Isaiah 17:10
Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the rock of your strength, therefore shall you plant pleasant plants, and shall set it with strange slips:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(10) Hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength.—Jehovah, as the true defence, the fortress rock of His people (Deuteronomy 32:4), is contrasted with the rock-fortresses in which the people had put their trust. They had forsaken the One, and therefore, by a just retribution, the others should be forsaken.

Therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants.—Better, thou didst plant. The word for “pleasant” is found here only as a common noun. The singular appears as a proper name in Genesis 46:21, Numbers 26:40, and in the more familiar instance of Naaman the Syrian (2Kings 5:1). It would appear that the prophet chose the peculiar term to indicate the foreign, in this case the Syrian, character of the worship to which he refers as the “plant” which Israel had adopted. Mr. Cheyne, following an ingenious suggestion of Lagarde’s, connects it (1) with the Arabic Nahr No’man, the name of the river Belus near Acre, and (2) with the Arabic name (Shakaiku-’n-nomân) for the red anemone. The former was near the head-quarters of the worship of Thammuz, the Phœnician Adonis, and the flower was sacred to him, and so it is inferred that the prophet refers to “the gardens of Adonis,” fair but perishable (Plato, Phœdr. p. 276 B), in which Israel had delighted (Ezekiel 8:14). The addition of “strange slips,” literally, vine-slips of a strange one—i.e., of a strange god (comp. Jeremiah 2:21)—confirms at least the general drift of this interpretation.

Isaiah

THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE

Isaiah 17:10 - Isaiah 17:11
.

The original application of these words is to Judah’s alliance with Damascus, which Isaiah was dead against. He saw that it would only precipitate the Assyrian invasion, as in fact it did. Judah had forsaken God, and because they had done so, they had gone to seek for themselves delights-alliance with Damascus. The image of planting a garden of pleasures, and ‘vine slips of a stranger’ refers to sensuous idolatry as well as to the entangling alliance. Then follows a contemptuous description of the rapid growth of this alliance and of the care with which Israel cultivated it. ‘In a day thou makest thy plant to grow’ {or fencest it}, and next morning it was in blossom, so sedulously had they nursed and fostered it. Then comes the smiting contrast of what it was all for-’A harvest heap in the day of sickness and incurable pain.’

Now we may take this in a more general way as containing large truths which affect the life of every one of us.

I. The Sin of a Godless Life.

{a} Notice the Sin charged. It is merely negative-forgettest. There is no charge of positive hostility or of any overt act. This forgetfulness is most natural and easy to be fallen into. The constant pressure of the world. It indicates alienation of heart from God.

It is most common among us, far more so than active infidelity, far more so than gross sin, far more so than conscious hostility.

{b} The implied Criminality of it. He is the ‘Rock of thy strength’ and the ‘God of thy salvation.’ Rock is the grand Old Testament name of God, expressing in a pregnant metaphor both what He is in Himself and what in relation to those who trust Him. It speaks of stability, elevation, massiveness, and of defence and security. The parallel title sets Him forth as the Giver of salvation; and both names set in clear light the sinful ingratitude of forgetting God, and force home the question: ‘Do ye thus requite the Lord, oh foolish people and unwise?’

{c} The implied Absurdity of it. What a contrast between the safe ‘munitions of rocks’ and the unsheltered security of these Damascene gardens! What fools to leave the heights and come down into the plain! Think of the contrast between the sufficiency of God and the emptiness of the substitutes. Forgetfulness of Him and preference of creatures cannot be put into language which does not convict it of absurdity.

II. The Busy Effort and Apparent Success of a Godless Life.

{a} If a man loses his hold on God and has not Him to stay himself on, he is driven to painful efforts to make up the loss. God is needed by every soul. If the soul is not satisfied in Him, then there are hungry desires. This is the explanation of the feverish activity of much of our life.

