Isaiah 6
Barnes' Notes
This chapter Isaiah 6:1-13 contains a very sublime description of the manifestation of Yahweh to Isaiah, and of a solemn commission to him to declare his purposes to the Jews. It has been supposed by many to be a solemn "inauguration" to the prophetic office, and to have been the "first" of his prophecies. But this supposition is not to be considered as just. It is evident Isaiah 1:1 that he prophesied "before" the death of Uzziah, and there is reason to suppose that the order of "time" is observed in the previous chapters; see the Introduction, Section 2. The most probable supposition of the occasion of this prophecy, is this, that the people were extremely guilty; that they were strongly indisposed to listen to the message of the prophet, and that he was, therefore, favored with this extraordinary commission in order to give his message more success and higher authority in the minds of the people. It is a new commission to make his message as impressive as possible - as if it came direct from the lips of the Almighty. The Jews say, that for this pretension that he had seen Yahweh, he was sawn asunder by "Manasseh." And to this fact Paul has been supposed to refer in Hebrews 11:37, where he says of those who had been eminent in faith, 'they were sawn asunder;' see the Introduction, Section 2.

This vision is expressed in the language appropriate to Eastern monarchs. God is represented as sitting on a "throne," and attended by ministers, here called seraphim. His throne is elevated, and the posture of sitting denotes dignity and majesty. The language of the description is taken from the temple. The image is that of God sitting in the most holy place. Surrounding him are seen the seraphim, and the cloud filling the temple. Isaiah is represented as without the temple, near the altar. The great altar of sacrifice stood directly in front of the temple, so that if the doors of the temple had been open, and the veil separating the holy from the most holy place had been withdrawn, he would have had a distinct view of the mercy-seat. That veil between is supposed to be withdrawn, and he is permitted directly to contemplate the sacred and solemn manifestation made in the immediate dwelling-place of God. The chapter comprises, properly, three parts.

I. The vision, Isaiah 6:1-4. Yahweh is seen upon a throne, clad in the manner of an ancient monarch, with a robe and a train which filled the whole temple. He sits as a king, and is adorned in the robes of royalty, Isaiah 6:1. He is encompassed with ministering spirits - with the seraphim, in the manner of a magnificent king, Isaiah 6:2. They are seen, by the prophet, to be solemnly engaged in his worship, and to stand in the attitude of the most profound veneration, Isaiah 6:3. So awful and sublime was the worship, that even the posts of the temple were moved; the whole sacred edifice trembled at the presence of God, and at the voice of those who were engaged in his praise; and the whole temple was filled with the symbol of the divine presence and majesty, Isaiah 6:4.

II. The "effect on the prophet," Isaiah 6:5-7. He was overcome with a sense of his unworthiness, and felt that he could not live. He had seen Yahweh, and he felt that he was a ruined man, Isaiah 6:5. Yet one of the seraphim flew to the altar, and bore thence a live coal, and touched his lips, and assured him that his sin was taken away, and that he was pardoned, Isaiah 6:6-7.

III. The "commission of the prophet," Isaiah 6:8-13. God inquires who will go for him to the people, and bear his message, and the prophet expresses his readiness to do it, Isaiah 6:8. The nature of the message is stated, Isaiah 6:9-10. The "duration" - the state of things which he predicted would follow from this - is asked, and the answer is returned, Isaiah 6:11-13. It was to be until utter desolation should spread over the land, and the mass of the nation was cut off, and all were destroyed, except the small portion which it was necessary to preserve, in order to prevent the nation from becoming wholly extinct.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
In the year - This naturally denotes a period after the death of Uzziah, though in the same year. The mention of the time was evidently made when the prophecy was composed, and it is to be presumed that the death of Uzziah had occurred at the time when the prophet saw this vision. If so, it is clear that this was not the first of his prophecies, for he saw his visions 'in the days of Uzziah;' Isaiah 1:1. The Chaldee, however, reads this: 'in the year when Uzziah was smitten with the leprosy;' and most of the Jewish commentators so understand it; 2 Chronicles 26:19-20. The rabbis say that the meaning is, that he then became "civilly" dead, by ceasing to exercise his functions as a king, and that he was cut off as a leprous man from all connection with the people, and from all authority; see the Introduction, Section 3. This is, doubtless, true; but still, the more natural signification is, that this occurred in the year in which he actually died.

I saw - That is, he saw in a "vision;" see the Introduction, Section 7. (4). A similar vision is described by Micaiah; 1 Kings 22:19; see also Amos 7:1; Amos 8:1; Amos 9:1; Daniel 7:13, ...

