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My Notes on Isaiah 1:1-18 (Office of Readings for the 1st Sunday of Advent)

Posted by carmelcutthroat on December 1, 2018

Biblical quotations are from the Douay-Rheims translation. Links are to the NABRE.

Isa 1:1 The vision of Isaias the Son of Amos, which he saw concerning Juda and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Juda. 

Isaiah’s ministry took place during the reign of four kings. The first, Uzziah, began to reign about 785 BC, and the reign of the last mentioned king, Hezekiah, ended in 698 BC. This is a considerable period of time, but we can narrow it down somewhat. Just a few years before King Hezekiah’s death, Assyria invaded Judah. This is the latest datable event from the book of Isaiah which can be co-incident with the life of Isaiah and, in fact, we know from chapters 36-39 of this book, along with 2 Kings 18, that Isaiah was a major figure during this event, thus his ministry last to at least 701. The beginning of his ministry is usually dated to 742 on the assumption that the vision recounted in chapter 6-which is said to have taken place the year king Uzziah died-is an account of his inaugural call to prophecy; a fact by no means certain. Uzziah may have died as late as 735, and the vision in chapter 6 may be a reorientation of the prophet’s existing ministry, and not an inaugural call.

Isa 1:2 Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children, and exalted them: but they have despised me.

This verse and the whole of chapter one reflects the Deuteronomistic covenant theology. In the book of Deuteronomy, as the people stood on the Plains of Moab prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses delivered a series of five speeches which focused on God’s love for his people and what was expected of them in return.

Moses begins by summarizing important events from the Exodus wanderings (chapters 1-3). He then moves into a moral exhortation on fidelity to God and his commands, and also gives warnings about what will happen if the people are unfaithful (ch 4).

Within this chapter he warns the people not to make idols for themselves: “And so, guard your souls carefully. You saw no likeness on the day that the Lord God spoke to you on Horeb from the midst of fire. Otherwise, perhaps being deceived, you might have made a graven image, or an image of male or female, a likeness of any of the beasts, which are upon the earth, or of birds, which fly under heaven, or of reptiles, which move across the earth, or of fish, which abide in the waters under the earth. Otherwise, perhaps lifting up your eyes to heaven, you might look upon the sun and the moon and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error, you might adore and worship these things, which the Lord your God created for the service of all the nations, which are under heaven.” (Dt. 4:15-19).

After giving these warnings Moses says: “When you will have conceived sons and grandsons while abiding in the land, and if, having been deceived, you make for yourselves any likeness, accomplishing evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to wrath, I call heaven and earth as witnesses this day, that you shall quickly perish from the land, which, when you have crossed over the Jordan, you will possess. You will not live in it for a long time; instead, the Lord will destroy you.” (Dt 4:25-26)

Here we see that heaven and earth are called upon as witnesses to the future covenant infidelity of the people and their punishment. A similar statement is found in Dt 30:15-20.

Scholars believe that Isaiah, or, rather, God thru him, is alluding to such passages and is engaging in what was known as a Ri’b (Reeb = covenant lawsuit). Some scholars object to this since it would mean that God is acting as both prosecutor and judge. I am of the opinion that this objection is lame. What would be a conflict of interests among men need not be a conflict of interest with God.

“I have nurtured and raised children, but they have spurned me.” Recalls one of the founding traditions of Israel: “And you shall say to him: Thus says the Lord: ‘Israel is my firstborn son. I have said to you: Release my son, so that he may serve me. And you were not willing to release him. Behold, I will put to death your firstborn son.'” (Ex 4:22-23)

“I RAISED CHILDREN.” The word “raised” provides an important link to some other prophecies early in this book. In Isa 2:2 we will see that God’s mountain shall be RAISED ABOVE the hills. In Isa 2:6-22 we read that man will be BROUGHT LOW, the opposite of being raised up. All that is EXALTED without reference to God will come down. And God alone will be RAISED UP (exalted) on that day.

Isa 1:3. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood.

One of several allusions to the important song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32 (see the context and the song 31:16-32:44)

Comparing people who rebel against God to senseless animals is very common in the bible. One of my favorite passages is 2 Peter 2, especially 2 Pt 2:12, 15, 22. It is important to note that Israel’s sin is rebellion in verse 2. The words of verse 3 (Israel does not know…does not understand) imply, in the Hebrew text, that this is willful agnosticism, a part of the rebellion.

The reference to the ox and the ass has made its way into the Church’s Advent/Christmas tradition under the influence of  ancient Christian authors such as Origen and St Gregory Nanzianzen:

Now then I pray you accept His Conception, and leap before Him; if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment on account of which thou wast written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which thou wast loosed from the chains of thy birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which hath led thee back to Paradise; and worship the manger through which thou, being without sense, wast fed by the Word. Know as Isaiah bids thee, thine Owner, like the ox, and like the ass thy Master’s crib; if thou be one of those who are pure and lawful food, and who chew the cud of the word and are fit for sacrifice. Or if thou art one of those who are as yet unclean and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run with the Star, and bear thy Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for thee. With Shepherds glorify Him; with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the Heavenly Hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us to-day … because they love men, and they love God … just like those whom David introduces after the Passion ascending with Christ and coming to meet Him, and bidding one another to lift up the gates. [St Gregory Nanzianzen, Oration 38, On the Birthday of Christ]

Isa 1:4. Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children: they have forsaken the Lord, they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel, they are gone away backwards.

Described as Israel in verse 3 (a name that relates them to God) they are here simply called a sinful nation. In verse 2 they were described as sons (of God), and in verse 3 as My (God’s) people. But here in verse 4 the relation ship is shown as broken. Now they are referred to as offspring and sons of evil and corruption. Notice that the possesive “my” has become the distant “them”. What they wanted in verse 3– not to know God–they have gotten. God no longer knows them in a personal way.

Verse 4 also contains a word play in Hebrew. The word iniquity in Heb means literally to be bent backward. It denotes perversity. The people laden with iniquity (bent backwardness, a state of perversity), have gone away backward from God. Their sins have led to apostasy. Their rebellion is complete (vs 2).

Isa 1:5 For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression? the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad.
Isa 1:6 From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein: wounds and bruises and swelling sores: they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil.

We’ve seen that the people have separated themselves from God as their father (vss 2-3); and that God has separated himself from them as his children (vs 4). Now, in verses 5-6, we see God thru the prophet describe the people in terms of a rebellious slave. This of course relates to the family separation theme and the theme of rebellion mentioned in vs 2. Yet it also continues the theme of senselessness alluded to in vs 3 (the senseless beasts). A slave who has been beaten so frequently that his wounds not only do not heal, but also cover every inch of his body, has no sense at all.

Isa 1:7 Your land is desolate, your cities are burnt with fire: your country strangers devour before your face, and it shall be desolate as when wasted by enemies.
Isa 1:8 And the daughter of Sion shall be left as a covert in a vineyard, and as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and as a city that is laid waste.
Isa 1:9 Except the Lord of hosts had left us seed, we had been as Sodom, and we should have been like to Gomorrha.

These verses give meaning to the image used in the previous verses (Isa 1:5-6). The southern kingdom of Judah is like the slave that has been beaten over and over again. The beating has been military invasion and the desolation it brings. What event is being refered to here is slightly debated by scholars.

There were three invasions of the kingdom in the prophets day. The first is called the Syro-Ephraimite war of 735-732 BC. This event saw Syria (also called Damascus or Aram) and the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) invade Judah. They wanted that kingdom to enter into an alliance with them against the growing might of Assyria. Ahaz, king of Judah, refused and was attacked. The plan was to install a puppet king to replace him. Ahaz appealed to Assyria for help. That kingdom invaded and destroyed Syria and reduced both Israel (north) and Judah (south) to vassalage, forcing them to pay heavy tribute (see Is. 7:1-8:22; 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chron 28:16-27). Some think this is the event being refered to here.

The second invasion took place when Assyria, under Sargon, invaded in 712 BC.

The third invasion was in 701 BC, near the end of the prophets career. This too was by the Assyrians under Sennacherib. When Sqargon II died in 705, several of its vassal kingdoms, including Judah under Hezekiah, rebelled. The new king Sennacherib advanced and reduced most of the rebel kingdoms. In 701 BC he invaded Judah and laid much of the land and cities to waste. He laid siege to the Jerusalem but, as the prophet had predicted, the holy city was saved. See 2 Kings 18:1-19:37; Is 36:1-38:22; 2 Chron 321-33. Most scholars think it is this event being spoken of in Is 1.

The land being laid waste and invasion by foreign armies are two of the curses threatened against the people for breaking the covenant. See Deut 28:16-69.

The symbol of the hut in a vineyard or vegetable patch is quaint, like a picture you might see on a calender. That is, if you forget the fact that the land is wasted. It was common for Jewish farmers at harvest and vintage time to construct huts in their fields. This was probably to protect the harvested fruit. As the harvest proceeded the once quaint scene would turn ugly as the land began to look more and more desolate because of the disappearing fruit and greenery. It is this bleak image that the prophet is playing with.

Isa 1:10  Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom, give ear to the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrha.

Having begun the oracle by calling heaven and earth to attention as witnesses, the prophet now calls on the sinful rulers and people to attend to God’s teaching. Notice the link between verses 9 (Sodom) and 10 (Gomorrah). This shows that Isa 1:10-17 are to be taken as relating to Isa 1:2-9. Having separated themselves from God (2-9) they still seek him in worship (10-17). In the current passage God shows he is having none of that.

Hear… (Heb shama; shaw-mah) This may be intended not only as a call to attention but also as a reminder of the shema, the traditional morning prayer of devout Jews which opens with the word “hear”.It is a prayer that insists on complete fidelity and reliance on God. “HEAR, OR ISRAEL, THE LORD IS OUR GOD, THE LORD ALONE! FOR THIS REASON, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD, YOUR GOD, WITH YOUR ENTIRE HEART, WITH YOUR ENTIRE SOUL, AND WITH ALL OF YOUR STRENGTH. (Dt 6:5) In order to worship God properly one must be right with him. See the story of righteous Abraham and his role in the Sodom and Gomorrah event (Gen 18:16-19:29)

Isa 1:11 To what purpose do you offer me the multitude of your victims, saith the Lord? I am full, I desire not holocausts of rams, and fat of fatlings, and blood of calves, and lambs, and buck goats. 

This verse notes several common sacrifices mandated by the law. God is not here condemning sacrifices as useless, a claim once made by some liberal scholars. The point of the verses being examined is the proper disposition needed for such sacrifices (see Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Jer 7:21-23; Matt 5:21-26)

Isa 1:12 When you come before my face, who required these things from you, that you should trample my courts?

To be before someones face is Heb idiom for being present in someones company. God never required that people come before him in the temple (trample my courts) with useless sacrifices.

Isa 1:13 Bring to me no more of your vain offerings; your incense is an abomination before me. Your new moon and sabbath assemblies are solemnities of wickedness which I cannot endure.

Just as God cannot bear sacrifices done with impure motives, neither can he tolerate the celebration of holy days when the same motives are present.

Isa 1:14. Your new moons and feast days my soul hates; they have become a burden upon me, and I am tired of bearing them.

The word used for hates is “shane” (saw-nay). It refers to the hatred of a personal enemy. This enemy God is tired (la’ah, law-ah. that is, disgusted) with bearing (enduring).

Isa 1:15 When you spread out your hands (ie. in prayer) i will conceal my eyes from you; if you make a multitude of prayers, I will refuse to listen; for your hands are filled with blood.

God will refuse to look upon hands outstreched in prayer because they are covered with blood. Some scholars think the blood refers to the blood of the worthless sacrifices mentioned in previous verses. I think it’s a preparation for Isa 1:21. Since this is my blog the scholars gets overuled (it feels good to be king). The reference to God concealing his eyes may be a link to vs 12 which speaks of the people coming before the face (into the presence) of God.

Isa 1:16. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; take away your evil deeds from before my eyes; stop doing evil, 
Isa 1:17 learn how to do good,strive after justice, remove oppression, protect the fatherless, plead the widows cause.

Notice the reference to God’s eyes, it links with the reference in vs 15. This is one reason why, in vs 15, I think “your hands are full of blood” does not refer to sacrifice. God has changed his focus from sins against himself, to sins against others. What the people are told to correct here was a special concern of God’s. Recall the words of our Blessed Lord about the greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord, your God, with your entire heart, your entire soul, and your entire mind. This is the first and the greatest of the commandments. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as if he were your very self. All of the law, and all of the prophets depend on these two commands. (Mt 22:34-40; quoting Dt 6:5 and Lev 19:18)

For more about widows, orphans, and the oppressed see Ex 22:21-24; Mal 3:4-5; Amos 4:1-5. Note the close connection to sacrifice and justice in the last two passages.

Isa 1:18 Come, let us see who is right, says the Lord: Though your sins are scarlet, they shall become as white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they shall become as wool.

The reference to the color of the peoples sins (red, crimson, scarlet) provides a link with vs 15 (hands full of blood).

Earlier in this post we saw that god was engaging in a covenant lawsuit (a rib) with his people. Here he sets down why he is right in the matter of the covenant. In spite of the peoples sins against it he is willing to remain faithful and offers them the possibility of coming back covenant relations with him. The question is, will the people remain scarlet, or become clean.

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 7:1-17

Posted by carmelcutthroat on November 24, 2016

Note: Fr. Maas employs the old English spelling of names as based on the Greek Septuagint (e.g., Achaz = Ahaz).



1. History and Occasion of the Prophecy.—We learn from  2 Kings 16:1–4 that Achaz despised the traditions of his fathers, and openly professed idolatry. Hence he was given over by God into the hands of the Syrian king, who carried off immense booty to his royal capital, Damascus. But the king of Israel too afflicted the kingdom of Juda with exceeding bitter afflictions (2 Chron. 28:5)—so much so that he slew of Juda a hundred and twenty thousand on a single day. But this war, which was a real chastisement of Achaz on the part of God, had also its special natural causes.

It appears that an alliance had been concluded between Phacee, king of Israel, and Rasin, king of Damascus, for the purpose of opposing a barrier to the Assyrian aggressions. Cherishing Assyrian proclivities as Achaz did, he did not join the coalition; the allies therefore invaded his territories, intending to dethrone Achaz and substitute for him a more subservient ruler, a certain son of Tabeel. The invasion caused great alarm in Jerusalem, though Phacee alone appears at first to have gone against the capital, while Rasin was occupied in reconquering the maritime city, Elath. After this victory he must have joined his ally in his assault on Jerusalem. Achaz meditated casting himself on Assyria for help—a policy of which the prophet Isaias strongly disapproved. He was divinely instructed to assure Achaz that his fears were groundless, and that the two kingdoms were doomed to destruction. To overcome the king’s distrust, the prophet offers to give him a sign; but through the king’s diffidence the sign becomes an omen of ruin for Juda: the land will indeed be saved from the two kings according to God’s promise, but the land of Juda will become the battle-ground in the conflict between the Egyptian and the Assyrian armies.

Achaz, however, sent his messengers to the Assyrian king Theglathphalasar, asking for his help in present distress (2 Chron. 28:16 2 Kings 16:7). The Assyrian monarch complied with Achaz’ request and invaded Damascus; the allied kings had therefore to abandon their warlike designs on Juda and provide for their own safety ( 2 Kings 16:5, 6). Theglathphalasar transported the inhabitants of Damascus to Cyrene, and killed its king, Rasin (2 Kings 16:9). Then he invaded also the kingdom of Israel, and transported a number of its inhabitants into Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Phacee, the Israelite king, was slain by conspirators in the seventeenth year of his reign, and in the third year of Achaz’ rule, i.e., in the same year in which the two allied kings had invaded the kingdom of Juda (2 Kings 15:30). But after subduing the Syrian and the Samaritan kings, the Assyrian conqueror invaded also the kingdom of Juda and devastated it without resistance, so that only few inhabitants with their herds and cattle remained (2 Chron. 28:20; cf. Is. 8:7, 8).

