Isaiah 44:12
The smith with the tongs both works in the coals, and fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms: yes, he is hungry, and his strength fails: he drinks no water, and is faint.
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(12) The smith with the tongs.—We begin with the metal idol. Better, The smith uses a chisel. The work involves stooping over the charcoal furnace. The maker of the god is exhausted with his toil, and requires food and drink to sustain him.

Isaiah 44:12-17. The smith, &c. — “The sacred writers,” says Bishop Lowth, “are generally large and eloquent upon the subject of idolatry: they treat it with great severity, and set forth the absurdity of it in the strongest light. But this passage of Isaiah far exceeds any thing that ever was written upon the subject, in force of argument, energy of expression, and elegance of composition. One or two of the apocryphal writers have attempted to imitate the prophet, but with very ill success: Wis 13:11-19; Wis 15:7, &c.; Baruk, chap. 6.; especially the latter, who, injudiciously dilating his matter, and introducing a number of minute circumstances, has very much weakened the force and effect of his invective. On the contrary, a heathen author, in the ludicrous way, has, in a line or two, given idolatry one of the severest strokes it ever received:

“Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum;

Cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum, Maluit esse Deum.”

“I was of old the trunk of a fig-tree, a useless block;

when the carpenter, uncertain whether to make a bench or a

Priapus, chose that I should be a god.” —
Hor., lib. 1. sat. 8.

He maketh it after the figure of a man, &c. — In the same comely shape and proportions which are in a living man; that it may remain in the house — In the dwelling-house of him that made it. He heweth him down cedars and the oak — Which afford the best and most durable timber; which he strengtheneth for himself — He plants, and with care and diligence improves those trees, that he or his posterity may thence have materials for their images, and those things which belong to them. He maketh an image, and falleth down thereto — Having related the practices of idolaters, he now discovers the vanity and folly of them, that they make their fire and their god of the same materials, distinguished only by the art of man, and roast their meat with the article which they worship.44:9-20 Image-making is described, to expose the folly of idolaters. Though a man had used part of a log for fuel, he fell down before an image made of the remainder, praying it to deliver him. Man greatly dishonours God, when he represents him after the image of man. Satan blinds the eyes of unbelievers, causing absurd reasonings in matters of religion. Whether men seek happiness in worldly things, or run into unbelief, superstition, or any false system, they feed on ashes. A heart deceived by pride, love of sin, and departure from God, turns men aside from his holy truth and worship. While the affections are depraved, a man holds fast the lie as his best treasure. Are our hearts set upon the wealth of the world and its pleasures? They will certainly prove a lie. If we trust to outward professions and doings, as if those would save us, we deceive ourselves. Self-suspicion is the first step towards self-deliverance. He that would deliver his soul, must question his conscience, Is there not a lie in my right hand?The smith with the tongs - The prophet proceeds here to show the folly and absurdity of idolatry; and in order to this he goes into an extended statement Isaiah 44:12-19 of the manner in which idols were usually made. Lowth remarks, 'The sacred writers are generally large and eloquent on the subject of idolatry; they treat it with great severity, and set forth the absurdity of it in the strongest light. But this passage of Isaiah far exceeds anything that was ever written on the subject, in force of argument, energy of expression, and elegance of composition. One or two of the Apocryphal writers have attempted to imitate the prophet, but with very ill success (Wisd. 13:11-19; 15:7; etc.; Baruch 6) Horace, however, has given a description of the making of idols, which, for severity of satire, and pungency of sarcasm, has a strong resemblance to this description in Isaiah:

Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum;

Cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum

Maluit esse Deum.

Sat. I. viii. 1-3.

