Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
Listen - This is the exordium, or introduction. According to the interpretation which refers it to the Messiah, it is to be regarded as the voice of the Redeemer calling the distant parts of the earth to give a respectful attention to the statement of his qualifications for his work, and to the assurances that his salvation would be extended to them (compare Isaiah 41:1). The Redeemer here is to be regarded as having already come in the flesh, and as having been rejected and despised by the Jews (see Isaiah 49:4-5), and as now turning to the Gentile world, and proffering salvation to them. The time when this is supposed to occur, therefore, as seen by the prophet, is when the Messiah had preached in vain to his own countrymen, and when there was a manifest fitness and propriety in his extending the offer of salvation to the pagan world.
O isles - Ye distant lands (see the note at Isaiah 41:1). The word is used here, as it is there, in the sense of countries beyond sea; distant, unknown regions; the dark, pagan world.
Ye people from far - The reason why the Messiah thus addresses them is stated in Isaiah 49:6. It is because he was appointed to be a light to them, and because, having been rejected by the Jewish nation, it was resolved to extend the offers and the blessings of salvation to other lands.
The Lord hath called me from the womb - Yahweh hath set me apart to this office from my very birth. The stress here is laid on the fact that he was thus called, and not on the particular time when it was done. The idea is, that he had not presumptuously assumed this office; he had not entered on it without being appointed to it; he had been designated to it even before he was born (see Isaiah 49:5). A similar expression is used in respect to Jeremiah Jer 1:5 : 'Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.' Paul also uses a similar expression respecting himself Galatians 1:15 : 'But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb.' That this actually occurred in regard to the Redeemer, it is not needful to pause here to show (see Luke 1:31).
From the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name - This is another form of stating the fact that he had been designated to this office from his very infancy. Many have supposed that the reference here is to the fact that Mary was commanded by the angel, before his birth, to call his name Jesus Luke 1:31. The same command was also repeated to Joseph in a dream Matthew 1:21. So Jerome, Vitringa, Michaelis, and some others understand it. By others it has been supposed that the phrase 'he hath made mention of my name is the same as to call. The Hebrew is literally, 'He has caused my name to be remembered from the bowels of my mother.' The Septuagint renders it, 'He hath called my name.' Grotius renders it, 'He has given to me a beautiful name, by which salvation is signified as about to come from the Lord.' I see no objection to the supposition that this refers to the fact that his name was actually designated before he was born. The phrase seems obviously to imply more than merely to call to an office; and as his name was thus actually designated by God, and as he designed that there should be special significancy and applicability in the name, there can be no impropriety in supposing that this refers to that fact. If so, the idea is, that he was not only appointed to the work of the Messiah from his birth, but that he actually had a name given him by God before he was born, which expressed the fact that he would save people, and which constituted a reason why the distant pagan lands should hearken to his voice.
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
And he hath made my mouth - The idea here is, that he had qualified him for a convincing and powerful eloquence - for the utterance of words which would penetrate the heart like a sharp sword. The mouth here, by an obvious figure, stands for discourse. The comparison of words that are pungent, penetrating, powerful, to a sword, is common. Indeed the very terms that I have incidentally used, 'pungent,' 'penetrating,' are instances of the same kind of figure, and are drawn from a needle, or anything sharp and pointed, that penetrates. Instances of this occur in the following places in the Scriptures: 'The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies' Ecclesiastes 12:11. 'The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow' Hebrews 4:12. In Revelation 1:16, probably in reference to this passage, the Redeemer is represented as seen by John as having a 'sharp two-edged sword' proceeding out of his mouth. So in Isaiah 19:15 : 'And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword.' The bold and striking metaphor of the sword and arrow applied to powerful discourse, has been used also by pagan writers with great elegance and force. In the passages quoted by Lowth, it is said of Pericles by Aristophanes:
'His powerful speech
Pierced the hearer's soul, and left behind
Deep in his bosom its keen point infixt.'
So Pindar, Olym. ii.:160:
'Come on! thy brighest shafts prepare,
And bend, O Muse, thy sounding bow:
Say, through what paths of liquid air
Our arrows shall we throw?'
A similar expression occurs in a fragment of Eupolis, in Diod. Sic. xii. 40, when speaking of Pericles:
- καὶ μόνος τῶν ῥητόρων
τὸ κέντρον ἐγκατέλειπε τοἴς ἀκροωμένοις.
- kai monos tōn rētorōn
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
And said unto me - That is, as I suppose, to the Messiah. God said to him that he was his servant; he by whom he would be particularly glorified and honored.
Thou art my servant, O Israel - There has been great variety, as was intimated in the analysis of the chapter, in the interpretation of this verse. The question of difficulty is, to whom does the word 'Israel' refer? And if it refer to the Messiah, why is this name given to him? There is no variety in the ancient versions, or in the MSS. The opinions which have been maintained have been referred to in the analysis, and are briefly these:
1. The most obvious interpretation of the verse, if it stood alone, would be to refer it to the Jews as 'the servant of Jehovah,' in accordance with Isaiah 41:8, by whom he would be glorified in accordance with the declaration in Isaiah 44:23. This is the opinion of Rosenmuller and of some others. But the objection to this is, that the things which are affirmed of this 'servant,' by no means apply to the Jews. It is evidently an individual that is addressed; and in no conceivable sense can that be true of the Jews at large which is affirmed of this person in Isaiah 49:4 ff.
2. It has been referred to Isaiah. This was the opinion of Grotius, Dathe, Saadias, Doderlin, and others. Grotius supposes it means, 'thou art my servant for the good of Israel.' So Dathe renders it: 'It is for Israel's benefit that I will glorify myself in thee.' Saadias renders it, 'Thou art my ambassador to Israel.' Aben Ezra says of the passage, 'Thou art my servant, descended from Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Or, the sense is this: Thou who in my eyes art reputed as equal to all Israel.' But, as has been remarked in the analysis, this interpretation is attended with all the difficulty of the interpretation which refers it to the Messiah, and is inconsistent with the known character of Isaiah, and with the declarations made of the person referred to in the following verses. There is certainly no more reason why the name 'Israel' should be given to Isaiah, than there is why it should be given to the Messiah; and it is certain that Isaiah never arrogated to himself such high honor as that of being a light to the Gentiles, and a covenant of the people, and as being one before whom kings would rise up, and to whom princes would do homage.
3. Gesenius supposes that the word 'Israel' is not genuine, but has come by error into the text. But for this there is no authority except one manuscript, to which he himself attaches no weight.
4. The only other interpretation, therefore, is that which refers it to the Messiah. This, which has been the common exposition of commentators, most manifestly agrees with the verses which follow, and with the account which occurs in the New Testament.
The account in Isaiah 49:4-8, is such as can be applied to no other one than he, and is as accurate and beautiful a description of him as if it had been made by one who had witnessed his labors, and heard from him the statement of his own plans. But still, a material question arises, why is this name 'Israel' applied to the Messiah? It is applied to him nowhere else, and it is certainly remarkable that a name should be applied to an individual which is usually applied to an entire people. To this question the following answers, which are, indeed, little more than conjectures, may be returned:
1. Lowth and Vitringa suppose that it is because the name, in its full import and signification, can be given only to him; and that there is a reference here to the fact recorded in Genesis 32:28, where Jacob is said to have wrestled with God, and prevailed, and was, in consequence of that, called Israel. The full import of that name, says Lowth, pertains only to the Messiah, 'who contended powerfully with God in behalf of mankind.'