The Lord - In the original here the word is not יהוה yehovâh but אדני 'ădonāy; see the notes at Isaiah 1:24. Here it is applied to Yahweh; see also Psalm 114:7, where it is also so applied; and see Isaiah 8:7, and Job 28:28, where Yahweh calls himself "Adonai." The word does not itself denote essential divinity; but it is often applied to God. In some MSS., however, of Kennicott and DeRossi, the word Yahweh is found. We may make two remarks here.

(1) That Isaiah evidently meant to say that it was Yahweh who appeared to him. He is expressly so called in Isaiah 6:5-8, Isaiah 6:11.

(2) It is equally clear, from the New Testament, that Isaiah saw the messiah. John quotes the words in this chapter, Isaiah 6:10, as applicable to Jesus Christ, and then adds John 12:41, 'these things said Esaias when he saw his glory, and spake of him.'

An inspired man has thus settled this as referring to the Messiah, and thus had established the propriety of applying to him the name Yahweh, that is, has affirmed that the Lord Jesus is divine. Jerome says, that this vision was designed to represent the doctrine of the Trinity. In John 1:18, it is said, 'No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.' In Exodus 33:20, God says, 'Thou canst not see my face, for there shall no man see me and live;' see also 1 Timothy 6:16. These passages may be reconciled with what is here said by Isaiah, in the following manner:

(1) Isaiah does not say that he saw the Divine Essence; and all that his words fairly imply, is, that he saw a manifestation, or vision of Yahweh - some striking symbolic representation of him.

(2) It was the manifestation of Yahweh in the person of the Messiah, of the 'only begotten Son who hath revealed or declared him,' that he saw Such manifestations of God have been made often, and all that the declaration of Isaiah implies, of necessity, is, that he had a vision of God incarnate seated in glory, from whom he now received a new commission to go out and proclaim the truth to that wicked and rebellious generation.

Sitting upon a throne - God is thus often represented as a king, sitting on a throne; 1 Kings 22:19; Ezekiel 43:7; Jeremiah 17:12.

High and lifted up - That is, the "throne;" an indication of state and majesty. "And his train." The word "train" שׁוּליו shûlāyv, properly signifies the skirt of a garment, or a robe; Exodus 28:33-34. Here it is evidently designed as a representation of a large, flowing robe, that filled all the most holy part of the temple. The Orientals regarded such large robes as indicative of grandeur and state. The Messiah was seen seated on a throne as a king; clothed in a large, loose, flowing robe, in the manner of oriental monarchs, and surrounded by his ministers. The design of this magnificent vision was not only to impress the prophet with a sense of the holiness of God, but also to give additional weight to his commission, as having been derived immediately from the divine majesty; compare Isaiah 6:9-10. It is remarkable that Isaiah attempts no representation of Yahweh himself. He mentions his robes; the throne; the seraphim; but mentions no form or appearance of God himself. In this there is great sublimity. There is enough mentioned to fill the mind with awe; there is enough concealed to impress as deeply with a sense of the divine majesty. It is remarkable, also, that it is not the "usual" appearance of God in the temple to which he refers. That was the "Shekinah," or visible symbol of God. That was on the mercy-seat, this was on a throne; that was a cloud, of this no form is mentioned; over that the cherubim stretched forth their wings, over this stood the seraphim; that had no clothing, this was clad in a full flowing robe.

Filled the temple - Probably, the most holy place only is intended. The large, full, magnificent robe seemed to fill up the entire holy of holies. Some have supposed that this vision was represented as appearing in the "heavens." But the expression here evidently implies, that it was seen in the "temple" at Jerusalem.

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
Above it - Either above the throne, or above him. The Septuagint renders it, 'Round about him' - κύκλῳ αὐτοῦ kuklō autou. The Chaldee, 'The holy ministers stood on high in his presence.'

The seraphims - The verb שׂרף s'âraph, from which this word is derived, is uniformly translated "to burn," and is used frequently; see "Taylor." The noun שׂרף s'ârâph denotes, according to Bochart, the "chersydros," a serpent that lives in lakes and moist places; but when those places are dried up, it becomes a land serpent, and then its bite is very fierce, and is attended with a most dreadful inflammation all over the body. Rabbi Solomon says, that 'serpents are called seraphim because they burn people with the poison of their teeth,' perhaps because the idea of "heat and poison" were connected. The word is applied to the fiery flying serpents which bit the children of Israel, and in imitation of which a brass serpent was erected on a pole by Moses. It is translated 'a fiery serpent' in Numbers 21:8; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 30:6. In Deut; Deuteronomy 8:15; Numbers 21:6, it is rendered 'fiery,' and in the passage before us, "seraphims."

