Isaiah 48:18
O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18) Then had thy peace been as a river.—Literally, “as the river,” i.e., the Euphrates, which for the Babylonian exiles was a natural standard of comparison. “Righteousness,” as elsewhere, includes the idea of the blessedness which is its recompense. United with “peace” it implies every element of prosperity.

Isaiah

A RIVER OF PEACE AND WAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Isaiah 48:18
.

I. The Wonderful Thought of God here.

This is an exclamation of disappointment; of thwarted love. The good which He purposed has been missed by man’s fault, and He regards the faulty Israel with sorrow and pity as a would-be benefactor balked of a kind intention might do. O Jerusalem! ‘how often would I have gathered thee.’ ‘If thou hadst known . . . the things that belong unto thy peace!’

II. Man’s opposition to God’s loving purpose for us.

To have hearkened to His commandments would have enabled Him to let His kindness have its way.

It is not only our act contrary to God’s Law, but the source of that act in our antagonistic will, which fatally bars out the possibility of God’s intended good from us. It is ‘not hearkening’ which is the root of not doing.

That possibility of lifting up our puny wills against the all-sovereign, Infinite Will is the mystery of mysteries.

The fact that the mysterious possibility becomes an actuality in us is still more mysterious. If we could solve those two mysteries, we should be far on the way to solve all the mysteries of man’s relation to God, and God’s to man.

A will absolutely submitted to Him is His great ideal of human nature. And that ideal we all can thwart, and alas, alas! we all do. It is the deepest mystery; it is the blackest sin; it is the intensest folly.

Sin is negative as well as positive. Not to hearken is as bad as to act in dead opposition to.

III. The lost good.

The great purpose of the divine Commandment is to show us, for our own sakes, the path that leads to all blessedness.

Peace and Righteousness, or, in more modern words, all well-being and all goodness, are the sure results of taking God’s expressed Will as the guide of life.

These two are inseparable. Indeed they are one and the same fact of human experience, looked at from two points of view.

The force of the metaphor in both clauses is substantially the same. It suggests in both-Abundance-Continuity-Uninterrupted Succession. But regarded separately each has its own fair promise. ‘As a river’- flowing softly, not stagnant-that suggests the calm and gentle flow of a placid and untroubled stream refreshing and fertilising. ‘As waves of the sea,’ these suggest greater force than ‘river.’ The image speaks of a righteousness massive and having power and a resistless swing in it. It is the more striking because the waves of the sea are the ordinary emblem of rebellious power. But here they stand as emblem of the strength of a submissive, not of a rebellious, will. In that obedience human nature rises to a higher type of strength than it ever attains while in opposition to the Source of all strength.

Contrast-’Whose waters cast up mire and dirt.’

IV. The lost good regained.

God has yet a method to accomplish His loving desire. Even those who have not hearkened may receive through Christ the good which they have sinned away. In Him is peace; in Him is Righteousness, which comes from faith. ‘Hear, and your soul shall live.’

48:16-22 The Holy Spirit qualifies for service; and those may speak boldly, whom God and his Spirit send. This is to be applied to Christ. He was sent, and he had the Spirit without measure. Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance. God did not afflict them willingly. If their sins had not turned them away, their peace should have been always flowing and abundant. Spiritual enjoyments are ever joined with holiness of life and regard to God's will. It will make the misery of the disobedient the more painful, to think how happy they might have been. And here is assurance given of salvation out of captivity. Those whom God designs to bring home to himself, he will take care of, that they want not for their journey. This is applicable to the grace laid up for us in Jesus Christ, from whom all good flows to us, as the water to Israel out of the rock, for that Rock was Christ. The spiritual blessings of redemption, and the rescue of the church from antichristian tyranny, are here pointed to. But whatever changes take place, the Lord warned impenitent sinners that no good would come to them; that inward anguish and outward trouble, which spring from guilt and from the Divine wrath, must be their portion for ever.O that thou hadst heardened to my commandments! - This expresses the earnest wish and desire of God. He would greatly have preferred that they should have kept his law. He had no wish that they should sin, and that these judgments should come upon them. The doctrine taught here is, that God greatly prefers that people should keep his laws. He does not desire that they should be sinners, or that they should be punished. It was so with regard to the Jews; and it is so with regard to all. In all cases, at all times, and with reference to all his creatures, he prefers holiness to sin; he sincerely desires that there should be perfect obedience to his commandments. It is to be remarked also that this is not merely prospective, or a declaration in the abstract. It relates to sin which had been actually committed, and proves that even in regard to that, God would have preferred that it had not been committed. A declaration remarkably similar to this, occurs in Psalm 81:13-16 :

O that my people had hearkened unto me,

And Israel had walked in my ways;

I should soon have subdued their' enemies,

And turned their hand against their adversaries

The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him:

But their time should have endured forever.

