Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
Thus saith the Lord - To the Jews in Babylon, who were suffering under his hand, and who might be disposed to complain that God had dealt with them with as much caprice and cruelty as a man did with his wife, when he gave her a writing of divorce, and put her away without any just cause.
Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement? - God here speaks of himself as the husband of his people, as having married the church to himself, denoting the tender affection which he had for his people. This figure is frequently used in the Bible. Thus in Isaiah 62:5 : 'As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee;' 'For thy Maker is thy husband' Isaiah 54:5; 'Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you' Jeremiah 3:14. Thus in Revelation 21:9, the church is called 'the bride, the Lamb's wife.' Compare Ezekiel 16:See Lowth on Hebrew poetry, Lec. xxxi. The phrase, 'bill of divorcement.' refers to the writing or instrument which a husband was by law obliged to give a wife when he chose to put her away. This custom of divorce Moses found probably in existence among the Jews, and also in surrounding nations, and as it was difficult if not impossible at once to remove it, he permitted it on account of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews (Deuteronomy 24:1; compare Matthew 19:8).
It originated probably from the erroneous views which then prevailed of the nature of the marriage compact. It was extensively regarded as substantially like any other compact, in which the wife became a purchase from her father, and of course as she had been purchased, the husband claimed the right of dismissing her when he pleased. Moses nowhere defines the causes for which a man might put away his wife, but left these to be judged of by the people themselves. But he regulated the way in which it might be done. He ordained a law which was designed to operate as a material check on the hasty feelings, the caprice, and the passions of the husband. He designed that it should be with him, if exercised, not a matter of mere excited feeling, but that he should take time to deliberate upon it; and hence, he ordained that in all cases a formal instrument of writing should be executed releasing the wife from the marriage tie, and leaving her at liberty to pursue her own inclinations in regard to future marriages Deuteronomy 24:2.
It is evident that this would operate very materially in favor of the wife, and in checking and restraining the excited passions of the husband (see Jahn's Bib. Antiq. Section 160; Michaelis' Commentary on the Laws of Moses, vol. i. pp. 450-478; ii.-127-40. Ed. Lond. 1814, 8vo.) In the passage before us, God says that he had not rejected his people. He had not been governed by the caprice, sudden passion, or cruelty which husbands often evinced. There was a just cause why he had treated them as he had, and he did not regard them as the children of a divorced wife. The phrase, 'your mother,' Here is used to denote the ancestry from whom they were descended. They were not regarded as the children of a disgraced mother.
Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you - Among the Hebrews, a father had the right, by the law of Moses, if he was oppressed with debt, to sell his children Exodus 21:7; Nehemiah 5:5. In like manner, if a man had stolen anything, and had nothing to make restitution, he might be sold for the theft Exodus 22:3. If a man also was poor and unable to pay his debts, he might be sold Leviticus 25:39; 2 Kings 4:1; Matthew 18:25. On the subject of slavery among the Hebrews, and the Mosaic laws in regard to it, see Michaelis' Commentary on the Laws of Moses, vol. ii. pp. 155, following In this passage, God says that he had not been governed by any such motives in his dealings with his people. He had not dealt with them as a poor parent sometimes felt himself under a necessity of doing, when he sold his children, or as a creditor did when a man was not able to pay him. He had been governed by different motives, and he had punished them only on account of their transgressions.
Ye have sold yourselves - That is, you have gone into captivity only on account of your sins. It has been your own act, and you have thus become bondmen to a foreign power only by your own choice.
Is your mother put away - Retaining the figure respecting divorce. The nation has been rejected, and suffered to go into exile, only on account of its transgressions.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? - That is, when I came to call you to repentance, why was there no man of the nation to yield obedience? The sense is, that they had not been punished without warning. He had called them to repentance, but no one heard his voice. The Chaldee renders this, 'Wherefore did I send my prophets, and they did not turn? They prophesied, but they did not attend.'
When I called, was there none to answer? - None obeyed, or regarded my voice. It was not, therefore, by his fault that they had been punished, but it was because they did not listen to the messengers which he had sent unto them.
Is my hand shortened at all? - The meaning of this is, that it was not because God was unable to save, that they had been thus punished. The hand, in the Scriptures, is an emblem of strength, as it is the instrument by which we accomplish our purposes. To shorten the hand, that is, to cut it off, is an emblem of diminishing, or destroying our ability to execute any purpose (see Isaiah 59:1). So in Numbers 11:23 : 'Is the Lord's hand waxed short?'
