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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Isaiah
Section 1. Division of the Books of the Old Testament
Early on the Jews divided the books of the Old Testament into three parts - the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (the holy writings). The Law was comprised of the five books of Moses. Priority was given to this division because it was the first composed, as well as on account of its containing their civil and ecclesiastical constitution and their oldest historical records.
The Prophets comprised the second and the largest division of the sacred writings of the Jews. This portion included the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings, which were called the "former prophets;" and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the books from Hosea to Malachi, which were called the "latter prophets." Daniel has been excluded from this portion by later Jews and assigned to the third division, because they did not regard him as a prophet, but as an historical writer. Formerly, his work was doubtless included in the second division.
The third portion, "the Hagiographa," includes the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the two books of Chronicles.
This three-fold division of the Old Testament is as old as the time of our Saviour, because he refers to it in Luke 24:44. The Jews attribute the arrangement and division of the canonical books to Ezra. They say that he was assisted in this by 120 men who constituted 'a great synagogue;' that Daniel, and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were of this number; and that Haggai and Zechariah, together with Simon the Just, were also connected with it. But this statement is known to be erroneous. From the time of Daniel to the time of Simon the Just, not less than 250 years intervened (Alexander on the Canon, pp. 26, 27); and of course all these persons could not have been present. It is not, however, improbable that Ezra may have been assisted by learned and pious men who aided him in the work. What Ezra did is indeed unknown. It is the general opinion that he collected and arranged the books which now compose the Old Testament; that perhaps he wrote some of the historical books, or compiled them from fragments of history and documents that might have been in the public archives (compare the Analysis of Isaiah 36); and that he gave a finish and arrangement to the whole. Since Ezra was an inspired man, the arrangement of the sacred books, and the portions which he may have added, thus have the sanction of divine authority. There is no evidence, however, that Ezra "completed" the canon of the Old Testament. Malachi 54ed after him, and in the First Book of Chronicles 1 Chronicles 3 the genealogy of the sons of Zerubbabel is carried down to the time of Alexander the Great - about 130 years subsequent to the time of Ezra. The probability is, therefore, that Ezra "commenced" the arrangement of the books, and that the canon of the Old Testament was completed by some other hand.
The Prophets were divided into "the former and the latter." Among the latter, Isaiah has uniformly held the first place and rank. This has been assigned to him not because he prophesied before all the others. Indeed he preceded Ezekiel and Jeremiah, but Jonah, Amos, and Hosea were his contemporaries. The precedence has been given to his prophecies over theirs, probably for two reasons; first, on account of their length, dignity, and comparative value; and secondly, because the minor prophets were formerly bound in one volume, or written on one roll of parchment, and it was convenient to place them "together," and they all had a place, therefore, after Isaiah. At all times the prophecies in Isaiah have been regarded as the most important of any in the Old Testament; and by common consent they have been deemed worthy of the principal place among the Jewish writings.
Section 2. The Life of Isaiah, and the Characteristics of His Writings
Of the time in which Isaiah 54ed, little more is known than he has himself told us. In the superscription to his book Isaiah 1:1, we are told that he was the son of Amoz, and that he discharged the prophetic office under the reign of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In regard to those times, and the character of the period in which they reigned, see section 3 of this introduction (below). It is evident also from the prophecies themselves that he delivered them during the reign of these kings. In Isaiah 6:1, it is expressly said that he had a vision of Yahweh in the year in which Uzziah died. Of course, he must have commenced his prophetic labors at least as early as during the last year of that king. If that chapter or vision was not designed as an inauguration of the prophet, or an induction into the prophetic office (see the notes on Isaiah 6:1-13), and if his prophecies were collected and arranged as they were delivered, then it will follow that the previous chapters Isaiah 1-5 may have been delivered in the reign of Uzziah, and perhaps some time before his death.
There is no express mention made of his uttering any prophecies in the time of Jotham. Hengstenberg and others suppose that the prophecies in Isaiah 2-5 were delivered during his reign. But of this there is no conclusive evidence. He might not have "recorded" anything during his reign; though he may, as a public preacher, have been engaged in the prophetic office in another mode. His writings themselves contain evidence that he was engaged in the prophetic office in the reign of Ahaz. See Isaiah 7 and the following chapters. From Isaiah 36-39 we learn that he was engaged in the prophetic office during the reign of Hezekiah. We have an explicit statement that he was occupied in his prophetic work until the 15th year of Hezekiah, at the commencement of which the ambassadors from Babylon came up to Jerusalem to congratulate him on his recovery from his illness; In Isaiah 39:1-8 Uzziah died, according to Calmet, 754 years before Christ. Isaiah must therefore have occupied the prophetic office at least from 754 to 707 b.c., or 47 years; that is, under Uzziah one year, under Jotham for 16 years, under Ahaz for 16 years, and under Hezekiah for 14 years.
It is not known at what age Isaiah entered into the prophetic function. It is probable that he lived much longer than to the 15th year of Hezekiah. In 2 Chronicles 32:32, it is said that 'the rest of the acts of Hezekiah' were 'written in the vision of Isaiah;' and this statement obviously implies that he survived him, and recorded the deeds of his reign up to his death. Since Hezekiah lived 14 or 15 years after this (Isaiah 38:5, compare 2 Kings 18:2), this would make the period of his public ministry to extend to at least 61 or 62 years. If Isaiah survived Hezekiah, he probably lived some time until during the reign of Manasseh. This supposition is confirmed not indeed by any direct historical record in the Old Testament, but by all the traditional accounts which have been handed down to us. The testimony of the Jews and of the early fathers is uniform that Isaiah was put death by Manasseh by being sawn asunder. The main alleged offence was that Isaiah had said that he had seen Yahweh, and that for this he ought to die, in accordance with the law of Moses Exodus 33:20, "No man shall see me and live." If Isaiah 54ed until the time of Manasseh, and especially if Isaiah prophesied under Manasseh's reign, it is probable the true reason why he was put to death was that he was offensive to the monarch and his court.
The circumstances which render the supposition probable that Isaiah 54ed under Manasseh, and that he was put to death by him by being sawn asunder, are the following:
(1) The fact which has been stated above that Isaiah 54ed to complete the record of the reign of Hezekiah and of course survived him.
(2) The testimony of the Jewish writers: There is indeed much that is fabulous in their writings, and even in connection with the truths which they record; there is much that is puerile and false. However, there is no reason to doubt the main "facts" which they relate. Indeed, Josephus does not expressly state that he was slain by Manasseh, but he gives an account of the reign of Manasseh which renders it probable that if Isaiah were then alive he would have been put to death. Thus, he says (Ant. book 10, chapter 3, section 1) that 'he barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, until Jerusalem was overflown with blood.' In the Talmud the following record occurs: Manasseh put Isaiah to death. The rabbi said that he condemned him and put him to death, because he said to him, "Moses, thy lord, said, 'No man shall see me and live' Exodus 33:20, but thou hast said, 'I saw the Lord upon a throne high and lifted up' Isaiah 6:1. Moses, thy lord, said, 'Who will make the Lord so near that we can call to him'; but thou hast said, 'Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near' Isaiah 55:6. Moses, thy lord, said, 'The number of thy days will I fulfill' Exodus 22:26; but thou hast said, 'I will add to thy days fifteen years' Isaiah 38:5, etc. See Gesenius, Einlei. p. 12. The testimony of the Jews on this subject is uniform. Michaelis (the Preface to Isaiah) has referred to the following places in proof on this point. Tract. Talmud. Jabhamoth, 49; "Sanhedrin, fol. 103; Jalkut, part ii. fol. 38; Schalscheleth Hakkab." fol. 19. Rashi and Abarbanel in their commentaries give the same statement.
(3) The testimony of the early Christian writers is the same. Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, speaking of Isaiah, says, ὄν πρίον ζυλῳ ἐπρίσατε on prioni zulō eprisate, 'whom ye sawed asunder with a wooden saw.' Tertullian (de patientia, c. 14) says, His patientiae viribus secatur Esaias. - Lactantius (lib. iv. c. 2) says, Esais, quem ipsi Judaei serra consectum crudelissime necaverunt. - Augustine (de Civit. Dei, lib. 18, c. 24) says, 'the prophet Isaiah is reputed to have been slain by the impious King Manasseh.' Jerome (on Isaiah 57:1) says, that the prophet prophesied in that passage of his own death, for 'it is an undisputed tradition among us, that he was sawn asunder by Manasseh, with a wooden saw.' These passages and others from the Jewish writers and from the fathers are to be found in Michaelis' Preface to Isaiah; in Gesenius' Introduction; and in Carpzov, Crit. Sacr. In a matter of simple fact, there seems to be no reason to call this testimony into question. It is to be remembered that Jerome was well acquainted with Hebrew, that he dwelt in Palestine, and no doubt has given the prevalent opinion about the death of Isaiah.
(4) The character of Manasseh was such as to make it probable that, if Isaiah 54ed at all during his reign, Manasseh would seek his death. In 2 Kings 21:16, it is said of Manasseh that he 'shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.' This account is in entire accordance with that of Josephus, quoted above. In the early part of his reign, it is recorded that he did evil, and especially that he raised the high places and the altars of idolatry which Hezekiah had destroyed, and endeavored to restore again the abominations which had existed in the time of Ahab, 2 Kings 21:2-3. It is scarcely credible that such a man as Isaiah would see all this done without some effort to prevent it; and it is certain that such an effort would excite the indignation of Manasseh. If, however, Manasseh cut off the righteous men of Jerusalem, as Josephus testifies, and as the author of the Books of Kings would lead us to believe, there is every probability that Isaiah would also fall a sacrifice to his indignation. It is not necessary in order to this to suppose that Isaiah appeared much in public; or that, being then an old man, he should take a prominent part in the transactions of that period. That we have no recorded prophecy of that time, as we have of the times of Uzziah, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, leaves it probable that Isaiah had withdrawn from the more public functions of the prophetic office, and probably (see section 4 of this introduction) had given himself to the calm and holy contemplation of future and better times under the Messiah. But still Isaiah's sentiments would be known to the monarch; and his influence while he lived among the people may have been materially in the way of the designs of Manasseh. Manasseh, therefore, may have regarded it as necessary to remove him, and in the slaughter of the good men and prophets of his time, there is every probability that Isaiah would have been made a victim.
(5) It affords some confirmation of this statement that Paul Hebrews 11:37 affirms of some of the ancient saints, that they were 'sawn asunder.' In the Old Testament there is no express mention of any one's being put to death in this manner, but it has been common with all expositors, from the earliest periods, to suppose that Paul had reference to Isaiah. The universal tradition on this subject among the Hebrews makes this morally certain. It is certain that Paul could not have made such an enumeration unless there was a well-established tradition of some one or more who had suffered in this manner; and all tradition concurs in assigning it to Isaiah.
(6) The character of the second part of the prophecies of Isaiah Isa. 40-66 accords with this supposition. They are mainly employed in depicting the glories of a future age; the blessedness of the times of the Messiah. They bespeak the feelings of a holy man who was heart-broken with the existing state of things; and who had retired from active life, and sought consolation in the contemplation of future blessings. No small part of those prophecies is employed in lamenting an existing state of "idolatry" (see particularly Isaiah 40; Isaiah 41; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57; Isaiah 65), and the prevalence of general irreligion. Such a decryption does not accord with the reign of Hezekiah; and it is evidently the language of a man who was disheartened with prevailing abominations, and who, seeing little hope of immediate reform, cast his mind forward into future times, and sought repose in the contemplation of happier days. How long Isaiah may have lived under Manasseh is unknown; and hence, it is not possible to ascertain Isaiah age when he was put to death. We may reasonably suppose that Isaiah entered into his prophetic function as early as the age of twenty. From Jeremiah 1:6, we learn that an earlier call than this to the prophetic office sometimes occurred. On this supposition, Isaiah would have been 82 years of age at the death of Hezekiah. There is no improbability, therefore, in the supposition that he might have lived 10 or even 15 years or more, under the long reign of Manasseh. The priest Jehoiada attained the great age of 130 years 2 Chronicles 24:15. Evidently, Isaiah 54ed a retired and a temperate life. It is the uniform tradition of the oriental Christians that he lived to the age of 120 years; see Hengstenberg's Christol. vol. i. p. 278.
Where Isaiah 54ed is not certainly known nor are many of the circumstances of his life known. Isaiah's permanent residence, in the earlier part of his prophetic life, seems to have been at Jerusalem. During the reign of the ungodly Ahaz, he came forth boldly as the reprover of sin, and evidently spent a considerable part of his time near the court, Isaiah 7 and following. His counsels and warnings were then derided and disregarded. Hezekiah was a pious prince, and admitted Isaiah as a counselor, and was inclined to follow Isaiah advice. In Hezekiah's reign Isaiah was treated with respect, and Isaiah had an important part in directing the public counsels during the agitating occurrences of that reign. If Isaiah 54ed in the time of Manasseh, he probably retired from public life; his counsel was unsought, and if offered, was disregarded. It is evident that he did not entirely withdraw from his office as a reprover Isaiah 56-58, but his main employment seems to have been to contemplate the pure and splendid visions which relate to the happier times of the world, and which constitute the close of his prophecies, Isaiah 40-66.
Of the family of Isaiah little is known. The Jewish writers constantly affirm that Isaiah was of noble extraction, and was closely connected with the royal family. The name of his father was Amoz, or "Amotz" - אמוץ 'âmôts; not the prophet Amos, as some have supposed, for his name in Hebrew is אמוס 'amôs, Amos. Amoz (Amotz), the father of Isaiah, the Jews affirm to have been the brother of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, 2 Kings 14:1. Thus, David Kimchi on Isaiah 1:1, writes, 'We are ignorant of his family, from what tribe he was, except that our doctors have handed down by tradition, that Amotz and Amaziah were brothers.' And thus Rabbi Solomon says, 'It is handed down to us from our ancestors that Amotz and Amaziah were brothers.' The same is said also by Rabbi Levi (in Megilla, c. i. fol. 10); and by Abarbanel, Preface fol. 1((quoted by Michaelis, Preface to Isa.) In this supposition there is nothing improbable: and the fact that he was admitted so freely to the counsels of Hezekiah, and that he went so boldly to Ahaz Isaiah 7:1, may seem to give some countenance to the idea that he was connected with the royal family.
Isaiah's father was evidently well known; see Isaiah 1:1, and elsewhere, where his name is introduced. Indeed, it is not improbable that most of the prophets were descended from families that were highly respectable, since they generally mention the name of their father as a name that is well known; compare Ezekiel 1:3; Jeremiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Zechariah 1:1. In the other prophets the name of the "father" is omitted, probably because he was obscure and unknown. It is morally certain that Isaiah was not connected with the Levitical order, since if he had been, this would have been designated as in Jeremiah 1:1; Ezekiel 1:3. The wife of Isaiah is called "a prophetess" Isaiah 8:3, and it is supposed by some that she had the spirit of prophecy, but the more probable opinion is that the wives of the prophets were called prophetesses, as the wives of the priests were called "priestesses."
On the question as to whether Isaiah had more than one wife, see the notes at Isaiah 7 and notes at Isaiah 8. Two sons of Isaiah are mentioned, both of whom had names suited to awaken religious attention, and who were in some sense the pledges of the fulfillment of divine predictions. The name of the one was "Shear-Jashub" Isaiah 7:3, the meaning of which is, "the remainder shall return" - designed, undoubtedly, to be a sign or pledge that the remnant of the Jews who should be carried away at "any time" would return; or that the whole nation would not be destroyed and become extinct. This was one of the axioms or fundamental points in all the writings of this prophet; and whatever calamity or judgment he foretold, it was always terminated with the assurance that the nation would still be ultimately preserved, and greatly enlarged, and glorified. Isaiah seems to have resolved this idea to keep as much as possible before the minds of his countrymen, and to this end he gave his son a name that would be to them a pledge of his deep conviction of this truth.
The name of the other is "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" Isaiah 8:1, "haste to the spoil; haste to the prey" - a name significant of the fact that the Assyrians Isaiah 7 would soon ravage and subdue the land, or they would extensively plunder the kingdom of Judea. Tradition says that the death of Isaiah occurred in Jerusalem near the fountain of Siloam. Just below this fountain and opposite to the point where Mount Ophel terminates is a large mulberry-tree with a terrace of stones surrounding its trunk, where it is said Isaiah was sawn asunder; Robinson's Bib. Research, i. 342. The tradition further is, that his body was buried here, whence it was removed to Paneas near the sources of the Jordan, and from thence to Constantinople in the year of our Lord 442 a.d.
Great respect was paid to Isaiah and his writings after his death. It is evident that Jeremiah imitated him (compare the notes at Isaiah 15:1-9 and notes at Isaiah 16:1-14); and there is abundant evidence that Isaiah was studied by the other prophets. The regard with which he was held by the Lord Jesus, and by the writers of the New Testament will be shown in another part of this introduction (section 6). Josephus (Ant. book 11, chapter 1, section 2) says that Cyrus was moved by the reading of Isaiah to the acknowledgment of the God of Israel, and to the restoration of the Jews, and to the rebuilding of the temple. After stating (section 1) the decree which Cyrus made in favor of the Jews, he adds, 'This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind of his prophecies: for this prophet had said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision, "My will is that Cyrus whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations will send back my people to their own land, and build my temple."
This was foretold by Isaiah 140 years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition came upon him to fulfill what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said to them, that he gave them permission to go back to their own country and to rebuild their city Jerusalem and the temple of their God. In this passage of Josephus there is an undoubted reference to Isaiah 44:28; 'That saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid;' compare Isaiah 45:1 ff. On the genuineness of this passage of Josephus see Whiston's note. It is justly remarked (see Jahn's observation, quoted by Hengstenberg, Christol. i. 279) that this statement of Josephus furnishes the only explanation of the conduct of Cyrus toward the Jews. It is only a commentary on Ezra 1:2, where Cyrus says, 'Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.' It is incredible that Cyrus would not have seen the prophecy Isaiah 44:28 respecting himself before he made this proclamation.
The writings of the fathers are full of the praise of Isaiah. Jerome says of him that he is not so much to be esteemed a prophet as an evangelist. And he adds, 'he has so clearly explained the whole mystery of Christ and the church that you will regard him not as predicting future events but as composing a history of the past.' In Jerome's "Epistle ad Paulinum" he says, 'Isaiah seems to me not to have composed a prophecy but the gospel!' And in Jerome's preface he says, 'that in his (Isaiah's) discourse he is so eloquent, and is a man of so noble and refined elocution, without any mixture of rusticity, that it is impossible to preserve or transfuse the beauty of his style in a translation;' compare the Confessions of Augustine, ix. 5; De Civita. Dei. lib. viii. c. 29. Moses Amyraldus said of Isaiah that he 'seems to thunder and give off lightning; he seems to confound and mingle not Greece, as was formerly said of Pericles; not Judea, and the neighboring regions, but heaven and earth and all the elements;' see Michaelis' Preface to Isaiah, pp. 8-10; compare Josephus, Ant. book 10, chapter 3; also Sirach 48:22.
