Wicked Men Accomplish Nothing but What the Lord Has Decreed

by John Calvin

3. I myself have commanded my sanctified ones, and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger, my proudly exulting ones.
4. The sound of a tumult is on the mountains as of a great multitude! The sound of an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle.
5.They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens,the Lord and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

3.I have commanded my sanctified ones.  Here the Prophet introduces the Lord as speaking and issuing his commands. He calls the Medes and Persians sanctified ones, that is, those whom he has prepared. The verb קדש (kadash) is used in various senses; for sometimes it refers to the spirit of regeneration, and this belongs peculiarly to the elect of God. But sometimes it means to wish or prepare, and that meaning is more appropriate to this passage. All who are created by the Lord are likewise appointed by him for a fixed purpose. He does not throw down men at random on the earth, to go wherever they please, but guides all by his secret purpose, and regulates and controls the violent passions of the reprobate, so as to drive them in whatever manner he thinks fit, and to check and restrain them according to his pleasure. He therefore calls them sanctified ones, “set apart and prepared to execute his will,” though they had no such intention. Hence also we are taught to ascribe to the secret judgment of God all violent commotions, and this yields wonderful consolation; for whatever attempts may be made by wicked men, yet they will accomplish nothing but what the Lord has decreed.

I have also called my mighty ones. The phrase, I have called, conveys more than the phrase, I have commanded, which he had used in the former clause. It means that they will be roused to action, not only at the bidding of God, but by the very sound of his voice; as if I were to call a person to me, and he were immediately to follow. He threatens, therefore, that Babylon shall be destroyed by the Medes and Persians, in the same manner as if they obeyed the call of God; for though they were prompted to battle by their own ambition, pride, and cruelty, yet God directed them, without knowing it, to execute his judgment.

Verse 4

4.The noise of a multitude in the mountains. He adds a still more lively representation, ( ὑποτύπωσιν,) that is, a description by which he places the event as it were before our eyes. The prophets are not satisfied with speaking, without also giving a bold picture of the events themselves. Words uttered plainly, and in the ordinary manner, do not strike us so powerfully or move our hearts so much as those figures which delineate a lively resemblance of the events. As if he had said, “Now, indeed, you hear a man speaking, but know that this voice will be so powerful that at the sound of it nations shall be roused, peoples shall make a noise, and in vast crowds shall shout and roar to bring destruction on the inhabitants of Babylon. This proclamation, therefore, will be as efficacious, even after that I am dead, as if you now saw what I foretell to you.”

In this event, therefore, we see how great is the efficacy of the word, which all the creatures both in heaven and in earth obey. We ought to be more strongly confirmed in the belief of this doctrine, by perceiving that every one of the events which had been predicted many centuries before has taken place. For this reason he declares that the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle, that the various nations are moved by God’s direction, and that, although nothing was farther from their intention than to inflict the punishment which he had appointed, still they do nothing but according to his command, as if some earthly general were to draw up his forces.

Verse 5

5.Coming from a distant country. He repeats and confirms more fully what I stated a little before, that the operations of war do not spring up at random from the earth; for though everything disorderly is vomited out by the passions of men, yet God rules on high; and therefore Isaiah justly ascribes sovereignty to God. Next, he adds, that armed men are nothing else than the weapons of his indignation. He says that they will come from a distant country, to overturn the monarchy of Babylon, because we are not afraid of dangers unless when they are close at hand. Babylon was so strongly fortified, and was surrounded by so many kingdoms and provinces which were subject to it, that it seemed as if there were no way by which an enemy could approach. In short, as if she had been situated in the clouds, she dreaded no danger.

From the end of heaven. There being no trouble all around that threatened them, he gives warning that the calamity will come from a distance. Though everything appears to be calm and peaceful, and though we are not at variance with our neighbors, God can bring enemies from the end of heaven. There is no reason, therefore, why we should promise to ourselves a lasting and prosperous condition, though we are not threatened with any immediate danger. If this prediction had reached the inhabitants of Babylon, they would undoubtedly have laughed at it as a fable. Even if we should suppose that they paid some respect to the Prophet, yet, having so strong a conviction of their safety, they would have despised those threatenings as idle and groundless. An example may be easily found. When we preach at the present day about the Turk, all think that it is a fable, because they think that he is still at a great distance from us. But we see how quickly he overtook those who were at a greater distance and more powerful. So great is the insensibility of men that they cannot be aroused, unless they are chastised and made to feel the blows. Let the inhabitants of Babylon, therefore, be a warning to us, to dread, before it is too late, the threatenings which the prophets utter, that the same thing may not happen to us as happens to those wicked men, who, relying on their prosperous condition, are so terrified when the hand of God attacks and strikes them, that they can no longer stand, but sink down bewildered.

To destroy the whole land. When he puts the whole land for Babylon, he looks to the extent of the kingdom; that they may not think that the great number of provinces, by which they were surrounded on all sides, could ward off the attacks of enemies. But at the same time he intimates that it will be no slight calamity affecting a single spot, but will be like a deluge overwhelming a large portion of the world.

Jehovah and the vessels of his anger. (199) The Persians and Medes are called vessels of anger in a different sense from that in which Paul gives that appellation to all the reprobate; for, by contrasting the vessels of wrath with the vessels of mercy, (Romans 9:22,) he shows that the undeserved goodness of God shines in the elect, but that the reprobate are monuments of severe judgment. But Isaiah means that the Medes and Persians may be regarded as darts in the hand of God, that by means of them he may execute his vengeance.


From Calvin's Commentary on Isaiah 13:3-5

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