1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Vol II Introduction 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 Alexander's Works
Here begins a series of connected prophecies (ch. vii - xii) belonging to the reign of Ahaz, and relating in general to the same great subjects, the deliverance of Judah from Syria and Israel, its subsequent subjection to Assyria and other foreign powers, the final destruction of its enemies, the advent of Messiah, and the nature of his kingdom. This series admits of different divisions, but it is commonly agreed that one distinct portion is contained in the seventh chapter.
The chapter begins with a brief historical statement of the invasion of Judah by Rezin and Pekah, and of the fear that it excited, to relieve which Isaiah is commissioned to meet Ahaz in a public place, and to assure him that there is nothing more to fear from the invading powers, that their evil design cannot be accomplished, that one of them is soon to perish, and that in the mean time both are to remain without enlargement, vs. 1-9.
Seeing the king to be incredulous, the Prophet invites him to assure himself by choosing any sign or pledge of the event, which he refuses to do, under the pretext of confidence in God, but is charged with unbelief by the Prophet, who nevertheless renews the promise of deliverance in a symbolical form, and in connection with a prophecy of the miraculous conception and nativity of Christ, both as a pledge of the event, and as a measure of the time in which it is to take place, vs. 10-16.
To this assurance of
immediate deliverance, he adds a threatening of ulterior evils, to
arise from the Assyrian protection which the king preferred to that of
God, to wit, the loss of independence, the successive domination of
foreign powers, the harassing and predatory occupation of the land by
strangers, the removal of its people, the neglect of tillage, and the
transformation of its choicest vineyards, fields, and gardens, into
wastes or pastures, vs. 17-25.
1. Rezin, the king of Damascene Syria or Aram, from whom Uriah had taken Elath, a port on the Red Sea, and restored it to Judah (2 Kings 14:22), appears to have formed an alliance with Pekah, the murderer and successor of Pekahiah king of Israel (2 Kings 15:25), during the reign of Jotham (ib. v. 37), but to have deferred the actual invasion of Judah until that king's death and the accession of his feeble son, in the first year of whose reign it probably took place, with most encouraging success, as the army of Ahaz was entirely destroyed and two hundred thousand persons taken captive, who were afterwards sent back at the instance of the Prophet Oded (2 Chron. 28:5-15). But notwithstanding this success, they were unable to effect their main design, the conquest of Jerusalem, whether repelled by the natural strength and artificial defences of the place itself, or interrupted in the siege by the actual or dreaded invasion of their own dominions by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-9). It seems to beat a point of time between their first successes and their final retreat, that the Prophet's narrative begins. And it was (happened, came to pass) in the days of Ahaz, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah (that), Rezin king of Aram (or Syria) and Pekah, son of Remutiah, king of Israel, came up to (or against) Jerusalem, to war against it; and he was not able to war against it (i. e. with success). The invaders are said to have come up to Jerusalem, not merely as a military phrase, but with allusion, more or less distinct, to all the senses in which the holy city was above all others.
2. And it was told the house of David (the court, the royal family, of Judah) saying, Syria resteth (or is resting) upon Ephraim; and his heart (i. e. the king's, as the chief and representative of the house of David) and the heart of his people shook, like the shaking of the trees of a wood before a wind. This is commonly applied to the effect produced by the first news of the coalition between Rezin and Pekah or the junction of their forces. It is equally natural, and more consistent with the history, to understand the words as having reference to a later date, i. e. either the time of the advance upon Jerusalem, or that of the retreat of the invaders, laden with the spoil of Judah, and with two hundred thousand captives. In the one case, Syria, i. e. the Syrian army, may be said to rest upon (the army of) Ephraim, in the modern military sense, with reference to their relative position on the field of battle; in the other, Syria may be described as literally resting or reposing in the territory of Ephraim, on its homeward march, and as thereby filling Ahaz with the apprehension of a fresh attack. Although neither of these explanations may seem altogether natural, they are really as much so as any of the others which have been proposed, and in a case where we have at best a choice of difficulties, these may claim the preference as tending to harmonize the prophecy with history as given both in Kings and Chronicles. We read in 2 Kings 16:7-9, that Ahaz applied to Tiglathpileser, king of Assyria, to help him against Syria and Israel, which he did. At what precise period of the war this alliance was formed, it is not easy to determine; but there seems to be no doubt that Ahaz, at the time here mentioned, was relying upon some human aid in preference to God.
