Isaiah 61:4
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.
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(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.

Isaiah 61:4-5. They shall build the old wastes — See on chap. 58:12. As this is evidently to be understood of gospel times, the meaning seems to be, that the establishment of Christianity in the world should repair the decays of true religion, of genuine piety and virtue, which had been at a very low ebb, not only in the Gentile nations, which were all idolatrous, but also among the Jews, for many centuries. By the ministry of John the Baptist, of our Lord, and his apostles, many thousands of spiritual worshippers were raised up to God in Judea, and the adjacent parts; and when the ministers of the word were sent into the Gentile countries, the cities and provinces which had been as a wilderness, overrun with briers and thorns, became as Eden, and the deserts like the garden of the Lord: truth and grace, wisdom and piety, godliness and righteousness, with joy and gladness, were found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody, Isaiah 51:3. And strangers — Namely, Gentiles, such as were not of the natural race of the Jews, but Gentile converts; shall stand — Ready to be at thy service; and feed your flocks — The churches, with the word of God. And the sons of the alien — The same with the strangers before mentioned, or their successors; shall be your ploughmen, &c. — Shall manage the whole work of God’s spiritual husbandry. See 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.

61:4-9 Promises are here made to the Jews returned out of captivity, which extend to all those who, through grace, are delivered out of spiritual thraldom. An unholy soul is like a city that is broken down, and has no walls, like a house in ruins; but by the power of Christ's gospel and grace, it is fitted to be a habitation of God, through the Spirit. When, by the grace of God, we attain to holy indifference as to the affairs of this world; when, though our hands are employed about them, our hearts are not entangled with them, but preserved entire for God and his service, then the sons of the alien are our ploughmen and vine-dressers. Those whom He sets at liberty, he sets to work. His service is perfect freedom; it is the greatest honour. All believers are made, to our God, kings and priests; and always ought to conduct themselves as such. Those who have the Lord for their portion, have reason to say, that they have worthy portion, and to rejoice in it. In the fulness of heaven's joys we shall receive more than double for all our services and sufferings. God desires truth, and therefore hates all injustice. Nor will it justify any man's robbery to say, it was for burnt-offerings; and that robbery is most hateful which is under this pretence. Let the children of godly parents be such, that all may see the fruits of a good education; an answer to the prayers for them, in the fruit of God's blessing.And they shall build the old wastes - (See the notes at Isaiah 58:12). 4. old wastes—Jerusalem and the cities of Judah which long lay in ruins (see on [864]Isa 58:12). See Isaiah 58:12. As it is applied to gospel times, the meaning may be, that Gentilism, which was as a wilderness overgrown with briers and thorns, shall be cultivated; and those cities and provinces of the Gentiles that lay as it were waste, void of all true religion, shall now by the ministry of the word be edified in the true worship of God.

And they shall build the old wastes,.... The captives set at liberty, and who are called trees of righteousness, and the planting of the Lord; righteous and good men, who shall be employed in the spiritual building of the church in Gospel times, and especially in the latter day; for here begins an account of the benefits and blessings the church of Christ should partake of, particularly at the time of the calling and conversion of the Jews: after having described the work and office of the Messiah, and his fitness for it, the Holy Ghost returns to the same subject with the preceding chapter, and which is carried on in the next. What is here said was literally true, when the Jews returned from Babylon, and built their ruined houses and cities; or, at least, there is an allusion to it: but it respects either the setting up of the interest of Christ, and forming churches in the Gentile world, where nothing but blindness and ignorance reigned; where there were no preaching nor ordinances, but all things were in ruin and confusion; as they were before the ministry of the Gospel by the apostles, who were wise master builders, and instruments of converting multitudes, and of raising churches to the honour of the great Redeemer there: or rather it respects the building up of the tabernacle of David, that is fallen down, or the church of God among the Jews, which will be in the latter day, when they are turned to the Lord, Amos 9:11 and the same sense have all the following expressions,

they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations; setting forth the desolate state and condition of the Jews; their long continuance in it, age after age; and their recovery and restoration, when they shall become a flourishing people again, both in civil and spiritual things.

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 {h} generations.

(h) That is, for a long time.