The word שׂרפה s'erêphâh often occurs in the sense of "burning;" Deuteronomy 29:23; 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19, ... The Septuagint renders it "seraphim," σεραφὶμ serafim; so the Vulgate and the Syriac. The Chaldee, 'his holy ministers.' Probably it is now impossible to tell why this name was given to the representations that appeared to Isaiah. Perhaps it may have been from their "burning" ardor and zeal in the service of God; perhaps from the "rapidity" of their motion in his service - derived from the rapid motion of the serpent. Gesenius supposes that the name was derived from a signification of the word denoting "noble or excellent," and that it was on this account applied to princes, and to celestial beings. Kimchi says, that the name was given with reference to their bright, shining appearance; compare Ezekiel 1:13; 2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 6:17. The word is applied to celestial beings no where else, except in this chapter. There is no reason to think that the seraphim described here partook of the "form of" the serpent, as the representation seems to be rather that of a man. Thus each one Isaiah 6:2 is represented as covering his "face" and his "feet" with his wings - a description that does not pertain to the serpentine form. God is usually represented as surrounded or encompassed by heavenly beings, as his ministers; Psalm 104:4; Daniel 7:10; 1 Kings 22:19; Psalm 68:17; Hebrews 12:22. The idea is one of special magnificence and grandeur. It is derived especially from the customs of monarchs, particularly Eastern monarchs, who had numerous princes and nobles to attend them, and to give magnificence to their court.

Each one had six wings - "Wings" are emblematic of the "rapidity" of their movement; the number here, perhaps, denoting their celerity and readiness to do the will of God.

With twain he covered his face - This is designed, doubtless, to denote the "reverence and awe" inspired by the immediate presence of God; compare Amos 6:9, Amos 6:10. The Chaldee adds, 'He covered his face so that he could not see.' To cover the face in this manner is the natural expression of reverence; compare the note at Isaiah 52:15. And if the pure and holy seraphim evinced such reverence in the presence of Yahweh, with what profouond awe and veneration should we, polluted and sinful creatures, presume to draw near to him! Assuredly "their" position should reprove our presumption when we rush thoughtlessly and irreverently into his presence, and should teach us to bow with lowly veneration and deep humility; compare Revelation 4:9-11.

He covered his feet - In a similar description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:11, it is said tha they covered "their bodies." In Isaiah, the expression clearly denotes not the feet only, but the lower extremities. This was also an expression of reverence drawn from our conceptions of propriety. The seraphim stood covered, or as if "concealing themselves" as much as possible, in token of their nothingness and unworthiness in the presence of the Holy One.

He did fly - He was quick to execute the commands of God. It may be observed, also, that among the ancients, "Mercury," the messenger of Jupiter, was always represented with wings. Milton has copied this description of the seraphim:

'A seraph winged: six wings he wore to shade

His lineaments divine; the pair that clad

Each shoulder broad, came mantling o'er his breast

With regal ornament; the middle pair

Girt like a starry zone his waist, and round

Skirted his loins and thighs with downy gold,

And colors dipt in heaven; the third his feet

Shadowed from either heel with feathered mail,

Sky-tinctured grain.'

Par. Lost, Book v.

And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And one cried to another - Hebrew 'This cried to this.' That is, they cried to each other in alternate responses. One cried 'holy;' the second repeated it; then the third; and then they probably united in the grand chorus, 'Full is all the earth of his glory.' This was an ancient mode of singing or recitative among the Hebrews; see Exodus 15:20-21, where Miriam is represented as going before in the dance with a timbrel, and the other females as following her, and "answering," or responding to her, Psalm 136:1; compare Lowth, "on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews," Lect. xix.

Holy, holy, holy - The "repetition" of a name, or of an expression, three times, was quite common among the Jews. Thus, in Jeremiah 7:4, the Jews are represented by the prophet as saying, 'the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these. Thus, Jeremiah 22:29 : 'O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord;' Ezekiel 21:27 : 'I will overturn, overturn, overturn;' see also 1 Samuel 18:23 : 'O my son Absalom! my son, my son;' see also the repetition of the form of benediction among the Jews, Numbers 6:24-26 :

Jehovah bless thee and keep thee;

Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee,

And be gracious unto thee;

Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee,

And give thee peace.

