Isaiah 65:5
Which say, Stand by yourself, come not near to me; for I am holier than you. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burns all the day.
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(5) Which say, Stand by thyself . . .—The picture, in its main outlines, reminds us of the proud exclusiveness of the later Pharisees, and the root-evil is, of course, identical. Here, however, the ground of the exclusiveness is not the consciousness of the peculiar privileges of Israel, but rests on what was an actual apostasy. Those of whom Isaiah speaks boasted of their initiation into heathen mysteries (Baal, Thammuz, or the like) as giving them a kind of consecrated character, and separating them from the profanum vulgus of the Israelites, who were faithful to the God of their fathers.

I am holier than thou.—Literally, I am holy to thee: i.e., one whom thou mayest not approach. (Comp. Leviticus 21:8.) By some commentators the verb is taken as transitive, I make thee holy: i.e., have power to impart holiness; but this is less satisfactory, both grammatically and as to meaning.

These are a smoke in my nose . . .—The point of the clause is that the punishment is represented as not future. The self-exalting idolaters are already as those who are being consumed in the fire of the Divine wrath, and their smoke is “a savour of death” in the nostrils of Jehovah.

Isaiah 65:5-6. Who say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me — Though they were so exceedingly guilty, yet they pretended to singular sanctity, so that they would not suffer others to come near or touch them. The reader will observe that the crime of hypocrisy is here decried, and every one that is acquainted with the gospels will easily see that the character of the Pharisees and their followers is drawn in this passage; see Luke 18:10. And there cannot be a more lively description of spiritual pride and hypocritical arrogance than it gives us. For I am holier than thou — Thus they esteemed themselves holier than others, though all their holiness lay in rituals, and those too such as God never commanded. Of these God saith, These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burneth all the day

That is, a continual provocation to me: as smoke is an offence to our noses. Behold, it is written before me — They may think I take no notice of these things, but I will as certainly remember them as princes remember the things which, in order that they may not forget them, they record in writing. And they shall know that I take notice of, and will remember them; for I will not keep silence — That is, I will not long neglect the punishment of them, though for a while I have delayed it, like a man who restrains his wrath, for some wise reasons which are best known to himself, Psalm 50:21; but will recompense into their bosom — My punishment of them shall be severe and certain, but yet it shall be just, and not greater than their sins have merited.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.Which say, Stand by thyself - Who at the time that they engage in these abominations are distinguished for spiritual pride. The most worthless people are commonly the most proud; and they who have wandered farthest from God have in general the most exalted idea of their own goodness. It was a characteristic of a large part of the Jewish nation, and especially of the Pharisees, to be self-righteous and proud. A striking illustration of this we have in the following description of the Hindu yogis, by Roberts: 'Those men are so isolated by their superstition and penances, that they hold but little contact with the rest of mankind. They wander about in the dark in the place of burning the dead, or "among the graves;" there they affect to hold converse with evil and other spirits; and there they pretend to receive intimations respecting the destinies of others. They will eat things which are religiously clean or unclean; they neither wash their bodies, nor comb their hair, nor cut their nails, nor wear clothes. They are counted to be most holy among the people, and are looked upon as beings of another world.'

These are a smoke in my nose - Margin, 'Anger.' The word rendered 'nose' (אף 'aph) means sometimes nose Numbers 11:20; Job 40:24, and sometimes 'anger,' because anger is evinced by hard breathing. The Septuagint renders this, 'This is the smoke of my anger.' But the correct idea is, probably, that their conduct was offensive to God, as smoke is unpleasant or painful in the nostrils; or as smoke excites irritation when breathed, so their conduct excited displeasure (Rosenmuller). Or it may mean, as Lowth suggests, that their conduct kindled a smoke and a fire in his nose as the emblems of his wrath. There is probably an allusion to their sacrifices here. The smoke of their sacrifices constantly ascending was unpleasant and provoking to God.

A fire that burneth all the day - The idea here probably is, that their conduct kindled a fire of indignation that was continually breathed out upon them. A similar figure occurs in Deuteronomy 32:22 : 'For a fire is kindled in mine anger,' or in my nose (באפי be'appı̂y), 'and shall burn unto the lowest hell.' So in Psalm 18:8 :

There went up a smoke out of his nostrils,

And fire out of his mouth devoured.

Compare Ezekiel 38:18.

5. (Mt 9:11; Lu 5:30; 18:11; Jude 19). Applicable to the hypocritical self-justifiers of our Lord's time.

smoke—alluding to the smoke of their self-righteous sacrifices; the fire of God's wrath was kindled at the sight, and exhibited itself in the smoke that breathed forth from His nostrils; in Hebrew the nose is the seat of anger; and the nostrils distended in wrath, as it were, breathe forth smoke [Rosenmuller] (Ps 18:8).

