Isaiah 50:2 Commentaries: "Why was there no man when I came? When I called, why was there none to answer? Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink for lack of water And die of thirst.
Isaiah 50:2
Why, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinks, because there is no water, and dies for thirst.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) Wherefore, when I came . . .?—The “coming” of Jehovah must be taken in all its width of meaning. He came in the deliverance from Babylon, in a promise of still greater blessings, in the fullest sense, in and through His Servant, and yet none came to help in the work, or even to receive the message. (Comp. Isaiah 63:3.) Not that He needed human helpers. In words that remind us, in their sequence, of the phenomena of the plagues of Egypt, the prophet piles up the mighty works of which He is capable. The words are echoed in Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:9; Revelation 8:12.

Isaiah 50:2-3. Wherefore, &c. — The general accusation, delivered in the last words, he now proves by particular instances: When I came was there no man. — How comes it to pass, that, when I sent to you by my servants the prophets, there was no man that regarded my message and offer of grace, and complied with my will? Whereby he implies that the generality of the Jews were guilty of gross infidelity and obstinate disobedience, and therefore might justly be rejected. When I called them to repentance and reformation, there was none to come — None to come at my call, or to obey my commands. Is my hand shortened at all, &c. — What is the reason of this contempt and rebellion? Is it because you expect no good from me, but think I am either unwilling or unable to save you? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea — At my word or command I can not only check its proud waves, but make its channel dry. Here, for a proof of his power, God appeals to the miracles he wrought in Egypt, at the Red sea, and at Jordan. I make the rivers a wilderness — As dry and fit for travelling over as a wilderness. I clothe the heavens with blackness — Or, I will, or can clothe, &c. What I once did in Egypt when I drew thick curtains before all the heavenly lights, and caused an unparalleled and amazing darkness to take place for three successive days, to the great terror of my enemies, so I can and will do still, when it is necessary to save my people. And therefore you have no reason to distrust me. And I make sackcloth their covering — I cover them with clouds as black as sackcloth.50:1-3 Those who have professed to be people of God, and seem to be dealt severely with, are apt to complain, as if God had been hard with them. Here is an answer for such murmurings; God never deprived any of their advantages, except for their sins. The Jews were sent into Babylon for their idolatry, a sin which broke the covenant; and they were at last rejected for crucifying the Lord of glory. God called on them to leave their sins, and prevent their own ruin. Last of all, the Son came to his own, but his own received him not. When God calls men to happiness, and they will not answer, they are justly left to be miserable. To silence doubts concerning his power, proofs of it are given. The wonders which attended his sufferings and death, proclaimed that he was the Son of God, Mt 27:54.Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? - That is, when I came to call you to repentance, why was there no man of the nation to yield obedience? The sense is, that they had not been punished without warning. He had called them to repentance, but no one heard his voice. The Chaldee renders this, 'Wherefore did I send my prophets, and they did not turn? They prophesied, but they did not attend.'

When I called, was there none to answer? - None obeyed, or regarded my voice. It was not, therefore, by his fault that they had been punished, but it was because they did not listen to the messengers which he had sent unto them.

Is my hand shortened at all? - The meaning of this is, that it was not because God was unable to save, that they had been thus punished. The hand, in the Scriptures, is an emblem of strength, as it is the instrument by which we accomplish our purposes. To shorten the hand, that is, to cut it off, is an emblem of diminishing, or destroying our ability to execute any purpose (see Isaiah 59:1). So in Numbers 11:23 : 'Is the Lord's hand waxed short?'

That it cannot redeem? - That it cannot rescue or deliver you. The idea is, that it was not because he was less able to save them than he had been in former times, that they were sold into captivity, and sighed in bondage.

Behold, at my rebuke - At my chiding - as a father rebukes a disobedient child, or as a man would rebuke an excited multitude. Similar language is used of the Saviour when he stilled the tempest on the sea of Gennesareth: 'Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm' Matthew 8:26. The reference here is, undoubtedly, to the fact that God dried up the Red Sea, or made a way for the children of Israel to pass through it. The idea is, that he who had power to perform such a stupendous miracle as that, had power also to deliver his people at any time, and that, therefore, it was for no want of power in him that the Jews were suffering in exile.

