Isaiah 54:11
O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) I will lay thy stones with fair colours.—The first germ of the idealising symbolism of the new Jerusalem. The language of Tobit 13:16-17, shows the impression which it made on the Jews of the captivity. It takes its highest form, excluding all thoughts of a literal fulfilment, in Revelation 21:19-21. The Hebrew word for “fair colours” indicates the kohl, the black powder of antimony, or manganese, used by women in the East on eyelids and eyebrows, so as to enhance the brilliancy of the eyes. (2Kings 9:30, 1Chronicles 29:2, Jeremiah 4:30.) Here, apparently, it is used in the same way as the setting of the sapphires and other gems. For “windows” read pinnacles.

Sapphires . . .—As with the choice of the twelve gems for the High Priest’s breast-plate, it is probable that each stone, over and above its visible beauty, had a symbolical significance. Sapphire, e.g., represented the azure of the firmament, as the “sapphire throne” of the Eternal (Exodus 24:10, Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1), and the rubies (not “agates”) and carbuncles may, in like manner, have answered to the fiery glow of the Divine love and the Divine wrath.

Isaiah 54:11-12. O thou afflicted, &c. — O thou, my church, which hast been in a most afflicted and comfortless condition; behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, &c. — I will make thee exceedingly beautiful and pure, stable and glorious. For, as Bishop Lowth justly observes, “these seem to be general images to express beauty, magnificence, purity, strength, and solidity, agreeably to the ideas of the eastern nations; and to have never been intended to be strictly scrutinized, or minutely and particularly explained, as if they had each of them some precise moral or spiritual meaning. Tobit, in his prophecy of the final restoration of Israel, (Tob 13:16-17,) describes the New Jerusalem in the same oriental manner. ‘For Jerusalem shall be built up with sapphires, and emeralds, and precious stones; thy walls, and towers, and battlements, with pure gold; and the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl, and carbuncle, and stones of Ophir.’” It must be well observed, however, that it is not any external pomp or worldly glory that is intended to be set forth in these verses, as is evident from many parts of Scripture, which assure us that Christ’s kingdom is of another nature, and that the outward condition of God’s church is, and, for the most part, will be, mean and afflicted in this world: but it is of a spiritual beauty and glory that these things are spoken, consisting in a plentiful effusion of excellent gifts, graces, and comforts upon the church, which, however, will be followed with eternal glory in heaven. We have a similar description of the church’s glory Revelation 21:11, &c. I will make thy windows of agates — Hebrew, כדכד, “lapis pretiosus quasi scintillans dictus,” says Buxtorf; a precious stone, so called from its sparkling. One kind of these stones, according to Pliny, was transparent like glass. But some render the word crystal; and the LXX., and some others of the ancients, translate it jasper. The truth is, the proper signification of the Hebrew names of precious stones is not perfectly known to the Jews themselves. It may suffice us to know that this was some very clear, transparent, and probably sparkling precious stone. And all thy borders — The utmost parts or walls, of pleasant stones. The church is here evidently compared to a building, whose foundation, pavement, gates, and windows are all named.54:11-17 Let the people of God, when afflicted and tossed, think they hear God speaking comfortably to them by these words, taking notice of their griefs and fears. The church is all glorious when full of the knowledge of God; for none teaches like him. It is a promise of the teaching and gifts of the Holy Spirit. All that are taught of God are taught to love one another. This seems to relate especially to the glorious times to succeed the tribulations of the church. Holiness, more than any thing, is the beauty of the church. God promises protection. There shall be no fears within; there shall be no fightings without. Military men value themselves on their splendid titles, but God calls them, Wasters made to destroy, for they make wasting and destruction their business. He created them, therefore he will serve his own designs by them. The day is coming when God will reckon with wicked men for their hard speeches, Jude 1:15. Security and final victory are the heritage of each faithful servant of the Lord. The righteousness by which they are justified, and the grace by which they are sanctified, are the gift of God, and the effect of his special love. Let us beseech him to sanctify our souls, and to employ us in his service.O thou afflicted - In the previous verses, Yahweh had merely promised protection, and had in general terms assured them of his favor. Here he shows that they should not only be defended, but that his church would rise with great beauty, and be ornamented like a most splendid palace or temple. This is to be regarded as addressed primarily to the exiles in Babylon near to the close of their seventy years' captivity. But nothing forbids us to apply it to the church in all similar circumstances when persecuted, and when she is like a ship rolling on the heaving billows of the ocean.

