Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

The Creation Concept

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Vol II Introduction 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 Alexander's Works


The righteous who died during the old economy were taken away from the evil to come, vs. 1, 2. The wicked who despised them were themselves proper objects of contempt, vs. 3, 4. Their idolatry is first described in literal terms, vs 5, 6. It is then represented as a spiritual adultery, vs. 7-9. Their obstinate persistency in sin is represented as the cause of their hopeless and remediless destruction, vs. 10-13. A way is prepared for the spiritual Israel to come out from among them, v. 14. The hopes of true believers shall not be deferred forever, vs. 15, 16. Even these, however, must be chastened for their sins, v. 17. But there is favour in reserve for all true penitents, without regard to national distinctions, vs. 18, 19. To the incorrigible sinner, on the other hand, peace is impossible, vs. 20, 21.

1. The righteous perisheth, and there is no man laying (it) to heart, and men of mercy are taken away, with none considering (or perceiving) that from the presence of evil the righteous is taken away. The terms of this verse are specifically applicable neither to violent nor to natural death as such considered, but are equally appropriate to either. Laying to heart is not merely feeling or appreciating, but observing and perceiving. Men of mercy is another description of the righteous, so called as the objects of God's mercy and as being merciful themselves. (See Matt. 5:7.) The last verb is doubly appropriate, first in its general though secondary sense of taking away, and then in its primary specific sense of gathering, i. e. gathering to one's fathers or one's people, an expression frequently applied in the Old Testament to death, and especially to that of godly men. (See Gen. 49:29. Judges 2:10.) The verb is used absolutely in this sense by Moses (Num. 20:26.)

2. He shall go in peace (or enter into peace)they shall rest upon their bedswalking straight before him. The alternation of the singular and plural shows that the subject of the sentence is a collective person. The explanation commonly approved is that which makes the last phrase an additional description of the righteous, as one walking in his uprightness. It seems to be added as a kind of afterthought, to limit what immediately precedes, and preclude its application to all the dead without distinction. The peace and rest here meant are those of the body in the grave and of the soul in heaven; the former being frequently referred to as a kind of pledge and adumbration of the latter.

3. And ye (or as for you), draw near hither, ye sons of the witch, seed of the adulterer and the harlot. These words are addressed to the survivors of the judgments by which the righteous are described as having been removed. They are summoned to receive their punishment, or at least to appear before the judgment-seat. (Compare ch. 41:1.) The description which follows was of course designed to be extremely opprobrious; but interpreters differ as to the precise sense of the terms employed. Some suppose that instead of simply charging them with certain crimes, he brings the charge against their parents, a species of reproach peculiarly offensive to the orientals. The older writers give a more specific meaning to the Prophet's metaphors, understanding by the adulterer the idol, by the harlot the apostate church, and by the children the corrupted offspring of this shameful apostasy. The occult arts are mentioned as inseparable adjuncts of idolatry. Whoredom and sorcery are again combined in Mal. 3:5, and elsewhere.

4. At whom do you amuse yourselves? At whom do you enlarge the mouth, prolong the tongue? Are you not children of rebellion (or apostasy), a seed of falsehood? This retorts the impious contempt of the apostates on themselves. There is no need, however, of supposing that they had cast these very same reproaches on the godly. The meaning is not necessarily that they were what they falsely charged their brethren with being. All that is certainly implied is, that they were unworthy to treat them with contempt. The opening or stretching of the mouth in mockery is mentioned Ps. 22:7, 13. 35:21. Lam. 2:16, and in chap. 58:9 below. The lolling of the tongue as a derisive gesture is referred to by Persius in poetry and Livy in prose. The form of expostulation is similar to that in ch. 37:23. Here, as in the preceding verse, some regard seed and children as mere idiomatic pleonasms, or at most, as rhetorical embellishments. Of those who understand them strictly, some suppose the qualities of falsehood and apostasy to be predicated of the parents, others of the children. Both are probably included; they were worthy of their parentage, and diligently filled up the measure of their fathers' iniquity. (See ch. 1:4.) By 'a seed of falsehood' we may understand a spurious brood, and at the same time one itself perfidious and addicted to a false religion.

