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In this chapter the Messiah is introduced, declaring the full extent of his commission, which is not only to be Savior to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. The power and efficacy of his word is reprehended by apt images; the ill success of his ministry among the Jews is intimated, and the great success of the Gospel among the Gentiles, Isaiah 49:1-12. But the prophet, then casting his eye on the happy, though distant, period of Israel‘s restoration, makes a beautiful apostrophe to the whole creation to shout forth the praises of God on the prospect of this remarkable favor, Isaiah 49:13. The tender mercies of God to his people, with the prosperity of the Church in general, and the final overthrow of all its enemies, make the subject of the remaining verses, Isaiah 49:14-26.
Listen, O isles, unto me “Hearken unto me, O ye distant lands” - Hitherto the subject of the prophecy has been chiefly confined to the redemption from the captivity of Babylon; with strong intimations of a more important deliverance sometimes thrown in, to the refutation of idolatry, and the demonstration of the infinite power, wisdom, and foreknowledge of God. The character and office of the Messiah was exhibited in general terms at the beginning of chap. 42.; but here he is introduced in person, declaring the full extent of his commission, which is not only to restore the Israelites, and reconcile them to their Lord and Father, from whom they had so often revolted, but to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, to call them to the knowledge and obedience of the true God, and to bring them to be one Church together with the Israelites, and to partake with them of the same common salvation procured for all by the great Redeemer and Reconciler of man to God.
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword “And he hath made my mouth a sharp sword” - The servant of God, who speaks in the former part of this chapter, must be the Messiah. If any part of this character can in any sense belong to the prophet, yet in some parts it must belong exclusively to Christ; and in all parts to him in a much fuller and more proper sense. Isaiah‘s mission was to the Jews, not to the distant nations, to whom the speaker in this place addresses himself. “He hath made my mouth a sharp sword;” “to reprove the wicked, and to denounce unto them punishment,” says Jarchi, understanding it of Isaiah. But how much better does it suit him who is represented as having “a sharp two-edged sword going out of his mouth,” Revelation 1:16; who is himself the Word of God; which word is “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart;” Hebrews 4:12. This mighty Agent and Instrument of God, “long laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures,” is at last revealed and produced by his power, and under his protection, to execute his great and holy purposes. He is compared to a polished shaft stored in his quiver for use in his due time. The polished shaft denotes the same efficacious word which is before represented by the sharp sword. The doctrine of the Gospel pierced the hearts of its hearers, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” The metaphor of the sword and the arrow, applied to powerful speech, is bold, yet just. It has been employed by the most ingenious heathen writers, if with equal elegance, not with equal force. It is said of Pericles by Aristophanes, (see Cicero, Epist. ad Atticum, 12:6): -
Οὑτως εκηλει, και μονος των ῥητορων
Το κεντρον εγκατελειπε τοις ακροωμενοις.
Apud. Diod. lib. xii.
His powerful speech
Pierced the hearer‘s soul, and left behind
Deep in his bosom its keen point infixed.
Pindar is particularly fond of this metaphor, and frequently applies it to his own poetry: -
Επεχε νυν σκοπῳ τοξον,
Αγε, θυμε. τινα βαλλομεν
Εκ μαλθακας αυτε φρε - νος ευκλεας οΐστους
“Come on! thy brightest shafts prepare,
And bend, O Muse, thy sounding bow;
Say, through what paths of liquid air
Our arrows shall we throw?‘
See also ver. 149 of the same ode, and Olymp. Hebrews 9:17, on the former of which places the Scholiast says, τροπικος ὁ λογος· βελη δε τους λογους εορηκε, δια το οξυ και καιριον των εγκωμιων . “He calls his verses shafts, by a metaphor, signifying the acuteness and the apposite application of his panegyric.”
This person, who is (Isaiah 49:3) called Israel, cannot in any sense be Isaiah. That name, in its original design and full import, can only belong to him who contended powerfully with God in behalf of mankind, and prevailed, Genesis 32:28. After all that Vitringa, Bp. Lowth, and others have said in proof of this chapter speaking of the Messiah, and of him alone, I have my doubts whether sometimes Isaiah, sometimes Cyrus, and sometimes the Messiah, be not intended; the former shadowing out the latter, of whom, in certain respects, they may be considered the types. The literal sense should be sought out first; this is of the utmost importance both in reading and interpreting the oracles of God.
And now, saith the Lord “And now, thus saith Jehovah” - The word כה (coh), before אמר (amar), is dropped out of the text: it is supplied by eight MSS. (two ancient) of Dr. Kennicott‘s, two of De Rossi‘s, and the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate.
Though Israel be not gathered “And that Israel unto him might be gathered” - Five MSS. (two ancient) confirm the Keri, or marginal correction of the Masoretes, לו (lo), unto him, instead of לא (lo), not, in the text; and so read Aquila; and the Chaldee, Septuagint, and Arabic omit the negative. But the Septuagint, MSS. Pachom, and 1. D. 2 express also the Keri לו (lo) by προς αυτον , to him.
