Isaiah 14:23
I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water: and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, said the LORD of hosts.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) I will also make it a possession for the bittern . . .—Naturalists are not agreed as to the meaning of the noun. In the LXX. and Vulgate it appears as “hedgehog,” or “porcupine,” and the “tortoise,” “beaver,” “otter,” and “owl” have all been suggested by scholars. Its conjunction with “pelican in Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14, and with” pools of water “here, is in favour of some kind of water-fowl. The “hedgehog” frequents dry places, and not marshes, and does not roost, as in Zephaniah 2:14, on the capitals of ruined columns. On the whole, therefore, “bittern” (Botaurus stellaris) may as well stand.

Pools of water.—These were the natural result of the breaking up of the canals, sluices, reservoirs, which had kept the overflow of the Euphrates within bounds (Diod. Sic., ii. 7).

I will sweep it with the besom of destruction . . .—The phrase has its parallel in the “sieve of vanity,” in Isaiah 30:28. (Comp. Isaiah 34:11) The force of the image must not be lost sight of Babylon is to be swept away as men sweep away some foul rubbish from their house. The world is cleaner for its destruction. The solemn doom closes the “burden” of Babylon.

14:1-23 The whole plan of Divine Providence is arranged with a view to the good of the people of God. A settlement in the land of promise is of God's mercy. Let the church receive those whom God receives. God's people, wherever their lot is cast, should endeavour to recommend religion by a right and winning conversation. Those that would not be reconciled to them, should be humbled by them. This may be applied to the success of the gospel, when those were brought to obey it who had opposed it. God himself undertakes to work a blessed change. They shall have rest from their sorrow and fear, the sense of their present burdens, and the dread of worse. Babylon abounded in riches. The king of Babylon having the absolute command of so much wealth, by the help of it ruled the nations. This refers especially to the people of the Jews; and it filled up the measure of the king of Babylon's sins. Tyrants sacrifice their true interest to their lusts and passions. It is gracious ambition to covet to be like the Most Holy, for he has said, Be ye holy, for I am holy; but it is sinful ambition to aim to be like the Most High, for he has said, He who exalts himself shall be abased. The devil thus drew our first parents to sin. Utter ruin should be brought upon him. Those that will not cease to sin, God will make to cease. He should be slain, and go down to the grave; this is the common fate of tyrants. True glory, that is, true grace, will go up with the soul to heaven, but vain pomp will go down with the body to the grave; there is an end of it. To be denied burial, if for righteousness' sake, may be rejoiced in, Mt 5:12. But if the just punishment of sin, it denotes that impenitent sinners shall rise to everlasting shame and contempt. Many triumphs should be in his fall. God will reckon with those that disturb the peace of mankind. The receiving the king of Babylon into the regions of the dead, shows there is a world of spirits, to which the souls of men remove at death. And that souls have converse with each other, though we have none with them; and that death and hell will be death and hell indeed, to all who fall unholy, from the height of this world's pomps, and the fulness of its pleasures. Learn from all this, that the seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned. The royal city is to be ruined and forsaken. Thus the utter destruction of the New Testament Babylon is illustrated, Re 18:2. When a people will not be made clean with the besom of reformation, what can they expect but to be swept off the face of the earth with the besom of destruction?I will also make it a possession for the bittern - The word 'bittern,' in English, means a bird with long legs and neck, that stalks among reeds and sedge, feeding upon fish. The Hebrew word (קפד qı̂ppod), occurs but five times Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14. According to Bochart and Gesenius, it means the hedgehog. It has been variously rendered. Some have supposed it to be a land animal; some an aquatic animal; and most have regarded it as a fowl. Bochart has proved that the hedgehog or porcupine is found on the shores of the Euphrates. He translates this place, 'I will place Babylon for an habitation of the porcupine, even the pools of water;' that is, the pools that are round about Babylon shall become so dry that porcupines may dwell there (see Bochart, "Hieroz." iii. 36. pp. 1036-1042).

And pools of water - Bochart supposes this means, even the pools of water shall become dry. But the common interpretation is to be preferred, that Babylon itself should become filled with pools of water. This was done by Cyrus' directing the waters of the Euphrates from their channel when the city was taken, and by the fact that the waters never returned again to their natural bed, so that the region was overflowed with water (see the notes at Isaiah 13.)

And I will sweep it with the besom of destruction - A besom is a broom; and the sense here is, that God would entirely destroy Babylon, and render it wholly uninbabitable.

