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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 1

 

 

Verse 1

PREFATORY.

1. The vision — This is a programme word — a title applying to this entire book of prophecies, spoken or written during the reigns herein mentioned. The word denotes a supernatural perception, inspiration, revelation, prophecy; here taken collectively for a body of prophecies.

Isaiah the son of Amoz — Or Isaiah’s origin nothing is certainly known beyond what is stated in this verse. Nothing whatever is known of his father, Amoz, though many of the Church Fathers supposed him to be the prophet Amos, an error caused, possibly, by the Greek word in the Septuagint being “Amos” for both Amoz and Amos. So noble a character had little need to be known other than as simple “Isaiah.” To this prophet has always been assigned the pre-eminence among the so-called prophets of the Old Testament scriptures. Till the time of Semler (1725-1791) his sole authorship of this book was little called in question. The portion then questioned is the last twenty-seven chapters. Eichhorn and others vigorously continued the dispute, resting their objections on internal reasons purely, such as philological peculiarities, archaisms, and words used once only, and that in the questioned chapters. Gesenius, Ewald, and some lesser lights, have pressed this evidence also against the genuineness of other chapters; for an example, Isaiah 13:1 to Isaiah 14:23; also, Isaiah 21:6-10. The ground of opposition is largely the supernatural element in prophecy. It is claimed that what is herein predictive can be accounted for by mere statesmanlike prevision; that, at least, the last twenty-seven chapters are a later production, written at or after the Babylonian captivity. Other pieces of this collection, beside those named, on one or another ground of criticism are denied to Isaiah as the author. Against all this, Drechler, Delitzsch, Hengstenberg, Alexander, Prof. Harman, and others, protest staunchly; and with candour, great learning, and acute criticism, utterly overthrow the opposition. Keil, in his Introduction to the Old Testament, (Eng. trans, in Clark’s Theol. Library,) and Kay, in his Introduction to Isaiah, (Speaker’s Commentary,) give excellent aid to one in search of the facts on this subject: the one discusses generally, but thoroughly, in the interest of unity of authorship in Isaiah; and the other is a valiant demolisher of philological difficulties raised against this unity of authorship.

Concerning Judah and Jerusalem — These prophecies all had a bearing, direct or remote, on the people of Judah. Though several were uttered with reference to immediately outlying peoples and to foreign nations, they also had alternate reference to the Jews.

The question as to what time this chapter relates, is difficult to settle. Is it the first prophecy written by Isaiah? Or is it rather a comprehensive introduction, covering by anticipation the average character of the people and age for the entire term of the prophet’s career? The latter is more likely to be the true view, because the more reasonable one.

Throughout the chapter the prophet’s central thought is God’s covenant with Israel as a nation, as seen in Leviticus 26, in Deuteronomy 28-32, and in Solomon’s prayer, 1 Kings 9:9.


Verse 2

2. Hear, O heavens… give ear, O earth — Here begins a solemn reprehensory appeal against Judah and Jerusalem, filled with digressive yet relevant points, and ending with the fifth chapter. It is in the style of Deuteronomy 32:1, for earth and heaven are unchanging witnesses from the time of Moses to that of Isaiah of the clearness with which God, by his prophets, sets forth his requirements, and their rejection by the people. They are summoned to listen again, for a crisis is reached, and Jehovah speaks.

The Lord — Hebrew, יהוה, Yehovah, a name which the Jews never uttered, but used אדני, Adonai, in stead, which means Master, Lord. The other chief name of deity, אלהים, Elohim, designates in the Old Testament a being of power; while Jehovah is the word which expresses what Deity is in himself. More need not here be said of this name, other than that it was the national name of Israel’s God, yet so awfully sacred that it was pronounced only by the substitute name — Adonai.

Hath spoken — The preterit is here used for the present — he speaks, though this is not the first time. Hebrews 1:1. He has repeatedly spoken, and still speaks.

Nourished and brought up children — From his infancy as a nation God reared Israel. This strain is followed by other prophets. See Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 2:2-3. “The Lord” made Israel great, and set him on high. Ezekiel 31:4. Still he rebelled. Such conduct of a covenant people was the greatest of wonders, and heaven and earth are called to attest this fact.


Verse 3

3. Rebelling thus they virtually declared God’s proprietorship in them is at an end. So they stand in poor contrast with the stupidest animals. Jeremiah 8:7.