That it cannot redeem? - That it cannot rescue or deliver you. The idea is, that it was not because he was less able to save them than he had been in former times, that they were sold into captivity, and sighed in bondage.
Behold, at my rebuke - At my chiding - as a father rebukes a disobedient child, or as a man would rebuke an excited multitude. Similar language is used of the Saviour when he stilled the tempest on the sea of Gennesareth: 'Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm' Matthew 8:26. The reference here is, undoubtedly, to the fact that God dried up the Red Sea, or made a way for the children of Israel to pass through it. The idea is, that he who had power to perform such a stupendous miracle as that, had power also to deliver his people at any time, and that, therefore, it was for no want of power in him that the Jews were suffering in exile.
I make the rivers a wilderness - I dry up streams at pleasure, and have power even to make the bed of rivers, and all the country watered by them, a pathless, and an unfruitful desert.
Their fish stinketh - The waters leave them, and the fish die, and putrify. It is not uncommon in the East for large streams and even rivers thus to be dried up by the intense heat of the sun, and by being lost in the sand. Thus the river Barrady which flows through the fertile plain on which Damascus is situated, and which is divided into innumerable streams and canals to water the city and the gardens adjacent to it, after flowing to a short distance from the city is wholly lost - partly absorbed in the sands, and partly dried up by the intense rays of the sun (see Jones' 'Excursions to Jerusalem, Egypt, etc. ') The idea here is, that it was God who had power to dry up those streams, and that he who could do that, could save and vindicate his people.
I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
I clothe the heavens with blackness - With the dark clouds of a tempest - perhaps with an allusion to the remarkable clouds and tempests that encircled the brow of Sinai when he gave the law. Or possibly alluding to the thick darkness which he brought over the land of Egypt (Exodus 10:21; Grotius). In the previous verse, he had stated what he did on the earth, and referred to the exhibitions of his great power there. He here refers to the exhibition of his power in the sky; and the argument is, that he who had thus the power to spread darkness over the face of the sky, had power also to deliver his people.
I make sackcloth their covering - Alluding to the clouds. Sackcloth was a coarse and dark cloth which was usually worn as an emblem of mourning (see the note at Isaiah 3:24). The same image is used in Revelation 6:12 : 'And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair.' To say, therefore, that the heavens were clothed with sackcloth, is one of the most striking and impressive figures which can be conceived.
The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
The Lord God hath given me - This verse commences a new subject, and the deliverer is directly introduced as himself speaking. The reasons why this is supposed to refer to the Messiah, have been given in the analysis to the chapter. Those reasons will be strengthened by the examination of the particular expressions in the passage, and by showing, as we proceed in the exposition, in what way they are applicable to him. It will be assumed that the reference is to the Messiah; and we shall find that it is a most beautiful description of his character, and of some of the principal events of his life. This verse is designed to state how he was suited for the special work to which he was called. The whole endowment is traced to Yahweh. It was he who had called him; he who had given him the tongue of the learned, and he who had carefully and attentively qualified him for his work.
The tongue of the learned - Hebrew, 'The tongue of those who are instructed;' that is, of the eloquent; or the tongue of instruction (παιδείας paideias, Septuagint); that is, he has qualified me to instruct others. It does not mean human science or learning; nor does it mean that any other had been qualified as he was, or that there were any others who were learned like him. But it means that on the subject of religion he was eminently endowed with intelligence, and with eloquence. In regard to the Redeemer's power of instruction, the discourses which he delivered, as recorded in the New Testament, and especially his sermon on the mount, may be referred to. None on the subject of religion ever spake like him; none was ever so well qualified to instruct mankind (compare Matthew 13:54).
That I should know how to speak a word in season - The Hebrew here is, 'That I might know how to strengthen with a word the weary;' that is, that he might sustain, comfort, and refresh them by his promises and his counsels. How eminently he was suited to alleviate those who were heavy laden with sin and to comfort those who were burdened with calamities and trials, may be seen by the slightest reference to the New Testament, and the most partial acquaintance with his instructions and his life. The weary here are those who are burdened with a sense of guilt; who feel that they have no strength to bear up under the mighty load, and who therefore seek relief (see Matthew 11:28).
He wakeneth morning by morning - That is, he wakens me every morning early. The language is taken from an instructor who awakens his pupils early, in order that they may receive instruction. The idea is, that the Redeemer would be eminently endowed, under the divine instruction and guidance, for his work. He would be one who was, so to speak, in the school of God; and who would be qualified to impart instruction to others.
