Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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The words of the great Deliverer are continued from the foregoing chapter. He will not rest until the glorious change in the condition of his people is accomplished, v. 1. They shall be recognized by kings and nations as the people of Jehovah, vs. 2, 3. She who seemed to be forsaken is still his spouse, vs. 4. 5. The church is required to watch and pray for the fulfilment of the promise, vs. 6, 7. God has sworn to protect her and supply her wants, vs. 8, 9. Instead of a single nation, all the nations of the earth shall flow unto her, v. 10. The good news of salvation shall no longer be confined, but universally diffused, v. 11. The glory of the church is the redemption of the world, v. 12.

1. For Zion's sake I will not be still, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp (that) burneth. It has been disputed whether these are the words of the Messiah or the Prophet, who frequently assumes the person and expresses the feelings of different characters in this great drama, without any express intimation of the change in the text itself. Perhaps the most satisfactory conclusion is, that if the Prophet here speaks of himself, he also speaks by implication of his associates and successors in the office, not excluding Christ as the last and greatest of the series; so that both exegetical hypotheses may in this way be combined and reconciled. If an exclusive subject must be chosen, it is no doubt the same as in the first verse of the foregoing chapter. The sense of righteousness and salvation is the same as in ch. 61:10 and elsewhere. The going forth here mentioned is the same as in Ps. 19:6, and brightness may specifically signify the dawn of day or the rising of the sun, as in Prov. 4:18.

2. And nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory; and there shall be called to thee a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall utter (or pronounce distinctly). The mention of kings is intended to imply the submission even of the highest ranks to this new power. (Compare ch. 49:7, 23. 52:15.) The idea evidently is that they shall witness it and stand astonished. The new name may be that which is afterwards stated in v. 4, or the expression may be understood more generally as denoting change of condition for the better. (See above, ch. 1:26. 60:14, and compare Jer. 3:16. 33:16. Ezek. 48:35. Rev. 2:17. 3:12.) Some suppose an allusion to the change in the name of the chosen people from Jew to Christian; but the former name is still applied to the spiritual Israel, in Rom. 2:29 and Rev. 2:9. (See below, on ch. 65:15.) Others suppose an allusion to the ancient practice of imposing new names upon towns which have been ruined and rebuilt.

3. And them shalt be a crown of beauty in Jehovah's land, and a diadem of royalty in the palm of thy God. The only difficulty in this verse has respect to the crown's being twice emphatically placed in the hand and not upon the head. Some suppose that Jehovah is here represented as holding the crown in his hand to admire it; or for the purpose of exhibiting it to others; or for that of crowning himself. Others take in the hand of God to mean at his disposal, or bestowed by him. This is a good sense in itself; but upon whom could Zion or Jerusalem be thus bestowed? Others again think it obvious that as it would be incongruous to place the crown upon Jehovah's head; the only place remaining was the hand.

4. No more shall it be called to thee (shalt thou be called) Azubah (Forsaken), and thy land shall no more be called Shemamah (Desolate); but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her), and thy land Baulah (Married), for Jehovah delights in thee, and thy land shall be married. The joyful change of condition is further expressed, in the Prophet's favourite manner, by significant names. The common version not only mars the beauty of the passage, but renders it in some degree unintelligible to the English reader, by translating the first two names and retaining the others in their Hebrew dress. It is obvious that all four should be treated alike, i. e. that all the Hebrew forms should be retained or none. It is probable that they were all familiar to the Jews as female names in real life. This we know to have been the case with two of them: the mother of Jehoshaphat was named Azubah (1 Kings 22:42), and Manasseh's mother Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1). It is better therefore to retain the Hebrew forms, in order to give them an air of reality as proper names, and at the same time to render them intelligible by translation. In the last clause there is reference to the primary meaning of the verb, viz. that of owning or possessing; and as the inhabitants of towns are sometimes called in Hebrew their possessors, ... , a noun derived from this very verb (Josh. 24:11. Judg. 9:2. 2 Sam. 21:12 compared with 2 Sam. 2:4), its use here would suggest, as at least one meaning of the promise, thy land shall be inhabited.