And to restore the preserved of Irsrae “And to restore the branches of Israel” - נצירי (netsirey), or נצורי (netsurey), as the Masoretes correct it in the marginal reading. This word has been matter of great doubt with interpreters: the Syriac renders it the branch, taking it for the same with נצר (netser), Isaiah 11:1. See Michaelis Epim. in Praelect. xix.
The Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One “The Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One” - “Perhaps we should read לקדושו (likdosho),” Secker: that is, to his Holy One. The preceding word ends with a ל (lamed), which might occasion that letter‘s being lost here. The Talmud of Babylon has וקדושו (ukedosho), and his Holy One.
To him whom man despiseth “To him whose person is despised” - “Perhaps we should read נבזה (nibzeh),” Secker; or בזוי (bazui), Le Clerc; that is, instead of the active, the passive form, which seems here to be required.
To them that are in darkness “And to those that are in darkness” - Fifteen MSS. (five ancient) of Dr. Kennicott‘s, eleven of De Rossi‘s, and one ancient of my own, and the two old editions of 1486 and 1488, and three others, add the conjunction ו (vau) at the beginning of this member. Another MS. had it so at first, and two others have a rasure at the place: and it is expressed by the Septuagint, Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate.
Behold, these shall come from far - “Babylon was far and east, ממזרח (mimmizrach), (non sic Vett.), Sinim, Pelusians, to the south.” - Secker.
The land of Sinim - Prof. Doederlein thought of Syene, the southern limit of Egypt, but does not abide by it. Michaelis thinks it is right, and promises to give his reasons for so thinking in the second part of his Spicilegium Geographiae Hebraeorum Exterae. See Biblioth. Oriental. Part 11 p. 176.
סין (sin) signifies a bush, and סינים (sinim), bushes, woods, etc. Probably this means that the land where several of the lost Jews dwell is a woodland. The ten tribes are gone, no one knows whither. On the slave coast in Africa, some Jewish rites appear among the people, and all the males are circumcised. The whole of this land, as it appears from the coast, may be emphatically called ארץ שינים (erets sinim), the land of bushes, as it is all covered with woods as far as the eye can reach. Many of the Indians in North America, which is also a woodland, have a great profusion of rites, apparently in their basis Jewish. Is it not possible that the descendants of the ten lost tribes are among those in America, or among those in Africa, whom European nations think they have a right to enslave? It is of those lost tribes that the twenty-first verse speaks: “And these, where had they been?”
Break forth into singing, O mountains “Ye mountains, burst forth into song” - Three ancient MSS. are without the י (yod) or the conjunction ו (vau) before the verb: and so the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate.
The Lord (יהוה (Yehovah)) hath forsaken me, and my Lord (אדני (Adonai)) hath forgotten me - But a multitude of MSS. and several ancient editions read יהוה (Yehovah) in both places.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands “Behold, on the palms of my hands have I delineated thee” - This is certainly an allusion to some practice, common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by punctures on the skin, with some sort of sign or representation of the city or temple, to show their affection and zeal for it. They had a method of making such punctures indelible by fire, or by staining. See note on Isaiah 44:6 (note). It is well known, that the pilgrims at the holy sepulcher get themselves marked in this manner with what are called the ensigns of Jerusalem. See Maundrell, p. 75, where he tells us how it is performed: and this art is practiced by travelling Jews all over the world at this day.
Thy children shall make haste “They that destroyed thee shall soon become thy builders” - Auctor Vulgatae pro בניך (banayich), videtur legisse בוניך (bonayichunde vertit, structores tui; cui et Septuaginta fere consentiunt, qui verterunt ῳκοδομηθης, aedificata es, prout in Plantiniana editione habetur; in Vaticana sive Romana legitur, οικοδομηθησῃ, aedificaberis. Hisce etiam Targum Jonathanis aliquatenus consentit, ubi, et aedificabunt. Confer infra Esai. Isaiah 54:13, ad quem locum rabbini quoque notarunt en tractatu Talmudico Berachot, c. ix., quod non legendum sit בניך (banayich), id est. filii tui; sed בניך (bonayich), aedificatores tui. Confer not. ad librum Prec. Jud. part ii., p. 226, ut et D Wagenseil Sot. p. 253, n. 9. “The author of the Vulgate appears to have read בוניך (bonayich) for בניך (banayich), as he translates it by structures tui, ‹thy builders.‘ The Septuagint is almost the same with the Vulgate, having ῳκοδομηθης , art built, as in the Plantin edition: but the Vatican or Roman copy reads οικοδομηθησῃ , those shalt be built. To these readings the Targum of Jonathan has some sort of correspondence, translating et aedificabunt, ‹and they shall build.‘ See Isaiah 54:13; on which place the rabbins also remark, in the Talmudic tract Berachoth, c. 9, that we should not read בניך (banayich), thy sons, but בניך (bonayich), thy builders. See the note in Prae. Jud. part ii., p. 226, and also D. Wagenseil, Sot. p. 253, n. 9. “See also Breithaupt. not. ad Jarchi in loc.; and the note on this place in De Sac. Poes. Hebr. Praelect. 31. Instead of בוניך or בניך (bonayich), thy builders, several MSS. read בניך (baneycha), thy sons. So also the Syriac: see the above note.