2. It is common in the Scriptures to use the names which occurred in the history of the Jews as descriptive of things which were to occur under the times of the Messiah, or as representing in general events that might occur at any time. Thus the names, Moab, Edom, Ashur, were used to denote the foes of God in general; the name of Elijah was given to John the Baptist (Hengstenberg).
3. In accordance with this, the name David is not unfrequently given to the Messiah, and he is spoken of under this name, as he was to be his descendant and successor.
4. For the same reason, the name Israel may be given to him - nor as the name of the Jewish people - but the name of the illustrious ancestor of the Jewish race, because he would possess his spirit, and would, like him, wrestle with God. He was to be a prince having power with God (compare Genesis 32:28), and would prevail. In many respects there would be a resemblance between him and this pious and illustrious ancestor of the Jewish people.
In whom I will be glorified - This means that the result of the Redeemer's work would be such as eminently to honor God. He would be glorified by the gift of such a Saviour; by his instructions, his example, the effect of his ministry while on earth, and by his death. The effect of the work of the Messiah as adapted to glorify God, is often referred to in the New Testament (see John 12:28; John 13:31-32; John 14:13; John 16:14; John 17:1-5).
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
Then I said - I the Messiah. In the previous verses he speaks of his appointment to the office of Messiah, and of his dignity. The design here is to prepare the way for the announcement of the fact that he would make known his gospel to the pagan, and would be for a light to the Gentiles. For this purpose he speaks of his labors among his own countrymen; he laments the little success which attended his work at the commencement, but consoles himself with the reflection that his cause was with God, and that his labors would not go unrewarded.
I have labored in vain - This is to be regarded as the language of the Messiah when his ministry would be attended with comparatively little success; and when in view of that fact, he would commit himself to God, and resolve to extend his gospel to other nations. The expression used here is not to be taken absolutely, as if he had no success in his work, but it means that he had comparatively no success; he was not received and welcomed by the united people; he was rejected and despised by them as a whole. It is true that the Saviour had success in his work, and far more success than is commonly supposed (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:6). But it is also true that by the nation at large he was despised and and rejected. The idea here is, that there were not results in his ministry, at all commensurate with the severity of his labors, and the strength of his claims.
I have spent my strength for nought - Comparatively for nought. This does not mean that he would not be ultimately as successful as he desired to be (compare the notes at Isaiah 53:11); but it means, that in his personal ministry he had exhausted his strength, and seen comparatively little fruit of his toils.
Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord - My cause is committed to him, and he will regard it. This expresses the confidence of the speaker, that God approved of his work, and that he would ultimately give such effect to his labors as he had desired. The sense is, 'I know that Jehovah approves my work, and that he will grant me the reward of my toils, and my sufferings.'
And my work with my God - Margin, 'Reward' (see the notes at Isaiah 40:10). The idea is, that he knew that God would own and accept his work though it was rejected by mankind. It indicates perfect confidence in God, and a calm and un wavering assurance of his favor, though his work was comparatively unsuccessful - a spirit which, it is needless to say, was evinced throughout the whole life of the Redeemer. Never did he doubt that God approved his work; never did he become disheartened and desponding, as if God would not ultimately give success to his plans and to the labors of his life. He calmly committed himself to God. He did not attempt to avenge himself for being rejected, or for any of the injuries done him. But he left his name, his character, his reputation, his plans, his labors, all with God, believing that his cause was the cause of God, and that he would yet be abundantly rewarded for all his toils. This verse teaches:
1. That the most faithful labors, the most self-denying toil, and the efforts of the most holy life, may be for a time unsuccessful. If the Redeemer of the world had occasion to say that he had labored in vain, assuredly his ministers should not be surprised that they have occasion to use the same language. It maybe no fault of the ministry that they are unsuccessful. The world may be so sinful, and opposition may be got up so mighty, as to frustrate their plans, and prevent their success.
2. Yet, though at present unsuccessful, faithful labor will ultimately do good, and be blessed. In some way, and at some period, all honest effort in the cause of God may be expected to be crowned with success.
3. They who labor faithfully may commit their cause to God, with the assurance that they and their work will be accepted. The ground of their acceptance is not the success of their labors. They will be acceptable in proportion to the amount of their fidelity and self-denying zeal (see the notes at 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
4. The ministers of religion, when their message is rejected, and the world turns away from their ministry, should imitate the example of the Redeemer, and say, 'my judgment is with Jehovah. My cause is his cause; and the result of my labors I commit to him.' To do this as he did, they should labor as he did; they should honestly devote all their strength and talent and time to his service; and then they can confidently commit all to him, and then and then only they will find peace, as he did, in the assurance that their work will be ultimately blessed, and that they will find acceptance with him.
And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
And now, saith the Lord that formed me - This verse contains the reason why he cherished the hope that his work would not be unaccepted. The reason is, that Yahweh had said to him that he should be glorious in his eyes, and that he would be his strength. He stood so high in his favor, and he had such assurances of that favor, that he could confidently commit himself to his care.
That formed thee from the womb - Who appointed me before I was born to the office of a servant to accomplish important purposes (see the notes at Isaiah 49:1).
To bring Jacob again to him - To recover the Jewish people again to the pure worship of Yahweh. To them the Messiah was first to be sent, and when they rejected him, he was to proffer the same salvation to the Gentiles (see Isaiah 49:6; compare Matthew 21:33-43). Accordingly the Saviour spent his life in preaching to the Jews, and in endeavoring to bring them back to God, and for this purpose he regarded himself as sent (Matthew 15:24; see Acts 3:26).
Though Israel be not gathered - This metaphor is taken from a scattered flock which a shepherd endeavors to gather, or collect to himself. There is great variety in the interpretation of this expression. The margin reads it, 'That Israel may be gathered to him, and I may' be glorious. So Lowth, 'That Israel unto him may be gathered.' So Noyes, 'To gather Israel to him.' Jerome renders it, 'Israel shall not be gathered.' The Septuagint renders it, 'To gather Jacob unto him, and Israel.' The Syriac, 'That I may gather Jacob unto him, and assemble Israel.' This variety has arisen front the different readings in the Hebrew text. The reading in the text is לא lo' ("not"); but instead of this the marginal reading, or the Qere' of the Masoretes is, לו lô, "to him." 'Five manuscripts (two ancient),' says Lowth, 'confirm the Qere', or marginal construction of the Masoretes; and so read Aquila, and the Chaldee, Septuagint, and Arabic.' Gesenius and Rosenmuller adopt this, and suppose that לא lo' is only a different form of writing לו lô. Grotius and Hengstenberg render it as it is in our version. It is impossible to determine the true reading; and the only guide is the context, and the views which shall be entertained of the design of the passage. To me it seems that the parallelism demands that we should adopt the reading of the Keri, the Septuagint, the Chaldee, and the Syriac, and which has been adopted by Lowth. According to this, it means that he had been appointed to gather in the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and gave his life to it. Other parts of this statement Isaiah 49:4-6 show, that by them he was rejected, and that then salvation was sent to other parts of the world. Luther renders it, 'That Israel be not carried away.'