'The style of Isaiah,' says Hengstenberg, Christol. vol. i. p. 281, 'is in general characterized by simplicity and sublimity; in the use of imagery, he holds an intermediate place between the poverty of Jeremiah and the exuberance of Ezekiel. In other respects, his style is suited to the subject, even changes with it. In his denunciations and threatenings, Isaih is earnest and vehement; in his consolations and instructions, on the contrary, Isaiah is mild and insinuating; in the strictly poetic passages, Isaiah is full of impetuosity and fire. He so lives in the events that he describes that the future becomes to him the same as the past and the present.'
It is now generally conceded that a considerable portion of Isaiah, like the other prophets, is poetry. For the establishment of this opinion, we are indebted mainly to Dr. Lowth. 'It has,' says he, (Prelim. Diss. to Isaiah) 'I think, been universally understood that the prophecies of Isaiah were written in prose. The style, the thoughts, the images, the expressions, have been allowed to be poetical, and that in the highest degree; but that they were written in verse, in measure, in rhythm, or whatever it is that distinguishes poetry the composition of those books of the Old Testament which are allowed to be poetical, such as Job, the Psalms, and the Proverbs, from the historical books, as mere prose, this has never been supposed, at least has not been at any time the prevailing feeling.'
The main object of Lowth, in his "Preliminary Dissertation," was to demonstrate that the prophecies of Isaiah have all the characteristics of Hebrew poetry; a position which he has abundantly established, and which is admitted now by all to be correct. For a more extended view of the nature of Hebrew poetry, the reader may consult Barnes' introduction to the Book of Job.
In all ages, Isaiah has been regarded as the most sublime of all writers. He is simple, bold, rapid, elevated; he abounds in metaphor, and in rapid transitions; his writings are full of the most sublime figures of rhetoric and the most beautiful ornaments of poetry. Grotius compares him to Demosthenes. 'In his writings we meet with the purity of the Hebrew tongue, as in the orator with the delicacy of the Attic taste. Both are sublime and magnificent in their style; vehement in their emotions; copious in their figures; and very impetuous when they describe things of an enormous nature, or that are grievous and odious. Isaiah was superior to Demosthenes in the honor of illustrious birth.' Commentary on 2 Kings 19:2. It may be added here, that although his writings are not so ancient as those of Moses, or as those of Homer and Hesiod, yet they are more ancient than most of the admired Classic productions of Greece, and are far more ancient than any of the Latin Classics. As an "ancient writer" he demands respect. And laying out of view altogether the idea of his inspiration, and his "religious" character, he has a claim as a poet, an orator, a writer of eminent beauty and unrivaled sublimity to the attention of those who are seeking eminence in literature.
No reason can be given why in a course of mental training, Isaiah, and the language in which he wrote, should be neglected, while Hesiod and Homer, with the language in which they wrote, should be the objects of admiration and of diligent culture. In no book, perhaps, can the mere man of taste be more gratified than in the study of Isaiah; by no writings would the mind be more elevated in view of the beautiful and the sublime, or the heart be more refined by the contemplation of the pure. Few - very few of the Greek and Latin Classical writers - can be put into the hands of the young without endangering the purity of their morals; but Isaiah may be studied in all the periods of youth, and manhood, and old age, only to increase the virtue of the heart and the purity of the imagination, at the same time that he enriches and expands the understanding. And while no one who has just views of the inestimable value of the Greek and Latin Classics in most of the respects contemplated in education would wish to see them banished from the schools, or displaced from seminaries of learning, yet the lover of ancient writings, of purity of thought and diction, of sweet and captivating poetry, of the beautiful and sublime in writing, of perhaps the oldest language of the world, and of the pure sentiments of revelation, may hope that the time will come when the Hebrew language shall be deemed worthy of culture in American schools and colleges as well as the Latin and Greek; and that as a part of the training of American youth, Isaiah may be allowed to take a place "at least" as honorable as Virgil or Homer - as Cicero or Demosthenes.
It is indeed a melancholy reflection which we are compelled to make on the seminaries of learning in our land - a Christian land - that the writings of the Hebrew prophets and poets have been compelled to give place to the poetry and the mythology of the Greeks; and that the books containing the only system of pure religion are required to defer to those which were written under the auspices of idolatry, and which often express sentiments, and inculcate feelings, which cannot be made to contribute to the purity of the heart, or be reconciled with the truth as revealed from heaven. As specimens of taste; as models of richness of thought and beauty of diction; as well as for their being the vehicles in which the knowledge of the only true religion is conveyed to man, these writings have a claim on the attention of the young. If the writings of Isaiah were mere human compositions; if they had come down to us as the writings of Demosthenes and Homer have done; and if they had not been connected with "religion," we might be permitted to express the belief that the Jewish "Classics," along with the Classics of Greece and Rome, would have been allowed an honorable place in all the seminaries of learning, and in all the public and private libraries of the land.
Section 3. The Times of Isaiah
As we have seen, Isaiah 54ed for the greater part of a century, and possibly even more than a century. It is probable also that for a period of more than 70 years he exercised the prophetic function. During that long period, important changes must have occurred; and a knowledge of some of the leading events of his time is necessary to understand his prophecies. Indeed, a simple knowledge of historical facts will often make portions of his prophecies clear which would otherwise be entirely unintelligible.
The kingdom of Israel, which during the reigns of David and Solomon had been so mighty and so magnificent, was divided into two separate kingdoms 990 years before Christ, or 240 years before Isaiah entered into his prophetic office. The glory of these kingdoms had departed; and they had been greatly weakened by contentions with each other and by conflicts with surrounding nations. In a particular manner, the kingdom of Israel (Samaria, Ephraim, the ten tribes, as it was indiscriminately called) had been governed by a succession of wicked princes, had become deeply imbued with idolatry, and had so far provoked God as to make it necessary to remove them to a foreign land. It was during the time in which Isaiah discharged the duties of the prophetic function that that kingdom was utterly overturned and the inhabitants were transplanted to a distant country. In the year 736 b.c., or not far from 20 years after Isaiah entered into his work, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria killed Rezin, king of Damascus, the ally of Pekah, the king of Samaria. Tiglath-Pileser entered the land of Israel and took many cities and captives, chiefly in Gilead and Galilee, and he carried many of the inhabitants to Assyria; 2 Kings 16:5-9; Amos 1:5; 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26.
This was the first captivity of the kingdom of Israel. Shalmaneser succeeded Tiglath-Pileser as king of Assyria in 724 b.c. In the year 721 b.c. Shalmaneser besieged Samaria, and, after a siege of three years, he took it. He carriedthe inhabitants which Tiglath-Pileser had not removed beyond the Euphrates he and placed them in cities there 2 Kings 17:3-18; Hosea 13:16; 1 Chronicles 5:26. This was the end of the kingdom of Israel, after it had subsisted for 254 years. Isaiah exercised the prophetic function during about 30 of the last years of the kingdom of Israel. But his residence was principally at Jerusalem; and not many of his predictions have reference to the kingdom of Israel. Most of his prophecies which have reference to the Jews relate to the kingdom of Judah and to Jerusalem.
The kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, had greatly declined from the splendor and magnificence which had existed under David and Solomon. It had been greatly weakened by the revolt of the ten tribes, and by the wars in which it had been engaged with the kingdom of Samaria, as well as with surrounding nations. Though its kings were superior in virtue and piety to the kings of Israel, yet many of them had been unworthy to be the descendants of David and their conduct had exposed them greatly to divine displeasure.
When Isaiah entered into his prophetic office, the throne was occupied by Uzziah; or as he is elsewhere called, Azariah. He succeeded his father Amaziah, and was 16 years old when he came to the throne, and he reigned for 52 years. Uzziah began his reign in the year 809 b.c., and, of course, his reign extended to the year 757 b.c. His general character was that of integrity and piety. He was a worshipper of the true God, yet he did not remove the groves and high places which had been established in the land for idolatrous worship. He greatly strengthened Jerusalem, was successful in his wars with the Philistines, with the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and extended his kingdom somewhat into surrounding regions. Near the close of his life he was guilty of one act of rashness and folly in claiming as a monarch the right of going into the temple of the Lord, and of burning incense upon the altar. For this sin he became a leper and remained so until his death; 2 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 26. Of course, he was regarded as unclean and was obliged to dwell by himself in a separate house; 2 Chronicles 26:21. During this period, the affairs of the government were administered by his son, Jotham; 2 Chronicles 26:21. During the reign of Uzziah it is probable that Isaiah exercised the prophetic function for only a short time, perhaps for a single year. None of Isaiah's prophecies can be proved with certainty to relate to Uzziah's reign except what is contained in Isaiah 6:1-13. It is more natural, however, to suppose that those in the previous five chapters were delivered durring the reign of Uzziah.
Uzziah (Azariah) was succeeded by his son, Jotham. He ascended the throne at the age of 25, and reigned for 16 years in Jerusalem. The general character of Jotham was like that of his father. He was upright; and he was not guilty of idolatry. Yet, the high places were not removed, the groves still remained, and the state of the people was corrupt 2 Kings 15:32-36; 2 Chronicles 27:1-9. Jotham carried forward the plan which his father had commenced of fortifying the city 2 Chronicles 26:3 and of enlarging and beautifying his kingdom. In a particular manner, Jotham is said to have built a high gate to the house of the Lord, and to have fortified Ophel; 2 Chronicles 26:3. Ophel was a mountain or "bluff," which was situated between Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. From the base of this bluff flowed the waters of Siloam. This hill was capable of being strongly fortified and of contributing much to the defense of the city, and, accordingly, it became one of the strongest places in Jerusalem. Jotham also built cities, and castles, and towns in the mountains and forests of Judea 2 Chronicles 26:4, and it is evident that his great aim was to beautify and strengthen his kingdom. The principal wars in which he was engaged were with the Ammonites, whom he subdued and laid under tribute 2 Chronicles 26:5.
It was during the reign of Jotham that very important events occurred in the vast empire of the East. The ancient empire of the Assyrians which had governed Asia for more than 1,300 years was dissolved upon the death of Sardanapalus in the year 747 b.c. Sardanapalus was distinguished for sloth and luxury. He sunk into the lowest depths of depravity, clothed himself as a woman, spun amidst the companies of his concubines, painted his face and decked himself as a harlot. So debased was he that his reign became intolerable. He became odious to his subjects and particularly to Arbaces the Mede, and to Belesis the Babylonian. Belesis was a captain, a priest, and an astrologer.
So, by the rules of his art, he took it upon himself to assure Arbaces that he should dethrone Sardanapalus, and become lord of all his dominions. Arbaces listened to him, and promised him the chief place over Babylon if his prediction proved to come true. Arbaces and Belesis promoted a revolt, and the defection spread among the Medes, Babylonians, Persians, and Arabians, who had been subject to the Assyrian empire. They mustered an army of not less than 400,000 men, but were at first defeated by Sardanapalus, and driven to the mountains; but they again rallied and were again defeated with great slaughter, and put to flight toward the hills. Belesis, however, persisted in the opinion that the gods would give them the victory, and a third battle was fought, in which they were again defeated. Belesis again encouraged his followers; and it was determined to try to secure the aid of the Bactrians.
Sardanapalus, supposing victory was secure, and that there could be no more danger, had returned to his pleasures, and given himself and his army up to riot and dissipation. Belesis and Arbaces, with the aid of the Bactrians, fell upon the army, sunk in inglorious ease and vanquished it entirely. Somehow they drew Sardanapalus outside the walls of his capital. Here, closely besieged, he sent away his three sons and two daughters into Paphlagonia. In Nineveh Sardanapalus determined to defend himself, trusting to an ancient prophecy, "that Nineveh could never be taken until the river became her enemy;" and as he deemed this impossible, he regarded himself as secure. He maintained his position, and resisted the attacks of his enemies for two years, until the river, swelled by great rains, rose and overflowed a considerable part of it. Regarding his affairs as now desperate, he caused a vast pile of wood to be raised in a court of his palace, in which he placed his gold and silver and royal apparel, and within which he enclosed his eunuchs and concubines, and retired within his palace, and caused the pile to be set on fire, and was consumed himself with the rest; Universal History, the Ancient Part, vol. iii. pp. 354-358. London edition, 1779.
From this kingdom, thus destroyed, arose the two kingdoms of Assyria, as mentioned in the Scriptures, and of Babylonia. Arbaces, who, according to Prideaux, is the same as Tiglath-Pileser (compare however, Universal History, vol. v. 359), obtained a large part of the empire. Belesis had Babylon, Chaldea, and Arabia. Belesis, according to Prideaux (Connection, book i. p. 114), was the same as Nabonassar, or Baladan (see the note at Isaiah 39:1); and was the king from whom was reckoned the famous era of Nabonassar, commencing in the 747th year before the Christian era. It is not improbable that there was some degree of dependence of the Babylonian portion of the empire upon the Assyrian empire; or that the king of Babylon was regarded as a viceroy to the king of Assyria, since we know that among the colonists sent by Shalmaneser to populate Samaria after the ten tribes were carried away were some from Babylon, which is there mentioned in such a manner as to leave the impression that it was a province of Assyria 2 Kings 17:24. The kingdom of Babylon, however, ultimately acquired the ascendency, and the Assyrian kingdom was merged into the Chaldean monarchy. This occurred about 100 years after the reign of Nabonassar, or Baladan, and was effected by an alliance formed between Nabopolassar and Cyaxares the Median; see Robinson, Calmet, "Babylonia"; compare the note at Isaiah 39:1. It should be observed, however, that the history of the Assyrian empire is one of the most obscure portions of ancient history; see the article "Assyria" in Robinson, Calmet.
There is no decided evidence that Isaiah delivered any prophecies during the reign of Jotham. Most commentators have supposed that the prophecies in Isaiah 2-5 were delivered during his reign; but there is no internal proof to demonstrate it. See the analysis of these chapters.
Jotham was succeeded by Ahaz. He was the 12th king of Judah. He came to the throne at the age of 20 years and reigned in Jerusalem for 16 years, and, of course, died at the age of 36. He ascended the throne, according to Calmet, 738 years before the Christian era; see 2 Kings 16:2; 2 Chronicles 28:5. The character of Ahaz was the reverse of that of his father; and, excepting Manasseh, his grandson, there was probably not a more impious prince who ever sat on the throne of Judah, nor was there a reign that was on the whole more disastrous than his. A statement of his evil deeds and a brief record of the calamitous events of his reign is given in 2 Chronicles 23 and in 2 Kings 16. He imitated the kings of Israel and Samaria in all manner of abominations and disorders. Early on, he made images of the Baalim. He burned incense in the Valley of Hinnom to idol gods and even burned his own children in the fire. He established idolatrous places of worship in every part of the land and caused the worship of idols to be celebrated in the groves and upon all the hills in Judea.
As a consequence of this idolatry, and as a punishment for his sins and the sins of the nation, his kingdom was invaded by the joint forces of the kings of Syria and of Samaria. A large number of captive Jews were carried to Damascus; and, in one day, Pekah, the king of Samaria, killed 120,000, and took captive 200,000 more whom he planned to carry captive to Samaria. This he would have done but for the remonstrance of the prophet Obed, who pled with him, and represented the impropriety of his carrying his brethren into bondage; and, at his solicitation, and from the apprehension of the wrath of God, the captives were returned to Jericho, and set at liberty 2 Chronicles 28:15. It was at this juncture, and when Ahaz trembled with alarm at the prospect of the invasion of the kings of Syria and Samaria, that he resolved to call in the aid of the Assyrians, and thus to repel the apprehended invasion.
Though he had been able to defeat the united armies of Syria and Samaria once 2 Kings 16:5, yet those armies returned once more, and Ahaz in alarm determined to seek the aid of Assyria. For this purpose he sent messengers, with terms of most humble submission and entreaty, and with the most costly presents that his kingdom could furnish, to secure the alliance and aid of Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria 2 Kings 16:7-8. It was at this time, when Ahaz was so much alarmed, that Isaiah met him at the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field Isaiah 7:3-4, and assured him that he had no occasion to fear the united armies of Syria and Samaria; that Jerusalem was safe, and that God would be its protector. He assured him that the kingdoms of Syria and Samaria would not be enlarged by the accession and conquest of the kingdom of Judah Isaiah 7:7-9. So, Isaiah advised Ahaz to ask for a sign (demonstration) from Yahweh that this would be fulfilled Isaiah 7:10-11.
Ahaz indignantly, though with the appearance of religious scruple, said that he would not ask for a sign Isaiah 7:12. The secret reason, however, why he was not solicitous to procure a sign from Yahweh was that he had formed an alliance with the king of Assyria and scorned the idea of recognizing his dependence upon Yahweh. Isaiah, therefore, proceeded Isaiah 7:13. to assure him that Yahweh would himself give a sign anyway and would furnish a demonstration to him that the land would be soon forsaken of both the kings which Ahaz dreaded. See the notes at Isaiah 7. Isaiah then proceeded to state the consequences of his alliance with the king of Assyria and to assure him that the result would be, that, under the pretence of helping him, he would bring up his forces upon the land of Judah and spread devastation and ruin, and that only Jerusalem would be spared (Isaiah 7:17 ff and Isaiah 8). The prophecy respecting the speedy removal of the two kings of Syria and Samaria was accomplished (see the notes at Isaiah 7:16).
At about the same time, the kingdom of Judah was threatened with an invasion from the Edomites and Philistines 2 Chronicles 28:17-18. In this emergency, Ahaz had recourse to his old ally the king of Assyria 2 Chronicles 28:20-21. To secure his friendship, Ahaz made him a costly present obtained from the temple, from his own house, and from the princes 2 Chronicles 28:21. The king of Assyria professedly accepted the offer, marched against Rezin the king of Syria, took Damascus, and killed Rezin, agreeably to the prediction of Isaiah Isa 7:16. While Tiglath-Pileser was at Damascus, Ahaz visited him, and being much charmed with an altar which he saw there, he sent a model of it to Urijah the priest to have one constructed like it in Jerusalem 2 Kings 16:10. This was done. Ahaz returned from Damascus, offered sacrifice upon the new altar which he had had constructed, and gave himself up to every kind of idolatry and abomination 2 Kings 16:12. Ahaz offered sacrifice to the gods of Damascus on the pretence that they had defended Syria and that it might be rendered propitious to defend his own kingdom 2 Chronicles 28:23. Then Ahaz broke up the vessels of the temple, shut up the doors, and erected altars to the pagan deities in every part of Jerusalem 2 Chronicles 28:24-25. Thus, Ahaz finished his inglorious reign in the 36th year of his age, and he was buried in the city of Jerusalem, but not in the sepulchres of the kings, on account of his gross abominations 2 Chronicles 28:27.
