Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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Here begins a series of prophecies (ch. xxiv-xxxv), having reference chiefly to Judah. It is not divided into parts by any titles or express intimations of a change of subject. The style is also homogeneous and uniform. The attempts which have been made to subdivide this portion of the book are for the most part arbitrary. The conventional division into chapters may be retained as a matter of convenience. The first four chapters (xxiv-xxvii) are now universally regarded as forming one continuous composition. What is said of ch. xxiv is therefore in some degree applicable to the whole. This chapter contains a description of a country filled with confusion and distress by a visitation from Jehovah in consequence of its iniquities, vs. 1-12. It then speaks of a remnant scattered among the nations and glorifying God in distant lands, vs 13-16. The Prophet then resumes his description of the judgments coming on the same land or another, winding up with a prophecy of Jehovah's exaltation in Jerusalem, vs. 16-23. The endless diversity of judgment with regard to this chapter, both among the older and later writers, shows that the prediction is generic. In this case, as in many others, the exclusive restriction of the prophecy to one event is wholly arbitrary. What the Prophet has left indefinite we have no right to make specific. Particular allusions there may be; but this, as we have seen in other cases, does not limit the application of the whole.

1. Behold, Jehovah (is) pouring out the land and emptying it and he will turn down its face, and he will scatter its inhabitants. The figure is that of a bottle or other vessel drained of its contents by being turned upside down. The allusion in this last clause may be both to flight and deportation. Isaiah here speaks of the Babylonian conquest as still distant, but at the same time as infallibly certain.

2. And it shall be, as the people so the priest, as the servant so his master, as the buyer so the seller, as the borrower so the lender, as the debtor so the creditor. That is, all ranks and classes shall fare alike.

3. The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled, for Jehovah speaks (or hath spoken) this word. The last clause denotes the certainty of the event because predicted by Jehovah.

4. The earth mourneth, fadeth; the world languisheth, fadeth; the highest of the people of the earth languish. Earth and world are not to be taken in their widest sense, but as poetical descriptions of the country.

5. And the land has been profaned under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statute, broken the everlasting covenant. Almost all writers seem to apply the passage to the Jews, and to understand it as referring their calamities to their transgressions. The land is said to be profaned as being a holy land or consecrated to Jehovah. Most interpreters suppose a special reference to pollution by blood or the guilt of murder. The reference in this verse is to the divine law generally. The three terms used are substantially synonymous, law, statute, covenant, being continually interchanged. The simple meaning of the verse is that they disobeyed the will of God.

6. Therefore a curse devoured the earth, and those dwelling in it were reckoned guilty (and so treated). Therefore the inhabitants of the earth burned, and there are few men left.

7. The new wine mourneth; the vine languisheth; all the merry-hearted do sigh.

8. Still is the mirth of drums; ceased is the noise of revellers; still is the mirth of the harp. Music is here mentioned as a common token and accompaniment of mirth.

9. With the song they shall not drink wine; bitter shall strong drink be to them that drink it. The last clause means of course that they should lose the appetite for such enjoyments.

10. Broken down is the city of confusion (emptiness or desolation), shut up is every house from entering (i. e. so that it is not or cannot he entered). The city meant is Jerusalem. The last clause might be understood to refer to the closing of the houses by the inhabitants against the enemy, or to their being left unoccupied; but the first clause seems to show that it rather relates to the obstruction of the entrance by the ruins.

11. A cry for wine in the streetsdarkened is all joydeparted is the gladness of the earth. The cry meant is that of the perishing inhabitants for necessary refreshment, perhaps with special reference to the sick and wounded or to children.

12. (What is) left in the city is desolation, and into ruins is the gate beaten down. The first clause is in opposition to the last of v. 11. Joy is gone and desolation is left behind. The gate is here named as the most important part of the city; but it does not directly mean the city itself.

13. For so shall it be in the midst of the earth among the nations, like the beating of an olive-tree, like gleanings when the gathering is done. The Prophet is stating more distinctly the extent of the desolation which he had before described. In the midst of the nations is explained as actual dispersion among foreign nations.

