Isaiah 45:19
I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek you me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(19) I have not spoken in secret.—The words are in marked contrast to the thought expressed in Isaiah 45:15. God had been all along revealing Himself, not like the oracles of the heathen, in the gloom of caves and darkened shrines (Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 65:4; Isaiah 29:4), but in the broad daylight of history and in the law written on men’s hearts. He had bidden men seek Him not in chaos, but in a world of order, and to recognise His utterances by their righteousness.

Isaiah

HIDDEN AND REVEALED

Isaiah 45:15
, Isaiah 45:19.

The former of these verses expresses the thoughts of the prophet in contemplating the close of a great work of God’s power which issues in the heathen’s coming to Israel and acknowledging God. He adores the depth of the divine counsels which, by devious ways and after long ages, have led to this bright result. And as he thinks of all the long-stretching preparations, all the apparently hostile forces which have been truly subsidiary, all the generations during which these Egyptian and Ethiopian tribes have been the enemies and oppressors of that Israel whom they at last acknowledge for the dwelling-place of God, and enemies of that Jehovah before whom they finally bow down, he feels that he has no measuring-line to fathom the divine purposes, and bows his face to the ground in reverent contemplation with that word upon his lips: ‘Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.’ It is a parallel to the apostolic words, ‘O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.’

But such thoughts are but a half truth, and may very easily become in men’s minds a whole error, and therefore they are followed by a marvellous section in which the Lord Himself speaks, and of which the whole burden is-the clearness and fulness with which God makes Himself known to men. True it is that there are depths inaccessible in the divine nature. True it is that there are mysteries unrevealed in the method of the divine procedure, and especially in that of the relation of heathen tribes to His gospel and His love. True it is that there are mysteries opened in the very word of His grace. But notwithstanding all this-it is also true that He makes Himself known to us all, that He declares righteousness, that He calls us to seek Him, and that He wills to be found and known by us.

The collocation of these two passages may be taken, then, as representing the two phases of the Divine Manifestation, the obscurity which must ever be associated with all our finite knowledge of God, and the clear sunlight in which blazes all that we need to know of Him.

I. After all revelation, God is hidden.

There is revelation of His Name in all His works. His action must be all self-manifestation. But after all it is obscure and hidden.

1. Nature hides while it reveals.

Nature’s revelation is unobtrusive.

God is concealed behind second causes.

God is concealed behind regular modes of working {laws}.

Nature’s revelation is partial, disclosing only a fragment of the name.

Nature’s revelation is ambiguous. Dark shadows of death and pain in the sensitive world, of ruin and convulsions, of shivered stars, seem to contradict the faith that all is very good; so that it has been possible for men to drop their plummet in the deep and say, ‘I find no God,’ and for others to fall into Manichaeism or some form or other of dualism.

2. Providence hides while it reveals.

That is the sphere in which men are most familiar with the idea of mystery.

There is much of which we do not see the issue. The process is not completed, and so the end is not visible.

Even when we believe that ‘to Him’ and ‘for good’ are ‘all things,’ we cannot tell how all will come circling round. We are like men looking only at one small segment of an ellipse which is very eccentric.

There is much of which we do not see the consistency with the divine character.

We are confronted with stumbling-blocks in the allotment of earthly conditions; in the long ages and many tribes which are without knowledge of God; in the sore sorrows, national and individual.

We can array a formidable host. But it is to be remembered that revelation actually increases these. It is just because we know so much of God that we feel them so keenly. I suppose the mysteries of the divine government trouble others outside the sphere of revelation but little. The darkness is made visible by the light.

3. Even in ‘grace’ God is hidden while revealed.

The Infinite and Eternal cannot be grasped by man.

The conception of infinity and eternity is given us by revelation, but it is not comprehended so that its contents are fully known. The words are known, but their full meaning is not, and no revelation can make them, known to finite intelligences.

God dwells in light inaccessible, which is darkness.

Revelation opens abysses down which we cannot look. It raises and leaves unsettled as many questions as it solves.

