The first verse of this chapter is intended for a title to the whole
book, and it is probable that this was the first sermon that this
prophet was appointed to publish and to affix in writing (as Calvin
thinks the custom of the prophets was) to the door of the temple, as
with us proclamations are fixed to public places, that all might read
and those that would might take out authentic copies of them, the
original being, after some time, laid up by the priests among the
records of the temple. The sermon which is contained in this chapter
has in it,
I. A high charge exhibited, in God's name, against the Jewish church
1. For their ingratitude,
2. For their incorrigibleness,
3. For the universal corruption and degeneracy of the people,
4. For the perversion of justice by their rulers,
II. A sad complaint of the judgments of God, which they had brought
upon themselves by their sins, and by which they were brought almost to
III. A just rejection of those shows and shadows of religion which they
kept up among them, notwithstanding this general defection and apostasy,
IV. An earnest call to repentance and reformation, setting before them
life and death, life if they compiled with the call and death if they
V. A threatening of ruin to those that would not be reformed,
ver. 24, 28-31.
VI. A promise of a happy reformation at last, and a return to their
primitive purity and prosperity,
And all this is to be applied by us, not only to the communities we are
members of, in their public interests, but to the state of our own
|The Vision of Isaiah.
||B. C. 738.|
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning
Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and
Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
I. The name of the prophet, Isaiah, or Jesahiahu (for so
it is in the Hebrew), which, in the New Testament is read
Esaias. His name signifies the salvation of the Lord--a
proper name for a prophet by whom God gives knowledge of salvation
to his people, especially for this prophet, who prophesies so much
of Jesus the Saviour and of the great salvation wrought out by him. He
is said to be the son of Amoz, not Amos the prophet (the two
names in the Hebrew differ more than in the English), but, as the Jews
think, of Amoz the brother, or son, of Amaziah king of Judah, a
tradition as uncertain as that rule which they give, that, where a
prophet's father is named, he also was himself a prophet. The prophets'
pupils and successors are indeed often called their sons, but we
have few instances, if any, of their own sons being their
II. The nature of the prophecy. It is a vision, being revealed to him
in a vision, when he was awake, and heard the words of God, and saw
the visions of the Almighty (as Balaam speaks,
though perhaps it was not so illustrious a vision at first as that
The prophets were called seers, or seeing men, and therefore
their prophecies are fitly called visions. It was what he saw
with the eyes of his mind, and foresaw as clearly by divine revelation,
was as well assured of it, as fully apprised of it, and as much
affected with it, as if he had seen it with his bodily eyes. Note
1. God's prophets saw what they spoke of, knew what they said, and
require our belief of nothing but what they themselves believed and
were sure of,
2. They could not but speak what they saw, because they saw how much
all about them were concerned in it,
III. The subject of the prophecy. It was what he saw concerning
Judah and Jerusalem, the country of the two tribes, and that city
which was their metropolis; and there is little in it relating to
Ephraim, or the ten tribes, of whom there is so much said in the
prophecy of Hosea. Some chapters there are in this book which relate to
Babylon, Egypt, Tyre, and some other neighbouring nations; but it takes
its title from that which is the main substance of it, and is therefore
said to be concerning Judah and Jerusalem, the other nations
spoken of being such as the people of the Jews had concern with. Isaiah
brings to them in a special manner,
1. Instruction; for it is the privilege of Judah and Jerusalem that to
them pertain the oracles of God.
2. Reproof and threatening; for if in Judah, where God is known, if in
Salem, where his name is great, iniquity be found, they, sooner than
any other, shall be reckoned with for it.
3. Comfort and encouragement in evil times; for the children of Zion
shall be joyful in their king.
IV. The date of the prophecy. Isaiah prophesied in the days of
Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. By this it appears,
1. That he prophesied long, especially if (as the Jews say) he was at
last put to death by Manasseh, to a cruel death, being sawn asunder, to
which some suppose the apostle refers,
From the year that king Uzziah died
to Hezekiah's sickness and recovery was forty-seven years; how much
before, and after, he prophesied, is not certain; some reckon sixty,
others eighty years in all. It was an honour to him, and a happiness to
his country, that he was continued so long in his usefulness; and we
must suppose both that he began young and that he held out to old age;
for the prophets were not tied, as the priests were, to a certain age,
for the beginning or ending of their administration.
2. That he passed through variety of times. Jotham was a good king, and
Hezekiah a better, and no doubt gave encouragement to and took advice
from this prophet, were patrons to him, and he a privy-counsellor to
them; but between them, and when Isaiah was in the prime of his time,
the reign of Ahaz was very profane and wicked; then, no doubt, he was
frowned upon at court, and, it is likely, forced to abscond. Good men
and good ministers must expect bad times in this world, and prepare for
them. Then religion was run down to such a degree that the doors of
the house of the Lord were shut up and idolatrous altars were
erected in every corner of Jerusalem; and Isaiah, with all his
divine eloquence and messages immediately from God himself, could not
help it. The best men, the best ministers, cannot do the good they
would do in the world.
|The Degeneracy of Israel; The Sinfulness of Israel; The Sufferings of Israel.
||B. C. 738.|
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath
spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have
rebelled against me.
3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib:
but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of
evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the
LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they
are gone away backward.
