Isaiah 56 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 56
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.

(1) Thus saith the Lord.Isaiah 56:1-8 form a distinct section, and obviously had an historical starting. point. It has been said (Cheyne, following many other critics) that “the writer of this section presupposes the circumstances of a period long subsequent to the reign of Hessekiah.” It will be seen in the following notes that I cannot altogether accept that statement, and find circumstances in the closing years of Isaiah’s life which may well have given occasion to his teaching here. It obviously does not stand in any close connection with the preceding chapter.

Keep ye judgment—i.e., the righteousness of the law. The general exhortation is specialised in the next verse.

Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
(2) That keepeth the sabbath from polluting it . . .—It lies in the nature of the case that a devout king like Hezekiah would be an observer of the Sabbath. It is almost certain that the counsellors of the young Manasseh (probably the Shebna party), abandoning the religion of Israel in other things, would also disregard this. I take the prophet’s teaching accordingly as directed against that evil. He utters his beatitude for those who are faithful to the régime of Hezekiah’s reign, even though their alien birth or their condition as eunuchs seemed to exclude them from the polity of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:1-8).

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
(3) Neither let the son of the stranger . . .—Two classes of persons were likely to suffer specially from Manasseh’s policy—(1) the heathen proselytes, who, as in Psalms 87, had been admitted as citizens of Zion under Hezekiah’s special protection; and (2) in the highest degree, those of that body who had been taken, as Ebed-Melech afterwards was (Jeremiah 38:7), into the king’s household as eunuchs. The courtiers of Manasseh would taunt them as aliens, and in the second case would press the letter of Deuteronomy 23:2. The principle of Isaiah’s teaching was, of course, applicable to the Israelites who, like Daniel and his friends, had been mutilated against their will by heathen conquerors (Daniel 1:3), and most commentators refer the words to such cases. It is scarcely probable, however, that the household of Hezekiah would have been supplied with home-born eunuchs, and, on the hypothesis which I have adopted, I find in the eunuchs a sub-section of the proselytes. The words put into the mouths of the complainers are the natural utterances of men treated as they had been.

For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
(5) Even unto them will I give . . .—The words may refer simply to the spiritual blessedness of the faithful (Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:5), but the customs of Eastern temples and of the later synagogues suggest that they may refer primarily to the memorial tablets which were put up in such places in commemoration of distinguished benefactors. For “place” read memorial. We note, of course, the special adaptation of the words “better than of sons and daughters” to the case which the prophet has in view; but it has to be remembered also that the whole promise substitutes the principle of catholicity for the rubrics of exclusiveness which we find in Deuteronomy 23:1.

Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
(6) Also the sons of the stranger . . .—Proselytes also were to share in the blessings of the wider covenant. The words “to serve him” have been referred to some menial offices like that of the Nethinim, “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:27; Ezra 8:20). The usage of the word, however, limits it to honourable functions. The germ of Isaiah’s thought appears in Solomon’s dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:41-43). It receives its highest development (in its entire separation from the building with which there and here it is associated), in John 4:23. Comp. a further emancipation from the bondage of the law in Isaiah 66:21.

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
(7) Even them will I bring . . .—The words foreshadow the breaking down of the “middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14). Every privilege of the Israelite worshipper is to belong also to the proselyte. It is perhaps assumed that the proselyte is circumcised. The development of truth is in such cases gradual, and it was left for St. Paul to complete the work of Isaiah (Romans 2:26-29; Galatians 6:15).

The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
(8) The Lord God . . . saith.—The phrase is the normal one for introducing an oracle of special importance. This, so to speak, was to be one of the “faithful sayings” of Isaiah. We can hardly fail to find in John 10:16 a deliberate reproduction of Isaiah’s thought. The first clause refers clearly to the gathering of the heathen as following on that of the “outcasts” of Israel.

All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.
(9) All ye beasts of the field . . .—The sudden change of tone indicates that we enter on an entirely new section, which extends to the close of Isaiah 57. The contents of that section fit in with the assumption of its having been written early in the reign of Manasseh, better than With that of a date after the exile. The opening words summon the enemies of Israel to do their work of punishment, and this is followed naturally by a denunciation of the sins which had made it necessary. For the form of the summons, comp. Ezekiel 34:8; Jeremiah 12:9.

His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.
(10) His watchmen are blind.—These are the guides of the people, and specially the self-styled prophets, who are “blind” to the signs of the times, who are “dumb,” and give no warning to the people of the real dangers that threaten them, who prophesy for the rewards of divination (Numbers 22:7 :1 Samuel 9:7; Nehemiah 6:12), who are conspicuous for their luxury and intemperance. Given the men who are described in Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 28:7-8; Isaiah 30:10, and the circumstances of Manasseh’s reign, no other result could be expected.

Sleeping.—The prophet, with a scornful irony, substitutes hozîm (“dreamers”) for khozîm (“seers”). The “lying down” contrasts their indolent and easy life with the vigil and the fast of a true prophet.

Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.
(11) Shepherds that cannot understand . . .—Better, and such are shepherds; they cannot understand. There is no confusion or change of metaphors. What is implied is that the prophets who are not fit to be watch-dogs of the flock, assume the office of its shepherds.

From his quarteri.e., in modern phrase, from his own sphere of influence.

Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.
(12) Come ye, say they . . .—The words in italics are necessary to complete the sense; but their absence from the Hebrew is noticeable, and noteworthy as an example of the prophet’s bold use of a dramatic form. He represents the false prophet as giving a feast to his friends, and promising a yet more splendid banquet on the morrow. Here again we note continuity of character (Isaiah 22:13). Comp. Luke 12:19, which reads almost like an echo of this passage. (Comp. the dramatic form of Isaiah 28:9-10.)

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