The Pulpit Commentary

Isaiah 1:1-31 (Isaiah 1:1-31)

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Isaiah 1:1 (Isaiah 1:1)

TITLE OF THE WORK . It is questioned whether the title can be regarded as Isaiah's, or as properly belonging to the work, and it is suggested that it is rather a heading invented by a collector who brought together into a volume such prophecies of Isaiah as were known to him, the collection being a much smaller one than that which was made ultimately. In favor of this view it is urged

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Isaiah 1:1 (Isaiah 1:1)

The vision (comp. Obadiah 1:1 ; Nahum 1:1 ). The term is probably used in a collective sense, but is also intended to suggest the intrinsic unity of the entire body of prophecies put forth by Isaiah. As prophets were originally called "seers" ( 1 Samuel 9:9 ), so prophecy was called "vision;" and this latter use continued long after the other. Isaiah the son of Amoz (comp. Isaiah 2:1 ; Isaiah 13:1 ; Isaiah 37:2 ; etc.; 2 Kings 20:1 ; 2 Chronicles 32:32 ). The signification of the name Isaiah is "the salvation of Jehovah." The name Amen ( Amots ) is not to be confused with Amos ( 'Amos ), who seems to have been a contemporary ( Amos 1:1 ). Concerning Judah and Jerusalem. The prophecies of Isaiah concern primarily the kingdom of Judah, not that of Israel. They embrace a vast variety of nations and countries (see especially Isaiah 13:1-22 ; 15-21; Isaiah 23:1-18 ; Isaiah 47:1-15 .); but these nations and countries are spoken of "only because of the relation in which they stand to Judah and Jerusalem" (Kay), or at any rate to the people of God, symbolized under those names. Jerusalem occupies a prominent place in the prophecies (see Isaiah 1:8 , Isaiah 1:21 ; Isaiah 3:16-26 ; Isaiah 4:3-6 ; Isaiah 29:1-8 ; Isaiah 31:4-9 , etc .). In the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Uzziah (or Azariah, as he is sometimes called) reigned fifty-two years—probably from B.C. 811 to B.C. 759; Jotham sixteen years—from B.C. 759 to B.C. 743; Ahaz also sixteen years—from B.C. 743 to B.C. 727; and Hezekiah twenty-nine years—from B.C. 727 to B.C. 698. Isaiah probably prophesied only in the later years of Uzziah, say from B.C. 760; but as he certainly continued his prophetical career tin Sennacherib's invasion of Judaea ( Isaiah 37:5 ), which was not earlier than B.C. 705, he must have exercised the prophet's office for at least fifty-six years. The lowest possible estimate of the duration of his ministry is forty-seven years—from the last year of Uzziah, B.C. 759, to the fourteenth of Hezekiah ( Isaiah 38:5 ). The highest known to us is sixty-four years—from the fourth year before Uzziah's death to the last year of Hezekiah.

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Isaiah 1:1 (Isaiah 1:1)

The vision of Isaiah which he saw.

The modern theory, that the prophetical gift was a mere "presentiment, "or" insight, "closely akin to that by which clear-sighted men of all times and nations have been able, in many respects, to forecast the coming course of events, is not very easily reconcilable with these words , "the vision of Isaiah which he scow ." As a commentator whose freedom from the shackles of tradition is beyond dispute observes, "With Isaiah, it" ( i.e. prophecy) "is not a mere presentiment; it is a calm and settled conviction, based on a direct revelation, and confirmed by a deep insight into the laws of the Divine government". Isaiah "sees" that which he announces. It is placed distinctly before him, as that which is about to be. He no more doubts it than he doubts that which is presented to his bodily vision. Hence it may be concluded—

I. That the prophetic inspiration was absolutely convincing to those who were favored with it, and precluded all feeling of doubt.

II. That it was wholly different in kind from that power of prevision which all men more or less possess, resting, not upon grounds of reason or experience, but upon an inward spiritual conviction that the substance of the prophetic announcement had been communicated to the prophet by God.

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Isaiah 1:1-9 (Isaiah 1:1-9)

Jehovah arraigns his people.

I. INGRATITUDE THE BASEST OF SINS .

He, the Father, has been faithlessly forsaken by ungrateful sons. This is the worst form of ingratitude.

"Filial ingratitude!

Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand

For lifting food to it?"

('King Lear.')

It has been said that

The wretch whom gratitude once fails to bind,

To truth or honor let him lay no claim,

But stand confess'd the brute disguised in man."

