The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The vision - The first verse evidently is a title, but whether to the whole book or only to a part of it has been questioned. As it stands here, however, it seems clearly intended to include the entire book, because it embraces all that was seen during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; that is, during the whole prophetic life of the prophet. The same title is also given to his prophecies in 2 Chronicles 32:32 : 'Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold they are written in the vision of Isaiah.' Vitringa supposes that the former part of this title, 'the vision of Isaiah,' was at first affixed to the single prophecy contained in the first chapter, and that the latter part was inserted afterward as an introduction to the whole book. This might have been done by Isaiah himself if he collected his prophecies into a volume, or by some other inspired man who collected and arranged them; see the Introduction to Isaiah 36.
The word "vision," חזון chăzôn, denotes properly that which is seen, from the verb, חזה châzâh, "to see, to behold." It is a term which is often used in reference to the prophecies of the Old Testament; Numbers 12:6; Numbers 24:4; 1 Samuel 3:1; Psalm 89:19; Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:2; Daniel 8:1; Nahum 1:1; Genesis 15:1; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:1. Hence, the prophets were anciently called "Seers," as those who saw or witnessed events which were yet to come; compare 1 Samuel 9:9 : 'He that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a "Seer;"' 1 Samuel 9:11, 1 Samuel 9:18-19; 1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Kings 18:13. In these visions the objects probably were made to pass before the mind of the prophet as a picture, in which the various events were delineated with more or less distinctness, and the prophecies were spoken, or recorded, as the visions appeared to the observer. As many events could be represented only by symbols, those symbols became a matter of record, and are often left without explanation. On the nature of the prophetic visions, see Introduction, Section 7. (4.)
Of Isaiah - The name Isaiah ישׁעיהו yesha‛yâhû from ישׁע yesha‛ - salvation, help, deliverance - and יהוה yehovâh or Jehovah, means 'salvation of Yahweh,' or 'Yahweh will save.' The Vulgate renders it "Isaias"; the Septuagint has: Ησαΐ́ας Eesaias, "Esaias." This is also retained in the New Testament; Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 15:7; Mark 7:6; Luke 4:17; John 12:39; Acts 8:28; Romans 9:27, etc. In the book of Isaiah itself we find the form ישׁעיהו yesha‛yâhû, but in the inscription the rabbis give the form ישׁעיה yesha‛yâh. It was common among the Hebrews to incorporate the name Yahweh, or a part of it, into their proper names; see the note at Isaiah 7:14. Probably the object of this was to express veneration or regard for him - as we now give the name of a parent or friend to a child; or in many cases the name may have been given to record some signal act of mercy on the part of God, or some special interposition of his goodness. The practice of incorporating the name of the God that was worshipped into proper names was common in the East. Thus the name "Bel," the principal idol worshipped in Babylon, appears in the proper names of the kings, as Belshazzar, etc.; compare the note at Isaiah 46:1. It is not known that the name was given to Isaiah with any reference to the nature of the prophecies which he would deliver; but it is a remarkable circumstance that it coincides so entirely with the design of so large a portion of his predictions. The substance of the latter portion of the book, at least, is the salvation which Yahweh would effect for his people from their oppressers in Babylon, and the far mightier deliverance which the world would experience under the Messiah.
The son of Amoz - See the Introduction, Section 2. "Concerning Judah." The Jews after the death of Solomon were divided into two kingdoms; the kingdom of Judah, and of Israel, or Ephraim. The kingdom of Judah included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Benjamin was a small tribe, and it was not commonly mentioned, or the name was lost in that of Judah. The kingdom of Israel, or Ephraim, included the remaining ten tribes. Few of the prophets appeared among them; and the personal ministry of Isaiah does not appear to have been at all extended to them.
Jerusalem - The capital of the kingdom of Judah. It was on the dividing line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It is supposed to have been founded by Melchizedek, who is called king of Salem Genesis 14:18, and who is supposed to have given this name "Salem" to it. This was about 2000 years before Christ. About a century after its foundation as a city, it was captured by the "Jebusites," who extended its walls and built a citadel on Mount Zion. By them it was called Jebus. In the conquest of Canaan, Joshua put to death its king Joshua 10:23, and obtained possession of the town, which was jointly occupied by the Hebrews and Jebusites until the latter were expelled by David, who made it the capital of his kingdom under the name of "Jebus-Salem," or, for the sake of easier pronunciation by changing the Hebrew letter ב (b) into the Hebrew letter ר (r), "Jerusalem." After the revolt of the ten tribes, it of course became the capital of the kingdom of Judah. It was built on hills, or rocks, and was capable of being strongly fortified, and was well adapted to be the capital of the nation. For a more full description of Jerusalem, see the notes at Matthew 2:1. The vision which is here spoken of as having been seen respecting Judah and Jerusalem, pertains only to this chapter; see Isaiah 2:1.
In the days of Uzziah - In the time, or during the reign of Uzziah; 2 Chronicles 26; compare the Introduction, Section 3. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty-two years. It is not affirmed or supposed that Isaiah began to prophesy at the commencement of his reign. The first part of the long reign of Uzziah was prosperous. He gained important victories over his enemies, and fortified his kingdom; 2 Chronicles 26:5-15. He had under him an army of more than three hundred thousand men. But he became proud - attempted an act of sacrilege - was smitten of God, and died a leper. But though the kingdom under Uzziah was flourishing, yet it had in it the elements of decay. During the previous reign of Joash, it had been invaded and weakened by the Assyrians, and a large amount of wealth had been taken to Damascus, the capital of Syria; 2 Chronicles 24:23-24. It is not improbable that those ravages were repeated during the latter part of the reign of Uzziah; compare Isaiah 1:7.
Jotham - He began to reign at the age of twenty-five years, and reigned sixteen years; 2 Chronicles 27:1-2.
Ahaz - He began to reign at the age of twenty, and reigned sixteen years. He was a wicked man, and during his reign the kingdom was involved in crimes and calamities; 2 Chronicles 28.
Hezekiah - He was a virtuous and upright prince. He began his reign at the age of twenty-five years, and reigned twenty-nine; 2 Chronicles 29; see the Introduction Section 3,
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
Hear, O heavens - This is properly the beginning of the prophecy. It is a sublime commencement; and is of a highly poetic character. The heavens and the earth are summoned to bear witness to the apostasy, ingratitude, and deep depravity of the chosen people of God. The address is expressive of deep feeling - the bursting forth of a heart filled with amazement at a wonderful and unusual event. The same sublime beginning is found in the song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:1 :
Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Compare Psalm 4:3-4. Thus also the prophets often invoke the hills and mountains to hear them; Ezekiel 6:3 : 'Ye mountains of Israel, hear the words of the Lord God: Thus saith the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, and to the rivers, and to the valleys;' compare Ezekiel 36:1. 'Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord,' Jeremiah 2:12. By the heavens therefore, in this place, we are not to understand the inhabitants of heaven, that is, the angels, anymore than by the hills we are to understand the inhabitants of the mountains. It is high poetic language, denoting the importance of the subject, and the remarkable and amazing truth to which the attention was to be called.
Give ear, O earth - It was common thus to address the earth on any remarkable occasion, especially anyone implying warm expostulation, Jeremiah 5:19; Jeremiah 22:29; Micah 1:2; Micah 6:2; Isaiah 34:1; Isaiah 49:13.
For - Since it is Yahweh that speaks, all the universe is summoned to attend; compare Psalm 33:8-9 : 'Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the World stand in awe of him. For he spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.'
The Lord - - יהוה yehovâh, or Jehovah. The small capitals used here and elsewhere throughout the Bible in printing the word Lord, denote that the original word is Yahweh. It is derived from the verb היה hâyâh, "to be;" and is used to denote "being," or the fountain of being, and can be applied only to the true God; compare Exodus 3:14 : 'And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am, אהיה אשׁר אהיה 'eheyeh 'ăsher 'eheyeh; Exodus 6:3; Numbers 11:21; Isaiah 47:8. It is a name which is never given to idols, or conferred on a creature; and though it occurs often in the Hebrew Scriptures, as is indicated by the small capitals, yet our translators have retained it but four times; Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4. In combination, however, with other names, it occurs often. Thus in Isaiah, meaning the salvation of Yahweh; "Jeremiah," the exaltation or grandeur of Yahweh, etc.; compare Genesis 22:14 : 'Abraham called the name of the place "Jehovah-jireh,'" Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24; Ezekiel 48:35. The Jews never pronounced this name, not even in reading their own Scriptures. So sacred did they deem it, that when it occurred in their books, instead of the word Yahweh, they substituted the word אדני 'ădonāy, "Lord." Our translators have shown respect to this feeling of the Jews in regard to the sacredness of the name; and hence, have rendered it by the name of Lord - a word which by no means conveys the sense of the word Yahweh. It would have been an advantage to our version if the word Yahweh had been retained wherever it occurs in the original.
I have nourished - Hebrew "I have made great;" גדלתי gı̂daletı̂y. In Piel, the word means "to make great, to cause to grow;" as e. g., the hair; Numbers 6:5, plants, Isaiah 44:14; then to educate or bring up children; Isaiah 49:21; 2 Kings 10:6
And brought up - רוממתי romamethı̂y, from רום rûm, "to lift up" or "exalt." In Piel it means to bring up, nourish, educate; Isaiah 23:4. These words, though applied often to the training up of children, yet are used here also to denote the elevation to which they had been raised. He had not merely trained them up, but he had trained them up to an elevated station; to special honor and privileges. "Children." Hebrew בנים bânnı̂ym - sons." They were the adopted children of God; and they are represented as being weak, and ignorant, and helpless as children, when he took them under his fatherly protection and care; Hosea 11:1 : 'When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt;' compare the note at Matthew 2:15; Isaiah 63:8-16.
