Isaiah 40:21
Have you not known? have you not heard? has it not been told you from the beginning? have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
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(21) Have ye not known? . . .—Strictly speaking, the first two verbs are potential futures: Can ye not know . . . We note that the prophet appeals to the primary intuitions of mankind, or, at least, to a primitive revelation, rather than to the commandments of the Decalogue. (Comp. Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:4.)

Isaiah 40:21-24. Have ye not known — Jehovah to be the only true God, the Maker and Governor of the world, and all its inhabitants? How can ye be ignorant of so evident a truth? He addresses his speech to the idolatrous Gentiles; from the beginning — Namely, of the world, as the next clause explains it: were not these infinite perfections of God manifestly discovered to all mankind, by the creation of the world? It is he that sitteth — As a judge or governor upon his throne; upon, or rather, above, the circle of the earth — Far above this round earth, even in the highest heavens; from whence he looketh down upon the earth, where men appear to him like grasshoppers. As here we have the circle of the earth, so elsewhere we read of the circle of heaven, Job 22:14, and of the circle of the deep, or sea, Proverbs 8:27, because the form of the heaven, and earth, and sea, is circular. Spreadeth them out as a tent — For the benefit of the earth and of mankind, that all parts might partake of their comfortable influences. That bringeth the princes to nothing — Who can, at his pleasure, destroy all the great potentates of the world. Yea, they — The princes and judges last mentioned; shall not be planted, &c. — They shall take no root, for planting and sowing are in order to taking root. They shall not continue and flourish, as they have vainly imagined, but shall be rooted up, and perish.40:18-26 Whatever we esteem or love, fear or hope in, more than God, that creature we make equal with God, though we do not make images or worship them. He that is so poor, that he has scarcely a sacrifice to offer, yet will not be without a god of his own. They spared no cost upon their idols; we grudge what is spent in the service of our God. To prove the greatness of God, the prophet appeals to all ages and nations. Those who are ignorant of this, are willingly ignorant. God has the command of all creatures, and of all created things. The prophet directs us to use our reason as well as our senses; to consider who created the hosts of heaven, and to pay our homage to Him. Not one fails to fulfil his will. And let us not forget, that He spake all the promises, and engaged to perform them.Have ye not known? - This is evidently an address to the worshippers of idols, and either designed to be addressed to the Jews themselves in the times of Manasseh, when idolatry abounded, or to all idolaters. The prophet had in the previous verses shown the manner in which the idols were made, and the folly of regarding them as objects of worship. He now turns and addresses the worshippers of these idols, as being without excuse. They might have known that these were not the true God. They had had abundant opportunity of learning his existence and of becoming acquainted with his majesty and glory. Tradition had informed them of this, and the creation of the earth demonstrated his greatness and power. The prophet, therefore, asks them whether they had not known this? Whether their conduct was the result of ignorance? And the question implies emphatically that they had known, or had abundant opportunity to know of the existence and majesty of God. This was emphatically true of the Jews, and yet they were constantly falling into idolatrous worship.

From the beginning - Hebrew, 'From the head,' that is, from the very commencement of the world. Has it not been communicated by tradition, from age to age, that there is one God, and that he is the Creator and upholder of all things? This was particularly the case with the Jews, who had had this knowledge from the very commencement of their history, and they were, therefore, entirely without excuse in their tendencies to idolatry.

From the foundations of the earth - Have you not learned the existence and greatness of God from the fact that the world has been made, and that it demonstrates the existence and perfection of God? The sacred writers often speak of the earth as resting on a foundation, as upheld, etc.:

For he hath founded it upon the seas,

And established it upon the floods.

(Psalm 24:2; see also Proverbs 8:29) Perhaps here, however, the word 'foundation' refers rather to the time than to the manner in which the earth is made, and corresponds to the phrase 'from the beginning;' and the sense may be, 'Has it not been understood ever since the earth was founded? Has not the tradition of the existence and perfections of God been unbroken and constant?' The argument is, that the existence and greatness of God were fully known by tradition and by his works; and that it was absurd to attempt to form an image of that God who had laid the foundations of the world.

21. ye—who worship idols. The question emphatically implies, they had known.

from the beginning—(Isa 41:4, 26; 48:16). God is the beginning (Re 1:8). The tradition handed down from the very first, of the creation of all things by God at the beginning, ought to convince you of His omnipotence and of the folly of idolatry.

Have ye not known, to wit, God to be the only true God, the Maker and Governor of the world, and all its inhabitants? how can you be ignorant of so evident a truth? He addresseth his speech to the idolatrous Gentiles.

