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


Until the ends of Israel's national existence are accomplished, that existence must continue, in spite of hostile nations and their gods, who shall all perish sooner than the chosen people, vs. 1-16. However feeble Israel may be in himself, Jehovah will protect him, and raise up the necessary instruments for his deliverance and triumph, vs. 17-29.

1. Be silent to me, oh islands, and the nations shall gain new strength; they shall approach, then shall they speak, together to the judgment-seat will we draw near. Having proved the impotence of idols in a direct address to Israel, Jehovah now summons the idolaters themselves to enter into controversy with him. The challenge is a general one directed to the whole heathen world, and islands is a poetical variation for lands or at the most for maritime lands or sea-coasts. Silence in this connection implies attention or the fact of listening, which is expressed in Job 33:31. The imperative form at the beginning gives an imperative sense likewise to the future, which might therefore be translated let them approach etc. There is an obvious allusion in the first clause to the promise in ch. 40:31. As if he had said: they that hope in Jehovah shall renew their strength; let those who refuse renew theirs as they can. The participle then makes the passage more graphic by bringing distinctly into view the successive steps of the process. The same judicial or forensic figure is applied to contention between God and man by Job (9:19, 20, 32.)

2. Who hath raised up (or awakened) from the east? Righteousness shall call him to its foot; it shall give nations before him, and cause him to tread upon kings; it shall give (them) as dust to his word, and as driven stubble to his bow. The simplest construction of the first clause is that which assumes an abrupt transition from the form of interrogation to that of prediction. The speaker, as it were, interrupts his own question before it is complete, in order to supply what must otherwise be presupposed. Instead of going on to ask who brought the event to pass, he pauses to describe the event himself. Here and elsewhere righteousness means the righteousness of God as manifested in his providence, his dealings with his people and their enemies. (See ch. 1:27.) To call to one's foot is a Hebrew idiom for calling to one's service, or summoning to take a place among one's followers. This act is here ascribed to the divine righteousness as a personified attribute. The other verbs may agree with the same subject or directly with Jehovah. The question, whose appearance is predicted in this verse, has been always a subject of dispute. The truth appears to be that this, is a more general intimation of a great eventful movement from the east, which is afterwards repeated with specific reference to Cyrus and his conquests. It might even be supposed without absurdity that there is here an allusion to the general progress of the human race, of conquest, civilization, and religion, from the east to the west.

3. He shall persue them; he shall pass (in) peace (or safety); a path with his feet he shall not go. The last clause describes the swiftness of his motions, as flying rather than walking on foot. This, which would be natural and striking, even in itself considered, is confirmed by the analogy of Daniel 8:5, where we read that an he-goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground.

4. Who hath wrought and done (it), calling the generations from the beginning? I Jehovah, the first and with the last, I (am) he. Calling the generations may either mean calling them into existence or proclaiming them, i.e. predicting them; probably the latter, since the event itself, although it proved a superhuman agency, did not prove it to be that of Jehovah, which could only be established by the fullilment of predictions uttered in his name. With the last does not simply mean the last, which is the form employed in ch, 41: 21-25, 46: 8-10, but co-existent with the last, a mode of expression which would seem to imply that although Jehovah existed before all other beings he will not outlast them all. I am he, i.e. the being to whom the interrogation has respect, I am he who has wrought and done it.

5. The isles have seen it and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have approached and come. Some regard this as a description of the effect produced by the foregoing argument, but others as a part of the argument itself, drawn from the effect of the appearance of the person mentioned in v. 2.

6. A man his neighbour (i.e. one another) they will help, and to his brother (one) will say, Be strong! This general description is then filled up, or carried out into detail in the next verse, both containing a sarcastic description of the vain appeal of the idolaters to the protection of their tutelary deities.

7. And the carver has strengthened the gilder, the smoother with the hammer the smiter on the anvil; he says (or is saying) of the solder, It is good; and he hath strengthened it with nails; it shall not be moved. The sarcasm consists in making the idolaters dependent upon idols which are themselves dependent upon common workmen and the most trivial mechanical operations for their form and their stability. Hence the particular enumeration of the different artificers employed in the manufacture of these deities. The text of the English Version has it is ready for the soldering; but the other construction is now universally adopted. The last clause implies that the strength of the idol is not in itself, but in the nails that keep it in its place or hold its parts together.