In like manner, the number "seven" is used by the Hebrews to denote a great, indefinite number; then a full or complete number; and then perfectness, completion. Thus, in Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 4:5, the phrase, 'the seven spirits of God,' occurs as applicable to the Holy Spirit, denoting his fullness, completeness, perfection. The Hebrews usually expressed the superlative degree by the repetition of a word. Thus, Genesis 14:10 : 'The vale of Siddim, pits, pits of of clay,' that is, was full of pits; see Nordheimer's "Heb. Gram." Section 822-824. The form was used, therefore, among the Jews, to denote "emphasis;" and the expression means in itself no more than 'thrice holy;' that is, supremely holy. Most commentators, however, have supposed that there is here a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not probable that the Jews so understood it; but applying to the expressions the fuller revelations of the New Testament, it cannot be doubted that the words will express that. Assuming that that doctrine is true, it cannot be doubted, think, that the seraphs laid the foundation of their praise in that doctrine. That there was a distinct reference to the second person of the Trinity, is clear from what John says, John 12:41. No "argument" can be drawn directly from this in favor of the doctrine of the Trinity, for the repetition of such phrases thrice in other places, is merely "emphatic," denoting the superlative degree. But when the doctrine is "proved" from other places, it may be presumed that the heavenly beings were apprized of it, and that the foundation of their ascriptions of praise was laid in that. The Chaldee has rendered this, 'Holy in the highest heavens, the house of his majesty; holy upon the earth, the work of his power; holy forever, and ever, and ever, is the Lord of hosts.' The whole expression is a most sublime ascription of praise to the living God, and should teach us in what manner to approach him.

The Lord of hosts - see the note at Isaiah 1:9.

The whole earth - Margin, 'The earth is the fulness of his glory.' All things which he has made on the earth express his glory. His wisdom and goodness, his power and holiness, are seen every where. The whole earth, with all its mountains, seas, streams, trees, animals, and people, lay the foundation of his praise. In accordance with this, the Psalmist, in a most beautiful composition, calls upon all things to praise him; see Psalm 148:1-14.

Praise the Lord from the earth,

Ye dragons, and all deeps:

Fire and hail; snow and vapors;

Stormy wind fulfilling his word:

Mountains, and all hills;

Fruitful trees, and all cedars;

Beasts, and all cattle;

Creeping things, and flying fowl.

And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
And the posts of the door - Margin, 'Thresholds.' There is some difficulty in the Hebrew here, but the meaning of the expression is sufficiently apparent. It means that there was a tremour, or concussion, as if by awe, or by the sound attending the cry. It is evidently a poetic expression.

The house - The temple.

Was filled with smoke - There is here, doubtless, a reference to "the cloud" that is so often mentioned in the Old Testament as the visible symbol of the Divinity; see the note at Isaiah 4:5. A similar appearance is recorded when Solomon dedicated the temple; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 5:13; Ezekiel 10:4.

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
Wo is me! - That is, I am filled with overwhelming convictions of my own unworthiness, with alarm that I have seen Yahweh.

For I am undone - Margin, 'Cut off.' Chaldee, 'I have sinned.' Septuagint, 'I am miserable, I am pierced through.' Syriac, 'I am struck dumb.' The Hebrew word may sometimes have this meaning, but it also means "to be destroyed, to be ruined, to perish;" see Hosea 10:15; Zephaniah 1:2; Hosea 4:6; Isaiah 15:1. This is probably the meaning here, 'I shall be ruined, or destroyed.' The reason of this, he immediately states.

A man of unclean lips - This expression evidently denotes that he was a "sinner," and especially that he was unworthy either to join in the praise of a God so holy, or to deliver a message in his name. The vision; the profound worship of the seraphim; and the attendant majesty and glory, had deeply impressed him with a sense of the holiness of God, and of his own unfitness either to join in worship so holy, or to deliver the message of so pure a God. A similar effect is recorded in reference to Abraham; Genesis 18:27; see also Exodus 4:10, Exodus 4:12; Jeremiah 1:6. A deep consciousness of guilt, in view of the holiness and majesty of God, is also described by Job:

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear

But now mine eye seeth thee.

Wherefore I abhor myself,

And repent in dust and ashes.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
Then flew - Isaiah is represented as standing out of the temple; the seraphim as in it.

Having a live coal - The Vulgate renders this, 'A stone.' This is, probably, the original meaning of the word; see 1 Kings 19:6. It at first denoted a hot stone which was used to roast meat upon. It may also mean a coal, from its resemblance to such a stone.

From off the altar - The altar of burnt-offering. This stood in the court of the priests, in front of the temple; see the notes at Matthew 21:12. The fire on this altar was at first kindled by the Lord, Leviticus 9:24, and was kept continually burning; Leviticus 6:12-13.

And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
And he laid it upon my mouth - Margin, 'And he caused it to touch my mouth.' This is the more correct rendering. It was a slight, momentary touch, sufficient merely to be a "sign or token" that he was cleansed.

