Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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This chapter consists of two distinguishable parts. The first continues the promise of the foregoing context, vs. 1-8. The second predicts intervening judgments both to Israel and his enemies, vs. 9-20.

The first blessing promised in the former part is that of merciful and righteous government, vs. 1, 2. The next is that of spiritual illumination, vs. 3, 4. As the consequence of this, moral distinctions shall no longer be confounded, men shall be estimated at their real value; a general prediction, which is here applied to two specific cases, vs. 5-8.

The threatenings of the second part are specially addressed to the women of Judah, v. 9. They include the desolation of the country and the downfall of Jerusalem, vs. 10-14. The evils are to last until a total change is wrought by an effusion of the Holy Spirit, vs. 15-18. But fearful changes are to intervene, for which believers must prepare themselves by diligence in present duty, vs. 19, 20.

1. Behold, for righteousness shall reign a king, and rulers for justice shall rule. The usual translation is injustice and in righteousness, as descriptive epithets of the reign foretold. But the preposition here used may have been intended to suggest, that he would reign not only justly, but for the very purpose of doing justice. It is a question among interpreters whether the king here predicted is Hezekiah or the Messiah. The truth appears to be that the promise is a general one, as if he had said, the day is coming when power shall be exercised and government administered, not as at present (in the reign of Ahaz), but with a view to the faithful execution of the laws. Of such an improvement Hezekiah's reign was at least a beginning and a foretaste.

2. And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind and a covert from the rain (or storm), as channels of water in a dry place (or in drought), as the shadow of a heavy rock in a weary land. The meaning is, that there shall be a man upon the throne, or at the head of the government, who, instead of oppressing, will protect the helpless This may either be indefinitely understood, or applied, in an individual and emphatic sense, to the Messiah. The figures for protection and relief are the same used above in ch. 4:6 and 25:4. The phrases heavy rock and weary land are idiomatic, but require no explanation.

3. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. Some understand here seers or prophets, and their hearers; but most interpreters apply both words to the people generally, as those who had eyes but saw not, and had ears but heard not. Compare the threatening in ch. 6:9, and the promise in ch. 29:18.

4. And the heart (or mind) of the rash (heedless or reckless) shall understand to know (or understand knowledge), and the tongue of stammerers shall hasten to speak clear things (i. e. shall speak readily and plainly). The bodily defects here mentioned denote others of an intellectual and spiritual nature, neglect and ignorance of spiritual matters. The minds of men shall begin to be directed to religious truth, and delivered from ignorance and error in relation to it.

5. When men's eyes are thus opened, they will no longer confound the essential distinctions of moral character, because they will no longer be deceived by mere appearances. Things will then be called by their right names. The fool (in the emphatic Scriptural sense, the wicked man) will no longer be called noble (men will no longer attach ideas of dignity and greatness to the name or person of presumptuous sinners), and the churl (or niggard) will no more be spoken of (or to) as liberal. The last clause, like the other, contains a specific illustration of the general truth that men shall be estimated at their real value.

6. The Prophet now defines his own expressions, or describes the characters which they denote. The fool (is one who) will speak folly (in the strongest and worst sense), and his heart will do iniquity, to do wickedness and to speak error unto (or against) Jehovah (while at the same time he is merciless and cruel towards his fellow-men), to starve (or leave empty) the soul of the hungry, and the drink of the thirsty he will suffer to fail. The futures in this verse express the idea of habitual action; he does and will do so. The infinitives convey the same idea in a different form, by making prominent the design and effect of their unlawful course. The common version, work and practise needlessly departs from the form of the original, in which the same verb is repeated.

7. Such is the fool: as for the churl, although his making money be not sinful in itself, his arms or instruments, the means which he employs, are evil. He that hastens to be rich can scarcely avoid the practice of dishonest arts and of unkindness to the poor. He deviseth plots to destroy the oppressed (or afflicted) with words of falsehood, and (i. e. even) in the poor (man's) speaking right (i. e. even when the poor man's claim is just, or in a more general sense, when the poor man pleads his cause).

8. As the wicked man's true character is betrayed by his habitual acts, so the noble or generous man (and according to the Scriptures none is such but the truly good man) reveals his dispositions by his conduct. He devises noble (or generous) things, and in noble (or generous things) he perseveres (literally, on them he stands).

9. Here, as in many other cases, the Prophet reverts to the prospect of approaching danger, which was to arouse the careless Jews from their security. As in ch. 3:16, he addresses himself to the women of Jerusalem, because to them an invasion would be peculiarly disastrous, and also perhaps because their luxurious habits contributed, more or less directly, to existing evils. Careless women, arise, hear my voice; confiding daughters, give ear unto my speech. Women and daughters are equivalent expressions. Careless and confiding (or secure) i. e. indifferent because not apprehensive of the coming danger.