2. Erroneous Explanations of the Prophecy.—a. Several of the ancient Jewish writers maintain that the Emmanuel promised to be born of the virgin is Achaz’ son and successor, Ezechias. But it must be remembered that Ezechias was about eight or nine years old at the time of the prophecy, for he was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, i.e., about 15 or 16 years after the prophecy was given (4 Kings 18:2).

b. Several rationalistic authors and the Catholic writer Isenbiehl regard Emmanuel as the son of a virgin who will lose her virginity in the conception and birth of the boy. The name Emmanuel is nothing but a symbol, just as the names Schear-Iashub and Maher—Shalal—Chash—Baz are symbolic. The sign consists in Isaias’ predicting that the virgin will conceive in her first intercourse, and that she will bring forth a boy. The foreknowledge of both of these circumstances requires a special divine assistance, and is therefore rightly represented as a sign. This opinion will be refuted in the course of our treatment of the prophecy.

c. Delitzsch has a rather curious explanation of the prophecy. According to him God had revealed two future facts to Isaias—the virginal conception of the Messias and the immediate liberation of Juda from its oppressors. The time of the Messias’ coming had, however, not been made known to the prophet. Isaias, therefore, trying to combine the two prophecies, was of the opinion that the birth of the Messias would precede the liberation of the theocratic kingdom. The result is that the prophecy represents the Messias as being about to be born, and describes the land of Juda as about to be freed before the Messias will have attained the use of reason, i.e., before he will have reached the years of discretion. It may be of interest to know that Rosenmüller too gives a similar explanation.

If it be observed that according to this view there would be an error in the prophecy, both authors deny such an inference on the plea that the time of the Messias’ birth was not revealed to the prophet, but that the erroneous inference must be ascribed to his own private judgment. But if this be admitted as a true solution of the difficulty, it follows that in any prophecy we can hardly know what has been revealed by God to the prophet and what must be ascribed to his own private view on the subject.

3. Messianic Nature of the Prophecy.—a. The Messianic character of the present prophecy appears first of all from the testimony of St. Matthew, 1:18–25: “… Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child …” There are two exceptions to this argument: 1. It is said that the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel are spurious. But this can hardly be asserted without the greatest temerity, not to say without heresy. For the Tridentine and the Vatican councils (Trid. sess. iv., decret. de can. Script.; Vatic. sess. iii. c. 2) openly declare that the whole Bible, with all its parts, as it is contained in the old Vulgate edition, is sacred, canonical, and divinely inspired (Vat.); on the other hand, there is in our days no critic worthy of the name who rejects the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel without rejecting all the rest.

2. The second exception against our inference that Isaias’ prophecy is Messianic because St. Matthew viewed it as such may be found in Isenbiehl (Neuer Versuch über die Weissagung vom Emmanuel, 1778). The author assures us that the evangelist’s words, “that it might be fulfilled,” may indicate a mere accommodation of the prophecy to Christ’s conception. In support of this he appeals to St. Jerome’s saying (Ep. 103 ad Paulin., c. 7), that Socrates’ words were “fulfilled” in him: “I only know that I do not know.” Again, Isenbiehl endeavors to prove that St. Matthew repeatedly uses the formula “that it might be fulfilled” where he applies an Old Testament prophecy to our Lord by mere accommodation. Thus Matt. 2:15 applies to Christ what Hos. 11:1 applies to the people of Israel; Matt. 2:18 applies to the infants slain at Bethlehem what Jer. 31:15 applies to the lamentations over the national misfortune in the Babylonian reverses; Matt. 2:23 applies the words “he shall be called a Nazarite” as if they were prophetic of Jesus Christ, though they are nowhere to be found in the prophets; Matt. 13:13–15 applies to the following of Christ what Is. 6:9, 10 had said of his own contemporaries.

Plausible as this exception may appear at first sight, it does not rest on solid ground. a. First of all, the author who urges it does not distinguish between the typical and the literal meaning of the prophecies, and consequently he does not keep in mind that as the literal meaning of a prophecy is properly and not by mere accommodation applied to the people of Israel or to Old Testament occurrences, so may its typical sense be applied to Christ and to events of the Christian dispensation without on that account becoming a mere accommodation. In this manner St. Matthew (2:15, 18) applies the prophecies of Hos. 11:1 and Jer. 31:15 to Christ’s flight into Egypt and to the slaughter of the holy Innocents. β. Again, Isenbiehl is not aware that St. Matthew 2:23 most probably reads “flower,” and thus alludes to Isaias’ prediction, 11:1, where the future Messias is called a flower from the root of Jesse. γ. In the third place, the author disregards the fact that a number of prophecies apply properly, not by mere accommodation, to a series of events rather than to any single fact of history. An instance of such a prediction we find, e.g., in 2 Sam  7:14, where the divine promises regard the whole line of David’s descendants. They are not all fulfilled in every member of the series, but they are fully accomplished in the whole series taken collectively. Hence they may be properly and literally applied to any Davidic king. In the same manner St. Matthew applies Is. 6:9, 10 to the unbelieving Jews in 13:13–15.

b. The second proof for the Messianic character of the prophecy is taken from the unanimous testimony of the Fathers on this point. A list of the patristic testimonies may be seen in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica (editio altera, t. i. pp. 354 f.). There are again two main exceptions to this argument from the Fathers: 1. The Fathers speak on the false supposition that Isaias’ prophecy rests on divine authority; 2. The Fathers express in their opinions on the present passage, not the doctrine of the Church, but their own private conviction. α. As to the first exception, it suffices for our purpose to recall the decree of the Vatican Council (iii. 2), according to which the agreement of the Fathers on a doctrinal point is in itself sufficient to command our assent, or at least to force us not to contradict the patristic testimony. β. As to the second exception, we must insist that the Fathers do not express their interpretation of the prophecy as a private opinion, but they represent it as the doctrine of the Church on a matter of Scripture interpretation, so that according to the council we are bound not to differ from it in substance. For though the Fathers may differ among themselves in details, they surely agree as to the main drift of the prophecy, giving it a Messianic signification.

c. The third argument for the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy may be taken from the general agreement of this prediction with other evidently Messianic prophecies.

α. First of all, the very context of the prophecy bears witness to its Messianic nature. The child who is to be born, according to the seventh chapter, as a sign unto Achaz must naturally be expected to surpass in its nature any other sign that Achaz himself could have asked of God. Then in the next chapter it is announced in verse 8 that “the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Emmanuel.” If we compare the ninth chapter with this statement, it appears that Emmanuel shall be the Lord of the land of Juda. Since then at the time of the prophet none other than Achaz and Ezechiel were the lords of the land of Juda, to neither of whom the prediction could apply, we must suppose it applies to some one much above either of them—to the Messias himself. Again, in the ninth chapter, the prophet predicts salvation to the land of Juda through the child that is to be born. Now if this be not Emmanuel, of whom there is question in the seventh chapter, it must be Maher-Shalal, of the eighth chapter. But the latter was never king in Juda, nor did he ever perform any act that would be worthy of attention. Hence it is clear that the child who will save Juda is the Emmanuel of chapter seven. But the liberator of Juda is evidently identical with the Messias. Consequently, the Emmanuel of our prophecy is the Messias. In the eleventh chapter the prophet again returns to the rod that is to spring from the root of Jesse, to the most renowned offspring of David, whose reign will cause universal peace, under whose reign the Lord will possess the remnant of his chosen people. Now this one can be no other than the hero described in the ninth chapter, and the Emmanuel promised in the seventh chapter, i.e., the very Messias (cf. 9:2–4, and 10:20–22; Rom. 9:27).

β. The Messianic reference of the present prophecy appears also when we compare it with the well-known prophecy of Micheas (5:2 ff.) The similitude between the two predictions is so striking that we must admit either that Isaias reproduced the prophecy of Micheas, or that the latter repeated the prophetic promise of the former. Micheas says that God will give “them up even till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth and the remnant of his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel … and this man shall be our peace.” How beautifully all this illustrates the prophecy of Isaias, if we suppose the latter prophet had about the same time uttered the prediction of the virgin’s conception and her virginal child-birth! And, on the other hand, how clear the prophecy concerning the virgin and her son Emmanuel becomes if we suppose that Isaias alludes to the prophecy of Micheas which had recently been uttered (cf. Is. 10:20–22; 11:11; 4:3). But if Isaias speaks about a virgin concerning whom nothing else was known to the people of Israel, all becomes a riddle and an enigma. These five prophecies therefore form, as it were, one single whole; so much so that they have been regarded as constituting a single book—the book of Emmanuel. And if they be considered from this point of view, their Messianic character can hardly be called in question even by the most exacting of critics.

d. Three other arguments for the Messianic nature of Isaias’ prophecy are better omitted, since they are not altogether convincing.

α. For if it be urged that the child which is to be born will be the offspring of a virgin, and that this is a distinctly Messianic note, it must be remembered, on the other hand, that, prescinding from the New Testament, it is not clear from the text of the prophecy whether the promised child will be the offspring of a virgin in any other sense than any first-born child is the offspring of a virgin. The virgin may be said by the prophet to conceive and to bring forth, as the blind are said to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Nor can it be maintained that the virgin must remain a virgin in her conception and delivery, because otherwise there would be no sign which the prophet had promised to give. For the sign may consist in the wonderful nature of the child, or in several other particulars connected with the prediction, as will be seen in the course of the commentary.

β. Another argument for the Messianic character of the prediction is based on the fact that in the prophecy there is question of “the virgin;” the definite article, it is claimed, indicates that the virgin spoken of is virgin by excellence, and not merely as the mother of any first-born child is a virgin. But this consideration has not much weight, since the definite article in Hebrew has not necessarily that meaning, even when it is used with a noun that does not occur beforehand. For even in that case the noun is at times considered sufficiently known to require or, at least, to admit the definite article. This is seen in Gen. 3:24: “and (he) placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubim (Heb., the Cherubim)”; Ex. 15:20: “So Mary the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel (Heb., the timbrel) in her hand;” Gen. 14:13: “and behold one that had escaped (Heb., the one that had escaped) told Abram the Hebrew.”

γ. Other authors, again, have urged the following argument in favor of the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy: according to the Hebrew text it is the mother who will name the child Emmanuel; for we must either render “thou shalt call his name” (the phrase being a direct address to the mother), or “she shall call his name.” Therefore, they say, Emmanuel has no human father who can perform this duty. But, on the other hand, we see in the Old Testament that the mother in several instances named her child, although its father was actually present (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25; 19:37; 21:32; 30:18 f.; 30:24; 1 Sam 1:20, etc., exemplifying this statement).

e. But there is another proof for the Messianic reference of Isaias’ prediction which cannot be omitted here; Jewish tradition considered the passage as referring to the promised Messias. In the first place, we may draw attention to the fact that St. Matthew applied the prophecy to Jesus Christ without any one contradicting him. And this is the more remarkable, since the Evangelist wrote his gospel for the Jews, proving to them the Messiasship of Jesus from the fulfilment of all the prophecies in his sacred person. Besides, we have the implicit avowal of the LXX. translators, who rendered the Hebrew word “virgin” in this prophecy, though in four other passages they had translated it by “woman.” Then again the Hebrew as well as the other national traditions, according to which virginity is worthy of special honor, and which make their divine heroes sons of virgins, without the intercourse of man, show that Isaias’ prophecy must have been understood by the ancients as referring to the birth of the future Redeemer.

The text of Is. 7:1–17

Red numbers indicate footnotes. These follow the quotation.

And it came to pass in the days of Achaz the son of Joathan, the son of Ozias king of Juda, that Rasin king of Syria, and Phacee the son of Romelia king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem, to fight against it; but they could not prevail over it. And they told the house of David, saying: “Syria hath rested upon Ephraim;” and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. And the Lord said to Isaias: (1) “Go forth to meet Achaz, thou and Jasub thy son that is left, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the way of the fuller’s field.” (2) And thou shalt say to him: “See thou be quiet; fear not, and let not thy heart be afraid of the two tails of these firebrands, smoking with the wrath of the fury of Rasin king of Syria and of the son of Romelia. Because Syria with the son of Romelia hath taken counsel against thee, unto the evil of Ephraim, saying: Let us go up to Juda, and rouse it up, and draw it away to us and make the son of Tabeel king in the midst thereof:” thus saith the Lord God: “It shall not stand, and this shall not be! But the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin, and within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia. If you will not believe, you shall not continue.”

And the Lord spoke again to Achaz, saying: “Ask thee  a sign (3) of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell or unto the height above.” And Achaz said: “I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord.” And he said: “Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. (4) Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good. For before the child know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of the face of her two kings. The Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon the house of thy father, days that have not come since the time of the separation of Ephraim from Juda, with the king of the Assyrians.”


1). Go forth to meet Achaz. The first sentences of Isaias’ account are clear from the historical paragraphs that have been premised to this prophecy. While Rasin besieged Elath, Phacee had endeavored to deal with the capital; “but they could not prevail.” After Elath had fallen into Rasin’s hands, the latter joined his troops with those of Phacee, “Syria hath rested upon Ephraim,” whereupon Achaz’ heart was moved and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. Preparations for a serious and protracted siege must now be made at Jerusalem; hence Achaz is occupied near the upper pool from which the city had to receive the greatest part of its water supply. The fuller’s field, i.e., their washing or bleaching-place, lay either on the western side of the city (Robinson, Schultz, van Raumer, Thenius, Unruh, Schick, etc.), or, according to a less probable opinion, to the northeast (Williams, Kraft, Meier, Hitzig, etc.). To this place, then, the prophet was told to repair, together with Jasub, or Shear-Jasub, his son. The very names of the two visitors were real symbols of their divine mission. Isaias, meaning “salvation of the Lord,” announces the hopeful character of the visitation, while “Shear-Jasub,” meaning “the remnant shall return,” or “the remnant is converted,” is in itself a commentary on Is. 6:11–13, and combines in a brief summary God’s threats and promises. There will be final safety for Israel, but only for its remnant, so that the divine curse in a manner precedes the divine blessing.

2). And thou shalt say to him. The divine message to Achaz may be divided into three parts: 1. God warns the king to “be quiet,” i.e., not to act precipitately, and not to be afraid of the two tails of these fire-brands, i.e., the two fag-ends of wood-pokers, half burned off and wholly burned out, so that they do not burn, but keep on smoking. 2. In the second place God gives Achaz a prophecy in order to show him that his advice indicates the proper course to follow. In the introduction to this prediction the prophet summarizes the whole situation of the three kings; then he assures Achaz in general terms that the intentions of the king of Syria and of Samaria will not be put into practice: “It shall not stand, and this shall not be!” After this general prediction, Isaias adds three more prophecies regarding the special fate of the three kingdoms concerned. a. Syria is to gain nothing by the undertaking. It will be in future, as it has been in the past: “the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin.” b. Regarding Samaria the prophet utters a double prediction: the first has reference to the far-off future, “within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people;” the second is concerned with the immediate future of the northern kingdom, “the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia.”

It may be noted in passing that the sixty-five years assigned to the time of Samaria’s final destruction do not end with the beginning of the Assyrian captivity, which began in 722 B.C., but terminate at the time when Assyrian settlers were colonizing Samaria under the reign of Asarhaddon. For since the present prophecy was uttered in the beginning of Achaz’ reign, the 14 years of that king, together with the 29 years of his successor Ezechias and the 22 years which his successor Manasses ruled before he was carried off to the land of his exile, will give about the required number of 65 years. We know that this explanation of the 65 years rests on several suppositions that are not absolutely certain; they are, however, sufficiently probable to justify our conjecture. For though the year in which Samaria was thus colonized is not certain, it seems very natural that this should have taken place after the defeat of Manasses, which the Talmud in the tract “Seder Olam” places in the 22d year of Manasses’ reign.

This explanation, in itself very probable, becomes still more so when compared with other attempts of interpretation that have been given concerning the passage. α. For some contend that the term from which the 65 years must be reckoned is the time when Amos (7:11, 17) gave utterance to his prophecy, i.e., the 25th year of Ozias. The term at which the 65 years end is the 6th year of Ezechias, when Samaria was subdued in war and ceased to be a kingdom. The 65 years are, then: 27 under Ozias, 16 under Joathan, 16 under Achaz, and 6 under Ezechias (Euseb., Procop., Barh., Haimo, St. Thom., Malv., Pint., Mald., Lap., Mar., Gordon, Schegg, and certain Jewish commentators). It is plain that this exposition of the text hardly agrees with the words of Isaias. β. Another way of interpreting the 65 years is found in Sanchez, Rohling, Oppert, etc.; according to this view the years refer to the past, so that the term to which they bring us is the 27th year of Jeroboam II., when Samaria was for 10 years deprived of its independence by Syria. The sense of the passage is then that, as in the past Samaria has suffered reverses in war, so it will in the future be entirely destroyed. But the Hebrew particle that precedes the number 65 points to the future rather than to the past (be‘od). γ. There is still another class of interpreters who explain the difficulty by endeavoring to remove it entirely; the second part of verse 8 is, according to these authors, to be expunged from the text as an interpolation. The principal reasons for this opinion are reduced to the following: the prophecy becomes too definite by the number 65, and the second member of verse 8 destroys the metrical harmony and poetic parallelism of the passage (Eichhorn, Gesenius, Maurer, Hitzig, Ewald, Umbreit, Dietrich). On the other hand, the exact number of years stated by the prophet cannot seem objectionable to any one who admits the supernatural character of the prediction. The phraseology of 8b. is in strict accord with that of Isaias in other passages (cf. 21:16; 17:1; 25:2). The parallelism rather demands than excludes the second part of verse 8, since it will be seen that concerning Juda too the prophet predicts both the immediate and the far-off state of affairs (cf. Delitzsch, i. pp. 199 ff.; Knabenb., i. p. 156).

c. The third prophecy which the seer utters concerns Juda, indicating the general method which the Lord will follow in his future dealings with that state; it is both threatening and conditional in its nature. “If you do not believe, you shall not continue.” The only condition, then, on which Juda can retain its political independence is full trust in God; Assyrian help will be no safeguard against political destruction.