Tossed with tempest - Lowth, 'Beaten with the storm.' The idea is that of a ship that is driven by the tempest; or any object that is tossed about with a whirlwind (סערה so‛ărâh). See Jonah 1:11-13; Hosea 13:3; Hebrews 3:14. The figure is especially striking in an Oriental country. Tempests and whirlwinds there, are much more violent than they are with us, and nothing there can stand before them (see Harmer's Obs. vol. i. p. 92ff Ed. Loud. 1808).

And not comforted - They were far away from all the comforts which they had enjoyed in their own land, and they were apparently forsaken by God.

Behold, I will lay thy stones - It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to compare the prosperity of the church to a splendid temple or palace. In the book of Tobit (Tobit 13:16, 17) a description of Jerusalem occurs, which has all the appearance of having been copied from this, or at least shows that the writer had this passage in his eye. 'For Jerusalem shall be built up with sapphires, and emeralds, and precious stones; thy walls, and battlements, and towers, of pure gold. And the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl, and carbuncle, and stones of Ophir.' And in the book of Revelation Rev 21:18-21, a similar description occurs of the New Jerusalem. Possibly John had his eye upon this passage in Isaiah, though he has greatly amplified the description. The passage here undoubtedly contains a figurative description of the future prosperity and glory of the church of God. Lowth remarks on it, justly, 'These seem to be general images to express beauty, magnificence, purity, strength, and solidity, agreeably to the ideas of eastern nations; and to have never been intended to be strictly scrutinized or minutely and particularly explained, as if they had each of them some precise moral and spiritual meaning.' The phrase 'I will lay thy stones,' refers to the work of masonry in laying down the foundation of a building, or the stones of which a building is composed, in mortar or cement. Literally, 'I cause to lie down.' The word here used (רבץ râbâts) is usually appropriated to an animal that crouches or lies down.

With fair colors - This translation by no means conveys the idea of the original. The sense is not that the stones would have fair colors, but that the cement which would be used would be that which was commonly employed to make the most valued colors. The edifice which would be reared would be as costly and magnificent as if the very cement of the stones consisted of the most precious coloring matter; the purest vermilion. The word rendered here 'fair colors' (פוך pûk) denotes properly, seaweed, from which an alkaline paint was prepared; then paint itself, dye, fucus, and also that with which the Hebrew women tinged their eyelashes (stibium). This is composed of the powder of lead ore, and was drawn with a small wooden bodkin through the eyelids, and tinged the hair and the edges of the eyelids with a dark sooty color, and was esteemed to be a graceful ornament. This practice is of great antiquity.

It was practiced by Jezebel (see 2 Kings 9:30, where the same word is used as here); it was practiced among the Greeks and Romans (Xen. Cyr. i. 11); and it is still practiced in Africa (see Shaw's Travels, pp. 294, 295). The word used here is rendered 'paint,' or 'painted' 2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 22:14; and 'glistening stones' 1 Chronicles 29:2. It does not occur elsewhere. In the passage in Chronicles it may mean the carbuncle, as it is rendered here by the Septuagint, (ἄνθρακα anthraka); but it here denotes, doubtless, the valued paint or dye which was used as an ornament. The description here is that the very stones should be laid in cement of this description, and is of course equivalent to saying that it would be in the most costly and magnificent manner. It may be added, however, that it would not be the mere fact that the stibium would constitute the cement that the prophet seems to refer to, but probably he also means to intimate that this would contribute greatly to the beauty of the city. The cement in which bricks or stones is laid in a building is partly visible, and the beauty of the structure would be augmented by having that which was regarded as constituting the highest ornament used for cement.