3. From this alarm Isaiah is sent to free the king. And Jehovah said to Isaiah son of Amoz, Go out to meet Ahaz, thou and Shearjashub thy son, to the end of the conduit of the upper pool, to the highway of the fuller's field. The mention of these now obscure localities, although it detracts nothing from the general clearness of the passage, is an incidental proof of authenticity, which no later writer would or could have forged. The upper pool, which has been placed by different writers upon almost every side of Jerusalem, is identified by Robinson and Smith with a large tank at the head of the Valley of Hinnom, about seven hundred yards west-north-west from the Jaffa gate. It is full in the rainy season, and its waters are then conducted by a small rude aqueduct to the vicinity of the gate just mentioned, and so to the Pool of Hezekiah within the walls. This aqueduct is probably the conduit mentioned in the text, and the end of this conduit the point where it enters the city, as appears from the fact, that when Rabshakeh afterwards conferred with the ministers of Hezekiah at this same spot, he was heard by the people on the city wall (ch. 36:2, 12). From the same passage it may be inferred that this was a frequented spot, which some suppose to be the reason that Isaiah was directed to it, while others understand the direction as implying that Ahaz was about to fortify the city, or rather to cut off a supply of water from the invaders, as Hezekiah afterwards did when besieged by Sennacherib (2 Chr. 32:4); an example often followed afterwards, particularly in the sieges of Jerusalem by Pompey, Titus, and Godfrey of Bouillon. The Prophet is therefore commanded to go out, not merely from his house, but from the city, to meet Ahaz, which does not imply that the king was seeking him, or coming to him, but merely specifies the object which he was to seek himself. The Fuller's Field was of course without the city, and the highway or causeway mentioned may have led either to it or along it, so as to divide it from the aqueduct. The command to take his son with him might be regarded merely as an incidental circumstance, but for the fact that the name Shear-jashub is significant, and as we may suppose it to have been already known, and the people were familiar with the practice of conveying instruction in this form, the very sight of the child would perhaps suggest a prophecy, or recall one previously uttered, or at least prepare the mind for one to come; and accordingly we find in ch. 10:21 this very phrase employed, not as a name, but in its proper sense, a remnant shall return.
4. The assurance, by which Ahaz is encouraged, is that the danger is over, that the fire is nearly quenched, that the enemies, who lately seemed like flaming firebrands of war, are now mere smoking ends of firebrands; he is therefore exhorted to be quiet and confide in the divine protection. And thou shalt say to him, Be cautious and be quiet (or take care to be quiet) fear not, nor let thy heart be soft, before (or on account of) these two smoking tails of firebrands, in the heat of the anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. The comparison of Rezin and Pekah to the tails or ends of firebrands, instead of firebrands themselves, is not a mere expression of contempt, but a distinct allusion to the evil which they had already done, and which should never be repeated. If the emphasis were only in the use of the word tails, the tail of any thing else would have been equally appropriate. The smoking remnant of a firebrand implies a previous name, if not a conflagration. This confirms the conclusion before drawn, that Judah had already been ravaged, and that the narratives in Kings and Chronicles are perfectly consistent and relate to the same subject.
5. Because Syria has devised (meditated, purposed) evil against thee, also Ephraim and Remaliah's son, saying. This verse and the next may be regarded as a link or connecting clause between the exhortation in v. 4 and the promise in v. 7. 'Fear not because Syria and Israel thus threaten, for on that very account the Lord declares etc.' Here again Syria appears as the prime agent and controlling power, although Ephraim is added in the second clause. The suppression of Pekah's proper name in this clause, and of Rezin's altogether in the first, has given rise to various far-fetched explanations, though it seems in fact to show, that the use of names in the whole passage is rather euphonic or rhythmical than significant.
6. The invaders themselves are now introduced as consulting or addressing one another, not at the present moment, but at the time when their plan was first concerted. We will go up, or let us go up, into Judah, or against it, although this is rather implied than expressed, and vex (i. e. harass or distress) it, and make a breach in it (thereby subduing it) to ourselves, and let us make a king in the midst of it, to wit, the son of Tabeal or Tabeel, as the name is written, Ezra 4:7. The reference to Jerusalem is required by the history, according to which they did succeed in their attack upon the kingdom, but were foiled in their main design of conquering the royal city. The entrance into Judah was proposed only as a means to this end, and it is the failure of this end that is predicted in the next verse. The creation of tributary kings by conquerors is mentioned elsewhere in the sacred history (e. g. 2 Kings 23:34. 24:17). This familiar reference en passant to the names of persons now forgotten, as if familiar to contemporary readers, is a strong incidental proof of authenticity.
7. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, it shall not stand (or it shall not arise) and it shall not be (or come to pass). The general sense is clear, viz. that their design should be defeated. The accumulation of divine names is, as usual, emphatic, and seems here intended to afford a pledge of the event, derived from the supremacy and power of the Being who predicts it.