But the brutes are grateful; while Jehovah's sons seem to have neither memory nor understanding. Man, by his nature, if he does not rise above, must sink below, the level of the beast. There is nothing more hateful, then, because more radically amiss and evil, than ingratitude. It is, great men have said, the sum of guilt and evil, worse than any taint of the blood, more odious than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,

II. THE PEOPLE HAVE ADDED REBELLION TO INGRATITUDE . They have forsaken, reviled, "gone backward" from him. This is a climax of sin. Our passions are ever in movement; there is no stagnation. Insensibility to God's goodness soon leads to antipathy, antipathy to active hatred, and this to open revolt. "Be ye thankful." The neglect of the heart and its proper attitude to God is certain to lay us open to every sin. The greatest physical pests of the city, and not less its moral corruptions, may be traced to neglect. Some "covenant" of God made known to us in natural or in spiritual law has been broken; hence sin and sorrow, and hence alone, as the prophets ever teach.

III. HEAVEN AND EARTH WITNESSES OF MAN 'S GUILT . The whole language and style call up to mind the court of justice. All human events form part of a drama, of which God and the angels are spectators. We in all our thoughts and deeds are surrounded by a great cloud of spectators. The great solid mountains, for example, seem the very symbols of those fixed laws by which our actions must be judged. Napoleon in Egypt called his soldiers to reflect that "forty centuries were looking down upon them from the pyramids." By a similar figure, Micah summons the people to trial in the presence of the mountains ( Micah 6:2 ); the Deuteronomist appeals to heaven and earth to listen to his words ( Deuteronomy 32:1 ). So does a psalmist ( Psalms 1:1-6 .) represent Jehovah as demanding the attention of earth from east to west. All our acts run out into a universal significance.

IV. THE EXTREMITY OF NATIONAL RUIN . The people have run the whole course of sin, have left no stone unturned in the attempt to defeat Jehovah; and lo! the result. The body corporate is one mass of disease and wounds, fresh and bleeding. The land is devastated and fire-scarred. Barbarians are devouring it; it reminds of awful Sodom's ruin. Jerusalem, indeed, is as yet unscathed; but she stands alone in the midst of the dread silence. Like "a booth in the vineyard, a hammock in a cucumber-field, "is she? Thus, when appeals to the car have been repeatedly neglected, God paints the truth upon the field of vision. If we heed not the voice, we must feel the weight of the hand, of the Lord. Yet there is still a spark of hope. Jerusalem is all but , yet not quite, a Sodom or Gomorrah. There is still a remnant of people left. Thank God, while there is life there is hope. At the very moment when we are tempted to say of the ruined nation, the broken life, "All is lost!" a voice is heard, "All may yet be restored!"—J.

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Isaiah 1:1-2 (Isaiah 1:1-2)

Ingratitude and intervention.

The "vision of Isaiah" during the reigns of four kings of Judah (verse 1), and the declaration (verse 2) that "the Lord hath spoken" (or speaketh), suggests—

I. THE FACT THAT GOD HAS INTERVENED AND DOES INTERVENE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS .

1. Such Divine intervention ought not to have been necessary . For God has so ordered everything around us, and has so constituted us ourselves, that there were abundant sources of truth and heavenly wisdom without it. All visible nature ( Romans 1:20 ); the bounties of Divine providence ( Acts 14:17 ); the manifestations of Divine pleasure and displeasure in the events and issues of life ( Psalms 34:15 , Psalms 34:16 ); the conscience that speaks and strikes within the soul—the moral judgment of which our spiritual nature is capable ( Proverbs 20:27 ; Acts 24:16 ; Romans 2:15 );—these should have sufficed for man's instruction, integrity, perfection. But we find, from the religious history of our race, that these sources of enlightenment and influence have not been sufficient.

2. There has been needed , and there has been granted , special intervention from God . "The Lord hath spoken" to mankind:

II. HUMAN INGRATITUDE THE OCCASION OF THE DIVINE INTERVENTION . What is it that calls forth the Divine utterance? It is the shameful ingratitude of his own sons. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." There are great and terrible crimes which have to be recorded against the human race; there are evil and shameful wrong-doings which stain and darken many individual lives; but there is one common and inexcusable wrong, to which all people and all souls must plead guilty, one common sin, with which we have all to reproach ourselves,—it is that with which God himself reproaches Israel—heinous and aggravated ingratitude.

1. God has done everything to attach us to himself. He has closely related us to himself; he has made us his children; he has expended upon us the lavish love, the patient care, the multiplied bounties, of a Father's heart, of a Father's hand.

2. We have broken away from his benignant rule. We "have rebelled against him;" our rebellion includes forgetfulness, inattention, dislike, insubmissiveness, disobedience. To whom we owe everything we are and have, to him we have rendered nothing for which he has been looking, everything which has been grievous in his sight.

