Isaiah 48
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 48. Exhortations addressed to the Exiles in the near Prospect of Deliverance

The chapter is largely a recapitulation of certain outstanding themes of the prophecy, several of which are here touched upon for the last time. The references to the victories of Cyrus, the predictions of the fall of Babylon, the appeal to prophecy, and the distinction between “former things” and “new things” henceforth disappear from the circle of the author’s thoughts, along with other familiar subjects, such as the polemic against idolatry and the impressive inculcation of the sole deity of Jehovah. This circumstance indicates that we have reached the end of the first great division of the prophecy, and the impression is confirmed by the closing hymn of praise, which carries us forward to the very eve of the departure from Babylon. On some critical difficulties of the passage see the introductory notes to Isaiah 48:1-11; Isaiah 48:17-19, below.

There are four distinct sections:

(i) Isaiah 48:1-11. The prophet vindicates the methods of Jehovah’s revelation to Israel; predictions have been given and withheld in such a way as to remove every excuse for attributing the great events of history to any other cause than the will of God.

(ii) Isaiah 48:12-16. An instance of the withholding of prophecy till the eve of its accomplishment is the present announcement of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus; it is the crowning proof of Jehovah’s abiding presence with His people.

(iii) Isaiah 48:17-19. Jehovah’s compassion finds expression in a cry of distress over the neglect of His commandments, which has stood in the way of Israel’s salvation.

(iv) Isaiah 48:20-22. In a final jubilant outburst of praise, the exiles are summoned to flee from Babylon, whose power is already broken, and to proclaim the marvels of their redemption to the ends of the earth.

Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.
1. Hear ye this] refers to the following oracle, which commences with Isaiah 48:3 (cf. Isaiah 46:3 and Isaiah 48:12). The rest of Isaiah 48:1 f. is an editorial insertion, in the view of Duhm and Cheyne (see above).

which are called] Or, which call themselves, as in Isaiah 48:2 (cf. ch. Isaiah 44:5). For the remnant of the tribe of Judah, whom the author has in his view, the name “Israel” was really a title of honour.

out of the waters of Judah] The metaphor can be explained from Psalm 68:26 (R.V.), where the ancestor of the nation is compared to a fountain or cistern. It is perhaps better, however, to read (with Secker) mimm‘ê for mimmê, rendering from the bowels (as Isaiah 48:19) of Judah.

To swear by the name of the Lord is a profession of allegiance to Him, and as such is enjoined as a religious duty (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20).

make mention of] i.e. celebrate; Psalm 20:7. The words not in truth, nor in righteousness do not refer specially to false swearing, but mean that the profession is formal and insincere.

1–11. These verses present some peculiar features, both of thought and style, which have been felt by scholars representing widely diverging critical tendencies. The severe judgement on the people goes beyond anything else in the prophecy; and, as has been pointed seems to breathe the spirit of Ezekiel rather than of the second Isaiah. Israel is addressed as a nation of hypocrites, of apostates, and of persistent idolaters. Then the argument of the passage as a whole is very remarkable. The “former things” (i.e. the events that have just taken place) were announced long beforehand, lest Israel should be led to ascribe them to some false god (Isaiah 48:3-6 a); but the “new things” (the subject of the present prophecy) have been “hidden” till the last moment, lest the people in their perversity should say they had known of them all along (6 b–8). Duhm and Cheyne agree in assigning these peculiarities to an editor, who has supplied a running commentary on the words of the original author, in the shape of annotations. There is much in the section which would be more intelligible if inserted by a later writer; but the method attributed to the editor is peculiar, and no motive suggests itself for his systematic attempt to correct the tendency of this isolated passage. The difficulties are perhaps exaggerated; the stern attitude towards the nation is not without parallels (see ch. Isaiah 45:9 ff., and on ch. Isaiah 46:8), and the special development of the argument from prophecy cannot be shown to involve a radical inconsistency with the prophet’s general conceptions.

For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; The LORD of hosts is his name.
2. of (or by) the holy city] The phrase is here applied to Jerusalem for the first time in the O.T. It occurs again in ch. Isaiah 52:1, elsewhere only in the books of Nehemiah and Daniel (comp. Matthew 4:5).

3–6 a inculcate the lesson of the “former things,” i.e. the events that have now taken place, especially the appearance of Cyrus. These were predicted in advance, that Israel might not be able to say they were done by the false gods (Isaiah 48:5).