Yet shall I be - Or, "and" (ו ve) I shall be glorious. The sense is, that as the result of this appointment he would be in some way glorious in the sight of Yahweh. Though he would be rejected by the nation, yet he would be honored by God. He would not only approve his character and work, but would secure his being honored among people by making him the light of the Gentiles (compare Isaiah 43:4).
And my God shall be my strength - He might be rejected by the people, but in God he would find an unfailing source of support and consolation. It is not needful to say, that this applies most accurately to the cbaracter of the Redeemer as exhibited in the New Testament.
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
And he said - That is, Yahweh said in his promise to the Messiah.
It is a light thing - Margin, 'Art thou lighter than that thou,' etc. Lowth renders it, 'It is a small thing.' Hengstenberg, 'It is too little that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob.' The sense is, that God designed to glorify him in an eminent degree, and that it would not be as much honor as be designed to confer on him, to appoint him merely to produce a reformation among the Jews, and to recover them to the spiritual worship of God. He designed him for a far more important work - for the recovery of the Gentile world, and for the spread of the true religion among all nations. The Septuagint renders this, It is a great thing for thee to be called my servant.' The Chaldee proposes it as a question, 'Is it a small thing for you that you are called my servant?'
My servant - (See Isaiah 49:3).
To raise up the tribes of Jacob - Hebrew, (להקים lehâqiym) - 'To establish,' or confirm the tribes of Jacob; that is, to establish them in the worship of God, and in prosperity. This is to be understood in a spiritual sense, since it is to be synonymous with the blessings which he would bestow on the pagan. His work in regard to both, was to be substantially the same. In regard to the Jews, it was to confirm them in the worship of the true God; and in regard to the pagan, it was to bring them to the knowledge of the same God.
And to restore - To bring back (להשׁיב lehâshiyb) that is, to recover them from their sin and hypocrisy, and bring them back to the worship of the true and only God. The Chaldee, however, renders this, 'To bring back the captivity of Israel.' But it means, doubtless, to recover the alienated Jewish people to the pure and spiritual worship of God.
The preserved of Israel - Lowth renders this, 'To restore the branches of Israel;' as if it were נצרי netsârēy in the text, instead of נצוּרי netsûrēy. The word נצר nêtser means "branch" (see the notes at Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 14:9), and Lowth supposes that it means the branches of Israel; that is, the descendants of Israel or Jacob, by a similitude drawn from the branches of a tree which are all derived from the same stem, or root. The Syriac here renders it, 'The branch of Israel.' But the word properly means those who are kept, or preserved (from נצר nâtsar, "to keep, preserve"), and may be applied either literally to those who were kept alive, or who survived any battle, captivity, or calamity - as a remnant; or spiritually, to those who are preserved for purposes of mercy and grace out of the common mass that is corrupt and unbelieving. It refers here, I suppose, to the latter, and means those whom it was the purpose of God to preserve out of the common mass of the Jews that were sunk in hypocrisy and sin. These, it was the design of God to restore to himself, and to do this, was the primary object in the appointment of the Messiah.
I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles - I will appoint thee to the higher office of extending the knowledge of the true religion to the darkened pagan world. The same expression and the same promise occur in Isaiah 42:6 (see the notes at that verse).
That thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth - (See the note at Isaiah 42:10). The true religion shall be extended to the pagan nations, and all parts of the world shall see the salvation of God. This great work was to be entrusted to the Redeemer, and it was regarded as a high honor that he should thus be made the means of diffusing light and truth among all nations. We may learn hence, first, that God will raise up the tribes of Jacob; that is, that large numbers of the Jews shall yet be 'preserved,' or recovered to himself; secondly, that the gospel shall certainly be extended to the ends of the earth; thirdly, that it is an honor to be made instrumental in extending the true religion. So great is this honor, that it is mentioned as the highest which could be conferred even on the Redeemer in this world. And if he deemed it an honor, shall we not also regard it as a privilege to engage in the work of Christian missions, and to endeavor to save the world from ruin? There is no higher glory for man than to tread in the footsteps of the Son of God; and he who, by self-denial and charity, and personal toil and prayer, does most for the conversion of this whole world to God, is most like the Redeemer, and will have the most elevated seat in the glories of the heavenly world.
Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
Thus saith the Lord - This verse contains a promise of the future honor that should await the Redeemer, and of the success which should crown his work. The sense is, that Yahweh had promised to him who was despised and rejected, that kings and princes should yet rise up and honor him.
The Redeemer of Israel - (See the note at Isaiah 43:1).
To him whom man despiseth - On the construction of the Hebrew here, see Gesenius, Vitringa, and Hengstenberg. The phrase לבזה־נפשׁ libezoh-nephesh (to the despised of soul), means evidently one who is despised, rejected, contemned by people. The word 'soul' here (נפשׁ nephesh) means the same as man; that is, every man. It was a characteristic of him that he was despised and rejected by all; and the prophet, in this verse, has given a summary of all that be has said respecting him in Isaiah 53:1-12.
To him whom the nation abhorreth - The word 'nation' here refers doubtless to the Jewish people, as in Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 10:6. The word rendered 'abhorreth' means "for an abomination" (למתעב limetâ‛ēb), Piel participle, from תעב tâ‛ab), and the idea is, that he was regarded as an abomination by the people. The same idea is more fully expressed in Isaiah 53:3-4, that the Messiah would be rejected and treated with abhorrence by the nation as such - a statement which the slightest acquaintance with the New Testament will lead anyone to see has been literally fulfilled. No being ever excited more abhorrence; no man was ever regarded with so much abomination by any people as Jesus of Nazareth was, and still is, by the Jewish people. He was condemned by the Sanhedrim; publicly rejected by the nation; and at the instigation and by the desire of the assembled people at Jerusalem, he was executed as a malefactor in the most shameful and ignominious manner then known (see Luke 23:18-23). To this day, his name excites the utmost contempt among Jews, and they turn from him and his claims with the deepest abhorrence. The common name by which he is designated in the Jewish writings is Tolvi - 'the crucified;' and nothing excites more deep abhorrence and contempt than the doctrine that they, and all others, can be saved only by the merits of 'the crucified.' The Chaldee renders all this in the plural, 'To those who are contemned among the people, to those who have migrated to ether kingdoms, to those who serve other lords.'
To a servant of rulers - This probably means that the Messiah voluntarily submitted himself to human power, and yielded obedience to human rulers. The idea, if interpreted by the facts as recorded in the New Testament, is, that though he was the ruler of all worlds, yet he voluntarily became subject to human laws, and yielded submission and obedience to human rulers. For this purpose he conformed to the existing institutions of his country at the time when he lived; he paid the customary tax or tribute that was laid for the support of religion Matthew 17:27; he submitted to a trial before the Sanhedrim, and before Pilate, though both were conducted in a manner that violated all the principles of justice; and he submitted to the unjust decree which condemned him to die. He was, therefore, all his life, subject to rulers. He was not only exemplary and strict in obeying the laws of the land; but he became, in a more strict sense, their servant, as he was deprived of his liberty, comfort, and life at their caprice. He refrained himself from exerting his divine power, and voluntarily became subject to the will of others.
