Isaiah 44
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen:

(1) Yet·now hear . . .—The thoughts of Israel are turned from their own sins to the unchanging love of God, and that is the ground of their hope.

Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.
(2) Thou, Jesurun . . .—The ideal name of Israel as “the upright one;” so the Book of Jasher is the book of the “upright,” of the heroes of Israel. (See Note on Deuteronomy 32:15.) The name is substituted for the Israel of the preceding verse, as pointing to the purpose of God in their election.

For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
(3) I will pour water . . .—The latter words of the verse interpret the former. It is not the union of material or spiritual blessings, but first the symbol, and then the reality. The “thirst” is that of Psalm 42:1; John 4:13-14. In the promise of the Spirit we have an echo of Joel 2:28.

And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.
(4) As willows.—The same word as in Psalm 137:2 and Isaiah 15:7. Botanists identify it with a species of Viburnum, which grows on the banks of streams, rather than with the weeping” or other species of Salix.

One shall say, I am the LORD'S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
(5) One shall say, I am the Lord’s.—The words paint, like Psalm 87:4-5, the eagerness of heathen proselytes to attach themselves to Israel. The forms of adhesion rise in emphasis: (1) the convert declares himself to belong to Jehovah; (2) he calls upon the name of Jacob; (3) he writes upon his hand, To Jehovah!—brands himself, as it were, as His servant (comp. Ezekiel 9:4), as showing that the prohibition of idolatrous marks (Leviticus 19:28) did not exclude this; and see also Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4; (4) he takes the name of Israel in addition to his own as a title of honour.

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
(6) Thus saith the Lord . . .—A new section opens, repeating the argument of Isaiah 41, 43 against idolatry.

And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
(7) Since I appointed the ancient people . . .—Literally, the people of the age, or of eternity. The phrase is used of the dead in Ezekiel 26:20. Here it has been referred either to the antediluvian fathers of mankind (Job 22:15) or to the patriarchs of Israel, or, more fitly, to Israel, as having before it a far-off future as well as a far-off past, and, therefore, an everlasting people. The same phrase is used for the “perpetual covenant” of Exodus 31:16. (Comp. Exodus 40:15; 2Samuel 7:13; 2Samuel 7:16.)

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
(8) Yea, there is no God . . .—Literally, no Rock. That word, as expressing eternal strength, being used, as in Deuteronomy 32:4; 2Samuel 22:3; 2Samuel 23:3, as a Divine name.

They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
(9) Are all of them vanity . . .—Once more Isaiah’s favourite tohu—the symbol of the primeval chaos.

Their delectable things . . .—The generic term used for works of art (Isaiah 2:16), specially for what men delight to worship. (Comp. Isaiah 64:11; Lamentations 1:10.)

They are their own witnesses . . .—Better, their witnesses (i.e., the worshippers who sing their praises) see not and know not.

Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
(11) Behold, all his fellows . . .—The noun has a half-technical sense, as describing a member of a religious guild or fraternity, such as were attached to heathen temples. In this sense “Ephraim was joined to idols” (Hosea 4:17). In Hosea 6:9, the noun is used for the “company” of priests.

Let them stand up.—The words gain in vividness when we remember that the challenge is addressed to the guild of idol-makers. They are but men; how can they make a god?

The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
(12) The smith with the tongs.—We begin with the metal idol. Better, The smith uses a chisel. The work involves stooping over the charcoal furnace. The maker of the god is exhausted with his toil, and requires food and drink to sustain him.

The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
(13) The carpenter.—The wooden idol comes next. First there is the rough measurement with the “rule;” then the artificer draws the outline of the figure in red chalk. “Plane” and “compasses” come in to make the form more definite. The human figure is complete; then there is the artist’s final touch to add the element of beauty; and so it is ready for the “house,” or temple.

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
(14) He heweth him down cedars.—The manufacture is traced further back, possibly by way of protest against the belief current in all nations that some archaic image had fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35). The “cypress” is probably the Quercus ilex, and the “ash” a fig tree; but the identification of trees in the language of a remote time and language is always somewhat uncertain.

Which he strengtheneth for himself.—Better, fixeth his choice among. The eye travels, it will be noted, backward from the workshop.

Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
(15-17) Then shall it be. . . .—The point on which the prophet dwells with indignant iteration is that it is a mere chance which half of the shapeless log is to be worshipped as a god, and which to be used for cooking the workmen’s dinner. Diagoras of Melos, the reputed atheist disciple of Democritus, is said to have thrown a wooden Hercules on his hearth, bidding the hero-god do a thirteenth labour, and boil his turnips (Del.).

They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
(18) He hath shut their eyes.—Better, their eyes are smeared over. The state described is the judicial blindness of Romans 1:20-25. It will be remembered that blindness thus inflicted was one of the tortures of Eastern cruelty.

He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
(20) He feedeth on ashes.—The verb passes readily through the meanings “feeding,” “pasturing,” “following after,” and the last is commonly accepted. The first, however, has the merit of greater vividness. (Comp. Hosea 12:1.) The “ashes” of the smith’s furnace become the symbols of the vanity of his work (Ecclesiastes 7:6), and yet he has not even the germ of truth which lies in the questions of the sceptic.

Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
(21) Remember these.—Better, these thingsi.e., the whole argument against idolatry. In contrast with the blind worshippers of idols, Israel is addressed in its ideal character as the “servant of Jehovah” with all the emphasis of iteration.

Thou shalt not be forgotten of me.—The LXX., Vulg., and some other versions take the verb as middle, thou shalt not forget, but the evidence for the passive sense preponderates, to say nothing of its greater fitness in connection with the next verse, and its bearing upon complaints like those of Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 49:14.

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
(22) I have blotted out, as a thick cloud.—Better, mist. The Authorised Version half suggests the idea that it is the cloud that hides the sins from view. What is meant is that the sins of Israel are put away, as the sun and wind drive away the mists and fogs (Job 30:15); and that this is, in idea at least, if not in time, prior to the conversion as that which makes it possible.

Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
(23) The Lord hath done it.—The pronoun supplied in the Authorised Version refers to the redemption of Isaiah 44:22; but the word may be taken absolutely in the sense hath done mightily.

Ye lower parts of the earth.—These, as in Ephesians 4:9, are equivalent to Sheol, or Hades. Even they, commonly thought of as echoing no song of praise (Psalm 6:5; Psalm 88:12; Isaiah 38:18), are invited to join in the great doxology.

Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
(24) Thus saith the Lord.—A new section begins, which is carried on to the end of Isaiah 45. The contrast between the foreknowledge of Jehovah and the no-knowledge of the worshippers of idols culminates in the proclamation, in Isaiah 44:28, of the name of the deliverer and his restoration of the Temple.

That spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.—The Hebrew written text gives the more emphatic reading: that spreadeth forth the earth; who was with me? (Comp. Isaiah 40:13; Isaiah 63:3; and Job 9:8.)

That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;
(25) That frustrateth the tokens of the liars.—Better, of the pratersi.e., the false prophets of Babylon. It is implied that they, after the manner of the false seers of Judah (Jeremiah 23:16-17), predicted for the kings of Babylon a time of prosperity and peace.

That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
(26) That confirmeth the word of his servant.—The parallelism of “servantin the singular with “messengers” in the plural suggests the thought that the prophet is not speaking of himself, but of Israel, as the ideal “servant of the Lord,” the prophetic nation represented by the individual “messengers” or prophets. Comp. as to the word Isaiah 42:19; Malachi 3:1, and that prophet’s own name (“my messenger”).

That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
(27) That saith to the deep—i.e., to the Euphrates. The words find a literal fulfilment in the strategical operation by which Cyrus turned the river from its usual bed into the Sepharvaim channel, and thus enabled his soldiers to cross on foot (Herod. i. 191). Symbolically the words may mean simply the destruction of the power of Babylon, of which its river was the emblem. (Comp. Revelation 16:12.)

That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
(28) That saith of Cyrus.—The Hebrew form is Koresh, answering to the Kur’us of the inscription of the king’s tomb in the Murghab valley. The prediction of the name of the future deliverer has its only parallel in that of Josiah (1Kings 13:2). Such a phenomenon admits of three possible explanations:—(1) That it is a prophecy after the event—i.e., that the whole of Isaiah, or this part of it, was written at the close of the exile. (2) That the name was revealed to the prophet in a way altogether supernatural. (3) That the name came within the horizon of the prophet’s vision from his natural stand-point, the supernatural element being found in the facts which he is led to connect with it. Of these, (3) seems to commend itself as most analogous with the methods of prophetic teaching. The main facts in the case are these—(1) Events had made Isaiah acquainted with the name of the Medes, and with a people bearing the name (Elam), afterwards given by the Jews to the Persians of the Greeks (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 13:7; Isaiah 21:2; 2Kings 17:6; 2Kings 18:11). (2) Koresh or Kyros was the name of a river in that region, and the conqueror is said to have changed his previous name (Agradates) for it (Strab. Xv. 3, 6). (3) The name has been said to mean “the sun” (Plutarch, Ctesias), and this, though not accepted by many modern scholars as philologically accurate, at least indicates that the Greeks assigned that meaning to it. It would be a natural name for one who, as a worshipper of Ormuzd, saw in the sun the supreme symbol of the God of heaven. (4) The grandfather of the great Cyrus is said to have borne the same name (Herod. i. 111). (5) The facts point to the conclusion that the name Kursus; if not a titular epithet, like the Pharaoh of Egypt, may yet have had the prestige of antiquity and dignity, historical or mythical. (6) Is it altogether impossible that the prophecy, circulating among the Babylonian exiles, helped to bring about its own fulfilment, and that Agradates may have been led to take the name of Kur’us because he found his work described in connection with it (Josh. Ant., xii. 1, 2)?

My shepherd.—As guiding the flock of Jehovah, each to their own pasture.

Thou shalt be built.—Both verbs are better taken as imperatives, Let her be built; Let thy foundations be laid.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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