Isaiah 40:20
He that is so impoverished that he has no oblation chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeks to him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) He that is so impoverished . . .—The transition is abrupt, but the intention apparently is to represent idolatry at its opposite extremes of the elaborate art in which kings and princes delighted, and the rude rough image, hardly more than a fetiche, the inutile lignum of Horace, “which cannot be moved,” standing on its own wide base, so as not to fall.

40:18-26 Whatever we esteem or love, fear or hope in, more than God, that creature we make equal with God, though we do not make images or worship them. He that is so poor, that he has scarcely a sacrifice to offer, yet will not be without a god of his own. They spared no cost upon their idols; we grudge what is spent in the service of our God. To prove the greatness of God, the prophet appeals to all ages and nations. Those who are ignorant of this, are willingly ignorant. God has the command of all creatures, and of all created things. The prophet directs us to use our reason as well as our senses; to consider who created the hosts of heaven, and to pay our homage to Him. Not one fails to fulfil his will. And let us not forget, that He spake all the promises, and engaged to perform them.He that is so impoverished - So poor. So it is generally supposed that the word used here is to be understood, though interpreters have not been entirely agreed in regard to its signification. The Septuagint renders the phrase, 'The carpenter chooseth a sound piece of wood.' The Chaldee. 'He cuts down an ash, a tree which will not rot.' Vulgate, 'Perhaps he chooses a tree which is incorruptible.' Jarchi renders it, 'He who is accustomed to examine, and to judge between the wood which is durable, and other wood.' But the signification of the word (from סכן sâkan, "to dwell, to be familiar with anyone") given to it by our translators, is probably the correct one, that of being too poor to make a costly oblation. This notion of poverty, Gesenius supposes, is derived from the notion of being seated; and thence of sinking down from languor or debility; and hence, from poverty or want.

That he hath no oblation - No offering; no sacrifice; no rich gift. He is too poor to make such an offering to his god as would be implied in an idol of brass or other metal, richly overlaid with plates of gold, and decorated with silver chains. In Isaiah 40:19, the design seems to have been to describe the more rich and costly idols that were made; in this, to describe those that were made by the poor who were unable to offer such as were made of brass and gold. The word 'oblation,' therefore, that is, offering, in this place, does not denote an offering made to the true God, but an offering made to an idol, such as an image was regarded to be. He could not afford a rich offering, and was constrained to make one of wood.

Chooseth a tree that will not rot - Wood that will be durable and permanent. Perhaps the idea is, that as he could not afford one of metal, he would choose that which would be the most valuable which he could make - a piece of wood that was durable, and that would thus show his regard for the god that he worshipped. Or possibly the sense may be, that he designed it should not be moved; that he expressed a fixed and settled determination to adhere to the worship of the idol; and that as he had no idea of changing his religion, the permanency and durability of the wood would be regarded as a somewhat more acceptable expression of his worship.

A cunning workman - Hebrew, 'A wise artificer;' a man skilled in the art of carving, and of making images.

A graven image - An image engraved or cut from wood, in contradistinction from one that is molten or made from metals.

That shall not be moved - That shall stand long, as the expression of his devotion to the service of the idol. The wood that was commonly employed for this purpose as being most durable, as we learn from Isaiah 44:14, was the cedar, the cypress, or the oak (see the note in that place). The phrase, 'shall not be moved,' does not refer so much to its being fixed in one place, as to its durability and permanency.

20. impoverished—literally, "sunk" in circumstances.

no oblation—he who cannot afford to overlay his idol with gold and silver (Isa 40:19).

tree … not rot—the cedar, cypress, oak, or ash (Isa 44:14).

graven—of wood; not a molten one of metal.

not be moved—that shall be durable.

That he hath no oblation; that he can hardly procure money sufficient to buy the meanest sacrifice for his God.

He seeketh unto him a cunning workman; he is so mad upon his idols, that he will one way or other find money to procure the choicest materials, and the help of the best artist, to make his idol.

