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 contains a general threatening of retribution to the enemies of God's people, with particular reference to Sennacherib or the Assyrian power. The spoiler shall himself be spoiled in due time, through the divine interposition, and for the exaltation of Jehovah, vs. 1-6. The state of desolation and alarm is followed by sudden deliverance, vs. 7-13. The same vicissitudes are again described, but in another form, vs. 14-19. The peace and security of Zion are set forth under the figures of a stationary tent, and of a spot surrounded by broad rivers, yet impassable to hostile vessels, vs. 20-22. By a beautiful transition, the enemy is described as such a vessel, but dismantled and abandoned to its enemies, v. 23. The chapter closes with a general promise of deliverance from suffering, as a consequence of pardoned sin, v. 24.

1. Woe to thee spoiling and thou wast not spoiled,  deceiving and they did not deceive thee! When thou shalt cease to spoil thou shalt be spoiled, and when thou art done deceiving they shall deceive thee. The two ideas meant to be expressed are those of violence and treachery, as the crying sins of arbitrary powers. In themselves the words are applicable to any oppressive and deceitful enemy, and may be naturally so explained at the beginning of the prophecy. This verse describes the enemy as acting without provocation, and also as having never yet experienced reverses.

2. Jehovah, favour us; for thee we wait; be their arm in the mornings, also our salvation in time of trouble. Isaiah here interposes his own feelings, and offers his own prayer that God would be the strength of the nation, and then, with an immediate change of form, presents the prayer of the people. Arm is a common Hebrew metaphor for strength or support. As to the mornings is an indefinite expression, understood by some to mean early or quickly, by others every morning, with allusion to the daily attacks of the enemy, or to the daily morning sacrifice.

3. At a noise of tumult (or tumultuous noise) the peoples flee; at thy rising the nations are scattered. The rising meant is the act of rising from a state of seeming inaction, or as when one rouses himself to strike. These words are commonly applied to the divine interposition in the case of Sennacherib's attack upon Jerusalem.

4. And your spoil shall be gathered (like) the gathering of the devourer; like the running of locusts running on it. By another apostrophe, the Prophet here addresses the enemy collectively. The word translated devourer is a descriptive name of the locust. (See the verb in Deut. 28:38.) As locusts gather, i.e. greedily and thoroughly, not leaving a tree or a field till they have stripped it. The construction of the last clause is: like the running of locusts (shall one be) running on it (i. e. on the spoil). The verb denotes specifically the act of running eagerly or with a view to satisfy the appetite. It is sometimes used to denote desire itself.

5. Exalted is Jehovah because dwelling on high (or inhabiting a high place); he fills (or has filled) Zion with judgment and righteousness. The first word, being a passive participle, seems to denote not merely a condition but a change. High place denotes a lofty and commanding position.

6. And he shall be the security of thy times, strength of salvations, wisdom and knowledge; the fear of Jehovah, that is his treasure. The simplest construction is the one which supplies the subject from the foregoing verse, he (i. e. Jehovah, or it i. e. his righteousness) shall be etc. The object of address is supposed by some to be Hezekiah, by others the Messiah, but is most probably the people or the believer as an individual. His treasure may refer to the same, or mean the treasure of Jehovah, that which he bestows.

7. Behold, their valiant ones cry without; the ambassadors of peace weep bitterly. They fearful cry aloud. Some here, as in ch. 29:1, give Ariel the sense of altar, but the latest investigations, although still unsatisfactory, tend strongly to confirm the version given in the English Bible. The messengers mentioned in the other clause are probably the three men sent by Hezekiah to Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:18), or perhaps the bearers of the tribute, weeping on account of Sennacherib's refusal to fulfil his promise. Some suppose them to be called valiant, because they ventured into the enemy's camp; others because they were probably military chiefs. Their weeping is agreed by all interpreters to be in strict accordance with the ancient usage, as described for example by Homer.

8. The highways are wasted, the wayfarer ceaseth; he breaks the covenant, despises cities, values no man. These are the words of the Prophet himself. The scene presented is that of the actual condition of Judea during the Assyrian invasion. (Compare Judges 5:6.) The verbs of the last clause agree with Sennacherib or the Assyrian. The meaning is that he despised the defences of the conquered country, as unable to resist him. The last words may either mean that he has no regard to any man's interest or wishes, or that he does not value human life.

9. The land mourneth, languisheth; Lebanon is ashamed, it pines away; Sharon is like a wilderness, and Bashan and Carmel cast (their leaves). The most fertile and flourishing parts of the country arc described as desolate. That the language is figurative, may be inferred from the fact that none of the places mentioned were in Judah.

