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This chapter, by a particular designation of Isaiah to the prophetic office, Isaiah 6:1-8, introduces, with great solemnity, a declaration of the whole tenor of the Diving conduct in reference to his people, who, on account of their unbelief and impenitence, should for a very long period be given up to a judicial blindness and hardness of heart, Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10; and visited with such calamities as would issue on the total desolation of their country, and their general dispersion, Isaiah 6:11, Isaiah 6:12. The prophet adds, however, that under their repeated dispersions, (by the Chaldeans, Romans, etc.), a small remnant would be preserved as a seed from which will be raised a people, in whom will be fulfilled all the Divine promises, Isaiah 6:13.
As this vision seems to contain a solemn designation of Isaiah to the prophetic office, it is by most interpreters thought to be the first in order of his prophecies. But this perhaps may not be so; for Isaiah is said, in the general title of his prophecies, to have prophesied in the time of Uzziah, whose acts, first and last, he wrote, 2 Chronicles 26:22; which is usually done by a contemporary prophet; and the phrase, in the year that Uzziah died, probably means after the death of Uzziah; as the same phrase (Isaiah 14:28) means after the death of Ahaz. Not that Isaiah‘s prophecies are placed in exact order of time. Chapters 2, 3, Isaiah 4:1-6, 5, seem by internal marks to be antecedent to chap. 1; they suit the time of Uzziah, or the former part of Jotham‘s reign; whereas chap. 1 can hardly be earlier than the last years of Jotham. See note on Isaiah 1:7, and Isaiah 2:1 (note). This might be a new designation, to introduce more solemnly a general dedication of the whole course of God‘s dispensations in regard to his people and the fates of the nation; which are even now still depending, and will not be fully accomplished till the final restoration of Israel.
In this vision the ideas are taken in general from royal majesty, as displayed by the monarchs of the East; for the prophet could not represent the ineffable presence of God by any other than sensible and earthly images. The particular scenery of it is taken from the temple. God is represented as seated on his throne above the ark, in the most holy place, where the glory appeared above the cherubim, surrounded by his attendant ministers. This is called by God himself “the place of his throne, and the place of the soles of his feet,” Ezekiel 43:7. “A glorious throne exalted of old, is the place of our sanctuary,” saith the prophet Jeremiah, chap, Jeremiah 17:12. The very posture of sitting is a mark of state and solemnity: Sed et ipsum verbum sedere regni significat potestatem, saith Jerome, Comment. in Ephesians 1:20. See note on Isaiah 3:1 (note). St. John, who has taken many sublime images from the prophets of the Old Testament, and in particular from Isaiah, hath exhibited the same scenery, drawn out into a greater number of particulars; Revelation 4:1-11.
The veil, separating the most holy place from the holy or outermost part of the temple, is here supposed to be taken away; for the prophet, to whom the whole is exhibited, is manifestly placed by the altar of burnt-offering, at the entrance of the temple, (compare Ezekiel 43:5, Ezekiel 43:6), which was filled with the train of the robe, the spreading and overflowing of the Divine glory. The Lord upon the throne, according to St. John (John 12:41), was Christ; and the vision related to his future kingdom when the veil of separation was to be removed, and the whole earth was to be filled with the glory of God, revealed to all mankind: which is likewise implied in the hymn of the seraphim, the design of which is, saith Jerome on the place, Ut mysterium Trinitatis in una Divinitate demonstrent; et nequaquam templum Judaicum, sicut prius, sed omnem terram illius gloria plenam esse testentur; “That they may point out the mystery of the Trinity in one Godhead; and that the Jewish temple alone should not be, as formerly, the place of the Divine glory, for the whole earth should be filled with it.” It relates, indeed, primarily to the prophet‘s own time, and the obduration of the Jews of that age, and their punishment by the Babylonish captivity; but extends in its full attitude to the age of Messiah, and the blindness of the Jews to the Gospel, (see Matthew 13:14; John 12:40; Acts 28:26; Romans 11:8), the desolation of their country by the Romans, and their being rejected by God. That nevertheless a holy seed - a remnant, should be preserved; and that the nation should spread out and flourish again from the old stock. - L.
