Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 59

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3298. B.C. 706.

The foregoing chapter contained a severe reproof of the Jews, and, as some think, also of fallen Christians, for their hypocrisy in pretending to make themselves accepted with God by fasting and outward humiliation, without true repentance; while they still continued to oppress the poor, and to indulge their own passions and vices: with great promises, however, of God’s favour, on condition of their reformation. This chapter contains a more general reproof of their wickedness.

(1,) They are charged with obstructing God’s favours to themselves by their iniquities; their vain and mischievous devices; their lying and deceit; their bloodshed, violence, and injustice, Isaiah 59:1-8 .

(2,) The prophet makes, in their names, an ample confession of their sins, and deplores their wretched state in consequence of them, Isaiah 59:9-15 .

(3,) God is represented as appearing, in judgment and mercy, for the rescue of his people from this miserable condition, and that for his own name’s sake, Isaiah 59:16-19 .

(4,) The coming of the Redeemer is promised, to convert both Jews and Gentiles to himself, and to give them a new covenant and law, which shall never be abolished, Isaiah 59:20 , Isaiah 59:21 . “As the chapter,” says Bishop Lowth, “is remarkable for the beauty, strength, and variety of the images with which it abounds, so is it peculiarly distinguished by the elegance of the composition, and the exact construction of the sentences.”

Verses 1-2

Isaiah 59:1-2. Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened He is not grown weaker than informer times, but is as omnipotent as ever he was; neither his ear heavy Or dull of hearing: he is not like your idol gods, that have hands and cannot help, and ears and cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated Have been as a thick wall, between you and your God And have set him at a distance from you, Proverbs 15:29. “The reason of the continuance of your calamities is not any want either of power in God to deliver you, or of goodness to hear your prayers: but your own iniquities make him a stranger to you, interrupt the correspondence that used to be between God and his people, and stop the course of his blessings.” Lowth.

Verse 3

Isaiah 59:3 . Your hands are defiled with blood Here the prophet proceeds from a more general to a more particular charge against them. By blood, we are to understand, either murders and bloodshed, properly so called, or ways of injustice, extortion, oppression, and cruelties, whereby men are deprived of a livelihood: hence, hating our brother is called murder, 1 John 3:15, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem murderers, Isaiah 1:21. And your fingers with iniquity This is added to aggravate their sin; as if he had said, Not only your hands, but your fingers are defiled, and not the least part of you is free from injustice. Your lips have spoken lies Not only properly so called, but perjuries, slanders, and false accusations: you have not only offered violence to your neighbours by your hands, but circumvented them by your lips. Your tongue hath muttered perverseness Perverse words, or such as were contrary to God’s word and will. When they could not, for shame, utter their malice against their neighbours aloud, nor dared to do it for fear of being convicted of falsehood, and put to confusion, they muttered it secretly.

Verse 4

Isaiah 59:4. None calleth for justice None seek to redress these wrongs and violences; they commit all rapines and frauds with impunity; they trust in vanity In vain and empty words, void of all consistency; or, in vain things, such as their idols were, often called vanity and nothing, 1 Corinthians 8:4; or in their own power, craft, and policy, whereby, laying aside justice, they oppressed others. And speak lies This may refer to the judges, lawyers, and false prophets, who told them they should not go into captivity; as if he had said, They speak that which they know to be false. They conceive mischief and bring forth, &c. These two words, conceiving and bringing forth, denote the whole contriving and perfecting of their wickedness.

Verses 5-6

Isaiah 59:5-6. They hatch cockatrice’ eggs They contrive and execute wicked purposes and practices, whereby sure and sudden destruction is brought upon themselves and others. Of the cockatrice, or basilisk, as it should rather be rendered, see on Isaiah 14:29. One kind is put for any venomous creature. The speech is proverbial, signifying, by these eggs, mischievous designs, and by hatching them their putting them in practice. And weave the spider’s web Another proverbial speech, whereby is signified, both how by their plots they weaved nets, laid snares industriously with great pains and artifice, to entrap or entangle others; and also how their designs would come to nothing, as the spider’s web is soon swept away. He that eateth of their eggs That converses and joins with them in their mischievous designs, and partakes of the fruits thereof; dieth Is seduced into destructive errors and vices, or involved in ruin. And that which is crushed In order that it may be eaten; breaketh out into a viper A poisonous viper proceeds from it. The more any one partakes of their counsels, the more he is infected, such a deadly poison lies imbodied in them. Their webs shall not become garments Though they are finely wrought, yet they are too thin and weak to be of any use; that is, their contrivances and deep designs shall not advantage them. Neither shall they cover themselves, &c. Their works shall neither cover nor defend the actors. Their works are works of iniquity Of injustice, whereby they grieve, vex, and injure their brethren. And the act of violence is in their hands They exercise themselves in all acts of violence and oppression.

