Isaiah 29:16
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) Surely your turning of things upside down.—The words are better taken as exclamatory, O your perversity! Isaiah was indignant at that habit of always taking things at their wrong end, and looking on them from the wrong side.

Shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay . . .—Better, Shall the potter be counted as the clay? The Authorised version is scarcely intelligible. Taken as a question, the words bring out the character of the perversity, the upside-downness, of which the prophet speaks. The men whom he condemns were inverting the relations of the Creator and the creature, the potter and the clay, acting practically as atheists, denying that there was a Divine order of which they formed a part.

29:9-16 The security of sinners in sinful ways, is cause for lamentation and wonder. The learned men, through prejudice, said that the Divine prophecies were obscure; and the poor urged their want of learning. The Bible is a sealed book to every man, learned or unlearned, till he begins to study it with a simple heart and a teachable spirit, that he may thence learn the truth and the will of God. To worship God, is to approach him. And if the heart be full of his love and fear, out of the abundance of it the mouth will speak; but there are many whose religion is lip-labour only. When they pretend to be speaking to God, they are thinking of a thousand foolish things. They worship the God of Israel according to their own devices. Numbers are only formal in worship. And their religion is only to comply with custom, and to serve their own interest. But the wanderings of mind, and defects in devotion, which are the believer's burden, are very different from the withdrawing of the heart from God, so severely blamed. And those who make religion no more than a pretence, to serve a turn, deceive themselves. And as those that quarrel with God, so those that think to conceal themselves from him, in effect charge him with folly. But all their perverse conduct shall be entirely done away.Surely your turning of things upside down - Your perversion of all things. They had no just views of truth. They deemed mere formality to be all that was required. They attempted to conceal their plans even from Yahweh; and everything in the opinions and practice of the nation had become perverted and erroneous. There has been much diversity in rendering this phrase. Luther renders it, 'O how perverse ye are.' Lowth renders it,

'Perverse as ye are! shall the potter be esteemed as the clay?'

Rosenmuller also accords with this interpretation, and renders it, 'O your perversity,' etc. The sense of the passage seems to be this: 'Your "changing of things" is just as absurd as it would be for the thing formed to say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? It is as absurd for you to find fault with the government of God as it would be for the clay to complain of want of skill in the potter. You complain of God's laws, and worship Him according to the commandments of people. You complain of his requirements, and offer to him the service of the mouth and the lip, and witchold the heart. You suppose that God does not see you, and do your deeds in darkness. All this supposes that God is destitute of wisdom, and cannot see what is done, and it is just as absurd as it would be in the clay to complain that the potter who fashions it has no understanding.'

Shall be esteemed ... - The "literal" translation of this passage would be, 'Your perverseness is as if the potter should be esteemed as the clay;' that is, as if he was no more qualified to form anything than the clay itself.

For shall the work ... - This passage is quoted by the apostle Paul Romans 9:20-21 to show the right which God has to do with his creatures as shall seem good in his sight, and the impropriety of complaining of his distinguishing mercy in choosing to life those whom he pleases. The sense of the passage is, that it would be absurd for that which is made to complain of the maker as having no intelligence, and no right to make it as he does. It would be absurd in the piece of pottery to complain of the potter as if he had no skill; and it is equally absurd in a man to complain of God, or to regard him as destitute of wisdom.

16. Rather, "Ah! your perverseness! just as if the potter should be esteemed as the clay!" [Maurer]. Or, "Ye invert (turn upside down) the order of things, putting yourselves instead of God," and vice versa, just as if the potter should be esteemed as the clay [Horsley], (Isa 45:9; 64:8). Your turning of things upside down; all your subtle devices, by which you turn yourselves into all shapes; and turn your thoughts hither and thither, and pervert the order which God hath appointed.

Shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay; it is no more to me than the clay is to the potter, who can not only discern it thoroughly, but alter and dispose it as he seeth fit.

Shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not, & c.? and no less absurd and ridiculous is your conceit, that I, your Maker and supreme Governor, cannot discover and control all your artifices at my pleasure. Surely your turning of things upside down,.... Revolving things in their minds, throwing them into different shapes, forming various schemes, and inverting the order of things by their deep counsels, and seeking to hide things from the Lord: or, "O the perverseness of you" (z); in imagining and saying that no eye saw, nor anyone knew, what they did, not the Lord himself. So the Vulgate Latin version, "this is your perverse thought"; namely, what is before related. The Targum is,

"do you seek to pervert your works?''

Our version joins it with what follows; though a stop should be made here, because of the accent:

shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: their perverse counsels and designs shall be made of no more account with God, and be as easily turned about and brought to nought, as the clay can be formed, and shaped, and marred by the potter, at his pleasure: "if" or "surely as the potter's clay shall it be esteemed", as the words may be rendered; or it may refer to their persons, as well as their counsels. So the Septuagint version, "shall ye not be reckoned as the potter's clay?" ye shall. To which agrees the Targum,

"behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter, so are ye accounted before me;''

who could do with them just as seemed good in his sight. De Dieu renders them, "shall the potter be reckoned as the clay?" Such was the stupidity and perverseness of the Jews, in endeavouring to hide their counsels from the Lord, and in fancying that he did not see and know them, that they thought God was like themselves; which is all one as if the potter was reckoned as the clay, for they were the clay, and God the potter. The Vulgate Latin version is, "as if the clay could think against the potter"; contrive schemes to counterwork him; which, to imagine, was not more stupid, than to think they could do anything against the Lord:

for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? to say that God does not know what is done by his creatures, is in effect to say that he did not make them; for he that made them must needs know their actions, and even the very thoughts of their hearts; as he that makes a watch knows all that is in it, and the motions of it:

or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? or judgment, did not know how to make it as it should be. So the Septuagint version, "thou hast not made me wisely"; or he did not understand the work itself, the make and fashion of it. So the Targum,

"thou does not understand me.''

