This chapter reflects the divisions in Judah in the reign of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. His systematic liquidation of the righteous, including at length Isaiah himself, coupled with the idolatry and debauchery which he introduced, sanctioned and practised, brought Judah to new lows and made desolation and captivity inevitable. 2 Kings 21:1–16 should be read in conjunction with this chapter.

57:1–2 The righteous removed from impending Judgment

57:1–2 “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men [Heb chesed enosh, Roth ‘men of lovingkindness’] none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.

He [the righteous] shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.”

lxx “His burial shall be in peace: he has been removed out of the way.” Roth “Let them rest upon their couches, – Each one who went on a straight path.”

Here we learn that righteous men, those who are right with God, and men who have received the steadfast love of God and who show this quality in their lives, are being selectively removed from society so that they will be spared from witnessing further degradation and the resultant national calamity. The meaning is well illustrated in the death of Josiah on the battlefield. His efforts to reform Judah largely failed for no reason of his own. He was told: “I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place” (2 Kings 22:20). Such will awake to the resurrection call and experience the peace and rest they longed for, in Messiah’s reign. “and no man layeth it to heart” The fact that upright men were fast disappearing failed to register on men in general, so bent were they on the pursuit of idolatry and licentiousness. Had the meaning been discerned, that judgment was impending, there may have been a change of heart and reform.

57:3–6 Yahweh reproves the seed of the adulterer: He asks three searching questions.

57:3 “But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress [lb ‘witches’ sons’], the seed of the adulterer and the whore.”

The Living Bible puts it dramatically, “But you – come here, you witches’ sons, you offspring of adulterers and harlots.”

This is a summons to the lewd sons of Zion absorbed in debauchery and idolatry, to come near and answer the three questions Yahweh is about to put to them. It should be noted that this class is contrasted with those in verses 1 and 2, “But ye … draw near hither…” (Roth).

“Sorceress” is one who claims to have a “familiar spirit”, who has given herself to the ‘control’ of the ‘spirit world’, a witch. Such delusions were roundly condemned in the Law (Deut 18:10–12).

“adulterer” is one who has breached the solemn covenant of marriage, and in the sense intended here, has apostatised, has reneged on his loyalty sworn to Yahweh, and has been unfaithful. They had committed spiritual adultery (Deut 7:2–4).

“whore” or harlot (rsv, mlb) refers to the one who has entered into an illicit relationship, a prostitute. The adulterer gives his love to another and the prostitute takes other lovers. Jesus described his generation in similar terms, “A wicked and adulterous generation …” (Matt 16:4; 12:39).

The three questions of Isaiah 57:4–5

57:4 “Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood,”

1 “Against whom do ye sport yourselves?” lb “Who is it you mock?”

2 “against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue?” lb “making faces and sticking out your tongues?” Reference is here made to their scornful sneer, to the irreverent contempt they had for the Almighty, the God of Israel, their dismissive attitude towards Him. Thus Yahweh’s prophets were mocked when they faithfully delivered His message (2 Chron 36:16).

3 “are ye not children of transgression [Heb pesha, rebellion, ie rebels], a seed of falsehood” lb “You children of sinners and liars.” mlb “Are you not children of sin, a disloyal brood?” Indeed they filled this description for their sacrilege and for their derision of the prophets.

57:5 “Enflaming yourselves with idols [‘asherahs’] under every green tree [rsv, ‘you who burn with lust under the oaks’], slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?”

There are two aspects of the Canaanite cults referred to here. As the following quotation from JA Motyer explains: “First, the fertility cult, associated with the evergreen tree as a symbol of life and expressed in orgiastic rites. Secondly, there is the cult of Molech with its demand for human sacrifice. There may be a deliberate contrast here between cults of life (fertility) and cults of death (human sacrifice) as summarizing the total range of hateful affronts to the Lord.” (The Prophecy of Isaiah p472). The Canaanites believed that sexual acts in worship were to remind Baal to assist the fertilizing of humans, animals and land. But in Yahweh’s eyes such deeds were lust, the satisfaction and excitement of flesh in lieu of rendering glory to God in worship.

In the worship of Molech, the offering of children was intended to propitiate the god of the underworld, a charm against death! To Yahweh it was abhorrent, a butchering of the precious fruit of the womb, a thought that never came into His mind (Jer 32:35; 2 Kings 23:10).

It is notable and tragic that this base form of worship was practised by Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah (2 Chron 28:3), and by his son Manasseh (2 Chron 33:6), to whose time and reign Isaiah apparently refers.

These abominations were practised in the valley of the son of Hinnom on the south and south east of Jerusalem. A large hollow brazen statue was erected and fire kindled within, and the child placed on its heated arms, and thus put to death. The cries of the child were drowned by the music of the toph, the kettle drums. Hence the valley was also called “Tophet”.

“under the clifts of the rocks?” Dark and shady groves, and deep and sombre caverns were the places where the abominable rites of the heathen superstitions were practised.

So the three questions (as in the kjv) are addressed to Isaiah’s wayward generation. The answer is they were flouting and mocking the Creator, their Redeemer, the God of their fathers.

57:6 “Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering. Should I receive comfort in these?”