{b} Such work is far harder than the work of serving God. It takes a great deal of toil to make that garden grow. The world is a hard taskmaster. God’s service is easy. He sets us in Eden to till and dress it, but when we forget Him, the ground is cursed, and bears thorns and thistles, and sweat drips from our brows.

Men take more pains to damn themselves than to save themselves. There is nothing more wearying than the pursuit of pleasure. ‘Pleasant plants’-that is a hopeless kind of gardening. There is nothing more degrading.

‘Ye lust and desire to have,’-what a contrast is in, Ask and have! We might live even as the lilies or the ravens, or with only this difference, that we laboured, but were as uncaring and as peaceful as they.

God is given. The world has to be bought. Its terms are ‘Nothing for nothing.’

{c} Such work has sometimes quick, present success.

‘In the day.’ It is hard for men to labour towards far-off unseen good. We like to have what will grow up in a night, like Jonah’s gourd. So these present satisfactions in a worldly life appeal to worldly, sensuous natures. And it is hard to set over against these a plant which grows slowly, and only bears fruit in the next world.

III. The End of it all.

‘A harvest heap in the day of grief.’ This clearly points on to a solemn ending-the day of judgment.

{a} How poor the fruit will he that a God-forgetting man will take out of life! There is but one heap from all the long struggle. He has ‘sowed much and brought home little.’ What shall we take with us out of our busy years as their net result? A very small sack will be large enough to hold the harvest that many of us have reaped.

{b} All this God-forgetting life of pleasure-seeking and idolatry is bringing on a terrible, inevitable consummation.

‘Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.’

No doubt there is often a harvest of grief and desperate sorrow springing, even in this life, from forgetting God. For it is only they who set their hopes on Him that are never disappointed, and only they who have chosen Him for their portion who can always say, ‘I have a goodly heritage.’ But the real harvest is not reaped till death has separated the time of sowing from that of ingathering. The sower shall reap; i.e. every man shall inherit the consequences of his deeds. ‘They that have planted it shall eat it.’

{c} That harvest home will be a day of sadness to some. These are terrible words-’grief and desperate sorrow,’ or ‘pain and incurable sickness.’ We dare not dilate on this. But if we trust in Christ and sow to the Spirit, we shall then ‘rejoice before God as with the joy of harvest,’ and ‘return with joy, bringing our sheaves with us.’Isaiah 17:10-11. Because thou, O Israel, hast forgotten the God of thy salvation — That God, who was thy only sure defence; therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants — Fetched from far countries, and therefore highly esteemed. The sense is, Thou shalt use much industry and cost, but to no purpose, as it follows. In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, &c. — Beginning early in the morning, thou shalt, from day to day, use all care and diligence, that what thou hast planted and sown may thrive; but the harvest shall be a heap, &c. — But in the time of your grief, or when this grievous calamity shall come, all your harvest shall be but one heap, very inconsiderable in itself, and easily carried away by your enemies: in other words, “when thou expectest to reap the fruit of thy labours, thou shalt find nothing but loss and disappointment.” — Lowth. See the margin, where the day of inheritance means the time of enjoying any thing which we have taken pains for.17:1-11 Sin desolates cities. It is strange that great conquerors should take pride in being enemies to mankind; but it is better that flocks should lie down there, than that they should harbour any in open rebellion against God and holiness. The strong holds of Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes, will be brought to ruin. Those who are partakers in sin, are justly made partakers in ruin. The people had, by sins, made themselves ripe for ruin; and their glory was as quickly cut down and taken away by the enemy, as the corn is out of the field by the husbandman. Mercy is reserved in the midst of judgment, for a remnant. But very few shall be marked to be saved. Only here and there one was left behind. But they shall be a remnant made holy. The few that are saved were awakened to return to God. They shall acknowledge his hand in all events; they shall give him the glory due to his name. To bring us to this, is the design of his providence, as he is our Maker; and the work of his grace, as he is the Holy One of Israel. They shall look off from their idols, the creatures of their own fancy. We have reason to account those afflictions happy, which part between us and our sins. The God of our salvation is the Rock of our strength; and our forgetfulness and unmindfulness of him are at the bottom of all sin. The pleasant plants, and shoots from a foreign soil, are expressions for strange and idolatrous worship, and the vile practices connected therewith. Diligence would be used to promote the growth of these strange slips, but all in vain. See the evil and danger of sin, and its certain consequences.Because thou ... - Because the kingdom of Israel or Samaria had done it.

