Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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This chapter consists of three distinguishable parts. The first is a thanksgiving to God for the destruction of Babylon and the deliverance of the Jews, vs. 1-5. The second is a promise of favour to the gentiles and the people of God, when united on Mount Zion, vs. 6-9. The third is a threatening of disgraceful ruin to Moab, vs. 10-12.

1. Jehovah, my God (art) thou; I will exalt thee; I will praise thy name; for thou hast done a wonder, counsels from afar off, truth, certainty. The song of praise opens in the usual lyric style. (See Ex. 15:2, 11. Ps. 118:28. 145:1.) The whole phrase may either mean, I will acknowledge thy goodness towards me, or I will confess thee to be what thy name imports, I will acknowledge thy acts to be consistent with the previous revelations of thine attributes. What wonder is especially referred to, the next verse explains. The last clause admits of several different constructions. Many of the older writers make it an independent proposition. Thus the English Version: thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth. Others simplify the same construction still more by making all the nouns in the last clause objects of the verb in the first: thou hast brought to pass a wonder, ancient counsels, faithfulness, truth. From afar off seems to imply, not only that the plans were formed of old, but that they were long ago revealed. Even long before the event they are certain.

2, 3. For thou hast turned (it) from a city to a heap, a fortified town to a ruin, a palace of strangers from (being) a city; forever it shall not be built. Therefore a powerful people shall honour thee, a city of terrible nations shall fear thee. The destruction of Babylon, and the fulfilment of prophecy thereby, shall lead even the boldest and wildest of the heathen to acknowledge Jehovah as the true God. It is usual to apply the terms of this verse specifically to the Medes and Persians as the conquerors of Babylon. There seems to be no need of applying the verse to a cordial voluntary recognition of Jehovah. It may just as well denote a compulsory extorted homage, fear being taken in its proper sense. The verse will then be an apt description of the effect produced by Jehovah's overthrow of Babylon on the Babylonians themselves. There is something unusual in the expression city of nations. It must either be explained as implying a plurality of subject nations, or the word translated nations must be taken in its secondary sense of gentiles, heathen, as applied to individuals or to one community.

4. For thou hast been a strength (or stronghold) to the weak, a strength (or stronghold) to the poor in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible (or of the tyrants) was like a storm against a wall. The nations shall reverence Jehovah, not merely as the destroyer of Babylon, but as the deliverer of his people, for whose sake that catastrophe was brought about. Weak and poor, are epithets often applied to Israel considered as a sufferer. The two figures of extreme heat and a storm of rain are combined to express the idea of persecution or affliction. The last phrase in the Hebrew naturally signifies precisely what the English Version has expressed, to wit, a storm against a wall, denoting the direction and the object of the violence, but not its issue. As a storm of rain beats upon a wall, so the Babylonian persecution beat upon the captive Jews.

5. As the heat in a drought (or in a dry place), the noise of strangers wilt thou bring down; (as) heat by the shadow of a cloud, (so) shall the song of the tyrants be brought low. The sufferings of Israel under oppression shall be mitigated and relieved as easily and quietly as the intense heat of the sun by an intervening cloud. The noise mentioned in the first clause is probably the tumult of battle and conquest, and the song in the last clause the triumphal song of the victorious enemy. The meaning branch is more agreeable to usage, but not so appropriate in this connection.

6. And Jehovah of Hosts will make, for all nations, in this mountain, a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. Jerusalem, hitherto despised and oppressed, shall yet be a source of attraction, nourishment, and exhilaration, to mankind. This verse resumes the thread of the discourse, which was interrupted at the end of the last chapter, for the purpose of inserting the triumphal song (vs. 1-5). Having there said that Jehovah and his elders should appear in glory on Mount Zion, he now shows what is there to be bestowed upon the nations. This verse contains a general statement of the relation which Jerusalem or Zion should sustain to the whole world, as a source of moral influence. There is nothing to indicate the time when the promise should be fulfilled, nor indeed to restrict it to one time exclusively. As the ancient seat of the true religion, and as the cradle of the church which has since overspread the nations, it has always more or less fulfilled the office here ascribed to it.

7. And he will swallow up (i.e. destroy) in this mountain the face of the veil, the veil upon all peoples, and the web, the (one) woven over all the nations. The influence to go forth from this centre shall dispel the darkness, both of ignorance and sorrow, which now broods over the world. The subject of the verb is Jehovah. By the face of the veil some understand the veil itself. Others suppose a metathesis for the veil of the face. Others, with more probability, infer from the analogous expression in Job 41:13, that the veil or covering is here described as being the surface or upper side of the object covered. Most interpreters suppose an allusion to the practice of veiling the face as a sign of mourning, which agrees well with the next verse and is no doubt included, but the words seem also to express the idea of a veil upon the understanding. (See above, ch. 22:8.)