And thy foundations with sapphires - The sapphire is a well-known gem distinguished for its beauty and splendor. In hardness it is inferior to the diamond only. Its colors are blue, red, violet, green, white, or limpid.

11. not comforted—by anyone; none gave her help or comfort.

lay … with fair colours—rather, "lay … in cement of vermilion" [Lowth]. The Hebrew for "fair colors" means stibium, the paint with which Eastern women painted their eyelids and eyelashes (2Ki 9:30). The very cement shall be of the most beautiful color (Re 21:18-21).

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempests, and not comforted; O thou my poor church, \vho hast frequently been, and wilt again and again be, in a most afflicted and comfortless condition for a time, be not discouraged thereby.

I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; I will make thee exceeding beautiful and glorious. Which yet is not to be understood of outward pomp and worldly glory, as is evident from many places of Scripture, which assure us that Christ’s kingdom is of another nature, and that the external condition of God’s church is, and for the most part will be, mean and calamitous in this world; but of a spiritual beauty and glory, consisting in the plentiful effusion of excellent gifts, and graces, and comforts; although these shall be followed with eternal glory in heaven. See the like description of the church’s glory, Revelation 21:11, &c. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempests, and not comforted,.... Or, "O thou poor" (s) church; for the first Christian churches chiefly consisted of poor persons, not many mighty and noble being called; and which were greatly "afflicted" with false teachers, who broached errors and heresies, and made schisms among them; and "tossed with tempests" like a ship at sea; or "stormed" (t) with the rage and fury of violent persecutors, such as the Roman emperors were; and not "comforted", having none to administer any external comfort or relief to them; none of the kings or princes of the earth, or any civil magistrate to protect and defend them; what comfort they had was internal and spiritual; what they had from Christ and his Spirit, and by the word and ordinances; or rather this may describe the state of the church under Papal tyranny and persecution, which brings it nearer to the times of peace and prosperity after promised:

behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours; or, "with paint" (u); such as women used to paint their faces or eyes with, 2 Kings 9:30. The Targum is,

"behold, I will lay with paint the stones of thy pavement;''

and the words seem plainly to design the stones of a pavement, and perhaps by an hypallage or transposition may be rendered,

I will lay thy pavement with glistering stones; so the word is translated 1 Chronicles 29:2 or, "with stones of paint" (w); which are of the colour of the "stibium", or paint before mentioned, and which was of a black colour; and Aben Ezra says the word here signifies a precious stone of a black colour; perhaps black marble is meant, a stone fit for pavements; but, be these stones what they will, they design in the spiritual sense the materials of a Gospel church, those "lively stones" which

are built up a spiritual house, and which are beautified with the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God; and may also denote that the lowest and meanest of the Lord's people, pointed out by stones of the pavement, should be thus adorned:

and lay thy foundations with sapphires; a precious stone of a white colour, according to R. Saadiah Gaon; but, according to Aben Ezra, of a red colour; though the sapphire is usually said to be of a sky colour, shining with specks of gold. The Targum renders it, "with precious stones"; and so the foundation of the wall of the New Jerusalem is said to be garnished with all manner of precious stones, Revelation 21:19, this may respect Christ, the sure foundation God has laid in Zion, the foundation of the apostles and prophets; the one and only foundation of the church of Christ, and all true believers, who is more precious than sapphires, or all the most precious stones; he always has been the foundation of his church in all ages; but the meaning is, that he shall now appear most clearly and manifestly to be the foundation, and to be a firm, rich, and glorious one; see Exodus 24:10.

(s) V. L. Munster, Pagninus; "O paupercula", Tigurine version; "inops", Cocceius. (t) "tempestate obruta"; Munster, Vatablus, Forerius. (u) "in fuco", Tigurine version; "in stibio", Sanctius. (w) "Stibinis lapidibus", Forerius.

