Isaiah 65:3
A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick;
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(3) That sacriflceth in gardens.—It is not without significance, as bearing on the date of the chapter, that the practice was common in Judah under Ahaz. (Comp. Isaiah 1:29, Mi. 5; Ezekiel 20:28.)

Burneth incense upon altars of brick.—Literally, on the bricks, and possibly, therefore, on the roofs of houses, as was common in the idolatrous practices of Judah (2Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13). By some interpreters the words are referred, though with less probability, to the brick altars which the exiles are supposed to have used at Babylon, and were forbidden by the Law (Exodus 20:24-25).

Isaiah 65:3-4. A people that provoketh me to anger — That the Jews are the people here intended, is without question: the prophet, speaking of the calling of the Gentiles, upon their rejection, enumerates some of their sins which were the causes thereof: for though their crucifying of Christ was the sin which was the principal or proximate cause, yet God visited on that generation their iniquities and the iniquities of their fathers together; they having, by the act of rejecting and crucifying their Messiah, filled up the measure of their sins. Continually to my face — With the utmost impudence, not taking notice of my omnipresence and omniscience. That sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth, &c. — Directly contrary to the divine rule. “These are instances,” says Bishop Lowth, “of heathenish superstition, and idolatrous practices, to which the Jews were immoderately addicted before the Babylonish captivity. The heathen worshipped their idols in groves: whereas God, in opposition to this species of idolatry, commanded his people, when they should come into the promised land, to destroy all the places wherein the Canaanites had served their gods, and in particular to burn their groves with fire, Deuteronomy 12:2-3. These apostate Jews sacrificed upon altars built of bricks; in opposition to the command of God, with regard to his altar, which was to be of unhewn stone, Exodus 20:25. Or it means perhaps that they sacrificed upon the roofs of their houses, which were always flat, and paved with brick or tile, or plaster of terrace; an instance of this idolatrous practice we find 2 Kings 23:12, where it is said that Josiah beat down the altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made. See also Zephaniah 1:5.” Who remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments — Or, as Bishop Lowth renders it, Who dwell in the sepulchres and lodge in the caverns, for the purposes of necromancy, (or, the art of revealing future events by communications with the dead,) and divination; to obtain dreams and revelations: another instance this of heathenish superstition, which the Latin poet describes as follows: —

“Huc dona sacerdos Cum tulit, et cæsarum ovium sub nocte silenti Pellibus incubuit stratis, somnosque petivit; Multa modis simulacra videt volitantia miris, Et varias audit voces, fruiturque Deorum Colloquio, atque imis Acheronta affatur Avernis.” VIRG. ÆN., 7:86.

“Here in distress th’ Italian nations come, Anxious to clear their doubts, and learn their doom: First, on the fleeces of the slaughter’d sheep, By night the sacred priest dissolves in sleep; When, in a train, before his slumb’ring eye, Thin airy forms and wondrous visions fly, He calls the powers who guard the infernal floods, And talks inspired, familiar with the gods.” PITT.

Which eat swine’s flesh — “Which was expressly forbidden by the law, Leviticus 11:7; but among the heathen was in principal request in their sacrifices and feasts. Antiochus Epiphanes compelled the Jews to eat swine’s flesh, as a full proof of their renouncing their religion, 2Ma 6:18; and 2Ma 7:1. And broth of abominable things — For lustrations, magical arts, and other superstitious and abominable practices.” — Bishop Lowth.

65:1-7 The Gentiles came to seek God, and find him, because they were first sought and found of him. Often he meets some thoughtless trifler or profligate opposer, and says to him, Behold me; and a speedy change takes place. All the gospel day, Christ waited to be gracious. The Jews were bidden, but would not come. It is not without cause they are rejected of God. They would do what most pleased them. They grieved, they vexed the Holy Spirit. They forsook God's temple, and sacrificed in groves. They cared not for the distinction between clean and unclean meats, before it was taken away by the gospel. Perhaps this is put for all forbidden pleasures, and all that is thought to be gotten by sin, that abominable thing which the Lord hates. Christ denounced many woes against the pride and hypocrisy of the Jews. The proof against them is plain. And let us watch against pride and self-preference, remembering that every sin, and the most secret thoughts of man's heart, are known and will be judged by God.A people - This verse contains a specification of the reasons why God had rejected them, and brought the calamities upon them.

That provoketh me to anger - That is, by their sins. They give constant occasion for my indignation.

Continually - (תמיד tâmı̂yd). It is not once merely, but their conduct as a people is constantly such as to excite my displeasure.