8. And thou, Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. The prominent idea is still that of the contrast between Israel as the people of God, and the heathen as his enemies. The insertion of the substantive verb in the first clause, thou Israel art my servant, is unnecessary. This whole verse with the next may be understood as a description of the object of address, or of the person to whom the exhortation in v. 10 is directed. The two names of Jacob are again combined in application to his progeny. The race is described as God's servant and his elect, or, combining the two characters, his chosen servant, chosen to be his servant. The people are here described not only as the sons of Jacob but of Abraham. The same honourable title that occurs here is bestowed on Abraham in 2 Chr. 20:7, James 2:23, and in the common parlance of the Arabs, by whom he is usually styled the Friend of God, or absolutely, the Friend.

9. Thou whom I have grasped from the ends of the earth, and from its joints (or sides) have called thee, and said to thee, My servant (art) thou, I have chosen than and not rejected thee. The description of the object of address is still continued. The essential idea here expressed is that of election and separation from the rest of men, a bringing near of those who were afar off. Interpreters have needlessly disputed whether the vocation of Israel in Abraham, or at the exodus, is here particularly meant; since both are really included in a general description of the calling and election of the people. The phrase ends of the earth is a common idiomatic expression for remoteness, often used without reference to particular localities (see ch. 5:26. 13:5). The idea meant to be conveyed is identical with that expressed by Paul (Eph. 2:13). The translation I have taken is inadequate, the Hebrew verb meaning to hold fast, and the idea of removal being rather implied than expressed.

10. Fear thou not, for I (am) with thee; look not around, for I (am) thy God; I have strengthened thee, yea I have helped thee, yea I have upheld thee with my right hand of righteousness. This may be regarded as the conclusion of the sentence beginning in v. 8, as the address to which the two preceding verses are an introduction. The English Version, which adheres to the strict translation of the preterites in v. 9, here gratuitously employs the future form, which wholly changes the complexion of the sentence. It is not a simple promise, but a reference to what God had already done and might therefore be expected to do again. My right hand of righteousness or just right hand.

11. Lo, ashamed and confounded shall be all those incensed (or inflamed) against thee; they shall be as nothing (or as though they were not), and destroyed shall be thy men of strife (or they that strive with thee). Not only shall Israel himself escape, but his enemies shall perish. To be ashamed and confounded, here as usual, includes the frustration of their plans and disappointment of their hopes. On the meaning of as nothing, see above, p. 18. The construction of the phrase thy men of strife is the same as that of my right hand of righteousness in v. 10.

12. Thou shalt seek them and not find them, thy men of quarrel; they shall be as nothing and as naught, thy men of war (i.e. they who quarrelled and made war with thee). The first clause contains a common Hebrew figure for complete disappearance and destruction (See Ps. 37:36. Jer. 50:20. Amos 8:12. Hos. 5:6.) The words translated nothing and naught, strictly denote non-existence and annihilation. (See above, on ch. 40:17.).

13. For I, Jehovah thy God, (am) holding fast thy right hand; the (one) saying to thee, Fear not, I have helped thee, i.e. I, who command thee not to fear, have already helped thee, or secured thy safety.

14. Fear not, thou worm Jacob and ye men of Israel; I have helped thee, saith Jehovah, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. The same encouragement is here repeated, but with a direct contrast between Israel's weakness and the strength of God. The epithet worm expresses the real meanness and unworthiness of man, as in Job 25:6. The word translated redeemer would suggest to a Hebrew reader the ideas of a near kinsman (Lev. 25:24, 25) and of deliverance from bondage by the payment of a ransom. Its highest application occurs here and in Job 19:25. The reference to the Son of God, although it might not be perceptible of old, is now rendered necessary by the knowledge that this act, even under the old dispensation, is always referred to the same person of the Trinity. The substitution of the future for the preterite by the English and some other versions has already been seen to be gratuitous and arbitrary.

