Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

The Creation Concept

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


This chapter is occupied with promises of restoration and deliverance, external safety and internal peace, to God's own people, as contrasted with the ruin previously threatened to their enemies. Borrowing his imagery from the fall of the Assyrian forest, just before predicted, the Prophet represents a shoot as springing from the prostrate trunk of Jesse, or rather from his roots, and invested by the Spirit of Jehovah with all the necessary attributes of a righteous judge and ruler, vs. 1-4. The pacific effect of the Messiah's reign is then described by the beautiful figure of wild and domestic animals dwelling and feeding together, and of children unhurt by the most venomous reptiles; to which is added an express prediction that all mutual injuries shall cease in consequence of the universal prevalence of the knowledge of Jehovah, vs. 5-9. To these figures borrowed from the animal creation, the Prophet now adds others from the history of Israel, but intended to express the same idea. The Messiah is here represented as a signal set up to the nations, gathering the outcasts of his people from all quarters, and uniting them again into one undivided body, free from all sectional and party animosities, vs. 10-13. Under figures of the same kind, the triumph of the church is then represented as a conquest over the old enemies of Israel, especially those nearest to the Holy Land; while the interposition of God's power to effect this and the preceding promises is vividly described as a division of the Red Sea and Euphrates, and a deliverance from Egypt and Assyria, vs. 14-16. The evidently figurative character of some parts of this chapter seems to furnish a sufficient key to the interpretation of those parts which in themselves would be more doubtful.

1. The figure of the preceding verse is continued but applied to a new subject, the downfall of the house of David and the Jewish state, which is contrasted with the downfall of Assyria. The Assyrian forest was to fall forever, but that of Judah was to sprout again And there shall come forth a twig (or shoot) from the stock (or stump) of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall grow. The only application of this passage that can be sustained is that to Jesus Christ, who sprang from the family of Jesse when reduced to its lowest estate, and to whom alone the subsequent description is literally applicable. The fact of Christ's descent from David is not only repeatedly affirmed, but constantly presupposed in the New Testament, as a fact too notorious to be called in question or to call for proof. Jesse is supposed by some to be named instead of David, because Jesse resided at Bethlehem where Christ was to be born, and because the family is here considered as reduced to the same obscure condition in which Jesse lived, as contrasted with that to which David was exalted, and which the mention of the latter would naturally have recalled to mind.

2. The person, whose origin and descent are metaphorically described in the preceding verse, is here described by his personal qualities, as one endowed with the highest intellectual and moral gifts by the direct influences of the Holy Spirit. And upon him shall rest the Spirit of Jehovah, a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. The genitives do not denote qualities but effects of the Spirit. The Spirit of Jehovah is not here described as being himself wise etc. but as the author of wisdom in others. This is evident from the last clause, where the fear of Jehovah cannot be an attribute of his Spirit, but must be a fruit of his influence. The qualities enumerated are not to be confounded as mere synonymes, nor on the other hand distinguished with metaphysical precision. None of these terms is entirely exclusive of the others. Wisdom, understanding, the knowledge of God, the fear of God, are all familiar scriptural descriptions of religion or piety in general. Wisdom and understanding are often joined as equivalent expressions. The latter, according to its etymology, strictly denotes the power of discernment or discrimination. Both are applied to theoretical and practical wisdom, and especially to moral and religious subjects Counsel and strength are the ability to plan and the ability to execute, neither of which can avail without the other. The knowledge of God does not in itself mean the love of him, although it may infer it as a necessary consequence. The correct knowledge of him certainly produces godly fear or holy reverence, and the two are probably put here for religion in the general. The only person in whom the terms of this prediction have been verified is Jesus Christ, whose wisdom displayed itself in early life and is expressly ascribed to a special divine influence; who proved himself a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; whose ministry was not only characterized by fortitude and boldness, but attested by miracles and mighty deeds; whose knowledge of divine things far surpassed that of all other men ; and who was himself a living model of all piety.

