Isaiah 45 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 45
Pulpit Commentary
Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
Verses 1-7. - GOD'S WILL CONCERNING HIM ANNOUNCED TO CYRUS. This direct address of God to a heathen king is without a parallel in Scripture. Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Abimelech, were warned through dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was even promised Divine aid (Ezekiel 30:24, 25). But no heathen monarch had previously been personally addressed by God, much less called "his anointed," and spoken to by his name (ver. 4). Three motives are mentioned for this special favour to him:

(1) that he might acknowledge Jehovah to be the true God;

(2) that Israel might be benefited and advantaged by him;

(3) that the attention of the whole world might be attracted, and the unity of God made manifest far and wide (vers. 3-6). Verse 1. - Thus saith the Lord to his anointed. The "anointed of Jehovah" is elsewhere always either an Israelite king, or the expected Deliverer of the nation, "Messiah the Prince" (Daniel 9:25). This Deliverer, however, was to be of the line of David (Isaiah 11:1), and of the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), so that we can scarcely suppose Isaiah to have seen him in Cyrus. But he may have seen in Cyrus a type of the great Deliverer, as he saw in the release of Israel from the power of Babylon a type of their deliverance from sin. Whose right hand I have holden; rather, strengthened (comp. Ezekiel 30:24). To subdue nations before him (see above, Isaiah 41:2, and the comment ad loc.). Among the nations subdued by Cyrus may be mentioned the Medes, the Babylonians, the Lydians, the Caftans, the Caunians, the Lycians, the Bactrians, the Sacae, the Parthians, the Hyrcanians, the Chorasmians, the Sogdians, the Arians of Herat, the Zarangians, the Arachosians, the Satagydians, and the Gandarians. I will loose the loins of kings; i.e. render them weak and incapable of resistance" (comp. Daniel 5:6), net "disarm them" (Cheyne); for the chief royal weapons were the spear and the bow, neither of which was carried at the girdle. To open before him the two-leaved gates. The cities and forts repro-sented on the Assyrian monuments have invariably their gateways closed by two large gates or doors which meet in the centre of the gateway. The bronze plating found at Ballarat gave the dimensions, and showed the strength of such gates ('Transactions of the Society of Bibl. Archseol.,' vol. 7. pp. 83-88).
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:
Verse 2. - I will... make the crooked places straight; rather, I will make the rugged places level. No doubt intended generally, "I will smooth his way before him." The gates of brass... the bars of iron. According to Herodotus, the gates of Babylon were of solid bronze, and one hundred in number (1:179). Solid bronze gates have, however, nowhere been found, and would have been inconvenient from their enormous weight. It is probable that the "gates of brass," or "bronze," whereof we read, were always, like these found at Ballarat, of wood plated with bronze. To the eye these would be "gates of bronze." Gates of towns were, as a matter of course, secured by bars, which would commonly be made of iron, as the strongest material. Iron was well known to the Babylonians (Herod., 1:186).
And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
Verse 3. - I will give thee the treasures of darkness; i.e. "treasures stored in dark places" - "bidden treasures." Treasuries were built for greater security without windows. Of the treasures which fell into the hands of Cyrus, the greatest were probably those of Babylon (Herod., 1:183) and of Sardis (Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 7:2, § 11). The value of the latter has been estimated at above one hundred and twenty-six millions sterling. That thou mayest know; or, acknowledge (for the actual acknowledgment, see the decrees in Ezra 1:3 and Ezra 6:3-5). If these documents are accepted as genuine, or even as true in substance (Ewald), Cyrus must be considered to have identified Jehovah with his own Ormuzd, and to have viewed the Jewish and Persian religions as substantially the same. He would be under no temptation, with so weak and down-trodden a people as the Jews, to resort to politic pretences, as he might be in the case of the Babylonians (see the comment on Isaiah 41:25). Which call thee by thy name (comp. ver. 1 and Isaiah 44:28). (On the special favour implied in God's condescending to "know" or "call" a person by his name, see the 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus 33:12.) Am the God of Israel; rather, am the Lord... the God of Israel.