The Lord - Fifty-one MSS. of Kennicott‘s, and fifty-four of De Rossi‘s, and one edition; in the 8th verse, (Isaiah 6:8); forty-four MSS. of Kennicott‘s, and forty-six of De Rossi‘s, and one edition; and in the 11th verse (Isaiah 6:11); thirty-three MSS. of Kennicott‘s, and many of De Rossi‘s, and one edition, for אדני (Adonai), “the Lord” read יהוה “(Jehovah),” which is probably the true reading; (compare Isaiah 6:6); as in many other places, in which the superstition of the Jews has substituted אדני (Adonai) for יהוה (Yehovah). One of my own MSS., a very ancient and large folio, to which the points and the masora have been added by a later hand, has יהוה (Yehovah) in the 1st and 8th verses, in the teeth of the masora, which orders it in both places to be read אדני (Adonai).
Above it stood the seraphim - שרפים (seraphim), from שרף (seraph), to burn. He saw says Kimchi, the angels as flames of fire, that the depravity of that generation might be exhibited, which was worthy of being totally burnt up.
He covered his feet “He covereth his feet” - By the feet the Hebrews mean all the lower parts of the body. But the people of the East generally wearing long robes, reaching to the ground, and covering the lower parts of the body down to the feet, it may hence have been thought want of respect and decency to appear in public and on solemn occasions with even the feet themselves uncovered. Kempfer, speaking of the king of Persia giving audience, says, Rex in medio supremi atrii cruribus more patrio inflexis sedebat: corpus tunica investiebat flava, ad suras cum staret protensa; discumbentis vero pedes discalceatos pro urbanitate patria operiens. - Amoen. Exot. p. 227. “The king sat on the floor cross-legged, as is the custom of the country. He was covered with a yellow garment, which reached down to the feet when standing, but covered the feet for decency when sitting with his slippers off.” Sir John Chardin‘s MS. note on this place of Isaiah is as follows: Grande marque de respect en orient de se cacher les pieds, quand on est assis, et de baisser le visage. Quand le souvrain se monstre en Chine et a Japon, chacun se jette le visage contre terre, et il n‘est pas permis de regarder le roi; “It is a great mark of respect in the East to cover the feet, and to bow down the head in the presence of the king.”
Holy, holy, holy - This hymn performed by the seraphim, divided into two choirs, the one singing responsively to the other, which Gregory Nazian., Carm. 18, very elegantly calls Συμφωνον, αντιφωνον, αγγελων στασιν , is formed upon the practice of alternate singing, which prevailed in the Jewish Church from the time of Moses, whose ode at the Red Sea was thus performed, (see Exodus 15:20, Exodus 15:21), to that of Ezra, under whom the priests and Levites sung alternately,
“O praise Jehovah, for he is gracious;
For his mercy endureth for ever;”
Ezra 3:11. See De Sac. Poes. Hebr. Prael. xix., at the beginning.
Wo is me! for I am undone - נדמיתי (nidmeythi), I am become dumb. There is something exceedingly affecting in this complaint. I am a man of unclean lips; I cannot say, Holy, holy, holy! which the seraphs exclaim. They are holy; I am not so: they see God, and live; I have seen him, and must die, because I am unholy. Only the pure in heart shall see God; and they only can live in his presence for ever, Reader, lay this to heart; and instead of boasting of thy excellence, and trusting in thy might, or comforting thyself in thy comparative innocence, thou wilt also be dumb before him, because thou hast been a man of unclean lips, and because thou hast still an unclean heart.
I am undone “I am struck dumb” - נדמיתי (nidmeythi), twenty-eight MSS. (five ancient) and three editions. - I understand it as from דום (dum) or דמם (damam), silere, “to be silent;” and so it is rendered by the Syriac, Vulgate, Symmachus, and by some of the Jewish interpreters, apud Sal. b. Melec. The rendering of the Syriac is תויר אני (tavir ani), stupens, attonitus sum, “I am amazed.” He immediately gives the reason why he was struck dumb: because he was a man of polluted lips, and dwelt among a people of polluted lips, and was unworthy, either to join the seraphim in singing praises to God, or to be the messenger of God to his people. Compare Exodus 4:10; Exodus 6:12; Jeremiah 1:6.
A live coal - The word of prophecy, which was put into the mouth of the prophet.
From off the altar - That is, from the altar of burnt-offerings, before the door of the temple, on which the fire that came down at first from heaven (Leviticus 9:24; 2 Chronicles 7:1) was perpetually burning. It was never to be extinguished, Leviticus 6:12, Leviticus 6:13.
And he said - לי (li), to me, two MSS. and the Syriac. Thirteen MSS. have ראה (raah), in the regular form.