That shall not be moved; which after all this cost and art cannot stir one step out of its place to give you any help. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation,.... Who is so poor that he cannot bring an offering to his God, yet he will have one; and though he cannot purchase a golden or silver one, or one that is gilt, and adorned with either; yet he will have a wooden one, as follows. Some render it, "he that is set over the oblation", which Aben Ezra mentions; that was over the treasury, where the oblations were; the Heathen priest, whose business it was from thence to procure idols to worship. Jerom takes the word to be the name of a tree that will not rot; and so the Targum renders it,

"he cuts down an ash:''

but the word is descriptive of an idol worshipper; and, according to Gussetius (x), signifies one that by custom and repeated acts has got skill in such things; and so Jarchi: hence

he chooseth a tree that will not rot: he goes to the forest, and chooses the best tree for his purpose he can find, even one that will not rot, as the cypress; and though he cannot get an idol made of metal, but is forced to have one of wood, yet he will get the best he can, that will last longest, an incorruptible deity, as he fancies:

he seeketh unto him a cunning workman, to prepare a graven image that shall not be moved: having decided upon his tree, and what sort of wood to make his god of, he looks out for an ingenious carpenter and carver, a good workman, to make it in the form of an image, and grave, or rather carve it, in the best manner he can, and then fasten it in a proper place, that it may not fall; a poor helpless deity, that cannot secure itself, and much less be of any service to its worshippers.

(x) Ebr Comment. p. 558.

He that is so {x} impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh for himself a skilful workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.

(x) He shows the rage of the idolaters, seeing that the poor who do not have enough to meet their own needs will defraud themselves to serve their idols.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. He that is so … oblation] R.V. He that is too impoverished for such an oblation (lit. impoverished with respect to an oblation). If the text be sound this seems the only possible interpretation, although the whole sense turns on the word “such” which is in no way expressed. Moreover the technical těrûmâh (temple-oblation) has no appropriateness here. The LXX. appear to have read těmûnâh (ὁμοίωμα), which looks more promising, but leaves the word for “impoverished” (מְסֻכָּן) more unintelligible than ever. Jerome gives the information that měṣukkân is a durable kind of wood (see Vulg. “lignum imputribile”); and this has led some to connect it with an Assyrian word, musukkânu (= palm-tree). The Targ. gives “he cutteth down a laurel-tree,” apparently taking מסכן as a denominative from סַכִּין (= knife). This shews at least that there was no reliable Jewish tradition as to the meaning of the word. Duhm, combining the hints of the Targ. and the LXX., obtains a reading which is as good as any that can be suggested: “He who carves an image.” The transition from the metal to the wooden idol is thus more distinctly expressed.

a tree that will not rot] Such as those named in ch. Isaiah 44:14. A weak parody of Eternity!

that shall not be moved] that will not totter. See 1 Samuel 5:3-4; cf. Wisd. Sol. 13:15 f.Verse 20. - He that is so impoverished, etc.; rather, he that can only make a poor offering, i.e. that cannot spend much on religion. Chooseth a tree; rather, chooseth wood - goes to the carpenter, and selects a good sound block of wood, out of which his idol shall be made. After this he has to find a skilful workman, who will carve his image for him and set it up, so that it shall not shake. As Delitzsch observes, "The thing carries its own satire" in the mere plain description of it. Is such a thing comparable to God? A second question follows in Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 40:14. "Who regulated the Spirit of Jehovah, and (who) instructed Him as His counsellor? With whom took He counsel, and who would have explained to Him and instructed Him concerning the path of right, and taught Him knowledge, and made known to Him a prudent course?" The first question called to mind the omnipotence of Jehovah; this recalls His omniscience, which has all fulness in itself, and therefore precludes all instruction from without. "The Spirit of Jehovah" is the Spirit which moved upon the waters at the creation, and by which chaos was reduced to order. "Who," inquires this prophet - "who furnished this Spirit with the standard, according to which all this was to be done?" תּכּן as in Isaiah 40:12, to bring into conformity with rule, and so to fit for regulated working. Instead of mercha tifchah athnach, which suggests the Targum rendering, "quis direxit spiritum? Jehova" (vid., Proverbs 16:2), it would be more correct to adopt the accentuation tifchah munach athnach (cf., Exodus 21:24; Exodus 23:9), and there are certain codices in which we find this (see Dachselt). In Isaiah 40:13 we might follow the Septuagint translation, καὶ τίς αὐτοῦ σύμβουλος ἐγένετο ὃς σύμβιβᾶ (Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16, συμβιβάσει) αὐτόν, but in this case we miss the verb היה. The rendering we have given above is not so harsh, and the accentuation is indifferent here, since silluk is never written without tifchahif only a single word precedes it. In Isaiah 40:14 the reciprocal נוע is connected with את equals אם. The futt. cons. retain their literal meaning: with whom did He consult, so that he supplied Him with understanding in consequence (hēbhı̄n, generally to understand, here in a causative sense). The verbs of instruction are sometimes construed with בּ of the lesson taught, sometimes with a double accusative. In reply to the questions in Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 40:14, which are essentially one, Israel must acknowledge that its God is the possessor of absolute might, and also of absolute wisdom.
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