He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat;

And with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.

Compare Deuteronomy 22:29; Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 18:23-32; Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:21.

Then had thy peace been as a river - The word 'peace' here (שׁלום shâlôm) means properly wholeness, soundness, and then health, welfare, prosperity, good of every kind. It then denotes peace, as opposed to war, and also concord and friendship. Here it evidently denotes prosperity in general, as opposed to the calamities which actually came upon them.

As a river - That is, abundant - like a full, flowing river that fills the banks, and that conveys fertility and blessedness through a land. 'The pagan, in order to represent the Universal power and beneficence of Jupiter, used the symbol of a river flowing from his throne; and to this the Sycophant in Plautus alludes (Trium. Act iv. Sc. 2, v. 98), in his saying that he had been at the head of that river:

Ad caput amuis, quod de coelo exoritur, sub solio Jovis.

See also Wemyss' Key to the Symbolical Language of Scripture, Art. River. Rivers are often used by the sacred writers, and particularly by Isaiah, as symbolic of plenty and prosperity Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 43:19.

continued...

18. peace—(Ps 119:165). Compare the desire expressed by the same Messiah (Mt 23:37; Lu 19:42).

river—(Isa 33:21; 41:18), a river flowing from God's throne is the symbol of free, abundant, and ever flowing blessings from Him (Eze 47:1; Zec 14:8; Re 22:1).

righteousness—religious prosperity; the parent of "peace" or national prosperity; therefore "peace" corresponds to "righteousness" in the parallelism (Isa 32:17).

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! the failure hath not been on my part, but on thine: I gave thee my counsels and commands, but thou hast neglected and disobeyed them, and that to thy own great disadvantage. Such wishes as these are not to be taken properly, as if God longed for something which he gladly would but could not effect, or as if he wished that to be undone which was irrevocably past and done; which is a vain and foolish wish even in a man; and much more are such wishes inconsistent with the infinite perfection and happiness of the Divine nature; but they are only significations of God’s good and holy will, whereby he requires and loves obedience, and condemns and hates disobedience.

As a river, which runs sweetly, strongly, plentifully, and constantly; and such had been thy prosperity. Then thou hadst never gone into this Babylonish captivity, nor needed such prodigies of my power and goodness to deliver thee out of it.

Thy righteousness; not properly so called, (for he is not now speaking of their virtues, but of their privileges,) but thy peace and prosperity, as appears by the foregoing clause, to which this manifestly answers; which is called righteousness here, as it is also 1 Samuel 12:7 Hosea 10:12, and elsewhere, by a metonymy, because it is the fruit of righteousness, both of God’s righteousness and of men’s righteousness; as by the very same figure iniquity is very frequently put for the fruit and punishment of iniquity.

As the waves of the sea; infinite and continual.

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments,.... Which the Jews did not, but slighted and despised them, and were not obedient to them. So, in the times of Christ, they disregarded his doctrines, though so profitable; and despised his ordinances and commands, which were not grievous; they neither hearkened to them themselves, nor would suffer others; wherefore our Lord expresses his great concern at it, and his desire, as man, after their welfare; see Matthew 23:13,

then had thy peace been as a river: their prosperity, temporal and spiritual, had been abundant, and would have always continued, have been increasing and ever flowing, yea, overflowing, like the waters of a river. The Targum is, the river Euphrates, a river which ran through Babylon: but they had no regard to the things which related to their temporal, spiritual, and eternal peace, these were hid from their eyes, Luke 19:42,

and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: large, abundant, numerous as the waves of the sea; which may regard acts of justice and righteousness, which are the support of a people and state, and blessings the fruit thereof; and which God of his goodness bestows on such a people, as all kind of prosperity, protection, safety, and continuance.

