|<< Isaiah 29 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This chapter relates solely to Jerusalem - here called Ariel (see the note at Isaiah 29:1). It is not immediately connected with the preceding or the following chapters, though it is not improbable they were delivered about the same time. At what time this was delivered is not known, though it is evident that it was before the invasion by Sennacherib, and probably before the time of Hezekiah. The prophecy in the chapter consists of two parts: (I) The invasion of Judea by Sennacherib, and its sudden deliverance Isaiah 29:1-8. (II) A reproof of the Jews for their infidelity and impiety.
I. The invasion of Judea, and the distress that would be brought upon Jerusalem, and its sudden deliverance Isaiah 29:1-8.
1. Ariel would be filled with grief and distress Isaiah 29:1-2.
2. Yahweh would encamp against it and besiege it, and it would be greatly straitened and humbled Isaiah 29:3-4.
3. Yet the besieging army would be visited with sudden calamity and destruction - represented here by thunder, and tempest, and flame Isaiah 29:5-6.
4. The enemy would vanish as a dream, and all his hopes would be disappointed, as the hopes of a hungry and thirsty man are disappointed who dreams of having satisfied his hunger and thirst Isaiah 29:7-8.
There can be no doubt, I think, that this portion of the prophecy refers to the sudden and dreadful overthrow of Sennacherib; and the design of this portion of the prophecy is to give the assurance, that though Jerusalem would be in imminent danger, yet it would be suddenly delivered.
II. The second part consists of reproofs of the inhabitants of Jerusalem for their infidelity and impiety.
1. They were full of error, and all classes of people were wandering from God - reeling under error like a drunken man Isaiah 29:9.
2. A spirit of blindness and stupidity everywhere prevailed among the people Isaiah 29:10-12.
3. Formality and external regard for the institutions of religion prevailed, but without its life and power Isaiah 29:13.
4. They attempted to lay deep and skillful plans to hide their wickedness from Yahweh Isaiah 29:15.
5. They were unjust in their judgments, making a man an offender for a word, and perverting just judgment Isaiah 29:21.
6. For all this they should be punished.
(a) The wisdom of their wise men should fail Isaiah 29:14.
(b) The scorner would be consumed Isaiah 29:20.
7. There would be an overturning, and the people would be made acquainted with the law of God, and the truly pious would be comforted Isaiah 29:16-19. Those who had erred would be reformed, and would come to the true knowledge of God Isaiah 29:22-24.
1Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year; let them kill sacrifices.
Wo - (compare the note at Isaiah 18:1).
To Ariel - There can be no doubt that Jerusalem is here intended. The declaration that it was the city where David dwelt, as well as the entire scope of the prophecy, proves this. But still, it is not quiet clear why the city is here called "Ariel." The margin reads, 'O Ariel, that is, the lion of God.' The word (אריאל 'ărı̂y'ēl) is compounded of two words, and is usually supposed to be made up of ארי 'ărı̂y, "a lion," and אל 'ēl, God; and if this interpretation is correct, it is equivalent to a strong, mighty, fierce lion - where the word 'God' is used to denote greatness in the same way as the lofty cedars of Lebanon are called cedars of God; that is, lofty cedars. The "lion" is an emblem of strength, and a strong lion is an emblem of a mighty warrior or hero. 2 Samuel 23:20 : 'He slew two "lion-like" אריאל 'ărı̂y'êl men of Moab' 1 Chronicles 11:22. This use of the word to denote a hero is common in Arabic (see Bachart, "Hieroz.," i. 3. 1).
If this be the sense in which it is used here, then it is applied to Jerusalem under the image of a hero, and particularly as the place which was distinguished under David as the capital of a kingdom that was so celebrated for its triumphs in war. The word 'Ariel' is, however, used in another sense in the Scriptures, to denote an "altar" Ezekiel 43:15-16, where in the Hebrew the word is "Ariel." This name is given to the altar, Bachart supposes ("Hieroz.," i. 3. 1), because the altar of burnt-offering "devours" as it were the sacrifices as a lion devours its prey. Gesenius, however, has suggested another reason why the word is given to the altar, since he says that the word ארי 'ărı̂y is the same as one used in Arabic to denote a fire-hearth, and that the altar was so called because it was the place of perpetual burnt-offering. The name "Ariel," is, doubtless, given in Ezekiel to an altar; and it may be given here to Jerusalem because it was the place of the altar, or of the public worship of God. The Chaldee renders it, 'Wo to the altar, the altar which was constructed in the city where David dwelt.' It seems to me that this view better suits the connection, and particularly Isaiah 29:2 (see Note), than to suppose that the name is given to Jerusalem because it was like a lion. If this be the true interpretation, then it is so called because Jerusalem was the place of the burnt-offering, or of the public worship of God; the place where the fire, as on a hearth, continually burned on the altar.
