God takes Isaiah at his word, and here sends him on a strange errand—to foretel the ruin of his people and even to ripen them for that ruin—to preach that which, by their abuse of it, would be to them a savour of death unto death. And this was to be a type and figure of the state of the Jewish church in the days of the Messiah, when they should obstinately reject the gospel, and should thereupon be rejected of God. These verses are quoted in part, or referred to, six times, in the New Testament, which intimates that in gospel time these spiritual judgments would be most frequently inflicted; and though they make the least noise, and come not with observation, yet they are of all judgments the most dreadful. Isaiah is here given to understand these four things:—
1. That the generality of the people to whom he was sent would turn a deaf ear to his preaching, and wilfully shut their eyes against all the discoveries of the mind and will of God which he had to make to them (Isa. 6:9): “Go, and tell this people, this foolish wretched people, tell them their own, tell them how stupid and sottish they are.” Isaiah must preach to them, and they will hear him indeed, but that is all; they will not heed him; they will no understand him; they will not take any pains, nor use that application of mind which is necessary to the understanding of him; they are prejudiced against that which is the true intent and meaning of what he says, and therefore they will not understand him, or pretend they do not. They see indeed (for the vision is made plain on tables, so that he who runs may read it); but they perceive not their own concern in it; it is to them as a tale that is told. Note, There are many who hear the sound of God’s word, but do not feel the power of it.
2. That, forasmuch as they would not be made better by his ministry, they should be made worse by it; those that were wilfully blind should be judicially blinded (Isa. 6:10): “They will not understand or perceive thee, and therefore thou shalt be instrumental to make their heart fat, senseless, and sensual, and so to make their ears yet more heavy, and to shut their eyes the closer; so that, at length, their recovery and repentance will become utterly impossible; they shall no more see with their eyes the danger they are in, the ruin they are upon the brink of, nor the way of escape from it; they shall no more hear with their ears the warnings and instructions that are given them, nor understand with their heart the things that belong to their peace, so as to be converted from the error of their ways, and thus be healed.” Note, (1.) The conversion of sinners is the healing of them. (2.) A right understanding is necessary to conversion. (3.) God sometimes, in a way of righteous judgment, gives men up to blindness of mind and strong delusions, because they would not receive the truth in the love of it, 2 Thess. 2:10-12. He that is filthy let him be filthy still. (4.) Even the word of God oftentimes proves a means of hardening sinners. The evangelical prophet himself makes the heart of this people fat, not only as he foretels it, passing this sentence upon them in God’s name, and seals them under it, but as his preaching had a tendency to it, rocking some asleep in security (to whom it was a lovely song), and making others more outrageous, to whom it was such a reproach that they were not able to bear it. Some looked upon the word as a privilege, and their convictions were smothered by it (Jer. 7:4); others looked upon it as a provocation, and their corruptions were exasperated by it.
3. That the consequence of this would be their utter ruin, Isa. 6:11, 12. The prophet had nothing to object against the justice of this sentence, nor does he refuse to go upon such an errand, but asks, “Lord, how long?” (an abrupt question): “Shall it always be thus? Must I and other prophets always labour in vain among them, and will things never be better?” Or, (as should seem by the answer) “Lord, what will it come to at last? What will be in the end hereof?” In answer to this he is told that it should issue in the final destruction of the Jewish church and nation. “When the word of God, especially the word of the gospel, had been thus abused by them, they shall be unchurched, and consequently undone. Their cities shall be uninhabited, and their country houses too; the land shall be untilled, desolate with desolation (as it is in the margin), the people who should replenish the houses and cultivate the ground being all cut off by sword, famine, or pestilence, and those who escape with their lives being removed far away into captivity, so that there shall be a great and general forsaking in the midst of the land; that populous country shall become desert, and that glory of all lands shall be abandoned.” Note, Spiritual judgments often bring temporal judgments along with them upon persons and places. This was in part fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, when the land, being left desolate, enjoyed her sabbaths seventy years; but, the foregoing predictions being so expressly applied in the New Testament to the Jews in our Saviour’s time, doubtless this points at the final destruction of that people by the Romans, in which it had a complete accomplishment, and the effects of it that people and that land remain under to this day.
4. That yet a remnant should be reserved to be the monuments of mercy, Isa. 6:13. There was a remnant reserved in the last destruction of the Jewish nation (Rom. 11:5; At this present time there is a remnant); for so it was written here: But in it shall be a tenth, a certain number, but a very small number in comparison with the multitude that shall perish in their unbelief. It is that which, under the law, was God’s proportion; they shall be consecrated to God as the tithes were, and shall be for his service and honour. Concerning this tithe, this saved remnant, we are here told, (1.) That they shall return (Isa. 6:13; 10:21), shall return from sin to God and duty, shall return out of captivity to their own land. God will turn them, and they shall be turned. (2.) That they shall be eaten, that is, shall be accepted of God as the tithe was, which was meat in God’s house, Mal. 3:10. The saving of this remnant shall be meat to the faith and hope of those that wish well to God’s kingdom. (3.) That they shall be like a timber-tree in winter, which has life, though it has no leaves: As a teil-tree and as an oak, whose substance is in them even when they cast their leaves, so this remnant, though they may be stripped of their outward prosperity and share with others in common calamities, shall yet recover themselves, as a tree in the spring, and flourish again; though they fall, they shall not be utterly cast down. There is hope of a tree, though it be cut down, that it will sprout again, Job 14:7. (4.) That this distinguished remnant shall be the stay and support of the public interests. The holy seed in the soul is the substance of the man; a principle of grace reigning in the heart will keep life there; he that is born of God has his seed remaining in him, 1 John 3:9. So the holy seed in the land is the substance of the land, keeps it from being quite dissolved, and bears up the pillars of it, Ps. 75:3. See Isa. 1:9. Some read the foregoing clause with this, thus: As the support at Shallecheth is in the elms and the oaks, so the holy seed is the substance thereof; as the trees that grow on either side of the causeway (the raised way, or terrace-walk, that leads from the king’s palace to the temple, 1 Kgs. 10:5; at the gate of Shallecheth, 1 Chron. 26:16) support the causeway by keeping up the earth, which would otherwise be crumbling away, so the small residue of religious, serious, praying people, are the support of the state, and help to keep things together and save them from going to decay. Some make the holy seed to be Christ. The Jewish nation was therefore saved from utter ruin because out of it, as concerning the flesh, Christ was to come, Rom. 9:5. Destroy it not, for that blessing is in it (Isa. 65:8); and when that blessing had come, it was soon destroyed. Now the consideration of this is designed for the support of the prophet in his work. Though far the greater part should perish in their unbelief, yet to some his word should be a savour of life unto life. Ministers do not wholly lose their labour if they be but instrumental to save one poor soul.