Isaiah 30:28
And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the middle of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(28) His breath, as an overflowing stream.—Water supplies its symbolism, as well as fire. The wrath of the judge sweeps onward like an autumn torrent, threatening to engulf all that stand in its way.

To sift the nations with the sieve of vanity.—Better, the winnowing fan of nothingness. Sifting is, as elsewhere, the symbol of judgment (so Osiris appears in Egyptian monuments armed with a flail, as the judge of the dead; Cheyne), and the “fan” in this case is one which threatens to annihilate the guilty.

A bridle in the jaws of the people.—The words find a parallel in Isaiah 37:29. The enemies of Jehovah should find themselves under a constraining power, leading them on against their will to their own destruction. Quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.

30:27-33 God curbs and restrains from doing mischief. With a word he guides his people into the right way, but with a bridle he turns his enemies upon their own ruin. Here, in threatening the ruin of Sennacherib's army, the prophet points at the final and everlasting destruction of all impenitent sinners. Tophet was a valley near Jerusalem, where fires were continually burning to destroy things that were hurtful and offensive, and there the idolatrous Jews caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch. This denotes the certainty of the destruction, as an awful emblem of the place of torment in the other world. No oppressor shall escape the Divine wrath. Let sinners then flee to Christ, seeking to be reconciled to Him, that they may be safe and happy, when destruction from the Almighty shall sweep away all the workers of iniquity.And his breath - The word רוח rûach properly means "wind," air in motion; then a breathing, an exhalation, a breath; then the soul, spirit, etc. The idea here seems to be that of excited, and rapid, and agitated breathing, as when one is in anger (compare Judges 8:3; Zechariah 6:8).

As an overflowing stream - This figure is common to express desolating judgments (see the notes at Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 28:17; compare Psalm 69:2, Psalm 69:15).

Shall reach to the midst of the neck - Isaiah Isa 8:8, in describing the invasion of Sennacherib, and comparing it to an oveflowing torrent, says it would 'reach even to the neck;' that is, it would overflow the land, and even approach the head, the capital, but that that would be spared. By the use of a similar figure, and perhaps referring to that, he here says, that the judgment of God would overflow the army of the Assyrians, but that it would approach only to the neck, the head would still be spared; the commander and sovereign would not be destroyed. In accordance with this prediction, the angel in one night, as with an overflowing flood, cut off the army, and yet spared the sovereign, Sennacherib, who escaped with his life Isaiah 37:36-37. The word rendered 'shall reach' (רחצה yechĕtseh) properly means "shall divide," or cut into two parts Genesis 33:8; Numbers 31:37, Numbers 31:42; Judges 9:43; and the idea here seems to be that a man who is in the water seems to be "divided" into two parts, one part above, and one in the water.

To sift the nations - Doubtless many nations were laid under requisition to furnish an army so large as that of Sennaherib, as the kingdom of Assyria was made up of a number of tributary people and provinces. The word rendered 'to sift' refers to the act of winnowing or fanning grain, in which the grain is "tossed" or thrown from the shovel into the air. As the chaff is driven away by the wind, so the nations in the army of Sennacherib would be scattered.

With the sieve of vanity - That is, of emptiness or perdition; he would so scatter them that nothing would be left.

A bridle in the jaws of the people - The idea is, that he had all these nations as much under his control as a man has a horse with a bridle in his mouth. The same idea the prophet has used in reference to the same subject in Isaiah 37:29 :

I will put my bridle in thy jaws,

And I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.

Causing them to err - That shall cause them to wander; that is, he would turn them from the path in which they had designed to go. They had purposed to go to Jerusalem, but he would lead them back to their own land, discomfited and disheartened (see Isaiah 37:29).

28. (Isa 11:4; 2Th 2:8).

reach … neck—the most extreme danger; yet as the head, or capital of Judah, was to be spared (Isa 8:8), so the head, or sovereign of Assyria, Sennacherib, should escape.

sieve of vanity—Rather, "the winnowing fan of destruction" [Lowth] (Isa 41:16).

bridle in … jaws—as prisoners are represented in the Assyrian inscriptions (Isa 37:29).

causing … to err—(Isa 63:17). "People," Hebrew, "peoples," namely, the various races composing the Assyrian armies (Isa 5:26).

