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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 57

 

 

Verse 1-2

1, 2. The righteous perisheth — Under ministrations above described. Moral starvation stares them in their faces. Honest seekers after truth come to disappointment.

Merciful men — Men who, amid general discoloration of morals and manners, strive for reformation, find their efforts unavailing. And they pass away — are taken from the evil to come — Spared from witnessing even worse things.

He shall enter — Rather, He entereth. That is, pious men as a class.

They… rest in their beds — Their quiet is to be found in their graves. Every one that walks “in his uprightness” goes to the grave in peace, with conscious sincerity in seeking, but with failure in finding, the path he desired. This under the influence of false teachers. Nevertheless God receives them, for (Isaiah 26:19) “Thy dead… shall live again.”


Verse 3-4

3, 4. Draw near… ye sons of the sorceress — The Hebrew here is very emphatic: You, you. Sorcery is heathenism, (Furst.)

The seed of the adulterer — In the Old Testament, adultery is a word uniformly used for idolatry — so held, because the covenant between Jehovah and Israel was a marriage covenant. See chap. 54. God is the husband, Israel is the espoused to God. The address is here to the Jews in the plainest terms, equivalent to “let us look at your conduct in its true light. Scorners ye are.”

Against whom do ye sport — Literally, do ye make up faces? Who is the butt of your mockings? See if jeer and contempt be not due to yourselves alone.


Verse 5-6

5, 6. More closely scrutinizing their case, the prophet puts it as it is.

Inflaming yourselves — As near as can be ascertained from lexicon, grammar, and ancient usages in Palestine connected with idolatries, these words imply burning with libidinous desires; adulterous practices characterized the exercises of the worship of idols.

Under every green tree — Groves of terebinths, a species of live oak, were planted in localities set apart for idol worship and lust, usually on big hills, often the highest in northern and middle Palestine, where Baal worship was the most common. Then another form of this sin was the worship of Moloch, in the Hinnom vale southeast of Jerusalem. Children were here sacrificed, either by thrusting them into the furnace, or by slaughtering and then burning them. These extreme evils became most prevalent, probably, in Manasseh’s reign, though from earliest time in that land they may have been more or less practised.

Smooth stones — Either rendered smooth by rushing waters in the brooks, or by oil poured upon them when reared into altars.

Did any exilian prophet write thus minutely of the scenery of hills, mountains, valleys, etc., peculiar chiefly to Palestine, and not at all to the level Chaldean plains? Difficulties of explanation arise mostly from neological interpreters trying to keep good this theory of an unknown prophet, and not Isaiah, as the writer.


Verse 7-8

7, 8. High mountain… thy bed — Places of idol and adulterous worship. Accounts of dells also, as such places are obscure. Groves in either place were doubtless sought.

Behind the doors… posts — Namely, of houses.

Hast thou set up thy remembrance — Perhaps inscriptions are meant, in allusion to God’s command, (Deuteronomy 6:9,) to write the great words of their creed, their duty also, upon the door-posts. The same was practised, it may be, also in idolaters’ houses. Possibly, however, lascivious sketches, drawn on these “doors” and “posts,” are intended.

Another than me — For thy divinity.

Enlarged thy bed — Of whoredoms.

Covenant with them — Seeking safety under their protection instead of that of Jehovah.


Verse 9-10

9, 10. To the king — Or, possibly, to Moloch, as both words have the same radical letters, and differ only in vowels. If so, the meaning is plain. Or it may be “king,” and refer to some foreign idolatrous king to whom suit had been made for aid, instead of to Jehovah.

With ointment — Perfumery was in choicest request among oriental princes.

Debase thyself… unto hell — That is, to the lowest degradation into which one can sink — the most degrading practices of idolatry.

Wearied in the greatness of thy way — In this low service no wearing toil is too great, no sacrifice spared; with a zeal worthy of a better business thou dost never despond.

The life of thine hand — Or, life enough hast thou in thy hand, never to weary in idol making; never to pine as in sickness. Is is not better to take “the life of thine hand” as denoting illicit gains rather than illicit pleasures?