The telescope resolves many nebulae, but only to bring more unresolvable ones into the field of vision.

Now all this is but one side of the truth. There is a tendency in some minds to underrate what is plain because all is not plain. For some minds the obscure has a fascination, apart altogether from its nature, just because it is obscure. It is a noble emulation to press forward and ‘still to be closing up what we know not with what we know.’ But neither in science nor in religion shall we make progress if we do not take heed of the opposing errors of thinking that all is seen, and of thinking that what we have is valueless because there are gaps in it. The constellations are none the less bright nor immortal fires, though there be waste places in heaven where nothing but opaque blackness is seen. In these days it is especially needful to insist both on the incompleteness of all our religious knowledge, and to say that-

II. Notwithstanding all obscurity, God has amply revealed Himself.

Though God hides Himself, still there comes from heaven the voice-’I have not spoken in secret,’ Now these words contain these thoughts-

1. That whatever darkness there may be, there is none due to the manner of the revelation.

God has not spoken in secret, in a corner. There are no arbitrary difficulties made or unnecessary darkness left in His revelation. We have no right to say that He has left difficulties to test our faith. He Himself has never said so. He deals with us in good faith, doing all that can be done to enlighten, regard being had to still loftier considerations, to the freedom of the human will, to the laws which He has Himself imposed on our nature, and the purposes for which we are here. It is very important to grasp this. We have been told as much as can be told. Contrast with such a revelation the cave-muttered oracles of heathenism and their paltering double sense. Be sure that when God speaks, He speaks clearly and to all, and that in Christianity there is no esoteric teaching for a few initiated only, while the multitude are put off with shows.

2. That whatever obscurity there may be, there is none which hides the divine invitation or Him from those who obey it.

‘I have never said . . . seek ye Me in vain.’ Much is obscure if speculative completeness is looked for, but the moral relations of God and man are not obscure.

All which the heart needs is made known. His revelation is clearly His seeking us, and His revelation is His gracious call to us to seek Him. He is ever found by those who seek. They have not to press through obscurities to find Him, but the desire to possess must precede possession in spiritual matters. He is no hidden God, lurking in obscurity and only to be found by painful search. They who ‘seek’ Him know where to find Him, and seek because they know.

3. That whatever may be obscure, the Revelation of righteousness is clear.

We have to face speculative difficulties in plenty, but the great fact remains that in Revelation steady light is focussed on the moral qualities of the divine Nature and especially on His righteousness.

And the revelation of the divine righteousness reaches its greatest brightness, as that of all the divine Nature does, in the Person and work of Jesus. Very significantly the idea of God’s righteousness is fully developed in the immediately subsequent context. There we find that attribute linked in close and harmonious conjunction with what shallower thought is apt to regard as being in antagonism to it. He declares Himself to be ‘a just {righteous} God and a Saviour.’ So then, if we would rightly conceive of His righteousness, we must give it a wider extension than that of retributive justice or cold, inflexible aloofness from sinners. It impels God to be man’s saviour. And with similar enlarging of popular conceptions there follows: ‘In the Lord is righteousness and strength,’ and therefore, ‘In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified {declared and made righteous} and shall glory’-then, the divine Righteousness is communicative.

All these thoughts, germinal in the prophet’s words, are set in fullest light, and certified by the most heart-moving facts, in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He ‘declares at this time His righteousness, that He might Himself be righteous and the maker righteous of them that have faith in Jesus.’ Whatever is dark, this is clear, that ‘Jehovah our Righteousness’ has come to us in His Son, in whom seeking Him we shall never seek in vain, but ‘be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.’

If the great purpose of revelation is to make us know that God loves us, and has given us His Son that in Him we may know Him and possess His Righteousness, difficulties and obscurities in its form or in its substance take a very different aspect. What need we more than that knowledge and possession? Be not robbed of them.

