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 influx of the gentiles into Zion having been described in the preceding verses, the destruction of her enemies is now sublimely represented as a sanguinary triumph of Jehovah or the Messiah, vs. 1-6. The Prophet then supposes the catastrophe already past, and takes a retrospective view of God's compassions towards his people, and of their unfaithfulness during the old economy, vs. 7-14. He then assumes the tone of earnest supplication, such as might have been offered by the believing Jews when all seemed lost in the destruction of their commonwealth and temple, vs. 15-19.

1. Who (is) this coming from Edom, bright (as to his) garments from Bozrah, this one adorned in his apparel, bending in the abundance of his strength? I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save. The hypothesis that this is a detached prophecy, unconnected with what goes before or follows, is now commonly abandoned as a mere evasion. The dramatic form of the description is recognized by modern writers, but without the awkward supposition of a chorus. It is not necessary even to introduce the people as a party to the dialogue. The questions may be naturally put into the mouth of the Prophet himself. Interpreters are much divided as to the Edom of this passage. That it is not merely a play upon the meaning of the name (viz. red), is clear from the mention of the chief town, Bozrah. Most interpreters, even of the modern German school, suppose Edom to be here, as in ch. 34, the representative of Israel's most inveterate enemies. The connection with what goes before is, that the restored Jews might apprehend the enmity of certain neighbouring nations, who had rejoiced in their calamity; and that the prophecy before us was intended to allay this apprehension. Speaking in righteousness is understood by most of the modern writers in the sense of speaking about it or concerning it, in which case righteousness must have the sense of deliverance, or at least be regarded as its cause. It is much more natural, however, to explain the phrase as meaning, I that speak in truth, I who promise and am able to perform. The terms of this description are applied in Rev. 19: 13 to the victorious Word of God.

2. Why (is there) redness to thy raiment, and (why are) thy garments like (those of) one treading in a wine-press? The adjective is here used substantively, just as we speak of a deep red in English. Or the word here employed may be explained as the infinitive, to be red. The allusion is of course to the natural red wine of the east, that of some vineyards on Mount Lebanon being almost black. It is a slight but effective stroke in this fine picture, that the first verse seems to speak of the stranger as still at a distance, whereas in the second he has come so near as to be addressed directly.

3. The press I have trodden by myself, and of the nations there was not a man with me; and I will tread them in my anger and trample them in my fury, and their juice shall spirt upon my garment, and all my vesture I have stained. The word here used for press is different from that in the foregoing verse, and occurs elsewhere only in Hagg. 2:16. According to its seeming derivation, it denotes the place where grapes are crushed or broken, as the other does the place where they are pressed or trodden. The comparison suggested in the question (v. 2) is here carried out in detail. Being asked why he looks like the treader of a wine-press, he replies that he has been treading one, and that alone, which some understand to mean without the aid of labourers or servants. The meaning of the figure is then expressed in literal terms. 'Of the nations there was not a man with me.' This expression and the otherwise inexplicable alternation of the tenses make it probable that two distinct treadings are here mentioned, one in which he might have expected aid from the nations, and another in which the nations should themselves be trodden down as a punishment of this neglect. Or the futures may denote merely a relative futurity, i. e. in reference to the act first mentioned. The more general opinion is, however, that but one act of treading is here mentioned, and that the nations are themselves represented as the grapes. The words with me are added to convey the idea that all the nations were on the adverse side, none on that of the conqueror. The sense will then be not that they refused to join in trampling others, but simply that they were among the trampled. As if he had said, I trod the press alone, and all the nations, without exception, were trodden in it. By all the nations we are of course to understand all but God's people. The treading of the wine-press alone is an expression often applied in sermons and in religious books and conversation to our Saviour's sufferings. While the impossibility of such a sense in the original passage cannot be too strongly stated, there is no need of denying that the figure may be happily accommodated in the way suggested; as many expressions of the Old Testament may be applied to different objects with good effect, provided we are careful to avoid confounding such accommodations with the strict and primary import of the passage.