The God of thy salvation - The God in whom alone was salvation; or who alone could protect thee (compare Micah 7:7; Hosea 2:15).

The rock of thy strength - God. A rock of strength is a strongly fortified place; or a rock which an enemy could not successfully assail. High rocks were selected as a place of refuge from an invading foe (see the notes at Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:21). In allusion to this, God is often called "a Rock," and a strong tower Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30-31, Deuteronomy 32:37; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2-3, 2 Samuel 22:32; Psalm 18:31, Psalm 18:46; Psalm 19:14; Psalm 28:1; Psalm 30:1-2.

Shalt thou plant pleasant plants - Plants that are suited to produce pleasure or delight; that is, you shall cultivate your fields, and set them out with choice vines and plants in hope of a future harvest, but you shall be disappointed.

And shall set it with strange slips - The word 'slips' means the "cuttings" of the vine that are set in the ground to grow; or the shoot or sucker that is taken off and "set out," or put in the earth to take root and grow, as is often done by farmers and gardeners. The word 'strange' here means "foreign," those which are procured from a distance, and which are, therefore, esteemed valuable; plants selected with care. This does not mean, as Lowth supposes, strange and idolatrous worship, and the vicious practices connected with it; but it means that, though they should be at great pains and expense in cultivating their land, yet the enemy would come in and make it desolate.

10. forgotten … God of … salvation … rock—(De 32:15, 18).

plants—rather, "nursery grounds," "pleasure-grounds" [Maurer].

set in—rather, "set them," the pleasure-grounds.

strange slips—cuttings of plants from far, and therefore valuable.

Thou, O Israel. The Rock of thy strength; that God Who was thy only sure defence.

Pleasant plants; excellent flowers and fruit trees.

Strange slips; fetched from far countries. and therefore highly esteemed. The sense is, Thou shalt use much industry and cost, but to no purpose, as it follows. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation,.... Who had been the author of salvation to them many a time, in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in various instances since; and yet they had forgot his works of mercy and goodness, and had left his worship, and gone after idols; and this was the cause of their cities being forsaken, and becoming a desolation:

and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength; or strong Rock, who had supplied and supported them, protected and defended them:

therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants; or "plants of pleasant fruit" (s), or "plants of Naamanim"; and so Aben Ezra takes it to be the proper name of a plant in the Arabic language, and which he says is a plant that grows very quick; perhaps he means "Anemone", which is so called in that language (t), and is near to it in sound; though rather, not any particular plant is meant, but all sorts of pleasant plants, flowers, and fruit trees, with which the land of Israel abounded:

and shall set it with strange slips; with foreign ones, such as are brought from other countries, and are scarce and dear, and highly valued; and by "plants" and "slips" may be meant false and foreign doctrines, inculcating idolatry and superstition, which are pleasing to the flesh (u).

(s) "plantas amaenorum fructuum", Piscator. (t) Alnaaman "Anemone", in Avicenna, l. 256. 1. "vel a colore sanguineo, vel quod ab illo adamaretur rege", Golius, col. 2409. Castel. col. 2346. (u) So Vitringa.

Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with foreign {m} slips:

(m) Which are excellent and brought out of other countries.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
10. God of thy salvation] The only occasion on which this important term (Heb. yesha‘) is used by Isaiah, although it forms an element of his own name.

rock of thy strength] A very frequent name of God, cf. ch. Isaiah 30:29, Isaiah 44:8 (R.V.); Deuteronomy 32. (passim); Psalm 19:14; Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:2-3, &c.

shalt thou plant pleasant plants] R.V. marg. gives thou plantest plantings of Adonis. The supposed reference is to the Adonis-gardens mentioned by Greek writers (see Plato, Phaedrus 276). They were “pots of quickly withering flowers which the ancients used to set at their doors or in the courts of temples.” It cannot be denied that such an allusion furnishes the most striking image conceivable of the futility of all human projects which (like the Syro-Ephraimitish alliance) are not grounded in the eternal moral purpose of Jehovah. The question is whether it is a fair interpretation of the text. Now, there are a number of scattered proofs, slight but very interesting, that the Syrian deity known to the Greeks as Adonis, actually bore the name here rendered “pleasantness” (Na‘ǎmân). It has been suggested, e.g. that the anemone, the flower sacred to Adonis, derives its name from this title of the god; and in Arabic the red anemone is called by a name which is explained to mean “wounds of Adonis.” For other arguments see Cheyne’s Comm. and the references there. Adonis being a Syrian deity, his worship in Israel was a necessary consequence of the alliance with Damascus. His worship was practised chiefly by women, Ezekiel 8:14. The rendering may at least be accepted as giving significance to a metaphor which is otherwise somewhat colourless.

set it with strange slips] or, plant it with vine-branches of a strange (god); see Numbers 13:23; Nahum 2:2.Verse 10. - Because thou hast forgotten; rather, because thou didst forget. The late repentance of a "remnant" which "looked to their Maker" (ver. 7) could not cancel the long catalogue of former sins (2 Kings 17:8-17), foremost among which was their rejection of God, or, at any rate, their complete forgetfulness of his claims upon them. The Rock of thy strength. God is first called "a Rock" in Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31. The image is caught up by the psalmists (2 Samuel 22:2, 32, 47; 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalm 16:1, 2, 31, 46; 19:14; 28:1, etc.), and from them passes to Isaiah (see, besides the present passage, Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 30:29; and Isaiah 44:8). Among the later prophets only Habakkuk uses it (Habakkuk 1:12). Israel, instead of looking to this "Rock," had looked to their rock-fortresses (ver. 9). Therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants; rather, dost thou plant, or hast thou planted. Forgetfulness of Jehovah has led to the adoption of a voluptuous religion - one of debased foreign rites. There is possibly, as Mr. Cheyne thinks, a special reference to the cult of Adonis. Shall set it; rather, settest it, or hast set it. "It" must refer to "field" or "garden" understood. The later Israelite religion has been a sort of pleasant garden, planted with exotic slips from various quarters - Phoenicia, Syria, Moab, etc. It has been thought permissible to introduce into it any new cult that took the fancy. Hence the multiplication of altars complained of by Hosea (Hosea 8:11; Hosea 10:1; Hosea 12:11). Second turn: "And it comes to pass in that day, the glory of Jacob wastes away, and the fat of his flesh grows thin. And it will be as when a reaper grasps the stalks of wheat, and his arm mows off the ears; and it will be as with one who gathers together ears in the valley of Rephaim. Yet a gleaning remains from it, as at the olive-beating: two, three berries high up at the top; four, five in its, the fruit tree's, branches, saith Jehovah the God of Israel. At that day will man look up to his Creator, and his eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel. And he will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; and what his fingers have made he will not regard, neither the Astartes nor the sun-gods." This second turn does not speak of Damascus, but simply of Israel, and in fact of all Israel, the range of vision widening out from Israel in the more restricted sense, so as to embrace the whole. It will all disappear, with the exception of a small remnant; but the latter will return. Thus "a remnant will return," the law of Israel's history, which is here shown first of all in its threatening aspect, and then in its more promising one. The reputation and prosperity to which the two kingdoms were raised by Jeroboam II and Uzziah would pass away. Israel was ripe for judgment, like a field of corn for the harvest; and it would be as when a reaper grasps the stalks that have shot up, and cuts off the ears. קציר is not used elliptically for קציר אישׁ (Gesenius), nor is it a definition of time (Luzzatto), nor an accusative of the object (Knobel), but a noun formed like נביא, פליל, פריץ, and used in the sense of reaper (kōtzēr in other cases).

