Isaiah 45

CHAPTER XLV

Prophecy concerning Cyrus, the first king of the Persians.

Every obstruction shall be removed out of his way, and the

treasures taken from his enemies shall be immense, 1-3,

To whom, and on what account, Cyrus was indebted for his

wonderful success, 4-6.

The prophet refutes the absurd opinion of the Persians, that

there were two supreme beings, an evil and a good one,

represented by light and darkness, here declared to be only the

operation of the ONE true God, 7;

and makes a transition to the still greater work of God

displayed in the dispensation of the Gospel, 8.

Great impiety of those who call in question the mysterious

providence of God towards his children, 9-12.

The remaining part of this chapter, interspersed with

strictures on the absurdity of idolatry and some allusions to

the dark lying oracles of the heathens, may partly refer to the

deliverance begun by Cyrus, but chiefly to the salvation by the

Messiah, which, it is declared, shall be of universal extent

and everlasting duration, 13-25.

NOTES ON CHAP. XLV

Verse 1. Loose the loins of kings-"ungird the loins of kings"]

See Clarke on Isa 5:27.

Xenophon gives the following list of the nations conquered by

Cyrus: the Syrians, Assyrians, Arabians, Cappadocians, both the

Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Phoenicians, Babylonians. He moreover

reigned over the Bactrians, Indians, Cilicians, the Sacae

Paphlagones, and Mariandyni.-Cyrop., lib. i. p. 4, Edit.

Hutchinson, Quarto. All these kingdoms he acknowledges, in his

decree for the restoration of the Jews, to have been given to him

by JEHOVAH, the God of heaven. Ezr 1:2.

To open before him the two leaved gates, &c.-"That I may open

before him the valves; and the gates shall not be shut"] The gates

of Babylon within the city leading from the streets to the river,

were providentially left open, when Cyrus's forces entered the

city in the night through the channel of the river, in the general

disorder occasioned by the great feast which was then celebrated;

otherwise, says Herodotus, i. 191, the Persians would have been

shut up in the bed of the river, and taken as in a net, and all

destroyed. And the gates of the palace were opened imprudently by

the king's orders, to inquire what was the cause of the tumult

without; when the two parties under Gobrias and Gadatas rushed in,

got possession of the palace, and slew the king.-XENOPH., Cyrop.

vii. p. 528.

Verse 2. The crooked places-"The mountains"] For hodurim,

crooked places, a word not easily accounted for in this place, the

Septuagint read hararim, ταορη, the mountains.

Two MSS. have hadarim, without the vau, which is

hardly distinguishable from the reading of the Septuagint. The

Divine protection that attended Cyrus, and rendered his expedition

against Babylon easy and prosperous is finely expressed by God's

going before him, and making the mountains level. The image is

highly poetical:-

At vos, qua veniet, tumidi subsidite montes,

Et faciles curvis vallibus este viae.

OVID, Amor. ii. 16.

"Let the lofty mountains fall down, and make level paths in the

crooked valleys."

The gates of brass-"The valves of brass"] Abydenus, apud, Euseb.

Praep. Evang. ix. 41, says, that the wall of Babylon had brazen

gates. And Herodotus, i., 179. more particularly: "In the wall all

round there are a hundred gates, all of brass; and so in like

manner are the sides and the lintels." The gates likewise within

the city, opening to the river from the several streets, were of

brass; as were those also of the temple of Belus.-Herod. i., 180,

181.

Verse 3. I will gave thee the treasures of darkness] Sardes and

Babylon, when taken by Cyrus, were the wealthiest cities in the

world. Croesus, celebrated beyond all the kings of that age for

his riches, gave up his treasures to Cyrus, with an exact account

in writing of the whole, containing the particulars with which

each wagon was loaded when they were carried away; and they were

delivered to Cyrus at the palace of Babylon.-Xenoph. Cyrop. lib.

vii. p. 503, 515, 540.

