The prophet in these verses looks back upon what God had done with them, both in mercy and judgment, and sings unto God of both, and then looks forward upon what he hoped God would do for them. Observe,
I. His reviews and reflections are mixed. When he looks back upon the state of the church he finds,
1. That God had in many instances been very gracious to them and had done great things for them. (1.) In general (Isa. 26:12): Thou hast wrought all our works in us, or for us. Whatever good work is done by us, it is owing to a good work wrought by the grace of God in us; it is he that puts good thoughts and affections into our hearts if at any time they be there, and that works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Acti, agimus—Being acted upon, we act. And if any kindness be shown us, or any of our affairs be prosperous and successful, it is God that works it for us. Every creature, every business, that is in any way serviceable to our comfort, is made by him to be so; and sometimes he makes that to work for us which seemed to make against us. (2.) In particular (Isa. 26:15): “Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord! so that a little one has become a thousand (in Egypt they multiplied exceedingly, and afterwards in Canaan, so that they filled the land); and in this thou art glorified,” for the multitude of the people is the honour of the prince, and therein God was glorified as faithful to his covenant with Abraham, that he would make him a father of many nations. Note, God’s nation is a growing nation, and it is the glory of God that it is so. The increase of the church, that holy nation, is therefore to be rejoiced in because it is the increase of those that make it their business to glorify God in this world.
2. That yet he had laid them under his rebukes.
(1.) The neighbouring nations had sometimes oppressed them and tyrannised over them (Isa. 26:13): “O Lord our God! thou who hast the sole right to rule us, whose subjects and servants we are, to thee we complain (for whither else should we go with our complaints?) that other lords besides thee have had dominion over us.” Not only in the days of the Judges, but afterwards, God frequently sold them into the hand of their enemies, or rather, by their iniquities, they sold themselves, Isa. 52:3-5. When they had been careless in the service of God, God suffered their enemies to have dominion over them, that they might know the difference between his service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries. It may be understood as a confession of sin, their serving other gods, and subjecting themselves to the superstitious laws and customs of their neighbours, by which other lords (for they called their idols baals, lords) had dominion over them, besides God. But now they promise that it shall be so no more: “Henceforth by thee only will we make mention of thy name; we will worship thee only, and in that way only which thou hast instituted and appointed.” The same may be our penitent reflection: Other lords, besides God, have had dominion over us; every lust has been our lord, and we have been led captive by it; and it is has been long enough, and too long, that we have thus wronged both God and ourselves. The same therefore must be our pious resolution, that henceforth we will make mention of God’s name only and by him only, that we will keep close to God and to our duty and never desert it.
(2.) They had sometimes been carried into captivity before their enemies (Isa. 26:15): “The nation which at first thou didst increase, and make to take root, thou hast now diminished, and plucked up, and removed to all the ends of the earth, driven out to the utmost parts of heaven,” as is threatened, Deut. 30:4; Deut. 28:64. But observe, Between the mention of the increasing of them and that of the removing of them it is said, Thou art glorified; for the judgments God inflicts upon his people for their sins are for his honour, as well as the mercies he bestows upon them in performance of his promise.
(3.) The prophet remembers that when they were thus oppressed and carried captive they cried unto God, which was a good evidence that they neither had quite forsaken him nor were quite forsaken of him, and that there were merciful intentions in the judgments they were under (Isa. 26:16): Lord, in trouble have they visited thee. This was usual with the people of Israel, as we find frequently in the story of the Judges. When other lords had dominion over them they humbled themselves, and said, The Lord is righteous, 2 Chron. 12:6. See here, [1.] The need we have of afflictions. They are necessary to stir up prayer; when it is said, In trouble have they visited thee, it is implied that in their peace and prosperity they were strangers to God, kept at a distance from him, and seldom came near him, as if, when the world smiled upon them, they had no occasion for his favours. [2.] Th 4cfc e benefit we often have by afflictions. They bring us to God, quicken us to our duty, and show us our dependence upon him. Those that before seldom looked at God now visit him; they come frequently, they become friendly, and make their court to him. Before, prayer came drop by drop, but now they pour out a prayer; it comes now like water from a fountain, not like water from a still. They poured out a secret speech; so the margin. Praying is speaking to God, but it is a secret speech; for it is the language of the heart, otherwise it is not praying. Afflictions bring us to secret prayer, in which we may be more free and particular in our addresses to him than we can be in public. In affliction those will seek God early who before sought him slowly, Hos. 5:15. It will make men fervent and fluent in prayer. “They poured out a prayer, as the drink-offerings were poured out, when thy chastening was upon them.” But it is to be feared, when the chastening is off them, they will by degrees return to their former carelessness, as they had often done.