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
18. O that thou hadst hearkened &c.] This is the strict rendering of the Hebr. idiom, which properly expresses a wish that has not been realised (see Driver, Tenses, § 140). It may, indeed (as in ch. Isaiah 64:1), be used in an impassioned wish for the future, and many commentators prefer that sense here,—“O that thou wouldst hearken” (see Davidson, Syntax, § 134). So R.V. marg. But the construction in Isaiah 64:1 is exceptional, and the two cases are not strictly parallel. Here the reference to the past is strengthened by the following clauses: “then had thy peace been” &c. (consec. impf.); and it is only a feeling of the unsuitability of the idea to the discourse that could ever suggest a departure from the ordinary rule of syntax. It is true that “such a retrospect here at the close would be extraordinary” (Dillmann), but in reality a hypothetical promise of future blessedness would be just as surprising. The difficulty is not grammatical but critical.

peace means national prosperity, “welfare,” as explained in the next verse (cf. ch. Isaiah 66:12); righteousness is used in the same sense as in ch. Isaiah 45:8.

as a river] i.e. a perennial stream, such as the Euphrates (cf. Amos 5:24). It is easy to understand the impression made on the mind of a native of Palestine, accustomed to “deceitful brooks” that run dry in the summer, by the sight of a great river, flowing on for ever in undiminished volume. The actual history of Israel had been like the wadis of Judæa, transient gleams of prosperity being interrupted by long intervals of misfortune; the river suggests to the writer an image of the boundless and unfailing blessedness which would have followed the keeping of the Divine commandments.

the waves of the sea] cf. ch. Isaiah 11:9.

Verse 18. - Oh that thou hadst hearkened! (comp. Psalm 81:13-16, "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries," etc.) Some render, "Oh that thou wouldst hearken!" etc., on the analogy of Isaiah 64:1; but unnecessarily. Dr. Kay says that God "upbraideth not," referring to James 1:5. But he may expostulate. What is it but expostulation, when our Lord says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:27, 28)? To look back on the past, and see what we have missed, is a good lesson for the future. Then had thy peace been as a river; literally, as the river (i.e. the Euphrates), abounding, overflowing, continuous. Thy righteousness. Not "thy prosperity" (Cheyne), but "thy good deeds." If Israel had clung to God, then God's blessing would have been poured upon them, and have enabled them to bring forth abundant fruits of righteousness. As the waves of the sea; i.e. innumerable and unceasing. Isaiah 48:18The exhortation is now continued. Israel is to learn the incomparable nature of Jehovah from the work of redemption thus prepared in word and deed. The whole future depends upon the attitude which it henceforth assumes to His commandments. "Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I, Jehovah thy God, am He that teacheth thee to do that which profiteth, and leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldst go. O that thou hearkenedst to my commandments! then thy peace becomes like the river, and thy righteousness like waves of the sea; and thy seed becomes like the sand, and the children of thy body like the grains thereof: its name will not be cut off nor destroyed away from my countenance." Jehovah is Israel's rightful and right teacher and leader. להועיל is used in the same sense as in Isaiah 30:5 and Isaiah 44:10, to furnish what is useful, to produce what is beneficial or profitable. The optative לוּא is followed, as in Isaiah 63:19, by the preterite utinam attenderis, the idea of reality being mixed up with the wish. Instead of ויהי in the apodosis, we should expect ויהי (so would), as in Deuteronomy 32:29. The former points out the consequence of the wish regarded as already realized. Shâlōm, prosperity or health, will thereby come upon Israel in such abundance, that it will, as it were, bathe therein; and tsedâqâh, rectitude acceptable to God, so abundantly, that it, the sinful one, will be covered by it over and over again. Both of these, shâlōm and tsedâqâh, are introduced here as a divine gift, not merited by Israel, but only conditional upon that faith which gives heed to the word of God, especially to the word which promises redemption, and appropriates it to itself. Another consequence of the obedience of faith is, that Israel thereby becomes a numerous and eternally enduring nation. The play upon the words in כמעותיו מעיך is very conspicuous. Many expositors (e.g., Rashi, Gesenius, Hitzig, and Knobel) regard מעות as synonymous with מעים, and therefore as signifying the viscera, i.e., the beings that fill the heart of the sea; but it is much more natural to suppose that the suffix points back to chōl. Moreover, no such metaphorical use of viscera can be pointed out; and since in other instances the feminine plural (such as kenâphōth, qerânōth) denotes that which is artificial as distinguished from what is natural, it is impossible to see why the interior of the sea, which is elsewhere called lēbh (lebhabh, the heart), and indirectly also beten, should be called מעות instead of מעים. To all appearance מעותיו signifies the grains of sand (lxx, Jerome, Targ.); and this is confirmed by the fact that מעא (Neo-Heb. מעה numulus) is the Targum word for גּרה, and the Semitic root מע, related to מג; מק, melted, dissolved, signifies to be soft or tender. The conditional character of the concluding promise has its truth in the word מלּפני. Israel remains a nation even in its apostasy, but fallen under the punishment of kareth (of cutting off), under which individuals perish when they wickedly transgress the commandment of circumcision, and others of a similar kind. It is still a people, but rooted out and swept away from the gracious countenance of God, who no more acknowledges it as His own people.
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