Verse 11

11. Of whom hast thou been afraid — Much in these verses is very obscure, and this verse more than all. The question and context imply that there really was one or more who were objects of fear. But they were not such as would relieve from fear. Is there here an obscure reference to Israel and Judah in the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah? Much like this could have been asked in the past days of Isaiah. Look at chap. 28. The facts of that history seem prophetically paralleled along almost all the earthly life of the Jews. The Jews relied, not on Jehovah, but on earthly powers, to deliver them. One time it is Egypt; another, Syria; at another, it is Assyria. So through all their future, the same question applies. Not Jehovah, indeed, but weak man is carnal Israel’s reliance. Is not this the key to the meaning, and are not the words following, to Isaiah 57:13, sheer irony on the same line of thought? The description of life at Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time, and long afterward, is put in strong colours, but the inward spirit of that life is not overdrawn. In the reign of Ahaz idolatry became rampant, even on the surface; in Hezekiah’s time it was repressed, but not fully suppressed; in Manasseh’s, it was outrageous. Josiah attempted to crush it forever, but it was too late. The proneness to idolatry in the nation could not be arrested — its onward rush dashed the nation to ruin. Captivity and exile alone cured the evil. A similar spiritual aspect, though assuming a different phase, largely appeared in the ruling class at Jerusalem in Christ’s time; and so far forth this prophecy has continued application.


Verse 12-13

12, 13. About the whole case only words of irony can be suitable. These we have in Isaiah 57:12, etc.

I will declare thy righteousness — Israel’s righteousness was more than profitless — it was outrageous impiety. To idolaters the earlier words in Isaiah 57:13 are fearfully taunting.

When thou criest — That is, for help.

Let thy companies deliver thee — Resort to your throngs of idols. Go to your allies. Nevertheless, wind and confusion shall follow. Your protector shall be like houses or dwellings when tornadoes sweep them away. However, tornadoes are not needed.

Vanity shall take them — Lowth and Noyes translate, “A breath shall take them off.” But in Isaiah 57:13 the humble pious are remembered. To possess the land and to inherit God’s holy mountain, is to possess what covers the richest of blessings — generally, gospel blessings.


Verse 14

14. And shall say — Who shall say? The one who trusts in God, of the previous verse? This would be not in the costume of that verse. Better, indefinitely, one “shall say.”

Cast ye up… prepare the way — The call is, to clear the way to give opportunity for the righteous to come out from among the wicked, before they are visited with judgment, as surely they will be.


Verse 15

15. For — This word gives the reason for “casting up” the highways and preparing them for the coming out of pious, humble souls from among the wicked. Thus saith, etc. — The prophet details the message beginning with “thus saith.”

The high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity — Words the most descriptive of the incomprehensible God.

Whose name is Holy — A name expressing infinite purity and excellence inconceivable; and such a being deigning, yea, delighting, to be in communion with the humble and contrite ones of this wicked world! He loves to revive the heart of such, and to assure them for the present and future.


Verse 16

16. I will not contend for ever — The prophet speaks for Jehovah in anthropopathic terms; that is, in terms as if He, the Infinite One, does actually think and feel human thoughts and emotions, and so does sympathize, as no being else can, with man’s spiritual needs, woes, and joys. He is able, in truth, so to represent the deity; but in doing so, the prophet’s object is to make divine relations to human wants the more vividly felt. God deals trial to his people for necessary discipline. “But he will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever, for he knoweth our frame.”


Verse 17

17. Iniquity of his covetousness — The strong words that describe this evil are rapine, plunder, prey. Of these the Jews, in grade just above the very wicked, were guilty.

Smote him — For these Jehovah disciplined Israel. Avarice and love of unjust gains were habits with the people.

I hid me — Kept from them all tokens of approval.

And he — Spoken as a unit — the people.

Went on frowardly — They continued as before — sunk deeper into sin. The doctrine taught is, If removal of divine restraint is forced upon God — if he be expelled from the conscience, deeper into the mire of sin will men sink.


Verse 18

18. I have seen his ways — Man’s ways. Either his ways of rebellion or his ways of repentance, it is uncertain which; perhaps both: the one caused God to withdraw his favour, the other, to return it. God is merciful, and will heal on sincere repentance. When backslidings are healed, then divine guidance and comfort follow.

To his mourners — Repenting Israel is meant. He accounts them as “mourners,” and imparts healing and consolation.


Verse 19

19. I create the fruit of the lips — The language of expressive penitence and grateful praise. These are said to come from God as a consequence of this healing, which he doeth.

Peace, peace — He lays striking emphasis on the word peace, because it is real peace, in contrast with that heretofore promised by the false prophets.

To him that is far off — This refers to the dispersed of Israel; possibly, the converted Gentile is also included: both classes, from this time on, are under gospel influences.


Verse 20-21

20, 21. But the wicked — The incorrigible, the rejected of Israel — type of the wicked, always and everywhere — have no peace at all.

Like the troubled sea — The symbol of perpetual heart-disturbance, turbid with mire from its shore deposits.

No peace — Fearfully decisive is this!

No peace, saith my God — And saith, also, my inmost spirit, my deepest convictions, divinely awakened within me.

To the wicked — Who have sealed their own condition of everlasting unrest.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 57:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-57.html. 1874-1909.

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