I make the rivers a wilderness - I dry up streams at pleasure, and have power even to make the bed of rivers, and all the country watered by them, a pathless, and an unfruitful desert.

Their fish stinketh - The waters leave them, and the fish die, and putrify. It is not uncommon in the East for large streams and even rivers thus to be dried up by the intense heat of the sun, and by being lost in the sand. Thus the river Barrady which flows through the fertile plain on which Damascus is situated, and which is divided into innumerable streams and canals to water the city and the gardens adjacent to it, after flowing to a short distance from the city is wholly lost - partly absorbed in the sands, and partly dried up by the intense rays of the sun (see Jones' 'Excursions to Jerusalem, Egypt, etc. ') The idea here is, that it was God who had power to dry up those streams, and that he who could do that, could save and vindicate his people.

2. I—Messiah.

no man—willing to believe in and obey Me (Isa 52:1, 3). The same Divine Person had "come" by His prophets in the Old Testament (appealing to them, but in vain, Jer 7:25, 26), who was about to come under the New Testament.

hand shortened—the Oriental emblem of weakness, as the long stretched-out hand is of power (Isa 59:1). Notwithstanding your sins, I can still "redeem" you from your bondage and dispersion.

dry up … sea—(Ex 14:21). The second exodus shall exceed, while it resembles in wonders, the first (Isa 11:11, 15; 51:15).

make … rivers … wilderness—turn the prosperity of Israel's foes into adversity.

fish stinketh—the very judgment inflicted on their Egyptian enemies at the first exodus (Ex 7:18, 21).

The general accusation delivered in the last words he now proveth by particular instances. When I came; when I, first by my prophets, and at last by my Son, came unto them, to call them to repentance, and to redeem and deliver them, as it is explained in the following clauses of this verse. No man that regarded and received me, that complied with my call and offer of grace, as it follows; whereby he implies that the generality of the Jews were guilty of gross infidelity and obstinate disobedience, and therefore might justly be rejected.

When I called; called them to repentance, or to come unto me, or to do my will, as masters call their servants.

None to answer; to come at my call, to obey my commands. Have I no power to deliver? what is the reason of this horrible contempt and rebellion? Is it because you expect no good from me, but think that I am either unwilling or unable to save you? Because you see no miracles wrought for you to save you from the Babylonians; and because my Son, your Messiah, cometh not with pomp and power, as you expect, but in the form of a servant, poor, and exposed to contempt and death; do you therefore believe that my power to deliver you is less than it was?

At my rebuke: this phrase is borrowed from Psalm 106:9, and it is used Matthew 8:26. At my word or command, whereby I rebuke and check its proud waves.

I dry up, Heb. I will dry up; or, I can dry up; the future verb being put potentially. As I did it once, so I can and will do it again, when occasion requires it. I make the rivers a wilderness; as dry and fit for travel as a wilderness. Wherefore, when I came, was there no man?.... The Targum is,

"why have I sent my prophets, and they are not converted?''

And so Aben Ezra and Kimchi interpret it of the prophets that prophesied unto them, to bring them to repentance: the Lord might be said to come by his prophets, his messengers; but they did not receive them, nor their messages, but despised and rejected them, and therefore were carried captive, 2 Chronicles 36:15, but it is best to understand it of the coming of Christ in the flesh; when there were none that would receive, nor even come to him, but hid their faces from him, nor suffer others to be gathered unto him, or attend his ministry; they would neither go in themselves into the kingdom of the Messiah, nor let others go in that were entering, John 1:11,

when I called, was there none to answer? he called them to the marriage feast, to his word and ordinances, but they made light of it, and went about their worldly business; many were called externally in his ministry, but few were chosen, and effectually wrought upon; he called, but there was no answer given; for there was no internal principle in them, no grace to answer to the call; he stretched out his hands to a rebellious and gainsaying people, Matthew 22:2,

is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? they did not know him to be the mighty God; they took him to be a mere man; and being descended from such mean parents, and making such a mean appearance, they could not think he was able to be their Redeemer and Saviour; but that he had sufficient ability appears by what follows:

behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea; he was able to do it, and did do it for the children of Israel, and made a passage through the Red sea for them, as on dry land; which was done by a strong east wind he caused to blow, here called his "rebuke", Exodus 14:20, of Christ's rebuking the sea, see Matthew 8:26.