Thine iniquity is taken away - That is, whatever obstacle there existed to your communicating the message of God to this people, arising from your own consciousness of unworthiness, is taken away. You are commissioned to bear that message, and your own consciousness of guilt should not be a hinderance. To understand this, it should be remembered that "fire," among the orientals, has been always regarded as an emblem of "purifying." Thus the Sabeans, the followers or Zoroaster in Persia, worshipped "fire," as the emblem of a pure divinity; see Malachi 3:2-3; compare Matthew 3:2. Every minister of the gospel, though conscious of personal unworthiness and unfitness, should yet go freely and cheerfully to his work, if he has evidence that he is called and commissioned by God. "Is purged." Is purified, is removed - תכפר tekupâr from כפר kâphar, "to cover, to overlay;" then to make an atonement for, to expiate, to cover sin, to pardon it, to affect or to procure forgiveness; and then to purify in general, to make whole; compare the note at Isaiah 43:3. This does not mean, that the fire from the altar had any physical effect to purify him from sin, but that it was "emblematic" of such a purifying; and probably, also, the fact that it was taken from the altar of sacrifice, was to him an indication that he was pardoned through the "atonement," or expiation there made. The Jews expected pardon in no other mode than by sacrifice; and the offering on their altar pointed to the great sacrifice which was to be made on the cross for the sins of human beings. There is here a beautiful "union" of the truths respecting sacrifice. The great doctrine is presented that it is only by sacrifice that sin can be pardoned; and the Messiah, the sacrifice himself, is exhibited as issuing the commission to Isaiah to go and declare his message to people.

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
The voice of the Lord - Hebrew: "The voice of Yahweh." He had before been addressed by one of the seraphim.

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? - The change of number here, from the singular to the plural, is very remarkable. Jerome, on this place, says that it indicates the 'sacrament' of the Trinity. The Septuagint renders it, 'whom shall I send, and who will go to this people?' The Chaldee, 'whom shall I send to prophesy, and who will go to teach?' The Syriac, 'whom shall I send, and who will go?' The Arabic has followed the Septuagint. The use of the plural pronouns "we and us," as applicable to God, occurs several times in the Old Testament. Thus, Genesis 1:26 : 'And God said, Let us make man in our image;' Genesis 11:6-7 : 'And Jehovah said, Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language.' Such a use of the name of God in the plural is very common, but it is not clear that there is a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. In some cases, it is evident that it cannot have such a reference, and that no "argument" can be drawn from the use of that plural form in favor of such a doctrine.

Thus, in Isaiah 19:4, the expression 'a cruel lord,' is in the Hebrew in the plural, yet evidently denoting but one. The expression translated 'the most Holy One,' or 'the Holy,' is in the plural in Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 30:3. In 1 Samuel 19:13, 1 Samuel 19:16, the plural form is applied to a "household god," or an image; and the plural form is applied to God in Job 30:25, 'my Makers' (Hebrew); Ecclesiastes 12:1, 'thy Creators' (Heb,); Psalm 121:5, 'Yahweh is thy keepers' (Hebrew); see also Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 22:2; Isaiah 43:5; Isaiah 62:5. This is called by grammarians pluralis excellentice, or the plural form indicating majesty or honor. It is, in all countries, used in reference to kings and princes; and as God often represents himself as a "king" in the Scriptures, and speaks in the language that was usually applied to kings in oriental countries, no argument can be drawn from expressions like these in defense of the doctrine of the Trinity. There are unanswerable arguments enough in support of that doctrine, without resorting to those which are of doubtful authority.

That there are clearer intimations of the doctrines of the Trinity, than that contained in this and similar texts, is indubitable; but we must not set aside the early and somewhat obscure intimations of a doctrine, simply because it comes afterward to be exhibited with more fulness. Such is the plan of revelation; and, instead of despising early announcements, or deeming them useless, because better "proofs" of the doctrine in question can be found, we ought to admire the wisdom and goodness of God in this gradual development of truth. The same interest belongs to the work of thus tracing the rise and progress of truth in the Bible, as belongs to that of him who traces rivers to their fountain head, and proves that, far up amid mountains all but inaccessible, rises the tiny stream, on whose broad waters, as it nears the sea, navies float in proud array. No more visible, in its earlier outflowings, is this doctrine of the Trinity; yet by and by it is the element on which Christianity doats, and in which it lives and moves. Thus we see the unity and harmony of revelation in 11 ages; the doctrine is the same; the degree of manifestation only is different. The necessity of preserving and exhibiting this unity, gives to these early intimations an unspeakable importance; though some, through an excess of candor, would abandon them to the enemy. This text, and its parallels, Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:7, exhibit the Trinity in Revelation's dawn indistinctly - partially disclosed - revealing only a "plurality" of persons. As the light increases, the "three" persons are seen moving under the lifting shadows, until, in the New Testament, baptism is commanded in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the existence and functions of each person are clearly unfolded.

