(1) I am sought of them . . .—Is this the answer to the previous prayer? Most commentators say “Yes;” but there is, at least, an apparent absence of continuous sequence. A more probable view is that it was written after an interval more or less considerable, and that the prophet utters what had been revealed to him as explaining why the plaintive appeal of Isaiah 64:12 did not meet at once with the answer that might have been looked for.
A further question meets us, which has received different answers. Do the opening words speak, as St. Paul implies they do, of the calling of the Gentiles, contrasting their faith with the unbelief of Israel (Romans 10:20)? Taking the text as it stands, the most natural interpretation (there being no reference afterwards to the Gentiles) seems to be that Jehovah speaks to the same people in Isaiah 65:1-2, and that both alike speak of indifference and hardness. On this view the words may be translated, I was ready to answer those who did not enquire, was nigh at hand to be discovered by those who did not seek. . . . Such words were a true description of the state of Israel, as they have been of Christian Churches since, and are in close agreement with what follows. On this view St. Paul’s free use of the LXX. rendering must be looked on as analogous to the like application of Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:1, by him (Romans 9:25-26) and by St. Peter (1 Peter 2:10), though in these instances it is beyond question that the words primarily referred to the Jews, and not to the Gentiles.
A nation that was not called by my name.—Better, with the LXX., as in Isaiah 43:22; Isaiah 64:7, that has not called on my name. The meaning, on either rendering, is that Israel has sunk to the level of the heathen.
Burneth incense upon altars of brick.—Literally, on the bricks, and possibly, therefore, on the roofs of houses, as was common in the idolatrous practices of Judah (2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13). By some interpreters the words are referred, though with less probability, to the brick altars which the exiles are supposed to have used at Babylon, and were forbidden by the Law (Exodus 20:24-25).
Lodge in the monuments . . .—Here, again, the words probably point to practices more or less idolatrous, and common among the heathen of the time. Jerome (in loc.) notes the fact that men went to sleep in the crypts of the Temple of Æsculapius, in the hope of gaining visions of the future, and translates in delubris idolorum.
Which eat swine’s flesh.—The flesh of swine was apparently forbidden, not on sanitary grounds only or chiefly, but because that animal was sacrificed in the festivals of Thammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), or Adonis. (Comp. Isaiah 66:17.) It may be noted, as against the view that the verse points to the practices of the Babylonian exiles, that no reference to swine has been found in any cuneiform inscriptions. In Egypt, as in Palestine, it was looked upon as unclean (Herod. ii. 47, 48). On the worship of Thammuz, see an article by the Rev. A. H. Sayce, in the Contemporary Review for September, 1883.
Broth of abominable things.—The words indicate, as before, a sacrificial feast of unclean meats, and therefore connected with a violation of the Mosaic law, possibly with some form of heathen mysteries or divination from the viscera of slaughtered animals. The word occurs here and in Isaiah 66:3, once in Deuteronomy (Isaiah 29:17), and frequently in Leviticus (Leviticus 11:11; Leviticus 11:13; Leviticus 18:26; Leviticus 18:30).
I am holier than thou.—Literally, I am holy to thee: i.e., one whom thou mayest not approach. (Comp. Leviticus 21:8.) By some commentators the verb is taken as transitive, I make thee holy: i.e., have power to impart holiness; but this is less satisfactory, both grammatically and as to meaning.
These are a smoke in my nose . . .—The point of the clause is that the punishment is represented as not future. The self-exalting idolaters are already as those who are being consumed in the fire of the Divine wrath, and their smoke is “a savour of death” in the nostrils of Jehovah.
But will recompense . . .—Literally, without recompensing, or, except I recompense. Men took the long-suffering of God as if it indicated forgetfulness (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). They are told that He will at last requite the impenitent “into their very bosom,” their inmost self, for all the evil they have done.
Their former work.—Better, I will measure their work first into their bosoms. That was, as it were, the primary duty of the Supreme Ruler.
Destroy it not . . .—The thought is that as even one fruitful cluster of grapes will lead the vine-dresser to spare an otherwise fruitless vine in the hope of a fuller blessing in the future, so Jehovah will spare a sinful nation for the twenty or the ten righteous (Genesis 18:23-33). The words “destroy it not” are those which stand at the head of Psalms 57-59, as indicating the tune to which they were to be sung; and it is a natural inference that it may have been a popular vintage song, and therefore doubly apt for the prophet’s purpose. May we compare our own song of “Wood-man, spare that tree?” applied, as it has been, to the trees of ancient institutions.
My mountains.—One of Isaiah’s characteristic phrases (comp. Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 29:11; Ezekiel 6:2-3. Not Zion only, but every hill in Canaan was a sharer in a derived sanctity.
The valley of Achor.—The name, traditionally connected with the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:24-26), belonged to a valley running into the plain of Jericho, and is here taken as the Eastern limit of the region bounded by the Sharon on the west. The whole district was to be as a “garden of the Lord” for the restored remnant. (Comp. the striking parallelism of Hosea 2:15.)
That prepare a table for that troop.—Hebrew, “for the Gad,” probably the planet Jupiter, worshipped as the “greater fortune,” the giver of good luck. The LXX. renders “for the demon” or “Genius.” The name of Baal-Gad (Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:17) indicates the early prevalence of the worship in Syria. Phœnician inscriptions have been found with the names Gad-Ashtoreth and Gad-Moloch. The “table” points to the lectisternium (or “feast”), which was a prominent feature in Assyrian and other forms of polytheism.
Unto that number.- Here, again, we have in the proper name of a Syrian deity, probably of the planet Venus as the “lesser fortune.” Some scholars have found a name Manu in Babylonian inscriptions; and Manât, one of the three deities invoked by the Arabs in the time of Mahomet, is probably connected with Mëni the it (Cheyne). See Sayce, as in Note on Isaiah 65:4.
Because the former troubles . . .—The addition of the clause emphasises the thought that it is the truth or faithfulness of God, who keepeth His promise for over, that will lead men to use that new Name as a formula of benediction.