10. Having called their attention in v. 9, he now proceeds with the prediction which concerned them. In a year and more (literally, days above a year), ye shall tremble, ye confiding ones, for the vintage fails, the gathering shall not come. The English Version makes the time denoted to be that of the duration of the threatened evil.

11. He now speaks as if the event had already taken place, and calls upon them to express their sorrow and alarm by the usual signs of mourning. Tremble ye careless (women), quake ye confiding (ones), strip you and make you bare, and gird (sackcloth) on your loins.

12. Mourning for the breasts (or beating on the breasts as a sign of mourning), for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. The same act is described in Nah. 2:8, but by a different verb.

13. Upon the land of my people thorn (and) thistle shall come up, for (they shall even come up) upon all (thy') houses of pleasure, oh joyous city! or, upon all houses of pleasure (in) the joyous city.

14. For the palace is forsaken, the crowd of the city (or the crowded city) left, hill and watch-tower (are) for caves (or dens) forever, a joy (or favourite resort) of wild asses, a pasture of flocks. The use of the word palace, and that in the singular number, clearly shows that the destruction of Jerusalem itself is here predicted. The Hebrew word in this verse originally meaning a hill is applied as a proper name (Ophel) to the southern extremity of Mount Moriah, overhanging the spot where the valleys of Jehoshaphat and Hinnom meet. "The top of the ridge is flat, descending rapidly towards the south, sometimes by offsets of rock; the ground is tilled and planted with olive and other fruit-trees." (Robinson's Palestine, I. p. 394.)

15. The desolation having been described in v. 14 as of indefinite duration, this verse states more explicitly how long it is to last. Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field and the fruitful field is reckoned to the forest. The general meaning evidently is, until by a special divine influence a total revolution shall take place in the character, and as a necessary consequence in the condition, of the people. The attempt to restrict it to the return from exile, or the day of Pentecost, or some great effusion of the Spirit on the Jews still future, perverts the passage by making that its whole meaning which at most is but a part. For the meaning of the figures, see the exposition of ch. 29:17. In this connection, they would seem to denote nothing more than total change, whereas in the other case the idea of an interchange appears to be made prominent.

16. And justice shall abide in the wilderness, and righteousness in the fruitful field shall dwell. This may either mean, that what is now a wilderness, and what is now a fruitful field, shall alike be the abode of righteousness i. e. of righteous men; or that both in the cultivation of the desert, and in the desolation of the field, the righteousness of God shall be displayed. In favour of the former is the use of the word dwell, which implies a permanent condition, rather than a transient or occasional manifestation. It also agrees better with the relation of this verse to that before it, as a part of the same sentence. If this be the meaning of the sixteenth verse, it seems to follow clearly, that the whole of the last clause of the fifteenth, is a promise, since the same inhabitation of righteousness is here foretold in reference to the forest and the fruitful field. It is possible indeed that these may be put for the whole land, as being the two parts into which he had just before divided it.

17. As the foregoing verse describes the effect of the effusion of the Spirit to be universal righteousness, so this describes the natural and necessary consequence of righteousness itself. And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness rest and assurance (or security) forever.

18. And my people shall abide in a home of peace, in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. There is something tranquillizing in the very sound of this delightful promise, which as usual is limited to God's own people, implying either that all should have become such, or that those who had not should be still perturbed and restless.

19. And it shall hail in the downfall of the forest (i. e. so as to overthrow it), and the city shall be low in a low place (or humble with humiliation) i. e. utterly brought down. If this be read as a direct continuation of the promise in v. 18, it must be explained as a description of the downfall of some hostile power, and accordingly it has been referred by most interpreters to Nineveh. Others, thinking it more natural to assume one subject here and in v. 13, regard this as another instance of prophetic recurrence from remoter promises to nearer threats; as if he had said, before these things can come to pass, the city must be brought low. This construction is entirely in keeping with the Prophet's manner, as exemplified already in this very chapter. (See the note on v. 9 above.) However natural and probable certain applications of the passage may appear, the only sense which can with certainty be put upon it, is that some existing power must be humbled, either as a means or as a consequence of the moral revolution which had been predicted.

20. Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth the foot of the ox and the ass. The allusion in this verse is supposed by some to be to pasturage, by others to tillage. There is still more diversity of judgment with respect to the application of the metaphor. Taking the whole connection into view, the meaning of this last verse seems to be, that as great revolutions are to be expected, arising wholly or in part from moral causes, they alone are safe, for the present and the future, who with patient assiduity perform what is required and provide, by the discharge of actual duty, for contingencies which can neither be escaped nor provided for in any other manner.