5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and
more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no
soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores:
they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified
7 Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with
fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it
is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard,
as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small
remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been
like unto Gomorrah.
We will hope to meet with a brighter and more pleasant scene before we
come to the end of this book; but truly here, in the beginning of it,
every thing looks very bad, very black, with Judah and Jerusalem. What
is the wilderness of the world, if the church, the vineyard, has such a
dismal aspect as this?
I. The prophet, though he speaks in God's name, yet, despairing to gain
audience with the children of his people, addresses himself to the
heavens and the earth, and bespeaks their attention
Hear, O heavens! and give ear, O earth! Sooner will the
inanimate creatures hear, who observe the law and answer the end of
their creation, than this stupid senseless people. Let the lights of
the heaven shame their darkness, and the fruitfulness of the earth
their barrenness, and the strictness of each to its time their
irregularity. Moses begins thus in
to which the prophet here refers, intimating that now those times had
come which Moses there foretold,
Or this is an appeal to heaven and earth, to angels and then to the
inhabitants of the upper and lower world. Let them judge between God
and his vineyard; can either produce such an instance of
ingratitude? Note, God will be justified when he speaks, and both
heaven and earth shall declare his righteousness,
II. He charges them with base ingratitude, a crime of the highest
nature. Call a man ungrateful, and you can call him no worse. Let
heaven and earth hear and wonder at,
1. God's gracious dealings with such a peevish provoking people as they
were: "I have nourished and brought them up as children; they have been
well fed and well taught"
"I have magnified and exalted them" (so some), "not only made them
grow, but made them great--not only maintained them, but preferred
them--not only trained them up, but raised them high." Note, We owe the
continuance of our lives and comforts, and all our advancements, to
God's fatherly care of us and kindness to us.
2. Their ill-natured conduct towards him, who was so tender of them:
"They have rebelled against me," or (as some read it) "they have
revolted from me; they have been deserters, nay traitors, against my
crown and dignity." Note, All the instances of God's favour to us, as
the God both of our nature and of our nurture, aggravate our
treacherous departures from him and all our presumptuous oppositions to
him--children, and yet rebels!
III. He attributes this to their ignorance and inconsideration
The ox knows, but Israel does not. Observe,
1. The sagacity of the ox and the ass, which are not only brute
creatures, but of the dullest sort; yet the ox has such a sense of duty
as to know his owner and to serve him, to submit to his yoke and to
draw in it; the ass has such a sense of interest as to know has
master's crib, or manger, where he is fed, and to abide by it; he will
go to that of himself if he be turned loose. A fine pass man has come
to when he is shamed even in knowledge and understanding by these silly
animals, and is not only sent to school to them
but set in a form below them
taught more than the beasts of the earth
and yet knowing less.
2. The sottishness and stupidity of Israel. God is their owner and
proprietor. He made us, and his we are more than our cattle are ours;
he has provided well for us; providence is our Master's crib; yet many
that are called the people of God do not know and will not consider
this, but ask, "What is the Almighty that we should serve him?
He is not our owner; and what profit shall we have if we pray unto
him? He has no crib for us to feed at." He had complained
of the obstinacy of their wills; They have rebelled against me.
Here he runs it up to its cause: "Therefore they have rebelled
because they do not know, they do not consider." The understanding is
darkened, and therefore the whole soul is alienated from the life of
"Israel does not know, though their land is a land of light and
knowledge; in Judah is God known, yet, because they do not live
up to what they know, it is in effect as if they did not know. They
know; but their knowledge does them no good, because they do not
consider what they know; they do not apply it to their case, nor their
minds to it." Note,
(1.) Even among those that profess themselves God's people, that have
the advantages and lie under the engagements of his people, there are
many that are very careless in the affairs of their souls.
(2.) Inconsideration of what we do know is as great an enemy to us in
religion as ignorance of what we should know.
(3.) Therefore men revolt from God, and rebel against him,
because they do not know and consider their obligations to God in duty,
gratitude, and interest.
IV. He laments the universal pravity and corruption of their church and
kingdom. The disease of sin was epidemic, and all orders and degrees of
men were infected with it; Ah sinful nation!
The prophet bemoans those that would not bemoan themselves: Alas for
them! Woe to them! He speaks with holy indignation at their degeneracy,
and a dread of the consequences of it. See here,
1. How he aggravates their sin, and shows the malignity that there was
(1.) The wickedness was universal. They were a sinful nation; the
generality of the people were vicious and profane. They were so in
their national capacity. In the management of their public treaties
abroad, and in the administration of public justice at home, they were
corrupt. Note, It is ill with a people when sin becomes national.
(2.) It was very great and heinous in its nature. They were laden
with iniquity; the guilt of it, and the curse incurred by that
guilt, lay very heavily upon them. It was a heavy charge that was
exhibited against them, and one which they could never clear themselves
from; their wickedness was upon them as a talent of lead,
Their sin, as it did easily beset them and they were prone to it, was a
weight upon them,
(3.) They came of a bad stock, were a seed of evil-doers.
Treachery ran in their blood; they had it by kind, which made the
matter so much the worse, more provoking and less curable. They rose up
in their fathers' stead, and trod in their fathers' steps, to fill
up the measure of their iniquity,
They were a race and family of rebels.