The prediction of Isaiah Isa. 7-8 that his calling for the aid of the king of Assyria would result in disaster to his own land and to all the land except for Jerusalem (see the note at Isaiah 8:8) was not accomplished during the time of Ahaz, but was literally fulfilled in the calamities which occurred by the invasion of Sennacherib in the time of Hezekiah (see the notes at Isaiah 8; Isaiah 36-39).
It is not known with certainty what prophecies were delivered by Isaiah in the time of Ahaz. It is certain that those contained in Isaiah 7-9 were uttered during his reign, and there is every probability that those contained in Isaiah 10-12 were also given then. Perhaps some of the subsequent predictions were uttered during his reign as well.
Ahaz was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah, one of the most pious kings that ever sat upon the throne of David. He was 25 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for 29 years 2 Chronicles 29:1. Hezekiah's character was the reverse of that of his father. One of the first acts of his reign was to remove the evils introduced during the reign of Ahaz, and to restore again the pure worship of God. Hezekiah began the work of reform by destroying the high places, cutting down the groves, and overturning the altars of idolatry. He destroyed the brass serpent which Moses had made, and which had become an object of idolatrous worship. He ordered the doors of the temple to be rebuilt, and the temple itself was thoroughly cleansed and repaired 2 Kings 18:1-6; 2 Chronicles 29:1-17. He restored the observance of the Passover, and it was celebrated with great pomp and joy (2 Chronicles 30ff), and he restored the regular worship in the temple as it was in the time of Solomon 2 Chronicles 28:18. Successful in his efforts to reform the religion of his country and in his wars with the Philistines 2 Kings 18:8, he resolved to cast off the inglorious yoke of servitude to the king of Assyria 2 Kings 18:7. Therefore, Hezekiah refused to pay the tribute which had been promised to the Assyrian monarch which had been paid by his father, Ahaz.
As might have expected, this resolution excited the indignation of the king of Assyria, and led to the resolution to compel submission. Sennacherib, therefore, invaded the land with a great army; spread desolation through no small part of it; and was rapidly advancing toward Jerusalem. Hezekiah saw his error, and, alarmed, he sought to avoid the threatened blow. So, he put the city in the best possible posture of defense. He fortified it, enclosed it with a second wall, erected towers, repaired the Millo fortification in the City of David, stopped up all the fountains, and made darts and shields so that the city might be defended 2 Chronicles 32:1-8. He tried to prepare himself as well as possible to meet the mighty foe; and he did all that he could to inspire confidence in the true God among the people (see the notes at Isaiah 22:9-11).
Yet, as if not quite confident that Hezekiah could be able to hold out during a siege, and to resist an army so mighty as that of Sennacherib, he sent ambassadors to him, acknowledged his error, and sued for peace. Sennacherib proposed that Hezekiah should send him 300 talents of silver, and 30 talents of gold, and gave the implied assurance that if this were done his army should be withdrawn 2 Kings 18:13-14. Hezekiah readily agreed to send what was demanded. And to accomplish this, Hezekiah emptied the treasury, and stripped the temple of its ornaments 2 Kings 18:15-16. Sennacherib then went on down to Egypt (see the notes at Isaiah 36 and notes at Isaiah 37) and was repelled before Pelusium by the approach of Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, who had come to the aid of the Egyptian monarch. Upon his return, however, Sennacherib sent messengers from Lachish, and a portion of his army to Jerusalem to demand its surrender Isaiah 36:2. To this embassy no answer was returned by the messengers of Hezekiah Isaiah 36:21-22; and the messengers of Sennacherib returned to him at Libnah (see the note at Isaiah 37:8). At this period, Sennacherib was alarmed by the rumor that Tirhakah, whom he had so much reason to dread, was advancing against Sennacherib Isaiah 37:9, and again Sennacherib sent messengers to Hezekiah to induce Hezekiah to surrender, intending evidently to anticipate the news that Tirhakah was coming, and to secure the conquest of Jerusalem without being compelled to settle down before it in a long siege. This message, like the former, was unsuccessful. Hezekiah spread the case before Yahweh Isaiah 37:15-20, and Hezekiah received the answer that Jerusalem was safe. Sennacherib advanced to attack the city, but, in a single night 185,000 of his men were destroyed by an angel of the Lord, and he himself fled to his capital, where he was slain by his two sons Isaiah 37:36-38.
These events were among the most important in Jewish history. Isaiah 54ed during their occurrence; and a large portion of his prophecies from Isaiah 14-39 are occupied with allusions to and statements of these events. Isaiah gave himself to the work of preparing the nation for them, assuring them that they would come, but that Jerusalem should be safe. Isaiah seems to have labored to inspire the mind of Hezekiah and the minds of the people with confidence in God, that when the danger should arrive, they might look to Him entirely for defense. In this Isaiah was eminently successful; and Hezekiah and the nation put unwavering confidence in God. An accurate acquaintance with the causes, and the various events connected with the overthrow of Sennacherib is indispensable to a clear understanding of the Book of Isaiah, and these causes and events I have endeavored to present in the notes at the several chapters which refer to that remarkable invasion. Soon after this, Hezekiah became dangerously ill, and Isaiah announced to him that he must die Isaiah 38:1. Hezekiah prayed to God for the preservation of his life, and an assurance was given to him that he would live 15 years longer Isaiah 38:5. In attestation of this, and as a demonstration of it, the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz was made to recede ten degrees (see the notes at Isaiah 38:8).
Hezekiah, after his signal success over his foe, and the entire deliverance of his kingdom from the long dreaded invasion, and his recovery from the dangerous illness, became eminently prosperous and successful. He was caressed and flattered by foreign princes, presents of great value were given to him, and he surrounded himself with the usual splendor and magnificence of an oriental monarch 2 Chronicles 32:23, 2 Chronicles 32:27-28. As a consequence of this, his heart was lifted up with pride; he gloried in his wealth and magnificence, and even became proud of the divine interposition in his favor. To show what was in his heart, and to humble him, he was left to display his treasures in an ostentatious manner to the ambassadors of Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon 2 Chronicles 32:25, 2 Chronicles 32:31, and, for this act, received the assurance that all his treasures and his family would be carried in inglorious bondage to the land from whence the ambassadors came (2 Kings 20:12-18; see the notes at Isaiah 39:1-8). The rest of the life of Hezekiah was in peace Isaiah 39:8. He died at the age of 54, and was buried in the most honored of the tombs of the kings of Judah 2 Chronicles 32:33, and was deeply lamented by a weeping people at his death.
The reign of Hezekiah stretched through a considerable portion of the prophetic ministry of Isaiah. A large part of his prophecies are, therefore, presumed to have been uttered during this reign. It is probable that to this period we are to attribute the entire series from Isaiah 13-39 inclusive. The most important of Isaiah's prophecies, from Isaiah 40-66, I am disposed to assign to a subsequent period - to the reign of Manasseh. The reasons for this may be seen, in part, in section 2 of this introduction.
Hezekiah was succeeded by his son, Manasseh. The reasons for thinking that any part of the life of Isaiah was passed under the reign of this wicked prince have been stated above. He was the 15th king of Judah, and was 12 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for 55 years. It was during Manasseh's reign, and by him, as it is commonly supposed, that Isaiah was put to death. He forsook the path of Hezekiah and David, restored idolatry, worshipped the idols of Canaan, rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah had destroyed, set up altars to Baal, and planted groves to false gods. He raised altars to the whole host of heaven even in Jerusalem and in the courts of the temple, made his son pass through the fire to Moloch, was addicted to magic and divination, set up the idol of Astarte in the house of God, and caused the people to sin in a more aggravated form than had been done by the pagans who had formerly inhabited the land of Canaan. To all this, he added cruelty in the highest degree, and 'shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.' Probably most of the distinguished men of piety were cut off by him, and among them, it is supposed, was Isaiah (see 2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33).
So great were his crimes, that God brought upon the land the king of Assyria who took Manasseh from the hiding place where he sought a refuge amidst briers and thorns, and bound him, and carried him away to "Babylon" 2 Chronicles 32:11 - another proof that Babylon was at this time a dependent province of the Assyrian monarchy. In Babylon, Manasseh repented of his sins and humbled himself, and he was again returned to his land and his throne. After his restoration, he removed the worship of idols, and re-established the worship of Yahweh. He built a wall on the west side of Gihon, and extended it around to Mount Ophel, and put Jerusalem in a posture of defense. He broke down and removed the altars which he himself had erected in Jerusalem and in the temple; and he removed all traces of idolatrous worship except the high places, which he still allowed to remain. There is evidence of his reformation, and the latter part of his reign appears to have passed in comparative happiness and virtue.
It was only during the early part of his reign that Isaiah 54ed, and there is in his prophecies no express mention made of Manasseh. If Isaiah 54ed during any part of it, it is evident that he withdrew entirely, or nearly so, from the public exercise of his prophetic functions, and retired to a comparatively private life. There is evidently between the close of Isaiah 39:1-8 of his prophecy, and the period when the latter part of his prophecies commences Isaiah 40 an interval of considerable duration. It is not a violation of probability that Isaiah after the death of Hezekiah, being an old man, withdrew much from public life, that he saw and felt that there was little hope of producing reform during the impious career of Manasseh, and that, in the distress and anguish of his soul, he gave himself up to the contemplation of the happier times which would yet occur under the reign of the Messiah. It was during this period, I suppose, that Isaiah composed the latter part of his prophecies, from Isaiah 40 to Isaiah 66.
The nation was full of wickedness. An impious prince was on the throne. Piety was banished, and the friends of Yahweh were bleeding in Jerusalem. The nation was given up to idolatry. The kingdom was approaching the period of its predicted fall and ruin. Isaiah saw the tendency of events; he saw how hopeless the attempt at reform would be. He saw that the captivity of Babylon was hastening on, and that the nation was preparing for that gloomy event. In this dark and disastrous period, he seems to have withdrawn himself from the contemplation of the joyless present, and to have given his mind to the contemplation of happier future scenes. An interval perhaps of some 10 or 15 years may be supposed to have elapsed between his last public labors in the time of Hezekiah, and the prophecies which compose the remainder of the book.
During this interval, Isaiah may have withdrawn from public view, and fixed his mind upon the great events of future times. In his visions he sees the nation about to go into captivity. Yet he sees also that there would be a return from bondage, and he comforts the hearts of the pious with the assurance of such a return. He announces the name of the monarch by whom that deliverance would be accomplished, and gives assurance that the captive Jews would return to their own land again. But Isaiah is not satisfied with the announcement of this comparatively unimportant deliverance. With that he connects a far greater and more important deliverance, that from sin, under the Messiah. Isaiah fixes his eye, therefore, on the future glories of the kingdom of God, sees the long promised Messiah, describes his person, his work, his doctrine, and states in glowing language the effects of his coming on the happiness and destiny of mankind. As Isaiah advances in his prophetic descriptions, the deliverance from Babylon seems to die away and is forgotten or it is lost in the contemplation of the event to which it had a resemblance - the coming of the Messiah - as the morning star is lost in the superior glory of the rising sun. He throws himself forward in his descriptions, places himself amidst these future scenes, and describes them as taking place around him, and as events which he saw. He thinks and feels and acts as if he is in that period; his mind is full of the contemplation; and he pours out, in describing it, the most elevated language and the sublimest thoughts. It was in contemplations such as these, I suppose, that he passed the close of his life; and in such visions of the glorious future, that he sought a refuge from the gloom and despondency which must have filled a pious mind during the early part of the reign of the impious and blood-thirsty Manasseh.
Isaiah was contemporary with the prophets Jonah, Hosea, and Micah. They, however, performed a less important public part, and were not favored with visions of the future glory of the church like his. In a single chapter, however, the same language is used by Isaiah and by Micah; see Isaiah 2:2-4; compare Micah 4:1-4. In which prophet the language is original, it is impossible now to determine.
Section 4. Divisions of Isaiah
Various modes of classifying the prophecies of Isaiah have been proposed, in order to present them in the most lucid and clear manner. Gesenius divides the whole into four parts, exclusive of the historical portion Isaiah 36-39; the first, comprising Isaiah 1-12; the second is Isaiah 13-23; the third is Isaiah 24-35; and the fourth is Isaiah 40-66.
Horne proposes the following division: Part I: Isaiah 1-5; Part II: Isaiah 7-12; Part III: Isaiah 13-24; Part IV: Isaiah 24-33; Part V: Isaiah 36-39; Part VI: Isaiah 40-66; See his Introduction, vol. ii.157ff.
Vitringa divides the book into the following portions:
(1) Five prophetic addresses directly to the Jews, including the Ephraimites, reprehending, denouncing, and accusing them, Isaiah 1-12.
(2) Eight addresses or prophetic discourses, in which the destiny of foreign nations is foretold, particularly the destiny of Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Assyria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia and Tyre, Isaiah 13-23.
(3) Penal judgments against the Jews and their foes, with ample promises of the final preservation and future prosperity of the Jews, Isaiah 24-36.
(4) Four consolatory addresses, respecting the coming of the Messiah, and particularly describing the events which would be introductory to it; especially the liberation from the captivity at Babylon, Isaiah 40-49,
(5) A description of the coming and work of the Messiah - his person, his doctrines, his death, and the success of the gospel and its final triumph, Isaiah 49-66.
II. Historic. The events recorded in Isaiah 36-39.
The natural and obvious division of Isaiah is into two parts, the first of which closes with Isaiah 39:1-8, and the latter of which comprises the remainder of the book Isaiah 40-66. In this division the latter portion is regarded as substantially a continuousprophecy, or an unbroken oracle or vision, relating to far distant events, and having little reference to existing things at the time when Isaiah 54ed, except the implied censures which are passed on the idolatry of the Jews in the time of Manasseh. The main drift and scope, however, is to portray events to come - the certain deliverance of the Jews from the bondage in Babylon, and the higher deliverance of the world under the Messiah, of which the former was the "suggester" and the "emblem."
The former part Isaiah 1-39 comprises a collection of independent prophecies and writings composed at various periods during the public ministry of the prophet Isaiah, and designed to produce an immediate effect upon the morals, the piety, the faith, and the welfare of the nation. The general drift is that Jerusalem was secure, that the kingdom of God on earth could not be destroyed, that however much His people might be subjected to punishment for their sins, and however long and grievous might be their calamities, and however mighty their foes, yet that the kingdom of God could not be overturned, and His promises set at nought. Hence, in all the predictions of judgment and calamity; in all the reproofs for crime, idolatry, and sin; there is usually found a "saving clause" - an assurance that the people of God would finally triumph and be secure. And hence, so large a portion of this division of the book is occupied with a prophetic statement of the entire and utter overthrow of the formidable states, nations, and cities with which they had been so often engaged in war, and which were so decidedly hostile to the Jews. The prophet, therefore, goes over in detail these cities and nations, and depicts successively the destruction of the Assyrians, of Babylon; Tyre, Moab, Damascus, Edom, etc., until he comes to the triumphant conclusion in Isaiah 35:1-10 that all the enemies of the people of God would be destroyed, and His kingdom would be established on an imperishable basis under the Messiah (see the notes at Isaiah 35:1-10). This is the scope of this part of the prophecy; and this is the reason why there is such fearful denunciation of surrounding nations. In the course of the predictions, however, there are frequent reproofs of the Jews for their sins, and solemn warnings and assurances of judgments against them; but there is the uniform assurance that they would be delivered, as a people, from all bondage and calamity, and be restored to ultimate freedom and prosperity.
This part of the book comprises the prophecies which were uttered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (see section 3). For convenience, it may be divided in the following manner:
First. Independent prophecies, relating to Judah and Israel, Isaiah 1-12. These are seven in number:
I. Reproof of national crimes, Isaiah 1.
II. Judah, its sins, Isaiah 2-4.
III. Judah, a vineyard, Isaiah 5.
IV. The Vision of Yahweh, Isaiah 6:1-13.
V. Ahaz; impending calamity; prediction of the birth and character of the Messiah, Isaiah 7-9:7.
VI. Samaria, Isaiah 9:8-21; Isaiah 10:1-4.
VII. Sennacherib; deliverance from him; advent and work of the Messiah, Isaiah 10:5-34; Isaiah 11; Isaiah 12:1-6.
Second. Independent prophecies, mainly relating to surrounding nations which had been regarded as hostile to the Jews, or which were their natural enemies, or which for their sins were to be cut off to make way for the introduction and permanent establishment of the kingdom of God, Isaiah 13-23. These prophecies are 14 in number, and relate to the following kingdoms and people:
VIII. Babylon, Isaiah 13; Isaiah 14:1-27.
IX. Philistia, Isaiah 14:28-32.
X. Moab, Isaiah 15-16,
XI. Damascus, Isaiah 17:1-11,
XII. Sennacherib, Isaiah 17:12-14.
XIII. Nubia, or Ethiopia, Isaiah 18:1-7.
XIV. Egypt, Isaiah 19.
XV. Egypt and Assyria, Isaiah 20:1-6.
XVI. The destruction of Babylon, Isaiah 21:1-10.
XVII. Dumah or Idumea, Isaiah 21:11-12.
XVIII. Arabia, Isaiah 21:13-17,
XIX. Jerusalem, when about to be besieged by Sennacherib, Isaiah 22:1-14.
XX. The fall of Shebna, and the promotion of eliakim, Isaiah 22:15-25.
XXI. Tyre, Isaiah 23.
Third. Independent prophecies, relating mainly to the times of Hezekiah, and to the prospect of the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib; with a statement of the ultimate safety of the people of God, and the overthrow of all their enemies, Isaiah 24-35. These prophecies are 8 in number, and relate to the following events.
XXII. Desolation of the land of Judea, its delivery and triumph, Isaiah 24-27.
XXIII. Ephraim to be destroyed, and Judah preserved, Isaiah 28.
XXIV. The siege and deliverance of Jerusalem, Isaiah 29.
XXV. An alliance with Egypt condemned, Isaiah 30.
XXVI. Denunciation on account of the contemplated alliance with Egypt, Isaiah 31:1-9.
XXVII. The virtuous and yet unsuccessful reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah 32.
XXVIII. The destruction of the Assyrian army, Isaiah 33.
XXIX. The destruction of Edom, and of all the enemies of God, and the final triumph and security of the people, Isaiah 34; Isaiah 35:1-10.
Fourth. The historical portion Isaiah 36-39, relating to the destruction of Sennacherib, and the sickness and recovery of Hezekiah.