This might as well be said, as for a creature to pretend that God does not know what and where he is, or what he is doing.

(z) So some in Gataker; "subversio vestra", Pagninus, Montanus.

Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed {o} as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing formed say of him that formed it, He had no understanding?

(o) For all your craft says the Lord, you are not able to escape my hands any more than the clay that is in the potter's hands has power to deliver itself.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16. Shall the creature attempt to outwit the Creator?

Surely your turning … clay] Render as R.V. marg.: O your perversity! Shall the potter be counted as clay? “Is there no difference between maker and thing made?” On the image of the clay and the potter, cf. ch. Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:21 ff.Verse 16. - Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay; rather, O for your perverseness! Shall the potter be reckoned as clay? They were so perverse and wrong-headed that they inverted the relation in which they stood to God and God to them. God was to be passive, or merely give opportunities of action, and they were to mould their own plans and carve out their own destinies. For shall the work say, etc.? rather, for the work saith. Taking their destinies into their own hands was equivalent to saying that they were their own masters, which they could not be if God made them. Shall the thing framed say, etc.? rather, yea, the thing formed hath said. To refuse to take counsel of God, and direct the national policy by the light of their own reason, was to tax God with having no understanding. This enigma of the future the prophet holds out before the eyes of his contemporaries. The prophet received it by revelation of Jehovah; and without the illumination of Jehovah it could not possibly be understood. The deep degradation of Ariel, the wonderful deliverance, the sudden elevation from the abyss to this lofty height - all this was a matter of faith. But this faith was just what the nation wanted, and therefore the understanding depending upon it was wanting also. The shemu‛âh was there, but the bı̄nâh was absent; and all שׁמועה הבין was wrecked on the obtuseness of the mass. The prophet, therefore, who had received the unhappy calling to harden his people, could not help exclaiming (Isaiah 29:9), "Stop, and stare; blind yourselves, and grow blind!" התמהמהּ, to show one's self delaying (from מההּ, according to Luzzatto the reflective of תּמהמהּ, an emphatic form which is never met with), is connected with the synonymous verb תּמהּ, to be stiff with astonishment; but to שׁעע, to be plastered up, i.e., incapable of seeing (cf., Isaiah 6:10), there is attached the hithpalpel of the same verb, signifying "to place one's self in such circumstances," se oblinere (differently, however, in Psalm 119:16, Psalm 119:47, compare Isaiah 11:8, se permulcere). They could not understand the word of God, but they were confused, and their eyes were, so to speak, festered up: therefore this self-induced condition would become to them a God-appointed punishment. The imperatives are judicial words of command.

This growth of the self-hardening into a judicial sentence of obduracy, is proclaimed still more fully by the prophet. "They are drunken, and not with wine; they reel, and not with meth. For Jehovah hath poured upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and bound up your eyes; the prophets and your heads, the seers, He has veiled. And the revelation of all this will be to you like words of a sealed writing, which they give to him who understands writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I cannot, it is sealed. And they give the writing to one who does not understand writing, saying, Pray, read this; but he says, I do not understand writing." They were drunken and stupid; not, however, merely because they gave themselves up to sensual intoxication (יין, dependent upon שׁכרוּ, ebrii vino), but because Jehovah had given them up to spiritual confusion and self-destruction. All the punishments of God are inflicted through the medium of His no less world-destroying than world-sustaining Spirit, which, although not willing what is evil, does make the evil called into existence by the creature the means of punishing evil. Tardēmâh is used here to signify the powerless, passive state of utter spiritual insensibility. This judgment had fallen upon the nation in all its members, even upon the eyes and heads of the nation, i.e., the prophets. Even they whose duty is was to see to the good of the nation, and lead it, were blind leaders of the blind; their eyes were fast shut (עצּם, the intensive form of the kal, Isaiah 33:15; Aram. עצּם; Talmud also עמּץ: to shut the eyes, or press them close), and over their heads a cover was drawn, as over sleepers in the night. Since the time of Koppe and Eichhorn it has become a usual thing to regard את־הנּביאים and החזים as a gloss, and indeed as a false one (compare Isaiah 9:13-14); but the reason assigned - namely, that Isaiah's polemics are directed not against the prophets, but against the stupid staring people - is utterly groundless (compare Isaiah 28:7, and the polemics of his contemporary Micah, e.g., Isaiah 3:5-8). Moreover, the author of a gloss would have been more likely to interpret ראשׁיכם by השּׂרים or הכּהנים (compare Job 9:24). And Isaiah 29:11, Isaiah 29:12 are also opposed to this assumption of a gloss. For by those who understood what was written (sēpher), it is evident that the prophets and rulers of the nation are intended; and by those who did not understand it, the great mass of the people. To both of them, "the vision of all," i.e., of all and everything that God had shown to His true prophets, was by the judgment of God completely sealed. Some of them might have an outward knowledge; but the inward understanding of the revelation was sealed to them. Some had not even this, but stared at the word of the prophet, just as a man who cannot read stares at what is written. The chethib has הסּפר; the keri ספר, though without any ground, since the article is merely generic. Instead of נא־זה קרא, we should write זה קרא־נא in both cases, as certain codices and old editions do.

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