Isaiah 1 with John Calvin

May 9, 2008

These last few weeks, I have spent my morning time in the Word slowly reading through Isaiah 1 and reading Calvin’s Commentary on Isaiah. The more I read, the more I came to realize how wrathful God is against hypocrisy and against those who claim to be His and yet despise Him in their thoughts, words, and actions. Owning that I have not read Isaiah 1 in a long time, reading Calvin’s thoughts helped to reveal the emphatic nature of God’s anger towards Israel in their rebellion.

Since I need to be blogging a little more often, I thought it very convenient that I finished Isaiah 1 just the other day. So, I figured I could include a few excerpts of Calvin’s commentary. I hope that this will help you understand and grasp this great chapter of Scripture.


On Verse 5-The following words, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel, whether the word be rendered provoke, or despise, the latter of which I prefer, are undoubtedly added in order to place their sin in a still stronger light; for it was shamefully base to treat with contempt the favor of him who had chosen them alone out of all the nations to be adopted into his family. This is also the reason why he calls himself the Holy One of Israel; because, by admitting them to alliance with him, he had at the same time adorned them with his holiness; for wherever this name occurs it is ascribed to him on account of the effect. What barbarous pride was there in despising so great an honor! If any one choose rather to render the word provoke, the meaning will be, that they rejected God, as if they expressly intended to provoke his anger; which shows how detestable their apostasy is.

On Verse 22– All this means nothing more than that the Jews should lay aside hypocrisy, and should begin to confess their sins, and no longer flatter themselves after the manner of hypocrites. The comparisons here employed are exceedingly well adapted to this end, for dross bears some resemblance to gold; and in like manner, the color of wine mixed with water resembles that of pure wine; and yet both are very far from having that purity of which they make an outward show. In like manner hypocrites, by their hypocrisy, may be said to assume a false color of silver, though they are of no more value than dross, and indeed are the more detestable on this account, that, though they are exceedingly wicked, yet, with not less treachery than baseness, they present to God and to men those hollow pretensions by which they cloak their malice.

On Verse 18– Come now, and let us reason together.    ונוכחה (venivvakechah), and let us settle our dispute. — Bishop Stock. “Both of us, I and you, that we may ascertain which of us has committed an offense against the other; and if you have sinned against me, still I hope to convert you.” — Jarchi. The Hebrew word נא (na) is commonly translated I pray, or therefore; but I think that it denotes the confidence of a good cause, and thus is an exhortation, Come. For the Lord declares that the Jews will have nothing, to reply, and that, even though they obtain an opportunity of clearing themselves, they will still be speechless. And certainly this is the way in which hypocrites ought to be treated; for they boldly enter into disputes with God, and there is no end of their reasonings. Accordingly, he tells them that, if they choose to debate, he will be equally prepared on the other side.

The question will perhaps be put, Why does the Prophet speak chiefly about the second table of the law, and not rather about the worship of God? For we know that there were good reasons why God assigned the foremost place to the first table, when he divided the law; and there can be no doubt that, as it comes first in order, so it is likewise of greater importance. I reply, when the Prophets reprove the hypocrisy of men, they employ various modes of address. Sometimes they complain that the Sabbath has been profaned; sometimes they say that men do not call on God; but for the most part they censure idolatry, and raise their voice against superstitions. But here Isaiah complains that their duties towards their neighbors have not been performed.

Still in all these cases the object is the same, to show that our actions are of no value in the sight of God, when they do not proceed from a good conscience, and when we are destitute of the fear of God. This fear they sometimes denote by “calling on the name of God,” sometimes by “keeping the Sabbath,” and sometimes by other actions; but as the distinction between true worship and hypocrisy is most clearly and manifestly pointed out by means of the duties of brotherly kindness, there are good reasons why the mention of those duties is brought forward by Isaiah. For hypocrites are careful to perform outward worship and ceremonies; but inwardly they are full of envy, they swell with pride and contempt of the brethren, they burn with covetousness and ambition; and while they conceal themselves under those masks, they cannot easily be detected. They must, therefore, be tried by this rule, as by a touchstone, and thus it must be ascertained whether or not they fear God.

 

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