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Ver. 2: "He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street."
The mute and humble condition of Jacob at Babylon, and under the Persians.
Ver. 3, 4: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail, nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law."
Whilst other nations are famous for magnificence or martial glory, the oppressed Jacob is distinguished for his mildness, innocence, and possession of the truth concerning God, which he will spread to other nations.
Ver. 5-8: "Thus saith God, the Lord. I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. I am the Lord; that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
This agrees with the description of Jacob in the preceding chapter, xli. 10-17. The 15th verse had represented him as a "new sharp instrument" to execute some purpose of the Lord concerning the heathen. This chapter shews the purpose to be the extirpation of the idols, and the diffusion of the knowledge of the Lord.
ye blind, that
Ver. 18: Hear ye deaf, and look Ye blind idolaters, see the light of the true religion of Israel.
ye may see."
Ver. 19: "Who is blind but my servant? or deaf as my messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord's servant ?"
Jacob himself is more blind than any of them, not to see the purpose of God concerning him through all his political vicissitudes, viz. that he is to be God's messenger to give light to the Gentiles.
Ver. 20: "Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.”
Although he gives light to others, he remains blind himself, for the nation does not generally recognize the said evident purpose of God.
Ver. 21: "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable."
Nevertheless, since Jacob has preserved his fidelity to God by maintaining his law delivered by Moses, the Lord will at last exalt him and the law amongst the nations.
Ver. 22: "But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore."
The anticipated objection of an opponent. How can it be true that God intends such great things for his people, when we see them robbed? &c.
Ver. 23, 24: "Who among you will give ear to this? Who will hearken and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways."
The writer's answer. The sufferings of Jacob in his seventy years' captivity are no disproof of God's special protection of him, but the contrary, for they were inflicted to turn the people from their sins.
Isaiah xliii. 10: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen."
Isaiah xliv. 2: "Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee, Fear not, Jacob, my servant, and thou Jesurun, whom I have chosen."
These, and many similar verses, shew that the servant spoken of continues to be Jacob or Israel. They shew also that the distinction between the people themselves and their emblematic representative Jacob is not always accurately preserved, but that the writer sometimes passes
loosely from one to the other; as is natural, from the difficulty of maintaining the figurative style through the whole of a long composition. A writer who should usually speak of the English nation under the names of Albion or Britannia, would be very apt sometimes to drop into the plainer style of the people of England, or Englishmen; and in a poetical composition he would be allowed to use the terms as synonymous, or to consider the individuals composing the nation as distinct from their collective representative, as suited his
Isaiah xlv. 1: "Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him. 3: I will give thee the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know, that I the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. 4: For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. 13: I have raised him in rightup eousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. xlvi. 9: I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done. 11: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country; yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass."
These passages shew that the book was originally put forth under the character of a prophecy. The elevation of the sentiments throughout the book is not incompatible with this kind of pious fraud, if such a name be applicable in this case; for prophecy was the favourite species of writing with the Jews, and their poets usually adopted it. Their God foresaw all things from the beginning. The description of events as contemplated by him in the future, presented a more vivid picture to the imagination than an historical narrative in the past tense. The writer believed that the Lord had decreed in his own councils the advent of Cyrus, and had even predetermined his name; and
the Lord is here poetically represented as announcing his decrees.
Isaiah xlix. 1: "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from afar."
Here begins a triumphant song of Jacob on account of the departure from Babylon, introduced by the preceding chapter.
Isaiah xlix. 3, 4: "(The Lord) said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God."
I, Jacob, seem still to have laboured in vain in keeping God's law, and to be without a reward; for, after all, I am poor, despised, subject to the Persians; and although restored to Palestine, yet only a small remnant compared with the numerous twelve tribes who formerly inhabited the land.
Isaiah xlix. 5: "And now saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength."
The Lord that formed me, Jacob his servant, saith, in order to bring me again to him, after such a long apparent estrangement from his favour at Babylon, Though the tribes of Israel be not all gathered into their land, yet I, Jacob, shall still be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, for he hath a higher purpose concerning me than to make me politically a great nation.
Isaiah xlix. 6: "And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved (or desolations) of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."
To restore thy tribes and kingdom to their former
greatness is but little, compared with the higher office to which thou, Jacob, art appointed, of giving light to the Gentiles.*
Isaiah xlix. 7: 66 Thus saith the Lord, the redeemer of Israel, and his holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation (Gentiles) abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee."
The despised Jacob shall at last receive homage from the princes of the earth, of which we see the beginning in the respect now paid to the Jewish nation by Cyrus. The despised one evidently means the Jewish nation, because nearly the same things are said of it ver. 21-23, under the name of Zion.
Isaiah 1.4: "The Lord hath given me the tongue of the learned." Grotius again supposes this and the following verses to refer to Isaiah, and Jerome says that the Jews understood them in this way. But on comparing ver. 7 with xli. 10, it seems more natural to consider Jacob the speaker.
Isaiah lii. 11, 12: "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence; touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. For ye shall not go with haste, nor go by flight."
A parallel passage to chap. xlviii. 20, "Go ye forth of
* Grotius, Rosenmüller, and others, suppose that Isaiah in the beginning of this chapter speaks of himself. But this interpretation also would require a very forced construction of some parts, and particularly of verse 3. Whereas the other interpretation, viz. that Jacob and the Lord are the only speakers, agrees well with the whole strain of the book, and the difficulty seems to be owing merely to the loose manner of using the pronouns in Hebrew, the first and third persons being frequently interchanged, of which there are many instances even in Josephus. See also Acts xvii. 2, 3. Grotius concludes that the reading in the text of ver. 5 is the true one, and not the marginal reading.