To my face - There is no attempt at concealment. Their abominations are public. It is always regarded as an additional affront when an offence is committed in the very presence of another, and when there is not even the apology that it was supposed he did not see the offender. It is a great aggravation of the guilt of the stoner, that his offence is committed in the very presence, and under the very eye, of God.

That sacrificeth in gardens - (See the notes at Isaiah 1:29).

And burneth incense - On the meaning of the word 'incense,' see the notes at Isaiah 1:13.

Upon altars of brick - Margin, 'Bricks.' The Hebrew is simply, 'Upon bricks.' The command of God was that the altars for sacrifice should be made of unhewn stone Exodus 20:24-25. But the pagan had altars of a different description, and the Jews had sacrificed on those altars. Some have supposed that this means that they sacrificed on the roofs of their houses, which were flat, and paved with brick, or tile, or plaster. That altars were constructed sometimes on the roofs of their houses, we know from 2 Kings 23:12, where Josiah is said to have beaten down the 'altars that were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the king of Judah had made.' But it is not necessary to suppose that such sacrifices are referred to here. They had disobeyed the command of God, which required that the altars should be made only of unhewn stone. They had built other altars, and had joined with the pagan in offering sacrifices thereon. The reason why God forbade that the altar should be of anything but unhewn stone is not certainly known, and is not necessary to be understood in order to explain this passage. It may have been, first, in order effectually to separate his people from all others, as well in the construction of the altar as in anything and everything else; secondly, because various inscriptions and carvings were usually made on altars, and as this tended to superstition, God commanded that the chisel should not be used at all in the construction of the altars where his people should worship.

3. continually—answering to "all the day" (Isa 65:2). God was continually inviting them, and they continually offending Him (De 32:21).

to my face—They made no attempt to hide their sin (Isa 3:9). Compare "before Me" (Ex 20:3).

in gardens—(See on [870]Isa 1:29; Isa 66:17; Le 17:5).

altars of brick—Hebrew, "bricks." God had commanded His altars to be of unhewn stone (Ex 20:25). This was in order to separate them, even in external respects, from idolaters; also, as all chiselling was forbidden, they could not inscribe superstitious symbols on them as the heathen did. Bricks were more easily so inscribed than stone; hence their use for the cuneiform inscriptions at Babylon, and also for idolatrous altars. Some, not so well, have supposed that the "bricks" here mean the flat brick-paved roofs of houses on which they sacrificed to the sun, &c. (2Ki 23:12; Jer 19:13).

A people that provoketh me to anger: that the Jews are the people here intended is without question; the prophet, speaking of the calling of the Gentiles upon their rejection, reckons up their sins which were the causes. For though their rejecting and crucifying of Christ was that sin which was the proximate cause; yet God did but visit on that generation their iniquities, and the iniquities of their fathers together, they having by that act filled up their measure. They had provoked God continually to anger to his face.

To my face; either in his temple, the place where he used to manifest himself; or (considering what followeth) more probably the phrase signifieth their impudence, not taking notice of God’s omnipresence and omniscience.

The particular provocations instanced in are deviations in the matter of Divine worship.

Sacrificing in gardens is one thing instanced in; and

burning incense on brick, or altars of brick, is another, Deu 12:13: there was a particular altar of gold appointed for incense, Exodus 40:5. God commanded, Exodus 20:24,25, that his altars should be made of earth, or rough stone. This people transgressed both these laws; sacrificing in gardens, for which the prophet reflected on them, Isaiah 1:29, and again Isaiah 66:17; whether in gardens consecrated to idols, or in such gardens, as the heathens worshipped idols in, is not much material for us to know; and burning incense upon altars of brick, directly contrary to the Divine rule. Their worship was doubtless idolatrous, and these phrases signify committing idolatry; but the expressing that sin by these phrases lets us know that the doing contrary to the direction of the Divine rule in God’s worship is a great part of the sinfulness of idolatry.

A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face,.... They committed their sins openly, without any fear of the divine Being, and in defiance of him, not at all awed by his omniscience and omnipresence; they committed them in the open streets, and even in the temple, the place of the divine residence; and these they did constantly, which provoked him to anger and wrath against them; particularly the following sins:

that sacrificeth in gardens; to idols, as the Targum, placed there, as they were under every green tree; or in groves, where idols were worshipped. Fortunatus Scacchus (h) thinks this refers to their having their sepulchres in their gardens, where they consulted the dead; which is favoured by a clause in the next verse:

and burneth incense on altars of brick: or, "upon bricks" (i). Kimchi says, when they made bricks, they put upon them incense for idols; or, "upon tiles"; upon the roofs of their houses, which were covered with tiles; see Jeremiah 19:13 when incense should only have been burnt upon the golden altar erected for that purpose, Exodus 30:1, not that these idolatrous actions were committed by the Jews in the times of Christ and his apostles, the times preceding their last destruction; for, after their return front the Babylonish captivity, they were not guilty of idolatry; but these were the sins of their fathers, which God would recompense into their bosoms, according to Isaiah 65:7 they now filling up the measure of their iniquities, Matthew 23:32.