The problem is, to account for the use of the plural number in these passages, consistently with the unity of God. The doctrine of the Trinity seems to furnish an easy and beautiful solution; but this solution has been rejected, not by Unitarians only, but by Trinitarians not a few. Various hypotheses have been offered: as, that in the creation of man Genesis 1:26, God associated with himself the heavens and the earth; or, that he consulted with angels; or, meant simply to indicate the importance of the work; or, perhaps, to supply a lesson of deliberation! These crudities are by most, however, long ago abandoned as untenable; and the solution most generally approved by such as reject that of the Trinity, is that furnished by an appeal to the "style of majesty." Oriental princes, it is alleged, from the most ancient times, used the plural number in publishing their decrees; and such is the style of royalty to this day. But, unfortunately for this theory, there is no evidence whatever that ancient potentates employed this style. "The use of the plural number by kings and princes, is quite a modern invention." The Bible does not furnish any example of it. Nor is there any evidence that God himself, on especially solemn occasions, keeping out of sight, of course, the text in question, used such style; there is abundant evidence to the contrary, the singular number being used by Yahweh in the most sublime and awful declarations.

Besides this strange use of the plural number on the part of God himself, plural names (אלהים 'elohı̂ym, אדנים 'ădônâyı̂m) are frequently given to him by the writers of the Bible; the instances in which these names occur in the singular form, are the exceptions. The name usually rendered "God" in the English Bible, is almost invariably plural - אלהים 'elohı̂ym, Gods. That these plural forms are used of idols, as well as of the true God, is admitted; but as the special names of the true God came, in process of time, to be applied to idols, so would the special "form" of these names, and to tell us that these forms "are" so applied, is quite beside the question. We wish to know why, originally, such forms were applied to the "true" God; and it is no answer to tell us they are also applied to idols. 'There is nothing more wonderful in the name being so used in the plural form, than in its being so used at all.

The same principle which accounts for the name God being given to pagan deities at all, will equally well account for its being given to them in the particular form in which it is applied to the true God.' - "Wardlaw." This is pointed and decisive; and renders it needless to speculate here on the mode in which the name, or the plural form of it, came to be transferred to false gods, or great men. On this point, see Dr. John Pye Smith's "Scripture testimony to the Messiah." It is further remarkable, that these plural appellatives are, for the most part combined with verbs and adjectives in the singular number; as, 'Gods (he) created,' Genesis 1:1; and with plural adjuncts but rarely. Now, the ordinary rule of grammar might have been followed invariably, as well as in these few instances, or the departures from it might have been but few in number. That this is not the case, implies the existence of some very cogent reason, and cannot be regarded as the result, merely, of accident.

To account for the use of these plural names, our author has recourse to what is called the pluralis majestaticus, or excellentiae, according to which, nouns of dignity and majesty, in Hebrew, are said to be used in the plural form. But the existence of this pluralis majestaticus has never been proved. Its defense is now abandoned by the most skillful grammarians. Ewald repudiates it. And it is not a little remarkable, that some of the examples most relied on for proof of this "dignified plural," are found, on examination, to possess nothing of the dignity, while more exact scholarship has reduced their plurality also. The examples alluded to, are, Exodus 21:29, Exodus 21:34; Exodus 22:10, Exodus 22:13; Isaiah 1:3; where the supposed plural form denotes the owner of oxen, of sheep, and of asses! - fit parties, doubtless, to be honored with the pluralis majestaticus. In truth, leaving out of view the plural appellatives applied to the Deity, that is, the appellatives in question, and which, therefore, cannot be adduced, there is no evidence whatever of this pretended rule. Had any rule of the kind existed, we should, without doubt, have found it exemplified, when kings, princes, nobles, generals, priests, and prophets figure on the sacred pages. That the pluralis excellentiae is not applied to them, is sufficient proof of its nonexistence; and should dispose rational and candid inquirers to acquiesce in the solution of the grammatical anomalies we have been considering, that is furnished by the doctrine of Trinity in Unity - the solution which, to say the least of it, is beset with fewest difficulties.

The language here idicates the "design" for which this vision was shown to Isaiah. It was to commission him to exhibit truth that would be extremely unpleasant to the nation, and that would have the certain effect of hardening their hearts. In view of the nature and effect of this message, God is represented as inquiring who would be willing to undertake it? Who had courage enough to do it? Who would risk his life? And it indicates, perhaps, that there were "few" in the nation who would be willing to do it, and that it was attended with self-denial and danger.

