Isaiah 57 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 57
Pulpit Commentary
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
Verses 1, 2. - THE EARLY DEATH OF RIGHTEOUS MEN ACCOUNTED FOR. The Hebrews were given to expect that long life should, as a general rule, accompany righteousness (Exodus 20:12; 1 Kings 3:14; Psalm 91:16; Proverbs 3:1, 2, etc.); and under the Mosaical dispensation we must suppose that it did so. But there were exceptions to the rule. Wicked persecutors, like Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah, cut off the righteous ere they had seen half their days. So probably did Manasseh (2 Kings 24:3, 4). And God sometimes removed the righteous from earth by a natural death before they had grown old (Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:14). At the time of which Isaiah is here speaking there had been such removals; and of this he takes note, partly to rebuke those who lightly passed over the phenomenon, partly to justify God's ways to such as were perplexed by it. Verse 1. - The righteous perisheth. The word translated "perisheth" does not imply any violence; but the context implies a premature death. The righteous disappear - are taken from the earth before their natural time. Yet no man layeth it to heart; i.e. no one asks what it means - no one is disturbed, no one grieves. The general feeling was either one of indifference, or of relief at the departure of one whose life was a reproach to his neighbours. Merciful men; rather, godly men, or pious men (comp. Micah 7:2). Are taken away; literally, are gathered in. Compare the phrase so frequently used, "gathered to his fathers" (Genesis 49:29; Numbers 27:13; Judges 2:10; 2 Kings 22:20; 2 Chronicles 34:28). From the evil; or, out of the way of the evil - in order that he may escape it (comp. 2 Kings 22:20, where Josiah is promised that he shall be gathered to his fathers (prematurely), in order that he may escape the sight of the evil that was coming on Jerusalem soon after his decease.
He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
Verse 2. - He shall enter into peace. Not merely into "stillness" or "silence" (Psalm 115:17), but into "peace," or, as the word might be rendered (Cheyne), "a state of peace." There is, no doubt, primarily, "a contrast to the awful troubles which the survivors will have to encounter" (Hengstenberg); but perhaps this contrast is not all that is meant. The "peace" is positive rather than negative, or it would scarcely be a consolation to any one. They shall rest in their beds; or, upon their beds. This expression seems to imply a consciousness of rest, and so a certain enjoyment of it. Each one walking in his uprightness; rather, whosoever hath walked uprightly, or in a straight path (see Proverbs 4:25-27). The phrase is an equivalent for "the righteous" of ver. 1, and refers to the life on earth of those who have gone down into silence, not to their life after they have reached the silent shore. Of that life the evangelical prophet is not commissioned to give us any information.
But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.
Verses 3-14. - ISRAEL SEVERELY REBUKED FOR IDOLATRY. Though Hezekiah had made a great reformation of religion when he ascended the throne(2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 29:3-19), and had done his best to put down idolatry, yet it was still dear to large numbers among the people, and was easily revived by Manasseh in the earlier portion of his reign (2 Chronicles 33:2-9). Isaiah now rebukes various kinds of idolatrous practices, and shows the vanity of them. Verse 3. - Draw near hither. Approach, to hear the reprimand which ye so well deserve. Ye sons of the sorceress; rather, of a sorceress. Judah herself, the nation, is the" sorceress" and "adulteress," whose individual children are summoned to draw near. She is an adulteress; for she has transgressed against the mystic marriage-tie which bound her to Jehovah (see Isaiah 54:5, and the comment ad lot.). She is also a "sorceress," since she has bewitched her children, and given herself up to magical as well as to idolatrous practices (2 Chronicles 33:6). Seed of the adulterer and the whore; rather, seed of an adulteress, and that thyself committest whoredom. The congenital tendency has broken out into act. The Israel addressed is as "adulterous," i.e. idolatrous, as the Israel of former times.
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,
Verse 4. - Against whom do ye sport yourselves? The idolatrous Israelites here addressed, no doubt, made a mock of the few righteous who were still living among them, and vexed their souls, as his fellow-towns-men did the soul of "just Lot" (2 Peter 2:7). They "made wide the mouth" at them, and "drew out the tongue" in derision (comp. Psalm 22:7; Psalm 35:21). The prophet asks, "Against whom do ye do this? Is it not rather against God, whose servants these men are, than against them?" Are ye not children of transgression? rather, are ye not, yourselves, children of apostasy? and therefore more truly objects of scorn than they? A seed of falsehood. Idols were viewed by Isaiah as "lies" (Isaiah 45:20; cf. Romans 1:25; Revelation 22:15). Idolaters were therefore "a seed of falsehood" - men who put their trust in a lie.
Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
Verse 5. - Inflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17; and see also 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6, etc.). The reference is, as Mr. Cheyne says, to the "orgiastic cults' in the sacred groves of Palestinian heathenism." The nature of these cults is well stated by Professor Dollinger ('Jew and Gentile,' vol. 1. p. 430): "At the spring festival, called by some the 'brand-feast,' by others that of torches, which was attended by streams of visitors from every country, huge trees were burnt, with the offerings suspended on them. Even children were sacrificed; they were put into a leathern bag, and thrown the whole height of the temple to the bottom, with the shocking expression that they were calves, and not children. In the fore-court stood two gigantic phalli. To the exciting din of drums, flutes, and inspired songs, the Galli cut themselves on the arms; and the effect of this act, and of the music accompanying it, was so strong upon mere spectators, that all their bodily and mental powers were thrown into a tumult of excitement; and they too, seized by the desire to lacerate themselves, deprived themselves of their manhood by means of potsherds lying ready for the purpose." Slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks. The sacrifice of their children to Moloch was largely practised by the Jews in the later period of the kingdom of Judah. It seems to have been originally introduced by the superstitious Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, who "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen" (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3). Suspended during the reign of Hezekiah, it was renewed under Manasseh, who followed the example of his grandfather in himself sacrificing one of his sons (2 Kings 21:6). Under the last three kings it prevailed to a very wide extent, and the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel are loud in their denunciations of it (Jeremiah 7:31, 32; Jeremiah 19:2-6; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 20:26; Ezekiel 23:37, etc.). Arguments have been brought forward to prove that the child was merely passed before a fire, or between two fires, and not burnt; but the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming (see the article on "Moloch" in Dr. W. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 2, pp. 403, 404). The rite belonged especially to the worship of Chemosh and Moloch by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Kings 3:27; Micah 6:7), from whom it was adopted by the Israelites (2 Kings 17:7) and Jews. The sacrifice was supposed to be expiatory (Micah 6:7). In the later times of the Jewish kingdom the place of sacrifice was the valley of Hinnom, west and north of Jerusalem, which is overhung by rugged rocks.
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?
Verse 6. - Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion. Smooth stones, rounded by water-action, were among the objects worshipped by many Semitic peoples. Such stones were called βαίτυλοι or βαιτύλια - Bethels, or "houses of God " - and received libations of oil and wine from their worshippers (see Genesis 28:18; and comp. Herod., 3:8; Arnob., 'Adv. Gentes,' 1:39; Lucian, 'Pseudomant.,' p. 30; Apul., p. 349; etc.). Stones of this kind, the prophet says, had now become "the portion" of Israel, instead of Jehovah (Psalm 119:57; comp. Psalm 16:5). To such objects they offered their "meat offerings" and "drink offerings." Should I receive comfort in these? Can I, Jehovah, be comforted, when my people indulge in such practices?
Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.
Verse 7. - Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed. Instead of reserving thy marriage-bed for me, Jehovah (Isaiah 54:5), thou hast set it up on those "high places," with which the hill-tops of Judaea are everywhere crowned (see 1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 16:4; 2 Chronicles 33:17; Ezekiel 15:16, etc.). Almost every hill-top is still, in a sense, held sacred in Palestine (Conder, in 'Quarterly Statement of Palest. Explor. Fund,' 1875, p. 39). Even thither wentest thou up, etc. (On the persistency of the Jews in maintaining the high-place worship, see 1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 15:14; 1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 2 Kings 14:4; 2 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 21:3, etc.) The best kings failed in their attempts to put it down
Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.
Verse 8. - Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance. It has been usual to explain this of a removal from its proper place into an obscure position of the formulae which the Israelites were commanded in the Law to write on their doorposts and on their gates (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20). But, in the first place, there is no evidence that anciently these passages were understood literally, or that such inscriptions were ever set up; and secondly, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, they would have been more, rather than less, conspicuous in a new place. Probably, therefore, the "memorial" (zikkaron) of this place is some idolatrous symbol or emblem newly adopted by the Jews, and made use of as a sort of talisman. Many commentators think that it was of a phallic character (see Ezekiel 16:17). Discovered thyself; rather, uncovered thyself. Thou hast enlarged thy bed; i.e. multiplied thy idolatries (comp. 2 Kings 16:3, 4, 10; 2 Kings 21:3-7). It is a feature of the idolatry of the time, that it was a mixture adopted from many quarters. It included Baal and Ashtoreth-worship from Phoenicia, Moloch-worship from Moab and Ammos, worship of the Queen of Heaven from Syria, high-place worship from the Canaanites, and stone-worship from their own remote Mesopotamian ancestors. And made thee a covenant with them; i.e. "a bargain for wages," that aid and protection should be rendered in return for worship and sacrifice. Where thou sawest it. The original is very obscure, but can scarcely have this meaning. It is certainly a distinct clause, and may perhaps be best translated, "thou sawest indecency."