Though they were so exceedingly guilty, yet they pretended to a singular sanctity, so as they would not suffer others to come near or touch them. The Samaritans are usually charged with this uncharitableness, and the use of this form of words; but as some do more excuse the Samaritans than the other Jews as to this rigour, so it may be questioned whether they were not at this time carried into captivity; and certain it is, that among the Jews there was such a generation from whom the Pharisees in our Saviour’s time were derived, and this was the reason of their not eating, except they washed, when they came from the market, Mark 7:4, lest peradventure they should there have touched some heathen, or some person who was legally unclean. Thus they esteemed themselves holier than others, though all their holiness lay in these rituals, and those too such as God never commanded. And indeed those who most exceed in such ritual holiness (lying merely in a separation from others, by the usage of some unwritten traditions) come most short in moral and true holiness; for of these God saith,

These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burneth all the day; that is, a continual provocation to me; as smoke is an offence to our noses, Proverbs 10:26; which seemeth to be the sense rather than what some make, who make it a threatening of God’s wrath smoking against them, which is sufficiently expressed in the following verses. Which say, stand by thyself, &c. According to Aben Ezra, Jarchi, and Kimchi, these are the unclean persons that did the above things; who say to the righteous, "draw near to thyself" (p); so the words are, go to thine own place, or to thine own company:

and come not near to me; keep off at a distance, as unworthy of such company:

for I am holier than thou; but this is the language of a self-righteous man, of a Pharisee that strictly observed the rituals of the law; and fitly describes such who lived in the times of Christ; and exactly agrees with the characters of such, who not only would have no dealings with the Samaritans, but washed themselves when they came from market, or any public place, lest they should be defiled with the common people of their own nation; and, even with religious persons, would not stand near them while praying; but despised them, if they had not arrived to that pitch of outward sanctity they had; see John 4:9, Luke 18:9. The phrase may be rendered, "do not touch me" (q); and the Pharisees would not suffer themselves to be touched by the common people, nor would they touch them. Maimonides (r) says,

"if the Pharisees touched but the garments of the common people, they were defiled all one as if they had touched a profluvious person, and were obliged to dip themselves all over;''

so that, when they walked in the streets, they used to walk on the sides of the way, that they might not be defiled by touching them (s). So Epiphanius (t) relates of the Samaritan Jews, that when they touch one of another nation, they dip themselves with their clothes in water; for they reckon it a defilement to touch anyone, or to touch any man of another religion; and of the Dositheans, who were another sect of the Samaritans the same writer observes (u), that they studiously avoid touching any, for they abhor every man. A certain Arabic geographer of note (w) makes mention of an island, called the island of the Samaritans, inhabited by some Samaritan Jews, as appears by their saying to any that apply to them, do not touch; and by this it is known that they are of the Jews who are called Samaritans; and this same arrogant superstition, as Scaliger observes (x), continues in that people to this day, as those relate who have conversed with them:

these are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day: very offensive to the divine Being, as smoke is to the eyes and nostrils; very abominable to him; and whose proud and vain conduct raised indignation in him, and kindled the fire of his anger, which was continually exercised on them; see Luke 16:15. The Targum is,

"their vengeance is in hell, where the fire burns all the day.''

(p) "accede ad te", Vatablus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Cocceius; "appropinqua ad te", Piscator. (q) "ne contigas me"; so some in Vatablus; "ne attingite me", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; "ne tangae rue": Cocceius. (r) In Misn. Chagiga, c. 2. sect. 7. (s) lb. Hilcot Abot Tumaot, c. 13. sect. 8. (t) Contra Haeres. haeres. 9. (u) Contra Haeres, haeres 13. (w) Apud Scaliger de Emendat, Temp. l. 7. (x) Ibid.

Which say, {h} Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that {i} burneth all the day.

(h) He shows that hypocrisy is always joined with pride and contempt of others.

(i) Their punishment will never have an end.