Lowth renders the phrase 'the smith with the tongs,' 'The smith cutteth off a portion of iron.' Noyes, 'The smith prepareth an axe' The Septuagint, 'The carpenter sharpeneth (ὤζυνε ōzune) iron' (σίδηρον sidēron), that is, an axe. So also the Syriac. Gesenius renders it, 'The smith makes an axe.' Many other renderings of the passage have been proposed. The idea in this verse is, I think, that the prophet describes the commencement of the process of making a graven image. For that purpose, he goes back even to the making of the instruments by which it is manufactured, and in this verse he describes the process of making an axe, with a view to the cutting down of the tree, and forming a god. That he does not here refer to the making of the idol itself is apparent from the fact that the process here described is that of working in iron; but idols were not made of iron, and that here described especially (Isaiah 44:11 ff) is one made of wood. The phrase used here, therefore, refers to the process of axe-making with a view to cutting down a tree to make a god; and the prophet describes the ardor and activity with which it is done, to show how much haste they were in to complete it. The literal translation of this phrase is, 'The workman (חרשׁ chârash, st. const. for חרשׁ chârâsh) of iron (maketh) an axe.'

Both worketh in the coals - And he works the piece of iron of which he is making an axe in the coals. He blows the coals in order to produce an intense heat (see Isaiah 54:16) - 'Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire.'

And fashioneth it with hammers - Forms the mass of iron into an axe. Axes were not cast, but made.

And worketh it with the strength of his arms - Or, he works it with his strong arms - referring to the fact that the arm of the smith, by constant usage, becomes exceedingly strong. A description remarkably similar to this occurs in Virgil when he is describing the Cyclops:

Illi inter sesc magna vi brachia tollunt

In numerum; versantque tenaci forcipe ferrum.

Georg. iv. 174, 175.

Heaved with vast strength their arms in order rise,

And blow to blow in measured chime replies;


12. tongs—rather, "prepareth (to be supplied) an axe," namely, with which to cut down the tree designed as the material of the idol. The "smith" (Hebrew, "workman in iron") here answers to the "carpenter" (Hebrew, "workman in wood"). "He worketh it (the axe, not the idol, which was wood, not metal) in the coals," &c. The axe was wrought, not cast. The smith makes the axe for the carpenter.

hungry … drinketh no water—so eager is he to expedite his work while the iron is hot. If the god were worth anything, it would not let him grow "faint" with hunger and thirst. Williams, the missionary, states that the South Sea islanders when they make an idol abstain from food and drink.

Both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers; first he makes the metal soft and pliable, by putting it among burning coals, and then he taketh it out, and beateth it into what form he pleaseth. It must be here noted, that some of these images were made of brass and iron, as others were of gold and silver, Daniel 5:4.

He is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint: this is mentioned, either,

1. As an argument of the vanity of idols, which cannot relieve their poor workmen, when they are ready to faint away through hunger, and thirst, and weariness. Or,

2. As an evidence of great zeal and industry in carrying on this work, so that they forget or neglect to eat and drink when their necessities require it. This I prefer,

1. Because it suits best with the next foregoing clause, he worketh with the strength of his arms, i.e. fervently, and putting forth all his might in the work.

2. Because the prophet in this, and in the next following verses, is only describing the mechanical part, or the matter of images, and the art and labour of the workmen in making them; and afterwards proceeds to the theological consideration of the thing, and the confutation of these practices, as we shall see. The smith with the tongs,.... Or, "the worker of iron" (c); the blacksmith, who had a concern in making of idols, for some were made of iron, Daniel 5:4, or in making plates to cover them, or nails to fasten them with, or instruments which the carpenter made use of in cutting down trees, and fitting the wood for an image; such as the axe or hatchet, or plane, and which some think is here meant, by the word translated "tongs", but is rendered an "axe", Jeremiah 10:3 and is used for that, or an hatchet, or a plane, by the Misnic (d) writers; so the Targum renders it,

"the smith out of iron makes an axe or hatchet:''

"both worketh in the coals"; he puts his iron in the coals, and blows upon them, and so makes it soft and malleable, and then takes it out:

and fashioneth it with hammers: beats it with hammers upon the anvil, and puts it into what form he pleases:

and worketh it with the strength of his arms; uses his utmost strength to bring it into a form he is desirous of:

yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint; he works at it with all his might and main, is earnest at it, and is eagerly desirous of finishing his work; he works till he is hungry and thirsty, and for want of food is ready to faint and sink; and yet will not give himself time to eat and drink, being so intent upon his work: or the sense is, though he is hungry and thirsty, and faints for want of provisions, yet the god he is making, or has made, cannot supply him with any: this is said to expose the folly of idol making, and of idol worship.