Pliny gives the following account of the wealth taken by Cyrus

in Asia. Jam Cyrus devicta Asia, pondo xxxiv. millia auri

invenerat; praeter vasa aurea, aurumque factum, et in eo folia, ac

platanum, vitemque. Qua victoria argenti quingenta millia

talentorum reportavit; et craterem Semiramidis, cuius pondus

quindecim talents colligebat. Talentum autem AEgyptium pondo lxxx.

patere l. capere Varro tradit.-Nat. Hist. xxxiii. 15. "When Cyrus

conquered Asia, he found thirty-four thousand pounds weight of

gold, besides golden vessels and articles in gold; and leaves,

(folia, perhaps solia, bathing vessels, Hol.,) a plane, and vine

tree, (of gold.) By which victory he carried away fifteen thousand

talents of silver; and the cup of Semiramis, the weight of which

was fifteen talents. The Egyptian talent, according to Varro, was

eighty pounds." This cup was the crater, or large vessel, out of

which they filled the drinking cups at great entertainments.

Evidently it could not be a drinking vessel, which, according to

what Varro and Pliny say, must have weighed 1,200 pounds!

The gold and silver estimated by weight in this account, being

converted into pounds sterling, amount to one hundred and

twenty-six millions two hundred and twenty-four thousand

pounds.-Brerewood, De Ponderibus, cap. x.

Treasures of darkness may refer to the custom of burying their

jewels and money under the ground in their house floors, fearing

robbers.

Verse 7. I form the light, and create darkness] It was the great

principle of the Magian religion, which prevailed in Persia in the

time of Cyrus, and in which probably he was educated, that there

are two supreme, co-eternal, and independent causes always acting

in opposition one to the other; one the author of all good, the

other of all evil. The good being they called LIGHT; the evil

being, DARKNESS. That when LIGHT had the ascendant, then good and

happiness prevailed among men; when DARKNESS had the

superiority, then evil and misery abounded. An opinion that

contradicts the clearest evidence of our reason, which plainly

leads us to the acknowledgment of one only Supreme Being,

infinitely good as well as powerful. With reference to this absurd

opinion, held by the person to whom this prophecy is addressed,

God, by his prophet, in the most significant terms, asserts his

omnipotence and absolute supremacy:-

"I am JEHOVAH, and none else;

Forming light, and creating darkness,

Making peace, and creating evil:

I JEHOVAH am the author of all these things."

Declaring that those powers whom the Persians held to be the

original authors of good and evil to mankind, representing them by

light and darkness, as their proper emblems, are no other than

creatures of God, the instruments which he employs in his

government of the world, ordained or permitted by him in order to

execute his wise and just decrees; and that there is no power,

either of good or evil, independent of the one supreme God,

infinite in power and in goodness.

There were, however, some among the Persians whose sentiments

were more moderate as to this matter; who held the evil principle

to be in some measure subordinate to the good; and that the former

would at length be wholly subdued by the latter. See Hyde, De

Relig. Vet. Pers. cap. xxii.

That this opinion prevailed among the Persians as early as the

time of Cyrus we may, I think, infer not only from this passage of

Isaiah, which has a manifest reference to it, but likewise from a

passage in Xenophon's Cyropaedia, where the same doctrine is

applied to the human mind. Araspes, a noble young Persian, had

fallen in love with the fair captive Panthea, committed to his

charge by Cyrus. After all his boasting that he was superior to

the assaults of that passion, he yielded so far to it as even to

threaten violence if she would not comply with his desires. Awed

by the reproof of Cyrus, fearing his displeasure, and having by

cool reflection recovered his reason; in his discourse with him on

this subject he says: "O Cyrus, I have certainly two souls; and

this piece of philosophy I have learned from that wicked sophist,

Love. For if I had but one soul, it would not be at the same time

good and evil, it would not at the same time approve of honourable

and base actions; and at once desire to do, and refuse to do, the

very same things. But it is plain that I am animated by two souls,

and when the good soul prevails, I do what is virtuous; and when

the evil one prevails, I attempt what is vicious. But now the good

soul prevails, having gotten you for her assistant, and has

clearly gained the superiority." Lib. vi. p. 424.

