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 and the next appear to constitute one prophecy, the first part of which (ch. 34) is filled with threatenings against the enemies of the church, the latter part (ch. 35) with promises to the church itself. The threatenings of ch. 34 are directed, first, against the nations in general, vs. 1-4, and then against Edom in particular, vs. 5-15, with a closing affirmation of the truth and certainty of the prediction, vs. 16, 17. The destruction of the enemies of Zion and the desolation of their lands are represented by the figures of a great sacrifice or slaughter, the falling of the heavenly bodies, the conversion of the soil into brimstone, and the waters into pitch, and the inhabitation of animals peculiar to the desert. This is a general threatening of destruction to the enemies of Zion, Edom being particularly mentioned, as an enemy of ancient Israel peculiarly inveterate and malignant, and thence used to represent the whole class of such enemies. Thus understood, the prophecy extends both to the past and future, and may include many particular events, not excepting the destruction of Antichrist, as the greatest event of this kind which is foretold in prophecy. Compare the note on ch. 11:4.

1. Come near, ye nations, to hear, and ye peoples, hearken. Let the earth hear and its fulness (that which fills it, all that it contains), the world and all its issues (or productions, all that comes forth from it). This may either be explained as an appeal to inanimate nature, like the one at the beginning of the book (ch. 1:2), or as an appeal to men, poetically represented as the fruit of the earth, which is the sense given in the ancient versions. It announces, as about to be delivered, a prediction of great moment and deserving the attention of the whole world.

2. This verse assigns the reason for the invocation in the one before it. For (there is) anger to Jehovah. The English Version has, the indignation of the Lord is, an idea which would be otherwise expressed in Hebrew. The construction is the same as in ch. 2:12. Jehovah has anger (or is angry) against all the nations. And wrath (is to Jehovah) against all their host. Not their armies in particular, but their whole multitude, all that belong to them. (Compare the same expression in Gen. 2:1.)—He has doomed them, or devoted them irrevocably to destruction. For the peculiar usage of the Hebrew verb, see the note on ch. 11:15.—He has given (i. e. appointed and abandoned) them to the slaughter. The past tense describes the divine determination or decree as really and literally past.

3. And their slain shall be cast out. The Hebrew word strictly means their wounded, but usage gives it the specific sense of wounded mortally, and for the most part in battle. Cast out i. e. unburied. This suggests the several ideas of contemptuous neglect, of a multitude too vast to be interred, and perhaps of survivors too few to perform the duty. (Compare ch. 14:18-20.) They shall not lie unburied merely for a time, but until they rot upon the ground. And (as to) their corpses (or carcasses), their stench shall go up. And mountains shall be melted with (or by) their blood, as they are sometimes washed away by rains or torrents.

4. And all the host of heaven (or heavenly bodies) shall consume away. This verb is commonly applied to the pining or consumption occasioned by disease. In Ps. 38:5 it means to run as a sore. The ideas of sickly lights and dying lights are not unknown to modern poetry. And the heavens shall be rolled up (or together) like a scroll, i. e. like an ancient volume (volumen from volvo) or a modern map. As God is elsewhere described as having stretched out the heavens like a curtain, their destruction or any total change in their appearance would be naturally represented as a rolling-up of the expanse. And all their host (referring to the heavens) shall fade (or fall away) like the fading of a leaf from a vine. This beautiful comparison with the decay of plants makes it the more probable that the preceding clause alludes to that of animal life. And like the fading (leaf) or a withered (fig) from a fig-tree. The context clearly shows that the terms used are poetical, and that here, as in ch. 13:10, the idea which they are all intended to convey is that of revolution, sudden, total, and appalling change. The imagery of the passage has been partially adopted in Matt. 24:29 and Rev. 6:13, neither of which however is to be regarded either as a repetition or an explanation of the one before us.

5. All this shall certainly take place, for my sword (the speaker being God himself) is steeped (saturated, soaked) in heaven. The phrase in heaven probably refers to the divine determination and foreknowledge. In the sight of God the sword, although not yet actually used, was already dripping blood. The sword is mentioned as a natural and common though poetical expression for any instrument of vengeance. Behold, upon Edom it shall come down. The name Edom is here applied to the inveterate enemies of the church at large, and not to any one of them exclusively. The fulfilment of these threatenings cannot be traced in the history of ancient Edom. They ceased to be a people not by extirpation but by incorporation with the Jews. The name Idumea, as employed by Josephus, includes a large part of Judea. The Herods, the last royal family of Judah, were of Idumean origin. And upon the people of my curse or doom i. e., the people whom I have doomed to destruction. (See v. 2.)

6. A sword (is) to Jehovah (or Jehovah has a sword); it is full of blood. The genitive construction (the sword of Jehovah), although not ungrammatical, is not to be assumed without necessity. It is smeared with fat. The allusion is to fat and blood as the animal substances offered in sacrifice. With the blood of lambs and goats, mentioned as well-known sacrificial animals, with the fat of the kidneys (or the kidney-fat) of rams, mentioned either as remarkable for fatness or as a parallel expression to the foregoing clause. For there is to Jehovah (or Jehovah has) a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in the land of Edom. Bozrah was an ancient city of Edom, perhaps the same with the modern Busaireh, a village and castle in Arabia Petraea south-east of the Dead Sea.