They have rebelled - This complaint was often brought against the Jews; compare Isaiah 63:10; Jeremiah 2:6-8. This is the sum of the charge against them. God had shown them special favors. He recounted his mercy in bringing them out of Egypt; and on the ground of this, he demanded obedience and love; compare Exodus 20:1-3. And yet they bad forgotten him, and rebelled against him. The Targum of Jonathan, an ancient Chaldee version, has well expressed the idea here. 'Hear, O heavens, which were moved when I gave my law to my people: give ear, O earth, which didst tremble before my word, for the Lord has spoken. My people, the house of Israel, whom I called sons - I loved them - I honored them, and they rebelled against me.' The same is true substantially of all sinners; and alas, how often may a similar expostulation be made with the professed people of God!
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
The ox ... - The design of this comparison is to show the great stupidity and ingratitude of the Jews. Even the least sagacious and most stupid of the animals, destitute as they are of reason and conscience, evince knowledge and submission far more than the professed people of God. The ox is a well known domestic animal, remarkable for patient willingness to toil, and for submission to his owner.
Knoweth his owner - Recognizes, or is submissive to him.
The ass - A well known animal, proverbial for dulness and stupidity.
His master's crib - אבוס 'êbûs from אבס 'âbas, to heap up, and then to fatten. Hence, it is applied to the stall, barn, or crib, where cattle are fed, or made fat; Job 39:9; Proverbs 14:4. The donkey has sufficient knowledge to understand that his support is derived from that. The idea is, that the ox was more submissive to laws than the Jews; and that even the most stupid animal better knew from where support was to be derived, than they did the source of their comfort and protection. The donkey would not wander away, and the ox would not rebel as they had done. This comparison was very striking, and very humiliating, and nothing could be more suited to bring down their pride. A similar comparison is used elsewhere. Thus, in Jeremiah 8:7, the Jews are contrasted with the stork: 'Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle Dove, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord.' This idea has been beautifully expressed by Watts:
The brutes obey their God,
And bow their necks to men;
But we more base, more brutish things,
Reject his easy reign.
Compare Hosea 11:4.
But Israel - The name Israel, though after the division of the tribes into two kingdoms specifically employed to denote that of the ten tribes, is often used in the more general sense to denote the whole people of the Jews, including the kingdom of Judah. It refers here to the kingdom of Judah, though a name is used which is not inappropriately characteristic of the whole people.
Doth not know - The Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Arabic, add the word 'me.' The word know is used in the sense of recognizing him as their Lord; of acknowledging him, or submitting to him.
Doth not consider - Hebrew, Do not "understand." They have a stupidity greater than the brute.
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
Ah! sinful nation - The word rendered 'ah!' - הוי hôy - is not a mere exclamation, expressing astonishment. It is rather an interjection denouncing threatening, or punishment. 'Wo to the sinful nation.' Vulgate, 'Vae genti peccatrici.' The corruption pertained to the nation, and not merely to a part. It had become general.
Laden with iniquity - The word translated "laden" - כבד kebed - denotes properly anything "heavy," or burdensome; from כבד kâbad, "to be heavy." It means that they were oppressed, and borne down with the "weight" of their sins. Thus we say, Sin sits "heavy" on the conscience. Thus Cain said, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear;' Genesis 4:13. The word is applied to an "employment" as being burdensome; Exodus 18:18 : 'This thing is too "heavy" for thee.' Numbers 11:14 : 'I am not able to bear eli this people alone; it is too "heavy" for me.' It is applied also to a "famine," as being heavy, severe, distressing. Genesis 12:10 : 'For the famine was "grievous" (כבד kâbed, heavy) in the land;' Genesis 41:31. It is also applied to "speech," as being heavy, dull, unintelligible. Exodus 4:10 : 'I am slow (heavy כבד kebad) of speech, and of a slow (heavy כבד kebad) tongue.' It is not applied to sin in the Scriptures, except in this place, or except in the sense of making atonement for it. The idea however, is very striking - that of a nation - an entire people, bowed and crushed under the enormous weight of accumulated crimes. To pardon iniquity, or to atone for it, is represented by bearing it, as if it were a heavy burden. Exodus 28:38, Exodus 28:43, 'That Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things.' Leviticus 10:17 : 'God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation.' Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 16:22; Numbers 18:1; Isaiah 53:6 : 'Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' Isaiah 53:11 : 'He shall bear their iniquities.' 1 Peter 2:24 : 'Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.'
A seed - זרע zera‛, from זרע zâra‛, to sow, to scatter, to disperse. It is applied to seed sown in a field; Judges 6:3; Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 47:23; to plants set out, or engrafted; or to planting, or transplanting a nation. Isaiah 17:10 : 'And thou shalt set it (תזרענוּ tizerâ‛enû shalt sow, or plant it) with strange slips.' Hence, it is applied to children, posterity, descendants, from the resemblance to seed sown, and to a harvest springing up, and spreading. The word is applied by way of eminence to the Jews, as being the seed or posterity of Abraham, according to the promise that his seed should be as the stars of heaven; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15-16; Genesis 15:5, Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:7, ...
Children - Hebrew sons - the same word that is used in Isaiah 1:2. They were the adopted people or sons of God, but they had now become corrupt.
That are corrupters - mashchiytiym - משׁחיתים mashechı̂ythı̂ym, from שׁחת shachath, to destroy, to lay waste, as an invading army does a city or country; Joshua 22:33; Genesis 19:13. To destroy a vineyard; Jeremiah 12:10. To break down walls; Ezekiel 26:4. Applied to conduct, it means to destroy, or lay waste virtuous principles; to break down the barriers to vice; to corrupt the morals. Genesis 6:12 : 'And God looked upon the earth, and it was corrupt - נשׁחתה nı̂shechâthâh; for all flesh had corrupted his way - השׁחית hı̂shechı̂yth - upon the earth;' Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 31:29; Judges 2:19. They were not merely corrupt themselves, but they corrupted others by their example. This is always the case. When people become infidels and profligates themselves, they seek to make as many more as possible. The Jews did this by their wicked lives. The same charge is often brought against them; see Judges 2:12; Zephaniah 3:7.
They have provoked - Hebrew נאצוּ nı̂'ătsû 'They have despised the Holy One;' compare Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 5:12; Proverbs 15:5. Vulgate, 'They have blasphemed.' Septuagint, παρωργίσατε parōrgisate. 'You have provoked him to anger.' The meaning is, that they had so despised him, as to excite his indignation.
The Holy One of Israel - God; called the Holy One of Israel because he was revealed to them as their God, or they were taught to regard him as the sacred object of their worship.
They are gone away backward - Lowth: 'They have turned their backs upon him.' The word rendered "they are gone away," נזרוּ nâzorû, from זור zûr, means properly, to become estranged; to be alienated. Job 19:13 : 'Mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me.' It means especially that declining from God, or that alienation, which takes place when people commit sin; Psalm 78:30.
Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
Why ... - The prophet now, by an abrupt change in the discourse, calls their attention to the effects of their sins. Instead of saving that they had been smitten, or of saying that they had been punished for their sins, he assumes both, and asks why it should be repeated. The Vulgate reads this: 'Super quo - on what part - shall I smite you anymore?' This expresses well the sense of the Hebrew - על־מה ‛al-meh - upon what; and the meaning is, 'what part of the body can be found on which blows have not been inflicted? On every part there are traces of the stripes which have been inflicted for your sins.' The idea is taken from a body that is all covered over with weals or marks of blows, and the idea is, that the whole frame is one continued bruise, and there remains no sound part to be stricken. The particular chastisement to which the prophet refers is specified in Isaiah 1:7-9. In Isaiah 1:5-6, he refers to the calamities of the nation, under the image of a person wounded and chastised for crimes. Such a figure of speech is not uncommon in the classic writers. Thus Cicero (de fin. iv. 14) says, 'quae hie reipublicae vulnera imponebat hie sanabat.' See also Tusc. Quaes. iii. 22; Ad Quintum fratrem, ii. 25; Sallust; Cat. 10.
Should ye be stricken - Smitten, or punished. The manner in which they had been punished, he specities in Isaiah 1:7-8. Jerome says, that the sense is, 'there is no medicine which I can administer to your wounds. All your members are full of wounds; and there is no part of your body which has not been smitten before. The more you are afflicted, the more will your impiety and iniquity increase.' The word here, תכוּ tukû, from נכה nâkâh, means to smite, to beat, to strike down, to slay, or kill. It is applied to the infliction of punishment on an individual; or to the judgments of God by the plague, pestilence, or sickness. Genesis 19:2 : 'And they smote the men that were at the door with blindness.' Numbers 14:12 : 'And I will smite them with the pestilence.' Exodus 7:25 : 'After that the Lord had smitten the river,' that is, had changed it into blood; compare Isaiah 1:20; Zechariah 10:2. Here it refers to the judgments inflicted on the nation as the punishment of their crimes.
Ye will revolt - Hebrew You will add defection, or revolt. The effect of calamity, and punishment, will be only to increase rebellion. Where the heart is right with God, the tendency of affliction is to humble it, and lead it more and more to God. Where it is evil, the tendency is to make the sinner more obstinate and rebellious. This effect of punishment is seen every where. Sinners revolt more and more. They become sullen, and malignant, and fretful; they plunge into vice to seek temporary relief, and thus they become more and more alienated from God.
