Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;LXI.
(1) The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . .—We have obviously a new poem in the form of a soliloquy, and we ask, “Who is the speaker.?” The Jewish Targum and many modern critics hear only the voice of Isaiah. Guided by Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 1:4-9, we recognise here, as there, the utterance of the ideal Servant of Jehovah. That view, it needs scarcely be said, is the one suggested to all Christian minds by our Lord’s application of the passage to His own work in Luke 4:16-22. The opening words repeat what had been said by Jehovah of the Servant in Isaiah 42:1. The “anointing,” as it stands, might be that of king (1Samuel 9:16; 1Samuel 10:1), or priest (Exodus 29:2; Leviticus 7:36), or prophet (1Kings 19:16). As interpreted by its fulfilment, it may be held to include all three.
To preach good tidings . . .—Comp. Note on Isaiah 40:9. To this passage, more than any other, even than Isaiah 40:9, we may trace the use of the word “gospel” (“evangel,” “good tidings”) in our Lord’s teaching and that of the Apostles. Claiming the promise as fulfilled in Himself, He became the great evangelist, and all who followed Him were called to the same office.
To bind up the broken-hearted . . .—The primary thought is that of a healing bandage applied to the heart’s wounds. (Comp. 1:6), The Servant of Jehovah is the great physician as well as the evangelist.
The opening of the prison.—The LXX., adopted in Luke 4:18, gives “recovery of sight to the blind;” and as the verb is never used for the opening of a room or door, and is used in Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:7, for the opening of the eyes, that is probably its meaning here.
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;(2) To proclaim the acceptable year . . .—The Year of Jubilee is still, perhaps, in the prophet’s thoughts; but the chief point of the promise is the contrast between the “year” of favour and the single “day” of vengeance, reminding us of the like contrast in Exodus 20:5-6.
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.(3) To appoint unto them that mourn . . .—The verb (literally, to set) has no object either in the Hebrew or English, and it would seem as if the prophet corrected himself in the act of writing or dictating, and substituted for a word which would have applied only to the coronet one which was better fitted for the whole context.
Beauty for ashes.—Literally, a diadem, or coronet, which is to take the place of the ashes that had been sprinkled on the head of the mourners or penitents (2Samuel 1:2; 2Samuel 13:19; Joshua 7:6). The assonance of the two Hebrew words, ’epher, paer, deserves notice.
Oil of joy.—Same phrase as in Psalm 45:7.
That they might be called trees of righteousness . . .—Strictly, terebinths, or oaks, as the symbols of perennial verdure—the “righteousness” being thought of as the gift of the Spirit of Jehovah,. and, therefore, life-giving and enduring—and in their beauty and strength manifesting His glory.
And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.(4) They shall build the old wastes . . .—Literally the waste places of olden time: i.e., not merely the cities that had fallen into ruins during the exile, but those that had been lying waste for generations. The words are parallel with those of Isaiah 58:12. By some commentators strangers is supplied from Isaiah 61:5 as the implied subject, as in Isaiah 60:10. Here, however, it would seem as if the prophet looked on the rebuilding as being Israel’s own work, while service of another kind was assigned to the aliens.
And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.(5) Strangers shall stand . . .—i.e., like servants waiting for their master’s orders. The implied thought of the whole passage is, as in the next verse, that all Israel is raised to the dignity of a priestly caste, leaving the rough work of the world to be done by foreigners, who stood on a lower level. (Comp. Ecclesiasticus 38:31-34.)
But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.(6) But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord . . .—This had been the original ideal of the nation’s life (Exodus 19:6), forfeited for a time through the sins of the people (Exodus 28:1), to be fulfilled at last in the citizens of the new Jerusalem. (Comp. 1Peter 2:9.) The thought implies, it may be noted, that as Israel has succeeded to the position of the sons of Aaron, so mankind at large is to occupy the position of Israel, as chosen and redeemed. Even the heathen Gentiles shall speak of the new Israel as “Ministers of our God.”
Ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles . . .—St. Paul seems to see a partial fulfilment of the promise in the collection made among the Gentiles for the Church at Jerusalem (Romans 15:27). On the other hand, the phrase that the conversion of the Jews shall be the riches of the Gentiles (Romans 11:12), affords an illustration of the varying aspects of prophetic imagery.
For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them.(7) For your shame ye shall have double . . .—i.e., double compensation for the suffering of years (comp. Zechariah 9:12), the general idea passing in the next clause into a double inheritance of territory. See Note on Isaiah 40:2.
For I the LORD love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.(8) I hate robbery for burnt offering.—The Authorised Version follows the Vulg, and Luther, but the words, commonly applied as condemning the formal sacrifices of the wicked, do not fit in with the context, and it is better to take the rendering of the LXX. and the Targum, I hate robbery with violence, as referring to the spoliation which Israel had suffered at the hands of the Chaldæans.
And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the LORD hath blessed.(9) Their seed shall be known—i.e., as in Proverbs 31:23, shall be “renowned,” or “honourably recognised,” even by the heathen, as the people whom Jehovah hath blessed. (Comp. Isaiah 65:23.)
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.(10) I will greatly rejoice . . .—The speaker is again, as in Isaiah 61:1, the ideal Servant of Jehovah, who identifies himself with the people and slaves. The Targum, it may be noted, makes Jerusalem the speaker.
As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments.—Literally, wears a turban (or mitre), as a priest. It would appear from Song Song of Solomon 3:11 that bridegrooms wore a special head-dress on the day of their espousal, and this is here compared to the priestly “bonnet,” or “mitre” (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 39:28; Ezekiel 44:18). On the special occasion which may have suggested the image, see Note on Isaiah 62:4.
For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.(11) As the earth bringeth forth her bud . . .—The passage is memorable as at least suggesting the leading thought of the parable of the sower, and the appropriation of that title to Himself by the Son of Man (Matthew 13:3-23; Matthew 13:37; Mark 4:26-29).