His breath; either,

1. The breath of his nostrils, as it is called, Job 4:9; or the blast of the breath of his nostrils, as Psalm 18:15; in both which places it is mentioned as a sign and effect of God’s anger, and the cause of the destruction of those against whom it is directed. And the expression seems to be borrowed from hence, that men discover their anger by a strong and vehement breathing through their nostrils. Or,

2. The breath of his lips or mouth, to which the destruction of God’s enemies is elsewhere ascribed, as Job 15:30 Isaiah 11:4, which may be the same thing with his lips and tongue in the foregoing verse, or may design strong blast coming out of his mouth; for God is frequently said to destroy wicked men by blowing upon them, as Isaiah 40:7,24 Eze 21:31 22:21. As an overflowing stream; coming from him as vehemently as a mighty torrent of waters.

Shall reach to the midst of the neck; shall bring him into a most dangerous condition, as a man who is in deep waters which reach to his neck is in danger of being drowned; and afterwards, as is related in the following verses, will utterly destroy him. And this was fulfilled in Sennacherib, who was highly endangered, when he lost so great a part of his army, and shortly after slain by his own sons. Although these words may be added as a description of the overflowing: stream now mentioned, and may be thus rendered, Which reacheth even to the midst of the neck; for the relative particle is frequently understood in Scripture.

To sift; to shake and scatter, as it were, with a sieve; or to try and vex, as this metaphor signifies, Amos 9:9 Luke 22:31. The nations; the Assyrian army, which was made up of the people of several nations. With the sieve of vanity; not with an ordinary sieve, which casteth away the chaff only, but keepeth the corn; but with a sieve which should shake them so long and so vehemently as to cast away all together, and to make a full end of them.

There shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people; God will restrain and overrule them by his secret and powerful providence. Causeth them to err; whereas other bridles guide the bridled creatures into the right way, this shall turn them out of the way, by giving them up to their own mistakes, and foolish counsels, and wicked courses, which shall bring them to sore and certain ruin. And his breath as an overflowing stream,.... Which comes with great swiftness and force, bearing all before it, breathing out nothing but the fire of divine wrath, before which there is no standing; nor could the Assyrian army stand before it, but suddenly, in a moment, was carried away with the force of it: thus our Lord will consume the man of sin with the spirit or breath of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, and this stream

shall reach to the midst of the neck; which shows the extreme danger the army would be in, as a man that is up to the neck in water, and can find no way of escaping; and very aptly represents their state and condition, the whole body of the army being encompassed and destroyed by this overflowing stream of divine wrath, only their head, their king Sennacherib was saved; and he in a little time was cut off, when he had got into his country; as the Assyrian army served the Jews, they are served themselves; see Isaiah 8:7,

to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity; that is, the breath, wind, or Spirit of the Lord, compared to an overflowing stream, should be of this use, and have this effect, to sift the people of several nations, of which the Assyrian army consisted, so as to dash them one against another, and utterly destroy them; for they were to be sifted, not with a good and profitable sieve, which retains the corn, and shakes out the chaff, or so as to have some taken out and spared; but with a sieve that lets all through, and so be brought to nothing, as the Vulgate Latin version; and thus will all the antichristian nations be agitated, and shaken, and destroyed, ere long:

and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err; from the way they intended to go, namely, up to Jerusalem, and take and sack it, and obliging them to betake themselves another way for their retreat and safety; see Isaiah 37:29.

And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of {a} vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.

(a) To drive you to nothing: and thus God consumes the wicked by that means, by which he cleanses his.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
28. Render with R.V. and his breath is as an overflowing stream that reacheth (lit. “divideth”) even unto the neck, &c. (cf. ch. Isaiah 8:8).

to sift (lit. “swing”) [the] nations with the sieve of vanity (or “ruin”)] i.e. to sift them until they are annihilated.

