Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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The Creation Concept

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A Great and glorious change is here described under the figure of a desert clothed with luxuriant vegetation, vs. 1, 2. The people are encouraged with the prospect of this change and with the promise of avenging judgments on their enemies, vs. 3, 4. The same change is then expressed, by a change of figure, as a healing of corporeal infirmities, vs. 5, 6. The former figure is again resumed, and the wilderness described as free from all its wonted inconveniences, particularly those of barrenness and thirst, disappointment and illusion, pathlessness and beasts of prey, vs. 7-9. The whole prediction winds up with a promise of redemption, restoration, and endless blessedness, v. 10.

The chapter is the description of a happy condition of the church after a period of suffering. Thus explained it may be considered as including various particulars, none of which can be regarded as its specific or exclusive subject. Without any change of its essential meaning, it may be applied to the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, to the vocation of the Gentiles, to the whole Christian dispensation, to the course of every individual believer, and to the blessedness of heaven. The ground of this manifold application is not that the language of the passage is unmeaning or indefinite, but that there is a real and designed analogy between the various changes mentioned, which brings them all within the natural scope of the same inspired description.

1. Desert and waste shall rejoice (for) them, and the wilderness shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. The construction of the pronoun in the first clause is obscure and doubtful. Some refer it to the animals mentioned at the close of ch. 34; some to the judgments there threatened against Edom; some to the Jews returning from captivity. As the pronoun is not expressed in any of the ancient versions, some explain it as a mere appendage to the verbal form, and translate simply, shall rejoice. The last word in the verse has been variously explained to mean the lily, the narcissus, the crocus, etc. The common version (rose) is not only quite as probable, but more familiar, and suggests more clearly the essential idea of beauty.

2. (It shall) blossom, it shall blossom and rejoice; yea, (with) joy and shouting; or, yea, joy and shouting (there shall be). The glory of Lebanon is given unto it (the desert), the beauty of Carmel and of Sharon. They (who witness this great change) shall see the glory of Jehovah, the beauty of our God. The same idea of complete and joyful change is again expressed by the same figure, but with greater fulness, the desert being here described as putting on and wearing the appearance of the spots most noted for luxuriant vegetation.

3. Strengthen hands (now) sinking, and knees (now) tottering make firm. With the prospect of this glorious change the people are commanded to encourage themselves and one another. The hands and knees are here combined to express the powers of action and endurance. The participial forms represent the hands as actually hanging down, relaxed, or weakened, and the knees as actually giving way. The passage thus explained is far more expressive than if we make the participles adjectives, denoting a permanent quality or habitual condition. In itself, the language of this verse is applicable either to self-encouragement or to the consolation of others. There is no reason why the words should not be taken in their widest sense, as meaning, let despondency be exchanged for hope. That self-encouragement is not excluded may be learned from Paul's use of the words in that sense (Heb. 12:12). That mutual encouragement is not excluded, is sufficiently apparent from the following verse.

4. Say ye to the hasty of heart (i. e. the impatient, those who cannot wait for the fulfilment of God's promise), Be firm, fear not; behold your God (as if already present or in sight); vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he (himself) is coming, and will save you. The connecting link between his vengeance and their safety is the destruction of their enemies. (Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you. 2 Thess. 1:6.) This verse shows how the command in the one before it is to be obeyed, by suggesting, as topics of mutual encouragement, the vindicatory justice of God, and his certain interposition in behalf of his people. Hasty, i. e. impatient of delay in the execution of God's promises, includes the ideas of despondency and unbelieving fear Compare the analogous expression in ch. 28:16, he that believeth will not make haste or be impatient. The words are really a promise of deliverance to God's people, and include, as the most important part of their contents, the unspeakable gift of Christ and his salvation.

5, 6. Then (when God has thus come) shall the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame leap (or bound) as an hart and the tongue of the dumb shall shout (for joy), because waters have burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The change in the condition of the people is now represented by another figure, the removal of corporeal infirmities. The reason assigned in this last clause for the joy to be expressed shows clearly that the miraculous removal of disease and the miraculous irrigation of the desert are intended to express one and the same thing. The essential idea in both cases is that of sudden and extraordinary change. The simple meaning of the passage is, that the divine interposition which had just been promised should produce as wonderful a change in the condition of mankind, as if the blind were to receive their sight, the dumb to speak, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and deserts to be fertilized and blossom as the rose. In the process of this mighty transmutation, miracles were really performed, both of a bodily and spiritual nature, but the great change which includes these includes vastly more. The original form of expression is not that they shall rejoice for waters shall burst forth, but that they shall rejoice because waters have burst forth already, the last event being spoken of as relatively past, i. e. as previous to the act of rejoicing which the future verb expresses.