For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
Verse 4. - For Jacob my servant's sake. This second motive is, in a certain sense, the main one. Cyrus is raised up, especially, to perform God's pleasure with respect to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:26-28). Jacob, his Church, is more important in God's eyes than any individual. No doubt his Church is maintained, in part, that it may be "a light to lighten the Gentiles;" but it is not maintained solely: or even mainly, for this end. Its welfare is an end in itself, and would be sought by God apart from any further consequence. Israel mine elect (comp. Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1). I have surnamed thee; i.e. "given thee designations of honour," e.g. "my anointed" (ver. 1); "my shepherd" (Isaiah 44:28); "he who shall do all my pleasure" (Isaiah 44:28). Though thou hast not known me; rather, though thou didst not know me. Cyrus's honours, his titles, his mention by name, etc., were accumulated upon him before his birth, when he knew nothing of God, when, therefore, he had in no way merited them. Thus all was done, not for his sake, but lot the sake of Israel.
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
Verse 5. - I girded thee. As God "loosed the loins" of Cyrus's adversaries (ver. 1), to weaken them, so he "girded" those of Cyrus, to give him strength (comp. Psalm 18:32).
That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
Verse 6. - That they may know from the rising of the sun. Here we have the third motive of the Divine action respecting Cyrus. The attention of all the world from the extreme east to the extreme west, would be drawn by the wonderful occurrences. Jehovah's hand in them would be perceived, and his sole Godhead would obtain acknowledgment. An impulse was doubtless given to monotheism by the victories of Cyrus and the favour which he showed the Jews; but it cannot be said to have been very marked. Idolatry and polytheism were to a certain extent discredited; but they maintained their ground nevertheless. It was not till the true "Anointed One" appeared - the antitype of whom Cyrus was the type - that the idols were "utterly abolished."
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Verse 7. - I form the light, and create darkness. It has been recently denied that there is any allusion in these words, or in those which follow, to the Zoroastrian tenets; and it has even been asserted that the religion of the early Achaemenian kings was free from the taint of dualism. But according to some authorities, "a god of lies" is mentioned in the Behistun inscription; and the evidence is exceedingly strong that dualism was an essential part of the Zoroastrian religion long before the time of Cyrus (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 332, 333, 2nd edit.). It is quite reasonable to suppose that Isaiah would be acquainted with the belief of the Persians and Medes, who had come in contact with the Assyrians as early as B.C.. 830; and a warning against the chief error of their religion would be quite in place when he was holding up Cyrus to his countrymen as entitled to their respect and veneration. The nexus of the words, "I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness," is such as naturally to suggest an intended antagonism to the Zoroastrian system. Under that, Ormuzd created "light" and "peace," Ahriman "darkness" and "evil." The two were eternal adversaries, engaged in an inter-ruinable contest. Ormuzd, it is true, claimed the undivided allegiance of mankind, since he was their maker; but Ahriman was a great power, terribly formidable - perhaps a god (diva) - certainly the chief of the devas. It was from Zoroastrianism that Manicheism derived its doctrine of the two principles, and to the same source may, with much probability, be traced the "devil-worshippers" of the Zagros mountain chain.
Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.
Verse 8. - THE BLESSED RESULTS OF ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE. The restoration of Israel to their own land will be followed by a great increase of righteousness and salvation. They will be, as it were, showered down abundantly from heaven, while at the same time they will spring in profusion from earth's bosom. Jehovah, who has caused the deliverance, will also cause these results to follow from it. Verse 8. - Drop down, ye heavens; literally, distil, ye heavens (camp. Deuteronomy 32:1; Job 36:28); or rain down on the thirsty earth your gracious influences. Let righteousness, or God's law of right, descend afresh from the skies as a boon to mankind - a boon for which they have been long waiting. And... let the earth open. Let earth make due response, opening her gentle besom, as she does in spring (camp. Aprilis from aperio), and blossoming with human righteousness, the fruit and evidence of salvation. To the prophet's rapt gaze the excellence of the post-Captivity times, when all idolatry had been put away, seemed, in comparison with earlier ages, the reign of justice and truth upon earth. I the Lord have created it; i.e. "I, Jehovah, have wrought the change by the larger outpouring of my Spirit" (camp. Isaiah 43:3).
Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?
Verses 9-13. - ISRAEL WARNED NOT TO CALL IN QUESTION GOD'S MODES OF ACTION. Apparently, Isaiah anticipates that the Israelites will be discontented and murmur at their deliverer being a heathen king, and not one of their own body. He therefore warns them against presuming to criticize the arrangements of the All-Wise, reminding them of his unapproachable greatness (ver. 12), and once more assuring them that the appointment of Cyrus is from him (ver. 13). Verse 9. - Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive, etc.; rather, woe unto him that striveth with his Maker, a potsherd among potsherds of the ground: All men are equally made of "the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7). Israel has no prerogative in this respect. He, too, is "a potsherd among potsherds" - day moulded by the potter; no more entitled to lift up his voice against his Maker than the vessel to rebel against the man who shapes it (comp. Isaiah 29:16; and see the comment furnished by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans 9:20-24). What would a man think if the clay that he was fashioning objected to being moulded in a particular form, or if a work that he had made exclaimed, "He is a poor bungler - he hath no hands"? Yet this is what a man does who finds fault with the arrangements of the Almighty.
Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?
Verse 10. - Woe unto him that saith unto his father, etc.! A change is made in the metaphor, the relationship of a father and his child being substituted for that of a potter and his clay. What would a man think of a child murmuring against his parent for not having made him stronger, handsomer, cleverer? Would not such a child be regarded as most unnatural, and as deserving to have woe denounced upon him?
Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.
Verse 11. - The Holy One of Israel; i.e. he who always does right, and with whom, therefore, it is absurd to find fault. His Maker; i.e. Israel's Maker, who has, therefore, the right to do with him as he pleases. Ask me of things to come concerning my sons. This sentence is wrongly punctuated. The last three words should be attached to what follows, thus: "Ask me of things to come: concerning my sons and concerning the work of my hands command ye me;" i.e. first learn of me what in my designs is to be the course of human events, and then (if necessary) give me directions concerning my sons (Israel), who are the work of my hands; but do not presume to give me directions while you are still in utter ignorance of my designs. In any case remember who I am - the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, One accustomed to give directions to the angelic host (ver. 12).
I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.
Verse 12. - I, even my hands; literally, I, my hands; i.e. "my hands, and my hands alone." All their host. The "host of heaven" is sometimes put for the stars, and may be so understood here; but "commands" are laid on intelligent rather than on unintelligent beings. (The object of the verb tsavah in Hebrew is almost always personal.)
I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts.
Verse 13. - I have raised him up. "Him" can only be referred to Cyrus, the one individual mentioned previously in the chapter (vers. 1-5). The expression," raised up," had been already used of him (Isaiah 41:25). In righteousness means "to carry out my righteous purposes." I will direct; rather, as in the margin, make straight. He... shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward. Captives were often "redeemed for a price" (Nehemiah 6:8). In Greece a fixed sum was established by general consent as the ransom of a captive (Aristot., 'Eth. Nic.,' 5:6). Cyrus, however, in letting the Jews go free, would not be actuated by the paltry motive of pecuniary profit. He may, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, have been actuated in part "by a consideration of the usefulness of such a faithful advanced guard at the border of Egypt;" but mainly it is probable that "he obeyed the dictates of religious sympathy with the Jews." The recent contention, that he was not a Zoroastrian (Sayce, Academy, October 16, 1880; 'Ancient Empires,' p. 439; Cheyne, 'Isaiah,' vol. 2. p. 279) rests upon insufficient evidence, his so-called inscription being a document not put forth by himself, but by the priests of Merodach at Babylon; and the first introduction of Zoroastrian monotheism into the state religion of Persia by Darius Hystaspis (Sayce, 'Ancient Empires,' p. 440) being expressly disclaimed by him in the Be-histun inscription, where he declares his reformation to have consisted in the rebuilding of the temples which Gomates the Magian had destroyed, and the reinstitutier for the state of the religious chants and the worship which he had put down (col 1. par. 14).
