Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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The Creation Concept

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Instead of suffering from the loss of her national prerogatives, the church shall he more glorious and productive than before, v. 1. Instead of being limited to a single nation, she shall be so extended as to take in all the nations of the earth, vs. 2, 3. What seemed at first to be her forlorn and desolate condition, shall be followed by a glorious change, v. 4. He who seemed once to be the God of the Jews only, shall now be seen to be the God of the Gentiles also, v. 5. The abrogation of the old economy was like the repudiation of a wife, but its effects will show it to be rather a renewal of the conjugal relation, v. 6. The momentary rejection shall be followed by an everlasting reconciliation, vs. 7, 8. The old economy, like Noah's flood, can never be repeated or renewed, v. 9. That was a temporary institution; this shall outlast the earth itself, v. 10. The old Jerusalem shall be forgotten in the splendour of the new, vs. 11, 12. But this shall be a spiritual splendour springing from a constant divine influence, v. 13. Hence it shall also be a holy and a safe state, v. 14. All the enemies of the Church shall either be destroyed or received into her bosom, v. 15. The warrior and his weapons are alike God's creatures and at his disposal, v. 16. In every contest, both of hand and tongue, the Church shall be triumphant, not in her own right or her own strength, but in that of Him who justifies, protects, and saves her, v. 17.

1. Shout, oh barren, that did not bear, break forth into a shout and cry aloud, she that did not writhe (in childbirth); for more (are) the children of the desolate than the children of the married (woman), saith Jehovah. According to some writers, the object of address is the city of Jerusalem, in which no citizens were born during the exile, but which was afterwards to be more populous than the other cities of Judah which had not been reduced to such a state of desolation. Besides other difficulties which attend this explanation, it will be sufficient to observe that those who apply the first verse to the city of Jerusalem are under the necessity of afterwards assuming that this object is exchanged for another, viz. the people, a conclusive reason for regarding this as the original object of address, especially as we have had abundant proof already that the Zion or Jerusalem of these later prophecies is only a symbol of the church or nation. In the first clause our idiom would require didst not bear and didst not writhe; but Hebrew usage admits of the third person. Another Hebrew idiom is the expression of the same idea first in a positive and then in a negative form, barren that did not bear. This very combination occurs more than once elsewhere. (Judges 13:2. Job 24:21.) The contrast here presented occurs also in 1 Sam. 2:5.

2. Widen the place of thy tent, and the curtains of thy dwellings let them stretch out; spare not (or hinder it not); lengthen thy cords and strengthen (or make fast) thy stakes. As in the parallel passage (ch. 49:19, 20), the promise of increase is now expressed by the figure of enlarged accommodations. The place may be either the area within the tent or the spot on which it is erected. The curtains are the tent-cloths stretched upon the poles to form the dwelling. The stakes are the tent-pins, to which the tent-cloths are attached by cords. The last clause may either mean, take stronger pins, or fix them more firmly in the ground; both implying an enlargement of the tent and a consequently greater stress upon the cords and stakes.

3. For right and left shalt thou break forth (or spread), and thy seed shall possess (or dispossess or inherit) nations, and re-people ruined (or forsaken) cities. Right and left are indefinite expressions meaning on both sides or in all directions. The figurative meaning of the terms, as in many other cases, is evinced by an immediate change of figure, without any regard to mere rhetorical consistency. The same thing which is first represented as the violent expulsion of an enemy from his dominions, is immediately afterwards described as the restoration of deserted places. The whole verse is a beautiful description of the wonderful extension of the church and her spiritual conquest of the nations.

4. Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed, and be not abashed, for thou shalt not blush; for the shame of thy youth thou shalt forget, and the reproach of thy widowhood thou shalt not remember any more. Here, as in many other cases, shame includes the disappointment of the hopes, but with specific reference to previous misconduct. (See Job 6:20.) The first clause declares that she has no cause for despondency, the second disposes of the causes which might seem to be suggested by her history. The essential meaning of the last clause is, thy former experience of my displeasure. The figurative form of the expression is accommodated to the chosen metaphor of a wife forsaken and restored to her husband. The specific reference of youth to the Egyptian bondage, and of widowhood to the Babylonian exile, is artificial and forbidden by the context.