(4.) Those that were themselves debauched did what they could to
debauch others. They were not only corrupt children, born tainted, but
children that were corrupters, that propagated vice, and
infected others with it--not only sinners, but tempters--not only
actuated by Satan, but agents for him. If those that are called
children, God's children, that are looked upon as belonging to
his family, be wicked and vile, their example is of the most malignant
(5.) Their sin was a treacherous departure from God. They were
deserters from their allegiance: "They have forsaken the Lord,
to whom they had joined themselves; they have gone away
backward, are alienated or separated from God, have turned their
back upon him, deserted their colours, and quitted their service." When
they were urged forward, they ran backward, as a bullock
unaccustomed to the yoke, as a backsliding heifer,
(6.) It was an impudent and daring defiance of him: They have
provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger wilfully and designedly;
they knew what would anger him, and that they did. Note, The
backslidings of those that have professed religion and relation to God
are in a special manner provoking to him.
2. How he illustrates it by a comparison taken from a sick and diseased
body, all overspread with leprosy, or, like Job's, with sore boils,
(1.) The distemper has seized the vitals, and so threatens to be
mortal. Diseases in the head and heart are most dangerous; now the
head, the whole head, is sick--the heart, the whole heart, is faint.
They had become corrupt in their judgment: the leprosy was in their
head. They were utterly unclean; their affection to God and religion
was cold and gone; the things which remained were ready to die
(2.) It has overspread the whole body, and so becomes exceedingly
noisome; From the sole of the foot even to the head, from the
meanest peasant to the greatest peer, there is no soundness, no
good principles, no religion (for that is the health of the soul),
nothing but wounds and bruises, guilt and corruption, the sad
effects of Adam's fall, noisome to the holy God, painful to the
sensible soul; they were so to David when he complained
My wounds stink, and are corrupt, because of my foolishness. See
No attempts were made for reformation, or, if they were, they proved
ineffectual: The wounds have not been closed, not bound up, nor
mollified with ointment. While sin remains unrepented of the wounds
are unsearched, unwashed, the proud flesh in them not cut out, and
while, consequently, it remains unpardoned, the wounds are not
mollified or closed up, nor any thing done towards the healing of them
and the preventing of their fatal consequences.
V. He sadly bewails the judgments of God which they had brought upon
themselves by their sins, and their incorrigibleness under those
1. Their kingdom was almost ruined,
So miserable were they that both their towns and their lands were
wasted, and yet so stupid that they needed to be told this, to have it
shown to them. "Look and see how it is; your country is
desolate; the ground is not cultivated, for want of inhabitants,
the villages being deserted,
And thus the fields and vineyards become like deserts, all grown
over with thorns,
Your cities are burned with fire, by the enemies that invade
you" (fire and sword commonly go together); "as for the fruits of your
land, which should be food for your families, strangers devour
them; and, to your greater vexation, it is before your eyes,
and you cannot prevent it; you starve while your enemies surfeit on
that which should be your maintenance. The overthrow of your country is
as the overthrow of strangers; it is used by the invaders, as one might
expect it should be used by strangers." Jerusalem itself, which was as
the daughter of Zion (the temple built on Zion was a mother, a nursing
mother, to Jerusalem), or Zion itself, the holy mountain, which had
been dear to God as a daughter, was now lost, deserted, and exposed
as a cottage in a vineyard, which, when the vintage is over,
nobody dwells in or takes any care of, and looks as mean and despicable
as a lodge or hut, in a garden of cucumbers; and every
person is afraid of coming near it, and solicitous to remove his
effects out of it, as if it were a besieged city,
And some think, it is a calamitous state of the kingdom that is
represented by a diseased body,
Probably this sermon was preached in the reign of Ahaz, when Judah was
invaded by the kings of Syria and Israel, the Edomites and the
Philistines, who slew many, and carried many away into captivity,
2 Chronicles 28:5,17,18.
Note, National impiety and immorality bring national desolation.
Canaan, the glory of all lands, Mount Zion, the joy of the whole earth,
both became a reproach and a ruin; and sin made them so, that great
2. Yet they were not all reformed, and therefore God threatens to take
another course with them
"Why should you be stricken any more, with any expectation of
doing you good by it, when you increase revolts as your rebukes are
increased? You will revolt more and more, as you have done," as
Ahaz particularly did, who, in his distress, trespassed yet more
against the Lord,
2 Chronicles 28:22.
Thus the physician, when he sees the patient's case desperate, troubles
him no more with physic; and the father resolves to correct his child
no more when, finding him hardened, he determines to disinherit him.
(1.) There are those who are made worse by the methods God takes to
make them better; the more they are stricken the more they revolt;
their corruptions, instead of being mortified, are irritated and
exasperated by their afflictions, and their hearts more hardened.
(2.) God, sometimes, in a way of righteous judgment, ceases to correct
those who have been long incorrigible, and whom therefore he designs to
destroy. The reprobate silver shall be cast, not into the furnace, but
to the dunghill,
He that is filthy, let him be filthy still.
