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July 10 , 2010

The Expositor's Bible (Illustrated)


This volume upon Isaiah xl.-lxvi. carries on the exposition of the Book of Isaiah from the point reached by the author's previous volume in the same series. But as it accepts these twenty-seven chapters, upon their own testimony, as a separate prophecy from a century and a half later than Isaiah himself, in a style and on subjects not altogether the same as his, and as it accordingly pursues a somewhat different method of exposition from the previous volume, a few words of introduction are again necessary.

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The greater part of Isaiah i.-xxxix. was addressed to a nation upon their own soil,—with their temple, their king, their statesmen, their tribunals and their markets,—responsible for the discharge of justice and social reform, for the conduct of foreign policies and the defence of the fatherland. But chs. xl.-lxvi. came to a people wholly in exile, and partly in servitude, with no civic life and few social responsibilities: a people in the passive state, with occasion for the exercise of almost no qualities save those of penitence and patience, of memory and hope. This difference between the two parts of the Book is summed up in their respective uses of the word Righteousness. In Isaiah i.-xxxix., or at least in such of these chapters as refer to Isaiah's own day, righteousness is man's moral and religious duty, in its contents of piety, purity, justice[Pg x] and social service. In Isaiah xl.-lxvi. righteousness (except in a very few cases) is something which the people expect from God—their historical vindication by His restoral and reinstatement of them as His people.

It is, therefore, evident that what rendered Isaiah's own prophecies of so much charm and of so much meaning to the modern conscience—their treatment of those political and social questions which we have always with us—cannot form the chief interest of chapters xl.-lxvi. But the empty place is taken by a series of historical and religious questions of supreme importance. Into the vacuum created in Israel's life by the Exile, there comes rushing the meaning of the nation's whole history—all the conscience of their past, all the destiny with which their future is charged. It is not with the fortunes and duties of a single generation that this great prophecy has to do: it is with a people in their entire significance and promise. The standpoint of the prophet may be the Exile, but his vision ranges from Abraham to Christ. Besides the business of the hour,—the deliverance of Israel from Babylon,—the prophet addresses himself to these questions: What is Israel? What is Israel's God? How is Jehovah different from other gods? How is Israel different from other peoples? He recalls the making of the nation, God's treatment of them from the beginning, all that they and Jehovah have been to each other and to the world, and especially the meaning of this latest judgement of Exile. But the instruction and the impetus of that marvellous past he uses in order to interpret and proclaim the still more glorious future,—the ideal, which God has set before His people, and in the realisation of which their history shall culminate. It is here that the[Pg xi] Spirit of God lifts the prophet to the highest station in prophecy—to the richest consciousness of spiritual religion—to the clearest vision of Christ.

Accordingly, to expound Isaiah xl.-lxvi. is really to write the religious history of Israel. A prophet whose vision includes both Abraham and Christ, whose subject is the whole meaning and promise of Israel, cannot be adequately interpreted within the limits of his own text or of his own time. Excursions are necessary both to the history that is behind him, and to the history that is still in front of him. This is the reason of the appearance in this volume of chapters whose titles seem at first beyond its scope—such as From Isaiah to the Fall of Jerusalem: What Israel took into Exile: One God, One People: The Servant of the Lord in the New Testament. Moreover, much of this historical matter has an interest that is only historical. If in Isaiah's own prophecies it is his generation's likeness to ourselves, which appeals to our conscience, in chs. xl.-lxvi. of the Book called by his name it is Israel's unique meaning and office for God in the world, which we have to study. We are called to follow an experience and a discipline unshared by any other generation of men; and to interest ourselves in matters that then happened once for all, such as the victory of the One God over the idols, or His choice of a single people through whom to reveal Himself to the world. We are called to watch work, which that representative and priestly people did for humanity, rather than, as in Isaiah's own prophecies, work which has to be repeated by each new generation in its turn, and to-day also by ourselves. This is the reason why in an exposition of Isaiah xl.-lxvi., like the present volume, there should be a good deal more of historical recital, and a good[Pg xii] deal less of practical application, than in the exposition of Isaiah i.-xxxix.

At the same time we must not suppose that there is not very much in Isaiah xl.-lxvi. with which to stir our own consciences and instruct our own lives. For, to mention no more, there is that sense of sin with which Israel entered exile, and which has made the literature of Israel's Exile the confessional of the world; there is that great unexhausted programme of the Service of God and Man, which our prophet lays down as Israel's duty and example to humanity; and there is that prophecy of the virtue and glory of vicarious suffering for sin, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Cross.

I have found it necessary to devote more space to critical questions than in the previous volume. Chs. xl.-lxvi. approach more nearly to a unity than chs. i.-xxxix.: with very few exceptions they lie in chronological order. But they are not nearly so clearly divided and grouped: their connection cannot be so briefly or so lucidly explained. The form of the prophecy is dramatic, but the scenes and the speakers are not definitely marked off. In spite of the chronological advance, which we shall be able to trace, there are no clear stages—not even, as we shall see, at those points at which most expositors divide the prophecy, the end of ch. xlix. and of ch. lviii. The prophet pursues simultaneously several lines of thought; and though the close of some of these and the rise of others may be marked to a verse, his frequent passages from one to another are often almost imperceptible. He everywhere requires a more continuous translation, a closer and more elaborate exegesis, than were necessary for Isaiah i.-xxxix.