(Note: Instead of kâtzar (to cut off, or shorten), they now say kâratz in the whole of the land to the east of the Jordan, which gives the idea of sawing off - a much more suitable one where the Syrian sickle is used.)

The figure suggested here is more fully expanded in John 4 and Revelation 14. Hardly a single one will escape the judgment: just as in the broad plain of Rephaim, which slopes off to the south-west of Jerusalem as far as Bethlehem, where it is covered with rich fields of wheat, the collectors of ears leave only one or two ears lying scattered here and there.

Nevertheless a gleaning of Israel ("in it," viz., in Jacob, Isaiah 17:4; Isaiah 10:22) will be left, just as when the branches of the olive tree, which have been already cleared with the hand, are still further shaken with a stick, there still remain a few olives upon the highest branch (two, three; cf., 2 Kings 9:32), or concealed under the foliage of the branches. "Its, the fruit tree's, branches:" this is an elegant expression, as, for example, in Proverbs 14:13; the carrying over of the ה to the second word is very natural in both passages (see Ges. 121, b). This small remnant will turn with stedfast gaze to the living God, as is becoming in man as such (hâ'âdâm), and not regard the idols as worthy of any look at all, at least of any reverential look. As hammânim are here images of the sun-god חמן בעל, which is well known from the Phoenician monuments,

(Note: See Levy, Phnizisches Wrterbuch (1864), p. 19; and Otto Strauss on Nahum, p. xxii. ss.)

ashērim (for which we find, though more rarely, 'ashēroth) apparently signifies images of the moon-goddess. And the combination of "Baal, Asherah, and all the host of heaven" in 2 Kings 23:4, as well as the surname "queen of heaven" in Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:18-19, appears to require this (Knobel). But the latest researches have proved that 'Ashērâh is rather the Semitic Aphrodite, and therefore the planet Venus, which was called the "little luck" (es-sa‛d el-as'gar)

(Note: See Krehl, Religion der vorislamischen Araber (1863), p. 11.)

by the Arabs, in distinction from Musteri (Jupiter),

(Note: This was the tutelar deity of Damascus; see Comm. on Job, Appendix.)

or "the great luck." And with this the name 'Asherah the "lucky" (i.e., the source of luck or prosperity) and the similar surname given to the Assyrian Istar agree;

(Note: "Ishtar," says Rawlinson in his Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, - a work which challenges criticism through its dazzling results - "Ishtar is the goddess who rejoices mankind, and her most common epithet is Amra, 'the fortunate' or 'the happy.' But otherwise her epithets are vague and general, insomuch that she is often scarcely distinguishable from Beltis (the wife of Bel-Nimrod)." Vid., vol. i. p. 175 (1862).)

for 'Asherah is the very same goddess as 'Ashtoreth, whose name is thoroughly Arian, and apparently signifies the star (Ved. stir equals star; Zend. stare; Neo-Pers. sitâre, used chiefly for the morning star), although Rawlinson (without being able to suggest any more acceptable interpretation) speaks of this view as "not worthy of much attention."

(Note: The planet Venus, according to a Midrash relating to Genesis 6:1-2, is 'Istehar transferred to the sky; and this is the same as Zuhare (see Geiger, Was hat Muhammed, etc. 1833, pp. 107-109).)

Thus Asherim is used to signify the bosquets (shrubberies) or trees dedicated to the Semitic Aphrodite (Deuteronomy 16:21; compare the verbs used to signify their removal, גדע, כרת, נתשׁ); but here it probably refers to her statues or images

continued...

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