4. Comp. ch. Isaiah 49:8, Isaiah 58:12, Isaiah 60:10.

Verses 4-9. - GOD'S PURPOSE OF DEALING GRACIOUSLY WITH ISRAEL. Having proclaimed the objects of his own mission, "the Servant" proceeds to declare God's gracious purposes towards Israel. Taking the Captivity period for his standpoint, he promises, first, the restoration of the cities of Judah (ver. 4), and then a flourishing time in which Jews and Gentiles shall dwell together in one community peacefully and gloriously, Israel having a certain pre-eminence (vers. 5-9). Verse 4. - They shall build the old wastes. (On the "waste" condition, not of Jerusalem only, but of the cities of Judith generally, see Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 49:8, 19; Isaiah 64:10, 11, etc.) The first step in the recovery of Israel from the misery of the Captivity would be a return to Palestine, and a general restoration of the ruined towns. It was a ruin of "many generations," having commenced, probably, with the invasion of Pharaoh-Necho in B.C. 608, and being continued till the edict of Cyrus ( B.C. 538). Isaiah 61:4Even in Isaiah 61:3 with להם וקרא a perfect was introduced in the place of the infinitives of the object, and affirmed what was to be accomplished through the mediation of the Servant of Jehovah. The second turn in the address, which follows in Isaiah 61:4-9, continues the use of such perfects, which afterwards pass into futures. But the whole is still governed by the commencement in Isaiah 61:1. The Servant of Jehovah celebrates the glorious office committed to him, and expounds the substance of the gospel given him to proclaim. It points to the restoration of the promised land, and to the elevation of Israel, after its purification in the furnace of judgment, to great honour and dignity in the midst of the world of nations. "And they will build up wastes of the olden time, raise up desolations of the forefathers, and renew desolate cities, desolations of former generations. And strangers stand and feed your flocks, and foreigners become your ploughmen and vinedressers. But ye will be called priests of Jehovah; Servants of our God, will men say to you: ye will eat the riches of the nations, and pride yourselves in their glory." The desolations and wastes of ‛ōlâm and dōr vâdōr, i.e., of ages remote and near (Isaiah 58:12), are not confined to what had lain in ruins during the seventy years of the captivity. The land will be so thickly populated, that the former places of abode will not suffice (Isaiah 49:19-20); so that places must be referred to which are lying waste beyond the present bounds of the promised land (Isaiah 54:3), and which will be rebuilt, raised up, and renewed by those who return from exile, and indeed by the latest generations (Isaiah 58:12, מםּ; cf., Isaiah 60:14). Chōrebh, in the sense of desolation, is a word belonging to the alter period of the language (Zeph., Jer., and Ezek.). The rebuilding naturally suggests the thought of assistance on the part of the heathen (Isaiah 60:10). But the prophet expresses the fact that they will enter into the service of Israel (Isaiah 61:5), in a new and different form. They "stand there" (viz., at their posts ready for service, ‛al-mish-martâm, 2 Chronicles 7:6), "and feed your flocks" (צאן singularetantum, cf., Genesis 30:43), and foreigners are your ploughmen and vinedressers. Israel is now, in the midst of the heathen who have entered into the congregation of Jehovah and become the people of God (ch Isaiah 19:25), what the Aaronites formerly were in the midst of Israel itself. It stands upon the height of its primary destination to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). They are called "priests of Jehovah," and the heathen call them "servants of our God;" for even the heathen speak with believing reverence of the God, to whom Israel renders priestly service, as "our God." This reads as if the restored Israelites were to stand in the same relation to the converted heathen as the clergy to the laity; but it is evident, from Isaiah 66:21, that the prophet has no such hierarchical separation as this in his mind. All that we can safely infer from his prophecy is, that the nationality of Israel will not be swallowed up by the entrance of the heathen into the community of the God of revelation. The people created by Jehovah, to serve as the vehicle of the promise of salvation and the instrument in preparing the way for salvation, will also render Him special service, even after that salvation has been really effected. At the same time, we cannot take the attitude, which is here assigned to the people of sacred history after it has become the teacher of the nations, viz., as the leader of its worship also, and shape it into any clear and definite form that shall be reconcilable with the New Testament spirit of liberty and the abolition of all national party-walls. The Old Testament prophet utters New Testament prophecies in an Old Testament form. Even when he continues to say, "Ye will eat the riches of the Gentiles, and pride yourselves in their glory," i.e., be proud of the glorious things which have passed from their possession into yours, this is merely colouring intended to strike the eye, which admits of explanation on the ground that he saw the future in the mirror of the present, as a complete inversion of the relation in which the two had stood before. The figures present themselves to him in the form of contrasts. The New Testament apostle, on the other hand, says in Romans 11:12 that the conversion of all Israel to Christ will be "the riches of the Gentiles." But if even then the Gentile church should act according to the words of the same apostle in Romans 15:27, and show her gratitude to the people whose spiritual debtor she is, by ministering to them in carnal things, all that the prophet has promised here will be amply fulfilled. We cannot adopt the explanation proposed by Hitzig, Stier, etc., "and changing with them, ye enter into their glory" (hithyammēr from yâmar equals mūr, Hiph.: hēmı̄r, Jeremiah 2:11; lit., to exchange with one another, to enter into one another's places); for yâmar equals ‛âmar (cf., yâchad equals 'âchad; yâsham equals 'âsham; yâlaph equals 'âlaph), to press upwards, to rise up (related to tâmar, see at Isaiah 17:9; sâmar, Symm. ὀρθοτριχεῖν, possibly also ‛âmar with the hithpael hith‛ammēr, lxx καταδυναστεύειν), yields a much simpler and more appropriate meaning. From this verb we have hith'ammēr in Psalm 94:4, "to lift one's self up (proudly)," and here hithyammēr; and it is in this way that the word has been explained by Jerome (superbietis), and possibly by the lxx (θαυμασθήσεσθε, in the sense of spectabiles eritis), by the Targum, and the Syriac, as well as by most of the ancient and modern expositors.
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