4. For the day of vengeance (is) in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. For the sense of day and year in this connection, see above, on ch. 61:2. In my heart, i. e. my mind or purpose. It is not necessary to explain the participle in a future sense (to be redeemed), since their redemption was as firmly settled in the divine purpose as the day of vengeance.

5. And I look, and there is none helping; and I stand aghast, and there is none sustaining; and my own arm saves for me, and my fury it sustains me. These expressions have already been explained in ch. 59:16. Fury here takes the place of righteousness not as a synonyme but as an equivalent. God's wrath is but the executioner and agent of his justice. Upon either he might therefore be described as exclusively relying. The present form is used in the translation, on account of the uncertainty in which the use of the tenses is involved, and which may arise in part from an intentional confusion of the past and future in the mind of one who had begun a great work, and was yet to finish it.

6. And I tread the nations in my anger, and I make them drunk in my wrath, and I bring down to the earth their juice. The use of the word tread leads to the resumption of the figure of a wine-press, which is employed besides this passage in Lam. 1:15. Joel 3:13. Rev. 14:19, 20. In order to connect the common reading with the context, we have only to assume a mixture of metaphors, such as we continually meet with in Isaiah, or a sudden change of figure, which is not only common but characteristic of this prophet.

7. The mercies of Jehovah I will cause to be remembered, the praises of Jehovah according to all that Jehovah hath done for us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel which he hath done for them, according to his compassions and according to the multitude of his mercies. The sudden change of tone in this verse has led to many suppositions as to its connection with what goes before and follows. On the general principle assumed throughout our exposition as to the design and subject of these prophecies, the passage must be understood as relating to the favours experienced and the sins committed by the chosen people throughout the period of the old dispensation. There is no need of assuming any speaker but the Prophet himself. The plural form mercies may be intended to denote abundance. I will cause to be remembered, may have reference to men; in which case the phrase is equivalent to celebrate, record, or praise. But as these acknowledgements are merely preparatory to a prayer that God would renew his ancient favours to them, it is better to understand it as meaning, I will cause God himself to remember, or remind him, in which application the verb is often used, e. g. in the titles of Ps. 38 and 70.

8. And he said, Only they are my people, (my) children shall not lie (or deceive); and he became a saviour for them. To the general acknowledgement of God's goodness to his people, there is now added a specification of his favours, beginning with the great distinguishing favour by which they became what they were. This verse is commonly explained as an expression of unfounded confidence and hope on God's part, surely they are my people, children that will not lie. This must then be accounted for as anthropopathy; but although the occurrence of this figure in the Scriptures is indisputable, it is comparatively rare, and not to be assumed without necessity. Besides, the explanation just referred to rests almost entirely on the sense attached to ... as a mere particle of asseveration. Now in every other case where Isaiah uses it, the restrictive sense of only is not admissible merely, but necessary to the full force of the sentence. It is surely not the true mode of interpretation, to assume a doubtful definition for the sake of obtaining an unsatisfactory and offensive sense. Another advantage of the strict translation is, that it makes the Prophet go back to the beginning of their course, and instead of setting out from the hopes which God expressed after the choice of Israel, records the choice itself. Thus understood, the first clause is a solemn declaration of his having chosen Israel, to the exclusion of all other nations. Only they (and no others) are my people. The second clause may possibly mean, (their) sons shall not deal falsely, i. e. degenerate from their fathers' faith. In either case, the future is the future of command, as in the decalogue, not that of mere prediction. The English Version, so he was their saviour, is a needless departure from the simplicity of the original, and aggravates the misinterpretation of the first clause, by suggesting that he was their saviour because he believed they would be faithful. The verse in Hebrew simply states two facts, without intimating any causal relation between them. He chose them and he saved them.

