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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 56





The prophet exhorteth to sanctification: he promiseth that it shall be accepted without respect of persons: he inveigheth against blind watchmen.

Before Christ 719.

THIS fifth section is doctrinal and prophetic; the doctrinal part is three-fold: The first member contains an exhortation, or divine command, to keep judgment, and to do righteousness, recommended to the people of God. The second describes the fruit to be reaped from the diligent observance of piety and love; namely, blessedness; Isaiah 56:2. The third contains the extension of this promise, with respect to the subjects of every kind and order; first, general, Isaiah 56:3 secondly, special, which asserts the rights and privileges of eunuchs who obey the laws of the new covenant, Isaiah 56:4-5 and of strangers, Isaiah 56:6-7. The prophetic part contains three predictions; the first, of the remarkable amplification of the church, Isaiah 56:8 the second, of the irruption of barbarous people, who should lay waste the church, Isaiah 56:9 the third, of a remarkable corruption in the rulers of the church, as the cause of that judgment; Isaiah 56:10-11. For my salvation, &c. seems to allude particularly to that manifestation of the kingdom of God, which was made by his signal judgments in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Verse 2

Isaiah 56:2. That keepeth the sabbath By keeping the sabbath, which was particularly ordained for the worship of God, is meant all that which pertains to the divine worship under the Gospel; and by keeping the hand from doing evil, is meant, the abstinence from all evil and immoral works. It cannot possibly be supposed that the prophet here speaks merely of the external or legal sabbath.

Verses 3-7

Isaiah 56:3-7. Neither let the son of the stranger, &c.— The strangers and eunuchs were excluded from the privileges of native Jews. In this period they are informed that the time is coming when those distinctions and restraints shall have no force, when the inward endowments of the soul should be sufficient to give pious persons a title to the communion of saints; and their name should be written in the book of life: A more lasting remembrance than that of the most numerous posterity. The temple was originally designed for strangers, as well as Jews, as a place to offer up their prayers to the divine Majesty, which is sufficiently plain from the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of it, though the number of proselytes was but small till the time of the second temple: But there can be no doubt, that the 7th verse alludes particularly to the conversion of the Gentiles. This truth could not be told to the Jewish people otherwise than by using terms taken from rites familiar to them, unless the nature of the Christian dispensation had been previously explained; a matter evidently unfit for their information, when they were yet to live so long under the Jewish law: For though the prophets speak of the little value of their regard due to the ceremonial law, they easily make themselves understood that they mean, when it is observed without the moral law; which they describe in the purity and perfection of the Gospel: So admirable was this conduct, that while it hid the future dispensation, it prepared men for it. See Bishop Warburton's Div. Leg. Upon the whole, we may observe, that the principal scope and design of this period is, to teach that all the privileges of the Gospel should be common to all, without distinction of nation, state, or condition; that God would distribute to all believers, according to the measure of grace imparted to them, equal gifts, as our Lord has taught in the parable of the vineyard, Matthew 20.

Verse 8

Isaiah 56:8. The Lord God which gathereth the out-casts, &c.— In this verse a three-fold act of God is mentioned; first, his gathering together the out-casts of Israel; and then two gatherings of proselytes or strangers to be made to Israel; wherein the prophet alludes to the grand collection of the Gentiles to Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of his flock.

Verse 9

Isaiah 56:9. All ye beasts of the field Interpreters are generally of opinion, that the beasts of the field and forest are here called upon to devour the nominal people of God, corrupted in their religion and manners; that is to say, to execute the judgments of God upon them: by which, Vitringa thinks, are pointed out the enemies of the Christian church; the Goths, Vandals, Turks, and others, who committed great devastations upon it, after it deviated from its first faith, and became extremely corrupt; as is particularly specified in the next verses,