The ox… the ass — Dr. Thomson, (The Land and the Book, vol. ii, p. 97,) describing a scene at the close of a day in Tiberias, says: “No sooner had we got within the walls, than the drove began to disperse. Every ox knew perfectly well his owner, his house, and the way to it, nor did he become bewildered for a moment in the mazes of narrow and crooked alleys. As for the asses, they walked straight to the door, and up to the master’s crib. I followed one company clear into the habitation, and saw each take his appropriate manger, and begin his evening meal.”

Israel — The whole nation, Judah as well as Israel. As a covenant people, both were included in a designed unity.

Not know — Do not recognise God as their rightful owner.

Not consider — The parallelism here is explanatory. My people have lost knowledge of me, and do not attend to the spiritual food which, as their Lord, I fain would give them: just as the master of the “ox” and the “ass” is known, and these stupid animals are fed by him. A comparison the more striking for its homeliness.


Verse 4

4. Ah — The exclamation denotes mental pain, and answers to our word alas! The adjective of the text is an active participle in the Hebrew.

Seed of evildoers — Offspring of wicked immediate ancestors.

Children… corrupters — From a word of a reflexive form, hence corrupting themselves. Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 4:25. The word denotes violence, moral self-violence, and is used of the antediluvians who “corrupted” their way, so as to compel God to destroy them. Genesis 6:12-13. All the phrases here express intense feeling.

Holy One of Israel — This phrase is used by Isaiah more than by any other prophet. It is used in all parts of this collection of the prophecies, and is a proof of one authorship of the whole. It means Him “whose name is holy,” (Isaiah 57:15,) essentially holy; who deigned to choose Israel, and dwell with him: but he forsook God, and turned his back, not his face, to him. Such is the thought stated in the words, they are gone away backward.


Verse 5-6

5, 6. Why should… more — It is doubtful whether the question in Hebrew is, “For what reason should ye,” or, “Upon what part will ye,” be stricken any more? The latter is philologically less harsh, and it falls in better with the sense of the connecting words. The sense then is, Why permit yourselves to be smitten more? your whole person is already bruised in every part, as the proper punishment, of your voluntary evil doings. As to the word which means to smite, see it illustrated in Deuteronomy 28:22; Deuteronomy 28:27; Deuteronomy 28:35.

The whole head… the whole heart — In this figure the nation is meant, and in the figure continued in the words from the sole of the foot even unto the head, the desperate moral state of all Judah — subjects and rulers, priests and prophet — is indicated. All are involved, not only in this condition, but in punishment for it. Not a spot in Church or body politic is left unsmitten. Isaiah 9:13-16. The intent here is not so much total depravity, (for which this passage is often quoted,) as the retributive consequences of departure from God.

Wounds — Contusions, effects of blows where skin is not broken.

Putrefying sores — Either recent or old, which admit not of healing.

Closed… bound… molified — This language refers to the surgical treatment in that age. Medical applications were external, (Luke 10:34, James 5:14,) chiefly oil (ointment in the text) and hand pressure, and binding with cloth — no sewing up of wounds. The moral is, that priests and false prophets did not turn the people to God, who alone could heal their maladies and pardon sin, but adopted a worldly policy in their training of the nation.


Verse 7

7. The figurative language is now dropped, and words direct and literal are used. Country… desolate… cities… burned with fire, etc. — Notice how nearly every word corresponds to the curses threatened in Leviticus xxvi and Deuteronomy 28. From the time of Isaiah downward the state of Israel was a realization of the curses of the law.

Strangers — This word occurs twice in this verse: possibly the fact hints at the oppression the people were to experience from foreign conquerors, as a just return for their propensity to stray after strange gods rather than to adhere to their covenant God and Protector. See Deuteronomy 28:48; Deuteronomy 28:50-51.


Verse 8

8. The daughter of Zion — Zion was the strong hill of Jerusalem. made sacred in David’s devout thoughts of Jehovah’s presence in the tabernacle erected there. It was the seat of regal dominion and of sacred worship during

David’s life — the “chosen habitation” of Jehovah. Psalms 2:6; Psalms 132:13. By a rhetorical figure all Jerusalem was called Zion, as the seat of religion and of the Church. Isaiah 10:24. The Church was called “Daughter of Zion,” denoting virgin innocence, and youthful promise of vigour and fruitfulness. There would be a faithful few in Jerusalem, even when ravages of war would be upon her. These Isaiah sees are to be left as a desolated, tumble-down lodge after the harvest of the country gardens. The cottage or lodge here spoken of is a rude temporary shelter erected in the open grounds, where vines, cucumbers, gourds, etc., are growing, and in which “lodge” some lonely man or boy is set to watch, either to guard the plants from robbers or to scare away foxes and jackals from the vines.

