Isaiah 57:20
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
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(20) The wicked are like the troubled sea . . .—The promise of healing is, however, not unconditional. The acceptance of peace requires calmness; but for the wicked, whose thoughts are restlessly seething with evil ripening into act, this true peace is, in the nature of the case, impossible. We note the recurrence of the watchword of Isaiah 48:22, as indicating the close of another section of the prophecy. The MSS. and versions present a curious variation in Isaiah 57:21 : some “saith Jehovah,” some “God,” some “the Lord God.” It would almost seem as if transcribers and translators had shrunk from the prophet’s boldness in claiming God as in some special sense his God. It has a parallel, however, in Isaiah 7:13, and may be noted, accordingly, as one of the characteristic touches common to the two parts of Isaiah. The “Sea” of which Isaiah speaks may possibly have been the Dead Sea, casting up its salt bituminous deposits.

57:13-21 The idols and their worshippers shall come to nothing; but those who trust in God's grace, shall be brought to the joys of heaven. With the Lord there is neither beginning of days, nor end of life, nor change of time. His name is holy, and all must know him as a holy God. He will have tender regard to those who bring their mind to their condition, and dread his wrath. He will make his abode with those whose hearts he has thus humbled, in order to revive and comfort them. When troubles last long, even good men are tempted to entertain hard thoughts of God. Therefore He will not contend for ever, for he will not forsake the work of his own hands, nor defeat the purchase of his Son's blood. Covetousness is a sin that particularly lays men under the Divine displeasure. See the sinfulness of sin. See also that troubles cannot reform men unless God's grace work in them. Peace shall be published, perfect peace. It is the fruit of preaching lips, and praying lips. Christ came and preached peace to Gentiles, as well as to the Jews; to after-ages, who were afar off in time, as well as to those of that age. But the wicked would not be healed by God's grace, therefore would not be healed by his comforts. Their ungoverned lusts and passions made them like the troubled sea. Also the terrors of conscience disturbed their enjoyments. God hath said it, and all the world cannot unsay it, That there is no peace to those who allow themselves in any sin. If we are recovered from such an awful state, it is only by the grace of God. And the influences of the Holy Spirit, and that new heart, from whence comes grateful praise, the fruit of our lips, are his gift. Salvation, with all its fruits, hopes, and comforts, is his work, and to him belongs all the glory. There is no peace for the wicked man; but let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, and he will abundantly pardon.But the wicked - All who are transgressors of the law and who remain unpardoned. The design of this is to contrast their condition with that of those who should enjoy peace. The proposition is, therefore, of the most general character. All the wicked are like the troubled sea. Whether prosperous or otherwise; rich or poor; bond or free; old or young; whether in Christian, in civilized, or in barbarous lands; whether living in palaces, in caves, or in tents; whether in the splendor of cities, or in the solitude of deserts; All are like the troubled sea.

Are like the troubled sea - The agitated (נגרשׁ nigrâsh), ever-moving and restless sea. The sea is always in motion, and never entirely calm. Often also it lashes into foam, and heaves with wild commotion.

When it cannot rest - Lowth renders this, 'For it never can be at rest.' The Hebrew is stronger than our translation. It means that there is no possibility of its being at rest; it is unable to be still (יוּכל לא השׁקט כי kı̂y hasheqēṭ lo' yûkal). The Septuagint renders it, 'But the wicked are tossed like waves (κλυδωνισθήσονται kludōnisthēsontai), and are not able to be at rest.' The idea, as it seems to me, is not exactly that which seems to be conveyed by our translation, that the wicked are like the sea, occasionally agitated by a storm and driven by wild commotion, but that, like the ocean, there is never any peace, as there is no peace to the restless waters of the mighty deep.

Whose waters - They who have stood on the shores of the ocean and seen the waves - especially in a storm - foam, and roll, and dash on the beach, will be able to appreciate the force of this beautiful figure, and cannot but have a vivid image before them of the unsettled and agitated bosoms of the guilty. The figure which is used here to denote the want of peace in the bosom of a wicked man, is likewise beautifully employed by Ovid:

Cumque sit hibernis agitatum fluctibus aequor,

Pectora sunt ipso turbidiora mari.

Trist. i. x. 33

The agitation and commotion of the sinner here referred to, relates to such things as the following:

1. There is no permanent happiness or enjoyment. There is no calmness of soul in the contemplation of the divine perfections, and of the glories of the future world. There is no substantial and permanent peace furnished by wealth, business, pleasure; by the pride, pomp, and flattery of the world. All leave the soul unsatisfied, or dissatisfied; all leave is unprotected against the rebukes of conscience, and the fear of hell.

