, and thus corroborates our previous conclusion, that the context in neither of these places favours, much less requires, the restriction of these words to the Jews. The only natural interpretation of the verse before us is that which makes it figurative like the one preceding it; and the only natural interpretation of its figures is the one which understands them as descriptive of spiritual blindness and spiritual bondage, both which are metaphors of constant application to the natural condition of mankind in the Old as well as the New Testament. The removal of these evils is the work of Christ, as the revealer of the Father, who has brought life and immortality to light; but in subordination to him, and as his representative, his church may also be correctly represented as a covenant of the people and a light of the nations; since the law, though a divine revelation, was to go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

8. I am Jehovah, that is my name, and my glory to another will I not give, and my praise to graven images. The name Jehovah is here used with emphasis, in reference to its etymological import, as descriptive of a self-existent, independent, and eternal being. Graven images are here put, as in many other cases, for idols in general, without regard to the mode of their formation. The connection of this verse with what precedes may seem obscure, but admits of an easy explanation. From the assertion of Jehovah's power and perfection as a ground for his people's confidence, the Prophet now proceeds, by a natural transition, to exhibit it in contrast with the impotence of those gods in whom the gentiles trusted. These are represented not only as inferior to God but as his enemies and rivals, any act of worship paid to whom was so much taken from what he claimed as his own and as his own exclusively. The general doctrine of the verse is, that true and false religion cannot coexist; because, however tolerant idolatry may be, it is essential to the worship of Jehovah to be perfectly exclusive of all other gods. This is included in the very name Jehovah, and accounts for its solemn proclamation here.

9. The first (or former) thingslo, they have come, and new things I (am) telling; before they spring forth (sprout or germinate) I will make (or let) you hear (them). This is an appeal to former prophecies already verified, as grounds of confidence in those yet unfulfilled. The strong and beautiful expression in the last clause can only mean that the events about to be predicted were beyond the reach of human foresight, and is therefore destructive of the modern notion, that these prophecies were written after Cyrus had appeared, and at a time when the further events of his history could be foreseen by an observer of unusual sagacity. Such a prognosticator, unless he was also a deliberate deceiver, a charge which no one brings against this writer, could not have said of what he thus foresaw, that he announced it before it had begun to germinate, i.e. while the seed was in the earth, and before any outward indications of the plant could be perceived. As this embraces all the writer's prophecies, it throws the date of composition back to a period before the rise of Cyrus, and thereby helps to invalidate the arguments in favour of regarding it as contemporaneous with the Babylonish exile.

10. Sing to Jehovah a new song, his praise from the end of the earth. (ye) going down to the sea and its fulness, isles and their inhabitants! To sing a new song, according to Old Testament usage, is to praise God for some new manifestation of his power and goodness. It implies, therefore, not only fresh praise, but a fresh occasion for it. Reduced to ordinary prose style, it is a prediction that changes are to take place, joyfully affecting the condition of the whole world. That this is a hyperbole, relating to the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, is too gratuitous and forced a supposition. Its fulness may either be connected with the sea, and both made dependent on go down (to the sea and its fulness), or regarded as a distinct object of address. In the latter case, the marine animals would seem to be intended; in the former, the whole mass of water with its contents; the last is more poetical and natural. The antithesis is then between the sea with its frequenters on the one hand and the isles with their inhabitants on the other.

11. The desert and its towns shall raise (the voice), the enclosures (or encampments, in which) Kedar dwells; the dwellers in the Rock shall shout, from the top of mountains shall they cry aloud. This is a direct continuation of the previous description, in which the whole world is represented as exulting in the promised change. The reference of this verse to the course of the returning exiles through the intervening desert is forbidden by the mention of the sea and its fulness, the isles and the ends of the earth, in the preceding and following verses. If these are not all parts of the same great picture, it is impossible to frame one. If they are, it is absurd to take the first and last parts in their widest sense as an extravagant hyperbole, and that which is between them in its strictest sense as a literal description. The only consistent supposition is that sea, islands, deserts, mountains, towns, and camps, are put together as poetical ingredients of the general conception, that the earth in all its parts shall have occasion to rejoice. The mention of cities as existing in the wilderness appears less strange in the original than in a modern version, because both the leading words have a greater latitude of meaning than their usual equivalents, the first denoting properly a pasture-ground, and being applicable therefore to any uncultivated region whether uninhabited or not, the other answering to town in its widest English sense inclusive of both villages and cities. The translation villages is too restricted, since the Hebrew word is applicable also to collections of tents or nomadic encampments, which appears to be the prominent idea here. Kedar was the second son of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13). Here, as in ch. 21:16, the name is put for his descendants, or by a natural metonymy for the Arabians in general. The rabbinical name for the Arabic language is the tongue of Kedar.

