Isaiah 1:23
Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loves gifts, and follows after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come to them.
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(23) Thy princes are rebellious.—The Hebrew words present an alliterative paronomasia (sārim, sôrerîm), which may be represented by “Thy rulers are rebels.” Here, as before, we note the “influence of Hosea (Hosea 9:15), from whom the words are cited.

Companions of thieves.—We seem almost to be reading a report of the state of police in a provincial city under the government of Turkey as it is, or of Naples or Sicily as they were. The kadi himself is in secret partnership with the brigands who infest the highways. Nothing can be done without baksheesh, and the robbers who have the plunder can bribe more heavily than the man whom they have robbed. (Comp. Micah 7:3.) To the complaints of the widow and the orphan the judges turned a deaf ear, and put off the hearing of their cause with indefinite procrastination. There is, perhaps, a touch of irony in the word for “bribes” (shalmōnîm, as if “peace gifts”), which were sought after, instead of shalôm, the true peace itself.

1:21-31 Neither holy cities nor royal ones are faithful to their trust, if religion does not dwell in them. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may still have the colour of wine. Those have a great deal to answer for, who do not help the oppressed, but oppress them. Men may do much by outward restraints; but only God works effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a Spirit of Judgment. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery. The redemption of the spiritual Zion, by the righteousness and death of Christ, and by his powerful grace, most fully accord with what is here meant. Utter ruin is threatened. The Jews should become as a tree when blasted by heat; as a garden without water, which in those hot countries would soon be burned up. Thus shall they be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh. Even the strong man shall be as tow; not only soon broken, and pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire. When the sinner has made himself as tow and stubble, and God makes himself as a consuming fire, what can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?Thy princes ... - This is an explanation of the previous verse. Princes mean here those attached to the royal family; those who by rank, or office, had an influence over the people.

Rebellious - Against God. The corruption of a nation commonly begins with the rulers.

Companions of thieves - That is, they connive at the doings of robbers; they do not bring them to justice; they are their accomplices, and are easily bribed to acquit them.

Every one loveth gifts - Every magistrate can be bribed.

Followeth afar rewards - רדף rodēph. This word denotes the act of pursuing after in order to obtain something; and means here that they made it an object to obtain rewards by selling or betraying justice They sell justice to the highest bidder. No more distressing condition of a people can be conceived than this, where justice could not be secured between man and man, and where the wicked could oppress the poor, the widow, and the orphan, as much as they pleased, because they knew they could bribe the judge.

They judge not - They do not render justice to; Isaiah 1:17. The Chaldee has well expressed the sense of a part of this verse: 'They say, each one to his neighbor, Favour me in my judgment, or do me good in it, and I will recompense you in your cause.'

The cause of the widow come unto them - Or, rather, come before them. They would not take up her cause, but rather the cause of those who were esteemed able to offer a bribe, and from whom a gift might be expected, if a decision was made in their favor.

23. companions of thieves—by connivance (Pr 29:24).

gifts—(Eze 22:12). A nation's corruption begins with its rulers.

Thy princes are rebellious against me, their sovereign Lord; they cast off my yoke, and make their own wills and lusts the rule of their life and government.

Companions of thieves; partly by giving them connivance and countenance, and receiving a recompence from them for it; and partly by practising the same violence, and cruelty, and injustice that thieves use.

Loveth gifts, i.e. bribes given to pervert justice, which are severely forbidden, Deu 10:17 27:25.

Followeth after rewards; pursuing them with all eagerness, and by all means possible.

They judge not the fatherless, & c.; they are so far from doing them justice, that they will not so much as give them a fair hearing of their cause, because they cannot make their way to them by gifts. Thy princes are rebellious,.... Stubborn and obstinate, refused to receive and acknowledge the Messiah; such were the Jewish rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, in the times of Christ.

And companions of thieves: who devoured widows' houses; made the temple, which was a house of prayer, a den of thieves; and took away the key of knowledge from the people, and would not suffer them to attend the ministry of the Gospel, Matthew 21:13.

everyone loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards. The Targum paraphrases it,

"everyone says to his neighbour, do me a favour in my cause, I will return "it" to thee in thy cause;''

and so justice was perverted:

they judge not the fatherless; that is, either they do not take their cause in hand at all, or, if they do, do not do them justice, but wrong them of their goods and estates, which, of right, belong to them:

neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them; there being no money to be got by undertaking it; see the case of the unjust judge, a picture of judges in those times, Luke 18:2.

Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of {g} thieves: every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come to them.

(g) That is, they maintain the wicked and the extortioners: and not only do not punish them, but are themselves such.