7. And unicorns shall come down with them, and bullocks with bulls. And their land shall be soaked (or drenched) with blood, and their dust with fat shall be fattened. The unicorn has been commonly regarded as fabulous in modern times; but of late some traces of it have been found in Thibet and other parts of Asia. But even supposing it to be a real animal, we have no reason to believe that it was ever common in the Holy Land, as the one here named would seem to have been from the frequency with which it is mentioned. The modern writers are divided between a certain species of gazelle or antelope and the wild buffalo of Palestine and Egypt. The name may have be used either as a poetical description of the ox, or to suggest that wild as well as tame beasts should be included in the threatened slaughter. Dust here denotes dry soil, which is said to be enriched by the bodies of the slain. So Virgil says that Roman blood had twice enriched the soil of Macedonia, and similar statements have been made with respect to the field of Waterloo. To come down in the first clause is by some explained as meaning to come down to the slaughter (Jer. 50:27. 51:40); by others to fall or sink under the fatal stroke (Zech. 11:2).

8. For (there is) a day of vengeance to Jehovah, a year of recompenses for the cause of Zion, i. e. to maintain her cause. This verse connects the judgments threatened against Edom with the cause of Zion or the church of God. On the construction and meaning of the first words of the sentence, compare ch. 2:12.

9. And her streams (those of Idumea or the land of Edom) shall be turned to pitch, and her dust to brimstone, and her land shall become burning pitch. This verse announces nothing new, but repeats the same prediction under other figures, borrowed from the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, which throughout the Bible are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7). To the fire and brimstone there mentioned, pitch or bitumen is added, as some suppose, because the soil of Idumea, lying adjacent to the Dead Sea, is bituminous and abounds in veins or springs of naphtha. The first clause expresses in the strongest terms the idea of utter and permanent destruction, as complete and terrible as if the streams were turned to pitch.

10. Day and night it shall not be quenched; forever shall its smoke go up; from generation to generation shall it lie waste, forever and ever, there shall be no one passing through it. The remarkable gradation and accumulation of terms denoting perpetuity can scarcely be expressed in a translation. This is especially the case with the last and highest of the series. A striking parallel to this verse is found in the statement (Gen. 19:28), that when Abraham looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, the smoke of the country unit up as the smoke of a furnace. These sublime and fearful images are copied in the book of Revelation. (14:10, 11 ) Keith, in his Evidences of Prophecy, has collected some remarkable illustrations of this passage from the incidental statements of modern travellers with respect to what was once the land of Edom. Thus Volney speaks of thirty deserted towns within three days' journey; Seetzen, of a wide tract utterly without a place of habitation, and of his own route through it as one never before attempted; Burckhardt, of the passage as declared by the people of the nearest inhabited districts to be impossible, in accordance with which notion he was unable to procure guides at any price. These are striking coincidences, and as illustrations of the prophecy important, but are not to be insisted on as constituting its direct fulfilment, for in that ease the passage of these very travellers through the country would falsify the prediction which they are cited to confirm. The truth of the prophecy in this clause is really no more suspended on such facts, than that of the first clause and of the preceding verse upon the actual existence of bituminous streams and a sulphureous soil throughout the ancient Idumea. The whole is a magnificent prophetic picture, the fidelity of which, so far as it relates to ancient Edom, is notoriously attested by its desolation for a course of ages.

11. Then shall possess it (as a heritage) the pelican and porcupine, the crane and crow shall dwell in it. And he (or one) shall stretch upon it the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness. Having declared that man should no longer pass through it, he now explains who shall be its inhabitants. These animals should not only occupy the land, but occupy it as the successors and to the exclusion of mankind. The essential idea is that of wild and solitary animals. (Compare ch. 13:21, 22. 14:23. Rev. 18:2.) Here again a remarkable coincidence is furnished by the statements of travellers with respect to the number of wild birds in Edom. Mangles, while at Petra, describes the screaming of the eagles, hawks, and owls, seemingly annoyed at any one approaching their lonely habitation. Burckhardt speaks of Tafyle as frequented by an immense number of crows and of the birds called katta, which fly in such large flocks that the boys often kill two or three at a time merely by throwing a stick among them. The apparent inconsistency between this clause and the description of the country in the verse before it only shows that neither can be strictly taken, but that both are metaphorical predictions of entire desolation. In the next clause the same idea is expressed by an entire change of figure. The line meant is a measuring line, mentioned elsewhere not only in connection with building (Zech. 1:16), but also with destroying (2 Kings 21:13). The stones are stones used for weights (Deut. 25:13. Prov. 16:11), and here for plumb-line or plummet. The same figure is employed by Amos (7:7-9) to denote a moral test or standard, but in this case as a symbol of destruction. The plummet is here mentioned as a parallel to line, both together expressing the idea of exact and careful measurement. The sense of the whole metaphor may then be either that God has laid this work out for himself and will perform it, or that in destroying Edom he will act with equity and justice, or that even in destroying he will proceed deliberately and by rule.