3. The third part of Isaias’ prophetic mission to Achaz consists in trying whether Juda does trust the Lord. Juda is represented by the actual head of David’s royal house,—by Achaz,—so that on Achaz’ faith or unfaith depends the safety of the theocracy. God’s decree is: If Juda does not believe, it shall not continue. But does Juda believe? The trial will show it. “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God.” If the sign is asked, this will prove a sufficient token of Juda’s trust in the Lord God. But Juda answers in its representative: “I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord.” The king’s hypocritical answer decides the fate of Juda for more than two thousand years, as far as our experience goes. Alluding to Deut. 6:16, where presumption is forbidden, Achaz seeks in that passage a cloak for his continuance in his Assyrian policy. Deliverance he desires, but does not expect or wish it through God’s help.

Juda’s trial over, the prophet announces more in particular the future fate of the kingdom. More in particular, we say, because it has been announced already in general terms. “If you do not believe, you shall not continue.” But you do not believe. Therefore you shall not continue. The detailed description of Juda’s future regards first its far-off future; secondly, its nearer future. a. As to the far-off future of Juda, the child Emmanuel, who shall be born of the well-known virgin, the stay, the hope, the crowning glory of David’s royal house, “shall eat butter and honey,” i.e., he shall live in the country of butter and honey, outside of Juda, and consequently in exile; and he shall eat butter and honey, the food of the poor and the lowly, so that at his time the royal house of David will be reduced to poverty and exile. b. In the immediate future the fate of Juda will be varied: before the child that is appealed too would attain the use of reason, if it were born here and now, the two hostile kings will have disappeared from the confines of Juda; but since Achaz has been found wanting in faith, the Assyrian, in whom he trusts, will invade Juda and make it the battle-ground between his and the Egyptian armies.

3). A sign. The prophecy speaks of a double sign: 1. Achaz is invited to ask for a sign; 2. the prophet himself gives a sign. Both signs call for a word of explanation. 1. Isaias invites Achaz to ask for a sign. a. Hitzig maintains that the prophet here “played a dangerous game,” in which the Lord would surely have “left him in the lurch,” if the king had chosen to ask for a sign. Meier observes that it cannot have entered the prophet’s mind to wish for a miracle. De Lagarde says that the failure of his sign would have subjected the prophet to punishment for lying. But all these are mere a priori arguments, resting on the supposition that miracles do not happen. b. Omitting the question whether we ought to render the prophet’s words “ask it either in the depth or in the height above” or “make it deep unto Sheol or heighten it to on high,” it must suffice to enumerate a few opinions regarding the nature of the offered sign. α. Choose between seeing the earth split down to the abyss of hell, and beholding the heavens opened to the throne of the Most High (Haimo, Pint., Sasb., Lap., Men.). β. The sign in the heavens might be similar to that granted to Josue (Jos. 10:12), or to the thunder, the storm, and the fire which occurred in the days of Samuel and Elias (1 Sam 12:17; 2 Kings 1:10), while the sign in the deep might resemble the destruction of Core, Dathan and Abiron, or the death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, or again the miraculous deliverance of Jonas from the belly of the great fish (Basil, Procop., Thom., Sanch., Calmet).

2. The prophet promises a sign in spite of, or rather because of, Achaz’ refusal to ask for one. Explanations: a. Delitzsch (p. 210) is of opinion that the sign consists in the mystery which surrounds the prediction about the pregnant virgin bringing forth a son—a mystery which threatens the house of David, and which affords comfort to the prophet and to all believers. It hardly needs proof that such a mystery is, at best, a very unsatisfactory explanation of the promised sign. b. The sign consists in the prophet’s prediction that a certain virgin would conceive in her first intercourse with man, that she would give birth to a son rather than a daughter, and that this son would be called Emmanuel—a name which resembled in its symbolic meaning the names of Isaias’ two sons. α. But, according to this explanation, Emmanuel is entirely distinct from the Messias, which contradicts the above proofs for the Messianic character of the prophecy. β. Again, history knows nothing of a son called Emmanuel whose age of discretion was accompanied by the liberation of Juda from the kings of Syria and Samaria. c. The sign consists in the prediction of Juda’s liberation from the oppression of its enemies. α. But the whole context would in this manner become extremely insipid and meaningless. β. Besides, the sign is intended to strengthen the king’s faith in the divine promise of Juda’s future liberation, and can therefore be hardly identified with this prophetic promise. d. The sign consists wholly in the fact that a virgin, remaining virgin, will conceive and give birth to a son—the very Emmanuel, or the promised Messias. α. This explanation supposes that the sign that God gives to Achaz is a wholly favorable sign. Now it appears from the context that this cannot be the case. Juda has not believed; therefore it will not continue; therefore “the Lord himself shall give a sign” to Juda. β. The sign must represent the double character of God’s dealing with David’s royal house: he will chastise it with the rod of men, but will not take away his mercy from it. Now the fact that the Messias will be born of a virgin, remaining a virgin in his conception and birth illustrates only God’s mercy to the house of David, but does not exhibit his justice. e. The sign consists partially in the virginal birth of the Messias, but partially also in his having to eat butter and honey, i.e., in his having to live far away from the capital of his ancestors in poverty and exile. The composite character of this sign satisfies the two essential conditions which it requires: α. God’s mercy will not depart from David’s royal house, since the Messias will be born indeed. β. God will, however, chastise the royal house of Juda, since its worldly glory will be humbled to the dust of the earth. γ. The phrase “he shall eat butter and honey” implies such a state of humiliation as is required by the context. For “butter and honey” means either the thickened milk and honey, which are the usual food of the tenderest age of childhood (Gesenius, Hengstenberg, etc.), or the food that is usually taken in the desert (Delitzsch). Now the former of these two meanings is excluded by the sentences that follow the phrase “he shall eat butter and honey.” For in them the child is, on the one hand, represented as eating the assigned food up to the years of discretion, and, on the other, the land before whose two kings Achaz is in terror will before the same period of time be laid waste, so that only the food of the desert will remain (cf. Delitzsch, pp. 210 f.).

There are, however, two main difficulties against this explanation of the prophecy: 1. The Messias will be born more than 700 years after the date of the prediction. His virginal conception and birth, and his poverty and humility cannot then be given as a sign to the contemporaries of Isaias. 2. According to the text Rasin and Phacee will leave Judea before the child shall attain his years of discretion; now this happened within two years after the prediction. Again, according to verse 22, Judea itself shall be devastated, so that “butter and honey shall every one eat that shall be left in the midst of the land.” Emmanuel too shall share this fate, as appears from the connection of the prophecy. Now Judea’s devastation by the Assyrians happened after they had laid waste the kingdoms of Syria and Samaria. Hence it seems that the promised Emmanuel must have been born immediately after the time of the prophecy.

Different answers have been given to both difficulties. Answers to the first exception: a. The sign must precede the event in confirmation of which it is given when there is question of a common miraculous sign; but in the case of a prophecy, when the one who utters the prediction is generally acknowledged as a prophet, it is not necessary that the fulfilment precede the event in confirmation of which it is given. Similar instances we find in 1 Sam 10:2–8; Ex. 3:12; 2 Kings 19:29; Is. 37:30. In the case of Isaias we may add the following consideration: It might well be that the king and the people generally acknowledged the prophetic character of Isaias in religious matters, and in matters connected with the future Redeemer, but did not acknowledge the divine character of his political mission to Achaz. Since he, therefore, did not find faith in the latter among his contemporaries, he confirmed his divine mission by a Messianic prophecy. It is clear that such a sign needed not to be seen or verified by experience in order to have its full effect with those whom the prophet addressed, still, there are authors who refer us to the experience which the prophet’s hearers were to have in limbo of the prophecy’s fulfilment (Jo. 8:56).

b. Drach follows St. Chrysostom (Lettres d’un Rabbin converti, 3e. lettre, pp. 30, 31) and Theodoret in explaining the sign as one that necessarily implies the thing signified. The two hostile kings, they say, were about to exterminate the house of David (Is. 7:6), in order to make Tabeel king instead of Achaz. The prophet comes with the assurance that the enemies will so poorly succeed in their attempt that the house of David will even after seven hundred years give birth to the promised Messias. But it may be observed: α. that the two hostile kings did not necessarily wish to exterminate the whole house of David in order to accomplish their design; β. that the salvation of the house of David does not necessarily imply Achaz’ deliverance from his two enemies at the juncture for which the prophet predicted it; γ. according to this explanation the prophet would have had to foretell in clear language the Messias’ descent from David’s royal house. Though this may be gathered from Is. 9 and 11, it is not clearly stated in Is. 7.

c. A third answer to the difficulty has been offered by Hengstenberg. According to this author, with whom Corluy appears to agree (Spicil. i. p. 409), the prophet’s argument is a fortiori, so that we may propose it in this manner: God will give to the house of David the very Emmanuel, the son of the virgin; therefore, he will not refuse it what is much less—liberation from its present enemies. A similar manner of reasoning we find in Rom. 8:32; in point of fact, the prophet’s inference was truly logical: the future Messias was the source of all blessings for the whole human race, and therefore we find that both Isaias and Ezechiel console the people with similar reasonings under the most trying circumstances. But on the other hand, this explanation by far exceeds the obvious meaning of the passage, and should not be accepted without necessity. The first answer seems to be, after all, the most satisfactory.

The second difficulty finds a contradiction between the context of the prediction and its Messianic interpretation, because according to the latter the virgin’s son must be born after seven centuries, while according to the former the virgin’s son must be born in the immediate future. There is no need of repeating here the divers explanations of this difficulty which deny the Messianic character of the prediction, since they have been duly considered in the preceding paragraphs. We shall limit ourselves to a few explanations that may be admitted by Catholic theologians:

a. Rich. Simon, B. Lamy, Huetius, Moldenhauer, Tirinus, etc., distinguish here, as in other prophecies, between the literal and the typical sense of the prediction. In the literal sense, Emmanuel is Isaias’ son who was called Mahershalal-chashbaz (Is. 8:3); the virgin is the prophetess whom Isaias had married when she was a virgin (Is. 8:3). This explanation is based on the following reasons: α. Almost immediately after the prediction of the boy’s conception and birth, the prophet describes the conception and birth of Maher-Shalal, before whose attaining the years of discretion the land was freed from its two oppressors, as Isaias has foretold about Emmanuel (Is. 8:1–3). β. In Is. 8:18 the prophet explicitly appeals to his two sons, whom God had given him as a sign for Israel. γ. The fact that Isaias’ son of whom he speaks 8:1–3 is not called Emmanuel does not contradict the explanation, since Emmanuel signified rather the present help of God than the actual name of the child to be born; this must occasion so much the less difficulty, since not even Jesus received actually all the names that had been given him in Is. 9:6. According to this view the words “he shall eat butter and honey” mean only that Emmanuel will be nourished with the food usually given to children, until he will know how to refuse the evil and to choose the good. δ. In accordance with the same view Emmanuel typically signifies the Messias, as the virgin mother is a type of the Blessed Virgin, conceiving and giving birth to her son without detriment to her virginity. The liberation of Judea is the type of the Messianic salvation from the yoke of sin and satan.

Still, there are various considerations apt to make us dissatisfied with this explanation. α. In the first place, the type must properly represent its antitype, in that wherein it is a type. Now, a married woman, conceiving in the ordinary, natural manner, does not properly represent a virginal conception and a virginal motherhood. Nevertheless, St. Matthew testifies that Isaias’ prophecy was fulfilled precisely in the virginal conception of Jesus Christ. Consequently, the prophetic passage cannot literally apply to a married woman, such as the wife of Isaias was. Nor can it be said that St. Matthew had no intention of insisting in his gospel on the virginal conception of Jesus, but that he merely insists on his being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that he thus argued from the conception of Emmanuel, who too was conceived through the special mediatorship of God. For this exception is against the whole context of the Evangelist. St. Matthew tells us how the angel solved St. Joseph’s doubt concerning the mysterious pregnancy of the Blessed Virgin. The revelation of her virginal conception alone could fully allay St. Joseph’s anxiety regarding this matter. Besides all this, the Fathers insist repeatedly that Isaias’ prophecy has been fulfilled by the virginal conception of the Son of God.

β. Then, again, the son of Isaias by the prophetess cannot be the Emmanuel mentioned in Isaias 7. For it is highly improbable that one and the same child should have received, at the express wish of God, two entirely different symbolical names. Nor can the prophetess be the virgin mentioned in the prophecy; for the view that Isaias married after the present prophecy a virgin with whom he had intercourse rests on nothing but a mere conjecture, which in itself is most improbable. And if Emmanuel’s mother was identical with Maher-Shalal’s mother, why should not Isaias have said: “Behold, the prophetess shall conceive …”? or what could have prevented his saying: “and I went to the virgin …”? Besides, there seems to be no point of resemblance between Maher-Shalal, the son of Isaias, and Emmanuel, born of the root of Jesse, inheriting the throne of David forever. Nor can Calmet maintain that Jesus’ not being called Emmanuel favors his manner of interpretation. For Jesus does not on that account become equal to the son of Isaias. Emmanuel, applied to the Messias, shows what the Messias is, while the same name applied to the son of the prophet only indicates the symbolical meaning of the child.

b. Drach (l. c.) and Marani (De divinitate Christi, p. 36) have therefore endeavored to solve the difficulty in a manner different from Calmet’s answer. According to them the 15th verse alone is Messianic, while the boy of whom there is question in the following verse is Shear-Jasub, the son of the prophet. These authors admit that the prophet, after announcing the virginal conception and birth of Emmanuel, after predicting his eating butter and honey in order to show that he is a man like ourselves, suddenly changed his attitude, and pointing with his hand to Shear-Jasub uttered the prediction: Before that boy shall attain to the years of discretion, the land whose two kings thou fearest shall be vacated by its inhabitants.

They urge a number of reasons for their interpretation, which are answered without much difficulty: α. Unless this explanation is admitted, there is no reason why Isaias should have been commanded to take Shear-Jasub with him to Achaz. But the very name of the boy was a sufficient reason for this command, since the name of both father and son served as a symbolic prophecy to the unhappy king.

β. As to the assertion that the prophet should have used the word “child” and not “boy,” had he referred in the 16th verse to the Emmanuel, it can claim only an apparent probability. Its fallacy becomes clear as soon as one reflects that Emmanuel at the age at which the prophet refers to him is no more a child. γ. The circumstance that Shear-Jasub too had been given to the prophet for a sign serves only to confirm what we said above; the child’s mere presence was a sign to the king. δ. The last reason urged by these authors in favor of their explanation only shows the weakness of their position. For though prophets may and do make sudden transitions from subject to subject, still this peculiarity of theirs is limited to type and antitype. And even when they treat of matters so intimately related to each other as type and antitype are, the context commonly shows, at least, signs of the transition. In the present passage of Isaias there is not only no sign of such a transition, but there is not even question of connected subjects; for it would be difficult to prove that Shear-Jasub is a type of Emmanuel.