Verses 7-8

Isaiah 59:7-8. Their feet run to evil This seems to be taken from Proverbs 1:16; where see the note. He had spoken of their hands, fingers, lips, tongues, &c., before, and now he speaks of their feet, to show that they were wholly set upon mischief. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity Their minds and hearts are wholly set upon committing wickedness, and doing injuries: they not only do evil, but do it deliberately. Wasting and destruction are in their paths In what way or work soever they are engaged, it all tends to ruin and destruction. It is a metaphor taken from an overspreading torrent, or sweeping plague, or from beasts of prey, that tear and devour whatever comes in their way. The way of peace they know not They live in continual contentions and discords, and break in pieces the very bonds of society. And there is no judgment No justice, equity, faith, or integrity, which are the foundation of judgment; in their goings In their conduct or actions. They have made them crooked paths They have turned aside from the way of God’s commandments, which are a plain and straight way, into the crooked and winding paths of craft, subtlety, and selfishness. Whosoever goeth therein shall know no peace Shall experience none. Whosoever shall do as they do, and be turbulent and perverse as they are, will have as little peace within, or happiness without, as they have.

Verses 9-11

Isaiah 59:9-11. Therefore is judgment far from us Because we have no regard for justice or honesty, God will not plead our cause against our oppressors; neither doth justice overtake us He does not defend our rights, nor avenge our wrongs; as if he had said, If we had executed judgment and equity among one another, they would not now have been far from us. We wait for light In what sense the Hebrews use the terms light and darkness, see before, on Isaiah 58:8; Isaiah 58:10. But behold obscurity We are in a state of such thick darkness, that, which way soever we look, we see no hope of deliverance. We grope for the wall like the blind As a blind man, that hath no other means of perceiving and distinguishing objects than his hands, feels for the wall, from whence he expects either direction or a resting-place to lean on; so we expect salvation, as it were, blindfold, not taking direction from the prophets, but hoping to obtain it by our cries and fasts, though we continue in our sins; and therefore may be well said to grope after it. And, or rather, yea, we grope as if we had no eyes As if we were stark blind; we stumble at noon-day This denotes their exceeding blindness, as a man must needs be exceedingly blind who can discern no more at noon-day than if it were midnight. We are in desolate places as dead men He compares their calamitous state to that of men dead, without hope of restoration. We roar like bears, &c. Thus he expresses the greatness of their anguish, which forced from them loud outcries and sorrowful lamentations. We look for judgment, &c. See note on Isaiah 59:9.

Verses 12-13

Isaiah 59:12-13. For our transgressions The word פשׁעונו , here used, signifies sins of a high nature, namely, such as were wilfully committed against light and knowledge; rebellious sins. Are multiplied before thee They admit of no excuse; for they are committed before thee, and multiplied against thee, whereby thou art justly provoked to deny us all help. And our sins testify against us The sins charged upon us are so many witnesses produced to prove our guilt. For our transgressions are with us Are still unforgiven, and we lie under the divine wrath on account of them. As for our iniquities, we know them We are convinced of them. In transgressing and lying, &c. He now enumerates some of those particular sins which they profess themselves to be convinced of; by which he does not mean the sins of some particular persons, or some slight sins, but a general defection and corruption of the whole body. Transgressing here, and lying, seem to be one and the same thing, inasmuch as in their transgressing the law of God, they broke their solemn engagement to God, made upon mount Sinai. Departing away from God Turning from God to idols. Speaking oppression, &c. As it were, talking of little else one among another, but how to oppress their neighbours, and apostatize from God. Conceiving and uttering That is, first contriving in their hearts false accusations against their neighbours, and false worship, to the dishonour of God; laying the contrivances so that they might be effectual, and then uttering them; from the heart And when they dealt with men in ways of fraud, it was from the heart; but when they spake with God, it was but from the lips.