Yahweh Himself has been affronted by these gross rites. Here He nominates who their “portion” is, the “smooth stones [Heb heleg] of the stream”. This is apparently a reference to their idols (being so translated, or interpreted by the niv). Heleg can also mean “slippery”, and so Isaiah appears to allude to the deceitfulness of false religion in two ways!

But Israel’s “portion” or “lot” was Yahweh: “Yahweh is the portion of mine inheritance [says David] and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot” (Psa 16:5; 119:57).

“Should I receive comfort in these?” mlb “Should I be appeased by such doings?” lxx “Shall I not therefore be angry for these things?”

Yahweh has no pleasure in such gross, sensual and corrupt worship. The most privileged nation had exchanged the glory of God for dumb and worthless idols. Inevitably judgment would come on the guilty nation (v12,13).

57:7–8 Infidelity: licentious idolatry pursued

57:7 “Upon a lofty and high mountain hast thou set thy bed: even thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice.”

From this verse we can see the prevalence, the shameless, public grossness of Judah’s idolatry. In all places, “under every green tree”, in the valleys, under cliffs (v5), and now upon the high and lofty mountain they set their beds and blatantly practised their lewd rites.

Notice the contrast with Yahweh, Who is “the high and lofty One … whose name is Holy” (v15).

57:8 “Behind the doors also and the posts hast thou set up thy remembrance [rsv, mlb ‘symbol’]: for thou hast discovered thyself to another than me, and art gone up; thou hast enlarged thy bed, and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovest their bed where thou sawest it.”

They had been expressly directed to write the laws of Yahweh “upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut 6:9); and a curse was pronounced against any who made a graven image “and putteth it in a secret place” (Deut 27:15). But tragically idols now filled every part of their houses.

“For thou hast discovered thyself to another than me” This language describes adulterous intercourse and shows the love they had for idolatrous worship and the extent of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh. They had gone up onto the bed and enlarged it, making it available to all comers.

“and made thee a covenant with them” niv “made a pact with those”. Judah had entered into covenant relationship with Yahweh at Sinai (Exod 24:1–8). This solemn undertaking had been flouted and their hearts had turned away to “another”.

“Thou lovedst their bed where thou sawest it” rsv “You have loved their bed, you have looked on nakedness.”

In summary they found sensual delight in idolatrous rites and practices and had accommodated them in Yahweh’s land.

57:9–10 Further infidelity: the endless quest for alliances with foreign nations

57:9 “And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell [sheol].”

Some translations have “Molech” for “king”, but it appears that Isaiah is rather speaking about another form of faithlessness on the part of the people, the sending of ambassadors to foreign nations with whom they could enter security pacts. Such alliances were unnecessary and reflected upon the Almighty, the God of Israel, Who was their strength and fortress. Reference is made to ointments and perfumes either as gifts to aid agreement, or in the figure of a harlot, to render herself agreeable (Prov 7:17).

Ezekiel 16 and 23 illustrate Judah’s adulterous alliances with foreign powers and the same figures are used, namely that of wantonness and harlotry. Illustrations of Judah’s ‘flirting’ and ‘prostitution’ of herself in order to secure the military help of the great powers can be seen in the case of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7–9), and in Hezekiah’s reign help was sought from Egypt against the Assyrians (Isa 30,31).

57:10 “Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved [mlb ‘exhausted’]”. lb “You grew weary in your search, but you never gave up. You strengthened yourself and went on.”

Long journeys in order to secure foreign aid were persisted in; the object in view was not attained; there was exhaustion, but the quest was not abandoned! This is like the pursuit of happiness without God, be it sensual, wealth, leisure, sport … The objective is elusive. Without God in the equation of life there can be no lasting happiness or reward.

57:11–13 Judah is questioned by Yahweh and condemned

57:11 “And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that thou hast lied, and hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart? have not I held my peace even of old, and thou fearest me not?”

“And of whom hast thou been afraid or feared, that…” The behaviour of Judah as depicted in verses 3 to 10 was clear evidence that they did not reverence, respect or fear Yahweh. If they loved and feared Him they could not possibly have prostituted themselves in the way they had.

Effectively they had lied against Him, did not remember or ‘give Him a thought’, whereas in every situation in life He should have been in the centre of their thoughts.

“have not I held my peace … and thou fearest me not?” The idea seems to be that as a result of Yahweh holding His peace they had been emboldened to sin. He had protested against them by His prophets (2 Chron 36:14–16) as Isaiah did with these words, but His judgments had been withholden because of His compassion. Yahweh’s longsuffering should have yielded respect and love, but tragically this was absent.

57:12–13 “I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.

When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee [rsv ‘let your collection of idols deliver you!’]; but the wind shall carry them all away; vanity shall take them: but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain;”

“I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works” This is said ironically! What they were doing as described in verses 3–10 could only lead to condemnation: “they shall not profit thee!”

“When thou criest, let thy companies deliver thee” Inevitably trouble and judgment would come and the worth of their idols would be put to the test. They would prove no more effective than Baal, who failed to respond to the passionate cries of his devotees (1 Kings 18:26–30)! They would be exposed as helpless.

“but the wind shall carry them all away” The Living Bible paraphrase gives the sense, “they [your idols] are so weak that the wind can carry them off! A breath can puff them away.” The contrasting destiny of the faithful completes the verse, “but he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land…”