10. Now will I arise, saith Jehovah, now will I be lifted up, now will I exalt myself. The emphasis is upon the adverb now, which is twice repeated to imply that the time for the divine interposition is arrived, and that there shall be no more delay.

11. Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath (as) fire shall devour you. The first clause contains a common scriptural figure for failure and frustration. (See ch. 26:18.) Chaff and stubble are named as worthless and perishable substances.

12. And nations shall be lime-kilns (or burnings of lime); thorns cut up, in the fire they shall burn. By nations we are to understand all nations that incur the wrath of God. The same word burnings is applied to the aromatic fumigations used at ancient burials (Jer. 34:5), to which there may be some allusion here. The ideas expressed are those of quickness and intensity. The thorns are perhaps described as cut up, to suggest that they are dry and therefore more combustible.

13. Hear, ye far, what I have done, and know, ye near, my might. By far and near we may understand all without exception. This is an apostrophe, expressing the magnitude of the event predicted in the foregoing context.

14. Afraid in Zion are the sinners. Not at or near Zion, meaning the Assyrians, but in Zion i. e. in Jerusalem, referring to the impious Jews themselves. Trembling has seized the impious, a parallel expression to sinners. What follows might be understood as the language of the Prophet himself, giving a reason for the terror of the wicked. It is more probably, however, the language of the wicked Jews themselves. Some refer it to the past, and understand the verse to mean that they are now in terror who once said thus and thus. But it is more probably the present language of the wicked Jews, when actually seized with terror. Not those who once said, but who now say etc. The interpretation commonly adopted supposes the words to be expressive of the feelings excited by the slaughter of Sennacherib's host. If this be a specimen of God's vindicatory justice, what may we expect? Who of us can dwell with (this) devouring fire? Who of us can dwell with (these) perpetual burnings? Many make the language still more emphatic, by supposing that the Prophet argues from the less to the greater. If these are God's temporal judgments, what must his eternal wrath be? If the momentary strokes of his hand are thus resistless, who of us can dwell with the devouring fire, who of us can dwell with everlasting burnings? The last words may then be taken in their strongest and most unrestricted sense.

15. This verse contains a description of the righteous man, not unlike that in the fifteenth and twenty-fourth Psalms. Walking righteousnesses i. e. leading a righteous life. Walk is a common Scriptural expression for the course of conduct. The plural form of the other word may either be used to mark it as an abstract term, or as an emphatic expression for fulness or completeness of rectitude. In order to retain the figure of walking, the preposition in may be supplied before the noun; but in the Hebrew it seems to be governed directly by the verb, or to qualify it as an adverb. And speaking right things, or (taking the plural merely as an abstract) rectitude or righteousness. The idea is not merely that of speaking truth as opposed to falsehood, but that of rectitude in speech as distinguished from rectitude of action. Rejecting or despising (or combining both ideas, rejecting with contempt) the gain of oppressions or extortions. Shaking his hands from taking hold of the bribe, an expressive gesture of indignant refusal. Stopping his ears from hearing bloods, i. e. plans of murder. Shutting his eyes from looking at evil i. e. from conniving at it, or even beholding it as an indifferent spectator. According to the natural connection of the passage, this verse would seem to contain the answer to the question in v. 14, and is so understood by those who make the question mean. who can stand before this terrible Jehovah? But on the supposition of an allusion to eternal punishment, the answer is absurd, for it implies that the righteous man can or will endure it. This may either be regarded as a proof that there is no such allusion to eternal punishment in v. 14, or as a proof that this is not an answer to the question there recorded. Some separate this verse from the preceding context by a larger space than usual, making this the beginning, as it were, of a new paragraph. To this construction there is the less objection, as the sentence is evidently incomplete in this verse, the conclusion being added in the next.

16. He (the character described in v. 15) high places shall inhabit. This does not denote exalted station in society, but safety from enemies, in being above their reach, as appears from the other clause. Fastnesses (or strongholds) of rocks (shall be) his lofty place, i. e. his refuge or his place of safety, as in ch. 25:12. To the idea of security is added that of sustenance, without which the first would be of no avail. His bread is given, including the ideas of allotment or appointment and of actual supply. His water sure, or, retaining the strict sense of the participle, secured. At the same time there is evident allusion to the moral usage of the word as signifying faithful, true, the opposite of that which fails, deceives, or disappoints the expectation, in which sense the same word with a negative is applied by Jeremiah (15:18) to waters that fail.

17. A king in his beauty shall thine eyes behold. Most writers suppose Hezekiah to be here referred to, either exclusively or as a type of Christ. To see the king in his beauty means in his royal state, with tacit reference to his previous state of mourning and dejection (ch. 37: 1). They (i. e. thine eyes) shall behold a land of distances or distant places. The most natural explanation of this phrase would be a distant land, in which sense it is used by Jeremiah (8:19) and a part of it by Zechariah (10: 9), and by both in reference to exile or captivity. The verse before us, taken by itself, might be understood as a threatening that the Jews should see the king of Babylon in his royal state and in a distant land. Interpreters seem to be agreed, however, that in this connection it can be taken only as a promise.