VI. He comforts himself with the consideration of a remnant that should
be the monuments of divine grace and mercy, notwithstanding this
general corruption and desolation,
1. How near they were to an utter extirpation. They were almost like
Sodom and Gomorrah in respect both of sin and ruin, had grown almost so
bad that there could not have been found ten righteous men among
them, and almost as miserable as if none had been left alive, but
their country turned into a sulphureous lake. Divine Justice said,
Make them as Admah; set them as Zeboim; but Mercy said, How
shall I do it?
2. What it was that saved them from it: The Lord of hosts left unto
them a very small remnant, that were kept pure from the common
apostasy and kept safe and alive from the common calamity. This is
quoted by the apostle
and applied to those few of the Jewish nation who in his time embraced
Christianity, when the body of the people rejected it, and in whom the
promises made to the fathers were accomplished. Note,
(1.) In the worst of times there is a remnant preserved from iniquity
and reserved for mercy, as Noah and his family in the deluge, Lot and
his in the destruction of Sodom. Divine grace triumphs in
distinguishing by an act of sovereignty.
(2.) This remnant is often a very small one in comparison with the vast
number of revolting ruined sinners. Multitude is no mark of the true
church. Christ's is a little flock.
(3.) It is God's work to sanctify and save some, when others are left
to perish in their impurity. It is the work of his power as the Lord of
hosts. Except he had left us that remnant, there would have been none
left; the corrupters
did what they could to debauch all, and the devourers
to destroy all, and they would have prevailed of God himself had not
interposed to secure to himself a remnant, who are bound to give him
all the glory.
(4.) It is good for a people that have been saved from utter ruin to
look back and see how near they were to it, just upon the brink of it,
to see how much they owed to a few good men that stood in the gap, and
that that was owing to a good God, who left them these good men. It
is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
|The Vanity of Mere Ritual Obedience.
||B. C. 738.|
10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto
the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto
me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and
the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of
bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at
your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto
me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I
cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth:
they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes
from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your
hands are full of blood.
Here, I. God calls to them (but calls in vain) to hear his word,
1. The title he gives them is very strange; You rulers of Sodom,
and people of Gomorrah. This intimates what a righteous thing it
would have been with God to make them like Sodom and Gomorrah in
respect of ruin
because that had made themselves like Sodom and Gomorrah in respect of
sin. The men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord
and so were the men of Judah. When the rulers were bad, no wonder the
people were so. Vice overpowered virtue, for it had the rulers, the
men of figure, on its side; and it out-polled it, for it had the
people, the men of number, on its side. The streams being thus strong,
no less a power than that of the Lord of hosts could secure a remnant,
The rulers are boldly attacked here by the prophet as rulers of Sodom;
for he knew not how to give flattering titles. The tradition of the
Jews is that for this he was impeached long after, and put to death, as
having cursed the gods and spoken evil of the ruler of his
2. His demand upon them is very reasonable: "Hear the word of the
Lord, and give ear to the law of our God; attend to that
which God has to say to you, and let his word be a law to you." The
following declaration of dislike to their sacrifices would be a kind of
new law to them, though really it was but an explication of the old
law; but special regard is to be had to it, as is required to the like,
"Hear this, and tremble; hear it, and take warning."
II. He justly refuses to hear their prayers and accept their services,
their sacrifices and burnt-offerings, the fat and blood of them
their attendance in his courts
their oblations, their incense, and their solemn assemblies
their new moons and their appointed feasts
their devoutest addresses
they are all rejected, because their hands were full of blood. Now
1. There are many who are strangers, nay, enemies, to the power of
religion, and yet seem very zealous for the show and shadow and form of
it. This sinful nation, this seed of evil-doers, these rulers of Sodom
and people of Gomorrah, brought, not to the altars of false gods (they
are not here charged with that), but to the altar of the God of Israel,
sacrifices, a multitude of them, as many as the law required and rather
more--not only peace-offerings, which they themselves had their share
of, but burnt-offerings, which were wholly consumed to the honour of
God; nor did they bring the torn, and lame, and sick, but fed beasts,
and the fat of them, the best of the kind. They did not send others to
offer their sacrifices for them, but came themselves to appear before
God. They observed the instituted places (not in high places or
groves, but in God's own courts), and the instituted time, the
new moons, and sabbaths, and appointed feasts, none of which they
omitted. Nay, it should seem, they called extraordinary assemblies, and
held solemn meetings for religious worship, besides those that God had
appointed. Yet this was not all: they applied to God, not only with
their ceremonial observances, but with the exercises of devotion. They
prayed, prayed often, made many prayers, thinking they should be heard
for their much speaking; nay, they were fervent and importunate in
prayer, they spread forth their hands as men in earnest. Now we should
have thought these, and, no doubt, they thought themselves, a pious
religious people; and yet they were far from being so, for
(1.) Their hearts were empty of true devotion. They came to
appear before God
to be seen before him (so the margin reads it); they rested in
the outside of the duties; they looked no further than to be seen of
men, and went no further than that which men see.
(2.) Their hands were full of blood. They were guilty of murder,
rapine, and oppression, under colour of law and justice. The people
shed blood, and the rulers did not punish them for it; the rulers shed
blood, and the people were aiding and abetting, as the elders of
Jezreel were to Jezebel in shedding Naboth's blood. Malice is
heart-murder in the account of God; he that hates his brother in his
heart has, in effect, his hands full of blood.