I make peace, and create evil] Evil is here evidently put for

war and its attendant miseries. I will procure peace for the

Israelites, and destroy Babylon by war. I form light, and create

darkness. Now, as darkness is only the privation of light, so the

evil of war is the privation of peace.

Verse 8. Drop down, ye heavens] The eighty-fifth psalm is a very

elegant ode on the same subject with this part of Isaiah's

prophecies, the restoration of Judah from captivity; and is, in

the most beautiful part of it, a manifest imitation of this

passage of the prophet:-

"Verily his salvation is nigh unto them that fear him,

That glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring from the earth,

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Even JEHOVAH: will give that which is good,

And our land shall yield her produce.

Righteousness shall go before him,

And shall direct his footsteps in the way."

Ps 85:9-13.

See the notes on these verses.

These images of the dew and the rain descending from heaven and

making the earth fruitful, employed by the prophet, and some of

those nearly of the same kind which are used by the psalmist, may

perhaps be primarily understood as designed to set forth in a

splendid manner the happy state of God's people restored to their

country, and flourishing in peace and plenty, in piety and virtue;

but justice and salvation, mercy and truth, righteousness and

peace, and glory dwelling in the land, cannot with any sort of

propriety, in the one or the other, be interpreted as the

consequences of that event; they must mean the blessings of the

great redemption by Messiah.

Let the earth open, &c.] Jonathan, in his Targum, refers this to

the resurrection of the dead; the earth shall be opened,

veyechon meiteiya, and the dead shall revive.

A plain proof that the ancient Jews believed in a future state,

and acknowledged the resurrection of the dead.

Let them bring forth salvation-"Let salvation produce her

fruit"] For vaiyiphru, the Septuagint, Vulgate, and

Syriac read vaiyiphrah; and one MS. has a rasure close

after the latter vau, which probably was he at first.

Verse 9. Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker-"To unto him

that contendeth with the power that formed him"] The prophet

answers or prevents the objections and cavils of the unbelieving

Jews, disposed to murmur against God, and to arraign the wisdom

and justice of his dispensations in regard to them; in permitting

them to be oppressed by their enemies, and in promising them

deliverance instead of preventing their captivity. St. Paul has

borrowed the image, and has applied it to the like purpose with

equal force and elegance: "Nay, but, O man! who art thou that

repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that

formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power

over the clay, out of the same lump to make one vessel to honour,

and another to dishonour?" Ro 9:20, 21. This is spoken says

Kimchi, against the king of Babylon, who insulted the Most High,

bringing forth the sacred vessels, drinking out of them, and

magnifying himself against God.

Or thy work, He hath no hands-"And to the workman, Thou hast no

hands"] The Syriac renders, as if he had read,

velo hayithi pheal yadeycha, "neither am I the work of thy

hands;" the Septuagint, as if they had read,

velo phaalta veeyn yaadim lecha, "neither hast thou made me; and

thou hast no hands." But the fault seems to be in the

transposition of the two pronouns; for uphoolcha, read

uphoolo: and for lo, read lecha. So Houbigant

corrects it; reading also uphoolo; which last correction

seems not altogether necessary. The Septuagint, in MSS. Pachom.

and I. D. II. have it thus, καιτοεργονουκεχειςχειρας, which

favours the reading here proposed.

Verse 11. Ask me of things to come-"And he that formeth the

things which are to come"] I read veyotser, without the

vau suffixed; from the Septuagint, who join it in construction

with the following word, οποιησαςταεπερχομενα.

"Do ye question me."- tishaluni, Chald. recte; praecedit

tau; et sic forte legerunt reliqui Intt.-Secker. "The Chaldee

has, more properly, tishaluni, with a tau

preceding; and thus the other interpreters probably read." The

learned bishop therefore reads the passage thus:-

"Thus saith Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel;

And he that formeth the things which are to come;

Do ye question me concerning my children?