Kings shall see and arise - That is, kings shall see this, and shall rise up with demonstrations of respect and reverence. They shall see the fulfillment of the divine promises by which he is destined to be the light of the nations, and they shall render him honor as their teacher and Redeemer. To rise up, or to prostrate themselves, are both marks of respect and veneration.
Princes also shall worship - The word used here, (ישׁתחווּ yı̂shettachăvû), from שׁחה shâchâh) means "to bow down, to incline oneself"; it then means "to prostrate oneself" before anyone, in order to do him honor or reverence. This was the customary mode of showing respect or reverence in the East. It consisted generally in falling upon the knees, and then touching the forehead to the ground, and is often alluded to in the Bible (see Genesis 42:6; Genesis 18:2; Genesis 19:1; Nehemiah 8:6). This honor was paid not only to kings and princes as superior 2 Samuel 9:8, but also to equals Genesis 23:7; Genesis 37:7, Genesis 37:9-10. It was the customary form of religious homage, as it is still in the East, and denoted sometimes religious worship Genesis 22:5; 1 Samuel 1:3; but not necessarily, or always (see the note at Matthew 2:11; compare Matthew 8:2; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 15:25; Matthew 18:26; Mark 5:6). Here it does not mean that they would render to him religious homage, but that they would show him honor, or respect.
Because of the Lord that is faithful - It is because Yahweh is faithful in the fulfillment of his promises, and will certainly bring this to pass. The fact that he shall be thus honored shall be traced entirely to the faithfulness era covenant-keeping God.
And he shall choose thee - Select thee to accomplish this, and to be thus a light to the pagan world. It is needless to say that this has been fulfilled. Kings and princes have bowed before the Redeemer; and the time will yet come when in far greater numbers they shall adore him. It is as needless to say, that these expressions can be applied to no other one than the Messiah. It was not true of Isaiah that he was the light of the pagan, or for salvation to the ends of the earth; nor was it true of him that kings arose and honored him, or that princes prostrated themselves before him, and did him reverence. Of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus alone, was all this true; and the assurance is thus given, that though he was rejected by his own nation, yet the time will come when the kings and princes of all the world shall do him homage.
Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;
Thus saith the Lord - Still an address to the Messiah, and designed to give the assurance that he should extend the true religion, and repair the evils of sin on the earth. The Messiah is represented as having asked for the divine favor to attend his efforts, and this is the answer, and the assurance that his petition had not been offered in vain.
In an acceptable time - Hebrew, 'In a time of delight or will,' that is, a time when Yahweh was willing, or pleased to hear him. The word רצין râtsôn means properly delight, satisfaction, acceptance Proverbs 14:35; Isaiah 56:7; will, or pleasure Esther 8:1; Psalm 40:9; Daniel 8:4-11; then also goodwill, favor, grace Proverbs 16:15; Proverbs 19:12. The Septuagint renders this, Καιρῷ δεκτῷ Kairō dektō - 'In an acceptable time.' So Jerome, Gesenius, and Hengstenberg render it, 'In a time of grace or mercy.' The main idea is plain, that Yahweh was well pleased to hear him when he called upon him, and would answer his prayers. In a time of favor; in a time that shall be adjudged to be the best fitted to the purposes of salvation, Yahweh will be pleased to exalt the Messiah to glory, and to make him the means of salvation to all mankind.
Have I heard thee - Have I heard thy petitions, and the desires of thy heart. The giving of the world to the Messiah is represented as in answer to his prayer in Psalm 2:8 :
Ask of me, and I shall give time the pagan for thine inheritance,
And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
And in a day of salvation - In a time when I am disposed to grant salvation; when the period for imparting salvation shall have arrived.
Have I helped thee - Have I imparted the assistance which is needful to accomplish the great purpose of salvation to the world. This passage is quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2, and is by him applied to the times of the Messiah. It means that the time would come, fixed by the purpose of God, which would be a period in which he would be disposed, that is, well pleased, to extend salvation to the world through the Messiah: and that in that time he would afford all the requisite aid and help by his grace, for the extension of the true religion among the nations.
I will preserve thee - That is, the cause of the Redeemer would be dear to the heart of God, and he would preserve that cause from being destroyed on the earth.
And give thee for a covenant of the people - The 'people' (עם 'âm) refers doubtless primarily to the Jews - the better portion of the Israelite people - the true Israel Romans 2:28-29. To them he was first sent, and his own personal work was with them (see the notes at Isaiah 49:6). On the meaning of the phrase 'for a covenant,' see the notes at Isaiah 42:6.
To establish the earth - Margin, as Hebrew, 'To raise up.' The language is derived from restoring the ruins of a land that has been overrun by an enemy, when the cities have been demolished, and the country laid waste. It is to be taken here in a spiritual sense, as meaning that the work of the Messiah would be like that which would be accomplished if a land lying waste should be restored to its former prosperity. In regard to the spiritual interests of the people, he would accomplish what would be accomplished if there should be such a restoration; that is, he would recover the true Israel from the ravages of sin, and would establish the church on a firm foundation.
To cause to inherit the desolate heritages - The image here is taken from the condition of the land of Israel during the Babylonian captivity. It was in ruins. The cities were all desolate. Such, spiritually, would be the condition of the nation when the Messiah should come; and his work would be like restoring the exiles to their own land, and causing them to re-enter on their former possessions. The one would be an appropriate emblem of the other; and the work of the Messiah would be like rebuilding dilapidated towns; restoring fertility to desolate fields; replanting vineyards and olive gardens; and diffusing smiling peace and plenty over a land that had been subjected to the ravages of fire and sword, and that had long been a scene of mournful desolation.
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth - This language occurs also in Isaiah 42:7. For an explanation of it, see the notes on that place.
To them that are in darkness - Synonymous with being prisoners, as prisoners are usually confined in dark cells.
Show yourselves - Hebrew, 'Reveal,' or manifest yourselves; that is, as those who come out of a dark cell come into light, so do you, who have been confined in the darkness of sin, come forth into the light of the Sun of righteousness, and be manifest as the redeemed.
They shall feed in the ways - In the remainder of this verse, and in the following verses, the Messiah is represented under the image of a shepherd, who leads forth his flock to green fields, and who takes care that they shall be guarded from the heat of the sun, and shall not hunger nor thirst. The phrase 'they shall feed in the ways,' means, probably, that in the way in which they were going they should find abundant food. They should not be compelled to turn aside for pasturage, or to go and seek for it in distant places. It is equivalent to the language which so often occurs, that God would provide for the needs of his people, even when passing through a desert, and that he would open before them unexpected sources of supply.
And their pastures shall be in all high places - This means, that on the hills and mountains, that are naturally barren and unproductive, they should find an abundance of food. To see the force of this, we are to remember that in many parts of the East the hills and mountains are utterly destitute of vegetation. This is the case with the mountainous regions of Horeb and Sinai, and even with the mountains about Jerusalem, and with the hills and mountains in Arabia Deserta. The idea here is, that in the ways, or paths that were commonly traveled, and where all verdure would be consumed or trodden down by the caravans, and on the hills that were usually barren and desolate, they would find abundance. God would supply them as if he should make the green grass spring up in the hard-trodden way, and on the barren and rocky hills vegetation should start up suddenly in abundance, and all their needs should be supplied.