23. Thy princes are rebellious] In the Heb. a paronomasia, borrowed from Hosea 9:15. The “princes” (sârîm) are the civil and military officials of the monarchical constitution, as distinguished from the zěqçnîm (sheikhs or elders) of the old tribal system. The charge brought against them is that as a class they are corrupted by systematic bribery. They are companions of thieves, conniving at extortion and receiving in return a share of the spoil. Hence the fatherless and widows, having no bribes to offer, can obtain no redress; they cannot even find access to the seat of judgment.Verse 23. - Thy princes are rebellious; i.e. "rebels against their true King, Jehovah." Companions of thieves. Leagued with those who are engaged in filching away the inheritance of the widow and the orphan by chicane in the law courts (see above, vers. 15-17; and compare the Homiletics on vers. 16-20). Gifts... rewards; i.e. "bribes, "given and taken on the condition of their perverting justice (comp. Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 22:12; Micah 3:11; Micah 7:3). They judge not the fatherless, etc. They dismiss the orphan's complaint without hearing it, and are so noted for perversion of justice that the widow does not even bring her cause before them. Five admonitions relating to the practice of what is good: "Learn to do good, attend to judgment, set the oppressor right, do justice to the orphan, conduct the cause of the widow." The first admonition lays the foundation for the rest. They were to learn to do good - a difficult art, in which a man does not become proficient merely by good intentions. "Learn to do good:" hetib is the object to limdu (learn), regarded as an accusative; the inf. abs. הרע in Isaiah 1:16 takes the place of the object in just the same manner. The division of this primary admonition into four minor ones relating to the administration of justice, may be explained from the circumstance that no other prophet directs so keen an eye upon the state and its judicial proceedings as Isaiah has done. He differs in this respect from his younger contemporary Micah, whose prophecies are generally more ethical in their nature, whilst those of Isaiah have a political character throughout. Hence the admonitions: "Give diligent attention to judgment" (dârash, to devote one's self to a thing with zeal and assiduity); and "bring the oppressor to the right way." This is the true rendering, as Châmotz (from Châmatz, to be sharp in flavour, glaring in appearance, violent and impetuous in character) cannot well mean "the oppressed," or the man who is deprived of his rights, as most of the early translators have rendered it, since this form of the noun, especially with an immutable kametz like בּגוד בּגודה (cf., נקד נקּדּה), is not used in a passive, but in an active or attributive sense (Ewald, 152, b: vid., at Psalm 137:8): it has therefore the same meaning as Chomeotz in Psalm 71:4, and âshok in Jeremiah 22:3, which is similar in its form. But if Châmotz signifies the oppressive, reckless, churlish man, אשּׁר cannot mean to make happy, or to congratulate, or to set up, or, as in the talmudic rendering, to strengthen (Luzzatto: rianimate chi oppresso); but, as it is also to be rendered in Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 9:15, to lead to the straight road, or to cause a person to keep the straight course. In the case before us, where the oppressor is spoken of, it means to direct him to the way of justice, to keep him in bounds by severe punishment and discipline.

(Note: The Talmud varies in its explanation of Chamoz: in one instance it is applied to a judge who lets his sentence be thoroughly leavened before pronouncing it; in another the Chamuz is said to signify a person robbed and injured, in opposition to Chomez (b. Sanhedrin 35a). It is an instructive fact in relation to the idea suggested by the word, that, according to Joma 39b, a man who had not only taken possession of his own inheritance, but had seized upon another person's also, bore the nickname of ben chimzon as long as he lived.)

In the same way we find in other passages, such as Isaiah 11:4 and Psalm 72:4, severe conduct towards oppressors mentioned in connection with just treatment of the poor. There follow two admonitions relating to widows and orphans. Widows and orphans, as well as foreigners, were the protgs of God and His law, standing under His especial guardianship and care (see, for example, Exodus 22:22 (21), cf., Exodus 21:21 (20). "Do justice to the orphan" (Shâphat, as in Deuteronomy 25:1, is a contracted expression for shâphat mishpat): for if there is not even a settlement or verdict in their cause, this is the most crying injustice of all, as neither the form nor the appearance of justice is preserved. "Conduct the cause of the widows:" ריב with an accusative, as in Isaiah 51:22, the only other passage in which it occurs, is a contracted form for ריב ריב. Thus all the grounds of self-defence, which existed in the hearts of the accused, are both negatively and positively overthrown. They are thundered down and put to shame. The law (thorah), announced in Isaiah 1:10, has been preached to them. The prophet has cast away the husks of their dead works, and brought out the moral kernel of the law in its universal application.

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