Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
Verse 1. - Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement? On account of her persistent "backsliding," God had "put away Israel," Judah's sister, and had "given her a bill of divorce" (Ver. 3:8). But he had not repudiated Judah; and her children were wrong to suppose themselves altogether cast off (see Isaiah 49:14). They had, in fact, by their transgressions, especially their idolatries, wilfully divorced themselves, or at any rate separated themselves, from God; but no sentence had gone forth from him to bar reconciliation and return. Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you! Neither has God exercised the right, regarded as inherent in a parent (Exodus 21:7; 2 Kings 4:11; Nehemiah 6:5, 8), of selling his children to a creditor. They are not sold - he has "taken no money for them" (Psalm 44:12; Isaiah 52:3); and the Babylonians are thus not their rightful owners (Isaiah 49:24) - they are still God's children, his property, and the objects of his care. For your iniquities... for your transgressions; rather, by your iniquities... by your transgressions. The separation, such as it was, between God and his people was caused by their sins, not by any act of his.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
Verse 2. - Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? Such being the condition of things; Judah having rejected me, not I them - why, "when I came" and announced deliverance from Babylon, was there no response? Why did no champion appear? Is it that my power was doubted? that it was feared my hand was shortened, so that it could not redeem or deliver? But I am he who has power with his rebuke to dry up the sea (Exodus 14:21), to make rivers a wilderness (Exodus 7:20; Joshua 3:16, 17); in fact, to change the course of nature as seemeth him good, and accomplish his will against all obstacles. Is my hand shortened? i.e. "is my power less than it was?" Can any one suppose this? Surely what I have once done I can do again. If I delivered from Egypt, I can redeem from Babylon. Their fish stinketh (comp. Exodus 7:21). But the object is rather to assert an absolute control over nature than to take the thoughts of the hearers back to any special occasions when control was exercised.
I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
Verse 3. - I clothe the heavens with blackness (comp. Jeremiah 4:28; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25; Revelation 6:12). The Egyptian plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-23) is not adequate to the expressions here used. God means to assert his power of leaving all nature in absolute darkness, if he so choose - a power necessarily belonging to him who said, "Let there be light; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). I make sackcloth their covering (see Revelation 6:12, "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair").
The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
Verses 4-9. - A SOLILOQUY OF THE SERVANT OF JEHOVAH. The separateness of this passage has been maintained in the opening paragraph. That it is not of himself that the prophet here speaks, appears
(1) from the self-assertion (vers, 4, 5, 9);
(2) from the depth of humiliation declared in ver. 6, which is beyond anything recorded of Isaiah. But if he does not speak of himself, he can scarcely speak of any other besides "the Servant," of whom he has already said much (Isaiah 42:1-8; Isaiah 49:1-12), and of whom he has still much more to say (Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:1-12). Verse 4. - The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned; literally, the tongue of disciples; i.e. a trained tongue, a well-taught tongue. Christ "did nothing of himself; as the Father had taught him," so he spoke (John 8:28). That I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary; rather, that I shall know how to sustain by a word him that is weary. Compare, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He wakeneth morning by morning... mine ear. God held immediate and constant communication with the "Servant" - not enlightening him occasionally, as he did the prophets, by dreams and visions, but continually whispering in his ear. At no time did the Father "leave him alone" (John 8:29) or cease to speak to him. "Morning by morning" is not to be narrowed to the bare literal meaning, but to be taken in the sense of "un-interruptedly." To hear as the learned; rather, to hear as disciples hear; i.e. attentively, submissively, gladly.
The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
Verse 5. - The Lord hath opened mine ear. Some understand this of the boring of the ear for perpetual service (Psalm 40:6; Exodus 21:6); but it is perhaps better to regard it as intended to mark a contrast between the true Servant and the professed servants, or children of Israel. They "did not hear; their ear was not opened; they were treacherous and rebellious from the womb" (Isaiah 48:8). His ear was opened to receive God's word perpetually; he was not rebellious, did not turn away back. Even when most tried, his final word was, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
Verse 6. - I gave my back to the smiters (see Isaiah 53:5, ad fin.; and comp. Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:26; John 19:1). My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. This is a detail not historically recorded by the evangelists; but it may have had a literal fulfilment. Plucking off the hair was not unknown to the Jews as a punishment (see Nehemiah 13:25). I hid not my face from shame and spitting (see Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30). Spitting in the East marked at once contempt and abhorrence. It is a practice which continues to the present day.
For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
Verse 7. - For the Lord God will help me; rather, but the Lord God will help me. I shall not be left always in the hands of my enemies. In this confidence the Servant rests, and is not confounded, even when the worst happens to him. He sets his face like a flint; i.e. makes it hard, impassive, expressionless, and at the same time determined, fixed not to give way (comp. Ezekiel 3:8, 9).
He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
Verses 8, 9. - He is near that justifieth me. God, who knows his innocence, is near at hand, and will shortly "make his righteousness clear as the noonday." This was done when God raised up from the dead "the Holy One and the Just" (Acts 3:14). whom cruel men "by wicked hands had crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). By the resurrection God acquitted Christ of the charge of blasphemy on which he had been condemned, and proclaimed him "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). Who will contend with me? (compare St. Paul's words in Romans 8:33, 34, "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?"). God is the sole Judge of all men - of the "Servant" in his human capacity, no less than of others. If he acquits, it is idle for any accuser to stand forth and "contend" or "condemn" (ver. 9). God will help the innocent, whom he has acquitted, and will destroy the accuser by a secret but most sure destruction. The moth shall eat them up (comp. Psalm 39:11, and infra, Isaiah 51:8).
Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Verses 10, 11. - AN ADDRESS OF JEHOVAH TO HIS CHURCH. Some suppose that the Church of Hezekiah's reign is addressed; others the exiles towards the close of the Captivity period. The first verse is an exhortation, encouraging those who fear God, but have insufficient light, to trust in him. The second threatens such as "kindle fire," or cause strife, with retribution. Verse 10. - That obeyeth the voice of his servant; that is, of "his servant" for the time being, whether Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or "the Servant" κατ ἐξοχήν That walketh in darkness. Not clearly seeing his way or knowing what his duty is, and so inclined to despond and doubt. Every such person is bidden to put aside his doubts, and trust wholly in the Name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Hence light will shine in upon him, and his doubts will be resolved, and sufficient light will be granted him to direct his paths.
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
Verse 11. - All ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; or, with firebrands. The persons intended seem to be those whose "tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity" (James 3:6), and who by means of it are employed in "stirring up strife all the day long." They are condemned to be scorched by the fire which they have themselves kindled, to be made wretched by the strife which they have themselves caused to spring up. Their end, moreover, will be to lie down in sorrow; or, in torture (Cheyne). God will punish them in the next world for the misery which they have brought about in this, and will thus exercise retributive justice upon the wicked ones, whose main object in life has been to embitter the lives of their fellow-men.