I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
3. For from the beginning, render beforehand, or (as R.V.) “from of old.”

they (the predictions) went forth out of my mouth … I did them] brought the events to pass; the rî’shônôth including both the predictions and their historical fulfilments (see on ch. Isaiah 41:22).

Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
4. Cf. Ezekiel 3:7-9.

thy neck is an iron sinew] Cf. for the idea Exodus 32:9; Deuteronomy 9:6; Deuteronomy 9:13.

I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.
5. I have even … thee] And I announced it to thee beforehand (Isaiah 48:3).

lest thou shouldest say &c.] But for the predictions the appearance of Cyrus would have been attributed to the idols rather than to the God who spoke through the prophets. The prevalence of idolatry among the exiles is abundantly proved by the book of Ezekiel.

Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them.
6. see all this] see it all (sc. fulfilled).

and will not ye declare it?] Better (with the change of a consonant) and you, will ye not bear witness? (Duhm). Cf. ch. Isaiah 43:12.

6 b–8. Jehovah has proved His power to foretell by the fulfilment of past predictions (vv.3–6 a); now He announces new things.

I have shewed thee] Rather: I shew thee (in the act of speaking).

new things] viz. those specified in Isaiah 48:14,—the conquest of Babylon and all that results from it, the deliverance of Israel, the overthrow of heathenism and the manifestation of the glory of Jehovah.

hidden things] Lit. “things kept” (in reserve). and thou didst not know them] which thou hast not known (R.V.). With the exception of one letter the clause coincides with one in Jeremiah 33:3 (“difficult things which thou knowest not”).

They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them.
7. They are created now] To create is to call into being by a word; and the idea here seems to be that the prophetic word which announces, is at the same time the creative fiat of Jehovah.

not from the beginning] not aforetime (see Isaiah 48:3).

even before the day when &c.] Render with R.V. and before this day thou heardest them not. The phrase “before the day” means “heretofore,” the opposite of “from this day forth” in ch. Isaiah 43:13.

Behold, I knew them] The events would have lost the effect of novelty if announced long before. Unbelief dies hard; when it can no longer say, “My idol did it,” it is apt to take refuge in another subterfuge and say, “It is what I expected.”

Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.
8. Yea, thou heardest not &c.] Better: Thou hast neither heard nor known, nor was thine ear opened beforehand. The verbal form for “was opened” is properly transitive. It is used, however, in ch. Isaiah 60:11 of gates standing open, and in Song of Solomon 7:13 of the opening of a flower. The LXX. reads “I opened,” and this gives a better sense, the assertion being not that Israel’s ear refused to open, but that Jehovah had not opened it, i.e. had not given a revelation. A similar conception of revelation, though with a different verb, in ch. Isaiah 22:14; 1 Samuel 9:15; with the same verb, in ch. Isaiah 50:5.

that thou wouldest deal very treacherously] Rather: that thou art utterly treacherous. a transgressor] a rebel. Such has been the character of Israel as revealed in its past history; it would have abused the knowledge if the predictions had been made earlier.

For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.
9. The verbs should be rendered in the present tense. That for refrain (found only here) means literally “muzzle:” the object (“my anger”) is to be supplied from the previous clause.

that I cut thee not off] The idea that Israel is in danger of being cut off is no doubt a surprising one in the mouth of this prophet (Duhm).

9–11. A nation so sunk in unbelief must have perished, but for Jehovah’s regard for His name. The thought is characteristic of Ezekiel (see esp. ch. 20). The expression “for my name’s sake” (Isaiah 48:9) is not found elsewhere in this prophecy; “for my own sake” (Isaiah 48:11) occurs in ch. Isaiah 43:25.

Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
10. Instead of cutting off Israel, Jehovah has purified it in the furnace of affliction. That the process has been fruitless of beneficial result (Dillmann) is suggested only by a particular interpretation of the words.

but not with silver] The phrase is very obscure. Dillmann and others take it to mean “not with silver as a result,” without obtaining any pure metal. Others render “not as silver,” i.e. either “not so severely as silver is refined,” or “with a refining of a different nature.” None of the proposed interpretations is satisfactory.

I have chosen thee in the furnace &c.] Render: I have tried thee &c. (R.V. marg.). This sense of the verb is Aramaic (cf. Job 34:4?), and since the verb “choose” is a common word of the prophet, the fact of its being found here in a different sense may be an argument against his authorship.