Verses 14-15

Isaiah 59:14-15. And judgment is turned away backward He speaks here of the sentences in courts of judicature, which were contrary to right and justice; as if he had said, God denies you justice, as you have denied it to others. And justice standeth afar off Justice and judges are at a great distance from each other; for truth is fallen Truth is cast to the ground, and justice trampled under foot; in the street Even in public. And equity cannot enter No such thing will be admitted in the courts. Yea, truth faileth Truth is more than fallen, which he had said in the last verse; it faileth. If it had been only fallen, it might have recovered itself again: but its failing denotes the loss of its very vitals; as being everywhere neglected, in the court, in the city, in the country; in inferior as well as superior ranks; in the streets, in the gates, in the markets, in the fairs; in all public places of commerce: as if he had said, All things are amiss; neither judgment, nor justice, nor truth is to be found among us; but fraud and deceit; yet none are troubled on account of it. And he that departeth from evil That separateth himself from evil things and evil persons, that will not be as vile as others; maketh himself a prey Or, as משׁתולל is rendered in the margin, is accounted mad; is laughed at. Josephus tells us, that immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem, it was a matter of scorn to be religious. The translators reach the meaning of the word by prey: the wicked, like wild beasts, endeavouring to devour such as are not as bad as themselves: where wickedness rules, innocence is oppressed. For they that are simple and innocent are outwitted by the crafty and fraudulent, as not being willing, or rather, not daring to oppose fraud with fraud, but doing all things in sincerity. And the Lord saw it Took notice of it; it was not hid from him. It is spoken of God after the manner of men. And it displeased him, &c. As if he had said, If you would know why God is so angry with you, it is for such things as these; the Lord observes them, and they are great evils in his eyes.

Verse 16

Isaiah 59:16. And he saw there was no man Namely, to intercede, which is understood from the following words; or no man to help in such a case, and to appear in the behalf of equity. See Ezekiel 22:30. And wondered Hebrew, וישׁתומם , was amazed, or astonished, an expression which denotes both God’s solicitude about their condition, and their stupidity, in not laying it to heart themselves, especially considering that they had been a people well instructed, and yet, when under the guilt of such gross sins, should be no more solicitous to obtain pardon. Therefore, or, yet, his arm brought salvation unto him That is, to his people; and his righteousness it sustained him His justice; seeing there could be no justice found among them, he would avenge the innocent himself. Since magistrates and societies for the reformation of manners fail of doing their part, the one will not do justice, nor the other call for it, God will let them know he can effect it without them, and thus prepare his people for mercy. And then the work of deliverance shall be wrought by the immediate influence of the divine grace on men’s spirits, and of the divine providence on their affairs. When God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, and brought his people out of Babylon, not by human wisdom nor power, but by the Spirit of the Lord, then his own arm brought salvation to them, which arm is not shortened now.

Verses 17-18

Isaiah 59:17-18. For he put on righteousness as a breast-plate God, resolving to appear as a man of war, puts on his armour; he calls righteousness his breast-plate, to show the justness of his cause, as also his faithfulness in making good his promises. And a helmet of salvation upon his head As the breast-plate is to defend the heart, whereby God signifies the justness of his cause, and his faithfulness; so the helmet is to defend the head, the fountain of knowledge and wisdom, and therefore by this piece of armour God would have us to know that he can neither be deceived nor disappointed with regard to the execution of his designs, for the salvation of his faithful and obedient people; but will, without fail, carry them into effect. And he put on the garments of vengeance Or garments made of vengeance: as God is said to put on the former for their sakes whom he would preserve, so he puts on these for their sakes whom he will destroy, namely, his people’s enemies. Was clad with zeal For his own honour, and for his people’s welfare. The sum of all these expressions is, to describe both the cause and effect together; the cause was righteousness and zeal in God; the effect, salvation to his people, and vengeance on his enemies. According to their deeds Hebrew, גמלות , recompenses, or deserts. That is, he will recompense his adversaries with those effects of his fury that they have deserved. To the islands he will repay recompense He will execute judgment on his enemies to the most remote parts of the earth.