ε. Besides all this, the connection of the 16th verse with what precedes and follows is so close that it hardly admits such a sudden transition from Emmanuel to Shear-Jasub. In fact the 16th verse begins with the causal particle “ki” (כִּי); so that it must contain the reason of the preceding statement. The language used by the prophet forbids the belief that he pointed out the boy of whom he spoke; for had he done so, he should have said: “hanna’ar hazzeh,” and not merely “hanna’ar.” Finally, in the 22d verse it appears that Emmanuel himself is in some way supposed to be present in the desolated territory, and to be among those who will have to eat butter and honey after the destruction of Achaz’ kingdom. The suggested explanation would therefore leave the difficulty unanswered.

c. Vitringa (Comment. in Is. in h. l.; Observat. sacræ, l. v.) and Patrizi have suggested another solution of the difficulty. According to them there is no connection between vv. 15 and 22; the former tells us that Emmanuel will indeed eat butter and honey as a sign of his true humanity, but that his years of discretion constitute only an ideal term before which the predicted liberation will take place, since the terminus from which the years must be reckoned is not the real but the ideal birth of Emmanuel, i.e., the moment at which the prophecy is uttered. It is true that the prophet clearly distinguishes the stated two periods both in the life of Achaz and in that of Emmanuel. The difficulty of the prophecy consists precisely in the prophet’s referring the distance between the two terms in both cases to the same period of time, so that the term from which the time up to Achaz’ delivery must be reckoned coincides with the conception and birth of Emmanuel, while the time of the actual delivery of Achaz precedes Emmanuel’s age of discretion. Now this point is not sufficiently kept in view in the solution offered by the authors mentioned before. Besides, their assumption that vv. 15 and 22 are not connected contradicts the testimony of the text itself.

d. Bossuet (Explication de la prophétie d’Isaie, 7:14) proposes another solution of the question. According to him the prophet mingles type with antitype in the passage, or rather he mixes the part which refers literally to the Messias with that which refers to him only typically. Literally, the Messias is referred to only in the words: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” Everything else refers literally to Isaias’ son Maher-Shalal, who is the type of the Messias. The transition from antitype to type is evident from the divine attributes which are predicated of the former, and the human characteristics attributed to the latter. But there are certain considerations which render Bossuet’s explanation very improbable. α. First, it is hard to find out any similitude between Maher-Shalal and Emmanuel in those precise points with regard to which the former must be the type of the latter. We need not repeat what we have said about the impossibility of the virginal conception and birth of Emmanuel being typically represented by the conception and birth of Maher-Shalal. β. Besides, it seems highly improbable that Isaias’ son should be called by two different names in the same passage; the one applying to him in his historical bearing, the other representing him in his typical capacity.

e. Hengstenberg in his Christology, Knabenbauer in his Commentary on the present passage, and Corluy (Spicil. i. p. 418) prefer another solution of the difficulty. α. According to these authors, the prophet uses in the present passage the figure of vision; he sees in his prophetic vision Emmanuel’s conception and birth as happening there and then. The years of Achaz’ delivery from his enemies are, therefore, rightly reckoned from the moment at which the prediction is uttered or from the birth of Emmanuel; Emmanuel is rightly represented as eating butter and honey with his afflicted fellow-citizens; the delivery, finally, takes place before Emmanuel attains to the use of his reason. β. Such a vivid description we meet in Is. 9:6, where the prophet represents the Emmanuel as already born; the manner of thus identifying the Messias with the actual condition of his people is perfectly legitimate, since all the salvation of Israel was derived from the merits of the Messias. γ. As to the exception which may be urged against this explanation, that such a figure could not have been understood by Achaz and his contemporaries, it must be remembered that the Israelites were by other prophecies, uttered about the same time and by the same prophet, clearly forewarned that the Messianic salvation would come only after a very long space of time. In chapter 11, e.g., there is question of the root giving birth to the promised Redeemer, and in the same chapter (5:12) the prophet distinctly announces that Israel and Juda will have to suffer dispersion and national ruin before the period of the Messias.

4). Behold a virgin. Explanations: 1. The virgin is no definite person at all: according to Duhm, mother and son are merely representative ideas; according to Reuss the virgin is “la femme comme telle;” according to Henry Hammond (1653), pregnancy, birth, and maturity are in their primary sense only parabolical facts, subservient to the chronological measurement of time, while Lowth, Koppe, Gratz, I. D. Michaelis, Eichhorn, Paulus, Staehelin, Hensler, Ammon, etc., maintain that the prophet’s words are merely conditional, meaning that if a virgin were to conceive now, and bring forth a child, he would attain the use of reason only after the land would be freed from its two powerful enemies. But all this contradicts the positive statement of the prophet, which admits no condition. It is also opposed to Is. 8:8, which demands that the virgin applies to a definite person.

2. The house of David is the virgin, and her son is a future new Israel as it is represented in Is. 54:4–7 (Hofmann, Ebrard, Köhler, Weir); or the congregation of the pious and of the God-fearing in Israel at the time of Achaz is the virgin who will bring about a future reformation of the nation (Schultz), or the Church is the virgin who will bring forth a countless number of children to God and his Redeemer (Herveus; the author proposes this only as a secondary and mystical meaning of the prophecy, after he has explained it literally of the Messias). But not to mention other inconveniences, this explanation is opposed to Is. 8:8, 10; 9:6, and also to the common figurative manner of the prophet’s address to the people, which he never calls simply “virgin.”

3. The prophet must, therefore, speak of a definite physical person in the present passage. Some of the ancient Jewish commentators who are mentioned by the Fathers (Justin. cont. Tryph. nn. 66, 68, 71, 77; Cyr., Proc., Jerome) understood the word “virgin” as applying to Achaz’ wife, the mother of Ezechias, whom they identified with Emmanuel. This view is clearly refuted by Driver (Isaias, p. 40). According to 2 Kings 16:2, Achaz on ascending the throne was twenty years old, and according to 2 Kings 18:2, Ezechias was twenty-five years old on his ascending the throne. Now, according to 1 Kings 16:2, Achaz reigned sixteen years, and the present prophecy was uttered in the beginning of his reign. Ezechias was, therefore, nine years old at the time when Isaias uttered the prophecy. If it be said that according to this calculation Achaz died at the age of thirty-six, and that he therefore was only eleven years older than Ezechias, who ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, we answer that according to the LXX. and the Pesh., Achaz was twenty-five on ascending the throne, so that he died at the age of forty-one, and became father of Ezechias at the age of sixteen. But this does not affect the fact that Ezechias was several years old when Isaias announced the divine sign to the godless Achaz.

4. Some of the later Jewish commentators, as Abarbanel and Kimchi, are of opinion that the virgin refers to another wife of Achaz, not to the mother of Ezechias, and that Emmanuel is a son of Achaz who is unknown in history. But since this view is gratuitously asserted, it may be denied without an express statement of the reasons for the denial. Besides, it is extremely improbable that a common child, who was to have no special natural or supernatural prerogatives, should be the subject of Is. 8:8, 10; 9:6, etc.

5. Another class of authors holds that the virgin of the prophecy is the wife of Isaias, either the mother of Shear-Jasub, or a younger wife, newly married to the prophet, who became the mother of Maher-Shalal. The latter is, according to this view, the Emmanuel of the prophecy (Aben-Ezra, Jarchi, Faustus Socinus, Crell, Grotius, von Wolzogen, Faber, Pflüschke, Gesenius, Hitzig, Hendewerk, Knobel, Maurer, Olshausen, Diestel, etc.). It may be noted that certain Catholic authors have given assent to this opinion, applying, however, only the literal sense of virgin and Emmanuel to the prophet’s wife and son, while they understand both in their typical meaning of the Messias and his virgin mother (cf. St. Jerome’s opinion about those who adhere to this view). α. But how can we conceive Isaias addressing his own son as the Lord of the land of Juda, and how can he represent his son as the cause of Israel’s liberation from its enemies (Is. 8:8, 10).? β. Again, the hypothesis that the prophecy refers to a wife of Isaias recently married to him is nothing but a makeshift, resting on no single positive argument, while the assumption that Isaias indicated by “virgin” the mother of Shear-Jasub contradicts the very name given to her. For whatever meaning may be assigned to the Hebrew word “ ‘almah,” it can surely not be applied to a married woman who has had children.

6. Castalio, Isenbiehl (formerly), Bauer, Cube, Steudel, Umbreit (formerly), and H. Schultz maintain that the prophet addressed his words to a virgin who happened to be present at the time of the prophecy. Pointing to her, Isaias predicted that she should conceive and bear a son, and that the country should be freed from its enemies before her son would reach the age of discretion. α. It has already been shown that the sign thus offered can in no way satisfy the context of the prophecy. β. Not to mention that the authors who hold this view do not give any proof, they contradict what the prophet says concerning the Emmanuel in 8:8, 10; for it is incredible that the lord of Judea and the liberator of his native country should have remained as unknown to history as is the virgin’s son of whom Isaias is supposed to prophesy in the present passage.

7. If this be true of the explanation according to which any immaculate virgin and her son are the subjects of the prophet’s prediction, what are we to think of Nägelsbach’s opinion, which contends that a sinful woman and a child born of sinful intercourse are the virgin and the Emmanuel of whom Isaias speaks? The virgin is a daughter of Achaz, who has conceived secretly, and whose sin is as yet unknown to her father. Isaias reveals her shame to her father, and thus offers him a divine sign of his supernatural mission and of God’s faithfulness to his promises. The incongruity of this explanation is so clear that it needs no further refutation.

8. Finally, the commonly received opinion of Catholics maintains that the “virgin” in Isaias’ prophecy refers to the Blessed Virgin in its literal sense, and that Emmanuel refers in its literal meaning to Jesus Christ. The text of the prophecy, its context, and its traditional interpretation render this explanation certain beyond dispute.
a. The text of the passage: In the text we shall first consider the word “virgin,” Heb. “ ‘almah”; secondly, we shall say a word about the clause in which the word “virgin” occurs. 1. As to “ ‘almah,” whatever etymological derivation we give for the word (עָלַם, עָלַם עוּל in any case it may signify a chaste virgin, so far as its derivation is concerned. Now the Scriptural usage of the word determines that, in point of fact, “ ‘almah” does mean “virgin.” For it occurs only six times in the Old Testament outside of the present passage; in Gen. 24:43 it is applied to Rebecca, who is expressly called a virgin who had not known man (Gen. 24:16); Ex. 2:8 applies ‘almah to the sister of Moses, who was only a little girl; Ps. 67 (68):26 reads “princes went before joined with singers, in the midst of young damsels playing on timbrels.” Now we infer from Jer. 31:4; Judges 11:34; Ex. 15:20 that the damsels employed in this office were commonly virgins. Cant. 1:3 uses the word of virgins who love their royal spouse where no meaning but that of pure virgins can be thought of. Cant. 6:8 (Vugl. 7) has the passage: “There are three score queens, and four score concubines, and young maidens without number.” Here again, it is clear that the young maidens indicated in the Hebrew text by the plural of ‘almah must be pure virgins, since they are distinguished from queens on the one hand, and from concubines on the other. The sixth passage in which “ ‘almah” occurs offers greater difficulties. It reads: “Three things are hard to me, and the fourth I am utterly ignorant of: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in youth” (Prov. 30:18, 19). The word rendered “youth” reads in the Hebrew text “ ‘almah,” so that we should read “the way of a man in a virgin.” Only one Hebrew codex has the reading “ ‘almuth” that is required by the present English, Latin, Septuagint, and Syriac rendering “youth;” all the other codices and old versions require the rendering “virgin.”

A number of explanations of this difficult passage have been offered, which we can only enumerate without fully investigating any one of them.

α. The “virgin” spoken of is a prostitute, so that the whole passage means: as there is no sign left of the eagle’s way in the air, of the serpent’s path on the rock, and of the ship’s course in the waters of the sea, so there is no certain sign of a man’s intercourse with a prostitute. 1. But in the first place, the subsequent pregnancy would serve as such a sign. 2. Again, this meaning does not agree with the verse which immediately follows the passage: “Such is also the way of an adulterous woman, who eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith: I have done no evil.” For what imaginable “way” of the adulterous woman can thus be compared with the way of the eagle, the serpent, the ship, and the man?

β. A second explanation admits that “ ‘almah” in the passage may mean a “virgin” who is immaculate before her intercourse with man. This view supposes that man’s way in the virgin is hidden because it cannot be discovered on the man himself. 1. But in the first place, this explanation is against the analogy of the preceding three unknown ways: they are called unknown, not because they cannot be detected on the eagle, or the ship, or the serpent, but because they cannot be discovered in the air, in the sea, and on the rock. In the same manner, then, must the fourth way be undiscoverable on the virgin. 2. Besides, the same argument may be urged against this explanation which we urged against the first solution, and which was taken from the impossibility of finding an analogous “way” of the adulterous woman.

γ. Others again have thought of explaining the passage in a metaphorical sense; the Wise Man says, according to this view: I do not know how the mighty eagle can sail through the thin air; I do not know how the serpent without feet can glide over the solid rock; I do not know how the bulky ship can be upheld in the liquid waters of the ocean; I do not know how the libertine can be impelled by his impure passion to corrupt the immaculate virgin: and in the same manner the deceitful way of the adulterous woman is a mystery to me. It is clear that according to this explanation all the necessary conditions of both text and context are fully satisfied.

δ. There is another explanation which seems more satisfactory to some scholars, because it does not appeal to a metaphorical meaning of the word “way.” The ‘almah is supposed to be a chaste virgin,—at least in the estimation of men,—and the writer insists on the fact that even in a virgin there is no certain sign of her intercourse with man. As, therefore, an adulterous woman may eat and wipe her month and say, “I have done no evil,” so may a reputed virgin, even after her sin, be without any outward signs of her violated virginity (cf. Knab. p. 170).

ε. We hardly need to state all the other explanations that have been attempted by divers authors: Rohling, e.g., proffers the view that the writer merely warns virgins against illicit intercourse, since they alone have to bear the punishment and the shame, while their accomplices retain no trace of the sin; Hengstenberg explains the “way” of man in the virgin as meaning the curious manner in which a virgin often conceives a passion for a man without any assignable reasonable cause; Lapide mentions the opinion of some that the writer addresses a warning to parents to keep their daughters well guarded from all attempts against their virginity, since there is no external sign to show them whether a fault has been committed.

It follows from these explanations that in order to satisfy both text and context of the difficult passage, “ ‘almah” must signify a pure virgin—a virgin who is pure, at least, in the opinion of men. And combining this result with the result of our investigation of the other passages in which “ ‘almah” occurs, we must conclude that the word commonly means a pure and undefiled virgin.

This conclusion is confirmed by the LXX. version, in which ‘almah is four times rendered νεᾶνις, or maid (Ex. 2:8; Ps. 67 (68):26; Cant. 1:3; 6:7), once νεότης (Prov. 30:19), but in the present passage παρθένος, or virgin. There must, then, have been a special reason, be it tradition or the current explanation of the text, which induced those writers to adopt this version. It is not surprising that Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion relinquished the rendering παρθένος, because at their time the Christians already began to use the text in their controversial writings (cf. Iren. iii. 24; Justin, Tryph. 71).

2. It must further be noted that ‘almah in the Hebrew text has the definite article, and that it is followed by two participles, so that we must render literally: “Behold, the virgin is pregnant, and is bringing forth a son, and his name she shall call Emmanuel.” If we then insist on the literal meaning of the prophecy, the virgin, though she is virgin, is pregnant and bringing forth her son, so that she is both virgin and mother. It appears from the following verb that the prophet intended his words to be explained in this literal sense; for he does not say “and she is calling his name Emmanuel,” but he continues, “and she shall call his name.” The prophecy in its literal meaning has, therefore, not been verified in any one except in the Blessed Virgin, so that she alone is literally spoken of by Isaias. Drach (De l’harmonie entre l’Église et la Synagogue, Paris, 1844, t. ii. pp. 237 ff.) has shown that it is probably owing to Isaias’ prophecy concerning the virgin-mother that virginity has been held in such high esteem among most nations of even pagan antiquity.

b. The context of this passage too requires that it be applied to the Blessed Virgin in its literal sense. For, according to the context, the virgin of whom the prophet speaks is the mother of Emmanuel. Now, Emmanuel must from the whole setting of the prediction be literally applied to Jesus Christ. Hence the virgin-mother too must be the Messias’ mother in the literal meaning of the word.

c. Nearly all the patristic testimonies to which we referred above, as applying Isaias’ prophecy to the Messias, bear also witness to its literal Messianic application.


1. The prophet’s prediction that the Messias will be conceived and born of a virgin who has not known man, that his name will be Emmanuel, and that he will be the Redeemer of his people, is for Christians certain from the text of St. Matthew.

2. Against Rationalists the Messianic character of the prophecy may be proved from the connection of chapters 7, 8, 9, 11, and Mich. 5. The unanimous Jewish tradition regarding Is. 8:8 and Mich. 5:5, and the fact that St. Matthew used the prophecy against the Jews in a Messianic sense without finding any contradiction on the part of his opponents, are as many confirmations of the first argument for the Messianic reference of Is. 7.