The whole head - The prophet proceeds to specify more definitely what he had just said respecting their being stricken. He designates each of the members of the body - thus comparing the Jewish people to the human body when under severe punishment. The word head in the Scriptures is often used to denote the princes, leaders, or chiefs of the nation. But the expression here is used as a figure taken from the human body, and refers solely to the punishment of the people, not to their sins. It means that all had been smitten - all was filled with the effects of punishment - as the human body is when the head and all the members are diseased.
Is sick - Is so smitten - so punished, that it has become sick and painful. Hebrew לחלי lâchŏlı̂y - for sickness, or pain. The preposition ל denotes a state, or condition of anything. Psalm 69:21. 'And in (ל) my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.' The expression is intensive, and denotes that the head was entirely sick.
The whole heart faint - The heart is here put for the whole region of the chest or stomach. As when the head is violently pained, there is also sickness at the heart, or in the stomach, and as these are indications of entire or total prostration of the frame so the expression here denotes the perfect desolation which had come over the nation.
Faint - Sick, feeble, without vigor, attended with nausea. Jeremiah 8:18 : 'When I would comfort myself in my sorrow, my heart is faint within me;' Lamentations 1:22. When the body is suffering; when severe punishment is inflicted, the effect is to produce landor and faintness at the seat of life. This is the idea here. Their punishment had been so severe for their sins, that the heart was languid and feeble - still keeping up the figure drawn from the human body.
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
From the sole of the foot ... - Or is we say, 'from head to foot,' that is, in every part of the body. There may be included also the idea that this extended from the lowest to the highest among the people. The Chaldee paraphrase is, 'from the lowest of the people even to the princes - all are contumacious and rebellious.'
No soundness - מתם methôm, from תמם tâmam, to be perfect, sound, uninjured. There is no part unaffected; no part that is sound. It is all smitten and sore.
But wounds - The precise shade of difference between this and the two following words may not be apparent. Together, they mean Such wounds and contusions as are inflicted upon man by scourging, or beating him. This mode of punishment was common among the Jews; as it is at the East at this time. Abarbanel and Kimchi say that the word rendered here "wounds" (פצע petsa‛, a verbal from פצע pâtsa‛ to wound, to mutilate), means an open wound, or a cut from which blood flows.
Bruises - חבורה chabbûrâh. This word means a contusion, or the effect of a blow where the skin is not broken; such a contusion as to produce a swelling, and livid appearance; or to make it, as we say, black and blue.
Putrifying sores - The Hebrew rather means recent, or fresh wounds; or rather, perhaps, a running wound, which continues fresh and open; which cannot be cicatrized, or dried up. The Septuagint renders it elegantly πληγή φλγμαίνουσα plēgē flegmainous, a swelling, or tumefying wound. The expression is applied usually to inflammations, as of boils, or to the swelling of the tonsils, etc.
They have not been closed - That is, the lips had not been pressed together, to remove the blood from the wound. The meaning is, that nothing had been done toward healing the wound. It was an unhealed, undressed, all-pervading sore. The art of medicine, in the East, consists chiefly in external applications; accordingly the prophet's images in this place are all taken from surgery. Sir John Chardin, in his note on Proverbs 3:8, 'It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones,' observes, that the comparison is taken from the plasters, ointments, oils, and frictions, which are made use of in the East in most maladies. 'In Judea,' says Tavernier, 'they have a certain preparation of oil, and melted grease, which they commonly use for the healing of wounds.' Lowth. Compare the note at Isaiah 38:21.
Neither mollified with ointment - Neither made soft, or tender, with ointment. Great use was made, in Eastern nations, of oil, and various kinds of unguents, in medicine. Hence, the good Samaritan is represented as pouring in oil and wine into the wounds of the man that fell among thieves Luke 10:34; and the apostles were directed to anoint with oil those who were sick; James 5:14; compare Revelation 3:18.
Ointment - Hebrew oil. שׁמן shemen. The oil of olives was used commonly for this purpose. The whole figure in these two verses relates to their being punished for their sins. It is taken from the appearance of a man who is severely, beaten, or scourged for crime; whose wounds had not been dressed, and who was thus a continued bruise, or sore, from his head to his feet. The cause of this the prophet states afterward, Isaiah 1:10 ff. With great skill he first reminds them of what they saw and knew, that they were severely punished; and then states to them the cause of it. Of the calamities to which the prophet refers, they could have no doubt. They were every where visible in all their cities and towns. On these far-spreading desolations, he fixes the eye distinctly first. Had he begun with the statement of their depravity, they would probably have revolted at it. But being presented with a statement of their sufferings, which they all saw and felt, they were prepared for the statement of the cause. To find access to the consciences of sinners, and to convince them of their guilt, it is often necessary to remind them first of the calamities in which they are actually involved; and then to search for the cause. This passage, therefore, has no reference to their moral character. It relates solely to their punishment. It is often indeed adduced to prove the doctrine of depravity; but it has no direct reference to it, and it should not be adduced to prove that people are depraved, or applied as referring to the moral condition of man. The account of their moral character, as the cause of their calamities, is given in Isaiah 1:10-14. That statement will fully account for the many woes which had come on the nation.
Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
Your country is desolate - This is the literal statement of what he had just affirmed by a figure. In this there was much art. The figure Isaiah 1:6 was striking. The resemblance between a man severely beaten, and entirely livid and sore, and a land perfectly desolate, was so impressive as to arrest the attention. This had been threatened as one of the curses which should attend disobedience; Leviticus 26:33 :
And I will scatter you among the heathen,
And will draw out a sword after you:
And your land shall be desolate,
And your cities waste.
Compare Isaiah 1:31; Deuteronomy 28:49-52. It is not certain, or agreed among expositors, to what time the prophet refers in this passage. Some have supposed that he refers to the time of Ahaz, and to the calamities which came upon the nation during his reign; 2 Chronicles 28:5-8. But the probability is, that this refers to the time of Uzziah; see the Analysis of the chapter. The reign of Uzziah was indeed prosperous; 2 Chronicles 26. But it is to be remembered that the land had been ravaged just before, under the reigns of Joash and Amaziah, by the kings of Syria and Israel; 2 Kings 14:8-14; 2 Chronicles 24; 25; and it is by no means probable that it had recovered in the time of Uzziah. It was lying under the effect of the former desolation, and not improbably the enemies of the Jews were even then hovering around it, and possibly still in the very midst of it. The kingdom was going to decay, and the reign of Uzziah gave it only a temporary prosperity.
Is desolate - Hebrew: "Is desolation." שׁממה shemâmâh. This is a Hebrew mode of emphatic expression, denoting that the desolation was so universal that the land might be said to be entirely in ruins.
Your land - That is, the fruit, or productions of the land. Foreigners consume all that it produces.
Strangers - זרים zâryı̂m, from זור zûr, to be alienated, or estranged, Isaiah 1:4. It is applied to foreigners, that is, those who were not Israelites, Exodus 30:33; and is often used to denote an enemy, a foe, a barbarian; Psalm 109:11 :
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath,
And let the strangers plunder his labor.
Devour it - Consume its provisions.
In your presence - This is a circumstance that greatly heightens the calamity, that they were compelled to look on and witness the desolation, without being able to prevent it.
And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
And the daughter of Zion - Zion, or Sion, was the name of one of the hills on which the city of Jerusalem was built. On this hill formerly stood the city of the Jebusites, and when David took it from them he transferred to it his court, and it was called the city of David, or the holy hill. It was in the southern part of the city. As Zion became the residence of the court, and was the most important part of the city, the name was often used to denote the city itself, and is often applied to the whole of Jerusalem. The phrase 'daughter of Zion' here means Zion itself, or Jerusalem. The name daughter is given to it by a personification in accordance with a common custom in Eastern writers, by which beautiful towns and cities are likened to young females. The name mother is also applied in the same way. Perhaps the custom arose from the fact that when a city was built, towns and villages would spring up round it - and the first would be called the mother-city (hence, the word metropolis). The expression was also employed as an image of beauty, from a fancied resemblance between a beautiful town and a beautiful and well-dressed woman. Thus Psalm 45:13, the phrase daughter of Tyre, means Tyre itself; Psalm 137:8, daughter of Babylon, that is, Babylon; Isaiah 37:22, 'The virgin, the daughter of Zion;' Jeremiah 46:2; Isaiah 23:12; Jeremiah 14:17; Numbers 21:23, Numbers 21:32, (Hebrew); Judges 11:26. Is left. נותרה nôtherâh. The word used here denotes left as a part or remnant is left - not left entire, or complete, but in a weakened or divided state.
As a cottage - literally, "a shade," or "shelter" - כסכה kesûkkâh, a temporary habitation erected in vineyards to give shelter to the grape gatherers, and to those who were uppointed to watch the vineyard to guard it from depredations; compare the note at Matthew 21:33. The following passage from Mr. Jowett's 'Christian Researches,' describing what he himself saw, will throw light on this verse. 'Extensive fields of ripe melons and cucumbers adorned the sides of the river (the Nile). They grew in such abundance that the sailors freely helped themselves. Some guard, however, is placed upon them. Occasionally, but at long and desolate intervals, we may observe a little hut, made of reeds, just capable of containing one man; being in fact little more than a fence against a north wind. In these I have observed, sometimes, a poor old man, perhaps lame, protecting the property. It exactly illustrates Isaiah 1:8.' 'Gardens were often probably unfenced, and formerly, as now, esculent vegetables were planted in some fertile spot in the open field. A custom prevails in Hindostan, as travelers inform us, of planting in the commencement of the rainy season, in the extensive plains, an abundance of melons, cucumbers, gourds, etc. In the center of the field is an artificial mound with a hut on the top, just large enough to shelter a person from the storm and the heat;' Bib. Dic. A.S.U. The sketch in the book will convey a clear idea of such a cottage. Such a cottage would be designed only for a temporary habitation. So Jerusalem seemed to be left amidst the surrounding desolation as a temporary abode, soon to be destroyed.