The city where David dwelt - David took the hill of Zion from the Jebusites, and made it the capital of his kingdom 2 Samuel 5:6-9. Lowth renders this, 'The city which David besieged.' So the Septuagint: Ἐπολέμησε Epolemēse; and so the Vulgate, Expugnavit. The word חנה chânâh properly means "to encamp, to pitch one's tent" Genesis 26:17, "to station oneself." It is also used in the sense of encamping "against" anyone, that is, to make war upon or to attack (see Isaiah 29:3, and Psalm 27:3; 2 Samuel 12:28); and Jerome and others have supposed that it has this meaning here in accordance with the interpretation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate. But the more correct idea is probably that in our translation, that David pitched his tent there; that is, that he made it his dwelling-place.
Add ye year to year - That is, 'go on year after year, suffer one year to glide on after another in the course which you are pursuing.' This seems to be used ironically, and to denote that they were going on one year after another in the observance of the feasts; walking the round of external ceremonies as if the fact that David had dwelt there, and that that was the place of the great altar of worship, constituted perfect security. One of the sins charged on them in this chapter was "formality" and "heartlessness" in their devotions Isaiah 29:13, and this seems to be referred to here.
Let them kill sacrifices - Margin, 'Cut off the heads.' The word here rendered 'kill' (נקף nâqaph) may mean to smite; to hew; to cut down Isaiah 10:34; Job 19:26. But it has also another signification which better accords with this place. It denotes to make a circle, to revolve; to go round a place Joshua 6:3, Joshua 6:11; to surround 1 Kings 7:24; 2 Kings 6:14; Psalm 17:9; Psalm 22:17; Psalm 88:18. The word rendered 'sacrifices' (חגים chagiym) may mean a sacrifice Exodus 23:18; Psalm 118:27; Malachi 2:3, but it more commonly and properly denotes feasts or festivals Exodus 10:9; Exodus 12:14; Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:10, Deuteronomy 16:16; 1 Kings 8:2, 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chronicles 7:8-9; Nehemiah 8:14; Hosea 2:11, Hosea 2:13. Here the sense is, 'let the festivals go round;' that is, let them revolve as it were in a perpetual, unmeaning circle, until the judgments due to such heartless service shall come upon you. The whole address is evidently ironical, and designed to denote that all their service was an unvarying repetition of heartless forms.
2Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow: and it shall be unto me as Ariel.
Yet I will distress Ariel - The reference here is doubtless to the siege which God says Isaiah 29:3 he would bring upon the guilty and formal city.
And there shall be heaviness and sorrow - This was true of the city in the siege of Sennacherib, to which this probably refers. Though the city was delivered in a sudden and remarkable manner (see the note at Isaiah 29:7-8), yet it was also true that it was reduced to great distress (see Isaiah 36; 37)
And it shall be unto me as Ariel - This phrase shows that in Isaiah 29:1 Jerusalem is called 'Ariel,' because it contained the great altar, and was the place of sacrifice. The word "Ariel" here is to be understood in the sense "of the hearth of the great altar;" and the meaning is, 'I will indeed make Jerusalem like the great altar; I will make it the burning place of wrath where my enemies shall be consumed as if they were on the altar of burnt sacrifice.' Thus in Isaiah 30:9, it is said of Yahweh that his 'fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.' This is a strong expression, denoting the calamity that was approaching; and though the main reference in this whole passage is to the distress that would come upon them in the invasion of Sennacherib, yet there is no impropriety in supposing that there was presented to the mind of the prophet in vision the image of the total ruin that would come yet upon the city by the Chaldeans - when the temple, the palaces, and the dwellings of the magnificent city of David would be in flames, and like a vast blazing altar consuming that which was laid upon it.
3And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with a mount, and I will raise forts against thee.
And I will camp against thee - That is, I will cause an army to pitch their tents there for a siege. God regards the armies which he would employ as under his control, and speaks of them as if he would do it himself (see the note at Isaiah 10:5).