8, 9. The plans of the enemy cannot be accomplished, because God has decreed that while the kingdoms of Syria and Israel continue to exist, they shall remain without enlargement, or at least without the addition of Jerusalem or Judah to their territories. It shall not stand or come to pass, because the head (or capital) of Aram is Damascus (and shall be so still), and the head (chief or sovereign) of Damascus is Rezin (and shall be so still; and as for the other power there is as little cause of fear) for in yet sixty and five years (in sixty-five years more) shall Ephraim be broken from a people (i. e. from being a people, so as not to be a people; and even in the mean time, it shall not be enlarged by the addition of Judah) for the head (or capital) of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head (chief or sovereign) of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If you will not believe (it is) because you are not to be established. Here again Syria is the prominent object, and Ephraim subjoined, as if by an afterthought. The order of ideas is, that Syria shall remain as it is, and as for Ephraim it is soon to be destroyed, but while it does last, it shall remain as it is likewise; Pekah shall never reign in any other capital, nor Samaria be the capital of any other kingdom. To this natural expression of the thought corresponds the rhythmical arrangement of the sentences, the first clause of the eighth verse answering exactly to the first clause of the ninth, while the two last clauses, though dissimilar, complete the measure.
the head of Syria is Damascus—
And the head of Damascus Rezin—
in sixty-five years more etc.
And the head of Ephraim is Samaria—
And the head of Samaria Remaliah's son—
If ye will not believe etc.
Whether this be poetry or not, its structure is as regular as that of any other period of equal length in the writings of Isaiah. As to the substance of these verses, the similar clauses have already been explained, as a prediction that the two invading powers should remain without enlargement. The first of the uneven clauses, i.e. the last of v. 8, adds to this prediction, that Ephraim, or the kingdom of the ten tribes, shall cease to exist within a prescribed period, which period is so defined as to include the three successive strokes by which that power was annihilated; first, the invasion of Tiglath-pileser, two or three years after the date of this prediction (2 Kings 15:29. 16:9); then, the conquest of Samaria, and the deportation of the ten tribes, by Shalmaneser, about the sixth year of Hezekiah (2 Kings 17:6); and finally, the introduction of another race by Esar-haddon in the reign of Manasseh (2 Kings 17:24. 2 Chron. 33:11. Ezra 4:2). Within sixty-five years all these events were to occur, and Ephraim, in all these senses, was to cease to be a people. It seems then that the language of this clause has been carefully selected, so as to include the three events which might be represented as destructive of Ephraim, while in form it balances the last clause of the next verse, and is therefore essential to the rhythmical completeness of the passage.
10. And he (i. e. God, by the mouth of Isaiah) added to speak unto Ahaz, saying. This, according to usage, may either mean that he spoke again, on a different occasion, or that he spoke further, on the same occasion, which last is the meaning here.
11. Ask for thee (i. e. for thy own satisfaction) a sign from Jehovah thy God (literally from with him, i. e. from his presence and his power); ask deep or high above (make deep thy request or make it high), i. e. ask it either above or below. A sign is not necessarily a miracle, nor necessarily a prophecy, but a sensible pledge of the truth of something else, whether present, past, or future; sometimes consisting in a miracle (Ex. 4:8. Judg. 6:37. Isai. 38:7, 8), but sometimes in a mere prediction (Ex. 3:12. 1 Sam. 2:34. 2 Kings 19:29), and sometimes only in a symbol, especially a symbolical name or action (Isai. 8:18. 20:3. Ezek. 4:3). The sign here offered is a proof of Isaiah's divine legation, which Ahaz seemed to doubt. The offer is a general one, including all the kinds of signs which have been mentioned, though the only one which would have answered the purpose of accrediting the Prophet was a present miracle, as in the case of Moses (Ex. 4:30). The phrase thy God is emphatic and intended to remind Ahaz of his official relation to Jehovah, and as it were to afford him a last opportunity of profiting by the connection.
12. And Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not tempt Jehovah. Some regard this as a contemptuous irony, implying a belief that God would not be able to perform his promise or a disbelief in the existence of a personal God. We have no reason to doubt, however, that Ahaz believed in the existence of Jehovah, at least as one among many gods, as a local and national if not a supreme deity. It is better, therefore, to understand the words as a hypocritical excuse for not obeying the command, with obvious allusion to the prohibition in Deut. 6:16, which is of course inapplicable to the case of one who is required to choose by God himself. His refusal probably arose, not from speculative doubts or politic considerations, but from the state of his affections, his aversion to the service of Jehovah and his predilection for that of other gods, perhaps combined with a belief that in this case human aid would be sufficient and a divine interposition superfluous; to which may be added a specific expectation of assistance from Assyria, for which he had perhaps already sued (2 Kings 16: 7-9). To tempt God is not to try him in the way of trusting him, nor simply to call in question his power, knowledge, or veracity, but to put him practically to the test. The character of Ahaz is illustrated by a comparison of this refusal with the thankful acceptance of such signs by others, and especially by his own son Hezekiah, to whom, as Jerome observes, signs both in heaven and on earth were granted.