9. In all their enmity he was not an enemy, and the angel of his face (or presence) saved them, in his love and in his sparing mercy he redeemed them, and he took them up and carried them all the days of old. The first clause is famous as the subject of discordant and even contradictory interpretations. These have been multiplied by the existence of a doubt as to the text. The Masora notes this as one of fifteen places in which (...) not is written by mistake for (...) to him or it. Another instance of the same alleged error in the text of Isaiah occurs in ch. 9:2 (3.) The English Version renders it, in all their affliction he was afflicted. This explanation, with the text on which it is founded, and which is exhibited by a number of manuscripts and editions, is favoured, not only by the strong and affecting sense which it yields, but by the analogy of Judges 10:16. 11:7. in one of which places the same phrase is used to denote human suffering, and in the other God is represented as sympathizing with it. The objections to it are, that it gratuitously renders necessary another anthropopathic explanation; that the natural collocation of the words, if this were the meaning, would be different; that the negative is expressed by all the ancient versions; and that the critical presumption is in favour of the textual reading, as the more ancient, and it ought not to be now abandoned, if a coherent sense can be put upon it, as it can in this case. A much more natural construction is, 'in all their affliction he did not afflict (them);' which, however, is scarcely reconcilable with history. This difficulty is avoided by a modification of the same construction, in all their afflictions he was not an adversary, i e. although he afflicted them, he did not hate them. This agrees well with what immediately follows, but is still liable to the objection that it takes the same word in two entirely different senses, which can only be admissible in case of necessity. An interpretation which gives the words essentially the same sense, yet so far modified as to explain the difference of form, is that which takes the words as correlative derivatives from one sense of the same root, but distinguished from each other as an abstract and a concrete, enemy and enmity. A real difficulty in the way of this interpretation is the want of any usage to sustain the latter definition, which, however, is so easily deducible from the primary meaning, and so clearly indicated by the parallel expression, that it may perhaps be properly assumed in a case where the only choice is one of difficulties. Thus understood, the clause simply throws the blame of all their conflicts with Jehovah on themselves: in all their enmity (to him) he was not an enemy (to them). The proof of this assertion is that he saved them, not from Egypt merely, but from all their early troubles, with particular reference perhaps to the period of the Judges, in the history of which this verb very frequently occurs. (See Judges 2:10, 18. 3:15. 6:14. etc.) This salvation is ascribed, however, not directly to Jehovah, but to the angel of his presence, whom Jehovah promised to send with Israel (Ex. 23: 20-23), and whom he did send, and who is identified with the presence of Jehovah, and with Jehovah himself. The combination of these passages determines the sense of the angel of his presence, as denoting the angel whose presence was the presence of Jehovah, or in whom Jehovah was personally present, and precludes the explanation given by many writers, who suppose it to mean merely an angel who habitually stands in the presence of Jehovah (1 Kings 22:19), just as human courtiers or officers of state are said to see the king's face (Jer. 52:25). The old Christian doctrine is that the Angel of God's presence, who is mentioned in the passages already cited, and from time to time in other books of the Old Testament (Gen. 28:13. 31:11. 48: 16. Ex. 3:2. Josh. 5:14. Judges 13:6. Hos. 12:5. Zech. 3:1. Mai. 3:1. Ps. 34:8), was that Divine being who is represented in the New as the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person (Heb. 1:3), the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4. Col. 1:15), in whose face the glory of God shines (2 Cor. 4:6), and in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). For the true sense of what follows, as to taking up and carrying them, see above, on ch. 46:3. The verb redeem is not only one of frequent occurrence in these prophecies, (ch. 43:1. 44:22, 23. 48:20. 49:7. etc.), but is expressly applied elsewhere to the redemption of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 6:5. Ps. 74:2. 77:16), and is therefore applicable to all other analogous deliverances.