15. Behold I have placed thee for (i.e. appointed thee to be, or changed thee into) a threshing-sledge, sharp, new, possessed of teeth (or edges); thou shalt thresh mountains and beat (them) small, and hills like the chaff shalt them place (or make). The erroneous idea that he simply promises to furnish Israel with the means of threshing mountains, has arisen from the equivocal language of the English Version, I will make thee, which may either mean, I will make for thee, or will make thee to become, whereas the last sense only can by any possibility be put upon the Hebrew, as literally translated above. The oriental threshing machine is sometimes a sledge of thick planks armed with iron or sharp stones, sometimes a system of rough rollers joined together like a sledge or dray. Both kinds are dragged over the grain by oxen. (See Robinson's Palestine, vol. III p. 143.) The word translated teeth strictly denotes mouths; but like the primitive noun from which it is derived, it is sometimes applied to the edge of a sharp instrument, perhaps in allusion to the figure of devouring. Here it signifies the edges, blades, or teeth, with which the threshing-wain is armed. The image presented is the strange but strong one of a down-trodden worm reducing hills to powder, the essential idea being that of a weak and helpless object overcoming the most disproportionate obstacles, by strength derived from another.

16. Thou shall fan (or winnow) them, and a wind shall take them up, and a whirlwind shall scatter them, and thou shalt joy in Jehovah, in the Holy One of Israel shalt thou boast (or glory). The figure of the preceding verse is here carried out and completed. The mountains, having been completely threshed, are winnowed, in the usual oriental mode, by being thrown to the wind. Israel, on the other hand, is safe, not through his own strength but in that of his protector, in whom, i. e. in his relation to whom, he finds his highest happiness and honour. The writer's main design is evidently still to exhibit the contrast between God and his people on the one hand, and the idols and their people on the other.

17. The suffering and the poor (are) water, and it is not (there is none); their tongue with thirst is parched. I Jehovah will hear (or answer) them, (I) the God of Israel will not forsake them. The first clause describes the need of a divine interposition, the last the interposition itself. The images are so unlike those of the foregoing verse that they might seem to be unconnected, but for the fact that the whole passage is entirely metaphorical. Thirst is a natural and common metaphor for suffering. Those who restrict the verse to the Babylonish exile are divided on the question, whether it literally describes the hardships of the journey through the wilderness, or metaphorically those of the captivity itself. Both suppositions are entirely arbitrary. There is nothing in the text or context to deprive the passage of its genuine and full sense as a general promise, tantamount to saying, When my people feel their need, I will be present to supply it. Such a promise those in exile could not fail to find appropriate in their case; but it is equally appropriate in others, and especially to the glorious deliverance of the church from the fetters of the old economy. The word translated hear does not mean to hear in general, but to hear prayer in a favourable sense, to answer it. The conditional turn given to the sentence in our version (when the poor and needy seek etc.) is substantially correct, but a needless departure from the form of the original.

18. I will open upon bare hills streams, and in the midst of valleys fountains; I will place the desert for (i.e. convert it into) a pool of water, and a dry land for (or into) springs of water. The same figure for entire and joyful change occurs in ch. 30:25 and ch. 35:7, and with its opposite or converse in Ps. 107:33, 35.

19. I will give in the wilderness cedar, acacia, and myrtle, and oil-tree; and I will place in the desert fir, pine, and box together. The main idea, common to all explanations of this verse, is that of trees growing where they never grew before. It is comparatively unimportant therefore to identify the species. With respect to the cedar and the myrtle there is no doubt. The acacia here mentioned is a thorny tree growing in Arabia and Egypt. (See Robinson's Palestine, vol. II p. 349.) By the oil-tree is meant the oleaster or wild olive, as distinguished from the cultivated tree of the same species.

20. That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. The verbs in the first clause may refer to men in general, or to those immediately concerned as subjects or spectators of the change described. There is a climax in the last clause: he has not only done it but created it, i.e. produced a new effect by the exertion of almighty power.

21. Present your cause (literally bring it near or cause it to approach, i.e. into the presence of the judge), saith Jehovah; bring forward your defences (or strong reasons), saith the king of Jacob.

22. They shall bring forward (or let them bring forward) and show forth to us the (things) which are to happen; the former things, what they were, show forth, and we will set our heart (apply our mind, or pay attention to them), and know their issue; or (else) the coming (events) make us to hear. The prescience of future events is here appealed to as a test of divinity. (Compare Dent. 18:22. Jer. 28:9, and ch. 43:12 below.) They are required to demonstrate their foreknowledge, either by showing that they had predicted something, or by doing it now. The whole idea which the text conveys is that of two contending parties at a judgment-seat. They means the party of the false gods and their worshippers, we that of Jehovah and his people.

