Isaiah 17:8
And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) The groves or the images.—Literally, the Asherah or the sun-images. The former were conical, tree-like pillars which symbolised the worship of a Canaanite goddess, the giver of good fortune. (See Notes on 2Kings 21:7; 2Chronicles 34:3-7.)

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.And he shall not look to the altars - That is, the altars of the gods which the Syrians worshipped, and the altars of the false gods which had been erected in the land of Israel or Samaria by its wicked kings, and particularly by Ahaz. Ahaz fancied an altar which he saw at Damascus when on a visit to Tiglath-pileser, and ordered Urijah the priest to construct one like it in Samaria, on which he subsequently offered sacrifice 2 Kings 16:10-13. It is well known, also, that the kings of Israel and Judah often reared altars to false gods in the high places and the groves of the land (see 2 Kings 21:3-5). The Ephraimites were particularly guilty in this respect Hosea 8:11 : 'Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.'

Which his fingers have made - Perhaps indicating that the idols which they worshipped had been constructed with special art and skill (see Isaiah 2:8).

Either the groves - The altars of idols were usually erected in groves, and idols were worshipped there before temples were raised (see Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 14:23; 1 Kings 18:19; 2 Chronicles 33:3; compare the notes at Isaiah 1:29).

Or the images - Margin, 'Sun images' (חמנים chamānı̂ym). This word is used to denote idols in general in Leviticus 26:30; 2 Chronicles 24:4. But it is supposed to denote properly images erected to the sun, and to be derived from חמה chamāh, "the sun." Thus the word is used in Job 30:28; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26; Sol 6:10. The word, according to Gesenius, is of Persian origin (Commentary in loc.) The sun was undoubtedly worshipped by the ancient idolaters, and altars or images would be erected to it (see the notes at Job 31:26).

8. groves—A symbolical tree is often found in Assyrian inscriptions, representing the hosts of heaven ("Saba"), answering to Ashteroth or Astarte, the queen of heaven, as Baal or Bel is the king. Hence the expression, "image of the grove," is explained (2Ki 21:7).

images—literally, "images to the sun," that is, to Baal, who answers to the sun, as Astarte to the hosts of heaven (2Ki 23:5; Job 31:26).

Not look to the altars; not resort or trust to them, or to the worship offered to idols upon them.

The work of his hands; their own inventions; for otherwise the altars made by God’s command were the work of men’s hands. The groves, which were devised and planted by men, as fit places for the worship of their gods; and therefore were forbidden, Deu 16:21 1 Kings 14:15. The images, worshipped in their groves. The word properly signifies images of the sun, either having the form and shape of the sun, or at least erected to his honour and worship; of which see Deu 4:19 17:3 2 Kings 23:5,11 Jer 8:2 7:18 44:17,18. And he shall not took to the altars, the work of his hands,.... That is, to altars erected to the worship of idols, which are both the works of men's hands, so as to serve at them, and sacrifice upon them. Kimchi observes, that the latter clause is not to be understood as belonging to the former, but as distinct from it, and signifies idols which men have made; otherwise all altars, even the altars of God, were the works of men, which yet it was right to look unto, and offer sacrifice upon; but idol altars, and idols themselves, are here meant: and a good man will not look unto his good works as altars to atone for sin; he knows that nothing that a creature can do can expiate sin; that his best works are such as are due to God, and therefore can never atone for past crimes; that Jesus Christ is only the altar, sacrifice, and priest, to whom he looks for, and from whom he receives the atonement:

neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves or the images; both might be said to be made by the fingers of men, the former being planted, and, the latter carved and fashioned by them; whether by groves are meant clusters of trees, where idols and altars were placed, or medals struck with such a representation on them, and also whatever images are here designed: the word signifies sun images, images made to represent the sun, or for the honour and worship of it. Aben Ezra says they were images made according to the likeness of chariots for the sun. The Targum renders it "temples", such as were dedicated to the sun; though some understand by it sunny places, where their idols were set and sunburnt, as distinct from shady groves. Good men will not took to their own works, what their fingers have wrought, as groves to shelter them from divine wrath and vengeance, or as idols to bow down to, trust in, and depend upon for salvation; but reject them, and look to Christ only.