Round about - (כדוּר kadûr). As in a circle; that is, he would encompass or encircle the city. The word used here דור dûr in Isaiah 22:18, means a ball, but here it evidently means a circle; and the sense is, that the army of the besiegers would encompass the city. A similar form of expression occurs in regard to Jerusalem in Luke 19:43 : 'For the days shall come upon thee, than thine enemies shall cast a trench (χάρακα charaka - "a rampart," a "mound") about thee σοί soi "against thee"), and "compass thee round" περικυκλώτονσί σε perikuklōsousi se, "encircle thee").' So also Luke 21:20. The Septuagint renders this, 'I will encompass thee as David did;' evidently reading it as if it were כדוּד kadûd; and Lowth observes that two manuscripts thus read it, and he himself adopts it. But the authority for correcting the Hebrew text in this way is not sufficient, nor is it necessary. The idea in the present reading is a clear one, and evidently means that the armies of Sennacherib would encompass the city.
With a mount - A rampart; a fortification. Or, rather, perhaps, the word מצב mutsâb means a post, a military station, from יצב yâtsab, "to place, to station." The word in this form occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures, but the word מצב matsâb occurs in 1 Samuel 13:23; 1 Samuel 14:1, 1 Samuel 14:4; 2 Samuel 23:14, in the sense of a military post, or garrison.
I will rise forts - That is, ramparts, such as were usually thrown up against a besieged city, meaning that it should be subjected to the regular process of a siege. The Septuagint reads, Πύργου Purgou; 'Towers;' and so also two manuscripts by changing the Hebrew letter ד (d) into the Hebrew letter ר (r). But there is no necessity for altering the Hebrew text. Lowth prefers the reading of the Septuagint.
4And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.
And shalt speak out of the ground - (see the note at Isaiah 8:19). The sense here is, that Jerusalem, that had been accustomed to pride itself on its strength I would be greatly humbled and subdued. Its loud and lofty tone would be changed. It would use the suppressed language of fear and alarm as if it spoke from the dust, or in a shrill small voice, like the pretended conversers with the dead.
And thy speech shall whisper out of the dust - Margin, 'Peep,' or 'Chirp,' (see the note at Isaiah 8:19).
5Moreover the multitude of thy strangers shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones shall be as chaff that passeth away: yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly.
Moreover - These verses Isaiah 29:5, Isaiah 29:7-8 contain a beautiful description of the destruction of the army of Sennacherib. Though they had laid the plan of a regular siege; though the city, in itself, would not be able to hold out against them, and all was alarm and conscious imbecility within; yet in an instant the siege would be raised, and the advancing hosts of the Assyrians would all be gone.
The multitude of thy strangers - The multitude of the strangers that shall besiege thee; called 'thy strangers,' because they besieged, or oppressed thee. The word 'strangers' here, as elsewhere, means "foreigners" (see the note at Isaiah 1:7; compare Isaiah 2:6; Isaiah 5:17; Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 25:5; Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 60:10).
Shall be like small dust - Light, fine dust that is easily dissipated by the wind.
Of the terrible ones - Of the invading, besieging army, that is so much the object of dread.
As chaff that passeth away - (see the note at Isaiah 17:13). This image of chaff driven before the wind, to denote the sudden and entire discomfiture of enemies, is common in the Scriptures (see Job 21:18; Psalm 1:4; Psalm 35:5; Hosea 13:13).
Yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly - The forces of Sennacherib were destroyed in a single night by the angel of the Lord (Isaiah 37:36; the note at Isaiah 10:12, Isaiah 10:28-34, note), and the siege of Jerusalem was of course immediately raised.
6Thou shalt be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.
Thou shalt be visited - This is an address to the mighty army of the Assyrian. Such transitions are not uncommon in the writings of Isaiah. His eye seems to have been directed in vision to the hosts of Sennacherib, and to their sudden dispersion and destruction Isaiah 29:5, and by a sudden, but not unnatural transition, he turns and addresses the army itself, with the assurance that it should be punished (compare Isaiah 30:30).
With thunder ... - The army of the Assyrian was cut off by an angel sent forth from God Isaiah 37:36. It is "possible" that all the agents here referred to may have been employed in the destruction of the Assyrian host, though they are not particularly specified in the history. But it is not absolutely. necessary to understand this verse in this manner. The image of thunder, earthquakes, and lightning, is an impressive representation of sudden and awful judgment in any manner. The sense is, that they should be suddenly destroyed by the direct visitation of God (see Isaiah 9:5; Isaiah 26:11).