He wakeneth mine ear - To awaken the ear is to prepare one to receive instruction. The expressions, to open the ear, to uncover the ear, to awaken the ear, often occur in the Scriptures, in the sense of preparing to receive instruction, or of disposing to receive divine communications. The sense here is plain. The Messiah would be taught of God, and would be inclined to receive all that he imparted.
To hear as the learned - Many translate the phrase here 'as disciples,' that is, as those who are learning. So Lowth; 'With the attention of a learner.' So Noyes; 'In the manner of a disciple.' The Septuagint renders it, 'He has given me an ear to hear.' The idea is, probably, that he was attentive as they are who wish to learn; that is, as docile disciples. The figure is taken from a master who in the morning summons his pupils around him, and imparts instruction to them. And the doctrine which is taught is, that the Messiah would be eminently qualified, by divine teaching, to be the instructor of mankind. The Chaldee paraphrases this, 'Morning by morning, he anticipates (the dawn), that he may send his prophets, if perhaps they my open the ears of sinners, and receive instruction.'
The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
The Lord God hath opened mine ear - This is another expression denoting that he was attentive to the import of the divine commission (see Psalm 40:6).
And I was not rebellious - I willingly undertook the task of communicating the divine will to mankind. The statement here is in accordance with all that is said of the Messiah, that he was willing to come and do the will of God, and that whatever trials the work involved he was prepared to meet them (see Psalm 40:6-8; compare Hebrews 10:4-10).
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
I gave my back to the smiters - I submitted willingly to be scourged, or whipped. This is one of the parts of this chapter which can be applied to no other one but the Messiah. There is not the slightest evidence, whatever may be supposed to have been the probability, that Isaiah was subjected to any such trial as this, or that he was scourged in a public manner. Yet it was literally fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:26; compare Luke 18:33).
And my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair - literally, 'My cheeks to hose who pluck, or pull.' The word used here (מרט māraṭ) means properly to polish, to sharpen, to make smooth; then to make smooth the head, to make bald; that is, to pluck out the hair, or the beard. To do this was to offer the highest insult that could be imagined among the Orientals. The beard is suffered to grow long, and is regarded as a mark of honor. Nothing is regarded as more infamous than to cut it off (see 2 Samuel 10:4), or to pluck it out; and there is nothing which an Oriental will sooner resent than an insult offered to his beard. 'It is a custom among the Orientals, as well among the Greeks as among other nations, to cultivate the beard with the utmost care and solicitude, so that they regard it as the highest possible insult if a single hair of the beard is taken away by violence.' (William of Tyre, an eastern archbishop, Gesta Dei, p. 802, quoted in Harmer, vol. ii. p. 359.) It is customary to beg by the beard, and to swear by the beard. 'By your beard; by the life of your beard; God preserve your beard; God pour his blessings on your beard,' - are common expressions there. The Mahometans have such a respect for the board that they think it criminal to shave (Harmer, vol. ii. p. 360). The Septuagint renders this, 'I gave my cheeks to buffering' (εἰς ῥαπίσμα eis rapisma); that is, to being smitten with the open hand, which was literally fulfilled in the case of the Redeemer Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65. The general sense of this expression is, that he would be treated with the highest insult.
I hid not my face from shame and spitting - To spit on anyone was regarded among the Orientals, as it is everywhere else, as an expression of the highest insult and indignity Deuteronomy 25:9; Numbers 12:14; Job 30:10. Among the Orientals also it was regarded as an insult - as it should be everywhere - to spit in the presence of any person. Thus among the Medes, Herodotus (i. 99) says that Deioces ordained that, 'to spit in the king's presence, or in the presence of each other, was an act of indecency.' So also among the Arabians, it is regarded as an offence (Niebuhr's Travels, i. 57). Thus Monsieur d'Arvieux tells us (Voydans la Pal. p. 140) 'the Arabs are sometimes disposed to think, that when a person spits, it is done out of contempt; and that they never do it before their superiors' (Harmer, iv. 439). This act of the highest indignity was performed in reference to the Redeemer Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30; and this expression of their contempt he bore with the utmost meekness. This expression is one of the proofs that this entire passage refers to the Messiah. It is said Luke 17:32 that the prophecies should be fulfilled by his being spit upon, and yet there is no other prophecy of the Old Testament but this which contains such a prediction.