As a lodge - The word lodge here properly denotes a place for passing the night, but it means also a temporary abode. It was erected to afford a shelter to those who guarded the enclosure from thieves, or from jackals, and small foxes. 'The jackal,' says Hasselquist, 'is a species of mustela, which is very common in Palestine, especially during the vintage, and often destroys whole vineyards, and gardens of cucumbers.'
A garden of cucumbers - The word cucumbers here probably includes every thing of the melon kind, as well as the cucumber. They are in great request in that region on account of their cooling qualities, and are produced in great abundance and perfection. These things are particularly mentioned among the luxuries which the Israelites enjoyed in Egypt, and for which they sighed when they were in the wilderness. Numbers 11:5 : 'We remember - the cucumbers and the melons,' etc. The cucumber which is produced in Egypt and Palestine is large - usually a foot in length, soft, tender, sweet, and easy of digestion (Gesenius), and being of a cooling nature, was especially delicious in their hot climate. The meaning here is, that Jerusalem seemed to be left as a temporary, lonely habitation, soon to be forsaken and destroyed.
As a besieged city - נצוּרה כעיר ke‛ı̂yr netsôrâh. Lowth. 'As a city taken by siege.' Noyes. "'So is the delivered city.' This translation was first proposed by Arnoldi of Marburg. It avoids the incongruity of comparing a city with a city, and requires no alteration of the text except a change of the vowel points. According to this translation, the meaning will be, that all things round about the city lay desolate, like the withered vines of a cucumber garden around the watchman's hut; in other words, that the city alone stood safe amidst the ruins caused by the enemy, like the hut in a gathered garden of cucumber." Noyes. According to this interpretation, the word נצוּרה netsôrâh is derived not from צור tsûr, to besiege, to press, to straiten; but from נצר nâtsar, to preserve, keep, defend; compare Ezekiel 6:12. The Hebrew will bear this translation; and the concinnity of the comparison will thus be preserved. I rather prefer, however, the common interpretation, as being more obviously the sense of the Hebrew, and as being sufficiently in accordance with the design of the prophet. The idea then is, that of a city straitened by a siege, yet standing as a temporary habitation, while all the country around was lying in ruins. Jerusalem, alone preserved amidst the desolation spreading throughout the land, will resemble a temporary lodge in the garden - itself soon to be removed or destroyed. The essential idea, whatever translation is adopted, is that of the solitude, loneliness, and temporary continuance of even Jerusalem, while all around was involved in desolation and ruin.
Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
Except ... - It is owing entirely to the mercy of God, that we are not like Sodom. The prophet traces this not to the goodness of the nation, not to any power or merit of theirs, but solely to the mercy of God. This passage the apostle Paul has used in an argument to establish the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of people; see the note at Romans 9:29.
The Lord - Hebrew Yahweh. Note Isaiah 1:2.
Of hosts - צבאות tsebâ'ôth - the word sometimes translated "Sabaoth"; Romans 9:29; James 5:4. The word means literally armies or military hosts. It is applied, however, to the angels which surround the throne of God; 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 103:21; and to the stars or constellations that appear to be marshalled in the sky; Jeremiah 33:22; Isaiah 40:26. This host, or the "host of heaven," was frequently an object of idolatrous worship; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16. God is called Yahweh of hosts because he is at the head of all these armies, as their leader and commander; he marshals and directs them - as a general does the army under his command. 'This,' says Gesenius, 'is the most common name of God in Isaiah, and in Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Malachi. It represents him as the ruler of the hosts of heaven, that is, the angels and the stars. Sometimes, but less frequently, we meet with the appellation Yahweh, God of hosts. Hence, some suppose the expression Yahweh of hosts to be elliptical. But it is not a correct assertion that Yahweh, as a proper name, admits of no genitive. But such relations and adjuncts as depend upon the genitive, often depend upon proper names. So in Arabic, one is called Rebiah of the poor in reference to his liability.' The name is given here, because to save any portion of a nation so wicked implied the exercise of the same power as that by which he controlled the hosts of heaven.
Remnant - A small part - that which is left. It means here, that God had spared a portion of the nation, so that they were not entirely overthrown.
We should have been as Sodom ... - This does not refer to the character of the people, but to their destiny. If God had not interposed to save them they would have been overwhelmed entirely as Sodom was; compare Genesis 19:24-25.
Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the Lord - The message of God. Having stated the calamities under which the nation was groaning, the prophet proceeds to address the rulers, and to state the cause of all these woes.
Ye rulers of Sodom - The incidental mention Sodom in the previous verse gives occasion for this beautiful transition, and abrupt and spirited address. Their character and destiny were almost like those of Sodom, and the prophet therefore openly addresses the rulers as being called to preside over a people like those in Sodom. There could have been no more severe or cutting reproof of their wickedness than to address them as resembling the people whom God overthrew for their enormous crimes.
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
To what purpose - לי למה lâmâh lı̂y. 'What is it to me; or what profit or pleasure can I have in them?' God here replies to an objection which might be urged by the Jews to the representation which had been made of their guilt. The objection would be, that they were strict in the duties of their religion, and that they even abounded in offering victims of sacrifice. God replies in this and the following verses, that all this would be of no use, and would meet with no acceptance, unless it were the offering of the heart. He demanded righteousness; and without that, all external offerings would be vain. The same sentiment often occurs in the Old Testament.
Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to hearken than the fat of rams.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
When you come to appear before me - The temple was in Jerusalem, and was regarded as the habitation, or dwelling-place, of the God of Israel. Particularly, the most holy place of the temple was deemed the place of his sacred abode. The Shekinah - from שׁכן shâkan, to dwell - the visible symbol of his presence, rested on the cover of the ark, and from this place he was accustomed to commune with his people, and to give responses to their requests. Hence, 'to appear before God,' Hebrew 'to be seen before my face,' פני לראות lerâ'ôth pânāy for פני את 'et pânāy, means to appear in his temple as a worshipper. The phrase occurs in this sense in the following places: Exodus 34:23-24; Deuteronomy 31:11; 1 Samuel 1:22; Psalm 42:3.
Who hath required this - The Jews were required to appear there to worship God Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16; but it was not required that they should appear with that spirit and temper. A similar sentiment is expressed in Psalm 50:16.
At your hand - From you. The emphasis in this expression is to be laid on your. 'Who has asked it of you?' It was indeed the duty of the humble, and the sincere, to tread those courts, but who had required such hypocrites as they were to do it? God sought the offerings of pure worshippers, not those of the hypocritical and the profane.
To tread my courts - The courts of the temple were the different areas or open spaces which surrounded it. None entered the temple itself but the priests. The people worshipped God in the courts assigned them around the temple. In one of those courts was the altar of burnt-offerings; and the sacrifices were all made there; see the notes at Matthew 21:12. To tread his courts was an expression therefore, equivalent to, to worship. To tread the courts of the Lord here, has the idea of profanation. Who has required you to tread those courts with this hollow, heartless service? It is often used in the sense of treading down, or trampling on, 2 Kings 7:17-20; Daniel 8:7-10; Isaiah 63:3-16.
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Bring no more - God does not intend absolutely to forbid this kind of worship, but he expresses his strong abhorrence of the manner in which it was done. He desired a better state of mind; he preferred purity of heart to all this external homage.
Vain - Hebrew "offering of vanity" - שׁוא shâv' - offerings which were hollow, false, deceitful, and hypocritical.
Oblations - מנחת minchath. This word properly denotes a gift, or present, of any kind Genesis 32:13, and then especially a present or offering to the Deity, Genesis 4:3-5. It does not denote a bloody offering, but what is improperly rendered in the Old Testament, a meat-offering Leviticus 2:1; Leviticus 6:14; Leviticus 9:17 - an offering made of flour or fruits, with oil and frankincense. A small part of it was burned upon the altar, and the remainder was eaten by Aaron and his sons with salt, Leviticus 2:1, Leviticus 2:9, Leviticus 2:13. The proper translation would have been meat or flour-offering rather than meat-offering, since the word meat with us now denotes animal food only.
Incense - More properly frankincense. This is an aromatic or odoriferous gum, which is obtained from a tree called Thurifera. Its leaves were like those of a pear-tree. It grew around Mount Lebanon, and in Arabia. The gum was obtained by making incisions in the bark in dogdays. It was much used in worship, not only by the Jews, but by the pagan. When burned, it produced an agreeable odor; and hence, it is called a sacrifice of sweet smell, an odor acceptable to God; compare Philippians 4:18. That which was burned among the Jews was prepared in a special manner, with a mixture of sweet spices. It was offered by the priest alone, and it was not lawful to prepare it in any other way than that prescribed by the law: see Exodus 30:34, ...
Is an abomination - Is hateful, or an object of abhorrence; that is, as it was offered by them, with hollow service, and with hypocritical hearts.