Cucumbers — Not such as pass by that name with us, but a species of melon, Cucumis chate, or C. sativis, said by Hasselquist to be used, the first by grandees, the second by common people.


Verse 9

9. Lord of hosts — Of the angelic hosts, and starry heavens. Worship of the latter was very early observed by the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, etc., but the Lord of Israel is above all, and so is called “Lord” or Master “of hosts.”

Very small remnant — That which is left of the people after the ravages of invasive war. With Isaiah, as often elsewhere, the word “remnant” means the righteous, in distinction from the multitude of the ungodly. Romans 9:29.

We — After having reproved the sinful nation, the prophet now identifies himself with the people.

As Sodom — Not in character, probably, but in destiny; that is, cut off entirely.

Gomorrah — The same idea, repeated for preserving poetic parallelism.

The prophets — eminently Isaiah — frequently gave their instructions in symbolic terms, and in sentences metrical as well as poetical.


Verse 10-11

10, 11. The appeal, continued from Isaiah 1:10-20, rather supposes the prophet to observe that the people are conscious of their delinquencies, and that to make up for them, they make an extravagant show of ceremonial devotion. Hence this abrupt chiding.

Ye rulers of Sodom… Gomorrah — The prophet had already said, that but for God’s mercy the nation would have been in condition like to those vile cities — utterly destroyed; now he says, they are positively like to them in character.

To what purpose — Denoting unacceptableness and valuelessness, because of the insincerity of the offerers.

I am full — Have had enough of them.

Burnt offerings of rams — Rams, bullocks, lambs, goats, were of-feted on festivals of new moon, passover, feast of weeks, feast of trumpets, day of atonement, and feast of tabernacles, the first three as “burnt offerings,” (Numbers 28:13; Numbers 28:24,) the last as a sin offering. Numbers 28:15; Numbers 28:22.

Moses instituted Jehovah-worship on the new moon to extinguish heathen superstitions on that occasion among his people. The feast of the new moon was the moon of Tisri, our October, the opening of the civil year, announced by the blowing of silver trumpets and other ceremonies.


Verse 12

12. Who hath required this — That is, to appear in this formal, heartless, undevout way. The true way of appearing before the Lord is prescribed in Exodus 34:23-24; Deuteronomy 16:16-17.


Verse 13

13. Vain oblations The Minchah — an offering of meal to go with the “burnt offering;” this is here termed “vain,” because an undevout, empty performance.

Incense — No longer a flagrant odour, a symbol of true devotion, but an abomination to God. Incense was made from burning in a censer frankincense procured from incisions in thuriferous trees, found in Arabia. Sweet spices were mixed with it, making “a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour.”

Solemn meeting — Heartless worldliness attending ordinary religious occasions “reaches even to the great day of atonement, the most solemn of all days in their sacred calendar.”


Verse 14-15

14, 15. My soul hateth — The “soul” is the seat of emotions, affections, etc. God’s hatred, or anger, however, is different from men’s, in that it means an ethical intention to punish. Romans 1:18. But here the prophet speaks in God’s place, and as he supposes God feels. Year after year the cycle of new moon, sabbath, and festival ran its round, with no result to the people but that of Jehovah’s indignant non-acceptance. This was God’s punishment.

Spread forth your hands — The palms of your hands raised in prayer, in alarm. Jeremiah 4:31. They may pray now in fear, but I am not hearing (Hebrew present participle) them, because it is in fear, not in repentance. Their hands are still full of blood.


Verse 16

16. Wash you — The allusion here is doubtless to the injunction on priests, who, on pain of death, (Exodus 30:19-21,) had to wash hands and feet before they ministered at the altar. The symbol, no doubt, was at once understood by these worldly men now before the prophet: the expression did not seem to them an abrupt transition to another subject. Before they could offer “the earnest, effectual prayer of the righteous man,” they must pray not in alarm merely, but with deep repentance. They must cease to do evil.