23. Show forth the (things) to come hereafter, and we will know that ye are gods; yes, ye shall do good or do evil, and we will look about and see together. The subjunctive construction, that we may know, gives the sense of the original, but with a needless change of form. The same remark applies to the imperative translation of the futures in the next clause (do good, do evil). The use of the disjunctive, on the other hand, is rendered almost unavoidable by an entire difference of idiom, the Hebrews constantly employing and where or in English seems essential to the sense. Look about has the same sense as in v. 10 above, where it seems to express the act of looking round or about upon those present, in that case with the secondary notion of alarm (as looking round for help), but in this ease with that of inspection or consideration (we will look about us).

24. Lo, ye are of nothing (or less than nothing) and your work of nought (or less than nought); an abomination (is he that) chooseth (or will choose) you. This is the conclusion drawn from their failure or refusal to accept the challenge and to furnish the required proof of their deity. Abomination is a strong expression often used to describe an object of religious abhorrence. On the choosing of gods, compare Judg. 5:8.

25. I have raised up (one) from the north, and he has come; from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name; and he shall come upon princes as upon mortar, and as a potter treadeth clay. This is a specific application of the general conclusion in v. 24. If the gods of the heathen could do absolutely nothing, it was impossible that they should be the authors of any one remarkable event, and especially of that on which the Prophet has his eye. The expressions are remarkably similar to those in v. 2, so that the Prophet may he here said to resume the train of thought which had been interrupted at the end of v. 4. Having taken occasion to describe the effect of the event foretold upon the worshipper of idols, and from that to show the impotence of the gods themselves, he returns to the event which he had been describing, and continues his description. As before, he takes his stand at an intermediate point between the beginning and the end of the whole process, as appears from the successive introduction of the preterite and future. With the single substitution of he has come for he shall come, the common version is entirely correct. The mention of the north and east together has been variously explained. A satisfactory hypothesis, perhaps, is that the subject of this passage is not a determinate individual, but the conqueror indefinitely, who is not identified till afterwards. The act of calling on the name of Jehovah is commonly regarded as an allusion to the profession of the true religion, or at least the recognition of Jehovah as the true God, on the part of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2). Compare the figures of the last clause with ch. 10:6. 25:10.

26. Who declared from the beginning? (Say) and we will know; and beforehand, and we will say, Right (or True). Nay, there was none that told; nay, there was none that uttered; nay, there was none that heard your words. The meaning of the whole verse is that the events in question had been foretold by Jehovah and no other.

27. First to Zion, Behold, behold them! and to Jerusalem a bringer of good news will I give. This very peculiar idiomatic sentence may be paraphrased as follows. I am the first to say to Zion, Behold, behold them! and to give Jerusalem a bringer of good news. The simplest construction is to make the verb at the end govern both clauses; but in English the sense may be expressed more clearly by supplying the verb say. The common version of the last clause is correct, but that of the first appears to have no meaning. The sense is not the first shall say, but I first, i.e. before any other God or prophet.

28. And I will look, but there is no man; and of these, but there is no one advising (or informing); and I will ask them, and they will return a word (or answer). He allows them as it were another opportunity of proving their divinity. In the first two clauses, the expectation and the disappointment are described together; in the third, the expectation only is expressed, the result being given in the following verse. First he looks, but finds not what he seeks. Then again, but with the same result. Once more he interrogates them and awaits an answer, but (as the next verse adds) discovers them to be impostors. There is something singularly beautiful in this peculiar structure of the sentence, which is wholly marred by the indirect constructions that are commonly adopted, that when I asked them could answer a word, or, that I should question them and they return an answer. The verse is full of laconic and elliptical expressions, which however may be easily completed, as will appear from the following brief paraphrase. I will look (once more to see whether any of these idols or their prophet can predict the future), but there is no one (who attempts it). From among (all) these (I seek for a response, but there is none.) (Yet once more) I will ask them, and (perhaps) they will return an answer. The same application of the verb translated advising to the prediction of the future occurs below in ch. 44: 26. The form here used is to be strictly construed as a participle.

29. Lo, they (are) all nought, nothing their works, wind and emptiness their molten images. This is, at once, the termination of the sentence begun in the last clause of the verse preceding, and the summary conclusion of the whole preceding controversy as to the divinity of any gods except Jehovah. To the usual expressions of nonentity the Prophet adds two other strong descriptive terms, wind and emptiness.