Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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This chapter opens with an exhortation to the Moabites to seek protection from their enemies by renewing their allegiance to the house of David, accompanied by an intimation that this prospect of deliverance would not in fact be realized, vs. 1-6. From this transient gleam of hope, the prophecy reverts to a description of the general desolation and distress, in form almost identical with that in the foregoing chapter, vs. 7-12. The prophecy then closes with a specification of the time at which it was to be fulfilled, vs 13, 14.

The needless division of the prophecy at this point seems to have some connection with an old opinion that the lamb mentioned in v. 1 is Christ. A similar cause appears to have affected the division of the second, third, and fourth chapters.

1. In their extremity, the Moabites exhort one another to return to their allegiance to the family of David, by whom they were subdued and rendered tributary (2 Sam. 8:2). When the kingdom was divided, they continued in subjection to the ten tribes till the death of Ahab, paying yearly, or perhaps at the accession of every new king, a tribute of a hundred thousand lambs and as many rams with the wool (2 Kings 3:4, 5).

After the kingdom of the ten tribes was destroyed, their allegiance could be paid only to Judah, who had indeed been all along entitled to it. Send ye the lamb (i. e. the customary tribute) to the ruler of the land (your rightful sovereign), from Sila (or Petra) to the wilderness, to the mountain of the daughter of Zion. The verse then really continues the description of the foregoing chapter. Jerome understands the verse as a prayer or a prediction, that God would send forth Christ, the lamb, the ruler of the land (or earth). Sela, which properly denotes a rock, is now commonly agreed to be here used as the name of the city Petra, the ancient capital of Idumea, so called because surrounded by impassable rocks, and to a great extent hewn in the rock itself. It is described by Strabo, Diodorus, and Josephus, as a place of extensive trade. The Greek form *** is supposed to have given name to Arabia Petraea in the old geography. If so, the explanation of that name as meaning stony, and as descriptive of the soil of the whole country, must be incorrect. Petra was conquered by Trajan, and rebuilt by Hadrian, on whose coins its name is still extant. It was afterwards a bishop's see, but had ceased to be inhabited before the time of the crusades. It was then entirely lost sight of, until Burckhardt in 1812 verified a conjecture of Seetzen's, that the site of Petra was to be sought in the valley called the Wada Musa, one or two days' journey southeast of the Dead Sea. It was afterwards explored by Irby and Mangles, and has since been often visited and described. See in particular Robinson's Palestine II. 573-580. Jerome explains the whole verse as a prediction of Christ's descent from Ruth the Moabitess, the lamb, the ruler of the land, sent forth from the rock of the wilderness!

2. This verse assigns the ground or reason of the exhortation in the one before it. And it shall be (or come to pass, that) like a bird wandering, (like) a nest cast out, shall be the daughters of Moab, the fords of Arnon. The construction cast out from the nest is inconsistent with the form of the original. Nest may be understood as a poetical term for its contents. There are three interpretations of the phrase daughters of Moab. The first gives the words the geographical sense of villages or dependent towns. (See above ch. 3:16. 4:4) The second explanation makes it mean that the people generally, here called daughters, as the whole population is elsewhere called daughter. The third gives the words their strict sense as denoting the female inhabitants of Moab, whose flight and sufferings are a sufficient index to the state of things. In the absence of any conclusive reason for dissenting from this strict and proper sense of the expressions, it is entitled to the preference. The Arnon is mentioned as the principal stream of Moab.