12. They shall place (or give) to Jehovah honour, and his praise in the islands they shall show forth (or declare). Still another mode of saying, the whoje world shall praise him. The islands are again mentioned, either as one out of several particulars before referred to, or with emphasis, as if he had said, even in the islands, beyond sea, and by implication in the furthest regions. As the verb to give, in Hebrew usage, has the secondary sense of placing, so the verb to place is occasionally used as an equivalent to that of giving. (See vol. I. p. 30.) The translation of the verbs in this verse as imperatives (let them give glory and declare), although substantially correct, is a needless departure from the form of the original, in which the idea of command or exhortation is sufficiently implied though not expressed. The verbs do not agree with the series of nouns in the foregoing verse (desert, towns, etc.), for these could not celebrate Jehovah in the islands. The construction is indefinite, they, i. e. men in general, a form of speech of far more frequent occurrence in Hebrew than would be suspected by a reader of the English Bible.

13. Jehovah, like a strong one, will go forth; like a warrior (literally a man of battle) he will rouse (his) zeal; he will shout, yea he will cry; against his foes he will make (or show) himself strong. From the effect he now reverts to the efficient cause. The universal joy before described is to arise from Jehovah's triumph over his enemies. The martial figures of the verse are intelligible in themselves and all familiar to the usage of the Scriptures. To go forth is the common Hebrew phrase for going out to war or battle. (See above, on ch. 40: 26.) Zeal may either have its general sense of ardour, strong and violent affection of whatever kind, or its more specific sense of jealousy or sensitive regard for his own honour and for the welfare of his people. (See vol. I. p. 136.) The idea is that of an ancient warrior exciting his own courage by a shout or war-cry. The last clause may be understood to mean, he shall prevail over his enemies; but although this idea is undoubtedly included, it is best to retain the reflexive form and import of the verb as far as may be, in translation.

14. I have long been still, (saying) I will hold my peace, I will restrain myself. (But now) like the travailing (woman) I will shriek, I will pant and gasp at once. The second and third verbs may be regarded as the expression of his own determination or intention while the silence lasted. The omission of the verb to say before such repetitions or citations is not only frequent in general usage, but the more natural in this case from the fact that this whole verse is universally regarded as the words of God himself, although he is not expressly introduced as the speaker. There is indeed another very ancient explanation of the last two verbs, given in the English Version, I will destroy and devour at once. 'My wrath, long restrained, I will now let break forth,' is no doubt the true sense of the verse on either supposition.

15. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and all their herbage will I dry up; and I will turn (literally place) streams to islands and pools (or lakes) will I dry up. Having described the effect and the cause of the great future change, he now describes the change itself, under the common form of a complete revolution in the face of nature, sometimes with special reference to the heavens (ch. 13:10), sometimes (as here and in ch. 35:6, 7) to the earth. The verse probably contains an allusion to the ancient cultivation of the hills of Palestine, by means of terraces, many of which are still in existence. (See vol. I. p. 116.)

16. And I will make the blind walk in a way they know not, in paths they know not I will make them tread; I will set (or turn) darkness before them to light, and obliquities to straightness. These are the words; I have made them (or done them) and have not left them. The combination of these two antitheses (light and dark, crooked and straight) shows clearly that they are both metaphorical expressions for the same thing that is represented tinder other figures in the verse preceding, viz. total change; in what respect and by what means, the metaphors themselves do not determine. And yet some writers understand the first clause as specifically meaning, that the exiles in Babylon should be delivered at a time and in a manner which they had not expected; while another class apply the words exclusively to spiritual exercises or religious experience. To both these objects the description admits of an easy application; but neither of them is to be considered its specific subject. It is impossible, without the utmost violence, to separate this one link from the chain of which it forms a part, that is to say, from the series of strong and varied metaphors, by which the Prophet is expressing the idea of abrupt and total change. The same thing that is meant by the wasting of cultivated hills, the withering of herbage, and the drying up of streams and lakes, is also meant by the leading of blind men in a new path, i.e. causing them to witness things of which they had had no previous experience. The simplest and most regular construction of the last clause is that which refers the pronouns not to a noun understood but to the expressed antecedent. These are the words (i.e. my promises). I have performed them and have not abandoned them, that is to say, I have not relinquished my design until it was accomplished. (Compare the last clause of Ezekiel 17:2.) The translation of these verbs as futures has arisen merely from a feeling on the part of the interpreter that the words ought to contain a promise; whereas the promise is implied or rather superseded by the declaration that the work is done already, or at least that the effect is already secured. The usual construction, which makes one a preterite and one a future, is doubly arbitrary and capricious.

17. They are turned back, they shall be ashamed with shame (i. e. utterly ashamed), those trusting in the graven image, those saying to the molten image, Ye are our gods. This verse describes the effect to be produced by the expected changes on the enemies of God and the worshippers of idols. They are turned back, utterly defeated, foiled in their malignant opposition. Nor is this all; for they are yet to be utterly ashamed, confounded, disappointed, and disgraced. In the last clause it is plain that the graven and molten image are separated only by the parallelism, because the address at the end is in the plural form, not thou art, but ye are our gods. On the usage of these two nouns, see vol. I. p. 356.

18. Ye deaf, hear! and ye blind, look (so as) to see! From the connection, this would seem to be a call upon the worshippers of idols, to open their eyes and ears, and become conscious of their own delusions.