(h) Sacr. Eleaochr. Myrothec. I. 2. c. 55. col. 580. (i) "super lateres", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Vitringa.

A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in {d} gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of {e} brick;

(d) Which were dedicated to idols.

(e) Meaning their altars, which he thus named by contempt.

3. that sacrificeth in the gardens] Cf. ch. Isaiah 66:17, and see on Isaiah 1:29.

burneth incense upon altars of brick] Strictly on the bricks (R.V.), or tiles. We have no key to the meaning of the expression. Some think the “tiles” denote the roofs of the houses, where sacrifices were sometimes offered to false gods (see 2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5); others (like A.V.) suppose that altars made of bricks are referred to. Why the custom should be specially Babylonian (Del.) does not appear. The word for “burn incense” may mean simply “burn sacrifice”; see on ch. Isaiah 1:13.

3–5. Description of their illegal and superstitious cults.

Verse 3. - That sacrificeth in gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17). The groves and "gardens" of Daphne, near Antioch. became famous in later times as the scene of idolatrous practices intimately bound up with the grossest and most shameless sensualism. We have few details of the ancient Syrian rites; but there is reason to believe that, wherever Astarte, the Dea Syra, was worshipped, whether at Daphne, or at Hierapolis, or at Balbek, or at Aphek, or at Damascus, or in Palestine, one and the same character of cult prevailed. The nature-goddess was viewed as best worshipped by rites into which sensualism entered as an essential element. Profligacy that cannot be described polluted the consecrated precincts, which were rendered attractive by all that was beautiful and delightful, whether in art or nature-by groves, gardens, statues, fountains, shrines, temples, music, processions, shows - and which were in consequence frequented both day and night by a multitude of votaries. And burneth incense upon altars of brick; literally, upon the bricks. It is not clear that "altars" are intended. More probably the incense was burnt upon the tiled or bricked roofs of houses, where the Jews of Jeremiah's time "burned incense unto all the host of heaven" (Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). Brick altars are nowhere mentioned. The Assyrians and Babylonians made their altars of either stone or metal ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 36, 37; Herod., 1. 183). The Hebrews in early times had altars of earth (Exodus 20:24). The "altar of incense" in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-3) was of wood plated with gold; that of burnt offering, of wood plated with bronze (Exodus 27:1, 2). Solomon's altars were similar. Elijah on one occasion made an altar of twelve rough stones (1 Kings 18:31). The Assyrians used polished stone, as did the Greeks and Romans. Isaiah 65:3But through this obstinate and unyielding rejection of His love they have excited wrath, which, though long and patiently suppressed, now bursts forth with irresistible violence. "The people that continually provoketh me by defying me to my face, sacrificing in the gardens, and burning incense upon the tiles; who sit in the graves, and spend the night in closed places; to eat the flesh of swine, and broken pieces of abominations is in their dishes; who say, Stop! come not too near me; for I am holy to thee: they are a smoke in my nose, a fire blazing continually." אלּה (these) in Isaiah 65:5 is retrospective, summing up the subject as described in Isaiah 65:3-5, and what follows in Isaiah 65:5 contains the predicate. The heathenish practices of the exiles are here depicted, and in Isaiah 65:7 they are expressly distinguished from those of their fathers. Hence there is something so peculiar in the description, that we look in vain for parallels among those connected with the idolatry of the Israelites before the time of the captivity. There is only one point of resemblance, viz., the allusion to gardens as places of worship, which only occurs in the book of Isaiah, and in which our passage, together with Isaiah 57:5 and Isaiah 66:17, strikingly coincides with Isaiah 1:29. "Upon my face" (‛al-pânai) is equivalent to "freely and openly, without being ashamed of me, or fearing me;" cf., Job 1:11; Job 6:28; Job 21:31. "Burning incense upon the bricks" carries us to Babylonia, the true home of the cocti lateres (laterculi). The thorah only mentions lebhēnı̄m in connection with Babylonian and Egyptian buildings. The only altars that it allows are altars of earth thrown up, or of unhewn stones and wooden beams with a brazen covering. "They who sit in the graves," according to Vitringa, are they who sacrifice to the dead. He refers to the Greek and Roman inferiae and februationes, or expiations for the dead, as probably originating in the East. Sacrifices for the dead were offered, in fact, not only in India and Persia, but also in Hither Asia among the Ssabians, and therefore probably in ancient Mesopotamia and Babylonia. But were they offered in the graves themselves, as we must assume from בּקּברים (not על־קברים)? Nothing at all is known of this, and Bttcher (de inferis, 234) is correct in rendering it "among (inter) the graves," and supposing the object to be to hold intercourse there with the dead and with demons. The next point, viz., passing the night in closed places (i.e., places not accessible to every one: netsūrı̄m, custodita equals clausa, like ne‛ı̄mı̄m, amaena), may refer to the mysteries celebrated in natural caves and artificial crypts (on the mysteries of the Ssabians, see Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier u. der Ssabismus, ii. 332ff.). But the lxx and Syriac render it ἐν τοῖς σπηλαίοις κοιμῶνται δι ̓ἐνύπνια, evidently understanding it to refer to the so-called incubare, ἐγκοιμᾶσθαι; and so Jerome explains it. "In the temples of idols," he says, "where they were accustomed to lie upon the skins of the victims stretched upon the ground, to gather future events from their dreams." The expression ubhannetsūrı̄m points not so much to open temples, as to inaccessible caves or subterraneous places. G. Rawlinson (Monarchies, ii. 269) mentions the discovery of "clay idols in holes below the pavement of palaces." From the next charge, "who eat there the flesh of the swine," we may infer that the Babylonians offered swine in sacrifice, if not as a common thing, yet like the Egyptians and other heathen, and ate their flesh ("the flesh taken from the sacrifice," 2 Macc. 6:21); whereas among the later Ssabians (Harranians) the swine was not regarded as either edible or fit for sacrifice.

