Isaiah 59 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 59
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:

(1) Behold, the Lord’s hand . . .—The declaration is an implied answer to the complaint, like that of Isaiah 58:3, that the glorious promises had not as yet been fulfilled. The murmurera are told that the hindrance is on their side.

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
(2) Have separatedi.e., have become, as it were, a “middle wall of partition” excluding them from the Divine presence.

His face.—Better, the face. The Hebrew has neither article nor possessive pronoun, the substantive being treated almost as a proper name.

For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
(3) Your hands are defiled with blood.—The accusation of the “grand indictment” of Isaiah 1:15 is reproduced verbatim.

None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
(4) None calleth for justice.—Better, none preferreth his suit with truthfulness. The words point chiefly to the guilt of unrighteous prosecutions, but may include that of false witness also.

They trust in vanity.—Literally, in chaos—the characteristic tohu of both parts of Isaiah (Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 29:21; Isaiah 40:17; Isaiah 40:23).

They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
(5) They hatch cockatrice’ eggs.—Better, basilisk’s, as in Isaiah 14:29. The schemes of the evil-doers are displayed in their power for evil and their impotence for good. To “eat of the eggs,” which are assumed to be poisonous, is to fall in with their schemes, and so be ruined: to “crush” them is to oppose and so to rouse a more venomous opposition. Men break the egg, and the living viper darts forth to attack them.

Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
(6) Their webs shall not become garments.—See the same figure in Isaiah 30:1. The point of the comparison lies chiefly in the uselessness of the spider’s webs, but the second clause emphasises also the fact that the only purpose which the webs serve is one of mischief. They may catch flies, they cannot clothe men.

Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
(7) Their feet run to evil.—Note the parallelisms, entirely after the manner of Isaiah, with Proverbs 1:16; Proverbs 16:17. So the four words “paths,” “goings,” “ways,” and “paths” (another word in the Hebrew) are all from the same book.

The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
(9) Therefore is judgment.—The pleading of the prophet is followed by the confession which he makes on their behalf. They admit that the delay in the manifestation of God’s judgment against their enemies, and of His righteousness (i.e., bounty) towards themselves, has been caused by their own sins.

We wait for light.—The cry of the expectant Israelites is, mutatis mutandis, like that of the “How long?” of Zechariah 1:12; Revelation 6:10. On the assumption that the words come ideally from the Babylonian exiles, the first of these passages presents an interesting coincidence.

We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.
(10) We grope for the wall . . .—The words present a striking parallelism with Deuteronomy 28:29, and may have been reproduced from, or in, it.

We are in desolate places . . .—Many critics render, (1) among those full of life, or (2) in luxuriant fields, of which (1) is preferable, as giving an antithesis like that of the other clauses. So taken, we have a parallelism with Psalm 73:5-8.

We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us.
(11) We roar all like bears . . .—The comparison is not found elsewhere in Scripture, but Horace (Epp. xvi. 51) gives “circumgemit ursus ovile.” For the dove, comp. Isaiah 38:14; Ezekiel 7:16.

For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;
(12) For our transgressions . . .—The parallelism with the confessions of Daniel (Isaiah 9:5-15) and Ezra (Isaiah 9:6-15) is singularly striking, but is as explicable on the hypothesis that they reproduced that of 2 Isaiah as on the assumption that this also was written at the close of the exile. It would, of course, be as true in the time of Manasseh as at any subsequent period. The self accusations of the people are now, as they ought to be, as full and severe as the prophet’s original indictment had been.

In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
(13) In transgressing . . .—The clauses point respectively (1) to false and hypocritical worship; (2) to open apostacy; (3) to sins against man, and these subdivided into (a) sins against truth, and (b) sins against justice.

And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
(14) Truth is fallen in the street—i.e., the broad open place, or agora, of the city. The words point naturally to Jerusalem. If they refer to Babylon, we must assume, unless we deal with the language as altogether figurative, that the exiles had a quarter of their own, in which they had an agora for business and judicial proceedings.

Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.
(15) Truth failethi.e., is banished, and becomes as a missing and lost thing. The man who departs from evil is but the victim of the evil-doers. Other renderings are (1) is outlawed, and (2) is counted mad, but the Authorised Version is quite tenable. The words remind us of the terrible picture of Greek demoralisation in Thuc. iii.

And the Lord saw it . . .—The verse at first suggests the thought that what Jehovah saw were the sins thus described. The sequence of thought, however, tends to the conclusion that the words are properly the beginning of a new section, and that the supplied pronoun refers to the repentance and confession of the people. It displeased Him—literally, was evil in His eyes—that the penitents were still subject to oppression, that they found no leader and deliverer, and therefore He came, as it were, alone and unaided, to the rescue. (Comp. Joel 2:17-19.)

And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.
(16) He saw that there was no man . . .—If the words mean no “righteous man,” we have a parallel in Jeremiah 5:1, and the “intercessor” points to action like that of Aaron (Numbers 16:48) or Phinehas (Numbers 25:7). On the interpretation here adopted, “no man” is equivalent to “no champion.”

For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.
(17) He put on righteousness . . .—The close parallelism with Isaiah 11 points, as far as it goes, to identity of authorship; and that with Ephesians 6:14-17 suggests a new significance for St. Paul’s “whole armour of God.”

The garments of vengeance . . .—As parts of a warrior’s dress the “garments” are the short tunic, or tabard, which hung over the breast-plate; the “cloke” the scarlet mantle (the chlamys of the Roman soldier), its colour probably making it a fit symbol of the zeal of Jehovah.

According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.
(18) To his adversaries . . .—The judgment is generally against all, in Israel or outside it, who come under this description. The word “islands” is used, as elsewhere, for far-off lands. The words point to every such judgment, from that of Cyrus to the great final day.

So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.
(19) When the enemy shall come in . . .—The noun admits of the senses “adversary,” “adversity,” “hemmed in,” “rushing,”and the verse has accordingly been very differently rendered. (1) He (Jehovah) shall come like a rushing stream which the breath of Jehovah (i.e., a strong and mighty wind) driveth. (2) Adversity shall come like a stream. The verse is difficult, but the Authorised Version is, at least, as tenable as any other rendering, and finds parallelisms in Jeremiah 46:7-8 for the image of a flood, and in Psalm 60:4 for that of the banner. (Comp.also Isaiah 11:10.)

And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.
(20) And the Redeemer shall come . . .—The picture of the Theophany is continued—Jehovah comes as a Redeemer (Goel, as in Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1, Job 19:25) to the true Zion, to those who have turned from their transgression. The verse is noticeable as being quoted, with variations, by St. Paul in Romans 11:26.

As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
(21) As for me, this is my covenant . . .—The words are, as to their form, an echo of Genesis 17:4; as to their meaning, the germ of Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16. The new covenant is to involve the gift of the Spirit, that writes the law of God inwardly in the heart, as distinct from the Law, which is thought of as outside the conscience, doing its work as an accuser and a judge.

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