3. The Messiah is now described as taking pleasure in true piety and recognizing its existence by an infallible sagacity or power of discerning good and evil, which would render him superior to the illusions of the senses and to every external influence. This faculty is figuratively described as an exquisite olfactory perception, such as enables its possessor to distinguish between different odours. And his sense of smelling (i. e. his power of perception, with a seeming reference to the pleasure it affords him, shall be exercised) in (or upon) the fear of Jehovah, (as an attribute of others), and (being thus infallible) not by the sight (or according to the sight) of his eyes shall he judge, and not by the hearing of his ears shall he decide. He shall take delight in goodness, and be able to distinguish it without fail from its counterfeits. The sight of the eyes and the hearing of the ears are put for the testimony of those senses by which men are chiefly governed in their judgments. He should not judge of character at all by the senses, but by an infallible sagacity or power of discerning good and evil. His consolation shall be in the fear of the Lord i. e. afforded by religion. He shall not judge according to the sight of his eyes i. e. shall not despair even under the most discouraging appearances. He shall not reason according to the hearing of his ears i. e. he shall draw no conclusions from the rumours that may reach him, but believe the declarations of the Prophets.

4. The Messiah, as a righteous judge, is now exhibited in contrast with the unjust magistrates of Judah, as described in ch. 1:23. 10:2. 5:23. And he shall judge in righteousness the weak (or poor) and do justice with equity (or impartiality) to the meek of the earth, and shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall slay the wicked. By the earth to be smitten, some understand the inhabitants of the earth. But the expression seems at least to include the smiting of the earth itself, which is elsewhere represented as the object of God's wrath, and is here described as cursed on man's account. By a breath of his lips, we are to understand a mere word, or a mere breath, as something even less than a word, and yet sufficient to effect his purpose. Paul, in 2 Thess. 2:8, applies these words, with little change, to the destruction of Antichrist at the coming of Christ. It does not follow, however, that this is a specific and exclusive prophecy of that event, but only that it comprehends it, as it evidently does. If one of the Messiah's works is to destroy his enemies, it cannot be fulfilled without the destruction of the last and greatest of those enemies to whom the Scriptures make allusion. If the promise in the first clause is of general import, the threatening in the last must be coextensive with it.

5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins, i. e. he shall be clothed or invested with these attributes, and they shall adhere closely to him. The metaphor of putting on or clothing one's self with moral attributes is not unfrequent in the Scriptures. The girdle is mentioned as an essential part of oriental dress, and that which keeps the others in their proper place, and qualifies the wearer for exertion.

6. Here, as in ch. 2: 4 and 9:5, 6, universal peace is represented as a consequence of the Messiah's reign, but under a new and striking figure. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and young lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The third Hebrew noun includes the leopard and the panther, and perhaps the tiger. Calf denotes probably any fatted boast, and may here be mentioned because beasts of prey select such as their victims The wolf is introduced as the natural enemy of the lamb, and the leopard, as some allege, sustains the same relation to the kid. Dwell docs not mean to dwell in general, but to sojourn as a stranger or a guest, and implies that the lamb should, as it were, receive the wolf into its home. The verb translated lie down is especially appropriated to express the lying down of sheep and other animals. Here it may denote that the leopard, accustomed to crouch while waiting for its prey, shall now lie down peaceably beside it; or there may be an allusion to the restlessness and fleetness of the wild beast, now to be succeeded by the quiet habits of the ruminating species. Most Christian writers, ancient and modern, explain the prophecy as wholly metaphorical, and descriptive of the peace to be enjoyed by God's people under the new dispensation. Some apply the passage to the external peace between the church and the world, but it is commonly regarded as descriptive of the change wrought by Christianity in wicked men themselves. To give a specific meaning to each figure in the landscape, making the lamb, the calf, and the fatted beast, denote successive stages in the Christian's progress, the lion open enemies. the leopard more disguised ones, the wolf treacherous and malignant ones, the little child the ministry, not only mars the beauty but obscures the real meaning of the prophecy.

7. And the cow and the bear shall feedtogether shall their young lie downand the lion like the ox shall eat straw. The lion's eating straw implies not only cohabitation with domestic cattle, but a change of his carnivorous habits. It denotes a total change of habit, and indeed of nature, and is therefore a fit emblem for the revolution which the gospel, in proportion to its influence, effects in the condition of society, with some allusion possibly, as before suggested, to the ultimate deliverance of the inferior creation from that bondage of corruption, to which, for man's sake, it is now subjected.