And do ye give me directions concerning the work

of my hands?"

Verse 13. I have raised him up] This evidently refers to Cyrus,

and to what he did for the Jews; and informs us by whom he was

excited to do it.

Verse 14. The labour of Egypt-"The wealth of Egypt"] This seems

to relate to the future admission of the Gentiles into the Church

of God. Compare Ps 68:32; 72:10; Isa 60:6-9. And perhaps these

particular nations may be named, by a metonymy common in all

poetry, for powerful and wealthy nations in general.

See Clarke on Isa 60:1.

The Sabeans, men of stature-"The Sabeans, tall of stature"] That

the Sabeans were of a more majestic appearance than common, is

particularly remarked by Agatharchides, an ancient Greek historian

quoted by Bochart, Phaleg, ii. 26, τασωματαεστιτωνκατοικουντων

αξιολογωτερα. So also the Septuagint understand it, rendering it

ανδρεςυψηλοι, "tall men." And the same phrase, anshey

middah, is used for persons of extraordinary stature, Nu 13:32,

and 1Ch 20:6.

They shall make supplication unto thee-"They shall in suppliant

guise address thee"] The conjunction vau is supplied by the

ancient Versions, and confirmed by fifteen MSS. of Kennicott's,

(seven ancient,) thirteen of De Rossi's, and six editions,

veelayich. Three MSS. (two ancient) omit the vau

before elayich at the beginning of the line.

Verse 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself] At present,

from the nations of the world.

O God of Israel, the Saviour] While thou revealest thyself to

the Israelites and savest them.

Verse 16. They shall be ashamed-"They are ashamed"] The reader

cannot but observe the sudden transition from the solemn adoration

of the secret and mysterious nature of God's counsels in regard to

his people, to the spirited denunciation of the confusion of

idolaters, and the final destruction of idolatry; contrasted with

the salvation of Israel, not from temporal captivity, but the

eternal salvation by the Messiah, strongly marked by the

repetition and augmentation of the phrase, to the ages of

eternity. But there is not only a sudden change in the

sentiment, the change is equally observable in the construction of

the sentences; which from the usual short measure, runs out at

once into two distichs of the longer sort of verse. See Prelim.

Dissert. p. 66, &c. There is another instance of the same kind and

very like to this, of a sudden transition in regard both to the

sentiment and construction in Isa 42:17.

"His adversaries"] This line, to the great diminution of the

beauty of the distich, is imperfect in the present text: the

subject of the proposition is not particularly expressed, as it is

in the line following. The version of the Septuagint happily

supplies the word that is lost: οιαντικειμενοιαυτω, "his

adversaries," the original word was tsaraiv.-L.

Verse 18. He formed it to be inhabited-"For he formed it to be

inhabited"] An ancient MS. has ki before lashebeth;

and so the ancient Versions.

Verse 19. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the

earth] In opposition to the manner in which the heathen oracles

gave their answers, which were generally delivered from some deep

and obscure cavern. Such was the seat of the Cumean Sybil:-

Excisum Euboicae latus ingens rupis in antrum.

VIRG. AEn. vi. 42.

"A cave cut in the side of a huge rock."

Such was that of the famous oracle at Delphi; of which, says

Strabo, lib. ix., φασιδειναιτομαντειοναντρονκοιλονμετα

βαθουςουμαλαευρυστομον. "The oracle is said to be a hollow

cavern of considerable depth, with an opening not very wide." And

Diodorus, giving an account of the origin of this oracle, says

"that there was in that place a great chasm or cleft in the earth;

in which very place is now situated what is called the Adytum of

the temple." αδυτονσπηλαιονητοαποκρυφονμεροςτουιερου.

Hesych. "Adytum means a cavern, or the hidden part of the

temple."

I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are

right-"I am JEHOVAH, who speak truth, who give direct answers."]