Verse 19

Isaiah 59:19 . So shall they fear the name of the Lord Worship the Lord; from the west The western parts of the world. And his glory The glorious God; from the rising of the sun The eastern parts. The sum is, the whole world shall fear and worship God, and make his name renowned, laying aside their idolatries: and it may be referred, 1st, To the deliverance of God’s people out of Babylon: men shall reverence and adore him when they shall hear how he hath delivered his people, and executed vengeance on their enemies. Or, 2d, To the redemption by Christ, and the calling of the Gentiles. See Malachi 1:11. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, &c. When nothing seems able to withstand the enemies of God’s church, but they carry all before them as a flood overruns a country, then God himself shall give them a remarkable check, and visibly interpose in behalf of his oppressed people. The prophet, however, may be understood as speaking of Satan, the grand enemy of God’s church, and as signifying that at what time soever he or his instruments should make violent attacks on God’s people, and should endeavour to bear down all before them, by an inundation of infidelity, impiety, and wickedness; the Spirit of God would lift up his standard, and call together his armies, to oppose these enemies’ progress, and subvert their cause. “There can be no doubt,” says Mr. Scott, “but the grand accomplishment of this prophecy is future: and as they, among whom iniquity so abounded, antecedent to this happy change, are spoken of as the professed people of God, and are not accused of idolatry, and as the Lord is represented as wondering that there was no intercessor among them, it is more natural to interpret it of corrupt and degenerate Protestants, than either of the Jews, who are avowed enemies to Christianity, or of Papists, who retain the worship of images, saints, and angels.”

Verses 20-21

Isaiah 59:20-21. And, or, moreover, the Redeemer shall come to Zion To Jerusalem, or to his church, often signified by Zion, namely, Christ shall come, of whom the apostle expounds it, Romans 11:26; the prophets usually concluding their promises of temporal deliverances with the promises of spiritual, especially such, of which the temporal were evident types. And unto them that turn from transgression, &c. As he will come in the flesh, and tabernacle among his people; so he will come, by his Spirit, to those of them who turn from their sins unto God, (see John 14:15-23,) and will dwell in their hearts, (Ephesians 3:17,) so that they shall have Christ in them, the hope of glory, Colossians 1:27; Christ living in them, Galatians 2:20. This is my covenant with them What I have promised to them that turn from their iniquities. My Spirit that is upon thee Namely, upon Christ: see Isaiah 11:1-3. The Spirit promised to the church was first upon him, and from him, the head, that precious ointment descends to the skirts of his garments. And my word that I have put into thy mouth Which thou hast uttered by virtue of my Spirit; shall not depart out of thy mouth But thou shalt continue to be the Word made flesh, the wisdom of God incarnate, the great teacher of thy people, and the light of the world, till the consummation of all things. Nor out of the mouth of thy seed, &c. But it shall dwell richly in them in all wisdom, capacitating them to teach, admonish, reprove, rebuke, exhort, and comfort one another, speaking with grace in their hearts: from henceforth and for ever Always, even unto the end of the world; for the world being permitted to stand for the sake of the church, we may be sure that as long as it doth stand, Christ will have a church in it. Upon the whole, the meaning of this promise is, that God will give and continue his word and Spirit to his people, throughout all generations. 1st, There shall be some in every age, in whose hearts he will work, and in whom he will dwell, and thus the Comforter shall abide with the church for ever, John 14:16. 2d, The word of Christ shall always continue in the mouths of the faithful, that is, there shall be some in every age who, believing with the heart unto righteousness, shall, with the tongue, make confession unto salvation: and there shall still be a seed to speak Christ’s holy language, and profess his holy religion. Observe well, reader, the Spirit and the word go together, and by them the church is upheld. The word in the mouths of our ministers, nay, in our own mouths, will not profit us, unless the Spirit work with the word, and give it efficacy to enlighten, quicken, renew, and comfort us. The Spirit, however, doth his work by the word, and in concurrence with it; and whatever is pretended to be a dictate of the Spirit must be tried by the Scriptures. On this foundation the church is built, stands firm, and shall stand for ever; Christ himself being the chief corner- stone.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". Benson's Commentary. 1857.