13. At first Ahaz seemed to doubt only the authority and divine legation of the Prophet; but his refusal to accept the offered attestation was an insult to God himself, and is therefore indignantly rebuked by the Prophet. And he said, hear, I pray you, oh house of David! is it too little for you, (is it not enough for you) to weary men (i. e. to try men's patience), that you (must) weary (or try the patience of) my God? The meaning is not merely that it is worse to weary God than man, or that it was not man but God whom they were wearying; but that having first wearied man, i. e. the Prophet by disputing his commission, they were now wearying God, by refusing the offered attestation. The plural form of the address implies that members of his family and court were, in the Prophet's view, already implicated in his unbelief.
14. The king having refused to ask a sign, the Prophet gives him one, by renewing the promise of deliverance (vs. 8,9) and connecting it with the birth of a child, whose significant name is made a symbol of the divine interposition, and his progress a measure of the subsequent events. Instead of saying that God would be present to deliver them, he says the child shall be called Immanuel (God with us); instead of mentioning a term of years, he says, before the child is able to distinguish good from evil; instead of saying that until that time the land shall lie waste, he represents the child as eating curds and honey, spontaneous products, here put in opposition to the fruits of cultivation. At the same time, the form of expression is descriptive. Instead of saying simply that the child shall experience all this, he represents its birth and infancy as actually passing in his sight; he sees the child brought forth and named Immanuel; he sees the child eating curds and honey till a certain age. Therefore (because you have refused to choose) the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold! the virgin pregnant and bringing forth a son, and she calls his name Immanuel (God with us); curds and honey shall he eat (because the land lies waste) until he shall know (how) to reject the evil and to choose the good (but no longer); for before the child shall know (how) to reject the evil and to choose the good, the land, of whose two kings thou art afraid (i. e. Syria and Israel), shall be forsaken (i. e. desolate), which of course implies the previous deliverance of Judah. All interpreters appear to be agreed that these three verses contain a threatening of destruction to the enemies of Judah, if not a direct promise of deliverance, and that this event is connected, in some way, with the birth of a child, as the sign or pledge of its certain occurrence. But what child is meant, or who is the Immanuel here predicted? The various answers to this question may be all reduced to three fundamental hypotheses, each of which admits of several minor variations.
I. The first hypothesis is that the only birth and infancy referred to in these verses are the birth and infancy of a child born (or supposed to be born), in the ordinary course of nature, and in the days of Isaiah himself. The unessential variations, of which this hypothesis is susceptible, have reference chiefly to the question what particular child is intended. An objection to all the variations of this first hypothesis is, that although they may afford a sign, in one of the senses of that term, to wit, that of an emblem or symbol, they do not afford such a sign as the context would lead us to expect. Ahaz had been offered the privilege of choosing any sign whatever, in heaven or on earth. Had he actually chosen one, it would no doubt have been something out of the ordinary course of nature, as in the case of Gideon (Judges 6: 37-40) and Hezekiah (Isai. 38:7, 8). On his refusal to choose, a sign is given him unasked, and although it does not necessarily follow that it was precisely such as he would have selected—since the object was no longer simply to remove his doubts, but to verify the promise and to mark the event when it occurred as something which had been predicted—yet it seems very improbable that after such an offer, the sign bestowed would be merely a thing of every-day occurrence, or at most the application of a symbolical name. This presumption is strengthened by the solemnity with which the Prophet speaks of the predicted birth, not as a usual and natural event, but as something which excites his own astonishment, as he beholds it in prophetic vision. This may prove nothing by itself, but is significant when taken in connection with the other reasons. The same thing may be said of the address to Immanuel, in ch. 8:8, and the allusion to the name in v. 11, which, although they may admit of explanation in consistency with this hypothesis, agree much better with the supposition that the prophecy relates to something more than a natural and ordinary birth. A still stronger reason for the same conclusion is afforded by the parallel passage in ch. 9:5, 6, occurring in the same connected series of prophecies. There, as here, the birth of a child is given as a pledge of safety and deliverance, but with the important addition of a full description, which, as we shall see below, is wholly inapplicable to any ordinary human child, however high in rank or full of promise. If led by these remarkable coincidences to examine more attentively the terms of the prophecy itself, we find the mother of the promised child described, not as a woman or as any particular woman merely, but by a term which in the six places where it occurs elsewhere, is twice applied to young unmarried females certainly (Gen. 24:43. Ex. 2:8), and twice most probably (Ps. 68:25, Sol. S. 1:3), while in the two remaining cases (Sol. S. 1:8, Prov. 30:19) this application is at least as probable as any other. It would therefore naturally suggest the idea of a virgin, or at least of an unmarried woman. A virgin or unmarried woman is designated here as distinctly as she could be by a single word. Its use in this connection, especially when added to the other reasons previously mentioned, makes it, to say the least, extremely probable that the event foretold is something more than a birth in the ordinary course of nature. So too, the name Immanuel, although it might be used to signify God's providential presence merely (Ps 46:8, 11. 