And the flame of devouring fire - Lightning, that seems to "devour," or that suddenly consumes.
7And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.
And the multitude of all the nations - The Assyrians, and their allied hosts.
And her munition - Her fortresses, castles, places of strength 2 Samuel 5:7; Ecclesiastes 9:14; Ezekiel 19:9.
Shall be as a dream of a night vision - In a dream we seem to see the objects of which we think as really as when awake, and hence, they are called visions, and visions of the night Genesis 46:2; Job 4:13; Job 7:14; Daniel 2:28; Daniel 4:5; Daniel 7:1, Daniel 7:7, Daniel 7:13, Daniel 7:15. The specific idea here is not that of the "suddenness" with which objects seen in a dream appear and then vanish, but it is that which occurs in Isaiah 29:8, of one who dreams of eating and drinking, but who awakes, and is hungry and thirsty still. So it was with the Assyrian. He had set his heart on the wealth of Jerusalem. He had earnestly desired to possess that city - as a hungry man desires to satisfy the cravings of his appetite. But it would be like the vision of the night; and on that fatal morning on which he should awake from his fond dream Isaiah 37:36, he would find all his hopes dissipated, and the longcherished desire of his soul unsatisfied still.
8It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.
It shall even be ... - This is a most striking figure representing the earnest desire of the Assyrian to possess the city of Jerusalem, and his utter disappointment. The comparison is elegant and beautiful in the highest degree. It is performed up to great perfection; and is perfectly suited to illustrate the object in view. The same image substantially is found in the classic writers; and this, says Lowth, may, for beauty and ingenuity, fairly come in competition with one of the most elegant of Virgil (greatly improved from Homer, "Iliad" xxii. 119), where he has applied to a different purpose, but not so happily, the same image of the ineffectual workings of the imagination in a dream:
Ac veluti in somnis oculos ubi languida pressit
Nocte quies, nequicquam avidos extendere cursus
Velle videmur, et in mediis conatibus aegri
Succidimus; non lingua valet, non corpore notae
Sufficiunt vires; nec, vox, nec verba scquuniur.
AEniad xii. 908.
And as when slumber seals the closing sight,
The sick wild fancy labors in the night,
Some dreadful visionary foe we shun,
With airy strides, but strive in vain to run;
In vain our baffled limbs their powers essay,
We faint, we struggle, sink, and fall away;
Drained of our strength we neither fight nor fly,
And on the tongue the struggling accents die.
See also Lucretius (iv. 10-19), who also expresses the same image as Isaiah. As the simile of the prophet is drawn from nature, an extract which describes the actual occurrence of such a circumstance will be agreeable. 'The scarcity of water,' says Park, 'was greater here at Bubaker than at Benown. Day and night the wells were crowded with cattle lowing, and fighting with each other to come at the trough. Excessive thirst made many of them furious; others being too weak to contend for the water, endeavored to quench their thirst by devouring the black mud from the gutters near the wells; which they did with great avidity, though it was commonly fatal to them. This great scarcity of water was felt by all the people of the camp; and by none more than myself. I begged water from the negro slaves that attended the camp, but with very indifferent success, for though I let no opportunity slip, and was very urgent in my solicitations both to the Moors and to the negroes, I was but ill supplied, and frequently passed the night in the situation of Tantalus. No sooner had I shut my eyes, than fancy would convey me to the streams and rivera of my native land; there, as I wandered along the verdant bank, I surveyed the clear stream with transport, and hastened to swallow the delightful draught; but alas! disappointment awakened me, and I found myself a lonely captive, perishing of thirst amid the wilds of Africa.' ("Travels in Africa").
9Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.
Stay yourselves - Thus far the prophet had given a description of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib, and of his sudden overthrow. He now turns to the Jews, and reproves their stupidity, formality, and hypocrisy; and the remainder of the chapter is occupied with a statement of the prevalence of these sins, of the judgments that must follow, and of the fact that there should yet be an extensive reformation, and turning to the Lord. The word rendered 'stay yourselves' (התמהמהוּ hı̂temahemehû) means properly "to linger," tarry, delay Genesis 19:16; Genesis 43:10; 2 Samuel 15:28. Here it seems to denote that state of mind in which anyone is "fixed in astonishment;" in which one stops, and stares at some strange and unexpected occurrence. The object of amazement which the prophet supposes would excite astonishment, was the stupidity, dulness, and hypocrisy of a people who had been so signally favored (compare Habakkuk 1:5).