The virginal conception and birth of the Emmanuel can be rendered probable to a Rationalist even from Isaias’ prophecy: a. Because the LXX. rendered the word “ ‘almah” by “παρθένοζ;b. because St. Matthew found no difficulty when he saw a fulfilment of this prophecy in Christ’s virginal conception; c. because it has been the universal tradition among the nations that many of their divine heroes and many of their extraordinary men were born of virgin-mothers.

3. As to the Jews, they could infer the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy by comparing it with other clearly Messianic predictions. From the latter they knew that the Messias would free the house of David from its enemies, though they might not believe him so far distant as he really proved to be. It is hardly probable that they should have understood from the words of the prophecy the virginal conception and birth of the Messias, though they must have perceived that the Messias’ mother would be a most extraordinary virgin, and perhaps even that she must be especially privileged in her conceiving and giving birth to the Messias. The Alexandrian translators seem to have had a further developed doctrine on the virginity of Emmanuel’s mother. And we may reasonably suppose that about the time of Christ’s birth the Messianic expectation had attained such a state of perfection that the Evangelist’s doctrine was for the new converts nothing else than a clear exposition of what they had known implicitly and obscurely.

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Notes on Isaiah 50:4-7

Posted by carmelcutthroat on March 19, 2016

The Lord’s Servant made perfect through Sufferings
Isaiah 50:4-11

Immediate Context: In Isa 50:4-9 the Servant is again introduced, speaking of himself and his work, as in Isa 49:1-6. He describes in the first place the close and intimate and continuous communion with God through which he has learned the ministry of comfort by the Divine word, and his own complete self-surrender to the voice that guides him (Isa 50:4-5); next, his acceptance of the persecution and obloquy which he had to encounter in the discharge of his commission (6); and lastly he expresses his unwavering confidence in the help of Jehovah and the victory of his righteous cause and the discomfiture of all his enemies (7–9).

Isa 50:4 The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary: he wakeneth in the morning, in the morning he wakeneth my ear, that I may hear him as a master.
Isa 50:5 The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back.

The prophet, say these beautiful lines, learns his speech, as the little child does, by listening. Grace is poured upon the lips through the open ear. It is the lesson of our Lord’s Ephphatha. When He took the deaf man with the impediment in his speech aside from the multitude privately, He said unto him, not Be loosed, but, “Be opened; and” first “his ears were opened, and” then the “bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.” To speak, then, the prophet must listen; but mark to what he must listen! The secret of his eloquence lies not in the hearing of thunder, nor in the knowledge of mysteries, but in a daily ‘wakefulness to the lessons and experience of common life. “Morning by morning He openeth mine ear.” This is very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy and Hebrew wisdom, which listened for the truth of God in the voices of each day, drew their parables from things the rising sun lights up to every wakeful eye, and were, in the bulk of their doctrine, the virtues, needed day by day, of justice, temperance, and mercy, and in the bulk of their judgments the results of everyday observation and experience. The strength of the Old Testament lies in this its realism, its daily vigilance and experience of life. It is its contact with life-the life, not of the yesterday of its speakers, but of their today-that makes its voice so fresh and helpful to the weary. He whose ear is daily open to the music of his current life will always find himself in possession of words that refresh and stimulate.

But serviceable speech needs more than attentiveness and experience. Having gained the truth, the prophet must be obedient and loyal to it. Yet obedience and loyalty to the truth are the beginnings of martyrdom, of which the Servant now goes on to speak as the natural and immediate consequence of his prophecy.

The relation of the Servant to YHWH is that of a favourite disciple to his master; from Him he had learned the art of persuasive and consoling speech, and to Him he daily looks for the substance of his message. Comp. Isa 49:2 (the Servant’s endowment with prophetic eloquence), and Isa 42:3 (the gentleness of his ministry).

a learned tongue] a disciples’ tongue (see ch. Isa 8:16), i.e. a disciplined tongue (R.V. “of them that are taught”). The stress laid on the Divine education of the Servant is connected with the fact that his ministry of consolation was almost a new departure in prophecy. In the hands of the earlier prophets the word of Jehovah had been like a hammer breaking the rock in pieces (Jer 23:29) rather than a dew reviving the spirit of the humble.

that I should know … weary] A difficult clause. The verb rendered “speak in season” (‘ûth) is unknown in Hebrew. The A.V., following the Jewish interpreters, takes it to be a denominative from the word for “time” (‘çth), but that is an impossible etymology. The LXX. gives a similar sense (τοῦ γνῶναι ἡνίκα δεῖ εἰπεῖν λόγον) but based on a different text. Of the traditional interpretations the most suitable is perhaps that of the Vulg. and Aquila (which is followed by the R.V.): that I should know how to sustain the weary with a word. Modern authorities who adopt this rendering support it by an Arabic verb meaning “to help,” which however is not an exact philological equivalent. Another Arabic analogy has suggested the translation “water” (i.e. “refresh”). It is impossible to get beyond conjecture, although the general sense is clear.

in the morning he waketh my ear] (cf. Isa_28:19). A far simpler sentence results if we omit with Cheyne the first word of the Heb. (or with Duhm the first two words) as an uncorrected slip of a copyist, reading the adverbial expression with the following verb; thus: “morning by morning (or “in the morning”) he wakeneth my ear to hear” &c.

as the master] after the manner of disciples.

Isa 50:6 I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me.
Isa 50:7 The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded.

The classes of men who suffer physical ill-usage at the hands of their fellow-men may roughly be described as three, -the Military Enemy, the Criminal, and the Prophet; and of these three we have only to read history to know that the Prophet fares by far the worst. However fatal men’s treatment of their enemies in war or of their criminals may be, it is, nevertheless, subject to a certain order, code of honour, or principle of justice. But in all ages the Prophet has been the target for the most licentious spite and cruelty; for torture, indecency, and filth past belief. Although our own civilisation has outlived the system of physical punishment for speech, we even yet see philosophers and statesmen, who have used no weapons but exposition and persuasion, treated by their opponents who would speak of a foreign enemy with respect-with execration, gross epithets, vile abuse, and insults, that the offenders would not pour upon a criminal. If we have this under our own eyes, let us think how the Prophet must have fared before humanity learned to meet speech by speech. Because men attacked it, not with the sword of the invader or with the knife of the assassin, but with words, therefore (till not very long ago) society let loose upon them the foulest indignities and most horrible torments. Socrates’ valour as a soldier did not save him from the malicious slander, the false witness, the unjust trial, and the poison, with which the Athenians answered his speech against themselves. Even Hypatia’s womanhood did not awe the mob from tearing her to pieces for her teaching. This unique and invariable experience of the Prophet is summed up and clenched in the name Martyr. Martyr originally meant a witness or witness-bearer, but now it is the synonym for every shame and suffering which the cruel ingenuity of men’s black hearts can devise for those they hate.

These are not national sufferings. They are no reflection of the hard usage which the captive Israel suffered from Babylon. They are the reflection of the reproach and pains, which, for the sake of God’s word, individual Israelites more than once experienced from their own nation. But if individual experience, and not national, formed the original of this picture of the Servant as Martyr, then surely we have in this another strong reason against the objection to recognise in the Servant at last an individual. It may be, of course, that for the moment our prophet feels that this frequent experience of individuals in Israel is to be realised by the faithful Israel, as a whole, in their treatment by the rest of their cruel and unspiritual countrymen. But the very fact that individuals have previously fulfilled this martyrdom in the history of Israel, surely makes it possible for our prophet to foresee that the Servant, who is to fulfil it again, shall also be an individual.

But, returning from this slight digression on the person of the Servant to his fate, let us emphasise again, that his sufferings came to him as the result of his prophesying. The Servant’s sufferings are not penal, they are not yet felt to be vicarious. They are simply the reward with which obdurate Israel met all her prophets, the inevitable martyrdom which followed on the uttering of God’s Word. And in this the Servant’s experience forms an exact counterpart to that of our Lord. For to Christ also reproach and agony and death-whatever higher meaning they evolved-came as the result of His Word. The fact that Jesus suffered as our great High Priest must not make us forget that His sufferings fell upon Him because He was a Prophet. He argued explicitly He must suffer, because so suffered the prophets before Him. He put Himself in the line of the martyrs: as they had killed the servants, He said, so would they kill the Son. Thus it happened. His enemies sought “to entangle Him in His talk”: it was for His talk they brought Him to trial. Each torment and indignity which the Prophet-Servant relates, Jesus suffered to the letter. They put Him to shame and insulted Him; His helpless hands were bound; they spat in His face and smote Him with their palms; they mocked and they reviled Him; scourged Him again; teased and tormented Him; hung Him between thieves; and to the last the ribald jests went up, not only from the soldiers and the rabble, but from the learned and the religious authorities as well, to whom His fault had been that He preached another word than their own. The literal fulfillments of our prophecy are striking, but the main fulfilment, of which they are only incidents, is, that like the Servant, our Lord suffered directly as a Prophet. He enforced and He submitted to the essential obligation, which lies upon the true Prophet, of suffering for the Word’s sake.

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Father Maas on Isaiah 61

Posted by carmelcutthroat on October 25, 2014


1. The Prophecy and its Context.—The chapter belongs to the second division of the Book of Isaias, forming the fourth canto of its third part. In the first canto, or chapter 58, the prophet proposes renovation of heart and mind as the way of reaching salvation. The second canto, ch. 59, repeating nearly the same lesson, contends that sin alone impedes the advent of the divine kingdom which God himself will restore since man cannot. In the third canto, ch. 60, he describes God’s kingdom by pointing to the glory of Jerusalem, over which God’s splendor will rise, attracting thither all the nations of the earth. In the fourth canto the Messias is represented as the one who will lift up Jerusalem to its glory, and lay the foundations of a theocracy. The Messias himself explains to whom he is to bring salvation, and how its benefits may be shared.

2. Messianic Character of the Prophecy.—a. According to the Chaldee version Isaias himself is the subject of chapter 61, for it adds: ” the prophet said.” St. Thomas (Schegg, Loch, Calmet) is of opinion that either Christ or the prophet is the subject of the chapter; while the greater number of non- Catholic interpreters regard the prophet as the subject of the prophecy. In point of fact, vv. 1, 2 contain nothing that might not be predicated of a prophet.

b. Verse 3 settles the question as to the subject of the chapter; for in it salvation is no longer predicted but has effectually come to pass. A mere prophet might foretell but could not effect Messianic salvation, which is peculiar to the Messias alone. That the Messias is the subject of the predictions follows also from the connection of ch. 61 with the preceding ones, so that the possibility of a mere prophetic reference is excluded. Again, in the fourth verse we have various predictions that are repetitions of preceding Messianic prophecies. And since these predictions have reference to the time of the Messias, it follows that we cannot interpret ch. 61 as referring literally to Isaias and the return from the captivity, and only typically to Christ.

c. The New Testament, also, supposes the Messianic reference of the prophecy, since, according to Luke 4:21, Christ himself says: ” This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears.”

d. The testimonies of the Fathers regarding the Messianic reference of this prophecy may be seen in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica (ed. Tailhan, i. p. 390); St. Ephrem should have been added to the number of witnesses, for he gives only a Messianic explanation of the chapter.

e. Jewish tradition, too, explains the chapter as having a Messianic meaning. Yalkut on Ex. 12:48 reads: “A teacher of Elias’s (Elijah’s) school said: Once I went from place to place, and I found an old man who said to me: What will become of the nations of the world in the days of the Messias? I said to him: My son, every nation and every kingdom that hath persecuted and mocked Israel shall see the blessing of Israel, and shall return to their dust and have
no share in life; for it is said: The wicked shall see it and be grieved (Ps. 112:10). But every nation and every kingdom that did not persecute and mock Israel will come in the days of the Messias; for it is said: And strangers shall stand and shall feed your flocks, and . . . (Is. 61:5-6).”

The following passage of the Pesikta (ed. Buber), p. 1 49, col. 1, refers to our prophecy : ” He hath clothed mewith the garments of salvation (Is. 61:10). There are seven garments which the Holy One, blessed be his name! has put on since the world began, or will put on before the hour when he will visit with his wrath the godless Edom. When he created the world, he clothed himself in
honor and glory; for it is said: Thou art clothed with honor and glory (Ps. 104:1). When he showed himself at the Red Sea, he clothed himself in majesty; for it is said: The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty (Ps. 104:1). When he gave the law, he clothed himself with might; for it is said: Jehovah is clothed with might, wherewith he hath girded himself (Ps. 93:1). As often as he forgave Israel its sins, he clothed himself in white; for it is said: His garment was white as snow (Dan. 7:9). When he punishes the nations of the world, he puts on the garments of vengeance, as it is said: He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak (Is. 49:17). He will put on the sixth robe when the Messias is revealed. Then will he clothe himself in righteousness; for it is said: For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation on his head (ibid.). He will put on the seventh robe when he punishes Edom. Then will he clothe himself in red; for it is said: Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel? (Is. 63:2.) But the robes with which he will clothe the Messias will shine from one end of the world to the other; for it is said: As a bridegroom decked with a crown (Is. 61:10). And the sons of Israel will rejoice in his light, and will say: Blessed be the hour when the Messias was born; blessed the womb which bore him; blessed the eyes that were counted worthy to see him. For the opening of his lips is blessing and peace; his speech is rest to the soul; the thoughts of his heart are confidence and joy; the speech of his lips is pardon and forgiveness; his prayer is like the sweet-smelling savor of a sacrifice; his supplications are holiness and purity. how blessed is Israel, for whom such a lot is reserved; for it is said: How great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee (Ps. 31:19).” Of.
Beinke, Mess. Weissagungen, ii. p. 294; Galatinus, de arcanis cath. veritatis, lib. ii. cap. vi. p. 61, ed. Basil. 1550; Barheb; Hebraica, vol. iv. pp. 49, 50.


Isa 61:1. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. The servant of the Lord declares that he has been instructed and sent by the Spirit of the Lord to announce freedom and redemption to the afflicted, and to console them with all Messianic blessings. The Spirit of the Lord rests abidingly upon him, because the Lord himself has anointed him. We may remember that in the Old Testament priests were anointed (Ex. 29:7; cf. Lev. 4:3; 7:35; 16:32; 21:10; Ex. 28:41; 40:13; Num. 3:3) ; the sacred vessels were consecrated (Num. 7:1ff.); kings were anointed, so that they are at times called the anointed or the Christs of the Lord (1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 16:1; 2 Sam 1:14; 2:4; 3:38; 5:3; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 11:12; 23:30, etc.; prophets, too, were at times anointed, as is seen in the case of Eliseus (Elisha). Still this is the only instance in which a prophet was anointed outwardly, because God had reserved for himself the choice and the installing of the individual prophets on whom he poured the fulness of the Spirit. The anointing itself signified a divine election to a theocratic office, and symbolized the Spirit of God, infused into the soul of the chosen one, rendering it fit for the particular office in question. It may be noticed all through that God’s salvation and help are especially promised to the weak and the mourning.

Isaiah 61:4. And they shall build the places. The desert and waste regions, not merely of the captivity, but also of the old covenant, shall be inhabited and fruitful; strangers shall be the servants of the chosen people, which shall then be enriched with the wealth of the nations; the people of God shall enjoy such an abundance of happiness and holiness that they shall be everywhere praised as the blessed of God.

Isa 61:10 I will greatly rejoice. This part contains praises and thanksgivings for the Messianic benefits, and a prayer that the praise and glory of God may become known everywhere. The only difficulty in this passage regards the person who is introduced as speaking: a. The Messias himself speaks (Malvenda, Rohling, Trochon, Delitzsch, Naegelsbach, Orelli). But it is evident that the Messias cannot be the speaker, since in v. 3 the Messias gives the crown to the afflicted, while the speaker in the present passage has received the crown, etc. b. The speaker is the Church (Ephrem, Jerome, Cyril, Theodoret, Thomas, Sasbout, Pintus, Sanchez, Sa, Lapide, Menochius, Tirinus, Gordon, Calmet, Bade, Loch, Reinke), or the people (Mariana, Schegg), or the prophet speaking in the name of the Church (Maldonatus), or the apostolic college, or the spiritual Jerusalem (Foreiro). It is evident from the text itself that one of these latter opinions is the true one, since the speaker is represented as clothed with the garments of salvation and covered with the robe of justice. Now Sion or Jerusalem is repeatedly represented in the Old Testament under this aspect (Is. 49:21; 51:17; 54:1; 60:5; 62:1). Again, it is natural that those should be represented as giving thanks for the Messianic blessings who have actually received them ; but the latter are none other than the members of the Church or of the new Sion.


a. It follows from the present passage that only those that mourn with the afflicted people of God will receive the benefits of the Messianic blessings. Those who are happy and satisfied in the midst of the Babylonian captivity or of the inferior condition of the chosen people are not mentioned among the sharers of future happiness.

b. Moreover, holy Simeon’s words (Luke 2:34), “this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel,” find their exact parallel in Isaias’ words: “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.”