(4.) He complains that their struggles for their own liberty had been very painful and perilous, but that they had not been successful, Isa. 26:17, 18. [1.] They had the throes and pangs they dreaded: “We have been like a woman in labour, that cries out in her pangs; we have with a great deal of anxiety and toil endeavoured to help ourselves, and our troubles have been increased by those attempts;” as when Moses came to deliver Israel the tale of bricks was doubled. Their prayers were quickened by the acuteness of their pains, and became as strong and vehement as the cries of a woman in sore travail. So have we been in thy sight, O Lord! It was a comfort and satisfaction to them, in their distress, that God had his eye upon them, that all their miseries were in his sight; he was no stranger to their pangs or their prayers. Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hidden from thee, Ps. 38:9. Whenever they came to present themselves before the Lord with their complaints and petitions they were in agonies like those of a woman in travail. [2.] They came short of the issue and success they desired and hoped for: “We have been with child; we have had great expectation of a speedy and happy deliverance, have been big with hopes, and, when we have been in pain, have comforted ourselves with this, that the joyful birth would make us forget our misery, John 16:21. But, alas! we have as it were brought forth wind; it has proved a false conception; our expectations have been frustrated, and our pains have been rather dying pains than travailing ones; we have had a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. All our efforts have proved abortive: We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, for ourselves or for our friends and allies, but rather have made our own case and theirs worse; neither have the inhabitants of the world, whom we have been contesting with, fallen before us, either in their power or in their hopes; but they are still as high and arrogant as ever.” Note, A righteous cause may be strenuously pleaded both by prayer and endeavour, both with God and man, and yet for a great while may be left under a cloud, and the point may not be gained.
II. His prospects and hopes are very pleasant. In general, “Thou wilt ordain peace for us (Isa. 26:12), that is, all that good which the necessity of our case calls for.” What peace the church has, or hopes for, it is of God’s ordaining; and we may comfort ourselves with this, that, what trouble soever may for a time be appointed to the people of God, peace will at length be ordained for them; for the end of those men is peace. And, if God by his Spirit work all our works in us, he will ordain peace for us (for the work of righteousness shall be peace), and that is true and lasting peace, such as the world can neither give nor take away, which God ordains; for, to those that have it, it shall be unchangeable as the ordinances of the day and of the night. Moreover, from what God has done for us, we may encourage ourselves to hope that he will yet further do us good. “Thou hast heard the desire of the humble, and therefore wilt (Ps. 10:17); and, when this peace is ordained for us, then by thee only will we make mention of thy name (Isa. 26:13); we will give the glory of it to thee only, and not to any other, and we will depend upon thy grace only to enable us to do so.” We cannot praise God’s name but by his strength. Two things in particular the prophet here comforts the church with the prospect of:—1. The amazing ruin of her enemies (Isa. 26:14): They are dead, those other lords that have had dominion over us; their power is irrecoverably broken; they are quite cut off and extinguished: and they shall not live, shall never be able to hold up the head any more. Being deceased, they shall not rise, but, like Haman, when they have begun to fall before the seed of the Jews they shall sink like a stone. Because they are sentenced to this final ruin, therefore, in pursuance of that sentence, God himself has visited them in wrath, as a righteous Judge, and has cut off both the men themselves (he has destroyed them) and the remembrance of them: they and their names are buried together in the dust. He has made all their memory to perish; they are either forgotten or made mention of with detestation. Note, The cause that is maintained in opposition to God and his kingdom among men, though it may prosper awhile, will certainly sink at last, and all that adhere to it will perish with it. The Jewish doctors, comparing this with Isa. 26:19; infer that the resurrection of the dead belong to the Jews only, and that those of other nations shall not rise. But we know better; we know that all who are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and that this speaks of the final destruction of Christ’s enemies, which is the second death. 2. The surprising resurrection of her friends, Isa. 26:19. Though the church rejoices not in the birth of the man-child, of which she travailed in pain, but has as it were brought forth wind (Isa. 26:18), yet the disappointment shall be balanced in a way equivalent: Thy dead men shall live; those who were thought to be dead, who had received a sentence of death within themselves, who were cast out as if they had been naturally dead, shall appear again in their former vigour. A spirit of life from God shall enter into the slain witnesses, and they shall prophesy again, Rev. 11:11. The dry bones shall live, and become an exceedingly great army, Ezek. 37:10. Together with my dead body shall they arise. If we believe the resurrection of the dead, of our dead bodies at the last day, as Job did, and the prophet here, that will facilitate our belief of the promised restoration of the church’s lustre and strength in this world. When God’s time shall have come, how low soever she may be brought, they shall arise, even Jerusalem, the city of God, but now lying like a dead body, a carcase to which the eagles are gathered together. God owns it still for his, so does the prophet; but it shall arise, shall be rebuilt, and flourish again. And therefore let the poor, desolate, melancholy remains of its inhabitants, that dwell as in dust, awake and sing; for they shall see Jerusalem, the city of their solemnities, a quiet habitation again, Isa. 33:20. The dew of God’s favour shall be to it as the evening dew to the herbs that were parched with the heat of the sun all day, shall revive and refresh them. And as the spring-dews, that water the earth, and make the herbs that lay buried in it to put forth and bud, so shall they flourish again, and the earth shall cast out the dead, as it casts the herbs out of their roots. The earth, in which they seemed to be lost, shall contribute to their revival. When the church and her interests are to be restored neither the dew of heaven nor the fatness of the earth shall be wanting to do their part towards the restoration. Now this (as Ezekiel’s vision, which is a comment upon it) may be fitly accommodated, (1.) To the spiritual resurrection of those that were dead in sin, by the power of Christ’s gospel and grace. So Dr. Lightfoot applies it, Hor. Hebr. in Joh. 12.24. “The Gentiles shall live; with my body shall they arise; that is, they shall be called in after Christ’s resurrection, shall rise with him, and sit with him in heavenly places; nay, they shall arise my body (says he); they shall become the mystical body of Christ, and shall arise as part of him.” (2.) To the last resurrection, when dead saints shall live, and rise together with Christ’s dead body; for he arose as the first-fruits, and believers shall arise by virtue of their union with him and their communion in his resurrection.