Shall go forth of thee “Shall become thine offspring” - ממך יצאו (mimmech yetseu), shall proceed, spring, issue, from thee, as thy children. The phrase is frequently used in this sense: see Isaiah 11:1; Micah 5:2; Nahum 1:11. The accession of the Gentiles to the Church of God is considered as an addition made to the number of the family and children of Sion: see Isaiah 49:21, Isaiah 49:22, and Isaiah 60:4. The common rendering, “shall go forth of thee, or depart from thee,” is very flat, after their zeal had been expressed by “shall become thy builders:” and as the opposition is kept up in one part of the sentence, one has reason to expect it in the other, which should be parallel to it.
Bind them on thee, as a bride doeth “Bind them about thee, as a bride her jewels” - The end of the sentence is manifestly imperfect. Does a bride bind her children, or her new subjects, about her? Sion clothes herself with her children, as a bride clothes herself, - with what? some other thing certainly. The Septuagint help us out in this difficulty, and supply the lost word: ὡς κοσμον νυμφη· as a bride her ornaments. ככליה כלה (kichleyha callah), or ככלה כליה (kecallah keleyha). The great similitude of the two words has occasioned the omission of one of them. See Isaiah 61:10.
These, where had they been “These then, where were they?” - The conjunction is added before אלה (elleh), that is, ואלה (veelleh). in thirty-two MSS. (nine ancient) of Kennicott‘s, and fifty-four of De Rossi‘s, and so the Septuagint, Chaldee, and Vulgate. See the note on Isaiah 49:12 (note).
Thus saith the Lord God - אדני יהוה (Adonai Yehovah). Adonai is wanting in one MS., in the Alexandrine copy of the Septuagint, and in the Arabic.
With their face toward the earth “With their faces to the earth” - It is well known that expressions of submission, homage, and reverence always have been and are still carried to a great degree of extravagance in the eastern countries. When Joseph‘s brethren were introduced to him, “they bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth,” Genesis 42:6. The kings of Persia never admitted any one to their presence without exacting this act of adoration; for that was the proper term for it. Necesse est, says the Persian courtier to Conon, si in conspectum veneris, venerari te regem; quod προσκυνειν illi vocant. “It is necessary, if thou shouldest come in sight, to venerate thee as king; which they call worshipping.” - Nepos in Conone. Alexander, intoxicated with success, affected this piece of oriental pride: Itaque more Persarum Macedonas venerabundos ipsum salutare, prosternentes humi corpora. “The Macedonians after the manner of the Persians, saluted their monarch with the ceremony of prostration.” - Curtius, lib. 8. The insolence of eastern monarchs to conquered princes, and the submission of the latter, is astonishing. Mr. Warmer, Observ. 2:43, gives the following instance of it from D‘Herbelot: “This prince threw himself one day on the ground, and kissed the prints that his victorious enemy‘s horse had made there; reciting some verses in Persian, which he had composed, to this effect: -
“The mark that the foot of your horse has left upon the dust, serves me now for a crown.”
“The ring which I wear as the badge of my slavery, is become my richest ornament.”
“While I shall have the happiness to kiss the dust of your feet, I shall think that fortune favors me with its tenderest caresses, and its sweetest kisses.”
These expressions therefore of the prophet are only general poetical images, taken from the manners of the country, to denote great respect and reverence: and such splendid poetical images, which frequently occur in the prophetical writings, were intended only as general amplifications of the subject, not as predictions to be understood and fulfilled precisely according to the letter. For the different kinds of adoration in the east, see the note on Isaiah 44:17.
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty “Shall the prey seized by the terrible be rescued” - For צדיק (tsaddik), read עריץ (arits). A palpable mistake, like that in Isaiah 42:19. The correction is self-evident from the very terms of the sentence; from the necessity of the strict correspondence in the expressions between the question and the answer made to it, - and it is apparent to the blindest and most prejudiced eye. However, if authority is also necessary, there is that of the Syriac and Vulgate for it; who plainly read עריץ (arits), in Isaiah 49:24 as well as in Isaiah 49:25, rendering it in the former place by the same word as in the latter. - L.
These two last verses contain a glorious promise of deliverance to the persecuted Church of Christ from the terrible one - Satan, and all his representatives and vicegerents, persecuting antichristian rulers. They shall at last cease from destroying the Church of God, and destroy one another.