I make the rivers a wilderness; as dry as the wilderness, and parched ground; in which persons may pass as on dry ground, and as travellers pass through a wilderness; so Jordan was made for the Israelites, Joshua 3:17, and may be here particularly meant; called "rivers" because of the excellency of it, and the abundance of water in it, which sometimes overflowed its banks; and because other rivers fall into it, as Kimchi observes:

their flesh stinketh because there is no water, and dieth for thirst; as they did when the rivers of Egypt were turned into blood, Exodus 7:21.

{d} Why, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand {e} shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish smelleth rotten, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.

(d) He came by his prophets and ministers, but they would not believe their doctrine and convert.

(e) Am I not able to help you, as I have helped your fathers of old, when I dried up the Red sea, and killed the fish in the rivers, and also afterward in Jordan?

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. Jehovah expresses surprise that His message of redemption (delivered through the prophet) has been received with so little enthusiasm by the people.

was there no man?] The expression occurs again in Isaiah 59:16; in both places the indefinite “man” is explained by the second member of the parallelism; here, therefore, it means “no man to answer.”

Is my hand shortened at all &c.] Is it the case that my hand is too short to redeem? (cf. Isaiah 59:1). And the unreasonableness of such doubts as to Jehovah’s power is then proved by an appeal to His mighty works in the natural sphere, probably with a special allusion to the miracles of the Exodus period.

at (by) my rebuke] Cf. ch. Isaiah 17:13; esp. Psalm 104:7; Psalm 106:9.

I make [the] rivers a wilderness] Psalm 107:33.

their fish stinketh &c.] Exodus 7:18.Verse 2. - Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? Such being the condition of things; Judah having rejected me, not I them - why, "when I came" and announced deliverance from Babylon, was there no response? Why did no champion appear? Is it that my power was doubted? that it was feared my hand was shortened, so that it could not redeem or deliver? But I am he who has power with his rebuke to dry up the sea (Exodus 14:21), to make rivers a wilderness (Exodus 7:20; Joshua 3:16, 17); in fact, to change the course of nature as seemeth him good, and accomplish his will against all obstacles. Is my hand shortened? i.e. "is my power less than it was?" Can any one suppose this? Surely what I have once done I can do again. If I delivered from Egypt, I can redeem from Babylon. Their fish stinketh (comp. Exodus 7:21). But the object is rather to assert an absolute control over nature than to take the thoughts of the hearers back to any special occasions when control was exercised. The prophecy now takes a step backward in the domain of the future, and describes the manner in which the children of Zion get back to their home. "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I lift up my hand to nations, and set up my standard to peoples: and they bring thy sons in their bosom; and thy daughters, upon shoulders are they carried." The setting up of a standard (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 18:3, cf., Isaiah 62:10) is a favourite figure with Isaiah, as well as swaying the hand. Jehovah gives a sign to the heathen nations with His hand, and points out to them the mark that they are to keep in view, with a signal pole which is set up. They understand it, and carry out His instructions, and bring Zion's sons and daughters thither, and that as a foster-father ('ōmēn) carries an infant in the bosom of his dress (chōtsen, as in Nehemiah 5:13; Arabic as in Psalm 129:7, hidn, from hadana, to embrace, to press tenderly to one's self; vid., Numbers 11:12), or upon his arms, so that it reclines upon his shoulder (‛al-kâthēph; cf., ‛al-tsad, Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 66:12).
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