One great cause of the difficulty of understanding Isaiah arises from the manner in which the division into chapters has been made. This division is known to be of recent origin, and is of no authority whatever. It was first adopted by Hugo in the 13th century, who wrote a celebrated commentary on the Scriptures. He divided the Latin Vulgate into chapters nearly the same as those which now exist in the English version. These chapters he divided into smaller sections by placing the letters A, B, C, etc., at equal distances from each other in the margin. The division into verses is of still later origin. It was made by Stephens on a journey from Lyons to Paris in 1551, and was first used in his edition of the New Testament. The Jews formerly divided the books of the Old Testament into greater and smaller sections.
It is obvious that these divisions are of no authority; and it is as obvious that they were most injudiciously made. A simple glance at Isaiah will show that prophecies have been divided in many instances which should have been retained in the same chapter, and that prophecies and parts of prophecies have been thrown into the same chapter which should have been kept distinct. It is not usually difficult to mark the commencement and the close of the prophecies in Isaiah, and an indication of such a natural division throws material light on the prophecy itself. The proper divisions have been indicated above.
Section 5. The Historical Writings of Isaiah
It is evident that Isaiah wrote more than we have in the book which bears his name. In 2 Chronicles 26:22; it is said, 'Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write.' But the only portion of the book of Isaiah which can with any certainty be referred to the time of Uzziah is Isaiah 6:1-13. And even if, as we may suppose, the five previous chapters are to be referred to his time, yet they contain no historical statement; no record of public events sufficient to constitute a history of "the acts of Uzziah, first and last." It is therefore morally certain that there were other writings of Isaiah which we do not have in this collection of his prophecies.
Again, in 2 Chronicles 32:32; it is said, 'Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz.' In the Book of Isaiah we have a record of some very important events connected with the life of Hezekiah (see Isaiah 36-39). But there is no formal record of the events of the early part of his reign or of his death. What is said relates to the invasion of Sennacherib Isaiah 36-37, to the sickness and recovery of Hezekiah Isaiah 38, and to the visit of the ambassadors from Babylon, Isaiah 39:1-8. But this would scarcely deserve to be called a record, or history of his "acts," and his "goodness," (margin, "kindnesses"), that is, his actions or plans of beneficence to promote the happiness and piety of his people. It is not, however, upon this passage so much that reliance is to be placed to prove that he wrote other documents, as on the passage quoted from 2Kings.
In regard to these historical records which are not now found in the Book of Isaiah, there can be only two opinions:
(1) One is that they are lost, that they formed a part of the record of times which was then of value, and which was lost when more full and complete records were made in the Books of Kings and Chronicles. Many such writings are mentioned which are now lost or which are not found under the names of their authors. Thus, we have accounts of the writings of Gad, and Iddo the Seer, and Nathan, and the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilomite, and the Book of Jehu 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 20:34; 1 Kings 16:1, all of which are now lost, unless they have come down to us under some other name. Nor is there any improbability that some portions of the once-inspired writings are lost. They may have been inspired to accomplish a certain object; and, when that goal was gained, they may have been lost or destroyed as not further necessary, or as superseded by superior clearness of revelation. No man can tell why it should be regarded as more improbable that divine communications which are written should be lost when they have accomplished their purpose, than it is that divine communications spoken should be lost. In the mere act of writing, there is no special sacredness that should make it necessary to preserve it. And yet no one can doubt (compare John 21:25) that a very large portion of what our blessed Lord spoke, who always spoke inspired truth, is now irrecoverably lost. It never was recorded, and there can be no impropriety in supposing that portions of truth that have been recorded have likewise perished. The whole Bible will be consumed in the conflagration of the last day - but truth will live on. God has preserved, with remarkable care, as much truth as He saw was necessary to illuminate and edify His church to the end of time. There is, however, no indispensable necessity of supposing that in fact any part of the sacred record has been destroyed. For,
(2) The records which were made by Isaiah, Iddo, Nathan, Ahijah, etc., may have been public documents that were laid up in the archives of the state, and that were subsequently incorporated into the historical books which we now have. It is probable that the history of each reign was recorded by a prophet, a scribe, or a "historiographer" (see the note at Isaiah 36:3). From the following extract from the travels of Mr. Bruce, it is evident that such an officer is known in modern times as attached to a court. The extract will also be descriptive of the duties of such an officer, and perhaps may be regarded as descriptive of some of the functions discharged by the prophets. 'The king has near his person an officer who is meant to be his historiographer. He is also keeper of his seal; and is "obliged to make a journal of the king's actions, good or bad, without comment of his own upon them."
This, when the king dies, or at least soon after, is delivered to the council, who read it over, and erase everything false in it, while they supply every material fact that may have been omitted, whether purposely or not.' Travels, vol. ii. p. 596. Such a record is also kept of all the sayings and purposes of the Emperor of China by an officer appointed for this purpose. It is carefully made, and sealed up during his life, and is not opened until he dies. This is regarded in that empire as an important public security that the Emperor will say or do nothing that he will be unwilling should be known by posterity; see the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, "China." It would seem probable, therefore, that this is an oriental custom extensively prevalent. There is every reason to believe that a part of these royal biographies, or records of important events in each reign, were written by prophets (see the analysis of Isaiah 36).
These records would be deposited in the archives of state, and would be regarded as authentic documents, and placed under the custody of proper officers. When the connected history of the nation came to be written; when the Books of the "Kings" and the "Chronicles" were composed, nothing would be more natural than to take these documents or historical records, and arrange and embody them as a part of the sacred history. They may have been incorporated entire into the narratives which we now have; and the name of the writer simply referred to as the "authority" for the document, or to preserve the recollection of the original author of each fragment or part of the history. This I regard as by far the most probable supposition. And, if this is correct, then we still have substantially the portions of history which were composed by Isaiah, Gad, etc., and they have been, with perhaps some slight changes necessary to constitute a continuous narrative, or to supply some omissions, incorporated into the historical records which we now possess. These requisite changes may have been made by Ezra when the canon of the Old Testament was completed. The reasons for this opinion may be seen more at length in the analysis of Isaiah 36.
Section 6. Quotations of Isaiah in the New Testament
Isaiah refers more fully to the times of the Messiah than any other of the prophets. It is natural, therefore, to expect to find his writings often quoted or appealed to in the New Testament. The frequency of the reference, and the manner in which it is done, will show the estimate in which he was held by the Saviour and by the apostles. It may also contribute in some degree to the explanation of some of the passages quoted to have them convenient for reference, or for examination. The meaning of Isaiah may be often determined by the inspired statement of the event referred to in the New Testament; and the meaning of a New Testament writer llkewise by a reference to the passage which he quotes. In regard to these quotations, also, it may be of use to bear in remembrance that a portion is made directly and literally from the Hebrew, and agrees also with the Septuagint version, or is in the words of the Septuagint; a portion agrees with the Hebrew in sense but not in words; a portion is made from the Septuagint translation even when the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew; and in some cases there is a bare allusion to a passage. It may be useful to furnish a classification of the entire passages which are quoted in the New Testament, under several heads, that they may be seen at one view, and may be compared at leisure. For this selection and arrangement, I am mainly indebted to Horne. Introduction vol. ii. p. 343ff:
I. Quotations agreeing exactly with the Hebrew text: Isaiah 53:4 quoted in Matthew 8:17 Isaiah 53:12 quoted in Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37 Isaiah 53:1 quoted in John 12:38; compare Romans 10:16 Isaiah 52:15 quoted in Romans 15:21 Isaiah 22:13 quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:32 Isaiah 25:8 quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:54 Isaiah 49:8 quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:2 Isaiah 54:1 quoted in Galatians 4:27 Isaiah 8:17-18 quoted in Hebrews 2:13
II. Quotations nearly agreeing with the Hebrew text: Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23 Isaiah 6:9-10 quoted in Matthew 13:14-15; compareAct 28:26; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10 Isaiah 54:13 quoted in John 6:45 Isaiah 66:1-2 quoted in Acts 7:49-50 Isaiah 49:6 quoted in Acts 13:47 Isaiah 52:5 quoted in Romans 2:24 Isaiah 1:9 quoted in Romans 9:29 Isaiah 8:14 quoted in Romans 9:33 Isaiah 52:7 quoted in Romans 10:15 Isaiah 65:1-2 quoted in Romans 10:20-21 Isaiah 29:14 quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19 Isaiah 40:13 quoted in 1 Corinthians 2:16 Isaiah 38:11-12 quoted in 1 Corinthians 14:21; cf. Romans 11:34 Isaiah 40:6-8 quoted in 1 Peter 1:24-25 Isaiah 53:9 quoted in 1 Peter 2:22 Isaiah 53:5 quoted in 1 Peter 2:24 Isaiah 8:12-13 quoted in 1 Peter 3:14-15
III. Quotations agreeing with the Hebrew in sense,but not in words: Isaiah 40:3-5 quoted in Matthew 3:3; compare Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6 Isaiah 42:1-4 quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 Isaiah 59:7-8 quoted in Romans 3:15-17 Isaiah 10:22-23 quoted in Romans 9:27-28 Isaiah 45:23 quoted in Romans 14:11 Isaiah 11:10 quoted in Romans 15:12 Isaiah 52:11-12 quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:17
IV. Quotations which give the general sense,but which abridge, or add to it: Isaiah 6:9-10 quoted in John 12:40; Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:26 Isaiah 29:10 quoted in Romans 11:8
V. Quotations which are taken from several different places: Isaiah 26:16; Isaiah 8:14 quoted in Romans 9:33 Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 6:9; Ezekiel 12:2 quoted in Romans 11:8 Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9 quoted in Matthew 21:5
VI. Quotations differing from the Hebrew text,but agreeing with the Septuagint text: Isaiah 29:13 quoted in Matthew 15:8-9 Isaiah 55:3 quoted in Acts 13:34
VII. Quotations in which there is reason to suspecta different reading in the Hebrew text,or that the words were understood in a sensedifferent from that expressed in our Lexicons: Isaiah 60:1-2 quoted in Luke 4:18-19 Isaiah 53:7-8 quoted in Acts 8:32-33 Isaiah 59:20-21 quoted in Romans 11:26-27 Isaiah 64:4 quoted in 1 Corinthians 2:9 Isaiah 42:2, Isaiah 42:4 quoted in Matthew 12:18, Matthew 12:21
VIII. Allusion to a passage in Isaiah: Isaiah 12:3 John 8:37-38
IX. Quotations made from the Septuagint: Many of the passages above referred to are made also from the Septuagint, when that version agrees with the Hebrew. I refer here to a few passages which have not been noted before. The apostles wrote in the Greek language and for the use of those among whom the Septuagint was extensively used. Occasionally, however, they quoted directly from the Hebrew, that is, made a translation themselves, or quoted according to the general sense. All the quotations that are in accordance with the Septuagint, or that vary from it, may be seen in Horne's Introduction, vol. ii. pp. 387, 428. Isaiah 49:6 quoted in Acts 13:47 Isaiah 65:1-2 quoted in Romans 10:20-21 Isaiah 52:15 quoted in Romans 5:21 Isaiah 49:8 quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:2 Isaiah 29:13 quoted in Matthew 15:8-9 Isaiah 55:3 quoted in Acts 13:34 Isaiah 53:12 quoted in Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37
X. Quotations which differ from the Hebrew,and the Septuagint, and which were perhaps takenfrom some version or paraphrase, or which were sorendered by the sacred writers themselves: Isaiah 9:1-2 quoted in Matthew 4:15-16 Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:4 quoted in Matthew 12:18, Matthew 12:21
So numerous are these quotations, and so entirely do the writings of Isaiah harmonize with those of the New Testament, that it may be regarded almost as an indispensable part of the work of explaining the New Testament to explain Isaiah. They seem to be parts of the same work; and an exposition of the apostles and evangelists can hardly be deemed complete without the accompaniment of the evangelical prophet.
Section 7. The Character and Nature of Prophecy
1. The words "prophet" and "prophecy" are used in the Bible in a larger sense than they are commonly with us. We have attached, in common usage, to the word "prophet," the idea simply of one who foretells future events, προφήτης prophētēs from πρόφημι prophēmi, "to speak before, to foretell." To a correct understanding of the prophetic functions, and of the writings of the prophets, however, it is necessary to bear in remembrance that the office of foretelling future events comprised only a small portion of their public duties. They were the messengers of God to His people and to the world. They were appointed to make known His will, to denounce His judgments, to rebuke the crimes of rulers and people, to instruct in the doctrines of religion, and generally to do whatever was necessary in order to effectually promulgate the will of God. The prophet was, therefore, a man who was commissioned to teach and rebuke kings and nations, as well as to predict future events.
With the idea of a prophet there is necessarily connected the idea that he spoke not his own thoughts, but that what he uttered was only received directly from God in one of the modes in which that will was made known. He was God's ambassador to people; and, of course, was a man who was raised up or designated by God Himself. He was not trained for this office, since a man could not be trained for inspiration; though it was a matter of fact that several of the prophets were taken from the "school of the prophets," or from among the "sons of the prophets;" 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5,2 Kings 2:7, 2 Kings 2:15; 2 Kings 4:1, 2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 5:22; 2 Kings 6:1. Yet the choice from among them of anyone to perform the functions of the prophet under divine inspiration, seems to have been incidental, and not in a uniform mode. A large part of the prophets had no connection with those schools. Those schools were doubtless usually under the direction of some inspired man, and were probably designed to train those educated there for the functions of public teachers, of for the stations of learning under the theocracy; but they could not have been regarded as intended to train for that function which depended wholly upon the direct inspiration of God.
The word rendered "prophet," נביא nâbı̂y', is derived from נבא nâbâ', not used in the Qal, which is probably, according to Gesenius, the same as נבע nâba‛ - the (ע) sound being softened into (א) - and which means "to boil up, to boil forth," as a fountain; hence, to pour forth words as they do who speak with fervour of mind, or under divine inspiration. The word, therefore, properly means, to speak under a special fervor, animation, inspiration of mind produced by a divine influence; to speak, either in foretelling future events, or denouncing the judgments of God when the mind was full, and when the excited and agitated spirit of the prophet poured forth words, as water is driven from the fountain.
But the word also denotes all the forms or modes in which the prophet communicated the will of God, or discharged the functions of the prophetic office. Hence, it is used to denote:
(1) the predicting of future events (see Taylor's Hebrew Concordance or Cruden's Concordance);
(2) to speak in the name of God, or as His messenger, and by His authority, Exodus 7:1; Exodus 4:16;
(3) to chant or sing sacred praises to God while under a divine infiuence-- 1 Samuel 10:11; 1 Samuel 19:20 : 1 Chronicles 25:3 -- because this was often done by the inspired prophets;
(4) to rave, as, for example, to utter the frantic ravings of the prophets of Baal, 1 Kings 18:29; 1 Samuel 18:10.
This latter meaning is in accordance with the customs among the pagan, where the prophet or the prophetess professed to be full of the divine influence, and where that influence was manifested by writhings and contortions of the body, or by a pretended suspension of the powers of conscious agency, and the manifestation of conduct not a little resembling the ravings of delirium. Hence, the Greeks applied the word μαντις mantis, (from μάινομαι mainomai "to be mad, to rave, to be delirious") to the frenzied manner of the soothsayers, prophetic oracles, etc. It is possible that the true prophets, occasionally under the power of inspiration, exhibited similar agitations and spasmodic affections of the body (compare Numbers 24:4; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 10:8-10; 1 Samuel 19:24; Jeremiah 20:7), and that this was imitated by the false prophets. The two main ideas in the word "prophecy" relate:
(a) to the prediction of future events, and
(b) to declaring the will of God, denouncing vengeance, threatening punishment, reproving the wicked, etc., under the influence of inspiration, or by a divine impulse.
II. In order to obtain a clear idea of the nature of prophecy, it is important to have a correct apprehension of the modes in which God communicated His will to the prophets, or of the manner in which they were influenced, and affected by the prophetic "afflatus" or inspiration. Of course, all the light which can be obtained on this subject is to be derived from the Scriptures; but the subject is involved still in much obscurity. Perhaps the following will include all the modes in which the will of God was made known to the prophets, or in which they received a knowledge of what they were to communicate to others.
(1) a direct commission by an audible voice from heaven, spoken in a solemn manner, and in circumstances in which there could be no doubt of the call. Thus, Moses was called by God at the bush, Exodus 3:2-6; Isaiah in the temple, Isaiah 6:8 ff.; Samuel by God, 1 Samuel 3:4, 1 Samuel 3:6,1 Samuel 3:8, 1 Samuel 3:10; Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 1:3; and perhaps Joel in Joel 1:1; Amos 1:1; Jonah, Jonah 1:1; Micah, Micah 1:1; etc. In these cases there was no doubt on the mind of the prophet of his call, since it was usually in such circumstances, and probably in such a manner, as to leave the fullest demonstration that it was from God. There is no evidence, however, that the whole message was usually communicated to the mind of the prophet in this manner. Perhaps the first call to the prophetic office was made in this mode, and the nature of the message imparted in the manner that will be specified soon. All that is essential to the correct understanding of this is that there was a CLEAR designation to the prophetic function.
(2) the will of God was made known by dreams. Instances of this kind are common in the Sacred Scriptures, as one of the earliest modes of communication between God and the soul. The idea seems to be that the senses were locked up, and that the soul was left free to hold communication with the invisible world, and to receive the expressions of the will of God. The belief that God made known His will in this manner was by no means confined to the Jewish nation. God informed Abimelech in a dream that Sarah was the wife of Abraham, Genesis 20:3, Genesis 20:6. Joseph was early favored with prophetic dreams which were so clear in their signification as to be easily interpreted by his father and brethren, Genesis 37:4-6. The butler and baker in Egypt both had dreams predicting their future destiny, Genesis 40:5; and Pharaoh had a dream of the future condition of Egypt, which was interpreted by Joseph, Genesis 41:7, Genesis 41:25. God spoke to Jacob in a dream, Genesis 31:11; and it was in a dream that He made His promise to impart wisdom to Solomon, 1 Kings 3:5. Nebuchadnezzar had dreams festering his future destiny, and the kingdoms that should arise after him, Daniel 2:1, Daniel 2:5; and the will of God was made known to Daniel in a dream, Daniel 1:17; Daniel 7:1. God expressly declared that He would make known His will by dreams. Numbers 12:6 - 'If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.' Thus also in Joel 2:28 - 'Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.' The false prophets pretended also to have dreams which conveyed them the will of God. The ancient belief on this subject is expressed in most sublime manner in the language of Elihu as addressed to Job:
For God speaketh once,
Yea, twice, when man regardeth it not;
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
When deep sleep falleth upon men,
In slumberings upon the bed--
Then he openeth the ears of men,
And sealeth up for them admonition,
That he may turn man from his purpose,
And remove pride from man.