III. OUR FITTING ATTITUDE WHEN GOD IS SPEAKING . When God speaks, let every voice be hushed; let all things everywhere, even the greatest and most majestic of all, lend their reverent attention. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth." There are

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Isaiah 1:1 (Isaiah 1:1)

The times and mission of Isaiah.

God raises up the man for the age, giving him gifts for the particular work which the age may demand. History is not a mere faithful record of things done, but a wise and sympathetic estimate of men doing. A man has more power on us than a truth. A man is grander than any doctrine or any book. Christianity, as a mere system, is a powerless thing; it never quickened anybody from his death of trespasses and sins. The personal Christ is our life. In the sphere of philanthropy we are interested in the doings of Howard and Wilberforce and Nightingale; in politics we trace the influence of Pitt and Burke and Cobden; and in the field of patriotism you kindle into enthusiasm all America when you speak of Washington and Lincoln, and all Scotland when you speak of John Knox. But it is not an easy thing for us to reproduce the men of a long bygone history. The men of one period must not be judged by the ideas and manners and social sentiments of another period; and yet it makes a surpassing demand on us if we have to create, with our imaginations, times wholly differing from our own. If we could be set down amidst the ruins of the buried Pompeii, and see around us the rooms, the furniture, the pictures, the ornaments, and the utensils, we think that, with their help, it would be easy to reproduce the life of old Rome; we could fill banqueting-hall, and theatre, and baths, and market-place with the men and women of that age. With old Israel we can have no such helps; we are dependent on the historical and imaginative faculties.

I. THE PROPHET HIMSELF . "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amotz." Little is known of his private life, and nothing of his personal appearance. He resided in Jerusalem; he was married, and his wife is spoken of as a prophetess. They had two sons; both were named with prophetic names, the two taken together embodying the substance of Isaiah's message. The one was called "Maher-shalal-hash-baz"—"He hasteth to the prey"—indicating the swift desolating forces that were coming on the people of Judaea; the other was called "Shear-Jashub"—a "remnant shall return"—indicating the mercy of God towards some, the mercy with which so much of the Book of Isaiah deals. It appears that the prophet wore a garment of haircloth or sackcloth, the ordinary symbol of repentance among Eastern nations; and so his very appearance reminded the people of his message. Isaiah prophesied for nearly fifty years. No record is left of his death, but Jewish traditions represent him as martyred in the reign of Manasseh—sawn asunder with a wooden saw. He was a prophet, not necessarily foretelling future events, but a directly inspired man; one who received communications from God which he was to address to the people. The prophet had three things to do:

II. THE TIMES IN WHICH THE PROPHET LIVED . They were times of national decline and decay. Isaiah saw four kings upon the throne of Judah. He saw the flickering of the candle ere it went out in the darkness. There was some appearance of prosperity; but Isaiah knew that it did but gloze over deep national corruption that called for national judgments. During the time of Isaiah the neighboring kingdom of the ten tribes did actually fall—the corruptions of idolatry and sensuality, in their case, running a swifter course; and the prophet holds up their case as a solemn warning to the people of Judah. The first six chapters of Isaiah have been referred to the reign of Uzziah, a king whose prosperity developed a strong self-will and masterfulness, which led him to attempt a sad act of sacrilege. Jotham was a pious king; but Ahaz plunged into all the idolatries of the surrounding nations, making molten images for Baal, and sacrificing his children by passing them through the burning hands of Moloch in the valley of Hinnom. The people were only too ready for this debasing change. But judgment quickly followed on the heels of iniquity. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus attacked and injured the country, though they failed to take Jerusalem. Soon other enemies came—Syrians in front, Philistines behind. Ahaz sought help from Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, who soon turned upon him, and Assyria became the gravest enemy of Israel.

III. THE WORK WHICH THE PROPHET HAD TO DO .

1. His first work was to make men understand that their sufferings were actual Divine judgments on their sins, and therefore calls, like thunder-peals, to awaken them to repentance. God will not leave men in their troubles to imagine that some evil chance has befallen them, that they are the victims of accident. By the mouth of some prophet he will assuredly vindicate the connection between sin and suffering.

2. But Isaiah had also to bring comfort to the people of God in the time of national calamity. Godly people are often bowed down by the pressure of surrounding evil, and in their despairing they sometimes say, "God hath forgotten to be gracious." God will never leave his faithful few to sink under discouragements.

3. Isaiah's work may be more precisely stated as this: he was to prepare the way for the spiritual kingdom of God, in the person of Messiah the crucified yet glorified Redeemer. The old theocracy was breaking up, and God's rule in the world might be lost. Isaiah was to say that it was only passing into a spiritual theocracy, giving place to the spiritual and eternal reign of God in souls. In Isaiah messages of severity and of mercy are most graciously blended. The following passage precisely represents his mission: "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."—R.T.

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