7. And the mirage shall become a pool (or the sand lake a water lake, the seeming lake a real one), and the thirsty land springs of water, (even) in the haunt of wolves, their lair, a court (or field) for reed and rush. The idea of complete and joyful change is still expressed by the transformation of a desert and the consequent removal of its inconveniences, among which the Prophet here particularly mentions the tantalizing illusions to which travellers in the wilderness are subject. The first noun denotes the illusive appearance caused by unequal refraction in the lower strata of the atmosphere, and often witnessed both at sea and land, called in English looming, in Italian fata morgana, and in French mirage. In the deserts of Arabia and Africa, the appearance presented is precisely that of an extensive sheet of water, tending not only to mislead the traveller but to aggravate his thirst by disappointment. The phenomenon is well described by Quintius Curtius in his Life of Alexander the Great. It is also referred to in the Koran. More deceitful than the mirage (or scrab) is an Arabian proverb. Its introduction here adds a beautiful stroke to the description, not only by its local propriety, but by its strict agreement with the context.

8. And there shall be there a highway and a way; and there thall not pass through (or over) it an unclean (thing or person); and it shall be for them (alone). Job (12:24) speaks of a wilderness in which there is no way, and Jeremiah (18:15) of a way not cast up, to both which descriptions we have here a contrast. The comparison suggested is between a faint track in the sand and a solid artificial causeway. The desert shall cease not only to be barren but also to be pathless or impassable by reason of sand. The obvious meaning of the last clause is that the people of Jehovah shall themselves be holy. (Compare ch. 1:25. 4:3.) This is also the meaning of those scriptures which exclude from Zion (or the sanctuary) the Canaanite (Zech. 14:21), the uncircumcised (Ezek. 44:9), and the stranger. The pronoun them has no expressed antecedent in the sentence, and has been variously applied; but the precise import of the original expression seems to be, that the highway shall belong exclusively to them for whose sake it was made, for whose use it was intended.

9. There shall not be there a lion, and a ravenous beast shall not ascend it, nor be found there; and (there) shall walk redeemed (ones). The wilderness, though no longer barren or pathless, might still be the resort of beasts of prey. The promised highway might itself be exposed to their incursions. But immunity from this inconvenience is here promised. For a similar promise, in a still more figurative dress, see Hosea 2:18, and for a description of the desert as the home of deadly animals, Isaiah 30:6. The primary allusion is no doubt to the highway described in the foregoing verse. Hence the phrase ascend it, i. e. from the level of the sands, through which the road is supposed to be cast up. These terms are intended to complete the great prophetic picture of a total change in the condition of the desert, under which general idea we may then include a great variety of suitable particulars, without however making any one of them the exclusive subject of the prophecy.

10. And the ransomed of Jehovah shall return and come to Zion with shouting, and everlasting joy upon their head; gladness and joy shall overtake (them), and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The whole series of promises is here summed up in that of restoration and complete redemption. Zion is mentioned as the journey's end; they shall not only move towards it but attain it. The words everlasting joy may either be governed by the preposition (with shouting and everlasting joy upon their head), or construed with the substantive verb understood (everlasting joy shall be upon their head). The latter construction seems to agree best with the Masoretic accents. In the last clause, joy and gladness may be either the subject or the object of the verb. The latter construction is given in the English Bible (they shall obtain joy and gladness) after the example of the Targum, Peshito, and Vulgate. In favour of the other, which is given in the Septuagint (*** ***), may be urged the analogy of Deut. 28:2 (all these blessings shall come on thee and overtake thee) and of the last clause of the verse, where sorrow and sighing are the subjects of the verb. "The highway before described not only leads to Zion the church below, but to the Zion above, to the heavenly glory; and all the redeemed, all that walk in this way, shall come thither; at death their souls return to God that gave them, and in the resurrection their bodies shall return from their dusty beds and appear before God in Zion." (Gill ) The allusions to the Babylonian exile are correctly explained upon the principle that minor and temporal deliverances were not only emblems of the great salvation but preparatory to it.