This is an image which we have frequently had in Isaiah, and perhaps the meaning may be, that to his people the Redeemer would open unexpected sources of comfort and joy; that in places and times in which they would scarcely look for a supply of their spiritual needs, he would suddenly meet and satisfy them as if green grass for flocks and herds should suddenly start up in the down-trodden way, or luxuriant vegetation burst forth on the sides and the tops of barren, rocky, and desolate hills. Harmer, however, supposes that this whole description refers rather to the custom which prevailed in the East, of making feasts or entertainments by the sides of fountains or rivers. 'To fountains or rivers,' Dr. Chandler tells us in his Travels, 'the Turks and the Greeks frequently repair for refreshment; especially the latter, in their festivals, when whole families are seen sitting on the grass, and enjoying their early or evening repast, beneath the trees, by the side of a rill' - (Travels in Asia Minor, p. 21.) Compare 1 Kings 1:9. Thus Harmer supposes that the purpose of the prophet is, to contrast the state of the Jews when they were shut up in prison in Babylon, secluded from fresh air, and even the light itself, or in unwholesome dungeons, with their state when walking at liberty, enjoying the verdure, and the enlivening air of the country; passing from the tears, the groans, and the apprehensions of such a dismal confinement, to the music, the songs, and the exquisite repasts of Eastern parties of pleasure (see Harmer's Obs., vol. ii. pp. 18-25; Ed. Lond. 1808). The interpretation, however, above suggested, seems to me most natural and beautiful.
They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
They shall not hunger nor thirst - All their needs shall be abundantly provided for, as a shepherd will provide for his flock. In the book of Revelation, this entire passage is applied Isaiah 7:16-17 to the happiness of the redeemed in heaven, and the use which is made of it there is not foreign to the sense in Isaiah. It means that the Messiah as a shepherd shall abundantly satisfy all the needs of his people; and it may with as much propriety be applied to the joys of heaven, as to the happiness which they will experience on earth. Their longing desires for holiness and salvation; their hungering and thirsting after righteousness Matthew 5:6, shall be abundantly satisfied.
Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them - In Revelation 7:16, this is, 'Neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat;' that is, the burning heat of the sun shall not oppress them - an image of refreshment, protection, and joy, as when the traveler in burning sands finds the grateful shade of a rock or of a grove (see the notes at Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 14:3; Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2). The word rendered here 'heat' (שׁרב shârâb), denotes properly heat, burning; and then the heated vapor which in burning deserts produces the phenomenon of the mirage (see it explained in the notes at Isaiah 35:7). It is equivalent here to intense heat; and means that they shall not be exposed to any suffering like that of the intense heat of the burning sun reflected from sandy wastes.
For he that hath mercy on them - That God and Saviour who shall have redeemed them shall be their shepherd and their guide, and they shall have nothing to fear.
Even by the springs of water - In Revelation 7:17, 'Shall lead them unto living fountains of waters' (see the notes at Isaiah 35:6). The whole figure in this verse is taken from the character of a faithful shepherd who conducts his flock to places where they may feed in plenty; who guards them from the intense heat of a burning sun on sandy plains; and who leads them beside cooling and refreshing streams. It is a most beautiful image of the tender care of the Great Shepherd of his people in a world like this - a world in its main features, in regard to real comforts, not unaptly compared to barren hills, and pathless burning sands.
And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.
And I will make all my mountains a way - I will make all the mountains for a highway; or an even, level way. That is, he would remove all obstructions from their path. The image is taken from the return from Babylon to the land of Palestine, in which God so often promises to make the hills a plain, and the crooked places straight (see the notes at Isaiah 40:4).
Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.
Behold, these shall come from far - That is, one part shall come from a distant land, and another from the north and west. This is a statement of the fulfillment of the promise made to him Isaiah 49:6-7, that he should be for a light to the Gentiles, and that kings and princes should rise up and honor him. The words 'from far,' denote a distant land, without specifying the particular direction from which they would come. The most distant nations should embrace his religion, and submit to him. Lowth and Seeker understand it of Babylon; Grotius of the East, that is, Persia, and the other countries east of Judea. But it more properly denotes any distant country; and the sense is, that converts should be made from the most distant lands.
And lo, these - Another portion.
From the north - The regions north of Palestine.
And from the west - Hebrew, 'From the sea;' that is, the Mediterranean. This word is commonly used to denote the west. The western countries known to the Hebrews were some of the islands of that sea, and a few of the maritime regions. The idea here in general is, that those regions would furnish many who would embrace the true religion. If it be understood as referring to the Messiah, and the accession to his kingdom among the Gentiles, it is needless to say that the prediction has been already strikingly fulfilled. Christianity soon spread to the west of Palestine, and the countries in Europe have been thus far the principal seat of its influence and power. It has since spread still further to the west; and, from a western world unknown to Isaiah, million have come and acknowledged the Messiah as their Redeemer.
And these - Another portion, carrying out the idea that they were to come from every part of the world.
From the land of Sinim - There have been many different opinions in regard to the 'land of Sinim.' The name 'Sinim' (סינים siyniym) occurs nowhere else in the Bible, and of course it is not easy to determine what country is meant. It is evident that it is some remote country, and it is remarkable that it is the only land specified here by name. Some, it is said, should come from far, some from the north, others from the west, and another portion from the country here specifically mentioned. Jerome understands it of the south in general - Isti de terra Australi. The Septuagint understands it as denoting Persia - Ἄλλοι δὲ ἐκ γῆς Περσῶν alloi di ek gēs Persōn. The Chaldee also interprets it as Jerome has done, of the south. The Syriac has not translated it, but retained the name Sinim. The Arabic coincides with the Septuagint, and renders it, 'From the land of Persia.' Grotius supposes that it means the region of Sinim to the south of Palestine, and Vitringa also coincides with this opinion.
Bochart supposes that it means the same as Sin or Syene, that is, Pelusium, a city of Egypt; and that it is used to denote Egypt, as Pelusium was a principal city in Egypt. In Ezekiel 30:15, Sin or Pelusium (margin) is mentioned as 'the strength of Egypt.' Gesenius supposes that it refers to the Chinese, and that the country here referred to is Sina or China. 'This very ancient and celebrated people,' says he, 'was known to the Arabians and Syrians by the name Sin, Tein, Tshini; and a Hebrew writer might well have heard of them, especially if sojourning in Babylon, the metropolis as it were of all Asia. This name appears to have been given to the Chinese by the other Asiatics; for the Chinese themselves do not employ it, and seem indeed to be destitute of any ancient domestic name, either adopting the names of the reigning dynasties, or ostentatiously assuming high-sounding titles, as "people of the empire in the center of the world." 'The Rev. Peter Parker, M. D., missionary to China, remarked in an address delivered in Philadelphia, that 'the Chinese have been known from time immemorial by the name Tschin. Tschin means a Chinaman.' When they first received this appellation, cannot be determined, nor is the reason of its being given to them now known.