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
Verse 9. - And thou wentest to the king, Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne understand "the King of Assyria," and regard the verse as bringing forward a new subject of complaint: "Not only hast thou deserted me tot other gods, but thou trustest for aid, not to me, but to the Assyrian monarch." But there is no indication of the Jews having put any trust in Assyria after the reign of Ahaz, to which this chapter, by its position in the prophecy, cannot belong. Moreover, the King of Assyria is never called simply" the king." It is, therefore, better to regard "the king" as Moloch, whom the Jews of Isaiah's time certainly worshipped (see ver. 5), and whose name was a mere dialectic variety of Melech, "king" (see Dean Payne Smith's ' Sermons on Isaiah,' sermon 4. p. 119). Ointment... perfumes. Either bearing them as offerings, or herself perfumed with them, as was the practice of lewd women (Proverbs 7:17). And didst send thy messengers far off; i.e. to distant Moloch-shrines. And didst debase thyself even unto hell; i.e. "didst take on thee the yoke of a mean and grovelling superstition, which debased thee to the lowest point conceivable." There was nothing lower in religion than the worship of Moloch.
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.
Verse 10. - Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way. Judah had travelled far from God, seeking aid from all quarters, and might well be "wearied" with her quest; but she would not confess her weariness she would not say. There is no hope; she stirred up her remaining strength, and persisted in her course, not suffering herself to "grieve."
And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?
Verse 11. - Of whom hast thou been afraid? Judah's abandonment of Jehovah and devotion to new deities was caused by fear - the fear of man, especially of Assyria. This induced them to seek for help in each new superstition that presented itself, and produced the enlarged syncretism which has been noticed in the comment on ver. 8. But how absurd to be driven by fear of man into offending God! That thou hast lied (see the last clause of ver. 4, with the comment). Have not I held my peace, etc.? i.e. "Is it not because I have for so long a time held my peace, that thou fearest me not?" God had for a long time suffered them to "go on still in their wickedness" - he had not interposed with any severe judgment; therefore they had ceased to fear him, and had feared men instead.
I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.
Verse 12. - I will declare thy righteousness, etc. The Syriac Version has "my righteousness," which gives a much better sense, and is adopted by Bishop Lowth, Dr. Weir, and Mr. Cheyne. God will be silent no longer. He will" declare," or show forth, "his righteousness," by visiting Judah with some righteous punishment. Then it will be seen of what value are those things in which Judah has hitherto trusted. Her works - whether her "idols" are meant (Cheyne, Delitzsch), or her "deeds of iniquity" (Kay) - what will they profit? She will "cry" out under the rod of chastisement - cry to her false gods to save her.
When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;
Verse 13. - When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee. Then, when she thus cries, let her mixture of gods (ver. 8), if they can, deliver her; they will fail utterly to do so. The wind - or rather, a breath - shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them. The idol gods shall be shown to be wholly futile, unable to save, incapable of rendering any the slightest assistance. But he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land. If, however, at that dread hour, there be any among the people who are not idolaters, but "trust in Jehovah," the crisis shall turn to their advantage. They shall "possess the land," i.e. have the promised land for their inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:33; Psalm 37:11-29, etc.); and inherit Zion, God's holy mountain (see Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 27:13; 567, etc.).
And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.
Verse 14. - And shall say; rather, and one said. The prophet hears a voice, saying, Cast ye up, cast ye up; i.e. make a highway to the holy mountain by heaping up material (Isaiah 62:10); and, having made it, remove every obstruction from the path of my (righteous) people. The voice is, probably, an angelic one.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Verses 15-21. - A PROMISE OF SALVATION TO THE HUMBLE AND PENITENT, WITH A FURTHER THREAT AGAINST THE WICKED. The prophet, in this portion of his discourse, whereof "comfort" is the key-note (Isaiah 40:1), can never continue threatening long without relapsing into a tone of tenderness and pity. He now sets against his long denunciation (in vers. 3-12) an ample promise (vers. 15-19), and against his brief encouragement (in vers. 13, 14) a short menace (vers. 20, 21). Verse 15. - For. The ground of the promise of salvation in ver. 15 is God's combined might and mercy, which are now set forth. The high and lofty One (comp. Isaiah 6:1, where the same words are translated "high and lifted up"). In God's loftiness are included at once his exalted majesty and his almighty power. He is "high" in himself, transcending thought, and "lofty" or "lifted up" in that he is absolute Lord of his creatures, and therefore high above them. That inhabiteth eternity. So the LXX., κατοικῶν τὸν αἰῶνα But the Hebrew is less abstract, and would perhaps be best translated "that liveth eternally." I dwell in the high and holy place. Solomon's "heaven of heavens" (1 Kings 8:27), which, however, "cannot contain him;" St. Paul's "light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16); Zechariah's "holy habitation" (Zechariah 2:13). With him also that is of a contrite - literally, crushed - and humble spirit. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly "(Psalm 138:6); "He humbleth himself to consider the things that are in heaven and earth" (Psalm 113:6). He is not an Epicurean Deity, too far exalted above man to have any regard for him, or concern himself with man's welfare (see Job 22:12, 13). On the contrary, he condescends to "dwell with" man, only let man have a "humble" and "crushed," or "bruised," spirit. To revive the spirit of the humble. When God condescends to visit the contrite and humble spirit, the immediate effect is to comfort, console, revive. His presence is a well of life. springing up within the soul to everlasting life (John 4:14).