Thus saith the LORD, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.
Verses 14-25. - THE CONVERSION' OF THE GENTILES A CONSEQUENCE OF THE RESTORATION AND SALVATION OF ISRAEL. "With the prospect of the release of the exiles is associated," says Delitzsch, "in the prophet's perspective, the prospect of an expansion of the restored Church, through the entrance of the fulness of the Gentiles." Egypt, Ethiopia, and Saba are especially mentioned here, as in Isaiah 43:3, as among the first to come in (vers. 14, 15). Later on, a more general influx is spoken of (ver. 20); and, finally, a prospect is held out of an ultimate universal conversion (ver. 23). At the same time, judgment is denounced against the idolaters who persist in their idolatry (vers. 16, 20), and they are warned that they will have no share in the coming glories of the Israel of God. Verse 14. - The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabaeans; i.e. "the laborious Egyptians, and the traffic-loving Ethiopians and Sabaeans." Their buildings and their husbandry alike justify what is said of the Egyptians, while the very ancient traffic between Egypt and Ethiopia is sufficient ground for the assignment of a commercial character to the Ethiopians and the Sabaeans. Men of stature. (On the tall stature of the Ethiopians, see Herod., 3:20; and comp. Isaiah 18:2, with the comment.) Shall come over unto thee. Knobel understands that they would give their aid to the rebuilding of the temple; but this they certainly did not do, and Isaiah's words certainly do not imply it. He is again speaking of the great conversion of the nations, which he connected with the restoration of the Jews to their own land (Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:18-25, etc.), and which may be considered to have begun then, but only to have had its full accomplishment in the Messianic period. In chains they shall come over. Ready to serve the Church as slaves and servants - not literally wearing chains. They shall fall down unto thee, etc. The Church, as informed with the Spirit of God, shall Seem to them a holy thing, and therefore an object of worship (romp. Revelation 3:9). There is such a union between Christ and his Church, that worship, in a qualified sense, may be paid the Church without unfitness.
Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
Verse 15. - Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself. Some commentators regard this as an exclamation made by Isaiah himself, who marvels at the unsearchable mystery of God's ways. But others, with better reason, take it for a continuation of the speech of the converted heathen, who marvel that God has so long hid himself from them and from the world at large, not manifesting his power, as he has now done in the person of Cyrus. In this recent manifestation he has shown himself especially the God of Israel, and their Saviour.
They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols.
Verse 16. - They shall be ashamed... shall go to confusion; rather, ore ashamed... are gone to confusion - the "perfect of prophetic certainty." While the heathen that join themselves to Israel partake of their glory and salvation, such as abide by their idols are covered with shame and confusion.
But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.
Verse 17. - Israel shall be saved... with an everlasting salvation; literally, a salvation of ages; i.e. one which will continue age after age. As Mr. Cheyne remarks, for this to be so, the redemption required to be spiritual as well as temporal. Otherwise it would ere long have been forfeited.
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
Verse 18. - Thus saith the Lord, etc. Translate, Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens - he is God - that formed the earth and made it; he established it; he created it not a chaos, but formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord, and there is none else. As God had not formed the earth to be a material chaos, but had introduced into it order and arrangement, so he willed his spiritual creation to be recovered out of the confusion into which it had fallen, and to be established in righteousness.
I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.
Verse 19. - I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; literally, in a place of the land of darkness. Jehovah's oracles have not been given, like those of the necromancers, or those of the heathen gods, in dark places of the earth - caves like that of Trophonius (Pansan., 9:29, § 2), or the inmost recesses (adyta) of temples; but openly on Sinai, or by the mouth of prophets who proclaimed his words to all Israel (romp. Dent. 30:11-14, "This commandment which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off... . But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it"). So our Lord says of his own teaching, "I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20). Seek ye me in vain; rather, seek ye me as a chaos (romp. Jeremiah 2:31, where God says to his people, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?"). God has no more revealed himself to his people as chaotic, confused, disordered, than he has presented the world to them in this condition.! the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. There is an allusion to the crooked and ambiguous utterances of the heathen oracles, which rarely gave direct answers or plainly expressed any definite meaning. God in his utterances never diverges from the straight line of righteousness and truth (comp. Proverbs 8:6).
Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.
Verse 20. - Assemble yourselves and come... ye... escaped of the nations. The prophet reverts to the main idea of the section, which is the conversion of the Gentiles, and calls on all "the escaped of the nation" - i.e. all who have survived the judgments of the time - to "assemble and come," to consider the claims of Jehovah to be the only true God, to "look to him (ver. 22) and be saved." The great judgments through which the heathen will be brought to God have been frequently mentioned (Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 26:20, 21; Isaiah 27:1-7; Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 34:1-10; Isaiah 40:24; Isaiah 41:11, 12, 25; Isaiah 42:13-15, etc.). They must not be regarded as limited to the time of Cyrus, but rather as continuing into the Messianic period, and indeed nearly to its close (see especially ch. 34.). Each one of them constitutes a call to the nations, and is followed by a conversion to a greater or less extent. They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image; rather, who lift up (or, carry) the wood of their graven image (comp. Isaiah 46:7, "They bear him upon the shoulder," where the same verb is used). It was a practice of the idolatrous heathen to carry the images of their gods in processions, generally exposed to view upon their shoulders (Layard, 'Nineveh and its Remains,' vol. 2. opp. p. 451), but sometimes partially concealed in shrines, or "arks" (Rawlinson, 'Herodotus,' vol. 2. pp. 100, 101). There would be still among the "escaped" some who would so act.
Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.
Verse 21. - Tell ye, and bring them near. Dr. Kay and Mr. Cheyne understand the nations to be addressed, and told to "show" or "announce," and "bring forth" or "produce," any argument in favour of the divinity of their gods. But it is simpler and better, with our translators, to regard the address as made to the prophets of God, who are bidden to announce his message of mercy to the nations, and to bring them near to him (comp. Isaiah 40:1). Let them take counsel together; i.e. let the nations consider one with another, whether God or the idols be the fitter object of worship. Who hath declared this? "This" must refer to the conquest of Babylon and deliverance of Israel by Cyrus. None but Jehovah had ever announced this - none but he could bring it to pass. From ancient time; rather, from aforetime (Cheyne). The announcement cannot have been made very long before this prophecy was delivered. A just God and a Saviour. A God in whom "mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:16); who can be at once just, "acting stringently according to the demands of his holiness" (Delitzsch), and yet design and effect the salvation of sinners.
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
Verse 22. - Look unto me; rather, turn unto me (as in Psalm 25:16; Psalm 69:16; Psalm 86:16); i.e., "Be converted - turn unto the Lord your God." It is implied that all can turn, if they will. And be ye saved. On conversion, salvation will follow. It will extend even to all the ends of the earth (comp. Psalm 98:3, "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God").
I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
Verse 23. - I have sworn by myself (comp. Genesis 22:17; Jeremiah 22:5; Jeremiah 49:15). "God swears "by himself," because he can swear by no greater" (Hebrews 6:13). He condescends, for man's sake, to confirm in this way promises that are exceedingly precious (see the Homiletics on Isaiah 14:24). The word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness. So Dr. Kay and Mr. Cheyne (comp. ver. 19, "I the Lord speak righteousness"). And shall not return; i.e. shall not be withdrawn or retracted. God's gifts and promises are "without repentance." Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. This universal turning to God belongs to the final Messianic kingdom, prophesied in Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:18-23; and also by Daniel (Daniel 7:9-14) and St. John the Divine (Revelation 21:1-4). The entire destruction of God's enemies is to take place previously (Revelation 19:17-21).
Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.
Verse 24. - Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness; rather, only in the Lord, shall each man say to me. is their righteousness. All shall confess that God alone is righteous, and that any goodness which they have is derived from him. The Hebrew has "righteousnesses" in the plural, to express abundance. All that are incensed; rather, all that were incensed (see Isaiah 41:11). Such persons shall repent and be ashamed.
In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
Verse 25. - In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified. Joined to Jehovah in mystic union (Cheyne). the whole "Israel of God" shall be justified, and glory in their condition.

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