8. To express the idea still more strongly, venomous serpents are represented as innoxious, not to other beasts, but to the human species, and to the most helpless and unthinking of that species. And the sucking child shall play on (or over) the hole of the asp, and on the den of the basilisk (or cerastes) shall the weaned child stretch (or place) its hand. The precise discrimination of the species of serpents here referred to, is of no importance to the exegesis. All that is necessary to a correct understanding of the verse is that both words denote extremely venomous and deadly reptiles. The weaned child means of course a child just weaned. This verse is a mere continuation of the metaphor begun in v. 7, and expresses, by an additional figure, the change to be effected in society by the prevalence of true religion, destroying noxious influences and rendering it possible to live in safety.

9. The strong figures of the foregoing context are now resolved into literal expressions. They (indefinitely, men in general) shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, because the land is full of the knowledge of Jehovah (literally, of knowing him) like the waters covering the sea. This is not so much a direct continuation of the previous description as a summary explanation of it. My holy mountain means Zion, or Moriah, or the city built upon them, not considered simply as a capital city, but as the seat of the true religion, and at that time the local habitation of the church. What was true of the church there is true of the church everywhere. The first clause clearly shows that the foregoing description is to be figuratively understood. That the wolf and the lamb should lie down together, means in other words, that none should hurt or destroy in the Messiah's kingdom. The reason is given in the last clause. The point of comparison in the last clause is not the mere extent of surface, nor the depth but the fulness of the land to the extent of its capacity. This passage is descriptive of the reign of the Messiah, not at any one period, but as a whole. A historian, in giving a general description of the reign of David, would not use language applicable only to its beginning. The prophecy is therefore one of gradual fulfilment. So far as the cause operates, the effect follows, and when the cause shall operate without restraint, the effect will be complete and universal. The use of the future in the first clause and the preterite in the second may imply, that the prevalence of the knowledge of Jehovah must precede that of universal peace. It is not till the land has been filled with that knowledge, that men will cease to injure and destroy.

10. Having described the Messiah's reign and its effects, he now brings his person into view again. And in that day shall the root of Jesse which (is) standing (or set up) be for a signal to the nations; unto him shall the gentiles seek, and his rest (or residence) shall be glorious. The family of Jesse now under ground shall reappear and become a signal, raised to mark a place of rendezvous, for which purpose lofty trees are said to have been sometimes used. A signal of the nations then is one displayed to gather them. The reference is to Christ's manifestation to the gentiles through the preaching of the gospel. To seek to is not merely to inquire about, through curiosity, or to geek one's favour in the general, or to pay religious honours, but more specifically to consult as an oracle or depository of religious truth. By his rest we are to understand his place of rest, his residence. The church, Christ's home, shall be glorious from his presence and the accession of the gentiles.

11. And it shall be (or come to pass) in that day (the days of the Messiah) the Lord shall add his hand (or add to apply his hand) a second time, not second in reference to the overthrow of Pekah and Rezin, or the return from Babylon, but to the deliverance from Egypt. The remnant of his people, not the survivors of the original captives, but those living at the time of the deliverance, or still more strictly, the remnant according to the election of grace. The countries mentioned are put for all in which the Jews should be scattered There is no importance to be attached to the order in which they are enumerated, nor is the precise extent of each material. Assyria and Egypt are named first and together, as the two great foreign powers, with which the Jews were best acquainted. Pathros is Thebais or Upper Egypt, as appears not only from Scriptural usage, but also from the Egyptian etymology of the name, as denoting the region of the south. Cush is not merely Ethiopia proper, but Ethiopia, perhaps including part of Arabia, from which it appears to have been settled. Shinar is properly the plain in which Babylon was built, thence put for Babylonia. Elam is Elymais, a province of Persia, contiguous to Media, sometimes put for the whole country. Hamath is a city of Syria on the Orontes (see above, ch. 10:9). Islands of the sea, not merely islands in the strict sense, but the shores of the Mediterranean, whether insular or continental, and substantially equivalent to Europe, meaning the part of it then known, and here put last, as being the most important. This prophecy does not relate to the Gentiles or the Christian church, but to the Jews. The dispersions spoken of are not merely such as had already taken place at the date of the prediction but others then still future, including not only the Babylonish exile but the present dispersion. The prophecy was not fulfilled in the return of the refugees after Sennacherib's discomfiture, nor in the return from Babylon, and but partially in the preaching of the gospel to the Jews. The complete fulfilment is to be expected when all Israel shall be saved. The prediction must be figuratively understood, because the nations mentioned in this verse have long ceased to exist. The event prefigured is, according to some, the return of the Jews to Palestine; but according to others, their admission to Christ's kingdom on repentance and reception of the Christian faith.