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with {k} fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

(k) By this he declares the excellent estate of the Church under Christ.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11, 12. The outward splendour of the new Jerusalem described in highly figurative language; comp. Tob 13:16-17; Revelation 21:18-21.

I will lay thy stones with fair colours] lit. in antimony (R.V. marg.). Antimony (pûkh) was used by Oriental females as an eye-powder to blacken the edges of the eyelids and enhance the lustre of the eyes (2 Kings 9:30; Jeremiah 4:30; comp. the name of Job’s third daughter, Keren-hap-pukh, ‘horn of eye-powder,’ Job 42:14. see further Lane, Manners and Customs, &c. ed. 1890, pp. 29 ff.). In the figure the antimony would represent the costly mortar used to set off the brilliancy of the still more costly stones. The ἄνθρακα of the LXX. seems to stand for נפך (instead of פוך), a kind of precious stone; see Exodus 28:18 &c. In 1 Chronicles 29:2, where we read of “stones of pûkh” (R.V. “stones for inlaid work”) prepared for the Temple, the idea must be different; but whether that passage has any connexion with the present image is doubtful.

I will lay thy foundations (lit. “I will found thee”) with sapphires] Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:26.Verses 11-17. - THE GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM, AND THE HAPPINESS OF ITS INHABITANTS. Hitherto Israel has been addressed; now the direct object of address is Jerusalem. The eye of the prophet passes, however, with a glance, from the actual present to the far-distant future, and sees the Zion of God in her heavenly setting, all bedecked with precious stones, as she was seen by the exile of Patmos more than seven centuries later (Revelation 21:16-21). After briefly describing the heavenly city, he passes to her inhabitants, and promises them peace, protection, and righteousness. Verse 11. - O thou afflicted (comp. Isaiah 49:14-17). Jerusalem is seen as she was during the Captivity - "afflicted" by God's hand, vexed with all his storms, and not yet comforted (Comp. Isaiah 64:10, 11). Then a fresh vision obliterates the mournful sight. I will lay thy stones with fair colours; literally, I will lay thy stones in antimony; i.e. I will give them a setting and adornment like that which beautiful women were in the habit of giving to their eyes when they wished to attract admiration (see 2 Kings 9:30). Puk, or antimony, was used to stain both the upper and the under eyelid, in order to increase the apparent lustre of the eye, and so impart to it greater beauty. The passage is not to be understood as implying that coloured marbles were ever really set in antimony. And lay thy foundations with sapphires; or, make thy foundations of sapphires. In Revelation the first foundation is "jasper," the second "sapphire" (Revelation 21:19). Sapphire was the foundation on which the throne of God appeared to be set, when it was seen by Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders (Exodus 24:10). The throne itself had the appearance of sapphire, as seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1). Sapphire is the hue of heaven. It was no real widowhood, however, but only an apparent one (Jeremiah 51:5), for the husband of Jerusalem was living still, "For thy husband is thy Creator; Jehovah of hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; God of the whole earth is He called." The plurals בעליך and עשׂיך (see at Isaiah 22:11) are to be explained from the plural 'Elōhı̄m, which is connected with plural attributes in Joshua 24:19; 1 Samuel 17:26, Psalm 58:12 (compare מרימיו in Isaiah 10:15), and with plural predicates in Genesis 20:13; Genesis 35:7, and 2 Samuel 7:23. By such expressions as these, which represent all the plurality of the divine nature as inherent in the One, the religion of revelation, both Israelitish and Christian, exhibits itself as embodying all that is true in polytheism. He who has entered into the relation of husband to Jerusalem (בעליך, not בעליך, Isaiah 1:3) is the very same through whom she first came into existence, the God whose bidding the heavenly hosts obey; and the Redeemer of Jerusalem, the Holy One of Israel, is called the God of the whole earth, and therefore has both the power and the means to help her, as prompted by the relation of love which exists between them.
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