19. Who (is) blind but my servant, and deaf like my messenger (whom) I will send? Who (is) blind like the devoted one, and blind like the servant of Jehovah? Why should he call the heathen blind and deaf, when Israel himself, with all his honours and advantages, refused to see or hear? The very people, whose mission and vocation it was to make the gentiles see and hear, seemed to emulate their insensibility. Servant of Jehovah is a title applicable not only to the Head but to the Body also. Here, where the language implies censure and reproach, the terms must be referred exclusively to Israel, the messenger whom God had sent to open the eyes of the other nations, but who had himself become wilfully blind. The future verb implies that the mission was not yet fulfilled.

20. Thou hast seen many things, and wilt not observe. (Sent) to open ears! and he will not hear. In the first clause he turns to Israel and addresses him directly: in the last he turns away from him again, and, as it were, expresses his surprise and indignation to the by-standers. The sense of the whole, leaving out of view this difference of form, is the same as in the foregoing verse, namely, that Israel had eyes but saw not, and instead of opening the ears of others was himself incapable of hearing. The sentence may be said to exhibit a climax. In the first clause the contrast is between the blindness of the people and the light which they enjoyed; in the last it is between their deafness and their high vocation to open the ears of others. Hence the abrupt and impassioned form of expression in the latter case. An explanation is afforded by the analogy of v. 7, where the same infinitive describes the end for which the Servant of Jehovah was sent.

21. Jehovah (is) willing for his righteousness sake; he will magnify the law and make it honourable. The people, being thus unfaithful to their trust, had no claim to be treated any longer as an object of Jehovah's favour; and yet he continues propitious, not on their account, but out of regard to his own engagements, and for the execution of his righteous purposes. For these reasons he will still put honour on the chosen people and the system under which they lived.

22. And (yet) it (is) a people spoiled and robbed, ensnared in holes all of them, and in houses of confinement they are hidden. They have become a spoil, and there is none delivering; a prey, and there is none saying, Restore. Here another contrast is brought into view. As the conduct of the people did not answer to their high vocation, so their treatment does not answer to the preceding declaration of God's purpose. If he still designed to honour them, though not for their own sake, how was this to be reconciled with what they suffered at the hands of their enemies? The terms are no doubt metaphorical,and therefore not exclusively descriptive of literal captivity. At the same time it may be admitted that the sufferings of Israel in exile furnished one of the most memorable instances of what is here described in general.

23. Who among you will give ear to this, will hearken and hear for the time to come? By this we are not to understand merely the fact recorded in the foregoing verse, but the doctrine of the whole preceding context as to the vocation and mission of Israel and his actual condition. God had appointed him to be a source or at least a medium of light and blessing to the nations; but instead of acting up to this high character, he not only left the nations without light, but was wilfully blinded and insensible himself. Yet God would still be true to his engagements, and put honour on the special revelation which he had already given. Why, then, it might be asked, was Israel suffered to fall before his enemies? The answer to this question is introduced by an indirect caution to consider it and bear it in mind. The interrogative form implies the possibility of their neglecting or refusing to obey it. The last phrase relates either to the time of hearing (henceforth or hereafter) or the subject of the declarations to be heard (concerning the future).

24. Who has given Jacob for a prey, and Israel to spoilers? Has not Jehovah, against whom we have sinned, and they were not willing in his ways to walk, and did not hearken to his law? This was what they were to bear in mind, viz. that what they suffered was ordained of God and on account of their iniquities. The errors of which this verse is the negation are those of supposing that they suffered without fault, and that they suffered, as it were, in spite of God's protection, or because he was unable to prevent it. The interrogation makes the statement more emphatic: Who else can be imagined to have done it, or for what other cause except our sins? The change of person in the last clause is a common Hebrew idiom and does not seem to be significant. If the Prophet identifies himself with the people in the first phrase, he cannot be supposed to exclude himself in that which follows. This verse is strictly applicable to the sufferings of the Jews in Babylon, and it was no doubt so applied by them; but in itself it is a general declaration which has been often verified and was especially exemplified in ancient Israel, viz. that the sufferings even of God's people are the consequence of sin.

25. And he ( Jehovah) poured upon him (Israel) fury, (even) his wrath and the strength (or violence) of war: and it set him on fire round about, and he knew (it) not; and it burned him, and he will not lay it to heart. This continues and concludes the description of God's judgments and of Israel's insensibility. He knew not does not here mean unawares, without his knowledge, but, as the parallel clause shows, implies extreme insensibility. The translation of the last verb as a preterite is ungrammatical, and the assimilation of the two as presents quite gratuitous. That a preterite precedes, instead of showing that the future must refer to past time, shows the contrary, by leaving us unable to account for the difference of form if none of meaning was intended. However necessary such assimilations may be elsewhere, they are inadmissible in cases like the present, where the change of tense admits of an easy explanation, to wit, that the writer intended to describe the people, not only as having been insensible before, but as likely to continue so in time to come. On the usage of the phrase to put or lay upon the heart, see above, p. 97.