10. And they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit (or spirit of holiness), and he was turned for them into an enemy, he himself fought against them. The pronoun at the beginning is emphatic: they on their part, as opposed to God's forbearance and long-suffering. There seems to be an allusion in this clause to the injunction given to the people at the exodus, in reference to the Angel who was to conduct them: Beware of him and obey his voice, provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him (Ex. 23:21). That the Spirit of this verse, like the Angel of the ninth, is represented as divine, is evident not only from a comparison of Ps. 78:17, 40, where the same thing is said of God himself, but also from the fact that those interpreters who will not recognize a personal spirit in this passage, unanimously understand the spirit either as denoting an attribute of God or God himself. This passage is in some sort historical, and shows the progress of the alienation between God and Israel. Having shown in the preceding verse that it began upon the part of Israel, and was long resisted and deferred by Jehovah, he now shows how at length his patience was exhausted, and he really became what he was not before. The disputes among interpreters whether this verse has reference to the conduct of the people in the wilderness, or under the Judges, or before the Babylonish exile, or before the final destruction of Jerusalem, are only useful as a demonstration that the passage is a general description, which was often verified. From this verse Paul has borrowed a remarkable expression in Eph. 4:30. (Compare Matt. 12:31. Acts 7: 51. Heb. 10:29.)

11. And he remembered the days of old, Moses (and) his people. Where is he that brought them up from the sea, the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put within him his Holy Spirit. Some make Jehovah the subject of the first verb, and suppose him to be here described as relenting. But as the following can be naturally understood only as the language of the people, especially when compared with Jer. 2:6, most writers are agreed in referring this clause to the people also. The Targum gives a singular turn to the sentence by supplying lest they say before the second clause, which then becomes the language of the enemies of Israel, exulting in the failure of Jehovah's promises. This explanation may appear to derive some support from the analogy of Deut. 32:17, which no doubt suggested it; but a fatal objection is that the essential idea is one not expressed but arbitrarily supplied. Another singular interpretation is the one contained in the Dutch Bible, which makes God the subject of the first verb but includes it in the language of the people, complaining that he dealt with them no longer as he once did: Once he remembered the days of old, etc., but now where is he, etc. But here again that on which the whole depends must be supplied without authority. The latest writers are agreed that the first clause describes the repentance of the people, and that the second gives their very words, contrasting their actual condition with their former privileges and enjoyments. The English Bible makes Moses and his people correlatives, as objects of the verb remembered: He remembered the ancient days, viz. those of Moses and his people. The simplest construction of the next clause is, where is he that brought them up from the sea, (that brought up) the shepherd of his flock? The him in the last clause refers to people. The clause implies, if it does not express directly, the idea of a personal spirit, as in the preceding verse.

12. Leading them by the right hand of Moses (and) his glorious arm, cleaving the waters from before them, to make for him an everlasting name? The sentence and the interrogation are continued from the foregoing verse. The participle with the article there defines or designates the subject as the one bringing up; the participle here without the article simply continues the description. The right hand may be mentioned in allusion to the wielding of the rod by Moses, and the glorious arm may be either his or that of God himself, which last sense is expressed in the English version by a change of preposition (by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm). The same ambiguity exists in the last clause, where the everlasting name may be the honour put upon Moses or the glory which redounded to Jehovah himself, as in ch. 55:13.

13. Making them walk in the depths, like the horse in the desert they shall not stumble. The description of the exodus is still continued, and its perfect security illustrated by comparisons. The desert seems to be referred to as a vast plain free from inequalities. The last verb would seem most naturally to refer to the horse; but its plural form forbids this construction, while its future form creates a difficulty in referring it to Israel. The true solution is afforded by the writer's frequent habit of assuming his position in the midst of the events which he describes, and speaking of them as he would have spoken if he had been really so situated. The comparison in the first clause brings up to his view the people actually passing through the wilderness; and in his confident assurance of their safe and easy progress he exclaims, 'they will not stumble!' The same explanation is admissible in many cases where it is customary to confound the tenses, or regard their use as perfectly capricious.

14. As the herd into the valley will go down, the Spirit of Jehovah will make him rest. So didst thou lead thy people, to make for thyself a name of glory. This version is not only more exact than the common one, but removes the ambiguity in the construction, by precluding the reference of him, in make him rest, to the preceding noun, which is natural enough in the English Version, though forbidden in Hebrew by the difference of gender. The him really refers to Israel or the people. A similar agency is elsewhere ascribed to the Spirit of God. (Ps. 143:10. Hagg. 2:5. Neh. 9:20.) The use of the futures in this clause is precisely the same as in the foregoing verse. In the last clause the Prophet ceases to regard the scene as actually present and resumes the tone of historical retrospection, at the same time summing up the whole in one comprehensive proposition, thus didst thou lead thy people. With the last words of the verse compare ch. 60:21. 61:3.

