After mentioning the removal of righteous persons as an awful symptom of the approach of Divine judgments, Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 57:2, the prophet goes on to charge the nation in general with idolatry, and with courting the unprofitable alliance of idolatrous kings, Isaiah 57:3-12. In opposition to such vain confidence, the prophet enjoins trust in God, with whom the penitent and humble are sure to find acceptance, and from whom they should obtain temporal and spiritual deliverances, Isaiah 57:13-19. Awful condition of the wicked and finally impenitent, Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21.
I shall give Bishop Lowth's translation of the two first verses, and give the substance of his criticisms with additional evidence.
Isaiah 57:1. The righteous man perisheth, and no one considereth;And pious men are taken away, and no one understandeth,That the righteous man is taken away because of the evil.
Isaiah 57:2. He shall go in peace: he shall rest in his bed;Even the perfect man: he that walketh in the straight path.
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.The righteous perisheth - הצדק אבד hatstsadik abad. There is an emphasis here which seems intended to point out a particular person. See below. Perisheth - As the root אבד abad signifies the straying of cattle, their passing away from one pasture to another, I feel inclined to follow the grammatical meaning of the word "perish," pereo. So the Vulgate, justus periit, from per, By or Through, and eo, to Go. In his death the righteous man may be said to have passed through life, and to have passed by men, i.e., gone or passed before them into the eternal world. A similar mode of speech is used by our Saxon ancestors to express death: he went out of sight; and he went away; and to fare forth, to die.
There are very few places in Isaiah where Jesus Christ is not intended; and I am inclined to think that He is intended here, That Just One; and perhaps Stephen had this place in view, when he thus charged the Jews, "Ye denied τον ἁγιον και δικαιον, that Holy and Just One," Acts 3:14. That his death was not laid to heart by the wicked Jewish people, needs no proof.
Merciful men - If the first refers to Christ, this may well refer to the apostles. and to others of the primitive Christians, who were taken away, some by death and martyrdom, and others by a providential escape from the city that they knew was devoted to destruction.
The evil to come - That destruction which was to come upon this disobedient people by the Romans.
He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.He shalt enter into peace "He shall go in peace" - יבוא שלום yabo shalom; the expression is elliptical, such as the prophet frequently uses. The same sense is expressed at large and in full terms, Genesis 15:15 : ואתה תבא אל אבותיך בשלום veattah libbo al abotheycha beshalom, "and thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace."
They shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness "He shall rest in his bed; even the perfect man" - This obscure sentence is reduced to a perfectly good sense, and easy construction by an ingenious remark of Dr. Durell. He reads ינוח על משכבו תם yanuach al mishcabo tam, "the perfect man shall rest in his bed." Two MSS. (one of them ancient) have ינוח yanuach, singular; and so the Vulgate renders it, requiescat, "he shall rest." The verb was probably altered to make it plural, and so consistent with what follows after the mistake had been made in the following words, by uniting משכבו mishcabo and תם tam into one word. See Merrick's Annotations on the Psalms, Addenda; where the reader will find that J. S. Moerlius, by the same sort of correction, and by rescuing the adjective תם tam, which had been swallowed up in another word in the same manner, has restored to a clear sense a passage before absolutely unintelligible: -
למו חרצבות אין כי lemo chartsubboth ein ki :אולם ובריא תם ulam ubari tham
"For no distresses happen to them;
Perfect and firm is their strength."
But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,
Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?Among the smooth stones of the stream "Among the smooth stones of the valley" - The Jews were extremely addicted to the practice of many superstitious and idolatrous rites, which the prophet here inveighs against with great vehemence. Of the worship of rude stones consecrated, there are many testimonials of the ancients. They were called βαιτυλοι and βαιτυλια· probably from the stone which Jacob erected at Beth-el, pouring oil upon the top of it. This practice was very common in different ages and places. Arnobius, lib. i., gives an account of his own practice in this respect before he became a Christian: Si quando conspexeram lubricatum lapidem, et ex olivi unguine sordidatum; tanquam inesset vis praesens, adulabar, affabar, et beneficia poscebam nihil sentiente de trunco. "When I have met with a smooth stone, smeared with oil, supposing a spiritual power to be connected with it, I worshipped it, paid my addresses to it, and requested blessings," etc. Clemens Alex., Strom. lib. vii., speaks of a worshipper of every smooth stone in a proverbial way, to denote one given up to superstition. And accordingly Theophrastus has marked this as one strong feature in the character of the superstitious man: Και των λιπαρων λιθων των εν ταις τριοδοις παριων, εκ της ληκυθου ελαιου καταχειν, και επι γονατα πεσων και προσκυνησας απαλλαττεσθαι. "Passing by the anointed stones in the streets, he takes out his phial of oil, and pours it on them; and having fallen on his knees, and made his adorations, he departs. "Kimchi says: "When they found a beautiful polished stone in a brook or river, they paid Divine adoration to it." This idolatry is still prevalent among the Hindoos. The stone which is the object of their adoration is called salgram. They are found about eighty miles from the source of the river Sown, in the viceroyalty of Bahar, on the coast of Bengal. Ayeen Akbery vol. 2 Peter 29.
Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.
Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance "Behind the door, and the door-posts, hast thou set up thy memorial" - That is, the image of their tutelary gods, or something dedicated to them; in direct opposition to the law of God, which commanded them to write upon the door-posts of their house, and upon their gates, the words of God's law; Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20. If they chose for them such a situation as more private, it was in defiance of a particular curse denounced in the law against the man who should make a graven or a molten image, and put it in a secret place; Deuteronomy 27:15. An ancient MS., with another, has אחר achar, without the conjunction ו vau, and.
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.And thou wentest to the king with ointment "And thou hast visited the king with a present of oil" - That is, the king of Assyria, or Egypt. Hosea, chap, Hosea 12:1, reproaches the Israelites for the same practice: -
"They make a covenant with Assyria,
And oil is carried to Egypt."
It is well known, that in all parts of the east, whoever visits a great person must carry him a present. "It is counted uncivil," says Maundreg, p. 26, "to visit in this country without an offering in hand. All great men expect it as a tribute due to their character and authority; and look upon themselves as affronted, and indeed defrauded, when the compliment is omitted." Hence שור shur, to visit a person, is equivalent to making him a present; and תשורה teshurah signifies a present made on such occasions; as our translators have rightly rendered it, 1 Samuel 9:7; on which Jarchi says Menachem exponit תשורה teshurah, quod significat oblationem sive manus, ut aliquis aspiciat faciem regis, aut alicuius magnatis. "Menachem expounds תשורה teshurah of an offering or gift which is presented in order to be admitted into the presence of the king or some great man."
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.Yet saidst thou not, There is no hope "Thou hast said, There is hope" - In one of the MSS. at Koningsberg, collated by Lilienthal, the words לא אמרת lo amarta, are left in the text unpointed, as suspected; and in the margin the corrector has written ותאמרי vattomari. Now if we compare Jeremiah 2:25 and Jeremiah 18:12, we shall find that the subject is in both places quite the same with this of Isaiah; and the sentiment expressed, that of a desperate resolution to continue at all hazards in their idolatrous practices; the very thing that in all reason we might expect here. Probably, therefore, the latter is the true reading in this place. - L.
And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?For laid it to thy heart "Nor revolved it in thy hand" - Eight MSS., (four ancient), and the two oldest editions, with another, add the conjunction ו vau, ולא velo: which is confirmed by all the ancient Versions.
Even of old "And winked" - For ומעולם umeolam, which makes no good sense or construction in this place, twenty-three MSS. (seven ancient) and three editions have מעלם, (to be thus pointed מעלם malim); Παρορω, Septuagint; quasi non videns, "as if not seeing," Vulgate. See Psalm 10:1. The truth of this reading, so confirmed, admits of no doubt. In one of my own MSS. the ו vau has been written, but afterwards struck out. Is it not because I was silent, and winked?
I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.Thy righteousness "My righteousness" - For צדקתך tsidkathech, Thy righteousness, the Syriac, Septuagint, MSS. Alex. and Pachom., and 1. D. II., and Marchal. and οἱ Γ, and the Arabics read צדקי tsidki, My righteousness.
When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;"How beautiful appear on the mountains
The feet of the joyful messenger, of him that announceth peace;
Of the joyful messenger of good tidings, of him that announceth salvation;
Of him that saith to Sion, Thy God reigneth!
All thy watchmen lift up their voice, they shout together;
For face to face shall they see, when Jehovah returneth to Sion.
Verily not in haste shall ye go forth,
And not by flight shall ye march along:
For Jehovah shall march in your front;
And the God of Israel shall bring up your rear."
Babylon was separated from Judea by an immense tract of country which was one continued desert; that large part of Arabia called very properly Deserta. It is mentioned in history as a remarkable occurrence, that Nebuchadnezzar, having received the news of the death of his father, in order to make the utmost expedition in his journey to Babylon from Egypt and Phoenicia, set out with a few attendants, and passed through this desert. Berosus apud Joseph., Antiq. Isaiah 10:11. This was the nearest way homewards for the Jews; and whether they actually returned by this way or not, the first thing that would occur on the proposal or thought of their return would be the difficulty of this almost impracticable passage. Accordingly the proclamation for the preparation of the way is the most natural idea, and the most obvious circumstance, by which the prophet could have opened his subject.
These things considered, I have not the least doubt that the return at the Jews from the captivity of Babylon is the first, though not the principal, thing in the prophet's view. The redemption from Babylon is clearly foretold and at the same time is employed as an image to shadow out a redemption of an infinitely higher and more important nature. I should not have thought it necessary to employ so many words in endeavoring to establish what is called the literal sense of this prophecy, which I think cannot be rightly understood without it, had I not observed that many interpreters of the first authority, in particular the very learned Vitringa, have excluded it entirely.