The new moons - On the appearance of the new moon. in addition to the daily sacrifices, two bullocks, a ram, and seven sheep, with a meal-offering, were required to be offered to God, Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11-14. The new moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October), was the beginning of their civil year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival, Leviticus 23:24-25. The appearance of the new moon was announced by the blowing of silver trumpets, Numbers 10:10. Hence, the annual festival was called sometimes, 'the memorial of the blowing of trumpets.' The time of the appearance of the new moon was not ascertained, as with us, by astronomical calculation; but persons were stationed, about the time it was to appear, on elevated places in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and when it was discovered, the trumpet was sounded. Moses did not command that this should be observed as a festival except at the beginning of the year, but it is not improbable that the Jews observed each return of the new moon as such.
And sabbaths - שׁבת shabbâth, from שׁבת shâbath, "to cease to do anything"; "to rest from labor." The words used here are all in the singular number, and should have been rendered 'the new moon, and the sabbath, and the calling of the assembly;' though used in a collective sense. The sabbaths here refer not only to the weekly sabbaths, but to all their days of rest. The word sabbath means properly a day of rest Genesis 2:2-3; and it was applied not only to the seventh day, but particularly to the beginning and the close of their great festivals, which were days of unusual solemnity and sacredness, Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:24-39.
The calling of assemblies - The solemn convocations or meetings at their festivals and fasts.
I cannot away with - Hebrew אוּכל לא lo' 'ûkal - I cannot bear, or endure.
It is iniquity - That is, in the way in which it is conducted. This is a strong emphatic expression. It is not merely evil, and tending to evil; but it is iniquity itself. There was no mixture of good.
Even the solemn meeting - The word which is used here - עצרה ‛ătsârâh - comes from the verb עצר ‛âtsar, which signifies to shut up, or to close; and is applied to the solemnities which concluded their great feasts, as being periods of unusual interest and sacredness. It was applied to such solemnities, because they shut up, or closed the sacred festivals. Hence, that day was called the great day of the feast, as being a day of special solemnity and impressiveness; see the note at John 7:37; compare Leviticus 23:3-36. In the translation of this word, however, there is a great variety in the ancient versions. Vulgate, 'Your assemblies are iniquitous.' Septuagint, 'Your new moons, and sabbaths, and great day, I cannot endure; fasting and idleness.' Chald. Paraph., 'Sacrifice is abominable before me; and your new moons, and sabbaths, "since you will not forsake your sins, so that your prayer may be heard in the time of your assembling." Syriac, 'In the beginning of your months, and on the sabbath, you convene an assembly, but I do not eat that (that is, sacrifices) which has been Obtained by fraud and violence.' The English translation has, however, probably expressed the correct sense of the Hebrew.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
Your appointed feasts - That is, your assemblies convened on regular set times - מועד mô‛êd, from יעד yâ‛ad, to fix, to appoint. Hengstenberg (Chris. iii. p. 87) has shown that this word (מועדים mô‛ĕdı̂ym) is applied in the Scriptures only to the sabbath, passover, pentecost, day of atonement, and feast of tabernacles. Prof. Alexander, in loc. It is applied to those festivals, because they were fixed by law to certain periods of the year. This verse is a very impressive repetition of the former, as if the soul was full of the subject, and disposed to dwell upon it.
My soul hateth - I hate. Psalm 11:5. The nouns נפשׁ nephesh, soul, and רוּח rûach, spirit, are often used to denote the person himself, and are to be construed as "I." Thus, Isaiah 26:9 : 'With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early;' that is, 'I myself seek thee; I myself do desire thee.' So the phrase, 'deliver my soul,' - נפשׁי napheshı̂y - that is, deliver me, Psalm 22:20; Psalm 84:3; Psalm 86:13-14; that thy soul may bless me, Genesis 27:19; his soul shall dwell at ease, Psalm 25:13; compare Numbers 11:6; Leviticus 16:29; Isaiah 55:2-3; Job 16:4. So the word spirit: 'Thy watchfulness hath preserved my spirit' - רוּחי rûchı̂y - Job 10:12; compare Psalm 31:6; 1 Kings 21:5. The expression here is emphatic, denoting cordial hatred: odi ex animo.
They are a trouble - טרח ṭôrach. In Deuteronomy 1:12, this word denotes a burden, an oppressive lead that produces weariness in bearing it. It is a strong expression, denoting that their acts of hypocrisy and sin had become so numerous, that they became a heavy, oppressive lead.
I am weary to bear them - This is language which is taken from the act of carrying a burden until a man becomes weary and faint. So, in accordance with human conceptions, God represents himself as burdened with their vain oblations, and evil conduct. There could be no more impressive statement of the evil effects of sin, than that even Omnipotence was exhausted as with a heavy, oppressive burden.
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Ye spread forth your hands - This is an expression denoting the act of supplication. When we ask for help, we naturally stretch out our hands, as if to receive it. The expression therefore is equivalent to 'when ye pray, or implore mercy.' Compare Exodus 9:29; Exodus 17:11-12; 1 Kings 8:22.
I will hide mine eyes ... - That is, I will not attend to, or regard your supplications. The Chaldee Paraphrase is, 'When your priests expand their hands to pray for you.'
Your hands ... - This is given as a reason why he would not hear. The expression full of blood, denotes crime and guilt of a high order - as, in murder, the hands would be dripping in blood, and as the stain on the hands would be proof of guilt. It is probably a figurative expression, not meaning literally that they were murderers, but that they were given to rapine and injustice; to the oppression of the poor, the widow, etc. The sentiment is, that because they indulged in sin, and came, even in their prayers, with a determination still to indulge it, God would not hear them. The same sentiment is elsewhere expressed; Psalm 66:18 : 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;' Proverbs 28:9 : 'He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination;' Jeremiah 16:10-12; Zechariah 7:11-12; Proverbs 1:28-29. This is the reason why the prayers of sinners are not heard - But the truth is abundantly taught in the Scriptures, that if sinners will forsake their sins, the greatness of their iniquity is no obstacle to forgiveness; Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 11:28; Luke 16:11-24.
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Wash you - This is, of course, to be understood in a moral sense; meaning that they should put away their sins. Sin is represented in the Scriptures as defiling or polluting the soul Ezekiel 20:31; Ezekiel 23:30; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 9:4; and the removal of it is represented by the act of washing; Psalm 51:2 : 'Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin;' Jeremiah 4:14 : 'O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved;' Job 9:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22; 2 Peter 2:22; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14. It is used here in close connection with the previous verse, where the prophet says that their hands were flied with blood. He now admonishes them to wash away that blood, with the implied understanding, that then their prayers would be heard. It is worthy of remark, also, that the prophet directs them to do this themselves. He addresses them as moral agents, and as having ability to do it. This is the uniform manner in which God addresses sinners in the Bible, requiring them to put away their sins, and to make themselves a new heart. Compare Ezekiel 18:31-32.
The evil of your doings - This is a Hebraism, to denote your evil doings.
From before mine eyes - As God is omniscient, to put them away from before his eyes, is to put them away altogether. To pardon or forgive sin, is often expressed by hiding it; Psalm 51:9 :
Hide thy face from my sins.
Cease to do evil - Compare 1 Peter 3:10-11. The prophet is specifying what was necessary in order that their prayers might be heard, and that they might find acceptance with God. What he states here is a universal truth. If sinners wish to find acceptance with God, they must come renouncing all sin; resolving to put away everything that God hates, however dear it may be to the heart. Compare Mark 9:43-47.
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Learn to do well - , To learn here is to become accustomed to, to practice it. To do well stands opposed to all kinds of evil. "Seek judgment." The word "judgment" - משׁפט mishpâṭ - here means justice. The direction refers particularly to magistrates, and it is evident that the prophet had them particularly in his view in all this discourse. Execute justice between man and man with impartiality. The word "seek" - דרשׁוּ dı̂reshû - means to pursue, to search for, as an object to be gained; to regard, or care for it, as the main thing. Instead of seeking gain, and bribes, and public favor, they were to make it an object of intense interest to do justice.
Relieve - - אשׁרוּ 'asherû - literally, make straight, Or right (margin, righten). The root - אשׁר 'âshar - means to proceed, to walk forward in a direct line; and bears a relation to ישׁר yâshar, to be straight. Hence, it often means to be successful or prosperous - to go straight forward to success. In Piel, which is the form used here, it means to cause to go straight; and hence, applied to leaders, judges, and guides, to conduct those under their care in a straight path, and not in the devices and crooked Ways of sin; Proverbs 23:19 :
Hear thou, my son, and he wise,
And guide אשׁר 'asher, "make straight") thine heart in the way.
The oppressed - Him to whom injustice has been done in regard to his character, person, or property; compare the notes at Isaiah 58:6.
Judge the fatherless - Do justice to him - vindicate his cause. Take not advantage of his weak and helpless, condition - his ignorance and want of experience. This charge was particularly necessary on account of the facilities which the guardians of orphans have to defraud or oppress, without danger of detection or punishment. Orphans have no experience. Parents are their natural protectors; and therefore God especially charged on their guardians to befriend and do justice to them; Deuteronomy 24:17 : 'Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor the fatherless, nor take the widow's raiment to pledge.'
Plead for - Contend for her rights. Aid her by vindicating her cause. She is unable to defend herself; she is liable to oppression; and her rights may be taken away by the crafty and designing. It is remarkable that God so often insists on this in the Scriptures, and makes it no small part of religion; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Exodus 22:22 : 'Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.' The ancient views of piety on this subject are expressed in the language, and in the conduct of Job. Thus, impiety was said to consist in oppressing the fatherless and widow.
