Isaiah 48 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 48
Pulpit Commentary
Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.
Verse 1. - Jacob... Israel (camp. Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, 14; Isaiah 43:1, 22; Isaiah 44:1, etc.). "Jacob" is the natural and secular designation; "Israel" is a spiritual or covenant name (Cheyne). Both terms being appropriate to the ten tribes no less than to the two, and the present address being intended especially for the Jewish captives, a further designation is appended - which are come forth out of the waters of Judah (comp. Psalm 68:26, "Ye that are of the fountain of Israel," marginal rendering). Which swear by the Name of the Lord. Swearing "by the Name of the Lord" is an evidence of true religion, to a certain extent (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20). It indicates that there has been, at any rate, no open apostasy. Still, it does not necessarily prove more than this; and, in the present case, it scarcely showed anything beyond mere outward formal conformity. The bulk of the captives "swore by the Name of Jehovah, and made mention of the God of Israel" (camp. Joshua 23:7), but did so not in truth, nor in righteousness; i.e. "without their state of mind or mode of action corresponding to their confession, so as to prove that it was sincerely and seriously meant" (Delitzsch). The condition of the majority of the exiles was that expressed in the words, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but in their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8).
For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The LORD of hosts is his name.
Verse 2. - For they call themselves of the holy city. It is an indication of their real want of truth and righteousness, that they lay such stress upon what is so entirely outward and formal, as the fact of their belonging to" the holy city," Jerusalem. Compare the boast of the Jews in our Lord's time, "We be Abraham's seed" (John 8:33). Stay themselves upon the God of Israel. Not resting upon him in real faith and true humble dependence, as those Israelites who are mentioned in Isaiah 10:20. but trusting to the facts that they were "Israel," and that God was "the God of Israel," and therefore bound to protect them. God reminds them that, if he is "the God of Israel," he is also "the Lord of hosts" - a term, as Dr. Kay notes, especially connected with the holiness of God.
I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
Verse 3. - I have declared the former things from the beginning (comp. Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 43:9, 10; Isaiah 44:7, 8, etc.). "Former things" are here contrasted with the "new things" of ver. 6. Two cycles of prophecy seem to be intended - one of comparatively ancient date, the other quite fresh - both equally showing forth the power of God and his infinite superiority to the idols. It is difficult to determine what the two cycles of prophecy are. Delitzsch suggests that "the former things are the events experienced by the people from the very earliest times down to the times of Cyrus," while "the new things embrace the redemption of Israel from Babylon, the glorification of the people in the midst of a world of nations converted to the God of Israel, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth." Dr. Kay thinks that the "former things" are those mentioned in the prophecies concerning Babylon generally, the "new things those about to be announced in Isaiah 49-56. I did them suddenly; rather, suddenly I wrought.
Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
Verse 4. - I knew that thou art obstinate; literally, hard, or stiff - the adjective used in the phrase translated in our version "stiff-necked." The idea is still more forcibly expressed in the following clause - thy neck is an iron sinew; or rather, a band of iron, as stiff as if it were made-of the hardest metal. And thy brow brass. The exact simile here used does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. It seems to be the origin of our expressions, "brazen,... brazen-faced," "to brazen a thing out." The forehead may be hardened for a good or for a bad purpose; in obstinacy or in a determination to resist evil (comp. Isaiah 1:7 and Ezekiel 3:8 with Jeremiah 5:3; Ezekiel 3:7; Zechariah 7:12). Here the hardening is evil, marking defiance and self-will.
I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.
Verse 5. - I have even from the beginning declared it (comp. ver. 3). The declaration here made is that God rendered his prophecies more than ordinarily marvellous on account of Israel's obstinacy, not punishing them for it, lint seeking graciously and lovingly to overcome it by adding to the weight of the evidence to which he would fain have had it yield. Had his prophecies been less astonishing, had they in a less degree transcended ordinary human experience, Israel might conceivably have ascribed them and the accomplishment of them to the false gods. As it was, this was barely possible. Mine idol... my molten image. It has been already observed (see the comment on Isaiah 40:18) that there was a strong tendency to idolatry among the Jews, not only before, but during the Captivity. Ezekiel says that those among whom he lived were "polluted after the manner of their fathers, and committed whoredom after their abominations; made their sons pass through the fire, and polluted themselves with all their idols" (Ezekiel 20:30, 31); nay, went so far as to declare boldly, "We will be as the heathen, as the inhabitants of the countries, to serve wood and stone" (Ezekiel 20:32). The "prevailing tendency," as Delitzsch remarks, was "to combine the worship of Jehovah with heathenism, or else to exchange the former altogether for the latter." We cannot conclude anything concerning the mass of the community from the character of those who returned. Those who returned were the sincere worshippers of Jehovah - the irreligious did not care to return. It is always to be borne in mind that it was "the great mass even of Judah," no less than of Israel, that "remained behind" (Delitzsch); and these "became absorbed into the heathen, to whom they became more and more assimilated" (ibid.). Hath commanded them; i.e. "hath caused them (the events) to take place" (comp. Psalm 33:9).
Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
Verse 6. - Thou hast heard, see all this; rather, thou didst hear, (now) see it all, i.e. see all the prophecies now fulfilled, which thou heardest in days gone by. Will ye not declare it? Will ye not for very shame make known generally the accordance between the prophecies and the events, which you cannot fail to see? Will ye not become "my witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10), and turn away from your idols? I have showed thee; rather, I show thee; i.e. "I am about to show thee from this time new things, even hidden things, which thou knowest not" - things belonging to the new cycle of prophecy, not previously announced, but reserved for the present crisis (see the comment on ver. 3). On the whole, the language used seems most consonant with the view of Dr. Kay, that the "new things" are those about to be revealed in the next section of the prophecy (Isaiah 49-53), things belonging to the coming of Christ, and the "new creation" which it will be the great object of his coming to bring about.
They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.
Verse 7. - They are created now. The revelation to man of what has lain secret in God's counsels from all eternity is a sort of creation. As Nagelbach well says, it converts the λόγος ἐνδιάθετος into a λόγος προφορικός and therefore is one step towards actual accomplishment. The mystery of "the Servant of the Lord," and of atonement and salvation through him, had hitherto been hid away - "hid in God" (Ephesians 3:9), and was now for the first time to be made known to such as had "eyes to see" and "cars to hear" by the teaching of the evangelical prophet. Even before the day when thou heardest them not; rather, and before to-day thou heardest them not. Whatever shadows of evangelic truth are discernible in the Law and in the earlier psalms, they did not constitute a revelation of the way of salvation at all comparable to that contained in Isaiah's later chapters. Lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. If the "new things" of Isaiah's prophecy had been revealed many centuries before, they would not have impressed the Jews of Isaiah's time, or even of the Captivity period, as they did by having been reserved to a comparatively late date. They would have seemed to most of them an old and trite story.
Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.
Verse 8. - Thou heardest not... thou knewest not. Again we seem to hear the voice of complaint, as in vers. 1, 2, 4. Israel had not "ears to hear" to any purpose such highly spiritual truths as those of the coming section. They had not profited by what was taught concerning Christ in the Law and the Psalms. From that time that thine ear was not opened; rather, from that time thine ear hath not been open. "From that time" means "from of old," or "from the beginning."
For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.
Verse 9. - For my Name's sake will I defer mine anger. Israel's insincerity (ver. 1), obstinacy (ver. 4), addiction to idols (ver. 5), blindness (ver. 8), and general resistance to God's will (ver. 8), could not but have provoked God's "anger." He will, however, "defer" it, "refrain" himself, not "cut Israel off, for his Name's sake." God, having selected one nation out of all the nations of the earth to be his "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), and having declared this, and supported his people by miracles in their struggles with the other nations and peoples, was, so to speak, committed to protect and defend Israel "for his Name's sake," lest his Name should be blasphemed among the Gentiles (see Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13; Deuteronomy 9:28; Psalm 129:10; 106:8, etc.). He was also bound by the promises which he had made; and. still more, by the position which Israel occupied in his scheme of salvation, to allow the nation still to exist, and therefore to condone its iniquities and restrain his anger. But the dregs of the cup of vengeance were poured out at last.
Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
Verse 10. - I have refined thee, but not with silver; rather, but not as silver (Cheyne). or, but not in the manner of silver (Delitzsch); i.e. not with the severity with which silver is refined (see Psalm 12:6). I have chosen thee; rather, I have tested thee. The furnace of affliction is here the Babylonian captivity. The object of the Captivity was to "test" and "refine," or purify God's people to a certain extent - not with extreme severity, but in such sort as to fit them to "bear his Name before the Gentiles" for another five hundred years.
For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.