5. Inflamed (or inflaming yourselves) among the oaks (or terebinths), under every green tree, slaughtering the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks. Their idolatrous practices are now described in detail. The first word of this verse properly denotes libidinous excitement, and is here used with reference to the previous representation of idolatry as spiritual whoredom or adultery. There seems to be an allusion to the valleys round Jerusalem, in one of which, the valley of the son of Hinnom, we know that Moloch was adored with human victims. The clefts of the rocks, or cliffs projecting in consequence of excavations, is a circumstance perfectly in keeping with the topography of that spot. The minute description of idolatry given in this passage is exceedingly perplexing to those writers who fix the date of composition at the period of the exile. A perfect solution of the difficulty is afforded by our own hypothesis, that the Prophet, from the whole field of vision spread before him, singles out the most revolting traits and images by which he could present in its true aspect the guilt and madness of apostasy from God.

6. Among the smooth (stones) of the valley (or the brook) is thy portion; they, they, are thy lot; also to them hast thou poured out a drink-offering, thou hast brought up a meal-offering. Shall I for these things be consoled (i. e. satisfied without revenge)? Thy portion, i. e. the objects of thy choice and thy affection (Jer. 10:16). The word stones is correctly supplied in the English version. (See 1 Sam. 17:40.) Others supply places, and suppose the phrase to mean open cleared spots in the midst of wooded valleys, places cleared for the performance of religious rites. In favour of this meaning, is the not unfrequent use of the Hebrew word to signify not hairy, and in figurative application to the earth, not wooded, free from trees. Smooth stones may mean either polished or anointed stones, such as were set up by the patriarchs as memorials (Gen. 28:18. 35:14), and by the heathen as objects of worship. Thus Arnobius says, that before his conversion to Christianity he never saw an oiled stone without addressing it and praying to it. This explanation of the first clause agrees best with what follows and with the emphatic repetition, they, they, are thy portion, which is more natural in reference to the objects than to the mere place of worship.

7. On a high and elevated mountain thou hast placed thy bed; also there (or even thither) hast thou gone up to offer sacrifice. The figure of adulterous attachment is resumed. (Compare Ez. 16:24, 25, 31.) That the mountain is not used as a mere figure for an elevated spot is clear from the obvious antithesis between it and the valleys before mentioned. Still less ground is there for supposing any reference to the worship of mountains themselves. By the bed here, some understand the couch on which the ancients reclined at their sacrificial feasts. All other writers seem to give it the same sense as in Prov. 7:17, and Ezek. 23:17. In the last clause the figure is resolved and making the bed explained to mean offering sacrifice.

8. And behind the door and the door-post thou hast placed thy memorial, for away from me thou hast uncovered (thyself or thy bed), and hast gone up, thou hast enlarged thy bed and hast covenanted with them, (or with some of them), thou hast loved their bed, thou hast provided room. Interpreters are much divided as to the particular expressions of this very obscure verse, although agreed in understanding it as a description of the grossest idolatry. The image of a false god may be reckoned its memorial or that which brings to mind the absent object. Perhaps they are here described as thrusting the memorial of Jehovah into a corner to make room for that of the beloved idol. Some suppose a special reference to the worship of Penates, Lares, or household gods. The rest of the verse describes idolatry as adulterous intercourse with them. Room, literally hand, as in ch. 56:5.