1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The vision - The first verse evidently is a title, but whether to the whole book or only to a part of it has been questioned. As it stands here, however, it seems clearly intended to include the entire book, because it embraces all that was seen during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; that is, during the whole prophetic life of the prophet. The same title is also given to his prophecies in 2 Chronicles 32:32 : 'Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold they are written in the vision of Isaiah.' Vitringa supposes that the former part of this title, 'the vision of Isaiah,' was at first affixed to the single prophecy contained in the first chapter, and that the latter part was inserted afterward as an introduction to the whole book. This might have been done by Isaiah himself if he collected his prophecies into a volume, or by some other inspired man who collected and arranged them; see the Introduction to Isaiah 36.
The word "vision," חזון chăzôn, denotes properly that which is seen, from the verb, חזה châzâh, "to see, to behold." It is a term which is often used in reference to the prophecies of the Old Testament; Numbers 12:6; Numbers 24:4; 1 Samuel 3:1; Psalm 89:19; Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 8:1; Nahum 1:1; Genesis 15:1; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:1. Hence, the prophets were anciently called "Seers," as those who saw or witnessed events which were yet to come; compare 1 Samuel 9:9 : 'He that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a "Seer;"' 1 Samuel 9:11, 1 Samuel 9:18-19; 1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Kings 18:13. In these visions the objects probably were made to pass before the mind of the prophet as a picture, in which the various events were delineated with more or less distinctness, and the prophecies were spoken, or recorded, as the visions appeared to the observer. As many events could be represented only by symbols, those symbols became a matter of record, and are often left without explanation. On the nature of the prophetic visions, see Introduction, Section 7. (4.)
Of Isaiah - The name Isaiah ישׁעיהו yesha‛yâhû from ישׁע yesha‛ - salvation, help, deliverance - and יהוה yehovâh or Jehovah, means 'salvation of Yahweh,' or 'Yahweh will save.' The Vulgate renders it "Isaias"; the Septuagint has: Ησαΐ́ας Eesaias, "Esaias." This is also retained in the New Testament; Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 15:7; Mark 7:6; Luke 4:17; John 12:39; Acts 8:28; Romans 9:27, etc. In the book of Isaiah itself we find the form ישׁעיהו yesha‛yâhû, but in the inscription the rabbis give the form ישׁעיה yesha‛yâh. It was common among the Hebrews to incorporate the name Yahweh, or a part of it, into their proper names; see the note at Isaiah 7:14. Probably the object of this was to express veneration or regard for him - as we now give the name of a parent or friend to a child; or in many cases the name may have been given to record some signal act of mercy on the part of God, or some special interposition of his goodness. The practice of incorporating the name of the God that was worshipped into proper names was common in the East. Thus the name "Bel," the principal idol worshipped in Babylon, appears in the proper names of the kings, as Belshazzar, etc.; compare the note at Isaiah 46:1. It is not known that the name was given to Isaiah with any reference to the nature of the prophecies which he would deliver; but it is a remarkable circumstance that it coincides so entirely with the design of so large a portion of his predictions. The substance of the latter portion of the book, at least, is the salvation which Yahweh would effect for his people from their oppressers in Babylon, and the far mightier deliverance which the world would experience under the Messiah.
The son of Amoz - See the Introduction, Section 2. "Concerning Judah." The Jews after the death of Solomon were divided into two kingdoms; the kingdom of Judah, and of Israel, or Ephraim. The kingdom of Judah included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Benjamin was a small tribe, and it was not commonly mentioned, or the name was lost in that of Judah. The kingdom of Israel, or Ephraim, included the remaining ten tribes. Few of the prophets appeared among them; and the personal ministry of Isaiah does not appear to have been at all extended to them.
Jerusalem - The capital of the kingdom of Judah. It was on the dividing line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It is supposed to have been founded by Melchizedek, who is called king of Salem Genesis 14:18, and who is supposed to have given this name "Salem" to it. This was about 2000 years before Christ. About a century after its foundation as a city, it was captured by the "Jebusites," who extended its walls and built a citadel on Mount Zion. By them it was called Jebus. In the conquest of Canaan, Joshua put to death its king Joshua 10:23, and obtained possession of the town, which was jointly occupied by the Hebrews and Jebusites until the latter were expelled by David, who made it the capital of his kingdom under the name of "Jebus-Salem," or, for the sake of easier pronunciation by changing the Hebrew letter ב (b) into the Hebrew letter ר (r), "Jerusalem." After the revolt of the ten tribes, it of course became the capital of the kingdom of Judah. It was built on hills, or rocks, and was capable of being strongly fortified, and was well adapted to be the capital of the nation. For a more full description of Jerusalem, see the notes at Matthew 2:1. The vision which is here spoken of as having been seen respecting Judah and Jerusalem, pertains only to this chapter; see Isaiah 2:1.
In the days of Uzziah - In the time, or during the reign of Uzziah; 2 Chronicles 26; compare the Introduction, Section 3. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty-two years. It is not affirmed or supposed that Isaiah began to prophesy at the commencement of his reign. The first part of the long reign of Uzziah was prosperous. He gained important victories over his enemies, and fortified his kingdom; 2 Chronicles 26:5-15. He had under him an army of more than three hundred thousand men. But he became proud - attempted an act of sacrilege - was smitten of God, and died a leper. But though the kingdom under Uzziah was flourishing, yet it had in it the elements of decay. During the previous reign of Joash, it had been invaded and weakened by the Assyrians, and a large amount of wealth had been taken to Damascus, the capital of Syria; 2 Chronicles 24:23-24. It is not improbable that those ravages were repeated during the latter part of the reign of Uzziah; compare Isaiah 1:7.
Jotham - He began to reign at the age of twenty-five years, and reigned sixteen years; 2 Chronicles 27:1-2.
Ahaz - He began to reign at the age of twenty, and reigned sixteen years. He was a wicked man, and during his reign the kingdom was involved in crimes and calamities; 2 Chronicles 28.
Hezekiah - He was a virtuous and upright prince. He began his reign at the age of twenty-five years, and reigned twenty-nine; 2 Chronicles 29; see the Introduction Section 3,
2Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
Hear, O heavens - This is properly the beginning of the prophecy. It is a sublime commencement; and is of a highly poetic character. The heavens and the earth are summoned to bear witness to the apostasy, ingratitude, and deep depravity of the chosen people of God. The address is expressive of deep feeling - the bursting forth of a heart filled with amazement at a wonderful and unusual event. The same sublime beginning is found in the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:1 :
Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Compare Psalm 4:3-4. Thus also the prophets often invoke the hills and mountains to hear them; Ezekiel 6:3 : 'Ye mountains of Israel, hear the words of the Lord God: Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, and to the rivers, and to the valleys;' compare Ezekiel 36:1. 'Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord,' Jeremiah 2:12. By the heavens therefore, in this place, we are not to understand the inhabitants of heaven, that is, the angels, anymore than by the hills we are to understand the inhabitants of the mountains. It is high poetic language, denoting the importance of the subject, and the remarkable and amazing truth to which the attention was to be called.
Give ear, O earth - It was common thus to address the earth on any remarkable occasion, especially anyone implying warm expostulation, Jeremiah 5:19; Jeremiah 22:29; Micah 1:2; Micah 6:2; Isaiah 34:1; Isaiah 49:13.
For - Since it is Yahweh that speaks, all the universe is summoned to attend; compare Psalm 33:8-9 : 'Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the World stand in awe of him. For he spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.'
The Lord - - יהוה yehovâh, or Jehovah. The small capitals used here and elsewhere throughout the Bible in printing the word Lord, denote that the original word is Yahweh. It is derived from the verb היה hâyâh, "to be;" and is used to denote "being," or the fountain of being, and can be applied only to the true God; compare Exodus 3:14 : 'And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am, אהיה אשׁר אהיה 'eheyeh 'ăsher 'eheyeh; Exodus 6:3; Numbers 11:21; Isaiah 47:8. It is a name which is never given to idols, or conferred on a creature; and though it occurs often in the Hebrew Scriptures, as is indicated by the small capitals, yet our translators have retained it but four times; Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4. In combination, however, with other names, it occurs often. Thus in Isaiah, meaning the salvation of Yahweh; "Jeremiah," the exaltation or grandeur of Yahweh, etc.; compare Genesis 22:14 : 'Abraham called the name of the place "Jehovah-jireh,'" Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24; Ezekiel 48:35. The Jews never pronounced this name, not even in reading their own Scriptures. So sacred did they deem it, that when it occurred in their books, instead of the word Yahweh, they substituted the word אדני 'ădonāy, "Lord." Our translators have shown respect to this feeling of the Jews in regard to the sacredness of the name; and hence, have rendered it by the name of Lord - a word which by no means conveys the sense of the word Yahweh. It would have been an advantage to our version if the word Yahweh had been retained wherever it occurs in the original.
I have nourished - Hebrew "I have made great;" גדלתי gı̂daletı̂y. In Piel, the word means "to make great, to cause to grow;" as e. g., the hair; Numbers 6:5, plants, Isaiah 44:14; then to educate or bring up children; Isaiah 49:21; 2 Kings 10:6
And brought up - רוממתי romamethı̂y, from רום rûm, "to lift up" or "exalt." In Piel it means to bring up, nourish, educate; Isaiah 23:4. These words, though applied often to the training up of children, yet are used here also to denote the elevation to which they had been raised. He had not merely trained them up, but he had trained them up to an elevated station; to special honor and privileges. "Children." Hebrew בנים bânnı̂ym - sons." They were the adopted children of God; and they are represented as being weak, and ignorant, and helpless as children, when he took them under his fatherly protection and care; Hosea 11:1 : 'When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt;' compare the note at Matthew 2:15; Isaiah 63:8-16.
They have rebelled - This complaint was often brought against the Jews; compare Isaiah 63:10; Jeremiah 2:6-8. This is the sum of the charge against them. God had shown them special favors. He recounted his mercy in bringing them out of Egypt; and on the ground of this, he demanded obedience and love; compare Exodus 20:1-3. And yet they bad forgotten him, and rebelled against him. The Targum of Jonathan, an ancient Chaldee version, has well expressed the idea here. 'Hear, O heavens, which were moved when I gave my law to my people: give ear, O earth, which didst tremble before my word, for the Lord has spoken. My people, the house of Israel, whom I called sons - I loved them - I honored them, and they rebelled against me.' The same is true substantially of all sinners; and alas, how often may a similar expostulation be made with the professed people of God!
3The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
The ox ... - The design of this comparison is to show the great stupidity and ingratitude of the Jews. Even the least sagacious and most stupid of the animals, destitute as they are of reason and conscience, evince knowledge anal submission far more than the professed people of God. The ox is a well known domestic animal, remarkable for patient willingness to toil, and for submission to his owner.
Knoweth his owner - Recognizes, or is submissive to him.
The ass - A well known animal, proverbial for dulness and stupidity.
His master's crib - אבוס 'êbûs from אבס 'âbas, to heap up, and then to fatten. Hence, it is applied to the stall, barn, or crib, where cattle are fed, or made fat; Job 39:9; Proverbs 14:4. The donkey has sufficient knowledge to understand that his support is derived from that. The idea is, that the ox was more submissive to laws than the Jews; and that even the most stupid animal better knew from where support was to be derived, than they did the source of their comfort and protection. The donkey would not wander away, and the ox would not rebel as they had done. This comparison was very striking, and very humiliating, and nothing could be more suited to bring down their pride. A similar comparison is used elsewhere. Thus, in Jeremiah 8:7, the Jews are contrasted with the stork: 'Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle Dove, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord.' This idea has been beautifully expressed by Watts:
The brutes obey their God,
And bow their necks to men;
But we more base, more brutish things,
Reject his easy reign.
Compare Hosea 11:4.
But Israel - The name Israel, though after the division of the tribes into two kingdoms specifically employed to denote that of the ten tribes, is often used in the more general sense to denote the whole people of the Jews, including the kingdom of Judah. It refers here to the kingdom of Judah, though a name is used which is not inappropriately characteristic of the whole people.
Doth not know - The Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Arabic, add the word 'me.' The word know is used in the sense of recognizing him as their Lord; of acknowledging him, or submitting to him.
Doth not consider - Hebrew, Do not "understand." They have a stupidity greater than the brute.
4Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Ah! sinful nation - The word rendered 'ah!' - הוי hôy - is not a mere exclamation, expressing astonishment. It is rather an interjection denouncing threatening, or punishment. 'Wo to the sinful nation.' Vulgate, 'Vae genti peccatrici.' The corruption pertained to the nation, and not merely to a part. It had become general.
Laden with iniquity - The word translated "laden" - כבד kebed - denotes properly anything "heavy," or burdensome; from כבד kâbad, "to be heavy." It means that they were oppressed, and borne down with the "weight" of their sins. Thus we say, Sin sits "heavy" on the conscience. Thus Cain said, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear;' Genesis 4:13. The word is applied to an "employment" as being burdensome; Exodus 18:18 : 'This thing is too "heavy" for thee.' Numbers 11:14 : 'I am not able to bear eli this people alone; it is too "heavy" for me.' It is applied also to a "famine," as being heavy, severe, distressing. Genesis 12:10 : 'For the famine was "grievous" (כבד kâbed, heavy) in the land;' Genesis 41:31. It is also applied to "speech," as being heavy, dull, unintelligible. Exodus 4:10 : 'I am slow (heavy כבד kebad) of speech, and of a slow (heavy כבד kebad) tongue.' It is not applied to sin in the Scriptures, except in this place, or except in the sense of making atonement for it. The idea however, is very striking - that of a nation - an entire people, bowed and crushed under the enormous weight of accumulated crimes. To pardon iniquity, or to atone for it, is represented by bearing it, as if it were a heavy burden. Exodus 28:38, Exodus 28:43, 'That Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things.' Leviticus 10:17 : 'God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation.' Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 16:22; Numbers 18:1; Isaiah 53:6 : 'Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' Isaiah 53:11 : 'He shall bear their iniquities.' 1 Peter 2:24 : 'Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.'
A seed - זרע zera‛, from זרע zâra‛, to sow, to scatter, to disperse. It is applied to seed sown in a field; Judges 6:3; Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 47:23; to plants set out, or engrafted; or to planting, or transplanting a nation. Isaiah 17:10 : 'And thou shalt set it (תזרענוּ tizerâ‛enû shalt sow, or plant it) with strange slips.' Hence, it is applied to children, posterity, descendants, from the resemblance to seed sown, and to a harvest springing up, and spreading. The word is applied by way of eminence to the Jews, as being the seed or posterity of Abraham, according to the promise that his seed should be as the stars of heaven; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15-16; Genesis 15:5, Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7, ...
Children - Hebrew sons - the same word that is used in Isaiah 1:2. They were the adopted people or sons of God, but they had now become corrupt.
That are corrupters - mashchiytiym - משׁחיתים mashechı̂ythı̂ym, from שׁחת shachath, to destroy, to lay waste, as an invading army does a city or country; Joshua 22:33; Genesis 19:13. To destroy a vineyard; Jeremiah 12:10. To break down walls; Ezekiel 26:4. Applied to conduct, it means to destroy, or lay waste virtuous principles; to break down the barriers to vice; to corrupt the morals. Genesis 6:12 : 'And God looked upon the earth, and it was corrupt - נשׁחתה nı̂shechâthâh; for all flesh had corrupted his way - השׁחית hı̂shechı̂yth - upon the earth;' Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 31:29; Judges 2:19. They were not merely corrupt themselves, but they corrupted others by their example. This is always the case. When people become infidels and profligates themselves, they seek to make as many more as possible. The Jews did this by their wicked lives. The same charge is often brought against them; see Judges 2:12; Zephaniah 3:7.
They have provoked - Hebrew נאצוּ nı̂'ătsû 'They have despised the Holy One;' compare Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 5:12; Proverbs 15:5. Vulgate, 'They have blasphemed.' Septuagint, παρωργίσατε parōrgisate. 'You have provoked him to anger.' The meaning is, that they had so despised him, as to excite his indignation.
The Holy One of Israel - God; called the Holy One of Israel because he was revealed to them as their God, or they were taught to regard him as the sacred object of their worship.
They are gone away backward - Lowth: 'They have turned their backs upon him.' The word rendered "they are gone away," נזרוּ nâzorû, from זור zûr, means properly, to become estranged; to be alienated. Job 19:13 : 'Mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me.' It means especially that declining from God, or that alienation, which takes place when people commit sin; Psalm 78:30.
5Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
Why ... - The prophet now, by an abrupt change in the discourse, calls their attention to the effects of their sins. Instead of saving that they had been smitten, or of saying that they had been punished for their sins, he assumes both, and asks why it should be repeated. The Vulgate reads this: 'Super quo - on what part - shall I smite you anymore?' This expresses well the sense of the Hebrew - על־מה ‛al-meh - upon what; and the meaning is, 'what part of the body can be found on which blows have not been inflicted? On every part there are traces of the stripes which have been inflicted for your sins.' The idea is taken from a body that is all covered over with weals or marks of blows, and the idea is, that the whole frame is one continued bruise, and there remains no sound part to be stricken. The particular chastisement to which the prophet refers is specified in Isaiah 1:7-9. In Isaiah 1:5-6, he refers to the calamities of the nation, under the image of a person wounded and chastised for crimes. Such a figure of speech is not uncommon in the classic writers. Thus Cicero (de fin. iv. 14) says, 'quae hie reipublicae vulnera imponebat hie sanabat.' See also Tusc. Quaes. iii. 22; Ad Quintum fratrem, ii. 25; Sallust; Cat. 10.
Should ye be stricken - Smitten, or punished. The manner in which they had been punished, he specities in Isaiah 1:7-8. Jerome says, that the sense is, 'there is no medicine which I can administer to your wounds. All your members are full of wounds; and there is no part of your body which has not been smitten before. The more you are afflicted, the more will your impiety and iniquity increase.' The word here, תכוּ tukû, from נכה nâkâh, means to smite, to beat, to strike down, to slay, or kill. It is applied to the infliction of punishment on an individual; or to the judgments of God by the plague, pestilence, or sickness. Genesis 19:2 : 'And they smote the men that were at the door with blindness.' Numbers 14:12 : 'And I will smite them with the pestilence.' Exodus 7:25 : 'After that the Lord had smitten the river,' that is, had changed it into blood; compare Isaiah 1:20; Zechariah 10:2. Here it refers to the judgments inflicted on the nation as the punishment of their crimes.
Ye will revolt - Hebrew You will add defection, or revolt. The effect of calamity, and punishment, will be only to increase rebellion. Where the heart is right with God, the tendency of affliction is to humble it, and lead it more and more to God. Where it is evil, the tendency is to make the sinner more obstinate and rebellious. This effect of punishment is seen every where. Sinners revolt more and more. They become sullen, and malignant, and fretful; they plunge into vice to seek temporary relief, and thus they become more and more alienated from God.
The whole head - The prophet proceeds to specify more definitely what he had just said respecting their being stricken. He designates each of the members of the body - thus comparing the Jewish people to the human body when under severe punishment. The word head in the Scriptures is often used to denote the princes, leaders, or chiefs of the nation. But the expression here is used as a figure taken from the human body, and refers solely to the punishment of the people, not to their sins. It means that all had been smitten - all was filled with the effects of punishment - as the human body is when the head and all the members are diseased.