18. Thy heart shall meditate terror. This does not mean, it shall conceive or experience present terror, but reflect on that which is already past. What follows may be understood as the triumphant exclamation of the people when they found themselves so suddenly delivered from their enemies. Where is he that counted? where is he that weighed? where is he that counted the towers? The counting and weighing may be either that of tribute or of military wages. The towers are the fortifications of Jerusalem. By counting them some understand surveying them, either with a view to garrisoning or dismantling; others the act of reconnoitring them from without, which some ascribe particularly to Rabshakeh or Sennacherib himself. The general meaning of the verse is plain, as an expression of surprise and joy, that the oppressor or besieger had now vanished. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Cor. 1:20, has a sentence so much like this, in the threefold repetition of the question where, and in the use of the word scribe, that it cannot be regarded as a mere fortuitous coincidence. It is probable, that the structure of the one passage suggested the other. The expression it is written, in the preceding verse of the epistle, introduces a quotation from ch. 29:14, but does not necessarily extend to the next verse, which may therefore be regarded as a mere imitation, as to form and diction, of the one before us.

19. The fierce (or determined) people thou shalt not see. Thou shall see no more the Assyrians, whose disappearance was implied in the questions of the foregoing verse. The essential idea seems to be that of firmness and decision, perhaps with the accessory idea of aggressive boldness. A people deep of lip from hearing i. e. hard for thee to understand. Deep denotes obscure or unintelligible. The preposition before hearing, though not directly negative, is virtually so, as it denotes away from, which is really equivalent to so as not to hear or be heard. (See the note on ch. 5:6.) Barbarous tongue (or of a barbarous tongue), without meaning (literally, there is no meaning). The verb in its other forms, means to mock or scoff, an idea closely connected, in the Hebrew usage, with that of foreign language, either because the latter seems ridiculous to those who do not understand it, or because unmeaning jargon is often used in mockery.

20. Behold Zion the city of our festivals. Instead of the presence of foreign enemies, see Jerusalem once more the scene of stated solemnities. The address is to the people as an individual. Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet home, a tent (that) shall not be removed (or taken down). The whole of this description is drawn from the usages of nomadic life. Its stakes shall not be pulled up forever, and all its cords shall not be broken, or in our idiom, none of its cords shall be broken. The peculiar beauty of the imagery lies in ascribing permanence to a tent, which from its very nature must be moveable. This may either imply a previous state of agitation and instability, or that the church, though weak in herself, should be strengthened and established by the power of God.

21. But there shall Jehovah be mighty for us (or in our behalf). The connection of the verses is that Zion shall never be weakened or removed, but on the contrary Jehovah etc. A place of rivers, streams, broad (on) both hands (or sides), i. e. completely surrounding her. Most interpreters connect these words directly with Jehovah. The most obvious explanation seems to be that this clause is an amplification of the adverb there. Jehovah will be mighty for us there. What place is meant? A place of rivers and streams broad on both sides, i. e. spreading in every direction. The situation described is one which has all the advantages of mighty streams without their dangers. There shall not go in it an oared vessel (literally, a ship of oar), and a gallant ship shall not pass through it. The parallel expressions both refer, no doubt, to ships of war, which in ancient times were propelled by oars.

22. For Jehovah our Judge, Jehovah our lawgiver, Jehovah our King, he will save us. This is a repetition of the same idea, but without the figures of the preceding verse.

23. Thy ropes are cast loose; they do not hold upright their mast; they do not spread the sail; then is shared plunder of booty in plenty; the lame spoil the spoil. There is, at the beginning of this verse, a sudden apostrophe to the enemy considered as a ship. This figure would be naturally suggested by those of v. 21. It was there said that no vessel should approach the holy city. But now the Prophet seems to remember that one had done so, the proud ship of Assyria. But what was its fate? He sees it dismantled and abandoned to its enemies. The eagerness of the pillage is expressed by making the lame join in it.

24. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick (or have been sick). This may either mean that none shall be sick, or that those who have been so shall be recovered. The people dwelling in it (is) forgiven (its) iniquity. Some suppose this to be an explanation of the sickness mentioned in the first clause, as a spiritual malady. Others understand it as explaining bodily disease to be the consequence and punishment of sin. The words may be taken in a wider sense than either of these, namely, that suffering shall cease with sin which is its cause. Thus understood, the words are strictly applicable only to a state of things still future, either upon earth or in heaven.