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My Notes on Isaiah 55:6-9

Posted by carmelcutthroat on September 14, 2014

Background~Isaiah 55:1-13 closes out the second part of the book, chapters 40-55, in doing so it connects with its beginning (Isa 40:1-11). The theme of forgiveness is found in Isa 40:2 and Isa 55:6-7 (part of today’s reading); the theme of return from exile is found in Isa 40:4 and Isa 55:12-13; nature’s role in the return is the theme in Isa 40:4 and Isa 55:12; and, God’s word is lasting and effective is the them of Isa 40:8 and Isa 55:10-11 (part of today’s reading).

Isa 55:6  Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found: call upon him, while he is near.
Isa 55:7  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God: for he is bountiful to forgive.

Seek ye the Lord. As the context here makes clear, the seeking in question is an act of repentance, the wicked must forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts. This seeking must be done while he may be found. Man cannot presume upon God’s mercy. He is patient regarding sinners but not complacent (2 Peter 3:9-10; John 7:33-34; John 8:21). The covenant curses had come upon the people for their infidelities (see Deut 28:15-68), but these were intended to be medicinal, leading to repentance and the re-establishment of a right relationship with God (Deut 30:1-10).

Thoughts in verse 7, 8, and 9 means something more than mere reflections, rather, the meaning is a plan, purpose, or design.

Isa 55:8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
Isa 55:9  For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.

My thoughts are not your thoughts…my ways (are exalted) above your ways. Gives the reason for the call to the unjust man to forsake his thoughts (verse 7). Similarly, the contrast between your ways and my ways indicates why the wicked man is called upon to forsake his ways.

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 42:1-43:13

Posted by carmelcutthroat on October 12, 2013


Section I. I Have Given Thee for a Covenant of the People
Isaiah 42:1-43:13


1. Connection of the Peophecy with its Context — Ch. 40 forms the introduction to the second great division of Isaias. In the following chapter (41) the prophet dramatically describes a judgment scene. God treats with the nations first about his divine power, proposing to them the perplexing question, ” Who hath raised up the just one [Cyrus] from the east, hath called him to follow him?” Surely not the heathen gods, but YHWH alone (Isa 41:1-7). After this follows an exhortation to the Israelites, since their people has been chosen as YHWH’s special servant (Isa 41:8-20). After this the interrupted judgment scene begins again, YHWH offering his second proof for his divinity: ” Let them come and tell us all things that are to come. . . .” YHWH knows the future, which is a sign of the only true God (Isa 41:21-29). In the following chapter, 42, the prophet treats of the people’s liberation different from that by Cyrus. The latter is described as the ruler of nations, as the conqueror of kings, who will destroy reigns and empires with fire and the sword, and trample upon governors and generals as on the dust of the earth. The other liberator of the people will be meek and kind, and he will be a stranger to all warlike tumult; the oppressed and those that were destined to die he will console and restore to their liberty. Moved by these considerations the prophet breaks forth into a canticle of thanksgiving, after which YHWH’s approach for the near delivery is again described, the people’s want of correspondence is mentioned, and Cyrus is represented as the ruler of Israel’s enemies. Another judgment scene between Israel and the Gentiles follows; the question is the same as before: which of the two can point to true predictions in proof of the divinity of their God? Israel is YHWH’s witness.

2. Reasons some advance against the Messianic Interpretation OF THE PROPHECY.—a. The LXX. version renders “behold my servant Jacob, . . my elect Israel.” Hence that version applies the prediction to the people of Israel, b.The servant here described will be Israel’s liberator from the Babylonian captivity. But the Messias has not effected this liberation, c. The servant is spoken of as present at the time of the prophet. This again evidently excludes the Messias as signified in the prophecies, d. The Messias is commonly represented as the avenger and the defender of the people against their enemies. But the servant here spoken of is described as the teacher of Israel, e. The servant mentioned in Isa 42:1 is identical
with the servant in Isa 42:19; but the latter is not the Messias. Hence the former cannot be the Messias. f. The servant mentioned in Isa 43:10 is not generally regarded as the Messias; hence it cannot be maintained that the servant in Isa 42:1 is the Messias, since the two appear to be identical.

3. Messianic Character of the Prediction.—Notwithstanding these reasons to the contrary, we maintain that in Isa 42:1 ff. the servant is the Messias, and that therefore the passage is Messianic. The same we shall show of Isa 43:10. a. The person described in Isa 42:1 is identical with the subject of Isa 11:2, 9; Isa 9:2, 4; now the latter is evidently the Messias. Hence the servant too must be the Messias. The same conclusion may be reached by comparing Isa 42:1 with Isa 49, where the prophet repeats almost verbatim many characteristics he had attributed to the servant in the former passage. But the subject of Isa 49 is the Messias. Hence the servant of Isa 42:1 is the Messias.

b. The New Testament, too, testifies that the servant mentioned in Isa 42:1 is the Messias. We may refer to Matt 12:16 ff. to prove what we have said: “And he charged them that they should not make him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaias the prophet saying: Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom my soul hath been well pleased. . . .” The Evangelist is therefore explicit in his interpretation of the prophecy Isa 42:1 ff. The words we read in Luke 2:32 and in Acts 13:46-47 may allude to Isa 49; but they also closely resemble Isa 42:1 ff.

c. The patristic testimonies in favor of the Messianic explanation of Isa 42:1 ff may be seen in Reinke’s ” Messianische Weissagungen,” ii. p. 8, and references to the patristic passages may be found in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica, i. p. 375. We need not add that this explanation of the passage is common among Catholic commentators, and has been adopted by several Protestant writers (cf. Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Knobel, Diestel, etc.).

d. The Jewish writers, too, testify that the Synagogue understood the prophecy in a Messianic sense. The Targum renders Isa 42:1: ” Behold my servant the Messias, I will bring him near. . . .” The Midrash on Ps 2:7 and Yalkut (ii. p. 104 d.) interpret Isa 42:1 Messianically.

e. A word must be added about the identity of the servant in Isa 43:10. Maldonatus, Loch, Eohling, Trochon, Hahn, Sein, Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, Orelli, explain the servant in that passage as referring to the people of Israel. But it must be noted that according to the words of the prophet the servant is distinct from the people. For the passage reads: “You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen.” In these words the people and the servant are declared to be witnesses; if then “my servant” were identical with the people, the phrase “my servant ” should stand in apposition to “you,” and should not be joined to it by “and.” But even those commentators who admit this distinction between the people and the servant do not agree as to the identity of the latter. Some believe that the term is applied to the best part of the people (Knobel), others refer it to the prophets or to Isaias (Pinto, Osorio, Foreiro, Mariana, cf. Mald.). It may be urged against this acceptation of the term that there is nothing to point to this meaning in the context or in the preceding chapters. And what is more, in the preceding chapters the term “servant” is applied only to three subjects: to the people, to the Messias, and to Cyrus. The reference to the people we have already excluded; hence only the reference to the Messias or to Cyrus remains. The latter opinion appears to be sustained by Sanchez and a Lapide; the former by St. Jerome, Cyril, Theodoret, Eusebius, Sasbout, Sa, a Lapide, Menochius. At first sight the context of Isa 43:10 reminds us of Isa 41:1, 21, where there is question of Cyrus; but since Cyrus is never explicitly called YHWH’s servant, and since in Is 42:9 we have a manner of arguing somewhat
similar to Isa 43:10, it appears preferable to refer the Lord’s servant occurring in this last passage to the Messias. It is still better to consider the double liberation of Israel as one divine work, and consequently the servant as one subject. But what is one in prophecy, proves to be double in fulfilment; hence the passage refers both to Cyrus and to the Messias —literally to the former, typically to the latter. That the Targum renders, “and my servant,
the Messias, in whom I am well pleased” (the Syriac version has the plural, ” my servants “) merits attention.

That the servant is not necessarily distinct from the Jewish people, since the prophet may speak of the Gentiles and the Jews as being his witnesses, is of little weight. For in the preceding verse (Isa 43:9) the Gentiles are called upon to bring forth witnesses in favor of their idols; and in verse 12 the Lord expressly declares: ” I have made it heard, and there was no strange one among you, you are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God.” Among the witnesses therefore no stranger and no Gentile is to be found.

4. Answer to Objections against the Messianic Interpretation.— The last of the foregoing objections to the Messianic interpretation of the prophecies has been answered in our proof that Isa 43:10 refers to the Messias. We must add a word about the other objections, a. The circumstance that the LXX. version interprets the servant as applying to Jacob, and the elect as referring to Israel, adds additional weight to the testimony of the Greek Fathers in favor of the Messianic interpretation. For if they refer the prophecy to the Messias in spite of the rendering of their authentic version, they must have been influenced by an unmistakable tradition. The Targum shows that the Hebrew tradition differed from the interpretation of the LXX. Theodotion omits this explanation of the prediction; the Syriac hexapla-codex adds in a note that the words “Jacob” and “Israel ” are not in the Hebrew text (Field, Hexapl. in h. 1. ii. p. 515); Barhebraeus (on verse 3) remarks that the passage refers historically to Zorobabel (Zerubabel), spiritually to Christ; St. Jerome testifies that the words “Jacob” and “Israel” have been erroneously added in the LXX. version; they are not found in Matt 12:18; Eusebius relates (Demonstr. Evang. p. 452) that these words are marked with a dagger in the LXX. version, a sign that they are to be omitted.

b. The second exception against the Messianic nature of the prediction is based on the supposition that the servant of the Lord will free the people from the Babylonian captivity— a liberation which has not been effected by the Messias. But it is false that in Isa 42:7 there is question of liberation from the Babylonian captivity. For the context demands that the blind and the prisoners of verse 7 be understood so as to correspond with the “light” of verse 6; but the latter is taken metaphorically, as the phrase “a light of the Gentiles” clearly shows. Hence the expressions “blind” and “prisoners” must be taken metaphorically also. Besides, our opponents understand “light” and ” blind ” metaphorically, but “prisoners” properly; their interpretation blends the proper and the metaphorical sense without sufficient reason.

c. To the observation of Gesenius that the prophet speaks of the servant as of a person present, while the Messias is future, we may give two answers: First, the context evidently shows that the servant is not represented by the prophet as present to him; for in v. 9 we have the express declaration: “And new things do I declare; before they spring forth, I will make you hear them.” The servant is, therefore, not yet come, but will appear in the future. Again, supposing that Gesenius’ contention be correct, the prophetic manner of depicting a future event as actually present is well enough known not to excite our wonder in the passage under consideration.

d. The fourth exception supposes that the Messias is the judge of the Gentiles, while the servant is their teacher. Hence it distinguishes between the servant and the Messias. Though in Isa 11:10 it is said of the Messias, “him the Gentiles shall beseech,” in the very context of this passage we have the Messias described as a teacher: “They shall not hurt, nor shall they kill in all my holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea” (Isa 11:9). In the beginning of the same chapter (Isa 11:2) it is said of the Messias: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.” These gifts qualify the Messias not less as a teacher than as a judge. In Isa 9:7 the Messias strengthens his empire “with judgment and with justice.” This again implies the teaching character of the Messianic king.
Finally, in Isa 2:3 this duty is expressly assigned to the Messias: “And many people shall go, and say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

e. The next exception implies that the servant of Isa 42:19 is identical with the servant of Isa 42:1; and since the former is not the Messias the exception infers that the latter cannot be the Messias (cf. Eosenmiiller, Knobel, Nagelsbach). We grant that the servant of Isa 42:19 is not the Messias, but the people of Israel; this is clear from verses 18, 22. But we deny that the servant of Isa 42:19 is the same as the servant in Isa 42:1. Though the name is the same in both passages, its application is wholly different: the servant in Isa 42:1 is the elect of God; God’s soul delighteth in him, God has given his spirit upon him, and the servant shall bring forth the judgment of the Gentiles. The servant of Isa 42:19, on the contrary, is deaf and blind, is robbed and wasted in spite of God’s will to sanctify him; he is a snare to young men, and hid in the prisonhouse. And as if this difference of character were not enough to distinguish one servant from the other, the servant in Isa 42:1 is an individual, while the servant in verse 19 is a collection of persons. For the opposition of the former to Cyrus as well as the description given in the text marks his individuality, while verses 18 and 22 expressly indicate the collective meaning of the servant in Isa 42:19. The former servant will open the eyes of the blind (v. 7), the latter servant is himself blind (v. 19). Cf. p. 83, n. 5, and Knabenbauer, in loc.


Isa 42:1  Behold my servant, I will uphold him: my elect, my soul delighteth in him: I have given my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
Isa 42:2  He shall not cry, nor have respect to person, neither shall his voice be heard abroad.
Isa 42:3  The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench, he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Isa 42:4  He shall not be sad, nor troublesome, till he set judgment in the earth, and the islands shall wait for his law.

Behold my servant. The servant is God’s elect (cf. Ps 105:23; 1 Sam 21:6), as were Moses and Saul, so that he shall prove an effective Mediator, an abiding king, through whom a new Israel shall be formed, bearing the title “elect”; in the servant God’s soul delighteth, as it happens usually in the case of acceptable sacrifices (Ps 51:19), so that we have here a contrast with 42:1 (cf. Luke 3:22). God’s spirit is upon his servant according to Isa 11:2; Isa 61:1; the same servant shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles, for the one true religious doctrine which is the right standard of life and which has hitherto been confined to the Jewish race, shall now go forth to the long-oppressed nations. Still, this mighty work will be carried on unobtrusively: the servant shall not cry as in helpless grief, nor give forth a shout of triumph (Isa 42:2), nor make himself known in altercation (Isa 42:3), nor publish his doings ostentatiously in the streets (cf. Matt 6:5; 12:16). Then follows the proverbial figure of the broken reed, and the smoking flax. Explanations: 1. The broken reed represents the poor and the lowly, while the smoking flax symbolizes the proud and the arrogant (Eusebius); 2. both refer to Christ’s mercy towards the sinner (Jerome); 3. the broken reed is the Jewish people, which formerly sounded God’s praises, until it was broken on the stone which it rejected, and the smoking flax represents the Gentiles with their smouldering faith and their obscure natural law (Jerome; cf. Pinto, Sanchez); 4. the broken reed represents anything perfectly useless, and the smoking flax symbolizes what is not only useless, but positively detrimental by its smoke and its odor (cf. Sanchez, Gordon, a Lapide, Menochius, Tirinus); 5. the broken reed and the smoking flax represent in general the remnant of anything good almost wholly beset with evil, so that the Messias will know how to bring good out of even this (Osorio); 6. the broken reed is the Jewish people with its theocracy, but the smoking flax is the Mosaic law (Ephrem); 7. the reed is the Jewish theocracy, the flax is its priesthood (St. Thomas,
St. Gregory; cf. Trochon); 8. since the word reed is used of the branches of the candelabrum belonging to the tabernacle (cf. Ex 25:31-35), the reed and flax may be parts of the same figure, representing together the tottering and flickering lamp of David (1 Kings 11:36; 2 Kings 8:19) which will grow strong and bright through the Messianic work (Speaker’s Comment, in 1.). We need not point out how this prediction has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus; cf. the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of the words “he shall not be sad or troublesome,” the Hebrew text reads: “he shall not burn dimly nor be bruised,” as if he himself were the lamp composed of the reed and the flax. Feeble as his light appears in the days of his servitude, he will illumine the world, so that even the islands of the Mediterranean will long for his appearance.

Isa 42:5  Thus saith the Lord God that created the heavens, and stretched them out: that established the earth, and the things that spring out of it: that giveth breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that tread thereon.
Isa 42:6  I the Lord have called thee in justice, and taken thee by the hand, and preserved thee. And I have given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles:
Isa 42:7  That thou mightest open the eyes of the blind, and bring forth the prisoner out of prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
Isa 42:8  I the Lord, this is my name: I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven things.
Isa 42:9  The things that were first, behold they are come: and new things do I declare: before they spring forth, I will make you hear them.