Cry ye out, and cry - There is in the original here a paronomasia which cannot be conveyed in a translation. The word which is used (השׁתעשׁעוּ hı̂sheta‛ashe‛û) is one form of the verb שׁעע shâ‛a‛, which means, usually, to make smooth, rub, spread over; hence, in the Hithpael form which is used here, to be spread over; and hence, is applied to the eyes Isaiah 6:10, to denote blindness, as if they were overspread with something by reason of which they could not see. Here it probably means, 'be ye dazzled and blinded,' that is, ye be astonished, as in the former part of the verse. The idea seems to be that of some object of sudden astonishment that dims the sights and takes away all the powers of vision. The word is used in the same sense in Isaiah 32:3; compare Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:19. Probably the idea here would be well expressed by our word "stare," 'stare and look with a stupid surprise;' denoting the attitude and condition of a man who is amazed at some remarkable and unlooked for spectacle.
They are drunken, but not with wine - The people of Jerusalem. They reel and stagger, but the cause is not that they are drunken with wine. It is a moral and spiritual intoxication and reeling. They err in their doctrines and practice; and it is with them as it is with a drunken man that sees nothing clearly or correctly, and cannot walk steadily. They have perverted all doctrines; they err in their views of God and his truth, and they are irregular and corrupt in their conduct.
10For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
For the Lord hath poured out upon you - The word rendered 'hath poured out' (נסך nâsak) is usually referred to the act of pouring out a libation, or drink-offering in worship Exodus 30:9; Hosea 9:4; Isaiah 30:1. Here it means that Yahweh had, as it were, "drenched them" (Septuagint, πεπότικε pepotike) with a spirit of stupefaction. This is traced to God in accordance with the usual custom in the Bible, by which his providential agency is recognized in all events (see the notes at Isaiah 6:9-10). Compare the notes at Romans 11:8), where this passage is quoted from the Septuagint, and is applied to the Jews in the time of the apostle Paul.
The spirit of deep, sleep - The word rendered 'deep sleep,' is the same as is used in Genesis 2:21, to denote the sleep that God brought on Adam; and in Genesis 15:12, to denote the deep sleep that fell on Abraham, and when a horror of great darkness fell upon him; and in 1 Samuel 26:12, to denote the deep sleep that came upon Saul when David approached and took away the spear and the cruise of water from his bolster. Here it means spiritual sluggishness, inactivity, stupidity, that prevailed everywhere among the people in regard to the things of religion.
The seers - Those that see visions, another name for the prophets (see the note at Isaiah 1:1).
Hath he covered - That is, he has covered their eyes; or they are all blind.
11And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
And the vision of all - The vision of all the prophets; that is, all the revelations which God has made to you (see the note at Isaiah 1:1). The prophet refers not only to his own communications, but to those of his contemporaries, and of all who had gone before him. The sense is, that although they had the communications which God had made to them, yet they did not understand them. They were as ignorant of their true nature as a man who can read is of the contents of a letter that is sealed up, or as a man who cannot read is of the contents of a book that is handed to him.
As the words of a book - Margin, 'Letter.' The word ספר sêpher may mean either. It properly means anything which is "written" (Deuteronomy 24:1, Deuteronomy 24:3; Jeremiah 32:11; Daniel 1:4), but is commonly applied to a book Exodus 17:14; Joshua 1:8; Joshua 8:34; Psalm 40:8.
That is sealed - (see the note at Isaiah 8:16).
12And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
And the book is delivered ... - That is, they are just as ignorant of the true nature and meaning of the revelations of God as a man is of the contents of a book who is utterly unable to read.
13Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Wherefore the Lord said - This verse, with the following, is designed to denounce the divine judgment on their formality of worship. They kept up the forms of religion, but they withheld the affections of their hearts from God; and he, therefore, says that he will proceed to inflict on them exemplary and deserved punishment.
This people draw near me - That is, in the temple, and in the forms of external devotion.
And with their lips do honor me - They professedly celebrate my praise, and acknowledge me in the forms of devotion.
But have removed their heart - Have withheld the affections of their hearts.