As there is remarkable permanency in the names as well as in the customs of the East, it is possible that they may have had it from the commencement of their history. If so, there is no improbability in supposing that the name was known to the Jews in the time of Isaiah. Solomon had opened a considerable commerce with the East. For this he had built Palmyra, or Tadmor, and caravans passed constantly toward Palestine and Tyre, conveying the rich productions of India. The country of Tschin or Sinim may be easily supposed to have been often referred to by the foreign merchants as a land of great extent and riches, and it is not impossible that even at that early day a part of the merchandise conveyed to the west might have come from that land. It is not necessary to suppose that the Hebrews in the time of Isaiah had any very extensive or clear views of that country; but all that is necessary to be supposed is that they conceived of the nation as lying far in the east, and as abounding in wealth, sufficiently so to entitle it to the pre-eminency which it now has in the enumeration of the nations that would be blessed by the gospel.
If this be the correct interpretation - and I have on a re-examination come to this opinion, though a different view was given in the first edition of these Notes - then the passage furnishes an interesting prediction respecting the future conversion of the largest kingdom of the world. It may be added, that this is the only place where that country is referred to in the Bible, and there may be some plausibility in the supposition that while so many other nations, far inferior in numbers and importance, are mentioned by name, one so vast as this would not wholly be omitted by the Spirit of Inspiration.
Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
Sing, O heavens - In view of the glorious truths stated in the previous verses, that kings should rise up, and princes worship; that the Messiah would be for a light to the Gentiles, and that the true religion would be extended to each of the four quarters of the globe. The idea in this verse is, that it was an occasion on which the heavens and the earth would have cause to exult together. It is common in Isaiah thus to interpose a song of praise on the announcement of any great and glorious truth, and to call on the heavens and the earth to rejoice together (see the notes at Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 42:10-11; Isaiah 44:23).
But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
But Zion said - On the word 'Zion,' see the note at Isaiah 1:8. The language here is that of complaint, and expresses the deep feeling of the people of God amidst many calamities, afflictions, and trials. It may be applicable to the exile Jews in Babylon during their long captivity, as if God had forsaken them; or to those who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah, and who were sighing for the divine interposition under him to restore the beauty of Zion, and to extend his kingdom; or in general, to the church when wickedness triumphs in a community, and when God seems to have forsaken Zion, and to have forgotten its interests. The language here was suggested, doubtless, by a view of the desolations of Jerusalem and Judea, and of the long and painful captivity in Babylon; but it is general, and is applicable to the people of God, in all times of similar oppression and distress. The object of the prophet is to furnish the assurance that, whatever might be the trials and the sufferings of his people, God had not forgotten them, and he neither could nor would forsake them. For this purpose, he makes use of two most striking and forcible arguments Isaiah 49:15-16, to show in the strongest possible manner that the interests of his people were safe.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Can a woman forget her sucking child? - The design of this verse is apparent. It is to show that the love which God has for his people is stronger than that which is produced by the most tender ties created by any natural relation. The love of a mother for her infant child is the strongest attachment in nature. The question here implies that it was unusual for a mother to be unmindful of that tie, and to forsake the child that she should nourish and love.
That she should not have compassion - That she should not pity and succor it in times of sickness and distress; that she should see it suffer without any attempt to relieve it, and turn away, and see it die unpitied and unalleviated.
Yea, they may forget - They will sooner forget their child than God will forget his afflicted and suffering people. The phrase 'they may forget,' implies that such a thing may occur. In pagan lands, strong as is the instinct which binds a mother to her offspring, it has not been uncommon for a mother to expose her infant child, and to leave it to die. In illustration of this fact, see the notes at Romans 1:31.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands - This is another argument in answer to the complaint of Zion in Isaiah 49:14. There have been various interpretations of this passage. Grotius supposes that it refers to a custom of placing some mark or sign on the hand, or on one of the fingers when they wished to remember anything, and appeals to Exodus 13:9. Lowth supposes that it is an allusion to some practice common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by means of punctures in the skin with some sign or representation of the city or temple, to show their zeal and affection for it. In illustration of this, he refers to the fact that the pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre are accustomed to get themselves marked in this manner with what are called the signs of Jerusalem. Vitringa supposes that it alludes to the custom of architects, in which they delineate the size, form, and proportions of an edifice on parchment, before they commence building it - such as we mean by the draft or model of the building; and that the sense here is, that God, in like manner, had delineated or drawn Jerusalem on his hands long before it was founded, and had it constantly before his eyes. According to this, the idea is, that God had laid out the plan of Jerusalem long before it was built, and that it was so dear to him that he had even engraven it on his hands. Others have supposed that it refers to a device on a signet, or on a ring worn on the finger or the wrist, and that the plan of Jerusalem was drawn and engraven there. To me, it seems that the view of Lowth is most accordant with probability, and is best, sustained by the Oriental customs. The essential idea is, that Zion was dear to his heart; and that he had sketched or delineated it as an object in which he felt a deep interest - so deep as even to delineate its outlines on the palms of his bands, where it would be constantly before him.
Thy walls - The meaning is, that he constantly looked upon them; that he never forgot them. He had a constant and sacred regard for his people, and amidst all their disasters and trials, still remembered them.
Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.
Thy children - The children of Zion - the true people of God. But there is here considerable variety in the interpretation. The Hebrew of the present text is בניך bânâyı̂k ("thy sons"). But Jerome reads it, Structores tui - 'Thy builders;' as if it were בונין. The Septuagint renders it, 'Thou shalt be speedily built (ταχὺ οἰκοδομηθήσῃ tachu oikodomēthēsē) by those by whom thou hast been destroyed.' The Chaldee renders it, 'Those that rebuild thy waste places shall hasten.' The Syriac reads it, 'Thy sons;' and the Arabic, 'Thou shalt be rebuilt by those by whom thou hast been destroyed.' But there is no good authority for changing the present Hebrew text. nor is it necessary. The sense probably is, the descendants of those who dwelt in Zion, who are now in exile, shall hasten to rebuild the wastes of the desolate capital, and restore its ruins. And may it not mean, that in the great work under the Messiah, of restoring the nation to the worship of God, and of spreading the true religion, God would make use of those who dwelt in Zion; that is, of the Jews, as his ambassadors?
They that made thee waste - Language drawn from the destruction of Jerusalen. The sense is, that they would seek no longer to retain possession, but would permit its former inhabitants to return, and engage in repairing its ruins.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.
Lift up thine eyes round about - That is, see the multitudes that shall be converted to thee; see thy ruined city rise again in its former beauty; see the Gentiles come and yield themselves to the worship of the true God; see kings and princes approach and do thee homage.
All these gather themselves - That is, from a far country, from the north, the west, and the south, Isaiah 49:12.
As I live, saith the Lord - The customary form of an oath when Yahweh swears It is a solemn assurance that the event shall as certainly occur as he has an existence (see the note at Isaiah 45:23; compare Jeremiah 22:24; Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16, Ezekiel 14:18, Ezekiel 14:20; Ezekiel 16:48).