Yet obvious and plain as I think this literal sense is, we have nevertheless the irrefragable authority of John the Baptist, and of our blessed Savior himself, as recorded by all the Evangelists, for explaining this exordium of the prophecy of the opening of the Gospel by the preaching of John, and of the introduction of the kingdom of Messiah; who was to effect a much greater deliverance of the people of God, Gentiles as well as Jews, from the captivity of sin and the dominion of death. And this we shall find to be the case in many subsequent parts also of this prophecy, where passages manifestly relating to the deliverance of the Jewish nation, effected by Cyrus, are, with good reason, and upon undoubted authority, to be understood of the redemption wrought for mankind by Christ.
If the literal sense of this prophecy, as above explained, cannot be questioned, much less surely can the spiritual; which, I think, is allowed on all hands, even by Grotius himself. If both are to be admitted, here is a plain example of the mystical allegory, or double sense, as it is commonly called, of prophecy; which the sacred writers of the New Testament clearly suppose, and according to which they frequently frame their interpretation of passages from the Old Testament. Of the foundation and properties of this sort of allegory, see De S. Poes. Hebr. Praelect. xi.
Isaiah 57:13Let thy companies deliver thee "Let thine associates deliver thee" - Thirty-nine MSS. (ten ancient) of Dr. Kennicott's, and two of my own, and the two oldest editions have יצילכו yatstsiluchu, plural.
And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.And shall say "Then will I say" - ואמר vaomer, to be pointed as the first person future. They are the words of God, as it is plain from the conclusion of the verse; my people, עמי ammi.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.For thus saith the high and lofty One "For thus saith Jehovah, the high and the lofty" - A MS. adds יהוה Yehovah, after אמר amar, and edition Prag. 1518. So the Septuagint, Alex., and Arabic. An ancient MS. adds יה Yah.
With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit - Twelve MSS. have את eth, without the conjunction ו vau. Pro ואת veeth, forte legendum ואראה veerah: confer Psalm 113:5, et Psalm 138:6. - Secker. "We should perhaps read ואראה veerah, instead of ואת veeth. See Psalm 113:5, and Psalm 138:6."
For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.For I will not contend for ever - The learned have taken a great deal of pains to little purpose on the latter part of this verses which they suppose to be very obscure. After all their labors upon it, I think the best and easiest explication of it is given in the two following elegant passages of the Psalms, which I presume are exactly parallel to it, and very clearly express the same sentiment.
"But he in his tender mercy will forgive their sin
And will not destroy them;
Yea, oftentimes will he turn away his wrath,
And will not rouse up his indignation:
For he remembereth that they are but flesh,
A breath that passeth, and returneth not."
"He will not always contend
Neither will he for ever hold his wrath:
As a father yearneth towards his children,
So is Jehovah tenderly compassionate towards them
that fear him For he knoweth our frame;
He remembereth that we are but dust."
In the former of these two passages the second line seems to be defective both in measure and sense. I suppose the word אותם otham, then is lost at the end; which seems to be acknowledged by the Chaldee and Vulgate, who render as if they had read ולא ישחית אותם velo yaschith otham. - L.
For the spirit - רוח ruach, the animal life.
And the souls - נשמות neshamoth, the immortal spirits. The Targum understands this of the resurrection. I will restore the souls of the dead, i.e., to their bodies.
For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth "Because of his iniquity for a short time was I wroth" - For בצעו bitso, I read בצע betsa, a little while, from בצע batsa, he cut of, as the Septuagint read and render it, βραχυ τι, "a certain short space." Propter iniquitatem avaritiae ejus, "because of the iniquity of his avarice," the rendering of the Vulgate, which our translators and I believe all others follow, is surely quite beside the purpose.
I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.I have seen his ways - Probably these verses refer to the restoration of the Jews from captivity.
I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.I create the fruit of the lips - "The sacrifice of praise," saith St. Paul, Hebrews 13:15, "is the fruit of the lips." God creates this fruit of the lips, by giving new subject and cause of thanksgiving by his mercies conferred on those among his people, who acknowledge and bewail their transgressions, and return to him. The great subject of thanksgiving is peace, reconciliation and pardon, offered to them that are nigh, and to them that are afar off, not only to the Jew, but also to the Gentile, as St. Paul more than once applies those terms, Ephesians 2:13, Ephesians 2:17. See also Acts 2:39.
Peace to him that is far off "That is, to the penitent; and to him that is near, i.e., the righteous." - Kimchi.
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.There is no peace, saith my God - For אלהי Elohai, twenty-two MSS. (five ancient) of Kennicott's, thirty of De Rossi's, and one ancient of my own, read יהוה Yehovah; the Vulgate, Septuagint, Alex., and Arabic, and three MSS. have both. This verse has reference to the nineteenth. The perseveringly wicked and impenitent are excluded from all share in that peace above mentioned, that reconcilement and pardon which is promised to the penitent only. The forty-eighth chapter ends with the same declaration, to express the exclusion of the unbelievers and impenitent from the benefit of the foregoing promises. - L.