Here am I-- This shows at once his confidence in God, and his zeal. He had been qualified for it by the extraordinary commission, and he was now ready to bear the message to his countrymen. In this attitude "we" should stand, prompt to deliver "any" message that God shall entrust to our hands, and to engage in "any" service that he calls on us to perform.

And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
And he said ... - The expressions which follow are those which denote hardness of heart and blindness of mind. They would hear the words of the prophet, but they would not understand him. They were so obstinately bent on iniquity that they would neither believe nor regard him. This shows the spirit with which ministers must deliver the message of God. It is their business to deliver the message, though they should know that it will neither be understood nor believed.

Hear ye indeed - Hebrew 'In hearing, hear.' This is a mode of expressing emphasis. This passage is quoted in Matthew 13:14; see thenote at that place.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Make the heart - The word "heart" here is used in the sense of the "mind" - to denote all their mental powers. It is commonly used in this sense in the Scriptures.

Fat - Gross, heavy, dull, stupid. That is, go and proclaim such "truth" to them as shall have this effect - as shall irritate, provoke, enrage them; truth, whose delivery shall be attended, in their gross and corrupt hearts, with this blinding and infatuating influence the effect would be produced by the corrupt state of their hearts, not by any native tendency of the truth, and still less by any direct divine influence. 'Go, and proclaim truth to a corrupt and sensual people, and the result will be that they will not hear; they are so wicked that they will not attend to it; they will become even more hardened; yet go, and though certain of producing this effect, still proclaim it;' see this passage explained in the notes at John 12:40.

Their ears heavy - Dull, stupid, insensible.

And shut their eyes - The word used here means "to spread over," and then to close. It denotes here the state of mind which is more and more indisposed to attend to the truth.

And be healed - Be restored from the malady of sin; be recovered and pardoned. Sin is often represented as a painful, loathsome malady, and forgiveness as restoration from such a malady; Isaiah 30:26; Psalm 103; Psalm 41:3-4; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 17:14. We may learn here,

(1) That the effect of truth is often to irritate people and make them more wicked.

(2) The truth must, nevertheless, be proclaimed.

This effect is not the fault of the truth; and it is often well that the heart should be known, and the true effect should be seen.

Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
How long - The prophet did not dare to pray that this effect should not follow. He asked merely therefore "how long" this state of things must continue; how long this message was to be delivered, and how long it should be attended with these painful effects.

Until the cities ... - They will remain perverse and obstinate until the land is completely destroyed by divine judgments. Still the truth is to be proclaimed, though it is known it will have no effect in reforming the nation. This refers, doubtless, to the destruction that was accomplished by the Babylonians.

The houses without man - This is strong language, denoting the certain and widespread desolation that should come upon the nation.

And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
And the Lord have removed ... - The land shall be given up to desolation. The men - the strength of the nation - shall be taken to a distant land.

And there be a great forsaking - A great desolation; the cities and dwellings shall be abandoned by the inhabitants; compare Isaiah 17:2; Jeremiah 4:29; Zephaniah 2:4.

But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
But yet ... - The main idea in this verse is plain, though there is much difficulty in the explanation of the particular phrases. The leading thought is, that the land should not be "utterly" and finally abandoned. There would be the remains of life - as in an oak or terebinth tree when the tree has fallen; compare the notes at Isaiah 11:1.

A tenth - That is, a tenth of the inhabitants, or a very small part. Amidst the general desolation, a small part should be preserved. This was accomplished in the time of the captivity of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar. We are not to suppose that "literally" a tenth part of the nation would remain; but a part that should bear somewhat the same proportion to the entire nation, in strength and resources, that a tenth does to the whole. Accordingly, in the captivity by the Babylonians we are told 2 Kings 25:12, that 'the captain of the guard left the poor of the land to be vinedressers and farmers;' compare 2 Kings 24:14, where it is said, that 'Nebuchadnezzar carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths, none remained save the poorer sort of the people of the land.' Over this remnant, Nebuchadnezzar made Gedaliah king; 2 Kings 25:22.

And it shall return - This expression can be explained by the history. The prophet mentions the "return," but he has omitted the fact that this remnant should go away; and hence, all the difficulty which has been experienced in explaining this. The history informs us, 2 Kings 25:26, that this remnant, this tenth part, 'arose and came to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldees.' A part also of the nation was scattered in Moab and Edom, and among the Ammonites; Jeremiah 40:2. By connecting this idea with the prophecy, there is no difficulty in explaining it. It was of the return from Egypt that the prophet here speaks; compare Jeremiah 42:4-7. After this flight to Egypt they returned again to Judea, together with those who were scattered in Moab, and the neighboring regions; Jeremiah 40:11-12. This renmant thus collected was what the prophet referred to as "returning" after it had been scattered in Egypt, and Moab, and Edom, and among the Ammonites.