Verse 11. - How should my Name be polluted? i.e. how should I allow of its pollution or desecration (see the comment on ver. 9)? I will not give my glory unto another (comp. Isaiah 42:8). God would have ceded his glory to some god of the nations, had he under existing circumstances forsaken Israel.
Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.
Verses 12-15. - THE SECOND ADDRESS. The tone of complaint is now dropped. Israel is invited to reflect seriously on the chief points urged in the preceding chapters.

(1) Their near relation to Jehovah (ver. 12);

(2) Jehovah's eternity and omnipotence (vers. 12, 13);

(3) the superiority of Jehovah to the gods of the nations, as shown by his prophetic power (ver. 14); and

(4) the near approach of deliverance by Cyrus (vers. 14, 15). Verse 12. - O Jacob and Israel (comp. Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, 14; Isaiah 43:1, 22; Isaiah 44:1, 21; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 48:1). The figure is used which rhetoricians call hendiadys. The two names designate one and the same object. My called. "Called" and "chosen" from of old, out of all the nations of the earth (comp. Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 44:1, 2, etc.); therefore bound to "hear" and to attend. Still more bound, considering who it is by whom they have been called - I AM HE - i.e. "I am the absolute and eternally unchangeable One, the Alpha and Omega of all history" (Delitzsch). The first, and also the Last, "from whom and to whom are all things" (Romans 11:36).
Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.
Verse 13. - Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth (comp. Isaiah 40:12, 22, 26, 28; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12, 18). As the Maker of heaven and earth, God is entitled to the attention and obedience of all the dwellers in heaven and earth. My right hand hath spanned the heavens; i.e. measured them, as with a span (Isaiah 41:12)-fixed their limits and dimensions. When I call unto them, they stand up together (comp. Isaiah 40:26). Heaven and earth, and all things that are in them, except man, are prompt to perform God's will, and rise up at once at his call to show their readiness. The metaphor is drawn from the conduct of intelligent agents.
All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.
Verse 14. - All ye, assemble yourselves. "Once more the nations are challenged to say which of their deities has foretold the work that the Lord has willed to perform on Babylon" (Kay) (see above, Isaiah 43:9). If none has done so, will not Israel see and acknowledge the superiority of Jehovah to such blind deities? The Lord hath loved him. It had not been previously declared in so many words that Jehovah "loved" Cyrus; but it had been sufficiently indicated by the way in which he was spoken of in Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1-5. God "loves" all who "in an honest and good heart" seek according to their lights to do his will and serve him faithfully. Nebuchadnezzar is called his "servant" (Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 27:6; Ezekiel 29:18, 20), Cyrus (in Isaiah 45:1) his "anointed." It is but going one step further to call the latter his "loved one." He will do his pleasure; i.e. "God's pleasure," not his own (see Isaiah 44:28). His arm shall be on the Chaldeans. The Hebrew is very harsh, and perhaps requires emendation; but the meaning can scarcely be other than that expressed in our version.
I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.
Verse 15. - I have called him (comp. Isaiah 46:11, "Calling a ravenous bird from the east"). Cyrus is represented as raised up by God, "called" by him, and commissioned by him "to do all his pleasure." God has brought him on his way, and made that way prosperous. According to the account of Herodotus, Cyrus received no check of any kind until the last expedition, in which he lost his life. His "prosperity" was beyond that of almost any other commander.
Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
Verses 16-22. - THE THIRD ADDRESS. Israel is reminded of God's merciful teaching and leading in the past (vers. 16, 17); expostulated with on their disobedience (vers. 18, 19); exhorted to go forth boldly and joyfully from Babylon (vers. 20, 21); and finally warned that God's blessings - even such a blessing as deliverance - are no blessings to any but the righteous (ver. 22). Verse 16. - I have not spoken in secret from the beginning. God, "from the beginning," i.e. from his first dealings with Israel, had raised up a succession of prophets, who had declared his will, not "in secret," or ambiguously, but openly and plainly, so that all who heard might understand (comp. Isaiah 45:19, and see the comment ad loc.). From the time that it was, there am I; i.e. "from the time that the earth was, there (in the succession of my prophetic messengers) was I." It was I who spake by their mouth, and thus announced my will publicly. And now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me. Dr. Kay supposes that "one Divine Personage is here sent by another" - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity by the First and by the Third; but it is against the analogy of faith that the Third Person should send the Second. Probably Mr. Cheyne is right in suggesting that "here a fresh speaker is introduced," and also right in his supposition that the fresh speaker is "the prophet himself," who tells us that he is now carrying on the goodly succession which has been "from the beginning," and is sent to deliver his message by God (the Father) and his (Holy) Spirit. On the tendency of Isaiah to "hypostatize" the Spirit of God, see the comment on Isaiah 40:13; and compare Mr. Cheyne's note on the same passage ('Prophecies of Isaiah,' vol. 1. p. 243).
Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.
Verse 17. - The Lord... which teacheth thee to profit. God's teachings are all directed to the "profit" of those to whom they are addressed; and, if received in a proper spirit, actually "profit" them more than anything else can do. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16). Very profitable also are the teachings of God's providence, which chasten men, warn men, and tend to keep men in the right path.
O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
Verse 18. - Oh that thou hadst hearkened! (comp. Psalm 81:13-16, "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries," etc.) Some render, "Oh that thou wouldst hearken!" etc., on the analogy of Isaiah 64:1; but unnecessarily. Dr. Kay says that God "upbraideth not," referring to James 1:5. But he may expostulate. What is it but expostulation, when our Lord says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:27, 28)? To look back on the past, and see what we have missed, is a good lesson for the future. Then had thy peace been as a river; literally, as the river (i.e. the Euphrates), abounding, overflowing, continuous. Thy righteousness. Not "thy prosperity" (Cheyne), but "thy good deeds." If Israel had clung to God, then God's blessing would have been poured upon them, and have enabled them to bring forth abundant fruits of righteousness. As the waves of the sea; i.e. innumerable and unceasing.
Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.
Verse 19. - Thy seed also had been as the sand. Israel, at the close of the Captivity, was "a remnant" (Isaiah 37:31), a "very small remnant" (Isaiah 1:9); the ten tribes were for the most part absorbed into the heathen among whom they had been scattered; the two tribes had dwindled in number through the hardships of the Captivity, and were scarcely more than a "handful." Less than fifty thousand returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:64); less than two thousand males with Ezra (Ezra 8:2-20). Had Israel not been disobedient, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have been literally fulfilled, and the descendants of Abraham would have been millions upon millions, instead of being one or two hundred thousand. The offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; rather, like the grains thereof; i.e. the grains of the sand. His name; i.e. "Israel's name." Should not have been cut off. Israel's name had not been wholly "cut off" or "destroyed." But it had been approximately "cut off." Israel was no more a people, but only a horde of slaves. The restoration to Palestine was a resurrection - the re-creation of a nation which, humanly speaking, had ceased to be.
Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
Verse 20. - Go ye forth of Babylon. A sudden transition from expostulation to exhortation. It might have seemed that no exhortation would be needed; that, as soon as the prison-doors were set open, there would be a general rush to escape. But, when the time came, it was not so. Those only availed themselves of the edict of Cyrus "whose spirit God had raised to go up and build his house" (Ezra 1:5). The wealthier classes, Josephus tells us ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:1), remained. The very poor, it is probable, could not leave. Motives of various kinds detained others. The result was that probably a larger number elected to continue in the country than to return to Palestine. Hence the exhortation to "go forth from Babylon and flee from the Chaldeans" was far from being superfluous. Flee ye from the Chaldeans. Not "flee before them" (see Isaiah 52:12), as enemies to be feared; but quit them hastily, as corrupters to be avoided. With a voice of singing; rather, with a voice of shouting (Delitzsch), or with a ridging cry (Cheyne). The cry was to reach even to the end of the earth. All the nations were to be informed of the great event, in which they might not feel, but in which they were, deeply interested - the deliverance of Israel out of Babylon, which was "the prelude of, and a preparation for, the world's redemption" (Kay).
And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.
Verse 21. - They thirsted not (comp. Isaiah 43:19, and the comment ad loc). The literal meaning is not to be altogether excluded. We have no historical account of the journey made by the bulk of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel; but they must almost certainly have experienced difficulties with respect to water; and it is quite possible that a miraculous supply was vouchsafed to them. Most commentators, however, are content to explain both this and the earlier passage as merely "symbolical." The Israelites - they say - had spiritual refreshment on their homeward journey, by God's goodness, constantly.
There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.
Verse 22. - There is no peace, etc. This warning phrase occurs again, "in the manner of a refrain" (Cheyne), at the close of what most commentators regard as the second section of this portion of Isaiah's work (Isaiah 57:21). The third section closes with a still more solemn warning (Isaiah 66:24).

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