8. He has swallowed up death forever, and the Lord Jehovah wipes away tears from off all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from off the earth, for Jehovah hath spoken (it). The people of God, who seemed to be extinct, shall be restored to life, their grief exchanged for joy, and their disgrace for honour in the presence of the world, a result for which he pledges both his power and foreknowledge. The true sense seems to be that all misery and suffering, comprehended under the generic name of death, should be completely done away. It is then a description of the ultimate effects of the influence before described as flowing from Mount Zion or the church of God. In its highest sense this may never be realized by any individual till after death. Paul says accordingly (1 Cor. 15:54), that when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, *** *** *** ***. As this is not an explanation of the text before us, nor even a citation of it in the way of argument, but merely a sublime description, all that was necessary to express was the final, perpetual, triumphant abolition of death. The phrase *** *** therefore, although not a strict translation, is no departure from its essential meaning. In its primary import, the clause is a promise to God's people, corresponding to the foregoing promise to the nations. While on the one hand he would lift the veil from the latter, and admit them to a feast upon Zion, on the other he would abolish death and wipe tears from the faces of his people. The restriction of these last expressions to the pains of death, or to the sorrow of bereavement, detracts from the exquisite beauty of the passage, which the poet Burns, it is said, could not read without weeping.

9. And me shall say (or they shall say) in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is Jehovah; we have waited for him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation. When these gracious promises shall be fulfilled, those who have trusted in them shall no longer be ashamed of their strong confidence, because it will be justified by the event, and they will have nothing left but to rejoice in the fulfilment of their hopes. This is our God, this is Jehovah; as if they had said, this is the God of whom we have spoken, and for trusting in whom we have so often been derided. We have waited long, but he is come at last, to vindicate his truth and our reliance on him.

10. For the hand of Jehovah shall rest upon this mountain, and Moab shall be trodden down under him (or in his place) as straw is trodden in the water of the dunghill. While Israel shall thus enjoy the permanent protection of Jehovah, his inveterate enemies shall experience ignominious destruction. God's hand is the symbol of his power. Its resting on an object is the continued exercise of that power, whether for good or evil. This is determined by the nature of the object, as this mountain cannot well mean anything but what is meant in vs. 6, 7, to wit, Mount Zion or the church of God, and the promise of the foregoing context must of course be continued here. Moab and Edom were the two hereditary and inveterate enemies of Israel, their hatred being rendered more annoying and conspicuous by their affinity and neighbouring situation. Hence they are repeatedly mentioned, separately or together, as the representatives of obstinate and malignant enemies in general. As the name British, in our own revolutionary war, became equivalent to hostile, without losing its specific sense, so might the Prophets threaten Moab with God's vengeance, without meaning to exclude from the denunciation other like-minded enemies. This wide interpretation, both of Moab and Edom, is confirmed by the fact that one of them is often mentioned where both would seem to be equally included. The figure in the last clause is strongly expressive both of degradation and destruction. Moab is likened not only to straw, but to straw left to rot for the dunghill The idea of subjection and ruin is expressed by the figure of treading down or trampling under foot. The Hebrew word is commonly translated thresh; but as the oriental threshing was performed for the most part by the feet of cattle, this sense and that of treading down are really coincident. Under him may either mean under Jehovah or under himself, that is, in his own place, in the country of Moab, or wherever he is found.

11. And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of it, as the swimmer spreadeth forth his hands to swim; and he shall humble his pride, together with the spoils (or devices) of his hands. From this ignominious doom Moab shall try in vain to save himself; his pride shall be humbled, and his struggles only serve to precipitate his ruin. Having compared the fall of Moab to the treading down of straw in a filthy pool, the Prophet carries out his figure here, but with a change so slight and at the same time so natural as almost to escape observation, while it greatly adds to the life of the description. The down-trodden straw now becomes a living person, and struggles in the filthy pool to save himself from drowning, but in vain.

12. And the fortress of the high fort of thy walls he hath cast down, humbled, brought to the ground, to the very dust (or even to the dust). The specific fulfilment of this prophecy cannot be distinctly traced in history. It was certainly verified, however, in the downfall of the Moabitish nation, whenever it took place.