Thus saith the Lord God. Here is described the servant’s divine call, and the end of his mission: he is to be a covenant for the people and a light of the Gentiles. It is quite plain that neither Cyrus nor any mere man could be represented as being the “covenant,” i.e., the ground of the people’s abiding in communion with their God (cf. Luke 22:20; Heb. 13:17). This divine decree is sealed as it were by the solemn formula, “I the Lord, this is my name.” And the Lord’s pre-eminence over all idols is again proved by his foreknowing and foretelling future things: “before they [the new things] spring forth [out of their merely ideal state in the divine mind], I will make you hear them.”

Isa 42:10  Sing ye to the Lord a new song, his praise is from the ends of the earth: you that go down to the sea, and all that are therein: ye islands, and ye inhabitants of them.
Isa 42:11  Let the desert and the cities thereof be exalted: Cedar shall dwell in houses: ye inhabitants of Petra, give praise, they shall cry from the top of the mountains.
Isa 42:12  They shall give glory to the Lord, and shall declare his praise in the islands.

Sing ye to the Lord. New songs are called also those psalms in which the Gentiles are invited to join (Ps 33:3, Ps 96:1, 98:1). The name is, therefore, most appropriate in the present case. First the prophet appeals in general to the ends of the earth, then to the seafaring men, and to all living creatures in the sea, to the islands also and their inhabitants; in the third place, the prophet appeals to the immediate neighbors of Palestine, to those living in the Arabian desert and to the hamlets inhabited by Cedar, and finally to those living in Petra. These latter are to climb the steep hills by which the city is surrounded, and cry from the top of the mountains. In the following verse the Gentiles in general are invited again to join in the praise of YHWH.

Isa 42:13  The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man, as a man of war shall he stir up zeal: he shall shout and cry: he shall prevail against his enemies.
Isa 42:14  I have always held my peace, I have kept silence, I have been patient, I will speak now as a woman in labour: I will destroy, and swallow up at once.
Isa 42:15  I will lay waste the mountains and hills, and will make all their grass to wither: and I will turn rivers into islands, and will dry up the standing pools.
Isa 42:16  And I will lead the blind into the way which they know not: and in the paths which they were ignorant of I will make them walk: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things have I done to them, and have not forsaken them.
Isa 42:17  They are turned back: let them be greatly confounded, that trust in a graven thing, that say to a molten thing: You are our god.

The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man. The Lord rises up like a mighty warrior in order to defend the cause of his people; he has restrained himself a long while and allowed the enemies to afflict his chosen people; but now all impediments being removed, the Lord will save his chosen ones, and idolaters shall perish. In the first part the prophet states in general the Lord’s warlike action against his enemies; then the Lord himself declares what he has done thus far, and what he will do in future, each line of action being described by three different expressions. In the third place, the prophet describes minutely the desolation the Lord will bring upon his enemies, a perfect drought furnishing the figure for the enemies’ destruction; after this, the Lord declares the manner in which he will save his own people, leading back the blind almost in spite of themselves; finally, the fate of the idolaters is once more depicted: they are driven back in confusion from the way they had marked out for themselves.

Isa 42:18  Hear, ye deaf, and, ye blind, behold that you may see.
Isa 42:19  Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, but he to whom I have sent my messengers? Who is blind, but he that is sold? or who is blind, but the servant of the Lord?
Isa 42:20  Thou that seest many things, wilt thou not observe them? thou that hast ears open, wilt thou not hear?
Isa 42:21  And the Lord was willing to sanctify him, and to magnify the law, and exalt it.
Isa 42:22  But this is a people that is robbed and wasted: they are all the snare of young men, and they are hid in the houses of prisons: they are made a prey, and there is none to deliver them: a spoil, and there is none that saith: Restore.
Isa 42:23  Who is there among you that will give ear to this, that will attend and hearken for times to come?
Isa 42:24  Who hath given Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to robbers? hath not the Lord himself, against whom we have sinned? And they would not walk in his ways, and they have not hearkened to his law.
Isa 42:25  And he hath poured out upon him the indignation of his fury, and a strong battle, and hath burnt him round about, and he knew not: and set him on fire, and he understood not.

Hear ye deaf and ye blind. Together with the idolaters shall perish those of Israel that have neglected the call of God and have been on that account delivered over to countless miseries, in spite of which they have not acknowledged God and obeyed him. This explanation of the passage is given on the supposition that the servant here does not refer to the Messias. If we are willing to follow another view which identifies the servant even in the present passage with the Messias, we may analyze the prophecy thus: The deaf and blind people are invited to consider two great facts: 1. The voluntary humiliation of God’s perfect servant through whom God is magnified; 2. their own national suffering and its causes. The prophet develops the first fact thus: “Who is blind but my servant, or deaf but my messenger whom I will send? who is blind as he that is perfect, or blind as the Lord’s servant? Thou hast seen many things, but thou markest them not; opening the ears, he heareth not. The Lord was well pleased for the sake of his righteousness; he hath magnified the law and made it honorable.” Since this is the rendering of the Hebrew text, it follows at once that if we prefer the Masorethic reading to that of the Vulgate, we cannot explain the servant of this passage in any other than in a Messianic sense. The second fact presents fewer difficulties than the first: “But this is a people that is robbed and wasted; all of them are snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses. . . .” The Hebrew text reading “holes” instead of “young men” is more commonly followed by the later commentators (Knobel, Delitzsch, Neteler, Trochon).

Isa 43:1  And now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name: thou art mine.
Isa 43:2  When thou shalt pass through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee: when thou shalt walk in the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, and the flames shall not burn in thee:
Isa 43:3  For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I have given Egypt for thy atonement, Ethiopia and Saba for thee.
Isa 43:4  Since thou becamest honourable in my eyes, thou art glorious: I have loved thee, and I will give men for thee, and people for thy life.
Isa 43:5  Fear not, for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west.
Isa 43:6  I will say to the north: Give up: and to the south: Keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.
Isa 43:7  And every one that calleth upon my name, I have created him for my glory. I have formed him, and made him.
Isa 43:8  Bring forth the people that are blind, and have eyes: that are deaf, and have ears.
Isa 43:9  All the nations are assembled together, and the tribes are gathered: who among you can declare this, and shall make us hear the former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, let them be justified, and hear, and say: It is truth.
Isa 43:10  You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know, and believe me, and understand that I myself am. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there shall be none.
Isa 43:11  I am, I am the Lord: and there is no saviour besides me.
Isa 43:12  I have declared, and have saved. I have made it heard, and there was no strange one among you. You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God.
Isa 43:13  And from the beginning I am the same, and there is none that can deliver out of my hind: I will work, and who shall turn it away?

And now thus saith the Lord. For the God-fearing the prophet repeats the magnificent divine promises of safety and salvation. In order to strengthen their confidence he appeals to a number of historical incidents of God’s special care for Israel, and promises the same special and loving providence for the future. As to the words “I have given Egypt for thy atonement, Ethiopia and Saba for thee” they may be explained thus : Egypt, Cush [Ethiop.], and Saba [Moroe] are not parts of the Babylonian empire, but they will be added to the Persian empire as a reward for Israel’s emancipation. Cambyses the son of Cyrus actually annexed these countries (Esther 1:1). Cf. Xenoph., Cyrop, 8, 6, 20, cf. 1, 1, 4.


1. Since the servant is called the “covenant” of the people of Israel, he must be conceived as the mediator between God and man, who reconciles the Almighty with the fallen human race. It is true that God had made a covenant with the patriarchs, but the people had violated the covenant by their numerous sins and infidelities. If then the servant is to restore this covenant, he must expiate the people’s sins and transgressions, procure efficacious remedies against all these infirmities, and lead back the people to true inward sanctity.

2. If we adhere to the Hebrew text of Isa 42:18-25, we see here even the manner indicated in which the servant will bring about the people’s salvation: he is blind to the people’s gross misdeeds, he does not hear the reproaches heaped upon his sacred person by a reviling multitude, but in spite of all the people’s transgressions, he shall bring about the re-establishment of God’s law.

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Some Thoughts (homiletic and meditative) on Isaiah 50:4-7

Posted by carmelcutthroat on March 21, 2013

Just some brief points connected with the reading which some may find useful.

4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.

The Lord has given me the tongue of those who are taught. The first of four things which our passage says God has given or done for his servant: 1. a tongue trained to teach others; 2. an ear to hear; 3. an opened ear; 4. help.

The tongue: One could preach or meditate upon the necessity of grace, particularly in relation to preaching (2 Tim 2:23-26), catechesis (James 3:1-12) or the witness all Christians are called upon to give (1 Pet 3:8-17).

Chrysostom on Teaching: For he that teaches must be especially careful to do it with meekness. For a soul that wishes to learn cannot gain any useful instruction from harshness and contention. For when it would apply, being thus thrown into perplexity, it will learn nothing. He who would gain any useful knowledge ought above all things to be well disposed towards his teacher, and if this be not previously attained, nothing that is requisite or useful can be accomplished. And no one can be well disposed towards him who is violent and overbearing. How is it then that he says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject”? He speaks there of one incorrigible, of one whom he knows to be diseased beyond the possibility of cure (Homily 6 on 2 Timothy).

St Bernard: Happy the tongue than knows only how to speak holy things.

Sustaining the Weary: In imitation of Christ. See Isa 49:29-31; Isa 42:1-4; Isa 61:1-2Matt 11:28-30; Luke 4:16-21; Rom 15:1-6.

Morning after morning…he wakens my ear to hear. One could preach upon the importance of prayer particularly in the morning (Ps 5:3; Ps 143:8). In prayer we are called upon to converse with God, which includes listening to Him. For prayer as God’s opportunity to teach and dialogue with us see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #’2 2652-2662.

5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward.

An open ear. One could preach or meditation upon the necessity of the obedience (ὑπακοή) of faith. Literally, the hearing under faith.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 143: By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.[2] With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”.[3]

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 144: To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) # 5: “The obedience of faith” (Rom. 13:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) “is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,” (4) and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.” (5) To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.

Obedience is done in imitation of Christ who embraced it even unto death, death on a cross (Phil 2:8).  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb 5:8-9). We too are called to remain faithful even in the face of trials (Heb 10:32-39; Heb 12; Rev 2:8-11).

6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

See Matt 26:67; 27:30; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:19; Luke 22:63; Psalm 69:7-12.

St Athanasius:  Oh! my dearly beloved, if we shall gain comfort from afflictions, if rest from labours, if health after sickness, if from death immortality, it is not right to be distressed by the temporal ills that lay hold on mankind. It does not become us to be agitated because of the trials which befall us. It is not right to fear if the gang that contended with Christ, should conspire against godliness; but we should the more please God through these things, and should consider such matters as the probation and exercise of a virtuous life. For how shall patience be looked for, if there be not previously labours and sorrows? Or how can fortitude be tested with no assault from enemies? Or how shall magnanimity be exhibited, unless after contumely and injustice? Or how can long-suffering be proved, unless there has first been the calumny of Antichrist? (St Athanasius is referring to the Arians). And, finally, how can a man behold virtue with his eyes, unless the iniquity of the very wicked has previously appeared? Thus even our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ comes before us, when He would shew men how to suffer, Who when He was smitten bore it patiently, being reviled He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not, but He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to buffetings, and turned not His face from spitting (1 Pet 2:23, Isa 50:6); and at last, was willingly led to death, that we might behold in Him the image of all that is virtuous and immortal, and that we, conducting ourselves after these examples, might truly tread on serpents and scorpions, and on all the power of the enemy.

7 For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Consider the example of St Paul in his minsitry (2 Cor 6:3-10).

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My Notes on Isaiah 6:1-8

Posted by carmelcutthroat on February 9, 2013

Unless otherwise noted, all verses come from the Douay Rheims translation.  Quotes from the RSV are used in accord with the copyright policy of the copyright holder:

The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” (source)

Background on Isaiah 6:1-13~Because the book’s superscription (Isa 1:1) places the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry during the reign of King Uzziah, and because chapter 6 which narrates an event which took place  “in the year king Uzziah died” has the appearance of a prophetic call narrative, many scholars hold that Isaiah 6:1-13 is an account of the prophet’s inaugural vision and call to prophecy (see Jer 1; Ezekiel 1:1-3:15). The fact that this alleged call narrative comes so far into the book does raise some obvious problems, most notably the fact that it’s not found at the book’s beginning. It is possible that what one gets in chapter 6 is a throne vision, similar to that experienced by Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22:19-21 (he was, apparently, already a prophet). It may be that the account in Isaiah 6 is not an inaugural call to prophecy but, rather, the call of an established prophet to a specific function or reorientation of ministry (see next paragraph).

The people have shown themselves degenerate and dismissive of the Lord, and this willfully (Isa 1:2-4). They have been like a recalcitrant servant (Isa 1:5-6). In spite of this, repeated appeals have been made for the people’s return (Isa 1:18-19), and threats issued against the obstinate (Isa 1:21-25). But most of the people have become defiant in their unbelief. Their sins have become a burden to them because of the Lord’s punishment, yet they still persist in acting sinfully, like weak men trying to drag heavy loads with low grade twine, or mothers knitting yarn: Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes (Isa 5:18 RSV).  They refuse to recognize the very burdens and punishment they are under, mocking a God they think can do nothing: (woe to those who say) “let him (God) make haste, and let his work come quickly, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come, that we may know it” (Isa 5:19. See Matt 27:41-43; Mark 15:31-32; Luke 23:36-37). But this God who they think can do nothing can in fact confirm them in their pretensions. Those who mockingly asked to see God’s work and hear his counsel that they might know, were doomed to hear the prophet’s words: Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive, for God had decreed to the prophet: Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.  Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted and I heal them (Isa 6:9-10). God gave them what they craved.

Isa 6:1  In the year that king Ozias (Uzziah) died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. DRV

In the year king Ozias (Uzziah) died. The dating of the king’s death is somewhat difficult, but most scholars place it as 742 BC. Uzziah’s death brought to an end a very long reign which was politically stable, militarily successful and economically vibrant; but also spiritually and morally bankrupt.  The fact that the Lord is in kingly garments (his train), surround by throne attendants (angels in verse 2), and is sitting upon a throne high and elevated is a reminder of who the people of God’s ultimate ruler is, and it contrasts with the impending fate of sinners, be they the ruling class, the moneyed class, or the Joe six-pack class: hell hath enlarged her soul, and opened her mouth without any bounds, and their strong ones, and their people, and their high and glorious ones shall go down into it (Isa 5:14).

Isa 6:2  And above stood the seraphims: one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two they flew. DRV modified

And above stood the seraphims. The word “stood” used in both the Greek and Hebrew versions has a wide range of meaning and need not imply a stationary, upright position, e.g., and above were located (or employed) the seraphim. That their position was not stationary is indicated by the fact that an imperfect verb is used to describe the fact that they flew (implying continuous action). While the above translation suggests just two attendants (“one had…and the other had”), most modern translations are somewhat ambiguous and could be taken as suggesting a multitude (see 1 Kings 22:19). It appears we are to infer that two groups of seraphim as indicated.

Seraphim. The Catholic Encyclopedia: “The name, a Hebrew masculine plural form, designates a special class of heavenly attendants of Yahweh’s court. In Holy Writ these angelic beings are distinctly mentioned only in Isaias’s description of his call to the prophetical office (Isaiah 6:2 sqq.). In a vision of deep spiritual import, granted him in the Temple, Isaias beheld the invisible realities symbolized by the outward forms of Yahweh’s dwelling place, of its altar, its ministers, etc. While he stood gazing before the priest’s court, there arose before him an august vision of Yahweh sitting on the throne of His glory. On each side of the throne stood mysterious guardians, each supplied with six wings: two to bear them up, two veiling their faces, and two covering their feet, now naked, as became priestly service in the presence of the Almighty. His highest servants, they were there to minister to Him and proclaim His glory, each calling to the other: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Yahweh of hosts; all the earth is full of His glory.’ These were seraphim, one of which flew towards Isaias bearing a live coal which he had taken from the altar, and with which he touched and purified the Prophet’s lips, that henceforth these might be consecrated to the utterances of inspiration. Such, in substance, is Isaias’s symbolical vision from which may be inferred all that Sacred Scripture discloses concerning the seraphim. Although described under a human form, with faces, hands, and feet (Isaiah 6:2, Isa 6:6), they are undoubtedly existing spiritual beings corresponding to their name, and not mere symbolic representations as is often asserted by advanced Protestant scholars.” The Anglican scholar A.S. Herbert suggested that the vision of the seraphs may be connected to the fact that the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses to counteract the the bite of the seraph serpents was kept in the temple (see Num 21:4-9, 2 Kings 18:4). Nothing here indicates that the form of the seraphim was serpentine; in factthe reference to  face and feet  in the current verse, and “hands” in verse 6, probably implies human-like forms. The fact that these heavenly spiritual beings cover themselves indicates God’s transcending holiness which the beings enunciate (see next verse)

Isa 6:3  And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory,

Holy, holy, holy. The Hebrew language does not possess many superlatives, consequently repetition is employed. The threefold repetition of holy indicates that God is the source of holiness, and that all other things that might be considered holy, including the temple and the seraphim, are such only in virtue of Him. While holiness can have a meaning of moral perfection, the primary emphasis (especially in reference to God) is on transcendence, separateness. Being set apart by God (i.e., sanctified, made holy) is to be set apart from what is profane and oriented away from God, and it is here that the connection with morality comes into play.