They drive away the donkey of the fatherless,
They take the widow's ox for a pledge.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Come now - This is addressed to the nation of Israel; and the same exhortation is made to all sinners. It is a solemn act on the part of God, submitting the claims and principles of his government to reason, on the supposition that men may see the propriety of his service, and of his plan.
Let us reason together - ונוכחה venivākechâh from יכח yâkach, not used in Kal, but in Hiphil; meaning to show, to prove. Job 13:15 : 'Surely I will prove my ways (righteous) before him;' that is, I will justify my ways before him. Also to correct, reprove, convince, Job 32:12; to rebuke, reproach, censure, Job 6:25; to punish, Job 5:17; Proverbs 3:12; to judge, decide, Isaiah 11:3; to do justice, Isaiah 11:4; or to contend, Job 13:3; Job 16:21; Job 22:4. Here it denotes the kind of contention, or argumentation, which occurs in a court of justice, where the parties reciprocally state the grounds of their cause. God had been addressing magistrates particularly, and commanding them to seek judgment, to relieve the oppressed, to do justice to the orphan and widow; all of which terms are taken from courts of law. He here continues the language, and addresses them as accustomed to the proceedings of courts, and proposes to submit the case as if on trial. He then proceeds Isaiah 1:18-20, to adduce the principles on which he is willing to bestow pardon on them; and submits the case to them, assured that those principles will commend themselves to their reason and sober judgment.
Though your sins be as scarlet - The word used here - שׁנים shānı̂ym - denotes properly a bright red color, much prized by the ancients. The Arabic verb means to shine, and the name was given to this color, it is supposed by some, on account of its splendor, or bright appearance. It is mentioned as a merit of Saul, that he clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet, 2 Samuel 1:24, Our word scarlet, denoting a bright red, expresses the color intended here. This color was obtained from the eggs of the coccus ilicis, a small insect found on the leaves of the oak in Spain, and in the countries east of the Mediterranean. The cotton cloth was dipped in this color twice; and the word used to express it means also double-dyed, from the verb שׁנה shânâh, to repeat. From this double-dying many critics have supposed that the name given to the color was derived. The interpretation which derives it from the sense of the Arabic word to shine, however, is the most probable, as there is no evidence that the double-dying was unique to this color. It was a more permanent color than that which is mentioned under the word crimson. White is an emblem of innocence. Of course sins would be represented by the opposite. Hence, we speak of crimes as black, or deep-dyed, and of the soul as stained by sin. There is another idea here. This was a fast, or fixed color. Neither dew, nor rain, nor washing, nor long usage, would remove it. Hence, it is used to represent the fixedness and permanency of sins in the heart. No human means will wash them out. No effort of man, no external rites, no tears, no sacrifices, no prayers, are of themselves sufficient to take them away. They are deep fixed in the heart, as the scarlet color was in the Web of cloth, and an almighty power is needful to remove them.
Shall be as white as snow - That is, the deep, fixed stain, which no human power could remove, shall be taken away. In other words, sin shall be pardoned, and the soul be made pure. White, in all ages, has been the emblem of innocence, or purity; compare Psalm 68:14; Ecclesiastes 9:8; Daniel 7:9; Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; Revelation 1:14; Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13.
Though they be red - The idea here is not materially different from that expressed in the former part of the verse. It is the Hebrew poetic form of expressing substantially the same thought in both parts of the sentence. Perhaps, also, it denotes intensity, by being repeated; see Introduction, 8.
Like crimson - כתולע katôlâ‛. The difference between scarlet and crimson is, that the former denotes a deep red; the latter a deco red slightly tinged with blue. Perhaps this difference, however, is not marked in the original. The purple or crimson color was obtained commonly from a shellfish, called murex, or purpura, which abounded chiefly in the sea, near Tyre; and hence, the Tyrian dye became so celebrated. That, however, which is designated in this place, was obtained, not from a shellfish, but a worm (Hebrew: תולע tôlâ‛, snail, or conchylium - the Helix Janthina of Linnaeus. This color was less permanent than the scarlet; was of a bluish east; and is commonly in the English Bible rendered blue. It was employed usually to dye wool, and was used in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the garments of the high priest. It was also in great demand by princes and great men, Judges 8:26; Luke 14:19. The prophet has adverted to the fact that it was employed mainly in dying wool, by what he has added, 'shall be as wool.'
As wool - That is, as wool undyed, or from which the color is removed. Though your sins appear as deep-stained, and as permanent as the fast color of crimson in wool, yet they shall be removed - as if that stain should be taken away from the wool, and it should be restored to its original whiteness.
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
If ye be willing - If you submit your wills, and become voluntary in your obedience to my law.
And obedient - Hebrew If you will hear; that is, my commands.
Ye shall eat ... - That is, the land shall yield its increase; and you shall be saved from pestilence, war, famine, etc. The productions of the soil shall no more be devoured by strangers, Isaiah 1:7; compare the notes at Isaiah 65:21-23. This was in accordance with the promises which God made to their fathers, and the motives to obedience placed before them, which were drawn from the fact, that they should possess a land of distinguished fertility, and that obedience should be attended with eminent national prosperity. Such an appeal was adapted to the infancy of society, and to the circumstances of the people. It should be added, however, that with this they connected the idea, that God would be their God and Protector; and, of course, the idea that all the blessings resulting from that fact would be theirs; Exodus 3:8 : 'And I am come down to deliver them out of the band of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey;' compare Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 28:1-9. In accordance with this, the language of promise in the New Testament is, that of inheriting the earth, that is, the land, Note, Matthew 5:5. The expression here means, that if they obeyed God they should be under his patronage, and be prospered. It refers, also, to Isaiah 1:7, where it is said, that strangers devoured the land. The promise here is, that if they were obedient, this calamity should be removed.
But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
But if ye refuse, ye shall be devoured with the sword - Your enemies shall come in, and lay waste the land. This prediction was fulfilled, in consequence of their continuing to rebel, when the land was desolated by Nebuchadnezzar, and the nation was carried captive to Babylon. It illustrates a general principle of the divine government, that if people persevere in rebelling against God, they shall be destroyed. The word devour is applied to the sword, as if it were insatiable for destruction. Whatever destroys may be figuratively said to devour; see the notes at Isaiah 34:5-6; compare Isaiah 5:24; Lamentations 2:3; Ezekiel 15:4; Joel 2:3; Revelation 11:5 - where fire is said to devour.
The mouth of the Lord - Yahweh Himself. This had been spoken by the mouth of the Lord, and recorded, Leviticus 26:33 :
And I will scatter you among the heathen,
And will draw out a sword after you;
And your land shall be desolate
And your cities waste.
On these points God proposed to reason; or rather, perhaps, these principles are regarded as reasonable, or as commending themselves to men. They are the great principles of the divine administration, that if people obey God they shall prosper; if not, they shall be punished. They commend themselves to people as just and true; and they are seen and illustrated every where.
How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
How is - This is an expression of deploring, or lamenting. It indicates that that had occurred which was matter of grief. The prophet had stated the principles of the divine government; had urged the people to reason with God; and had affirmed his willingness to pardon. But it was seen that they would not repent. They were so wicked and perverse, that there was no hope of their reformation. His mind is full of this subject; he repeats the charge of their wickedness Isaiah 1:21-23, and states what must be the consequences.
The faithful city - Jerusalem. It is represented here under the image of a wife - once faithful to her husband; once a devoted and attached partner. Jerusalem was thus once. In former days, it was the seat of the pure worship of God; the place where his praise was celebrated, and where his people came to offer sincere devotion. In the Scriptures, the church is often represented under the image of a wife, to denote the tenderness and sacredness of the union; Hosea 2:19-20; Isaiah 62:5; Isaiah 54:6; Revelation 21:9.
An harlot - She has proved to be false, treacherous, unfaithful. The unfaithfulness of the people of God, particularly their idolatry, is often represented under the idea of unfaithfulness to the marriage contract; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:32; Ezekiel 23:37; Joshua 2:2; Joshua 4:2.
It was full of judgement - It was distinguished for justice and righteousness.
Lodged in it - This is a figurative expression, meaning that it was characterized as a righteous city. The word ילין yālı̂yn is from לוּן lûn, to pass the night, to remain through the night Genesis 19:2; and then to lodge, to dwell; Psalm 25:13; Job 17:2; Job 29:19. In this place it has the sense of abiding, remaining, continuing permanently. Jerusalem was the home of justice, where it found protection and safety.
Now murderers - By murderers here are meant probably unjust judges; people who did not regard the interests of the poor, the widow, and the orphan; and who therefore, by a strong expression, are characterized as murderers. They had displaced justice from its home; and had become the permanent inhabitants of the city; compare the note at Isaiah 1:15.
Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
Thy silver - The sentiment in this verse, as it is explained by the following, is, thy princes and people have become corrupt, and polluted. Silver is used here to denote what should have been more valuable - virtuous princes.
Dross - This word - סיג sı̂g - means the scoriae, or baser metal, which is separated from the purer in smelting. It is of little or no value; and the expression means, that the rulers had become debased and corrupt, as if pure silver had been converted wholly to dross.
Thy wine - Wine was regarded as the most pure and valuable drink among the ancients. It is used, therefore, to express that which should have been most valued and esteemed among them - to wit, their rulers.