On the figure of the verse see ch. Isaiah 1:25; Jeremiah 6:29; Jeremiah 9:7; Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:2-3; 1 Peter 1:7.

For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.
11. for how should my name be polluted?] Better: for how is it profaned! a parenthetic ejaculation, and in all probability a marginal gloss.

I will not give my glory unto another] Cf. ch. Isaiah 42:8. The “glory” is that of bringing to pass the marvellous “new things,” the era of eternal salvation.

Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.
12. I am he] see on ch. Isaiah 41:4. I am the first … the last] Isaiah 44:6.

12–16. The substance of the “new things” (Isaiah 48:6) is that Jehovah has called Cyrus to execute His pleasure on the Chaldæans (14 f.), and now openly announces His purpose beforehand (16).

Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.
13. Cf. ch. Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 40:26; Psalm 102:25. For hath spanned render hath spread out (as R.V.). The verb is Aramaic, and does not occur elsewhere in the O.T.

when I call … they stand up] Psalm 33:9.

All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.
14. All ye] The summons is addressed, not as in ch. Isaiah 41:1-4 &c. to the nations, but to the people of Israel; the gods of the heathen are referred to in the words which among them &c.

The Lord hath loved him] is to be construed as a relative sentence: he whom Jehovah loveth shall perform etc. A new title, similar to those in Isaiah 44:28, Isaiah 45:1, Isaiah 46:11, is here bestowed upon Cyrus (comp. “my friend” of Abraham in Isaiah 41:8). his pleasure] see on Isaiah 42:21.

and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans] A preposition has dropped out or must be supplied from the preceding clause; and then we may either render as E.V. (in which case “his arm” would most naturally mean the arm, i.e. the might, of Cyrus); or thus: “and (he will perform) His arm (Jehovah’s mighty judgement) on the Chaldæans” (Dillmann). But although “arm” is a symbol of might, it could hardly be used alone of judgement. The LXX. (“to destroy the seed of the Chaldeans”) obviously read zera‘ instead of zěrô‘ô; and this is probably the better text. Render simply and (on) the seed of the Chaldæans.

I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.
Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
16. I have not spoken in secret] Cf. ch. Isaiah 45:19.

from the beginning; from the time that it was] The sense is somewhat obscure. The pronoun “it” cannot refer to the world or the creation, which would require to be expressed; the implied antecedent must be the subject of which the prophet is speaking, the purpose of Jehovah against Babylon. The “beginning” will therefore be either the origin of revelation in general, or of the series of prophecies now being fulfilled. The meaning may be paraphrased thus: Jehovah has never from the beginning spoken in dark and uncertain oracles, and He does not conceal Himself now when events are already moving towards the accomplishment of His words; He is there, interpreting as well as guiding the course of history. That Jehovah is the speaker thus far cannot be questioned, in spite of the last clause of the verse. For the phrase “there am I,” comp. Proverbs 8:27 (in the mouth of the personified Wisdom of God).

and now the Lord God &c.] Render: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me and (i.e. with) His spirit; “His spirit” being not a second subject along with Jehovah, but a second object. For the idea cf. ch. Isaiah 61:1 and Zechariah 7:12. The Spirit is never spoken of in the O.T. as the sender of the prophets, or as an independent agent distinct from Jehovah. The isolation of this sentence from its context raises doubts as to its genuineness. The sudden change of speaker disconnects it from what precedes, and it is equally unsuitable as an introduction to Isaiah 48:17-19, where Jehovah Himself is again introduced by the ordinary prophetic formula. A prelude to ch. 49. (Delitzsch) it cannot possibly be; and it is utterly arbitrary and unnatural to suppose that the words are spoken by the “Servant of Jehovah.” If they are genuine they are undoubtedly words of the prophet, who here calls attention to himself and his mission, in a way which has no parallel in ch. 40–55. Duhm and Cheyne hold that the words are interpolated; the motive for their insertion being a misunderstanding of the first part of the verse. Taking “from the beginning” and “from the time that it was” to refer to the Creation, the editor supplied the contrast (“and now”), which he believed the author to have in his mind.

Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.
17. The introduction is in the prophet’s usual manner; cf. ch. Isaiah 41:14, Isaiah 43:14, Isaiah 49:7.

which teacheth thee to profit] i.e. profitably or “for thy profit”; cf. Isaiah 44:10 (“to no profit”), Isaiah 47:12.