Is sick - Is so smitten - so punished, that it has become sick and painful. Hebrew לחלי lâchŏlı̂y - for sickness, or pain. The preposition ל denotes a state, or condition of anything. Psalm 69:21. 'And in (ל) my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.' The expression is intensive, and denotes that the head was entirely sick.
The whole heart faint - The heart is here put for the whole region of the chest or stomach. As when the head is violently pained, there is also sickness at the heart, or in the stomach, and as these are indications of entire or total prostration of the frame so the expression here denotes the perfect desolation which had come over the nation.
Faint - Sick, feeble, without vigor, attended with nausea. Jeremiah 8:18 : 'When I would comfort myself in my sorrow, my heart is faint within me;' Lamentations 1:22. When the body is suffering; when severe punishment is inflicted, the effect is to produce landor and faintness at the seat of life. This is the idea here. Their punishment had been so severe for their sins, that the heart was languid and feeble - still keeping up the figure drawn from the human body.
6From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
From the sole of the foot ... - Or is we say, 'from head to foot,' that is, in every part of the body. There may be included also the idea that this extended from the lowest to the highest among the people. The Chaldee paraphrase is, 'from the lowest of the people even to the princes - all are contumacious and rebellious.'
No soundness - מתם methôm, from תמם tâmam, to be perfect, sound, uninjured. There is no part unaffected; no part that is sound. It is all smitten and sore.
But wounds - The precise shade of difference between this and the two following words may not be apparent. Together, they mean Such wounds and contusions as are inflicted upon man by scourging, or beating him. This mode of punishment was common among the Jews; as it is at the East at this time. Abarbanel and Kimchi say that the word rendered here "wounds" (פצע petsa‛, a verbal from פצע pâtsa‛ to wound, to mutilate), means an open wound, or a cut from which blood flows.
Bruises - חבורה chabbûrâh. This word means a contusion, or the effect of a blow where the skin is not broken; such a contusion as to produce a swelling, and livid appearance; or to make it, as we say, black and blue.
Putrifying sores - The Hebrew rather means recent, or fresh wounds; or rather, perhaps, a running wound, which continues fresh and open; which cannot be cicatrized, or dried up. The Septuagint renders it elegantly πληγή φλγμαίνουσα plēgē flegmainous, a swelling, or tumefying wound. The expression is applied usually to inflammations, as of boils, or to the swelling of the tonsils, etc.
They have not been closed - That is, the lips had not been pressed together, to remove the blood from the wound. The meaning is, that nothing had been done toward healing the wound. It was an unhealed, undressed, all-pervading sore. The art of medicine, in the East, consists chiefly in external applications; accordingly the prophet's images in this place are all taken from surgery. Sir John Chardin, in his note on Proverbs 3:8, 'It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones,' observes, that the comparison is taken from the plasters, ointments, oils, and frictions, which are made use of in the East in most maladies. 'In Judea,' says Tavernier, 'they have a certain preparation of oil, and melted grease, which they commonly use for the healing of wounds.' Lowth. Compare the note at Isaiah 38:21.
Neither mollified with ointment - Neither made soft, or tender, with ointment. Great use was made, in Eastern nations, of oil, and various kinds of unguents, in medicine. Hence, the good Samaritan is represented as pouring in oil and wine into the wounds of the man that fell among thieves Luke 10:34; and the apostles were directed to anoint with oil those who were sick; James 5:14; compare Revelation 3:18.
Ointment - Hebrew oil. שׁמן shemen. The oil of olives was used commonly for this purpose. The whole figure in these two verses relates to their being punished for their sins. It is taken from the appearance of a man who is severely, beaten, or scourged for crime; whose wounds had not been dressed, and who was thus a continued bruise, or sore, from his head to his feet. The cause of this the prophet states afterward, Isaiah 1:10 ff. With great skill he first reminds them of what they saw and knew, that they were severely punished; and then states to them the cause of it. Of the calamities to which the prophet refers, they could have no doubt. They were every where visible in all their cities and towns. On these far-spreading desolations, he fixes the eye distinctly first. Had he begun with the statement of their depravity, they would probably have revolted at it. But being presented with a statement of their sufferings, which they all saw and felt, they were prepared for the statement of the cause. To find access to the consciences of sinners, and to convince them of their guilt, it is often necessary to remind them first of the calamities in which they are actually involved; and then to search for the cause. This passage, therefore, has no reference to their moral character. It relates solely to their punishment. It is often indeed adduced to prove the doctrine of depravity; but it has no direct reference to it, and it should not be adduced to prove that people are depraved, or applied as referring to the moral condition of man. The account of their moral character, as the cause of their calamities, is given in Isaiah 1:10-14. That statement will fully account for the many woes which had come on the nation.
7Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Your country is desolate - This is the literal statement of what he had just affirmed by a figure. In this there was much art. The figure Isaiah 1:6 was striking. The resemblance between a man severely beaten, and entirely livid and sore, and a land perfectly desolate, was so impressive as to arrest the attention. This had been threatened as one of the curses which should attend disobedience; Leviticus 26:33 :
And I will scatter you among the heathen,
And will draw out a sword after you:
And your land shall be desolate,
And your cities waste.
Compare Isaiah 1:31; Deuteronomy 28:49-52. It is not certain, or agreed among expositors, to what time the prophet refers in this passage. Some have supposed that he refers to the time of Ahaz, and to the calamities which came upon the nation during his reign; 2 Chronicles 28:5-8. But the probability is, that this refers to the time of Uzziah; see the Analysis of the chapter. The reign of Uzziah was indeed prosperous; 2 Chronicles 26. But it is to be remembered that the land had been ravaged just before, under the reigns of Joash and Amaziah, by the kings of Syria and Israel; 2 Kings 14:8-14; 2 Chronicles 24; 25; and it is by no means probable that it had recovered in the time of Uzziah. It was lying under the effect of the former desolation, and not improbably the enemies of the Jews were even then hovering around it, and possibly still in the very midst of it. The kingdom was going to decay, and the reign of Uzziah gave it only a temporary prosperity.
Is desolate - Hebrew: "Is desolation." שׁממה shemâmâh. This is a Hebrew mode of emphatic expression, denoting that the desolation was so universal that the land might be said to be entirely in ruins.
Your land - That is, the fruit, or productions of the land. Foreigners consume all that it produces.
Strangers - זרים zâryı̂m, from זור zûr, to be alienated, or estranged, Isaiah 1:4. It is applied to foreigners, that is, those who were not Israelites, Exodus 30:33; and is often used to denote an enemy, a foe, a barbarian; Psalm 109:11 :
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath,
And let the strangers plunder his labor.
Ezekiel 11:9; Ezekiel 28:10; Ezekiel 30:12; Hosea 7:9; Hosea 8:7. The word refers here particularly to the Syrians.
Devour it - Consume its provisions.
In your presence - This is a circumstance that greatly heightens the calamity, that they were compelled to look on and witness the desolation, without being able to prevent it.
As overthrown by strangers - זרים כמהפכה kemahpêkâh zâryı̂m - from הפך hâphak, to turn, to overturn, to destroy as a city; Genesis 19:21-25; Deuteronomy 29:22. It refers to the changes which an invading foe produces in a nation, where everything is subverted; where cities are destroyed, walls are thrown down, and fields and vineyards laid waste. The land was as if an invading army had passed through it, and completely overturned everything. Lowth proposes to read this, 'as if destroyed by an inundation;' but without authority. The desolation caused by the ravages of foreigners, at a time when the nations were barbarous, was the highest possible image of distress, and the prophet dwells on it, though with some appearance of repetition.
8And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
And the daughter of Zion - Zion, or Sion, was the name of one of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built. On this hill formerly stood the city of the Jebusites, and when David took it from them he transferred to it his court, and it was called the city of David, or the holy hill. It was in the southern part of the city. As Zion became the residence of the court, and was the most important part of the city, the name was often used to denote the city itself, and is often applied to the whole of Jerusalem. The phrase 'daughter of Zion' here means Zion itself, or Jerusalem. The name daughter is given to it by a personification in accordance with a common custom in Eastern writers, by which beautiful towns and cities are likened to young females. The name mother is also applied in the same way. Perhaps the custom arose from the fact that when a city was built, towns and villages would spring up round it - and the first would be called the mother-city (hence, the word metropolis). The expression was also employed as an image of beauty, from a fancied resemblance between a beautiful town and a beautiful and well-dressed woman. Thus Psalm 45:13, the phrase daughter of Tyre, means Tyre itself; Psalm 137:8, daughter of Babylon, that is, Babylon; Isaiah 37:22, 'The virgin, the daughter of Zion;' Jeremiah 46:2; Isaiah 23:12; Jeremiah 14:17; Numbers 21:23, Numbers 21:32, (Hebrew); Judges 11:26. Is left. נותרה nôtherâh. The word used here denotes left as a part or remnant is left - not left entire, or complete, but in a weakened or divided state.
As a cottage - literally, "a shade," or "shelter" - כסכה kesûkkâh, a temporary habitation erected in vineyards to give shelter to the grape gatherers, and to those who were uppointed to watch the vineyard to guard it from depredations; compare the note at Matthew 21:33. The following passage from Mr. Jowett's 'Christian Researches,' describing what he himself saw, will throw light on this verse. 'Extensive fields of ripe melons and cucumbers adorned the sides of the river (the Nile). They grew in such abundance that the sailors freely helped themselves. Some guard, however, is placed upon them. Occasionally, but at long and desolate intervals, we may observe a little hut, made of reeds, just capable of containing one man; being in fact little more than a fence against a north wind. In these I have observed, sometimes, a poor old man, perhaps lame, protecting the property. It exactly illustrates Isaiah 1:8.' 'Gardens were often probably unfenced, and formerly, as now, esculent vegetables were planted in some fertile spot in the open field. A custom prevails in Hindostan, as travelers inform us, of planting in the commencement of the rainy season, in the extensive plains, an abundance of melons, cucumbers, gourds, etc. In the center of the field is an artificial mound with a hut on the top, just large enough to shelter a person from the storm and the heat;' Bib. Dic. A.S.U. The sketch in the book will convey a clear idea of such a cottage. Such a cottage would be designed only for a temporary habitation. So Jerusalem seemed to be left amidst the surrounding desolation as a temporary abode, soon to be destroyed.
As a lodge - The word lodge here properly denotes a place for passing the night, but it means also a temporary abode. It was erected to afford a shelter to those who guarded the enclosure from thieves, or from jackals, and small foxes. 'The jackal,' says Hasselquist, 'is a species of mustela, which is very common in Palestine, especially during the vintage, and often destroys whole vineyards, and gardens of cucumbers.'
A garden of cucumbers - The word cucumbers here probably includes every thing of the melon kind, as well as the cucumber. They are in great request in that region on account of their cooling qualities, and are produced in great abundance and perfection. These things are particularly mentioned among the luxuries which the Israelites enjoyed in Egypt, and for which they sighed when they were in the wilderness. Numbers 11:5 : 'We remember - the cucumbers and the melons,' etc. The cucumber which is produced in Egypt and Palestine is large - usually a foot in length, soft, tender, sweet, and easy of digestion (Gesenius), and being of a cooling nature, was especially delicious in their hot climate. The meaning here is, that Jerusalem seemed to be left as a temporary, lonely habitation, soon to be forsaken and destroyed.
As a besieged city - נצוּרה כעיר ke‛ı̂yr netsôrâh. Lowth. 'As a city taken by siege.' Noyes. "'So is the delivered city.' This translation was first proposed by Arnoldi of Marburg. It avoids the incongruity of comparing a city with a city, and requires no alteration of the text except a change of the vowel points. According to this translation, the meaning will be, that all things round about the city lay desolate, like the withered vines of a cucumber garden around the watchman's hut; in other words, that the city alone stood safe amidst the ruins caused by the enemy, like the hut in a gathered garden of cucumber." Noyes. According to this interpretation, the word נצוּרה netsôrâh is derived not from צור tsûr, to besiege, to press, to straiten; but from נצר nâtsar, to preserve, keep, defend; compare Ezekiel 6:12. The Hebrew will bear this translation; and the concinnity of the comparison will thus be preserved. I rather prefer, however, the common interpretation, as being more obviously the sense of the Hebrew, and as being sufficiently in accordance with the design of the prophet. The idea then is, that of a city straitened by a siege, yet standing as a temporary habitation, while all the country around was lying in ruins. Jerusalem, alone preserved amidst the desolation spreading throughout the land, will resemble a temporary lodge in the garden - itself soon to be removed or destroyed. The essential idea, whatever translation is adopted, is that of the solitude, loneliness, and temporary continuance of even Jerusalem, while all around was involved in desolation and ruin.
9Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
Except ... - It is owing entirely to the mercy of God, that we are not like Sodom. The prophet traces this not to the goodness of the nation, not to any power or merit of theirs, but solely to the mercy of God. This passage the apostle Paul has used in an argument to establish the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of people; see the note at Romans 9:29.
The Lord - Hebrew Yahweh. Note Isaiah 1:2.
Of hosts - צבאות tsebâ'ôth - the word sometimes translated "Sabaoth"; Romans 9:29; James 5:4. The word means literally armies or military hosts. It is applied, however, to the angels which surround the throne of God; 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 103:21; and to the stars or constellations that appear to be marshalled in the sky; Jeremiah 33:22; Isaiah 40:26. This host, or the "host of heaven," was frequently an object of idolatrous worship; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16. God is called Yahweh of hosts because he is at the head of all these armies, as their leader and commander; he marshals and directs them - as a general does the army under his command. 'This,' says Gesenius, 'is the most common name of God in Isaiah, and in Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Malachi. It represents him as the ruler of the hosts of heaven, that is, the angels and the stars. Sometimes, but less frequently, we meet with the appellation Yahweh, God of hosts. Hence, some suppose the expression Yahweh of hosts to be elliptical. But it is not a correct assertion that Yahweh, as a proper name, admits of no genitive. But such relations and adjuncts as depend upon the genitive, often depend upon proper names. So in Arabic, one is called Rebiah of the poor in reference to his liability.' The name is given here, because to save any portion of a nation so wicked implied the exercise of the same power as that by which he controlled the hosts of heaven.
Remnant - A small part - that which is left. It means here, that God had spared a portion of the nation, so that they were not entirely overthrown.
We should have been as Sodom ... - This does not refer to the character of the people, but to their destiny. If God had not interposed to save them they would have been overwhelmed entirely as Sodom was; compare Genesis 19:24-25.
10Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the Lord - The message of God. Having stated the calamities under which the nation was groaning, the prophet proceeds to address the rulers, and to state the cause of all these woes.
Ye rulers of Sodom - The incidental mention Sodom in the previous verse gives occasion for this beautiful transition, and abrupt and spirited address. Their character and destiny were almost like those of Sodom, and the prophet therefore openly addresses the rulers as being called to preside over a people like those in Sodom. There could have been no more severe or cutting reproof of their wickedness than to address them as resembling the people whom God overthrew for their enormous crimes.
11To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
To what purpose - לי למה lâmâh lı̂y. 'What is it to me; or what profit or pleasure can I have in them?' God here replies to an objection which might be urged by the Jews to the representation which had been made of their guilt. The objection would be, that they were strict in the duties of their religion, and that they even abounded in offering victims of sacrifice. God replies in this and the following verses, that all this would be of no use, and would meet with no acceptance, unless it were the offering of the heart. He demanded righteousness; and without that, all external offerings would be vain. The same sentiment often occurs in the Old Testament.
Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to hearken than the fat of rams.
12When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
When you come to appear before me - The temple was in Jerusalem, and was regarded as the habitation, or dwelling-place, of the God of Israel. Particularly, the most holy place of the temple was deemed the place of his sacred abode. The Shekinah - from שׁכן shâkan, to dwell - the visible symbol of his presence, rested on the cover of the ark, and from this place he was accustomed to commune with his people, and to give responses to their requests. Hence, 'to appear before God,' Hebrew 'to be seen before my face,' פני לראות lerâ'ôth pânāy for פני את 'et pânāy, means to appear in his temple as a worshipper. The phrase occurs in this sense in the following places: Exodus 34:23-24; Deuteronomy 31:11; 1 Samuel 1:22; Psalm 42:3.
Who hath required this - The Jews were required to appear there to worship God Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16; but it was not required that they should appear with that spirit and temper. A similar sentiment is expressed in Psalm 50:16.
At your hand - From you. The emphasis in this expression is to be laid on your. 'Who has asked it of you?' It was indeed the duty of the humble, and the sincere, to tread those courts, but who had required such hypocrites as they were to do it? God sought the offerings of pure worshippers, not those of the hypocritical and the profane.
To tread my courts - The courts of the temple were the different areas or open spaces which surrounded it. None entered the temple itself but the priests. The people worshipped God in the courts assigned them around the temple. In one of those courts was the altar of burnt-offerings; and the sacrifices were all made there; see the notes at Matthew 21:12. To tread his courts was an expression therefore, equivalent to, to worship. To tread the courts of the Lord here, has the idea of profanation. Who has required you to tread those courts with this hollow, heartless service? It is often used in the sense of treading down, or trampling on, 2 Kings 7:17-20; Daniel 8:7-10; Isaiah 63:3-16.
13Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Bring no more - God does not intend absolutely to forbid this kind of worship, but he expresses his strong abhorrence of the manner in which it was done. He desired a better state of mind; he preferred purity of heart to all this external homage.
Vain - Hebrew "offering of vanity" - שׁוא shâv' - offerings which were hollow, false, deceitful, and hypocritical.
Oblations - מנחת minchath. This word properly denotes a gift, or present, of any kind Genesis 32:13, and then especially a present or offering to the Deity, Genesis 4:3-5. It does not denote a bloody offering, but what is improperly rendered in the Old Testament, a meat-offering Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 6:14; Leviticus 9:17 - an offering made of flour or fruits, with oil and frankincense. A small part of it was burned upon the altar, and the remainder was eaten by Aaron and his sons with salt, Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 2:9, Leviticus 2:13. The proper translation would have been meat or flour-offering rather than meat-offering, since the word meat with us now denotes animal food only.
Incense - More properly frankincense. This is an aromatic or odoriferous gum, which is obtained from a tree called Thurifera. Its leaves were like those of a pear-tree. It grew around Mount Lebanon, and in Arabia. The gum was obtained by making incisions in the bark in dogdays. It was much used in worship, not only by the Jews, but by the pagan. When burned, it produced an agreeable odor; and hence, it is called a sacrifice of sweet smell, an odor acceptable to God; compare Philippians 4:18. That which was burned among the Jews was prepared in a special manner, with a mixture of sweet spices. It was offered by the priest alone, and it was not lawful to prepare it in any other way than that prescribed by the law: see Exodus 30:34, ...