2. When sinners are under the judgments of God they will more easily be
brought to fly to their devotions than to forsake their sins and reform
their lives. Their country was now desolate, and their cities were
which awakened them to bring their sacrifices and offerings to God more
constantly than they had done, as if they would bribe God Almighty to
remove the punishment and give them leave to go on in the sin. When
he slew them, then they sought him,
Lord, in trouble have they visited thee,
Many that will readily part with their sacrifices will not be persuaded
to part with their sins.
3. The most pompous and costly devotions of wicked people, without a
thorough reformation of the heart and life, are so far from being
acceptable to God that really they are an abomination to him. It is
here shown in a great variety of expressions that to obey is better
than sacrifice; nay, that sacrifice, without obedience, is a jest,
an affront and provocation to God. The comparative neglect which God
here expresses of ceremonial observance was a tacit intimation of what
they would come to at last, when they would all be done away by the
death of Christ. What was now made little of would in due time be made
nothing of. "Sacrifice and offering, and prayer made in the
virtue of them, thou wouldest not; then said I, Lo, I come."
Their sacrifices are here represented,
(1.) As fruitless and insignificant; To what purpose is the
multitude of your sacrifices?
They are vain oblations,
In vain do they worship me,
Their attention to God's institutions was all lost labour, and served
not to answer any good intention; for,
[1.] It was not looked upon as any act of duty or obedience to God:
Who has required these things at your hands?
Not that God disowns his institutions, or refuses to stand by his own
warrants; but in what they did they had not an eye to him that required
it, nor indeed did he require it of those whose hands were full of
blood and who continued impenitent.
[2.] It did not recommend them to God's favour. He delighted not in the
blood of their sacrifices, for he did not look upon himself as honoured
[3.] It would not obtain any relief for them. They pray, but God will
not hear, because they regard iniquity
he will not deliver them, for, though they make many prayers, none of
them come from an upright heart. All their religious service turned to
no account to them. Nay,
(2.) As odious and offensive. God did not only not accept them, but he
did detest and abhor them. "They are your sacrifices, they are
none of mine; I am full of them, even surfeited with them." He needed
did not desire them, had had enough of them, and more than enough.
Their coming into his courts he calls treading them, or
trampling upon them; their very attendance on his ordinances was
construed into a contempt of them. Their incense, though ever so
fragrant, was an abomination to him, for it was burnt in hypocrisy and
with an ill design. Their solemn assemblies he could not away
with, could not see them with any patience, nor bear the affront
they gave him. The solemn meeting is iniquity; though the thing
itself was not, yet, as they managed it, it became so. It is a
vexation (so some read it), a provocation, to God, to have
ordinances thus prostituted, not only by wicked people, but to wicked
purposes: "My soul hates them; they are a trouble to me, a
burden, an incumbrance; I am perfectly sick of them, and weary of
bearing them." God is never weary of hearing the prayers of the
upright, but soon weary of the costly sacrifices of the wicked. He
hides his eyes from their prayers, as that which he has an aversion to
and is angry at. All this is to show,
[1.] That sin is very hateful to God, so hateful that it makes even
men's prayers and their religious services hateful to him.
[2.] That dissembled piety is double iniquity. Hypocrisy in religion
is of all things most abominable to the God of heaven. Jerome applies
the passage to the Jews in Christ's time, who pretended a great zeal
for the law and the temple, but made themselves and all their services
abominable to God by filling their hands with the blood of Christ and
his apostles, and so filling up the measure of their iniquities.
|A Call to Repentance; Repentance and Reformation Urged.
||B. C. 738.|
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings
from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed,
judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though
your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the
20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the
sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Though God had rejected their services as insufficient to atone for
their sins while they persisted in them, yet he does not reject them as
in a hopeless condition, but here calls upon them to forsake their
sins, which hindered the acceptance of their services, and then all
would be well. Let them not say that God picked quarrels with them; no,
he proposes a method of reconciliation. Observe here,
I. A call to repentance and reformation: "If you would have your
sacrifices accepted, and your prayers answered, you must begin your
work at the right end: Be converted to my law" (so the Chaldee
begins this exhortation), "make conscience of second-table duties, else
expect not to be accepted in the acts of your devotion." As justice and
charity will never atone for atheism and profaneness, so prayers and
sacrifices will never atone for fraud and oppression; for righteousness
towards men is as much a branch of pure religion as religion towards
God is a branch of universal righteousness.
1. They must cease to do evil, must do no more wrong, shed no
more innocent blood. This is the meaning of washing themselves and
making themselves clean,
It is not only sorrowing for the sin they had committed, but breaking
off the practice of it for the future, and mortifying all those vicious
affections and dispositions which inclined them to it. Sin is defiling
to the soul. Our business is to wash ourselves from it by repenting of
it and turning from it to God. We must put away not only that evil of
our doings which is before the eye of the world, by refraining from the
gross acts of sin, but that which is before God's eyes, the roots and
habits of sin, that are in our hearts; these must be crushed and
2. They must learn to do well. This was necessary to the
completing of their repentance. Note, It is not enough that we cease to
do evil, but we must learn to do well.
(1.) We must be doing, not cease to do evil and then stand idle.