From the beginning, to wit, of the world, as the next clause explains it. Were not these infinite perfections of God manifestly discovered to all mankind by the creation of the world? Have ye not known? This is the speech of the prophet, directed to the idolaters, appealing to their own natural knowledge, who, from the light of nature, might know that idols were nothing, had no divinity in them: that it is God that made the earth and governs the world, and who only ought to be worshipped:

have ye not heard? by tradition from the ancients, from your forefathers, who received it from theirs, and have delivered it to you:

hath it not been told you from the beginning? from the beginning of your states and kingdoms, and even from the beginning of the world, by the wisest and best of men that have been in it, that those things are true before related, and what follow:

have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? the being of God, the invisible things of him, his eternal power and Godhead, from the things that are made, even from his founding of the earth; as well as such knowledge and understanding has been as early as that, and might be continued from it: or,

have ye not understood the foundations of the earth (y)? what the earth is founded upon, and who laid the foundations of it; no other than that divine Being described in the next words.

(y) "nonne intelligetis fundamenta terrae?" Pagninus, Montanus; "annon intellexistis?" Vatablus.

Have ye not known? have ye not {y} heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the {z} foundations of the earth?

(y) Do you not have the word of God, which plainly condemns idolatry?

(z) Can you not learn by the visible creatures whom God has made for your use, that you should not serve them or worship them?

21. The next section (21–26) again commences with a series of questions driving home the force of the whole previous argument. The appeal seems to be still to mankind at large.

have ye not heard? Rather: Do ye not know? Do ye not hear? The two avenues by which the knowledge of God reaches the mind are reflexion on the facts of nature and history, and external testimony.

told you from the beginning) i.e. from the beginning of the world, by an unbroken tradition.

from the foundations] The preposition “from” might easily have been accidentally omitted in the Heb. The LXX., indeed, and other Versions take “foundations” as obj. to “understood.” The parallelism seems to require the phrase to be taken in a temporal sense (cf. Romans 1:20). but there is no other case where the word has the sense of fundatio (properly, = fundamenta).Verse 21. - Have ye not known? Hitherto the prophet has restrained himself, and confined himself to quiet sarcasm. Now he bursts out. Is there any one so insensate, so devoid of natural reason and understanding, as not to know what has been known to all from the beginning - yea, from the foundations of the earth - by "the light that is in them," viz. that God is something wholly different from this? - that he is such a One as the prophet proceeds to describe in vers. 22-24, alike above nature and above man, Lord of heaven and earth, and absolute Disposer of the fates of all men? Hath it not been told you? If ye have not known the nature of God by the light of nature, has it not come down to you by tradition? Have not your fathers told it you? Has it not been handed on by sire to son from the very foundation of the earth? The appeal is to men generally, not especially to Israel. Have ye not understood, etc.? Some omit the preposition after "understood," and render the passage thus: "Have ye not understood the foundations of the earth?" i.e. how it was founded, or created - that its creation was God's sole act? (so the LXX., the Vulgate, Gesenius, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Knobel, Kay; but Ewald, Henderson, Weir, and Mr. Cheyne prefer the rendering of the Authorized Version). From His exaltation as Creator, the prophet now proceeds to His exaltation as Governor of the world. "Behold, nations like a little drop on a bucket, and like a grain of sand in a balance, are they esteemed; behold, islands like an atom of dust that rises in the air." Upon Jehovah, the King of the world, does the burden rest of ruling over the whole human race, which is split up into different nations; but the great masses of people over whom Jehovah rules are no more burden to Him than a drop hanging upon a bucket is a burden to the man who carries it (min is used in the same sense as in Sol 4:1; Sol 6:5), no more than the weight in a balance is perceptibly increased or diminished by a grain of sand that happens to lie upon it (shachaq, from shâchaq, to grind to powder). The islands, those fragments of firm ground in the midst of the ocean (אי equals ivy, from אוה, to betake one's self to a place, and remain there), upon which the heathen world was dispersed (Genesis 10), are to Him who carries the universe like the small particle of dust (דּק from דּקק, to crush or pulverize), which is lifted up, viz., by the slightest breath of wind (יטּול metaplastic fut. niph. of tūl equals nâtal, cf., Isaiah 63:9). The rendering of Knobel, "dust which is thrown," would require עפר (Isaiah 41:2); and neither that of Gesenius, viz., "He takes up islands like a particle of dust," nor that of Hitzig, "He carries islands," etc., is admissible, for טוּל equals נטל signifies tollere, not portare; and the former, viz., insulas tollit, furnishes no answer to the question, "How so, and to what end?"
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