And their fear toward me - The worship of God is often represented as "fear" Job 28:28; Psalm 19:9; Psalm 34:11; Proverbs 1:7.
Is taught by the precept of men - That is, their views, instead of having been derived from the Scriptures, were drawn from the doctrines of mankind. Our Saviour referred to this passage, and applied it to the hypocrites of his own time Matthew 15:8-9. The latter part of it is, however, not quoted literally from the Hebrew, nor from the Septuagint, but retains the sense: 'But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.' He quoted it as strikingly descriptive of the people when he lived, not as saying that Isaiah referred directly to his times.
14Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
I will proceed to do - Hebrew, 'I will add to do;' that is, I will do it.
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish - I will bring calamity upon them which shall baffle all the skill and wisdom of their wise men.
Shall be hid - That is, shall not appear; shall vanish. It shall not be sufficient to prevent the calamities that shall come upon the nation.
15Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?
Woe unto them that seek deep ... - That is, who attempt to conceal their "real" intentions under a plausible exterior, and correct outward deportment. This is most strikingly descriptive of the character of a hypocrite who seeks to conceal his plans and his purposes from the eyes of people and of God. His external conduct is fair; his observance of the duties of religion exemplary; his attendance on the means of grace and the worship of God regular; his professions loud and constant, but the whole design is to "conceal" his real sentiments, and to accomplish some sinister and wicked purpose by it.
From the Lord - This proves that the design of the hypocrite is not always to attempt to deceive his fellowmen, but that he also aims to deceive God.
16Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
Surely your turning of things upside down - Your perversion of all things. They had no just views of truth. They deemed mere formality to be all that was required. They attempted to conceal their plans even from Yahweh; and everything in the opinions and practice of the nation had become perverted and erroneous. There has been much diversity in rendering this phrase. Luther renders it, 'O how perverse ye are.' Lowth renders it,
'Perverse as ye are! shall the potter be esteemed as the clay?'
Rosenmuller also accords with this interpretation, and renders it, 'O your perversity,' etc. The sense of the passage seems to be this: 'Your "changing of things" is just as absurd as it would be for the thing formed to say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? It is as absurd for you to find fault with the government of God as it would be for the clay to complain of want of skill in the potter. You complain of God's laws, and worship Him according to the commandments of people. You complain of his requirements, and offer to him the service of the mouth and the lip, and witchold the heart. You suppose that God does not see you, and do your deeds in darkness. All this supposes that God is destitute of wisdom, and cannot see what is done, and it is just as absurd as it would be in the clay to complain that the potter who fashions it has no understanding.'
Shall be esteemed ... - The "literal" translation of this passage would be, 'Your perverseness is as if the potter should be esteemed as the clay;' that is, as if he was no more qualified to form anything than the clay itself.
For shall the work ... - This passage is quoted by the apostle Paul Romans 9:20-21 to show the right which God has to do with his creatures as shall seem good in his sight, and the impropriety of complaining of his distinguishing mercy in choosing to life those whom he pleases. The sense of the passage is, that it would be absurd for that which is made to complain of the maker as having no intelligence, and no right to make it as he does. It would be absurd in the piece of pottery to complain of the potter as if he had no skill; and it is equally absurd in a man to complain of God, or to regard him as destitute of wisdom.
17Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?
Is it not yet a very little while - The idea here is, 'you have greatly perverted things in Jerusalem. The time is at hand when there shall be "other" overturnings - when the wicked shall be cut off, and when there shall be poured out upon the nation such judgments that the deaf shall hear, and the blind see, and when those who have erred in spirit shall come to understanding' Isaiah 29:18-24.