Is an abomination - Is hateful, or an object of abhorrence; that is, as it was offered by them, with hollow service, and with hypocritical hearts.
The new moons - On the appearance of the new moon. in addition to the daily sacrifices, two bullocks, a ram, and seven sheep, with a meal-offering, were required to be offered to God, Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11-14. The new moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October), was the beginning of their civil year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival, Leviticus 23:24-25. The appearance of the new moon was announced by the blowing of silver trumpets, Numbers 10:10. Hence, the annual festival was called sometimes, 'the memorial of the blowing of trumpets.' The time of the appearance of the new moon was not ascertained, as with us, by astronomical calculation; but persons were stationed, about the time it was to appear, on elevated places in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and when it was discovered, the trumpet was sounded. Moses did not command that this should be observed as a festival except at the beginning of the year, but it is not improbable that the Jews observed each return of the new moon as such.
And sabbaths - שׁבת shabbâth, from שׁבת shâbath, "to cease to do anything"; "to rest from labor." The words used here are all in the singular number, and should have been rendered 'the new moon, and the sabbath, and the calling of the assembly;' though used in a collective sense. The sabbaths here refer not only to the weekly sabbaths, but to all their days of rest. The word sabbath means properly a day of rest Genesis 2:2-3; and it was applied not only to the seventh day, but particularly to the beginning and the close of their great festivals, which were days of unusual solemnity and sacredness, Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:24-39.
The calling of assemblies - The solemn convocations or meetings at their festivals and fasts.
I cannot away with - Hebrew אוּכל לא lo' 'ûkal - I cannot bear, or endure.
It is iniquity - That is, in the way in which it is conducted. This is a strong emphatic expression. It is not merely evil, and tending to evil; but it is iniquity itself. There was no mixture of good.
Even the solemn meeting - The word which is used here - עצרה ‛ătsârâh - comes from the verb עצר ‛âtsar, which signifies to shut up, or to close; and is applied to the solemnities which concluded their great feasts, as being periods of unusual interest and sacredness. It was applied to such solemnities, because they shut up, or closed the sacred festivals. Hence, that day was called the great day of the feast, as being a day of special solemnity and impressiveness; see the note at John 7:37; compare Leviticus 23:3-36. In the translation of this word, however, there is a great variety in the ancient versions. Vulgate, 'Your assemblies are iniquitous.' Septuagint, 'Your new moons, and sabbaths, and great day, I cannot endure; fasting and idleness.' Chald. Paraph., 'Sacrifice is abominable before me; and your new moons, and sabbaths, "since you will not forsake your sins, so that your prayer may be heard in the time of your assembling." Syriac, 'In the beginning of your months, and on the sabbath, you convene an assembly, but I do not eat that (that is, sacrifices) which has been Obtained by fraud and violence.' The English translation has, however, probably expressed the correct sense of the Hebrew.
14Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
Your appointed feasts - That is, your assemblies convened on regular set times - מועד mô‛êd, from יעד yâ‛ad, to fix, to appoint. Hengstenberg (Chris. iii. p. 87) has shown that this word (מועדים mô‛ĕdı̂ym) is applied in the Scriptures only to the sabbath, passover, pentecost, day of atonement, and feast of tabernacles. Prof. Alexander, in loc. It is applied to those festivals, because they were fixed by law to certain periods of the year. This verse is a very impressive repetition of the former, as if the soul was full of the subject, and disposed to dwell upon it.
My soul hateth - I hate. Psalm 11:5. The nouns נפשׁ nephesh, soul, and רוּח rûach, spirit, are often used to denote the person himself, and are to be construed as "I." Thus, Isaiah 26:9 : 'With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early;' that is, 'I myself seek thee; I myself do desire thee.' So the phrase, 'deliver my soul,' - נפשׁי napheshı̂y - that is, deliver me, Psalm 22:20; Psalm 84:3; Psalm 86:13-14; that thy soul may bless me, Genesis 27:19; his soul shall dwell at ease, Psalm 25:13; compare Numbers 11:6; Leviticus 16:29; Isaiah 55:2-3; Job 16:4. So the word spirit: 'Thy watchfulness hath preserved my spirit' - רוּחי rûchı̂y - Job 10:12; compare Psalm 31:6; 1 Kings 21:5. The expression here is emphatic, denoting cordial hatred: odi ex animo.
They are a trouble - טרח ṭôrach. In Deuteronomy 1:12, this word denotes a burden, an oppressive lead that produces weariness in bearing it. It is a strong expression, denoting that their acts of hypocrisy and sin had become so numerous, that they became a heavy, oppressive lead.
I am weary to bear them - This is language which is taken from the act of carrying a burden until a man becomes weary and faint. So, in accordance with human conceptions, God represents himself as burdened with their vain oblations, and evil conduct. There could be no more impressive statement of the evil effects of sin, than that even Omnipotence was exhausted as with a heavy, oppressive burden.
15And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Ye spread forth your hands - This is an expression denoting the act of supplication. When we ask for help, we naturally stretch out our hands, as if to receive it. The expression therefore is equivalent to 'when ye pray, or implore mercy.' Compare Exodus 9:29; Exodus 17:11-12; 1 Kings 8:22.
I will hide mine eyes ... - That is, I will not attend to, or regard your supplications. The Chaldee Paraphrase is, 'When your priests expand their hands to pray for you.'
Your hands ... - This is given as a reason why he would not hear. The expression full of blood, denotes crime and guilt of a high order - as, in murder, the hands would be dripping in blood, and as the stain on the hands would be proof of guilt. It is probably a figurative expression, not meaning literally that they were murderers, but that they were given to rapine and injustice; to the oppression of the poor, the widow, etc. The sentiment is, that because they indulged in sin, and came, even in their prayers, with a determination still to indulge it, God would not hear them. The same sentiment is elsewhere expressed; Psalm 66:18 : 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;' Proverbs 28:9 : 'He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination;' Jeremiah 16:10-12; Zechariah 7:11-12; Proverbs 1:28-29. This is the reason why the prayers of sinners are not heard - But the truth is abundantly taught in the Scriptures, that if sinners will forsake their sins, the greatness of their iniquity is no obstacle to forgiveness; Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 11:28; Luke 16:11-24.
16Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Wash you - This is, of course, to be understood in a moral sense; meaning that they should put away their sins. Sin is represented in the Scriptures as defiling or polluting the soul Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:30; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 9:4; and the removal of it is represented by the act of washing; Psalm 51:2 : 'Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin;' Jeremiah 4:14 : 'O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved;' Job 9:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14. It is used here in close connection with the previous verse, where the prophet says that their hands were flied with blood. He now admonishes them to wash away that blood, with the implied understanding, that then their prayers would be heard. It is worthy of remark, also, that the prophet directs them to do this themselves. He addresses them as moral agents, and as having ability to do it. This is the uniform manner in which God addresses sinners in the Bible, requiring them to put away their sins, and to make themselves a new heart. Compare Ezekiel 18:31-32.
The evil of your doings - This is a Hebraism, to denote your evil doings.
From before mine eyes - As God is omniscient, to put them away from before his eyes, is to put them away altogether. To pardon or forgive sin, is often expressed by hiding it; Psalm 51:9 :
Hide thy face from my sins.
Cease to do evil - Compare 1 Peter 3:10-11. The prophet is specifying what was necessary in order that their prayers might be heard, and that they might find acceptance with God. What he states here is a universal truth. If sinners wish to find acceptance with God, they must come renouncing all sin; resolving to put away everything that God hates, however dear it may be to the heart. Compare Mark 9:43-47.
17Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Learn to do well - , To learn here is to become accustomed to, to practice it. To do well stands opposed to all kinds of evil. "Seek judgment." The word "judgment" - משׁפט mishpâṭ - here means justice. The direction refers particularly to magistrates, and it is evident that the prophet had them particularly in his view in all this discourse. Execute justice between man and man with impartiality. The word "seek" - דרשׁוּ dı̂reshû - means to pursue, to search for, as an object to be gained; to regard, or care for it, as the main thing. Instead of seeking gain, and bribes, and public favor, they were to make it an object of intense interest to do justice.
Relieve - - אשׁרוּ 'asherû - literally, make straight, Or right (margin, righten). The root - אשׁר 'âshar - means to proceed, to walk forward in a direct line; and bears a relation to ישׁר yâshar, to be straight. Hence, it often means to be successful or prosperous - to go straight forward to success. In Piel, which is the form used here, it means to cause to go straight; and hence, applied to leaders, judges, and guides, to conduct those under their care in a straight path, anal not in the devices and crooked Ways of sin; Proverbs 23:19 :
Hear thou, my son, and he wise,
And guide אשׁר 'asher, "make straight") thine heart in the way.
The oppressed - Him to whom injustice has been done in regard to his character, person, or property; compare the notes at Isaiah 58:6.
Judge the fatherless - Do justice to him - vindicate his cause. Take not advantage of his weak and helpless, condition - his ignorance and want of experience. This charge was particularly necessary on account of the facilities which the guardians of orphans have to defraud or oppress, without danger of detection or punishment. Orphans have no experience. Parents are their natural protectors; and therefore God especially charged on their guardians to befriend and do justice to them; Deuteronomy 24:17 : 'Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor the fatherless, nor take the widow's raiment to pledge.'
Plead for - Contend for her rights. Aid her by vindicating her cause. She is unable to defend herself; she is liable to oppression; and her rights may be taken away by the crafty and designing. It is remarkable that God so often insists on this in the Scriptures, and makes it no small part of religion; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Exodus 22:22 : 'Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.' The ancient views of piety on this subject are expressed in the language, and in the conduct of Job. Thus, impiety was said to consist in oppressing the fatherless and widow.
They drive away the donkey of the fatherless,
They take the widow's ox for a pledge.
18Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Come now - This is addressed to the nation of Israel; and the same exhortation is made to all sinners. It is a solemn act on the part of God, submitting the claims and principles of his government to reason, on the supposition that men may see the propriety of his service, and of his plan.
Let us reason together - ונוכחה venivākechâh from יכח yâkach, not used in Kal, but in Hiphil; meaning to show, to prove. Job 13:15 : 'Surely I will prove my ways (righteous) before him;' that is, I will justify my ways before him. Also to correct, reprove, convince, Job 32:12; to rebuke, reproach, censure, Job 6:25; to punish, Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:12; to judge, decide, Isaiah 11:3; to do justice, Isaiah 11:4; or to contend, Job 13:3; Job 16:21; Job 22:4. Here it denotes the kind of contention, or argumentation, which occurs in a court of justice, where the parties reciprocally state the grounds of their cause. God had been addressing magistrates particularly, and commanding them to seek judgment, to relieve the oppressed, to do justice to the orphan and widow; all of which terms are taken from courts of law. He here continues the language, and addresses them as accustomed to the proceedings of courts, and proposes to submit the case as if on trial. He then proceeds Isaiah 1:18-20, to adduce the principles on which he is willing to bestow pardon on them; and submits the case to them, assured that those principles will commend themselves to their reason and sober judgment.
Though your sins be as scarlet - The word used here - שׁנים shānı̂ym - denotes properly a bright red color, much prized by the ancients. The Arabic verb means to shine, and the name was given to this color, it is supposed by some, on account of its splendor, or bright appearance. It is mentioned as a merit of Saul, that he clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet, 2 Samuel 1:24, Our word scarlet, denoting a bright red, expresses the color intended here. This color was obtained from the eggs of the coccus ilicis, a small insect found on the leaves of the oak in Spain, and in the countries east of the Mediterranean. The cotton cloth was dipped in this color twice; and the word used to express it means also double-dyed, from the verb שׁנה shânâh, to repeat. From this double-dying many critics have supposed that the name given to the color was derived. The interpretation which derives it from the sense of the Arabic word to shine, however, is the most probable, as there is no evidence that the double-dying was unique to this color. It was a more permanent color than that which is mentioned under the word crimson. White is an emblem of innocence. Of course sins would be represented by the opposite. Hence, we speak of crimes as black, or deep-dyed, and of the soul as stained by sin. There is another idea here. This was a fast, or fixed color. Neither dew, nor rain, nor washing, nor long usage, would remove it. Hence, it is used to represent the fixedness and permanency of sins in the heart. No human means will wash them out. No effort of man, no external rites, no tears, no sacrifices, no prayers, are of themselves sufficient to take them away. They are deep fixed in the heart, as the scarlet color was in the Web of cloth, and an almighty power is needful to remove them.
Shall be as white as snow - That is, the deep, fixed stain, which no human power could remove, shall be taken away. In other words, sin shall be pardoned, and the soul be made pure. White, in all ages, has been the emblem of innocence, or purity; compare Psalm 68:14; Ecclesiastes 9:8; Daniel 7:9; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; Revelation 1:14; Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13.
Though they be red - The idea here is not materially different from that expressed in the former part of the verse. It is the Hebrew poetic form of expressing substantially the same thought in both parts of the sentence. Perhaps, also, it denotes intensity, by being repeated; see Introduction, 8.
Like crimson - כתולע katôlâ‛. The difference between scarlet and crimson is, that the former denotes a deep red; the latter a deco red slightly tinged with blue. Perhaps this difference, however, is not marked in the original. The purple or crimson color was obtained commonly from a shellfish, called murex, or purpura, which abounded chiefly in the sea, near Tyre; and hence, the Tyrian dye became so celebrated. That, however, which is designated in this place, was obtained, not from a shellfish, but a worm (Hebrew: תולע tôlâ‛, snail, or conchylium - the Helix Janthina of Linnaeus. This color was less permanent than the scarlet; was of a bluish east; and is commonly in the English Bible rendered blue. It was employed usually to dye wool, and was used in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the garments of the high priest. It was also in great demand by princes and great men, Judges 8:26; Luke 14:19. The prophet has adverted to the fact that it was employed mainly in dying wool, by what he has added, 'shall be as wool.'
As wool - That is, as wool undyed, or from which the color is removed. Though your sins appear as deep-stained, and as permanent as the fast color of crimson in wool, yet they shall be removed - as if that stain should be taken away from the wool, and it should be restored to its original whiteness.
19If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
If ye be willing - If you submit your wills, and become voluntary in your obedience to my law.
And obedient - Hebrew If you will hear; that is, my commands.
Ye shall eat ... - That is, the land shall yield its increase; and you shall be saved from pestilence, war, famine, etc. The productions of the soil shall no more be devoured by strangers, Isaiah 1:7; compare the notes at Isaiah 65:21-23. This was in accordance with the promises which God made to their fathers, and the motives to obedience placed before them, which were drawn from the fact, that they should possess a land of distinguished fertility, and that obedience should be attended with eminent national prosperity. Such an appeal was adapted to the infancy of society, and to the circumstances of the people. It should be added, however, that with this they connected the idea, that God would be their God and Protector; and, of course, the idea that all the blessings resulting from that fact would be theirs; Exodus 3:8 : 'And I am come down to deliver them out of the band of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey;' compare Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 28:1-9. In accordance with this, the language of promise in the New Testament is, that of inheriting the earth, that is, the land, Note, Matthew 5:5. The expression here means, that if they obeyed God they should be under his patronage, and be prospered. It refers, also, to Isaiah 1:7, where it is said, that strangers devoured the land. The promise here is, that if they were obedient, this calamity should be removed.
20But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
But if ye refuse, ye shall be devoured with the sword - Your enemies shall come in, and lay waste the land. This prediction was fulfilled, in consequence of their continuing to rebel, when the land was desolated by Nebuchadnezzar, and the nation was carried captive to Babylon. It illustrates a general principle of the divine government, that if people persevere in rebelling against God, they shall be destroyed. The word devour is applied to the sword, as if it were insatiable for destruction. Whatever destroys may be figuratively said to devour; see the notes at Isaiah 34:5-6; compare Isaiah 5:24; Lamentations 2:3; Ezekiel 15:4; Joel 2:3; Revelation 11:5 - where fire is said to devour.
The mouth of the Lord - Yahweh Himself. This had been spoken by the mouth of the Lord, and recorded, Leviticus 26:33 :
And I will scatter you among the heathen,
And will draw out a sword after you;
And your land shall be desolate
And your cities waste.
On these points God proposed to reason; or rather, perhaps, these principles are regarded as reasonable, or as commending themselves to men. They are the great principles of the divine administration, that if people obey God they shall prosper; if not, they shall be punished. They commend themselves to people as just and true; and they are seen and illustrated every where.
21How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
How is - This is an expression of deploring, or lamenting. It indicates that that had occurred which was matter of grief. The prophet had stated the principles of the divine government; had urged the people to reason with God; and had affirmed his willingness to pardon. But it was seen that they would not repent. They were so wicked and perverse, that there was no hope of their reformation. His mind is full of this subject; he repeats the charge of their wickedness Isaiah 1:21-23, and states what must be the consequences.
The faithful city - Jerusalem. It is represented here under the image of a wife - once faithful to her husband; once a devoted and attached partner. Jerusalem was thus once. In former days, it was the seat of the pure worship of God; the place where his praise was celebrated, and where his people came to offer sincere devotion. In the Scriptures, the church is often represented under the image of a wife, to denote the tenderness and sacredness of the union; Hosea 2:19-20; Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 54:6; Revelation 21:9.
An harlot - She has proved to be false, treacherous, unfaithful. The unfaithfulness of the people of God, particularly their idolatry, is often represented under the idea of unfaithfulness to the marriage contract; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; Joshua 2:2; Joshua 4:2.
It was full of judgement - It was distinguished for justice and righteousness.
Lodged in it - This is a figurative expression, meaning that it was characterized as a righteous city. The word ילין yālı̂yn is from לוּן lûn, to pass the night, to remain through the night Genesis 19:2; and then to lodge, to dwell; Psalm 25:13; Job 17:2; Job 29:19. In this place it has the sense of abiding, remaining, continuing permanently. Jerusalem was the home of justice, where it found protection and safety.
Now murderers - By murderers here are meant probably unjust judges; people who did not regard the interests of the poor, the widow, and the orphan; and who therefore, by a strong expression, are characterized as murderers. They had displaced justice from its home; and had become the permanent inhabitants of the city; compare the note at Isaiah 1:15.
22Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
Thy silver - The sentiment in this verse, as it is explained by the following, is, thy princes and people have become corrupt, and polluted. Silver is used here to denote what should have been more valuable - virtuous princes.
Dross - This word - סיג sı̂g - means the scoriae, or baser metal, which is separated from the purer in smelting. It is of little or no value; and the expression means, that the rulers had become debased and corrupt, as if pure silver had been converted wholly to dross.
Thy wine - Wine was regarded as the most pure and valuable drink among the ancients. It is used, therefore, to express that which should have been most valued and esteemed among them - to wit, their rulers.
