Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
Isa 57:1-21. The Peaceful Death of the Righteous Few: the Ungodliness of the Many: a Believing Remnant Shall Survive the General Judgments of the Nation, and Be Restored by Him Who Creates Peace.
In the midst of the excesses of the unfaithful watchmen (Isa 56:10, 11, 12), most of the few that are godly perish: partly by vexation at the prevailing ungodliness; partly by violent death in persecution: prophetical of the persecuting times of Manasseh, before God's judgments in causing the captivity in Babylon; and again those in the last age of the Church, before the final judgments on the apostasy (2Ki 21:16; Mt 23:29-35, 37; Re 11:17). The Hebrew for "perisheth," and "is taken away," expresses a violent death (Mic 7:2).
1. no man layeth it to heart—as a public calamity.
merciful men—rather, godly men; the subjects of mercy.
none considering—namely, what was the design of Providence in removing the godly.
from the evil—Hebrew, from the face of the evil, that is, both from the moral evil on every side (Isa 56:10-12), and from the evils about to come in punishment of the national sins, foreign invasions, &c. (Isa 56:9; 57:13). So Ahijah's death is represented as a blessing conferred on him by God for his piety (1Ki 14:10-13; see also 2Ki 22:20).
He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
2. Or, "he entereth into peace"; in contrast to the persecutions which he suffered in this world (Job 3:13, 17). The Margin not so well translates, "he shall go in peace" (Ps 37:37; Lu 2:29).
rest—the calm rest of their bodies in their graves (called "beds," 2Ch 16:14; compare Isa 14:18; because they "sleep" in them, with the certainty of awakening at the resurrection, 1Th 4:14) is the emblem of the eternal "rest" (Heb 4:9; Re 14:13).
each one walking in … uprightness—This clause defines the character of those who at death "rest in their beds," namely, all who walk uprightly.
But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore.
3. But … ye—In contrast to "the righteous" and their end, he announces to the unbelieving Jews their doom.
sons of the sorceress—that is, ye that are addicted to sorcery: this was connected with the worship of false gods (2Ki 21:6). No insult is greater to an Oriental than any slur cast on his mother (1Sa 20:30; Job 30:8).
seed of the adulterer—Spiritual adultery is meant: idolatry and apostasy (Mt 16:4).
Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,
4. sport yourselves—make a mock (Isa 66:5). Are ye aware of the glory of Him whom you mock, by mocking His servants ("the righteous," Isa 57:1)? (2Ch 36:16).
make … wide mouth—(Ps 22:7, 13; 35:21; La 2:16).
children of transgression, &c.—not merely children of transgressors, and a seed of false parents, but of transgression and falsehood itself, utterly unfaithful to God.
Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
5. Enflaming yourselves—burning with lust towards idols [Gesenius]; or else (compare Margin), in the terebinth groves, which the Hebrew and the parallelism favor (see on Isa 1:29) [Maurer].
under … tree—(2Ki 17:10). The tree, as in the Assyrian sculptures, was probably made an idolatrous symbol of the heavenly hosts.
slaying … children—as a sacrifice to Molech, &c. (2Ki 17:31; 2Ch 28:3; 33:6).
in … valleys—the valley of the son of Hinnom. Fire was put within a hollow brazen statue, and the child was put in his heated arms; kettle drums (Hebrew, toph) were beaten to drown the child's cries; whence the valley was called Tophet (2Ch 33:6; Jer 7:3).
under … clifts—the gloom of caverns suiting their dark superstitions.
Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?
6. The smooth stones, shaped as idols, are the gods chosen by thee as thy portion (Ps 16:5).
meat offering—not a bloody sacrifice, but one of meal and flour mingled with oil. "Meat" in Old English meant food, not flesh, as it means now (Le 14:10).
Should I receive comfort—rather, "Shall I bear these things with patience?" [Horsley].
Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.
7. Upon … high mountain … bed—image from adultery, open and shameless (Eze 23:7); the "bed" answers to the idolatrous altar, the scene of their spiritual unfaithfulness to their divine husband (Eze 16:16, 25; 23:41).
Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it.
8. "Remembrance," that is, memorials of thy idolatry: the objects which thou holdest in remembrance. They hung up household tutelary gods "behind the doors"; the very place where God has directed them to write His laws "on the posts and gates" (De 6:9; 11:20); a curse, too, was pronounced on putting up an image "in a secret place" (De 27:15).
discovered thyself—image from an adulteress.
enlarged … bed—so as to receive the more paramours.
made … covenant—with idols: in open violation of thy "covenant" with God (Ex 19:5; 23:32). Or, "hast made assignations with them for thyself" [Horsley].
thy bed … their bed—The Jews' sin was twofold; they resorted to places of idolatry ("their bed"), and they received idols into the temple of God ("thy bed").
where—rather, "ever since that" [Horsley]. The Hebrew for "where" means "room" (Margin), a place; therefore, translate, "thou hast provided a place for it" (for "their bed"), namely, by admitting idolatrous altars in thy land [Barnes]; or "thou choosest a (convenient) place for thyself" in their bed [Maurer] (Isa 56:5).
And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell.
9. the king—the idol which they came to worship, perfumed with oil, like harlots (Jer 4:30; Eze 23:16, 40). So "king" means idol (Am 5:26; Zep 1:5); (malcham meaning "king") [Rosenmuller]. Rather, the king of Assyria or Egypt, and other foreign princes, on whom Israel relied, instead of on God; the "ointment" will thus refer to the presents (Ho 12:1), and perhaps the compliances with foreigners' idolatries, whereby Israel sought to gain their favor [Lowth] (Isa 30:6; Eze 16:33; 23:16; Ho 7:11).
send … messengers far off—not merely to neighboring nations, but to those "far off," in search of new idols, or else alliances.
even unto hell—the lowest possible degradation.
Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.
10. greatness of … way—the length of thy journey in seeking strange gods, or else foreign aid (Jer 2:23, 24). Notwithstanding thy deriving no good from these long journeys (so, "send … far off," Isa 57:9), thou dost not still give up hope (Jer 2:25; 18:12).
hast found … life of … hand—for "thou still findest life (that is, vigor) enough in thy hand" to make new idols [Maurer], or to seek new alliance ("hand" being then taken for strength in general).
grieved—rather, "therefore thou art not weak" [Maurer]; inasmuch as having "life in thy hand," thou art still strong in hope.
And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?
11. Israel wished not to seem altogether to have denied God. Therefore they "lied" to Him. God asks, Why dost thou do so? "Whom dost thou fear? Certainly not Me; for thou hast not remembered Me." Translate, "seeing that thou hast not remembered Me."
laid it to … heart—rather, "nor hast Me at heart"; hast no regard for Me; and that, because I have been long silent and have not punished thee. Literally, "Have I not held My peace, and that for long? and so thou fearest Me not" (Ps 50:21; Ec 8:11). It would be better openly to renounce God, than to "flatter Him" with lies of false professions (Ps 78:36) [Ludovicus De Dieu]. However, Isa 51:12, 13 favors English Version of the whole verse; God's "silent" long-suffering, which was intended to lead them to repentance, caused them "not to fear Him" (Ro 2:4, 5).
I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.
12. declare—I will expose publicly thy (hypocritical) righteousness. I will show openly how vain thy works, in having recourse to idols, or foreign alliances, shall prove (Isa 57:3).
When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;
13. When thou criest—In the time of thy trouble.
companies—namely, of idols, collected by thee from every quarter; or else, of foreigners, summoned to thy aid.
wind … carry … away—(Job 21:18; Mt 7:27).
vanity—rather, "a breath" [Lowth].
possess … land … inherit—that is, the literal land of Judea and Mount Zion; the believing remnant of Israel shall return and inherit the land. Secondarily, the heavenly inheritance, and the spiritual Zion (Isa 49:8; Ps 37:9, 11; 69:35, 36; Mt 5:5; Heb 12:22). "He that putteth his trust in Me," of whatever extraction, shall succeed to the spiritual patrimony of the apostate Jew [Horsley].
And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.
14. shall say—The nominative is, "He that trusteth in Me" (Isa 57:13). The believing remnant shall have every obstacle to their return cleared out of the way, at the coming restoration of Israel, the antitype to the return from Babylon (Isa 35:8; 40:3, 4; 62:10, 11).
Cast … up—a high road before the returning Jews.
stumbling-block—Jesus had been so to the Jews, but will not be so then any longer (1Co 1:23); their prejudices shall then be taken out of the way.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
15. The pride and self-righteousness of the Jews were the stumbling block in the way of their acknowledging Christ. The contrition of Israel in the last days shall be attended with God's interposition in their behalf. So their self-humiliation, in Isa 66:2, 5, 10, &c., precedes their final prosperity (Zec 12:6, 10-14); there will, probably, be a previous period of unbelief even after their return (Zec 12:8, 9).
For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.
16. For—referring to the promise in Isa 57:14, 15, of restoring Israel when "contrite" (Ge 6:3; 8:21; Ps 78:38, 39; 85:5; 103:9, 13, 14; Mic 7:18). God "will not contend for ever" with His people, for their human spirit would thereby be utterly crushed, whereas God's object is to chasten, not to destroy them (La 3:33, 34; Mic 7:8, 9). With the ungodly He is "angry every day" (Ps 7:11; Re 14:11).
spirit … before me—that is, the human spirit which went forth from Me (Nu 16:22), answering to "which I have made" in the parallel clause.
For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart.
17. covetousness—akin to idolatry; and, like it, having drawn off Israel's heart from God (Isa 2:7; 56:11; 58:3; Jer 6:13; Col 3:5).
hid me—(Isa 8:17; 45:15).
went on frowardly—the result of God's hiding His face (Ps 81:12; Ro 1:24, 26).
I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.
18. Rather, "I have seen his ways (in sin), yet will I heal him," that is, restore Israel spiritually and temporally (Jer 33:6; 3:22; Ho 14:4, 5) [Horsley].
I will … restore comforts unto him and to his mourners—However, the phrase, "his mourners," favors English Version; "his ways" will thus be his ways of repentance; and God's pardon on "seeing" them answers to the like promise (Isa 61:2, 3; Jer 31:18, 20).
I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.
19. fruit of … lips—that is, thanksgivings which flow from the lips. I make men to return thanks to Me (Ho 14:2; Heb 13:15).
Peace, peace—"perfect peace" (see Isa 26:3, Margin; Joh 14:27). Primarily, the cessation of the troubles now afflicting the Jews, as formerly, under the Babylonian exile. More generally, the peace which the Gospel proclaims both to Israel "that is near," and to the Gentiles who are "far off" (Ac 2:39; Eph 2:17).
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
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.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
21. (Isa 48:22; 2Ki 9:22).
my God—The prophet, having God as his God, speaks in the person of Israel, prophetically regarded as having now appropriated God and His "peace" (Isa 11:1-3), warning the impenitent that, while they continue so, they can have no peace.