On the synecdochical character of the sentence כּליהם פּגּלים וּפרק, see at Isaiah 5:12, cf., Jeremiah 24:2. Knobel's explanation, "pieces" (but it is not וּפרקי) "of abominations are their vessels, i.e., those of their ἱεροσκοπία," is a needless innovation. פּגּוּל signifies a stench, putrefaction (Ezekiel 4:14, besar piggūl), then in a concrete sense anything corrupt or inedible, a thing to be abhorred according to the laws of food or the law generally (syn. פּסּוּל, פּצוּל); and when connected with פרק (chethib), which bears the same relation to מרק as crumbs or pieces (from פּרק, to crumble) to broth (from מתק, to rub off or scald off), it means a decoction, or broth made either of such kinds of flesh or such parts of the body as were forbidden by the law. The context also points to such heathen sacrifices and sacrificial meals as were altogether at variance with the Mosaic law. For the five following words proceed from the mouths of persons who fancy that they have derived a high degree of sanctity either from the mysteries, or from their participation in rites of peculiar sacredness, so that to every one who abstains from such rites, or does not enter so deeply into them as they do themselves, they call out their "odi profanum vulgus et arceo." אליך קרב, keep near to thyself, i.e., stay where you are, like the Arabic idhab ileika, go away to thyself, for take thyself off. על־תּגּשׁ־בּי (according to some MSS with mercha tifchah), do not push against me (equivalent to גּשׁ־הלאה or גּשׁה־לך, get away, make room; Genesis 19:9; Isaiah 49:20), for qedashtikhâ, I am holy to thee, i.e., unapproachable. The verbal suffix is used for the dative, as in Isaiah 44:21 (Ges. 121, 4), for it never occurred to any of the Jewish expositors (all of whom give sanctus prae te as a gloss) that the kal qâdash was used in a transitive sense, like châzaq in Jeremiah 20:7, as Luther, Calvin, and even Hitzig suppose. Nor is the exclamation the well-meant warning against the communication of a burdensome qedusshâh, which had to be removed by washing before a man could proceed to the duties of every-day life (such, for example, as the qedusshâh of the man who had touched the flesh of a sin-offering, or bee sprinkled with the blood of a sin-offering; Leviticus 6:20, cf., Ezekiel 44:19; Ezekiel 46:20). It is rather a proud demand to respect the sacro-sanctus, and not to draw down the chastisement of the gods by the want of reverential awe. After this elaborate picture, the men who are so degenerate receive their fitting predicate. They are fuel for the wrath of God, which manifests itself, as it were, in smoking breath. This does not now need for the first time to seize upon them; but they are already in the midst of the fire of wrath, and are burning there in inextinguishable flame.

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