Mixed with water - Diluted, made weak. According to Gesenius, the word rendered "mixed" - מהוּל mâhûl - is from מהל mâhal, the same as מוּל mûl, to circumcise; and hence, by a figure common with the Arabians, to adulterate, or dilute wine. The word does not occur in this sense elsewhere in the Scriptures, but the connection evidently requires it to be so understood. Wine mixed with water is that which is weakened, diluted, rendered comparatively useless. So with the rulers and judges. They had lest the strength and purity of their integrity, by intermingling those things which tended to weaken and destroy their virtue, pride, the love of gifts, and bribes, etc. Divested of the figure, the passage means, that the rulers had become wholly corrupt.
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
Thy princes ... - This is an explanation of the previous verse. Princes mean here those attached to the royal family; those who by rank, or office, had an influence over the people.
Rebellious - Against God. The corruption of a nation commonly begins with the rulers.
Companions of thieves - That is, they connive at the doings of robbers; they do not bring them to justice; they are their accomplices, and are easily bribed to acquit them.
Every one loveth gifts - Every magistrate can be bribed.
Followeth afar rewards - רדף rodēph. This word denotes the act of pursuing after in order to obtain something; and means here that they made it an object to obtain rewards by selling or betraying justice They sell justice to the highest bidder. No more distressing condition of a people can be conceived than this, where justice could not be secured between man and man, and where the wicked could oppress the poor, the widow, and the orphan, as much as they pleased, because they knew they could bribe the judge.
They judge not - They do not render justice to; Isaiah 1:17. The Chaldee has well expressed the sense of a part of this verse: 'They say, each one to his neighbor, Favour me in my judgment, or do me good in it, and I will recompense you in your cause.'
The cause of the widow come unto them - Or, rather, come before them. They would not take up her cause, but rather the cause of those who were esteemed able to offer a bribe, and from whom a gift might be expected, if a decision was made in their favor.
Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
Therefore saith the Lord ... - The prophet having stated the guilt of the nation, proceeds to show the consequences of their crimes; or to foretell what would happen. The name of God is repeated, to attract attention; to fill the mind with awe; and to give emphasis to the solemn sentence which was about to be uttered.
The Lord - אדון 'âdôn. This word properly denotes master, lord, owner. Genesis 24:9 : "lord over his whole house." 1 Kings 16:24 : "owner of the hill Samaria." It is applied here to Yahweh, not as a special title, or as one of the names which he assumes to himself, but as owner, proprietor, master, ruler of the nation. The word, when applied to God as one of his special titles, has the form of an ancient plural termination, אדני 'ădonāy. The root is probably דוּן dôn, to judge, which in ancient times was also closely connected with the idea of ruling.
The Lord of hosts - Yahweh - ruling in the hosts of heaven, and therefore able to accomplish his threatenings; note, Isaiah 1:9.
The mighty One of Israel - He who had been their defender in the days of their peril; who had manifested his mighty power in overthrowing their enemies; and who had shown, therefore, that he was able to inflict vengeance on them.
Ah - הוי hôy. This is an expression of threatening. It is that which is used when an affront is offered, and there is a purpose of revenge; see Isaiah 1:4.
I will ease me - This refers to what is said in Isaiah 1:14, where God is represented as burdened with their crimes. The Hebrew word is, I will be consoled, or comforted - that is, by being delivered from my foes - אנחם 'enâchem from נחם nâcham, in Niphil, to suffer pain, to be grieved; and hence, to have pity, to show compassion. In Piel, to console or comfort one's-self; to take revenge. The idea included in the word is that of grief or distress, either in beholding the sufferings of others, or from some injury received from others. Hence, in Piel, it denotes to obtain relief from that distress, either by aiding the distressed object, or by taking revenge. In both instances, the mind, by a law of its nature, finds relief. The passion expends itself on its proper object, and the mind is at ease. It is used here in the latter sense. It is an instance where God uses the language which people employ to denote passion, and where they obtain relief by revenge. When applied to God, it is to be understood in accordance with his nature, as implying simply, that he would punish them; compare the note at Isaiah 1:13. It means that he had been pained and grieved by their crimes; his patience had been put to its utmost trial; and now he would seek relief from this by inflicting due punishment on them. An expression explaining this may be seen in Ezekiel 5:13; 'Then shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted.' Also, Deuteronomy 28:63 : 'As the Lord rejoiced over you, to do you good; so the Lord will rejoice over you, to destroy you.'
Mine adversaries - The enemies to his law and government among the rebellious Jews. The expression in this verse is a remarkable instance of God's adapting himself to our apprehension, by using our language. Instances occur often in the Scriptures where language expressive of human passions is applied to God; and as human language must be employed in revelation, it was indispensable. But those expressions are not to be understood as they are when applied to the passions of mankind. In God, they are consistent with all that is pure, and glorious, and holy, and should be so understood. The Chaldee renders this verse, 'I will console the city of Jerusalem; but woe to the impious, when I shall be revealed to take vengeance on the enemies of my people.' But this is manifestly a false interpretation; and shows how reluctant the Jews were to admit the threatenings against themselves.
And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
And I will turn my hand upon thee - This expression is capable of two significations. The hand may be stretched out for two purposes, either to inflict punishment, or to afford help and protection. The phrase here refers evidently to the latter, to the act of redeeming and restoring his people, Isaiah 1:26-27. The idea may be thus expressed: 'I will stretch out my hand to punish my enemies Isaiah 1:24, and will turn my hand upon thee for protection, and recovery.'
Purge away - This refers to the process of smelting, or purifying metals in the fire. It means, I will remove all the dross which has accumulated Isaiah 1:22, and will make the silver pure. This was commonly done by fire; and the idea is, that he would render his own people pure by those judgments which would destroy his enemies who were intermingled with them.
Purely - The original word here - כבר kabor - has been commonly understood to mean, according to purity; that is, effectually or entirely pure. Thus it is translated by the Septuagint, and by the Latin Vulgate. But by the Chaldee it is translated, 'I will purify thee as with the herb borith.' The word may mean lye, alkali, or potash, Job 9:30; and it may mean also borax - a substance formed of alkali and boracic acid, much used in purifying metals. The essential idea is, I will make you effectually, or entirely pure.
Thy tin - Tin is with us a well-known white metal. But the word used here does not mean tin. It denotes the stannum of the ancients; a metal formed of lead mixed with silver ore. Here it means, I will take away all the impure metal mixed with thee; varying the idea but little from the former part of the verse.
And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellers as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
And I will restore ... - That is, I will give you such judges as the nation had in former days - in the times of Moses, Joshua, etc. Most of the charges in this chapter are against the magistrates. The calamities of the nation are traced to their unfaithfulness and corruption, Isaiah 1:17-23. God now says that he will remove this cause of their calamity, and give them pure magistrates.
Thy counselors - Thy advisers; that is, those occupying places of trust and responsibility. When this should be, the prophet does not say. The Jewish commentators suppose that he refers to the time after the return from captivity, and to such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah; and to the times of Hyrcanus and Herod, Jerome supposes that the times of the Messiah are referred to. It is impossible to determine which is the correct opinion; though, as the Babylonian captivity was the punishment of those national sins which the prophet was denouncing, it is more probable that he refers to the time immediately succeeding that punishment, when the nation would be restored. I am inclined, therefore, to the opinion, that the prophet had reference solely to the prosperity of the Jewish nation, under a succession of comparatively virtuous princes, after the Babylonian captivity.
Thou shalt be called ... - The principal cause of your wickedness and calamity, that is, your unfaithful rulers being removed and punished, you shall afterward be distinguished as a city of righteousness.
The faithful city - That is, faithful to Yahweh - faithful in keeping his laws, and maintaining the rites of his religion as formerly; compare Isaiah 1:21.
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
Zion - See the note at Isaiah 1:8. The word Zion here is used to designate the whole Jewish people to whom the prophet had reference; that is, the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, Isaiah 1:1.
Shall be redeemed - The word used here - פדה pâdâh - is employed in two senses in the Scriptures. It implies always the idea of deliverance, as from captivity, danger, punishment, slavery, sin. But this idea occurs:
(1) sometimes without any reference to a price paid, but simply denoting to deliver, or to set at liberty; and
(2) in other instances the price is specified, and then the word occurs under the strict and proper sense of redeem; that is, to rescue, or deliver, by a ransom price.
Instances of the former general sense occur often; as e. q., to deliver from slavery without mere ion of a price; Deuteronomy 7:8 : 'The Loan loved you, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen.' See also Jeremiah 15:21; Jeremiah 31:11. The idea of delivering in any way from danger occurs often; Job 5:20 : 'In famine he shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword;' 1 Kings 1:29 : 'As Jehovah liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress.' 1 Samuel 4:9. But the word often occurs in connection with the mention of the price, and in this sense the words rendered redeem are commonly used in the New Testament; see Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15-17; compare Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9; Ephesians 1:17. Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6. In these last places, the blood of Christ, or his atoning sacrifice, is mentioned as the price, or the valuable consideration, by which deliverance from sin is effected; compare the note at Isaiah 43:3. In the case now before us, however, the word is used in the general sense, to denote that God would rescue and save his people from the calamities and judgments to which they were to be subjected on account of their sins. Though they were to be taken captive for their sins, yet they should again be delivered and restored to their land. The Septuagint evidently so understands it: 'Her captivity shall be saved with judgment and with mercy.' The Chaldee Paraphrase renders it in a manner somewhat similar: 'But Zion, when judgment shall have been accomplished in her, shall be redeemed; and they who keep the law shall be returned to it in righteousness.'