(2.) We must be doing good, the good which the Lord our God requires
and which will turn to a good account.
(3.) We must do it well, in a right manner and for a right end; and,
(4.) We must learn to do well; we must take pains to get the knowledge
of our duty, be inquisitive concerning it, in care about it, and
accustom ourselves to it, that we may readily turn our hands to our
work and become masters of this holy art of doing well. He urges them
particularly to those instances of well-doing wherein they had been
defective, to second-table duties: "Seek judgment; enquire what
is right, that you may do it; be solicitous to be found in the way of
your duty, and do not walk carelessly. Seek opportunities of doing
good: Relieve the oppressed, those whom you yourselves have
oppressed; ease them of their burdens,
You, that have power in your hands, use it for the relief of those whom
others do oppress, for that is your business. Avenge those that suffer
wrong, in a special manner concerning yourselves for the fatherless and
the widow, whom, because they are weak and helpless, proud men trample
upon and abuse; do you appear for them at the bar, on the bench, as
there is occasion. Speak for those that know not how to speak for
themselves and that have not wherewithal to gratify you for your
kindness." Note, We are truly honouring God when we are doing good in
the world; and acts of justice and charity are more pleasing to him
than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.
II. A demonstration, at the bar of right reason, of the equity of God's
proceedings with them: "Come now, and let us reason together
while your hands are full of blood I will have nothing to do with you,
though you bring me a multitude of sacrifices; but if you wash, and
make yourselves clean, you are welcome to draw nigh to me; come now,
and let us talk the matter over." Note, Those, and those only, that
break off their league with sin, shall be welcome into covenant and
communion with God; he says, Come now, who before forbade them
his courts. See
Or rather thus: There were those among them who looked upon themselves
as affronted by the slights God put upon the multitude of their
Wherefore have we fasted (say they) and thou seest not?
They represented God as a hard Master, whom it was impossible to
please. "Come," says God, "let us debate the matter fairly, and I doubt
not but to make it out that my ways are equal, but yours are
Note, Religion has reason on its side; there is all the reason in the
world why we should do as God would have us do. The God of heaven
condescends to reason the case with those that contradict him and find
fault with his proceedings; for he will be justified when he
The case needs only to be stated (as it is here very fairly) and it
will determine itself. God shows here upon what terms they stood (as he
and then leaves it to them to judge whether these terms are not fair
1. They could not in reason expect any more then, if they repented and
reformed, they should be restored to God's favour, notwithstanding
their former provocations. "This you may expect," says God, and it is
very kind; who could have the face to desire it upon any other terms?
(1.) It is very little that is required, "only that you be willing
and obedient, that you consent to obey" (so some read it),
"that you subject your wills to the will of God, acquiesce in that, and
give up yourselves in all things to be ruled by him who is infinitely
wise and good" Here is no penance imposed for their former
stubbornness, nor the yoke made heavier or bound harder on their necks;
only, "Whereas hitherto you have been perverse and refractory, and
would not comply with that which was for your own good, now be
tractable, be governable" He does not say, "If you be
perfectly obedient," but, "If you be willingly so;" for,
if there be a willing mind, it is accepted.
(2.) That is very great which is promised hereupon.
[1.] That all their sins should be pardoned to them, and should not be
mentioned against them. "Though they be as red as scarlet and crimson,
though you lie under the guilt of blood, yet, upon your repentance,
even that shall be forgiven you, and you shall appear in the sight of
God as white as snow." Note, The greatest sinners, if they truly
repent, shall have their sins forgiven them, and so have their
consciences pacified and purified. Though our sins have been as scarlet
and crimson, as deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original
corruption and afterwards in the many threads of actual
transgression--though we have been often dipped, by our many
backslidings, into sin, and though we have lain long soaking in it, as
the cloth does in the scarlet dye, yet pardoning mercy will thoroughly
discharge the stain, and, being by it purged as with hyssop, we
shall be clean,
If we make ourselves clean by repentance and reformation
God will make us white by a full remission.
[2.] That they should have all the happiness and comfort they could
desire. "Be but willing and obedient, and you shall eat the good of
the land, the land of promise; you shall have all the blessings of
the new covenant, of the heavenly Canaan, all the good of the land."
Those that go on in sin, though they may dwell in a good land, cannot
with any comfort eat the good of it; guilt embitters all; but, if sin
be pardoned, creature-comforts become comforts indeed.
2. They could not in reason expect any other than that, if they
continued obstinate in their disobedience, they should be abandoned to
ruin, and the sentence of the law should be executed upon them; what
can be more just?
"If you refuse and rebel, if you continue to rebel against the
divine government and refuse the offers of the divine grace, you
shall be devoured with the sword, with the sword of your enemies,
which shall be commissioned to destroy you--with the sword of God's
justice, his wrath, and vengeance, which shall be drawn against you;
for this is that which the mouth of the Lord has spoken, and
which he will make good, for the maintaining of his own honour." Note,
Those that will not be governed by God's sceptre will certainly and
justly be devoured by his sword.
"And now life and death, good and evil, are thus set before you.