2. Raging passions. The sinner is under their influence. and they may be compared to the wild and tumultuous waves of the ocean. Thus the bosoms of the wicked are agitated with the conflicting passions of pride, envy, malice, lust, ambition, and revenge. These leave no peace in the soul; they make peace impossible. People may learn in some degree to control them by the influence of philosophy; or a pride of character and respect to their reputation may enable them in some degree to restrain them; but they are like the smothered fires of the volcano, or like the momentary calm of the ocean that a gust of wind may soon lash into foam. To restrain them is not to subdue them, for no man can tell how soon he may be excited by anger, or how soon the smothered fires of lus may burn.

3. Conscience. Nothing more resembles an agitated ocean casting up mire and dirt, than a soul agitated by the recollections of past guilt. A deep dark cloud in a tempest overhangs the deep; the lightnings play and the thunder rolls along the sky, and the waves heave with wild commotion. So it is with the bosom of the sinner. Though there may be a temporary suspension of the rebukes of conscience, yet there is no permanent peace. The soul cannot rest; and in some way or other the recollections of guilt will be excited, and the bosom thrown into turbid and wild agitation.

4. The fear of judgment and of hell. Many a sinner has no rest, day or night, from the fear of future wrath. His troubled mind looks onward, and he sees nothing to anticipate but the wrath of God, and the horrors of an eternal hell. How invaluable then is religion! All these commotions are stilled by the voice of pardoning mercy, as the billows of the deep were hushed by the voice of Jesus. How much do we owe to religion! Had it not been for this, there had been no peace in this world. Every bosom would have been agitated with tumultuous passion; every heart would have quailed with the fear of hell. How diligently should we seek the influence of religion! We all have raging passions to be subdued. We all have consciences that may be troubled with the recollections of past guilt. We are all traveling to the bar of God, and have reason to apprehend the storms of vengeance. We all must soon lie down on beds of death, and in all these scenes there is nothing that can give permanent and solid peace but the religion of the Redeemer. Oh! that stills all the agitation of a troubled soul; lays every billow of tumultuous passion to rest; calms the conflicts of a guilty bosom; reveals God reconciled through a Redeemer to our souls, and removes all the anticipated terrors of a bed of death and of the approach to the judgment bar. Peacefully the Christian can die - not as the troubled sinner, who leaves the world with a bosom agitated like the stormy ocean but as peacefully as the gentle ripple dies away on the beach.

How blest the righteous when they die,

When holy souls retire to rest I


20. when it cannot rest—rather, "for it can have no rest" (Job 15:20, &c.; Pr 4:16, 17). English Version represents the sea as occasionally agitated; but the Hebrew expresses that it can never be at rest. Their minds are restless, being perpetually hurried and tormented with their own lusts and passions, and with the horror of their guilt, and the dread of the Divine vengeance due unto them, and ready to come upon them. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest,.... Disturbed by winds, storms, and hurricanes, when its waves rise, rage, and tumble about, and beat against the shore and sand, threatening to pass the bounds fixed for it. In such like agitations will the minds of wicked men be, through the terrors of conscience for their sins; or through the malice and envy in them at the happiness and prosperity of the righteous, now enjoyed, upon the downfall of antichrist; and through the judgments of God upon them, gnawing their tongues for pain, and blaspheming the God of heaven, because of their plagues and pains, Revelation 16:9,

whose waters cast up mire and dirt; from the bottom of the sea upon the shore; so the hearts of wicked men, having nothing but the mire and dirt of sin in them, cast out nothing else but the froth and foam of their own shame, blasphemy against God, and malice against his people.

But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it {z} cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

(z) Their evil conscience always torments them and therefore they can never have rest, Isa 48:22.

20, 21. Their peace is contrasted with the eternal unrest of the wicked. For the image cf. Judges 13.

when (for) it cannot rest] as Jeremiah 49:23.Verse 20. - The wicked are like the troubled sea. A striking metaphor, but one which occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and once only in the New (Jude 1:13). The sea's restless action well expresses the unquiet of the wicked; and the mud and mire that it casts up resembles their evil thoughts and evil deeds. "There is no peace" for such persons, either bodily or spiritual, either in this world or the world to come. The promise is now followed by a appeal to make ready the way which the redeemed people have to take. "And He saith, Heap up, heap up, prepare a way, take away every obstruction from the way of my people." This is the very same appeal which occurs once in all three books of these prophecies (Isaiah 40:3-4; Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). The subject of the verb ('âmar) is not Jehovah; but the prophet intentionally leaves it obscure, as in Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:6 (cf., Isaiah 26:2). It is a heavenly cry; and the crier is not to be more precisely named.
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