17–19. If Israel had but known Jehovah as its faithful Guide, and obeyed His commandments, how different would its present condition have been! The short passage has a striking resemblance to Psalm 81:13-16, and is of singular beauty and depth of feeling. But the disappointment expressed, that Israel has not attained to righteousness by the keeping of the Divine law, is not altogether natural in this connexion, or in the circumstances in which the prophecy was written. It breathes rather the spirit of a time of depression, when Israel seemed in danger of being “cut off,” and when the faith of the Church was not sustained by the immediate prospect of deliverance. Moreover, the song of triumph in Isaiah 48:20 f. is the proper sequel (as in every similar instance) of the announcement of deliverance in 12–16 a.; and it will be felt that the obvious and natural connexion is disturbed by a sigh of regret for what might have been. It is with reluctance that one is driven to assign a thought so finely expressed to an interpolator, but a fair interpretation of the spirit of the passage points strongly to that conclusion (so again Duhm and Cheyne).

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
18. O that thou hadst hearkened &c.] This is the strict rendering of the Hebr. idiom, which properly expresses a wish that has not been realised (see Driver, Tenses, § 140). It may, indeed (as in ch. Isaiah 64:1), be used in an impassioned wish for the future, and many commentators prefer that sense here,—“O that thou wouldst hearken” (see Davidson, Syntax, § 134). So R.V. marg. But the construction in Isaiah 64:1 is exceptional, and the two cases are not strictly parallel. Here the reference to the past is strengthened by the following clauses: “then had thy peace been” &c. (consec. impf.); and it is only a feeling of the unsuitability of the idea to the discourse that could ever suggest a departure from the ordinary rule of syntax. It is true that “such a retrospect here at the close would be extraordinary” (Dillmann), but in reality a hypothetical promise of future blessedness would be just as surprising. The difficulty is not grammatical but critical.

peace means national prosperity, “welfare,” as explained in the next verse (cf. ch. Isaiah 66:12); righteousness is used in the same sense as in ch. Isaiah 45:8.

as a river] i.e. a perennial stream, such as the Euphrates (cf. Amos 5:24). It is easy to understand the impression made on the mind of a native of Palestine, accustomed to “deceitful brooks” that run dry in the summer, by the sight of a great river, flowing on for ever in undiminished volume. The actual history of Israel had been like the wadis of Judæa, transient gleams of prosperity being interrupted by long intervals of misfortune; the river suggests to the writer an image of the boundless and unfailing blessedness which would have followed the keeping of the Divine commandments.

the waves of the sea] cf. ch. Isaiah 11:9.

Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.
19. as the sand] A common comparison; see ch. Isaiah 10:22; Genesis 22:17; Hosea 1:10 &c.

like the gravel thereof] Lit. the grains thereof. The word used resembles a fem. plur. of that which immediately precedes (“bowels”); hence some commentators translate “the entrails thereof” (i.e. the fishes), taking as antecedent of the pronoun the word “sea” in the previous verse (see R.V. marg.). It would be better to explain it at once of the “entrails” of the sand (i.e. worms), for which indeed there is said to be a Syriac parallel (see Payne Smith, Thesaurus, col. 2185). But both comparisons alike are prosaic and unnatural. The word is no doubt identical with the Aramaic mâ‘âh, “kernel” (generally used of a small coin).

his name &c.] its name (that of the “seed”) should not be cut off &c.

20, 21 (cf. ch. Isaiah 52:11-12) form the lyrical conclusion of this division of the prophecy. In anticipation of this second exodus of Israel, the prophet puts a song of praise in the mouth of the redeemed exiles.

flee ye from the Chaldeans] or “from Chaldæa” (see on Isaiah 47:1). The verb flee probably means no more than “hasten” (see ch. Isaiah 52:12).

with a voice of singing … tell this] The exiles’ shout of joy is a revelation to the world of the greatness of the God of Israel.

utter it] Lit. “send it forth,” as in ch. Isaiah 42:1.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.
21. These are still words of the ransomed people. The allusions are to the miracles in the wilderness of Sinai (cf. Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11) which are represented as having been repeated during the desert journey of the returning exiles.

There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked.
22. The words are taken from ch. Isaiah 57:21, where, however, they stand in their proper connexion. Here they are either a gloss or an editorial insertion intended to mark the close of a division of the prophecy. see the Introduction, p. x.

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