(c) "faber ferri", Pagninus, Montanus; "faber ferrarius", V. L. Vitringa. (d) Misn. Sabbat, c. 12. sect. 1. Celim, c. 29. 6.

The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is {s} hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.

(s) He describes the raging affection of the idolaters, who forget their own necessities to set forth their devotion toward their idols.

12, 13. This truth enforced by a description of the manufacture of the idols.

The smith] lit. “the workman in iron,” as opposed to the “workman in wood” of the next verse. The text is corrupt at the beginning. R.V. has “the smith (maketh) an axe”; LXX. “the workman sharpeneth iron, worketh it with the adze &c.,” not perceiving that the verse speaks of the blacksmith’s labours. It is possible, no doubt, to take the word for “axe” (which is found again only in Jeremiah 10:3), as meaning “cutting instrument,” for dividing the mass of iron on the anvil; but this is suggested by nothing in the verse; and moreover, the description is certainly not that of the manufacture of an implement, whether for the smith or the carpenter. The only feasible solution is to omit the “axe” altogether as a marginal gloss by some reader who fell into the same error as the LXX. translator. Render: The smith works with the coals.

fashioneth it (the iron core of the idol) with hammers] cf. ch. Isaiah 41:7.

and worketh it with his strong arm] R.V. Gesenius cites in illustration two lines of Vergil (Georg. IV. 174 f.),

“Illi inter sese magna vi brachia tollunt

In numerum, versantque tenaci forcipe ferrum.”

yea, he is hungry …] The point is that the man who makes his own gods exhausts his strength in the process; contrast ch. Isaiah 40:31.Verse 12. - The smith with the tongs. The Hebrew text is defective, some word having fallen out. We should probably supply "maketh," and translate, The smith maketh an axe, and worketh it in the coals, and with hammers fashioneth it. The description of image-making thus commences with the fashioning of the carpenter's tools. He is hungry, etc. The artificer who takes the first step in "forming a god" (ver. 10) is himself hungry and thirsty, depending on so mean a thing as food to supply him with the needful strength. Unless he can cat and drink, the whole work is brought to a standstill. A new pledge of redemption is given, and a fresh exhortation to trust in Jehovah; the wretchedness of the idols and their worshippers being pointed out, in contrast with Jehovah, the only speaking and acting God. Isaiah 44:6 "Thus saith Jehovah the King of Israel, and its Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts; I am first, and I last; and beside me there is no God." The fact that His deity, which rules over not only the natural world, but history as well, is thus without equal and above all time, is now proved by Him from the fact that He alone manifests Himself as God, and that by the utterance of prophecy. Isaiah 44:7 "And who preaches as I do? Let him make it known, and show it to me; since I founded the people of ancient time! And future things, and what is approaching, let them only make known." Jehovah shows Himself as the God of prophecy since the time that He founded עם־עולם (יקרא refers to the continued preaching of prophecy). ‛Am‛ōlâm is the epithet applied in Ezekiel 26:20 to the people of the dead, who are sleeping the long sleep of the grave; and here it does not refer to Israel, which could neither be called an "eternal" nation, nor a people of the olden time, and which would have been more directly named; but according to Isaiah 40:7 and Isaiah 42:5, where ‛am signifies the human race, and Job 22:15., where ‛ōlâm is the time of the old world before the flood, it signifies humanity as existing from the very earliest times. The prophecies of Jehovah reach back even to the history of paradise. The parenthetical clause, "Let him speak it out, and tell it me," is like the apodosis of a hypothetical protasis: "if any one thinks that he can stand by my side." The challenge points to earlier prophecies; with ואתיּות it takes a turn to what is future, אתיות itself denoting what is absolutely future, according to Isaiah 41:23, and תּבאנה אשׁר what is about to be realized immediately; lâmō is an ethical dative.
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