and there shall be a bridle … err] Better: and (he shall be) a bridle that causeth to err, in the jaws of peoples; i.e. Jehovah by His providence, turns the Assyrians aside from their purpose, and frustrates their enterprise.Verse 28. - His breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck. When the sacred writers are oppressed by the tremendous character of the revelations made to them, their metaphors are often labored and incongruous. Here, the mouth, in which there is a tongue of fire, sends forth a rush of breath, which is compared to an "overflowing stream, which reaches to the middle of the neck, "and sweeps those who try to cross it away (comp. Ezekiel 47:5) To sift the nations with the sieve of vanity. More incongruity, to be excused by the writer's theme being such as to transcend all language and all imagery. One of the Divine purposes, in all violent crashes and revolutions, is "to sift nations" - to separate in each nation the good from the bad, the precious from the vile; and this is done with "the sieve of vanity," i.e. the sieve which allows the good corn to pass through, separating from it, and keeping back, all that is vile and refuse (comp. Amos 9:9). There shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. Another entire change in the metaphor. The result of God's interference shall be "to put a bridle in the jaws of the peoples," whereby the hand of the Almighty will guide them to their destruction. None but such are heirs of the grace that follows the judgment - a people, newly pardoned in response to its cry for help, conducted by faithful teachers in the right way, and renouncing idolatry with disgust. "For a people continues dwelling in Zion, in Jerusalem; thou shalt not weep for ever: He will prove Himself gracious to thee at the sound of thy cry for help; as soon as He hears, He answers thee. And the Lord giveth you bread in penury, and water for your need; and thy teachers will not hide themselves any more, and thine eyes come to see thy teachers. And thine ears will hear words behind thee, saying, 'This is the way, walk ye in it!' whether ye turn to the right hand or to the left. And ye defile the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the clothing of thy molten images of gold; thou wilt scatter them like filthy thing: 'Get out!' thou sayest to it." We do not render Isaiah 30:19, "For O people that dwelleth in Zion, in Jerusalem!" For although the personal pronoun may be omitted after Vav in an apostrophizing connection (Proverbs 8:5; Joel 2:23), we should certainly expect to find אתּה here. The accent very properly marks these words as forming an independent clause. The apparent tautology in the expression, "in Zion, in Jerusalem," is emphatic and explanatory. The fate of Zion-Jerusalem will not be the same as that of the imperial city (Isaiah 13:20; Isaiah 25:2); for it is the city of Jehovah, which, according to His promise, cannot become an eternally deserted ruin. After this promising declaration, the prophet turns and addresses the people of the future in the people of his own time; bâkhō strengthens the verbal notion with the mark of duration; chânōn with the mark of certainty and fulness. יחנך, with an advanced ŏ, as in Genesis 43:29, for יחן. כּ is the shortest expression used to denote simultaneous occurrence; answering and hearing would coincide (shom‛âh, nomen actionis, as in Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 55:2; Ges. 45, 1b; ‛ânâkh, the pausal form here, as in Jeremiah 23:37). From this lowest stage of response to the penitential cry for help, the promise rises higher and higher. The next stage is that in which Jerusalem is brought into all the distress consequent upon a siege, as threatened by the prophet in Isaiah 29:3-4; the besieged would not be allowed by God to die of starvation, but He would send them the necessary support. The same expression, but very little altered, viz., "to give to eat lechem lachatz ūmayim lachatz," signifies to put any one upon the low rations of a siege or of imprisonment, in 1 Kings 22:27 and 2 Chronicles 18:26; but here it is a promise, with the threat kept in the background. צר and לחץ are connected with the absolute nouns לחם and מים, not as adverbial, but as appositional definitions (like תּרעלה יין, "wine which is giddiness," in Psalm 60:5; and בּרכּים מים, "water which is knees," i.e., which has the measure of the knees, where birkayim is also in apposition, and not the accusative of measurement): literally, bread which is necessity, and water which is affliction; that is to say, nourishment of which there is extreme need, the very opposite of bread and water in abundance. Umbreit and Drechsler understand this spiritually. But the promise rises as it goes on. There is already an advance, in the fact that the faithful and well-meaning teachers (mōrı̄m) no longer keep themselves hidden because of the hard-heartedness and hatred of the people, as they have done ever since the time of Ahaz (נכנף, a denom.: to withdraw into כּנף, πτέρυξ, the utmost end, the most secret corner; though kânaph in itself signifies to cover or conceal). Israel, when penitent, would once more be able to rejoice in the sight of those whom it longed to have back again. מוריך is a plural, according to the context (on the singular of the previous predicate, see Ges. 147). As the shepherds of the flock, they would follow the people with friendly words of admonition, whilst the people would have their ears open to receive their instruction. תּאמינוּ is here equivalent to תּימינוּ, תּימינוּ. The abominations of idolatry (which continued even in the first years of Hezekiah's reign: Isaiah 31:7; Micah 1:5; Micah 5:11-13; Micah 6:16) would now be regarded as abominations, and put away. Even gold and silver, with which the images that were either carved or cast in inferior metal were overlaid, would be made unclean (see 2 Kings 28:8ff.); that is to say, no use would be made of them. Dâvâh is a shorter expression for kelı̄ dâvâh, the cloth worn by a woman at the monthly period. On zârâh, to dispense - to which dâvâh would be inappropriate if understood of the woman herself, as it is by Luzzatto - compare 2 Kings 23:6. With זהבך, the plural used in the general address passes over into the individualizing singular; לו is to be taken as a neuter pointing back to the plunder of idols.
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