Come, and let us reason together. What have you to object
against the equity of this, or against complying with God's terms?"
|The Degeneracy of Jerusalem; Reformation of the Church.
||B. C. 738.|
21 How is the faithful city become a harlot! it was full of
judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves:
every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge
not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto
24 Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One
of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me
of mine enemies:
25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy
dross, and take away all thy tin:
26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy
counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called,
The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with
28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners
shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired,
and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden
that hath no water.
31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a
spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench
I. The woeful degeneracy of Judah and Jerusalem is sadly lamented. See,
1. What the royal city had been, a faithful city, faithful to God and
the interests of his kingdom among men, faithful to the nation and its
public interests. It was full of judgment; justice was duly
administered upon the thrones of judgment which were set there, the
thrones of the house of David,
Men were generally honest in their dealings, and abhorred to do an
unjust thing. Righteousness lodged in it, was constantly
resident in their palaces and in all their dwellings, not called in now
and then to serve a turn, but at home there. Note, Neither holy cities
nor royal ones, neither places where religion is professed nor places
where government is administered, are faithful to their trust if
religion do not dwell in them.
2. What it had now become. That beauteous virtuous spouse was now
debauched, and become an adulteress; righteousness no longer dwelt in
Jerusalem (terras Astræa reliquit--Astrea left the earth);
even murderers were unpunished and lived undisturbed there; nay, the
princes themselves were so cruel and oppressive that they had become no
better than murderers; an innocent man might better guard himself
against a troop of banditti or assassins than against a bench of such
judges. Note, It is a great aggravation of the wickedness of any family
or people that their ancestors were famed for virtue and probity; and
commonly those that thus degenerate prove the most wicked of all men.
Corruptio optimi est pessima--That which was originally the best
becomes when corrupted the worst,
The degeneracy of Jerusalem is illustrated,
(1.) By similitudes
Thy silver has become dross. This degeneracy of the magistrates,
whose character is the reverse of that of their predecessors, is a
great a reproach and injury to the kingdom as the debasing of their
coin would be and the turning of their silver into dross. Righteous
princes and righteous cities are as silver for the treasury, but
unrighteous ones are as dross for the dunghill. How has the gold
Thy wine is mixed with water, and so has become flat and sour.
Some understand both these literally: the wine they sold was
adulterated, it was half water; the money they paid was counterfeit,
and so they cheated all they dealt with. But it is rather to be taken
figuratively: justice was perverted by their princes, and religion and
the word of God were sophisticated by their priests, and made to serve
what turn they pleased. Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that
is mixed with water may retain the colour of wine, but neither is worth
any thing. Thus they retained a show and pretence of virtue and
justice, but had no true sense of either.
(2.) By some instances
"Thy princes, that should keep others in their allegiance to God and
subjection to his law, are themselves rebellious, and set God and his
law at defiance." Those that should restrain thieves (proud and rich
oppressors, those worst of robbers, and those that designedly cheat
their creditors, who are no better), are themselves companions of
thieves, connive at them, do as they do, and with greater security and
success, because they are princes, and have power in their hands; they
share with the thieves they protect in their unlawful gain
Ps. l. 18)
and cast in their lot among them,
[1.] The profit of their places is all their aim, to make the best hand
they can of them, right or wrong. They love gifts, and follow after
rewards; they set their hearts upon their salary, the fees and
perquisites of their offices, and are greedy of them, and never think
they can get enough; nay, they will do any thing, though ever so
contrary to law and justice, for a gift in secret. Presents and
gratuities will blind their eyes at any time, and make them pervert
judgment. These they love and are eager in the pursuit of,
[2.] The duty of their places is none of their care. They ought to
protect those that are injured, and take cognizance of the appeals made
to them; why else were they preferred? But they judge not the
fatherless, take no care to guard the orphans, nor does the
cause of the widow come unto them, because the poor widow has no
bribe to give, with which to make way for her and to bring her cause
on. Those will have a great deal to answer for who, when they should be
the patrons of the oppressed, are their greatest oppressors.
II. A resolution is taken up to redress these grievances
Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of
Israel--who has power to make good what he says, who has hosts at
command for the executing of his purposes, and whose power is engaged
for his Israel--Ah! I will ease me of my adversaries.
1. Wicked people, especially wicked rulers that are cruel and
oppressive, are God's enemies, his adversaries, and shall so be
accounted and so dealt with. If the holy seed corrupt themselves, they
are the foes of his own house.
2. They are a burden to the God of heaven, which is implied in his
easing himself of them. The Mighty One of Israel, that can bear
any thing, nay, that upholds all things, complains of his being
wearied with men's iniquities,
3. God will find out a time and a way to ease himself of this burden,
by avenging himself on those that thus bear hard upon his patience. He
here speaks as one triumphing in the foresight of it: Ah. I will
ease me. He will ease the earth of the burden under which it
will ease his own name of the reproaches with which it is loaded. He
will be eased of his adversaries, by taking vengeance on his
enemies; he will spue them out of his mouth, and so be eased
He speaks with pleasure of the day of vengeance being in his
If God's professing people conform not to his image, as the Holy One of
they shall feel the weight of his hand as the Mighty One of Israel: his
power, which was wont to be engaged for them, shall be armed against
them. In two ways God will ease himself of this grievance:--
(1.) By reforming his church, and restoring good judges in the room of
those corrupt ones. Though the church has a great deal of dross in it,
yet it shall not be thrown away, but refined
"I will purely purge away thy dross. I will amend what is amiss.