For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
For the Lord God will help me - That is, he will sustain me amidst all these expressions of contempt and scorn.
Shall I not be confounded - Hebrew, 'I shall not be ashamed;' that is, I will bear all this with the assurance of his favor and protection, and I will not blush to be thus treated in a cause so glorious, and which must finally triumph and prevail.
Therefore have I set my face like a flint - To harden the face, the brow, the forehead, might be used either in a bad or a good sense - in the former as denoting shamelessness or haughtiness (see the note at Isaiah 48:4); in the latter denoting courage, firmness, resolution. It is used in this sense here; and it means that the Messiah would be firm and resolute amidst all the contempt and scorn which he would meet, and would not shrink from any kind or degree of suffering which should be necessary to accomplish the great work in which he was engaged. A similar expression occurs in Ezekiel 3:8-9 : 'Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant, harder than a flint, have I made thy forehead; fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks.'
He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
He is near that justifieth me - That is, God, who will vindicate my character, and who approves what I do, does not leave nor forsake me, and I can with confidence commit myself and my cause to him (see the note at Isaiah 49:4). The word justify here is not used in the sense in which it is often in the Scriptures, to denote the act by which a sinner is justified before God, but in the proper, judicial sense, that he would declare him to be righteous; he would vindicate his character, and show him to be innocent. This was done by all the testimonies of God in his favor - by the voice which spake from heaven at his baptism - by the miracles which he performed, showing that he was commissioned and approved by God - by the fact that even Pilate was constrained to declare him innocent - by the wonders that attended his crucifixion, showing that 'he was a righteous man,' even in the view of the Roman centurion Luke 23:47, and by the fact that he was raised from the dead, and was taken to heaven, and placed at the right hand of the Father - thus showing that his whole work was approved by God, and furnishing the most ample vindication of his character from all the accusations of his foes.
Who will contend with me? - This question indicates confidence in God, and in the integrity of his own character. The language is taken from transactions in the courts of justice; and it is a solemn call, on any who would dare to oppose him, to enter into a trial, and allege the accusations against him before the tribunal of a holy God.
Let us stand together - Before the seat of judgment as in a court (compare the note at Isaiah 41:1).
Who is mine adversary? - Margin, 'Who is the master of my cause?' The Hebrew is 'Lord (בעל ba‛al) of judgment.' The expression means not merely one who has a lawsuit, or a cause, but one who is 'lord of the judgment,' i. e, possessor of the cause, or one who has a claim, and can demand that the judgment should be in his favor. And the call here is on any who should have such a claim to prefer against the Messiah; who should have any real ground of accusation against him; that is, it is an assertion of innocence.
Let him come near to me - Let him come and make his charges, and enter on the trial.
Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.
The Lord God will help me - (See Isaiah 50:7). In the Hebrew this is, 'The Lord Jehovah,' as it is in Isaiah 50:7 also, and these are among the places where our translators have improperly rendered the word יהוה yehovâh (Jehovah) by the word 'God.'
Who is he that shall condemn me? - If Yahweh is my advocate and friend, my cause must be right. Similar language is used by the apostle Paul: 'If God be for us, who can be against us?' Romans 8:31; and in Psalm 118:6 :
Jehovah is on my side; I will not fear:
What can man do unto me?
They all shall wax old - All my enemies shall pass away, as a garment is worn out and cast aside. The idea is, that the Messiah would survive all their attacks; his cause, his truth and his reputation would live, while all the power, the influence, the reputation of his adversaries, would vanish as a garment that is worn out and then thrown away. The same image respecting his enemies is used again in Isaiah 51:8.
The moth shall eat them up - The moth is a well known insect attached particularly to woolen clothes, and which soon consumes them (see the note at Job 4:19). In eastern countries, where wealth consisted much in changes of raiment, the depredations of the moth would be particularly to be feared, and hence, it is frequently referred to in the Bible. The sense here is, that the adversaries of the Messiah would be wholly destroyed.
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Who is among you that feareth the Lord? - This whole prophecy is concluded with an address made in this verse to the friends of God, and in the next to his enemies. It is the language of the Messiah, calling on the one class to put their trust in Yahweh, and threatening the other with displeasure and wrath. The exhortation in this verse is made in view of what is said in the previous verses. It is the entreaty of the Redeemer to all who love and fear God, and who may be placed in circumstances of trial and darkness as he was. to imitate his example, and not to rely on their own power, but to put their trust in the arm of Yahweh. he had done this Isaiah 50:7-9. He had been afflicted, persecuted, forsaken, by people Isaiah 50:6, and he had at that time confided in God and committed his cause to him; and he had never left or forsaken him. Encouraged by his example, he exhorts all others to cast themselves on the care of him who would defend a righteous cause.