And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. the work of his hands … that which his fingers have made] phrases used of idols in ch. Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 2:20, Isaiah 31:7.

the altars … either the groves or the images] These words overburden the rhythm of the verse and are probably explanatory glosses. An allusion to the brazen-altar of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:10-13) is far-fetched, even if not absolutely excluded by the date. The two last-mentioned objects are never referred to elsewhere by Isaiah.

the groves] R.V., rightly, the Asherim. The Ashçrah or Sacred Pole was an emblem of divinity which seems to have stood regularly by the side of the altar in a Canaanitish sanctuary (Jdg 6:13; Jdg 6:25; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2 Kings 18:4, &c.). It is regarded by some as an artificial survival of the sacred tree, under which the altar stood; by others as the symbol (or image) of a goddess of the same name. Whether a goddess Ashçrah was actually worshipped is a much controverted point; if so, she was probably nothing more than an impersonation of the material symbol here referred to. (See Robertson Smith, Relig. of the Semites, Revd. Ed. pp. 187 ff.)

images] probably sun-pillars: R.V. “sun-images.” The word (ḥammânîm, pl.) only occurs in ch. Isaiah 27:9; 2 Chronicles 14:5; 2 Chronicles 34:4; 2 Chronicles 34:7; Ezekiel 6:4; Ezekiel 6:6; Leviticus 26:30. It seems to be connected with Baal-Ḥammân, a Phœnician deity (best known from the Carthaginian inscriptions) whose name appears to designate him as “Lord of the sun’s heat,” (cf. the Hebrew ḥammâh used in poetry of the sun: Psalm 19:6; Job 30:28; Song of Solomon 6:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26). The “sun-pillars” were probably emblems of this deity.Verse 8. - And he shall not look to the altars. The altars at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33) may be intended, or the Israelites may have had other idolatrous altars besides these (2 Kings 17:11; Hosea 8:11). Josiah, about B.C. 631, broke down altars throughout all the land of Israel, in the cities of Manasseh and Ephraim and Simeon (?), even unto Naphtali (2 Chronicles 34:5-7). Apparently he had the consent of the inhabitants to this demolition. Either the groves, or the images, Asherah, the word here and elsewhere commonly translated "grove" in the Authorized Version, is now generally admitted to have designated an artificial construction of wood or metal, which was used in the idolatrous worship of the Phoenicians and the Israelites, probably as the emblem of some deity. The Assyrian "sacred tree" was most likely an emblem of the same kind, and may give an idea of the sort of object worshipped under the name of Asherah (comp. 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. pp. 235-237). The Israelites, in the time of their prosperity, had set up "groves" of this character "on every high hill, and under every green tree" (2 Kings 17:10). Many of them were still standing when Josiah made his iconoclastic raid into the Israelite country (2 Chronicles 34:5-7), and were broken down by him at the same time as the altars. The "images" of this place are the same as those coupled with the Israelite "groves" in 2 Chronicles 34:7, namely "sun-images," emblems of Baal, probably pillars or conical stones, such as are known to have held a place in the religious worship of Phoenicia. The first turn: "Behold, Damascus must (be taken) away out of the number of the cities, and will be a heap of fallen ruins. The cities of Aroer are forsaken, they are given up to flocks, they lie there without any one scaring them away. And the fortress of Ephraim is abolished, and the kingdom of Damascus; and it happens to those that are left of Aram as to the glory of the sons of Israel, saith Jehovah of hosts." "Behold," etc.: hinnēh followed by a participle indicates here, as it does everywhere else, something very near at hand. Damascus is removed מעיר ( equals עיר מהיות, cf., 1 Kings 15:13), i.e., out of the sphere of existence as a city. It becomes מעי, a heap of ruins. The word is used intentionally instead of עי, to sound as much as possible like מעיר: a mutilated city, so to speak. It is just the same with Israel, which has made itself an appendage of Damascus. The "cities of Aroer" (gen. appos. Ges. 114, 3) represent the land to the east of the Jordan: there the judgment upon Israel (executed by Tiglath-pileser) first began. There were two Aroers: an old Amoritish city allotted to the tribe of Reuben, viz., "Aroer on the Arnon" (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:12, etc.); and an old Ammonitish one, allotted to the tribe of Gad, viz., "Aroer before Rabbah" (Rabbath, Ammon, Joshua 13:25). The ruins of the former are Arair, on the lofty northern bank of the Mugib; but the situation of the latter has not yet been determined with certainty (see Comm. on Joshua 13:25). The "cities of Aroer" are these two Aroers, and the rest of the cities similar to it on the east of the Jordan; just as "the Orions" in Isaiah 13:10 are Orion and other similar stars. We meet here again with a significant play upon the sound in the expression ‛ârē ‛Aro‛ēr (cities of Aroer): the name of Aroer was ominous, and what its name indicated would happen to the cities in its circuit. ערער means "to lay bare," to pull down (Jeremiah 51:58); and ערער, ערירי signifies a stark-naked condition, a state of desolation and solitude. After Isaiah 17:1 has threatened Damascus in particular, and Isaiah 17:2 has done the same to Israel, Isaiah 17:3 comprehends them both. Ephraim loses the fortified cities which once served it as defences, and Damascus loses its rank as a kingdom. Those that are left of Aram, who do not fall in the war, become like the proud citizens of the kingdom of Israel, i.e., they are carried away into captivity. All this was fulfilled under Tiglath-pileser. The accentuation connects ארם שׁאר (the remnant of Aram) with the first half of the verse; but the meaning remains the same, as the subject to יהיוּ is in any case the Aramaeans.
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