Many things are not written in the book of the divine Revelation, whether it be that of Nature, of human history, or of our own spirits, or even of the Gospel, but these are written that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and believing, may have life in His name.Isaiah 45:19. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place, &c. — This is declared in opposition to the manner in which the heathen oracles gave their answers; which were generally delivered not only darkly and doubtfully, but from obscure cells and caverns of the earth: such was the seat of the Cumean Sibyl:

“Excisum Euboicæ latus ingens rupis in antrum.”

“A spacious cave within its farmost part Was hew’d, and fashion’d by laborious art:


Through the hill’s hollow sides —” VIRG. ÆN., 6:42.

Such was that of the famous oracle at Delphi: of which, says Strabo, lib. 9., “The oracle is said to be, αντρον κοιλον μετα βαθους, ου μαλα ευρυστομον, a hollow cavern of considerable depth, with an opening not very wide.” And Diodorus, giving an account of the same oracle, says, “There was in that place a great chasm, or cleft, in the earth; in which very place is situated what is called Adytum;” that is, the cavern, or hidden part of the temple. Jehovah, on the contrary, delivered his oracles to Israel publicly and plainly. I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain — Serve and worship me for naught. As I appointed them work, so from time to time I have given them abundant recompense. I Jehovah speak righteousness, &c. — That which I promise is true, and that which I command is just and good. I require nothing of my people but what is righteous in itself, and for their real advantage: whereas the idols, or their priests rather, command their worshippers to do many sinful and shameful things, even in their worship, as is most notorious. Bishop Lowth renders this clause, I am Jehovah, who speak truth, who give direct answers; observing, “This also is said in opposition to the false and ambiguous answers given by the heathen oracles; of which there are many noted examples.”45:11-19 Believers may ask in prayer for what they need; if for their good, it will not be withheld. But how common to hear God called to account for his dealings with man! Cyrus provided for the returning Jews. Those redeemed by Christ shall be provided for. The restoration would convince many, and convert some; and all that truly join the Lord, find his service perfect freedom. Though God be his people's God and Saviour, yet sometimes he lays them under his frowns; but let them wait upon the Lord who hides his face. There is a world without end; and it will be well or ill with us, according as it shall be with us in that world. The Lord we serve and trust, is God alone. All that God has said is plain, satisfactory, and just. As God in his word calls us to seek him, so he never denied believing prayers, nor disappointed believing expectations. He gives grace sufficient, and comfort and satisfaction of soul.I have not spoken in secret - The word rendered 'secret' (סתר sı̂ther) denotes a hiding, or covering; and the phrase here means secretly, privately. He did not imitate the pagan oracles by uttering his predictions from dark and deep caverns, and encompassed with the circumstances of awful mystery, and with designed obscurity.

In a dark place of the earth - From a cave, or dark recess, in the manner of the pagan oracles. The pagan responses were usually given from some dark cavern or recess, doubtless the bettcr to impress with awe the minds of those who consulted the oracles, and to make them more ready to credit the revelations of the fancied god. Such was the seat of the Sybil, mentioned by Virgil, AEn. vi. 4:

Excisum Euhoicae latus ingens rupis in antrum

Such also was the famous oracle at Delphi. Strobe (ix.) says, 'The oracle is said to be a hollow cavern of considerable depth, with an opening not very wide.' Diodorus, giving an account of this oracle, says, 'that there was in that place a great chasm, or cleft in the earth; in which very place is now situated what is called the Adytum of the temple.' In contradistinction from all this, God says that he had spoken openly, and without these circumstances of designed obscurity and darkness. In the language here, there is a remarkable resemblance to what the Saviour said of himself, and it is not improbable that he had this passage in his mind: 'I spoke openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing' John 18:20. A similar declaration occurs in Deuteronomy 30:11 : 'This commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.'

I said not to the seed of Jacob - The seed, or the race of Jacob, here means his people: and the idea is, that he had not commanded them to call upon him without his being ready to answer them.

