Isaiah 1:17
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Relieve the oppressed.—More accurately, correct the oppressor. The prophet calls on the rulers not merely to acts of benevolence, but to the courageous exercise of their authority to restrain the wrong-doing of the men of their own order. We are reminded of what Shakespeare says of Time, that it is his work—

“To wrong the wronger till he render right.”

(Rape of Lucrece.)

Judge the fatherless.—The words are still primarily addressed to men in office. They are told that they must be true to their calling, and that the “fatherless” and the “widow,” as the typical instances of the defenceless, ought to find an advocate in the judge.

1:16-20 Not only feel sorrow for the sin committed, but break off the practice. We must be doing, not stand idle. We must be doing the good the Lord our God requires. It is plain that the sacrifices of the law could not atone, even for outward national crimes. But, blessed be God, there is a Fountain opened, in which sinners of every age and rank may be cleansed. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, a deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption, and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression; though we have often dipped into sin, by many backslidings; yet pardoning mercy will take out the stain, Ps 51:7. They should have all the happiness and comfort they could desire. Life and death, good and evil, are set before us. O Lord, incline all of us to live to thy glory.Learn to do well - , To learn here is to become accustomed to, to practice it. To do well stands opposed to all kinds of evil. "Seek judgment." The word "judgment" - משׁפט mishpâṭ - here means justice. The direction refers particularly to magistrates, and it is evident that the prophet had them particularly in his view in all this discourse. Execute justice between man and man with impartiality. The word "seek" - דרשׁוּ dı̂reshû - means to pursue, to search for, as an object to be gained; to regard, or care for it, as the main thing. Instead of seeking gain, and bribes, and public favor, they were to make it an object of intense interest to do justice.

Relieve - - אשׁרוּ 'asherû - literally, make straight, Or right (margin, righten). The root - אשׁר 'âshar - means to proceed, to walk forward in a direct line; and bears a relation to ישׁר yâshar, to be straight. Hence, it often means to be successful or prosperous - to go straight forward to success. In Piel, which is the form used here, it means to cause to go straight; and hence, applied to leaders, judges, and guides, to conduct those under their care in a straight path, and not in the devices and crooked Ways of sin; Proverbs 23:19 :

Hear thou, my son, and he wise,

And guide אשׁר 'asher, "make straight") thine heart in the way.

The oppressed - Him to whom injustice has been done in regard to his character, person, or property; compare the notes at Isaiah 58:6.

Judge the fatherless - Do justice to him - vindicate his cause. Take not advantage of his weak and helpless, condition - his ignorance and want of experience. This charge was particularly necessary on account of the facilities which the guardians of orphans have to defraud or oppress, without danger of detection or punishment. Orphans have no experience. Parents are their natural protectors; and therefore God especially charged on their guardians to befriend and do justice to them; Deuteronomy 24:17 : 'Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor the fatherless, nor take the widow's raiment to pledge.'

Plead for - Contend for her rights. Aid her by vindicating her cause. She is unable to defend herself; she is liable to oppression; and her rights may be taken away by the crafty and designing. It is remarkable that God so often insists on this in the Scriptures, and makes it no small part of religion; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Exodus 22:22 : 'Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.' The ancient views of piety on this subject are expressed in the language, and in the conduct of Job. Thus, impiety was said to consist in oppressing the fatherless and widow.

They drive away the donkey of the fatherless,

They take the widow's ox for a pledge.

17. seek judgment—justice, as magistrates, instead of seeking bribes (Jer 22:3, 16).

judge—vindicate (Ps 68:5; Jas 1:27).

Learn to do well; begin and inure yourselves to live soberly, righteously, and godly.

Seek judgment; show your religion to God, by studying and practising justice to men, and neither give nor procure any unrighteous judgment.

Relieve the oppressed; be not only just, but merciful.

Judge the fatherless; defend and deliver them, as this word is used, Psalm 7:8,11 9:4, and oft elsewhere.

Plead for the widow; maintain the righteous cause of poor and helpless persons, against their unjust and potent adversaries; whereby you will show your love to justice and mercy, and that you fear God more than men. Learn to do well,.... Which men are naturally ignorant of; to do good they have no knowledge; nor can they that are accustomed to do evil learn to do well of themselves; but the Lord can teach them to profit, and of him they should ask wisdom, and desire, under the influence of his grace, to learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, and particularly to do acts of beneficence to all men, and especially to the household of faith; and also, the following ones,

seek judgment; seek to do justice between man and man in any cause depending, without respect of persons:

relieve the oppressed; the poor that are oppressed by their neighbours that are richer and mightier than they, right their wrongs, and deliver them out of the hands of their oppressors (i):

judge the fatherless; do justice to them who have none to take care of them, and defend them:

plead for the widow; that is desolate, and has none to plead her cause.