[Pg xiii]

In order to effect some general arrangement and division of Isa. xl.-lxvi. it is necessary to keep in view that the immediate problem which the prophet had before him was twofold. It was political, and it was spiritual. There was, first of all, the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, according to the ancient promises of Jehovah: to this were attached such questions as Jehovah's omnipotence, faithfulness and grace; the meaning of Cyrus; the condition of the Babylonian Empire. But after their political deliverance from Babylon was assured, there remained the really larger problem of Israel's spiritual readiness for the freedom and the destiny to which God was to lead them through the opened gates of their prison-house: to this were attached such questions as the original calling and mission of Israel; the mixed and paradoxical character of the people; their need of a Servant from the Lord, since they themselves had failed to be His Servant; the coming of this Servant, his methods and results.

This twofold division of the prophet's problem will not, it is true, strike his prophecy into separate and distinct groups of chapters. He who attempts such a division simply does not understand "Second Isaiah." But it will make clear to us the different currents of the sacred argument, which flow sometimes through and through one another, and sometimes singly and in succession; and it will give us a plan for grouping the twenty-seven chapters very nearly, if not quite, in the order in which they lie.

On these principles, the following exposition is divided into Four Books. The First is called The Exile: it contains an argument for placing the date of the prophecy about 550 b.c., and brings the history of Israel down to that date from the time of Isaiah; it[Pg xiv] states the political and spiritual sides of the double problem to which the prophecy is God's answer; it describes what Israel took with them into exile, and what they learned and suffered there, till, after half a century, the herald voices of our prophecy broke upon their waiting ears. The Second Book, The Lord's Deliverance, discusses the political redemption from Babylon, with the questions attached to it about God's nature and character, about Cyrus and Babylon, or all of chs. xl.-xlviii., except the passages about the Servant, which are easily detached from the rest, and refer rather to the spiritual side of Israel's great problem. The Third Book, The Servant of the Lord, expounds all the passages on that subject, both in chs. xl.-xlviii. and in chs. xlix.-liii., with the development of the subject in the New Testament, and its application to our life to-day. The Servant and his work are the solution of all the spiritual difficulties in the way of the people's Return and Restoration. To these latter and their practical details the rest of the prophecy is devoted; that is, all chs. xlix.-lxvi., except the passages on the Servant, and these chapters are treated in the Fourth Book of this volume, The Restoration.

As much as possible of the merely critical discussion has been put in Chapter I., or in the opening paragraphs of the other chapters, or in foot-notes. A new translation from the original (except where a few verses have been taken from the Revised English Version) has been provided for nearly the whole prophecy. Where the rhythm of the original is at all discernible, the translation has been made in it. But it must be kept in mind that this reproduction of the original rhythm is only approximate, and that in it no attempt has been made to elegance; its chief aim being to make[Pg xv] clear the order and the emphases of the original. The translation is almost quite literal.

Having felt the want of a clear account of the prophet's use of his great key-word Righteousness, I have inserted for students, at the end of Book II., a chapter on this term. Summaries of our prophet's use of such cardinal terms as Mishpat, R'ishonoth, The Isles, etc., will be found in notes. For want of space I have had to exclude some sections on the Style of Isaiah, xl.-lxvi., on the Influence of Monotheism on the Imagination, and on What Isaiah xl.-lxvi. owes to Jeremiah. This debt, as we shall be able to trace, is so great that "Second Jeremiah" would be a title no less proper for the prophecy than "Second Isaiah."

I had also wished to append a chapter on Commentaries on the Book of Isaiah. No Scripture has been so nobly served by its commentaries. To begin with there was Calvin, and there is Calvin,—still as valuable as ever for his strong spiritual power, his sanity, his moderation, his sensitiveness to the changes and shades of the prophet's meaning. After him Vitringa, Gesenius, Hitzig, Ewald, Delitzsch, all the great names of the past in Old Testament criticism, are connected with Isaiah. In recent years (besides Nägelsbach in Lange's Bibelwerk) we have had Cheyne's two volumes, too well known both here and in Germany to need more than mention; Bredenkamp's clear and concise exposition, the characteristic of which is an attempt—not, however, successful—to distinguish authentic prophecies of Isaiah in the disputed chapters; Orelli's handy volume (in Strack and Zöckler's compendious Commentary, and translated into English by Professor Banks in Messrs. Clarks' Foreign Theological Library), from the conservative side, but accepting, as[Pg xvi] Delitzsch does in his last edition, the dual authorship; and this year Dillmann's great work, replacing Knobel's in the "Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch" series. I regret that I did not receive Dillmann's work till more than half of this volume was written. English students will have all they can possibly need if they can add Dillmann to Delitzsch and Cheyne, though Calvin and Ewald must never be forgotten. Professor Driver's Isaiah: His Life and Times is a complete handbook to the prophet. On the theology, besides the relevant portions of Schultz's Alt-Testamentliche Theologie (4th ed., 1889), and Duhm's Theologie der Propheten, the student will find invaluable Professor Robertson Smith's Prophets of Israel for Isaiah i.-xxxix., and Professor A. B. Davidson's papers in the Expositor for 1884 on the theology of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. There are also Krüger's able and lucid Essai sur la Théologie d'Isaïe xl.-lxvi. (Paris, 1882), and Guthe's Das Zukunftsbild Jesaias, and Barth's and Giesebrecht's respective Beiträge zur Jesaiakritik, the latter published this year.

In conclusion, I have to express my thanks for the very great assistance which I have derived in the composition of both volumes from my friend the Rev. Charles Anderson Scott, B.A., who has sought out facts, read nearly all the proofs and helped to prepare the Index.

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