Seek ye me in vain - The phrase, 'seek ye,' may refer to worship in general; or more properly to their calling upon him in times of calamity and trial. The sense is, that it had not been a vain or useless thing for them to serve him; that he had been their protector, and their friend; and that they had not gone to him, and spread out their needs for nothing. It is still true, that God does not command his people to seek him in vain (compare Deuteronomy 32:47). His service is always attended with a rich blessing to them; and they are his witnesses that he confers on them inexpressibly great and valuable rewards. It follows from this - first, that his people have abundant encouragement to go to him in all times of trial, persecution, and affliction; secondly, that they have encouragement to go to him in a low state of religion, to confess their sins, to supplicate his mercy, and to pray for the influences of his Holy Spirit, and the revival of his work; and, thirdly, that the service of God is always attended with rich reward. Idols do not benefit those wire serve them. The pursuit of pleasure, gain, and ambition, is often attended with no reward, and is never attended with any benefits that satisfy the needs of the undying mind; but the service of God meets all the needs of the soul; fills all its desires, and confers permanent and eternal rewards.

I the Lord speak righteousness - This stands in opposition to the pagan oracles, which often gave false, delusive, and unjust responses. But not so with God. He had not spoken, as they did, from deep and dark plates - fit emblems of the obscurity of their answers; he had not, as they had, commanded a service that was unprofitable and vain; and he had not, as they had, uttered oracles which were untrue and fitted to delude.

I declare things that are right - Lowth renders this, 'Who give direct answers;' and supposes it refers to the fact, that the pagan oracles often give ambiguous and deceitful responses. God never deceived. His responses were always true and unambiguous.

19. not … secret—not like the heathen oracles which gave their responses from dark caverns, with studied obscurity (Isa 48:16). Christ plainly quotes these words, thereby identifying Himself with Jehovah (Joh 18:20).

I said not … Seek … in vain—When I commanded you to seek Me (Jehovah did so, Isa 45:11, "Ask Me," &c.), it was not in order that ye might be sent empty away (De 32:47). Especially in Israel's time of trial, God's interposition, in behalf of Zion hereafter, is expressly stated as about to be the answer to prayer (Isa 62:6, 7-10; Ps 102:13-17, 19-21). So in the case of all believers, the spiritual Israel.

righteousness—that which is veracious: not in the equivocal terms of heathen responses, fitly symbolized by the "dark places" from which they were uttered.

right—true (see on [813]Isa 41:26).

I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: the heathen idols deliver their oracles darkly and doubtfully, in obscure cells and caverns of the earth, or out of the bellies of their priests; but I have delivered my oracles to Israel publicly and plainly, as one that was neither afraid nor ashamed to utter my mind, lest I should be convinced of folly and falsehood; which was the case of idols.

Seek ye me in vain; serve and worship me for nought. As I appointed them work, so I promised, and from time to time have given, and shall give, them abundant recompence for their service; whereas the Gentiles seek to their idols in vain, for they can do them no good, as is observed in the next verse.

I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right; I require nothing of my people which is not highly just and good; whereas the idols commanded their worshippers to do many sinful and shameful things, even in their worship, as is notoriously known. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth,.... In a private whisper, in a muttering manner, and out of the belly, as the Heathen priests did; and from out of cells, dens, and caverns of the earth, from whence the oracles of Heathen deities were delivered; but in a free, open, clear, and public manner, before multitudes, in the face of all men, or where there was a great concourse of people: so Christ delivered the law on Mount Sinai, in an audible manner, attended with a multitude of angels, and before all the people; and when here on earth he said nothing in secret, but openly to the world, in the synagogues and temple of the Jews, where they resorted in great numbers, John 18:20 and ordered his disciples also to publish on the housetops what they heard with their ears, Matthew 10:27,

I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain; that is, he never suffered the seed of Jacob, Israelites indeed, praying Jacobs and prevailing Israels, the true worshippers of him, to seek him in vain; to pray unto and worship him to no purpose, or without fruit to themselves; for all such who seek him early and earnestly, heartily and diligently, and where he may be found, always find him; he receives them, and not rejects them; and they receive that from him which is worth seeking after, and amply rewards all their trouble. The Targum is,

"nor have I said to the seed of the house of Jacob in vain, seek my fear:''

I the Lord speak righteousness; the word of righteousness, the doctrine of justification by his own righteousness; that which he wrought out by his obedience, sufferings, and death, he declared and brought near in the ministry of the word; see Isaiah 46:13. The Targum renders it, "truth"; grace and truth came by Christ, John 1:17,

I declare things that are right; according to right reason, agreeably to the word of God, both law and Gospel, fit for men to receive, and what made for his own and his Father's glory; see Proverbs 8:6.