That feareth the Lord - Who are worshippers of Yahweh.
That walketh in darkness - In a manner similar to the Messiah Isaiah 50:6. God's true people experience afflictions like others, and have often trials especially their own. They are sometimes in deep darkness of mind, and see no light. Comfort has forsaken them, and their days and nights are passed in gloom.
Let him trust in the name of the Lord - The Messiah had done this Isaiah 50:8-9, and he exhorts all others to do it. Doing this they would obtain divine assistance, and would find that he would never leave nor forsake them.
And stay upon his God - Lean upon him, as one does on a staff or other support. This may be regarded still as the language of the merciful Redeemer, appealing to his own example, and entreating all who are in like circumstances, to put their trust in God.
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire - This verse refers to the wicked. In the previous verse, the Messiah had called upon all the pious to put their trust in God, and it is there implied that they would do so. But it would not be so with the wicked. In times of darkness and calamity, instead of trusting in God they would confide in their own resources, and endeavor to kindle a light for themselves in which they might walk. But the result would be, that they would find no comfort, and would ultimately under his hand lie down in sorrow. The figure is continued from the previous verse. The pious who are in darkness wait patiently for the light which Yahweh shall kindle for them But not so with the wicked. They attempt to kindle a light for themselves, and to walk in that. The phrase, 'that kindle a fire,' refers to all the plans which people form with reference to their own salvation; all which they rely upon to guide them through the darkness of this world. It may include, therefore, all the schemes of human philosophy, of false religion, of paganism, of infidelity, deism, and self-righteousness; all dependence on our good works, our charities ties, and our prayers. All these are false lights which people enkindle, in order to guide themselves when they resolve to cast off God, to renounce his revelation, and to resist his spirit. It may have had a primary reference to the Jews, who so often rejected the divine guidance, and who relied so much on themselves; but it also includes all the plans which people devise to conduct themselves to heaven. The confidence of the pious Isaiah 50:10 is in the light of God; that of the wicked is in the light of people.
That compass yourselves about with sparks - There has been considerable variety in the interpretation of the word rendered here sparks (זיקות ziyqôth). It occurs nowhere else in the Bible, though the word זקים ziqqiym occurs in Proverbs 26:18, where it is rendered in the text 'firebrands,' and in the margin 'flames,' or 'sparks.' Gesenius supposes that these are different forms at the same word, and renders the word here, 'burning arrows, fiery darts.' The Vulgate renders it 'flames.' The Septuagint, φλογὶ phlogi - 'flame.' In the Syriac the word has the sense of lightning. Vitringa supposes it means 'faggots,' and that the sense is, that they encompass themselves with faggots, in order to make a great conflagration. Lowth renders it, very loosely, 'Who heap the fuel round about.' But it is probable that the common version has given the true sense, and that the reference is to human devices, which give no steady and clear light, but which may be compared with a spark struck from a flint. The idea probably is, that all human devices for salvation bear the same resemblance to the true plan proposed by God, which a momentary spark in the dark does to the clear shining of a bright light like that of the sun. If this is the sense, it is a most graphic and striking description of the nature of all the schemes by which the sinner hopes to save himself.
Walk in the light of your fire - That is, you will walk in that light. It is not a command as if he wished them to do it, but it is a declaration which is intended to direct their attention to the fact that if they did this they would lie down in sorrow. It is language such as we often use, as when we say to a young man, 'go on a little further in a career of dissipation, and you will bring yourself to poverty and shame and death.' Or as if we should say to a man near a precipice, 'go on a little further, and you wilt fall down and be dashed in pieces.' The essential idea is, that this course would lead to ruin. It is implied that they would walk on in this way, and be destroyed.
This shall ye have - As the result of this, you shall lie down in sorrow. Herder renders this:
One movement of my hand upon you,
And ye shall lie down in sorrow.
How simple and yet how sublime an expression is this! The Messiah but lifts his hand and the lights are quenched. His foes lie down sad and dejected, in darkness and sorrow. The idea is, that they would receive their doom from his hand, and that it would he as easy for him as is the uplifting or waving of the hand, to quench all their lights, and consign them to grief (compare Matthew 25)