14. They shall raise their voice, they shall sing (or shout), for the majesty of Jehovah they cry aloud from the sea. The pronoun at the beginning is emphatic. They, the few dispersed survivors of these judgments.

15. Therefore in the fires glorify Jehovah, in the islands of the sea the name of Jehovah God of Israel. This seems to be an address to the persons who had already been described as praising God, exhorting them to do so still. The word translated fires is now commonly agreed to be a local designation The weight of exegetical authority preponderates in favour of the meaning in the east (as the region of sunrise or of dawning light) in opposition to the sea or west.

16. From the wing (skirt or edge) of the earth we have heard songs, praise to the righteous, and I said, woe to me, woe to me, alas for me! The deceivers deceive, with deceit the deceivers deceive. We hear promises and praise to the righteous, but our experience is that of misery.

17. Fear and pit and snare upon thee, oh inhabitant of the land! This may be either a warning (are upon thee) or tho expression of a wish (be upon thee). It is a probable though not a necessary supposition, that the terms here used are borrowed from the ancient art of hunting.

18. And it shall be (that) the (one) flying from the voice of the fear shall fall into the pit, and the (one) coming up from the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare; for windows from on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth are shaken. The first clause carries out the figures of the foregoing verse; the second introduces those of a deluge and an earthquake. The allusion to the flood is acknowledged by almost all writers, and is rendered certain by the resemblance of the language to that used in Gen. 7:11.

19. Broken, broken is the earth; shattered, shattered is the earth; shaken, shaken is the earth.

20. The earth reels, reels like a drunken man, and is shaken like a hammock. And heavy upon her is her guilt, and she shall fall and rise no more. The ideas earth and land, both which are expressed by the Hebrew word, run into one another and are interchanged in a manner not to be expressed in a translation. The old translation of the second clause (removed like a cottage) is now commonly abandoned. The Hebrew word denotes properly a temporary lodging-place. In ch. 1:8 it was applied to a watch-shed in a melon-field. Here it seems to signify something more moveable and something suspended in the air. The latest writers are accordingly agreed in retaining the interpretation which makes it mean a cloth or mat suspended between trees or boughs of trees for the use of nocturnal watchers. Such are described by Niebuhr as common in Arabia, and are known throughout the east by a name essentially identical with those used in the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic versions of this sentence.

21. And it shall be in that day (that) Jehovah shall visit (for the purpose of inflicting punishment) upon the host of the high place in the high place and upon the kings of the earth upon the earth. Interpreters have commonly assumed that the host of the high place is the same with the host of heaven, and must therefore mean either stars or angels or both. It may be doubted however whether there is any reference to the host of heaven at all. High is a relative expression, and although applied to heaven in v. 18, is applied to earth or to human society in v. 4. The former sense may seem to be here required by the antithesis; but it is not clear that any antithesis was intended, which is the less probable because earth is not the customary opposite of heaven. The sense may simply be that God will judge the high or lofty host viz. the kings of the land upon the land. But even if there be an antithesis, and even if the host of heaven in the usual sense of the expression be alluded to, the analogy of this whole context would seem to indicate that this is merely a strong figure for different ranks or degrees of dignity on earth.

22. And they shall be gathered with a gathering as prisoners in a pit, and shall be shut up in a dungeon, and after many days they shall be visited. The sense of the first clause evidently is that they shall be imprisoned. The persons meant are the principalities and powers of the verse preceding. There are two interpretations of the verb visited. According to one it means they shall be punished, or at least brought forth to judgment. The other is, they shall be visited in mercy.

23. And the moon shall be confounded and the sun ashamed, for Jehovah of Hosts is king in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his elders there is glory. Before the splendour of Jehovah's reign all lesser principalities and powers shall fade away. The elders are the rulers of Israel as the church. The simple meaning of the verse appears to be that Jehovah's reign over his people shall be more august than that of any created sovereign. This is true of the church in various periods of history, but more especially in those when the presence and power of God are peculiarly manifested. The affinity between this verse and the last of the preceding chapter seems to show that their juxtaposition is by no means fortuitous.