Verse 17

17. Seek judgment — Better, the concrete word, justice. As rulers and magistrates they had sought bribes rather than to do justice.

Relieve the oppressed — The verb means set right, or, make straight, the condition of him who has been unjustly dealt with. The same duty is enjoined in behalf of the fatherless, inexperienced orphans, and the helpless widow. Both of these were an easy prey to their rapaciousness. For both of these classes, oftener than for any others, does the Bible set up the plea for vindication and protection. Psalms 10:18; Psalms 72:4; Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; James 1:27.


Verses 18-20

18-20. Revolting as the people’s acts have been, God is here pleading to show that their ill condition is of their own causing.

Come now — This is a common formula of entreaty.

Let us reason — Discuss the case together. The verb is reciprocal; hence, considering the parties, to secure their consent to examine the issue is to secure their own self-conviction.

Though your sins be as scarlet — As deep dyed as scarlet. This expresses a superlative degree of moral turpitude. “Scarlet,” or crimson, is made from a dye formed of insects found in excrescences on the oak, like our common cochineal. It is the firmest of dyes, and is the deepest symbol of blood-guiltiness. Yet such sins shall be washed out, and the souls of the people become cleansed to whiteness, if they will even now become obedient; but fearfully otherwise if they still rebel. On condition of obedience, land and city shall be preserved; on continued disobedience, the ruthless invader shall bring destruction, as sure as God liveth.


Verses 21-23

AN EXCLAMATION AGAINST THE CITY, Isaiah 1:21-31.

21-23. By a Hebrew character called Piskah, after Isaiah 1:20 a long pause is indicated. Though invited to repent, the people, it seems, make no promise, not even a response, and the prophet’s tone now becomes elegiac.

How is the faithful city — The once faithful. Lamentations 1:3. Reading it thus, the rhythm is better seen: “How is she become a harlot — the faithful citadel. She that was full of judgment, wherein righteousness did lodge, and now murderers.” The “city,” or citadel, is Zion. Isaiah 1:27. (Just this was the case with Jerusalem when destroyed by the Chaldaeans, and afterward by the Romans.)

Thy silver is… dross, thy wine mixed with water — These are symbols of great moral deterioration. So far, figures; but in the next verse, plain, bluntly-literal predicates occur.

Princes… rebellious — Are utterly corrupt and lawless.

Companions of thieves — In public responsibilities they are confederate with plunderers. No justice done without bribery; no hearing given to the fatherless and widow, because the latter are too poor to give bribes.


Verse 24

24. But there is a Judge who sees all this, and who will recompense according to what he sees.

The Lord of hosts — He commands from heaven to smite and to protect: in the one case as it deserves; in the other, as it needs. The term “The Lord,” here, is from an unusual Hebrew word, האדונ, Ha Adon, used in Exodus 33:17 ; Exodus 34:23; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 10:23; Isaiah 19:4. “It designates God as the supreme administrator and judge. They (the people) had “appeared before” him, (Isaiah 1:12,) much as if they were patronizing one whom they were willing to please with a grand pageant, but one who had no real control over them; (compare Psalms 12:5, Adon;) and, after trampling his courts, had gone forth to oppress their fellow men. He will now prove himself to be what he was called, (KAY, Com., in loco,) the Mighty One of Israel, and this name is analogous to “Mighty God of Jacob” in Genesis 49:24, which passage helps us to the meaning of this. In this verse, He shows who is master, and who can bring proud and rebellious Israel through sharp pangs of punishment to repentance, and give exaltation to the crushed few who were his real friends. Isaiah, and those he represents in his own times and in all ages, are his real friends. Is not this principle involved… in the remaining words of this verse?