And Lebanon shall be tutored into a fruitful field - This is evidently a proverbial expression, denoting any great revolution of things. It is probable that in the times of Isaiah the whole chain of Lebanon was uncultivated, as the word is evidently used here in opposition to a fruitful field (see the note at Isaiah 2:13). The word which is rendered 'fruitful field' (כרמל karmel) properly denotes "a fruitful field," or a finely cultivated country (see Isaiah 10:18). It is also applied to a celebrated mountain or promontory on the Mediterranean Sea, on the southern boundary of the tribe of Asher. It runs northwest of the plain of Esdraelon, and ends in a promontory or cape, and forms the bay of Acco. The mountain or promontory is about 1500 feet high; and abounds in caves or grottoes, and was celebrated as being the residence of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (see 1 Kings 18:19, 1 Kings 18:42; 2 Kings 2:25; 2 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 19:23; compare the note at Isaiah 35:2). More than a thousand caves are said to exist on the west side of the mountain, which it is said were formerly inhabited by monks. But the word here is to be taken, doubtless, as it is in our translation, as denoting a well-cultivated country. Lebanon, that is now barren and uncultivated, shall soon become a fertile and productive field. That is, there shall be changes among the Jews that shall be as great as if Lebanon should become an extensively cultivated region, abounding in fruits, and vines, and harvests. The idea is this: 'The nation is now perverse, sinful, formal, and hypocritical. But the time of change shall come. The wicked shall be reformed; the number of the pious shall be increased; and the pure worship of God shall succeed this general formality and hypocrisy. The prophet does not say when this would be. He simply affirms that it would be before "a great while" - and it may, perhaps, be referred to the times succeeding the captivity (compare Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 1:6).
And the fruitful field be esteemed as a forest - That is, there shall be great changes in the nation, as if a well-cultivated field should be allowed to lie waste, and grow up into a forest. Perhaps it means that that which was then apparently flourishing would be overthrown, and the land lie waste. Those who were apparently in prosperity, would be humbled and punished. The effect of this revolution is stated in the following verses.
18And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness.
Shall the deaf hear the words of the book - They who now have the law and do not understand it, the people who seem to be deaf to all that God says, shall hear and understand it.
Shall see out of obscurity ... - That is, the darkness being removed, they shall see clearly the truth of God, and discern and love its beauty. Their eyes are now blinded, but then they shall see clearly.
19The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
The meek - The word 'meek' usually refers to those who are patient in the reception of injuries, but the Hebrew word used here (ענוים ‛ănâviym) means properly the oppressed, the afflicted, the unhappy Psalm 9:13; Psalm 10:12, Psalm 10:17; Proverbs 3:34; Isaiah 11:4. It involves usually the idea of humility or "virtuous suffering" (compare Psalm 25:9; Psalm 37:11; Psalm 69:33). Here it may denote the pious of the land who were oppressed, and subjected to trials.
Shall increase - Margin, as in Hebrew, 'Add.' It means, that they should greatly rejoice in the Lord. They should see the evidence of the fulfillment of his predictions; they should see the oppressors punished Isaiah 29:20-21, and Yahweh coming forth to be their protector and defender Isaiah 29:22-24.
And the poor among men - The poor people; or the needy. Doubtless the idea is that of the pious poor; those who feared God, and who had been subjected to the trials of oppression and poverty.
20For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:
For the terrible one - The violent one (עריץ ‛ârı̂yts), the oppressor, who had exercised cruelty over them. This, I suppose, refers to the haughty among the Jews themselves; to those who held offices of power, and who abused them to oppress the poor and needy.
And the scorner - (see Isaiah 28:14, Isaiah 28:22).
Is consumed - Shall be entirely destroyed.
And all that watch for iniquity - That is, who anxiously seek for opportunities to commit iniquity.
21That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.
That make a man an offender - literally, 'who cause a man to sin' (מחטיאי machăṭı̂y'ēy); that is, who hold a man to be guilty, or a criminal. Lowth renders this singularly enough:
'Who bewildered the poor man in speaking.'
Grotius supposes it means, 'Who on account of the word of God, that is, the true prophecy, treat men as guilty of crime.' Calvin supposes it means, 'Who bear with impatience the reproofs and denunciation of the prophets, and who endeavor to pervert and distort their meaning.' Hence, he supposes, they proposed artful and captious questions by which they might ensnare them. Others suppose that it refers to the fact that they led people into sin by their new doctrines and false views. The connection, however, seems to require that it should be understood of judicial proceedings, and the sense is probably correctly expressed by Noyes:
'Who condemned the poor man in his cause.'
This interpretation is also that which is proposed by Rosenmuller and Gesenius. According to the interpretation above suggested, the word rendered 'who make an offender,' means the same as who holds one guilty, that is, condemns.
A man - (אדם 'âdâm). It is well known that this word stands in contradistinction to אישׁ 'ı̂ysh, and denotes usually a poor man, a man in humble life, in opposition to one who is rich or of more elevated rank. This is probably the sense here, and the meaning is, that they condemned the poor man; that is, that they were partial in their judgments.