And shall be eaten - This is an unhappy translation. It has arisen from the difficulty of making sense of the passage, by not taking into consideration the circumstances just adverted to. The word translated 'eaten' means to feed, to graze, to consume by grazing to consume by fire, to consume or destroy in any way, to remove. "Gesenius" on the word בער bâ‛ar. Here it means that this remnant shall be for "destruction;" that judgments and punishments shall follow them after their return front Egypt and Moab. Even this remnant shall be the object of divine displeasure, and shall feel the weight of his indignation; see Jeremiah 43:1-13; 44.

As a teil-tree - The word "teil" means the "linden," though there is no evidence that the linden is denoted here. The word used here - אלה 'êlâh - is translated "elm" in Hosea 4:13, but generally "oak:" Genesis 35:4; Judges 6:11, Judges 6:19; 2 Samuel 18:9, 2 Samuel 18:14. It is here distinguished from the אלון 'allôn "oak." It probably denotes the "terebinth," or turpentine tree, for a description of which, see the notes at Isaiah 1:29.

Whose substance - Margin, 'Stock' or 'Stem.' The margin is the more correct translation. The word usually denotes the upright shaft, stem, or stock of a tree. It means here, whose "vitality" shall remain; that is, they do not entirely die.

When they cast their leaves - The words 'their leaves' are not in the original, and should not be in the translation. The Hebrew means, 'in their falling' - or when they fall. As the evergreen did "not" cast its leaves, the reference is to the falling of the "body" of the tree. The idea is, that when the tree should fall and decay, still the life of the tree would remain. In the root there would be life. It would send up new "shoots," and thus a new tree would be produced; see the notes at Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1. This was particularly the case with the terebinth, as it is with the fir, the chestnut, the oak, the willow, etc.; see Job 14:7. The idea is, that it would be so with the Jews. Though desolate, and though one judgment would follow another, and though even the renmant would be punished, yet the race would not be extinguished. It would spring up again, and survive. This was the case in the captivity of Babylon; and again the case in the destruction of Jerusalem; and in all their persecutions and trials since, the same has always occurred. They survive; and though scattered in all nations, they still live as demonstrative of the truth of the divine predictions; Deuteronomy 28.

The holy seed - The few remaining Jews. They shall not be utterly destroyed, but shall be like the life remaining in the root of the tree. No prophecy, perhaps, has been more remarkably fulfilled than that in this verse. Though the cities be waste and the land be desolate, it is not from the poverty of the soil that the fields are abandoned by the plow, nor from any diminution of its ancient and natural fertility, that the land has rested for so many generations. Judea was not forced only by artificial means, or from local and temporary causes, into a luxuriant cultivation, such as a barren country might have been, concerning which it would not have needed a prophet to tell that, if once devastated and abandoned it would ultimately revert to its original sterility. Phenicia at all times held a far different rank among the richest countries of the world; and it was not a bleak and sterile portion of the earth, nor a land which even many ages of desolation and neglect could impoverish, that God gave in possession and by covenant to the seed of Abraham. No longer cultivated as a garden, but left like a wilderness, Judea is indeed greatly changed from what it was; all that human ingenuity and labor did devise, erect, or cultivate, people have laid waste and desolate; all the "plenteous goods" with which it was enriched, adorned, and blessed, have fallen like seared and withered leaves when their greenness is gone; and stripped of its "ancient splendor," it is left "as an oak whose leaf fadeth," but its inherent sources of fertility are not dried up; the natural richness of the soil is unblighted; "the substance is in it," strong as that of the tell tree or the solid oak, which retain their substance when they east their leaves.

And as the leafless oak waits throughout winter for the genial warmth of returning spring, to be clothed with renewed foilage, so the once glorious land of Judea is yet full of latent vigor, or of vegetative power, strong as ever, ready to shoot forth, even "better than at the beginning," whenever the sun of heaven shall shine on it again, and "the holy seed" be prepared for being finally" the substance thereof." "The substance that is in it" - which alone has here to be proved - is, in few words, thus described by an enemy: "The land in the plains is fat and loamy, and exhibits every sign of the greatest fecundity. Were nature assisted by art, the fruits of the most distant countries might be produced within the distance of twenty leagues." "Galilee," says Malte Brun, "would be a paradise, were it inhabited by an industrious people, under an enlightened government."'

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 5
Top of Page
Top of Page