15. Look (down) from heaven and see from thy dwelling-plate of holiness and beauty! Where is thy zeal and thy might (or mighty deeds)? The sounding of thy bowels and thy mercies towards me have withdrawn themselves. The foregoing description of God's ancient favours is now made the ground of an importunate appeal for new ones. The unusual word for dwelling-place is borrowed from the prayer of Solomon. (1 Kings 8:13) For a similar description of heaven, see above, ch. 57:15. God is here represented as withdrawn into heaven and no longer active upon earth. For the meaning of his zeal, see above, on ch. 59:17. Bowels and mercies. Although we are obliged to render one of these nouns by a literal and the other by a figurative term, both of them properly denote the viscera, on the figurative use of which to signify strong feeling, see above, on ch. 16:11. The last verb in the verse denotes a violent suppression or restraint of strong emotion (Gen. 43:30. 45:1), and is sometimes applied directly to God himself. (See above, ch. 42:14, and below, ch. 64:11.) The last clause may be variously divided without a material change of meaning. The English Version makes the last verb a distinct interrogation, are they restrained? The objection to this is that the second question is not natural, and that it arbitrarily assumes an interrogative construction without anything to indicate it, as the where cannot be repeated. The best construction is that which makes the last clause a simple affirmation, or at most an impassioned exclamation.

16. For thou (art) our father; for Abraham hath not known us, and Israel will not recognize us; thou Jehovah (art) our father, our redeemer of old (or from everlasting) is thy name. The common version needlessly obscures the sense and violates the usage of the language by rendering the first ...doubtless, and the second though. Why do we ask thee to look down from heaven and to hear our prayer? Because thou art our father. This does not merely mean our natural creator, but our founder, our national progenitor, as in Deut. 32:6. Here, however, it appears to be employed in an emphatic and exclusive sense, as if he had said, 'thou and thou alone art our father;' for he immediately adds, as if to explain and justify this strange assertion, 'for Abraham has not known us, and Israel will not recognize or acknowledge us.' The assimilation of these tenses, as if both past or future, is entirely arbitrary; and their explanation as both present is a gratuitous evasion. As in many other cases, past and future are here joined to make the proposition universal. Dropping the peculiar parallel construction, the sense is that neither Abraham nor Israel have known or will know any thing about us, have recognized or will hereafter recognize us as their children. The church or chosen people, although once, for temporary reasons, co-extensive and coincident with a single race, is not essentially a national organization, but a spiritual body. Its father is not Abraham or Israel, but Jehovah, who is and always has been its Redeemer, who has borne that name from everlasting. According to the explanation which has now been given, this verse explicitly asserts what is implied and indirectly taught throughout these prophecies, in reference to the true design and mission of the Church, and its relation to Jehovah, to the world, and to the single race with which of old it seemed to be identified. This confirmation of our previous conclusions is the more satisfactory, because no use has hitherto been made of it, by anticipation, in determining the sense of many more obscure expressions, to which it may now be considered as affording a decisive key. It only remains to add, as a preventive of misapprehension, that the strong terms of this verse are of course to be comparatively understood, not as implying that the church will ever have occasion to repudiate its historical relation to the patriarchs, or cease to include among its members many of their natural descendants, but simply as denying all continued or perpetual pre-eminence to Israel as a race, and exalting the common relation of believers to their great Head as paramount to all connection with particular progenitors—the very doctrine so repeatedly and emphatically taught in the New Testament.