89:25. Josh. 1:5. Jer. 1:8. Isai. 43:2), has a latitude and pregnancy of meaning which can scarcely be fortuitous, and which, combined with all the rest, makes the conclusion almost unavoidable, that it was here intended to express a personal as well as a providential presence. If to this we add the early promise of salvation through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), rendered more definite by later revelations, and that remarkable expression of Isaiah's contemporary prophet Micah (5:2), until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth, immediately following the promise of a ruler, to be born in Bethlehem, but whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting—the balance of probabilities, as furnished by the Old Testament exclusively, preponderates decidedly in favour of the supposition, that Isaiah's words had reference to a miraculous conception and nativity. When we read, therefore, in the gospel of Matthew, that Jesus Christ was actually born of a virgin, and that all the circumstances of his birth came to pass that this very prophecy might be fulfilled, it has less the appearance of an unexpected application, than of a conclusion rendered necessary by a series of antecedent facts and reasons, the last link in a long chain of intimations more or less explicit. The question, however, still arises, how the birth of Christ, if here predicted, is to be connected with the promise made to Ahaz, as a sign of the event, or as a measure of the time of its fulfilment?
II. The second hypothesis removes this difficulty by supposing that the prophecy relates to two distinct births and two different children. Of this general theory there are two important modifications. 1. The first supposes one child to be mentioned in v. 14, and another in v. 16. Nothing but extreme exegetical necessity could justify the reference of vs. 15, 16, to any person not referred to in v. 14. 2. This difficulty is avoided in the second modification of the general hypothesis that the passage (as a whole) refers to two distinct births and to different children, by assuming that both are mentioned in the fourteenth verse itself. This is the supposition of a double sense, though some refuse to recognize it by that name. The essence of the theory is this, that while v. 14, in its obvious and primary sense, relates to the birth of a child in the ordinary course of nature, its terms are so selected as to be descriptive, in a higher sense, of the miraculous nativity of Christ. The minor variations of this general hypothesis have reference chiefly to the particular child intended by the prophecy in its lower sense, whether a son of Isaiah himself, or any child born within a certain time. The objections to it are its complexity, and what seems to be the arbitrary nature of the assumption upon which it rests. It seems to be a feeling common to learned and unlearned readers, that although a double sense is not impossible, and must in certain cases be assumed, it is unreasonable to assume it, when any other explanation is admissible. The improbability in this case is increased by the want of similarity between the two events, supposed to be predicted in the very same words, the one miraculous, the other not only natural but common and of every-day occurrence. That two such occurrences should be described in the same words, simply because they were both signs or pledges of a promise, though not impossible, can only be made probable by strong corroborating proofs, especially if any simpler mode of exposition be at all admissible. Another objection, which lies equally against this hypothesis and the one first mentioned is, that in its primary and lower sense it does not afford such a sign as the context and the parallel passages would lead us to expect, unless we suppose that the higher secondary sense was fully understood at the time of the prediction, and in that case. though the birth of the Messiah from a virgin would be doubtless a sufficient sign, it would. for that very reason, seem to make the lower one superfluous. None of these reasons seem however to be decisive against the supposition of a double sense, as commonly understood, unless there be some other way in which its complexity and arbitrary character may be avoided, and at the same time the connection between the birth of the Messiah and the deliverance of Judah satisfactorily explained.
III. The third general hypothesis proposes to effect this by applying all three verses directly and exclusively to the Messiah, as the only child whose birth is there predicted, and his growth made the measure of the subsequent events. The minor variations of this general hypothesis relate to the time when these events were to occur, and to the sense in which the growth of the Messiah is adopted as the measure of them. The simplest form in which this theory has been applied, is that exhibited by those who suppose the prediction to relate to the real time of Christ's appearance, and the thing foretold to be the desolation which should take place before the Saviour reached a certain age. To this it is an obvious objection that it makes the event predicted too remote to answer the conditions of the context, or the purpose of the prophecy itself.