12. And he (Jehovah) shall set up a signal to the nations, and shall gather the outcasts of Israel, and the dispersed of Judah shall he bring together from the four wings of the earth. To the nations, i. e. in their sight. The nations thus addressed are not the Jews but the Gentiles, and, as most interpreters suppose, those Gentiles among whom the Jews were scattered, and who are summoned by the signal here displayed to set the captives free, or to assist them in returning. The verse then contains two successive predictions; first, that the gentiles shall be called, and then that the Jews shall be restored, which agrees exactly with Paul's account of the connection between these events. Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fulness of the gentiles be come in (Rom. 11:25, 26). On this hypothesis, the signal is displayed to the gentiles, not that they may send or bring the Jews back, but that they may come themselves, and then the gathering of Israel and Judah is added, as a distinct if not a subsequent event. Israel and Judah are put together to denote the race in general. If this verse be understood as predicting the agency of the Gentiles in restoring the Jews, it may be said to have been partially fulfilled in the return from Babylon under the auspices of Cyrus, and again in all efforts made by gentile Christians to convert the Jews; but its full accomplishment is still prospective, and God may even now be lifting up a signal to the gentiles for this very purpose.

13. And the envy of Ephraim shall depart (or cease), and the enemies of Judah shall be cut off. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex (oppress or harass) Ephraim. Jacob, in his prophetic statement of the fortunes of his sons, disregards the rights of primogeniture and gives the pre-eminence to Judah and Joseph (Gen. 49:8-12. 22-26), and in the family of the latter to the younger son Ephraim (Gen 48:19). Hence from the time of the exodus, these two were regarded as the leading tribes of Israel. Judah was much more numerous than Ephraim (Num. 1:27, 33), took precedence during the journey in the wilderness (Num. 2:3. 10:14), and received the largest portion in the promised land. But Joshua was an Ephraimite (Num. 13:8), and Shiloh, where the tabernacle long stood (Jos. 18:1. 1 Sam. 4:3), was probably within the limits of the same tribe. The ambitious jealousy of the Ephraimites towards other tribes appears in their conduct to Gideon and Jephthah (Judges 8:1. 12:1). Their special jealousy of Judah showed itself in their temporary refusal to submit to David after the death of Saul, in their adherence to Absalom against his father, and in the readiness with which they joined in the revolt of Jeroboam, who was himself of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26). This schism was, therefore, not a sudden or fortuitous occurrence, but the natural result of causes which had long been working. The mutual relation of the two kingdoms is expressed in the recorded fact, that there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and between Asa and Baasha. all their days (1 Kings 14:30. 15:16). Exceptions to the general rule, as in the case of Ahab and Jehoshaphat, were rare, and a departure from the principles and ordinary feelings of the parties. The ten tribes, which assumed the name of Israel after the division, and perhaps before it, regarded the smaller and less warlike state with a contempt which is well expressed by Jehoash in his parable of the cedar and the thistle (2 Kings 14:9), unless the feeling there displayed be rather personal than national. On the other hand, Judah justly regarded Israel as guilty, not only of political revolt, but of religious apostasy (Ps. 78:9-11), and the jealousy of Ephraim towards Judah would of course be increased by the fact that Jehovah had forsaken the tabernacle of Shiloh (Ps. 78:60), refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved (ib. vs. 67, 68). This view of the matter will serve to explain why it is that when the Prophet would foretell a state of harmony and peace, he does so by declaring that the hereditary and proverbial enmity of Judah and Israel should cease. It also explains why he lays so much more stress upon the envy of Ephraim than upon the enmity of Judah, viz. because the latter was only an indulgence of unhallowed feeling, to which, in the other case, were superadded open rebellion and apostasy from God. Hence the first three members of the verse before us speak of Ephraim's enmity to Judah, and only the fourth of Judah's enmity to Ephraim; as if it had occurred to the Prophet, that although it was Ephraim whose disposition needed chiefly to be changed, yet Judah also had a change to undergo, which is therefore intimated in the last clause, as a kind of after-thought. The envy of Ephraim against Judah shall depart; the enemies of Judah (in the kingdom of the ten tribes) shall be cut off; Ephraim shall no more envy Judah; yes, and Judah in its turn shall cease to vex Ephraim. That this prophecy was not fulfilled in the return from exile, is sufficiently notorious. That it had not been fulfilled when Christ came, is plain from the continued enmity between the Jews, Samaritans, and Galileans. The only fulfilment it has ever had is in the abolition of all national and sectional distinctions in the Christian church (Gal. 3:27, 29. 5:6), to which converted Jews as well as others must submit. Its full accomplishment is yet to come, in the re-union of the tribes of Israel under Christ their common head (Hos. 1:11).