Lord God of hosts. From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “(In Hebrew, plural form of “host” or “army”). The word is used almost exclusively in conjunction with the Divine name as a title of majesty: “the Lord of Hosts”, or “the Lord God of Hosts”. The origins and precise signification of the title are matters of more or less plausible conjecture. According to some scholars the “hosts” represent, at least primitively, the armies of Israel over whom Jehovah exercised a protecting influence. Others opine that the word refers to the hosts of heaven, the angels, and by metaphor to the stars and entire universe (cf. Genesis 2:1). In favour of the latter view is the fact that the title does not occur in the Pentateuch or Josue though the armies of Israel are often mentioned, while it is quite common in the prophetic writings where it would naturally have the more exalted and universal meaning.” The word could however be taken to mean a fulness of power or might. However one takes it, it should be seen in reference to the previous military imagery (God as warrior, but also as protector and shepherd-warrior).

All the earth is full of his glory. The glory the people of the earth, including God’s people, have rejected for idols: For thou hast rejected thy people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of diviners from the east and of soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. So man is humbled, and men are brought low — forgive them not! Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from before the terror of the LORD, and from the glory of his majesty (Isa 2:6-10 RSV). And they shall go into the holes of rocks, and into the caves of the earth from the face of the fear of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he shall rise up to strike the earth. In that day a man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which he had made for himself to adore, moles and bats.  And he shall go into the clefts of rocks, and into the holes of stones from the face of the fear of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he shall rise up to strike the earth. (Isa 2:19-21). It is the glory that will one day protect his repentant people (Isa 4:2-6).

Isa 6:4  And the lintels of the doors were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

The voice of the seraphim cause the temple doors to move (shake, tremble) and smoke fills the sanctuary. This may be intended to recall the smoke that descended upon Mount Sinai which was trembling when the divine theophany occurred (Exodus 19:18-19).

Isa 6:5  And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.

And I said: Woe is me because I have held my peace. The Hebrew word  אוי (‘ôy) is often used (as is the case here) to introduce a lament. It was previously used to introduce a cause for lament, i.e., impending punishment: The shew of their countenance hath answered them: and they have proclaimed abroad their sin as Sodom, and they have not hid it: woe to their souls, for evils are rendered to them. Say to the just man that it is well, for he shall eat the fruit of his doings. Woe to the wicked unto evil: for the reward of his hands shall be given him (Isa 3:9-11).

I have held my peace. The RSV has “I am lost.” Other translation read “I am undone, doomed, ruined,” etc. It is disputed how best to translate the Hebrew word דּמה  (dâmâh) because it could come from two different roots. See the footnote to 6:5 in the NABRE which suggests a possible meaning for both doomed and silence (“held my peace”), and suggests that both senses were intended by the prophet. Note the structure of the prophets words:  Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips. The prophet is unable to praise God (“held my peace”) as the seraphim do because God’s holiness is so transcendent. Man’s approach to the Holy One must originate from the Holy One.

I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. There may here be an allusion to Isaiah 3:8 which speaks of the tongue (or speech) rather than lips: For Jerusalem is ruined, and Juda is fallen: because their tongue, and their devices are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his majesty. The transcendent holiness of God, sung of by the seraphim is at the root of Isaiah’s lament: “The vision of God foreboded death in the OT. Here moreover God’s holiness reminded Isaias of his sins and the sins of his people. He cannot join in the Angels’ praises for his lips are unclean. Their cleansing is also necessary in view of his mission” (A Cath. Comm. on Holy Scripture).

John Cassian: How all the saints have confessed with truth that they were unclean and sinful. “And therefore with daily sighs all the saints grieve over this weakness of their nature and while they search into their shifting thoughts and the secrets and inmost recesses of their conscience, cry out in entreaty: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified;” and this: “Who will boast that he hath a chaste heart? or who will have confidence that he is pure from sin?” and again: “There is not a righteous man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not;” and this also: “Who knoweth his faults?” (Ps 143:2; Prov 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Ps 19:13) And so they have recognized that man’s righteousness is weak and imperfect and always needs God’s mercy, so that one of those whose iniquities and sins God purged away with the live coal of His word sent from the altar, after that marvellous vision of God, after his view of the Seraphim on high and the revelation of heavenly mysteries, said: “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5) And I fancy that perhaps even then he would not have felt the uncleanness of his lips, unless it had been given him to recognize the true and complete purity of perfection by the vision of God, at the sight of Whom he suddenly became aware of his own uncleanness, of which he had previously been ignorant. For when he says: “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips,” he shows that his confession that follows refers to his own lips, and not to the uncleanness of the people: “and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”” (Spiritual Conference 23:17).

 I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. Note the dual dilemma of Isaiah; on the one hand, because he lacks essential holiness, he cannot praise God as the seraphim do, and on the other hand, he has seen God, something even the seraphim do not experience (they covered their faces with their wings, Isa 6:2).

St John Chrysostom: Did not Christ say, No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the Bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (Jn 1:18), and elsewhere: Not that any man hath seen the Father: but he who is of God, he hath seen the Father? (Jn 6:46). Was not Moses told by God that no man shall see me and live? (Exodus 33:20). How is it then that Isaiah can claim to have seen the Lord? We do not have a contradiction here. Christ was speaking about apprehending God in all his fulness which no human being can do….This fulness Isaiah did not behold, nor Moses, nor any human being, a fact indicated here by the statement that he saw God sitting on a throne. God, however, does not sit, having no bodily form; nor is he limited or restricted, but everywhere, filling everything, and not circumscribed to a throne (Comm. on Isaiah)

Isa 6:6  And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar.
Isa 6:7  And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed.
Isa 6:8  And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.

Isaiah lamented that he was not worthy of offering praise to God with his lips as the seraphim do, but now, having his lips cleansed by a seraph, purging his sins (6, 7), he will be sent to his people of unclean lips (5) in order to speak to them things they do not want to hear (Isa 6:8-9).

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My Notes on Isaiah 60:1-6

Posted by carmelcutthroat on January 1, 2013

My approach to this text will be more meditative and reflective than exegetical.

Isa 60:1  Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem is based upon the Greek text. The Hebrew text doesn’t mention Jerusalem but virtually all scholars accept Jerusalem/Zion as the addressee  The people had preferred the darkness of their own arrogant reasoning and brought down divine judgment upon themselves for it:  Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits (Isa 5:20-21). The people had risen up against God in their arrogance, embracing idols and forcing him to rise up against them in punishment: And idols shall be utterly destroyed. And they shall go into the holes of rocks, and into the caves of the earth from the face of the fear of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he shall rise up to strike the earth. In that day a man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which he had made for himself to adore, moles and bats. And he shall go into the clefts of rocks, and into the holes of stones from the face of the fear of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty, when he shall rise up to strike the earth (Isa 2:18-21).

Now, however, the people having been humbled by foreign oppressors and exile must now learn to act in humble justice towards those in need (see Isa 58:1-7), only then shall their light break forth like the morning, and their wounds be healed (see Isa 58:8).

Arise, be enlightened… for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Notice how the effect (arise, be enlightened) follows upon the cause: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. People do not have the light of God’s wisdom and his ways in and of themselves, rather, they can only possess it as a gift, as a borrowed light. Christ could tell his Galilean followers that they were the light of the world (Matt 5:14), and bid them to let their light shine before men (Matt 5:16), only because he himself is the light of the world (John 8:12), who enlightened Galilee and the world upon entering it with his gospel: And leaving the city Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capharnaum on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and of Nephthalim; That it might be fulfilled which was said by Isaias the prophet: Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 4:13-17).

St Cyril of Alexandria: The prophet calls the one to come the glory of the Lord, for the coming one, Christ, has arisen like a heavenly sun spreading a godly and spiritual light, the true knowledge of God upon all who believe.

St John Chrysostom: And the words of the Prophet allude to the manner of this Birth, as, “It shall be announced unto the Lord a generation which cometh, and they shall announce His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, whom the Lord hath made” (Ps 22:30 Ps 30:31 LXX).; and, “Thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle’s” (Ps 103:5 LXX).; and, “Shine, O Jerusalem; behold, Thy King cometh!” (Isa 60:1; Zechariah 9:9); and, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.” (Ps 32:1 LXX). Isaac also was a type of this Birth.

Isa 60:2  For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Isa 60:3  And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising.

The Gentiles will come to recognize the darkness in which they live and seek the light: And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go, and say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people: and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war (Isa 2:2-4).

St Paul is one of those from the Old Covenant upon whom the blinding glory of God’s light had arisen and enlightened (Acts 9:1-9). Having been made a light to the Gentiles, an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth (see Acts 13:44-49), he enlightened them with the gospel message, calling them to live in the light (Eph 5:6-20). In this way he fulfilled his duty as a Christian (Matt 5:14-16) and an Apostle:  And if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost, In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord: and ourselves your servants through Jesus. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor 4:3-6). By reflecting the light and glory of God upon others he turned them from the darkness of idolatry: you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. And to wait for his Son from heaven-whom he raised up from the dead-Jesus, who hath delivered us from the wrath to come (see 1 Thess 1:2-10), and as a result they became children of the light: But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief. For all you are the children of light and children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do: but let us watch, and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunk, are drunk in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, having on the breast plate of faith and charity and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us unto wrath: but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 5:4-9).

All of this was foreshadowed in the coming of the Magi to worship the newborn king of the Jews, who saw his star at its rising (see Matt 2:1-12). And this coming of the Magi was itself spoken of in an ancient oracle spoken by a pagan prophet: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Sheth (Num 24:17).

Isa 60:4  Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side.

St Cyril of Alexandria: All these are gathered together. Here we have the gospel message concerning the convocation of the nations, the synthesis of two peoples into the one Christ (Eph 2), the passing of the old law into worship in the Spirit. Behold! In Christ all is made new, the old has passed, and one new man has been created in the place of the two (Jew and Gentile), for he has made peace, and reconciled both to the Father in one body (see Eph 2:15-16).

St Jerome: Are not the words Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side, concerned with the Church which was gathered at Zion with the Apostles? For in the Acts of Apostles we read of holy people from all over the world being in Jerusalem and receiving the word of God.

Thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side.The coming of the dispersed of Israel is closely associated with the coming of the Gentiles.

St Cyril of Alexandria: The children of Zion are here not only Israelites by blood, but the people of every country and province who have come to the enlightenment of faith. Concerning this the wise man Paul speaks: For all are not Israelites that are of Israel. Neither are all they that are the seed of Abraham, children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is to say, not they that are the children of the flesh are the children of God: but they that are the children of the promise are accounted for the seed (Rom 9:6-8). And elsewhere he writes I have made thee a father of many nations (Rom 4:17, see Gen 17:5).

Isa 60:5  Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.
Isa 60:6  The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord.

Then thou shalt see. Not only will Jerusalem/Zion see her dispersed children returning, along with a multitude of Gentiles, she will also witness the coming of massive caravans laden with riches, gifts from worshipers offering praise (verse 6).

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My Notes on Isaiah 35:1-7

Posted by carmelcutthroat on December 15, 2012

Liturgical Note: This reading is the Second Lesson used for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite on December 22. The Gospel reading for the day is Luke 3:1-6 which introduces the Baptist’s mission in the desert and contains the declaration all flesh shall see the salvation of God. The First Lesson showed that even the inveterate historical enemies of God’s people, the Egyptians, would one day share in salvation (calling to mind aspects of the exodus). Here we see that the afflicted will also enjoy God’s saving action which is spoken of in terms reminiscent of the exodus.

Isa 35:1  The land that was parched and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily.
Isa 35:2  It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Lebanon is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Saron, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the beauty of our God.

God’s punishment in the last chapter was portrayed as making the natural beauty of enemy lands an ugly desert waste (Isa 34:4; Isa 34:9-11; Isa 34:13-15). Here God is portrayed as beautifying the desert for the sake of his people. Though not explicit, the return from exile may be in view here. Some see an allusion to the Garden of Eden.

Several Church Fathers saw the parched land as a figure of the soul without God or the grace of baptism.

St Gregory of Nyssa: And where shall we place that oracle of Isaiah, which cries to the wilderness, “Be glad, O thirsty wilderness: let the desert rejoice and blossom as a lily: and the desolate places of Jordan shall blossom and shall rejoice”? For it is clear that it is not to places without soul or sense that he proclaims the good tidings of joy: but he speaks, by the figure of the desert, of the soul that is parched and unadorned, even as David also, when he says, “My soul is unto Thee as a thirsty land” (Ps 143:6 LXX) and, “My soul is athirst for the mighty, for the living God” (see Ps 42:2).  So again the Lord says in the Gospels, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink” (Jn 7:37) and to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (Jn 4:13-14). And “the beauty of Carmel” is given to the soul that bears the likeness to the desert, that is, the grace bestowed through the Spirit. For since Elijah dwelt in Carmel, and the mountain became famous and renowned by the virtue of him who dwelt there, and since moreover John the Baptist, illustrious in the spirit of Elijah, sanctified the Jordan, therefore the prophet foretold that “the beauty of Carmel” should be given to the river. And “the glory of Lebanon,” from the similitude of its lofty trees, he transfers to the river. For as great Lebanon presents a sufficient cause of wonder in the very trees which it brings forth and nourishes, so is the Jordan glorified by regenerating men and planting them in the Paradise of God: and of them, as the words of the Psalmist say, ever blooming and bearing the foliage of virtues, “the leaf shall not wither” (Ps 1:4)and God shall be glad, receiving their fruit in due season, rejoicing, like a good planter, in his own works. And the inspired David, foretelling also the voice which the Father uttered from heaven upon the Son at His Baptism, that He might lead the hearers, who till then had looked upon that low estate of His Humanity which was perceptible by their senses, to the dignity of nature that belongs to the Godhead, wrote in his book that passage, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, the voice of the Lord in majesty” (Ps 29:3).  But here we must make an end of the testimonies from the Divine Scriptures: for the discourse would extend to an infinite length if one should seek to select every passage in detail, and set them forth in a single book.

Verse 2 in the LXX reads the deserts of the Jordan also bloom and blossom. This was interpreted by St Jerome and others in reference to the ministry of John the Baptist.

Eusebius of Caesarea: The prophet gives us what desert is meant in these words: The deserts of the Jordan also bloom and blossom.  Our Gospel confirms this for we read that John first proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom at the Jordan. The Mosaic legislation concerning worship in Jerusalem was to be no more, thus John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance and the need for washing and rebirth. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was baptized in the Jordan by John, thus indicating by his action the need of such things

Isa 35:3  Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. See Heb 12:12.
Isa 35:4  Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
Isa 35:5  Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Isa 35:6  Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.

Blind, deaf, lame. Jesus indicates that he is the promised Messiah by appealing to his healing of these afflictions: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them (Matt 11:4-5). Compare Isa 29:18-19 with Matt 9:27-34. Compare Isa 35:5-6 with Matt 8:5-18 and Matt 9:27-31. Compare Isa 61:1-3 with Matt 5:1-10.

Origen (I’m summarizing): One sees here a figure of those who convert and enter the Church. The dumb now speak the word of God. The lame leap like a hart (deer), for as the fleet deer is able to avoid danger, those who are endowed with grace can escape the venomous serpent. The blind become willing to see what those destined for wrath refuse to see: For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable (Rom 1:20).

Remigius (commenting on Matt 9:33): Observe the beautiful order of His miracles; how after He had given sight to the blind, He restored speech to the dumb, and healed the possessed of the daemon; by which He shews Himself the Lord of power, and the author of the heavenly medicine. For it was said by Isaiah, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, and the tongue of the dumb loosed” (Isa 35:6).

Isa 35:7  And that which was dry land, shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.

As already indicated, the Church Fathers saw the dry and thirsty land as a figure of the unbaptized soul, and the reversal of dry to wet as the transformation wrought in baptism.

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