In expounding this difficult and interesting passage, it has been considered more important to present a tolerably full view of the different opinions, arranged according to the principles on which they rest, than to assert the exclusive truth of any one interpretation as to all its parts. In summing up the whole, however, it may be confidently stated, that the first hypothesis is false; that the first modifications of the second and third are untenable; and that the choice lies between the supposition of a double sense and that of a reference to Christ exclusively, but in connection with the promise of immediate deliverance to Ahaz. The two particular interpretations which appear to me most plausible and least beset with difficulties are these. Either the Prophet, while he foretells the birth of Christ, foretells that of another child. during whose infancy the promised deliverance shall be experienced; or else he makes the infancy of Christ himself, whether foreseen as still remote or not, the sign and measure of that same deliverance. While some diversity of judgment ought to be expected and allowed, in relation to this secondary question, there is no ground, grammatical, historical, or logical, for doubt as to the main point, that the church in all ages has been right in regarding this passage as a signal and explicit prediction of the miraculous conception and nativity of Jesus Christ.
15. This verse and the next have already been translated in connection with the fourteenth, upon which connection their interpretation must depend. It will here be necessary only to explain one or two points more distinctly. Butter (or curds) and honey shall he eat, until he knows (how) to reject the evil and to choose the good. The simple sense of the prediction is that the desolation of Judah, caused by the invasion of Rezin and Pekah, should be only temporary. This idea is symbolically expressed by making the new-born child subsist during his infancy on curds and honey, instead of the ordinary food of an agricultural population. This is clearly the meaning of the same expression in v. 22, as we shall see below. The essential idea is that the desolation should not last until a child then born could reach maturity, and probably not longer than his first few years.
16. The desolation shall be temporary, for before the child shall know (how) to reject (he evil and to choose the good, the land, of whose two kings thou art afraid (or by whose two kings thou art distressed), shall be forsaken, i. e. left by its inhabitants and given up to desolation, in which sense the same verb is used elsewhere by Isaiah (ch. 17:2. 27:10. 62:12. Comp. 6:12). The land here meant is Syria and Israel, spoken of as one because confederate against Judah. The wasting of these kingdoms and the deportation of their people by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29. 16:9) is here predicted, which of course implies the previous deliverance of Judah and the brief duration of its own calamity, so that this verse assigns a reason for the representation in the one preceding. The true connection of these verses has been well explained to be this, that Judah shall lie waste for a short time, and only for a short time, for before that short time is expired, its invaders shall themselves be invaded and destroyed. A child is born—he learns to distinguish good and evil—but before the child is able to distinguish good and evil, something happens. If these three clauses, thus succeeding one another, do not speak of the same child, it is impossible for language to be so employed as to identify the subject without actually saying that it is the same.
17. Again addressing Ahaz, he assures him that although he shall escape the present danger, God will inflict worse evils on himself and his successors, by means of those very allies whose assistance he is now seeking. Jehovah will bring upon thee (not merely as an individual, but as a king) and on thy people, and on thy father's house (or family, the royal line of Judah) days which have not come since the departure of Ephraim from Judah, to wit, the king of Assyria. All versions and interpreters understand the verse as declaring the days threatened to be worse than any which had come upon Judah since the revolt of the ten tribes, here called Ephraim, from the largest and most powerful tribe, that to which Jeroboam belonged, and within which the chief towns of the kingdom were situated. This declaration seems at first sight inconsistent with the fact, demonstrable from sacred history, that the injuries sustained by Judah, during the interval here specified, from other foreign powers, as for example from the Egyptians in the reign of Rehoboam (2 Chron. 12:2-9), from the Philistines and Arabians in the reign of Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:16, 17), from the Syrians in the reign of Joash (2 Chron. 24:23, 24), not to mention the less successful attacks of the Ethiopians in the reign of Asa (2 Chron. 14:8-15), and of Moab and Ammon in the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:1-30), or the frequent incursions of the ten tribes, must have greatly overbalanced the invasion of Sennacherib, by far the most alarming visitation of Judah by the armies of Assyria. But let it be observed that the days here threatened were to be worse, not simply with respect to individual suffering or temporary difficulties of the state itself, but to the loss of its independence, its transition to a servile state, from which it was never permanently freed, the domination of Assyria being soon succeeded by that of Egypt, and this by that of Babylon, Persia, Syria, and Rome, the last ending only in the downfall of the state, and that general dispersion of the people which continues to this day. The revolt of Hezekiah and even longer intervals of liberty in later times, are mere interruptions of the customary and prevailing bondage. Of this critical change it surely might be said, even though it were to cost not a single drop of blood, nor the personal freedom of a single captive, that the Lord was about to bring upon Judah days which had not been witnessed from the time of Ephraim's apostasy, or according to another construction of the text, at any time whatever; since none of the evils suffered, from Solomon to Ahaz, had destroyed the independence of Judah, not even the Egyptian domination in the reign of Rehoboam, which only lasted long enough to teach the Jews the difference between God's service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries (2 Chron. 