William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.Isaiah Chapter 50
Our last chapter set forth the vast change which turns on the substitution of Christ, the true servant of God, for Israel His servant publicly and responsibly but in truth the slave of His enemy. The new sin of the people ensued thereon, not idolatry, but rejection of the Messiah by the Jews, only consistent in their unbelief and opposition to God. They would none of Him or His law. They had followed heathen gods, they now refuse His anointed Servant. But this leads in the wisdom of God to the immediate blessing of the Gentiles in the day of grace; as it also becomes in result the basis of the ultimate restoration of Israel and the joy of all the earth in the day of glory. The chapter accordingly sketches the whole sweep of God's ways from the rejection of Christ to the triumphs of the last days.
In Isa. 50 we are in presence of little more than a single point in that great circle of events; but is it not the centre and pivot of all? The humiliation of Jesus, the Servant of Jehovah, but withal Jehovah Himself, their own Messiah, despised not of strangers merely but of His own people! Deliverance and glory were sure in the end. But so was the sad alienation of Israel meanwhile; so moreover was their sale of themselves. How was this? "Thus saith Jehovah, Where [is] the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors [is it] to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (v. 1). It was no churl who found his wretched pleasure in putting away the wife who displeased him; it was no selfish parent who relieved his own necessities at the expense of his children. And the proof of their rebellion appears in verses 2, 3. "Wherefore did I come, and there was no man? I called, and there was none to answer? Is my hand at all shortened, that I cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stink, because [there is] no water, and die for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering." His coming, His call was unheeded, though He had already, since the days of Pharaoh, proved what He was in behalf of His people.
Did the Jews question this? Did they say to Jehovah, as by-and-by the Gentiles will to the King coming in glory, "When saw we thee . . ." (Matthew 25:37-39)? Here is His answer by anticipation: "The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of the instructed, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed" (v. 4). Nor this only. "The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not away back" (v. 5). Jehovah had deigned to become a man on earth, and here to walk in obedience, owning God; and this Christianity alone fully explains; for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were most truly and equally Jehovah. And He, Who came thus to do the will of God as man here below, was, as we know, the Son, Who, Himself God and Jehovah, could look up and say, "The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear," etc.
It is not the same truth here as in Ex. 21, where the Hebrew servant might have gone out free, but says, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free; and he is brought to the door-post before the judges and has his ear bored through in sign of perpetual service. So did Christ the true Servant and Lord of all; He too has pledged Himself to serve eternally. Again, it is not the same as Psalm 40:6, where "mine ears hast thou digged" is cited from the LXX (so in Hebrews 10:5), as "a body hast thou prepared me." The "boring" of the ear found its answer in the Lord's willing subjection to death, in which He identified Himself with the need and interests of Master, wife, and children. The "digging" of the ear was not after He became a servant, but rather in order to it. Thus was He formed as it were to be a servant, a body fitted in which, though He were a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. For indeed He did become a man and a servant in this world. Isaiah looks at a time intermediate - neither incarnation, nor death, but His path in life, wherein the opened ear marks lowly intelligent attention to His Father's will; as the closed ear in fallen man's case is significant of disobedience or indifference to the communications of God.
But obedience (especially public service) in such a world as this could only be, to such a One as He, continual, and to us hardly conceivable, suffering. Hence the issue at once follows, "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (v. 6). How solemn the thought; and what a picture of God in the presence of man! His humiliation (which should have made Him infinitely more precious, as being the incomparable proof of His love) gave the desired occasion to man under Satan's leading to insult Him to the uttermost, Who reviled not again.
But still He goes on - yea, to death, the death of the cross "But the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. [He is] near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together: who [is] mine adversary? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who [is] he [that] shall condemn me? Behold, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up" (vv. 7-9).
Thus Jehovah challenges His foes and sees their ruin sealed in their momentary triumph over Him Whom, if man slew, God raised again from the dead. Notice here what has been often pointed out, that the apostle Paul cites this passage in Romans 8:33, and applies to the Christian what the Spirit here predicates of Christ. It would be childish to deny its application to the Lord because of this; but it is hardly less childish to overlook the precious intimation that the same Spirit applies to us now what He uttered then in God's vindication of Christ rejected. Such is the Christian's blessed and present privilege - association with Christ risen after God undertakes to glorify Him Whom the Jews (and Gentiles) cast out. But this plain truth distinguishes those who now believe from Israel in their best estate. Christianity is quite another thing from Israel, though it may inherit promises; for we, being Christ's, are Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29). But the Christian is also much more, and has a relation to Christ in heavenly glory, which is far beyond Abraham or Israel Even now believers are His body, one with their Head in heaven
The closing verses make this distinction yet plainer and prove its importance. "Who [is] among you that feareth Jehovah, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh [in] darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and stay upon his God" (v. 10). For thus we have distinguished most definitely the Christian from the future Jewish remnant. The mystery was yet hid in God. Christ humbled and delivered was revealed; our place, not then revealed, is now seen in Him risen and glorified. They on the contrary, walking in darkness and wanting light, will be called to trust in Jehovah and stay on their God, when there is nothing else to lean on. But these, who have no light yet, walking in darkness yet confidingly in hope, shall find a glorious deliverance when He appears. We are children of light now, children of day before it dawns upon the earth; we follow Him in spirit where He is, yea, are brought to God and free of the holiest while here. They must pass through an unequalled tribulation because of Jewish apostasy, but shall be blessed at the end.
As for the apostate mass of the Jews, their portion plainly follows. "Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass [yourselves] about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks [that] ye have kindled. This shall ye have of my hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow" (v. 11). It is always vain for a sinful man to trust his own devices or the remedies of men to better his condition before God, or to enjoy enduring comfort. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement. But in the day that is at hand the folly and the madness of unbelief will be made apparent. Judgement will demonstrate what it is to confide in self, not in Him to Whom God directs those who hear His word. "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him," the Son.
But among the Jews, as in Christendom, men will turn from Christ to every idol and abomination Satan puts before them. Then also the day will come, in contrast with the day of salvation now, when He will break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Revelation 2:26-27 is express, that this judicial dealing will only be when the church is glorified, not in the day of grace. "Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, for his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him" (Psalm 2:10-12). This is very different from the gospel now, but it is equally of God in its due season, and will surely go forth when the dealings of divine judgement on man begin. And the wicked among the Jews must suffer more than the Gentiles, and professing Christians more severely than the Jews, as is most righteous.
Expiation is not foreshown here as in Isa. 53, but the divine power that belonged to Him Who came into the humiliation and need of His people, only to prove the depth of His love and of their evil heart of unbelief. In these circumstances of unfathomable trial Christ's entire and lowly submission was proved, and Jehovah's vindication of Him Who, being God, became the Servant of His will and for His glory, with its results for friends and foes.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.
The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.
The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.
For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.
He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.
Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.