3. Most of the older writers from Jerome downwards, understand this verse as a continuation of the advice to the Moabites, in which they are urged to act with prudence as well as justice, to take counsel (i.e. provide for their own safety) as well as execute judgment (i.e. act right towards others). In other words, they are exhorted to prepare for the day of their own calamity, by exercising mercy towards the Jews in theirs. But the explanation of the verse as the words of the Moabites addressed to the Jews, is favoured by the foregoing context, which relates throughout to the sufferings of Moab, whereas on the other supposition, the prophet suddenly exhorts the sufferers to harbour the fugitives of that very nation, with whom they had themselves been exhorted to seek refuge. This interpretation also relieves us from the necessity of determining historically what particular affliction of the Israelites or Jews is here referred to, a question which has occasioned much perplexity, and which can be resolved only by conjecture. As noonday heat is a common oriental figure to denote distress (Isai. 4:6. 25:4. 32:2), so a shadow is a relief from it. Possibly, however, the allusion here is to the light of noonday, and the shadow dark as night denotes concealment. If so, the clause is equivalent in meaning to the one which follows.

4. Let my outcasts, Moab, sojourn with thee, be thou a covert (refuge or hiding-place) to them from the face (or presence) of the spoiler (or oppressor); for the extortioner is at an end, oppression has ceased, consumed are the tramplers out of the land. Here, as in the preceding verse, the sense depends upon the object of address. If it be Moab, as the older writers held, the outcasts referred to are the outcasts of Israel. If the address be to Israel, the outcasts are those of Moab. The latter interpretation seems to be irreconcilable with the form of expression. Most interpreters, ancient and modern, give the verbs in this last clause a future sense. As if he had said, 'Give the fugitives a shelter; they will not need it long, for the extortioner will soon cease,' etc. This gives an appropriate sense, whether the words be addressed to Israel or Moab.

5. This verse contains a promise, that if the Jews afforded shelter to the fugitives of Moab, their own government should be strengthened by this exercise of mercy, and their national prosperity promoted by the appearance of a king in the family of David, who should possess the highest qualifications of a moral kind for the regal office. And a throne shall be established in mercy, and one shall sit upon it in truth in the tent of David, judging and seeking justice and prompt in equity.

6. We have heard of the pride of Moab, the very proud, his haughtiness and his pride and his wrath, the falsehood of his pretensions. Those writers who suppose Moab to be addressed in the preceding verses, understand this as a reason for believing that he will not follow the advice just given As if he had said: 'it is vain to recommend this merciful and just course, for we have heard etc.' But the modern writers who regard what immediately precedes as the language addressed by the Moabitish fugitives to Judah, explain this as a reason for rejecting their petition.

7. Therefore (because thus rejected) Moab shall howl for Moab; all of it shall howl; for the grapes (or raisin-cakes) of Kir-hareseth shall ye sigh (or moan), only (i. e. altogether) smitten. The idea may be that the nation of Moab mourns for the land of Moab, but the simplest supposition is that Moab for Moab means Moab for itself.

8. For the fields of fleshbon are witheredthe vine of Sibmahthe lords of the nations broke down its choice plantsunto Jazer they reachedthey strayed into (or through) the desertits branches they were stretched outthey reached to (or over) the sea. Sibmah is mentioned Num. 32:38. Josh. 13:19, and in the former place joined with Nebo, which occurs above, ch. 15:2. It had been taken by the Amorites, but was probably again recovered. Eusebius speaks of it as a town of Gilead, and Jerome describes it as not more than half a mile from Heshbon. According to the English Version, it would seem to be the lords of the nations who came to Jazer, wandered through the wilderness, etc. All this, however, is really predicated of the vines, the luxuriant growth of which is the subject of the following clauses. It may either mean that the vines covered the shore and overhung the water, or that the luxuriant vineyards of Moab really extended beyond the northern point of the Dead Sea. In the parallel passage, Jer. 48: 32, we read of the sea of Jazer, which may have been a lake in its vicinity, or even a reservoir, such as Seetzen found there. The same traveller found an abundant growth of vines in the region here described, while at Szalt (the ancient Ramoth) Burckhardt and Buckingham both speak, not only of the multitude of grapes, but of an active trade in raisins.

9. Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer (for) the vine of Sibmah. I will wet thee (with) my tears, Heshbon and (then) Elealeh! For upon thy fruit and upon thy harvest a cry has fallen. Some suppose these to be the words of a Moabite bewailing the general calamity. There is no objection, however, to the supposition, that the Prophet here expresses his own sympathy with the distress of Moab, as an indirect method of describing its intensity. The emphasis does not lie merely in the Prophet's feeling for a foreign nation, but in his feeling for a guilty race, on whom he was inspired to denounce the wrath of God.

10. And taken away is joy and gladness from the fruitful field, and in the vineyards shall no (more) be sung, no (more) be shouted: wine in the presses shall the (reader not tread; the cry have I stilled (or caused to cease). The English Version, on the other hand, by using the expression no wine, seems to imply that the treading of the grapes would not be followed by its usual result, whereas the meaning is that the grapes would not be trodden at all. The same version needlessly puts treaders in the plural. The idiomatic combination of the verb and its participle or derivative noun, is not uncommon in Hebrew. The ancient mode of treading grapes is still preserved in some of the monuments of Egypt.

11. Therefore my bowels for Moab like the harp shall sound, and my inwards for Kirhares. The viscera are evidently mentioned as the seat of the affections. Modern usage would require heart and bosom. The distinction which philologists have made between the ancient usage of bowels to denote the upper viscera and its modern restriction to the lower viscera, sufficiently accounts for the different associations excited by the same or equivalent expressions, then and now. The comparison is either with the sad notes of a harp, or with the striking of its strings, which may be used to represent the beating of the heart or the commotion of the nerves. Sound is not an adequate translation of the Hebrew word which conveys the idea of tumultuous agitation.

12. From the impending ruin Moab attempts in vain to save himself by supplication to his gods. They are powerless and he is desperate. And it shall be (or come to pass), when Moab has appeared (before his gods), when he has wearied himself (with vain oblations) on the high place, then (literally and) he shall enter into his sanctuary to pray, and shall not be able (to obtain an answer). Another construction, equally grammatical, though not so natural, is, 'when he has appeared etc and enters into his sanctuary to pray, he shall not be able.' The weariness here spoken of is understood by some as referring to the complicated and laborious ritual of the heathen worship; by others, simply to the multitude of offerings; by others, still more simply, to the multitude of prayers put up in vain. The last clause may either represent the worshipper as passing from the open high place to the shrine or temple where his god resided, in continuation of the same religious service, or it may represent him as abandoning the ordinary altars, and resorting to some noted temple, or to the shrine of some chief idol, such as Chemosh (1 Kings 11:7). It does not mean that he should not be able to reach or to enter the sanctuary on account of his exhaustion, but that he should not be able to obtain what he desired, or indeed to effect anything whatever by his prayers.

13. This is the word which Jehovah spake concerning Moab of old. The reference is not to what follows but to what precedes. It may be of old applied either to a remote or a recent period, and is frequently used by Isaiah elsewhere, in reference to earlier predictions.

14. And now Jehovah speaks (or has spoken) saying, in three years, like the years of an hireling, the glory of Moab shall be disgraced,with all the great throng. and the remnant (shall be) small and few, not much. By the years of an hireling most writers understand years computed strictly and exactly, with or without allusion to the eager expectation with which hirelings await their time, and their joy at its arrival, or to the hardships of the time of servitude. The glory of Moab is neither its wealth, its army, its people, nor its nobility exclusively, but all in which the nation gloried. As the date of this prediction is not given, the time of its fulfilment is of course uncertain. Some suppose it to have been executed by Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia (2 Kings 19:9); others by Shalmaneser; others by Sennacherib; others by Esarhaddon; others by Nebuchadnezzar. These last of course suppose that the verses are of later date than the time of Isaiah. That the final downfall of Moab was to be effected by the Babylonians, seems clear from the repetition of Isaiah's threatenings by Jeremiah (ch. 48). The only safe conclusion is that these two verses were added by divine command in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, or that if written by Isaiah they were verified in some of the Assyrian expeditions which were frequent at that period, although the conquest of Moab is not explicitly recorded in the history.