Thou shalt surely clothe thee with them - Zion is here represented, as it is often elsewhere, as a female (see the note at Isaiah 1:8); and the accession of converts from abroad is represented under the figure of bridal ornaments. The accession of converts karo the Gentiles should be to her what jewels are to a bride.
And bind them on thee as a bride doth - The sentence here is manifestly incomplete. It means, as a bride binds on her ornaments. The Septuagint has supplied this, and renders it, 'As a bride her ornaments' (ὡς κόσμον νύμφη hōs kosmon numphē). The sentiment is, that the accession of the large humber of converts under the Messiah to the true church of God, would be the real ornament of Zion, and would greatly increase her beauty and loveliness.
For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.
For thy waste and thy desolate places - Thy land over which ruin has been spread, and ever which the exile nation mourns.
And the land of thy destruction - That is, thy land laid in ruins. The construction is not uncommon where a noun is used to express the sense of an adjective. Thus in Psalm 2:6, the Hebrew phrase (margin) is correctly rendered 'my holy hill.' Here the sense is, that their entire country had been so laid waste as to be a land of desolation.
Shall even now be too narrow - Shall be too limited to contain all who shall become converted to the true God. The contracted territory of Palestine shall be incapable of sustaining all who will acknowledge the true God, and who shall be regarded as his friends.
And they that swallowed thee up - The enemies that laid waste thy land, and that "absorbed," as it were, thy inhabitants, and removed them to a distant land. They shall be all gone, and the land shall smile again in prosperity and in loveliness.
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.
The children which thou shalt have - The increase of the population shall be so great.
After thou hast lost the other - Hebrew, 'The sons of thy widowhood.' That is, after thou hast lost those that have been killed in the wars, and those that have died in captivity in a distant land, there shall be again a great increase as if they were given to a widowed mother. And perhaps the general truth is taught here, that the persecution of the people of God will be attended ultimately with a vast increase; and that all the attempts to obliterate the church will only tend finally to enlarge and strengthen it.
Shall say again in thy ears - Or, shall say to thee.
The place is too strait for me - There is not room for us all. The entire language here denotes a vast accession to the church of God. It is indicative of such an increase as took place when the gospel was proclaimed by the apostles to the Gentiles, and of such an increase as shall Yet more abundantly take place when the whole world shall become converted to God.
Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?
Then shalt thou say in thine heart - Thou shalt wonder at the multitude, and shalt ask with astonishment from where they all come. This verse is designed to describe the great increase of the true people of God under the image of a mother who had been deprived of her children, who should suddenly see herself surrounded with more than had been lost, and should ask in astonishment from where they all came.
Who hath begotten me these - The idea here is, that the increase would be from other nations. They would not be the natural increase of Zion or Jerusalem, but they would come in from abroad - as if a family that had been bereaved should be increased by an accession from other families.
I have lost my children - Jerusalem had been desolated by wars, and had become like a widow that was bereft of all her sons (compare the notes at Isaiah 47:8-9).
A captive, and removing to and fro - A captive in Babylon, and compelled to wander from my own land, and to live in a strange and distant country.
These, where had they been? - The image in this entire verse is one of great beauty. It represents a mother who had been suddenly deprived of all her children, who had been made a widow, and conveyed as a captive from land to land. She had seen ruin spread all around her dwelling, and regarded herself as alone. Suddenly she finds herself restored to her home, and surrounded with a happy family. She sees it increased beyond its former numbers, and herself blessed with more than her former prosperity. She looks with surprise on this accession, and asks with wonder from where all these have come, and where they have been. The language in this verse is beautifully expressive of the agitation of such a state of mind, and of the effect which would be thus produced. The idea is plain. Jerusalem had been desolate. Her inhabitants had been carried captive, or had been put to death. But she should be restored, and the church of God would be increased by a vast accession from the Gentile world, so much that the narrow limits which had been formerly occupied - the territory of Palestine - would now be too small for the vast numbers that would be united to those who professed to love and worship God.
Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles - To lift up the hand is a sign of beckoning to, or inviting; and the idea here is, that God would call the Gentiles to partake of the blessings of the true religion, and to embrace the Messiah (see the notes at Isaiah 11:11).
And set up my standard to the people - To the people of other lands; the word here being synonymous with the word Gentiles. A standard, or an ensign was erected in times of war to rally the forces of a nation around it; and the sense here is, that God would erect an ensign high in the sight of all the nations, and would call them to himself, as a military leader musters his forces for battle; that is, he would call the nations to embrace the true religion. See this phrase explained in the the note at Isaiah 11:12.
They shall bring thy sons in their arms - Margin, 'Bosom.' Jerome renders it, In ulnis - 'In their arms.' The Septuagint, Ἐν κόλπῳ En kolpō - 'In the bosom.' Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, Ἀγκαλας Agkalas - 'In their arms.' If it means bosom, as Gesenius renders it, it refers to the bosom of a garment in which things are carried. But it more probably means in the arms, as children are borne; and the idea is, that the distant nations would come and bear with them those who were the children of Zion, that is, those who would become the true friends and worshippers of God.
And thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders - Referring, doubtless, to the manner in which children were carried. In Isaiah 66:12, the same idea is expressed by their being carried upon the sides, referring to the custom still prevalent in the East, of placing a child when it is nursed astride on the side of the mother. The following quotation will more fully explain the customs here alluded to. 'It is a custom in many parts of the East, to carry their children astride upon the hip, with the arm around the body. In the kingdom of Algiers, where the slaves take the Children out, the boys ride upon their shoulders; and in a religious procession, which Symes had an opportunity of seeing at Ava, the capital of the Burman empire, the first personages of rank that passed by were three children borne astride, on people's shoulders. It is evident, from these facts, that the Oriental children are carried sometimes the one way, sometimes the other.
Nor was the custom, in reality, different in Judea, though the prophet expresses himself in these terms: "They shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders;" for, according to Dr. Russel, the children able to support themselves are usually carried astride on the shoulders; but in infancy they are carried in the arms, or awkwardly on one haunch. Dandini tells us that, on horseback, the Asiatics "carry their children upon their shoulders with great dexterity. These children hold by the head of him who carries them, whether he be on horseback or on foot, and do not hinder him from walking or doing what he pleases." This augments the import of the passage in Isaiah, who speaks of the Gentiles bringing children thus; so that distance is no objection to this mode of conveyance, since they may thus be brought on horseback from among the people, however remote.' (Paxton) 'Children of both sexes are carried on the shoulders.
Thus may be seen the father carrying his son, the little fellow being astride on the shoulder, having, with his hands, hold of his father's head. Girls, however, sit on the shoulder, as if on a chair, their legs banging in front, while they also, with their hands, lay hold of the head. In going to, or returning from pagan festivals, thousands of parents and their children may be thus seen marching along with joy.' (Roberts) The sense is, that converts should come from every land - that the nations should flock to the standard of the Messiah. And why may it not be regarded as a legitimate interpretation of this passage, that those who come should bring their children, their sons and their daughters, with them? That they were borne upon the arm, or upon the shoulder, is indicative of their being young children; and that is no forced interpretation of this passage which regards it as teaching, that the parents who should be converted among the Gentiles should bring their offspring to the Redeemer, and present them publicly to God.