(i) Misn. Sabbat, c. 9. sect. 3. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 67. 1,

Learn to {z} do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

(z) This kind of reasoning by the second table, the scriptures use in many places against the hypocrites who pretend holiness and religion in word, but when charity and love for their brethren should appear they declare that they have neither faith nor religion.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. relieve the oppressed] E.V. seems here to follow the LXX. The Hebrew must be translated set right the oppressor (R.V. marg.)—restrain him within the bounds of justice.

fatherless … widow] those who have no natural protectors, and are always exposed to wrong when the administration of justice is weak or corrupt (cf. Isaiah 1:23; ch. Isaiah 10:2). To defend such is specially the duty of the judge, but it is also an obligation lying on every one who has influence in the community. The prophet addresses his hearers (“rulers” and “people” Isaiah 1:10) as members of the state; and his demand is that by “seeking judgment” they shall exercise the fundamental virtue of citizenship. The righteousness which he requires is social righteousness, iustitia civilis, a public life so ordered as to secure for each individual his personal rights. The prophets’ passion for justice is always inspired by a deep sense of the value of the human personality in the sight of God.Verse 17. - Learn to do well. Now comes the positive; first, in the general form" learn," etc.; which resembles the apostle's "Put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:12). Then follow the particulars. Seek judgment; or, seek out justice; i.e. endeavor to get justice done to all men; see that they "have right." Relieve the oppressed. So the LXX., the Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Chaldean Versions. But the word translated "oppressed" is thought by many to mean "oppressor" (Kimchi, Gesenius, Cheyne). This is certainly its meaning in Psalm 71:4. Translate, tighten the oppressor; i.e. correct and chasten him. Judge the fatherless; rather, do justice to the orphan (Cheyne); see that he is not wronged - be his champion. Plead for the widow; i.e. plead her cause in the courts; or, if judge, and she have no advocate, lean towards her, as if her advocate. The widow and the orphan were taken under God's special protection from the time of Moses, and constantly commended to the tender care of the righteous (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19, etc.). The prophet's address has here reached a resting-place. The fact that it is divided at this point into two separate sections, is indicated in the text by the space left between Isaiah 1:9 and Isaiah 1:10. This mode of marking larger or smaller sections, either by leaving spaces of by breaking off the line, is older than the vowel points and accents, and rests upon a tradition of the highest antiquity (Hupfeld, Gram. p. 86ff.). The space is called pizka; the section indicated by such a space, a closed parashah (sethumah); and the section indicated by breaking off the line, an open parashah (petuchah). The prophet stops as soon as he has affirmed, that nothing but the mercy of God has warded off from Israel the utter destruction which it so well deserved. He catches in spirit the remonstrances of his hearers. They would probably declare that the accusations which the prophet had brought against them were utterly groundless, and appeal to their scrupulous observance of the law of God. In reply to this self-vindication which he reads in the hearts of the accused, the prophet launches forth the accusations of God. In Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:11, he commences thus: "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye Sodom judges; give ear to the law of our God, O Gomorrah nation! What is the multitude of your slain-offerings to me? saith Jehovah. I am satiated with whole offerings of rams, and the fat of stalled calves; and blood of bullocks and sheep and he-goats I do not like." The second start in the prophet's address commences, like the first, with "hear" and "give ear." The summons to hear is addressed in this instances (as in the case of Isaiah's contemporary Micah, Micah 3:1-12) to the kezinim (from kâzâh, decidere, from which comes the Arabic el-Kadi, the judge, with the substantive termination in: see Jeshurun, p. 212 ss.), i.e., to the men of decisive authority, the rulers in the broadest sense, and to the people subject to them. It was through the mercy of God that Jerusalem was in existence still, for Jerusalem was "spiritually Sodom," as the Revelation (Revelation 11:8) distinctly affirms of Jerusalem, with evident allusion to this passage of Isaiah. Pride, lust of the flesh, and unmerciful conduct, were the leading sins of Sodom, according to Ezekiel 16:49; and of these, the rulers of Jerusalem, and the crowd that was subject to them and worthy of them, were equally guilty now. But they fancied that they could not possibly stand in such evil repute with God, inasmuch as they rendered outward satisfaction to the law. The prophet therefore called upon them to hear the law of the God of Israel, which he would announce to them: for the prophet was the appointed interpreter of the law, and prophecy the spirit of the law, and the prophetic institution the constant living presence of the true essence of the law bearing its own witness in Israel. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith Jehovah." The prophet intentionally uses the word יאמר, not אמר: this was the incessant appeal of God in relation to the spiritless, formal worship offered by the hypocritical, ceremonial righteousness of Israel (the future denoting continuous actions, which is ever at the same time both present and future). The multitude of zebâchim, i.e., animal sacrifices, had no worth at all to Him. As the whole worship is summed up here in one single act, zebâchim appears to denote the shelamim, peace-offerings (or better still, communion offerings), with which a meal was associated, after the style of a sacrificial festival, and Jehovah gave the worshipper a share in the sacrifice offered. It is better, however, to take zebâchim as the general name for all the bleeding sacrifices, which are then subdivided into 'oloth and Cheleb, as consisting partly of whole offerings, or offerings the whole of which was placed upon the altar, though in separate pieces, and entirely consumed, and partly of those sacrifices in which only the fat was consumed upon the altar, namely the sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, and pre-eminently the shelâmim offerings. Of the sacrificial animals mentioned, the bullocks (pârim) and fed beasts (meri'im, fattened calves) are species of oxen (bakar); and the lambs (Cebashim) and he-goats (atturim, young he-goats, as distinguished from se'ir, the old long-haired he-goat, the animal used as a sin-offering), together with the ram (ayil, the customary whole offering of the high priest, of the tribe prince, and of the nation generally on all the high feast days), were species of the flock. The blood of these sacrificial animals - such, for example, as the young oxen, sheep, and he-goats - was thrown all round the altar in the case of the whole offering, the peace-offering, and the trespass-offering; in that of the sin-offering it was smeared upon the horns of the altar, poured out at the foot of the altar, and in some instances sprinkled upon the walls of the altar, or against the vessels of the inner sanctuary. Of such offerings as these Jehovah was weary, and He wanted no more (the two perfects denote that which long has been and still is: Ges. 126, 3); in fact, He never had desired anything of the kind.
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