5. For (as) a young man marrieth a virgin, (so) shall thy sons marry thee, and (with) the joy of a bridegroom over a bride shall thy God rejoice over thee. The particles of comparison are omitted, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that the comparison is only an implied one, and that the strict translation is, 'a young man marrieth a virgin, thy sons shall marry thee,' leaving the copula and so to be suggested by the context. So in the other clause there is no absolute need of assuming an ellipsis; since the Hebrew idiom admits of such expressions as joying the joy of a bridegroom, just as we may say in English a man lives the life of a saint, or dies the death of the righteous, both which combinations occur in our translation of the Bible. (Gal. 2:20. Num. 23:10.)

6, 7. On thy walls, oh Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night long they shall not be silent. Ye that remind Jehovah, let there be no rest to you, and give no rest to him, until he establish and until he place Jerusalem a praise in the earth. The promise is a general one, or rather the command that those who are constituted guardians of the church should be importunate in prayer to God on her behalf. ... admits of three interpretations, all consistent with Isaiah's usage. In ch. 36:3, 22 it seems to mean an official recorder or historiographer. In ch. 66:3 it means one burning incense as a memorial oblation. Hence ... the name used in the law of Moses to denote such an offering. (See Lev. 2:2. 5:12. 24:7. Num. 5:26.) In ch. 43:26 the verb means to remind God of something which he seems to have forgotten; and as this is an appropriate description of importunate intercession, it is here entitled to the preference.

8. Sworn hath Jehovah by his right hand and by his arm of strength. If I give thy corn any more as food to thine enemies, and if the sons of the outland shall drink thy new wine which thou hast laboured in, (I am not God). On the elliptical formula of swearing, see above, on ch. 22:14. The declaration though conditional in form is in fact an absolute negation. In swearing by his hand and arm, the usual symbols of strength, he pledges his omnipotence for the fulfilment of the promise. 'As sure as I am almighty, thou shalt suffer this no more.'

9. For those gathering it shall eat it and shall praise Jehovah, and those collecting it shall drink it in my holy courts (or in the courts of my sanctuary). That these are but types and emblems of abundance, and security, and liberty of worship, is acknowledged even by that school of interpreters supposed to be most strenuous in favour of attaching to these promises their strictest sense.

10. Pass, pass through the gates, clear the way of the people, raise high, raise high the highway, free (it) from stones, raise a banner (or a signal) over the nations. The analogy of ch. 57:14 makes it probable that what is here described is the entrance of the nations into Zion or the church, an event so frequently and fully set forth in the preceding chapters. The gates are the gates of the ideal Zion or Jerusalem, the passage is an inward not an outward passage, and the exhortation of the text is one to all concerned, or all who have the opportunity, to take away obstructions and facilitate their entrance.

11. Behold, Jehovah has caused it to be heard to the end of the earth, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him and his hire before him. There is some doubt as to the connection of the clauses. It may be questioned whether the verse contains the words uttered by Jehovah to the end of the earth, and if so, whether these continue to the end of the verse, or only to the third behold. But the plain sense of the words, the context here, and the analogy of ch. 40:10, are all completely satisfied by the hypothesis that the Messiah (or Jehovah) is here described as coming to his people, bringing with him a vast multitude of strangers or new converts, the reward of his own labours, and at the same time the occasion of a vast enlargement to his church. At the same time, let it be observed that this hypothesis is not one framed for the occasion, without reference or even in opposition to the previous explanation of passages in every point resembling this, but one suggested at the outset of the book, and found upon comparison, at every step of the interpretation, to be more satisfactory than any other.

12. And they shall call them the Holy People, the redeemed of Jehovah, and thou shalt be called Derushah (sought for), Ir-lo-neezabah (City not forsaken). The first verb is indefinite, they (i. e. men) shall call; hence the parallel expression has the passive form. The distinction here so clearly made by the use of the second and third persons, is supposed by the modern Germans to be that between the city and her returning citizens; but this, as we have seen repeatedly before, involves a constant vacillation between different senses of Jerusalem and Zion in the foregoing context. The only supposition which can be consistently maintained, is that it always means the city, but the city considered merely as a representative or sign of the whole system and economy, of which it was the visible centre. The true distinction is between the church or chosen people as it is, and the vast accessions yet to be received from the world around it. Even the latter shall be honoured with the name of Holy People, while the church itself, becoming coextensive with the world, shall cease to be an object of contempt or disregard to God or man. The sense of sought for seems to be determined by the parallel description in Jer. 30:14, as expressing the opposite of the complaint in ch. 49:14.