Ah — The connexion requires this word to be used here in a tone of menace, as in Isaiah 1:4, it must needs be in a tone of grief. Or, it may be of grief here also, and so the meaning be, “Alas, that I must ease or comfort myself by using severity on the guilty, unfaithful ones of Israel.” This softens the metaphor in this passage, and others of like import, called anthropopathia, that is, speaking or feeling as men speak and feel. This figure is constantly used in the Bible. It is necessarily so used. The pure essence of God’s being is impossible for men to apprehend. His mode of thinking and feeling is therefore expressed in our own way of thinking and feeling. Lowth says: “This very necessity leads to beauty, as does all metaphoric language. When images are taken from the superior faculties of man, from the purer and more generous affections of human nature, and applied to God, we are apt to acquiesce in the notion — we overlook the metaphor and take it as a proper attribute; but when the idea is gross and offensive, as in this passage of Isaiah, where the impatience of anger and the pleasure of revenge are attributed to God, we are immediately shocked at the application; the impropriety strikes us at once: and the mind, casting about for something in the divine nature analogous to the image, lays hold on some great, obscure, vague idea, which it endeavours in vain to comprehend, and is lost in immensity and astonishment.” — LOWTH, Isaiah, in loco. But no mischiefs need result from the use of this figure, if it be considered that the inspired writer is predicting only the incomprehensible ethical action of God in the case, not the manner of the action. All the imprecatory psalms, the lxixth and cixth, for example, have their explanation on this basis.


Verse 25

25. In this verse punishment and salvation are combined: punishment as the means, salvation as the end.

I will turn my hand upon thee — This with a view to vigorous correction. The words seem addressed to captive Zion.

Isaiah 1:27. If this chapter were written as introductory to the whole body of prophecies following, as some think, then its scope embraces the average character of Judah from Uzziah’s reign to the captivity and the restoration. Then, too, the changes of aspect — deep shades and partial lights — seen to pass over the chapter are to be accounted for.

And purely purge away thy dross — The recovery was to be by severe measures, namely, as by smelting fires. The figure is, that in the people and princes of Judah there was something corresponding to silver, but mixed with abundant dross.

The latter was to be thoroughly removed.

Thy tin — Alloy; tin, lead, or other base metal. The same figure as before used, precious metals held in combination by other ores.


Verse 26-27

26, 27. I will restore thy judges — Corrupt judges and counsellors shall be removed, and such magistrates as in early times — as in David’s time — were enjoyed, shall take their places.

City of righteousness — The prophet catches a glimpse of what he is yet to describe in Isaiah 60:14.

Faithful city — A city steadfast in character, also of unquestionably good reputation. Isaiah 7:9; Isaiah 33:5-6.

Zion — By metonomy, the purified city itself.

With judgment — In just visitation for sin, yet with merciful intent. Although obliged to punish this rebellious people because of their perversity, God’s infliction should lead to repentance, when he would remove his stroke and again gather them to their own land.

Her converts — Margin, They that return of her. Possibly the reference is to the return from captivity in Babylon: more likely, the expression is general, and means those who return to the Lord.


Verse 28

28. Destruction… transgressors — Literally, there shall be a breaking, or entire crushing out, of apostates, revolters, deserters from Jehovah.

They that forsake — An equivalent expression to apostates; they shall come to an end, be destroyed totally. The characters in the first of the chapter are here referred to. See Psalms 37:20; Psalms 37:38.


Verse 29

29. They… ye — These pronouns are thought by some interpreters to belong to the same parties. A Hebrew image, in some instances, allows this. But a consistent sense is yielded by supposing different classes to be referred to; in which case the meaning would be, they, of the coming period, will shrink with shame from the oaks, or terebinth groves, and the gardens, both of which ye, of this generation, have used (under the one, and within the other) for idolatrous practices. The idolatrous element was ever present in pre-eminently wicked times.

Which ye have desired — The prophet, while speaking, turns suddenly around to the men of that time, and says, “Ye are the men I mean, who are storing up shame and confusion for the generations to come.”


Verse 30

30. An oak whose leaf fadeth — “Notice the beautiful sarcasm. Ye have chosen oaks, and as a fading-leafed oak ye shall be; ye have chosen gardens, and ye shall be as a garden dry and parched. The objects or your idolatry are the images of your ruin.” — Whedon.


Verse 31

31. And the strong — The “strong” men — “strong” rulers of the nation, of which the present rulers are the fit representatives.

As tow — Beaten flax. A symbol of weakness.

And the maker of it — Better, his work, as in the marginal reading. All that his skill has laboriously produced — whether his idols or worldly schemes.

A spark — As the “spark” which ignites the “tow.” No longer than this shall they endure — they shall go up in a flash and in smoke, and that shall be the end of them.

Such is the appropriate warning of the close of this preface to the body of prophecies following. “The hand of the Lord shall be known toward his servants, and his indignation toward his enemies.” Isaiah 66:14.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-1.html. 1874-1909.

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