I have not spoken in secret, {x} in a dark place of the earth: I have not said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

(x) As do the false gods, who give uncertain answers.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
19. The same character of goodwill to men is manifest in the manner of Jehovah’s revelation to Israel. It has been intelligible, explicit, and (if the word may be used) candid.

in a dark place of the earth] R.V. in a place of the land of darkness. It is doubtful if there is any direct allusion to the oracles of heathenism, which had frequently to be sought in caves and deserts. The “land of darkness” might be the under-world, from which dubious oracles were obtained by necromancy and other magical arts (ch. Isaiah 8:19; 1 Samuel 28:7 ff.). But the sense is perhaps sufficiently explained (in accordance with what follows) by Jeremiah 2:31 : “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel, a land of darkness?” Jehovah’s revelation has not been like a dark, trackless desert, but a light in which men might walk towards an assured goal.

I said not … Seek ye me in vain] Lit. in chaos (tôhû, as Isaiah 45:18), i.e. without definite guidance and without hope of result. When Jehovah said, “Seek me,” He meant that He should be found (Jeremiah 29:13); in other words He has dealt openly and frankly with His people. It is this quality of revelation that is denoted by the word righteousness in the last line of the verse. It is used in its ethical sense of “trust-worthiness” or straightforwardness,—perfect correspondence between deeds and words.

things that are right] uprightness. The plural, as always in this word, expresses the abstract idea (see ch. Isaiah 26:7).Verse 19. - I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; literally, in a place of the land of darkness. Jehovah's oracles have not been given, like those of the necromancers, or those of the heathen gods, in dark places of the earth - caves like that of Trophonius (Pansan., 9:29, § 2), or the inmost recesses (adyta) of temples; but openly on Sinai, or by the mouth of prophets who proclaimed his words to all Israel (romp. Dent. 30:11-14, "This commandment which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off... . But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it"). So our Lord says of his own teaching, "I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20). Seek ye me in vain; rather, seek ye me as a chaos (romp. Jeremiah 2:31, where God says to his people, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?"). God has no more revealed himself to his people as chaotic, confused, disordered, than he has presented the world to them in this condition.! the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. There is an allusion to the crooked and ambiguous utterances of the heathen oracles, which rarely gave direct answers or plainly expressed any definite meaning. God in his utterances never diverges from the straight line of righteousness and truth (comp. Proverbs 8:6). He who created all things, and called all things into existence, had also raised up this Cyrus, whose victorious career had increased the anxieties and fears of the exiles, instead of leading them to lift up their heads, because their redemption was drawing nigh. "I, I have raised him up in righteousness, and all his ways shall I make smooth: He will build my city, and release my banished ones, not for price nor for reward, saith Jehovah of hosts." All the anxieties of the exiles are calmed by the words "in righteousness," which trace back the revolutions that Cyrus was causing to the righteousness of Jehovah, i.e., to His interposition, which was determined by love alone, and tended directly to the salvation of His people, and in reality to that of all nations. And they are fully quieted by the promise, which is now expressed in the clearest and most unequivocal words, that Cyrus would build up Jerusalem again, and set the captivity free (gâlūth, as in Isaiah 20:4), and that without redemption with money (Isaiah 52:3) - a clear proof that Jehovah had not only raised up Cyrus himself, but had put his spirit within him, i.e., had stirred up within him the resolution to do this (see the conclusion to the books of Chronicles, and the introduction to that of Ezra). This closes the first half of our sixth prophecy.
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