9. And thou host gone to the king in oil and hast multiplied thine unguents, and hast sent thine ambassadors even to a far-off (land,) and hast gone (or sent) down even to hell. The first verb has been variously explained as meaning to see, to look around, to appear, to be adorned, to sing, to carry gifts. By the king some understand the king of Babylon or Egypt, and refer the clause to the eagerness with which the Prophet's contemporaries sought out foreign alliances. Most writers understand it as a name for idols generally, or for Moloch in particular. ... is commonly explained to mean with oil or ointment (as a gift); but some understand it to mean in oil, i. e. anointed, beautified, adorned. Upon the explanation of this phrase of course depends that of the next, where unguents are said to be multiplied, either in the way of gifts to others or as means of self-adornment.

10. In the greatness of thy way (or the abundance of thy travel) thou hast laboured; (but) thou hast not said, There is no hope. Thou hast found the life of thy hand; therefore thou art not weak. Whether way be understood as a figure for the whole course of life, or as involving a specific allusion to the journeys mentioned in v. 9, the general sense is still the same, viz. that no exertion in the service of her false gods could weary or discourage her. This is so obviously the meaning of the whole, that the common version thou art wearied, seems to be precluded, the rather as the verb may be used to denote the cause as well as the effect, i. e. exertion no less than fatigue. The essential idea conveyed by the obscure phrase life of thy hand is that of strength. In translation this essential sense may be conveyed under several different forms: Thou hast found thy hand still alive, or still able to sustain life, etc.

11. And whom hast thou feared and been afraid of, that thou shouldest lie? and me thou hast not remembered, thou hast not called to mind (or laid to heart). Is it not (because) I hold my peace, and that of old, that thou wilt not fear me? They have no real fear of God; why then should they affect to serve him? His forbearance only served to harden and embolden them. 'Have I not long kept silence? It cannot be that you fear me.' The image is identical with that presented in ch. 42:14. See also ch. 40:27. 51:12, 13.

12. I will declare thy righteousness and thy works, and they shall not profit (or avail) thee. The earlier writers make the first clause ironical; but this is unnecessary, as the simplest and most obvious construction is in all respects the most satisfactory. I will declare thy righteousness, i. e. I will show clearly whether thou art righteous, and in order to do this I must declare thy works; and if this is done, they cannot profit thee, because instead of justifying they will condemn thee.

13. In thy crying (i e. when thou criest for help), let thy gatherings save thee! And (yet) all of them the wind shall take up and a breath shall take away, and the (one) trusting in me shall inherit the land and possess my holy mountain. This is merely a strong contrast between the impotence of idols and the power of Jehovah to protect their followers respectively. Some understand the word translated gatherings generically, as denoting all that they could scrape together for their own security, including idols, armies, and all other objects of reliance. Those who restrict the passage to the Babylonish exile must of course explain the promise as relating merely to the restoration; but the context and the usage of the Scriptures is in favour of a wider explanation, in which the possession of the land is an appointed symbol of the highest blessings which are in reserve for true believers here and hereafter.

14. And he shall say, Cast up, cast up, clear the way, take up the stumbling-block from the way of my people! He who had long been silent speaks at last, and that to announce the restoration of his people. The image here presented, and the form of the expression, are the same as in ch. 35:8. 40:3. 49:11. 62:10.

15. For thus saith the High and Exalted One, inhabiting eternity, and Holy is his name; On high and holy will I dwell, and with the broken and humble of spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the broken (or contrite ones). This verse assigns a reason why the foregoing promise might be trusted, notwithstanding the infinite disparity between the giver and the objects of his favour. Notwithstanding the intimate connection of the verses, there is no need of referring thus saith to what goes before, as if he had said, these assurances are uttered by the High and Exalted One. Analogy and usage necessarily connect them with what follows, the relation of the verse to that before it being clearly indicated by the for at the beginning. You need not hesitate to trust the promise which is involved in this command, for the High and Holy One has made the following solemn declaration. The only reason for translating ... exalted rather than lofty, is that the former retains the participial form of the original. The same two epithets are joined in ch. 6:1, which is regarded by the modern critics as the oldest extant composition of Isaiah. Compare with this verse ch. 33:5. 63:15. 66:1, 2. Ps. 22:4. 113: 5, 6. 138:6.