Mixed with water - Diluted, made weak. According to Gesenius, the word rendered "mixed" - מהוּל mâhûl - is from מהל mâhal, the same as מוּל mûl, to circumcise; and hence, by a figure common with the Arabians, to adulterate, or dilute wine. The word does not occur in this sense elsewhere in the Scriptures, but the connection evidently requires it to be so understood. Wine mixed with water is that which is weakened, diluted, rendered comparatively useless. So with the rulers and judges. They had lest the strength and purity of their integrity, by intermingling those things which tended to weaken and destroy their virtue, pride, the love of gifts, and bribes, etc. Divested of the figure, the passage means, that the rulers had become wholly corrupt.
23Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
Thy princes ... - This is an explanation of the previous verse. Princes mean here those attached to the royal family; those who by rank, or office, had an influence over the people.
Rebellious - Against God. The corruption of a nation commonly begins with the rulers.
Companions of thieves - That is, they connive at the doings of robbers; they do not bring them to justice; they are their accomplices, and are easily bribed to acquit them.
Every one loveth gifts - Every magistrate can be bribed.
Followeth afar rewards - רדף rodēph. This word denotes the act of pursuing after in order to obtain something; and means here that they made it an object to obtain rewards by selling or betraying justice They sell justice to the highest bidder. No more distressing condition of a people can be conceived than this, where justice could not be secured between man and man, and where the wicked could oppress the poor, the widow, and the orphan, as much as they pleased, because they knew they could bribe the judge.
They judge not - They do not render justice to; Isaiah 1:17. The Chaldee has well expressed the sense of a part of this verse: 'They say, each one to his neighbor, Favour me in my judgment, or do me good in it, and I will recompense you in your cause.'
The cause of the widow come unto them - Or, rather, come before them. They would not take up her cause, but rather the cause of those who were esteemed able to offer a bribe, and from whom a gift might be expected, if a decision was made in their favor.
24Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
Therefore saith the Lord ... - The prophet having stated the guilt of the nation, proceeds to show the consequences of their crimes; or to foretell what would happen. The name of God is repeated, to attract attention; to fill the mind with awe; and to give emphasis to the solemn sentence which was about to be uttered.
The Lord - אדון 'âdôn. This word properly denotes master, lord, owner. Genesis 24:9 : "lord over his whole house." 1 Kings 16:24 : "owner of the hill Samaria." It is applied here to Yahweh, not as a special title, or as one of the names which he assumes to himself, but as owner, proprietor, master, ruler of the nation. The word, when applied to God as one of his special titles, has the form of an ancient plural termination, אדני 'ădonāy. The root is probably דוּן dôn, to judge, which in ancient times was also closely connected with the idea of ruling.
The Lord of hosts - Yahweh - ruling in the hosts of heaven, and therefore able to accomplish his threatenings; note, Isaiah 1:9.
The mighty One of Israel - He who had been their defender in the days of their peril; who had manifested his mighty power in overthrowing their enemies; and who had shown, therefore, that he was able to inflict vengeance on them.
Ah - הוי hôy. This is an expression of threatening. It is that which is used when an affront is offered, and there is a purpose of revenge; see Isaiah 1:4.
I will ease me - This refers to what is said in Isaiah 1:14, where God is represented as burdened with their crimes. The Hebrew word is, I will be consoled, or comforted - that is, by being delivered from my foes - אנחם 'enâchem from נחם nâcham, in Niphil, to suffer pain, to be grieved; and hence, to have pity, to show compassion. In Piel, to console or comfort one's-self; to take revenge. The idea included in the word is that of grief or distress, either in beholding the sufferings of others, or from some injury received from others. Hence, in Piel, it denotes to obtain relief from that distress, either by aiding the distressed object, or by taking revenge. In both instances, the mind, by a law of its nature, finds relief. The passion expends itself on its proper object, and the mind is at ease. It is used here in the latter sense. It is an instance where God uses the language which people employ to denote passion, and where they obtain relief by revenge. When applied to God, it is to be understood in accordance with his nature, as implying simply, that he would punish them; compare the note at Isaiah 1:13. It means that he had been pained and grieved by their crimes; his patience had been put to its utmost trial; and now he would seek relief from this by inflicting due punishment on them. An expression explaining this may be seen in Ezekiel 5:13; 'Then shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted.' Also, Deuteronomy 28:63 : 'As the Lord rejoiced over you, to do you good; so the Lord will rejoice over you, to destroy you.'
Mine adversaries - The enemies to his law and government among the rebellious Jews. The expression in this verse is a remarkable instance of God's adapting himself to our apprehension, by using our language. Instances occur often in the Scriptures where language expressive of human passions is applied to God; and as human language must be employed in revelation, it was indispensable. But those expressions are not to be understood as they are when applied to the passions of mankind. In God, they are consistent with all that is pure, and glorious, and holy, and should be so understood. The Chaldee renders this verse, 'I will console the city of Jerusalem; but woe to the impious, when I shall be revealed to take vengeance on the enemies of my people.' But this is manifestly a false interpretation; and shows how reluctant the Jews were to admit the threatenings against themselves.
25And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
And I will turn my hand upon thee - This expression is capable of two significations. The hand may be stretched out for two purposes, either to inflict punishment, or to afford help and protection. The phrase here refers evidently to the latter, to the act of redeeming and restoring his people, Isaiah 1:26-27. The idea may be thus expressed: 'I will stretch out my hand to punish my enemies Isaiah 1:24, and will turn my hand upon thee for protection, and recovery.'
Purge away - This refers to the process of smelting, or purifying metals in the fire. It means, I will remove all the dross which has accumulated Isaiah 1:22, and will make the silver pure. This was commonly done by fire; and the idea is, that he would render his own people pure by those judgments which would destroy his enemies who were intermingled with them.
Purely - The original word here - כבר kabor - has been commonly understood to mean, according to purity; that is, effectually or entirely pure. Thus it is translated by the Septuagint, and by the Latin Vulgate. But by the Chaldee it is translated, 'I will purify thee as with the herb borith.' The word may mean lye, alkali, or potash, Job 9:30; and it may mean also borax - a substance formed of alkali and boracic acid, much used in purifying metals. The essential idea is, I will make you effectually, or entirely pure.
Thy tin - Tin is with us a well-known white metal. But the word used here does not mean tin. It denotes the stannum of the ancients; a metal formed of lead mixed with silver ore. Here it means, I will take away all the impure metal mixed with thee; varying the idea but little from the former part of the verse.
26And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellers as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
And I will restore ... - That is, I will give you such judges as the nation had in former days - in the times of Moses, Joshua, etc. Most of the charges in this chapter are against the magistrates. The calamities of the nation are traced to their unfaithfulness and corruption, Isaiah 1:17-23. God now says that he will remove this cause of their calamity, and give them pure magistrates.
Thy counselors - Thy advisers; that is, those occupying places of trust and responsibility. When this should be, the prophet does not say. The Jewish commentators suppose that he refers to the time after the return from captivity, and to such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah; and to the times of Hyrcanus and Herod, Jerome supposes that the times of the Messiah are referred to. It is impossible to determine which is the correct opinion; though, as the Babylonian captivity was the punishment of those national sins which the prophet was denouncing, it is more probable that he refers to the time immediately succeeding that punishment, when the nation would be restored. I am inclined, therefore, to the opinion, that the prophet had reference solely to the prosperity of the Jewish nation, under a succession of comparatively virtuous princes, after the Babylonian captivity.
Thou shalt be called ... - The principal cause of your wickedness and calamity, that is, your unfaithful rulers being removed and punished, you shall afterward be distinguished as a city of righteousness.
The faithful city - That is, faithful to Yahweh - faithful in keeping his laws, and maintaining the rites of his religion as formerly; compare Isaiah 1:21.
27Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
Zion - See the note at Isaiah 1:8. The word Zion here is used to designate the whole Jewish people to whom the prophet had reference; that is, the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, Isaiah 1:1.
Shall be redeemed - The word used here - פדה pâdâh - is employed in two senses in the Scriptures. It implies always the idea of deliverance, as from captivity, danger, punishment, slavery, sin. But this idea occurs:
(1) sometimes without any reference to a price paid, but simply denoting to deliver, or to set at liberty; and
(2) in other instances the price is specified, and then the word occurs under the strict and proper sense of redeem; that is, to rescue, or deliver, by a ransom price.
Instances of the former general sense occur often; as e. q., to deliver from slavery without mere ion of a price; Deuteronomy 7:8 : 'The Loan loved you, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen.' See also Jeremiah 15:21; Jeremiah 31:11. The idea of delivering in any way from danger occurs often; Job 5:20 : 'In famine he shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword;' 1 Kings 1:29 : 'As Jehovah liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress.' 1 Samuel 4:9. But the word often occurs in connection with the mention of the price, and in this sense the words rendered redeem are commonly used in the New Testament; see Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15-17; compare Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9; Ephesians 1:17. Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6. In these last places, the blood of Christ, or his atoning sacrifice, is mentioned as the price, or the valuable consideration, by which deliverance from sin is effected; compare the note at Isaiah 43:3. In the case now before us, however, the word is used in the general sense, to denote that God would rescue and save his people from the calamities and judgments to which they were to be subjected on account of their sins. Though they were to be taken captive for their sins, yet they should again be delivered and restored to their land. The Septuagint evidently so understands it: 'Her captivity shall be saved with judgment and with mercy.' The Chaldee Paraphrase renders it in a manner somewhat similar: 'But Zion, when judgment shall have been accomplished in her, shall be redeemed; and they who keep the law shall be returned to it in righteousness.'
With judgment - In a righteous, just manner. That is, God shall evince his justice in doing it; his justice to a people to whom so many promises had been made, and his justice in delivering them from long and grievous oppression. All this would be attended with the displays of judgment, in effecting their deliverance. This might be evinced
(1) in keeping his promises made to their fathers;
(2) in delivering an oppressed people from bondage; and
(3) in the displays of judgment on the nations necessary in accomplishing the deliverance of the Jews. This is the common interpretation.
It may be, however, that the expression does not refer to the character of God, which is not at all the subject of discourse, but to the character of the people that should be redeemed. Before, the nation was corrupt; after the captivity, they would be just. Zion should be redeemed; and the effect of that redemption would be, that the people would be reformed, and holy, and just. This does not refer, properly, to redemption by the Lord Jesus, though it is equally true that that will be accomplished with justice, that is, in entire consistency with the character of a just and holy God.
Her converts - This is an unhappy translation. The Hebrew here means simply, 'they that return of her' (margin); that is, those who return from captivity. It is implied that all would not return - which was true - but those who did return, would come back in righteousness.
With righteousness - This refers to the character of those who shall return. The prediction is, that the character of the nation would be reformed Isaiah 1:26; that it would be done by means of this very captivity; and that they who returned would come back with a different character from the nation at the time that Isaiah wrote. They would be a reformed, righteous people. The character of the nation was greatly improved after the captivity. Their propensity to idolatry, in a particular manner, was effectually restrained; and probably the character of the people after the captivity, for morals and religion, was not inferior to the best periods of their history before.
28And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
And the destruction - Hebrew שׁבר sheber - the breaking, or crushing, that is, the punishment which was about to come upon them; compare Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 3:47; Proverbs 16:18.
Of the transgressors - "Revolters," or those that rebel against God.
And of the sinners - Of all the sinners in the nation, of all kinds and degrees.
Together - At the same time with the redemption of Zion.
Shall be consumed - יכלוּ yı̂kelû, from כלה kâlâh, to be completed, or finished; to be consumed, wasted away; to vanish, or disappear. It denotes complete and entire extinction; or the completing of anything. It is applied to a cloud of smoke, that entirely dissolves and disappears:
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away:
So he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more,
29For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
For they shall be ashamed - That is, when they see the punishment that their idolatry has brought upon them, they shall be ashamed of the folly and degradation of their worship. Moreover, the gods in which they trusted shall yield them no protection, and shall leave them to the disgrace and confusion of being forsaken and abandoned.
Of the oaks - Groves, in ancient times, were the favorite places of idolatrous worship. In the city of Rome, there were thirty-two groves consecrated to the gods. Those were commonly selected which were on hills, or high places; and they were usually furnished with temples, altars, and all the implements of idolatrous worship. Different kinds of groves were selected for this purpose, by different people. The Druids of the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany, offered their worship in groves of oak - hence the name Druid, derived from δρῦς drus, an oak. Frequent mention is made in the Scriptures of groves and high places; and the Jews were forbidden to erect them; Deuteronomy 16:21; 1 Kings 16:23; 2 Kings 16:4; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 16:16, Ezekiel 16:39; Exodus 34:13; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 18:19; Isaiah 17:8; Micah 5:14. When, therefore, it is said here, that they should be ashamed of the oaks, it means that they should be ashamed of their idolatrous worship, to which they were much addicted, and into which, under their wicked kings, they easily fell.
Their calamities were coming upon them mainly for this idolatry. It is not certainly known what species of tree is intended by the word translated oaks. The Septuagint has rendered it by the word "idols" - ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων αὐτῶν apo tōn eidōlōn autōn. The Chaldee, 'ye shall be confounded by the groves of idols.' The Syriac version also has idols. Most critics concur in supposing that it means, not the oak, but the terebinth or turpentine tree - a species of fir. This tree is the Pistacia Terebinthus of Linnaeus, or the common turpentine tree, whose resin or juice is the China or Cyprus turpentine, used in medicine. The tree grows to a great age, and is common in Palestine. The terebinth - now called in Palestine the but'm-tree - 'is not an evergreen, as is often represented; but its small, leathered, lancet-shaped leaves fall in the autumn, and are renewed in the spring.
The flowers are small, and are followed by small oval berries, hanging in clusters from two to five inches long, resembling much the clusters of the vine when the grapes are just set. From incisions in the trunk there is said to flow a sort of transparent balsam, constituting a very pure and fine species of turpentine, with an agreeable odor like citron or jessamine, and a mild taste, and hardening gradually into a transparent gum. The tree is found also in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, the south of France, and in the north of Africa, and is described as not usually rising to the height of more than twenty feet.' Robinson's Bib. Researches, iii. 15, 16. It produces the nuts called the pistachio nuts. They have a pleasant, unctuous taste, resembling that of almonds, and they yield in abundance a sweet and pleasant oil. The best Venice turpentine, which, when it can be obtained pure, is superior to all the rest of its kind, is the produce of this tree. The picture in the book will give you an idea of the appearance of the terebinth. The Hebrew word אילים 'ēylı̂ym, from איל 'eyl, or more commonly אלה 'ēlâh, seems to be used sometimes as the Greek δρῦς drus is, to denote any large tree, whether evergreen or not; and especially any large tree, or cluster of trees, where the worship of idols was celebrated.
Which ye have desired - The Jews, until the captivity at Babylon, as all their history shows, easily relapsed into idolatry. The meaning of the prophet is, that the punishment at Babylon would be so long and so severe as to make them ashamed of this, and turn them from it.
Shall be confounded - Another word meaning to be ashamed.
For the gardens - The places planted with trees, etc., in which idolatrous worship was practiced. 'In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants and trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. The idea of such an enclosure was certainly borrowed from the garden of Eden, which the bountiful Creator planted for the reception of his favorite creature. The garden of Hesperides, in Eastern fables, was protected by an enormous serpent; and the gardens of Adonis, among the Greeks, may be traced to the same origin, for the terms horti Adenides, the gardens of Adonis, were used by the ancients to signify gardens of pleasure, which corresponds with the name of Paradise, or the garden of Eden, as horti Adonis answers to the garden of the Lord. Besides, the gardens of primitive nations were commonly, if not in every instance, devoted to religious purposes. In these shady retreats were celebrated, for a long succession of ages, the rites of pagan superstition.' - Paxton. These groves or gardens were furnished with the temple of the god that was worshipped, and with altars, and with everything necessary for this species of worship. They were usually, also, made as shady and dark as possible, to inspire the worshippers with religious awe and reverence on their entrance; compare the note at Isaiah 66:17.
30For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
For ye ... - The mention of the tree in the previous verse, gives the prophet occasion for the beautiful image in this. They had desired the oak, and they should be like it. That, when the frost came, was divested of its beauty, and its leaves faded, and fell; so should their beauty and privileges and happiness, as a people, fade away at the anger of God.
A garden that hath no water - That is therefore withered and parched up; where nothing would flourish, but where all would be desolation - a most striking image of the approaching desolation of the Jewish nation. In Eastern countries this image would be more striking than with us. In these hot regions, a constant supply of water is necessary for the cultivation, and even for the very existence and preservation of a garden. Should it lack water for a few days, everything in it would be burned up with neat and totally destroyed. In all gardens, therefore, in those regions; there must be a constant supply of water, either from some neighboring river, or from some fountain or reservoir within it. To secure such a fountain became an object of indispensable importance, not only for the coolness and pleasantness of the garden, but for the very existence of the vegetation. Dr. Russell, in his Natural History of Aleppo, says, that 'all the gardens of Aleppo are on the banks of the river that runs by that city, or on the sides of the rill that supplies their aqueduct;' and all the rest of the country he represents as perfectly burned up in the summer months, the gardens only retaining their verdure, on account of the moistness of their situation.
31And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
And the strong - Those who have been thought to be strong, on whom the people relied for protection and defense - their rulers, princes, and the commanders of their armies.
As tow - The coarse or broken part of flax, or hemp. It means here that which shall be easily and quickly kindled and rapidly consumed. As tow burns and is destroyed at the touch of fire, so shall the rulers of the people be consumed by the approaching calamities.
And the maker of it - This is an unhappy translation. The word פעלו po‛ălô may be indeed a participle, and be rendered 'its maker,' but it is more commonly a noun, and means his work, or his action. This is its plain meaning here. So the Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Chaldee. It means, that as a spark enkindles tow, so the works or deeds of a wicked nation shall be the occasion or cause of their destruction. The ambition of one man is the cause of his ruin; the sensuality of a second is the cause of his; the avarice of a third is the cause of his. These passions, insatiable and ungratified, shall be the occasion of the deep and eternal sorrows of hell. So it means here, that the crimes and hypocrisy of the nation would be the real cause of all the calamities that would come upon them as a people.
Shall both burn together - The spark and the flame from the kindled flax mingle, and make one fire. So the people and their works would be enkindled and destroyed together. They would burn so rapidly, that nothing could extinguish them. The meaning is, that the nation would be punished; and that all their works of idolatry and monuments of sin would be the occasion of their punishment, and would perish at the same time. The "principle" involved in this passage teaches us the following things:
(1) That the wicked, however mighty, shall be destroyed.
(2) That their works will be the "cause" of their ruin - a cause necessarily leading to it.
(3) That the works of the wicked - all that they do and all on which they depend - shall be destroyed.
(4) That this destruction shall be final. Nothing shall stay the flame. No tears of penitence, no power of men or devils, shall "put out" the fires which the works of the wicked shall enkindle.