For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.
Verse 16. - I will not contend for ever. God "will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever" (Psalm 103:9). If he were "extreme to mark what is done amiss," none could abide it (Psalm 130:3). He remits somewhat, therefore, from the claims of strict justice, and is content to take lower ground. Were it otherwise, man's spirit should fail before him. Man, i.e., would be utterly unable to justify himself, and would faint and fade away before the Divine fury. The souls which God has made would, one and all, perish. He, however, has not made them for this purpose, but that they should live (Deuteronomy 30:19; Ezekiel 18:31); and has therefore devised for them a way of salvation (see Isaiah 53:5-10).
For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.
Verse 17. - For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth. Among the sins that angered God most against the Jews of the later kingdom of Judah was their covetousness - that desire of unjust gain which led them continually to oppress their weaker brethren, to remove their neighbours' landmarks, to harass them with lawsuits, to obtain from the courts corrupt judgments against them, and so to strip them of their inheritances (see Isaiah 1:15-23; Isaiah 3:5, 14, 15; Isaiah 5:8, 23; Jeremiah 6:13; Ezekiel 33:31, etc.). This was far from being their only sin; but it was their besetting sin, and it led on to a number of others. It would seem even to have been the principal cause of those judicial murders with which they are so constantly taxed by the prophets (Isaiah 1:15, 21: 33:15; 59:3; Jeremiah 2:34; Jeremiah 19:4; Ezekiel 7:23; Ezekiel 11:6; Hosea 4:2; Micah 3:10; Micah 7:2, etc.). Isaiah selects the sin of covetousness here, as typical or representative of the entire class of Judah's besetting sins - the most striking indication of that alienation of their hearts from God, which constituted their real guilt, and was the true cause of their punishment. And smote him. The form of the verb marks repeated action. God gave Judah many warning's before the final catastrophe. He punished Judah by the hand of Sargon, by that of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14-16), by that of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11), by that of Pharaoh-Necho (2 Chronicles 35:20-24), by that of the Syrians, the Moabites and the Ammonites (2 Kings 24:2), and others, during the hundred and forty years which intervened between the accession of Hezekiah and the completion of the Captivity. I hid me (comp. Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 54:8).
I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.
Verse 18. - I have seen his ways, and will heal him. God had seen the wanderings of his people in perverse ways, and his heart had been touched with pity thereat. The good Shepherd follows and recalls the wanderers of the flock. When they have suffered hurt he "heals" them. He is willing to "lead" them also - to go before them, and show them the way that they should walk in (Isaiah 49:10; Ezekiel 34:11-16), and "restore comforts" to them, especially to such of them as have begun to "mourn" over their perversity.
I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.
Verse 19. - I create the fruit of the lips; literally, creating the fruit of the lips. The clause is best attached to the preceding verse. By his tender treatment of the wanderers, God brings forth fruit from their lips in the shape of praise and thanksgiving. Peace, peace; or, perfect peace, as in Isaiah 26:3. Judah's prophets were apt to say to her, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Ezekiel 13:10). Isaiah is now commissioned to give the promise from the mouth of God (comp. John 14:27; John 20:21, 26). To him that is far off, and to him that is near; i.e. either "to both the Gentiles and the Jews," or "to both the scattered members of the Jewish body" (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 43:5, 6) "and the collected nation in Canaan."
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
Verse 20. - The wicked are like the troubled sea. A striking metaphor, but one which occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and once only in the New (Jude 1:13). The sea's restless action well expresses the unquiet of the wicked; and the mud and mire that it casts up resembles their evil thoughts and evil deeds. "There is no peace" for such persons, either bodily or spiritual, either in this world or the world to come.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
Verse 21. - Comp. Isaiah 48:22, where the prophet ends another section of this part of his work with almost the same words.

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