With judgment - In a righteous, just manner. That is, God shall evince his justice in doing it; his justice to a people to whom so many promises had been made, and his justice in delivering them from long and grievous oppression. All this would be attended with the displays of judgment, in effecting their deliverance. This might be evinced
(1) in keeping his promises made to their fathers;
(2) in delivering an oppressed people from bondage; and
(3) in the displays of judgment on the nations necessary in accomplishing the deliverance of the Jews. This is the common interpretation.
It may be, however, that the expression does not refer to the character of God, which is not at all the subject of discourse, but to the character of the people that should be redeemed. Before, the nation was corrupt; after the captivity, they would be just. Zion should be redeemed; and the effect of that redemption would be, that the people would be reformed, and holy, and just. This does not refer, properly, to redemption by the Lord Jesus, though it is equally true that that will be accomplished with justice, that is, in entire consistency with the character of a just and holy God.
Her converts - This is an unhappy translation. The Hebrew here means simply, 'they that return of her' (margin); that is, those who return from captivity. It is implied that all would not return - which was true - but those who did return, would come back in righteousness.
With righteousness - This refers to the character of those who shall return. The prediction is, that the character of the nation would be reformed Isaiah 1:26; that it would be done by means of this very captivity; and that they who returned would come back with a different character from the nation at the time that Isaiah wrote. They would be a reformed, righteous people. The character of the nation was greatly improved after the captivity. Their propensity to idolatry, in a particular manner, was effectually restrained; and probably the character of the people after the captivity, for morals and religion, was not inferior to the best periods of their history before.
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
And the destruction - Hebrew שׁבר sheber - the breaking, or crushing, that is, the punishment which was about to come upon them; compare Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 3:47; Proverbs 16:18.
Of the transgressors - "Revolters," or those that rebel against God.
And of the sinners - Of all the sinners in the nation, of all kinds and degrees.
Together - At the same time with the redemption of Zion.
Shall be consumed - יכלוּ yı̂kelû, from כלה kâlâh, to be completed, or finished; to be consumed, wasted away; to vanish, or disappear. It denotes complete and entire extinction; or the completing of anything. It is applied to a cloud of smoke, that entirely dissolves and disappears:
As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away:
So he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more,
For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
For they shall be ashamed - That is, when they see the punishment that their idolatry has brought upon them, they shall be ashamed of the folly and degradation of their worship. Moreover, the gods in which they trusted shall yield them no protection, and shall leave them to the disgrace and confusion of being forsaken and abandoned.
Of the oaks - Groves, in ancient times, were the favorite places of idolatrous worship. In the city of Rome, there were thirty-two groves consecrated to the gods. Those were commonly selected which were on hills, or high places; and they were usually furnished with temples, altars, and all the implements of idolatrous worship. Different kinds of groves were selected for this purpose, by different people. The Druids of the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany, offered their worship in groves of oak - hence the name Druid, derived from δρῦς drus, an oak. Frequent mention is made in the Scriptures of groves and high places; and the Jews were forbidden to erect them; Deuteronomy 16:21; 1 Kings 16:23; 2 Kings 16:4; Ezekiel 6:13; Ezekiel 16:16, Ezekiel 16:39; Exodus 34:13; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 18:19; Isaiah 17:8; Micah 5:14. When, therefore, it is said here, that they should be ashamed of the oaks, it means that they should be ashamed of their idolatrous worship, to which they were much addicted, and into which, under their wicked kings, they easily fell.
Their calamities were coming upon them mainly for this idolatry. It is not certainly known what species of tree is intended by the word translated oaks. The Septuagint has rendered it by the word "idols" - ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων αὐτῶν apo tōn eidōlōn autōn. The Chaldee, 'ye shall be confounded by the groves of idols.' The Syriac version also has idols. Most critics concur in supposing that it means, not the oak, but the terebinth or turpentine tree - a species of fir. This tree is the Pistacia Terebinthus of Linnaeus, or the common turpentine tree, whose resin or juice is the China or Cyprus turpentine, used in medicine. The tree grows to a great age, and is common in Palestine. The terebinth - now called in Palestine the but'm-tree - 'is not an evergreen, as is often represented; but its small, leathered, lancet-shaped leaves fall in the autumn, and are renewed in the spring.
The flowers are small, and are followed by small oval berries, hanging in clusters from two to five inches long, resembling much the clusters of the vine when the grapes are just set. From incisions in the trunk there is said to flow a sort of transparent balsam, constituting a very pure and fine species of turpentine, with an agreeable odor like citron or jessamine, and a mild taste, and hardening gradually into a transparent gum. The tree is found also in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, the south of France, and in the north of Africa, and is described as not usually rising to the height of more than twenty feet.' Robinson's Bib. Researches, iii. 15, 16. It produces the nuts called the pistachio nuts. They have a pleasant, unctuous taste, resembling that of almonds, and they yield in abundance a sweet and pleasant oil. The best Venice turpentine, which, when it can be obtained pure, is superior to all the rest of its kind, is the produce of this tree. The picture in the book will give you an idea of the appearance of the terebinth. The Hebrew word אילים 'ēylı̂ym, from איל 'eyl, or more commonly אלה 'ēlâh, seems to be used sometimes as the Greek δρῦς drus is, to denote any large tree, whether evergreen or not; and especially any large tree, or cluster of trees, where the worship of idols was celebrated.
Which ye have desired - The Jews, until the captivity at Babylon, as all their history shows, easily relapsed into idolatry. The meaning of the prophet is, that the punishment at Babylon would be so long and so severe as to make them ashamed of this, and turn them from it.
Shall be confounded - Another word meaning to be ashamed.
For the gardens - The places planted with trees, etc., in which idolatrous worship was practiced. 'In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants and trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. The idea of such an enclosure was certainly borrowed from the garden of Eden, which the bountiful Creator planted for the reception of his favorite creature. The garden of Hesperides, in Eastern fables, was protected by an enormous serpent; and the gardens of Adonis, among the Greeks, may be traced to the same origin, for the terms horti Adenides, the gardens of Adonis, were used by the ancients to signify gardens of pleasure, which corresponds with the name of Paradise, or the garden of Eden, as horti Adonis answers to the garden of the Lord. Besides, the gardens of primitive nations were commonly, if not in every instance, devoted to religious purposes. In these shady retreats were celebrated, for a long succession of ages, the rites of pagan superstition.' - Paxton. These groves or gardens were furnished with the temple of the god that was worshipped, and with altars, and with everything necessary for this species of worship. They were usually, also, made as shady and dark as possible, to inspire the worshippers with religious awe and reverence on their entrance; compare the note at Isaiah 66:17.
For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
For ye ... - The mention of the tree in the previous verse, gives the prophet occasion for the beautiful image in this. They had desired the oak, and they should be like it. That, when the frost came, was divested of its beauty, and its leaves faded, and fell; so should their beauty and privileges and happiness, as a people, fade away at the anger of God.
A garden that hath no water - That is therefore withered and parched up; where nothing would flourish, but where all would be desolation - a most striking image of the approaching desolation of the Jewish nation. In Eastern countries this image would be more striking than with us. In these hot regions, a constant supply of water is necessary for the cultivation, and even for the very existence and preservation of a garden. Should it lack water for a few days, everything in it would be burned up with neat and totally destroyed. In all gardens, therefore, in those regions; there must be a constant supply of water, either from some neighboring river, or from some fountain or reservoir within it. To secure such a fountain became an object of indispensable importance, not only for the coolness and pleasantness of the garden, but for the very existence of the vegetation. Dr. Russell, in his Natural History of Aleppo, says, that 'all the gardens of Aleppo are on the banks of the river that runs by that city, or on the sides of the rill that supplies their aqueduct;' and all the rest of the country he represents as perfectly burned up in the summer months, the gardens only retaining their verdure, on account of the moistness of their situation.
And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.
And the strong - Those who have been thought to be strong, on whom the people relied for protection and defense - their rulers, princes, and the commanders of their armies.
As tow - The coarse or broken part of flax, or hemp. It means here that which shall be easily and quickly kindled and rapidly consumed. As tow burns and is destroyed at the touch of fire, so shall the rulers of the people be consumed by the approaching calamities.
And the maker of it - This is an unhappy translation. The word פעלו po‛ălô may be indeed a participle, and be rendered 'its maker,' but it is more commonly a noun, and means his work, or his action. This is its plain meaning here. So the Latin Vulgate, the Septuagint, and the Chaldee. It means, that as a spark enkindles tow, so the works or deeds of a wicked nation shall be the occasion or cause of their destruction. The ambition of one man is the cause of his ruin; the sensuality of a second is the cause of his; the avarice of a third is the cause of his. These passions, insatiable and ungratified, shall be the occasion of the deep and eternal sorrows of hell. So it means here, that the crimes and hypocrisy of the nation would be the real cause of all the calamities that would come upon them as a people.
Shall both burn together - The spark and the flame from the kindled flax mingle, and make one fire. So the people and their works would be enkindled and destroyed together. They would burn so rapidly, that nothing could extinguish them. The meaning is, that the nation would be punished; and that all their works of idolatry and monuments of sin would be the occasion of their punishment, and would perish at the same time. The "principle" involved in this passage teaches us the following things:
(1) That the wicked, however mighty, shall be destroyed.
(2) That their works will be the "cause" of their ruin - a cause necessarily leading to it.
(3) That the works of the wicked - all that they do and all on which they depend - shall be destroyed.
(4) That this destruction shall be final. Nothing shall stay the flame. No tears of penitence, no power of men or devils, shall "put out" the fires which the works of the wicked shall enkindle.