Verses 10-12

Isaiah 56:10-12. His watchmen The prophet in these words paints in a lively manner the very corrupt government of the church. The consequence of which, is that deplorable state of the church described in the next section. Nothing can be more strong and expressive than the words of the prophet; he turns the subject before him into every form; and, as the greatest part of his discourse is metaphorical, he makes use of figures and emblems, as usual, most admirably adapted to express his meaning. The vices which he particularly objects to these ecclesiastical governors, are, first, ignorance and unskilfulness in the things pertaining to their office; secondly, idleness and negligence to reprove the vices of the people committed to their charge, or to awaken them to repentance, whereby they might escape the judgments of God: thirdly, slothfulness and a love of ease: fourthly, an insatiable avidity for profit and pleasure: fifthly, stupidity, arising from that source; and lastly, extreme luxury: vices which too much infected the church from the sixth and following centuries, when darkness, corruption, and superstition, almost universally prevailed. See Vitringa. Instead of sleeping, Isaiah 56:10. Bishop Lowth reads dreamers. Isaiah 56:11 th may be rendered, Yea, these dogs have a greedy or a strong appetite: They know not when they have enough; and, though they are shepherds, they know no discretion: They all look to their own ends; every one for his gain, one and all.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, From the privileges of the Gospel, the Lord enforces obedience to the precepts of it.

1. The privileges are inestimable. My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. He calls it my salvation, because the contrivance and execution of it were wholly his own; and my righteousness, because in this salvation the most eminent display was to be made of the divine justice in the sufferings and obedience of Jesus unto the death of the cross, and in the acceptance of sinners through him, in a way wherein God might at the same time glorify his righteousness, and yet be the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. And the time was now near when the Saviour should be revealed, comparatively speaking in the view of the time elapsed since the first promise was made, Genesis 3:15.

2. The duty of those who partook in this salvation is enforced. For they who truly understand the doctrine of God's free grace in the salvation of sinners, will ever feel the obligation it lays upon them to walk in all holy conversation and godliness. [1.] Keep ye judgment, and do justice; let God's word be the rule of your conduct, and in all your ways approve yourselves to him in uprightness, fidelity, simplicity, and godly sincerity. [2.] Keep the sabbath from polluting it; that, being God's day, should be wholly devoted to his service, and employed in his worship; not only must we rest from servile employments, but seek to improve the sacred hours in every exercise of piety and devotion, which may contribute to raise up our affections to heavenly things, and promote in others the same gracious dispositions. [3.] Keep thy hands from doing any evil, preserve a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man; abstain from every known sin; and let it be your labour, study, and prayer, through grace, to cleanse yourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

3. God pronounces his blessing on all such. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; who embraces this great salvation, and adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.

2nd, We have the encouragement given to those who, though willing to join themselves to the Lord, were disheartened.

1. The eunuch might lament his unhappy case, saying, I am a dry tree, under the reproach of being written childless, and expressly excluded from the congregation of the Lord, Deuteronomy 23:1 yet God speaks comfort unto such. Thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs which keep my sabbaths, religiously observant of God's worship on that holy day, and all the instituted ordinances of religion; and choose the things that please me, attentive to God's revealed will in his word, and delighting in that which he commands, serving not of constraint but willingly; and take hold of my covenant, embrace it as their only hope, trust on it with unshaken confidence, and walk under the influence of the blessed promises contained therein; even unto them will I give, in mine house, and within my walls, a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: children are a precious gift, they are like arrows in the hand of the giant, and father is an honourable title; but every honour, every possession, every enjoyment here is trivial, compared with an interest in God's regard, and a name in his book of life; this relates to eternity, I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Note; (1.) When we set temporal blessings against spiritual, time against eternity, the infinite disproportion between them should constantly determine our choice to the better part. (2.) All real good that we ever can enjoy here or hereafter comes from God's free gift, and must be acknowledged to his glory.

2. The Gentile alien might fear that God had utterly separated him from his people, see Deuteronomy 23.; but his fears are groundless, the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile being cast down; and therefore, if he joined himself to the Lord, renouncing all other gods, and cleaving to him alone, to serve him with fidelity and constancy; to love the name of the Lord, deeply sensible of his amazing grace, and powerfully constrained by the views of it; to be his servant, in all willing and cheerful obedience, counting his service perfect freedom; every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, diligent and conscientious in the observance of this sacred day of rest, and taketh hold of my covenant, the covenant of love and peace in a Redeemer, as the foundation of all his hopes; such need apprehend no exclusion from the divine favour, or the assembly of the faithful: Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, the church of the faithful redeemed, and give them a right to partake of all the blessings and privileges bestowed upon it, and make them joyful in my house of prayer, or the house of my prayer, where prayer and supplications are offered to God, and he meets his people with joy and gladness, giving an answer to the prayer of the afflicted, and comforting his mourners. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; their prayers, praises, works of faith, and labours of love, shall through Christ, the altar which sanctifieth the gift, become a sacrifice of a sweet smell, well-pleasing to God: for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people, no distinction any longer subsisting between Jew and Gentile, but all incorporated in one holy church, of which Christ is the living head.