5. For thy husband (is) thy Maker, Jehovah of Hosts (is) his name; and thy Redeemer (is) the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth shall he be called. This verse is marked by a peculiar regularity of structure, the two members of the first clause corresponding exactly to the similar members of the other. In each clause the first member points out the relation of Jehovah to his people, while the second proclaims one of his descriptive names. He is related to the church as her Husband and Redeemer; he is known or shall be known to all mankind as the Lord of Hosts and as the God of the whole earth, which are not to be regarded as equivalent expressions. As the Goel of the Jewish institutions, the redeemer of a forfeited inheritance, was necessarily the next of kin, it is appropriately placed in opposition to the endearing name of husband; and as the title Lord of Hosts imports a universal sovereignty, it is no less exactly matched with the God of the whole earth. But this last phrase expresses the idea of universal recognition. Shall he be called, i. e. he shall be recognized hereafter in the character which even now belongs to him.

6. For as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit has Jehovah called thee, and (as) a wife of youth; for she shall be rejected, said thy God. Reduced to a prosaic form and order, this verse seems to mean, that Jehovah had espoused her in her youth, then cast her off for her iniquities, and now at last recalled her from her solitude and grief to be his wife again. (Compare Hosea 2: 4, 7, 14, 16, 19.) A wife of youth, not merely a young wife, but one married early. (See Proverbs 5:18, and Malachi 2:14.) The sense is not that she had been wedded to Jehovah in her youth and now recalled, but that he now recalled her as a husband might recall the long rejected wife of his youth. The common version of the last clause, when thou wast refused, is ungrammatical. The last clause is an explanation of the first, in which she is said to have been recalled as a forsaken wife, and that a wife of youth, because her God had said to her at that time, thou shalt be rejected. This explanation, while it simplifies the syntax, leaves the meaning of the verse unaltered.

7. In a little moment I forsook thee, and in great mercies I will gather thee. The metaphor is here carried out in the form of an affectionate assurance that the love now restored shall experience no further interruption. The use of the preterite and future implies an intermediate point of view between the opposite treatments here described. I did forsake thee, and now I am about to gather thee. If any specific application of the words be made, it must be to the momentary casting off of Israel which seemed to accompany the change of dispensations. The confusion of the metaphors in this whole passage springs from the complexity of the relations which they represent. As a nation, Israel was in fact cast off; as a church, it never could be.

8. In a gush of wrath I hid my face a moment from thee, and in everlasting kindness I have had mercy on thee, saith thy Redeemer, Jehovah. The idea of the preceding verse is again expressed more fully. The first noun occurs only here, but a cognate form means a flood or inundation, and is elsewhere used in reference to anger. So in ch. 42:25, the wrath of God is said to have been poured out upon Israel. This verse, like the one before it, is a general description of the everlasting favour which shall drown the very memory of former alienations between God and his people. The only specific application which is equally consistent with the form of the expression and the context is the one suggested in the note upon the foregoing verse.

9. For the waters of Noah is this to me; what I swore from the waters of Noah passing again over the earth (i. e. against their passing, or, that they should not pass), so I have sworn from being angry (that I will not be angry) against thee, and from rebuking (that I will not rebuke) thee. The assurance of the preceding verse is now repeated in another form. There can no more be another such effusion of my wrath than there can be another deluge, here called the waters of Noah, just as we familiarly say "Noah's flood." The security in this case, as in that, is a divine oath or solemn covenant, like that recorded Gen. 8:21, and 9:11. Some convert a simile into a symbol, and endeavour to enumerate the points of similarity between the world and the deluge, the church and the ark. It is only upon this erroneous supposition that such passages as Ps. 124:4, 5, can be regarded as illustrative parallels. Such minute coincidences any reader is at liberty to search out for himself; but the text mentions only one point of comparison between the two events, namely, that neither can occur again. The Prophet does not say that God's displeasure with the church is a flood which shall never be repeated, but that it shall never be repeated any more than the flood. There is no need of supplying any preposition before waters, since the meaning is that this is the same thing as the flood, or just such another case; in what respect is afterwards explained. To me does not simply mean in my view or opinion, but expresses similarity of obligation; the oath was as binding in the one case as the other. Rebuke must here be taken in the strong and pregnant sense which it has in ch. 17:13. 50:2. 51:20, and very generally throughout the Old Testament, as signifying not a merely verbal but a practical rebuke. That this is not a general promise of security, is plain from the fact that the church has always been subjected to vicissitudes and fluctuations. Nor is there any period in her history to which it can be properly applied in a specific sense, except the change of dispensations, which was made once for all and can never be repeated. That the church shall never be again brought under the restrictive institutions of the ceremonial law, is neither a matter of course nor a matter of indifference, but a glorious promise altogether worthy of the solemn oath by which it is attested here.