Make the heart of this people fat “Gross” - The prophet speaks of the event, the fact as it would actually happen, not of God‘s purpose and act by his ministry. The prophets are in other places said to perform the thing which they only foretell: -
“Lo! I have given thee a charge this day
Over the nations, and over the kingdoms;
To pluck up, and to pull down;
To destroy, and to demolish;
To build, and to plant.”
And Ezekiel says, “When I came to destroy the city,” that is, as it is rendered in the margin of our version, “when I came to prophesy that the city should be destroyed;” Ezekiel 43:3. To hear, and not understand; to see, and not perceive; is a common saying in many languages. Demosthenes uses it, and expressly calls it a proverb: ὡστε το της παροιμιας ὁρωντας μη ὁρᾳν, και ακουοντας μη ακουειν ; Conttra Aristogit. I., sub fin. The prophet, by the bold figure in the sentiment above mentioned, and the elegant form and construction of the sentence, has raised it from a common proverb into a beautiful mashal, and given it the sublime air of poetry.
Or the words may be understood thus, according to the Hebrew idiom: “Ye certainly hear, but do not understand; ye certainly see, but do not acknowledge.” Seeing this is the case, make the heart of this people fat - declare it to be stupid and senseless; and remove from them the means of salvation, which they have so long abused.
There is a saying precisely like this in Aeschylus: -
- - - βλεποντες εβλεπον ματην,
Κλυοντες ουκ ηκουον .
Aesch. Prom. Vinct. 456.
“Seeing, they saw in vain; and hearing, they did not understand.”
And shut “Close up” - השע (hasha). This word Sal. ben Melec explains to this sense, in which it is hardly used elsewhere, on the authority of Onkelos. He says it means closing up the eyes, so that one cannot see; that the root is שוע (shava), by which word the Targum has rendered the word טח (tach), Leviticus 14:42, וטח את בית (vetach eth beith), “and shall plaster the house.” And the word טח (tach) is used in the same sense, Isaiah 44:18. So that it signifies to close up the eyes by some matter spread upon the lids. Mr. Harmer very ingeniously applies to this passage a practice of sealing up the eyes as a ceremony, or as a kind of punishment used in the East, from which the image may possibly be taken. Observ. 2:278.
With their heart “With their hearts” - ובלבבו (ubilebabo), fifteen MSS. of Kennicott‘s and fourteen of De Rossi‘s, and two editions, with the Septuagint, Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate.
And be healed “And I should heal” - ואר פא (veer pa), Septuagint, Vulgate. So likewise Matthew 13:14; John 12:40; Acts 28:27.
Be utterly desolate “Be left” - For תשאה (tishaeh), the Septuagint and Vulgate read תשאר (tishshaer).
A tenth - This passage, though somewhat obscure, and variously explained by various interpreters, has, I think, been made so clear by the accomplishment of the prophecy, that there remains little room to doubt of the sense of it. When Nebuchadnezzar had carried away the greater and better part of the people into captivity, there was yet a tenth remaining in the land, the poorer sort left to be vinedressers and husbandmen, under Gedaliah, 2 Kings 25:12, 2 Kings 25:22, and the dispersed Jews gathered themselves together, and returned to him, Jeremiah 40:12; yet even these, fleeing into Egypt after the death of Gedaliah, contrary to the warning of God given by the prophet Jeremiah, miserably perished there. Again, in the subsequent and more remarkable completion of the prophecy in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dissolution of the commonwealth by the Romans, when the Jews, after the loss of above a million of men, had increased from the scanty residue that was left of them, and had become very numerous again in their country; Hadrian, provoked by their rebellious behavior, slew above half a million more of them, and a second time almost extirpated the nation. Yet after these signal and almost universal destructions of that nation, and after so many other repeated exterminations and massacres of them in different times and on various occasions since, we yet see, with astonishment, that the stock still remains, from which God, according to his promise frequently given by his prophets, will cause his people to shoot forth again, and to flourish. - L.
A tenth, עשיריה (asiriyah). The meaning, says Kimchi, of this word is, there shall yet be in the land ten kings from the time of declaring this prophecy. The names of the ten kings are Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Jostah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah; then there shall be a general consumption, the people shall be carried into captivity, and Jerusalem shall be destroyed.
For בם (bam), in them, above seventy MSS., eleven of Kennicott‘s, and thirty-four of De Rossi‘s, read בה (bah), in it; and so the Septuagint.