This also is said in opposition to the false and ambiguous answers

given by the heathen oracles, of which there are many noted

examples; none more so than that of the answer given to Croesus

when he marched against Cyrus, which piece of history has some

connexion with this part of Isaiah's prophecies. Let us hear

Cicero's account of the Delphic answers in general, and of this in

particular: Sed jam ad te venio,

O sancte Apollo, qui umbilicum certum terrarum obsides,

Unde superstitiosa primum saeva evasit vox fera.

Tuis enim oraculis Chrysippus totum volumen implevit, partim

falsis, ut ego opinor; partim casu veris, ut fit in omni oratione

saepissime; partim flexiloquis et obscuris, ut interpres egeat

interprete, et sors ipsa ad sortes referenda sit; partim ambiguis,

et quae ad dialecticum deferenda sint. Nam cum sors illa edita est

opulentissimo regi Asiea,

Croesus Halym penetrans magnam pervertet opum vim: hostium vim

sese perversurum putavit; pervertit autem suam. Utrum igitur eorum

accidisset, verum oraculum fuisset. De Divinat. ii. 56.

Mountainous countries, and those which abounded in chasms, caves,

and grottos, were the places in which oracles were most frequent.

The horror and gloom inspired by such places were useful to the

lying priests in their system of deception. The terms in which

those oracles were conceived, (they were always ambiguous, or

equivocal, or false, or illusory,) sometimes the turn of a phrase,

or a peculiarity in idiom or construction which might be turned

pro or con, contained the essence of the oracular declaration.

Sometimes, in the multitude of guesses, one turned out to be true;

at other times, so equivocal was the oracle, that, however the

thing fell out, the declaration could be interpreted in that way,

as in the above to Croesus, from the oracle at Delphi, which was:

If Croesus march against Cyrus, he shall overthrow a great

empire: he, supposing that this promised him success, fought, and

lost his own, while he expected to destroy that of his enemy. Here

the quack demon took refuge in his designed ambiguity. He

predicted the destruction of a great empire, but did not say which

it was; and therefore he was safe, howsoever the case fell out.

Not one of the predictions of God's prophets is conceived in this

way.

Verse 21. Bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together]

For yoatsu or yivvaatsu, let them consult, the Septuagint

read yedau, let them know: but an ancient MS. has

yoedu, let them come together by appointment; which may probably

be the true reading.

Verse 22. Look unto me, and be ye saved, &c.] This verse and the

following contain a plain prediction of the universal spread of

the knowledge of God through Christ; and so the Targum appears to

have understood it; see Ro 14:11; Php 2:10. The reading of the

Targum is remarkable, viz., ithpeno lemeymri, look

to my WORD, ολογος, the Lord Jesus.

Verse 23. I have sworn by myself] bemeymri, by my WORD:

and the word- pithyam, or saying, to distinguish it from

the personal substantial WORD meymra, mentioned before. See the

Targum.

The word is gone out of my mouth-"Truth is gone forth from my

mouth; the word"] So the Septuagint distinguish the members of the

sentence, preserving the elegance of the construction and the

clearness of the sense.

Verse 24. Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I

righteousness and strength-"Saying, Only to JEHOVAH belongeth

salvation and power"] A MS. omits li, unto me; and instead of

li amar, he said or shall say unto me, the Septuagint

read, in the copy which they used, lemor, saying. For

yabo, HE shall come, in the singular, twelve MSS. (three

ancient) read yabeu, plural; and a letter is erased at the

end of the word in two others: and so the Alexandrine copy of the

Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate read it. For tsedakoth

plural, two MSS. read tsidkath, singular; and so the

Septuagint, Syriac, and Chaldee.

Probably these are the words of Cyrus, who acknowledged that all

his success came from Jehovah. And this sentiment is in effect

contained in his decree or proclamation, Ezr 1:2: "Thus saith

Cyrus, king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all

the kingdoms of the earth," &c.

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