17. Why wilt thou make us wander, oh Jehovah, from thy ways; (why) wilt thou harden our heart from thy fear? Return, for the sake of thy servants, the tribes of thy inheritance. The earnestness of the prayer is evinced by an increasing boldness of expostulation. The particle in from thy fear is commonly supposed to have a privative or negative meaning, so as not to fear thee; but there is rather an allusion to the wandering just before mentioned, as if he had said, 'and why wilt thou make us to wander, by hardening our heart from thy fear?' This last expression, as in many other cases, includes all the duties and affections of true piety. For the sense of God's returning to his people, see above, on ch. 52:8. The tribes of thine inheritance is an equivalent expression to thy people, which originated in the fact that Israel, like other ancient oriental races, was divided into tribes.

18. For a little thy holy people possessed, our enemies trod down thy sanctuary. The sense of this verse is extremely dubious. The modern writers are agreed in making holy people the subject of the verb, and supplying the object from the other clause, thy sanctuary. According to the usual construction of the sentence, it assigns as a reason for Jehovah's interference, the short time during which the chosen people had possessed the land of promise. It is agreed that the verse describes a subjection to enemies. The question is whether this subjection is itself described as temporary, or the peaceable possession which preceded it. In no case can an argument be drawn from it to prove that this whole passage has respect to the Jews in their present dispersion: first, because the sufferings of the church in after ages are frequently presented under figures drawn from the peculiar institutions of the old economy; and secondly, because the early history of Israel is as much the early history of the Christian church as of the Jewish nation, so that we have as much right as the Jews to lament the profanation of the Holy Land, and more cause to pray for its recovery by Christendom, than they for its restoration to themselves.

19. We are of old, thou hast not ruled over them, thy name has not been called upon them. Oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens (and] come down, (that) from before thee the mountains might quake (or flow down). Most of the modern writers have adopted a construction of the first clause suggested by the paraphrastic versions of the Septuagint and Vulgate. This supposes the description of the people's alienation from God to be continued: We have long been those (or like those) over whom thou didst not rule, and who were not called by thy name; that is to say, thou hast long regarded and treated us as aliens rather than thy chosen people. But the sense which it puts upon the clause is very far from being obvious, or one which a Hebrew writer would be likely to express in this way. Another old and well-known construction of the clause is founded on the Chaldee Paraphrase, which understands this not as a description of their misery but as an assertion of their claim to relief, in the form of a comparison between themselves and their oppressors. This is the sense given in the English version: We are thine, thou never bearest rule over them. To this form of the interpretation it has been objected, not without reason, that it puts upon the verb we are or have been a sense not justified by usage, or in other words, that it arbitrarily supplies the essential idea upon which the whole turns, namely, thine or thy people. But this objection may be easily removed by reading we are of old. The point of comparison is then their relative antiquity, the enemy being represented as a new race lately come into possession of the rights belonging to the old. There is then no need of supplying thine, the relation of the people to Jehovah being not particularly hinted here, although suggested by the whole connection. With this modification the construction of the English Bible seems entitled to the preference, Thou didst not rule over them. This has no reference, of course, to God's providential government, but only to the peculiar theocratical relation which he bears to his own people. The same idea is expressed by the following words, as to the sense of which see above, on ch. 48:1. The inconvenience of strongly marked divisions in a book like this, is exemplified by the disputes among interpreters, whether the remaining words of this verse as it stands in the masoretic text should or should not be separated from it and connected with the following chapter. The truth is that there ought to be no pause at all in this place, the transition from complaint to the expression of an ardent wish being not only intentional but highly effective. It is true that this clause ought not to be separated from what follows; but it does not follow that it ought to be severed from what goes before. Our own exposition will proceed upon the principle heretofore applied, that this is a continuous composition, that the usual divisions are mere matters of convenience, or inconvenience as the case may be, and that more harm is likely to result from too much than from too little separation of the parts. The passionate apostrophe in this clause, far from being injured or obscured, is rendered more expressive by its close connection with the previous complaints and lamentations. The idea now suggested is, that weary of complaint, the people or the prophet speaking for them suddenly appeals to God directly with an ardent wish that he would deal with them as in days of old. The remaining words are a poetical description of Jehovah's interposition or the manifestation of his presence, under figures drawn perhaps from the account of his epiphany on Sinai.