14. Instead of assailing or annoying one another, they are represented as making common cause against a common enemy. And they (Ephraim and Judah. undivided Israel) shall fly (like a bird of prey) upon the shoulder of the Philistines towards the sea (or westward); together they shall spoil the sons of the east (the Arabians and perhaps the Syrians); Edom and Moab the stretching out of their hand (i. e. the object of that action) and the children of Amman their obedience (i. e. their subjects). All the names are those of neighbouring nations with whom the Hebrews were accustomed to wage war. Edom, Moab, and Ammon, may be specially named for an additional reason, viz. that they were nearly related to Israel, and yet among his most inveterate enemies. The Jews explain this as a literal prediction having respect to the countries formerly possessed by the races here enumerated. Most Christian writers understand it spiritually of the conquests to be achieved by the true religion, and suppose the nations here named to be simply put for enemies in general, or for the heathen world; this method of description being rendered more emphatic by the historical associations which the names awaken. To fly upon means here to fly at, or to pounce upon, the figure being that of an eagle or other bird of prey.

15. To the destruction of the enemies of Israel is added a prediction that all obstacles, even the most formidable, to the restoration of God's people, shall be overcome or taken away by his almighty power. This idea is naturally expressed by the dividing of the Red Sea and Euphrates, because Egypt and Assyria are the two great powers from which Israel had suffered and was yet to be delivered. And Jehovah will destroy (by drying up) the tongue (or bay) of the sea of Egypt (i. e. the Red Sea), and he will leave his hand (as a gesture of menace or a symbol of miraculous power) over the river (Euphrates), in the violence of his wind (or breath), and smite it (the Euphrates) into seven streams, and make (his people) tread (it) in shoes (i. e. dry-shod). Tongue, which is applied in other languages to projecting points of land, is here descriptive of a bay or indentation in a shore. The sea of Egypt is not the Nile, as some suppose, although the name sea has been certainly applied to it from the earliest times, but the Red Sea, called the Sea of Egypt for the same reason that it is called the Arabian Gulf. The tongue of this sea is the narrow gulf or bay in which it terminates to the north-west near Suez, called by the old writers the Sinus Heroopolitanus, to distinguish it from the Sinus Elaniticus, the north-east extremity. Through the former the Israelites passed when they left Egypt, and it is now predicted that it shall be utterly destroyed, i. e. dried up. At the same time the Euphrates is to be smitten into seven streams, and so made fordable, as Cyrus is said to have reduced the Gyndes by diverting its water into many artificial channels. The terms are probably strong figures drawn from the early history and experience of Israel.

16. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of my people, which shall be left, from Assyria, as there was for Israel, in the day of his coming up from the land of Egypt. This verse admits of two interpretations. According to one, it is a comparison of the former deliverance from Egypt with the future one from Assyria and the neighbouring countries, where most Jewish exiles were to be found. According to the other, it is a repetition of the preceding promise, that previous deliverances, particularly those from Egypt and Assyria, should be repeated in the future history of the church. The fulfilment has been sought by different interpreters, in the return from Babylon, in the general progress of the gospel, and in the future restoration of the Jews. The first of these can at most be regarded only as a partial or inchoate fulfilment, and against the last lies the obvious objection, that the context contains promises and threatenings which are obviously figurative, although so expressed as to contain allusion to remarkable events in the experience of Israel. Such is the dividing or drying up of the tongue of the Red Sea, which must either be figuratively understood, or supposed to refer to a future miracle, which last hypothesis is certainly not necessary, and therefore can be fully justified by nothing but the actual event.