10. For the mountains shall move and the hills shall shake; but my favour from thee shall not move, and my covenant of peace shall not shake, saith thy pitier, Jehovah. The meaning is not that God's promise is as stable as the mountains, but that it is more so; they shall be removed, but it shall stand forever. The mountains and hills in this place are not symbols of states and empires, but natural emblems of stability. (See Deut. 33:15. Ps. 65:6. 125:1, 2.) The phrase covenant of peace denotes a divine promise or engagement, securing the enjoyment of peace, both in the strict sense and in the wide one of prosperity or happiness. (Compare v. 13. ch. 53:5. Ezek. 34:25. 37:26.) The covenant of my peace does not give the sense so fully as my covenant of peace, i. e. my peace-giving covenant. The force of the last phrase is impaired by the circumlocution of the common version, the Lord that hath mercy on thee; still more by Lowth's diluted paraphrase, Jehovah who beareth toward thee the most tender affection.

11. Wretched, storm-tossed, comfortless! Behold I am laying (or about to lay) thy stones in antimony, and I will found thee upon sapphires. The past afflictions of God's people are contrasted with the glory which awaits them, and which is here represented by the image of a city built of precious stones, and cemented with the substance used by oriental women in the staining of their eyelids. (2 Kings 9:30. Jer. 4:30.) This eye-paint, made of stibium or antimony, may be joined with sapphires as a costly substance, commonly applied to a more delicate use; or there may be allusion to the likeness between stones thus set and painted eyes. The stones meant are not corner or foundation-stones, but all those used in building. There is something singular, though not perhaps significant, in the application to these stones of a Hebrew verb elsewhere used only in reference to animals.

12. And I will make thy battlements (or pinnacles) ruby, and thy gates to (be) sparkling gems, and all thy border to (be) stones of pleasure (or delight). The splendid image of the preceding verse is here continued and completed. The precise kinds of gems here meant are not of much importance. The essential idea, as appears from the etymology of the names, is that of sparkling brilliancy. The last phrase is a more generic term, including all the others, and equivalent to our expression, precious stones. Some put a specific sense on every part of the description, understanding by the antimony of the preceding verse the doctrine of Christ's blood, by the gates the synods of the church, by the battlements its advocates and champions, etc. Lowth, with better taste and judgment, says that "these seem to be general images to express beauty, magnificence, purity, strength, and solidity, agreeably to the ideas of the eastern nations, and to have never been intended to be strictly scrutinized, or minutely and particularly explained, as if they had each of them some precise moral or spiritual meaning."

13. And all thy children disciples of Jehovah, and great (or plentiful) the peace of thy sons (or children). Some make the sentence simply descriptive, by supplying are in the present tense. Others supply shall be, and thus make it a prediction or a promise. The common version, taught of God, which Lowth changes into taught by God, though not erroneous, is inadequate; since the Hebrew word is not a participle but a noun, used elsewhere to denote a pupil, follower, or disciple. (See ch. 8:16.) The promise is not one of occasional instruction, but of permanent connection with Jehovah, as his followers and partakers of his constant teaching. That the words are applicable to the highest teaching of which any rational being is susceptible, to wit, that of the Holy Spirit making known the Father and the Son, we have our Saviour's own authority for stating. (See John 6:45, and compare Matt. 23:8. Heb. 8:11. 1 John 2:27.) Paul too describes believers as ... in relation to the duties of their calling (1 Thess. 4:9.) Similar promises under the Old Testament are given in Jer. 31:34 and elsewhere. As in ch. 43:9, all the gifts of the Spirit are included. The consequence of this blessed privilege is peace, no doubt in the widest sense of spiritual welfare and prosperity. (John 14:27. Phil. 4:7.)