12. Her caves and there is no one there (i. e. her uninhabited or empty caves) they will (still) call a kingdom, and all her chiefs will be cessation (i. e. cease to be). The great variety of explanations which have been given of this verse, and the harshness of construction with which most of them are chargeable, may serve as an excuse for the suggestion of a new one, not as certainly correct, but as possibly entitled to consideration. All interpreters coincide in giving to the first noun, the sense of nobles, which it certainly has in several places. (See 1 Kings 21:8, 11. Neh. 2:16. 4:14.) But in several others, it no less certainly means holes or caves. (See 1 Sam. 14:11. Job 30: 6. Nah. 2:12.) Now it is matter of history, not only that Edom was full of caverns, but that these were inhabited, and that the aboriginal inhabitants, expelled by Esau, were expressly called Horites, as being troglodytes or inhabitants of caverns (Gen. 14:6. 36:20. Deut. 2:12, 22). This being the case, the entire depopulation of the country, and especially the destruction of its princes, might be naturally and poetically expressed by saying that the kingdom of Edom should be thenceforth a kingdom of deserted caverns. How appropriate such a description would be to the actual condition of the country, and particularly to its ancient capital, may be seen from Robinson's account of Petra (Palestine, II. pp. 514-537).

13. And her palaces (or in her palaces) shall come up thorns, nettles and brambles in her fortresses. The natural consequence of her depopulation. The situation here described would of course be the resort of wild and solitary animals. And she shall be a home of wolves, a court (or grass-plot) for ostriches. The general sense is that of an enclosed and appropriated spot, a play-ground or dwelling-place.

14. And wild (or desert) creatures shall (there) meet with howling creatures. The verb sometimes means to meet or encounter in the sense of attacking (Ex. 4:24. Hos 13:8); but here it seems to have the general sense of falling in with. These lonely creatures, as they traverse Idumea, shall encounter none but creatures like themselves. And the shaggy monster shall call to his fellow. For the true sense of satyrs, see the comment on the plural form as it occurs in ch. 13:21. The interpretation most consistent with itself and with the etymology is that given above, shaggy monsters, on the ground that it corresponds better with the general descriptive meaning which, as we have seen above, most probably belongs to the words in the preceding clause. If that clause speaks of wild and howling beasts, and not of any one class exclusively, it is more natural that this should speak of shaggy monsters generally than of goats. Only there reposes the night-monster and finds for herself a resting-place. If the terms used above represent the animals occupying Idumea, first as belonging to the wilderness, then as distinguished by their fierce or melancholy cries, and then as shaggy in appearance, nothing can be more natural than that the fourth epithet should also be expressive of their habits as a class, and no such epithet could well be more appropriate than that of nocturnal or belonging to the night.

15. Then shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow:there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate. As to the particular species of animals referred to in this whole passage, there is no need of troubling ourselves much about them. The general sense evidently is, that a human population should be succeeded by wild and lonely animals, who should not only live but breed there, implying total and continued desolation.

16. Seek ye out of the book of Jehovah and read. The most natural interpretation seems to be that which makes this an exhortation to compare the prophecy with the event, and which is strongly recommended by the fact that all the verbs are in the past tense, implying that the Prophet here takes his stand at a point of time posterior to the event. The book may then be this particular prophecy, or the whole prophetic volume, or the entire scripture, without material change of sense. The persons addressed are the future witnesses of the event. One of them has not failed. This refers to the animals mentioned in the preceding verses, as signs of desolation. As if he had said, I predicted that Edom should be occupied by such and such creatures, and behold they are all here, not one of them is wanting. This is a lively and impressive mode of saying, the prediction is fulfilled. One another they miss not. The verb has here the sense of mustering or reviewing to discover who is absent, as in 1 Sam. 20:6. 25:15. For my mouth, it has commanded; and his spirit, it has gathered them, i. e. the animals aforesaid. The last phrase is a more specific explanation of the general expression has commanded. The sudden change of person from my mouth to his spirit has led to various explanations. The simplest course is either to suppose that Jehovah speaks in one clause and the Prophet in the next, or that the Prophet really refers the command to his own mouth instrumentally, but then immediately names the Divine Spirit as the efficient agent. This is the less improbable because the first clause of the verse, as we have seen, contains an appeal to his own written prediction. The Spirit of God is not merely his power but himself, with special reference to the Holy Ghost, as being both the author and fulfiller of the prophecies.

17. He too has cast the lot for them, and his hand has divided it to them by line. An evident allusion to the division of the land of Canaan, both by lot and measuring-line. (See Numb. 26:55, 56. Josh. 18:4-6) As Canaan was allotted to Israel, so Edom is allotted to these doleful creatures. Having referred to the allotment as already past. he now describes the occupation as future and perpetual. Forever shall they hold it as a heritage, to all generations shall they dwell therein.