12:8). This view of the matter is abundantly sufficient to reconcile the prophecy with history, whether Assyria be understood to mean the kingdom properly so called, or to include the empires which succeeded it; and whether the threatening be referred exclusively to Ahaz and his times, or to him and his successors jointly, which appears to be the true sense of thy people and thy father's house, as distinguished from himself and his own house; but even on the other supposition, as the change of times, i. e. the transition from an independent to a servile state, took place before the death of Ahaz, the expressions used are perfectly consistent with the facts. It is implied, of course, in this interpretation. that Sennacherib's invasion was not the beginning of the days here threatened, which is rather to be sought in the alliance between Ahaz and Tiglath-pileser, who came unto him, and distressed him, and strengthened him not (2 Chron. 28:19,20), but exacted repeated contributions from him as a vassal; which degrading and oppressive intercourse continued till his death, as appears from the statement (2 Rings 18:7) that Hezekiah rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not, clearly implying that he did at first, as he offered to do afterwards, on Sennacherib's approach, with confession of his fault, a renewal of his tribute, and a repetition of his father's sacrilege (2 Kings 18:13-16). That during the whole term of this foreign ascendency, Judah was infested by Assyrian intruders, and by frequent visitations for the purpose of extorting their unwilling tribute, till at last the revolt of Hezekiah, no longer able to endure the burden, led to a formal occupation of the country, is not only probable in itself, but seems to be implied in the subsequent context (vs. 18-20).
18. The evil times just threatened are here more explicitly described as arising from the presence and oppression of foreigners, especially Assyrians and Egyptians, whose number and vexatious impositions are expressed by comparing them to swarms of noxious and annoying insects, pouring into the country by divine command. And it shall be (or come to pass) in that day (in the days just threatened) that Jehovah will hiss (or whistle) to (or for) the fly which (is) in the end (or edge) of the rivers of Egypt, and to (or for) the bee which is in Assyria.The fly is peculiarly appropriate to Egypt, where the marshy grounds produce it in abundance, and there may be a reference to the plague of flies in Exodus. The end of the streams of Egypt evidently means something belonging to Egypt, viz the arms of the Delta or the remotest streams, implying that the flies should come from the very extremities, or from the whole land. By rendering it brink or border, as the common version does in Josh. 3:8. Ex. 16:35, an equally good sense is obtained, viz. that the flies shall come from the banks of the streams, where they are most abundant. The hiss or whistle, denoting God's control over these enemies of Judah, has the same sense as in ch. 5:26. Assyria and Egypt are here named as the two great rival powers who disturbed the peace of Western Asia, and to whom the land of Israel was both a place and subject of contention. The reference is not exclusively to actual invasion, but to the annoying and oppressive occupation of the country by civil and military agents of these foreign powers. It was not merely attacked but infested, by the flies and bees of Egypt and Assyria.
19. Carrying out the figures of the preceding verse, the Prophet, instead of simply saying that the land shall be infested by foreigners, represents it as completely filled with bees and flies, who are described as settling upon all the places commonly frequented by such insects. And they come and rest (or settle) all of them in the desolate (or precipitous) valleys, and in the clefts of rocks, and in all thorn-hedges, and in all pastures. The words seem naturally to express the general notion of a country overrun, infested, filled with foreigners and enemies, not only by military occupation but in other ways.
20. Had the Prophet, as Hendewerk suggests, represented the invaders as locusts, he would probably have gone on to describe them as devouring the land; but having chosen bees and flies as the emblem, he proceeds to express the idea of their spoliations by a different figure, that of a body closely shorn or shaven by a razor under the control of God and in his service. In that day (the same day mentioned in v. 19) will the Lord shave, with a razor hired in the parts beyond the river (Euphrates), (that is to say) with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet (i. e. of both extremities, or of the whole body), and also the beard will it (the razor) take away. As Ahaz had profaned and robbed God's house to hire a foreign razor, with which Israel and Syria might be shaven, so God would make use of that self-same razor to shave Judah, i. e. to remove its population, or its wealth, or both. The separate mention of the beard may have reference to the oriental fondness for it and associations of dishonour with the loss of it.