23. bittern—rather, "the hedgehog" [Maurer and Gesenius]. Strabo (16:1) states that enormous hedgehogs were found in the islands of the Euphrates.

pools—owing to Cyrus turning the waters of the Euphrates over the country.

besom—sweep-net [Maurer], (1Ki 14:10; 2Ki 21:13).

The bittern; a great water fowl, which thrusting its bill into some broken reed, or hollow thing, makes a great noise; which also delights in solitary places, as also in waterish grounds, such as those were about Babylon. Others render the word hedge-hog, or porcupine; but this being not considerable in itself, nor at all necessary for the clearing of the text, I shall not trouble the English reader with any discourse about it; and the learned may consult my Latin Synopsis.

Pools of water: the ground about Babylon was of itself very moist and waterish, because of the great river Euphrates running by it, which was kept from overflowing the country with charge and labour; which being neglected, as it must needs be when the city was destroyed and dispeopled, it was easily turned into pools of water. I will also make it a possession for the bittern,.... Instead of being possessed by any of the family of the king of Babylon. The "bittern" is a kind of water fowl, which, by putting its bill into mire, or a broken reed, is said to make a most horrible noise. Some think the "owl" is meant, which dwells in desolate and ruinous places; and others take it to be the "ospray", a sort of eagle that preys upon fish and ducks; according to Kimchi, the "tortoise" is meant; some will have it that the "beaver" or castor is intended; Jarchi understands it of the porcupine or "hedgehog"; and in the Arabic language this creature is called "kunphud", which is pretty near the Hebrew word "kippod", here used; to which Bochartus agrees; but, whatever creature is meant, the design is to show that Babylon should not be inhabited by men, but by birds or beasts of prey, or noxious animals; and so mystical Babylon is said to be a cage of every unclean and hateful bird, Revelation 18:2,

and pools of water; Babylon being situated in a marshy ground, and by the river Euphrates; and when that river was turned by Cyrus (i), and afterwards its banks neglected, in course of time the water overflowed the place where the city was, and all about it, and so easily came to be what is here predicted it should; see Revelation 18:21,

and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the Lord of hosts; and so clear it at once of all its inhabitants, wealth, and riches, and entirely remove its large walls and stately buildings, no more to be seen, just as a house is swept clean of all its dust; intimating, that this superb city, and all belonging to it, should be reduced to dust, and be as easily swept away as dust is with a besom. The word for "sweep", and a "besom", is only used in this place, and has this signification in the Arabic language; it is said in the Talmud (k), that the Rabbins knew not the meaning of this word, till they heard an Arabian girl say to her fellow servant,

"take this besom, and sweep the house.''

expressing the word here used.

(i) Xenophon. Cyropaedia, l. 7. c. 23. (k) Roshhashana, fol. 26. 2. Megilla, fol. 18. 1.

I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water: and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. the bittern] (ch. Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14). Usually rendered “hedgehog” (R.V. porcupine) in accordance with the LXX. and Vulg. and the analogy of Arabic. The bittern certainly suits the scene best, and it is said to have the hedgehog’s trick of rolling itself up into an unrecognisable mass. (Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 243.)

pools of water] marshes, caused by the overflow of the Euphrates when the dykes and canals were no longer kept in repair.Verse 23. - A possession for the bittern. Some water-bird or other is probably intended, since the word used is joined in Isaiah 36:11 with the names of three other birds, and is also certainly a bird's name in Zephaniah 2:14; but the identification with the "bittern" is a mere guess, and rests on no authority. And pools of water. The swampy character of the country about the ruins of Babylon is generally noticed by travelers. It arises from neglect of the dams along the course of the Euphrates. Ker Porter says that "large deposits of the Euphrates water are left stagnant in the hollows between the ruins" ('Travels,' vol. 2. p. 389). The prophet then continues in the language of prediction. "They that see thee look, considering thee, look at thee thoughtfully: Is this the man that set the earth trembling, and kingdoms shaking? that made the world a wilderness, and destroyed its cities, and did not release its prisoners (to their) home?" The scene is no longer in Hades (Knobel, Umbreit). Those who are speaking thus have no longer the Chaldean before them as a mere shade, but as an unburied corpse that has fallen into corruption. As tēbēl is feminine, the suffixes in Isaiah 14:17 must refer, according to a constructio ad sensum, to the world as changed into a wilderness (midbâr). Pâthach, to open, namely locks and fetters; here, with baithâh, it is equivalent to releasing or letting go (syn. shillēach, Jeremiah 50:33). By the "prisoners" the Jewish exiles are principally intended; and it was their release that had never entered the mind of the king of Babylon.
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