5. Stand by thyself] Lit. “Draw near to thyself.” Cf. Isaiah 49:20.

for I am holier than thou] This construction of the accus. suffix is hardly admissible. The verb is to be pointed as Piel, and the clause rendered: else I sanctify thee (cf. the similar use of the perf. in 1 Samuel 2:16). The words express no Pharisaic sense of superior virtue; they are addressed by a Mystagogue (see on Isaiah 66:17), or at least a member of a special religious fellowship, to the uninitiated, warning them against the dangerous degree of holiness (taboo) which would be incurred by contact with the initiated (cf. Ezekiel 44:19). (See Rel. of Sem.2 pp. 343, 357–368). It is true we have no further evidence of the existence of such mystic societies in Palestine at any time. But the whole passage (Isaiah 65:3-5) is unique, and furnishes a startling revelation of a state of things without parallel in the O.T., although something similar may be inferred from Ezekiel 8:10. Its emergence at this particular period is no doubt to be explained by the collapse of the old national religions, which was the inevitable result of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. This naturally led to a recrudescence of primitive superstitions which had been handed down in obscure circles, but had been kept in check so long as the public religion of the state retained its vitality (Rel. of Sem.2 pp. 357 f.). But while this general explanation may be sufficient, the situation becomes perhaps still more intelligible if we suppose the description to apply to descendants of the colonists settled by Assyrian kings in Samaria (Cheyne, Introd. p. 369).

these are a smoke in my nose] If the clause stood alone it would be interpreted as a figurative expression of the idea of Isaiah 65:3 a,—a smoke entering into and irritating the nostrils. The parallel clause, however, has led nearly all commentators to understand the “smoke” as a symbol of the Divine anger (cf. Psalm 18:8); and to paraphrase the line thus: “these are (the cause of) a smoke (proceeding from) my nostrils.” This is certainly very unnatural. Why should not the second line be subordinate to the first,—the continually burning fire being the source of the “smoke” as the emblem of provocation?

a fire that burneth all the day] Probably a citation from Jeremiah 17:4; cf. Deuteronomy 32:22.Verse 5. - Stand by thyself; i.e. "keep aloof - come not into contact with me; for mine is a higher holiness than thine, and I should be polluted by thy near approach." Initiation into heathen mysteries was thought to confer on the initiated a holiness unattainable otherwise. Thus the heathenized Jew claimed to be holier than the true servants of Jehovah. These are a smoke... a fire (comp. Psalm 18:8, "There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it"). The heathenized Jews are fuel for the wrath of God, which kindles a fire wherein they burn continually (comp. Isaiah 66:24). The re-erection of the ruins of the promised land requires the zeal of every one, and this state of ruin must not continue. It calls out the love and faithfulness of Jehovah. "The cities of Thy holiness have become a pasture-ground; Zion has become a pasture-ground, Jerusalem a desert. The house of our holiness and of our adorning, where our fathers praised Thee, is given up to the fire, and everything that was our delight given up to devastation. Wilt Thou restrain Thyself in spite of this, O Jehovah, be silent, and leave us to suffer the utmost?" Jerusalem by itself could not possibly be called "cities" (‛ârē), say with reference to the upper and lower cities (Vitringa). It is merely mentioned by name as the most prominent of the many cities which were all "holy cities," inasmuch as the whole of Canaan was the land of Jehovah (Isaiah 14:25), and His holy territory (Psalm 78:54). The word midbâr (pasture-land, heath, different from tsiyyâh, the pastureless desert, Isaiah 35:1) is repeated, for the purpose of showing that the same fate had fallen upon Zion-Jerusalem as upon the rest of the cities of the land. The climax of the terrible calamity was the fact, that the temple had also fallen a prey to the burning of the fire (compare for the fact, Jeremiah 52:13). The people call it "house of our holiness and of our glory." Jehovah's qōdesh and tiph'ereth have, as it were, transplanted heaven to earth in the temple (compare Isaiah 63:15 with Isaiah 60:7); and this earthly dwelling-place of God is Israel's possession, and therefore Israel's qōdesh and tiph'ereth. The relative clause describes what sublime historical reminiscences are attached to the temple: אשׁר is equivalent to שׁם אשׁר, as in Genesis 39:20; Numbers 20:13 (compare Psalm 84:4), Deuteronomy 8:15, etc. הללּך has chateph-pathach, into which, as a rule, the vocal sheva under the first of two similar letters is changed. Machămaddēnū (our delights) may possibly include favourite places, ornamental buildings, and pleasure grounds; but the parallel leads us rather to think primarily of things associated with the worship of God, in which the people found a holy delight. כל, contrary to the usual custom, is here followed by the singular of the predicate, as in Proverbs 16:2; Ezekiel 31:15 (cf., Genesis 9:29). Will Jehovah still put restraint upon Himself, and cause His merciful love to keep silence, על־זאת, with such a state of things as this, or notwithstanding this state of things (Job 10:7)? On התאפּק, see Isaiah 63:15; Isaiah 42:14. The suffering would indeed increase עד־מאד (to the utmost), if it caused the destruction of Israel, or should not be followed at last by Israel's restoration. Jehovah's compassion cannot any longer thus forcibly restrain itself; it must break forth, like Joseph's tears in the recognition scene (Genesis 45:1).
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