21, 22. In consequence of these spoliations, the condition of the country will be wholly changed. The population left shall not be agricultural but pastoral. Instead of living on the fruits of the soil, they shall subsist upon spontaneous products, such as milk and honey, which shall be abundant only because the people will be few and the uncultivated grounds extensive. And it shall be in that day (that) a man shall save (or keep) alive a young cow and two sheep; and it shall be (that) from the abundance of the making (yielding or production) of milk, he shall eat butter (or curds or cheese or cream); for butter and honey shall every one eat that is lift in the midst of (or within) the land. The word translated save alive is used to denote the preservation of one's life in danger (Pa. 30:4); so that unless we depart from its proper meaning here, it must denote not merely the keeping or raising of the cow and sheep, but their being saved from a greater number, and preserved with difficulty, not for want of pasture, which was more than ever plentiful, but from the presence of invaders and enemies. Thus understood. the word throws light upon the state of the country, as described in the context. The abundance is of course to be relatively understood, with respect to the small number of persons to be fed, and is therefore an additional and necessary stroke in the prophetic picture—few cattle left, and yet those few sufficient to afford milk in abundance to the few inhabitants. This abundance is expressed still more strongly by describing them as eating not the milk itself, but that which is produced from it, and which of course must bear a small proportion to the whole; and as this is the essential idea meant to be conveyed it matters little whether it be understood to mean butter, cheese, cream, or curds, though the last seems to agree best with what we know of oriental usages. It is here mentioned neither as a delicacy nor as plain and ordinary food, but as a kind of diet independent of the cultivation of the earth. and therefore implying a neglect of tillage and a pastoral mode of life, as well as an unusual extent of pasturage, which may have reference, not only to the milk but to the honey. Boswell, in the journal of his tour with Dr. Johnson to the Hebrides, observes of the inhabitants of one of the poor islands, that "they lived all the spring without meal, upon milk and curds and whey alone." This verse, then, is descriptive of abundance only as connected with a paucity of people and a general neglect of tillage. It was designed indeed to be directly expressive neither of abundance nor of poverty, but of a change in the condition of the country and of the remaining people, which is further described in the ensuing context.
23. Having described the
desolation of the country indirectly, by saying what the food of the
inhabitants should be, the Prophet now describes it more directly, by
predicting the growth of thorns and briers, even in spots which had
been sedulously cultivated, for example the most valuable vineyards. And
it shall be (or come to pass) in that day (that) every place,
where there shall be a thousand vines at (or for) a thousand
silverlings (pieces or shekels of silver), shall be for (or
become) thorns and briers, or shall be (given up) to
the thorn and to the brier. Most
writers seem to confine the threatening to the thorns and briers, and
to regard the thousand silverlings as a part of the description of a
valuable vineyard, though they differ on the question whether this was
the price for which the vineyard might be sold, or its annual rent, as
in Sol. Song 8:11, where, however, it is said to be the price of the fruit,
the number of vines is not mentioned. Henderson computes that it was
nearly one-half more than the price at which the vineyards of Mount
Lebanon were sold in 1811, according to Burckhardt, namely a piastre
for each vine.
24. So complete shall be the desolation of these once favoured spots that men shall pass through them armed as they would through a wilderness. With arrows and with bow shall one (or shall a man) go thither, because thorns and briers shall the whole land be. The essential idea, as the last clause shows, is that of general desolation; there is no need, therefore, of supposing that the bows and arrows have exclusive reference to protection, as it would be natural to carry weapons into such a region both for protection and the chase. It is no objection to the mention of the latter, that the people had just been represented as subsisting upon milk and honey, since these two methods of subsistence often coexist, as belonging to the same state of society, and both imply a general neglect of tillage. The exact sense of the last clause is not that the land shall become thorns and briers (English version), as in v. 24, but that it shall actually be thorns and briers.
25. Not only the fields, not only the vineyards, shall be overrun with thorns and briers, but the very hills, now laboriously cultivated with the hand, shall be given up to like desolation. And all the hills (i. e. even all the hills) which are digged with the hoe (because inaccessible to the plough)—thou shalt not go (even) there, for fear of briers and thorns, and (being thus uncultivated) they shall be for a sending-place of cattle and a trampling-place of sheep (i. e. a place where cattle may be sent to pasture, and which may be trodden down by sheep). The reference is probably to the hills of Judea, anciently cultivated to the very top, by means of terraces that still exist, for an account of which by eye-witnesses, see Keith's Land of Israel, chapter xii., and Robinson's Palestine, vol. II. p. 187. Thus understood, the verse merely strengthens the foregoing description, by declaring that even the most carefully cultivated portions of the land should not escape the threatened desolation. This verse continues and completes the description of the general desolation, as manifested first by the people's living upon milk and honey, then by the growth of thorns and briers in the choicest vineyards and the terraced hills, and by the conversion of these carefully tilled spots into dangerous solitudes, hunting-grounds, and pastures.