3. God, having provided a house of prayer for all people, will furnish it with worshippers. The Lord God which gathereth the out-casts of Israel, the spiritual Israel, who accept of the offers of the Gospel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him, besides those that are gathered unto him, to Christ, or his church, to which, in every age and generation, multitudes will be gathered. And it may particularly be applied to those, who, being persecuted by the Pagan emperors, were, under Constantine, peaceably settled in their assemblies, and to the conversion in a general sense of numerous nations which followed, till then strangers to the Christian faith; and this may look for its final accomplishment in the last day, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall be come in, and all Israel, till then dispersed, shall be converted and saved.

3rdly, After all the comforts and promises going before, a scene of desolation begins, which is continued in the following chapters. This may be referred to the sins and punishments of the Jewish people by the Babylonians and Romans; or, as some learned interpreters suggest, and as observed above, foretels the ravages of the Goths and Vandals, and other barbarous people, who were sent to punish the great corruptions which had crept into the Christian Roman empire.

1. The beasts of prey are summoned to execute God's judgments; men, fierce and savage in their tempers, who would not keep back the sword from blood. Note; God has instruments ever at his beck, to execute his wrath. Woe to the sinner, to the nation, that by their iniquities and impenitence provoke the divine justice!

2. The principal cause of these judgments is, a lazy, ignorant, worldly-minded, covetous, drunken, careless ministry. Such was probably the case in Isaiah's day: happy were it, if after-times had afforded no parallel! A dreadful character is here drawn: His watchmen are blind; they who are appointed to descry the approaching enemy, and give warning, are themselves blind and insensible: unawakened in their own souls, they never saw the guilt and danger of sin; therefore cannot blow the alarm, and persuade others by the terrors of the Lord. They are all ignorant of the scriptures, and that knowledge which maketh wise unto salvation, and cannot preach a Gospel which they have not themselves understood. They are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; never reprove men's sins, and hate the work of the ministry in which they are engaged: ordained to lift up their voice like a trumpet, but sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber; slothful, indolent, glad to devolve on others the irksome task of preaching and prayer, and seeking ease, instead of enduring hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Yea, they are greedy dogs, which can never have enough; of the duty of the ministry, the least part is sufficient; of the gain of it, nothing can satisfy them; infinitely more solicitous in prosecuting preferment, than seeking lost souls; and never inquiring the weight of the charge, but the value of the benefice. The words שׂבעה ידעו לא lo iadu sabah may be rendered, of insatiable appetite, that never can be filled, whose belly is their god, and eating and drinking their supreme happiness. And they are shepherds, or though they are shepherds, pretend to be so, they cannot understand; not acquainted with divine things themselves, and therefore utterly incapable of teaching others. They all look to their own way, follow their own pleasures and worldly advantage, careless of the cause of God and truth; every one for his gain from his quarter; this is their grand object, and on this their chief pains are bestowed. Come ye, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; their bottle is more beloved than their books: pleased to see the wine sparkle in the glass, they put it round, sit long at the cups, till bloated, inflamed, or drunken, their time and their faculties are destroyed; and, far from being ashamed of such scandalous immoralities, their great concern is, to renew the entertainment, and make a fresh appointment for the next day: for to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant. Supine and secure, they forget eternity, promise themselves days and years to come, consider neither the guilt of their course, nor the uncertainty of their enjoyments, but encourage each other to mutual neglect of God and their souls; till he, in an unexpected hour, with terrible surprise calls them to give account of their ministry, and arraigns them at his tremendous bar!


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 56:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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