Vice and profaneness shall be suppressed and put out of countenance,
oppressors displaced, and deprived of their power to do mischief." When
things are ever so bad God can set them to rights, and bring about a
complete reformation; when he begins he will make an end, will take
away all the tin. Observe,
[1.] The reformation of a people is God's own work, and, if ever it be
done, it is he that brings it about: "I will turn my hand upon
thee; I will do that for the reviving of religion which I did at
first for the planting of it." He can do it easily, with the turn of
his hand; but he does it effectually, for what opposition can stand
before the arm of the Lord revealed?
[2.] He does it by blessing them with good magistrates and good
ministers of state
"I will restore thy judges as at the first, to put the laws in
execution against evil-doers, and thy counsellors, to transact
public affairs, as at the beginning," either the same persons
that had been turned out or others of the same character.
[3.] He does it by restoring judgment and righteousness among them
by planting in men's minds principles of justice and governing their
lives by those principles. Men may do much by external restraints; but
God does it effectually by the influences of his Spirit, as a
Spirit of judgment,
[4.] The reformation of a people will be the redemption of them and
their converts, for sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery, and
the great and eternal redemption is that by which Israel is redeemed
from all his iniquities
and the blessed Redeemer is he that turns away ungodliness
and saves his people from their sins,
All the redeemed of the Lord shall be converts, and their conversion is
their redemption: "Her converts, or those that return of
her (so the margin), shall be redeemed with righteousness." God
works deliverance for us by preparing us for it with judgment and
[5.] The reviving of a people's virtues is the restoring of their
honour: Afterwards thou shalt be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city; that is, First, "Thou shalt be
so;" the reforming of the magistracy is a good step towards the
reforming of the city and the country too. Secondly, "Thou shalt
have the praise of being so;" and a greater praise there cannot
be to any city than to be called the city of righteousness, and
to retrieve the ancient honour which was lost when the faithful city
became a harlot,
(2.) By cutting off those that hate to be reformed, that they may not
remain either as snares or as scandals to the faithful city.
[1.] it is an utter ruin that is here threatened. They shall be
destroyed and consumed, and not chastened and corrected only. The
extirpation of them will be necessary to the redemption of Zion.
[2.] It is a universal ruin, which will involve the transgressors and
the sinners together, that is, the openly profane that have quite cast
of all religion, and the hypocrites that live wicked lives under the
cloak of a religious profession--they shall both be destroyed together,
for they are both alike an abomination to God, both those that
contradict religion and those that contradict themselves in their
pretensions to it. And those that forsake the Lord, to whom they
had formerly joined themselves, shall be consumed, as the water
in the conduit-pipe is soon consumed when it is cut off from the
[3.] It is an inevitable ruin; there is no escaping it. First,
Their idols shall not be able to help them, the oaks which they have
desired, and the gardens which they have chosen; that is, the
images, the dunghill-gods, which they had worshipped in their groves
and under the green trees, which they were fond of and wedded to, for
which they forsook the true God, and which they worshipped privately in
their own garden even when idolatry was publicly discountenanced. "This
was the practice of the transgressors and the sinners; but they shall
be ashamed of it, not with a show of repentance, but of despair,
They shall have cause to be ashamed of their idols; for, after all the
court they have made to them, they shall find no benefit by them; but
the idols themselves shall go into captivity,"
Note, Those that make creatures their confidence are but preparing
confusion for themselves. You were fond of the oaks and the gardens,
but you yourselves shall be,
1. "Like an oak without leaves, withered and blasted, and
stripped of all its ornaments." Justly do those wear no leaves that
bear no fruit; as the fig-tree that Christ cursed.
2. "Like a garden without water, that is neither rained upon nor
watered with the foot
that had no fountain
(Song of Solomon 4:15),
and consequently is parched, and all the fruits of it gone to decay."
Thus shall those be that trust in idols, or in an arm of flesh,
But those that trust in God never find him as a wilderness, or as
waters that fail,
Secondly, They shall not be able to help themselves
"Even the strong man shall be as tow not only soon broken and
pulled to pieces, but easily catching fire; and his work (so the
margin reads it), that by which he hopes to fortify and secure himself,
shall be as a spark to his own tow, shall set him on fire, and he and
his work shall burn together. His counsels shall be his ruin; his own
skin kindles the fire of God's wrath, which shall burn to the lowest
hell, and none shall quench it." When the sinner has made himself as
tow and stubble, and God makes himself to him as a consuming fore, what
can prevent the utter ruin of the sinner?
Now all this is applicable,
1. To the blessed work of reformation which was wrought in Hezekiah's
time after the abominable corruptions of the reign of Ahaz. Then good
men came to be preferred, and the faces of the wicked were filled with
2. To their return out of their captivity in Babylon, which had
thoroughly cured them of idolatry.
3. To the gospel-kingdom and the pouring out of the Spirit, by which
the New-Testament church should be made a new Jerusalem, a city of
4. To the second coming of Christ, when he shall thoroughly purge his
floor, his field, shall gather the wheat into his barn, into his
garner, and burn the chaff, the tares, with unquenchable fire.