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers - Margin, 'Nourishers.' That is, they would patronize the church of God; they would protect it by their laws, and foster it by their influence and become the personal advocates of the cause of Zion. The idea is properly that of guarding, educating, and proriding for children; and the sense is that kings and princes would evince the same tender care for the interests of the people of God which a parent or a nurse does for a child. It is needless to say that this has been already to a considerable extent fulfilled, and that many princes and monarchs have been the patrons of the church, though doubtless it is destined to a more ample fulfillment still in the brighter days of this world's history, when the gospel shall spread everywhere. It is remarkable that, in the Sandwich and South Sea Islands, the Christian religion has been uniformly, almost, taken under the protection of the kings and chiefs since its first introduction there, and has been carried forward and extended under their direct authority.
They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth - A posture indicating the profoundest reverence. This is the common posture of showing great respect in the East.
And lick up the dust of thy feet - An act denoting the utmost possible respect and veneration for the church and people of God.
For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me - They who worship me shall not be ashamed of the act requiring the deepest self-abasement, to show their reverence for me. Even those of most elevated rank shall be willing to humble themselves with the profoundest expressions of adoration.
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? - This seems to be the language of Zion. It is not exactly the language of incredulity; it is the language of amazement and wonder. God had made great promises. He had promised a restoration of the captive Jews to their own land, and of their complete deliverance from the power of the Chaldeans. He had still further promised that the blessings of the true religion should be extended to the Gentiles, and that kings and queens should come and show the profoundest adoration for God and for his cause. With amazement and wonder at the greatness of these promises, with a full view of the difficulties to be surmounted, Zion asks here how it can be accomplished. It would involve the work of taking the prey from a mighty conqueror, and delivering the captive from the hand of the strong and the terrible - a work which had not been usually done.
Or the lawful captive delivered? - Margin, 'The captivity of the just.' Lowth reads this, 'Shall the prey seized by the terrible be rescued?' So Noyes. Lowth says of the present Hebrew text, that the reading is a 'palpable mistake;' and that instead of צדיק tsadiyq ("the just"), the meaning should be עריץ ‛ârı̂yts ("the terrible"). Jerome so read it, and renders it, A robusto - 'The prey taken by the strong.' So the Syriac reads it. The Septuagint renders it, 'If anyone is taken captive unjustly (ἀδίκως adikōs), shall he be saved?' But there is no authority from the manuscripts for changing the present reading of the Hebrew text; and it is not necessary. The word 'just,' here may either refer to the fact that the just were taken captive, and to the difficulty of rescuing them; or perhaps, as Rosenmuller suggests, it may be taken in the sense of severe, or rigid, standing opposed to benignity or mercy, and thus may be synonymous with severity and harshness; and the meaning may be that it was difficult to rescue a captive from the hands of those who had no clemency or benignity, such as was Babylon. Grotius understands it of those who were taken captive in a just war, or by the rights of war. But the connection rather demands that we should interpret it of those who were made captive by those who were indisposed to clemency, and who were severe and rigid in their treatment of their prisoners. The idea is, that it was difficult or almost impossible to rescue captives from such hands, and that therefore it was a matter of wonder and amazement that that could be accomplished which God here promises.
But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.
But thus saith the Lord - The meaning of this verse is, that however difficult or impracticable this might seem to be, yet it should be done. The captives taken by the terrible and the mighty should be rescued, and should be restored to their own land.
Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away - Margin, as Hebrew, 'The captivity of the mighty.' That which could not have been rescued by any ordinary means. The language here refers undoubtedly to Babylon, and to the captivity of the Jews there.
The prey of the terrible - Of a nation formidable, cruel, and not inclined to compassion; in the previous verse described as 'just,' that is, indisposed to mercy.
For I will contend with him - I will punish the nation that has inflicted these wrongs on thee, and will thus rescue thee from bondage.
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh - The language used here is that which appropriately describes the distresses resuiting from discord and internal strifes. Similar language occurs in Isaiah 9:20 (see the note on that verse). Their rage shall be excited against each other; and there shall be anarchy, internal discord, and the desire of mutual revenge. They shall destroy themselves by mutual conflicts, until they are gorged with slaughter, and drunk with blood.
And they shall be drunken with their own blood - A similar expression occurs in Revelation 16:6 : 'For they have shed the blood of the prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink.' This expression describes a state of internal strife, where blood would be profusely shed, and where it would be, as it were, the drink of those who were contending with each other. Grotius supposes that it refers to the conflicts between the Persians and the Medes, and those of the Medes and Persians with the Babylonians. Vitringa supposes it received its fulfillment in the contests which took place in the Roman empire, particularly during the reign of Diocletian, when so many rivals contended for the sovereignty. Perhaps, however, it is in vain to attempt to refer this to any single conflict, or state of anarchy. The language is general; and it may mean in general that God would guard and protect his people; and that in doing this, he would fill the ranks of his foes with confusion, and suffer them to be torn and distracted with internal strifes; and amidst those strifes, and by means of them, would secure the deliverance and safety of his own people. It has not unfrequently happened that he has suffered or caused discord to spring up among the enemies of his people, and distracted their counsels, and thus secured the safety and welfare of those whom they were opposing and persecuting.
As with sweet wine - Margin, 'New.' The Hebrew word (עסיס ‛âsiys) means 'must,' or new wine Joel 1:5; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13. The Septuagint renders it, Οῖνον νέον Oinon neon - 'New wine.' The 'must,' or new wine, was the pure juice which ran first after the grapes had been laid in a heap preparatory to pressure. The ancients had the art of preserving this for a long time, so as to retain its special flavor, and were in the habit of drinking it in the morning (see Hor. Sat. ii. 4). This had the intoxicating property very slightly, if at all; and Harmer (Obs. vol. ii. p. 151) supposes that the kind here meant was rather such as was used in 'royal palaces for its gratefulness,' which was capable of being kept to a great age. It is possible, I think, that there may be an allusion here to the fact that it required a 'large quantity of the must' or new wine to produce intoxication, and that the idea here is that a large quantity of blood would be shed.
And all flesh - The effect of all this shall be to diffuse the true religion throughout the world. The result of the contentions that shall be excited among the enemies of the people of God; of their civil wars and mutual slaughter; and of the consequent protection and defense of the people whom they were endeavoring to destroy, shall be to diffuse the true religion among the nations, and to bring all people to acknowledge that he who thus protects his church is the true and only God. It would be easy to show the fulfillment of this prediction from the records of the past, and from the efforts which have been made to destroy the church of God. But that would be foreign to the design of these notes. A very slight acquaintance with the repeated efforts to destroy the ancient people of God in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Babylon, and under Antiochus Epiphanes; with the early persecution of the Christians in Judea; with the successive persecutions in the Roman empire from the time of Nero to Diocletian; with the persecution of the Waldenses in Switserland; of the Huguenots in France; and of the Reformers in England, will be sufficient to convince anyone that God is the protector of the church, and that no weapons formed against her shall prosper. Her enemies shall be distracted in their counsels, and left to anarchy and overthrow; and the church shall rise resplendent from all their persecutions, and shall prosper ultimately just in proportion to their efforts to destroy it.