16. For not to eternity will I contend, and not to perpetuity will I be wroth; for the spirit from before me will faint, and the souls (which) I have made. A reason for exercising mercy is here drawn from the frailty of the creature. (Compare ch. 42: 3. Ps. 78:38, 39. 103:9, 14.) Suffering being always represented in Scripture as the consequence of sin, its infliction is often metaphorically spoken of as a divine quarrel or controversy with the sufferer. From before me is connected by the Hebrew accents with the verb to faint, and indicates God's presence as the cause of the depression. A more perfect parallelism would, however, be obtained by understanding from before me as referring to the origin of human life and as corresponding to the words which I have made in the other member.

17. For his covetous iniquity I am wroth and will smite him, (I will) hide me and will be wroth; for he has gone on turning away (i. e. persevering in apostasy) in the way of his heart (or of his own inclination). The futures in the first clause show that both the punishment and mercy are still future. The first phrase in the verse has been variously understood. Some suppose covetousness to be here used in a wide sense for all selfish desires or undue attachment to the things of time and sense, a usage which they think may be distinctly traced both in the Old and New Testament. (See Ps. 119:36. Ez. 33:31. 1 Tim. 6:10. Eph. 5:5.) Perhaps the safest and most satisfactory explanation is that which adheres to the strict sense of the word, but supposes covetousness to be here considered as a temptation and incentive to other forms of sin. The singular pronouns his and him refer to the collective noun people, or rather to Israel as an ideal person. In the last clause the writer suddenly reverts from the future to the past, in order to assign the cause of the infliction threatened in the first. This connection can be rendered clear in English only by the use of the word for, although the literal translation would be and he went.

18. His ways I have seen, and I will heal him, and will guide him, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. The healing here meant is forgiveness and conversion, with a reference to ch. 6:10 and Ps. 41:5 (4.) This obvious meaning of the figure creates a difficulty in explaining the foregoing words so as to make the connection appear natural. Some suppose an antithesis, and make the particle adversative. 'I have seen his (evil) ways, but I will (nevertheless) heal him.' There is then a promise of gratuitous forgiveness similar to that in ch. 43:25 and 48:9. The promise to restore consolation implies not only that it had been once enjoyed but also that it should compensate for the intervening sorrows, as the Hebrew word means properly to make good or indemnify.

19. Creating the fruit of the lips, Peace, peace to the far off and to the near, saith Jehovah, and I heal him. The fruit or product of the lips is speech, and creating as usual implies almighty power and a new effect. By the far and near some understand the Jews and Gentiles (compare Acts 10:34-36. Eph. 2:17); others, all the Jews wherever scattered (ch. 43:5-7. 49:12). The Targum makes the distinction an internal one, the just who have kept the law, who have returned to it by sincere repentance. Some understand the words as abolishing all difference between the earlier and later converts, an idea similar to that embodied in our Saviour's parable of the labourers in the vineyard.

20. And the wicked (are) like the troubled sea, for rest it cannot, and its waters cast up mire and dirt. Interpreters are commonly agreed in making this verse a necessary limitation of the foregoing promise to its proper objects. There is a force in the original which cannot be retained in a translation arising from the etymological affinity between the words translated wicked, troubled, and cast up. Among the various epithets applied to sinners, the one here used is that which originally signifies their turbulence or restlessness. Lowth's version of this last clause is more than usually plain and vigorous: its waters work up mire and filth. The verb means strictly to expel or drive out, and is therefore happily descriptive of the natural process here referred to. There seems to be allusion to this verse in Jude v. 13.

21. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. That peace is here to be taken in its strict sense, and not in that of welfare or prosperity, is clear from the comparison in the preceding verse. This verse, according to some writers, closes the second great division of the Later Prophecies. For the true sense of the words themselves, see above, on ch. 48:22.