For a word - (בדבר bedâbâr). "In" a word; denoting the same as "a cause" that is tried before a court of justice. So Exodus 18:16 : 'When they have "a matter" (דבר dâbâr "a word"), they come unto me.' So Exodus 18:22 : 'And it shoji be that every great "matter" (Hebrew every great "word") that they shall bring unto me.' So Exodus 22:8 (in the English version 9): 'For all manner of trespass,' Hebrew for every word of trespass; that is, for every suit concerning a breach of trust. So also Exodus 24:14 : 'If any man have "any matters" to do,' (Hebrew, 'any "words, '") that is, if anyone has a law suit.
And lay a snare - To lay a snare is to devise a plan to deceive, or get into their possession; as birds are caught in snares that are concealed from their view.
That reproveth - Or rather, that "contended" or "pleaded;" that is, that had a cause. The word יכח yâkach means often to contend with any one; to strive; to seek to confute; to attempt to defend or justify, as in a court of law Job 13:15; Job 19:5; Job 16:21; Job 22:4. It is also applied to deciding a case in law, or pronouncing a decision Isaiah 11:3-4; Genesis 31:37; Job 9:33. Here it means one who has brought a suit, or who is engaged in a legal cause.
In the gate - Gates of cities being places of concourse, were usually resorted to for transacting business, and courts were usually held in them Genesis 23:10, Genesis 23:18; Deuteronomy 17:5, Deuteronomy 17:8; Deuteronomy 21:19; Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:6-7; Ruth 4:1. The sense is, they endeavored to pervert justice, and to bring the man who had a cause before them, completely within their power, so that they might use him for their own purposes, at the same time that they seemed to be deciding the cause justly.
And turn aside the just - The man who has a just or righteous cause.
For a thing of nought - Or a decision which is empty, vain (בתהו batôhû), and which should be regarded as null and void,
22Therefore thus saith the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale.
Therefore - In consequence of the happy change which shall take place in the nation when the oppressor shall be removed Isaiah 29:20-21, and when the poor and the meek shall rejoice Isaiah 29:19, and the ignorant shall be instructed Isaiah 29:18, Jacob shall not be ashamed of his descendants as he was before, nor have cause to blush in regard to his posterity.
Who redeemed Abraham - That is, who brought him out of a land of idolaters, and rescued him from the abominations of idolatry. The word 'redeem,' here (פדה pâdâh), properly denotes "to ransom, that is, to redeem a captive, or a prisoner with a price paid Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20. But it is also used as meaning to deliver in general, without reference to a price, to free in any manner, to recover 2 Samuel 4:9; 1 Kings 1:29; Job 5:20; Psalm 71:23. It is used in this general sense here; and means that Yahweh had rescued Abraham from the evils of idolatry, and made him his friend. The connection, also, would seem to imply that there was a reference to the promise which was made to Abraham that he should have a numerous posterity (see Isaiah 29:23).
Jacob shall not now be ashamed - This is a poetical introduction of Jacob as the ancestor of the Jewish people, as if the venerable patriarch were looking upon his children. Their deportment had been such as would suffuse a father's cheeks with shame; henceforward in the reformation that would occur he would "not" be ashamed of them, but would look on them with approbation.
Neither shall his face wax pale - The face usually becomes pale with fear: but this may also occur from any strong emotion. Disappointment may produce paleness as well as fear; and perhaps the idea may be that the face of Jacob should no more become pallid as "if" he had been disappointed in regard to the hopes which he had cherished of his sons.
23But when he seeth his children, the work of mine hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel.
But when he seeth his children - The sense is, 'he shall not be ashamed of his sons, for he shall see them henceforward walking in the ways of piety and virtue.'
The work of my hands - That is, this change Isaiah 29:17-19 by which the nation will be reformed, will be produced by the agency of God himself. The sentiment is in accordance with the doctrines of the Scriptures everywhere, that people are recovered from sin by the agency of God alone (compare Isaiah 60:21; Ephesians 2:10).
In the midst of him - In the midst of his people. The name Jacob is often employed to denote all his posterity, or the whole nation of the Jews.
24They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.
They also that erred in spirit - (see Isaiah 29:9-10).
Shall learn doctrine - When" this would occur the prophet does not state. It "may" be intended to denote the times of Hezekiah; or the times subsequent to the captivity; or possibly it may refer to the times under the Messiah. All that the prophet teaches is, that at some future period in the history of the Jews, there would be such a reform that they should be regarded as the worthy descendants of the pious patriarch Jacob.