14. In righteousness shalt thou be established: be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear, and from destruction, for it shall not come near to thee. An additional promise of complete security, made more emphatic by its repetition in a variety of forms. By righteousness, some understand the righteousness or faithfulness of God, securing the performance of his promises; others, the justice of the government itself, or the practice of righteousness among the people. The first, however, comprehends the others as its necessary consequences, public and private virtue being always represented in Scripture as the fruit of divine influence. (Compare ch. 1:27. 9:6. 11:5. 16:5.) Of the next clause there are several interpretations. The ancient versions understand it as a warning or dissuasion from the practice of oppression. But this does not agree with the context, which is evidently meant to be consolatory and encouraging. The explanation which has been most generally acquiesced in, is the one which supposes the imperative to represent the future, or a promise to be clothed in the form of a command: 'Be far from oppression, i. e. thou shalt be far from it.' Examples of this idiom are supposed to occur in Gen. 42:18. Deut. 32:50. Prov. 20:13. Be far from oppression is not a promise of exemption from it, for that follows in the next clause, which the modern interpreters correctly understand as meaning, thou hast no cause to fear. Be far from oppression, i. e. far from apprehending it. The whole may then be paraphrased as follows: 'When once established by the exercise of righteousness on my part and your own, you may put far off all dread of oppression, for you have no cause to fear it, and of destruction, for it shall not come nigh you.' With the promise of this clause, compare ch. 32:16 and 62:12. The truth of the promise, in its true sense, is vindicated by the fact that it relates to the course of the new dispensation as a whole, with special reference to its final consummation.

15. Lo, they shall gather, they shall gather, not at my sign (or signal). Who has gathered against thee! He shall fall away to thee. The promise of the preceding verse is here so modified as to provide for every possible contingency. If enemies should be assembled, it will not be by divine command (compare ch. 10:5. 47:0), and they shall end by coming, over to the side of those whom they assail. This, on the whole, appears to be the meaning, although every expression has received a different explanation. The promise is not that they should never be assailed, but that they should never be conquered. Not by my sign or signal, i. e. not by my authority or not at my command.

16. Lo, I have created the smith, blowing into the fire of coal, and bringing out a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. The general meaning evidently is, that God can certainly redeem his pledge, because all instruments and agents are alike at his disposal and under his control. He is not only the maker of the weapons of war, but the maker of their maker, as well as of the warrior who wields them. The pronoun in both clauses is emphatic. It is I (and not another) who created them. A similar glimpse into the ancient forge or smithy has already been afforded in the scornful attack upon the worshippers of idols, ch. 4 1:7. Bringing out does not mean bringing out of his workshop or his hands, but bringing into shape or into being, precisely as we say bringing forth, producing, although commonly in reference to animal or vegetable life. Perhaps, however, it would be still better to explain it as meaning out of the fire, in which case there would be a fine antithesis between blowing into it and bringing the wrought iron out of it. 'It is I that create the smith who makes the instruments, and it is also I that create the destroyer who employs them.'

17. Every weapon (that) shall be formed against thee shall not prosper, and every tongue (that) shall rise with thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness from me, saith Jehovah. The common version of the first clause expresses the same thought in the English idiom, no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, a form of speech which does not exist in Hebrew, and can only be supplied by combining negative and universal terms. The expression, though ambiguous, is determined by the context. It cannot mean that only some of the weapons formed should take effect—which might be the meaning of the phrase in English—because in the affirmative clause which follows, and which must be co-extensive in its meaning, there is no such ambiguity, it being said expressly that every tongue shall be condemned. Another difference of idiom here exemplified has reference to the ellipsis of the relative pronoun, which in English is familiarly omitted when the object of the verb, but never when its subject. Every weapon they form would be perfectly intelligible; but every weapon is formed (for which is formed) would convey a wrong idea. Shall not prosper, i. e. shall not take effect or accomplish its design. To rise or stand in judgment, literally for or with respect to judgment, is to appear before a judgment-seat, to invoke the decision of a judge. With thee may either denote simply simultaneous action, that of standing up together, or it may have the stronger sense against thee, as it seems to have above in v. 15, and as it has in our expressions to fight with or to go to law with. The tongue is here personified, or used to represent the party litigant whose only weapon is his speech. For the judicial or forensic usage of the verb, see above, on ch. 50:9. Some suppose these two clauses to reduce all opposition and hostility to that of word and that of deed; but there may also be allusion to the obvious distinction between warfare in its military and its civil forms, or between what is properly called war and litigation. In all these varied forms of strife it is predicted that the church shall be victorious. (Compare Rom. 8:37 and 2 Cor. 2:14.) And this security is represented as her heritage or lawful possession and as her right, i. e. what is due to her from God. as the judge of the whole earth, who must do right.