on Isaiah 40 :6
The voice saint Cry "A voice saith Proclaim" - To understand rightly this passage is a matter of importance; for it seems designed to give us the true key to the remaining part of Isaiah's prophecies, the general subject of which is the restoration of the people and Church of God. The prophet opens the subject with great clearness and elegance: he declares at once God's command to his messengers, (his prophets, as the Chaldee rightly explains it), to comfort his people in captivity, to impart to them the joyful tidings, that their punishment has now satisfied the Divine justice, and the time of reconciliation and favor is at hand. He then introduces a harbinger giving orders to prepare the way for God, leading his people from Babylon, as he did formerly from Egypt, through the wilderness, to remove all obstacles, and to clear the way for their passage.
Thus far nothing more appears to be intended than a return from the Babylonish captivity; but the next words seem to intimate something much greater: -
"And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed;
And all flesh shall see together the salvation of our God."
He then introduces a voice commanding him to make a solemn proclamation. And what is the import of it? that the people - the flesh, is of a vain temporary nature; that all its glory fadeth, and is soon gone; but that the word of God endureth for ever. What is this, but a plain opposition of the flesh to the spirit; of the carnal Israel to the spiritual; of the temporary Mosaic economy to the eternal Christian dispensation? You may be ready to conclude, (the prophet may be disposed to say), by this introduction to my discourse, that my commission is only to comfort you with a promise of the restoration of your religion and polity, of Jerusalem, of the temple, and its services and worship in all its ancient splendor. These are earthly, temporary, shadowy, fading things, which shall soon pass away, and be destroyed for ever; these are not worthy to engage your attention in comparison of the greater blessings, the spiritual redemption, the eternal inheritance, covered under the veil of the former, which I have it in charge to unfold unto you. The law has only a shadow of good things; the substance is the Gospel. I promise you a restoration of the former, which, however, is only for a time, and shall be done away, according to God's original appointment: but under that image I give you a view of the latter, which shall never be done away, but shall endure for ever. This I take to be agreeable to St. Peter's interpretation of this passage of the prophet, quoted by him, 1 Peter 1:24, 1 Peter 1:25 : "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." This is the same word of the Lord of which Isaiah speaks, which hath now been preached unto you by the Gospel. The law and the Gospel are frequently opposed to one another by St. Paul, under the images of flesh and spirit: "Having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Galatians 3:3. - L.
All the Godliness thereof - "All its glory" - For חסדו chasdo read חדו chadu; the Septuagint and Vulgate, and 1 Peter 1:24.
on Isaiah 40 :6
The voice said - Or rather 'a voice.' Isaiah represents himself here again as hearing a voice. The word 'the' introduced in our translation, mars the sense, inasmuch as it leads to the supposition that it was the voice of the same person or crier referred to in Isaiah 40:3. But it is different. That was the voice of a crier or herald, proclaiming that a way was to be open in the desert. This is introduced for a different purpose. It is to proclaim distinctly that while everything else was fading and transitory, the promise of God was firm and secure. Isaiah therefore, represents himself as hearing a voice requiring the prophets (so the Chaldee) to make a proclamation. An inquiry was at once made, What should be the nature of the proclamation? The answer was, that all flesh was grass, etc. He had Isaiah 40:3-5 introduced a herald announcing that the way was to be prepared for their return. He now introduces another voice with a distinct message to the people, that God was faithful, and that his promises would not fail. A voice, a command is heard, requiring those whose duty it was, to make proclamation. The voice of God; the Spirit speaking to the prophets, commanded them to cry.
And he said - Lowth and Noyes read this, 'And I said.' The Septuagint and the Vulgate read it also in this manner, in the first person. Two manuscripts examined by Kennicott also read it in the first person. Houbigant, Hensler, and Doderlin adopt this reading. But the authority is not sufficient to justify a change in the Hebrew text. The Syriac and Chaldee read it as it is in the present Hebrew text, in the third person. The sense is, that the person, or prophet to whom the command came to make proclamation, made answer, 'What shall be the nature of my proclamation?' It is equivalent to saying, 'It was answered;' or if Isaiah is the person to whom the voice is represented as coming, it means that he answered; and is, therefore, equivalent to the reading in the Septuagint and Vulgate, and adopted by Lowth. This is the probable supposition, that Isaiah represents himself as hearing the voice, and as expressing a willingness to make proclamation, but as waiting to know what he was to proclaim.
All flesh - This is the answer; or this is what he was to proclaim. The general design or scope of the answer was, that he was to proclaim that the promise of Yahweh was secure and firm Isaiah 40:8, and that therefore God would certainly come to deliver them. To make this more impressive by way of contrast, he states that all people are weak and feeble like the grass that is soon withered. The expression does not refer particularly to the Jews in Babylon, or to any single nation or class of people, but to all people, in all places, and at all times. All princes, nobles, and monarchs; all armies and magistrates are like grass, and will soon pass away. On the one hand, they would be unable to accomplish what was needful to be done in the deliverance of the people; and on the other, their oppressors had no power to continue their bondage, since they were like grass, and must soon pass away. But Yahweh was ever-enduring, and was able to fulfill all his purposes.
Is grass - It is as feeble, weak, and as easily consumed as the grass of the field. A similar sentiment is found in Psalm 103:15-16 :
As for man, his days are as grass;
As a flower of the field so he flourisheth;
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone,
And the place thereof shall know it no more.
See also James 1:10-11. The passage in Isaiah is evidently quoted by Peter, 1 Peter 1:24-25 : 'All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth forever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you' - a passage which proves that Isaiah had reference to the times of the Messiah in the place before us.
And all the goodliness thereof - The word rendered 'goodliness' (חסד chesed) denotes properly, kindness, love, goodwill, mercy, favor. Here it is evidently used in the sense of elegance, comeliness, beauty. The Septuagint renders it: δόξα doxa, and so does Peter 1 Peter 1:24. Applied to grass, or to herbs, it denotes the flower, the beauty, the comeliness. Applied to man, it means that which makes him comely and vigorous - health, energy, beauty, talent, wisdom. His vigor is soon gone; his beauty fades; his wisdom ceases; and he falls, like the flower, to the dust. The idea is, that the plans of man must be temporary; that all that appears great in him must be like the flower of the field; but that Yahweh endures, and his plans reach from age to age, and will certainly be accomplished. This important truth was to be proclaimed, that the people might be induced not to trust in man, but put their confidence in the arm of God.
on Isaiah 40 :6